|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
The Daily GrindWANTED: Special exotic dancer for exclusive nightclub. Experienced person only, classical and middle eastern styles a plus. Must be able to work in a variety of conditions. Good pay and benefits, excellent working conditions. Apply in person, 1440 Bourbon St. Monday between 1pm and 3pm.
Margaret Atkins glanced down at the paper in her hand, then back up at the old brick and wood building in front of her. Like many of the businesses along Bourbon St., this one hardly looked like a business, much less a club. Instead, the clean and neat appearance gave it the air of being a residence, one of those few souls that still lived on a street forever associated with the image of sex and sin.
New Orleans was a far cry from her home in Minnesota. Leaving home when she was 18, Margaret had worked her way through a variety of jobs until reaching New Orleans. Waitress, dancer, clerk, whatever she could take that would bring in enough money for the next move. Now 22 years old, she had begun wondering if she had made a mistake in leaving home.
She had no such thoughts about New Orleans, however. It was like falling in love when she first arrived, walking along the old tree shrouded streets and drinking in the sights and sounds of the city. In her mind, there was no doubt she was where she belonged. This place had called to her from all those miles, and she responded to that siren cry.
Standing outside in the cold isn't going to put food on the table, she mentally reminded herself. Rent was due in only a few days, and while she had enough saved away to take care of that and the utilities, it wasn't enough. She needed to work, and soon, and would willingly take anything she was given at this point. She pushed on the wooden door, and it opened without hesitation. A softly lit hallway greeted her vision, the wood floor and walls polished to a shine. Off to the right a wooden case stood, the shelves containing various plates and tokens of appreciation. The hallway led towards the main room, and there Margaret let out a soft sound of surprise.
Classy understated the look of this place. Everything from the soft plush carpeting to the railing, from the chairs and tables to the dance platform taking up a portion of the room spoke of quality. Leather seats and teak wood tables for the customers, one wall taken up with a mahogany bar, lighting and sound systems recessed into the ceiling and walls to be unobtrusive, everything spoke of creating the perfect environment for enjoying the time spent here.
The clink of glassware made her turn in surprise. A dark haired man was putting away bottles, his style of clothing identifying him as the bartender. He turned around, blinking for a moment at Margaret, then smiled.
"You're here for the position, aren't you?" His voice carried a touch of an Eastern European accent. "I'm Nathan, Nate for short."
"Margaret Atkins." She looked him over, and smiled a bit. He was tall, but not overly much, with dark hair and a neatly trimmed beard. Her ability to read a person's body language told her a lot, and his was clearly non-threatening. A vast difference from the last place she was working at.
"Mr. J's in the back office, he'll be happy to know you've found the place." Before Margaret could say anything in reply, he had slipped around behind the bar, picking up a phone.
"The new dancer is here," Nate said. He listened for a moment, then nodded. "I will." Placing the handset down, he motioned for Margaret to come over by the bar.
"Mr. J will be right here in a minute. Would you like something to drink while you're waiting? Non-alcoholic, I'm afraid. Club rules."
"Just a coke, thanks." Nate nodded, and she found herself sipping a cold soda with just the right amount of ice. She glanced around at the room once again, then turned back to Nate. "This doesn't look anything like what I expected."
Nate chuckled gently. "It's not like anything you'll ever see again, I'd wager. Mr. J designed this place especially to be unique." He would have said more, but instead grinned. "And you're about to find out yourself."
Margaret turned around to find an elderly gentleman standing behind her, green eyes peering intently from behind a pair of glasses. A tailored gray suit fitted his body perfectly, and while he was slightly smaller than her, he carried an air around him that made him seem a good foot taller. Despite the intense gaze, a warm smile graced his face, and he nodded ever so slightly.
"Welcome to Metamorphos," he greeted her in a surprising strong baritone voice. "I'm Jason Mathoney, Mr. J to all the employees here." He gave another of those unusually warm smiles and waved his hand towards a door. "Shall we discuss the terms of employment here?"
The office was as well decorated as the main room, with soft lights and a warm ambient atmosphere. Besides the large oak desk, there were two leather chairs for guests, a small liquor cabinet, a bookshelf and two paintings that Margaret couldn't immediately identify. Mr. J slipped behind the desk, and pulled out a sheet of paper.
"You'll excuse me if things might be a little unusual, Miss Atkins, but I do tend to do things in my own ways. Few have yet to argue with me over them." He handed the sheet over to her and leaned back in his chair. "I believe that's the most recent resume of your experience?"
Margaret read over the page, blinking from time to time in near shock. Every job she'd held since leaving Minnesota was listed, complete with dates and reasons for leaving. She handed the sheet back to him and nodded slowly.
