User:Jetfire/Poking the Veil

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Paradise story universe
Works by Jetfire on Shifti
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Joey adapts to his new life, and causes a few waves..

Poking the Veil

Author: Jetfire

After that eventful week in August, my life settled back into a routine. AT contacted me that first weekend, and though I found her situation strange at first, we did form a solid friendship over the phone and the 'net. She is literally a Newfie, a Newfoundland Dog morph working at the Halifax Casino. Over Thanksgiving, we got together and came up with the First Annual Maritime Changed New Years Blow Out. I'll get to that in a moment.

Most of the rest of August, I was busy adapting my life style. Getting used to eating more vegetation of all sorts (even trying some of the local wild vegetation), trying to keep my wardrobe mostly in shape and trying not to put too many horn gouges in the walls.

I also started to walk to and from work. As I suspected, my body wanted to climb, and Odell Park worked well enough. Before long, I was walking off the paths, between the trees and probably taking a few risks that I shouldn't have. I got in the habit of taking my shoes off as soon as I entered the park. I don't know how, maybe it was just a mental hiccup, but I could swear I could tell the difference between having shoes on and going completely bare-hoofed.

Late in August, the paperwork was cleared up, and I received my Medic-Alert bracelet, along with a note from some of the Changed doctors down in the States, 'confirming' that I had caught 'Sleeping Sickness, Ivory Coast Variant' earlier that month. It mainly cleared up the last nagging paperwork I needed for the four sick days I had taken, but it would hopefully save my life if, Brell forbid, I was in an accident and the paramedics didn't see my horns or something. It was apparently a tricky process, creating a new illness and getting it enough into the system to be useful, while at the same time not triggering pandemic fears. I didn't know the details, I just knew that I was part of the pilot project they were setting up and hoping to expand to all of us.

In September, I started digging into an issue that was bugging me. As far as we could tell, there were too few Maritime Changed. In my spare time, I started studying the population distribution charts others had made, and estimates for our total numbers, and the numbers kept coming up short. We weren't heavily populated, like the US East Coast, but we still had over two million people among our four provinces. By all estimates, there should have been about a hundred of us. But only about a dozen had shown up so far, most of them in the same wave that changed me.

AT and I, and some other interested Changed, started a thread and began brainstorming about where the missing Changed were. Some of the theories we came up with were way out there, but in the end we concluded the region was just too sparsely populated and too closely knit. Many people did not travel far from their home towns, so the chances of a Changed finding another and getting into our forming networks, was slim. We concluded that most of the 80-some missing Changed either didn't know us, were hiding in isolation, were in mental wards around the provinces, or, sadly, were dead.

With that rough theory, we started a search as best we could. We began to go through newspaper archives, skimming pictures and reports for signs of hidden Changed, but it was frustrating. None of our jobs gave us the right resources to do a proper search. By mid September, when our frustrations were about to break out into a flame war on our little thread, a new poster dropped a message, that simply said "I'm looking into it."

The flame war erupted anyways, and the thread died off, but the missing Changed has never been far from my mind.

September 28, 2005

The Mounties came for me today.

It was around four in the afternoon, when Rachel called me at my desk.

"Joey, there's a policeman down here. He says he wants to talk with you," she said, in a hushed, 'what have you done?' voice.

"The police? What do they want with me?" I asked, my mind shifting out of work mode and trying to figure out what I had done that might make the police interested in me.

"He won't say. He just asked me to call you down."

"I... I'll be right down." I hung up the phone and started towards the front of the building.

The main entrance and reception area of my building is two stories tall. The second floor of the work area, where my cubical was, has windows that overlook that area, giving a clear view of the secretary and anyone else in the entrance. So, I went by the windows, I looked down to try and see what I might be getting into, half expecting to see flashing lights and the SWAT team waiting for me. Instead, I saw Rachel hunched over her computer at the reception desk, trying to look busy, but constantly looking up nervously. And the cop himself nearly caused me to trip over my hooves. He was a chestnut horse morph, dressed in a simple suit, ears twitching in the air while he patiently waited.

I picked up my jaw and my pace and clattered down the stairs. When I came around the corner, he was already turned and facing me. His eyes expertly looked me over, and for the first time since I changed, I knew this was someone who saw how I really was. He smiled and winked at me, holding out his hoof hand.

"Joey Ford I presume?" he asked unnecessarily.

I nodded and shook his hand, trying not to stare. He was the first Changed I had met in person since my own change. My nostrils flared a little, smelling a mostly clean equine scent from him. Somehow, Rachel never noticed it.

"I'm Assistant Commissioner Winthrop Fitzgerald, of the R.C.M.P. Are you busy? I would like to talk to you, for a bit, if you can leave now."

I blinked a bit and started to stammer. "Uhhmmm sure... I just need to go grab my stuff at my desk and log off and stuff."

"Not a problem, take your time." I turned tail and walked quickly back to my desk. He turned back to Rachel, and I heard him start to reassure her. "Don't worry, he is not under arrest, or suspected in anything nefarious. He just happened to notice something that proved important for some missing person cases we've had, and since I was passing through the area, I wanted to thank him personally."

I had no idea what 'missing persons' case I had helped with, but it was the chance to talk with another Changed muzzle to muzzle. Assistant Commissioner. I didn't know what the rank was, but it sounded important. I never realized we had a Changed so high up in the Mounties.

He was outside, clearing the passenger seat of an SUV with Ontario plates, when I got back down. He tossed the last load into the back foot well, and stepped to one side for me to climb in. The car itself smelled strongly of horse, mixed with stale coffee, donuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and other smells indicative of a long road trip. A cord plugged into the lighter led to a laptop now partly buried under paperwork. I wiggled to get comfortable in the first car seat I'd been in since I changed, and watched him climb in. With a well practiced twitch of his tail to lift it out of the way, he slid into the driver's seat, and moved it forward.

"Sorry for the mess, I've practically been living in this car lately. Drove down from Ottawa, checking in on some things that have been ignored for too long," he apologized, starting the vehicle and driving to the road. "Is there a place we could go to sit down and eat? Preferably somewhere that's somewhat busy so we don't have a waitress hovering over us? I just drove down from Edmundston, and I'm famished."

"Uhm, how about Smitty's? It's a place in the mall, up on top of the hill. Sort've like a small town Denny's. Turn left here."

He signaled and pulled into the traffic. "Sounds fine. Especially if they make a decent cup of coffee."

"I couldn't tell you; I didn't drink the stuff before hand, and since August, I just haven't had a taste for hot drinks. Go straight through these lights and keep going to Regent. It's the next major road."

