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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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(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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Fiction Friday: Veniamin Is Thankful

Writing 150This is the last of four vignettes featuring Veniamin Kovalenko, the werebear detective I play in a Dresden Files game. Here, Venia tries to address the damage done to an important relationship of his. Through the course of the game, it’s become clear that he has a pretty big problem with authority; he also began the game with an almost pathological need to hide his true nature from his fellow supernatural guys. However, over the course of several sessions, he’s become attached to this makeshift dysfunctional family and his stance on connection has softened quite a lot. It’s such a relief to be able to bear out in front of people! 

Next week, I’ll be writing fan-fiction of Beast from the X-Men. I wanted to work on dialogue this month, try to capture distinctive voices that have already been established. There are so many ways to say the same thing, and it fascinates me. Anyway, here’s Wonderwall.

Veniamin shifted his gift basket from from one hand to the other and rolled his left shoulder. His wound had healed well, but not completely; he wondered if he would be one of those old bears who could feel a storm coming by the way his forelimb creaked. He couldn’t go to a doctor to get it checked out for a number of reasons — the modern medical establishment just wasn’t equipped to deal with the effects of silver on the long-term healing of the North American werebear.

The basket was loaded with a number of foods that Veniamin thought would be clever, but now just felt like an unpleasant reminder of an unpleasant evening. Smoked salmon rested next to a pound of blueberries, a small set of honey samplers, some chocolate-covered fruits, a few massive bear claws. There was a vanilla-scented candle shaped as a friendly bear holding a heart; there was a small Zuni fetish made of deer antler and turquoise for the heart-line. There was a pound of coffee from an Alaskan roaster, and a ostentatious bouquet of two dozen red roses.

He was holding all of this in front of the Jayaraman Coffee Roasters shop near Fisherman’s Wharf at 5:30 in the morning, his collar turned up against the chill and the fog. He had heard Marian got a job here from two baristas at his regular place who had no idea he could actually hear them. They had each told him, on separate days, that Marian had no desire to see him and if he kept pressing them on it they would report him to the police for stalking.

The memory of that made him wince. He had managed to oust the Lieutenant responsible for supplying vampires with a steady food supply, but it had cost him his contacts in the department and any possible goodwill he could ever have with local law enforcement from then on. Any run-in with the police would be a bad one, for a good long time.

Veniamin shifted uneasily next to the glass door, leaning against the dark red brick. The job was done. He could forget about it mostly, except for one loose end.

He knew where Marian lived, of course. He wouldn’t be a good private detective if he couldn’t have tracked her down. There was no way he could show up at her house again, though — even he knew that it would scare her out of her mind. He figured showing up at her workplace, with an obvious peace offering, would be a better option.

Veniamin had no idea why he had to see her, but he couldn’t leave it alone. He just had to let her know that he appreciated her help, even if she had no idea what she was doing when she did so. If he could just thank her once, in person, then his business would be concluded and he could move on.

It had taken him a solid month to work up the courage to do this, and even now he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. It only now occurred to him that it might be seen as slightly creepy to be waiting outside a woman’s place of work with an absurd gift basket and a turned-up collar. In fact, the more he thought about it the more he was sure this was a bad idea. He sighed and hunched his shoulders against the damp. At least she wasn’t here yet. He could simply slip away and figure out another way to thank–

“Veniamin?” Mariam appeared out of the fog to his left. Her voice was tight and high — a mixture of surprise and fear. He cursed himself for not realizing how poorly-advised this was earlier.

He turned and took off his hat with his free hand, revealing the disheveled mop of brown hair. He smiled, then thought the better of it, looking away from her but stepping forward. “Hey. I…I know that you don’t want to see me–”

“Stay back!” Mariam practically shouted. She glanced around at the fog, no doubt trying to find an exit point through the soup of the air. Veniamin’s heart sunk. He could practically smell the fear radiating from her.

“No, it’s OK! I’m…OK, here.” Veniamin slowly put the gift basket down, placed his hat on top of it, and held up his hands. “I’m not armed, and I won’t come any closer. Just…hear me out, OK?”

