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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Friday Fiction: The Dinner

Writing 150(The final — and longest — bit of fiction for the Unstable Future universe so far. Next month, I’ll move on to a different setting to get a feel for those characters. Here, we have that first date for Abernathy Jones and Jonathan Quinn (name subject to change later). What I wanted to do here was really work with dialogue to establish a good feel for the characters and use Abe’s POV to establish his semi anti-social personality. 1957 words.)

The Oleander Pool Hall was not anyone’s idea of a fancy restaurant, but it was about the closest thing the town had. The front of the huge building was divided into a bar, for those pool players who wanted a pint between games, and a large sit-down area for those people who wanted a big, sloppy plate of chili cheese fries. The actual pool hall dominated the back area; you could easily hear the trash-talk of the townies and college students, and you could see the haze of tobacco smoke rolling just underneath the ceiling like mist. Still, you weren’t going to find a special that featured a 16 oz. steak and three eggs for as low a price anywhere.

Abe walked into the entrance hesitantly. He almost never came here; it was too far out of the way, and he didn’t care for the constant stream of curses and smoke that came out from the back. He wasn’t quite sure what to wear for the occasion, so he opted for something slightly dressy yet safe — a red flannel shirt and a pair of jeans that he swore fit a little looser the last time he put them on a few months ago. The Rabbit scanned the room for Jonathan, but all he saw was an incredibly overbuilt giraffe squeezed into one of the booths along the wall and a sour-looking badger pushing around an egg floating in a sea of grease. Abe checked his pocket watch. He was right on time.

Without a hostess to guide him, Abe simply sat down at a two-seater table near the window. It was furthest from the back, and offered something else to look at beyond the faux-wood paneling or the peeling carpet. He glanced around the restaurant one more time; he spotted dark silhouettes moving through the haze of low lighting and tobacco smoke in the pool hall, but none of the shapes were ones he recognized. The giraffe caught his eye and did that annoying head-nod thing that young people did instead of speaking. “Sup,” he rumbled. Abe simply smiled and shrugged. What were you supposed to say to that?

He caught Jonathan slipping through the front door just as he turned to look out of the window. The big tiger briefly filled the door frame as he squeezed in, taking off his deputy’s hat as soon as he came in. Abe’s heart sank for a moment when he saw the Tiger was in full uniform. Maybe he had misread the situation; maybe Jonathan really didn’t want anything more than a statement.

The deputy briefly loomed over a Vixen who stopped to meet him, then followed him to the table that Abe was sitting at. The Rabbit stood up and stuck out his paw, which the Tiger swallowed and shook. They both sat down, and the Vixen placed menus in front of them before they even had a chance to say more than hello.

“Good evening y’all,” she said, giving them both a toothy smile. “The special’s the catfish and corn fritters, that’s just gonna be five Credits. We got pale ale on tap, and the house special is this little microbrew that George Hunter cooked up out behind his shed. It ain’t bad, actually, but it ain’t for everyone.” She wrinkled her muzzle, and Abe suddenly knew that she must get a lot of lonely truckers falling in love with her after that move. “Can I start y’all off with a pint or somethin’? Plate of chili cheese fries?”

Abe shook his head, but Jonathan said “I’ll have a pint of that microbrew. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Hunter’s special since I’ve gotten here.”

The Vixen wagged, and her hand reached out to touch Jonathan’s shoulder. “Sure thing, hon.” She turned to look at the Rabbit. “Should I make that two?”

Abe shook his head again. “No, just water for me, thank you.”

“OK, hon. And just so you know, any dish can be made with the herbivore’s substitution. You just gotta ask for it, OK?”

“I will.” The Rabbit forced himself to smile. “Thank you.”

Now it was his turn to get the paw on the shoulder. Abe smelled the subtle perfume she used to neutralize her natural vulpine scent. “You’re welcome, honey. I’ll go get that pint for ya.” With a flounce and a swish of her tail, she was off.

Jonathan grinned wide as Abe looked at him. “That has got to be the happiest waitress I’ve ever seen.”

Abe chuckled and perked an ear. “Why wouldn’t she be? College student working her way through school. She’s got her whole life ahead of her.”

Jonathan raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? I…forgot this was a small town. You probably know everybody’s story around here.”

“Oh no, quite the opposite. I live so far out of town I might as well be on my own. I’ve just seen her around on the days when I come in.” Abe shrugged.

“You’re a farmer, right? Where’s your property?” The Tiger, Abe noticed, produced a small notepad and put it on the table in front of him. It looked comically undersized in his paw.

“About 15 miles northeast of the Oleander border. Don’t get much in the way of services out there; we got phones when I was a little leveret, and we just got cable TV a few years back.” The Rabbit grinned. “Electricity and indoor plumbing’s always been there, though.”

Jonathan chuckled. “I didn’t think you were that bad off. I know that folks around here are used to a…rustic way of life. That’s part of the charm, though.”

The fur on the back of Abe’s neck stood up. Bad off? Rustic? He sounded like one of those Capital animals, so used to high technology they had no idea how to live without it any more.

The Tiger must have saw something in his expression. “I really do like it here. The people are awesome, and it’s…peaceful.” He took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders. His shirt looked like it might lose a couple of buttons. “There’s just something nice about being able to see trees and stuff.”

Abe grinned broadly. “Well sure. Cities are a human invention, I’ve always said. Let ’em stay there. We’ll keep the good stuff.”

The waitress came with a glass of beer and a glass of water, and they toasted to that. She took their orders with the same bubbly, friendly tone she always had and disappeared back into the smoky haze of the pool hall. Abe wondered how long it would take for them to see her again. This place wasn’t known for its speedy service.

