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(Friday Fiction) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Detective

Writing 150This week, Veniamin continues to be dragged through the briar-patch of therapy, kicking and screaming.

Dr. Mabel Watney tilted her head and looked at him in a mixture of disbelief and exasperation; it was a universal matronly expression that silently screamed “What did you just say to me?” Veniamin smiled to himself, glad that at least he was able to provoke a reaction out of her.

“Listen, it’s…just the stuff you see in my line of work can be pretty upsetting to people who aren’t used to it. Even if I could talk to you about it, I probably wouldn’t because I wouldn’t want to offend your sensibilities.” Veniamin leaned back in his chair, trying not to appear self-satisfied. He failed.

“Mr. Kovalenko, you don’t need to worry about my sensibilities. And since I’m more offended by dishonesty, allow me to be straight with you. I believe you’re more frightened of being open with me than I am of whatever it is you have to say. This…posturing is something I’ve seen before, and almost always it’s a mask to cover some deep trauma.

“We both know you wouldn’t be here if you had healthy coping mechanisms or, frankly, any coping mechanisms at all. Ignoring the psychological damage you’ve sustained in your work is not the same as coping with it. Neither is burying your feelings under alcohol or food. The only way to deal with what you’re going through is by facing it.” Dr. Watney folded her hands over her notebook and leaned forward. “And until you do, I’m afraid I can’t sign this form showing the courts that I feel you’re not liable to assault someone else.”

“I didn’t assault him!” Veniamin sat up in his chair before he could stop himself. “He was a prick who got what was coming to him.”

Dr. Watney raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure he would say the same thing about you, Mr. Kovalenko. Why are you right, and he’s wrong?”

“Because I’m not the one who kept provoking other people. I’m not the entitled rich prick who thinks less of other people because they don’t have any money.”

“Do you wish you had more money, Mr. Kovalenko?” Dr. Watney pounced on the statement like she was waiting for it.

Veniamin paused, looking at her with a surprised, almost frightened expression. “I do all right. That’s not the point.”

“The point is you felt he was disrespecting you.”

“Yes.”

“Because you didn’t have as much money as he did.”

“Yes.”

“How do you think he knew how much money you made?”

Veniamin shook his head. “He doesn’t. He assumed.”

“Because of the way you look?”

“Yes.”

“Do you find that happens to you often, Mr. Kovalenko?”

“What, being judged based on how I look?” Veniamin saw Dr. Watney nod in response. “I don’t know. I guess so.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know!” Veniamin couldn’t keep the growl out of his voice. “Most people don’t actually see who other people really are. Just the things they want to see.”

“What do you want other people to see in you, Mr. Kovalenko?”

Veniamin thought about this. It may have been the first time in his life he had ever been asked this question. “I…I don’t know. I don’t really care, I guess.”

“But you were upset with this gentleman for making assumptions about you based on how you looked.”

“Yes.” Veniamin shifted in his seat. “But it wasn’t because of what he saw. It was because he thought he was better than what he saw.”

“If you don’t mind me saying so, it seems like you think you’re better than him.”

“Because I don’t go around being an asshole to other folks I just met? Yeah, I’d say so.”

Dr. Watney smiled and leaned back in her chair. “Do you think it’s possible he saw some kind of…hostility in you that made him react to you the way he did?”

Veniamin shook his head, though by now his brain was turning that over. He hated the fact that she had gotten to him. “I can be gruff, and I can be blunt. That’s all.”

“You work with people often enough to know that some don’t respond well to that. How do you navigate these…different personality types in your line of work?” Dr. Watney tilted her head and steeped her fingers under her chin.

“I don’t.” Veniamin sighed. “What you see is what you get. You can take it or leave it.”

“This gentleman clearly wanted to leave it.”

“Well, he wasn’t in that position.”

“Do you see how that might make him a bit uncomfortable? What do you tend to do in uncomfortable situations?”

Veniamin felt a flash of anger as he realized he had been backed into a corner. She was right, of course she was. But that shouldn’t let the man who put him here off the hook; why wasn’t he wasting a perfectly good afternoon talking to some nosy woman trying to get him to talk about his business?

