Tag Archives: br’ers

(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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(Friday Fiction) The Only Winning Move

Writing 150I keep thinking about the Br’er idea — I think it’s a potent one that could be used to explore a lot of different themes floating in my head about the black experience. I just need to drill down into it and find out where the trouble spots are; I understand not everything is going to scan, and my inexperience with both writing and social metaphor can lead me to dangerous minefields without me even realizing it.

So here’s a bit of fiction set there, just to explore one or two aspects of the world.

Rone found his mother in the dining room, sweeping vigorously and muttering to herself. He stopped in the doorway with his ears perked to see if he could make out what she was saying, but could only make out snatches. Enough to know she was muttering about him. Wisps of his fur were floating up around every stroke of the broom, performing lazy somersaults before floating back down to the wooden floor. The sunlight caught strands as they danced. It made the whole room look like some kind of weird snow globe.

He folded his burning ears and hunched his shoulders around the pit of embarrassment in his stomach. The facility he had come from was air-conditioned the entire 18 months he was there, and since he was never allowed outside he never had to deal with the weather — just sixty degree air blowing from the vents all hours of the day. In that environment the worst thing he had to deal with was dry air, at least until they discovered his fur responded well to leave-in conditioner.

But he was back home now. It was April in Baltimore, and the weather was beginning to turn warm. He started to shed his first night back and hadn’t stopped since.

The scientists told him that his fur was virtually indistinguishable from that of an actual rabbit. Maybe a bit longer, maybe a bit thicker, but just as soft and fluffy. A few of them had even joked he should keep any sheddings to sell as sweater material. He didn’t really like the joke; it was gross imagining people walking around in clothes made from his fur, and he didn’t think there was any way he could shed that much.

A week of eighty-degree-plus days quickly disabused him of that notion. He spent more than an hour each morning brushing out his pelt and discarding blown coat. There was a trash bag full of it in his bedroom, and even still the air was saturated with it. If his mother found it as gross as he did, there’s no wonder she would be muttering about him now.

And that’s why he was here. Maybe there was a way to come to some arrangement that made everyone more comfortable.

He walked up behind her and grunted. He hadn’t learned to use his throat or strange muzzle yet, but the scientists said he might eventually learn to speak in another year or two. In the meantime, he had to learn sign language to communicate — an unexpected benefit of his…condition. Even though they were prompted to, his family hadn’t beyond a few phrases and most of the alphabet. That meant communicating through spelling slowly or simply writing things down.

Mom didn’t seem to notice him until he tapped her on the shoulder. She whirled with a start, nearly hitting him with her broom; he leapt back, his powerful legs nearly launching him into the ceiling and then into the table as he landed. He clutched the edge to steady himself, his eyes wide and his heart racing. She looked just as surprised.

“Boy, don’t sneak up on me like that!” she said, turning towards him. “You know how I get when I’m cleaning.”

Rone dipped his ears and nodded. He did indeed. He pointed to the broom and made sweeping motions, then pointed to himself. It was crude pantomime, but he hoped it was good enough to get his point across.

She blinked at him, her eyes unfocusing as she worked out what he meant. Then she shook her head. “Oh, no…thank you, though. I got this. It sure would be nice if you stopped shedding so much, though.”

Mom must have saw the way his ears flattened. “Never mind. I know you can’t help it. What did you want?”

Rone pulled out his phone and stylus. He had prepared for this. He showed her the few sentences he had written out in his Note app for this.

I think it would be best if I cleaned out the basement and stayed there for now, don’t you?

His mother stared at the phone for a long time, then looked at him. “No. Where is all the stuff in the basement now going to go? Why would you want to move your room down there?”

Rone took the phone back and typed with his stylus as quickly as he could. He wished, for the millionth time, that fur-covered fingertips didn’t prevent him from using a touchscreen. It’s cooler down there, which means I’ll shed less. It’s more private. And you won’t get as much hair floating around. We could move the basement stuff up to my room.

