User:Jetfire/Six Furries and a Wedding

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Works by Jetfire on Shifti

Six Furries and a Wedding

Author: Jetfire

Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's almost midnight local time, and we've been on the road for about two hours. We're just coming up on the big Irving Truck Stop outside of Riviere-de-Loup (which actually has at least one wolf morph now, from what I hear) where we'll be stopping for gas and changing drivers en route to southern Ontario for my cousin's wedding.

When mom and I got back from Vegas last August, the invitations had been waiting for us in the mail. My cousin was finally going to marry his girlfriend (and the mother of their now two year old toddler). All things considered, I couldn't really spare the vacation time to go, but there was no way I was going to miss it, nor would my parents miss it. So we made our plans and we are driving all night to get there in time.

The day of the trip has arrived. I finished my day at work, and mom picked me up (and teased me about regrowing my beard). We grabbed my gear from my apartment and were off.

In an ideal world, we would have picked dad up and been on the road then. But as I've said before, 'easy' and my family do not work well together. In this case, it was dad's second job as a Bingo caller that got in the way. He was easily able to get a replacement caller for his shifts on Saturday and Sunday, but he had to call on Thursday.

So, instead of hitting the road after a brief stop at home, we pulled into the Eagle's Nest to kill the evening until dad was done. As usual the wave of smoke knocked me back for a moment. No matter how much I try to mentally prepare myself, it always hits me hard when I walk into the building. I took a moment to recompose myself and rushed to catch up to mom, hooves clicking on the vinyl tiles.

"Hey Jean, Hello Joey," Cathy, the woman in charge of the sales desk greeted us as we walked into the hall. "You two all set for the wedding?"

"We'll be all set once you set Mac free," Mom shot back with a grin.

Cathy reached over and took a hold of dad's arm, where he was sitting selling specials before the game. "Nope! You can't have him! We've got him till the Jackpot's done, and not a minute sooner." Dad laughed a bit, finishing the sale with one of the regulars.

"Well then lets get some books and maybe he'll toss that jackpot our way," mom said, getting in line. Their banter had no malice. If dad had really wanted tonight off, he could have gotten it. But he didn't want to impose too much on the hall's other callers. I take after him a lot in that respect.

Mom left her sheets at the table and went off to the machines. I took my own seat and leaned back a bit, a hunger gnawing at my stomachs. I checked the time and sighed; it was too late to go out to any place that had salads or anything else substantial that I liked. My gaze shifted to the snack bar and I pondered if I wanted the grease load from fries or rings.

"Excuse me. Are you aware that these tables have been reserved?" a voice jolted my attention from my musing.

I glanced down the table at the dabbers lined up to hold people's seats. "Yes, I know, this is where my ma-" I started to answer before my look-around brought the speaker into view.

She was short and stout, but a muscular stout. She was covered in bristly gray fur, save for black and white markings on her cheeks and around her eyes, A white stripe started at the top of her muzzle and went over the top of her forehead, ending at the base of her neck. Like all changed, she was well rebuilt now, big, but a healthy, muscular and very nice looking build. She wore a red polo shirt with the eagle's nest logo on the breast, and black work pants. An apron loaded with specials was wrapped around her waist.

I did a double take to see who else was in earshot and lowered my voice. "I didn't know we had another in town yet. I'm Mac's son, Joey," I said.

Her eyes widened a moment, and she pulled out the chair next to me. "Joey? But Erma said you were a cat, a girl cat at that. I'm Sarah by the way."

The way she spoke, she knew me before she changed, but that didn't mean much. Thanks to mom and dad, all the workers here knew me, along with many of the players. But given how rarely I actually came in, combined with my horrible head for names, I couldn't place her pre-change face. Not that it mattered; I was used to playing conversations by ear. "I changed again, my third time. It doesn't usually happen, but I seem to have more luck with the Change than I do with dad calling."

She nodded slowly and I shifted my mental mode to 'Change Helper'. "How are you handling it? I don't remember seeing you on the lists. Do you know about them?"

"Yeah, Erma told me about them, and you, when she first saw me a few weeks ago." She sighed and looked around a bit before facing me. "It was rough for me. I live with my parents, so they watched me through the flu. But then I woke up like this, only with longer claws. I swear, they felt like they were a foot long."

She indicated herself, and I noticed the claws on her fingers, trimmed back, but still the longest claws I'd ever seen on any fur.

"I milked the flu for the rest of the day and most of Saturday, but then mom had to come in. I didn't want her to of course, considering how I looked, but she insisted on it. And she didn't even bat an eye over how I looked. I was too surprised by her lack of surprise about me to realize she was chewing me out for tearing my sheets and the top of my mattress.

"She tried to force me back to work, but I lied and said I was going when I wasn't. If they were home, I would hide in the woods. If they weren't, I stayed home and tried to cope. The claws are the worst; they tear through paper like crazy and make holding stuff hard. I managed to file these things down to a more manageable level, but they're still a major pain.

"By the start of September, I was beginning to accept that no one could see me as me, but I didn't know what to do. That's when word finally reached mom that I wasn't really going to work, and she laid the Ultimatum down. Go to work, or go out on the street.

"So with no other choice, I went back to work here on Labour Day weekend. Watching the game rooms was easy enough, but selling... let's just say I mysteriously ripped more than my share of cards.

"That night, I met Erma, and she filled me in on everything that 'the nice cat-girl that comes in sometimes with Jean' told her. Took me a few more days before I realized she was talking about you."

She looked at me puzzled. "So if you're a goat, who was the cat she saw?"

"That was me too. As I said before, this is my third Change, the cat was my second furry form, and this was my first," I explained again.

"Oh, I see. So you were a girl?... Weird... Anyways, I would have gotten in touch but between work, and college and everything else, I haven't had time to get a hold of you. I think I was hoping you'd come up sometime anyways."

I listened to her story in watched her, trying to tell how well she was handling it. It was hard to tell, but the badger seemed to be doing fine enough now, but it was clear she had had a rough month before. I wished I could have found out about her before now though.

"I probably should have come up Labour Day weekend, but after a week with mom at the start of August, and handling the aftermath of the 17th, I just needed to take the weekend for myself and try to reground myself. Spent the weekend away from the Change boards, playing games and just doing normal things. I'm almost wishing I had come up now though."

"Nah, it's no big deal. I knew you would make your way up here eventually, and Erma was a huge help for me, especially explaining what was going on. I hadn't even realized our footprints were visible until she pointed them out to me."

I smiled and shrugged. "Still, every time we find someone who slipped through our nets for a bit, I feel guilty about it. I'm glad you've managed to keep your head through it though, and seem to be adapting well."

"Didn't have much choice but to adapt, especially since mom said she's charging me for a new mattress. I need more practice clipping my claws though; I brought some of them too close." she flicked her fingers and winced. We both looked around and noticed some of the tables were beginning to give us dirty looks. "I'd better get back to work." she said.

"No problem, I need to go get some food anyways, before my stomachs rebel against me. Considering they outnumber me, a rebellion isn't a good thing."

She looked puzzled. "They out number you?"

"Goats are ruminant, like cows," I explained and waved, trotting quickly to join the line at the snack bar.

I carried a tray with a chocolate shake, fries, a basket of nachos and their assorted sauces back to my table. The smell alone seemed like enough to clog my veins, but my stomachs overruled any later health concerns. They needed something to keep my internal engine going, and they were demanding it now.

I was grazing through my meal when I saw a familiar figure being wheeled into the hall. "Hi Erma," I waved to her and smiled.

Her daughter waved to me, but the gray hare looked at me, puzzled. "Do I know you?"

"Sure you do, it's Joey. Jean's son," I reintroduced myself.

She flicked her ears, and tilted her head from side to side, clearly puzzled. "Noooo," she started slowly. "I know Jo. She's a cute kitty. Nothing like you."

I smiled at her daughter who was unpacking the dabbers for her parents. She caught my eye and rolled her own eyes, smiling as well. In the few visits to the hall I had made since discovering Erma had changed, she had never been able to get the pronouns right for me. The first few times were embarrassing, but afterwards, it had become a bit of a joke on the tables At least she had only usually called me a cat once a night.

"It's the goatee. It really Changed my look in August when I regrew it. But I assure you Erma, I am Joey. Remember how I got you that help to get your meds sorted out?" I explained tapping my bracelet.

Erma looked puzzled and her daughter put a hand on her arm. "It is Joey, mom. He just looks a bit different."

Erma shook her head and put a hand on her daughters. "If you say so deary. Why don't you go get our books?"

"Sure mom."

Her daughter went over to join the line buying books. I waited until Erma's husband limped away to the washroom and trotted over to the hare. "It is Joey. I changed back to what I was originally... well what I was after my first change," I explained to her, taking the seat next to her wheelchair.

"So the kitty is gone? A shame, she was nice."

"The kitty form is gone, but I am what she was. I'll be just as nice to you as she was."

She reached a paw out and touched my thick fingers. "I know you will. I can tell how you speak."

"I saw Sarah. She told me how you helped her out." I told her.