“Mr. Kovalenko, I understand why you feel upset. No one likes realizing their behavior has been inconsistent with the way they see themselves. But this is an opportunity to align your actions with your principles.”

“How do you know what my principles are?” Veniamin said, immediately embarrassed about how peevish he seemed.

“I don’t. I just know that there’s some cognitive dissonance between the way you acted and the way you think. Let’s discuss that further.”

Veniamin slouched. The hour had to have been up by now, right?

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2018 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Friday Fiction) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Detective

Writing 150Here, we continue Veniamin’s therapy session from last week.

“If managing stress was as easy as me telling you what to do, I would have written a book about it and you wouldn’t need to come see me.” Dr. Mabel Watney shifted in her seat behind her desk, folding her hands in her lap. “It takes time and work to unlearn the pattern of behavior that has lead you to me.”

Veniamin sighed deeply and stared at his hands. Dr. Watney’s office smelled aggressively neutral; even the plants barely gave off the sweet, earthy scent that would have calmed him down. Underneath the “light” touch of her perfume, she smelled relaxed but alert, comfortable in her space. By comparison he was a beacon of nerves, the acrid odor sweating through his disheveled suit. It made him incredibly self-conscious to be the strongest-smelling thing in the room.

He really wished he could shift. There was something about being a bear that felt more honest, more…himself. While being human had its advantages — opposable thumbs really were one of the greatest adaptations ever — it felt like he could never relax in that form. He was wearing a mask almost all the time just to make other people comfortable, and after a while the effort wore on you. He was tired, that was all. He could use a season in the woods, foraging for anything that tasted good and casually hunting fish and game. That was his therapy.

Or, it used to be. Now he was stuck here, talking about his feelings to someone who could never have the context to understand them.

“All right then,” he mumbled into his chest. “Where do we start?”

“At the beginning.” She answered so quickly she must have expected the question. “Tell me about your childhood.”

He did — mostly. He told her about living in a house with parents who had few boundaries, with no concept of privacy or personal ownership. He talked about his extended family who each lived in their own territories but would come over to visit. He talked about how, until he moved to San Francisco, he practically had no relationship with anyone who wasn’t related to him by blood.

He did not speak about the fact his parents had few boundaries because the concepts of privacy and personal ownership were distinctly human ones that didn’t apply to them. He didn’t speak about how he spent most of his childhood naked, switching between two legs and four as easily as she could slip on her jacket. He didn’t talk about how he never realized how much he would miss that freedom, and how stifling it still felt to wear a suit after all this time.

He most definitely didn’t speak about how his uncle had been gunned down by men with guns right before his eyes and how frightened he was by the tyranny of authority.

“I see,” Dr. Watney said. Her eyes told him that she knew he was omitting a great deal. Not for the first time, the mask of his “civilized self” felt especially ill-fitting. “So why did you decide to leave home?”

Veniamin kept staring into his lap to make sure she couldn’t see the momentary rush of panic in his eyes. “I…had to leave to go where the work is.”

“You’re a private investigator. Is that correct?”

Veniamin nodded.

“What made you want to pursue that line of work?” Dr. Watney had a way of asking a question that made it seem like she was only casually interested, but also that the answer would be of tremendous importance.

He shrugged. “One of the things I learned growing up is that everyone has secrets, and sometimes those secrets hurt the people around them.”

Dr. Watney raised an eyebrow. “So you see yourself as someone who finds out the truth in order to save people from being hurt.” She paused. “But in my experience, the truth can be just as painful, especially if someone isn’t equipped to process it in a healthy way.”

Veniamin furrowed his brow. “But it’s a cleaner pain. Once you get through it, you’re better off than you were before. At least you know what’s really going on.”

“So you think being honest with someone is always the best thing to do?”

Veniamin frowned. “Most of the time.”

“I see. Then why aren’t you being honest with me right now?”

He looked up and into her eyes, forcing himself to hold her gaze. “Because you’re not equipped to process that in a healthy way.”

 
 

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(Friday Fiction) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Dectective #3

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! I wanted to devote The Writing Desk towards that effort all month long, including Friday Fiction, and Veniamin Kovalenko Werebear Detective is a perfect candidate for this. Venia comes from a long line of werebears who traveled from their home country of Russia to Sitka, AK and finally to center-west California. Like most immigrants, the Kovalenko clan considers itself part of the state’s foundation and in a way they’re right. However — like their human immigrant counterparts — they also caused great harm to California’s native population with its displacement.

