Daphne Strasert is a horror, fantasy, and speculative fiction writer from Houston, Texas. She has published many short stories through HorrorAddicts.net, Dark Water Syndicate, and Crimson Streets. When not writing, she plays board games and knits. Her interests include monsters, murder mysteries, and things that go bump in the night.
by Daphne Strasert
The DMs were by far the worst part. “my what big teeth you have! jk you are gorgeous tho”
“WOW! I bet you’re an ANIMAL in bed lol”
“hey, so this may be a weird question, but my girlfriend is really into werewolves and we were wanting to experiment, so—”
Farrah tossed her phone onto her pillow and flopped face down onto the bed.
Seriously, what was the point of joining Monstr if humans infiltrated it anyway? “The dating app by monsters, for monsters” That was the slogan! And instead, her DMs were flooded with humans looking to fulfil some weird fetish.
Dating a human wasn’t wrong, but it was exhausting. There were the stares in public, then meeting his friends, meeting his family. She hated answering endless questions, constantly having to correct misconceptions. She wanted a boyfriend (or even just a date) where she could be unapologetically a werewolf. Or where she didn’t have to deal with weird stereotypes and expectations. She just… wanted to be herself.
Farrah groped blindly forward to grab her phone, then flipped onto her back. She swiped idly through profiles. How was it possible in a city of a few million—where tens of thousands of those were monsters like her—that she couldn’t find one person she felt comfortable with? If she kept striking out, she might actually have to respond to her mom’s suggestion that she date her Aunt’s hairdresser’s cousin (she hated to admit it, but every werewolf really did know every other werewolf). Even if she had moved out of her home town, the Werewolf Mothers’ Gossip Network extended across the globe. Farrah was getting too old to have her mom in her business all the time.
She swiped left on the vampire fuckboy with the fake red contacts. Left on the Chupacabra posing next to a mangled goat corpse. Left on the shirtless wendigo with his face cropped out of the picture. Left. Left. Left.
The picture was a gorgeous landscape, high on a mountain overlooking a lush forest that extended as far as the horizon. Farrah’s heart ached with longing. Her gaze skimmed down the profile.
Birch liked hiking, classic rock, and black and white movies. She scrolled through the other pictures. There was a lake as smooth as glass, a tree the size of a skyscraper, and a snow-covered forest floor. And finally, a selfie. The angle was awkward, like he’d had taken pains to get all of him in the frame. Brown fur covered his face, nearly concealing kind blue eyes. His shy smile revealed wide white teeth, the canines showing just the hint of fangs. Birch was a sasquatch.
A sasquatch. Wow. You just didn’t see many of those. Even as cryptids had become more outspoken about their existence, sasquatches had stayed away, still preferring the solitude of their home territories.
Farrah’s thumb hovered over the picture as she considered. She’d never dated a sasquatch before. A ghoul, yes. A skin walker, sure. Even a Jersey Devil once (long story). But… a sasquatch. She’d never even considered it. But Birch seemed like the only honest person she’d ever seen on this godforsaken app.
She swiped right. Her phone lit up: “You’ve made a match!”
Howl used to be an underground monster bar, somewhere cryptids could let their fur down. A few rave reviews in a local magazine later and now a line of humans went around the block. Howl was the new hot spot attraction for hipsters and monster fetishists.
Farrah skipped the line. Humans had to wait, but she gave a flash of fangs and the bouncer let her pass with a smile. The bar was clothed in the scent of sweat and stale beer. Her shoes stuck to the floor with each step, glued by layers of spilled drinks. Indistinct thumping betrayed the presence of a jukebox somewhere deeper inside.
Farrah hardly had to look to find Birch. Even slumped on a bar stool, trying to seem as small as possible, he was the biggest thing in the room. The pint he was nursing looked like a shot glass in his hand. He kept casting glances around him. He was wearing a jacket that could have housed a circus and still seemed too small.
A sasquatch in jeans and a jacket. Even with him right in front of her, the image was jarring. Well, what did she expect? It wasn’t like Birch could just go around naked. Monsters had to conform to some human standards. The real question was where had he bought them?
Farrah made her way through the crowd, squeezing between a group of black clad vampires and a pair of swamp creatures gurgling at each other over their glasses. Birch jumped when Farrah laid her hand on his arm.
“You’re Birch, right?” she asked, voice a little loud to be heard over the muted roar of conversation.
“Farrah?” He looked her up and down. There was naked admiration on his face.
“That’s me.” She smiled.
Birch returned the expression, a little timid. “Can I get you a drink?”
“Jack and Coke, if you don’t mind.” She pulled out the stool next to him and hopped up. “You look about as comfortable as I feel,” she said, as he flagged down the bartender.
Birch’s lip quirked. “I’m not used to crowds.”