"Sarah? Oh yes. Poor dear; she was dreadfully confused when I saw her, and even more when she saw me. She tried to avoid me at first, until I flagged her down. But I didn't do all that much. I just told her what Jo told me and tried to be a friendly furry face for her." she wiggled her nose and smiled at me.

I grinned back. "Believe me, that means a lot when you don't know what is going on." I looked up and saw dad moving to the machine. I checked the time and stood up. "I need to go get mom from the machines. Good luck tonight."

She giggled. "I've got four rabbits feet. I'm pretty sure I have enough luck. But good luck to you too."

I patted her paw and grinned. "Thanks Erma."

I'll have to remember to get her to wish me good luck again next time. She cleared a door prize ticket and two regular games herself, and I walked out with one of the specials. It wasn't the jackpot, but a few hundred bucks in cash is nice to have when you're traveling.

We stopped at home for mom and dad to get their stuff. I stole a few apples and the bag of baby carrots from their fridge to pad out the greasy mass in my stomach. Some of the grease was already coming back up and I was not liking the taste a second time.

Anyways, we're pulling into the truck stop now. Dad's going to drive the next leg and mom's gonna sleep in the back, which gives me shotgun. I'll be trying to get some sleep before my turn at the wheel.


Friday, September 21, 2007

Ugh, I'm never going to go that hungry again. I'm not all that sure I want to drive again to be honest.

The first challenge was trying to sleep in a car. Sleeping when you're human is hard enough. Try it with your head on a pillow against the door, horns clicking against the window every bump you go over. It ain't nice.

Still, I managed to doze off and woke up when we pulled off the highway and into a town south of Drummondville. It was a sleepy little place, but like many highway towns, it had a nest of highway services (A couple of 24 hour gas stations, a Tim's, McD's and a hotel in this case). Dad pulled into the Tim's (where else?) so we could get snacks and I could take over driving. Annoyingly, it was about half an hour too early to get a breakfast. I got what I could to fill the annoying hole in my gut and soon we were on the road again, heading into Montreal.

Montreal traffic is a zoo, even before most of the city changed. Coming in before dawn and staying on the highways for the most part helped a bit, but I nervously crunched through the bag of carrots long before we got to the island proper. Dad woke up enough to make sure I took the right exits to skirt the most notorious traffic jam spots. With his guidance, we made surprisingly good time through the city, getting to the far side of the city core before the Friday morning rush hour started in force.

An hour or so later we were approaching the border with Ontario. The sky was lightening up with dawn, the sun just peeking over the horizon behind us. I stayed in the fast lane, chewing slowly and watching the highway. I knew we were only a few klicks from the border, with the truck stop just on the other side, so I was pushing myself to get there. I swear, I only blinked, and the next thing I knew, there was a rumbling and dad was pulling on the wheel. I bleated in surprise and took my hoof off the gas even as dad kept pulling on the wheel and shouting "Don't brake!". Chest high grass was being mowed down by the front of the SUV.

An eternity later, we were parked on the side of the road, my hands clenched to the wheel, heart pounding, staring straight ahead. I felt exhausted, but too wired up to do anything. Behind us, tracks through the grass median showed where I'd drifted off the road and then back on.

"Are you okay, Joe?" dad asked me, staring at me.

"What happened?" mom asked blearily, waking up in the back seat.

"We're fine. Everything's all right," dad assured her.

I barely heard what he said. "I was just trying to get to the border. Get to the big stop over there. I didn't mean to," I mumbled, my breathing slowing down. Finally I managed to unbuckle and climb out of the car, my legs shaking almost too much for me to stand on my hooves. I faintly heard dad reassure mom again before he got out, being careful of the traffic. He gave me a few minutes while he checked the front of the vehicle, pulling the grasses out from the bumper and grill and away from the front tires. I turned my back to the car and grabbed a handful of grasses, stuffing them in my mouth. They tasted horrible, having the bitter taste of grass mixed with the smog and other pollutants from the highway, but they did calm me a little.

I moved around to the back of the car and crouched down, looking under and reaching down to pull the grass from the wheel well and around the axles.

"Everything looks fine, I think. Technically, it's designed for this sort of thing, right?" I said, trying to lighten the situation a bit.

Dad nodded and peeked under as well. "Right, it should be fine. Are you okay? You should've told us if you were getting tired."

"I wasn't that tired. I just didn't have enough to keep me up. I should've had the radio on or the window open or something, but I didn't want to disturb you guys. I was just trying to get to the border," I said, babbling a bit.

He pulled the last few grass stems from under the car and stood up. "Lets get back on the road and to the station so we can take a closer look."

I hugged the side of the car and waited for a lull in the early morning traffic before opening my door and climbing in. Dad got in the driver's seat and looked at me. "Don't worry about it, no harm done."

"I know, I know."

We were about twenty klicks from the truck stop. I tried my best to stay awake the entire time, feeling guilty for having dozed off and forcing dad to drive again so soon. Mom had barely woken through the incident, but she woke up enough at the truck stop to stretch and be filled in on what happened.

I trotted into the restaurant and used the washroom and freshen up as much as I could. I grabbed a few salads and went back to look over the car while mom and dad were inside. There was still grass in the undercarriage which I tried to pull free, but there were no liquids dripping other than water from the condenser. I sighed and leaned against the car and munched one of the salads, berating myself for dozing off.

Mom came out and put her hand on my arm, to comfort me. "It's ok. That's a really hard time of the day to drive in. No harm done."

"I know, I know," I said, leaving it at that.

Dad took over driving from there for a stint, getting us a good chunk of the way to Toronto. I tried to keep awake at first but found myself dozing more and more. I couldn't help looking at the median of the highway every so often and shuddering, thankful it had been a grassy median I took us off-roading in, and not the rocky ones we were getting into now. I finally dozed off, barely stirring when mom took over, and sleeping until we pulled off the highway outside Toronto for lunch.

I dozed off and on after we got through the big city, but I was wide awake as we passed Cambridge. We were just outside of my old university stomping grounds, and I was eager to see how the cities had changed since I left. Since it was only mid afternoon, we had plenty of time to swing in for a visit.

I was practically bouncing from side to side in the car as we drove up University avenue. Overall, everything was as I remembered it, a few stores closed, a few new ones opened, but the basics all still there. Judging by the crowds at the bus stops and the number of buses we saw going up and down the avenue, it looked like City Transit (in whatever name it was under now) had finally clued in that providing services for a few thousand seasonal people who likely did not have vehicles, would be a good idea..

We crested a hill near Wilfred Laurier University, and the Sugar Cube (Waterloo's ten story cubical arts library) came into view, and I felt like I was home. Five years of wandering that campus came back to me in a flash. I wished we could have spent the day there, but I had to be satisfied with the couple of hours we could spare.

We pulled onto the campus and found a parking spot in the lot across from South Campus Hall. This early in the school term, the book store in the Hall was still packed with people getting and returning text books. The UW Shop on the other hand, was much more humane. We browsed a bit, but disappointedly, we didn't find anything that caught our eye this time.

I grabbed an Imprint (Student newspaper) on the way out and asked dad to drive around the Ring Road, just to get a look of the rest of the campus. For the most part, it was as I remembered, other than the new co-op building next to the South Campus Hall. Construction on that building had started when I graduated, and now five years later, they were already expanding it. Needles Hall (Needless Hell) still looked the same, but it's true hellishness was only visible from the inside where the various university administration offices lurked.

"Pull in here!" I shouted, pointing to the small parking lot between the Student Life Center and the Physical Activities Complex. I had just caught the signs in time. The poster company was on campus this week. While I was at university, that company had gotten a lot of my cash both in posters for myself, and posters that now adorned mom's classroom walls. I had half-hoped they would be here when we went by so mom could pick out some for herself, and for once, ROB was on our side. We found a spot in the small parking lot (by using grandpa's handicap card *shhhh* ), and I lead my parents into the SLC.

The wall of noise and smells nearly knocked me right back out of the building. When I was human, the smells of concentrated college life: stale coffee, burnt popcorn, food from Brubakers, alcohol from the Bombshelter and especially the stench of unwashed tired students; had been strong enough. Now, they hit me with more force than I imagined possible. It forced me to lean against the bus maps set up in the entrance, until I could get a grip on my senses.

Mom looked at me, and smiled, misunderstanding my hesitation. "Overwhelmed by the memories?" she asked.

I panted a bit and turned my head to snort. "Something like that," I answered and managed to tune down most of the smells. "They'll be set up this way."

I lead them into the center of the hall where the displays were set up, and showed mom how to fill in the forms to pick up any posters she wanted. I then wandered around, checking out the posters for any I wanted as well, partly curious to see if any would reveal some true furries. (Not this time)

My wandering didn't go far. On a corkboard on the wall next to one the poster displays, was a sign with WATFUR in large letters on it.

I resisted the urge to rip the sign off and instead just read it.


WATFUR

A Sleeping Sickness, Ivory Coast variant support group.