Mariam was silent. When Veniamin glanced at her, he saw she had her cell phone out. An invisible, cold hand squeezed his heart within his chest.

“I know that night was a big shock, and I know that you have every right to never want to see me again. But I just…I just had to let you know that I really appreciate you taking me in and giving me a place to lie low. I’m so sorry that you had to find out…about me…the way you did. And I genuinely hope I haven’t caused any more trouble for you. If I have, just…let me know, OK? I’ll fix it and if at all possible I’ll do it without you having to see me do it.”

The words came tumbling out of him, earnestly and quickly. It was the most he had said to anyone since coming to this smelly, damp city. It surprised him how much he meant it, how much he wished he could repair what relationship they had, how much he wanted to be accepted by her.

Mariam stayed silent for a long time. She was staring at him, but she wasn’t using her phone. That, at least, was something.

“O…K. Is that it?”

Veniamin nodded. “Yeah. I…bought you a gift basket. Something to remember me by.” He smiled weakly.

“But I don’t want to remember you.”

“Then throw it out. I just wanted you to have it. What you do with it is your affair.” Veniamin couldn’t keep the hurt out of his voice. “That’s it. Thank you. Goodbye.”

Veniamin paused, glancing at Mariam just in case she wanted to say something. Even a goodbye would be something, an opening, a chance. But she just stared.

He sighed and bent slow, pulling his hat up and placing it back on his head. “If you ever need help, just give the little bear figurine to one of the baristas at your old coffee shop along with a note. Let me know what you need me to do and I’ll do it. They have my number. They’ll make sure I get it quickly.”

Mariam still said nothing. He waited, but she remained silent. Veniamin nodded once, turned and left.

It was clear to him that he would need to keep himself a secret here to anyone who didn’t already know about…monsters like him. It would probably be a good idea to keep himself secret from half of the folks who did. Not for the first time, he missed his family; simple and loud though they were, they were open and free.

Then he remembered Uncle Rudkoff; the old man was never content to live his life on the outskirts of a small town, and tried to drown his frustrations with as much alcohol as he could. He was gunned down by park rangers when he shifted during a bar fight; he was forgotten by just about everyone thanks to the efforts of a particularly good “cleaner”, and his family were able to keep their small lodge and their way of life.

Veniamin knew two things from that: he had the same wanderlust his Uncle had, and he wanted to make sure the monsters in the shadows were protected from themselves. So he moved to San Francisco as soon as he was able to learn the trade, and each new case was a hard lesson on what not to do.

This lesson was particularly hard, though. Was it just not possible to connect with someone normal without hiding this immense part of yourself? Was it really necessary to be detached from everyone and everything you come in contact with?

Veniamin tried to wall off the ache that thought caused. His face hardened. Probably, and crying about it wasn’t really going to solve anything. He’d need to take a few days to shake this one off, but that was just fine. He had a bottle of whiskey and a library of Humphrey Bogart movies to help him through it.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in Writing

 

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Friday Fiction: Veniamin Opens Up

Writing 150This is the third of four stories featuring Veniamin Kovalenko, the werebear detective I play in a Dresden Files RPG. After being shot during an investigation gone horrifically wrong, Veniamin goes to the only person he can think of to help. In this case, the assistance might burn a relationship he never had a chance to deepen. 2747 words.

“Who the fuck is this? Don’t you know what god-damned time it–oh, hey Veniamin.” The door swung open and Marian appeared, pulling her robe a little tighter around her. Behind her was light and warmth and safety, separated by a sturdy-looking metal and screen gate. “What are you doing–oh my God, you’re bleeding!”

Veniamin could do little more than nod. He had been shot before, but never on two legs and never with silver. The bullet wound had become its own miniature sun of pain, with coronas that spread over the whole right side of his torso and huge flares that twisted his stomach into his throat. He had thrown up three times on the way to Marian’s townhouse; now he was down to consistent dry-heaving.

She unlocked the gate and he stumbled backwards to let her open it. The world pitched whenever he moved. It was hard for him to keep his feet. Just standing upright took an increasing amount of effort. He just wanted to burrow under a nest of blankets, rest his head, and sleep.

