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Author's note: I am so tired I can't think of how to properly phrase this sentence.

Enjoy thez.z.zzzzzzzzzzz


Corey (continued)

I reached the apartment a full minute before Jamie. I shouted “Tam!” as I cut through the living room and went straight to his room. I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I going to “tell” on Jamie? Beg for protection? Somehow, even through my lingering trepidation I was able to think clearly enough to know, on some level, that he didn’t mean me harm. Then again, I was basing that judgment on who he was when I met him, and not this… whatever it was he had become since then. Alternate personality? Was I living with a clinically insane person? Would I wake up thirsty in the middle of the night, walk to the kitchen for a plastic cup of water and find him standing there with a knife, or perhaps some other evil intent? I was only assuming that the meek, pathetic person who walked in the door was the real Jamie… but then, wouldn’t the present personality make more sense? He was a giant fucking wolf, for fuck’s sake. How bad can your self esteem issues be if you can eat anyone who makes you feel uncomfortable?

“Tamlin! Come on, man, open up.” I banged on the door, stopping after a few seconds to make sure the outer door hadn’t opened, that there were no creaking footsteps on the stairs. Tamlin’s room was maddeningly silent. I didn’t really expect him to be there anyway. He rarely spends nights here. I don’t know where he goes, but….

I opened his door (it was locked, but it was the kind you can undo with a paperclip) and locked it behind me. I kept my back pressed against it as the front door opened and closed, and heavy footsteps thudded through the living room. To my utter horror they stopped before the door, but it didn’t buckle under a sudden onslaught. Instead, all I heard was a muted “I’m sorry,” almost inaudible even in the deathly silent apartment. Then the footsteps continued to room at the far end of the hall. The door shut. I left my post and fell onto Tamlin’s pristine bed—he must not have slept here in weeks—and curled into a little ball.

*

Jamie

I

hate

my

life.

I avoid thinking where I can, because every moment is one I wish I could do over.

I think she hates me now.

Fuck you, James. Fuck him, I am done with him for good. He has ever brought me little more than promises: the promise of a better life, a more comfortable existence in which I am not the common bitch. I want to be aggressive. I want to take the things that I want. I want people to give them to me voluntarily.

I have my first user-related incident on Saturday. It’s my first day at my new job.

I arrive in the morning, the only thing in my pocket a half empty tasp bottle. I will run out soon. I should find someone who synthesizes or sells locally. I will do this after work. I should also obtain an apartment key.

I am reluctant to ask Corey. Perhaps I should just hope that the door is unlocked.

I arrive early to make a good impression. Or to repair the impression I already made. The two blocks pass in a tasp-induced haze. The drug, the tasp, was at one point a different thing. People had bio mesh grown in their brains, like human petri dishes. The mesh interfaced with an electrode. The electrode and mesh activated the pleasure receptors—simulated dopamine. The user experienced pleasure in a pure form, undiluted by thought. Imagine the thing that makes you happier than anything else. Now imagine the happiness you feel from that. Now imagine feeling that happy without doing the thing that makes you happy. Now multiply that by as much as your brain can handle.

People died. They failed to eat, sleep, or excrete. They died in their homes. Dangerous drugs were nothing new, but this drug was like Ebola. The effects were magnificent, but the transmission rate was low. Those on the tasp did not tell their friends how good it was. They really did not talk much at all. Then they died, usually without spreading the good word.

So the makers refined it. Which in this case means they cut it. Instead of electrocuting the brain, it became a gel that insinuated itself among your thoughts. The effects were muted, and other thoughts were allowed to flow through. It became more like other drugs: an enhancement rather than an escape.

As I walk I hear and see patterns, things that make me comfortable. Patterns imply history. I like history. Not the pedantic history taught in school, but the history of cement squares in the sidewalk, permanently caked with dirt, cracked by stress of the hot and cold seasons and decades of foot traffic, marked with stenciled letters; and storm drains, and trees punching slowly and inexorably through the sidewalk grates, and the missing gargoyle on the building across the street, and the—

I step into the shop still overflowing with observations and the calmness they provide. These things have been here for a while. They are not transient.

I have become uncomfortably transient lately.

Rian greets me with a smile and a handshake. I put on my most personable face, which feels to me like little more than a grimace. He shows me where to stand and how to work the register. Then he says if they have any questions to direct them to him. Then he leaves me so he can go to the bathroom.

I face a dilemma. It is a practical one. Rian hired James. But I do not think of myself that way. I am Jamie, not James. Will Rian be disappointed when he realizes that the person he hired has turned into a pathetic excuse for a person? Will I be forced to choose between my job and my identity?

I think my thinking is too dramatic.

liesinwriting: (Default)

Author's note: Part 6 is here. And hey, you know what? I'm still keeping up. Take THAT, procrastination!  This section sees more Corey, because, you know, she hasn't seen enough page time yet.

Enjoy!




Corey


We had made it about a block when Jamie said, “Sorry you had to see that.”

My inclination was to comment on the likelihood of seeing a drug user break down in public and the irreparable shock it caused me, but for some reason I instead felt compelled to say, “Don’t worry about it.” And, “Are you all right?”

“Oh I’m fine.”  We had gone in early, so the morning rush of pedestrians clogged the sidewalk, and I knew it would be almost impossible to walk without running into at least every person between the head shop and home. I had resigned myself to a jostling journey, but Jamie had, somehow, managed to surprise me yet again. His posture had changed. Where before he had the appearance of a giant trying to look less imposing, he now stood at his full height and strode rather than shuffle. Before us people slid to the sides of the sidewalk, and I found that if I walked close to him, the crowd parted around me as well. His fur brushed my arm, but, to my surprise, I actually preferred that to the completely incidental, uncaring collisions of the working class of which I was a part. I felt more comfortable around the giant wolf than with normal people. “It’s like a perverted version of Little Red Riding Hood,” I said, without thinking.

A low rumble: “What big teeth have I.”

I turned and found him grinning at me, and a tingle of fear went up my spine—brief, very brief, and it was gone in an instant, the moment I was able to convince myself that the insanely sharp set of teeth didn’t belong to a wild animal that was about to bite my throat out. They looked bigger now than they had before. Jamie’s lip was curled back, his eyes piercing mine. Still he walked straight ahead, and still we miraculously avoided colliding with anyone. I turned back to the sidewalk, hoping he hadn’t seen my atavistic shiver.

Something had changed about him, somewhere around ten minutes ago, when Rian had asked him where he was from. I was expecting a shy, quiet answer, possibly misdirecting. Jamie had walked over, leaned on the counter like he owned it, and rumbled deeply about his life at home, his parents’ disaffection with his choices, and his decision to take on the world. “It was a sort of test,” he said, the corner of his muzzle quirked up in what was either a grin or a threat that Rian missed but I caught. “I had always assumed that I would make it in the world, but I had no verification.”