Visit www.watfur.uwaterloo.ca for more information.

or email watfur@clubs.uwaterloo.ca

Our offices: UW Student Life Centre, SLC 2122 (Clubs Room #15)


"I've got to see this," I mumbled to myself, heading to the door to the stairs to the club rooms.

The door to the stairs closed behind me, isolating me from the noises and the smells of the main building. I stood their a moment, listening and taking a deep breath. The smells were familiar, bringing back more memories. The old book smells coming from the WATSFIC offices, mingling with the Asian incense and spices smells from the Chinese students association, and others. One smell in particular stood out to me, fresh enough to still be around. I trotted slowly up the stairs and through the propped open door, looking down a hallway of closed office doors. Only one was open, the source of the scent.

"Fe! Fi! Fo! Fum! I smell the scent of a furried one!" I shouted out, walking down the hall.

There was a creak of a chair and a thump from the open office. Wheels squealed and a furry face with large ears peeked out of the room about waist level, ears and nose twitching at Mach speed. He had gray fur, but there were black blotches on the back of his head that didn't seem natural. The mouse morph saw my belly first, then tilted his head up to my face and relaxed.

"Hi there, Joey Ford. Mathie Class of '01, Furry class of '05," I introduced myself, holding out my hand.

The mouse blinked and took the offered hand. "Don't DO that. You damn near gave me a heart attack. Keith Brodie, Artsie undergrad, and I guess furry class of '06." He hesitated a moment then continued. "And Secretary and office minion of WATFUR."

"Bah! That was tame. Considering what WATSFIC and CTRL-A and others have done through the years, a shout like that wouldn't even turn heads." I grinned at him and peeked past him into the office.

It was one of the smaller ones, barely the size of my cubical at work. They were obviously still setting up. The desk only had an old computer on it, a solitaire game half finished on its screen. The bookshelves were nearly empty, save for a couple of medical text books at eye level, probably just for show, and another pile tucked down on the lower shelves, almost hidden by the desk. The spines I could see identified them as a mixture of animal identification books, grooming guides and veterinary books. I could pick up about three unique animal scents in the room, but only the mouse's was fresh.

The mouse wheeled back deeper into the office and faced me, recovering from his surprise. "So what brings you up here?"

I grinned and leaned against the door jamb. The room was way too small for two people, even if one was a mouse. "I was passing through the university, and saw your sign downstairs. Decided to see if anyone was up here."

"You know the offices?" Kieth asked.

"Sure do. Spent many an hour reading comics in there, as a WATSFIC office minion," I explained, tapping the wall between office 15 and 16. The Sci Fi club's offices were the next one over. "So what is WATFUR? At least what is it publicly?"

"It's something like 'Waterloo Awakens To Face Unique Realities' or something like that. We made up the saying after we decided on the name. We started up last September, intending to have it be fur only, but there weren't enough of us yet. So last January we expanded to let Knowns in, and that gave us just enough to qualify as a Feds club. We didn't get the office till this month."

"Yeah, it looks a bit sparse still. How many of you are you?"

The mouse grinned proudly. "We started with just four furs. Now we're up to ten furs, and twice as many Known. Mainly people with family who changed, or roommates who changed and so on. We're affiliated with groups at Laurier, Guelph, U of T, and with the general K-W/Cambridge/Guelph group too."

"Not Western?" I asked, smirking knowingly.

He flicked his claws as if he was snapping. "Oh yeah, they're involved too. I keep forgetting about them," he grinned in a way that made it clear there was no forgetfulness involved.

We fell silent a moment, ears twitching as we heard the doors below opened. I stepped into the office to let another student by, watching him head to the larger club room at the end of the hall. "So what do you guys do generally?"

"Just as the sign said, we try to support the Furries around here. Start of term, we blanket the bulletin boards with our club sign to try and get any new furs. And each month we're trying to arrange a gathering of the Changed in the region, alternating between sites in Laurier and here. Otherwise we are just around, in case anyone starts stressing out and needs a release, or if they just want to talk openly. Surprisingly, now that we have the Known involved, they seem to need our support more than the Changed do."

I pondered that a moment, thinking to my own limited experiences. "That doesn't seem all that surprising. We Changed are effectively living a double life, some of us even a triple life with all the stresses and strains that brings, but we can see who we can turn to for help, and we know the Field is there to cover us when we slip. Well it's there most of the time.

"The Known on the other hand, they have been trusted with one of the biggest modern secrets out there. They can't tell anyone; who would believe them anyways?; and they can't easily tell who they CAN safely talk to about it. And on top of that, they have the background strains of wondering if this will be the year they change, and all the doubts that brings with it. What will they become? Will they like it? Will they still be them? What if they change sex? What if they don't change? It's not an easy burden we lay on them,"

Keith nodded. "Yeah that makes sense. In any case, we try to grab the new comers each term as fast as we can find them, and arrange a the get togethers, inviting other community changed to swell our numbers. And we keep an especially close watch during the Spring Term's exam session."

"Why then?... Oh yeah, I guess Change Day hits right during that exam period."

"Bingo. We made sure we had fresh posters up in August, and caught an Engie just as he changed. Got him briefed and settled fast enough to finish or reschedule his exams and save his term. In the years to come it'll be more and more of a problem, I'm sure."

I nodded and flicked my ear, turning to watch the student leave the other club room and walk past us, waiting for them to go out of earshot. I noticed from the guy's t-shirt he was a math frosh. I grinned. "Frosh week in the years to come is really going to get interesting."

The mouse shared my grin. "Oh yeah. We don't quite have the critical mass yet to do the really fun events, but in a year or two we'll be getting enough furry frosh to start doing a few events at least. We're already brainstorming ideas for them.

"In the mean time, we're slipping in a few furry items into the faculty and residence events," he smirked and went silent for a moment.

"Oh come on, you can't leave it at that. What did you guys do?"

He leaned back a bit in his chair. "Well, we got two Changed frosh this year, a feline from '05 like you, and an otter that changed this year. The residence frosh events were doing some water events out in Columbia lake, diving, laps, sprints, that sort of thing. Needless to say, the otter smoked them big time. She's already been recruited for just about every aquatic team we've got, and a few we didn't have before she got here. That was one of the unintentional furry events."

"What we actually put in were some of the SCUNT targets to find. Like the tracks from a two legged deer, and a living, breathing Mickey Mouse."

"The otter tracked me down for the Mickey Mouse, and convinced me, after adequate application of alcohol, to put temporary black dye on my head and dress me up as Mickey. I'm not all that sure what people saw when they presented me and my Mickey impression. It was very late, there was a lot of alcohol involved, but in the end, we scored partial points for that discovery from the Scunt Gods. Said I was more of a Keith Mouse than a Mickey Mouse."

"The cat's team in the mean time found Lisa, our treasurer who's a white tail. They filled a tray full of mud and brought her and the tray to the Scunt Gods some time after my performance, and had her walk through the mud in front of the Gods. Full points were awarded."

I boggled at the thought of what they were doing and shook my head. "And the Field held? How the hell could it hold?"

The mouse grinned and scratched at a black patch on the back of his head. "As I said, fatigue and alcohol were involved, both in large quantities. There was so much chaos going on, that no one really remembers clearly what happened. Plus, it didn't hurt that two of the Scunt Gods are Known too."

I groaned and leaned against the wall. Mentally, I recalculated my personal list of 'Known Threats to the Veil' and pushed 'University Students' to the top with a star. "I'm almost scared to ask, but was there anything else?"

The mouse scratched his chin and thought. "Well, Lisa is a Scientist, and on the SciFrosh committee. So she set up a game of 'Artsie Hunt'. Twenty Artsies, including myself, were given twenty minutes to hide in any science building. We could go anywhere as long as we didn't leave the science buildings and their connectors. Then the SciFrosh were unleashed and sent to find us. She said she was inspired by me, and wanted to do a mouse hunt somehow. Having a cat frosh available was just icing on the cake.

"Andrew, he's the feline frosh, ended up winning the event almost single pawedly. Tracked down five of us artsies, myself included, even though I tried to scatter my scent across three buildings."

I nodded. "Well that wasn't as dangerous at least. You're lucky Lisa isn't a mathie. If she'd done that in the MC building, you guys would still be lost on the sixth floor."

He chuckled and nodded. "You're not the first to say that. Anyways, that's about it, other than Andrew getting stuck in a tree. We had a big bonfire party at Columbia Lake to wrap up Frosh Week, and we, we being WATFUR, dared Andrew to climb as high as he could in one of the pine's they've got there. He got pretty high up, before he realized he wasn't sure how to get back down. Luckily the fire department was on hand to watch the bonfires, so they were able to get him back down."

Keith reached over and minimized the solitaire game and showed the background image of the computer. It was a picture, taken at night but the target was well lit by a spotlight. A fireman in a bucket was rising into view on one corner of the picture, but the main subject of the photo was obviously a lynx morph clinging tightly to a branch that bent dangerously under his weight.

"Oie," I mumbled rubbing my horn bases and shaking my head. I added another mental note to have AT keep a VERY close eye on Richard while he was at Dal. I decided a change of subject was in order before I did something I would regret.