He glanced over at me and nodded. "I suppose not. The winter coat coming in?"

"Yeah and it itches like crazy."

He nickered softly in amusement and watched traffic. "Bad news is, I hear it's worst when you lose it in the spring. Am I the first you've seen?"

"The first since I changed," I clarified. "Turn right here, up the hill, across the highway, you can't miss it on the right. I saw... well more like glimpsed Aidan, and a couple others last summer, before I Changed."

"That must've been freaky. Most don't break the field until we change."

I chuckled and nodded. "Tell me about it."

We pulled into the mall parking lot and found a spot near the restaurant. He rummaged around in the back seat, looking for something while I went in to get a table for us. The hostess set us up in a corner booth, far from the kitchen, next to an open window looking into the mall. We ordered our drinks, a chocolate shake for me, coffee for him, and talked about what was good, and what to avoid on the menu. After the orders were placed, he got down to business.

"I was serious when I said I wanted to thank you for helping us with a missing persons case. Though in this case, it was a group of people we hadn't realized were missing." He sighed and set his hand down on the folder, not opening it up but drawing some strength from it.

"The shortage of Changed Maritimers," I said, lowering my voice and glancing around. He apparently had no real issues talking about the Change in public, but it was a subject that made me nervous around unchanged.

He nodded. "You have to understand, there is so much going on, and so few of us.... not to mention a shortage of people with the right skills or the right positions... It's just so hard to keep track of everything going on and not have everything fall apart." He clenched his fingers together in frustration, then forced himself to relax and sip his coffee. "Really, it's not just the Maritimers, but pretty much everywhere outside the big population centers where you're likely to meet another Furre in passing. Our numbers are too sparse and our networks too fragmented still to find everyone we need to." He smiled ruefully. "Especially when you're the only Furry Mountie on the force."

The waitress arrived with our meals and disappeared again. We focused on our meals quietly for a few moments before I spoke up. "How many?"

"In this region? 20 confirmed not in our records or on our networks, with another 6 I'm still investigating, mainly missing people reports." he put his fork down and went to open the folder, then stopped himself. "Of those 20, 15 are dead."

The fork tumbled from my fingers and my jaw dropped. "Dead?!" I hissed in surprise.

"Yes, Dead. Surprisingly few suicides though. Remember, all ages seem to be changing, theoretically from toddlers to grandmothers. The Maritimes skew slightly to the older age set, which means they'd have more older Changed, more prone to old age related issues. Four of the deaths were due to old age issues. Three were suicides. Seven were various DOA accidents, some of which may have been caused due to the changed bodies not working with safety gear properly, but I'm not positive of that and I just don't have the time to investigate. And the last was a medical error death." He shuddered a bit and poked at his pancakes. "Stuff like that is one reason we're pushing the Medic Alert bracelet program. We don't want doctors with good intentions thinking your horns are tumors and trying to remove them."

I shuddered and reached to rub the base of my horns. I had the feeling he was speaking from a report and not just making up an example. "What about the other five?"

"As you guys expected, the psych system has them. Most self-admitted, which should help us get them back out. Two here in New Brunswick, two in Nova Scotia, and one in Newfoundland. That said, there are some bad cases too. I can't go into too many details, but one's been in that system for about eight years now. And last year, they admitted a 10 year old chipmunk morph from the Edmundston area."

"Ten years old?"

The stallion nodded. "Poor fellow couldn't figure out why he was different from everyone else. His family and the school decided it would be best to let the head doctors try to break his 'delusions'. I've asked what few experts we have to start trying to figure out what we can do for him, but our options are limited. Our best hope would probably for someone else in his family to change next year. Barring that, we'll try to break the RDF on his parents maybe, or just try to convince him to keep quiet about his form until more change. No matter what though, it's a mess."

"Is that even possible? Breaking the RDF that is?"

Fitzgerald shrugged and finished his coffee. "We have no idea. We've seen the field flicker for people sometime, like you experienced. But no one's ever reported a complete RDF failure without a Change.

"There are some who even think that if the field breaks without a change, it could start cascading, breaking it down for everyone before its time.

"In any case, that's why I'm doing this tour of the Maritimes. I'm gathering the information and paperwork we'll need to try and free those 5 from the wards, seeing what else I can do to help out down here, maybe get some ideas for what to do in other remote areas. Like the Territories. I don't even want to begin to think of what may be happening up there.

"Thanks for your help. I really appreciate it."

He started wiping up some egg yolk with a piece of toast. "I just wish I had thought of this sooner. Eight years.... Eight years being told you aren't something you really are. There are just too many balls and not enough hands to keep them in the air."

I slurped up the last of my shake. "At least this should be the hardest part right? Every year that goes by, we'll get more and more changed, which will mean more and more help, right?"

He smiled. "There is that. We picked up a few cops in some of the bigger cities this year, and it's significantly helped decrease my Change related workload."

The waitress brought over our bill. Fitzgerald glanced at it, pulled out a credit card and handed it back to her. He pulled out a business card and handed it over to me. "In any case, thank you again for your help in highlighting this issue. My contact info's on the card there. If you can think of anything I might be able to help with, feel free to send a message."

I pocketed the card and we walked back to his SUV. I retrieved my backpack from it and shouldered it.

"Can I give you a lift anywhere?" he asked.

"Nah, I've got some errands to run in the Mall here. Thanks for the offer, the dinner and especially for the update."

"If you hadn't started poking at it in the first place, we'd probably have gone a lot longer before realizing it. I'm still not sure how we're gonna handle this permanently, but we'll at least be able to help these guys." He shrugged a bit, "Until we get more Changed in the right places we're pretty much limited to damage control and volunteer efforts like yours."

We shook hoofs, and I started back to the mall.

"Just a second!" he shouted, stopping me in the parking lot. I backtracked closer to him.

"I haven't been down here in years; Do you happen to know where the local Mountie HQ is?"

I chuckled softly. "You're practically standing in it now." I pointed to the lights at the parking lot exit. "Turn left out of the lot, back onto the road we came in on. Go on past the next set of lights there, and it's the brick building right on the corner there."

He looked where I pointed and nodded. "Thanks again. I'm sure we'll be in touch."

Separator k.png

Another issue cropped up a few weeks later. One that I could not avoid. Namely, Thanksgiving Dinner with the family.

My family, still unchanged and Fielded, live in a town upriver from Fredericton. I spoke to them regularly, but I had managed to avoid seeing them in person since I changed. But Thanksgiving was something I knew I wouldn't be able to avoid.

