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Author's note: Now that I feel marginally caught-up with school and a little less panicked, here's some more words for you about our heroes. The last time we saw them, they were sitting inside somewhere, saying important things, and looking very serious.



Corey (continued)


It took a while, but with great patience I was finally able to coax a coherent explanation out of him. When I finally got it, I coughed to cover the laugh that bubbled up from my chest. It was an absurd concept. So, half joking, I asked him to show me what he meant.

He did.

Let me tell you, it was weird.

He made us leave the bar first. We walked a little ways down the street. At some point, clouds had covered the sky, and the sun cast a diluted grey tone over everything. They weren’t your normal grey clouds either, but deep, dangerous blue, the kind that presaged heavy storms back in the old Midwest. Gutters lined the streets here, newly installed less than a year ago to cope with the rain that made it past the weather controller (which, incidentally, brought the rain in the first place). Installed in the proverbial nick of time, the first rainstorm had come three days later. The precipitation, while not catastrophic by any means, still overflowed a sewer system not tested holding that volume of water. Nobody wanted a repeat of that. Still, when the rain clouds came in—scheduled weekly, every Saturday—pedestrians still edged away from the absorption drains, the memory of ankle-deep water in the desert apparently a hard memory to shake completely.

He led me to the alley in which we’d met—the alley outside our apartment. I thought he would go inside, maybe for the familiarity of home or whatever, but he stopped outside the door and turned to me. And as soon as he did that, I realized that he had… well, he had done it.

“You don’t have to be nervous,” Jamie told me.

“I’m not,” I lied.

Jamie was smiling again, but it was his predatory smile, the one with all the teeth in it. Not a nice smile. My first impression, right then, was that he was about to go for my jugular. But as the seconds ticked by—and he just stared at me, our mutual silence exposing my lie—I began to realize that it wasn’t necessarily a dangerous smile. It was less threat and more amusement, as though what he saw was something pathetically funny, and he wasn’t pouncing yet because it was amusing him, like a cat watching a damaged mouse.

“Huh,” he said.

“So,” I said, not sure what I was supposed to be saying or doing now that he had done exactly what I asked him to do.

“I suppose,” said Jamie, “you want to talk about it.” I nodded. “That’s fine. Why don’t we go inside?”

“Why?” I asked a bit too quickly. The thought of being in an enclosed space with this wolf and his hyena grin gave me pause.

In response, Jamie simply pointed up. It was a dismissive gesture, the kind that you use when you want to convey that the guy you’re talking about, you know, the one who dumped your best friend by email… yeah, that guy. Except it was the sky that he indicated, and it was still just as dismissive.

And at that moment, the rain started.

I nodded curtly, and we went inside.

*

His name was James (he said), and he was born when he took the tasp for the first time.

The tasp is a drug that induces physiological changes. In a way, it was like a reset button, in that it read your genetic code—the original one, the copy contained in each of your cells—and worked with that as part of its blueprint. The result was that the changes it made were basically based on how your body thought it should be, and not how it actually was. After his body mended, Jamie somehow got it into his head that he was also emotionally damaged, and that, given enough time, the drug would be able to fix that as well.

“Self-fulfilling prophecy,” Jamie—James—told me, “is a wonderful thing.”

Most likely, the tasp wasn’t actually capable of inducing multiple personalities. But if the user was already trending that way anyway, the drug apparently did nothing to curb that trend.

Little Jamie had been a quiet kid, the kind that you usually forgot was there. He wouldn’t be at your party, but he’d listen to you talk about it in class, and you’d get the feeling he wished you would just invite him, so he could show you he wasn’t as weird as everyone said he was.

And then, he starts to think that he should maybe dress a little differently. Perhaps he should just bluff his way through uncomfortable situations. He did, and realized that he gained confidence as a result—not because he always knew the right thing to say, but because how he said it became just as important as whatever it was. He found his charisma. At the same time, he felt himself losing his grip, becoming someone other than how he thought of himself. He wrapped a panicked trickle of thought around that, tethering his old self to his new, but not incorporating it. He continued to worry that whatever came out of his mouth would be wrong, but he would occasionally realize that he knew how to fake it anyway. Eventually, part of him thought he should give himself a more grown-up name.

“Ah,” I said, staring into the face of a sentient creature that was, in some small way, more alien than any person with whom I have ever interacted.

“I don’t want you to be nervous around me,” James said, tapping the coffee table with his bare, furred foot. “I am not going to hurt you.”

“I know,” I lied. “I figured you’re still, you know, you or whatever. I’m just, uh, learning a new side to you.”

He chuckled, and I was struck by how normal sounding it was. Just a chuckle, like I’d told him a joke. “It’s amusing,” he said, seeing that I didn’t get it, “because in a very, supremely metaphorical sense, you literally are.”

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Author's note: I missed yesterday's posting because Dreamwidth didn't want to let me post anything. 24 hours later and they have apparently fixed whatever was keeping me from posting. So, here you go, just over 2000 words from two days. Enjoy.



Jamie

I like this place. It is peaceful and serene.

Drop on the palm, rub into my inner ear, and a rush like lightning.

I think. Kind of. Not really in words. Colors. The ceiling is the sky, the crack in the paint is the contrail of an airplane. Are we humans incapable of leaving nature alone? Must we stain her with our machines?

I want to live in a world where bad things are foreign.

The tasp is on the nightstand.

Another drop on my hands, another rub on my ears, and I sink into the world more.

Someone knocks on my door. Am I in my room? A voice floats over past me, swipes at my attention but I ignore it. Light from the window…. Things have become fuzzy.

*

Corey

I didn’t know exactly what to make of Jamie. My memory said it was normal. He had been in Jamie’s room for I don’t know how long while I wallowed in self-pity in the bathroom, avoiding looking at my face in the mirror. I just knew there would be an ugly bruise above my right eye. I could feel it when I woke up, and I might have caught a glimpse of it when I rushed past the mirror to vomit in the general vicinity of the toilet. I spent the next five minutes cleaning, disinfecting, and practicing my aim, and trying to remember what stupid thing I had done last night to earn what was happening. When I did finally look, I realized two things: it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be when I was feeling it with my fingertips; and I had never gotten a black eye before. I had been in fights—other rich kids were as dirty as non-rich kids—but the boys I fought were stupidly reluctant to hit a girl, and the girls I fought never fought boys.

When I stepped into Jamie’s room, Tamlin looked up from beside the prone Jamie and said, “Don’t worry, it looks worse than it is. This is normal.”

Jamie lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling, his mouth working slowly and no sound coming out. A wet washcloth lay across his forehead, and another across his wrists. More clothes were piled in a bowl with water next to Tamlin’s legs. Another bowl sat next to it, and it was into this that Tamlin put the wet cloths he removed from Jamie’s forehead. The fact that Jamie looked like a wolf—or, in this moment, like a large dog—somehow altered the scene, made him look even more pathetic.

“What’s happening to him?”

I stayed in the doorway, not comfortable being in the same room as whatever was happening. The window was wide open, sunlight doing the best it could to stream through when there was almost no direct line of sight to the sky anyway, and all we got was reflected off another building. It was still strong enough to stab right through my eyes into the back of my skull. I didn’t really need to ask the question; I had seen my fair share of tasp use when I lived with my parents. I remembered the vacant stares

“He’s on the tasp. Must have been a tough night.”