“So you ran away.” Rian nodded, a shallow motion that made me realize how little I actually knew about my employer. It surprised me that he could empathize with Jamie. Rian always seemed laid back, the kind of guy for whom the world was a matrix into which he could fit himself with relative ease, then sit back and watch with interest or disinterest, whatever was his whim. He didn’t look like someone who had run away from home. That I might have been reading too deeply into that one gesture crossed my mind, but Rian never explained his nod, and Jamie didn’t press, so I was left standing there, feeling strangely awkward around people who might have had a lot more in common with me than I had thought.

“I prefer to say I ran toward. I knew intellectually what I had only practically experienced in the most hypothetical sense: that it should not be difficult to survive on my own. So now, I’m testing my validity as a man.”

“How’s that going, Jamie?”

“I haven’t failed yet. And I won’t.” Jamie leaned in, but spoke with the same volume. “And call me James.”

Rian had hired him on the spot.

They talked for a few minutes more, then just as I was getting ready to suggest that we leave—all the camaraderie was edging dangerously close to territory with which I was not comfortable—Rian offered his hand, which Jamie took, and said, “Well, here’s hoping we get to see each other for a long time to come,” and the wolf boy froze up, then went back to talking like his old, meek self.

“What are you doing tonight?”

I took my time answering, making sure I got it right. “Nothing,” said I. My heart began to race for reasons that were, at the time, fuzzy. His arm brushed mine again.

“Want to try something fun?”

I laughed, and hoped that it didn’t sound forced. As I said, he was making me nervous. Not in a way that bespoke danger, but in an altogether more… insidious way. “Whoa there, wolf boy. Get too ahead of yourself and I don’t think Tamlin will be too happy. He’s kind of got a big brother-little sister thing going on as far as I’m concerned.” As I said it, I tried to imagine Tamlin meeting this version of our new bipolar roommate. I thought about my scraped arm, and Tamlin’s unbearably alpha-male reaction to weakness. Brother-sister may have been off; it was more hierarchical. I wasn’t sure that Tamlin actually would act like a big brother if some guy was looking to get intimate with me; I had never discerned that he was interested in me that way.

And anyway, I thought, why am I taking this so seriously? It was a joke—that I made!

As soon as I thought that, I felt more than saw Jamie’s arm withdraw, and then drape over my shoulder. Just like that! His forward motion propelled me when my feet would have planted themselves on the sidewalk, his elbow pressing just below the back of my neck, forcing me forward. It was by some miracle that I didn’t stumble. “Yeah,” he drawled, apparently oblivious to my sudden panic. “But I bet his bark is worse than his bite.”

And just like that, I snapped. I was confused his suddenly-shifted personality, and a little scared, and a little pissed, and like any good Homo sapien I seized on that last one, pumped it full of myself until it was big enough to temporarily eclipse the other two. I pulled away from him. “Okay, what the hell is going on with you? First you go from little quiet, kind of dorky kid to Mr. Smooth Talker, and then you collapse on the floor, then you do it again. What the hell is with you?”

He looked right at me, black eyes sucking me in. “What are you doing tonight?” he repeated. His voice was deep, practically a growl. I didn’t hear it so much as feel it. I felt caught by the lure of his gaze, and I didn’t even want to try to wiggle away. “Because I’ve got a few ideas….” I know I shivered. I must have. It’s like an earthquake, when he uses that voice, uses his full seven-foot-whatever body like an echo chamber deep underground. I don’t think anybody else heard him, but they were still giving us a wide berth. Partly this had to do with his size, but partly it was because we had stopped.

In the middle of the sidewalk.

With a giant wolf man staring at me with… hunger.

The city blared back to life around me. I wasn’t even aware I had been blocking it out, but it crashed into me nonetheless, a tidal wave of the noise that I called home. It wrapped me up, put a shield between me and the user in front of me. I backed up, shook my head in as close an emulation of disgust as I could manage, and stomped off, doing everything in my power to keep from sprinting back to the apartment, or down the street, or just away from Jamie in general.

liesinwriting: (Default)
Author's note: What's this? A plot thingy on the horizon? Alert the sailors! Fire up the warplanes! Mobilize the hive! We will meet this head-on, and it will not die, but kneel before our might!

Anyway, enjoy.





Jamie


The very first thing I did the next morning was find out where she works. It is a head shop. I tell her this is appropriate. She gives me a look with no expression in it. I think she is hiding her expression. But she does not object when I ask about working there. She tells me to put on nicer clothes and meet her in the living room when I am ready to leave. I experience a moment of panic. I did not bring nice clothes. That was why I wanted the job in the first place. So I go back to my room, take off my pants and flatten them with a book. I do the same with a different shirt. Then I return to the living room. Corey looks at me like this but says come on and walks through the door.

It is strange, this apartment’s location. I like it. The stairwells are plastered with graffiti, paintings of faces I do not know and words that are barely legible. As we descend the stairs creak beneath us, and I begin to fall back into that place I so love to go, where each crack of wooden stair vibrates up my feet, and I can feel every individual hair on my leg, and I look around and see a place with a history chiseled and written into its cracked old walls, all the things this place has witnessed hidden away from the prying eye of the world outside, safe from knowing. And through it I walk, and leading me is Corey, and she parts this elusive world like the prow of a ship, and I in her wake. Trying to keep up. Indescribable things are passing me on all sides. And I become filled with a brief dread of returning to how I normally am, so deep inside myself that the world appears through fragmented thoughts like cracks in a snow globe or an insect’s eye, so devoid. And then she opens the door, and light spills through, forcing me inexorably back into shape. I am myself again. I try not to let her see my inner turmoil when she holds the door for me.

The whole walk there she looks at me. We do not talk much, so I notice her glances. I am not convinced she is trying to be subtle, but I have only just met her. She seems strange to me. We walk for almost two blocks before she turns and says, “Here we are. Come on in.” She leads me through a weathered green wooden doorway.

The inside is a cozier version of the head shops I have visited. The ceiling is made to look lower than it actually is by cloth hung and draped all across it. Tall standalone shelves covered autumn colored cloth bear various pipes and devices. The external light is cut by thin curtains, and the interior lighting is a low amber. Corey walks to a desk with a man wearing a computer terminal behind it. The terminal is wrapped around the back of his ear, the emitter covering his right eye completely. He glances up and nods minimally at Corey, then says “Hey” to me.

Corey says, “This is my new roommate, Jamie. Jamie, this is Rian, my boss.”

Rian turns to Corey, one mildly amused eyebrow peaking over the other, and shrugs..

And that is how the entire meeting goes. I zone out. When I come to again I am standing with Rian’s hand in mine, and a pained expression on his face. Did I say something untoward just now? It takes Corey taking my rigid hand in her soft ones and prying them away for me to realize that I was its cause. I say, “I am sorry. For this. Your hand.”

“No, man, that’s OK.” He peers at me. Eyes move searchingly. And right then it hits me: I have to take another hit. I forgot to this morning. I was focused on getting work. I forgot to take a hit this morning. Shit. I don’t want this to happen here. Just go away James.

*

James

And James says, “The fuck I’ll just go away.”