"Well, it looks like you guys are pretty organized out here, especially with the other Universities. I'm living out east now, and I know we've got at least one fur in Dalhousie, and probably more that we haven't beaten out of the woodwork yet. Mind if I put him in contact with you guys, see about expanding this university network to the schools out there?"

"Not at all, got a contact for him?"

I shook my head. "Not on me. Is that computer on the 'net?"

The mouse stood and offered his chair to me. I noticed he was about the same size as Claude was. "Sure, go ahead."

We exchanged places and I quickly brought up familiar sites, jotting down Richard's Dalhousian contact, and my own. I added some of the sites AT and I were maintaining. "Can I just send it to the watfur address? That'll probably be the easiest."

"Yeah that'd work."

I was composing the message when my cell rang. I answered while rereading the message and trying to think of anything else I might want to add. "Hey mom," I said into the phone.

"Joe, where are you? Your father and I have been looking all over for you."

"Sorry mom, met a new friend here and just got caught up in what we were talking about. I'll meet you at the cash machine in a couple of minutes."

I clicked the phone off and clicked send, then logged out and shut down my windows. "Sorry Keith, I really wish I could stay longer, but I've got people waiting for me. It was good to meet you."

We swapped positions in the office again and shook paws. "Good to meet you too. Wish you could have met the others. We've got an optometry student Known who's doing some studies on Changed eye sight as best as she can before she changes. Don't think she's examined any goats yet."

I chuckled. "Well maybe next time I can afford to come up, I'll get an eye exam. I know we've got a 'pine down home who really needs new glasses since he changed, maybe she can help him.

"In any case, I left my contact info, and links to some of our eastern support sites. If you get any East Coaster's or people heading that way for Co-op, feel free to point them our way. I'll make sure they're welcomed."

"Will do. Have a safe trip," Keith called after me as I started walking back to the main floor.

The main space of the SLC didn't hit me as hard now that I knew what to expect. I trotted across the lounge area and saw mom and dad waiting for me. Mom was chatting with one of her old students apparently. I swear, she has a magnet that draws in people who know her, no matter where in the world she is.

Soon enough, we were back on the highway, heading to Chatham. Just past London, we stopped at a rest stop, and I spelled dad at the wheel, feeling much more awake now, but still nervous about driving. I made sure to pick up a few snacks in the McD's, but what I really yearned for was the scents coming from the fields that surrounded the highway. I ate quickly to make sure I'd have a full load of cud ready, and drove us the rest of the way.

We checked into the hotel and got settled in the room. I hopped on-line to take care of some Furry related work, including prodding AT to try and keep a closer eye on the universities near Halifax and a message to Freddie to see if he had any on-sites at UNB or STU coming up. Mom and dad crashed for a few hours.

As night fell, it was obvious that the trip, fatigue and probably the lunch she'd had around Toronto, had taken a toll on mom. She groggily told dad and me to head out to the pre-wedding get together at Chris's, and if there was any leftovers, to bring her some, but not to worry otherwise. We left her to sleep it off, and drove to my grandmother's old house, now my cousin's place.

Cars were lined up up and down the street, making finding a parking spot difficult, but we finally found a slot that we could squeeze into. We walked to the house and into chaos. As dad latter described it, Grandma Ford's house hadn't seen that many people in years.

Chris met us at the top of the stairs as we pulled our shoes off. "Mac! Joe! Glad you could make it," he greeted us. "I managed to save a few pieces of the party sub for you." My nose was already filling me in on the sub's contents and making my stomachs rumble again.

Dad smiled gratefully and moved up to the kitchen to give me more room. I pulled off my crocs and followed him up. "Thanks Chris. Congratulations. Jean wasn't feeling well after the trip, so she's resting tonight."

"I understand. Hopefully she'll make it tomorrow."

"I'm sure she will, she just needs to rest," dad reassured him.

Chris stepped out of the way and pointed to the food on the table. "Well I'm sure you two are starved. Help yourselves."

"Thanks Chris," I said, trotting around him and nodding to the crowd in the living room.

Dad and I grabbed plates and began to prepare our meals. I was pondering how many more peppers and onions to add, when I heard the sound of running in the hall and a squeal of laughter.

"Sounds like Daniel's still awake," I chuckled to dad.

Dad grinned and nodded back, adding some mustard to his sub. "Yeah, he's a bundle of energy. And not shy at all."

The running grew closer then stopped suddenly. I didn't look up, as I was loading up my plate with some chips. I heard someone take a deep breath, and let out the word heard around the world, or at least around the house.

"GOAT!"

I swear I died right then and there, heart stopping from the second major shock of the day.

"GOAT!"

I realized I hadn't died yet, but now I really wished I had died. People in the living room were looking towards me curiously.

"GOAT! GOAT!"

Only luck kept my plate from tipping over. Slowly, my ears swiveled to the source of the shout followed by my eyes. The source was a short black furred monkey, who was bouncing from hand-like foot to hand-like foot. He pointed right at me and repeated himself "GOAT! GOAT! GOAT! GOAT!"

I stood there. I wanted to bolt, or to shrink away to nothingness, or do anything to get away, but I just stood there. A pair of arms appeared and lifted the monkey up turning away and momentarily silencing his shouts.

"No Danny, no goat. That's your cousin Joey," Chris said, settling the monkey in his arms as best he could. He cast me a strange look which I couldn't return.

"Joey?" the monkey asked, then looked back at me. "Joey Goat!"

"No, no, just Joey. Like you are just Danny," Chris explained patiently. "And it's a goatee, not a goat. It's the hair on his chin."

"Ye-Yeah. It muh-must be the beard," I said weakly, glancing around at the gazes focused on me. I avoided looking at dad.

Chris nodded. "That'll teach yah to grow a goatee." He didn't take his eyes off me, but his hand reached back and caught a black furred tail moments before it pushed the ice dispenser button on the freezer door. Clearly he'd gotten a lot of practice in dealing with a tailed kid.

A woman came down the hall behind them. He smiled at her and held Danny out. "Jess, could you take Danny please? Joe and I and-" Chris started but caught my quick shake of the head. "- need to have a quick talk."

The woman picked the monkey boy out of his arms and carried him deeper into the kitchen. "Sure Chris. Hi Mac, good to see you again. How was the trip?"

I dared a side glance at my dad. He seemed confused and tired. "Long, and tiring, but we're glad we're here," he said, following Chris's bride into the living room. Conversation slowly returned to the old levels.

I regretfully left the rest of my sub on the table and grabbed a handful of peppers and onions to tide me over, along with a bottle of water.

"You want something harder?" Chris offered, grabbing a beer from the fridge.

I shook my head. "I don't drink, though at times I seriously consider starting," I smiled weakly and followed him down stairs and out into the back yard.

I crunched through some of the peppers and glanced around the backyard while I settled myself. It hadn't changed much through the years. Grandpa's garden next to the garage was now buried under various skateboarding ramps, but the rest of the small yard was as I remembered. Chris lead us to stand in the light in front of the detached garage.

"I-"

"He-"

We both stopped and stared at each other. Out of all of my cousins, he was the closest to me in age, just over a year off from each other. Even though we hadn't spent much time growing up together, and our interests were in many way opposites, we still had the shared elements of our generation, not to mention shared vacations together, that bound us closer than I had ever bound with Craig, Tanya, Haily or Cheryl. At that moment though I had no idea where we stood.

He popped the top off his beer and took a gulp. I followed his motions with a swig from my own bottle of water and waited.

"I'm sorry for that, in there," he finally said. "He's become the Terror of Chatham Changed since August."

I chuckled. "I can imagine, if he greets them all like that."

"Pretty much. We're doing our best to break that particular habit, but it's not been working."

I sipped my drink. "Well next time, maybe you could warn a Changed before he shows up."

"Believe me, if I knew you were... what is it, a goat?, I would have."

I stared at him, confused. "Wait, you know your son is a monkey, you can even see his tail, but you couldn't see a six foot tall goat walking into your house?"

"Nope. Before his outburst, I had no clue you were different. You guys have that Field or whatever around you right? Well,when Danny changed last August, it cracked a little for Jess and I. We can see him, but the rest of you are hidden till you show yourselves to us. Even now, I can't see you clearly; it's like a picture that's been double exposed. I can see the goat faintly, but the old you plus beard is dominant."

Shaking my head, I finished off the last of the veggies. "Damn, I don't think I've ever heard of that happening. When you guys are up for it, you should tell your situation. I'm sure the science types will be interested."

"Maybe, but lets hold off on that until after we get settled more. It's only been a month so far. We haven't even finished putting the cabinet locks on all the upper cabinets yet!"

"He's been a handful I take it?"

Chris chuckled. "The terrible twos don't hold a candle to the terrible twos with four hands and a tail. Bath time is extra fun when you find him hanging off the shower curtain rod. I'm just glad we got rid of the chandelier in the dining room before he changed."

He glanced back at the house and took another sip of his beer. "I take it from your reaction you haven't told Uncle Mac yet?"