Of course, things are never easy in my family. Don't get me wrong, I love them dearly, and we get along great together. But if there's an easy way to do something and a hard way to do it, we inevitably pick the hard one. And if there isn't a hard one, we'll create a hard one just to do it.

You'd think having a mountain goat for a son would be the hard way, but my sister had to one-up me (even if she didn't realize she was doing that). She announced that she and her girlfriend were going to leave the small town and move down to Halifax that Thanksgiving weekend, and we were all drafted to help with the move.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Believe it or not, I had become so used to the Field covering for me, that when mom called me at work and said she was ready to pick me up, I didn't think twice about it. I wrapped up my work for the day, gathered my stuff, changed my shoes (remembering to put on outdoor shoes this time) and walked out the door. So the shocked shout that met me caught me completely off guard.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph! What happened to you?" mom's shout echoed across the parking lot, drawing the attention and a few smiles from the coworkers leaving with me.

I froze on the step a moment, thinking the field didn't work on her, before remembering how my hair changes bled through. I rubbed behind my horns and walked up to the car.

"Sorry Mom, I forgot about it. It's a... side effect of the illness I had in August," I explained, pointing at the silver bracelet around my wrist.

Her voice shifted from 'Outside School Duty' tone to 'Disciplining in Classroom' (which is still pretty damn loud). "You were sick? Why didn't you tell us?"

"It was a few days back in August, Ma. You were taking care of Grandpa and there's nothing anyone can do but wait it out anyways. I'm FINE now, completely fine. It's not contagious or anything like that; but uhm some drug reactions can be dangerous for me now, so the bracelet's a precaution, just in case."

I tossed my pack in the backseat and climbed in. She stared at me a long moment, then shook her head and started driving. On the short drive back to my apartment, I kept reassuring her that I was fine. Being able to escape up to my room was a short relief.

I packed up my laptop and its keyboard, and tossed a couple changes of clothes and my toothbrush and fur brushes into my backpack. Tucking a couple of pillows under my arm, I looked around for anything I may have missed, then headed back downstairs.

"You got a jacket? There'll be a chill coming off the water down there," mom said, looking at what I had with me. Despite the October chill (which felt great), I was still going in short sleeved shirts.

"I'll be fine as I am. Besides, we'll be inside most of the time."

We hit the highway and made small talk on the way up. Despite the heater being turned off, I began to get uncomfortably warm in the car's confines. I brought up some cud to chew on to distract myself, something mom noticed right away.

"Is that gum? Got any more?"

I tucked the wad into my cheek and shook my head. "Sorry, that was the last piece. You usually have some in here anyways, don't you?" I searched the centre console and found a couple of half used packages for her.

We left the highway and turned onto our road. Mom glanced back at me and snickered. "You know how bad she teases dad for his mustache. You're never going to have any peace when she sees that beard."

I smiled ruefully and nodded. "I know. Part of the costs of having one I guess."

We pulled into the driveway and I saw a U-Haul backed up to the garage. I hoped out of the car, using the car's body to hide me rubbing my aching tail a bit, and trotted up beside the big truck.

I could hear someone in the back, moving boxes around. I glanced to mom and saw she was busy getting her school stuff out of the car, and no one else was in sight. Grinning to myself, I faced the side of the truck, turned my head down and rammed the side. There was a loud BANG!, and the truck rocked slightly from side to side. Surprisingly though, I didn't see stars or have any other ill effects. From the garage, the husky, Triton, tilted his head as if to ask 'why did you do that?'.

"What the hell was that?" my sister's voice shouted from the truck.

"Just me saying Hi!. How goes the packing?"

I heard footsteps from inside the house, and her ex-boyfriend (but still close friend), Mike appeared with a big box. His eyes widened when he saw me, and I quickly made a shushing motion with my finger.

"Slowly! You wouldn't think it would take so long to pack a couple of rooms," she called back.

I walked to the back of the truck and peeked in. "You forget, I've moved at least a dozen times, most of the time with a single room worth of stuff. I well know how long that can be to pack. You're shooting par for the packing course at the moment."

"Yeah yeah, whatever.... what happened to you?" a sweaty Liz hoped down off the back of the truck and saw me clearly for the first time.

"Side effect from something I caught in August. I'm fine."

"If you say so, Santa. I just figured dad's grayness genes finally kicked in. Baldness can't be far off now. Now go inside and grab a box."

For the rest of the evening, we were ferrying boxes from the basement into the truck. Dad got off work and brought in a pizza for dinner, and surprisingly didn't react much to my appearance.

Late in the evening, I was resting in the garage, panting and trying to cool off in the chilly night air. I reached down and rubbed Triton's head, feeling fur very similar to my own. I didn't know how he saw me, but he accepted me. "Now I really know why you spend so much time outside in the winter, bud. This coat is killer in heated rooms," I confided to him. He woofed softly and laid back down on the concrete floor.

We eventually finished the packing, and Mike went home. Everyone but me's gone to bed now, so I've had some time to type this up, and swipe some of the veggies mom cut up to take with us for Thanksgiving Dinner on Sunday. Liz is crashed on the couch in the living room, and I've got my old bedroom and bed. It doesn't have a headboard, so I'm going to pull it away from the wall and hopefully I won't gouge the drywall. I almost wish I could sleep in the basement, but since I can't, that room will do. It's always been one of the coldest in the house anyways.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

What a day. No one ended up gored on the end of my horns, so I guess we can consider it a good day, but that's about it.

We were up early, practically at the crack of dawn, and the normal chaos of last minute preparations was going on. Liz was tearing through the house, sorting through what she was leaving behind and adding to the pile she was taking. Mom was tearing through the kitchen, wrapping up food and trying to figure out how to keep pot lids on tight enough for the water not to slosh out during the trip. Dad and I carried a few more boxes to the U-Haul and otherwise just stayed out of the women's way. Mike showed up with Mindy, Liz's girlfriend and another car load of stuff to be loaded into the truck, along with their new kitten, Boris (of Boris and Natasha fame) (Ed Note: I'm still not sure where she gets her names sometimes. In the years to come, Boris will be joined by Moufassa and Cuddles, and later still, the trio will be left in mom's care when Liz heads out west and picks up two dumpster kittens named Kibbles and Bits.)

Eventually, only running an hour later than we planned, Liz and Mindy got in the truck and the rest of us loaded into mom's car and we were off on the longest six hours of my life. Normally, four in a car wouldn't be a big deal. But when one is a mountain goat with a winter coat growing in, things are a bit different. I spent the entire trip slouched in the back seat, trying not to jam my tail too much, trying to keep my horns from literally going through the roof and my hooves from going through the seat ahead of me. As some tears in the fabric can attest to, there were more than a few close calls.