The Kovalenkos have a complicated relationship with the state they love so dearly. California reveres bears as its symbol, but at the same time most would rather see them on the flag, a picturesque postcard or as a rug in a cabin. Interactions between bears and humans rarely go well, and Venia learned that lesson the hard way at an early age when an uncle got a bit too drunk and shifted during a fight; he killed two people before forest rangers put him down. The trauma of that experience set Venia’s course — first, as a supernatural ‘fixer’ and then ultimately as a private detective.

In our Dresden Files game, I played Venia as someone with limited intelligence who was just trying to do the right thing. However, unresolved anger, anxiety and depression warped his perspective more often than not and made him an enjoyably hot mess to play. There was a run of sessions based in Sitka where he learned the town’s long-time residents treated his family like local royalty, and it was interesting to note how…unnerved Venia felt by the experience of being not only accepted, but embraced for who (and what) he truly is.

Venia usually hated authority figures, and over the course of the game he had built quite a file for himself with local law enforcement. At one point he was sentenced to court-appointed therapy sessions with a mysterious, disturbing psychologist named Mabel Watney. This month, I wanted to write short scenes that unpack the messiness of dealing with a mental health issue that’s been exacerbated by being relegated to the margins of society.



Veniamin slumped in his chair as he watched the woman sit down at her desk, turn to her computer and begin typing. After a moment, he glanced at the clock — 10:02 AM, it said. He opened his mouth to speak, but she held up a finger without looking away from her screen. He sighed. She kept typing.

When she stopped a few moments later, she turned to a journal on her desk and began writing. Veniamin shifted with a grunt; he felt the anger inside him, a bubble of pressure in his stomach that made him squirm, pushed the hair on the back of his neck straight up. It was 10:05 AM. Forty minutes left in their session.

She seemed content to let him seethe for a couple more minutes, writing deliberately in tense silence. She set down her pen. She closed her journal. She adjusted the small owl statue on her desk so that its big round eyes were pointed at him. Then she folded her hands and smiled at him.

“So does this mean that my charge for this session will be prorated?” Veniamin couldn’t keep the growl out of his voice as he leaned forward. The sensation had spread to the rest of him, controlling his movements so his mind could focus on the object of his annoyance. He didn’t feel the way his hands gripped the arms of the chair, or the way he had positioned himself to leap out of his seat at any moment.

His psychologist, Mabel Watney, raised an eyebrow and lifted the corners of her mouth. She ran her palm underneath the tight ponytail that sprouted from the back of her skull, as silken and shining as its namesake. “If you wish,” she said. “Thank you for waiting.”

Venia leaned back in his chair, the spell of anger broken. He was confused about why that worked, but found comfort in the anger that rose from the fact that she had manipulated him without him having any idea how. “Fine. You’re welcome.”

Dr. Watney nodded. She watched him with an unwavering but open and curious stare. Venia found he couldn’t meet her eyes for very long, and didn’t like the feeling of being pinned under that gaze. There was a clarity in it that disturbed him; it felt like she had him figured out from the moment he had walked into that door. He could have shifted right now and it wouldn’t have surprised her.

The seconds ticked by. When Dr. Watney spoke, it was with a suddenness that suggested she had waited for the precise moment when his wariness dropped. “So, what’s on your mind?”

Veniamin sighed and shook his head. “Nothing.” He rested his head on his fist. It felt like he was being waited out, a child coaxed into confessing something his mother already knew he had done.

“You look uncomfortable.” Her voice was deep and rich, authoritative and concerned at once. “Why is that?”

“I don’t see the point of me being here.” Venia spoke the words before he thought them. “I don’t have any problems you can help me with, and I’m not going to talk about them. And I’m not crazy.”

“No one said you were.” Dr. Watney sounded surprised he would even say that. “You’re here because a judge thinks you could benefit from a little bit of help managing your anger.”

“I don’t have a problem managing my anger,” Venia snapped. “I just don’t like putting up with things I shouldn’t have to.”

Dr. Watney opened her book again and began writing. “I see,” she said. “And you feel this therapy session is one of the things you shouldn’t have to put up with?”

