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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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(Fiction Friday) Veniamin Kovalenko, Werebear Detective #2

Writing 150It’s been a couple of weeks — sorry about that. This time last week I was knee-deep in convention fun with other geeks! I had meant to write ahead so that the second part of Veniamin’s story was up and done, but time, as usual, caught up with me.

Today, Veniamin is exploring the part of the BART system that lies underground — this mostly happens right around the “Transbay Tube”, a tunnel under the San Francisco Bay connecting Oakland and the peninsula, but there are significant portions of BART that go underground within the cities themselves. I find these little bits fascinating; unlike a lot of other subway stations, BART underground feels fairly empty and there are all kinds of fun surprises that could be lurking in the shadows there.

The Lake Merritt station sits in easy walking distance of downtown Oakland, and it’s right where the trains go from street-level to underground. It’s as busy as you might imagine most of the time, one of those hub stations that commuters need to get to before they can catch other trains to Fremont, Dublin, or Daly City. This late at night, though, there weren’t too many people lingering around; maybe word had gotten out that strange and dangerous things happen around the neighborhood when no one is looking.

Which is precisely why Nunes and I were here with nothing but flashlights and cell-phone cameras. This wasn’t his usual beat — he patrolled closer to Hayward — but he noticed something slipping out of the shadows and, in his own words, wrapping a tentacle around a homeless gentleman who then dissolved like he was being dipped in acid or something. The suckers on the tentacle slurped up the stinking, steaming mess before it retreated. This happened three nights ago while he was covering a shift for a friend, and he swore on his badge that he wasn’t intoxicated at the time because he never drunk at work. I don’t understand how he could stand to do the job if he weren’t, but some people are just weird that way.

“Are you sure you should be doing that?” He swung his flashlight in my direction as I took a swig from my flask, wrinkling his nose at the sharp bite of vodka that filled the air between us. “I really think we need to keep our wits about us.”

“What do you think I’m doing?” I snapped at him before tucking the half-empty canister back into my trenchcoat. “You have your way of keeping your wits, and I’ve got mine.” He might not like the smell of alcohol, but I don’t like the smell of human piss that clung to the concrete all around us, so we both have to deal with things we’d rather not.

I was uncomfortable enough already with this whole deal. Nunes insisted on joining me on this little expedition despite me warning him off. The way he saw it, he still had a job to do even if he was calling me in as a ‘consultant’. There was no way he was going to let me wander off into those tunnels by myself; he had to know what was there, and he had to know how it would be stopped before he could rest easy. With just about anyone else, I could understand that motivation, even respect it. But there was something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. He was scratching an itch that was better left alone, and I got the feeling his reasons for doing it weren’t entirely on the table.

“If that’s your way of keeping your wits, then we’re both in trouble.” He trained the flashlight on the tunnel, the meager beam of light diffusing into the darkness ahead of us. The sound of his footsteps were crisp and neat, just like his polished shoes and his pressed uniform. They echoed around us with a rhythm that made me anxious. My fingers itched for the flask again.

“You want someone else here to find some shadow tentacle monster, that’s fine by me. I can go home and catch up on my Netflix queue.” I walked right next to him as we passed through the door that would lead us into the maintenance tunnels running along the side of the subway track. I admit, I was in a rotten mood. It wasn’t just the smell, as bad as that was. It wasn’t the fact that I was wearing clothes, either, though the detective get-up I stuffed myself into was as uncomfortable as hell. I liked the way I looked in my cheap off-the-rack suit and trenchcoat, but I hated the feeling of that tie around my neck and the belt around my waist. They were reminders of what I was supposed to be, a civilized Joe protecting other working stiffs from the worst of the worst out there, but more and more the costume felt…restrictive.

I snorted to myself and resisted the call of the flask one more time. Maybe it was time to get out of the city for a while. My parents would be glad to see me for a spell, and it had been ages since I caught fresh fish right out of the ocean.

“No…no, you’re the guy I want. It’s just…don’t you care about the quality of your work? I can’t stand it myself when things are sloppy.” Nunes was working to keep his voice light, conversational. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to cover up his nerves or his disdain for me.

“Things are already sloppy by the time I get called in,” I said. I took a deep breath to try and dispel the tension building up my spine. “It doesn’t much matter if I tie things up in a neat little bow at that point. I fix the things that you and your people can’t.”