“Yeah, no shit.”

“Yeah,” Tamlin echoed me, “no shit.” I finally looked at him properly. He had a bandage on the right side of his neck, one of those wrap-around kinds for people with fur or feathers, and another wrap on his arm.

“What happened to you?”

“Probably the same thing that happened to your face.”

I winced. “That bad?”

“Nah.” He took the cloth from Jamie’s head and gingerly replaced it with another from the bowl. “And anyway, I think we were hit by different people. Mine was someone I’ve never met before. What about you?”

“I knew mine. He comes into work. Or I think that was him. Last night was… stupid.”

Tamlin grinned. “I’m glad you came.”

“Haha. Yeah. ’Cause I love getting punched in the face. Highlight of my day.”

“See? You had a good night.”

*

I took over when Tamlin left to get food. The dino was acting weird, but I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It didn’t fit his M.O. I would have thought he’d be doing his dominance thing, but the whole time he was there he was nothing but helpful, even conciliatory. When Jamie woke up, briefly, just long enough to mutter incoherently and stretch a pathetic hand over the floor, Tamlin shushed him and handed him his tasp. I watched Jamie apply it to the inside of his ear, then drop back to his mat. Tamlin gently took the dropper and set it back on the floor.

“Isn’t that bad for him?” I asked? He looked like he’d had enough, but Tamlin shook his head and assured me that he wasn’t in danger of dying, not yet.

So now I sat beside a prone Jamie, still staring at the ceiling, and wondered, not for the first time, if he would eventually get up to use the restroom, or if I would have to carry him. I wasn’t looking forward to that.

Luckily, he seemed to have the same thought. With a strangled yell he pushed himself up, and I, startled and thinking something was wrong, moved in to keep him from falling back on his head. His temperature, which I’d noticed while replacing bandages, was even more searing with my whole arm across his back. I knew Tamlin was bullshitting me about Jamie being safe with this much drug in his system. Stupid dino. And stupid girl. I should have known better than to take Tamlin’s word for it. “What’s wrong?” I asked, then repeated the question several times.

Jamie stared straight ahead, eyes half closed, and I was just beginning to worry that he had done some permanent damage to himself when he muttered, “Bthn.” Then he tried again: “Bathroom. And water. Not dying stupid.” In his head I’m sure that made sense. At least I understood the gist of the first two parts. I helped him up—he was heavy—and to the bathroom. I let him have his privacy while I poured some cold water from the tap and dropped in a couple of cubes from the freezer, glad that the icemaker was one of the appliances in the apartment that still functioned as it was designed to. Then I sat in his room and waited for him to come in. He did, fifteen minutes or so later, looking a tiny bit more awake and a little less haggard. He stared at me for a moment, and I just looked up at him. Finally he said, “We. I mean I. I should talk. To you.”

*

Imagine my surprise when he chose a bar for our “talk.” I had not pictured bars as anyplace Jamie would go on purpose, especially when there was a nice, dark, somewhat messy, totally out-of-the-way apartment available. But then, I reasoned, I had also not pictured him as a crazy dancing person, nor a person who got into fights, nor as a person who won those fights.

I was beginning to realize that I still really didn’t know anything about him.

The bar was one of those bars that caters to a particular crowd. They eschewed the jeans and t-shirts in favor of more dapper apparel, and I felt strangely out-of-place without a tophat as we sat in the back corner of the Golden Beagle. I ordered whatever the waiter recommended, and Jamie got an IPA seasonal that he could name without looking at the menu. Yep. Didn’t really know a thing.

We sat in awkward silence for a while. At least, I felt awkward, but I wasn’t at all sure that Jamie did. He just stared at the table with no expression, no movement except for the occasional flick of his ears. He didn’t look up when our drinks came, though he thanked the waiter. When we were alone again and I had tried the whatever beer I had asked for—it was bitter, which I know means hoppy, which means ick—he finally spoke. He didn’t look up from his hands wrapped around his pint glass.

“Corey… I don’t like myself sometimes.”

I waited. It seemed like the thing to do.

“Sometimes I wish I could say things and do things. I don’t do these things because they scare me. Like talk to people.” He paused, and I expected him to give me a significant look, or make some kind of joke, or even just continue talking. Instead, he just kept staring at the pint glass.

So I cleared my throat. “You’re doing a not-terrible job of talking to someone right now.”

“Well.” He took a delicate sip. I caught a brief flash of his elongated canines, distorted by the light beer and the glass, a long tongue. “You’re different.”

“How?”

He shrugged.

“How am I different?” I pressed. I don’t know why I did that, except, maybe, I wanted to hear him say something specific. Or maybe just something general. Or maybe just anything at all.

He shrugged.

I took a bigger pull of my drink, operating on the logic that if I drank it quickly, I wouldn’t have to drink it for as long. “What did you want to talk to me about? Let’s start there.”

“I’m sorry you got hit.”

My turn to shrug. “I’ve been hit before. Was that it?”

“No.” Another long pause. I nearly managed to finish my beer before he resumed. “I don’t like lots of things about myself. When I was little, I hurt myself. I also didn’t like myself being hurt.”

“What happened?”

“I broke my finger. Bad. It was bad.” He showed me a perfectly healthy finger. When I told him it looked good, he said, “The tasp fixed it.” I nodded to show that I understood. He shook his head. “You don’t understand. The tasp fixed me. There was something wrong with me and the tasp fixed that thing.”

“I know it alters you. That’s why people use it, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “But if there was something else wrong with me. Something about myself that I didn’t like. Something broken.” Yet another pause. “You know how sometimes I act… different?”

“Yeah.” That one was easy.

“I think that’s the tasp.”

We sat for long enough for him to polish off his beer before I felt compelled to ask, “What?”

“It fixes things that are wrong. So when I thought something was wrong with me, it fixed that something. Made me act different than myself.”

I thought about this. “Are you telling me you were high last night?”

“No. I was, but that is not what I am telling you.” He finally looked at me, and I gave myself a mental kick. This was obviously taxing him. Maybe I should just shut up and let him talk. “I mean that because of the tasp, I act different. I… think different. I feel like a different person.”

The waiter took our empty glasses and our order for another round with aloof disapproval, a gentle, almost fatherly reminder that a short girl and her giant wolf boy probably really didn’t belong in that bar, especially not dressed as we were. “Are you telling me that you got into a fight because the tasp makes you think you’re a different person?”

“I mean that I think I sometimes am a different person, with or without the tasp.”

The waiter brought our next drinks, and I resigned myself to a long, very circular conversation.

*

It took a while, but with great patience I was finally able to coax a coherent explanation out of him. When I finally got it, I coughed to cover the laugh that bubbled up from my chest. It was an absurd concept. So, half joking, I asked him to show me what he meant.

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Author's note: I don't really have an excuse this time. I wasn't sick or anything. I just reached a point where I realized that I needed to rework how the story was getting where I wanted it to get. So that's what I spent last night doing.

Apologies to someone for using the word "featherbutt." It just fit so well! And it makes Tamlin
so angry! I couldn't resist.



Tamlin (continued)


“That’s bullshit,” he says.

I shrug.

