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Revision as of 11:41, 31 January 2008

[[:Category:Paradise|Paradise]] story universe

[[Setting::Paradise| ]]

Works by Jetfire on Shifti

Silver Fox Tracks

Author: Jetfire

Sunday, August 19, 2006

Michael drove through the highlands, lost in thought. Spending the time with Mindy, trying to help him adjust had given him a lot to think about. Over the past year, and especially over the past weekend, he had seen and read how many people took the Change when it hit them. Most took it well, some had a harder time, but all were surprised by it, having had no idea what to do, many of them scared by what was happening. It was something he didn't want to put Crystal through, if he could help it.

He pulled into his driveway and took a deep breath, reaching his decision. He didn't know how she would take it, but he had to tell the truth to her, the whole truth to her.

He opened the door and sniffed the air. The scents of a chicken stir fry filled the small bungalow they had. "I'm home, Crystal," he called out, putting his weekend bag next to the door and dropping his shoes on the tray. Since he'd been among furry's all weekend, he hadn't bothered to put them on for the drive home.

"Welcome home. Dinner will be ready in about 15 minutes. Want to set the table please?" she called from the kitchen.

"Sure can." He walked through the house and into the kitchen, sniffing the humid air and smelling the tangy hot vegetables and meat in the wok, mixing with his wife's own scent. He hugged her from behind, and nuzzled her neck a moment, eliciting a giggle from her. He reached around her and tried to pick a chunk of chicken out of the wok with his claws, only to get a light slap on the back of his paw with a wooden spoon.

"No snacking!" she playfully snapped at him.

He whined back softly then backed away, beginning to clear the kitchen table of the paperwork that inevitably piled up on it. He pulled out a few place mats and a couple of plates. Telling her, he decided, could wait until after dinner.

Crystal shifted her attention to the rice and began turning off burners as the meal finished cooking. "How's Mindy doing? Alex sounded pretty stressed out when he called here about her," she asked.

"He-" Michael stopped and caught himself. "She is doing better. She had a... a very bad case of the disease, but we're keeping a close eye out and helping her."

Crystal glanced over at him. "That's good at least. Are you sure that disease isn't contagious?"

"As sure as anyone can be with a new disease. It seems very random about who it picks up next," Michael sighed and rummaged in the fridge, pulling out a bottle of soy sauce. "You want water or pop to drink?"

"I'll take a diet coke." She brought the pots to the table and started serving the meal onto the plates.

Dinner was a strained affair. Crystal could tell there was something bothering Michael, but he refused to say anything about it. They both tried to make small talk, but they ran out before dinner ran out. The silence continued through the post-dinner cleanup.

"OK, SPILL IT. What's eating you up so much?" Crystal finally snapped, tossing the dishcloth into the sink as he put the last plate away.

The silver fox closed the cupboard door and turned to face her. He was torn, wanting to tell her, but not sure how to do it in a way she might believe, in a way she could accept. He swung his tail around and took it in paw a moment to brace himself for the revelation. "I've got something to tell you. About Joey and Alex and Claude, and everyone else we met last New Years, and about Mindy... I'm not sure how to do it in a way you can believe though."

"And why wouldn't I believe it?"

"Because it's not something you can see... it's complicated." He shifted from paw to paw nervously, cursing the difficulties the Field caused in situations like that. He glanced down at his feet and remembered there was something she could see.

"Follow me, I've got something to show you first," he said, opening the back door and turning on the porch light. He grabbed the hose and lead her to a spot near the deck, where a shrub had died earlier in the summer. They had removed the tree, but hadn't had time to reseed the area, leaving a dirt circle in their lawn. He began to spray the spot, turning the hard dry soil into mud.

"Michael, what are you doing?" Crystal asked, standing across from him, putting the spot into shadow.

Michael killed the water and motioned for her to step to the side, so the spot was lit by the porch light. "Just watch please, and I hope this works. I've got nothing on my feet right?" he asked, lifting his foot and wiggling his toes. She nodded slowly.

"Just watch closely please." He put his foot down into the muddy spot, and pressed, trying to make the clearest impression he could. The mud squished between his toes and over his claws. Crystal watched, annoyed at first, but then puzzled. He lifted his foot clear, revealing a larger than normal fox print in the mud.