Mom read his phone, then shook her head. “You wouldn’t be able to move all that stuff out of the basement up to your room. Those doctors said you shouldn’t be lifting heavy things right now.”

Rone rolled his eyes. The scientists weren’t sure if his back would be able to take a lot of strain. The spines of rabbits were fairly sturdy, but had a tendency to break if they struggled too hard. The fact was no one had any idea how Rone’s body worked, even him. This was all completely uncharted territory.

I’ll be fine, Rone wrote. Besides, I can get Neek to help me.

“When?” Mom snorted, she gave the phone back to him and began sweeping again. “She’s not going to help you move furniture after she gets off work. You’re lying to yourself if you think she is.”

Rone stood there, tapping at the phone with his stylus, then erasing all the things he was about to say. One advantage of being mute is you couldn’t blurt out something you would regret nearly as easily. After a few moments, Mom stopped again and sighed.

“How about we get some of those fans from the basement and put them up in your room? Maybe that would cool things down in there, OK?” She took a step towards him and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. “I know this ain’t easy on you, being home like this after all that time. It’s rough on all of us. We just have to…get through this until things feel like normal again.”

Rone stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Mom gave him a weak smile, then went back to sweeping.

He slipped away silently, resolving to move himself down to the basement the next time Mom and Neek went out to church. It’d be tough to get everything done in those few hours, but he was pretty sure he could.

He had to feel like he had some control over his life, even if it meant pushing things with his family. Somehow, one small corner of the world had to be his.

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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing


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(Friday Fiction) Br’ers: One on One

Writing 150Today’s post is a little bit late; sorry about that. It feels like I’ve been playing catch-up since the year started! I’ll be working double-time for a little while to try and get ahead of things.

Anyway, in this installment of Br’er fiction, Gregg meets his boss for the first time in six months to have a conversation about returning to work. I’m still stumbling around a little bit with this setting, but I’m making slow but steady progress with getting the feel down.

“On behalf of everyone at GBI, I’d like to welcome you back to the fold.” Horace Bolton smiled at Gregg across his shabby particle-board desk, leaning forward to indicate his sincerity. Underneath the smile, there was a distinct nervousness that Gregg had learned to detect by scent. His boss was doing a very good job of hiding it through body language, though.

The woman standing next to Horace was also nervous, but kept her emotions hidden under an impassive expression. Joyce was the office manager, and she kept the office managed to within an inch of its life. Once you understood her rules and followed them to the letter, you couldn’t have a better friend at work. She was here to translate Gregg’s sign language to the manager; he found it wholly unnecessary, but they had insisted on providing the accommodation for him to prove how dedicated they were to keeping him employed and comfortable.

Gregg signed at the expectant look Horace fixed him with, and Joyce turned to him with exacting precision. He found himself wondering if there was something about her Korean background that made her so detail-oriented, then banished the thought. “Thank you,” she said.

“You’ve been a vital part of GBI’s success, and I just want you to know that you have a place here as long as you want it. We’re committed to providing a comfortable, friendly environment for everyone, no matter their race, religion or species. We’re a family here.” Horace slipped into his familiar pitch. Gregg had heard it countless times at meetings and functions. He was what you would call a “true believer”.

And to be fair, Horace walked the walk. He worked hard (mostly through Joyce) to build a culture of informal, easy-going labor. GBI was a little internet service provider that gave dial-up and high-speed access to people who had never heard of cable — or simply couldn’t afford it. Despite the marketplace the company had done well enough to establish itself in the city. They didn’t offer quite the same perks that a big corporation would, but the people were solid here. Gregg loved his job, and who he worked with.

He smiled, though he wasn’t sure how that would translate. He signed, and Joyce said “Thank you.”

“If there’s anything I can do to help you transition back into your position after…well, considering your new situation, don’t hesitate to come to me, OK? My door is always open.”

Gregg signed. Joyce said, “Thank you.”