He takes one look around the club, doing his best to make it look dismissive, and turns and stalks through a parting crowd. The bouncers follow him. I look at Jamie, who leers back at me. “Well,” I say, because for once I cannot think of exactly how to broach the subject that’s on my mind. “Wherefore the face, puppy boy?” Maybe that was the wrong way. He grins wider, showing off his bloody teeth, and that has exactly the wrong effect on me. By which I mean, exactly the right effect at the wrong time. I look him up and down, noticing for maybe the first time just how massive he is. I bet it’s the way he’s carrying himself now, like he owns the world, like it’s the most natural thing ever to nearly bite someone’s throat off in the middle of a dance club. Which reminds me, we’re still surrounded by a crowd. Right. Not a good idea to keep this freak show standing around. It would have been bad enough had it been two regular guys got into it, but now it’s one dino and one wolf, the latter stained from his attack. “Hey, why not let’s take this elsewhere, yah?”

“So, what, you run this place?” this new Jamie asks when we’ve made our way across the floor. I shrug, as close to an unconcerned motion as I can make. “Ah, I see,” he says. Then he stops, and I make it a full three more before I realize that he’s not coming with me. I was going to take him to the bar, buy him a drink—no, maybe the bathroom first, to wash his mouth out—the blood, I mean, to wash the blood from his mouth—

No, no, this is getting me all bothered again.

—I could wash his mouth out—

“You just like to pretend you’re in charge.”

If I wasn’t already looking at him, I would have spun on the spot. What the hell was that supposed to mean? “Explain,” I say. This time, he shrugs and walks past me, but I grab his shoulder before he can. “Explain.”

Another shrug. “You like to walk all big and talk all tough, but you’re really just a fluffy bird with an attitude problem.”

It’s an effort to keep my feathers from rising. “I’m the one with the attitude problem?”

“Uh huh.” He grins.

“You know I saved your ass back there, right, dog boy?”

“Whatever, featherbutt.”

I bristle, and he laughs, which is exactly the wrong fucking response. “Why don’t you get the fuck out?”

“Of the club you don’t own? Nah. I like it here. It’s exciting.” He says it casually, over his shoulder, but the people around us have picked up on the vibe of the conversation and are steering clear and watching with interest, and I imagine that the news of the fight has circulated already. Before I can respond, he says, “You don’t care about Corey, do you?”

“What.”

“You left her there.” He indicated first the doorway with a nod of his massive head, then the bar. “She’s still over there somewhere, drunk and hurt, and you were taking me here for a drink. Right?” Bigger grin. “How romantic. I’d say I don’t bite, but I bet you like that.”

“Get out.” I can barely contain it. I want to hit him.

And he just grins, and stares right at me, and says, “No.”

And I ask you, what am I supposed to do now?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

I learned how to snarl real good with my tribe. We’re not really a tribe, but we like calling ourselves a tribe because it makes other people uncomfortable. Anyway, we act sort of like I imagine a real tribe would act, by which I mean Indians, or Native Americans, or whatever they were. By which I mean there are lots of drugs, and lots of sex, and lots of dancing. (You caught me; it’s why I like clubbing.) We used to get into these great big fights about anything really, but I learned real young that sometimes you don’t have to fight to win. Sometimes, you just have to look like you’d win in a fight. This usually works with normal people, especially when it’s a dino who looks like he’s gonna win. I didn’t really expect it to work with a wolf man, though. Besides, snarling has multiple uses, and only one of those uses involves not fighting. My favorite other use involves throwing your opponent off-balance for long enough to get in a solid first hit.

What I learn today is this: Jamie is better at snarling than I am. And legitimately scarier.

I’m on my back before I can even gurgle in surprise, and Jamie has both of my hands pinned, and his teeth fly at my throat. I kick up at him, and am rewarded with an “oof” as my foot connects with his stomach. I roll back, but he grabs my foot and pulls me back, and I find myself frustratingly in exactly the same position as before. This time, he blocks my kick with his knee and pins my leg to my stomach. And this time, I can’t stop his mouth from finding my throat.

Good thing I’m friends with the bouncers, innit?

It takes four of them to pull him from me, but not before we both get some good hits in on the other: a fist in my snout, teeth in my throat, and another solid kick, this time to his solar plexus, and what I sincerely hope is a painful scratch across his muzzle. They drag him away, kicking and snarling, through a crowd parting like the Red Sea.

And I swear—though I wouldn’t tell many people this—I swear, I couldn’t move. The look in his eyes was… I don’t know. When I got kicked out of school, the reason the principal gave my tribe was I didn’t act “civilized.” My father reacted predictably, and declared that I shan’t be attending a school that defines civilization so narrowly—this was obviously before we moved to Paradise—and I was homeschooled from then on. The reason for my dismissal was that I attacked another third grader who had stolen my pencil, and he ended up in the hospital with whining parents and doctors who complained about having to actually do their jobs for once. I met that kid ten years later, and he told me he remembered being scared, not because I was attacking him, but because I “didn’t look right.” I had no idea what that meant.

Watching Jamie get dragged across the floor by four burly men, still spitting and cursing, surging so hard he almost topples them over, I finally have an inkling of what that kid meant. I think if they let him go, he might actually kill me. That snarling thing staring at me predatorily resembles a human in its general appearance, its clothing, but that’s it.

And I realize, with a combination of admiration, fascination, and disgust, that he baited me into attacking him. Dear Science, am I really that easy to predict?

I turn back to the bar, ignoring everyone’s concerned looks—like I’m going to admit to them that he scared me almost to shaking—and begin ordering shots.

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Author's note: I'm in the middle of a nervous breakdown at school. Thank god I have my stories!




Tamlin


I heard they were leaving, and cut a quick path through my friends, ignoring most of them, to say goodnight to my roommates. I was honestly surprised they came at all. And I was dancing with this adorable chick about half my size who has been petting my feathers all night the way you pet someone you’re about to enter. I arrive in time to see Jamie smash into some tall kid’s chest, bringing them both crashing to the ground. The kid ignores the impact and punches upward, connecting solidly with Jamie’s jaw. Or I think it’s solid, anyway, except that Jamie doesn’t react. Like he wasn’t even hit he brings his own hand down onto the kid’s face. He does it again, and again. The kid manages to shove Jamie off, but the wolf boy bounces off the floor,  his arms turned to springs, ducks his head and smashes into the kid’s chin. The kid’s head snaps back, and Jamie does exactly what I don’t expect and closes in on the kid’s throat.

That’s so totally my cue to break it up. I rush in—three or so bouncers are coming in behind me—and drop low to put a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. A quick glance down at the random kid—gurgling as Jamie’s nose closed in over his ear, hands clawing at the wolf’s face and neck—“Jamie! Up!”—he doesn’t listen, and with my hands on his shoulder I actually feel his teeth puncture skin, and I shudder. Oh. This would be a terrible time to get an erection. “Need to,” I say, and I know I should be saying something… it doesn’t come, for a moment, then oh yeah, “Need to stop.” I add, “Stop,” even as my sight is coopted by my imagination, images of Jamie’s teeth in his neck, tasting blood on my own tongue… “Stop,” I say, more to myself this time. Really, really bad time for an erection.

Others arrive in seconds, and together we are all able to pry the wolf’s jaws apart. One bouncer—Vincent, and yes, that’s his real name—loops his meaty arms under Jamie’s, and I realize that there is no way I would be that stupid. If Jamie was eating a baby, I wouldn’t be that stupid.