He lifted his leg and sprayed the mud off of his paw, hearing her mumbling. "That's not possible. I saw you put your foot down but...." He watched her numbly tug off her slipper and put her foot into the mud next to his print, lifting it and showing a human print.

"Lets go back into the house and I'll explain it," he said gently, motioning with the nozzle to her foot. She lifted it again, letting him spray it clean, and the two of them returned to the house.

He lead her to the living room, flicking on the lights along the way to make sure the room was well lit. She settled on one end of the couch, and he sat on the other end, turning to face her. He tried to figure out how to start, but she spoke first.

"What are you?" she asked, staring at him.

He licked the tip of his nose nervously, and briefly wondered how that came across with the field. "Right now?... I'm what we call a morphic silver fox. A silver fox with human characteristics. A year and change ago though, I was just a regular human."

"But you LOOK human. But your foot print...."

"That's one of the big mysteries no one can figure out. There's some sort of field around us. To you and everyone else who hasn't changed, as long as we act mostly normally, we seem to be human. I have no idea how it works or why it works or anything, but it's what's kept my new nature hidden for the past year. From you, from the University, from everyone but other Changed. For some reason, only our footprints get through that field."

She furrowed her brow and stared at him, as if trying to see his human facade. "So for the past year, I've shared my bed with a fox.... that Disease? It caused it?"

"Yes you have been. And the disease is only a cover story they cooked up down in the States to try and help us. We can recognize other Furry's on sight, but if there's an accident, the doctors treating us can't see our real natures. So the disease is a way to make sure they call in help first. As best as anyone can tell, it isn't a real disease though. Our distribution is wrong to match any viral or other sort of natural causes outbreak."

"But that would mean that Alex, and Claude and Natalie... and Joey! They're all foxes like you?"

Michael chuckled a little. "Not quite. Species seems pretty random, though regional and seemingly limited to mammals. AT is really a Newfie dog, Claude is a beaver, Natalie is a gray mare, and Joey was a mountain goat."

She shook her head slowly, and Michael worried he was losing her focus on the conversation. He wondered if the Field would affect people's memories, if it would make her forget he had ever told her all this.

"Wait, Joey WAS a mountain goat? What happened to Joey?"

Michael pondered a moment over how best to tell her. "Sometimes, very rarely as far as we can tell, this... Curse, strikes twice, sometimes even more often. In Joey's case, he went from a goat, to a cougar. A female cougar at that." He pushed on quickly before she could interrupt. "If you see him, he'll still look like a guy, but to me, and to other Furres, he's a girl now. It complicates things like you wouldn't believe."

"So that emergency Alex mentioned?"

"Was her, she also changed sex when she changed, but she's only changed once. It was her need to go to Fredericton and help Joey. She was helping Mindy handle her change, but she felt Joey was more important to help. Neither of them would admit it if you asked them, but the two of them are pretty much the main movers and shakers among the Furries around here. I don't blame her for rushing out and helping him get through it."

"What happened to Mindy? She changed too?"

Michael nodded. "He got a double whammy. A difficult animal form, and a sex change too. When you see him again, be careful with any back slaps. Field or no field, you'd probably end up with a handful of porcupine quills." He winced and rubbed his arms a bit where they still stung from some quills he had taken helping Mindy.

"A porcu-... Oh my... Poor girl."

"That's partly why I wanted to tell you now. I was half hoping you would change this year anyways, but since you didn't...." He lowered his head and looked away. "I just didn't want to be lying to you any more, even lying unintentionally. And after seeing how bad it could be, I wanted you to be prepared, in case the worst happens when it does happen."

"So there's no stopping it?"

"Not that anyone has found. We can't even figure out how to slow it down. The numbers seem to double every year. Which means in about 15 years or so, everyone will be Changed, whether we want it or not."

She shook her head slowly and looked away, looking at their wedding picture up on the mantle, him in his suit with his brown hair and human smiling face standing next to her in front of an arch in a garden. "This is just so hard to believe... I know you did that trick with the footprints, but it's so unbelievable."

He reached over and took her hand into his paw. She startled a little and looked down, as if she wasn't sure what was touching her.

