Burke gasped for air as he stumbled to a stop, looking frantically behind him to see if the Wyrwolf - a Wyrwolf! - had followed him. Tail twitching nervously, he checked every shadow, every hollow of the walls, for a powerful, magical beast just waiting to turn him into a huge lump of flab and stuff him down, down into his red, steaming gullet ...
His jangled nerves began to reassemble themselves as the only thing pursuing him turned out to be his echo, frantically trying to keep pace. "Reg?" he called, knowing the scrawny cat couldn't be too far away. "REG!"
A pile of mangy orange fur peered around the corner. "Y-you okay, Burke?"
Burke grabbed the scaredy-cat by the collar of his jacket and dragged him into the open. "'Course I'm all right, ya wimp! Does it look like I got bit?"
"N-no, Burke", the mangy feline stammered, his hackles slowly settling beneath their accustomed layer of grease. "B-but I thought-"
"There's a newsflash", the rat snorted, his earring flashing in the subdued light of a nearby streetlamp. "Nah", he continued, his bravado returning with distance, "that mangy furball never laid a paw on me, much less those dinky teeth." He suppressed a shudder and went on. "You know me, Reg. Ain 't nothin' scares me. He got an edge, that's all. We find a way around that edge-"He cut off as a vagrant breeze threw a tattered poster in his face, probably torn down by one of the other toughs in the area. He was about to throw it away when his eyes lit on the text: LIONHEART CIRCUS Presents PROCHAZKA THE WYRWOLF Below the text, and surround it on all sides, the poster was flooded with pictures of a snarling, black-furred beast... with a familiar-looking coat of fur... Burke's sneer regained his face as the seed of an idea sprouted in the polluted soil of his brain. "And these guys may be the ones to help us..."
The oversized bear acting as barker crossed his arms over the top of his bulging gut and looked the rat up and down. "If that's too much for you, shorty", he rumbled, his basso as profundo as he was, "I'm sure we'll survive without your business somehow." He cocked his head. "Probably save cleaning the grease off the seats, too ..."
The rat grumbled, and then handed over the cash; it was most of what he had for the week, but if it worked, it was worth it. Five for him, and five for Reg. Not that he wanted to pay for that screw-up's seat, but it was better than letting him mess things up outside. "Thank you for your kind patronage, gentlemen", the bear intoned, his tone just short of mocking. He bowed at what passed for his waist, his belly threatening to unbalance his podium. "Seating is first come, first served. Please be sure to sample our magnificent line concessions and spectacular, sparkling souvenirs as you visit our scintillating scions of the circus." He passed over the tickets. "Merely present these paltry pasteboards within." Burke grabbed the tickets from the motormouthed bear and stomped in, followed closely by Reg. He sneered at the mouse that tore the tickets to make up for having to kowtow to the barker, though. After all, he couldn't let anyone think he was a pushover...
The circus had the usual trash, he decided after the first few acts. A bunch of clown mice, some plain-type wolves with a motorcycle act, some cats on the trapeze and high wire. He almost wished he'd stopped at the side-shows ... at least there, you didn't have to wait so long.
Then, just as he was giving up, the lights dimmed, and the lion ringmaster stepped to a spotlight in the center ring. "And now, ladies and gentlemen", he half-roared, half-purred in a voice that swept across the audience like a deep-throated fog, "the prize exhibit of our show. A beast so rare ... so wild ... so untamable ... that we are the only circus able to present one of his species to your eager eyes." His gaze swept the tent. "I must request absolute silence for this portion of the show. If the creature should become enraged ..." He shook his head. "There would be no limit to the chaos he could unleash upon our fair city." He grinned, sharp, polished teeth glinting in the spotlight. "And now ... the only one of his kind IN CAPTIVITY ... PROCHAZKA ... the WYRWOLF!"
The lights swung to rest on a large wooden animal cage, of the kind Burke had seen in the movies about old circuses. And behind its bars... Burke stared. It was like watching a shadow. A living shadow with teeth, snarling through the cage bars at the audience. Like some moving hole in the light... A mouse clown scurried in, and began poking a stick through the bars of the cage. "I wouldn't do that", intoned the lion... but he was too late. Almost without moving, the living shadow that was the Wyrwolf grabbed the stick and, before the clown could release it, nipped him smartly on the arm. The mouse danced backward, waving his arm in pain, and then...
