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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

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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