Horace smiled, letting a silence creep into the conversation for just a beat. That was the end of the introduction, apparently. He put on his glasses; that was usually the sign that it was time to get down to business. “Now, as you’re aware, I’m sure, there aren’t any laws on the books offering legal protections against discrimination for you…uhm, what would you prefer to be called?”

Gregg detected a tightening in Joyce. He could hear the way her suit jacket shifted around heightened shoulders. He wasn’t sure if she noticed his ear swiveling in her direction, but he signed. She relaxed when she spoke. “Br’ers is fine as a term.”

Horace barked a surprised laugh. “Br’er? I hadn’t heard that one, that’s pretty cute.”

Both of Gregg’s ears swiveled forward as he signed. He wasn’t sure if he was hoping to catch his boss in something inappropriate or if he was genuinely curious. Joyce hesitated before leaning in. “He wants to know what other terms you had heard.”

Alarm flashed behind Horace’s eyes. He shifted uncomfortably for just a second. “I…well, you know….never mind, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you prefer to call yourself. Br’ers it is.”

Horace cleared his throat and began speaking immediately to bury the moment. “As I was saying, there aren’t any laws protecting you, but I spoke with legal to make sure we added anti-discrimination clauses to the company conduct policy. I can guarantee you that you will not be paid less, looked over for a promotion or raise, or experience any hinderances to your career because of what you are. Anyone who uses slurs or engages in inappropriate behavior will be called in for a disciplinary review. If you hear or experience anything, I want you to come to me or Joyce first thing, OK?”

Gregg nodded. He wasn’t sure what to say to that, but he was sure that Horace was serious about it. It warmed him to know that someone had his back, even after all this, and was dedicated to at least trying to make sure he could live a normal life. Or as normal as it could be, anyway.

“Good. Now…is there anything you need to do your job efficiently? Some accommodation that would make you more comfortable? I’ve given it some thought…”

Gregg’s nose twitched a bit more rapidly now, and one of his ears flicked towards Joyce. Her nervousness was a lot more apparent now, the stone-faced mask slipping at last. He felt that sensation transfer to him, as if he should be readying himself for something bad. This was the other shoe, he realized, and his heart sank.

“…and maybe we can convert part of the storage room into a personal office. With those ears and that nose, I can only imagine how distracting sounds and smells must be for you.” Horace leaned in, a look of grave concern on his face. “It’s not too overwhelming in here, is it?”

Gregg looked bewildered. What did this dude think his senses were like? He simply shook his head.

Horace relaxed. “Ah, good. I can’t imagine what it must be like, having those senses that you do. It must be kind of like being a superhero, right?” He chuckled.

Gregg looked at Joyce, who slumped. He signed to her, a longer response this time, and she repeated it back in halting and uncertain rhythm.

“He says that no, it’s not like being a superhero. He has good hearing, and smell, but it’s not like everything’s louder or stinkier than before. It’s just different.”

“Oh really? That’s interesting. Good to know!” Horace smiled with the pre-emptive satisfaction of being able to correct someone else later on down the line. “And, as far as…well…using the facilities…”

Here, Joyce’s pale face drained of all color.

“…are you going to need space close to the bathroom? My niece has a rabbit, and that thing just goes wherever it wants. I remember hearing somewhere that rabbits can’t hold it when they’ve got to go, so we want to make sure you can avoid any potential accidents.”

Gregg was stunned. It took him a moment to understand what was being insinuated here, and when he did his ears swept back. He looked at Horace as if he was insane, but was pretty sure the man couldn’t read his expression. Joyce frowned at him; he was sure it was a look of sympathy.

“I’m not a rabbit, though. I’m a man. Just different, like I said. I’ve never had an accident, and I don’t plan to start now.”

Horace laughed at that, long and loud. Gregg felt that initial flash of annoyance melting away, and allowed his ears to swing upright. Joyce even smiled, and just like that the moment passed.