Jamie whips his head around, jaws agape, and snaps them together less than an inch from Vincint’s nose. Vince grunts in alarm and loosens his grip, and Jamie tears out of it and heads straight back to the boy, bleeding on the floor. He stops above him, points one massive, lethal claw down at him and says, “Don’t fuck with my friend.” Then Vincent and two of his buddies grab him again, one to each arm and one keeping a hold on the back of his shirt. They hold him steady, though I don’t think he’s fighting anymore. Mostly he’s just staring a hole through the guy on the floor.

I find Corey maybe ten feet from the action, a huge bruise over her eye. She looks at me, defiant, innit. And just like that, I divine what happened.

I keep my motions deliberate as, in full view of everyone, I step up to the boy on the floor. At second glance, he’s not bleeding nearly as bad as he should have been. I thought the wolf boy had ripped his throat out, but it was only a love-bite. Delicious red flows from four small punctures, but none of them are serious. I squat down next to him. He takes a moment to notice me, and jumps when he does.

“You all right?” I ask. The crowd around us is quiet, but I still speak up to be heard over the music.

“No!” he bleeds petulantly. “That fucking asshole fucking tackled me!”

I glance at Jamie, who ignores me completely and continues flaying the kid slowly with his eyes. “Who, that guy?”

“Yeah!”

“Was that before or after you punched the girl?”

I count: One. Two. Then click. His eyes widen. “You gotta be fucking kidding me.”

I shake my head. “I should probably explain,” I say, offering him a hand. He regards it suspiciously for a moment, then takes it. I hoist him to his feet. “We should probably call CitySec and have wolf boy here arrested for dangerous stuff.” I pause, wait for him to agree.

“Fuckin’ A right you should! This is a god damned disgrace of a club. Letting fucking mod freaks in here. What the fuck did you think was gonna happen?”

“Yesssss,” I drawl, just long enough to get him to look at my toothy muzzle. “Those mod freaks sssssure are a pain, ain’t they?”

His mouth works, but his throat doesn’t. Ha.

“Well. Anyway, my point is, I’m not calling City Security on him. Go ahead. Ask me why.”

I must admit to a certain pedantic weakness: I really enjoy watching people figure out things that I already know. All it usually takes is context clues. Like, for instance, the two bouncers standing just behind me, arms crossed and staring at the kid. They don’t need to know what he did wrong to have picked up on my irritation. My feathers stand up when I get annoyed. I can’t help it. So I enjoy watching his eyes widen even more as he realizes that I am probably just a hair more important in this particular club than his rather unidirectional sense of justice.

“Aren’t you going to ask me why?”

“Why?” It sounded forced. I smiled pleasantly.

“Because you hit my friend first. If I called CitySec on Mister Woofie I’d have to call them on you.” And now, I wait. For a minor offense like this, the kid would probably get a very minor sentence, like a couple of hours in confinement, then a fine, and a warning, and a stamp on his record detailing that he got a stamp on his record. Of course, that assumes that he doesn’t already have a stamp. If he does, then he’ll be spending a little more than a few hours in lockup. And wouldn’t you know it, the kid just stares at me, holding his throat, all sorts of fire in his face, and it’s really all I can do to keep from jumping him right there and taking a long, slow lick at his neck wounds.

Down, boy.

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Author's note: This was fun to write. Every time I sit down to write these words I contemplate what I want to say, and then just sort of let it work itself out from there. For this section I was planning on doing one very specific thing. And at this, I have utterly failed. But I failed because the failure was necessary, or, more accurately, I wouldn't have succeeded anyway without explaining what is explained herein. As I write this story I can't help but feel that it's quickly growing into something unrecognizable, but exciting. I'm finally starting to really know these characters, and it's going to be interesting to see if I can get it all down on (virtual) paper before they move on from my head to greener pastures.



James

There is something immensely satisfying about my physiology. Years ago, I wasn’t really all that impressive to look at, and I knew it. When I walked I practiced looking at my shoes and pretending I was somewhere else, and I almost never smiled. There was nothing wrong, exactly, with my smile, except that I didn’t like it and didn’t think anyone else would, either. I learned my shoes really well in those days. And when someone smiled at me—someone like, say, Carl—I had a tendency to feel a bit like a mouse scuttling before a particularly happy cat. It was one of the reasons for the tasp, initially. Then, of course, the tasp did its thing, and suddenly my meek little smile was full of long, sharp teeth. I had to learn to do little half smiles, where the corners of my mouth went up but that was pretty much it. Full-on smiles made people uncomfortable, and occasionally excuse themselves so they could stand anywhere that wasn’t near the thing that looked like it was going to bite their throat out. I remember thinking that, were I a more aggressive person, that smile would be the perfect tool to cultivate. I dismissed it at the time. I was more worried about skipping school and making sure my parents didn’t find out. I walked neighborhoods that I normally wouldn’t have done, and found that people left me alone purely because of how I looked. Oh, they’d sometimes shoot me angry or haughty glances, but always from a safe distance. And that was when I truly realized the power that I had given myself. If I did nothing but act like my old meek self, people generally left me alone, even were deferential towards me—not a polite kind of deferential, but nonetheless an effective one that meant if I could endure abuse I could have pretty much whatever I wanted. And that was if I acted meek and submissive. But if I were to act strong…

I fired a full-on smile at Carl.

“What do you want?”

If I could have smiled any bigger, I would have. A small part of me had been hoping to avoid any confrontation by bluffing my way through it, what my societal upbringing had accidentally instilled in the old me to an alarming degree. But a not-so-small part of me wanted to punch him in the face. If my little smile had cowed him, I would have been obligated to let him go. It wouldn’t have been any fun.

“I think you should let Casey go,” I said.

“Yeah? You think that?” He took a step—not towards Casey, but towards me.

I was wrong. I could smile bigger.

“No need,” I said, with my voice pitched low so only he could hear us, “to get excited.” There, my social obligations were fulfilled. If little big man Carl advanced anymore it would be like click “I agree” whenever you install a program. And I knew that Carl, like most people, would not read the fine print because he thought he had it all figured out already, and it was just a formality. Look at me. I put it to you: would you attack me, a six-nine walking sentient carnivore who’s smiling like this at you?

Sometimes the fine print isn’t really all that fine. But people don’t read it anyhow.

I digress.

At this point, nobody had noticed the brewing confrontation. The place was packed, and I suppose he always looked angry, and I always looked scary, and, well, what a perfect pair of friends we made in the flash impressions of dozens of people in those few seconds: I with my arm around Corey’s shoulder, smiling and looking goddamn good and probably more than a little fabulous in my tight fishnet, invisible beneath my fur but sculpting it into reptilian shapes by density; Carl, approaching at a deceptive leisurely pace, pale shoulders thrown back; and Corey looking droopily at Carl, leaning into my arm. That part felt the best. As he came at me, hands balling into fists, I felt my grin stretch just a little bit wider: he was right-handed, and Corey was on my left.

“Bitch, I think you and me should step outside.”

“Hey.”

“He wasn’t talking to you, Corey. And Carl, I didn’t know you thought of me that way.”

“Let go of her, ya fucking user.”

“If I’d known that, I would have worn my special clothes.”

“Motherfucker, I ain’t playing. Now I’m taking her home, and that’s how it’s gonna happen. You dig?” He stopped, his face within a foot of mine. His eyes never left mine. Like an alpha wolf challenging an alpha from another pack. In that moment I gained what some people would call respect for Carl. I call it anticipation. He could no longer claim to be ignorant of how the violence started, or what would come to pass. He had eliminated my last societal restraint. With that move he had effectively agreed to the terms and conditions. Good man.