Instead, Marian grabbed his left arm and shepherded him into the house. He winced as she pulled, that slight pressure sending a new, nauseating wave of pain through his body. Veniamin had no idea it would hurt this much. The pain had gone beyond pain and into something else — he could feel the effects of the silver spreading through him, slowing everything down, making him sweat and shivering cold. When he could open his eyes, he could barely see anything. There were just lines and light and color. His brain couldn’t make much sense of it.

He felt himself being pulled through Marian’s apartment and set down in the kitchen. Just being off his feet was a tremendous relief; he allowed himself to sag into the chair, the weight of his arm pulling on his wound. It felt awful, but at least he wasn’t standing. His head cleared a little. His vision stopped throbbing. He could take a deep breath and look around.

The kitchen was cozy, but small. The counter space was filled with appliances — expensive-looking coffee makers, a blender, a toaster, a microwave. The walls were almost covered with posters and papers; the clearest part was a corkboard divided into three sections for Marian and her two roommates. Chores and schedules were listed there. Veniamin tried to sniff the place out, but all he could smell was his own sweat and fear and blood. That bullet had to come out.

Marian returned carrying her cell phone, glancing at Veniamin. “Hello, I need the police and an ambulance here at…”

Without thinking, Veniamin’s hand shot out and gripped her arm. When she looked at him, he shook his head silently and mouthed “No police.” He knew how frightening that would be, but it frightened him more for the cops to have a bead on him.

Marian stared at him for a long time. He had no idea what she was thinking; he couldn’t smell her, and that factored more heavily into his reading of people than he realized. After a moment, she looked down at her phone. “I’m sorry. I think I made a mistake. … No, no, everything’s fine. Sorry about that. … OK, yes, I will. Thank you.” Then she hung up.

“I need a pair of tweezers, a pair of scissors, some gauze and some Scotch.” Veniamin’s voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.

Marian flew into action, disappearing down the hall. He could hear her shuffling in another room. “So are you going to tell me what happened? Why you don’t want me to call the police?”

Veniamin quickly thought about how much he should tell her. Could he trust her with information? He shook that idea out of his mind — he was encroaching on her personal space and bleeding all over her floor. If he couldn’t trust her with the reason why that was happening, he shouldn’t be here in the first place.

“I’m a private investigator. Was following someone who didn’t want to be followed.” Veniamin slumped a little further into his seat. He felt weak.

“So they shot you? That’s…that’s illegal! Do you know who did it? You should get the police involved.” Marian’s voice floated into the kitchen from the hallway, from her bathroom, from a closet.

“It was a policeman who shot me.” Veniamin forced himself to speak louder, and was surprised to hear Marian gasp right next to him. He startled in his seat, and a bolt of pain lanced from his shoulder to his chest and arm.

She set a pack of cotton balls down on the table, along with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, a spool of gauze, some tweezers, some scissors. She stepped back. “A policeman shot you? Were you…somewhere you shouldn’t be?”

Veniamin noticed the apprehension that had crept into her voice. He shook his head as he reached for the scissors. “No. This was on the street, several blocks away. The person I’m following is being protected by the police for some reason. I don’t know who I can trust there.”

Marian stepped in when she saw Veniamin trying awkwardly to cut his shirt. She took the scissors from him, laid a hand gently on the back of the chair, and cut away the fabric as carefully as she could. “That’s pretty crazy, Venya. I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but this sounds too much like a movie.”

Veniamin took a deep breath, and nodded when enough of the wound site was clear. “Trust me, I know how it sounds, and I’m not happy about it either. I’m gonna need that scotch now.”

Marian nodded and got the whiskey with two tumblers. Veniamin glanced at the bottle, saw that it was Crown Royal, and said nothing. It would get the job done, and that’s all he needed. “So what are you going to do? If you can’t go to the police, where can you go?”

“I’m still figuring that part out.” He took the tumbler in his good hand when it was offered, drained the whiskey, handed it back. Marian poured another few fingers immediately and shot it back to him. This time, he sipped. “Right now, I just need to get this bullet out of me and heal up a bit.”