“Well, good to know. Listen, Gregg, it’s so good to have you back, I really mean that. If there’s anything you need, just ask.” Horace stood up and offered his hand. Reflexively, Gregg stood up and shook it. He allowed himself to relax. The meeting was over. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and now he could go back to work.

He turned and walked out of the small office, flicking an ear back to hear Joyce hurrying after him. She reached up and touched his shoulder; when he stopped, she rose on her toes to whisper in his ear.

“I’m so sorry about that. Welcome back.” She patted him once and rushed back into Horace’s office.

Gregg grinned to himself. It took three steps for him to forget about the awkwardness of that exchange; he had to think about the mountains of email he would have to wade through in order to catch up.

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Posted by on January 8, 2016 in Furries, Writing


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(Writing) Howdy, Br’er!

Myth 150This month for Fiction Friday, I’ll be giving the Br’er scenario another try. I’m not sure what people thought of the couple fragments I posted last month, but I wasn’t really happy with them — I think they came across far too “woe is me, poor special snowflake” and less “these are some things that folks like me have to deal with”. Not my best look, fam; sorry about that.

I’m writing a little about what I’d like to do with the idea here, not to prime you to read the upcoming bits of fiction in a certain way, but to hopefully solidify my intentions and use this as a guidepost to look back on at the end of the month when I want to know how I did with them. I know it’s important to let the work speak for itself, right? But this is the first tentative step to more involved and more ambitious stories, and this writing desk here is going to be my workshop for now.

I’m writing Br’ers as a way to dig into my experience as a black man on the fringes of black society. In a lot of ways, my folks can tell there’s something different about me just by looking — either it’s the clothes I wear, or the way I carry myself, or how I speak. There’s this impression that I give off almost immediately that codes me as “other”, and that feeling only deepens once I start talking.

At the same time, I am undeniably black and the rest of the world sees me that way. I’m lumped in with a community that has distanced me from itself by the dominant culture, and there’s not much I can do about that. I occupy this border between the world of black America and the wider one, maybe not by choice, but by simply being who I am. And here, my options are somewhat limited; no one thing is going to be wholly satisfying.

I could forsake the black community entirely and step out into the wider world in search of an adopted people. That’s what I’ve done for most of my life; in my senior year of high school I found Dungeons & Dragons, Changeling: the Dreaming and the furry fandom. I didn’t look back for 15 years. These are the people who understood me, who’ve accepted me as one of their own, whose excitement I’ve shared. I’ve been a geek for about 20 years now; it’s an enormous part of my identity.

But over the past couple of years I’ve felt a calling back “home”. Maybe it’s being in touch with my family again, learning about the first deaths that will signal many more for my older relatives, getting to talk to my nephews on the phone. Maybe it’s knowing that I had an aunt who was a lesbian and never reaching out to her; now she’s gone and it’s too late. Maybe it’s seeing this awful parade of abuse and death to our young black men and women and thinking that it could have been my sister’s children on the news, or even my sister. Either way, something within me told me it was time to reassume this part of my identity, and I’ve been working out how ever since.

Learning about the black geek community has been a wonderful thing for that. These are people who’ve grown up in ways that I recognize, who have experiences that I share, who love the same things I do. What they haven’t done is given up their racial and cultural identity the way I did; they’ve stayed on that border and made a settlement there. They’re influenced by both worlds — the black American culture that I’ve found so difficult to deal with and the bigger, whiter space of science-fiction and fantasy. Their space looks like nothing else, this fusion of a long, painful history combined with wild and unbridled imagination.

The concept of Br’er came to me as I was thinking about how to marry my furry identity with the larger world of black geekdom. I like the idea that someone waking up one day as markedly different forces them to the fringes anywhere they go; no matter where they are, chances are they’re the only one of their kind in the room. A new species borne out of the antagonistic relationship we have with our planet is an idea I couldn’t let go of. Br’ers, just by being who they are, remind us of the awful things we’ve done and force us to deal with that on some level.