“So….” Jonathan said, filling the gap in conversation. “…about that altercation in the market parking lot.”

Abe’s ears drooped automatically. “Oh right, we’re here for you to get a statement.”

The Tiger shook his head, then moved his notepad to the window’s ledge. “Oh, no, don’t worry about that. That was just an excuse to get you to come here.”

Abe blinked. “Really?”

Jonathan grinned. “Really. I just thought that we had a lot of similar interests, maybe.”

The Rabbit stiffened. This was not a community that tolerated much in the way of deviant behavior. Even with the college, Abe had gotten the impression that homosexuality was not looked upon favorably. He didn’t know what would happen if word had gotten out about his interests. He could be targeted by the Claw and Fang; businesses would stop taking his produce; he’d become a pariah in Oleander. As little as he cared for the town and its inhabitants, he had to admit he needed them. Keeping himself…hidden was a matter of livelihood. If some rumor had taken hold…

He tried to play it cool. “What makes you think that?”

Jonathan shrugged. “Well, it was just a feeling I had. To be honest, you just looked friendly and a new guy like me could always use some friends.”

Abe began to relax. “I don’t know what gave you that idea.” He grinned slightly. “I usually keep to myself. I don’t have much tolerance for people.”

The Tiger grinned. “I picked up on that, but I think you might just have a tolerance for ME. I’m a good judge of character about these things. It’s one of the reasons I’m in law enforcement.”

Abe caught himself laughing. “Oh really? Is another so you can walk around town popping out of your uniform?”

Jonathan’s ears flattened, and the sparse fur around his nose showed his blush. “It is a little small, isn’t it? But it was the biggest they had! They’re working on one that fits me at the tailor’s.”

Abe waved it off, “Don’t worry about it, I’m just yanking your chain. You look fine.”

“Are you sure? It doesn’t make me look…silly, like one of those cop-strippers?” Jonathan’s fang showed as he bit his lower lip.

Abe looked at him sideways. He just couldn’t resist a set-up like this. “You definitely look like a stripper. But you don’t look silly.”

Jonathan only looked partially mollified. “Well, as long as I look like a stripper with dignity, that’s all that matters.”

Abe nearly snorted into his water, and that sent Jonathan into a fit of laughter. The Vixen — Melody, if her nametag were to be believed — smiled at the both of them and dropped off the plates, then quickly disappeared. Abe could scarcely believe how quickly their order arrived.

They didn’t speak once about the altercation in the parking lot, but Jonathan did ask for more information about the Claw and Fang. Mostly, they talked about other things; what it was like for Jonathan growing up in the city, how Abe was raised to live and die on his farm, and that was what he planned to do. Jonathan talked about why he became a sheriff’s deputy in a one-light country town, and what he planned to do with his life. When Abe asked him if he had plans to find a Tiger and settle down with a family some day, he simply shrugged.

“I really haven’t found too many women that interest me, you know? I just can’t…connect with them. It’s much easier to understand guys, so that’s where a lot of my attention goes.” He looked at Abe pointedly. That was all the confirmation he needed.

Dinner couldn’t have gone much more smoothly. An hour passed, then two. Melody had come to clean their empty plates, refill Jonathan’s beer and Abe’s water several times, and at last came with the dessert menu. She flicked her ears as she looked from the Rabbit to the Tiger. “I know it’s late, y’all, but did you think you might want a little dessert?”

Abe looked behind him. The monster Giraffe, amazingly enough, was still there, talking to a Rabbit that was even smaller than him. There was a couple of elderly raccoons sipping coffee over cold liver and gravy. And the noise of the pool room had gotten markedly louder. The Rabbit could smell the stench of the smoke, could hear the curses striking like bombs in the air. The whole place reeked of grease and beer, of the scent of patrons and workers, and most of all tobacco. It looked cheap and depressing and run-down. There was no place he’d rather be.

“Actually, I think I’ll have the apple pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. And a pint of that microbrew.” Abe grinned at Jonathan, who grinned back. If he needed to go home, Crystal could practically walk herself to the farm. But he had a feeling he’d be sleeping someplace much closer.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Furries, Writing

 

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The AFI Top 100 Films: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (#30)

Entertainment 150The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston and Tim Holt
Written by John Huston (screenplay) and B. Traven (novel)
Directed by John Huston

I felt like I had learned a few things after seeing . One: finding and mining gold is a LOT more difficult than I thought and way harder than it had been portrayed in other movies. Two: that the only reason you would go to Mexico at the time was specifically to find gold. Three: that the allure of overwhelming wealth is far more powerful than just about anyone realizes. Four: “We don’t need no stinking badges!” is a misquote, that actually came from this movie. The last bit, sadly, is probably the knowledge that I will spread most.

Dobbs (Bogart), an American down on his luck in Mexico, meets up with a compatriot named Bob Curtin (Holt). Together, with a grizzled prospector who’s seen a thing or two (Huston), they trek to the harsh and forbidding wilderness in the Sierra Madre mountains for one big score. Once they find it, they’ll have to protect it from bandits, mining companies eager to put a legal claim on the place, other prospectors, and the rising tide of greed within themselves. Combine the constant mental wariness with the back-breaking physical labor, and you just have to wonder how long someone could last in that situation.