“I guess so.” Nunes had a question on his lips, but he didn’t ask it. That’s just as well. He wasn’t going to get an answer he liked.

The darkness closed in around us as we walked deeper into the tunnel, and the scent shifted from an overwhelming crush of people to stale air, rats, damp metal and concrete and…something else. I couldn’t quite place it, and that rankled me too. If I could shift here, I’d be able to isolate it, maybe pick up a trail, but…there’s no way I would take my clothes off in front of a civilian.

The strange scent grew stronger by degrees, and it seemed like our flashlights were dimming as we went along. It’s possible we were under the Bay at this point, but I couldn’t be sure. After ten minutes or so, I noticed a change in Nunes’ scent. He was getting more nervous, agitated. Around a bend in the track, I discovered why.

Standing in the middle of the tunnel was a girl who couldn’t be older than 18. Even from a hundred yards away I could smell her fear, and the wind carried quiet sobs towards us. As soon as Nunes saw her, he rushed forward. I should have stopped him, but I didn’t. I knew it was a trap, but there was some part of me that just went for it anyway.

“Maria!” He stopped short fifty feet away from her, even though there was nothing stopping him from going right there. “Are you OK?”

Maria nodded. When I got to him, I could smell that alien scent much more strongly. The air felt charged with something, a tension, a feeling that it was fighting against something that shouldn’t be displacing it. I felt the hackles on the back of my neck stand up; something was wrong here. All around, something was fundamentally wrong.

That’s when a pale man stepped out of a shadow clinging to the rounded wall of the tunnel. Nunes turned to him, his eyes wide. “I brought him to you. Now give me my daughter.”

“Fine.” The man was short and sallow, his face familiar and disturbing in a way I didn’t remember. He raised a hand, brought two fingers forward, and Maria flew with a shriek towards Nunes, collapsing at his feet. The officer helped her up, looked at me, and whispered “I’m sorry” before he turned and ran.

I should have been angry at him, but I wasn’t. If someone had kidnapped a member of my family, I would be willing to do some pretty intense shit to rescue them. Still, bad form, Nunes. If I ever got out of this tunnel, you owe me one.

“Hello, Veniamin.” The pale man turned towards me, pitch-black eyes narrowing in recognition. His accent, his manner, the way he said my name — it all came back to me at once, and I realized too late that I was alone in a pretty bad place with the last person I wanted to be stuck with.

I sighed, pulled out my flask, and drained it. If I was going to be torn apart by an outsider from some other dimension, I might as well be drunk when it happened.

“Hello, Ed,” I breathed. “You look different. Did you get a new haircut?”

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Posted by on January 19, 2018 in RPGs, Thursday Prompt, Writing


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(Fiction Friday) Veniamin Kovalenko: Werebear Detective

Writing 150For Fiction Friday this year, I’d like to play around with a new setting or character every month. Chances are this will settle in to a rotating band of settings that I’ll return to again and again, just to play around with various aspects of writing. One of the things that have been setting me back is a reluctance to just play around, to write for the sheer joy of it. So that’s what I’ll be doing here.

This month I’m going to dig into Veniamin Kovalenko, a character I played in my husband’s Dresden Files game. Veniamin is a Californian of Russian descent (obviously), but with deep ties to the Golden State as well as Alaska. His family’s birthright is the ability to change into a bear pretty much at will, something that serves most of them pretty well. His mother and father own a little hotel in the forests just a little way south of Silicon Valley; other family have installed themselves as park rangers and workers in various state parks.

Veniamin, however, has chosen the path of the private detective to the supernatural creatures in and around the San Francisco Bay. He’s seen too many good monsters do stupid things and meet their end because of it; he wants to protect folks with too much power and too little sense from making bad choices, and make sure ‘regular folks’ aren’t victimized by those they have no defense against if he can help it.

I rarely write in first person because I’m just not good at plugging in to a drastically different voice from my own, so that’s my challenge this month: try on a writing style that’s distinctive and alien.


#1: Bearbaiting

San Francisco didn’t even have the decency to be sweltering when that demon from Hell walked through my door. If this were Sacramento, he would have slipped in all covered with flop sweat, dark stains on his shirt where perspiration soaked through, panting and stinking of whatever garbage he could afford from the vending machine on his salary. But the City By The Bay barely cracked 80 in a heat wave, so all I had to announce his presence was the faint whiff of sulphur and subway piss.