*

Jamie

I stumble backward, but no matter how far I go it will not be far enough. Rian and Corey stare at me, the one with mild horror, the other with horror and disgust. “I,” I say without thinking that through. “I. I. I am. Sorry. I will go. Sorry. Sorry.” I cannot stop saying it. “Sorry. Sorry. I’m sorry.” Then I am stumbling, and then

Corey is there, arms beneath me. Then Rian. I take a moment to stabilize. Then, with their help, I regain my balance enough to stand alone. I look at Corey, but look away. I don’t like what I see there. To Rian, then, I apologize. “I use the tasp,” I say. I cannot look at even his chin. “I have not used it in some time. So I sometimes do strange things in these cases. So I am sorry for what I said.”

To my relief, a look of understanding settles on his face. He says, “No pressure, James. If you need to decompress, you go right on ahead and do it.”

“Well, have him do it here,” Corey says invisibly behind me. “Otherwise he’ll put holes in my walls, and I can’t really afford drywall right now.”

Rian just looks at her. He’s got long dirty blond hair that seems to fall naturally over his eyes. Like he scrutinizes from a distance. He looks down at me, without the barrier of his hair. “Do you need to stay here for a while?”

It’s as he asks this that I realize, with absurd clarity, that I am attracted to Corey. It happens that quickly. I was entranced earlier, and I still recall what her hand feels like. And as soon as I realize this, I know the answer to that question. “No. I can walk. Thank you.”

Corey doesn’t look at my face, but at a nearby pipe. It is blown glass. Green and red spirals ascend, distended by the bowl near the bottom. I look at it too. She sort of glances at me, then walks out the door.

As I leave, Rian calls, “It was nice meeting you, James my man. Drink lots of water. See you later.”

liesinwriting: (Default)

Author's note: Once again, it's late. But this time I have an excuse. See, I was doing, you know, other things, like watching debates and studying insect parts (labrum, hypopharyns, mandible, maxilla, labium). And also I lost track of time.

So enjoy.



Corey (continued)


I was born in the wrong time. Had I been born, say, a hundred or so years earlier, I probably would have vehemently opposed the radical augmentation procedures that became possible with our advanced understanding of how the universe works. Utilizing processes that are far too complex for me to understand, humans became capable of changing our physiological shapes. Physical shape changing would have been bad enough, but these changes worked on the entire physical body: the skin, and all the other organs, including the brain. There was a famous trial about ninety-five years ago in which it was determined that an entity shall be considered a human being if it can identify as a human, understand what that identification means, and has a certain number of alleles in common. By that rationale, wolf boy here was probably an upstanding human being. Whether or not he was Homo sapien was up to his genetics, and since I supposed it was the tasp that changed him, I supposed his DNA was roughly like mine.

Tamlin, on the other hand, could barely be considered human. He sat as he usually did, legs folded under him, sharing a pot of warm water with Jessie. Everything about him was raptorial, which was only fitting. On our first meeting I assumed that he was also a user, but when I asked about it in a moment of passive-aggressive curiosity he struck that assumption down quickly. He was a lineage, someone whose parents or grandparents had made the decision for him. Born with tough skin and feathers, light bones covered with tight muscle, a muzzle that looked like it was made for shearing into the front of your abdomen and plucking out your liver; Tamlin was a scary sight when I first saw him. It surprised me that we had the same interest in music, and the same disaffection regarding physiological modification, and were the same age. We became close friends, and yeah, okay, maybe a bit closer than friends, but I figure like it’s not his fault he looks the way he does, so why should he suffer for it?

That he got along with Jamie surprised me. I went to my room to smoke some Mary J, and when I came back they had moved to the couches. I had nothing pressing to do, so I joined them. The discussion was on modifications. “The new tigers are impressive,” Tamlin was saying. He scratched at his nose with a claw on his foot, keys jingling in his jeans pocket. “Not sure I’m down with black, though. I mean, that seems like a bit much.”

Jamie had clocked me come in and sit down, and now his eyes were firmly on the small table before him. “Yeah. I know. It seems unnecessary. But you know. They look kind of cool. I might like to. Look like that I mean.”

“You want to look like you’ve been dipped in pitch?”

The wolf turned to me, but his eyes never rose above my chest. “I mean no. Just like the look. Is all.” His eyes finally rose. “What about you? Why don’t you like it? The mods I mean.”

I shrugged into the tetrahydrochloride-induced shift. “I just don’t. My parents were mod freaks. They put me through public school so they could afford it.” It had been too long since my last hit, maybe three hours or so. Things had become mildly unpleasant again. I still had my piece in my pocket. I reached for it. “They never gave a shit about me. They just wanted my money, and I just wanted a life. The law said they were more responsible than I was, so they got what they wanted.” I flicked the flame to life and inhaled, and my throat stung so sweetly. “I went to college, had my fair shot at life, and then…” I exhaled and shrugged. “My mother called me a hooligan, and a rebel, like they were bad words. But at least I still have my skin.”

“So your parents. Were mod freaks?” Jamie kept looking at me. Tamlin was right there, and I hoped his face was impassive so that if Jamie looked, he wouldn’t know I was keeping anything back. “That must have been rough. Sorry to hear it. I don’t want kids.” He tapped his mug. The porcelain sang under his claws. “They are a waste. Too many people. We can get along. Without kids.”

Tamlin let out a quick bark of a laugh, and I had suddenly had all I was going to take of this conversation. I stood quickly and announced that I was going for a walk. I left before I heard any more.

I leave, feeling an inconsolable rage burning the inside of my ribcage. Part of me knew I shouldn’t blame wolf boy, who had just arrived and had no way of knowing that this topic was off-limits. The other part of me knew he was a tasp addict and probably wouldn’t care anyway. Then there was Tamlin.

Tamlin was my friend—at least, I considered him my friend, though I am not at all sure that my definition of “friend” matched his. Being physiologically different from humans meant his brain was different, made different connections. His brain’s exact workings I don’t know. But certain things that make sense to me do not make sense to him, and vice versa. At least, that’s the way it sometimes seems. Case in point: a few months ago I scraped my arm on a sharp corner of a parking meter. I came home, Tamlin took one look at my arm and punched me in the face. He got real low first, then struck. Then when I got up he said Sorry, I don’t know what got into me, and asked if I was OK, but I knew better than to tell him the truth, which was that I was rattled. For the rest of the night I took extra special care to avoid bumping into him, but he still managed to jostle me no fewer than three times, “accidentally” shoving me into the counter, the back of a couch, and my own door.

(I looked it up, and this crazy competitive behavior is endemic to all dinos like him, based on the most aesthetically-exciting of the now-extinct raptors. For some reason, the humans they came from added almost comical amounts of masculine aggression, resulting in a very hierarchal society. Basically, I got hurt, and his response was to intimidate me into submission: he’s the top boss, I listen to him. And I am protected by him: after he threw me into my own door, I sat on the edge of my bed wondering what I had to do to dispel his new aggression, and in comes Tamlin with a med box to dress my wound.)

So I danced around my single most painful secret, the one I do my best to hide—spiked hair, long earrings and masculine clothes seemed to be the least maternal clothing I could find—and Tamlin, bless his shitty little heart, jumped on it like the passive aggressive loveable little fuck that he is. And I knew it wasn’t going to go anywhere good—and I didn’t feel like acquiring new bruises, physical or emotional—so I left.