“Oh I dig.” I winked. “How far you wanna get dug?”

He didn’t blink.

“And how hard?”

“You and I should step outside.”

“Come on, boys, le’s not do this, mkay?”

And that’s when I realized why Carl was going to play it smart. He honestly thought he would beat me, and he didn’t want to get in trouble for it. I had become a problem that needed to be dealt with quietly, like that unsavory bite of too-tough chicken that you endure until you think no one’s watching you spit it into your napkin. And, well, I didn’t really feel like quiet at that moment.

With a precision that honestly startled even me, I closed the ten inches between his face and mine, curled my lips back, and snapped my jaws together on either side of his nose. There was a slight tug as he jerked away, and I had just a moment to reflect on how strange that was; my meat was never moving on its own. It was not painful, but weird, the way being ticklish is weird, but not nearly that pleasant. “The fuck!” He shouted. And—oh, bless all that is holy—he looked straight at me. Not around, to see who else saw. Right. At. Me.

I couldn’t contain myself. I giggled.

He came at me silently, but like a thrown rock, right hand balled and raised, then propelled forward. And—

A small nudge in the shoulder blade, and Corey’s center of  gravity caromed forward, directly into the path of Carl’s fist. She didn’t have time to say anything before it cracked her in the side of the jaw and sent her tumbling into the crowd. Here by the door it was more sedate, and even though no one had really noticed our little dominance display, there was no way anyone could deny that this was happening. I spun to put myself between Carl and Corey, stood her up and made sure she was OK. I turned her chin to look. She just stared straight ahead, didn’t say anything.

“Are you all right?” I said loudly.

Her eyes snapped to mine. “Yes. I’m fine.” Then: “I’m fine!” She pulled herself to her feet and stared at Carl, then back at me. And then, remarkably, back to Carl. “What. The. Fuck,” she said.

I gave it a second or two. I wanted Carl to stew for a moment in the attention of several strangers who just saw him punch a drunk girl in the face. When I turned, his expression was caught somewhere between rage and horror. After a moment it settled on the former, and I was once again the target.

All the right moves, Carl.

I gave him my biggest, best smile: Let’s see what you’re made of. And I launched myself at him.

liesinwriting: (Default)

Author's note: Hey there, folks! This time I wanted to explore Corey a little more. I also wanted to show more of Carl, who (I hope) isn't quite what you expected. And what's this? Is shit about to get real? Why yes, it certainly does appear that way. Oh, I cannot wait until tomorrow....



Corey (continued)


I shrugged. “Working, I guess.”

“No shit? C’mon, C, you know what I mean.”

“No, what do you mean?” I was suddenly feeling kind of bitchy, and I honestly couldn’t have said exactly why. Maybe it was the alcohol pressing like a vise on my temples, and his words screwed it tighter, not until it was painful, but until it became an unnecessary distraction. It also could have been my latent altruism surfacing in response to his casual dismissal of someone who I disliked less and less every day.

Or, I know now, it was probably the more obvious thing.

Either way, I tossed back the rest of my drink while  he said, “Christ. What’s your fucking problem all of a sudden? Don’t tell me you’re getting all friendly with those furry fucks.” He leaned in again, and he was suddenly less a bad boy and more an ass, eyes squinting through the fog and strobe lights and lasers. His voice was pitched to cut between the beat and the synth laid over it. “You ain’t gone all liberal on me.”

“So what if I have?” I said, less because I actually had and more because I wanted to argue with him. “He’s not such a bad guy. He’s… I don’t know….”

“He’s a wolf, C.” He leaned back and crossed his arms, daring me to challenge that. He watched me until the waiter brought me another Long Island, and then started talking about his day job—system administrator at a high school—and I interpreted it as: conversation over. Now that the girl has stopped being silly we can get onto more pleasant things.

I surprised myself by having a better time than I thought I would. Carl regularly had to deal with asshole high school kids, their righteous parents, and the know-it-all teachers. He talked about it when he came into the head shop, and I enjoyed listening to him. In my alcohol-induced haze I forgot entirely that I was talking to someone I had only minutes ago decided that I wasn’t going to like anymore. Or maybe I hadn’t decided that. Maybe I only thought I had decided that. I couldn’t take stock of my own thoughts, and took a long gulp to compensate while I told him about the first time I saw Jamie standing pathetically outside in the rain, practically begging to be let in, and his antisocial behavior, and his general weirdness when I had taken him for the interview with Rian.

“Useless furry fuck,” Carl commented.

I shrugged. Drink. Mm.

“Guess that Rian guy will have to learn the hard way.”

“Mmm.”

“Not like it matters. I know when you work, so I don’t ever have to see that bitch again.” He grinned at me, black lights briefly illuminating his teeth. “And you know, I’ve got a feeling that he won’t be working there for too much longer, anyway. Call it a hunch.”

“Yeah, I guess.” I giggled. I wish I could say I don’t know what I was thinking. Unfortunately I remember exactly how everything he said made a sort of primal sense, how I thought, he’s right, I shouldn’t have to deal with this shit about nothing in particular. That, and his eyes stayed with mine, even when mine slipped accidentally to his broad shoulder or chest. By the time that drink was done I was almost too drunk to feel him lay his hand over mine. “Hey,” he said, peering at me. “You all right? Want me to take you home?”

I assured him that I most certainly would like that, and as I stood I caught a glimpse from the corner of my eye, a flash illumination caught in the congruence of gyrating lasers and a window through the billowing smoke, a white canine face staring straight at me, cutting through the atmosphere like a knife. Except it was like a knife flying at a drunk target, and it only brushed me peripherally. Enough to make me stumble.

Carl was right there, one steadying arm beneath mine, standing me upright while I played the part of the rope in a tug-of-war between my senses and my rationality—both of which, incredibly, were losing thanks to my underperforming sense of balance. I looked up into Carl’s concerned face and wondered what the hell I was doing. I pushed away, stumbled, and said, “What the hell am I doing?”

Carl just looked puzzled. We were somehow standing beside the coat check, and the door was right there, and I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the dance floor, to look for Jamie, just to see if he was still there, or still watching me. I don’t know if I hoped he would see me leave, or if I wanted to make sure that he didn’t. But everything was too blurry and rocked from side to side, and Carl’s insistent grip on my shoulder brought me back to him in time to catch, “… home, okay?”

I pulled away from him and shook my head—a mistake, because I toppled and had to catch myself on a nearby wall. I hoped the bouncer hadn’t seen me. “No,” I managed, pushing the word out before it could stop to gather thought on its way out. “I’m not leaving yet.”

Carl frowned. “Yes, you are. You’re going home.”

I pointed a finger at him. “No,” I repeated, trying to convey, with that single syllable, that I understood his game, and that at any other time I might fall for it, and had he asked me just ten minutes earlier it almost definitely would have worked, but that right then I was not actually interested in going home with him. Weirdly, I think most of that message got through. He reached out for my arm, but I yanked it away before he could grab my hand and turned and stumbled back towards the music. Everything was blurry, but it wasn’t hard to find a direction that was away from Carl, and towards things that didn’t make me feel dirty for associating with them. Carl was a nice guy—mostly. But I think I was finally becoming sensitive to what he had said about Jamie. That Jamie was a burnout and a loser, I knew. But in my alcohol-addled memory, I saw him watch me from across the floor, and that was not the look of a burned-out individual. It was too—primal. Too much like Carl.