I shook my head. "No, you three will be the first family that will know. Neither mom nor dad know, but I'm planning on telling Liz when she's down in October."

"How long's it been for you? You seem too confident about this to have changed this year."

"Believe it or not, I'm going into my third year now. And third change. I'll tell you about it later." I twitched my ears and listened to the party going on in the house. It sounded like another car had stopped nearby, but it was hard to be sure.

"So at Grandpa's funeral?"

"I was a goat then, yes."

We were silent for a few moments, then I spoke up again, tilting my head to the house. "How many in there know?"

"Mainly Jess and my close friends. The ones who spend enough time here to not be able to ignore Danny literally climbing the walls. Sheila, one of Jessie's bridesmaids, is a Husky herself. She's the one who helped us out last month and explained what was going on. Between the wedding, the stores and Grandma, I doubt we would have made it without her help."

"Chris! Your father and Diane are here!" Jessica shouted from the door.

"Be right there!" he called back, then looked at me. "We'll have to talk later."

"Sure, just give me a call if you guys need anything. For now, you've got a wedding to prepare for."

We walked into the house and went our separate ways. I went downstairs where most of the guys (and a few girlfriends not involved with the bride's activities) seemed to have gathered. Dad was down there too, and he cast me a strange look on my way down. I tried my best to ignore it. Daniel was down there too, being watched over by a Siberian husky morph. I tensed a moment when the monkey looked my way, but he seemed to have gotten the goat out of his system.

"Hi, I'm Chris's cousin, Joe," I introduced myself, holding out my hand.

She took it in a paw eerily similar to Triton's, but with longer fingers. "I gathered as much. I'm Jessie's friend, Sheila." She gave me a closer look over then whispered. "Oh-Six?"

I glanced around, but dad was watching Daniel, kicking a ball back to the boy who pushed it back out. Everyone else was chatting on the couch. "Oh-Five actually. How many here know?"

It was her turn to glance around. "Everyone but Jessie's mom; she's in the laundry room preparing the suits, and your dad... and Bruce and Diane," she whispered, spying Chris's dad coming down the stairs with his wife.

I nodded and stepped back as my uncle came up.

"Hi Joe, it's nice to see you again," he said quietly.

We shook hands quickly while dad came up beside me. "Good to see you in better circumstances," I replied. The last time this side of the family had been all together was for grandpa's funeral a couple of years before.

I drifted to the side of the room and did my usual wall flower impression, ears twitching around as I tried to listen in on the conversations around me. Dad talked with Bruce, while Chris's friends, most of them skater boys and girls, shared their own stories. It quickly became obvious that even with all the talking going on, there was never fewer than three sets of eyes watching Danny as he played with his toys. So when he got bored and literally started climbing the brick walls in the basement, there were pairs of hands pulling him away before the older generation could notice.

Jessica's mom finished her preparations and rejoined the group upstairs, while Chris eventually found his way back down with the guys. I watched dad head upstairs with Bruce, and moved over to sit with the rest of the guys. Someone had turned on the XBox and started some skating game on the projected screen. Without warning, I felt a sudden weight on my shoulders, and something tugging on my horns.

"GOAT!" a happy voice shouted in my ear.

I resisted the urge to duck my head and try to shake him off. Instead I reached up and touched a furry arm waving Chris away with my other hand. "Yes goat, now not so loud," I said.

The monkey bounced a bit on my shoulders, and tugged on my horns. I looked around the rest of the seated people, seeing their amazed expressions.

"You're one of Them too? Like Monkey Boy?" one finally asked.

I turned my head slightly to keep the stairs in sight and nodded. "Aye, I am. A mountain goat, or just a goat if you're Danny here." I winced a bit as the monkey started knocking on my horns and skull with his hands. "Okay Danny, that's enough. Time to go see Daddy." I reached up and lifted him carefully off my shoulders, passing him over to Chris.

"A goat? Those are horns, right? What are they like? Are they heavy?"

"Is your hair heavy? Err wait, bad example." I grinned, realizing most of them kept their hair cut really short, the ones that weren't bald at least. I shrugged and continued. "When I first grew them they seemed heavy, but they're just me now. I don't notice them any more than you notice the weight of your hair or your ears. Those first few months though, until I got used to them well... Let's just say I got really good at drywall repair. Oh and you can forget about hats and helmets, they aren't going to happen with these things." I tapped my horns and grinned.

They seemed genuinely curious about my experiences. "What about the change itself? Does it hurt?"

I shook my head. "Only if you count one of the worst flus you've ever had as 'hurting'. It's probably the best 3 day fitness program in the world. Go to bed sick as a dog, and wake up a few days later as a dog, but with a buff body at least. Too bad you can't decide on when you sign up for the program, nor can you pick the extras you get. And annoyingly, the secretary in charge of it sometimes misreads what you've got checked in the Sex Box on your application form."

Footsteps on the stairs made me stop any further questions. Soon, we saw Jessica coming down.

"Chris, the girls and I are about to head out. You'll make sure he gets some sleep and will be ready for tomorrow?" she asked, approaching Chris.

He shifted Danny in his arms and leaned in to kiss her. "Sure, we'll make sure to tire him out, and get him tucked in. Sheila's coming in to help get him ready tomorrow, right?"

"Right." She turned and looked at the rest of the crowd on the couches, then looked at me. She blinked and squinted at me before approaching.

I scrambled up onto my hooves quickly and offered my hand.

She took it and pulled me into a quick hug. She stepped back and stared closer at me before shaking her head. "Thanks for coming out Joe. I'm sorry about earlier, with Danny."

I flicked my ears and smiled. "It was a surprise to both of us, but nothing to worry about. Dad won't admit it, but he's so tired, I'm sure he won't remember it anyways. Or at least he won't think anything more of it."

I looked her over briefly and let her hand go. "In any case, Congratulations on your catch. I hope you have a great time tonight and a wonderful day tomorrow."

She smiled and gave me a quick kiss on my muzzle. "Thank you."

"I'd say welcome to the family, but after all you've done for Grandma, and Grandpa, and for putting up with that animal over there, and making that wonderful son with him, as far as I'm concerned you've been part of it for years." I smirked, hearing the others start chuckling, and Chris's surprised 'Hey!'.

She grinned back. "Thanks Joe. I'll see you tomorrow. Have fun monkey sitting guys!"

She disappeared back upstairs, followed by Chris and Danny. Farewells, and the sounds of engines starting echoed down to us. When the noise of the last car faded into the city background, Chris came back down, with dad.

"I think it's time we were going too, Joe," he said, the fatigue clear in his voice.

I forced a yawn of my own and stretched a bit. "Yeah, it's been a long day... two days?... however long it's been. It was good to meet you all. We'll see you at the wedding tomorrow."

I walked over to Chris and Danny, "And you stay out of trouble, got it?" I said, reaching in to tickle him. He squealed with laughter, squirming in Chris's grip and unable to get out any more goat shouts.

We made our final farewells, and returned to the hotel. Mom was still out of it, so we let her be. Dad crashed soon afterwards, with nary a word about what he saw, or didn't see at the gathering. I stayed up later, poking various boards and reading on the computer, until fatigue overcame me.

I swallowed the last of my cud, while pulling out the mattress from the hide-a-bed. It was made so the head of the bed was the sofa back, but I wasn't going to trust myself to stay low enough to not tear the padding. I tossed the pillows to the foot of the bed and collapsed onto the mattress, falling asleep on top of the sheets.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Biological needs and the time difference woke me up before my parents. I sat up as quietly as I could and was confused by how heavy my head felt. When I explored, I discovered one of the cheap hotel pillows was jammed between my horns. I yanked it loose and tossed a look, making sure my parent's eyes were closed.

I trotted to the bathroom to take care of business and start preparing for the wedding. I rinsed my head off in the shower, not having time for a full wash. I dried off and started working on making myself presentable.

First, I took out some polish others had recommended on the boards and polished my hooves and horns. Not many would be able to see them now, but the wedding pictures would endure long after the last of us Changed, and I wanted to make sure I looked nice before and after.

I then set out my brush sets and a container holding a mix of flea and baby powder. Working with sure movements born of months of practice, I dusted areas of myself with the powder, and brushed it down into my underfur, tugging out some of the looser fur while I was at it.

I was almost done, when I heard the TV click on. Rushing, I finished off my legs and packed up my kit. I used one towel to wipe up the powder and fur and tried to shake most of it out into the toilet. What I couldn't flush, I brushed under the sink counter and covered with a used towel. I finished dressing and stepped out.

"All yours," I called out, looking around the hotel room.

Mom was clearly feeling better, having partly folded my bed back into the sofa and opened the heavy curtains. She was looking out at the harvested fields behind the hotel. I glanced around for any signs of my true nature, but found nothing beyond some easily ignored fur.

A hot breakfast buffet was included with the rooms. It was a bit heavy on the sausage, bacon and eggs for my new tastes, but I managed to get enough muffins, pancakes, fruit and cereal to satisfy my hunger for the first time in days..