When I returned to find Jamie sitting on a couch watching the door, I thought, Of course he’d tell Jamie. Let the dog boy know who’s in charge right up front. Jamie didn’t stand when I came in, but watched me walk to my water and take a slow drink. Finally he said, with an aura of intense concentration, “I’m sorry. I don’t think he has the right to talk about you like that.”

A brief, flaring anger, so sharp it was almost painful, but it was gone almost immediately. He’s my friend. Didn’t I deserve friends who didn’t openly talk shit about me? I could tell Jamie was thinking the same thing, so in a moment of embarrassed annoyance I said, “He’s not all bad. He’s always been there for me when I needed him. He’s just got his… quirks.” Which was one way of putting it. Another would be, he just can’t help that he’s an asshole because it’s genetic.

Jamie nodded slowly, as if he either understood fully or didn’t understand at all. “I still don’t want a kid. Messy things. They grow up to be rebels. Hooligans.” He was looking below my neck again, unable to make eye contact, but I was affected nonetheless. It was clumsy, it was almost laughable, and it was a kind of earnest that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around, and it made me smile involuntarily. He went on, “I ran away from home. Tamlin says he did. As well. Left from home without permission.” He spread his arms in a here we are gesture, or maybe a what can you do?

“Yeah,” I said, trying to keep the sudden mixed emotions from spilling into my voice. “We’re just a bunch of misfits, ain’t we?”

liesinwriting: (Default)
Author's note: I originally thought this was going to be a short story (as in, <5000 words) but I don't think that's the case anymore. In fact, at this point I'm pretty sure I have written myself into a slightly larger story that needs telling. This will be interesting because of the other story I am supposed to have written by a week from Thursday. This is gonna be a challenge I can't wait to kick in the ass.

Anyway, enjoy part 3 of "Gateway Drug."



Jamie (continued)


I have surmised that another person lives here, but I do not know where that person is. My nose tells me it’s a male, and which room his, but I have yet to see or hear him. His smell is… interesting.

Corey returns while I’m still holding the glass of room-temperature water, imagining I can feel Brownian motion with my fingertips. I know immediately what I look like, standing in the semi-darkness, staring ahead at nothing. I have lost time again. The tasp has that effect sometimes.

She looks at me, and I realize that she was probably at work. That means what she is wearing now is probably what she wears to work—important because she is wearing jeans and a t-shirt. A place with a dress code that lax is less likely outright deny someone like me a job. I should ask her for a recommendation. She looks non-confrontational. Asking should work.

She says, “How was your day?”

I take a deep breath and focus on the full message I want to convey. It’s getting harder and harder to complete a thought aloud. Everything in my head is abbreviated. I follow lateral strands of thought like a bloodhound, but one that picks up a new trail each second. When I think I have the thought, I say, “It wasn’t bad.”

“Not bad is not bad.” She walks to the refrigerator and stands before the door. It is covered with magnets and menus. “I’m going to order Chinese. Want anything?”

“No. Thanks.” I shake my head for the sake of clarity. Though I am hungry, eating takes too much time. Each hit of the tasp only lasts for a finite amount of time. I must make use of every second by enjoying every second. I hardly have time to eat anymore. Then an image comes to mind: black and white wolf-boy found dead in his bedroom. Newspaper headline: Idiot Forgets To Eat. “Actually yes,” I add. “I would.” That does not make sense on its own. “Like to order Chinese food.” She’s probably just going to tell me to do it myself, but I won’t do it if I don’t do it now. “With you.”

She watches me for a moment, but instead of talking simply hands me a menu from the refrigerator. “Their shrimp fried rice is good,” she says. “But it’s hard to fuck up shrimp fried rice so I guess that’s not saying much.”

“No,” I agree. I stare at the menu, uncomprehending. My eyes keep falling out of focus. The menu needs to be redesigned to be catcher, to make you want to look. I shouldn’t have to work when I want to order food.

And it’s then, as I’m squinting at the menu, that a voice behind me whispers, “Helloooo,” and I feel a surge of adrenaline bursting through my extremities. I yell and drop the cup. The voice laughs, says, “Hey, hey. Chill man. Sorry for scaring you.”

When I see him, I stare. I know I do. I am trying to break the habit, but this is really too much to ask of anybody.

Standing before me is a creature that looks like it came from a dream crossed with a history lesson gone too far. He’s six-foot I bet, at least. Hunched over so I’m not sure. He has feathers where I have fur and Corey has skin. He’s some shade of dirty blue that reminds me of water back home, in the low dip of the east field when it was empty for rotation, reflecting the sky half covered with rain clouds, with mother calling out—

“You all right, dude?” The dinosaur’s snout is inches in front of mine. I smell his breath. It’s spicy, like some Asian noodles that I like. I blink it away.

“Yes. I am fine.” But he’s sorry for scaring me. “I am just jumpy.” I was actually spacing out, but I probably shouldn’t say so. “Apparently.”

“No worries.” The dinosaur looks from me to Corey, back and forth. “Introductions?”

Corey obliges. “Jamie,” she says, pointing first at me, then moving with a flourish to the dino, “this is Tamlin. Tamlin—” the arm comes back to me, “—Jamie.” I watch it complete its arc and then settle on the counter. I look up at her face, see her watching me.

The dino sticks out a clawed hand. “Nice to meet you. So you’re the guy, huh?”

I try to think of what guy he’s talking about. I cannot come up with anything. “What guy?” Then it hits me. “Oh. Yes, the room guy. I am.” The room guy sounds stupid. More accurately, “The new guy I mean. Nice to meet you.” We stand awkwardly for a moment, with him staring at me and Corey watching us both. Then I realize what is missing. I raise my hand and shake his. “Sorry,” I say.

“It’s cool, man. You finding cohesion with the place so far?”

“Yeah. It’s not bad.”

“You know what you want yet?” Corey taps the menu in my hands. I look down, just remembering it is there. “We were gonna order Chinese from Harry’s. You want anything?” I focus on the menu, trying to make the blurry shapes resolve themselves into words. They remain blurry.

*

Corey

Well, I don’t know what I was expecting from a user. Something a little less creepy, maybe. Tamlin shows up and says “hello” all creepy-like, and then the wolf dude just stares. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he wasn’t so damned big. He towered over me, was at least half a head taller than Tamlin, and he just stared for almost ten full seconds. When I finally got him back on track—I was really hungry—he just stared at the menu for so long I thought he’d forgotten how to read. Maybe he had. Eventually he just pointed at an item and handed it back to me.