On top of all that, there was the heat. I don't care how many temperature zones car makers say they have in cars nowadays; when one person wants subzero temperatures, and the other three prefer room temperatures, the subzero guy is S.O.L.. By the end of the trip, I was done. I felt more cooked than the turkey tomorrow's gonna be. As we crossed the bridge over the harbour in Halifax, I couldn't take it any longer. I rolled my window down and all but stuck my head out the window, deeply inhaling the cool, moist sea air. Funnily enough, the other windows soon rolled down, as if mom (who was driving) wanted to clear the air. I guess my scent was getting a bit strong by then.

We followed the U-Haul onto Barrington street, and found the building her apartment was in. Mindy hopped out to arrange for the keys and such while Liz led us down to another parking lot nearby. I hopped out of the car as soon as we stopped and almost collapsed; my feet and legs were cramped from the awkward positions the car forced me into. A quick jog around the lot worked most of the cramps out.

With the keys in hand, and we were able to start moving. We were able to park the U-Haul on a very steep side street next to the building and unload from there. Mom and Mindy stayed up in the apartment to unpack and make more room, while the rest of us were packmules. At first the hill was a nice little stretch, but by the time the truck was empty, we were all completely spent.

If that was the end of it, we would have been fine, but nooooo. Remember how I said we like to make things difficult? Well tomorrow is Sunday, and this stupid province has a Sunday Shopping Ban. (Ed Note: It was lifted a few years later finally). And as everyone who has ever moved knows, there's ALWAYS a tonne and a half of stuff you need to buy once you get there. So the five of us piled into the car (Mom stayed back to rest and unpack more), and we drove around to what felt like every corner of that city, getting bus passes, buying food, window treatments, etc.... Luckily, I managed to call shotgun for most of the trip. The one time I missed it, after squishing Mindy and Mike in the back seat, I was granted shotgun for the rest of the trips.

Anyways, we finished up in time, unloaded again, and cleaned up the place enough to have room to sleep. With the six of us in a two room apartment, it was more than a tight fit. But we sorted it out. Parent's in the queen sized bed, Mindy and Liz on the futon, Mike on the couch, and me supposedly on an air mattress. Mike tried to give me the couch but I declined it, worried I'd tear it apart. I've got the same worry for the air mattress too, so I'm just gonna roll onto the floor. It's a tile floor and rather cool, so I should be fine.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Damn Cat. Damn Sister.

I woke up this morning to a flash of light. Said flash caused me to twitch, which in turn startled Boris into jumping and clawing my shoulder. I hope that picture of the damn cat sleeping in my beard is worth it, Liz.

We did more unpacking, mainly to make enough room to cook the dinner, and find the dishes and stuff, while mom set about preparing the turkey. Soon it's spicy scent was filling the apartment, and warming it even more. I endured it, with many breaks to step outside, and soon we were having an early afternoon dinner. The bird itself made me a bit queasy when I tried I few pieces, so I made sure not to take much, and slipped most of it down to Boris. Thankfully, the sausage and bread stuffing was edible; I would have hated to lose that.

After cleaning up from dinner, we decided to take a collective break from unpacking and cooking and such. We wandered down to the harbour and started checking out the neighbourhood. The cool sea breezes were invigorating for me. It was as good a time as any to tell them.

"Just to let you know, I'm not heading back with you tomorrow. I've got a friend I've arranged to meet, and I'll just take the bus home afterwards."

"We could wait for you. Not like we haven't driven late into the night before," mom offered.

I quickly shook my head. "No no, that's fine. I'm sure Mike wants to get back at a somewhat decent hour. And I'm not sure how long sh-HE and I will be once we get together." I mentally kicked myself for the slip up, which Liz caught quickly, as little sisters are opt to do.

"Joey's got a girlfriend! Joey's got a girlfriend!" she taunted, skipping on the sidewalk.

"I do NOT! Heh-Sh-HE! is just a friend! Hell this is the first time we're even meeting," I shouted back, barely keeping myself from stamping my hoof down. No matter how old you get, a brother-sister fight always regresses to a grade school squabble. Especially if parents are around to hear it.

"Liz, stop that! Joe, that's fine. Go see your friend tomorrow and call us whenever you do get home."

We spent the rest of the evening assembling the apartment and snacking on leftovers. By the end of the evening, it is almost livable, if only there were four fewer people in it.

Monday, October 17, 2005

"Did anyone else have trouble sleeping last night?" Mindy asked, rubbing her eyes and sitting on the edge of the futon while the rest of us got up and prepared for the day.

"No, I slept fine," Mike answered. "Why?"

"I don't know. I heard metal clanging all night long. And I could've sworn I heard a goat or something.... Weird." She shook her head and dismissed the thoughts. I tried not to look too guilty as I realized that my sleeping position last night would have put my hoof against the metal futon leg, on the end where she was sleeping. Scuff marks showed where night twitches had banged hoof to metal.

"Tres weird," I agreed, and made a hasty exit with a pile of empty boxes for the bins.

Six people plus one bathroom equals a long time to get ready, but it was eventually all sorted out. The car was reloaded, and mom, dad and Mike were ready to go, complete with mom's tearful farewells.

AT had said her shift wasn't over at the Casino until two in the afternoon, so I had time to kill. We went back to the apartment and talked for a bit while Liz and Mindy straightened the apartment out more. Soon after one, I excused myself and locked myself in the bathroom for a bit, taking time to polish my horns and hooves. I didn't normally do that, but I didn't normally meet other people who could see them.

Finally, it was getting close to two, and time for me to take my leave.

"Thanks for letting me crash here Liz. I'm not sure if I'll catch the bus back tonight or if I'll need to come back here to crash," I said, shouldering my pack with my overnight supplies. I opened the door slowly, a hoof ready to block any escape attempts by Boris.

"No problem Joe, the door will always be open for you. Thanks for your help.... Aren't you going to put your shoes on?" Liz stooped down to catch the white furred cat and tossed him into the bedroom.

"Shoes?" I looked next to the door and realized I had forgotten my shoes again. It was a bad habit I was getting into, to the point where I would leave my shoes blocking the door out of my apartment so I would remember to put them on. "Oh yeah! Been a long weekend. I'd probably have forgotten my head if it wasn't on my neck."

"You couldn't lose your head. Your beard would get caught in your shirt and drag it along ," Liz teased me as I pulled the shoes on and tied them up. They disappeared as usual but somehow, everyone but me could still see them.

