A beast. Not quite wolf or bear, gorilla or dog but a horrible new creature who walks upright â a creature with fangs and claws and hair springing from every pore. I am a monster.
You think I'm talking fairy tales? No way. The place is New York City. The time is now. It's no deformity, no disease. And I'll stay this way forever â ruined â unless I can break the spell.
Yes, the spell, the one the witch in my English class cast on me. Why did she turn me into a beast who hides by day and prowls by night? I'll tell you. I'll tell you how I used to be Kyle Kingsbury, the guy you wished you were, with money, perfect looks, and the perfect life. And then, I'll tell you how I became perfectly . . . beastly.
I could feel everyone looking at me, but I was used to it. One thing my dad taught me early and often was to act like nothing moved me. When you're special, like we were, people were bound to notice.
It was the last month before the end of ninth grade. The substitute teacher was giving out ballots for spring dance court, something I'd normally have thought was lame.
"Hey, Kyle, your name's on this." My friend Trey Parker flicked my arm.
"No duh." When I turned Trey's way, the girl next to him â Anna, or maybe Hannah â looked down. Huh. She'd been staring at me.
I examined the ballot. Not only was my name, Kyle Kingsbury, there for ninth-grade prince, but I was the sure winner. No one could compete with my looks and my dad's cash.
The sub was a new one who might still have been under the mistaken impression that because Tuttle was the type of school that had a salad bar in the cafeteria and offered courses in Mandarin Chinese â i.e., a school where the serious money people in New York sent their kids â we weren't going to bust on him like public school dregs. Big mistake. It wasn't like anything the sub said was going to be on an exam, so we were trying to figure out how to make reading the ballot and scratching in our choices take the entire fifty-minute period. At least most of us were. The rest were texting each other. I watched the ones who were filling out their ballots glancing over at me. I smiled. Someone else might have looked down, trying to act all shy and modest, like they were ashamed of having their name there â but it doesn't make sense to deny the obvious.
"My name's there too." Trey flicked my arm again.
"Hey, watch it!" I rubbed my arm.
"Watch it yourself. You've got this stupid grin on your face like you already won, and now you're giving the paparazzi a chance to snap your picture."
"And that's wrong?" I grinned wider, to bug him, and gave a little wave like people in parades. Someone's camera phone snapped at just that moment, like an exclamation point.
"You shouldn't be allowed to live," Trey said.
"Why, thank you." I thought about voting for Trey, just to be nice. Trey was good for comic relief, but not too gifted in the looks department. His family was nobody special either â his dad was a doctor or something. They might post the vote totals in the school newspaper, and it'd be pretty embarrassing for Trey if he came in last or even didn't get any votes at all.
On the other hand, it would be cool if I got two or three times the votes of the next-closest person. And besides, Trey worshipped me. A real friend would want me to win big. That's another thing my dad always said: "Don't be a sucker, Kyle, and do things out of friendship or love. Because what you always end up finding out is the only one who really loves you is you."
I was seven or eight when he first said that, and I asked, "What about you, Dad?"
"You love . . ." Me. "Us. Your family."
He gave me a long look before saying, "That's different, Kyle."
I never asked him again if he loved me. I knew he'd told the truth the first time.
I folded my ballot over, to keep Trey from seeing I'd voted for myself. Of course, I knew he voted for himself too, but that was different.
That's when a voice came from the back of the room.
"This is disgusting!"
We all turned.
"Maybe someone left a booger under her desk," Trey whispered.
"Was it you?" I said.
"I don't do that anymore."
"Disgusting," the voice repeated. I stopped talking to Trey and looked at where the voice was coming from, this Goth freak sitting in back. She was a fat chick, dressed in the kind of flowing black clothes you usually only see on witches or terrorists...