“Filling up the Void” by Richard E. Gropp from Wilde Stories 2012 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about people who are deeply uncomfortable in their bodies. This story takes a look at some of the issues inherent to that situation. In particular it explores how far someone might be willing to go to finally feel complete. This being spec fiction, it  can do so in a really intriguing way, by asking: What if you felt that you were, deep down, a wolf?

It takes two to tango. First, there must be someone so unhappy that they are willing to risk undergoing extreme surgery and even modification on a genetic level. We’re told that people have died or been disfigured, left with nothing like what they desired and no way to go back.

Rodrick took the risk, and his surgeries turned out better than anyone really thought possible. He’s not quite a wolf, but he’s definitely no longer a man. He has an elongated snout, pointy ears, claws, a tail, and fur.

Second, there must be financial backers willing to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to make someone into the species they feel they are, truly. These aren’t exactly benevolent souls. They’re cunning businesspeople looking to capitalize on the public’s fascination with people like Rodrick. Think Larry Flynt, the Girls Gone Wild enterprise back in its heyday, or whoever heads TLC.

Rodrick emerged from his many surgeries finally feeling like himself, but also straddled with a staggering, seven-figure debt. It will take a decade of indentured servitude to pay if off, where “indentured servitude” translates to appearing in dozens of x-rated films as well as being prostituted in the flesh, to extraordinarily wealthy clientele, men and women alike.

As you might expect, being constantly viewed as a commodity is a lonely life. Not that everyone flocks to him, or wishes they had the kind of money that would allow them to do so. There are plenty of people who don’t approve of what he’s done. They call him names, steer well clear of him, and keep tabs on him from afar, never missing an opportunity to convey that they view him as a monster.

What was a very lonely existence became much less so when he met The Linguist. Initially just one of his clients, The Linguist has become much more. Without veering into Pretty Woman territory, the story makes clear that he’s a true lover and friend to Rodrick. His nickname stems from the fact that he does some kind of work with languages and computers. Though The Linguist tries to explain it, Rodrick isn’t clear on just what it entails. Then the Linguist is murdered, and Rodrick is alone once again…or is he? The story continues to mine the territory of intelligence and personality vs physical manifestation. There’s enough material here that I suspect it could be turned into a successful novel, but does the job nicely in this format.