I stood up again and lifted the end of my beard and wagged it towards her. "Don't diss da beard. Or it might hunt you down tonight and strangle you," I taunted back.

"Oh just get outta here before I unpack the razor and go after you," she retorted, lobbing a couch pillow my way. I batted it away and slipped out the door, waving my beard to her with a wide grin.

I stepped out of the building and inhaled deeply. The air smelled of the usual city smells of garbage and car exhaust and hot rubber, but underlying it all was the salty tang of the ocean. Being a holiday, traffic was virtually nonexistent, letting me quickly cross the streets, towards the sea. I then followed the coast towards the Casino. A few shops were open for the late season tourist trade but mostly it was quiet and deserted. I followed a boardwalk stretching over the water around some of the buildings, and trotted into the Casino and looked around.

Unlike the big Vegas Casino's I'd seen a few months earlier, the Halifax Casino was much smaller and mostly made up of video slot terminals. All of which were constantly beeping and jingling and making other noises. I stood near the door and scanned the small gaming floor, looking for AT.

"'scuse me," an elderly Bingo-lady said, bumping into me on her way back to the machines. Behind her trailed a fading cloud of cigarette smoke that caused me to wrinkle my nose in disgust. The building itself was nonsmoking, but that didn't mean people didn't bring the scent in with them from their smoking breaks. As the smoke cloud dissipated, I began to pick up a canine scent.

"I'll be glad when there are more of us around and they'll start lowering the volume on those machines. 'Course by then they'll probably rig them to start releasing scents to encourage people to keep playing or something like that," a quiet, androgynous voice said behind me.

I turned around and met AT for the first time. She was covered in thick, long black fur which she clearly kept clipped around her paws so it wouldn't get muddy or interfere with her feet or hands. Her head was fully dog-like, but her muzzle was short and her ears were close to her skull. She was dressed in slacks and a male shirt and tie, similar to the uniform as the other Casino workers, but covered with a windbreaker. Neither the shirt nor the coat did much to hide the bulges on her chest. Her pants also were ill-fitting, wide around her legs but tight at her hips. The back of the pants were tugged down a little to make way for a tail partly hidden by the coat.

She held a long fingered paw out to me. "Joeseph I presume? Considering there aren't any other goats in here, it's probably a safe presumption."

I shook it and we both took the moment to squeeze each other's hands, then look at them closer. I felt the thick pads on her palm and finger joints, and a pressure from clipped claws. After loosening her grip, she lifted my own hand to look at the mix of thick and thin fingers, along with the hard nails on my finger tips and the rough textured skin of my palms.

"Just call me Joey; that's what I'm used to. Good to finally meet you in person."

"Lets go outside where it's quieter. I know a table where the wind comes right off the sea, so you don't get the smoker's cloud either. Looks like both of us have enough fur that a bit of sea breeze won't freeze us."

She lead us outside onto the boardwalk to a table overlooking the harbour. The area smelled strongly of the sea and fast food, but not much else. "Sorry I didn't catch you before you went in. I just got off the morning shift and had to answer the standard call of nature."

"No problem, I wasn't waiting, or deafened for long. I'm sorry if I stare, I haven't seen many of us clearly."

She smiled and stood up a moment, turning around and wagging her tail. "You're my, let's see.... fifth Changed since I changed, I think. Working at the Casino lets me see a lot of travelers, including other Changed. One or two of them hadn't even known of the Networks we're setting up."

"Four others? Wow.... Gonna be more in the years to come too if the theories are right."

"Yeah, part of me is a bit sad that we will be losing our uniqueness in the future. On the other paw, it'll be nice to be able to go into the girl's washroom without drawing attention. Not to mention to finally have a uniform that fits again."

I looked at her again across the table, and couldn't help myself from asking. "How does that work for you anyways? To change sides like that, so to speak."

She looked out at one of the cargo ships moving through the harbour while she gathered her thoughts. "It was rough, but not as rough as it should have been. Many of us think the RDF field that hides us also helps us adjust to these changes, no matter how extreme they are. But even so, I was a mess for a long time. Nearly lost my job before I figured out how the RDF worked. Knowing people saw me as I was before helped ease me back to work a lot faster."

"'Course there were a few times when the RDF was strained too. These are hard to hide when someone, especially a drunk someone bumps into you," she mentioned, pointing to her chest. "Anyways, nowadays, I'm comfortable with what I've become, and the RDF is almost a curse now. In another year or three, maybe I'll figure out how to go as one of the girls or something."

"Of those people you met, did any of them seem to not be coping? I mean I've been reading our boards and talking to Aidan and you and others, but it seems like most of us seem to handle it well, even newbies like me. Hell, even Fitzgerald's only found three suicides among those who hadn't found the networks."

She chuckled softly and nodded. "OH yeah... one of those who didn't know our networks, he was in full scale denial about his change. He stayed here a week or so, and was constantly shaving off his fur, clipping his claws, keeping his tail tied to his back and stuff. I think he was a 'coon morph but it was hard to be sure. He was smart enough at least not to try and chop off the tail, but that was probably because no doctor could see it to do it. The first time he saw me, he damn near turned around and walked back out. He made a point not to go near me at all, and actively avoided me when I tried to get close. I think he thought I was just another element of his hallucination or something.

"As the week wore on, housekeeping grew to hate him. They complained about the shower and sink being full of hair, more hair than should have been possible for a human, but the RDF stayed in force somehow. I got some of the housekeepers to stash a letter in his suitcases with some contacts for support, and I hope he followed through with them, but I don't know. I've never heard from him at all."

I shuddered and rubbed my arm a bit. "Wow, that's so... so sad and scary at the same time... I don't know what to make of it."

"I know what you mean. Part of me is hoping he is getting the help he needs somehow, even if we aren't providing it, and someday, when our numbers are bigger, we'll find him and be able to help him even more. But another part of me is sure he came here as a bit of a last Hurray!, and when he got back to where ever his home was, he did the final escape."

Both of us looked out over the harbour for a long moment, watching the ships go by and the traffic on the bridge arching over the water. Finally, I broke the silence by standing up. "Are you hungry? I'm starving and I'm all out of cud. I saw a pita place around the block, does that sound good to you?"

"Pita's sound great. Besides, we've got other things to talk about right? You said in your messages that you wanted to try and come up with ideas for getting the attention of other Changed, who don't know the networks?"