There was something about her tone that softened something inside of him. He glanced at her. She was staring right at him, pen in hand. It looked like she had stopped mid-word. He felt a flash of panic and looked down into the eyes of her owl figurine, then further at a safe, nondescript side of her desk.

“Listen, I’m sure you’re a good woman and you help people who need it and all that, but…I don’t need this. I just have a lot on my plate and it’s stressful is all. It got to me once or twice, and now I’m here. That’s all. I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“You haven’t, but you have done a few things that are cause for concern. It’s not any one action that’s brought you to me, Mr. Kovalenko — anyone can have a bad day. What the judge is worried about — what I’m here to help with — is the pattern of behaviors that you seem to be exhibiting. Stress is a serious issue, Mr. Kovalenko. If you’re stressed and not angry, fine; we can work on managing your stress, then.”

Veniamin considered this. He wasn’t sure how to talk about what stressed him, at least not in a way that this woman would understand. He was part of a world she had no idea existed, and the attempt to introduce her to it would bring even more stress. That was, perhaps, the most frustrating thing; even if Dr. Watney could help, it would make things worse telling her how.

He took a deep breath and looked at her. She watched him attentively. At least the pen was down for now.

Could he find a way to talk about what was on his mind without having to explain the things she wouldn’t understand? Was it even worth the effort? He wasn’t sure he had much of a choice in the matter. She would have to report his progress back to the court, and if he resisted the process the entire time it probably wouldn’t reflect well on his record.

“Fine,” he snorted, looking away to stare at the painting of a stylized bow and arrow half-hidden by a potted plant. “How do I learn how to manage my stress?”

 
 

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(Writing) A Writer’s May

Self Improvement 150The month of April was…not great for me as a writer. I didn’t make much progress on anything of note, though I *did* resume a long-dormant Pathfinder game that I’ll take as my big win. I could attribute the lack of writing to my day job, or family stress, or the general pressures of being an adult with obligations and such…but to be honest, the biggest reasons are fear and a lack of discipline. I didn’t write because writing has become this internal battle between my willpower and anxiety, and I’m just not mentally equipped to win that battle consistently.

It’s possible that I’m simply trying to do too much. In addition to an ultimate goal of three missives a week on this here Writing Desk, I’m trying to find a way to write consistently for my Patreon project, the Jackalope Serial Company; I’m working on a Pathfinder game that, at this point, is firmly mid-level and I’d like to take to level 20; I’m starting another Pathfinder game that aims to be more of a loose pick-up style campaign; I’m trying to write short stories for two anthologies that I’d love to be included in; I’ve been asked to contribute to other fandom projects and while I’ve said yes I have yet to take any concrete steps to do so. Then there’s the Udemy courses that aim to teach me more about blogging and tech, the Rosetta Stone course for French I’d like to get back to, SO MANY comics, books and short stories I want to read, the clarinet I want to practice, the cleaning and paring down of all my stuff I’d like to get to, the TV and movies I’d like to watch (and maybe review)…

I’m not sure that ADHD/anxiety is a big reason why I commit to so much and achieve so little, but it really can’t help. Because our executive function is compromised, it’s really difficult to set proper priorities and stick with them when we’ve been interrupted; splitting our attention just can’t happen, because we need to be rooted in one thing or else we go flying all over the place. That’s why off-loading your executive function to things like to-do lists and routines is so important; we have to find a way to make an instinctive internal process external and conscious.

I live and die by my Bullet Journal, though that has to be supplemented by other things like Todoist and Google Calendar to make sure I have an eye on deadlines. If I don’t make sure I have some place to put specific information, it’s pretty much gone — but even then, I can write down, say, a submission deadline for an anthology, but unless I take the time to break down the steps I need to take to actually GET to that submission AND make time for it in my schedule it’ll just sneak up on me and then I’m scrambling to meet a deadline. That kind of surprise triggers my anxiety disorder, which makes it more likely for me to just freeze up and watch the deadline go by.