The crowd gasped. As they watched, the clown's arm seemed to inflate like a circus balloon, the increasing flesh traveling up the arm to his shoulder. The mouse reached to try and squeeze it back down, but it was already traveling through his chest, his other arm increasing in size as it struggled to stop the process. The mouse squeaked in fright as his belly, once somewhat flat, bowed outward to the limits of his costume. Unbalanced, he toppled, landing in the sawdust with a resounding thud as he rolled from the bulge of his belly to the flat of his back. He was visibly struggling to rise, but the gut resting atop him, now supported by swelling thighs, refused to budge. The lion shook his head as the round little mouse was rolled offstage by the other clowns. "We lose more clowns that way." Burke drew in a breath with a shudder of apprehension. This guy was real! He grinned. Exactly what he was looking for. Once released from the cage, the trained Wyrwolf bounded from sawdust floor, to the top of a ball, to the high wire, in a series of leaps that left the audience spellbound. But Burke was busy... planning.
It was as Lionel, the leonine ringmaster, was signing autographs that the rat came up to him. "I think you wanna talk to me", the rodent sleaze grinned.
Lionel kept his tone neutral. "Oh? And what do you wish to discuss?"
"Oh, nothin' much", the rat sniggered, echoed by the alley cat behind him. "Just a Wyrwolf, is all."
Lionel's face fell. "I see. Meet me after I finish here, in back of the tent. I'll... direct you to our Wyrwolf expert." Some ten minutes later, after a few quick preparations, Lionel hurried behind the tent to find the rat leaning against one of the tent anchors. "Now. What is this about a Wyrwolf?"
The rat sneered up at him in a half-hearted attempt at a companionable smile. "Oh, I just found me a vicious Wyrwolf, is all. Thought you might like him."
Lionel nodded. "I thought as much. If you will please follow me, I shall take you to the expert." Burke grudgingly followed, Reg keeping his tail company the whole way. The lion led them to a wagon near what they both recognized as the Wyrwolf's cage. A slow, regular breathing came from within the cage, now covered with signs in many languages. The only one Burke could read was English, but "Keep Out" was clear enough. The lion knocked on the door. "Bronislav?"
"Please to be coming in!" called a heavily accented voice from the other side. Lionel swung the door open, and revealed a black-furred wolf, dressed in a business suit and wearing glasses, sitting in a chair and reading a book. "Ah, yes", said the wolf with a smile as he closed the book. "You are being two Americans who be saying you see Wyrwolf, da?"
"Um, yeah", said Burke, his opinion of the guy not improved by the lousy English.
"Please", the wolf grinned through tight lips, "please to be coming in. Is much to be talking about." He gestured to two smaller chairs at one side of the wagon. "You sit, da?" The two punks slowly settled as the lion left, closing the door behind him... and, unknown to Burke, smiling a curious smile...
"Now, then. You say you see Wyrwolf? Where is?" The wolf blinked at them through his glasses, his golden eyes the only bright spot in his black fur, enlarged several times their size by the lenses.
"Well", said Burke, having already practiced the lie, "Me an' Reg, here, we was walkin' along, and this Wyrwolf comes up, see? He picks me up, throws me into a wall, kicks Reg in the gut, okay? I mean, if I hadn't knocked him off me, who knows what'd happen? He'd'a fattened me up and scarfed me down!"
The wolf nodded. "Is possible, da. But how you know is Wyrwolf?" He looked the musclebound rat up and down. "You no look like Wyrwolf be biting you."
"Nah", Burke waved the objection away. "Like I said, I knocked him off. But he was half my size, see, and he picked me up! ME! That ain't natural!" The wolf nodded again.
"Is possible. But, please. What color is fur of this Wyrwolf?" Burke shrugged. "Same weird black as that thing you guys keep in a cage, natch. All's I could see was these two blue eyes, all hungry-like."
The wolf's eyes narrowed, until they could hardly be seen in the black fur of his face. "Oh, da", he breathed, "This Wyrwolf, I am of knowing. You are being lucky, I think." He nodded. "But, please, for why you not go Polyitsa? Police, I am meaning."
The rat shrugged, his sneer growing. "Hey, you don't want another one of those things to show off, I'll hit the police. I just figure, maybe there's like a finder's fee?" He rubbed two fingers together, and the wolf clearly understood.
"Hokay. Right you is being. Perhaps you like job?"
"A job?" The rat's face fairly screamed "insulted" at him.
"Is good job being", the wolf said hastily. "No real work is doing. You sit, you stay, you get money. Is being good, da?"
Burke grinned toothily. "Now that's my kinda job", he sneered. "Sounds like we got us a deal."
The wolf nodded. "Is Lionel bringing contract for two persons. You sign contract, you get job. Come, I show you office."
"Office, huh?", the rat almost smiled. "I think I'm gonna like this job. Hey, Reg, you can be my secretary." The cat guffawed dutifully as the wolf led them to a large tent, with an equally large chair in the back.
"Is office", Bronislav told them. "Please, you sit. Try chair."
The chair, Burke found, was deep and soft, almost a bed for size. "Nice. Why so big, though?"
The wolf shrugged. "Is from last person hold this job. You get chair fit, da?"
"Da", the rat drawled happily.