"It's... complete, yes."
"Good. I do pride myself on the accuracy of my information." He leaned forwards, resting his elbows on the desk and bringing his hands together lightly. "Let me explain a few things about this place.
"Metamorphos is a very unique venue. We attract a special class of clients here, guests who would otherwise find reason not to attend the average establishment in the Quarter. We provide for those clients the kind of entertainment that they would enjoy, exotic and original."
Mr. J smiled gently. "We are not like the average gentleman's club, nor are we into providing erotic services. The emphasis here is in the word 'exotic'. Dance will be a part of your duties, but you will have the leeway to choose in what fashion you wish to perform. Public dances on the main stage, or private dances in the small rooms off the hallway."
He paused a moment, and slid over several forms. "Your pay will start at $500 a week, plus gratuities. We do take out for taxes from the weekly salary, and if you wish we can also help keep track of taxes on anything else you might make while working here. There is a small medical plan if you decide to stay longer than 30 days which you'll be enrolled in, as well as other benefits such as reimbursement for classes." Margaret looked up in surprise at that last statement, and Mr. J chuckled. "As I said, this is not your normal establishment."
"I'm... beginning to see that." Margaret felt stunned inside, the feeling that someone's just handed her a gift, unsure if there was a hidden string attached. "What would be my work hours?"
"We're open Tuesdays thru Saturdays, beginning at 7pm. You'd be expected to show up an hour early, and generally leave around 3am. Oh, a small dinner buffet is provided in the dressing room, if you don't get a chance to have dinner before work."
"This sounds too good to be true," Margaret said, then shook her head. "I'm surprised you don't have people knocking the doors down to work here."
"I'm very, how should I put this, selective in my choice of employees," Mr. J replied. "This place is designed for a certain type of entertainment, one of the senses. We are not like other clubs who's sole purpose is the displaying of the female form." He looked about to add to his statement, but instead smiled gently. "But you'll see soon enough. That's if you sign those W-4 forms and hand them back to me."
Margaret looked at the paperwork, a little troubled inside. He knew about her as well as her past, that much was clear. But he was offering a job, and she needed to work. The needs won out, and she quickly filled out the paperwork.
"I don't know why I'm doing this," she admitted. "But I need to work, and this is just too good of a thing to pass up."
Mr. J smiled, and took the forms back. "I'm sure you'll enjoy working here," he said, filing the papers in his desk. "You'll definitely find it a very enlightening experience. I'll see you tomorrow, around 6pm then."
"Hi there! You must be the new dancer Mr. J mentioned."
Margaret blinked at the person speaking to her. A Zulu warrioress with her dark skin, tall build and proud air stood up from a dressing table. Margaret first felt a little intimidated, her own smaller frame and light brown hair dwarfed by the giantess. But she greeted Margaret like a long-lost friend, giving a hug that was hardly self-conscious despite her state of undress. "I'm Kishanta," she continued, walking back to her dressing table. "Mr. J told us we were getting a new person to join the crew."
Margaret smiled shyly and placed her pack in an empty chair. "I'm Margaret," she said in a soft voice. "Is there anywhere I can put this?"
"Oh, just take a table and claim it as yours." Kishanta grinned and gave a warm wink. "We're not strict on rank and stuff. After all, there's just us girls here."
Margaret chuckled at that, and started unpacking, placing a few little jewelry pieces where she could find them. "Anything I leave here will be safe?"
"About as safe as the rest of us are," another voice chimed in. Margaret turned around to see another of the dancers, this one being a red-headed gal with just a slightly golden skin tone. "Anything you leave here will stay until you get back. Mr. J makes certain of that."
The redhead grinned and held out her hand. "I'm Diane. I see you've already met our resident Amazon," reaching over and ruffling Kishanta. Kishanta stuck her tongue out at Diane, then grinned.
"Now I'm not that bad. You should see it when Mariko gets angry. Whoo wee! Talk about dangerous in a small package."
A gentle oriental tone filled the air, along with a soft giggle.
"You should know by now that I am more than capable of taking care of myself," Mariko replied, nearly gliding into the room. Margaret couldn't help but stare at the small oriental dancer, her makeup and kimono turning her into a walking porcelain figurine. Mariko caught Margaret's glance, and bowed low.
"Welcome, fellow dancer." Mariko smiled and tilted her head slightly. "It is good to see another joining us here."
"Give her a little time to get used to things, ok?" Kishanta gave a knowing glance to the other dancers, who smiled and nodded in silent reply. Turning back to Margaret, her expression altered a bit.