An hour before the wedding, we were on the road.

We were on the outskirts of Blenheim when mom asked the loaded question that has launched a million million arguments. "Did you get directions last night?"

I'm surprised we survived the hour that followed. None of us remembered to bring the wedding invitations, so we had nothing with the address on it. We tried calling Liz, on the chance that she had an invitation, but she was at work. The only other cell phone number we had was Chris's, but he, understandably, wasn't answering.

We drove through the small town, stopping at every church we saw, and though we found a wedding, it wasn't the one we were looking for. I scrounged through my memory trying to recall road numbers from the MapQuest directions I had looked up weeks before. All I was certain of, was that the location was east of Blenheim proper, south of the 401 and north of Lake Eerie, which as far as directions go, was only slightly better than 'somewhere in southern Ontario'. We picked random major roads out of the town, hoping to find a large gathering to no avail, yo-yo'ing through the town centre in the process.

Finally, we just happened to go a little further down one road (the first road we were on ironically), and just as we were about to turn back, we literally saw a sign. 'Chris and Jessica's Wedding' with an arrow pointing further ahead.

A few klicks further down the road, we found a couple of houses among the corn and soy fields, and a large number of cars parked along the road. The house the ceremony was at was clearly well cared for, and had beautifully maintained gardens all around it. Rushing, but in good spirits, we walked up the driveway to join the crowd watching. We arrived just as they were starting.

The ceremony was beautiful. Grandma was there, in full Scottish dress (but with a coat to keep her warm), sitting with Aunt Heather and her family. Daniel was dressed in a kilt as well, its tartan matching Grandma's, and a hole sewn out for his tail. A friend of Jessica kept him mostly contained throughout the ceremony, though towards the end he had to run up and hug his mom, to the amusement of the crowd.

Afterwards, we had a chance to mingle while various family photos were taken.

"Joe! You grew your beard back!" Aunt Heather exclaimed when she saw me.

"Yeah, I decided I liked this look a bit better," I explained and tried to dismiss it quickly.

I said my hellos to the rest of her family, and to grandma. It had been a rough couple of years for grandma after grandpa died, and it showed. She seemed extra old and frail, compared to the spry woman I remembered from my youth. Her memory was going on top of all the other problems old age was bringing her. It was clear she had a hard time recognizing me, even after we were reintroduced a few times.

Finally, I couldn't take it any more. I excused myself from the main family group and made my escape. I tried to make sense of how I was feeling. Mostly, I felt guilty for hoping that she'll pass on before ROB rolls her number some August. I knew some, even many elderly people, like Erma, could handle the change when their time came, but I was positive that grandma would not be one of them.

I sniffed around the gardens, being careful to stay on the lawn to not make hoofmarks in the dirt. I plucked a few leaves that smelled tasty, mixing in some corn leaves from the unharvested field that abutted the lot. My stomachs were rumbling again, and I didn't want to have another mental crash like yesterday. I glanced around furtively, and popped a few into my muzzle. I began to wander the back of the crowd as I snacked.

"You're going to ruin your dinner, eating like that," a voice jolted me out of my distracted grazing. I jumped and dropped the rest of my snack. Turning around, I found Sheila smirking, her tail wagging out the back of her dress.

"I'm a grazer. Gotta keep this engine fueled, or I'll crash," I explained, tapping my stomachs. "Literally crash as I discovered yesterday."

She chuckled while I crouched to grab a couple of the tastier leaves I dropped. So she was the first to see them. "What do they want?" she mumbled, staring over my shoulder.

I turned and looked towards the garage of the house. Most of the guests were still milling around on the lawn, but one of Jessica's bridesmaids was looking at us and trying to frantically but subtly flag us down. Sheila pointed to herself and the bridesmaid nodded her head vigorously.

"We'd better see what's up.... Where's Danny?" I asked, looking around for the monkey.

The husky started fast walking to the garage. "I think I know. I hope I'm wrong though."

The back of the house was as well kept as the front. It was dominated by a huge old tree growing on the edge of a deep grassy gully with steep sides. One thick branch of the tree stretched out over the gully and had a swing tied on to it. It would be tricky to get into the swing, but doable, even if you didn't have a goat's balance. I saw some of the grooms and bridesmaids looking up the tree, whispering urgently up into the canopy. As we walked around the tree, Sheila gasped in surprise. "Oh! My! God!"

On the branch, just over where the swing was tied, perched Daniel, his tail curled around the branch. Sheila recovered quicker than I did. "Ron, Lisa, watch at the garage and don't let anyone else back here. And for god's sake, don't tell Chris or Jess. Not until we're really drunk, or Danny's in college, whichever comes first. If they ask, just say we're changing his diaper or something."

Two of them moved away from the tree and passed us. I moved up to the lip of the gully and took a closer look at the gully sides. I could handle it easily, but it would be tricky. At least the heights didn't bother me, nor, clearly, did they bother Daniel.

"Damn, a month ago, I'd have been able to climb up there and fetch him," I grumbled, tracing a route up the side of the tree to the branch with my eyes.

Sheila tossed me a puzzled look, but looked back up at Danny. "I'll try to call him down. Think you can get to the swing and try to catch him if he goes that way?"

"Just a sec." I crouched down and tugged where my shoe laces would be. I tugged off my ghost shoes and the socks that were over my hooves. "Just wanted to make sure I keep a good grip," I explained, beginning to take a few cautious steps over the edge. It was steeper than I was usually used to, and there weren't any trees, beside the big one, I could use for hand holds, but my balance held. I easily reached the swing and looked up, seeing the monkey boy looking out over the gully, oblivious to our attempts to get him back.

Sheila inched up to the edge of the gully, one paw digging into the bark of the tree out of nervousness. She clearly didn't have the head for heights Danny and I had. "Danny! Come to Aunt Doggy!"

He looked around, then down at her. He vigorously shook his head "NO!"

Sheila sighed and tried again. "Come on Danny, it's time to go see mommy and daddy."

He shook his head defiantly again and shouted "NO!" All of our hearts stopped a moment as he lazily dropped a bit, hanging off the branch with one hand and playing with the swing's rope with a foot.

I heard some gasps above me, but I didn't take my eyes off the kid. I held out my arms and shifted my stance a bit on the steep ground. "That's it Danny, come down the rope. It's easy. Come down to Uncle Goat."

He giggled loudly and let go of the branch, hands and feet gripping the rope. With a surprising amount of agility for his age, he slid/walked down the rope. Half way down, he shouted "CATCH!" and either let go, or leaped at me; the actual moment blanked out for me.

The monkey landed on my outside shoulder, his hand grabbing a horn for balance. I stumbled back a few steps, off balance from the sudden weight. With a bleat of terror, I lost my balance. The world slowed to a crawl as instincts took over, moving my body without conscious thought.

While my hooves slipped in the grass, I was instinctively using the inertia from the boy's leap to twist around and put my back to the hill. Air pushed out of my muzzle as my butt slammed into the grass and began to slide. I clenched my fingers together and slammed them against the ground, digging my hooves in as well. My slide quickly stopped, though it took a lot longer for my heart to slow back down enough to hear anything else but its pounding..

"Joe! Are you okay?" a voice shouted from somewhere I couldn't figure out where.

"AGAIN!" a much closer voice shouted.

I didn't answer at first. Instead, I started a quick self inspection. My butt hurt, and my fingers and toes felt strained in ways I wasn't used to. I still had the weight of the monkey on my shoulder who was bouncing and squealing with joy. I managed to determine that nothing felt broken, nor scratched enough to draw blood. I shook the dirt off my finger tips and leaned back to look at the top of the gully. From the tracks, I could see my entire slide had only gone a few metres. It had felt like it should have been a lot further.

"I'm fine. So's Danny I think," I called out. I placed one hand on the boy's leg to keep him in place and stood up carefully. He had a huge grin, but was silent and seemed content to hang off my horns for now. "Damn, these were a brand new pair of pants," I grumbled, reaching back and feeling a few tears in the rump. At least my shirt had avoided damage. I began to pick my way cautiously back up the slope. "I may be mountain goat, but I'm still only bipedal. Much less stability on two legs than four."

Sheila smiled, as much in relief as at my comments. "I noticed. You'd better get up here fast. Someone's coming back this way, but Peter's trying to delay them."

"Coming as fast as I can," I said, picking up my pace a bit. I glanced back and winced at the marks I had left; four trenches of torn up dirt and grass extending straight down the hill. I crested the edge of the gully and looked towards the house. "Take him please, and don't let anyone look over the edge," I said, passing the boy over to the husky.

She nodded and lead Danny back to the small crowd gathering at the garage. I grabbed my socks and shoes and ducked behind the tree. I wiped my hooves off as best as I could and put my footwear back on. I did my best to clean off my fingernails and to rub the grass and dirt stains out and walked slowly back to the main wedding party. I found myself limping, leg muscles strained from the unexpected forces I had put them through. .

Of course, mom would pick today to be extra observant.