Just then, the lion returned, papers in paw. "So, Broni. Is it what you thought?"
The wolf nodded. "Is just what Bronislav be thinking. Please to give contract to peoples." The two low-class furs eagerly signed their names. "So", said the wolf, "is only one thing being left." He held out a paw to the rat, who looked at it for a moment before taking it.
"Yeah", Burke sneered. That dumb Wyrwolf'll never know what-"
In that instant, Bronislav leaned forward, in a motion as unstoppably swift as a tornado, and sunk his teeth deep into Burke's arm. The rat squealed, and tried to thrash his way loose, but the wolf's jaws held him like two parked cars. Then, after a long moment, the wolf released him. "What'd you go and do that for?" the rat shrieked, shaking his arm to rid himself of the pins-and-needles feeling that seemed to be coursing outward from the bite. He stood up indignantly. The wolf shoved him back down with one paw and pinned him to the seat, the lion taking Reg by the scruff of the neck and removing the hidden knife from the cat's jacket.
"Is not nice you are being", the wolf growled... and his fur suddenly seemed to darken ten shades, making a hole in the light. "You be making trouble for nice Wyrwolf." "What're you..." Suddenly, Burke realized who... WHAT was holding him. "No. Noooo!"
"Yes." Bronislav grinned. "Fur of shadows not so obvious when you not be looking for. Is true, da?"
Burke squirmed, his arm suddenly feeling as though a ten-pound weight was hanging from it. He looked, and it had swollen to three times its size! "Let me go! Please!"
"Why for you be screaming?" the wolf grinned. "Bronislav no eat little Burke-rat. Bronislav have good meal today already." His paw held Burke in place like a pin through a fly. Burke squealed as his other arm inflated and his belly began to roll outward. "Bronislav good name, da? Not full name, though. Full name", he leaned in close, "Bronislav. Milosevich. Prochazka." His golden eyes seemed to kindle at the rat's renewed terror. "I wear suit, thick glasses, nobody recognize big, dumb Prochazka, da? Is good joke."
"Please", Burke panted, his belly rolling past his knees even as his backside swelled to fill the confines of the chair. "Please... let me go."
"Letting you go?", the Wyrwolf answered with a grin. "Prochazka let you go." He removed his paw from the rat's chest, and Burke surged forward toward freedom.
And fell back into the chair. Looking down, it was easy to see why. His legs were hidden from him by a rolling expanse of gut that was stretching the ragged leather jacket to its limits, even with an open zipper. As he watched, his flabby arms surged through the stitching, reducing it to a leather vest... which his body continued to overflow. He struggled, but for every inch he moved, he fell back two, his arms growing heavy and sluggish as his jeans shredded before the unstoppable tide of flesh. He whimpered for a moment as his underwear tightened painfully... but soon, there was nothing left of that but cotton threads. Reg stared, pinned in place by the ringmaster's powerful arms as he watched his source of street cred blow up like a parade balloon.
Soon, Burke was set like cement, his body's growth juddering to a stop at a level of immensity neither of them could've imagined. The rat's stomach protected his modesty like an apron, reaching down to his ankles even as its sagging rolls overflowed the arms of the chair. Burke was struggling, but could only barely wiggle a finger, his limbs anchored by their layers of Caloric armor. "Let me outa here!", the pinned rat shrieked, his voice an octave higher than before. "The police'll-"
"Polyitsa do nothing", Prochavka answered him. "You signing contract. Contract say, you take job." He gestured widely. "This job. You sit. You eat. We pay."
"When I tell them-" The rat's speech stumbled to a stop as Bronislav took off his glasses, his fur bristling so hard it loosened his tie and opened his jacket.
"Telling you is not doing", he growled, his accent thicker than before. "Not for five year. Is contract." He ran a paw down the curving expanse of Burke's hanging flesh, claws lingering hungrily on each fold. "Maybe you want be food for Prochazka?"
"No! No! Nonononooooooo!" the rat squeaked.
"Is good", Prochavka growled, leaning in so close his breath stirred the fur at the sides of the rat's softball-sized cheeks. "Is quiet you keeping for five year. You quiet keep, we put you back way we found you."
Burke gasped, hope appearing like a superhero in front of a bullet. "Back? You mean you can fix this?"
Prochazka growled. "Is what I say, da?" He leaned back, his fur seeming to pull the light from the tent around him. "But... you tell, you make trouble for nice Wyrwolf. Then we no put you back. Is understand?"
Burke nodded as much as the rings of flesh around his neck would let him. "Yessir! Yessir!"
"Is good", the wolf growled. "And for cat, we make special job..."
"I assume you had a good reason for asking me to come down here", Vlad grumbled, his eyes firmly watching the Wyrwolf in front of him... well, when they weren't watching Sal gushing at the exciting games, the exciting shows, the... *Sometimes*, he thought, *it must be a blessing to be so empty-headed.*
"Of course, Vladimir", Bronislav answered, his accent as thick as ever. "Is thing I want be telling you."