I didn’t want to deal with either of them right then. I was drunk, I was confused, and… and, I reasoned, I had told Tamlin that I would dance.

I pressed into the moving bodies, knowing I was falling and quite unable to do anything about that except for generally control the direction in which I fell. Other intoxicated dancers kept me upright, and music that was so loud I could barely hear filed my—

The world jerked and spun, and I was off the floor before I realized it was because Carl had grabbed my wrist and dragged me towards the door. “Hey!” I tugged back, but he didn’t let go.

“You’re going home, C.” He didn’t look at me as he said it. Conversation over.

“I’m not done yet.”

“Oh, yes you are. You’re way past done.”

I tugged again, this time successfully extricating my wrist from his vise-like grip. He whirled on me, annoyed anger cranking his eyebrows—but stopped before he spoke, mouth slightly open, staring over my head. The momentum of my liberation carried me backwards into something warm and tall, a something which put a protective hand on my shoulder and another on my other. Large, furry hands.

“Problem?” came Jamie’s voice from above me.

 
liesinwriting: (Default)

Author's note: Yeah, so... sorry about this weekend. My only excuse is I wasn't feeling well. Actually, I was feeling sick. It was stupid. I was feeling sick already when I decided I could afford to spend like 5 hours standing in the rain. Yeah. Not my proudest moment in the history of ever.

Anyway, I'm back now, and here is the next part.




Corey (continued)


“Yes,” I said.

Now he lolled his tongue at me, and I grimaced to show him just how much I appreciated it. “What are you, a participatory audience?”

“I prefer ‘voyeur.’”

“That’s illegal, hey?”

“Depends on whether I got a camera.”

He eyed my chest suspiciously. I wore a low-cut shirt that I thought was revealing until I got here. Tamlin’s parties tend to work that way. “Where you keeping it?”

I tapped next to my eye. He shrugged and walked off.

Ten minutes and one and a half drinks later Jamie slid into the seat across from me. He was grinning, an expression that I found a little too toothy to be comforting. He looked happy though, and tired, and I realized that even he had somehow known what to wear: a too-small t-shirt with some sort of fishnet arms, and jeans that worked in tandem with his shirt to show off just how difficult it was to force his muscled body into the clothes. He wasn’t panting, exactly, though I got the impression that the only thing keeping his tongue from lolling to the side was his sharp teeth, a number of which were facing me. “Hey! How come you’re here? You know, not there? Not dancing?”

I shrugged. How do you tell a seven-foot-something wolf man that you’re nervous about your appearance?

He extended his hand. “You should come out and dance.” For a moment it looked like he was about to say something else—with me, maybe?—but then he just closed his mouth and smiled again, canting his head.

And, yeah, okay, he had somewhat endeared himself to me by this point. I admit, when he first moved in I thought of him as a user, and that was, at least in my mind, his primary attribute. But then he went and got a job—well, okay, I got him a job, and I guess drug users have to pay for their habits somehow, but still. He and Tamlin got along. And here he was, at a party, getting the most out of being the center of attention; several of the other dancers, I saw, had watched him leave the dance floor.

So, basically, I couldn’t get a handle on him. He was sometimes really reserved, and occasionally outgoing. It was almost like he was two different people.

And, yeah, okay, I sort of liked the outgoing version. So I grabbed my glass and pulled it towards me. His smile faltered, but I tacked one of my own into place and said, “Let me finish this first. I already paid for it.”

His smile got bigger again—and his ears stood up. Cutely. Oh god. What was I thinking?

He stood slowly, and opened his mouth just a bit—just enough to let his tongue loll out in a lopsided grin. Then he turned ’round and escaped back to the floor.

“What’s up C?”

I groaned involuntarily, glad for the thick layer of music that hopefully drowned the sound out. Even over the beat I recognized Carl’s obnoxious preppy voice. He was approaching from my other side, and when I turned I saw his gaze trail off Jamie and onto me. “Hey Carl.”

“Mind if I join you?”

A quick look confirmed that he wasn’t joined by the twin travelling circus clowns. Just him, then. I wondered how he was connected to Tamlin, and why Tamlin was friends with anyone who thought it was OK to invite Carl to a party, and how fast I could finish my Long Island and get out onto the dance floor with Jamie. I didn’t reflect too much on that thought, just took a long pull that made my mouth feel poisoned.

Of course it wouldn’t be that easy. He hadn’t waited for an answer before slipping into the seat across from me. An awkward thirty seconds passed while he tried to signal the waiter and get a drink—“What she’s having”—and I tried to figure out how to tell him I wasn’t interested. I admit, I’ve a bit of a shy streak in me as well. But that’s no reason for him to take the initiative like that. If I wanted someone to take the initiative, I would have… I don’t know. Something. Anything other than sit there and let Carl order a drink, and start talking me up, and wink obnoxiously at me. He eventually settled into a reclined position with his arm behind over the back of the chair that made me think he was way too comfortable. I had almost finished my drink when he said, way too conversationally, “So what’s the deal with the new bitch?”

I let the glass containing the last inch or so of Long Island click to the glass table. “What?” I said. I was way too quiet for him to hear my tone, but I could tell he got it anyway.

He leaned forward conspiratorially. His eyes flicked to the dance floor. “Seriously C, I mean, what the fuck is that thing doing working with you?”

I make him sound like some kind of post-Hollywood villain or whatever, I know, but he was nothing like that. I mean, he was genuinely confused as to why I was allowing myself to work with someone like Jamie. When I first met him, I thought he was trying too hard to fit in with the wrong sorts of people when he told me of his contempt for users, and dinos, and pretty much every human that didn’t look exactly like him. I admit, in a way it was endearing. I suppose I liked that he was just a little bit of a bad boy, someone so utterly unlike my user parents. I… well, I don’t think I really flirted back, but I certainly didn’t stop his advances. I was a little socially awkward then—I had only been with one person, and between then and now I had managed to ignore or avoid people that might take a romantic interest in me. It hadn’t protected me from my customers, and so I found his roguishness appealing, and… I don’t know.

It took me about three weeks before I realized that he wasn’t trying to fit in with those people: he already did. I guess in my head, those people were guys that always talked about who they hated, and why, and made race-specific judgments when they got out of bed in the mornings, and went to work, and every time in between. Carl was someone who walked and talked like any normal cocky 20-whatever-year-old that I had been around. His ideal world just didn’t include people who debased humanity by becoming more like animals.

liesinwriting: (Default)

Author's note: Woo hoo. Have some words. Have some story. Have so, you know, dancing dinosaur at a club. Because why not?



Corey (continued)

One lesson learned that day: Jamie was not a lightweight. I mean, okay, he didn’t exactly drink a lot. But he did go through four Patrón margaritas without showing any signs whatsoever. By that point I was starting to focus on my own behavior, making sure I didn’t do or say stupid things. It only worked marginally well.

Over the course of a month I gradually came to like Jamie. Parsing his strange language had led to a deeper understanding of the precocious problem-solving mechanism operating in his drug-bathed brain. It was surprisingly efficient, not at all what had happened to my parents.