The entire first act is a wonderfully protracted exercise in foreshadowing. Howard, the old prospector, makes no bones about telling Dobbs and Curtin that gold-mining is nowhere near as easy or fun as it sounds. There are an awful lot of things that you need to keep track of, and even more that you have to watch out for. The biggest thing to watch out for is greed, however; that’ll take a man over to the point that he’s doing unspeakable things. We watch both Dobbs and Curtin vehemently deny the possibility this could exist in their natures, and immediately we wonder which one of them will succumb first.

Answer: They all do. Or do they?

One of these men turns into a paranoid monster when gold is involved. Guess which one?

We see the character of Dobbs and Curtin quite well in this first part of the movie, and we get a good sense for what kind of people they are. After working on a construction project and being stiffed on their wages, they happen upon the foreman one day and demand their money. When they get it, they have the opportunity to take his entire roll but they don’t. Only the wages they were promised, no more, no less. It’s a great touch; when they have every reason to clean this guy out, they don’t. Their actions back up their words, and you just know they believe themselves to be fair and honest men.

The adventures in the mountains don’t go anywhere near the way the men expect; they have to deal with bandits, of course, and other prospectors sniffing around their claim. They also have to deal with the intense labor involved in extracting the gold from the mountain and the incredibly dangerous conditions they must endure to do so. Howard, who at first comes off as a loony old kook, seems to grow stronger every day he’s out there. He’s in his element, and the wisdom of his years becomes painfully evident.

I don’t want to go too much further into the film than I already have; it was fun watching the action play out in ways that surprised me. But I will say that the destructive nature of our lusts is on full display here, and Howard’s ability to see it coming far down the road and deal with it once it reaches him is truly a wonderful thing to watch. It’s fascinating to watch men break down without the safety net of civilization to guide their actions.

Both Bogart and Huston give great performances here; Bogart because he’s playing against his type, as a man who’s out of his element and in over his head, while Huston thoroughly lives in his performance as a guy who first annoys you, then inspires awe in you. He’s really the reason to watch this movie, and his Best Supporting Actor Oscar is thoroughly deserved.

I’ve developed an increasing fondness for stories in which the ending features the characters looking at the cost they’ve paid to achieve their goals and realizing that what they’ve overcome is so enormous that their original goals seem meaningless in comparison. I’m not sure The Treasure of the Sierra Madre quite fits that mold, but it brings it to mind. Knowing what goes into the search for gold definitely takes the luster out of it, and I imagine living through a claim scours away any romantic notions you may have had once.

Rating: 7/10.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies

 

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The AFI Top 100 Films: Annie Hall (#31)

Entertainment 150Annie Hall (1977)
Starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton
Written by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman
Directed by Woody Allen

I was surprised by the warmth of Annie Hall, though I’ve seen enough Woody Allen movies at this point that I shouldn’t have been. It has all those things you expect in a Woody Allen movie — the hyperverbosity, the focus on the absurdities of human behavior, the sharp observational humor, and I think that might be because it’s the first Woody Allen film that really establishes the template for what comes after.

Annie Hall is a quasi-autobiographical account of his relationship with the titular woman, though I’ve read here and there that it’s actually based on the film’s star, Diane Keaton. If that’s true, then she’s a tremendously good sport about having the rise and fall of an entire romance fictionalized and thrust out there for the world to see. Allen himself vehemently denies that his romance to Keaton has anything to do with anything, though, and he’s just writing what he knows. I think the rumor persists precisely because Allen seems to wear his heart on his sleeve in his writing, that his movies — no matter how exaggerated or farcical — end up feeling intimate because people and their innermost thoughts are always at their core. It’s hard to imagine someone writing so deeply without having lived it.

Here, a stand-up comic named Alvy Singer is a stand-in for Allen. They share the same birthday, Singer uses the same jokes that Allen did when he was a beginning comic, and they come from roughly the same background. Still, when Singer’s early life is dramatized so we have an understanding of where his neuroses come from, there’s so much that’s so outlandish it’s hard to believe he’s being literal. When he mentions that his apartment was underneath a subway, what we see is so surreal that it’s a genuine surprise when he comes back to it later on as an adult. Holy shit, you think, that’s an actual thing.

There’s a wonderful tension in that, where surprises are lurking in every scene, where you’re not quite sure what’s actually happening and what’s a flight of fancy. What starts out as a riff on a common-enough frustration — a know-it-all knowing it all very loudly behind you in line — ends with the subject of the argument (Marshall McLuhan, a prominent cultural academic at the time) coming out to tell the guy directly that he’s just wrong. A scene where Alvy and Annie grope awkwardly in conversation suddenly comes with subtitles that spell out the subtext in each comment. Allen throws everything at the wall to see if it sticks, and what’s amazing is that nearly everything does. Each scene is a delight, and I’m really impressed that he could sustain that for most of the movie.

Actually, maybe Michael Cera's surpassed it by now.

“This is the most awkward rooftop conversation in the history of mankind.”

The overriding theme, of course, is how people fall into and out of love. We watch Annie and Alvy through their first meeting, their gradual intertwining into each other’s lives, and the protracted, messy disconnection that happens long after the relationship ends. It’s a bittersweet affair; we know exactly why Annie and Alvy are so great together, and why they’re ultimately not quite right for each other. By the end of the film, when Alvy picks over the wreckage of their relationship, we’re right there with him, sympathizing, going back to try and figure out what happened. Ultimately, we simply have to do what he does. We shrug, take the lessons that we can, and trust that our wounds will stop bleeding all over the sidewalk in time.

Even though so much of the movie deals with the break-up, we never once are encouraged to take sides. Annie can be incredibly frustrating, but she’s always understandable. Through the worst of their affair, there’s a deep and abiding love there that never goes away.