“Must be hard living in the city.”
“I make it work.” He handed her the drink the bartender poured.
“So, your profile pictures,” Farrah said, “where did you take those?”
“They’re from Montana,” Birch said. “But I didn’t take them.”
“No.” His eyebrows furrowed. “How else would I be in the shot?”
Farrah froze with her Jack and Coke halfway to her lips. “You were in the pictures?”
“You didn’t notice?”
She set down her drink and reached for her phone. “Where?” She pulled up the first picture. Birch pointed to the upper left side of the screen.
Farrah had to zoom in. Then she had to tilt her head and squint a little. But, yes. There he was. A little blurry, a little obscured by the underbrush, but he was there.
She burst out laughing. “I didn’t even notice!” She beamed up at Birch. “I was too distracted by the view. I should have looked harder.”
“I, uh,”—a shy smile made its way over Birch’s face—“I was surprised that we matched.” His eyes met hers briefly before he looked back down at his drink.
“Why’s that?” Farrah asked, scooting closer to him. Yes, she was fishing for a compliment, hoping he’d say she was pretty.
“Well, werewolves tend to date other werewolves.”
“Oh.” Well, he wasn’t wrong.
He seemed to realize her reaction wasn’t exactly warm and hurried to cover for himself. “I don’t mean that you’re prejudiced. I mean, obviously you aren’t—” He cut off into embarrassed silence. It was hard to tell under all the fur, but there may have been a tinge of pink to his cheeks.
Farrah smiled. “Don’t worry. No offense taken. It’s pretty true. You wouldn’t believe the things my mother says.”
He let out a laugh—a real one—big and long and loud enough to shake the bar. Farrah’s heart jumped in her chest. The ambient noise from the crowd dropped in response and Birch looked around self-consciously.
Farrah continued, eager to hear him laugh again. “If my mother had her way, I’d marry the only man back in my hometown who isn’t my cousin.”
“Imagine the nearest eligible girl was a two-hundred-mile hike away.”
Farrah smiled wickedly and leaned in. “Lucky you’ve got a big stride.”
The laugh was even louder this time. When he was done, he looked almost ashamed that she’d managed to surprise it out of him.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Farrah asked.
Birch’s mouth opened and closed a few times and he was definitely a little pink around the cheeks. Seeing his embarrassment, Farrah laughed.
She held her hands out in front of her to placate him. “I don’t mean anything… you know.” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively. “I have good intentions! Promise!” She chewed at her bottom lip. “I’m just… not really into bars. And you seem like you’d rather be somewhere quiet.”
Birch’s expression softened. “Yeah. That, uh, that sounds nice.”
Farrah downed her drink, the whiskey and carbonation burning her throat, and hopped off her stool. Birch stood up (and up and up and up). Farrah thought that she had understood just how enormous he was, but really, he was just HUGE. His head nearly grazed the ceiling.
They squeezed through the crowd (or, rather, Birch squeezed and Farrah followed in his massive wake) and emerged back in the parking lot.
“So, just how far are you willing to go tonight?” Farrah asked.
Birch froze. “I, um, well—” He stared fixedly ahead. Farrah found that she liked making him blush.
“I mean,” she said, “are you willing to drive for a while? There’s a national forest about forty miles from here that’s nice for stargazing.”
“Forty miles, huh?” Birch huffed and a cloud of mist bloomed to life in front of him. “That seems nice.”
“Your car or mine?”
“I don’t think I’ll fit in yours.”
Farrah thought of her Jeep, packed with spare clothes and camping gear. “Probably not.”
Birch led her to a humongous Hummer.
“Wow,” she said.
Birch held the door open for her and helped her step up into the passenger seat. “I can’t walk everywhere.”
“I’d say you were compensating, but something tells me I’d be wrong.” She raked her gaze over him and bit her lip. “At least, I hope so.”
Birch’s hand froze on the door. He stared at her for a second too long before clearing his throat and averting his gaze. Farrah grinned to herself as he closed the door.
It was nice. Really nice. Leather seats that smelled like new, no discarded napkins or month-old mail. Farrah tried to look as inconspicuous as possible as she checked out the interior. There seriously wasn’t any trash or clothes… not even a discarded receipt.
Birch climbed in behind the wheel. Even in the massive cab, with the seat pushed all the way back, he looked scrunched and uncomfortable.
In the confines of the car, she could smell Birch better. He had an earthy scent, not bad, just natural. No cologne, thankfully; that tended to irritate Farrah’s sensitive nose.
“So, where’s this forest?” Birch asked as he turned on the ignition.
“Take highway 265 west and keep going til the city lights fade,” Farrah said. “I’ll tell you when to take the exit.” She lounged back in her seat as Birch steered them out of the parking lot, asphalt crunching under the tires.