Good project management practice can help with that, but building a project schedule can only do so much when you’re trying to juggle multiple projects at once. When it’s time to put pen to paper (or paws to keyboard in this case), it’s really hard to make productive use of my time. I know that my time with this project is limited, and my goal is…to just get it done. Not to have fun with it, not to engage with what I’m doing — if I’m being honest, most of the time I already have one eye out on the next thing I need to do. That ain’t no way to write.

So this month I’ll have to pull things back a bit and focus on fewer things that I can root myself well in. I have four big goals for this month — write for The Writing Desk consistently; resume regular updates for the Jackalope Serial Company; finish short stories for “The Rabbit Dies First” anthology as well as one other anthology.

Here at The Writing Desk, I’ll be focusing on Mental Health Awareness Month with posts about depression, anxiety and ADHD from my personal experience as well as the things that have helped me deal with them, or the things that I still need to work out. For the Jackalope Serial Company, I’ll be writing four “first issues” of various possible serials to see what folks take to, then continue on the most popular serial through June. With the short stories, I’ll devote as much time as I can to both of them once I’ve made sure the blog and Patreon are squared away.

I’ll also be working through my sky-high book stack as much as possible this month. I’ve got quite a lot of time off this month and I’ll be doing some international travel, so I’m fairly sure there’s a lot that I can knock out. Hopefully I’ll finish “Bluebird, Bluebird” by Attica Locke; “Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse; “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach; and “The Upward Spiral” by Alex Korb. If I can manage that, there should be a few good bits of reflection out of them.

So what’s your plan for May, writers? What’re you hoping to have finished by the time June rolls around?

 

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(Friday Fiction) Br’ers #3: High Afternoon

Writing 150“So does like, seeing a hawk scare you now?” Jeremy pointed to the silhouette of a bird coasting in lazy circles above the trees. It made two loops before perching at the very top of a pine that must have been in Mr. Atherton’s yard for generations now.

Aaron watched it with lazy amusement. From anyone else, the question would have knocked him on his heels — but from his best friend, it was a silly thought he could treat lightly. He held it for a moment, laughing silently, before batting it back.

No more than it scares you to see Aku, he signed. Aku was another Br’er in the neighborhood — a Lion — who they studiously avoided even before the Change happened. He had a crew, was the first kid on his block to have a car, wore the freshest clothes that no one who lived in a house like his could afford. It was an open secret that he was probably dealing; or at least, he had been. He also liked jacking the neighborhood kids for fun, though now there was a new viciousness in the exchange that rattled folks even more. It was only a matter of time, folks knew, before something was going to happen. Nobody wanted to be the one it happened to.

Jeremy sucked his teeth and rolled his eyes, then took a long drag of the joint he had just lit. “Shit, man, just because he’s some big muscle-cat don’t mean nothing. He still better not step to me.”

Sure, Jan, Aaron signed. He grinned when Jeremy pushed his shoulder and handed him the joint.

They were sitting in Jeremy’s backyard, half a block up the street from Aaron’s house. Technically, it was the parents’ backyard, but Jer’s mom was working a second shift at the hospital and his dad was going to be late working on a Mercedes that needed some engine work. Neither of them would be home until the buzz had peaked and began to fade.

It was a little plot, long and narrow and covered with grass that was just a little too long. A solid chain-link fence separated them from identical plots on either side and the thin alley at the far end. A sagging border of chicken wire marked the struggling garden of Jeremy’s mom; the corn, tomatoes and okra shoots that had peeked out of the ground were already threatening to turn yellow. The sun was low in the sky, not quite ready to set but heading that way. It illuminated the peeling white paint of the house behind them, and the bare metal patio furniture they sat in.

Aaron rolled the thin joint in his fingers, considering it. He had been told by his doctor not to take any drugs without their recommendation — his new physiology might react to things he had taken all his life in ways they couldn’t predict. They had to have known he had THC in his system when he was admitted, though, and it hadn’t done anything too terrible. He brought it to his lips and inhaled.

The smell of the burning grounds overwhelmed his senses for a few seconds, burning the scent of earth and grass, paint and rust out of his nostrils. His eyes watered immediately, and his throat seized in revolt; he could only hold the smoke for two beats before he collapsed into a fit of coughing and sneezing. One ear swiveled as he heard Jeremy crack up next to him, taking the joint back as he doubled over.