And that’s ultimately what makes Annie Hall (and most other Allen movies) so warm. Even when he’s pointing out the absurd behavior of the people around him, or when he’s hiding behind the glasses of a nebbish misanthrope, we can see through his writing that above all, Woody Allen loves people — all of their messy contradictions, the inexplicable behavior, the wild variety of personalities and opinions. His best scenes are those where people have settled down somewhere private and just talk to each other about all the things that only seem to come up after a long night. You walk away with the tingle that comes with meeting someone you find really special. Allen’s able to draw that quality out of all of his characters, even the ones who may or may not be stand-ins for the people who have broken his heart.

Before Annie Hall, Allen was known primarily for farces and broad comedies. There’s definitely a farcical sensibility that runs through the movie, but it’s grounded by the weight of Alvy’s relationship with Annie, and afterwards the hopeful melancholy that comes with putting that relationship to rest. There should be a word for that kind of feeling, the one you get where you look on an incredibly difficult time and recognize the wisdom it gave you. Then I would be able to sum up Annie Hall in just one word. But it looks like several hundred will have to do.

Rating: 8/10.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in AFI Top 100, Movies

 

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What I Believe

Myth 150Over the long weekend I watched two very different movies that touched on the same theme. One of them was a religious drama written and directed by Robert Duvall, a true passion project if ever I saw one. It was called The Apostle. The other was very much a product of its time — a light and fluffy wish-fulfillment movie that was big about fifteen years ago. I’m talking about that modern classic, Practical Magic. Though they’re both on just about polar opposites of subject matter, religious inspiration and pop culture niche, they both twinged something that resides deep within me. I wasn’t expecting that, so I had to think it through.

In The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays a white Southern preacher known as Sonny to his friends. Right from the beginning you see that he’s a true believer; he wades into the chaos of a car accident, and the first thing he does when he finds one of the victims is minister to him. It’s a fascinating scene that does a wonderful job of establishing how deeply Sonny’s faith motivates him; it really is nothing less than the foundation of his character. Sonny’s entire life is geared towards his faith. Everything that happens is attributed to God (or Satan); everything that he enjoys can be connected to the Church. Soon you find out that Sonny isn’t quite what he appears to be, and the movie becomes interesting in a different way. But for that first act where we’re getting to meet him for the first time, I was totally arrested.

My entire family belonged to a black Southern church, except for us (we were Jehovah’s Witnesses). When someone died in my family, we didn’t have a funeral — we had a “homegoing celebration”. For someone who hasn’t been to a traditional Southern church service and has no idea what to expect, the liveliness can be disconcerting. Speaking as an outsider, it’s fascinating watching a mass hysteria wash over the crowd. The preacher is like a conductor, managing the ebb and flow of the energy in the room, and when he decides to turn it up to 11 it’s really something to see.

The movie filled me with an unexpected homesickness. There’s a reason that I got out of my home environment and I’ll never forget what it was, but there’s something strangely comforting about being around people who can be true believers. They live their lives with a fervor that’s infectious. They’ve rooted themselves to an ideal that gives them strength. While it’s true that many of them use that strength to do terrible things, it doesn’t always turn out that way. There are many people I remember fondly from my Jehovah’s Witness days, that I think are wonderful people, that have used their faith to really push themselves to become better.

When I left the faith of my childhood I was adrift for a while, and looking for something different. I had actually found Wicca well before I left home, and dabbled in practicing it. But college is where I really embraced it — wearing the pentacle, painting my fingernails black (that had nothing to do with Wicca, but it helped with the image), leading my school’s Pagan Student Union for a time. There was actually a small but thriving Wiccan community around my college that I got into, and found myself embedded with another group of true believers.

One of the things that drew me to Wicca was the idea that spirit flows through all things, shapeless and formless, and it’s all around you always. Your belief and will can help to shape that spirit, and the more people who direct their will towards a symbol or idea, the more powerful it becomes. The God and Goddess fulfill the same functions in the universe, and you can imagine them any way you wanted to, but for most people it would be the Earth Mother and the Horned God.

If I wanted to, I could surround myself with the symbolism of nature and work my will towards becoming attuned to it. Wicca really is a way to reposition yourself so that you have a more symbiotic relationship with the natural world, and that part is appealing as well. It’s surprisingly open; according to Wicca, casting a spell and praying to Jesus is the same thing, simply working your will towards a desired effect. As Sonny said in The Apostle: “You do it your way and I do it mine, but we get it done, don’t we?”

Watching Practical Magic took me right back to my college days, wanting to believe that I could will something into existence, that the first step to making change in the world was simply wanting it, then acting on that desire. And it reminded me that my history is filled with communities of believers, and that’s something that I don’t have now.

Am I poorer for it, not actively believing in something beyond what I can see? Over time I’ve developed my spirituality into something of an agnostic animism. I still carry the vague belief that a spirit inhabits everything, that it’s formless and takes on the properties of the will around it. But at the same time I realize that my belief could be just bullshit, an amusing fantasy that helps me make sense of a world that is senseless. If you peel back my agnosticism, you’ll find a powerful, existential drive. Reality is actually meaningless, and it’s my job as a sapient being to infuse it with any meaning I can.

I have the desire to believe, but none of the tools to do so. The reason I eventually left Wicca is that I knew I couldn’t invest in the community; I’d never be able to believe as hard as everyone else did in what they were doing. I thought it would be a nice way to pass the time, but the moment it got difficult or inconvenient, I’d cast aside the ideal.