We made our way back to the streets and to the restaurant, rehashing old ideas we'd gone over on the boards many times before. Our biggest problem, was that we had no easy way to generate safe publicity to be seen by others. We needed to make a splash big enough to be seen on TV or something, but not something that would wave a flag screaming 'Hey! I'm furry! Anyone else got fur?'.

The restaurant was in its mid-afternoon lull, so we were able to order quickly and find a table in the almost empty dining area. We continued our conversation quietly but were unable to come up with something that might work.

We were dumping our garbage, when I happened to glance at a 'Current Events' bulletin board and I saw the solution.

"That's it!" I hissed, pointing to the board. I dropped the tray and all but dragged her out of the restaurant. "What do most of us watch, no matter what?" I asked once we were on the street again.

"Live at Five? But we talked about that; there's no way we'll get on there."

"Close, but not quite. Think annually, same network, sister station."

She looked puzzled and tried to get my clues, but couldn't. She shrugged. "I don't know."

"BT's New Years Special. I don't know anyone who doesn't switch to it at least once or twice on New Years Eve... Especially for the countdown. Well I guess people at parties may not see it, but if the Changed we're after haven't shown themselves yet, they probably aren't at parties either. And even better, scenes from it are constantly played on the news for a couple days later."

She pondered it a bit and hmmed. "I don't know. How would we get on it? Even if we could form a band, we wouldn't get on this year's show."

I grinned back at her. "We don't need a band. We just need in the crowd. As big a group of us in one area as we can get. You know they're constantly doing crowd shots during those shows. If there's a bunch of us in there, a Changed would see us like a spotlight.

"AND," I moved on quickly, "It's isolated enough that we can be a bit of a controlled experiment for those who are worried about the Field failing too soon. No one outside the provinces is likely to see the broadcast, and even if they do, with the amount of partying and stuff going on, who'd believe them? It's perfect!"

She nodded slowly, beginning to warm to the idea. "Well that will let them know there's more of us, but doesn't give them any way to contact us."

It was my turn to frown. "Good point. We should still do it, but it would be nice to be able to pass a message too."

We walked back to the tables on the patio outside the Casino and thought the issue over more. Finally AT snapped her fingers. "Shout outs."

I looked at her inquisitively.

"All during those shows, they do shoutouts from the audience. They have cameras and microphone people out there looking for interesting groups to shout there messages out over the air."

"That could work... but how do we get the attention to make our shout out?"

It was her turn to grin. "It's a bit risky, but we go just the way we are now. We, and most of the others in this area, are cold adapted. We could go in shorts and a t-shirt in a blizzard and not bat an eye. The only reason I've got a jacket is to hide my uniform so we aren't bugged out here. But to the unchanged, we'd be crazy people on the verge of frost bite if we dressed like that at the end of December. What better targets for a director looking for targets? It's happened before, I saw more than a few groups like that last year. Shirtless Sports Fan Syndrome basically."

I returned her grin. "That could work...that could really work."

We spent the rest of the afternoon, and into the evening plotting and talking, our notes lit only by the Casino lighting. A lot would depend on how many were willing to come down to the city to join us. If it was just the two of us, we were going to do it no matter what. If we got enough people though, we made tentative plans to rent a suite for an after New Years get together.

With notes and ideas as plotted as we could, our conversation moved on to other things. We talked about ourselves, a bit about our lives before the Change and many, many stories about our lives after the Change. I glanced at my watch at one point and was startled about the time.

"Do you work tomorrow?" I asked.

"Afternoon and evening shifts. I can sleep in tomorrow morning. Why?"

"Well it's too late for me to catch a bus to Freddy Beach. And I saw a Dooley's near my sister's place. Want to go shoot some pool?"

"You know, I don't think I've done that in a long... long time."

We retired to the pool hall, and had a blast. I discovered that my hoof fingers were good for supporting the cue's; as long as I kept it on my nails. If it dropped too low, it would catch on my gripping pads, and since the slippage usually happened on the stroke, it hurt like the dickens. AT on the other hand found the cue tricky to balance on her fingers while not getting claws caught on the felt. Occasionally we attracted some strange glances our way, especially when AT had to bend over for some shots, but for the most part we were just two other pool friends.

At too-late o'clock, we finally, regretfully, parted company. Liz wasn't very happy when I banged on the door (with my hand, not my head) to be let in, but she was too sleepy to make a crack about it.

The bus leaves early tomorrow, so I've gotta wrap this up and hit the floor. She had left the futon down for me, but I don't want to wake them up too much with horns and hooves clanging on its metal frame.

Separator k.png

October rolled on into November, and the temperatures steadily dropped, matched with a thickening of my fur coat. Of course, a non-removable fur coat while great for the outdoors, sucks when you are inside a temperature controlled building. I eventually had to set up a fan to try and cool me down a little, and took to eating my lunches outside in the park. I occasionally got a few strange glances when they saw me without a jacket, but I just waved and ignored them.

Plans for New Years slowly began to gel together. A half dozen of us, mainly Nova Scotians, expressed interest in trying to appear on TV, or at least in meeting other Changed, so we booked the suite and made further preparations. Some outside our little subgroup heard our plans and expressed misgivings, but AT and I soldiered on. I reiterated my 'Small market test case' theory, but that didn't sooth their concerns. Still, they were busy with their own projects and such, and effectively out of their reach. We were going to do this no matter what.

December arrived with a warm roar. A nor'easter blew through the region, draping everything in a mixed layer of snow, sleet and ice, followed quickly by an arctic blast to freeze everything hard. Really pretty to look at. Damn difficult to walk in, even if you are part mountain goat.

Even I wasn't stupid enough to trust myself on that mess at first. I experimented on the flat area near the forest first to make sure my footing was good. I quickly discovered my hooves helped crunch through upper ice layers to reach more solid layers beneath, and my pads really could find traction on just about anything. The cold, even the arctic blast's winds, barely registered to me under my fur. I arrived at work only slightly later than usual, only realizing then I had once again forgotten my outdoor shoes at home.

Christmas came and went in its normal rush. Not much Change-related happened on that front; it was just a good family time for all of us. Though there was an incident with a new microwave that makes me wonder if mom would notice I was a goat even if the Field wasn't affecting her.

And finally, at long last, yet too soon like all anticipated events are, it was New Years.

Saturday, December 30, 2005

We had had a white Christmas, but just barely, and now another warm snap hit us, melting snow and leaving muddy slush all over the place. I was disappointed; I wanted SNOW damn it. In any case, I caught a taxi to take me through the slushy roads to the bus station.