"First off", his fellow Creature of the Night growled, "it's Vlad. This isn 't the Old Country. Second, why don't you drop that stupid accent?"
"Accent?" Sal had just returned, naturally. Bronislav bent to kiss the beaver's dainty paw. "Is talking about me, pretty lady. Bronislav is not talking like this when Bronislav first step off boat. Bronislav talking good then." He grinned. "But, is better for business, I sound like funny person. No make people think of Prochazka, da?" His eyes sparkled at his own humor.
"Never mind, Sal", Vlad sighed. "Here." He handed her some more money. "Why don't you try the ring toss?"
"I like the fishing game better", she giggled. "I'm really good at it!" She bounced off. Bronislav watched her avidly.
"Is no vodka in that bottle", he sighed, "but wrapper is very nice to look at, da?" He shrugged. "Nichevo. It does not matter. Walk with me, Vladimir."
"It's Vlad", the chubby Wyrwolf corrected him again, but followed along. "But we can't leave Sal too long, or she'll stop traffic on the Midway."
"Is pretty girl", Bronislav smirked in reply as they stopped at a tent's side flap. "Is stopping traffic anywhere. Here. Look inside."
Vlad looked... and stared. Before him hulked an immensely fat rodent with an appallingly familiar gold ring in one ear. Vlad, hidden by the tent flap, watched as the rat gazed disconsolately at the crowd filing past, all of them staring, awestruck, at the mountainous monolith of rat that overflowed a chair three times normal size. "Is that-", he began to ask, and stopped as a portly cat moved past, sweeping the ground. A portly cat that, in combination with the rat-mountain, looked very familiar... "Bron", he growled, "what have you DONE?"
The circus star gazed back at him imperturbably. "Bronislav is taking care of Vladimir", he answered, his back straightening. Slightly taller than Vlad, he gazed into the other Wyrwolf's eyes. "Burke-rat say he make trouble for Wyrwolf. Wyrwolf with blue eye", he said pointedly. "He make trouble for any other Wyrwolf, I not mind. Other Wyrwolf not nice. But", he raised a finger, "rat not get bit. Any other Wyrwolf but Vladimir bite, chew, swallow, is done. But not Vladimir." He nodded in satisfaction. "Vladimir is good Wyrwolf."
"Vladimir is angry", Vlad replied. "Do you have any idea what the police will do to you if-"
"Is no matter, polyitsa. Contract he sign, make job." He nodded at the rat, then in the direction of the cat. "Is job. They walk into Prochazka's house, is not Prochazka fault what happen."
"Bron", Vlad grumbled, still upset, "I didn't actually do anything to him. Well", he amended, "nothing he didn't deserve."
"Is true", said Bronislav. "But Bronislav see future. Burke-rat tell polyitsa, 'Big, evil Wyrwolf come, he make teeth at me, he throw me on wall, he kick Burke-rat friend'. Polyitsa, they come to Vladimir. Only blue-eyed Wyrwolf, da? Polyitsa, he say, 'Vladimir, you come downtown, answer question'. You leave house with polyitsa, all neighbor see. Neighbor thinking, 'Wyrwolf in big trouble polyitsa'. Because Vladimir", Bronislav smiled, "he no keep big secret like other Wyrwolfs. Make trouble for nice Wyrwolf, all neighbor be scare of him." He nodded to the rat again. "Prochazka fix."
Vlad sighed. "I guess. But Broni, I didn't ask you to do this."
Bronislav sighed, and the accent dropped. "I know, Vlad. But you're a good guy." He shrugged. "Not enough of those, this country or Old Country. I couldn't let him ruin things for you."
"Well", the other Wyrwolf sighed, "it's not like we can do anything about it now. They're stuck like that."
"True, is not", Prochavka grinned, his teeth gleaming, accent firmly in place. "Brought something from Old Country, fix good."
Vlad winced. "Bronislav, tell me you didn't bring hunger grass over. That stuff's dangerous!"
The actor shrugged. "Hokay. But did." He forestalled comment with an upraised paw. "Is only way fix Wyrwolf bite in hurry. Hunger grass pull all fat out of peoples, big hurry. Need for clown act. Also", he added, his grin widening, "for ringmaster. Lionel like get big for Prochazka, Prochazka like bite."
"And Vladimir is not so tense as was. Vladimir bite?" Vlad froze. "And why is no bringing Danny-bunny to circus?" The golden eyes sparkled like tinsel. "He no could get loose?" An answering smirk arose on Vlad's muzzle. "Is true?"
"Ha!", the accented Wyrwolf slapped Vlad on the back. "Is like I tell you, Vladimir: Just because Bite, don't have to chew!"