He wasn’t an actual demon, but he might as well have been — maybe something worse, like one of those parasites that feasts on souls or a Kardashian. He stood in front of my desk with his hands clutching his hat, his shabby uniform neatly pressed and creased. The six-pointed star caught the little bit of morning light that made it into the room and glinted right into my eye, making me squint. Almost like he was mocking me, he squinted too — at the tumbler of whiskey I had in my hand.

“Isn’t it a little early for that?” He said, frowning at the smell.

“Ain’t it none of your business?” I splashed back the three fingers in the glass, slammed it down, swiped the bottle and refilled it so I could take another sip. “I don’t go to your box outside of Hayward Station and judge you for your life choices.”

The man sighed and looked around the room. I couldn’t lie, my office had seen better days — the couch on one side of the room had been mangled a few nights ago after a particularly epic bender when I blacked out and shifted, and there were claw marks all over the wall and floor there. The trash bins were full of empty alcohol bottles, my desk was buried under empty pizza boxes, and the air was full of stale food, drink, and bear. It hadn’t been a good time these past few weeks, but that was just part of the deal in my line of work. If this prim little asshole had been through what I had, he’d drown his sorrows in extra cheese and Johnnie Walker too.

“Can I help you?” I leaned forward and put my tumbler down. He didn’t look like he wanted to be here, and I sure as hell didn’t want him here. So the sooner we got done with…whatever this was, the better it would be for both of us.

“Oh…uh…” He stopped trying to work out what had happened to the couch and looked back at me. Then he looked down. Then he fiddled with his hat. “I…uh…I hope so.”

Something wasn’t right here. The BART police officer in front of me was a lot of things, but hesitant wasn’t one of them. I tried to clear the fatigue and booze out of my head so I could put my finger on it, but when I did that all I got was a headache. Still, I could tell even then that he looked pretty shaken. Maybe he had seen something. Maybe he was in over his head.

“All right then, Mr. Nunes, sit down and tell me what’s on your mind. Though if it has anything to do with BART I’m afraid I’m not your guy. Still banned for two more months, remember?” I straightened my tie and smiled to take the edge off that last bit. If he was coming to me, he had to be three shades of desperate and it’s not in my nature to be that tough on a desperate man.

“Well…yes.” Nunes sat down across from me and stared down at his stupid hat for a while, gathering his courage. If it weren’t nine in the morning — and he weren’t a police officer — I might have offered him a shot. But he came around eventually. “I might be able to do something about that.”

“Yeah? Why?” It had been ten months since I’d been busted trying to sneak into the BART tunnels, on the trail of some wild fae who had been doing who knows what in there. Nunes was the officer who caught me and, when I couldn’t talk my way out of trouble, got me banned. I had my own car anyway, so it wasn’t too big of a deal, but it was the principle of the thing. It really sticks in my craw when I get punished by the people I’m trying to protect just for doing the right thing. What’s the point of having the law when it doesn’t actually help?

“Because I think you know there’s something in the BART tunnels, and I need you to find out what it is.” It took a lot of effort for him to look me in the eye when he said that, I could tell.

I gave Nunes a good, long look. It really doesn’t do anyone any good to know what’s really out there; it’s more trouble than it’s worth for people like me. Even if you’re just trying to live your life, people get really afraid, and that fear makes them do all kinds of stupid, destructive things. But he clearly saw something that spooked him, enough to come to the last person he should expect help from.

Still, keeping up the cover is important. I leaned back in my chair and shook my head. “I really don’t know what you mean, Officer. I was chasing a lead for a client when I was sniffing around there. Turned out to be a dead end, though. Given all the trouble that came my way the last time, I’m not inclined to go back down there.”

“Please, I…I don’t know what you know, but I know it’s more than I do, OK? Something in those tunnels have been taking the homeless. I don’t know what it’s doing, but…but it’s…” Nunes stopped then, looking down into his lap, clutching his hat. Goddamnit. I was going to have to help this asshole.

I took a deep breath and tried not to let my shoulders slump too much while I grabbed a notepad and pen. “All right, Nunes. Just start at the beginning. Tell me what you saw.”

I fished a (sort of) clean tumbler out of a draw, poured some whiskey into it, and slid the glass towards him. To my surprise, he took it. Then he began to talk.


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