More than that, he was non-threatening. Despite his size, the fact that he looked like a wolf, I felt no more uncomfortable around him than I did around Tamlin. Less so, in fact. When I burned my hand frying mushrooms he was right there with a cool cloth and a first aid kit. And okay, so he had to pick his fur out of the wound, and the cloth was actually his bath towel, but it was the kind of thing Tamlin would have done after mocking or hitting me.

Don’t misunderstand: I know he’s abusive. But he’s also the closest thing I had to a brother or real father.

 

Tamlin invited us to a party. Jamie had to be persuaded, and then convinced that his jeans were good enough for this kind of party. Though I didn’t know exactly what kind of party it was. I had been to a Tamlin party in the past. It was… well, to be honest, I don’t remember how it was. The dino and his friends know how to party. I know how to drink. I’m sure we all had fun. I woke up on my own couch, with Tamlin snoring in the other one. A feather-covered dino rustling to hungover snores is one of the funniest things I have ever seen. I recall that whenever Tamlin pulls his alpha male bullshit.

Jamie had taken the tasp right before we left; it was obvious even though he said nothing about it. He got a faraway look, and walked a little like a zombie, keeping perfect pace with us without once looking at where we were going.

Where we were going was a club in the city center called DL. To get there we had to walk down Gate Avenue, past the crowd, past the holes in the ground that construction crews and their equipment crawled into and out of daily, like termites, digging away at the city’s foundation in an effort to accommodate the impressive amount of people that had seen the experimental city’s success and wanted in on it. Skyscrapers towered over us as we walked, reaching almost disturbingly high. It was a true wonder that they couldn’t even compete with the Tower, which, true to its name, lorded over the city. Twice we had to detour for construction.

DL was the kind of place I wouldn’t have gone without Tamlin: three stories, with an opening in the center that let you see all three levels at once. Sound nets strung across the openings in the floor damped the sound so much it would have been eerie had each floor not had its own DJ to compensate. The effect was still bizarre: the people on different levels were all dancing to different music. I thought it was a bit impractical. But there was no denying that it was cool.

Tamlin’s friends were a weird bunch of people. Whenever I asked what they did, they inevitably responded with “Tour guide, Corey!” I didn’t exactly know how they all knew my name, but that didn’t stop me from sliding a mean glance or two Tamlin’s way. They to a one looked athletic, like they spent their days doing whatever and their nights at the gym. I did not for a second believe that they were tour guides. Looking at Tamlin, I never once got an impression of innocence. He seemed like that guy that good parents told their children to avoid. You know, the one who seems all right, but might be into some heavy shit. Like they have a whole secret life, and that’s fine as long as it stays a secret. There’s a difference between knowing someone has a secret and knowing exactly what it is.

Tamlin was in his element, and it was a sight to see. Even among his other friends—that’s how I liked to think of them, his “other friends”—he was something of an oddity. With one exception, all the rest looked like pretty standard humans. The exception was a girl (I think) modified to look like a bird. She looked fragile, so thin she’d snap if you ran into her, and her feathered wings being tucked up under themselves didn’t seem practical for things like drinking. The latter problem she solved by simply not drinking anything at all, and the former problem didn’t seem to be a problem. I knew nothing about bird-humans, but I did know their bones were hollow, everything in their bodies tuned lighter. Apparently that didn’t make them weak. Tamlin tossed back his drink, then he and the bird girl cut their way through the club’s second level. Lasers and fog, artfully overdone, further separated our level from the ones below and above. The music pulsed through everything, and even I joined in. We danced nonstop for the better part of

“You should dance,” Tamlin suggested, pulling Jamie out of his seat by his hands. Jamie obliged, protesting the whole time, but eventually he started to get into it. He was very obviously unpracticed, but that didn’t make his haphazard gyrations any less fun to watch. In a sea of standard humans, Jamie towered above most of them. He was attracting attention, too, though I seriously doubt he noticed. He didn’t seem to be able to focus on anything that moved… and boy, could he move….

At some point I realized I was staring. Lucky for me, Tamlin sliding back into the booth provided something to draw my attention away from the gyrating wolf on the dance floor. “So,” he breathed, feathers puffing up and down. “Enjoying yourself so far?” He wasn’t able to sweat, so he got rid of excess heat the same way a dog did: panting. Thankfully, his tongue didn’t loll all over while he did. I found myself wondering if Jamie’s tongue lolled when he panted, then stopped wondering that immediately.

liesinwriting: (Default)

Author's note: I'm really late posting this one. My excuse is I was at a friend's apartment losing at 2v2 Halo and scraping by at 2v2 Super Smash Bros (as in the N64 version, which is the only real version).



2.

Tamlin

Big Bad Wolf Boy has no spine. He just sits in his room day after day and stares at the ceiling, and sometimes out the window right past me, eyes sliding off like my sky blue feathers are covered in oil. I wish I knew what he is seeing. Tasp gives us clarity, or more accurately gives us the impression of clarity. It’s a little like other drugs: it affects the way your brain processes information. The photons hitting the retina are not necessarily the photons that your brain registers.

When we first met I watched him, and he took the tasp and then sat there. Like he sits there now. His habits have not changed. This one time he came back in a new coat, this huge leather deal that made him look like he regularly got into fights with socs behind the local drugstore. It looked good on him, but he only wore it that one time. It’s remained in his closet, beneath the empty backpack.

“I have a secret,” I say to the closed window. Big Bad Wolf Boy doesn’t respond, or even acknowledge my presence. I slip away, up the fire escape.

I have six minutes to get to 7th and Gate. Arm over arm, up and onto the roof.

City streets are narrow pedestrian thoroughfares that flash beneath me as I leap from building to building. Sometimes I use the fire escapes or scaffolds, but those make too much noise, and the scaffolds aren’t particularly suited to jumping. Where I can, I grab brick and stone. One of the office buildings has a loose piece that nearly killed me the first time I leapt onto it. Would have crashed to the ground below, killed some people there, maybe. They should fix it before it falls off naturally or another runner takes it badly and boom, crash, there goes the neighborhood and one of my best shortcuts. I would leave them an anonymous note, but then they’d wonder and probably watch the roof. Top running is illegal. They’d be within their legal rights to shoot me. Me, I don’t carry a gun. Obvious reasons. If I get caught for anything, possession of a firearm can only make it worse.

My clients are one block over somewhere, I bet that’s them there: the touristy ones, with the backpack and the shirt that says Paraíso in big blocky letters. Nobody who lives here would be caught dead in a shirt blaring our city’s name all over. It’s just tacky.

I descend in an alley. I have found that people are generally uncomfortable with a dino descending on them from on high. It makes them all nervous and unhelpful. Sometimes that’s what I’m after. Sometimes not.

I stalk out of the alley and zero in on the visiting couple. They stand almost directly below the sign with “PARADISE TOURS” marching across its marquee, eyes on the tops of the buildings like they’ve never seen anything so tall before. The crowd is so great that I am able to get within a meter of the woman without her noticing. I say, “Enjoying the view?”

She jumps, then jumps again when she sees me. The man puts his arm protectively around her and says, “Can we help you?” with the kind of creasing of the eyebrows that indicates a rhetorical question.

I bow, letting my feathers ruffle. “I am Tamlin. I’m your guide to Paradise.”

It takes a moment to sink in. “Oh,” says the woman. “Oh. Really? Okay.” She looks to her husband, who clears his throat and says, “Well then.”