I once introduced Tamlin to a friend of mine who was completely unprepared for the idea that I was rooming with a male—scandalous—but a male genie as well. I probably shouldn’t call them that, but the way I see it, once you do the drugs, you’re using with full knowledge of the consequences. You forfeit the right to have me feel sorry for you. Pity, maybe. Anyway, my friend about jumped out of his skin when Tamlin laid a claw on his shoulder. I suppose I was hoping for a similar reaction from our doped-up genie wolf, but the only thing that happened was he took that blank look that he wears everywhere and turned it on Tamlin until the raptor got uncomfortable. On some level, I had to admire the self-defense mechanism being employed, here. The tasp did its damage to the brain, and slowed reaction time was definitely a side-effect. But instead of being purely detrimental, Jamie had adapted it for a kind of self-defense. He stared down a raptor, and then was apparently fine with it. Case in point: two minutes later, he and that same raptor were talking, the raptor looking up at him with something akin to awe in his face.

By the time I was finished placing the order Jamie and Tamlin were leaning against the counter, both talking animatedly… well, Tamlin was animated. Jamie moved his head some more than I had seen him move it so far.

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Author's note: I swear I finished this yesterday. I just completely forgot to post it.




Jamie

It’s a neat place. It’s got all sorts of neat things in it. These aren’t things that you’ll find in any kind of advertisement aimed at the well-to-do: walls painted white and patched in various shades of off-white, wire-frame bed and mattress with springs, broken window covered with a piece of wood—“It gives the room character,” Corey says when I walk in. She’s judging me, just like everyone else. She doesn’t say anything, but it’s obvious from her body language that she wasn’t expecting me to be me. This reaction is not at all uncommon. I am used to it. It no longer bothers me.

The bathroom has a sink with shaved hair in it. I take the towel from my bag. It was wrapped around other items to protect them from the rain. Now, already wet, it is difficult to dry my fur. A considerable amount of time passes as I move the damp cloth over wetter fur. A towel decorated with cartoons rests on a towel rod. I take it and finish drying off, replace it and leave. I will have to apologize later for doing that. Not to Corey though. It doesn’t smell like her. It smells like someone else.

My new room is small, broken, and livable. I am on my back, on the bed, when I hear Corey leave. I contemplate falling asleep, then find that I have. Whoops. Daylight has burned and I did not help myself. I searched for no jobs, produced no résumé. And now I will be unable to sleep at night. Through the window’s unbroken top half I see only a brick wall of another building, weathered and peppered with scars of decades of war with the elements, with human interaction. Rust flowed like rivers from the gutter, brachiating at random and creating a sort of dark masked effect against the brick, almost Gothic, creepy. Loud air conditioners whined somewhere above the picturesque damaged wall before me, and for a moment I am in the rivers of rust, watching them etch themselves into the wall through accelerated time, days and nights blending as the sky turns above me, stars then clouds then stars then blue sky. And then, suddenly, I am back in the room. On the bed. My brief sojourn into the waking world is over. I don’t even consciously track my hands anymore as they work the tasp into place in my left wrist. A cold buzz races like ice in my veins when I hit the plunger button. Except the ice isn’t in my veins, technically. It’s my nerves that carry the signal. My whole arm briefly becomes an icicle. Then the spike drives deeply, deliciously into my brain. The bottom of my skull splits. My identity falls through the new hole. I sigh. Probably I’m getting an erection.

Saying the tasp interacts with the pleasure center in the brain is disingenuous. It manipulates your nervous system so using criteria predefined by you. If your mind has a preferred mode for pleasure, set the tasp to that. It will twist the dials until you feel your quantifiable best. The device is named for a similar device in a science fiction book. It works nothing like that device, but the principle is the same.

The device is simple: size of an eye-drop bottle, metal tip on the tapered end. Press into your hand, it releases a drop of serum. I call it serum because I do not know what it is, and that is how it is marketed: serum. There are no guidelines on illegal drugs. Then all you do is rub the serum into your skin, and wait, and within moments your world shifts without changing at all. Important things are relegated. You can get carried away sitting in one spot, drooling. Some people use it so much they forget to eat, die on their beds and floors. I won’t do that.

The tasp is still going strong when I walk to the kitchen. I take some time to look through the cupboards for glasses, eventually realize I must wash one if I want to use it. This place is messy. Not dirty, exactly, but messy. I have to dig through dishes that have been rinsed and maybe washed, but not well. Everything my hand touches buzzes with electricity. My arm is on fire, a beacon of warmth and life. Ultrasensitive. I can feel tiny currents in the air. I spend ten minutes washing the glass, at peace with the warm water flowing through my fingers.

The tasp was once the source of turmoil in my life. Then it became the blanket I threw over the turmoil. The process was simple. At first, I spent more time off it than on it. When I was off, I felt guilty, and my family compounded the guilt. I began to spend more time on it. Now I am more or less always on the tasp. I don’t have bad days anymore. That’s one aspect of the tasp. The other is the physical change. A drug dealer with a sense of humor. The people who make the tasp are smart, mischievous and resourceful. The first time you try it, the random sequence embedded in every drop of the drug goes to work. From then on, it doesn’t matter what you do or how many times you use it. The change is irreversible. I got lucky and drew a wolf. I know someone who drew a platypus. At least I look imposing enough that people don’t mess with me. Not usually.

One problem: I need income to pay for the habit. It is difficult to work while on the tasp, so I haven’t found a job yet. I left my house when my parents announced I would be stopping the tasp or fending for myself. They dangled my freshman year tuition in front of my face like a carrot on a stick. I did not want to be treated like an animal. So I left. I have no money and very much hope that Corey doesn’t ask for the rent until I’ve had a job for at least long enough to have a paycheck delivered.


liesinwriting: (Default)

Brief Explanation: I am going to post this story as I write it, to see if that will keep me on task. The task, in this case, is to write at least 1000 words per day, and post them online. This is part of a process to get me writing a substantial amount every day.

This is the first part of a short story called "Gateway Drug."




Gateway Drug


Corey


When Jamie showed up I almost didn’t let him in. He was one of them, a user. His body was covered with the evidence: black fur with white patches on his face, big ears that flopped when he looked side to side to see if anybody had followed him here, a tail—seriously, a tail—I could see claws in my peripheral vision, but I didn’t stare at his feet when his face was right in front of me. Black eyes darted under a white brow; he never seemed to be looking in the same direction his nose was pointing. Standing before the doorway, which was scratched out beneath a fire escape in an alley that regularly hosted tributes meant for the Porcelain Goddess on party nights, the effect was disconcerting. He was also big, maybe six-and-a- half feet tall, and hunched against the rain soaking his fur, holding his backpack—the only thing he brought—protectively under his chest. If the drugs and the physical changes they induced didn’t do him in, the elements might. Either way, the world might be improved by his absence.


I leaned against the door, resisting the urge to blink tiredly, and said, “Can I help you?”


Jamie introduced himself. When my silence made it obvious that his name meant nothing to me, he clarified. “I’m the one. Who called. About the room. Remember?”


What went through my head at that moment was, he sounded so normal on the phone. I should have used a video feed. But I couldn’t use a video feed, because the camera on my computer was broken, and I hadn’t bothered to get it fixed because I hardly ever used the camera when I called. Plus, nobody could commandeer it to remotely spy on me—that’s right, I’m one of those people, i.e. not a fan of H.R.3031 or the copycat bills that followed its implementation—and I like the idea that people who call me don’t know who they’re talking to. Unfortunately, the camera doesn’t work because the screen is cracked, and the screen acts as the lens for the camera, which really means that if you call me, be prepared for an old fashioned telecommunication conference that’s voice-only, like they used to do in the Wild West. They didn’t have video calls and they survived.