"JOEY! What happened!" she exclaimed after one look at me. I looked down at myself and wondered if she had x-ray vision. Certainly there didn't seem too many stains on the front of my pants.

"It's nothing, I'm fine, I'm fine. I just slipped on the grass out back while helping chase Danny down," I explained, sticking as close to the truth as I dared."We'll have to stop at the hotel on the way back though so I can get changed."

She frowned and nodded. "Fine enough. We're going to follow Aunt Heather to the hall, then we can duck back to the hotel. I think they're getting grandma ready to head out now."

We said our farewells, even though we would be seeing them again soon enough, and got in our car. We followed Aunt Heather back into town to a church to make sure we knew where we were going, then headed out again.

The first stop was the hotel where I got changed. We then moved on to a farmers market. It being the harvest season, mom wanted to get some stuff direct from the fields, not that I was complaining. I ended up buying more than she did, to her surprise, but the freshness of the peppers and peaches and tomatoes and the rest available were too much to ignore.

We returned to the church hall, and found a lot more people there now, though the wedding party was mostly still missing. Only Sheila and her boyfriend were there, keeping an eye on Danny who was playing with some of the slightly older kids. He seemed to be playing nice, only occasionally using his tail to pull in something just out of reach. In any case, he was distracted enough not to draw attention to me.

It didn't take long to find our seats, with the rest of the Ford side of the family, and mom started chatting.

Sheila came up to me soon after we arrived. "Can I have a word with you for a moment, Joe?"

"Sure," I replied, ignoring the curious glance mom tossed our way.

I got up and we walked to a corner of the room.

"We've got a bit of a dilemma, I was wondering if you could help us with," she started, her gaze shifting to the kids playing with the balloons now.

"Danny," I said.

"Exactly. Pretty much everyone who knows him, are up at the head table. Of them all, only four of us can see him clearly. Chris and Jess are going to be in the middle of the table, so there won't be much they can do. I'll be at the end, so I can try... but we could use a pair of hooves on the floor to go after him."

I nodded. "Sure, I can do that." I scanned around the room, trying to assess the monkey threats. For the most part, the room was just an empty chamber with tables and not much to climb on. Other than the white painted lattice behind the head table, and the hotplates set up at the opposite end of the room, it was safe.

The rest of the guests slowly arrived and found their place settings. We only had to drag him away from the lattice twice. And he only pointed at me once, said "GOAT", and giggled, but his call was drowned out by the rest of the conversations going on in the room.

Word soon started whispering through the room, quieting the conversations and turning all eyes towards the door. The wedding party had arrived.

In pairs, the bridesmaids and grooms entered. I noted with some amusement how each of them seemed to scan the room and then relax when they saw Sheila firmly gripping Danny's shoulder near the head table. They took their places and turned and waited.

The best man walked in, alone, next. He went to a podium set up near the table and turned on the microphone and paused the recorded music. The room went silent with anticipation. "Friends and Family! I present to you! Christopher and Jessica Ford!"

He turned up the music, and Avril's "Sk8ter Boi" started playing. The room erupted into applause and camera flashes, as my cousin and his bride walked in.

Halfway up the hall, Danny screeched a joyful "MOMMY!" and squirmed free from Sheila's grasp. He bounded forward and hugged her in the middle of the room. Chris chuckled and crouched down to pick him up. I held my breath, realizing Chris's height put the silk 'hammocks' holding balloons near the ceiling in Danny's easy reach. Luckily, Danny didn't seem to realize the new targets in his range.

They set up in front of the table and posed for some pictures before taking their seats. Danny was set loose again, but seemed to content to stay near the children's table through the speeches, stories and toasts.

Dinner was fantastic, with great veggies and deep fried chicken that was so good, even I went back for thirds on. Like at the gathering last night, Danny always had a few pairs of eyes watching him while he ate and then wandered around the hall with the other kids.

"In his case, it really does take a village to raise a child," I commented quietly during the meal.

Mom heard me and glanced over at the monkey boy. "He does seem to be quite the hand full."

"Four hands full and then some. It looks like they're bringing out desert, do you want one?" I changed the subject and nodded to the side table.

The desert table emptied almost as fast as it was filled, but we got something. The closest we came to disaster that night came not from Danny, but from one of Jessica's nephews, a four-ish year old who somehow got caught up on the desert table's tablecloth and started pulling it, and it's load of plates, towards the floor. I was lucky to be there at the time and managed to catch it before anything actually tipped off the table.

Dancing started after dinner, and I was able to relax my own vigilance a bit as the others were freed to move about the hall. We had a few close calls when he started tugging on the minilights strung on the lattice, but no serious incidents. During a few lulls in the dancing, we had a few more pictures done with grandma, trying to get the four generations, and every other combinations we could come up with done.

By nine-ish, we were ready to head out. Aunt Heather was taking Grandma back to the home, and mom and dad were looking drained. Considering the long drive we have tomorrow, an early night was in order anyways. We started to make our rounds, saying our real farewells this time, and headed to the parking lot. Chris and his family followed us out.

"Thank you so much for coming so far out to see us," Jessica said, hugging mom.

She hugged back and smiled. "It was no big deal for us. Especially for something as important as this. Thank you for all you've done, for all of them."

I clasped Chris's free hand, his other hand keeping a firm grip on Danny. "It was good to see you again. We'll definitely be in touch. If you two need anything, anything at all, give me a shout. I'm not sure what all I can do from so far away, but if there is anything, I'll try to do it."

"Sure enough. Thanks for coming out." He glanced around quickly, but everyone else was distracted with their own farewells. "It was good to find another Changed in the family. Makes Danny's situation seem less... I dunno, less abnormal I guess you could say."

"I know what you mean, but it is a bit scary too. Nothing we can do about it in either case."

I shifted my attention to Danny. He was looking more than a little worn out and tired. I reached down and ruffled his head fur. "Now you try to stay out of trouble kiddo. Don't be giving your mom and dad and their friends too much hassle."

"I won't."

"Good good... Bye Monkey Boy, hopefully I'll have a chance to see you again soon, or at least when you're older."

He grinned up at me, a bit of his energy returning. "Bye Bye Goat-man."

Mom overheard that and looked at me puzzled. "Goat man?" she asked.

I tugged my beard. "Kids, what can yah do?" I said, brushing off her question.

I said good-bye to Jessica, and went to Aunt Heather's van, where Grandma was already settled into her seat. Looking at her frail, tired body in the seat made me uneasy. I crouched at the van's door and put my hand lightly on hers. "It was good to see you again Grandma," I said, beginning to choke and tear up. In the back of my mind, in depths I barely recognized, a voice pointed out that it may be the last time I would ever see her alive.

She said something I could barely hear, and I backed away from the car, standing just out of easy earshot while dad spoke with his mom. Though neither of us said anything, it was clear he had similar thoughts to mine nagging at the back of his mind.

Dad, Aunt Heather, Uncle Bruce (Dad and Heater's brother, not Heather's husband) and Chris spoke quietly near the car. I stood next to Heather's daughter, Cheryl and waited.

"It's so hard, seeing her like that," I mumbled softly, "especially when we're so far away."

Cheryl nodded. "Being close doesn't make it much easier. I'm glad they were able to do the wedding with her at least." She lived in Toronto, making her the closest family that didn't live in Chatham itself.

The family group broke up, and I fell into step beside dad. He pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose. Mom was waiting by the car.

"Do you want me to drive?" she asked, seeing how dad looked.

He shook his head. "No, I'm fine," he said, a hiccup in his voice.

I looked at him, my own feelings confused. It was so weird to see him like that. Dad, and his family in general, are usually very stoic, pragmatic and not very visibly emotional. (A sharp contrast to mom and her family, who tend to burn hot and fast emotionally). The last time I had seen Dad so close to breaking down, had been just after Grandpa's funeral a couple years before.

We drove back to the hotel in near silence and retired to our room. I changed out of my dress shirt and started catching up on Change work. There were no emergencies requiring my attention, but I wanted to put an alert out for new families like Chris's. I had never heard of any examples of the parents seeing their changed children before, so I sent out careful feelers, not wanting to break my cousin's privacy, but trying to discover how new this was and if anyone was looking into it.

I was in the third rewrite of my message when the phone rang, breaking my concentration. Mom answered and talked for a few moments before hanging up. "Bruce is inviting us down to their room for wine and conversation, if you want to come down," she said.

"You guys go ahead, I want to finish this up," I said, deleting a paragraph and tapping the base of the keyboard with my thumbs, trying to rephrase it.

"Okay. They're in room 20 and 22."

I nodded and started typing as the door closed. Soon enough, I was happy enough with the message and I shot it out into the 'net. I sat back in the chair and did a full body stretch. It wasn't as satisfying as the cougar stretches were, but it was enough to get the keyboarding kinks out. I did one last scan over the sites, then closed my laptop's lid.

I freshened up and dusted off some of my scent, then left the room. My nose and ears easily lead me to the right rooms, even if I hadn't known the room numbers. From outside, I could smell the tart and sweet scents of my uncle's personally bottled wines. I wavered between the two rooms, until I was sure which one everyone was in, and rapped on the door with my hoof-nails. "Room service!" I called out.