“If this is okay with you?” I say, sliding the “s” beneath the rest of the sentence. I lock eyes with the husband. He looks down, then at his wife. I grin. “Excellent. If you follow me, we’ll start down the historic Gate avenue. I trust you have already walked it at least partway? Of course, it is a famous part of our city, perhaps the most famous part, after the Tower. In fact, it was just down this road here—mind the construction there—no, this is actually an access hatch. We’re in the process of constructing a second level below the sewers, so it will be about thirty meters down. Yes, that’s right, it’s an incredible utilization of vertical space. If you look here, it was right there where—”

*

Corey

I guess he got along well enough. I mean, he was a nice guy. It was a little weird living with him, though. You’d hear strange things sometimes, moaning or crying to himself at night, I wasn’t sure which he was doing or why. Jamie got along really well at the shop. We never worked the same shifts; Rian said that would have defeated the purpose of hiring two employees. It was a small business, and he needed at least one person there at all times. The most our “professional” paths ever crossed was if he or I showed up five minutes early and the other was still there.

The tension I thought would arise between Jamie and Tamlin was still missing. On the rare occasion I found them in the same room they were amiable enough. So I suppose it didn’t quite surprise me when we all went drinking together. It was a bar called Ronin K., but don’t let the name fool you. It’s actually more pretentious than it sounds. And that’s why I liked it. Your usual post-class students were generally absent. In their place was a more art-conscious, socially-aware group of people who pretended a disdain for the majority of people that I quite frankly found endearing.

One lesson learned that day: Jamie was not a lightweight. I mean, okay, he didn’t exactly drink a lot. But he did go through four Patrón margaritas without showing any signs whatsoever. By that point I was starting to focus on my own behavior, making sure I didn’t do or say stupid things.

liesinwriting: (Default)

Author's note: More than a week has passed since I began writing this story. I was so young back then. I remember the days...

Enjoy.




Jamie (continued)

When I step in Rian greets me with a simple nod and a “What’s up?” I tell him I am ready to begin, and he just looks at me for a moment, face a serious mask. “Are you sure? This job requires focus, and determination. There are a lot of intricacies to working in a head shop that most people don’t understand. They think it’s all fun and games, but it’s really not. You got to be on your A-game. You sure you’re ready for this kind of gig?” Then his mouth breaks into a grin. “I’m just messing with you. Come on back and grab a jay, and I’ll show you the ropes.”

I don’t laugh, but I don’t think he cares. I think I am going to like my job. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. Now this here’s the credit register. You know how to use it?”

“Never have.”

“Well, let’s play for a bit.”

For the next hour he shows me the store. The extra pieces are stored in the back, the code to unlock the register. He gives me a key—“Hey, if you’re working here, I don’t gotta be, right?” He strides and sways through the store with a kind of familiarity that begets abandon, always with the terminal obscuring his eye. I think he looks like a pirate and I tell him so. “Nah, man. I think my great-great-grandfather might have been part Somalian, though. Me, I’m purebred, one-hundred-percent American-Irish.”

When the tour finishes he steps out back for a break. I still have the joint he offered me. It sits in my pocket. I brush my fingers along it, wondering how my life could have been different. In theory it is not hard to imagine. But I cannot seem to settle on particulars. The tasp affects physiology. Certain doors are now closed. Others have been unlocked. I can run farther and faster. I eat more than I used to—or I would if I had money. I am very hungry most of the time. Physically, I have changed as well. When I was thirteen, my finger got caught in the back side of a car door. My father was beside himself with shame, but did not have enough money to afford a replacement. My days of throwing curveballs were behind me.

Then a friend told me about the tasp, about what it did.

The first thing I did after the change—once I could stand on two feet again—was streak one around our building’s satellite dish. It broke a window.

So many things were available now that weren’t before. Rarely is the tasp not enough.

Three boys saunter through the door. They are dressed like the kids in myold school who used to—

*

James

—Well fuck me, it is them. It’s the very same ones. How delightful. I wonder what they’re doing here? Expanding their empire of misery, perhaps. I find it difficult to imagine that they came to the city looking for a better life than the one they had terrifying hapless high school kids in the middle of Joliet.

The tall one in front—Carl, orbited by twin moons Lasker and Baruda—looks around this shop like he’s seen better but it’ll do. The two behind him, his henchmen, two steps behind like always, are both larger ’round the waist and head area than their fearless leader.

Tall-and-Mighty gives me a look, and it’s so adorable, like a Chihuahua having a stare-down with a tornado.

“The fuck is this.” His henchmen leer. I stare at him. Hold eye contact. It’s not hard. All it requires is a change in perception. How you look at the world is shaped by a filter between what is there and what you think you are seeing. I remember this little stain from between classes, from the dumpsters out back, from the ice rink and the dumpster behind that. I remember looking up at him. Now I see him differently. He’s a piece of meat, like all of us. His bigness comes from his swagger and self-perception.

Which is funny. Because he’s such a little fucker now.

“Didn’t know they let bitches work here.” He swaggers in my direction, taking his time. Scoping the competition, innit? What if I jump across the counter and bite out his throat? But I probably won’t. “What say you, bitch?” he asks. “You humped all the pipes yet? Is there a single piece of glass in here your disgusting dog dick hasn’t touched? I don’t even want to know what’s in this carpet.”

Chuckles from the peanut gallery. Cue the laugh track. I grin. He stops, his own grin falters.

*

Jamie

And there is no way that is happening. I don’t want James anymore.

Grinning used to be a reflex. I did it when I was nervous. I did it the first time he asked for my computer, so he could “do his homework.” Big mistake. I feel the grin start to loosen, and my face fall. What I feel now is… irrational. There is no way he recognizes me. But my question still comes out of a child’s mouth. “C-can I help you?”

“I don’t need no dog food.”

Nothing he says is important. None of it is relevant. But still, his two friends laugh at all of it. It confused me before, when I was first learning how bullies work, when I thought leaders had to be intelligent. But that is false. They just need to be persuasive.

Rian is out back, smoking or doing something else. I cannot leave the store with customers to go get him. And that would look weak. I cannot show weakness to these people.

And they came to a store. They must want to buy something. So I say again, “Can I help you?”

“What are you, autistic?” Carl looks to Lasker, the slightly larger one of his cohorts. “Isn’t your sister autistic?”

“No.” Lasker looks uncomfortable.

Carl shrugs. “Whatever. This place is fucked, ain’t got what we need. We don’t need no animals serving us. What happened to the American who used to work here? You eat him?” Somehow he’s come all the way up to the counter without me noticing. Now he’s right in front of me, leaning onto the countertop, staring up at me, head cocked to the side.

I take a half step back and immediately regret it.

His smile widens. “You did, didn’t you? Sick fuck. Come on, let’s blow.” He backs off, still swaggering, then turns. His cohorts follow him. Out the door. Away. Somewhere.

I jump at the hand that settles shakily on my shoulder. “You okay?” Rian asks. He looks concerned, the end of a roach still between his lips. And I realize his hand is not shaking. My shoulder is.

“I am fine,” I say. He just looks at me, and I know that he does not believe it. But he does not contradict me. Instead he simply drops the roach into the trash can and says, “I’m gonna go unpack the Tower Sixes. We just got four in. Figure they get the seat of honor, what do you think?”

The rest of my shift passes without incident. During my break, I step out back and make short work of the joint.


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