The drive was quiet, just the hum of the radio between them. A classic rock station played and Farrah sang along when she knew the words.
It was strange, the companionable silence. Her dates had always been chatty before, but Birch didn’t push and Farrah found she didn’t need to fill the silence with small talk. She turned instead to gaze out the window, watching as the city melted into suburbs, then was slowly overtaken by the wilderness. It felt like going home.
She could feel Birch’s eyes on her every so often and she took the opportunity to stretch out her legs (they looked damn fine in her jeans, if she did say so herself).
It was almost sad when the exit approached and Birch steered them off into the side road that led into the national forest. Farrah reminded herself that this was only the beginning, really.
As she stepped out of Birch’s hummer, Farrah took a deep, lingering breath. The air was a crisp in a way that was refreshing. The wind was heavy with the scent of pine and earth. Wild things. Things like Farrah. Like Birch.
The temperature had dropped outside the city limits. Farrah shivered and wrapped her leather jacket more tightly around her.
“You okay?” Birch asked.
She smiled up at him. “My jacket isn’t as good as my fur.”
“Do you want mine? I don’t need it.”
“I think it might be a little too big.” She patted his arm and led the way toward the forest edge. “I’ll be okay once we get moving.”
Gravel gave way to dirt, then to pine needles as they made their way deeper. Farrah didn’t bother to keep to the paths. Paths were for humans.
“Seems like you know your way around,” Birch said. He’d been following a few steps behind her, letting her take the lead.
“I come out here every full moon. Set up a tent, spend a couple of days running wild.”
“So, you’re a bit of a lone wolf.”
Farrah turned back to him and raised an eyebrow. “Oh, there’s no such thing as a lone wolf.”
She lifted her head and let out a low, long howl. The sound reverberated in the trees, rebounding back on itself. She stopped. Waited. After a few seconds, a chorus of answering calls came back. She smiled and Birch smiled back.
They continued walking. It was easy to talk to Birch out here. In the dark, with the sounds of the forest all around, with her body moving purposefully forward and a slight sweat working over her skin, she didn’t have to worry about the words. They just came out.
“I grew up surrounded by people. Werewolves have no shortage of family. I’ve got twelve siblings. Sixty cousins. It’s not hard finding someone to play with. It’s getting alone time that’s difficult.”
“Is that why you moved?”
Farrah thought about it. “Maybe. Something like that. It’s hard to make your own decisions, live your own life, when everyone in town knows you. You can only be what people want you to be because that’s the only opportunity open for you.” From the corner of her eye, Farrah saw Birch nod. “What about you? Sasquatches usually keep to their territories.”
“They do. That’s what my parents wanted for me.”
“And what about you?”
“I want to make sure we aren’t being left behind. Solitude is all well and good until society finds you.”
“So, you’re what? Some kind of sasquatch ambassador?”
“Something like that.” A twig snapped and a scared rabbit rushed from the underbrush. “I make sure my people can get internet access, stay in the wild if they want, find a place in society if they don’t.” Birch caught up to Farrah, matched his pace so they were side by side. “And I work to keep as much of our territories from being developed as I can.”
Farrah chuckled. “That’s like lawyer stuff.”
She stopped walking, her feet frozen to the ground like the air in her lungs. “You’re a lawyer?”
Birch turned back. “Yeah.”
“That wasn’t on your profile.”
He shrugged. “Is it a problem?”
Considering Farrah had barely scraped her way out of high school, maybe it was. “I just suddenly feel like I’m way out of my league.”
Birch laughed. It wasn’t out of place in the forest. The trees were big enough to take it.
“I don’t think you have to worry about that.” He glanced at the canopy above them and at the peek of stars through the branches. “I thought you said we were going star gazing?”
Farrah took his hand in hers. “It’s still up ahead.”
They walked another mile before the trees thinned, then opened onto a ridge where the great expanse of the sky was visible. Away from the bustle and noise of the city, the stars formed a canvas of light.
“I know you’ve probably seen better,” Farrah said. “But it’s still one of my favorite places.”
“It’s beautiful,” Birch responded.
They watched the stars slowly turn in the sky and talked. It wasn’t small talk; it was stories, things they’d done and seen. What they still wanted to do. Farrah liked the way Birch talked. His voice was dark and sweet, like fresh tapped syrup. She liked the way his laugh mixed with hers.
Midnight came, then went. One o’clock. Two. Farrah would have gladly stayed in the shelter of the trees (it wouldn’t have been the first time) and she thought maybe Birch would have liked that too. But they went back anyway, savoring the sound of their steps through the pine needles and their hands joined together.