So what DO I believe in? If I don’t actually hold stock in the fictions I create to make sense of the world, what is there?

I honestly don’t know. I have a suspicion, though, that this life is all there is and afterwards there’s nothing else. I could become some of that formless spirit-stuff after my body ceases to function, or my spirit could actually move on to some sort of after-life. Since there’s no way for me to know, there’s no way I can count on it being true. I can’t let the hope of something like that influence my behavior.

Since this life is all there is, I believe that we should make it good. I believe that humans are social creatures, and that we can’t really get along without forming clans, communities, groups of people we depend on. I believe that part of what it means to be a good person is improving the community around you, whatever it is. If you work in McDonald’s, your coworkers and customers are part of a community. Make it better. If you’re part of a bowling league on Tuesday nights, your friends and opponents are part of a community. Make it better. If you have a neighborhood grocery store that you go to once a week, the people there are part of your community. Make it better.

I believe that we only have what we have, and each other. Why shouldn’t we make our communities as great as possible? My life’s work is making my world a better place, in big ways and small. Hopefully, I can work towards dedicating more and more of my actions to it. I want to become as devoted to my ideal as Sonny was to his.

I’d like to believe that there’s a heaven that we go to after we die, or that there really is magic in the world, waiting for us to discover and shape it. But I can’t, any more than I can believe I’m actually a rabbit trapped in a man’s body typing this out to you. All I can believe in is what’s in front of me, and you, reading this, right now. Let’s make a community of it.

So…what can we do to make that better?

 

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Friday Fiction: Farmer’s Market

(Sorry about skipping the AFI Top 100 review for this week. I took a crack at it and just hated what I wrote — it sounded needlessly defensive and unworthy of the subject material. I’ll try to make it up to you guys with a twofer next week, so stay tuned for that!

For now, enjoy this bit of fiction, set in the Unstable Future¬†universe as created by Neopuc. I really loved the setting, and have been percolating on my own take for quite some time. Now I’m at the stage where I want to figure out the characters and let them tell me who they are, to be all hippie-writer about it. So here we have a seen with Abe, the Rabbit we met last week, getting involved in a slight altercation outside of his neighborhood supermarket. 1731 words.)

As soon as Abe saw the small crowd jostling right in front of the door to the market, he knew there was trouble. Outside of the darkened windows that lead to the small parking lot of Perry’s Supermarket, he could see three figures — two very large ones shoving a much smaller one between them. Of course, they were doing this right outside the exit, so if he wanted to leave he would have to deal with them.

The Rabbit shuffled the two bags in his arms and looked back at the checkout counter. Perry’s was unusually busy for a Wednesday afternoon, and the young cashier — a Chameleon with piercings adorning the edge along his crest — was scanning groceries at a pace that suggested there actually weren’t twelve other Animals behind his current customer. Abe took a few steps towards him, settling his bags on the very end of the counter.

“Excuse me,” he said, reminding himself to be polite. “It looks like there’s some kind of fight going on outside your store.”

The Chameleon swiveled one eye almost directly behind him, barely turning his head to look out of the window. He saw the three figures outside and shrugged. “Can’t leave my post, and I’m the only one in the store.”

“Can’t you call your manager?” Abe had to take a deep breath and fought the rising tide of impatience in his chest.

The cashier shook his head and returned to scanning the same can of peas he had been for the past minute. “Manager’s on lunch. You might be able to catch her at the diner down the street.”

Abe was incredulous. What kind of manager let a kid like this work an entire store alone—

A slam on the window made the Rabbit jump, along with a few people in line. One of the huge figures, a Bear, cuffed the little one, sending him careening into it. Abe sighed and shook his head, then walked out of the door.

“All right,” he said, without bothering to look at who he was dealing with. “That’s enough. Why don’t you just knock it off and go fight in a bar if you wanna scrap that bad.”

The two large bodies turned to look at him, and he tilted his head to look up at them. He felt his throat drop into his stomach, and he instinctively took a step back. Of all the people he could have told to knock it off, members of the Claw and Fang would be the least likely to listen.

Their leader was looming over him and everyone else now, the Bear’s beady brown eyes focusing down. “This ain’t none of your business, asshole,” he boomed. Abe could swear later that he felt the sidewalk rumbling underneath him.

The Bear called himself Tiny, which immediately told Abe exactly what sort of intellect he was working with. He was less of a Bear and more of a wall — eight feet tall, six hundred pounds of hulking fur, fat and muscle. He was easily the biggest biped Abe had ever seen, and strong enough to give his horse Goliath a run for his money. He spent his days committing petty theft, getting into fights at any bar that would have him and terrorizing liberal arts majors off-campus. Maybe he had finished eighth grade; his criminal record was a lot longer than his educational one.

Abe put up his hands and folded his ears, silently cursing himself for immediately adopting such a submissive posture. But the bear was three feet taller than he was and around four times heavier; there was no way it would turn out well for him if it came to blows. “You’re right outside Perry’s Supermarket, beating up a townie. It’s my business whether I like it or not.”

Abe didn’t know where that came from. But he couldn’t just stand by and watch something like this happen. He’d want someone to come out and stop it if he were being victimized, after all.

Tiny took a half-step forward, but his companion stayed him with a paw. Roeper was a Lion that was every bit the monster the Bear was, if not a little worse. He wore the illusion of civility, using it to justify all kinds of abusive behavior. He was the brains of the operation; though Tiny considered himself the leader of the Claw and Fang since he was the biggest, Roeper was easily the power behind the throne as it were.