"If you need any help, don't be afraid to ask us. We've been here since it opened, and we're pretty used to the way things work. The same's true for Nate or Dan. If you need help, ask 'em. Normally we don't get into trouble, but every once in a while it happens."
Margaret nodded slowly. "I met Nate back when I was hired. Dan is the bouncer?"
"Actually Dan's on the police department," Diane responded. "But both are trained to take out troublemakers without any real harm. To us or to themselves, I mean." Diane chuckled softly. "What happens to the perps, though, is a different matter."
Everyone laughed at that, then the door opened up and two more dancers arrived. "Hey, what is this? Someone started a party and didn't tell us?"
Diane waved the new arrivals over. "Come and meet the new dancer."
Twin blond bombshells wandered on over, giving Margaret the same warm hug hello. "Welcome to the club," the one on the left said, grinning at the blush on Margaret's cheeks. "I'm Astri, and that's my sister Brithe."
"I'm Margaret." The variety of people was starting to make her head spin. "Pleased to meet you."
"Nice to have another dancer here since Carolyn left," Brithe replied. Her voice and the darker coloration of her hair was just enough to let Margaret tell them apart. "We got a card from her today, by the way."
"You did?" Kishanta suddenly grinned. "How's she taking to England?"
"She says that folks there don't know how to drive, but neither did people in New Orleans." Astri snickered at that then added, "but she's getting used to the English way."
"Well good for her," Diane replied. "I'm glad she's doing well with Roger." She looked around and let out a soft humming sound. "Anyone hear from Tanya?"
Kishanta nodded. "She's down with a flu bug, won't be able to make it tonight." Everyone looked sad at that news.
"I hope she is feeling well soon," Mariko said into the quiet. "She will be missed tonight." Her eyes lit up and a sly smile broke onto her lips. "But we have a new one to discover the fun that we have here."
A clapping sound came from behind them all, and they turned to see Mr. J standing in the doorway. "I see you've all met the new employee," he said in that warm baritone. "Please help her feel welcomed and answer any questions she might have."
Margaret blushed hotly. "T-thanks, they've been more than helpful already to me."
Mr. J smiled at that. "Good, I'm glad to see you all are getting along well enough." He snapped a finger, and Nate walked in with a small silver tray with six glasses. "The evening tonic, ladies."
All of the dancers took the offered glasses. Margaret sniffed at it a moment, unable to tell what the liquid was. She looked at Mr. J who merely smiled a bit.
"Drink it," he said in a softer tone. "It's quite safe, and will help you relax. And it will help you be able to face the evening here."
Margaret looked ready to question that, but seeing the other dancers drinking their glasses merely shrugged. "Bottom's up, I suppose. She downed the clear liquid, a light citrus taste to it. If there was any alcohol in it, she couldn't tell. The liquid did give her a warm feeling, and that warmth spread rapidly throughout her.
Mr. J smiled, and quickly traced a series of finger motions in the air. His fingers glowed a soft orange light, the movements leaving the glow hanging in the air.
Power suddenly surged within Margaret, and she felt a wave of heat wash over her. As quickly as it passed, her body seemed to freeze for a moment, a strong itchy sensation coming from every inch of her skin. There were odd sounds within her, vision blurring for a moment as she felt her body rearranging, then with a snap everything snapped back into place.
The reflection in the mirror made her gasp in shock. A lightly furred feline face and muzzle peered back at her, the marking bright orange and white all over. The fur ran all over her body, down to long fingers and a digitgrade set of feet. Muscles twitched in her back, and she felt the swish of a tail that wasn't there moments before. She let out a soft mewling sound, and felt a hand touch her shoulder.
She looked up and gazed at a black furred feline, white marking across her chest and on her hands and feet. Dark eyes peered back and glittered with concern and amusement both. "Just sit and relax," she purred, and Margaret realized it was Kishanta. "It can be a bit disorienting the first times."
"What... what's happened to me? To you?" Margaret's voice carried real panic, and Kishanta gently hugged her.
"It's ok, it's not permanent." Margaret looked up to see a calico feline walking towards her, Diane from the way she spoke. "This is part of the job."
"Part of the job?" Margaret blinked and looked at the rest of the dancers, all of whom were now anthropomorphic felines. Mariko, a flame point Siamese nodded and twitched her whiskers.
"This is what makes this place special. Did you not expect it with a name of Metamorphos?" She lightly giggled and flicked an ear. "Change is what we do, to be what the guests expect."
Astri and Brithe both nodded, a twin pair of Persians. "Before we go out, we're changed to suit the mood of the night. You'll see, it'll be fine."
Margaret looked carefully at everyone, then sighed and stood upright. It took her a moment to get her balance. "If you can do it, then I guess I can as well. It's just so... well, odd. Surreal."