But the peaceful night sounds of the forest were replaced by loud, drunken voices as they neared the parking lot. They were jarring in the peace of the wilderness. Alien. Unwanted. Farrah cringed as she caught wind of revelers. She wondered how good Birch’s hearing was, if he had noticed them yet. They stepped out of the path and back onto the gravel, under the yellow haze of the streetlights and caught sight of the party. A group of four men, in their thirties maybe, with just the beginnings of pot bellies and bald spots taking form, were gathered in the back of a pick-up. Birch and Farrah kept walking.
“The fuck is that?” one of the men, wearing a red ballcap, asked.
Farrah felt Birch’s hand tighten around hers.
“Shit, fuck, man,” another said. He stumbled out of the truck bed, barely catching his balance as his boots hit the pavement. “That’s a fucking sasquatch.”
Birch was walking faster now and Farrah had to practically run to keep up. But the drunks were still between them and their car.
“Hey! Hey, Sasquatch!” Red Hat Guy called. “Give us a roar! You do that, right? Roar? Come on!” He let out a Chewbacca imitation. His buddies laughed.
“Just ignore them,” Birch muttered, eyes straight ahead.
“Holy shit!” one of the others said. “He’s got a fuckin’ girl with him.”
And now, all eyes were on Farrah. She felt the hair rise on her arms under the scrutiny.
The man spit on the ground. “You’ve gotta be shitting me. Bigfoot here has a girlfriend.” Farrah bristled. She wasn’t a sasquatch, but everyone knew Bigfoot was a slur. She fumed on Birch’s behalf.
“Life’s just no fucking fair.” The drunk shook his head. “No fucking fair at all.” He advanced. The others from the truck got out. Farrah felt a low growl rumble in her chest.
The drunks were in their path now, blocking the way to Birch’s Hummer. Birch and Farrah came to a stop.
“Hey, girl,” one of the backup boys said. “Is it true what they say about guys with big feet?” Drunken sniggers slithered over the parking lot.
“Come on,” Birch said, tugging Farrah’s hand, leading her toward the left and around them. The pack of drunks persisted, following. Farrah’s nails grew into wicked claws, splitting her cuticles.
“How can you even fuck something that big, huh?”
“Jesus, look how hairy he is. He got fur on his dick too?”
“Hey! Hey, monster fucker, we’re talking to you!” There was a crash and a spray of liquid as a half empty beer bottle bounced off Birch’s back and shattered on the pavement.
Farrah snapped. She turned in a fury, fangs bared and eyes burning. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
The drunks stopped in their tracks, one stumbled backward, landing on his ass.
“The fuck, man?”
“She’s a fucking cryp too!”
Farrah snarled at the slur. “Say that again, fucker!”
Birch’s hand closed around her arm. “Farrah, don’t.”
She turned to him, still blazing, but cooled at the sad expression on his face.
“Let’s just go.”
Farrah fixed one more withering glare at the men, but followed Birch when he tugged her toward the car.
The drive was silent, but less companionable this time. Birch stared at the road, gripping the steering wheel so tightly that it creaked. Farrah fumed.
“Why didn’t you do something?” she finally exploded.
“Like tell them off or… or…”
“Punch them?” Birch raised an eyebrow. “I’m twice their size.”
“Exactly,” he agreed, solemnly. “And in that case, they’d end up in the hospital. And how does that make us look on the nine o’clock news?”
Farrah swallowed. “They still shouldn’t have—”
“No, they shouldn’t have. But they did. People always do.”
Farrah sat in stunned silence. “You’re used to this.”
“I don’t exactly pass the same way that you do.”
Farrah swallowed the guilt rising in her chest. Passing. Yeah, she did pass. She was a monster through and through, but someone on the street didn’t know that. Birch didn’t have the same luxury.
“Look,” he said, “this kind of thing happens to me all the time. I… I understand if you don’t want to deal with that. I just… I wanted you to know I had fun tonight.”
Farrah felt her heart actually splinter inside her chest. He was giving her an out. Letting her down easy.
“I had fun too,” she said.
Birch nodded, resigned.
“So why does tonight have to end?” Farrah asked.
Birch turned to stare at her, keeping his eyes off the road for an uncomfortable amount of time.
“You… you’re okay with that?”
“Look, I’m not going to promise to be a pacifist about it like you are. But I’m not going to let some dumb drunks scare me off. I like you. So”—she unbuckled her seatbelt, slid over to the middle seat next to him, and bucked back in—“how about you be the bark and I’ll be the bite?”
He chuckled. “A tree pun? Really?”
“And a wolf one,” Farrah said with a grin.
“So, then,” he lifted one arm over her shoulder, “how far are you wanting to go tonight?”
Farrah snuggled under his arm. “How about to my place?”
She beamed up at him, but then suddenly stiffened. She swore.
“What?” Birch asked. “What’s wrong?”
Farrah swore again. “Oh, I just realized I forgot to shave.”
Copyright 2021 by Daphne Strasert