“He’s right, Bear,” the Lion practically purred. “We were right outside the exit of the store. All those poor people would be trapped in there until we were done. I think it’s a good thing that this little bunny brought it to our attention.

Abe felt himself bristling. Roeper gave him a smile that was almost a sneer. “Just let us take our friend here somewhere else so we can continue our conversation.” The Lion lifted his victim by the back of his shirt with seemingly no effort at all. “You and the rest of your neighbors can take your groceries home in peace.”

The Rabbit knew he was being given an out, that the Lion was saying that there was no quarrel with him. It was a free pass. All he had to do was take it. He shook his head and said, “That’s not the problem here, and you know it. Listen, just put the Gopher down and walk away. It’s really not worth causing all of this trouble.”

Roeper raised an eyebrow. “No, it really isn’t.”

Tiny advanced on the Rabbit, and this time the Lion didn’t stop him. Abe’s heart sank. He knew he wouldn’t be able to reason with the Bear, so things were very likely about to come to blows. Abe quickly tried to think of what he could do to get himself out of this.

His father had taught him to fight, and told him that he didn’t have power or size over most of the people he would be up against. But he did have speed and stamina. He’d need to take advantage of the slowness of his enemy, find a weak point and strike it repeatedly, retreating as fast as he could before retribution would come. Eventually, his opponent would tire, or simply topple if he had chosen his spot correctly.

“You can’t fight well, son,” his father had said. “Rabbits aren’t built for that. But we can fight smart.”

Abe watched as Tiny advanced towards him, his eyes flicking over the hulking frame for any sign of weakness. The Rabbit could find none; every part of the Bear was massive, covered with a thick layer of fat and hide. He didn’t know if he had it in him to even make a blow register. The only thing he could think of would be to go for the eyes, but he’d have to jump to reach and that would leave him completely exposed. He–

Tiny roared and swung, a wild right cross that looked like a tree being swung at him. Abe ducked quickly, but he felt the air woosh right over his ears. That was way too close. He quickly darted forward and punched the Bear’s midsection. It was like beating stretched leather. Tiny didn’t even exhale; he simply laughed.

“That all you got?” The Bear’s voice was slightly deafening, even in the open air of the parking lot. “I’ve fallen harder than you hit. Listen here, bunny–” he spat the word with a contempt that Abe never realized he was aware enough to be capable of– “just let me hit you once for interrupting my fun, then you can go home.”

“What’s going on here?” A loud, threatening growl sounded from behind Abe. The Rabbit spun around to find Jonathan, the new sheriff’s deputy, stalking across the parking lot towards them. The look on his face was almost murderous.

Roeper flicked a glance at the large Tiger coming his way, then at Abe. “Nothing, officer. We were just having a spirited debate.”

“Debate’s over.” Jonathan’s striped fur bristled. “Why don’t you get out of here?”

Roeper’s expression cooled considerably, but he nodded and turned towards Tiny. “Of course, officer. Let’s leave these two gentlemen to their afternoon.”

The Lion, the Bear and a Coyote that Abe somehow missed stalked past them and across the parking lot. The Coyote gave the Rabbit a chillingly direct yellow-eyed stare before they reached the street. As soon as they were gone, he let loose with a huge sigh.

Jonathan quirked an eyebrow. “What was that about?”

Abe simply shook his head. “Just stopping them from messing with some little guy.” He looked around for a moment before he spotted the Gopher quietly gathering his groceries and slipping away.

Jonathan watched him go. “Well, I’m sure he’s grateful.”

Abe smirked. “Obviously.”

The Tiger scratched the back of his head. “Well, now that I’ve gotten involved, I’m going to need to file a police report, which of course includes a statement from you.”

Abe’s ears sank. He thought of all the work he had to do back at the farm, and how quickly the day was getting away from him. No good deed, he thought.

“Well, I suppose that’s protocol.”

The Tiger grinned. “Glad you agree. Mind if I take your statement over dinner tomorrow night?”

Abe’s ears perked straight up and forward. He had not been expecting that. For several moments, he had no idea what to do. He watched as Jonathan’s smile slowly faded in the ensuing awkward silence.

“If you’re too busy–” the deputy began.

“No, no, sorry, I was just…uhm…just…”

“Going over your calendar?”

“Yes, that’s exactly right. It’s clear. I’d be happy to.” Abe felt the curious sensation of stepping back and watching him agree to dinner with an impossibly good-looking Tiger.

That big, toothy smile reappeared. “Excellent! Let’s say, Oleander Pool Hall at 8 PM?”

Abe merely nodded. He was still coming out of his shock.

“Awesome.” If Abe had been paying attention, he would have noticed that Jonathan looked both relieved and very pleased. “I’ll, uhm, see you then.”

The Tiger stalked away, back to the patrol car that was haphazardly parked across three spots with its door hanging open. Abe turned and went back to the store to get his groceries, wondering what on Earth had just happened.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Furries, Writing

 

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An Evening with John Scalzi

Myth 150Last Thursday I attended a book reading and signing by the outgoing president of SFWA (the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writer’s Association), John Scalzi. I hadn’t read anything written by Scalzi except his blog, Whatever, which is actually quite good. It does just about everything that a good blog should — talk about the minutiae of someone’s life in an interesting manner, tackles big ideas on a fairly regular basis, and (best of all) cultivates a vibrant, engaged, respectful community. I’m impressed by the work he’s done with it for nearly fifteen years; a collection of essays from that blog, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded, actually won a Hugo Award. If that’s not a stamp of legitimacy for your blog, I’m not sure what is.