My uncle's voice boomed a bit louder. "We didn't order any."

"Well you got it anyways. No returns."

The door opened revealing my aunt. I grinned at her and followed her. "He's right about no returns. We've been trying ta return him for 28 years now," mom said with a laugh from her seat on a bed.

I laughed. "Twenty nine years mom, almost thirty."

She looked puzzled. "No it's twenty eight years. You were born in '78 and..."

"It's twenty nine. Trust me. I'm the mathie, remember?"

She frowned and finally managed to get the math to total right. "Damn. Stop making me feel old! Can't I pretend you're still twenty eight?"

I took a seat beside the AC unit next to the window and declined Bruce's offer of wine. "You think you feel old? I hit thirty next year! My music's being played in classic radio blocks now!"

Mom stuck her pinkies in her ears. "La-la-la! I can't hear you." She raised her glass. "Bruce, I need a refill."

The conversation picked up where it had left off and wandered all over the place through the evening, touching on grandma and the events that happened when she was put in the Home, shared experiences between mom dealing with her father's dementia, and Heather's dealing with grandma's weakening mind. (and a few jabs to Cheryl and I teasing us to make sure we take notes because 'our time will come').

"So Joe, when are you planning on moving back to Civilized Country?" Bruce asked me later on.

I was studying the AC controls and flicked on the fans at low speed, trying to cool off a little. "Maybe when the IT market in Ottawa recovers. I like the work I'm doing at Universal and I don't want to give it up for a startup. I still don't like Freddy Beach though; too damn small."

"Are you even looking?" Heather asked.

I shook my head and leaned over to take some of the cold air in against my side, hoping the goat scent I was surely giving off wasn't too noticeable. "Nah, not really. I want to get rid of my loans before I go destabilizing my life again. Besides, I've got a lot of things going on back home I can't really drop easily."

"Would Alex be one of those things?" mom teased me.

I blushed and tried to figure out how to change the subject.

"Who's Alex? Joe finally got a girl?" Heather asked, curiously.

"He's one of Joe's friends. They've spent the past few New Years together down in Halifax with a bunch of friends. And Joe's gone down to see him other times too," mom explained.

"MOM!" I shouted, then tried to get a hold of myself. "AT-ALEX is just a friend. Sh-HE is the leader of the Nova Scotia support group, like I'm the leader in New Brunswick. So we do a lot of work together to coordinate. There. Is. NOTHING. More. To. It."

Mom looked at me a bit shocked at my reaction. I averted my gaze from everyone in the room, though I could feel their eyes on me. I worried my denial may have been too much, and briefly wondered why my denial was so strong.

"Sorry, Joe. I didn't mean to imply anything," mom said quietly.

I took a deep breath and tried to calm down. Had I still had my claws, I doubted there would be anything left of the handles of the chair I was in. "It's okay. I over reacted. It's just that Alex's situation is very complicated," I said. 'In ways you can't even begin to imagine,' I mentally added.

"Support group? For what?" Cheryl asked, shifting the subject a bit.

I smiled at her in relief, happy to be on still dangerous, but safer ground. I showed my bracelet. "For victims of a sleeping sickness. I caught it a couple of years ago, A-lex the year before that. It's not all that dangerous, or contagious, but the docs haven't figured out its transmission vector and triggers yet, so if there are emergencies, they want a way to ID us and keep us isolated and to call in special help."

Bruce went around and refilled the glasses. "So why do you need a support group for?" he asked as he refilled dad's glass.

I shrugged. "It's a way to figure out who's where, gives a way to spread information on new developments, coordinate observations, check for any new side effects, and especially to be there whenever new victims are discovered."

"Is this something we should be worried about?" Cheryl's brother, Mitchel asked.

"No more than you worry about catching a cold. Best guesses I've heard is there are about a million victims world wide, though only a fraction of them have been actually discovered. And there's nothing in common with them to link them together."

I looked at mom and dad. "Erma, at Bingo, she has it. One of the radio announcers in the city got it earlier this year. And Jessica's friend Sheila had it too." I tried to remember if Danny had the bracelet, but I couldn't remember. I decided to leave him out of it. "You'll either get it some day, or you won't; that's all there is to it."

The room fell silent for a long moment as they digested that. I gulped nervously and resisted the urge to bring up some cud to calm down with. Mom and dad seemed especially puzzled. They'd heard me describe the sickness a few times now, and I worried that they were beginning to pick up on inconsistencies in my story. It was tempting to spill everything, right then and there, but I held back. I kept to my original plan to tell Liz first when she returned home.

"So, Cheryl, how's the doggy daycare business working for you?" I asked, finally shifting the topic.

The conversation picked up again in the room and I let myself relax. With the attention off of me, I let myself bring up some cud, and tried to cool off in the A/C. My illness and support group were never mentioned again.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Well, it's just after one in the morning and technically Monday now, but I don't care. It's Sunday as far as I'm concerned. After everything that happened on the weekend, I was ready for a relaxing trip, and for once, ROB granted it to me.

We went to bed late last night, so we were up a bit later than we planned today. Still, we had enough time to get cleaned up, pack and have breakfast.

Aunt Heather and her family were packing their car as we loaded ours, giving us a chance for a final set of good-byes.

I still don't know why I did it, maybe it was guilt from the story I had spun the night before. Or maybe I just wanted a dry run before I told Liz, and my parents. In any case, I waited outside until Cheryl came down alone.

"Cheryl, can I talk to you for a moment?" I asked.

She closed the car door and looked at me. "Sure what is it?"

I motioned her to follow me, and moved us away from the vehicles and the doors. "I wanted to talk about Chris, and Danny."

"What about them?"

I rubbed my wrist a bit and looked down. "Well, Danny had the illness. Chris and Jess know he had it, but I don't think they're registered yet into our networks. They will eventually I'm sure."

I hesitated a bit and shrugged. "I just want you to try and keep an eye on them if you can. Danny's going to be a real handful, and they've got a lot of help around here, but, well keep an eye open please?"

She looked at me. "Is that everything?"

"Yeah, that's it. They can explain more maybe, if they want to. I don't want to intrude on their privacy."

She frowned, clearly sensing something was being hidden, but I didn't have the time, nor the mental preparations to go further.

I was saved by the shout. "Joe! Where'd you go? We're ready to go!"

"Just a minute, mom," I called out.

"That illness you talked about? How do you know if you caught it?" Cheryl asked, trying to fish for more details.

I chuckled. "You will know when you get it. But generally it hits in August, with a few days of the flu, and then some other symptoms afterwards. It can be different for different people, but hair seems to be the most affected, affecting colour and thickness and growth speeds."

I tugged my own beard. "This thing grows so quick and thick now, I'd be paying a fortune to Gillette if I tried to keep it off."

She nodded. "Well, I'll try to keep an eye out for it then even if you won't tell me everything." She pulled me into a hug. "It was good to see you again. Take care of yourself, with whatever it is you have."

I tensed a moment with the hug before returning it. As a cougar I'd tried to minimize hugging with norms as much as possible, and it was a habit that still lingered.

"Don't worry, I'm fit as a fiddle. It's not going to kill me or anything. And thank you for watching. The disease can be very disorienting to new victims of it so the more we have watching for it, the better."

I relaxed a bit and we walked back to the cars where everyone was waiting. "Sorry for the delay, just chatting with Cheryl. We all set?"

Soon enough we were back on the road and heading home. Unlike the way down, nothing happened. I tried to tell the area where I went off-roading once we got to Quebec, but I wasn't sure where it was.

We got to mom and dad's just after midnight, and unloaded their stuff from the car. Since I have work tomorrow, I borrowed the car for the week, and drove back to my place.

There was a message from Chris waiting for me once I got my laptop reconnected. Cheryl now Knew. It was partly due to the heavy hints I had dropped, but mainly it was because she'd found Danny hanging off the clothes rod in grandpa's old bedroom closet.

Cheryl sent a message as well, confirming she knew now, and that she understood why I'd been so evasive. I replied, letting her know if she wanted to talk about it, to give me a call later.

I stared at the glowing screen for a long moment, trying to sort out my feelings. Before that trip, I was the only one that Knew in my family. Now, five of us knew (counting Jess and Danny). I felt some of the stress of being alone ease off my shoulders, only to be replaced by the stress of keeping track of who knew and who didn't. I couldn't tell which I preferred, not that I could undo discovering they Knew.

My head is pounding with heavy thoughts. I know I'm gonna be dead tired tomorrow, and probably worthless at work, but in spite of it all, it was a great trip, and it's good to be home.

Preceded by:
Radio No Veil
The Veil (A Paradise Series)
(First: Holes in the Veil)
Succeeded by:
Clearing the Air
Author's Comments

The accident, the trip to Waterloo and the wedding (including the toddler, though he wasn't shouting "GOAT" at any one at the time, he is really a climber.) all actually happened. No actual sign of WATFUR however. :(