“Hey yo, it’s like you never smoked before! Damn! I know it ain’t been that long.” Jeremy smoked, then laughed, then fell into a coughing fit. “This is dry as shit though.”

They coughed together for several moments, the whooping sound echoing off the shed in Mr. Atherton’s backyard across the alley. The whole neighborhood probably knew what they were doing back there, which only worried Aaron a little, and even less once the pot kicked in.

So you’ve been saving that thing for me this whole time, huh? He lifted his whiskers in the approximation of a grin. Jeremy was the first person to figure out what the expression meant.

“Shit, smokes like it, don’t it?” He offered it back to Aaron, who waved it away. One hit was enough; he’d see how he felt with that. “But nah, I got this from Freddie over on Park Heights. He said it was some good shit, all the way from California…or maybe Colorado…but I’m not with it. Burns too much.”

Yes, it’s a lot. Aaron felt the way the fur moved on his arms as he signed. It was distracting how cool it felt. But I like the feeling.

Jeremy grinned wide at him. “Man, me too. It’s just old, I guess.”

They both sank into the chair, arms dangling over the sides nearly to the grass. Aaron could almost feel the tension seeping from his fingertips into the ground. He took a deep breath, aware of the way his chest lifted, of the warm, smoky air sucked through his nostrils, the feel of his breath on the back of strange teeth.

He tapped Jeremy’s shoulder to get his attention, then signed Thanks for this. I really needed it.

“No doubt, no doubt,” Jeremy said, stretching out his legs. His flip-flops left a trail of flattened grass behind them. “When I saw you at Starbucks, you looked like one of those little bunnies in the pet store, ears all flat, whiskers all shaking. I knew immediately, like, I need to get this fool high as fuck on the quick.”

Aaron snorted and doubled over. He was seized by an impulse to whip his ears back and forth, or to get up and kick out his legs. It happened whenever he laughed now, and he didn’t know what to do with it. His fur ruffled, and he shook his head; his ears whipped, the sounds of the city distorting and muting in weird ways as they did. He wasn’t sure he was ever going to get used to it.

He glanced over at Jeremy when the feeling passed. His friend was watching him, but if he was concerned about it he didn’t let on. For some weird reason, Aaron appreciated that. This…this was the most normal he felt in a long time. It was the first thing since being back that felt like it hadn’t changed.

“But for real though, you’re welcome. I can’t even imagine how weird this is for you. You know I got you if you need anything, right?” Jeremy puffed, exhaled, and passed to Aaron.

Yeah, I know. Aaron grinned as he took the joint and placed it in his muzzle. Just like I got you if you need someone to beat up Aku for you.

Jeremy laughed, “Man, sit your rabbit ass down before that dude straight up eats you. I know he’s gone through all his mama’s cat food by now.”

Aaron grunted in laughter and shook his ears again. It felt good.

It felt good.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2018 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Fiction Friday) Br’ers #2: The Stranger Comes Home

Writing 150After the carefully neutralized scents and sterilized surface of the government facility he had been staying in, coming home was almost overwhelming to Aaron. The van he drove in from stank of metal and fast food and countless agents who had been there before him, and even with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning roaring from the dashboard he could catch the changing smells of the city outside. He stared at Cold Spring Lane as it grew winding and treacherous; the van’s suspension was tested by the inescapable potholes.

Familiar territory looked strange after nearly half a year away from it. Or maybe his way of seeing things had grown stranger; he could keep one eye on the side streets the van was turning down while keeping another eye on the interior at the same time. He watched the people on the sidewalk stop what they were doing — leaning against walls, or chatting with friends, or pushing shopping carts down the block — to stare as he passed. The van was supposed to be somewhat inconspicuous, but in this neighborhood a shined-up black van with tinted windows and antennae bobbing on the roof was sure to attract attention. He imagined word spreading through the neighborhood as he got closer to home, tried to see if lights turned on inside the houses as he went by. Surely, people would know something was going down by now.

He blinked and looked away from the window. He took a deep breath. He focused on the sound of the van’s engine, the scents inside the car, the feel of his fur against the soft cloth seats. The case worker said that he would likely have different thoughts now, instincts looking for a reason to be. No one was sure just how much inside Br’ers had changed, but the consensus was that undergoing such a drastic physical transformation had to have seriously rewired the brain in ways that might never be understood. Since almost none of them had stepped foot inside a psychiatrist’s office before then, there was no telling what conditions had been with them before the change and what had developed after.