He read from The Human Division, a just-published collection of stories he first released online as a serial. That’s an interesting experiment to me; I have an idea for two serials released in a similar manner, and have been wondering about the best way to go about it. Now, I don’t have anywhere near the name recognition of someone like Scalzi, but I think it could be a minor success in its own right. The big question is if you can get avid readers — who are used to getting their stories all at once and ingesting them at their own pace — to accept an episodic form of long-form storytelling. I mean, there’s also the challenge of writing that kind of story; the structure of it is forced to change to match its form, and that’s not necessarily an easy thing to do. But if you can crack that nut, is that still something your audience would be willing to accept?

I don’t know the specifics of Scalzi’s experiment, but it seems like he’s done well with it. Books Inc. in Mountain View was standing-room only for the reading, and the crowd was lively. It was full of that special kind of geek who comes out to these things, those of us who’ve built our lives around sci-fi/fantasy, those of us who view our favorite writers as rock stars.

He read two bits: “Hafte Sorvalh Eats a Churro and Speaks to the Youth of Today” from The Human Division and “Who Gets to Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be” from The Mallet of Loving Correction, a yet-to-be-released second compilation of Whatever essays. They were both really decent; the short story bit really makes me want to go out and read Old Man’s War, and the essay has a lot of great points about geek culture and the nature of geekdom that reaffirms my faith in the community and broadens my perspective of it to be more inclusive, which is always a good thing. Scalzi knows how to work a room; he’s silly, but self-aggrandizing, which definitely helps with the whole rock star vibe.

Afterwards, because one of our friends actually got to know him at Clarion a year or two ago, we were invited out to dinner with Scalzi and his entourage at a crepery right across the street. I have to say, it was pretty surreal, and a whole lot of fun. We sat at the fringes of the party with a couple of other locals, and it was a good chance to meet our fellow geek neighbors who we never would have known about otherwise. The crepe I ordered — chicken and feta and mushroom — was rich and sooooo delicious, and I have to say the sangria I got to go with it was the second-best choice I made that day. (The best choice? Wearing my “Gamma Rabbit” t-shirt.)

The whole experience was energizing and inspiring. Scalzi is one of those guys who came up from the Internet, a blogger and online presence who “made good” and now has a thriving career to go along with it. He hasn’t jumped ship to the old guard of straight-up publishing, though. He spends a lot of time and effort on his blog, tries new publishing models that take advantage of the e-book format, and works with his publisher to experiment with ideas. It’s pretty cool to see him at work, to see him enjoying the fruits of all that labor.

More importantly, it keeps ME going. I’m not out to duplicate Scalzi’s success necessarily, but his passion and his desire to try new things, to see what sorts of things can be done with this place. I’m still in my infancy, but he’s provided a grown-up vision to look up to, a signpost that gives me some direction. It was definitely good to meet him and see what he’s about.

If you have any favorite authors, I highly recommend going out to see them if they’re anywhere close to your neck of the woods. It’s an experience every budding author should have, to meet the folks who’ve made it.

 

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Friday Fiction: Meet Ugly

Fandom 150(This is for a serial I’m hoping to write a little later this year and post on relevant furry sites. I wanted to take the time to get to know the principal couple for the whole thing, and what better way to do that then write about how they first met? I didn’t want to do anything fancy here. I just wanted to write dialog that established a good sense of character, that pointed to the hidden things in someone’s mind, and establish a good, strong sense of place.)

 

Abernathy Jones looked at the five barrels of apples he had just bought and thought about all the work he would have to do to make sure they didn’t go to waste. Some of them he would dry, some of them he would sauce, some would be canned and some mashed into pulp and mixed with hay for the horses. For most people, five barrels of apples conjured images of piping hot pieces of pie and cups of cider. For Abe, they brought to mind hard labor for at least two or three days.

The rabbit put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath. The work started with loading the barrels onto the cart, something Barnaby, the store clerk on shift, swore he was too busy to do. It was a short trip from the raised wooden porch to the horse-drawn cart right in front, but it was still a two-man job. He looked around at the bustling streets. Students from the nearby university were out for long lunches between classes, and the few farmers there were dealing with their own burdens. Abe would have to find a way to do this alone. As long as he was careful with his back and took frequent breaks, it wouldn’t be so bad.

His horse watched him placidly from the post she was tied to. He had named her Crystal, because she was a beautiful mare but far stronger than anyone gave her credit for. She flicked one ear behind her, swiveled the other one towards him, then bent her neck towards the water trough. Before she took a drink, she spoke.

“Tiger across the street’s been eyeing you ever since you got out here. Think he’s gonna come over.” She kept one ear focused on him while she took a drink.

Abe glanced over. Sure enough, there he was. A rather tall Tiger, broad in the shoulders, wearing the khaki uniform of the sheriff’s department. He was nominally keeping an eye on the entire street, but his gaze kept drawing back to the Rabbit far too frequently for it not to be a coincidence. The deputy saw him looking, pushed himself off the post he was leaning on, and started walking his way.

The Tiger’s physicality was impressive; he was big, but graceful. He had a dancer’s talent of putting his bulk exactly where he wanted it. As he stalked across the wide dirt avenue that separated the rows of buildings that made up Oleander’s main thoroughfare, he accentuated his barreled chest, his heavy arms, the casual power he possessed. Abe didn’t know if he should be annoyed at the stranger for showing off so shamelessly, or annoyed at himself for being swayed by it.

“Hey there.” The Tiger grinned, without showing his teeth. “Looks like you could use some help.”