Until now, so had I survived adequately without it. But suddenly I was mentally deducting the cost of repair from my bank account. Even in my head the numbers turned red, and I was dipping into my retirement fund. This was exactly the reason we had rented out the last room; apart from my retirement account, neither of us were swimming in cash, and the empty living space was dragging us down.


Smash cut to the present: here’s a guy (me) standing in a doorway, staring at another guy caught out in the rain, an obvious user, and wondering if I’d be a bad person for turning away someone who looks like a wolf walking on two legs, wearing a Nickelback T-shirt (my grandfather’s band) and soaked through with rain. When I looked closer I saw he was shivering. I shouldn’t have looked closer, because the next thing out of my mouth was, “Oh yeah, I remember.”


And that’s how I came to live with a tasp junkie.


He moved into the unused bedroom next to mine. The walls here are thin enough that I could hear his bedsprings creaking even after I had shut the door, his pathetic cry as he threw himself into his life for the next however long it took him to get his feet back, or whatever he was doing here. I wasn’t exactly sure, and I hadn’t asked. Our apartment is actually on the third story of a three-story building, and access is by way of the aforementioned back door beneath the fire escape that doubles as stairs when Tamlin doesn’t feel like using our regular stairs like normal people. (Here, as everywhere else, “normal” is relative.) Jamie dripped all up the narrow staircase, and I was relieved when he didn’t shake the water out like I thought he would… well, half relieved, and half upset that I couldn’t use that as an excuse to bar him from living with us. Apparently using a tasp also housetrains you.


It was in the middle of this disingenuous thought that Jamie said, “Thank you for. Letting me stay. I don’t have, you know. Anywhere else to go. Really.”


And all of my self-righteous thoughts collapsed under the additional weight of the guilt suddenly climbing all over my skin, and I said, “Yeah man, it’s no problem.”


Jamie went straight through our living room without appearing to even notice the ratty couches gathered like vultures around the lone small coffee table. He went to the one full bathroom we shared and shut the door. I expected to hear him shower—the water heater hummed loudly whenever moderately warm water was used. But I heard nothing, and he emerged twenty minutes later with his fur looking fluffy but dry, a towel that had obviously come from his backpack rolled into a neat wet ball. I thought, thank god I don’t have fur.


Then he went to the room I showed him, shut the door, collapsed on his bed, and I stared into the wall and wondered just what hell I was doing with my life. Without crunching the numbers I knew exactly where I fell on the income totem pole: above people who live in cardboard boxes, and below people who don’t worry about living in cardboard boxes. My parents had told me ad nauseam about my potential. Teachers complained about my lack of discipline and focus and drive. To shut them up, I did what seemed logical: I graduated college, made about sixteen million dollars, and then invested heavily in several now-defunct companies, then salvaged what I could and moved into the cheapest place I could find downtown. My parents never understood that. My friends wouldn’t have, if I had told them. I found new people, met Tamlin and found, to my utter surprise, a spirit much like mine, and suddenly I had a roommate, and a friend in whom I would confide startlingly personal things. Tamlin probably knew more about me than any other person alive, other than me.


I found a job, too, one that worked me gently and with reasonable hours and chill clientele. And as that thought crossed my mind, I realized that I had to leave soon for that job, and so I would probably miss introducing Tamlin and Jamie. I had been looking forward to that with a kind of macabre fascination.

liesinwriting: (Default)

When Micah didn’t wake up one day, his first thought was, without rancor, of the poets he had supervised since accepting his position as a teaching assistant in the poetry MFA program. His students were as close to biological children as he was ever going to get, and it was with a misguided paternal worry that he wished for their success, and cringed at their failures, of which the latter far outweighed the former. There was the girl who spent the semester convincing her class of the inferiority of all males (Micah had entertained her quivering boyfriend during office hour sessions, during which there were several pats on the back while Micah ran through boxes of tissues and every self-esteem booster he could think of); and the boy, Amal, who wrote exclusively in a rhyming meter—which would have been fine if his definition of rhyme had shared more commonalities with that of a dictionary; and, of course, Wendy, the lovely experimental poet who held the unique distinction of having singlehandedly convinced the Board of Trustees, at a public reading of her 7-page sonnet, to increase funding to the college of liberal arts on the condition that future poetry be at least mostly confined to sounds that don’t send humans into epileptic fits.

He got up and looked at his body on the bed. It was cold and stiff, like it had been there for hours before realizing that it should release him. A stack of papers sat imposingly on the bedside table, poetry submissions from his undergraduate students. Most of them, he realized, were as yet unmarked. He had started making comments, but had stopped when someone described a fish as somniferous, at which point he had started on his first bottle of beer and resolved to do the rest tomorrow.

He wondered if his was in any way his fault, if that was some god’s punishment for the scribbles he himself tried to pass as poetry (anyone who considers this a baseless thought has never had the pleasure/horror of meeting poetry’s muses, who are among the most pernicious in existence). He had at one point styled himself a poet, a fallacious notion of which he was definitively disabused when his assignment was returned with red ink in such quantities that it had probably necessitated the sacrifice of at least one small goat. It was that same paper that had piqued his stubbornness, and from that point he had been obsessed with the intricacy of crafting poems that elicited feelings, not just images. Every poem had become a labor of love; where he had once been propelled by a compulsory desire to create the perfect metaphor, he found his eye and hand drawn to the vacillations of imperfect lines and dissonant images.

And then he had got his degree and moved on to graduate school when he realized that, apart from his parents and one oddly supportive professor, nobody who read his carefully-nuanced bits of the human condition really gave a shit.

The papers fluttered, and the top one flew off the stack and glided gently to the floor, where it landed on a pen. Micah stared at it, then looked around for the source of the sudden breeze. His room was as he remembered it: door and window closed, air and fan off. He turned back and stared at the paper. It continued to lie there, without any more fluttering.

A great many people had told him, throughout his life, that he looked lost, as though he lacked a purpose. As a boy he had ignored this and chalked it up to not being a boring adult—didn’t they always say he could be whatever he wanted to be? When he finally began to worry about those things, he had lost himself in evocative lines of poetry and concluded that, for a poet anyway, being lost was more or less required; nobody wanted to read poems by somebody who had it all figured out.

The paper fluttered again, almost plaintively, so he picked it up, as well as the pen beneath it. It felt like regular paper, and the pen felt like a pen. He glanced back at the bed, just to be sure that his corpse hadn’t decided to take a stroll while he wasn’t looking. It hadn’t. He looked down at the objects in his hands.

He had spent the past few years dutifully avoiding purpose whenever it chanced to stroll by. Now, looking at the poem and pen, he came to a stunning realization, made all the more potent by its utter obviousness: he was dead. It didn’t really matter whether he had it all figured out anymore, because he had passed beyond the threshold at which people stop caring about your life and begin caring about how well you could elucidate its details. He sat on the edge of the bed and began to write. He made it through the entire stack—and most of the red pen—when he looked up and saw a tall ebony man leaning on the inside of his door.

