by Kris Schnee
Text ©2008 Kris Schnee; illustration ©2008 Cubist
Dear Mom & Dad:
Im having second thoughts about my career as a lycanthropic monstrosity. Each time I wake up in the tunnels, hearing the scuffling and screeching of my co-workers preparing for battle, I wonder how Im going to make it through the night.
Really, the transformation shouldve been my first clue about this job. When I showed up at the local recruiter for the Horde of the Plague God, everyone was some kind of bristling, blood-streaked were-creature based on Rattus norvegicus or a similar species. At the time I blinked at all the brown and grey fur, the lashing tails, the spiky helmets, and the shields crudely painted with the blood of the fallen, but I figured I could do this. After all, the recruiter didnt reject my application or complain about my essay. And if I didnt quite fit in, so what? I would after the induction ceremony.
Besides the fact that the ceremony consisted of the were-rats beating me senseless and taking my wallet before biting me, it didnt go well. Sure, I felt my skull bend and fur sprouting all over, but when the tail appeared
Eh, wots this? said Captain Skullcrush. His accent really is that bad. Es got a bleedin flufftail!
I grabbed the thing and felt a warm, fuzzy blanket connected to me, not ratty at all. Squirrelly. This didnt help me make a good first impression with the guys. Soon my tail actually was bloody, from a rusty razor treatment.
My initial assignments were all standard intern-level work, things like sharpening punji stakes and rearranging the decorative skeletons on our battle wagons. I never seemed to do anything right. It was always Hey, Nutgnaw! The spikes go through the ribcage like so! or Barkbreath! Youre not filthy enough! Really, they were only trying to help me improve my skills, but it was frustrating trying to adjust. Within a few weeks they suddenly shoved me out on taunting duty. This consists mostlyokay, entirelyof screaming insane threats of excruciating doom at our enemies. Before I signed off from my first day as a Taunter, it became clear that I really wasnt cut out for the task. I know were the cursed thralls of a god of plagues, but we dont have to be mean about it!
Then I got sent to help with the ongoing siege project. Weve been besieging this abbey for something like five years now; unfortunately, theres no sign of an end to the battle. We spent all winter assaulting the place and managed to burn a villageat least I think so, anyway, because in all the head-chopping and pillaging, we lost track of exactly what wed destroyed. The longer this goes on, the more killing we have to do and the more the guys inside get to suffer, but Im told those are actually good things. I wouldnt want you to think Ive grown cynical, Mom, but somehow, Im starting to feel like were not necessarily fighting for truth and justice when we hurl infected corpses over the walls day after day.
And then theres the defensive-services program. The Horde of the Plague God sends people around to all the villages offering to protect them from the hideous were-rats that might come crashing in on them any day. Its an even better deal than it sounds: All the clients have to do is hand over any cheese they have! Oh, and their firstborn, too, but all of my Hordemates assure me thats just a formality. The initial transactions usually seem to go pretty well, even when the villagers suspect that making a deal with us might not be such a great idea. If the initial consultations were my department I might have an easier time, but noI got sent on a customer-service expedition. Seems that this one village contracted for our protective services six months ago, and theyve been pillaged repeatedly by someone thats not us in the meantime, so the village elder sent his spiky-haired son to vanquish me and send a message that our evil wouldnt be tolerated any longer, or something like that. Go eat im, said Captain Skullcrush.
I just wanted to scurry around in the forest, not devour human flesh. So I tried to reason with the kid and managed to almost lose my tail to his sword, just as the fur was starting to grow back. The Captain listened to my suggestion that we try impartial third-party mediation, and he handed me a thirty-pound axe instead. So I dutifully showed up with that even though I could barely swing it. Really, I dont want to use this, I said.
I dropped the axe and got out of there, whereupon I got pummeled by my co-workers. We had to go back there as a group to burn the town. I hadnt the faintest notion of how its done, which made me feel pretty amateurish! Apparently, there are a lot of steps involved in properly destroying a place. It gets tedious having to keep track of who's been killed lately, what weapons need sharpening and so on. And then there's the trouble with billing. It really does take a horde to raze a village!
Overall, I dont feel as though this job as an evil minion is a good vehicle for the kind of creative expression I want to do. I got to decorate my corner of the lair to make it look a little more like the treetops I like these days, but its still a dank hole. My co-workers are pretty nice, for were-rats, but there seems to be an aggressive streak to this job that I dont seem able to match. Could you send me an ungnawed copy of my resume so I can update it and see what careers might be open to me at this point? I want work that lets me take pride in my skills and tail and that lets me fit in better.
Maybe some of the research positions at the abbey have openings for rodents!