Abe forced himself to smile, lifted the brim of his hat. “Maybe a little. I think I might have overdid it with the apples.”

The Tiger chuckled. “Not if you want to have ’em last through the winter. Here, I can put them on your cart for you.” He lifted the first barrel before Abe could stop him. His shoulders and arms bulged through his shirt.

The Rabbit blinked. “Ho, there, don’t hurt yourself.”

“It’s no trouble. I’m happy to help.” The deputy huffed once and thumped the barrel on the wagon.

What a fucking Cub Scout, Abe thought to himself. He hopped from the porch to the cart and wiggled the barrel towards the edge closest to the seat. “Well, thanks, stranger. I appreciate it. What’s your name?”

“Johnathan Danvers. I’m new here.”

“I can tell that; haven’t seen you around here before. What brings you all the way out here to Oleander?”

Johnathan made sure that Abe had secured the first barrel before bringing the second one. “Would you believe I came all the way out here looking for work?”

Abe studied him for a moment. “No. No, I wouldn’t. Where are you from?”

“Oh, I’m from Firenze.”

Abe’s ears perked. “The capital?” He saw Johnathan nod once he put the second barrel down. “Well now I really don’t believe you. What on Earth would you want to move here from the city for?”

Johnathan shrugged and grinned. This time, Abe could see the full set of carnivore’s fangs between black lips. “Just wasn’t sure that the city was for me any more. I thought I’d give small-town living a try. My sister moved out to Brackers five years ago, swears she’ll never live in a city again.”

It was common for the Animals to migrate out to small towns near a lot of wilderness if they didn’t have to be in the cities for whatever reason. The crush of people, the endless mazes of asphalt and concrete — it didn’t sit well with whatever instincts hadn’t been engineered out of them when they were created. It had been several generations now since man had essentially created a new race, and a natural separation had been occurring over that time. Cities were where humanity wanted to live, and the Animals were more than happy to leave them to it. The further away from the urban centers you got, the less humans you found, until, in a place like Oleander, they made up about ten percent of the population.

“I hear you there. I only ever visited the city once, when I was a leveret. I don’t know how anyone could stand it. So how’re you liking the town so far?” Abe grinned again, and this time he was surprised to find it was genuine.
“There’s a lot less humans around, that’s for sure.” Johnathan grunted as he thumped the third barrel down on the cart.

“Is that a good thing?”

The Tiger shrugged. “It’s just a thing. I guess I’m used to the human way of doing things. They’re really big on scent neutralization and keeping shed fur under control and all of that. It’s…strange being in a place where it’s not that big a deal.”

Abe’s nose twitched. He had gotten so used to the riot of scents that assaulted his senses when he came to town he practically didn’t notice them. But the wind carried currents of fox and beaver, otter, skunk, wolf and deer, horse and rabbit, tiger, bear, coyote, squirrel. There was the scent of lacquered wood and standing water, too; of hot metal that had been standing in the sun for a while; of freshly-pressed clothing and the subtle cologne the Tiger wore. Abe suddenly realized that he had last taken a proper bath three days ago, and that his overalls were filthy with the muck of the farm.

He felt his temper flare at being made to feel self-conscious. “Well, we’ve got more important things to do around here than make sure someone’s delicate nose isn’t offended.”

Johnathan threw his paws up and backed away from the cart. “Hey, I wasn’t complaining. Just saying, it’s an adjustment. It’s…nice, really. I don’t know, it feels more honest.”

And just like that, the anger bled out of him. “Eh, I wouldn’t go ascribing some noble spirit to it. Most of us just don’t care all that much if our neighbors go a few days without showering.”

“Nothing wrong with that. I just haven’t, uhm, broken the habit yet.” Johnathan returned with the fourth barrel, and Abe noticed the dark pink of his ears.

“We’re almost done,” he said. “And that’s a nice scent.”

Johnathan’s ears perked. He beamed. “Thanks! My dad used to wear it all the time. I get crap from my sister all the time because she thinks it’s old-fashioned. But I like it.”

“Hey, there’s nothing wrong with doing the traditional thing. Traditions last because they work. And that works for you.” Abe saw a flash in Johnathan’s eyes that gave him pause. He just realized what he said and how it could look; he let his smile drop and he quickly turned to secure the fourth barrel.

They were silent for the loading and securing of the fifth barrel, and Abe hopped down to offer his paw. Johnathan took it and smiled. The Rabbit tried not to notice the way the Tiger’s paw enveloped his own, or how he was well over a foot shorter.

There was a spark there that neither of them commented on, a jump in their breaths when their eyes met. Abe looked away first. He wiped his paws on his overalls. “Well, thanks for the help John. I hope you enjoy your stay here.”

“It’s been great so far; I don’t think I’ll have too much excitement to worry about around here.”

Abe laughed as he climbed up into the seat of his cart. “Oh, just you wait. Oleander’ll show you a thing or two before too long. Take care.”

The Rabbit flicked Crystal’s reigns lightly and the horse settled into an easy trot. When she was sure they were out of earshot, she looked back. “Pretty sure you guys are going to jump into bed together soon.”

“Shut up,” Abe said.

“I’m just saying. I can smell pheromones, and you guys had a cloud of ’em around you.” Crystal turned her attention back to the road. Abe only responded with a small slap of the reigns.

Over the next several days, as he juiced and mashed and dried the apples, all he could think about was the big tiger in his fresh deputy’s uniform. When he tasted the cider, he thought of Johnathan’s cologne. It made the tasting sweeter somehow. And that suited Abe just fine.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in Furries, Writing

 

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