“Death?” he said.

“Hm?” said Death, as though he hadn’t been paying attention. “Sorry.”

Micah shrugged. “It’s fine. That was you, wasn’t it? With the papers?”

Death wiggled his fingers like a jazz pianist sliding up through a minor chord, and the papers fluttered, briefly. “I thought it would work better than a grandiose apparition. Are you finished?”

“Yeah.”

“You know,” said Death as Micah arranged the graded poems to make them more obvious to whoever happened to find him, “now that you’re dead, why not keep writing?”

“Is that allowed?”

“Well. Exceptions can always be made.” When Micah didn’t answer, he continued, “It’s just that, I’ve visited many poets over the millennia, and none of them ever seemed to want to write anymore once I show up. They have so much to say about me before we meet, but when we finally do it’s almost as if they’re disappointed. It’s a little disheartening, you know? No pun intended. No, wait.” He poked himself in the chest, then looked at his hand as if in wonder. “I forgot I looked like this now. It used to be all bones.”

“What happened?”

Death shrugged. “I got bored. So. You want the gig?” He was peering at Micah expectantly, like he was waiting for a parent’s verdict on the quality of a watercolor of his house, family, and dog.

Micah tried to summon the inner fire that had propelled him when he was breathing, but found it missing. No, not missing: quenched. For the first time in his memory, he was utterly content. “No. Thanks, though,” he said, discovering the thought as he spoke. “I don’t think people want to know what death’s really like. They’d much rather imagine it for themselves.”

Death’s face fell. “Oh. Okay. Well, we should probably go.”

He walked through the closed door. Micah followed him into the messy living room and out into the musty hallway that seems to be the standard in all college apartments. Just before they reached the parking lot he said, “How come you, you know.” He made jazz piano motions with his fingers. “I mean, isn’t that just a waste of energy?”

“What’s to waste? You’re already dead.” Death stepped out into the sunlight and stretched. “And it usually helps people feel better.”

Micah thought about this, then nodded once and said, “Okay.” And then he was gone.
liesinwriting: (Default)
The cold metal cemetery gates clicked and squeaked like the gears of a massive clock when Koda pushed through them. Damp leaves squelched as his bare feet pressed them into the mud. A wind from the lake brought the scents it had caught as it traversed the city and dropped them into the graveyard like liquids through a sieve. He smelled the thinnest first, exhaust and pavement, and then fried foods and rainwater, and brick, almost as an afterthought. Tires splashing through puddles, the gate swinging with the wind on its hinges, the trees whispering; and above him, the sky, occluded by the moon, bright and overbearing, washing out the stars but throwing the black clouds below into sharp relief. Had he a thesaurus he may very well have sat down right there to compose a scene. He didn’t, though.

He liked the word “occluded.” Saying it aloud made him feel like he’d unlocked some secret of the universe. Occluded. “Hidden” was so passé, after all. Nobody would occlude something on their own merit, but everybody has something to hide. To occlude something was to take it beyond hidden, to bring it to a place where most people wouldn’t even look, to the veiled heart of language that churned silently and efficiently beneath its banal, useful skin. Nobody at school would understand it, either, which just made it better. Koda had gotten over how he had no real friends, and how everyone his age seemed to treat him like he was carrying a social Ebola virus. When he talked, other kids looked at him like he was crazy, and when they talked it was never to him, even if he was their subject, as he felt he often was.

“I think you may be too sensitive, honey,” his mom said when he had mentioned feeling left out over dinner. They were eating leftover gumbo, which tasted like warm flavored water. She had the dark lines under her eyes that meant she wasn’t really paying attention to him right at that moment. She sighed, a sigh that resembled a sob, except she wasn’t crying. “Everyone doesn’t hate you. A first day at a new job is always hard, but everyone makes mistakes. They’ll open up eventually.” He remembered then that she had just taken work as a part-time assistant at a department store. That was probably why she was tired. Koda decided to drop it that night, and he spent the next two weeks vigorously ignoring everybody around him.

He didn’t really care much for anybody. He knew this and embraced it as part of his character. Maybe “misanthrope” was a good adjective to add to his collection. He also liked, and used, “nomadic.”

The gravel road ran a winding path from the back gate through which he had entered to the front, but Koda followed it only for a while before leaving it for a secluded grove of trees overlooking flat copper nameplates. He couldn’t see them in the dark but the metal was almost shockingly cold, and he quickly sidestepped back to the narrow strip of grass between them. His destination was a large flat rock that had only been partially sculpted before being set, the occupant of the grave below having opted for a more naturalistic style for his body’s permanent residence. As he clambered atop the stone slab he felt the cold void in the coffin below, and above that, the spiny interior of the rock itself. He sat down and crossed his legs, and closed his eyes.

He had read about meditation after watching a movie in which an old Chinese man was able to discover the world by closing his eyes and humming. In the movie the man lived alone in a hut in the middle of the woods. At one point he was surrounded by a pack of wolves, and instead of running, he held his ground and locked eyes with the leader wolf, who snarled and snapped but eventually lowered his head in submission. His student, the plucky Westerner, asked how he had done it, and the man replied that by becoming one with the world, all animals recognized him as their brother.

A handsome Native American face flashed through Koda’s mind, superimposed over the scene. It was familiar but half-remembered, like Koda thought he would look in many years. He blinked it away.

In the graveyard, a small animal watched him from the shadow of a tree. Koda realized his eyes were open and closed them again, humming and imagining he was reaching deep into the earth with a third hand, becoming one with everything. His perception slid like a tendril through the dirt, clacked against the insect carapaces and felt them wiggle. He brushed through the grass, feeling it whisper as he passed, and over the gravestones, tiptoeing like an ant so as not to wake their occupants. He reached out to the animal, sliding across its paws.

It recoiled.

The surprise was enough to shock Koda from his trance. He snapped back to his body on the rock. Everything was sharp and dull again.

Whatever the animal was, it was still there, just over his right shoulder. He hadn’t scared it off. Maybe it was a reflex, and the creature hadn’t consciously reacted to him. He took a deep breath and let it out, then gently grasped within himself. He tentatively reached out again, surprised, elated and scared that he had actually managed to achieve nirvana or whatever; his heart beat insistently against his sternum, his hairs stood on end. This time he moved specifically towards the animal, which he sensed through the ground was crouched behind a tree. It peered around the thick trunk. Koda’s perception brushed across its left foreleg.

It reacted again, this time raising the leg and shifting in mild agitation. After a moment it scratched at the spot with its tongue.

It was a wolf. Actually, it was a very weird wolf. As it moved over the soil, Koda, in his mind, felt its paws pressing down, felt how the digits of the forepaws pressed almost unnaturally into the soft soil, and how they tried to curl just before they came up. Now almost directly behind him, the wolf peeked around another tree to stare at him. Koda reached for the wolf’s current tree and felt one of its deformed forepaws gripping—gripping?—the trunk. He didn’t want to scare it off again so this time he confined himself to the bark.