Marian had gotten herself a drink too, her face scrunching up as the Crown burned down her throat. “You should at least get to a doctor. That looks like a really nasty wound. I…never saw something get infected that fast.”

Veniamin followed her eyes to his shoulder, a little unnerved by her expression. The blood around the open wound had turned black and sticky, and clear veins snaked from it in an inky spiderweb. He winced at it. The silver was in his bloodstream. That would explain why it felt like he was dying; he probably was.

“Yeah, it needs to come out right now.” He drained the rest of his tumbler and gave it back to Marian, curling his fingers a bit. “I’m going to need those tweezers.”

Marian gave him a doubtful look, but passed them on. “Are you at least going to go to the doctor for the infection? You’ve lost a lot of blood, and what’s left probably isn’t doing you much good.”

Veniamin gave a curt shake of his head. The whiskey was working, but not fast enough. This was going to hurt, and he needed to be ready for it. “Nah, I’ll be fine. Nothing that a good night’s sleep won’t cure.”

Marian snorted. “You really went all in on this bull-headed detective stuff, didn’t you?”

Veniamin chuckled to himself. He poked at the side of the wound with the tweezers, winced as he felt the bullet lodged within his flesh find a new part of it to sear. “Wouldn’t you? Most of it’s pretty boring. Watching people. Taking notes. Filling out paperwork. It’s not every day you get to act like a bad ass in a pretty girl’s kitchen.”

He regretted it as soon as he said it. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Marian; he had to concentrate on getting this thing out of him, and he didn’t want to know just how offended she looked. Hopefully, she would chalk it up to the quarter-bottle of whiskey he just downed and the fact that he was light-headed and poisoned.

“Mmm. Well,” she said, her voice sounding distant, guarded. “I guess that’s true. Well, you milk that, Sam Spade, and I’ll help out where I can. Got some lines to feed me?”

Veniamin felt what little blood he had left rush to his face. “I think you’re plenty clever enough to come up with some quips all on your own. I might pass out for this next part. Think you can take the tweezers out if I lose consciousness?”

He heard her say, “Sure.” He pushed the tweezers in and fished for the lump of metal nestled somewhere between muscle and bone. Veniamin gritted his teeth against the astonishing pain that blossomed there, rushing through his body in a wave that made him feel like he was floating outside of his body, watching all of this happen. Then came the heat that stole his breath. He couldn’t see what he was doing through the tears.

He felt it though. The pain was exponentially worse when he bumped it with his tweezers, and he forced himself to push towards it. His vision dimmed. He felt himself clasp the rounded bullet, paused to make sure he had a good grip, and slid it out as straight and as quick as he could.

Veniamin had just enough strength to toss the tweezers, blood and all, onto Marian’s kitchen table. He panted in a cold sweat. It took him nearly a minute for the room to stop spinning, to hear Marian’s voice over the beating of his heart inside his ears.

His head was shifting from side to side. It took him another minute to realize she was slapping his cheeks.

“Venya? Venya…wake up! If you don’t answer me right now I’m calling an ambulance!” Marian’s voice carried a mixture of firmness and panic. When he came to his senses, he felt them brighten a little. The world seemed brighter. He could smell…so much. Blood and sweat and fear and disease, Marian’s clothes and the deodorant she used.

He took a deep breath and lifted his head. It felt like a small triumph to look her in the eye. “I’m up. I’m up.”

She relaxed. “Good. I don’t know what I would have told the paramedics if I had to call them.”

He smiled, shook his head. “Yeah, that would have been awkward. Sorry. And thanks. For being here.”

She thumped back into her chair. “You’re welcome, I guess. So…what now? You’re in no condition to go anywhere except a hospital.”

Veniamin looked down at himself. She was right. His shirt was cut into tatters, his suit was a bloody ruin, and he wasn’t going to be able to make himself get out of this chair. He closed his eyes, tried to avoid the only option he had left until he knew he couldn’t any more.