Diane laughed and patted Margaret's hand. "It can get very surreal, trust me. But let's go, we've got customers to entertain."
None of the others were joking in the least when they said it would be an experience. Margaret quickly discovered her body was more flexible, more capable than before. And with a cat's balance, she could perform dance moves that were difficult for her in the past with ease.
The club was only partially filled when they went on stage, all six dancing at once as the evening began. After that performance each dancer would have their own session on stage, backed by whatever music they preferred.
Equally surprising was that none of the customers seemed shocked or surprised at their appearance. There were a few who cast lingering gazes on the dancers, but those gazes were always warm and courteous, unlike the outright lusty looks Margaret used to receive.
That combination, the appreciation from the customers and the warm feeling of comradeship she was getting from the others melted away any worried in Margaret's mind. It definitely was the most unusual job she's held, but as Mariko said, it was fun for her.
Closing time seemed to arrive faster than Margaret expected. She glanced at the clock over the bar, and was startled to see it was already after 2am. Nate and Dan herded the last of the customers out, and Mr. J was waiting in the dressing room for the rest of the dancers.
"A very good night, everyone." He was very pleased, and went to each dancer. "Kishanta, that was an excellent routine on stage. Diane, Mariko, you both handled the guests well enough. Astri and Brithe, wonderful visions you created. And Margaret," he finally said, "a very, very good beginning for you here. The middle eastern performance was a hit with the group from Egypt."
Margaret ducked her head in embarrassment. She still wasn't sure if everyone in that group was human, the one in the back she was positive had a jackal's head. But they requested her, and she put on the best show she could. The tip they left would easily let her get groceries for a week at Schwegmann's.
"I trust everyone will be here tomorrow around 6?" Sounds of agreement came from the dancers, and Mr. J smiled. "Good." He raised his hand and traced another symbol in the air, and the feeling of heat rose inside Margaret again. There was a moment of vertigo, then she took a shuddering breath as she saw her body back to normal again.
"Have a good night, ladies." Mr. J left the room, and soon most of the rest of the dancers were gone, leaving just Diane and Margaret. Diane looked over at Margaret and smiled gently.
"So are you holding up well enough from this?"
Margaret returned her question with a wry smile. "I'm trying," she admitted. "It's a little difficult to deal with what happened. Maybe if I just simply sleep on it I'll be able to handle it better."
Diane nodded slowly. "Well if you need someone to talk to about it, just look for me. Don't forget to turn off the light when you leave." Diane gave Margaret one final hug, then headed down the hallway, leaving her alone.
Margaret took a look around the room, then sighed softly and turned off the light.
The next few days weren't much better for Margaret's peace of mind. Wednesday evening found the dancers being turned into a variety of cervine and antelope forms. Thursday night found Margaret as a 3' tall fairy, complete with a set of wings that allowed her to fly off the ground. Friday night found her becoming a zebra morph, with the rest of the dancers becoming various African wildlife forms. Finally Saturday rolled around, with all the dancers becoming husky morphs.
That last change was a lot of fun, despite Margaret's fretting. Everyone wore a body harness at the beginning, and came out dancing on stage pulling a real Iditarod dogsled behind them, with a guest of Mr. J's sitting and enjoying the ride. The weather outside was turning cold again, and the forms that he had chosen fit the night perfectly.
Once again time was a very slippery concept in the club, and before she realized it, quitting time had crept up on Margaret once again. Everyone gathered in the dressing room, where Mr. J was waiting with envelopes.
"A most excellent night," he said warmly. "And as always, here's your pay." He handed out the envelopes, receiving warm kisses from everyone.
Margaret opened hers, and found several bills along with a pay stub showing that indeed all the taxes were taken out. Mr. J slipped up behind her and chuckled softly, making her spin in surprise.
"I don't believe in the idea of issuing checks when you're not able to cash them the next day," he said to her, making the other dancers giggle. "And this is much easier to deal with in the long term, I've found."
"I... thank you," Margaret finally stammered. "This is... I don't know what to say."
"You don't need to say anything," Mr. J replied. "Just enjoy your time off, and I'll see you Tuesday evening. As I'll see all of you then." He held up his hand, and the now-familiar sensations flooded Margaret, leaving her back in her normal form once more. By the time she looked up, only Diane was left in the room, finishing up packing her purse.
"Want some company to walk home with?"
Margaret nodded, surprising herself. "Sure, if you don't mind."
"Don't mind at all." Diane smiled gently. "You look like you need someone to talk with, to be honest here."
Margaret blinked. "Is it that obvious?"