I imagine that Br’ers were a sudden and immediate phenomenon. One day, one in twenty people — mostly in the most blighted urban areas — woke up to find themselves some weird combination of human and animal. Because the change seemed to be based on a type of environment, it disproportionately affected minorities and the poor. You know, the kind of people who tend to live in areas of urban blight. What these animal-human hybrids are called varies depending on the culture naming them; in black circles, they’re named Br’ers.

Those who’ve undergone the change feel like strangers in their own skin, even after the six months to a year has passed where our story picks up. They have to rediscover their own bodies, wrestle with strange and different appetites, move through a world that simply has no idea what to make of them. Because of the vastly different shape of their faces, they have no idea how to speak up. They’re voiceless, and any method of communication they can use as an alternative probably won’t really capture what is they’re feeling, what it is they want to say. It’s a frustrating and lonely existence, even if they know that they’re not alone, that there are other people out there like them.

Their families and neighbors are weirded out by them; this is something beyond their experience and they have no idea how to relate to them. The world at large might be more accepting, but there are trade-offs. Chances are they come from minority or low-income backgrounds, without a lot of social or political power; they’re kind of exotic, but kind of dangerous, objects of fascination more than living breathing people. Folks will stop them on the street and ask to touch their fur, or wonder how they manage to do things with their claws, or — only when they’re drunk or feeling REALLY comfortable — ask them if what they’ve heard about their sexual characteristics are true.

The world of the Br’er is one where there is almost no safe space; your neighborhood holds you at arm’s length, anything beyond that might be well-meaning but ignorant at best and downright abusive at worst, and there’s no guarantee even among your own kind that you’ll find kinship for a whole host of reasons. On top of that, it’s a long and arduous process to find peace about yourself and who you are. You may never truly fit in anywhere, and you have to be OK with that.

That’s the experience I want to capture here. It’ll take me a little while to get it right; I’m still a novice at writing fiction and working with subtext is something I’m going to have to learn. But it’s an idea I believe in, and I’ll keep trying to express it until I get it right.

So thanks in advance for being patient with me on this. Any feedback is welcome — even if it’s critical, even if you don’t believe in the idea in the first place. I want to hear from you. I know the first passes are going to be rough, but I sacrifice my ego to the altar of story. I will crash and burn publicly, because I want to forge myself.


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(Friday Fiction) Br’ers – Break

Fandom 150And here’s the next little bit. Still figuring out the setting while trying to make connections between Greggory’s experience and experiences I’ve had being a “black face in a white space”. This one stems from SO MANY TIMES being the only black guy with the feeling of “you don’t belong here” heavy in the air.

Oliver’s Cafe had a strawberry and cheese danish that made Gregg salivate just thinking about it. In the long weeks and months that followed his transformation, it was one of the things on a small list that he brought to mind whenever he needed something to look forward to. Under quarantine, his diet was restricted to little more than hay and various vegetables — he could eat them, but they weren’t very appetizing.

The doctors and scientists discovered that it wasn’t just the features that were a mixture of animal and man; his palate and nutritional needs had changed as well. He was technically still an omnivore, but his stomach frequently revolted a meat-rich meal and he found the smell of cooked flesh alarming, almost disgusting. Over time, once the shock of his new body had worn off, he found he preferred vegetables and fruits; a little bit of dairy here and there; and a powerful craving for sugar. Six months ago, Greggory had never been one for sweets. Now, he couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

The cafe was on Calvert St., right on the way to work. Greggory would stop there every morning to pick up a large cup of coffee and a danish, and this was his first day back. As he squeezed out of his small coupe and made his way across the small parking lot towards the little row of shops Oliver’s was nestled between, he felt himself tensing. This was supposed to be a small step towards normalcy, the first brick placed to put his life back in order. When he opened the door, he realized it simply wouldn’t be that simple.

A sea of faces turned to stare at him. The room went quiet except for the folk-rock playing over tinny speakers. Greggory felt the burn of thirty pairs of eyes all centered on him; half the expressions were surprise, even shock — the other half looked vaguely displeased. He had to imagine all of them were wondering what he was doing here.