The bus station was busy as expected, and the buses looked packed. Luckily, a Halifax express bus started here. (Express meaning it only stopped at the big centers along the way, instead of going into every little hamlet and dale between the cities). I got my ticket and managed to pick one of the first seats, right next to the door so I could get a bit of a cool breeze. It was a full bus, but the seat next to me stayed empty until the last moment. My new companion looked at me, then looked carefully around for any other seat. He begrudgingly sat down next to me. I don't know what his issue was, but I hoped he kept them to himself. I simply laid my head against the cool window and tried to read.

In Moncton, we stopped and let off some of the passengers, including my seat mate. There was an hour dinner break scheduled there, so I was able to get off and stretch my hooves a bit and get a snack.

When I got back, I noticed a short figure staying close to the shadows of the buildings, looking up at the platform numbers and the buses, clearly trying to figure out where to go. He appeared to be slouched over, dressed in a fur coat with a furry cap and a backpack which itself had a large brownish flap on its bottom. As I watched, the flapped twitched down and up, and my view of him completely turned around. Everything clicked into place and I knew who it had to be.

"Bonsoir Claude! Fancy meeting you here!" I shouted, approaching him. He jumped and slapped his tail against the ground in surprise before recomposing himself to face me, buck teeth glinting in the light. He held his tickets in one paw, and a well chewed branch in his other.

"Joseph?" he asked in a heavy French accent, softening the 'J' in my name. "I didn't know you were traveling today...."

I clasped him on the shoulder, and felt him shaking. He had on a light jacket and shorts that were long enough to be pants. His toes twitched against the pavement, claws scratching at it. "I'm heading down early to help AT get things ready. So you decided to come to the party after all?"

"Oui, I am.... if you'll have me?" He looked up hopefully, then continued in a rush. "I wasn't going to at first, but after spending Noel seulement, the... the thought of being alone scared me. The mill's shut down for the holiday's, and I've got nothing else to do...."

"Of course you can come. All are welcome," I assured him, while trying to remember all I could about him. He was a beaver morph, from a Francophone village up near Bathurst; his village was a mill town where most, including him somewhat ironically, worked at the lumber mill. Beyond that, he hadn't told us much, and we hadn't pried.

I looked at his ticket to verify he was on the express to Halifax, and lead him to my bus. "My seat mate got off here, so you can sit next to me," I explained. It seemed to help calm him. The bus driver waved me on board but I waited for Claude. The driver looked somewhere over Claude's head and took his ticket. He ripped the stub off and told the air over the beaver's head "Have a good trip, sir."

"Merci," Claude said, shaking again. I subtly helped him up the stairs and helped him take his pack off, stashing it under my seat. I would have preferred to retake the window seat, but it was clear he was more comfortable against the window. He stared out the window, watching people get on buses, or meet relatives coming off the buses.

At one point the driver climbed on board and counted the empty seats and checked the tickets. "The bus from Charlottetown is running a bit late, and has some people transferring to Halifax. We're just gonna wait for them, and then we'll be off," he explained. The rest of the bus rumbled softly about the delay, but there was nothing to be done.

As the driver climbed down to wait outside the door again, Claude spoke again. He spoke so softly, I nearly missed it over the roar of a bus leaving. "That is the hardest thing to get used to. Not the constant chewing, not the fur, not even slapping the ground every time I'm startled." I looked at him inquisitively, watching him rub the silver bracelet around his wrist, and thoughtfully chew on the stick he brought on board. "The size," he finally clarified, finished with the stick for the moment. "I used to be six pieds tall. Tres grand homme. Maintenant, I am sous cinq, presquement quatre. Yet everyone still seems to see me as tall as I was before. So everyone looks over my head, and I can't tell if they're looking at me, or looking at someone else."

I ah'ed and nodded in understanding. It had taken me a week or so after I changed to realize I had lost about six inches myself when I changed. Well I didn't really lose them, since my horns found them. Still, familiar gestures for the longest time were always slightly off, and people had an unnerving habit of staring at my horn bases instead of my eyes. I reached out and squeezed his shoulders comfortingly. I briefly wondered how that looked to Veiled people. Was I reaching up to rub a tall guy's shoulders? Or was I squeezing him lower down? I chased the thought out of my mind.

There was a hiss of brakes and another bus pulled in further down the platform from us. Neither of us paid it any attention, until we heard a whinny and the sound of clopping hooves. "Hold that bus!" a female voice shouted across the platform over the clopping noises. The angle was wrong for us to see the source of the voice, but there were many puzzled looks in the voice's direction.

Our bus driver looked confused for a moment, as if he was seeing or hearing something that was impossible, then shook his head. "This bus ain't going anywhere without me, deary. No need to rush, slip in that slush and hurt your pretty self."

The clopping slowed down barely slightly and there was a nicker of laughter. Finally the source came into view, a female, gray furred horse morph. She was dressed in a blouse and slacks, and carried a large overnight bag that barely counted as carryon luggage, and a small purse. She had a cowboy hat perched on her head, ears twitching on either side of the brim. She arrived at the driver well before the rest of the remaining riders, and handed over her ticket. He seemed more than a little stunned, automatically ripping the ticket and waving her on board.

She made it to the top of the stairs before freezing, her gaze focusing on me. "Joey!" she squealed in excitement, then looked beside me, "And you must be Claude! I didn't know you were coming!"

Claude mumbled something in French that I missed while I stared at the horse. "Good evening, Natalie," I greeted her. She was a cashier who worked at a Sobeys in Charlottetown. Her online presence tended to be very expressive, and I was discovering, her real life presence was just as expressive.

"Excuse me please," a quiet voice said behind her, as the next passenger tried to get on.

"Oh hold my horses!" she snapped back, then giggled at her inside joke while stepping to one side. The old lady behind her looked confused as she squeezed passed the horse and took a seat further back. Natalie leaned past me to talk to the person in the seat behind me. "Excuse me, these are my friends. Would you mind moving to another seat so we can sit together?"

I half hoped the guy behind me would refuse, but he didn't. He gathered his stuff and almost too eagerly, moved to the furthest available seat left in the bus. I didn't blame him. She set her bag down and flopped down behind us, leaning forward between our seats. One hand snaked over the back of my seat and flicked my horns. "So Horns, you all set for this lil shindig you're arranging?"

I winced and snorted in annoyance, looking around to see who heard. Well, I knew everyone had heard, but they were making a show of not paying her any attention. "I thought I was all set. Now I'm having second thoughts," I said in a carefully measured tone.

"Well I'm here, so even if we don't get on TV, you know we'll have a party," she said, tapping the end of my horns with her fingers.