Keeping a faint psychic hold on the earth around the wolf—just enough to tell whether or not it moved, really—he said, “You can come over here if you want. I won’t bite.”

Nothing happened. Koda stretched and then resituated himself so he was facing the tree behind which the wolf had now withdrawn its head. He waited for some sort of reaction, but his interloper was apparently content to remain, for the moment, out of sight.

Koda felt a twinge of doubt. Perhaps the wolf was simply a beast, and his entreaty was to it nothing more than a confusing series of animal noises? But no, it still didn’t make sense that it would be here, nor that it would act so distantly curious. It was almost childlike, he thought. He called to it again, to exactly the same effect.

Well then, he thought, and, after waiting for a moment but seeing no signs of movement, closed his eyes. As long as it stayed over there, he didn’t mind its presence. If it decided to attack him he’d know long before it reached him. He tried to resume but his heart was beating too fast and his palms were sweaty.

A while passed in silence, and Koda had given up expecting anything to happen, when the wolf finally crept from the shadow of the tree. It took two steps towards the rock and then stopped.

It said, “Go away.”

Koda, who had been wholly unprepared for this turn—a wolf that speaks? What is one to make of such a thing?—said, with barely-concealed annoyance, “I was here first.”

“Go away,” the wolf repeated. It bared its fangs for emphasis. Koda could see them in the reflected moonlight.

“I was here first,” he said again. Couldn’t the thing understand that? He had been coming to this graveyard for weeks. What right did this dog have to tell him what to do?

“Go away.”

“You go away.”

The wolf reacted as though he had been slapped, but it was delayed by almost a full second, as though it took that long for the words to resonate in its brain. Probably that was exactly the case, Koda thought ungraciously. The sight of the beast flinching away from nothing was comical, and exaggerated when it began scratching submissively at the ground before it.

“Sorry.”

Koda berated himself silently. Now the wolf was backtracking, tail down and head low, but staring straight at him with bright gold eyes. He felt a sudden inexplicable kinship with the thing. After all, he hadn’t really been trying to scare it off. “Wait. Don’t go. You don’t have to leave.”

The wolf paused.

“I’ve never seen a wolf like you before,” Koda continued coaxingly. Which was true enough, for he had not, not even in pictures of wolves. “Why don’t you come over here?” He put his hand on the rock beside him.

The wolf watched him intently, and Koda could almost feel its breath even as it stood so far away. “I won’t do that,” said the wolf. “You see, I’m a wolf.”

Koda frowned. “So?”

“So wolves aren’t domesticated. I won’t come when called, probably. And even if I did, there’s no guarantee that I won’t bite you. I might be hungry. I’m dangerous. Grrrr,” it growled for emphasis.

“You don’t look dangerous.”

“That’s what you’d like to think, isn’t it? I just look like a big husky until you get real close, when it becomes obvious that I’m something just a little different, a little more.” It scratched around at the ground. “What are you doing?”

“I’m meditating,” Koda said. Of course a wolf wouldn’t know what that meant, he thought, but didn’t say. “It’s just kind of like thinking a lot about something, and relaxing. And learning. I think it’s a lot of fun.” He hesitated. “Would you like to meditate with me?”

“Eh,” said the wolf.

“Well fine,” said Koda, a bit hurt. “It’s better if you do it alone, anyway. There’s less interference from other people’s chakra.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” the wolf said smugly.

“Whatever. I’m meditating. It’s rude to interrupt.”

“You want to talk to me, so you might as well talk while I’m here. Who knows when I’ll decide to traipse off because I smelled something interesting or found a smaller, less troublesome animal to hunt?”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Koda lied. He closed his eyes and hummed, but the Native American man appeared again on the back of his eyelids. The man’s long braided hair hung over his shoulder, and there was a smile on his wrinkled, almond-colored face. Koda opened his eyes. “You know what my Dad called me?”

“What?”

“He called me Little Lone Wolf. It’s appropriate,” Koda explained, trying to affect an air of nonchalance, “because his name, his real name, was Wolf Brother.”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes.” He shifted uneasily, suddenly aware of the cold stone beneath him once again.

“Well it was probably a wolf that killed him,” said the wolf more nonchalantly.

Koda bristled. “No. His name was Wolf Brother, didn’t you hear me?”

“I heard you,” the wolf yawned. “Any man who’s pretentious enough to think that he’s brother to wolves deserves to be eaten by wolves.”

“That’s not what his name means!”

“Yes it is. Maybe your affection is occluding his fault. And anyway, I’m a real wolf, not some fake wolf.”

“What are you doing here?” Koda asked, glad to be off the subject of his father, who he was almost certain had actually been named Brother Wolf, though he couldn’t say that now.

“I’m a lone wolf. My pack ostracized me for seeing things they don’t see. They don’t see the value in the things I caught, they were always too small, or too thin, or too something-that-isn’t-a-feast. I’m a good hunter, but they don’t think so. They only want to eat, to facilitate eating. So they got mad and I said I would leave, that I’d be better off on my own anyhow. So I left. You know what? It sucks, being a lone wolf. You should stop aspiring to be me.” The wolf peered keenly at him.

“You don’t know anything about me,” Koda informed it icily.

“I know you’re not a wolf.”

“I don’t even want to be a wolf.”

“You’re childish, child. What are you, nine years old?” A lolling yawn stifled with a furry paw. “Anyway, it’s good that you’re not a wolf. Wolves are sociable animals, very family-oriented. Do you have any friends? If you did, would you be here? So you have no friends, and your family is broken. And you think that braid on your head is a real tail? You would make a terrible wolf.”

The wolf moved casually towards him as it spoke, and Koda felt the first real thrill of fear creeping in at the edge of his body. What if this wolf really was wild? Would it try to eat him if it got too close? He didn’t think he could outrun it. Pretending calm he didn’t feel, he straightened up and stared unblinking at the approaching animal. A deep grounding breath, then reach out to touch it, entwine minds, convince it to slow down, stop, to see that the boy on the rock was Little Lone Wolf, a brother. We are the same, disaffected, alone, symbolic. We are family.

The wolf paused. It said, “There is something wrong with your face. Are you constipated? I don’t understand. Maybe you shouldn’t be eating solid foods yet. Knowing how to shit is an important biological function.”

“Whatever!” Koda picked up a small pebble lying beside the grave and hurled it at the wolf. It missed. “Go away.”

“You go away.”

“I was here first.”

“I have more teeth than you,” said the wolf, and it showed him.

Koda made a noise of annoyance and turned away, resituating himself so now the tall skyscrapers rose like dotted spikes out of the trees before him. He closed his eyes and tried to resume meditation, clenching and relaxing his fingers, trying to steady his breathing and keep his eyes dry at the same time. Even when he heard it approach to within arm’s reach, so close he could smell its meaty breath, he resolutely looked at nothing. But there was no deep drawing bite or rending of flesh. Minutes passed in silence, and when Koda finally peeked through one eyelid he saw the wolf, head resting on its forepaws, which were up on the rock, still facing him. Except now, its eyes were closed, too, and a faint rumbling hum thrummed from its chest.
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