Greggory smiled and lifted a hand. He waved clawed fingers at the gathered, and made his way in. He had no idea how he looked, but he wished more than anything people would stop staring at him. He was used to being the only man of his kind in one of these spaces, or so he thought; here, the difference burned at him, seeped into his skin in a way that made him feel acutely self-conscious. He felt like a foreign element contaminating the purity of a scene.

The tightness in his chest didn’t ease when the barista smiled at him and asked, “Hey, what can I get started for you?”

He pulled out the tablet tucked under an arm and opened his writing app. His pointer claw acted as a natural stylus, but it still felt strange dragging the point of it over his screen. It wasn’t something he thought he could ever get used to, even though his doctor swore he would. At least, until he relearned how to speak.

<<It’s Gregg.>> He wrote, then showed it to the barista.

Her eyes flashed with recognition, surprise, and sympathy in the span of a second. “Oh! Greggory, hey!! It’s so good to see you!” Other workers behind the counter glanced in his direction when they heard the name. Some smiled weakly and nodded, some went quickly back to work, their expressions unreadable. “I’m so sorry about…” Her voice trailed off, suddenly unsure.

<<It’s OK. I’m fine. Hope you’re fine too.>>

“Oh yeah, I’m good! It’s gotten a lot busier here since they finally finished the construction.” The barista glanced behind him, and her smile faded. “What can I get you?”

Greggory flicked an ear behind him and heard one…three…four people shuffling in line. He couldn’t see their expressions, but he didn’t need to. His chest felt tighter. He wiped his app and started writing quickly.

“What’s that floating in the air?”

“I think that’s fur.”

“OK, that’s gross.”

He tried to ignore that as he wrote, flattening his ears against his head to keep from hearing any more. <<I’d like a large coffee, two sugar, three cream. And a strawberry danish.>>

The barista — her name was Karen, according to her name tag, and Greggory felt a small pang of shame for not remembering — smiled at him, glanced at the line, and nodded. “I got you. Is that for here or to go?”

“I hope it’s to go,” someone said behind him, a little louder.

Greggory’s ear flicked up of its own accord, and his nervousness soured into anger. He was tempted to tell her that it would be for here, damned being late for work, and then sit in the middle of the cafe. He’d pour his coffee into a saucer and lick it up like a God-damned animal, lift up his shirt to scratch his furry belly, pluck out loose hairs and let them flow in the air…

<<To go.>>

Karen gave him a friendly and sympathetic smile, and it lightened his mood a little. “OK. Just hang on and your order will be waiting for you at the end of the bar.”

Greggory stepped out of line and waited near the condiments. He could feel the eyes of people in line on him, saw people look up from where they were seated as he passed by. He did his best to ignore them, kept his ears folded, but he couldn’t help but hear the conversation of the next person in line.

“So you’re serving those animals in here now, huh?” The man was tall and white, with grey hair and blue eyes that looked down a strong, proud nose. Greggory imagined himself punching it.

“He’s a paying customer here, just like you are.” Karen’s voice had a hard edge that he had never heard before. “What do you want?”

“Nothing, with that attitude. I’ll get my coffee somewhere else.” The man turned to leave. “Your manager will be getting a call from me.”

The man glared at Greggory as he left. Greggory did his best to look anywhere else but at him.

“Here’s your coffee dude.” Another barista slipped a cup towards him, along with his pastry. “I gave you two pastries because…you know. Welcome back.”

Something in Greggory’s heart broke open. He perked his ears, stared at the young, skinny Indian man across the counter, and nodded. He couldn’t say how much he appreciated it, but he hoped the other man knew it just the same.

He walked briskly to his car, opened the door and tossed his pastries into the passenger seat. He barely managed to fumble the keys into the ignition before tears started to flow. It took him ten minutes before his vision cleared enough that he trusted himself leaving the parking lot.

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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection, Thursday Prompt, Writing


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