“Yeah…do you have a room somewhere in the house that I could use privately for the rest of the night? I know it’s asking a lot, and I wouldn’t if I didn’t need to.” Veniamin took a few deep breaths, steadying himself. The blood loss and alcohol were beginning to catch up with him.

“Uhm….not really. Why?” Marian looked at him, then glanced at the bullet he pulled from his shoulder. It gleamed in the light of the kitchen more than it should have. She looked like she wanted to say something else, but grabbed the cotton swabs and gauze instead.

Veniamin’s head buzzed. He knew he shouldn’t, but he did. “That’s a silver bullet, you know.”

Marian nodded as she knelt next to his chair and poured alcohol into a handful of cotton balls. “Yeah, I thought it looked weird. You’re not a werewolf, are you?”

She grinned up at him. She had obviously meant it as a joke. He smiled back at her, his heart hammering inside of his chest. “No.”

“Good, because that’s the last surprise I needed tonight–”

“I’m a werebear.”

Marian shot him a look right as she pushed the cotton over Veniamin’s wound. He cried out and she pulled back, standing up. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK,” he said, clutching his shoulder hard enough she had to know it was very much not OK. “I just…I need somewhere to go, where I can be naked and I won’t be seen. I promise nothing bad will happen, and you won’t ever have to see me again if you don’t want to.”

“Veniamin…look, I know you said you didn’t want the paramedics involved, but you’re burning up and that wound looks bad, and you’re…you’re not making any sense. I’m going to call–”

Veniamin sighed and quickly kicked off his shoes. He thought about the shift, and it happened. He could feel his hair multiplying, bristling into fur. He could feel his body changing its shape, stretching and then simply breaking his clothes. He could feel the power of his birthright coursing through him, reversing the poison working through his system. He stood up to save the chair, sending it on its back in the small kitchen. His head rose to meet the lights, and then the ceiling. He got down to all fours.

Marian screamed. Veniamin’s ears flicked as the last of his changes completed. It was a relief to be in this shape, that felt so much more natural than the other one. But the kitchen was too small, and he was blocking the only Marian’s only exit. He had to calm her down.

“It’s OK! Don’t scream,” he rumbled. His voice was different, harsher, clipped by the sharp teeth and heavy muzzle he had to work with. “I’m still Veniamin. I’ll heal faster this way.”

He pointed his nose towards her, but didn’t look her in the eye. Instinct told him that it would be viewed as a challenge, force her into a confrontation she didn’t want to have. Logic told him that was nonsense and he just felt bad for doing this to her. The scent of her fear overwhelmed everything else — the grease that had caked into the walls, the spices on the counter, all of the varieties of coffee that were ground and poured every day, all of the food in the cupboards. It was rolling from her in great waves, lapping at his nostrils in a way he could not ignore.

By now she was in a corner, hyperventilating, clutching her chest, eyes wide and staring. Small whimpers were coming from her throat. She might be in shock. He couldn’t say. He should put some distance between them.

“I’m going to go into your living room and try to shut the door. I’m just going to sleep for a while. Don’t call the police. Or animal services. Just be cool.” He slowly backed his way into the hallway. The floorboards creaked loudly under his step. “I’m sorry. I’ll be out of your hair by morning.”

She disappeared as he backed into the hallway, his flanks brushing either wall. He kept going slow until he felt the edge of the living room door, then backed into that. His enormous haunches thumped into an end table, her couch, her coffee table. He couldn’t help but nudge furniture aside to make room for himself.

Once he was in, he tried to pick at the sliding door with a claw. It took some doing, but he managed to shut himself away; as soon as the hallway was gone from view, he heard Marian silently running into the hall and up the stairs. A moment later, a door slammed above him.

Veniamin sunk to the floor with an ursine curse under his breath. He couldn’t believe he had done that. Now that the alcohol was leaving his system along with the infection, he knew immediately what a bone-headed move that was. What did he think would happen? How else could she have reacted?

He closed his eyes and rested his muzzle on his paws. Seconds later, he fell into a deep but troubled sleep.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2015 in Writing

 

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