To Aaron, that sense of wariness was familiar. He always had one eye on an escape route, and that hadn’t changed now that he was a giant bipedal rabbit. He just got better at finding the angles and accounting for small details. Even though he had never felt more anxious, or maybe more aware of his own anxiety, he felt better equipped to deal with it. It wasn’t a problem; it was smart.

“We’re here,” the driver said. The van rolled to a stop, and Aaron instinctively looked at the house they were in front of. It was a semi-detached home with a chainlink fence around it, long but narrow with a tiny porch crammed with old, rusting furniture. The grass in the little plot of a yard was wild, but there were islands of dark, rich earth bordered by thick white stones. Tiny flowers struggled to remain upright there, splashes of yellow and pink and white that stood out against the flaking whitewash on the walls, the cracked concrete of the walkway, the dirty grey paint of the stairs.

The flowers were new. Aaron wondered if his mother needed a project to distract her from what had happened, if this was her way of burning off her anxiety. Whenever she was dealt a blow, something would get fixed or upgraded. Home improvements were signs that she wasn’t handling something well.

Aaron noticed his heart beating faster as he got out of the car. The agent — dressed down in khakis and a polo shirt that did nothing to hide the military precision with which he picked up the luggage — walked through the gate and up to the porch like it was his house. It took Aaron several deep breaths to get up the nerve just to follow.

He had no idea how his family would receive him. The case worker said that it would be an adjustment for everybody, that it was bound to be awkward for a few days while everyone adjusted to the new normal. But the case worker had no idea what she was talking about. There was no adjusting to this. It was never going to be normal.

“Well, here we are,” the agent said as Aaron joined him on the porch. He watched the white man look around the porch, scanning lightly over the trash bags next to the broken rocking chair, the empty beer bottles on the old patio table, the food dish on the floor with ancient nuggets of dried out cat food. The man’s scent changed slightly, and the corners of his mouth turned down. Then he rang the doorbell.

The front door opened immediately; Aaron’s mom must have been standing right there. She stared at him with wide eyes, then looked at the agent. She looked shockingly small and frail; had she always been that short? That thin?

“Ma’am, I’ve brought your son home.” The agent clasped his hands behind his back as he jumped right in. “Aaron has been cleared for release to the general population, but if you have any trouble at all please call the number in your information packet.”

“O…OK,” was all she said. She remained frozen to the spot.

The agent simply nodded, then turned to Aaron. “Good luck, son.”

Thank you, Aaron signed. He lifted his whiskers in a close approximation of a smile, then watched as the agent briskly walked away, got into his car, and drove away. He turned to his mother and his heart skipped a beat when he saw the way she stared at him.

They stood like that for what felt like forever. She must be wondering if she should let him in, Aaron thought. He was wondering if he should stay. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t home any more.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2018 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Fiction Friday) Br’ers #1: The Bus

Writing 150Aaron wasn’t prepared for how weird it would feel to be in a t-shirt and shorts while everyone else on the bus was rocking layers, but there was a lot about this he wasn’t prepared for. He wasn’t prepared for the dirt and wet clinging to the fur on his feet even with the sandals, or the feeling of eyes tracking his every movement since he left the house. He couldn’t have known about the way he could hear whispering under his breath everywhere he went. He didn’t realize there would be an overwhelming riot of scents he hadn’t learn to place yet. But it was all happening, right here, right now, and he had no choice but to bear it.

The bus driver, a big woman with grease-slick hair forming a solid line of curls around her neck, nodded to him with wide eyes as he fed his money into the machine. He signed a greeting to her and she watched his clawed fingers slice through the air without understanding him. He twitched his whiskers — the best approximation of a smile he could manage — and moved on. It was best to end interactions quickly to give people time to sit with the shock of seeing him, his social worker said. It wasn’t personal; people just needed time to adapt.

He kept telling himself that, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that it was absolutely personal. No one around him caused the shock and silence that he did. How could he not take it personally?