"Not to most folks, no." Diane smiled gently. "And Mr. J, for all his help, wouldn't really understand what's happened with you. So why don't we go grab some coffee and beignets and talk?"
Fog was rolling in off the Mississippi, but the Cafe du Monde was still in full swing along Dauphine. At any time, day or night, you could get cafe au lait and beignets coated with powdered sugar, sit and listen to the rhythms of both the river and the French Quarter.
Diane and Margaret managed to snag themselves a corner table, far enough away from the tourists. With quick efficiency they were served, enjoying a few moments to themselves.
"So how are you holding up?" Diane finally asked, licking her fingers clean of powdered sugar. Margaret sighed softly, and set her cup on the table.
"I'm really not sure," she admitted. "The last week has been so... strange. Being different things, dancing at the club, seeing so many things walking in that couldn't possibly exist..." Her voice trailed off, unsure of what else to say for the moment.
Diane nodded in understanding. "Things here might seem strange, but that's because you've never had to encounter those things. Life elsewhere might be normal, but this is New Orleans. Here, magic is a very real part of this city."
Margaret raised her eyes up at that, suddenly curious. "What do you mean? You mean all the things written in books about this city is real? Like those novels about the vampires?"
"Oh lord, don't let Marco hear you say that," Diane said, stifling a laugh. "He hates Anne Rice and what she's written. Even tried to set her straight one year, but that was a near disaster."
"Marco," Margaret repeated. "He was the one in the grey suit you introduced me to last night?"
"That's him," Diane agreed. "He's a vampire. Leader of the local group, you could say." She sipped her coffee again, and let out a soft sound of relaxation. "Truth is, Margaret, things like vampires, werewolves, other creatures from myth are real here. In fact they're real everywhere, it's just most people don't believe any more."
Margaret shook her head, confused. "But if they're real, do people here see them as real?"
"Most folks? No. But there's enough people here in New Orleans that the vampires, the others can interact without fear. If a vampire goes into a store, all the salespeople will see is another customer." Diane chuckled softly. "Although the only store Marco would go into is Saks Fifth Avenue."
Margaret giggled along with Diane. "But what about what's been happening to me?" she asked, her expression turning serious again. "I mean, I'm not anything special."
"That depends. You believe in elves and dragons, don't you?"
"Well, kinda." Margaret blushed a bit, and ducked her head. "I've always liked the idea of being the fairy princess, being carried off by a dragon."
"You were a pretty good fairy a few nights back," Diane pointed out.
Margaret thought about it a moment. "I guess I was," she admitted.
Diane smiled and nodded. "Think of it as living in a different world now, one that's more interesting and more open. It can be dangerous, but just remember that you can always ask for help. You'd be surprised how many people know you already."
"Huh?" Margaret's face wore a surprised look. "You mean I'm popular?"
"About as popular as the rest of us are," Diane said. "Nearly everyone who's anyone on the mythic side of this city visits Metamorphos, and that includes quite a few powerful individuals. So don't be surprised if things start 'happening' around you more often." Margaret leaned back and mulled it over. "I always wanted to be known," she said in a gentle voice. "Make a name for myself, that sort of dream."
Diane smiled and reached out to squeeze Margaret's hand. "Believe me, you'll be as popular as the rest of us are. Kishanta loves the attention."
"So I've noticed," Margaret replied instantly. "But she doesn't seem worried that I was getting more requests."
"She won't. She'll just think up a new routine and use it, and she'll be back to the top of the list." Diane grinned, then glanced at the clock.
"Eef, almost 4. I've got to get home here." She stood up and smiled. "Feeling better?"
"You've given me a bit more to think about," Margaret replied. "And at least now I know what to think about."
"Good." Diane hugged her lightly, then winked. "See you later?"
"See you later."
"Whoa, gal! Now that's gonna make the jakes drop their jaws."
Margaret turned and winked, her serpentine half coiling up underneath. "Think so?" she hissed, "I'd think they'd go gaga over you tonight."
Kishanta laughed and shook her head. "Well, there's a couple of dragon lovers I know who'll eat it up."
Astri and Diane walked over, giving both a good long look. "Come on, we've got work to do tonight," Astri reminded them, her horn glittering in the light as her tail flicked behind.
Diane winked and gave Margaret a snug. "Ready for another night?"
Margaret smiled and nodded. "Ready as ever."
Outside the music started playing, and the lights began to dim. Kishanta flicked her wings against her back and rumbled. "Let's do it." With that, she strutted onto the stage, her head and tail weaving in rhythm with the music. Margaret waited, then with a slow slithering moved to join the rest of her friends, another magical night at work.
The Daily Grind copyright 1999 by Tal Greywolf.
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