"I know it is, but just think back over the past year. Remember all those strange things that you dismissed. All the hair in the bathroom, the amount of brushing I do in the morning, the strange smells you keep buying potpourri to cover up, the unusual scratches I've left by mistake, all those times you caught me going out the door without shoes on, even the New Years party. The Field isn't perfect, but it's strong. When you combine it with our natural habit of dismissing the impossible, it makes it easy to dismiss all those things. But now, now that you know the truth, hopefully it'll make more sense. As much sense as people randomly changing into Furries can make sense."

They were silent for a long moment, before she looked up again. "You have a tail right?... Can I... May I touch it?"

"Sure," Michael answered, sliding closer to her and turning to bring his bushy tail closer to her. He took her hand and guided it to the appendage.

She squeezed it a little, then ran her other fingers through its fur, careful to keep one hand on it at all times. "This is so weird. I can't see it, but I sort've can. I can feel it, but not feel it. It feels soft though, and warm." She looked up at him and tilted her head from side to side. "I think I can sort of see you too... the real you. You have your ears up... now down... now you're wiggling them."

They talked long into the night, Michael explaining and reexplaining what he knew about the Furries and the field. She seemed to become more accepting of it, but had a hard time seeing him clearly, even when she held his tail. As the conversation died down and they realized the time, Crystal became more nervous.

"If you would rather, I'll crash in the spare bedroom tonight. Until you're ready to have a fox at your side again," he offered.

She visibly relaxed. "Thanks. It's silly I know, I've had one there all year. But now that I KNOW, it... it scares me a bit."

"I understand. Take your time."

They stared at each other hesitantly for a long moment, before she walked to the master bedroom, closing the door behind her. Michael sighed softly and walked around the house, turning off lights and locking doors before he retired to the spare bedroom.

The next morning, they fell back into their usual routine, but there was a tense undercurrent in the air. Neither mentioned a word about last night's conversation, but Michael did see Crystal stare out the kitchen window to the bare spot in the back yard they had put their prints down.

"Will you be home on time tonight?" she asked as he pulled on his shoes.

"I don't see why I wouldn't. We're just reviewing the surveys and getting samples to prepare for reopening the Donkin mine. Nothing that'll keep me late. You got plans for today?"

"Not too much. I have a lot to think about. I may go into the school and start getting the classroom ready."

Michael opened the door and hesitated again. They stared awkwardly at each other for a long moment.

"Have a good day at work," Crystal finally said, stepping back.

Michael sighed and nodded. "Have fun today. I'll be back 'round six."

The day passed in a busy blur for Michael. Meetings took up his morning, and his afternoon found him out on the brier covered headlands near the village of Donkin, taking samples to serve as an environmental baseline for the region before the company reopened the old coal mine.

He returned home at six as promised, and sat in his car for a long moment. He leaned forward to pick brambles from the fur around his feet, but he knew he was just stalling. Finally, he got out of the car and walked into the house.

"I'm home, Crystal," he called out, sniffing the air and surprised not to smell anything cooking.

"I'm in the back!" her voice sounded faintly.

He walked through the house and stepped onto the deck. He found her sitting on the edge of the deck, staring at the bare patch. He saw she had built a form around it, and it was filled with drying plaster.

"How was your day?" she asked, not looking at him.

"It went well, but it was itchy. Walking through the bushes and brambles out there makes me wish I could still wear boots. What is that?"

She stood up and walked to the mold, touching the back of it. She looked up and smiled. "You're just in time. I've been thinking a lot about what we were talking about last night. Some scary stuff there when you really think about it."

He nodded and watched as she began to lift the mold up carefully, tilting it away from him so he couldn't see it. She used the hose and carefully washed the dirt off the face of the mold.

"But I thought more about it, and realized you are handling it, and many more are handling it. And we've been, unnoticed on my part of course, coping with it together for the past year anyways. So I think I can handle it now that my eyes are opened."

She turned the mold around and showed the plaster casting of their two prints, side by side. She'd used some modeling clay to carefully surround them in a red heart, now embedded in the plaster. "I decided to make this though. Just in case I ever need a reminder of what the world is really like, and who I really love. At least until I really become your vixen."

Michael yipped in joy and rushed forward, hugging her tightly while being careful of the plaster casting in her hands. They exchanged kisses and smiled at each other, tears in their eyes.

"Thank you," he mumbled, nuzzling her cheek.