There was a row of seats free, so he stepped quickly to snap it up. It was still early and the only people on the bus were those few commuters who had to travel long distances to make it to their offices, students, the homeless who had scrounged enough change to get out of the elements for an hour. All of them, from the young woman with the fresh braids and brand-new Marshall’s outfit to the old man with a patchy beard and patchier smile, stared openly at him. Aaron sat down, took his book out of the small messenger bag slung over one shoulder, and stared back with dark and oversized eyes. His new face was passive, unexpressive, except for the constant twitching of his nose when he was excited. It bobbed quickly now; he had to put effort into slowing it down.

Eventually, enough people caught their fill of him that they returned to their books and phones and companions. Aaron opened his book and stared at it without reading. His ears flicked to snatch bits of conversation out of the air.

“I didn’t know they would look like a straight-up cartoon.”

“Look at all that fur, no wonder he ain’t wearing nothing. Fucker’s gonna fry in the summer.”

“I knew I should have brought my tar baby today.”

“Shut up! You ain’t even right.”

Six months ago, Aaron went to bed as a geeky high-school senior whose biggest point of stress was crossing a field to this very bus stop without getting harassed by the neighborhood kids. He woke up as a six-foot bipedal rabbit the next morning, along with 7 million other people who turned into various animals. No one knew how it happened or why, but it mostly happened to the people in the most run-down parts of big cities or the destitute rural areas. There were a ton of names flying around for the people — people? — this had happened to, depending on where you were. Here, in Baltimore, the name ‘Br’er’ seemed to be the one that stuck.

Aaron had to admit — the Tar Baby crack was pretty funny — but he knew the intention wasn’t to let him in on the joke. So he kept quiet, sat still, and swept his ears back as the bus moved on.

It was no use trying to read. Whenever anyone said anything, his sharp ears would pick it up; whenever someone moved, it would reveal a new smell that he would have to try and catalogue. Was that the warm leather of someone’s coat or a bus seat someone just left? Was that sharp, almost sweet scent the smell of someone’s car keys or their earrings? There was almost a compulsion to find an explanation for each smell, and in a cramped shared space like this there were almost too many to choose from.

He tried to use the purpose of the bus trip as a distraction. The job was simple data entry, and it wouldn’t pay that much, but it would get him out of the house and back into the world. The manager was a church friend of his aunt’s, and she had put in a good word for him. Aaron was fairly sure he would get the job, but he wasn’t sure how long he would keep it. There had been stories on the news about Br’ers who were let go from their positions as soon as they were released from the government facilities where they spent the last few months, and talking heads all over cable news were wondering what kinds of work would be available for walking animals.

“Mascot!” was almost always the joke they ended with, the roundtable all laughing before they moved on to the next topic.

Aaron didn’t know what he wanted to do; he always thought he would go to college and study to become a teacher himself, but now that he couldn’t actually talk he had no idea how viable an option that was. His doctor told him that he might be able to relearn how to speak eventually, but the fact was his mouth and throat weren’t meant for human sounds. Sign language might be his only option.

Whenever he thought about that, a stone dropped into his stomach and it wouldn’t go away for hours. He could hear what everyone else was saying but he would never be able to say anything back, for the rest of his life. How fucked up was that? How was that fair? He never realized how much he depended on his voice until he lost it. Now, too late, he had to find a way to communicate without it or just about anything else he was used to. He was trapped in this body, a mind without a way to express its thoughts, an animal doomed to observe well but remain silent.

He slid back in his chair to relieve the pressure on his tail and sighed out a long breath that whistled between his incisors. That wasn’t helpful thinking, he heard his social worker telling him; he would stay trapped as long as he saw himself that way. The problem was, from where he was sitting, there was no way he could see what freedom looked like.

The bus stopped, and the gasps of a couple passengers encouraged Aaron to open his eyes. Another Br’er stepped onto the bus, this one a fox. Aaron had expected something instinctive to sound an alarm within him, but it didn’t; he was curious, almost happy, to see someone else who might understand what he was going through right now. The fox’s strange, slitted eyes turned right towards him and her whiskers bristled. His own bobbed in response. She looked past the bus driver, past the others staring at her, and walked towards him. He sat up and moved his bag to make sure she knew the seat was open.

She wagged as she walked down the aisle. Then she sat next to him.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2018 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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