I groaned inwardly and leaned forward. I was beginning to think that if Fitzgerald wanted a way to break the RDF, Natalie would be a good starting point. "Please stop doing that," I hissed through gritted teeth.

We pulled out of the station and hit the highway. She stopped hitting my horns, but that was the only thing she stopped doing. She spoke constantly, rarely waiting for a response the few times a question was asked. And the subject matter, while not always Change related did stay annoyingly close to Change subjects. Things like hoof care, brush types, good fur shampoos, and so forth. I occasionally caught the driver's eyes in the mirrors and he flashed me a confused, sympathetic smile. The rest of the passengers around us did their best to tune her out, other than a little girl across the aisle. She openly stared at us, and hung on Natalie's every word.

By Sackville, pour Claude was on his second branch. By Truro, I almost wanted a branch of my own. When we rolled past Salisbury, I was convinced that when the RDF eventually fails, it'll fail over PEI first, and Natalie will be the cause of it. It was a huge relief when we pulled into the station.

"Anyways, where are you guys staying?"

The question and sudden silence caught us by surprise. I looked back and saw her waiting for an answer. "Well, I'm crashing at my sister's place downtown. And I believe Claude said he managed to find a room in the same place we've got the Suite booked." I waited a moment, then asked the mandatory followup. "And you?"

"I've got a reservation in a Day's Inn out in the boonies somewhere, Clapton Park, Clayton Park, something like that. Couldn't afford the rates downtown."

I nodded. "It is a bit crazy. We were lucky to get the suite."

The driver pulled into the station and announced the end of the line. We gathered our gear and got off the bus. "Anyways, I've got to find a cab. See you two tomorrow. Two o'clock at the Commons right?" she called, already heading to the taxi line.

"Right," I replied weakly and leaned against the side of the bus while the rest of the passengers got off.

The driver lifted the panels to the cargo area and began to unload it. "She's a bit... intense, isn't she?" he said tactfully.

"You could say that."

"Strange things she was talking about too. She doesn't seem like the farmer type."

I forced a chuckle. "She isn't. She's a clerk at Sobeys. She just has a very vivid imagination." I wiggled my finger in the air beside my head to indicate what I really wanted to imply. The driver chuckled and moved to the next cargo bay. "Thanks for driving us. Have a Happy New Years," I finished, stepping around the crowds with Claude following me.

The beaver seemed petrified. I looked at him, then out of the station. It was late, but not too late yet. "The hotel isn't too far away. You want to walk it, or get a cab?"

He looked around a bit. "It's crowded here...."

"And it will be even more crowded tomorrow, once the parties really start."

"Then lets walk it. I need to stretch my legs anyways."

We left the station and joined the crowds on the sidewalks. It was chilly, but there was no snow on the ground at all, just the mist coming in off the water. I looked around to get my bearings, and pointed the direction to go. The hotel really wasn't all that far away, about midway between the hospitals and the universities and the bus station itself. Before we entered the lobby, he stopped and looked at me.

"Do you know if there is any place to get something to eat at this hour around here?" he asked.

"A couple of blocks that way, there's a bunch of fast food places and bars that should still be open. Go check in and I'll wait. I'm in no rush, and I could use another bite to eat anyways."

Checking in was quick and painless. While he dropped his stuff off in his room, I confirmed that everything was set for our suite for tomorrow.

We left the hotel and made our way to the commercial area, finally settling on Wendy's for dinner. He gradually opened up as we talked, and we found many similarities and common likes. We joked about Natalie a bit, and walked back to his hotel room. I made sure he knew how to get to the meeting area, then went to crash at my sister's.

Monday, January 1, 2006

Oh what a night.... I think I can classify the night as a success, and even if we don't find anyone from this event, just meeting everyone else made it worthwhile. And despite the naysayers, the Field didn't collapse because Changed were on TV.

AT and I met up at a Tim's for a late breakfast to catch each other up and to relax a bit before the night. I warned her about Natalie's exuberance, and told her Claude had come down as well. She filled me in on most of the rest of the Nova Scotian contingent, who had met up and crashed at the Casino for a good chunk of the night.

Around noon, we hoofed it over to the Commons to see what we were getting into. The stage was set up and barricades marked where the crowds were allowed. To my surprise, there were already a few people staking out positions near the stage itself, sharing cups of coffee and trying to keep warm. We picked a spot near the center aisle, as close to the front as we could and watched the preparations and for other furry bodies.

AT winced a bit, and her ears started twitching. I watched her, puzzled, while she looked from side to side and then pointed. "There it is. Can't you hear it?"

"Hear what?"

"That speaker's majorly off. If they use it tonight they're gonna have every dog in the neighbourhood howling," she explained, flagging down one of the techs near the stage. I held our place by the fences while she talked to the tech, walking him closer to the speaker. I watched them argue for a bit, then saw her stomp back our way.

"He says 'He'll have it looked into'. I don't think he believed me," she growled, frustrated. "Soon as more of us get here, I'm going to duck down to Shoppers and get some Aspirin. We're gonna need it."

I chuckled and leaned against the barricade, tapping a hoof against the bottom rail. "Just one of the costs of being an early Changer. A few more years we should have enough canines to properly sound-tune events like this."

"I suppose so..." she admitted, grudgingly.

The rest of our group trickled in through the afternoon. Claude wiggled his way through the crowd and found us soon after two, wearing a light windbreaker with a bundle of sticks in one pocket. Ryan, a bobcat from Yarmouth and Bridgette, a doe from Antigonish showed up together.

The next to arrive was a surprise to me. Seeing a silver fox morph coming was no surprise. (The fact that he lived in Sydney and not in PEI or near Moncton where the silver fox farming occurred was a minor surprise when he showed up on the boards.) No, it was the person he was traveling with.

Michael scanned the crowd and finally saw us and tapped the arm of a woman next to him. Together they pushed their way through until they got in speaking distance of the group.

"Hi guys, I'd like you to meet my wife, ..." he started, but I had to interrupt him.

"Crystal?! Is that you?"

She looked at me, confused for a moment until recognition dawned on her. She stepped forward and hugged me tight. "Oh my god! Joey? Is that you? What happened to you?"

I pointed to the chain around my wrist. "Sleeping sickness side effect. Probably similar to what happened to Michael over there," I shifted a bit and glanced at the rest of us. "Guy's, not to take any of Mike's thunder, but this is a school mate of mine, Crystal. We graduated high school together." I grinned at Michael who was relaxing a bit. "You've made a great catch there, bud," I added, giving him a thumbs up.

Introductions were made and we mingled together in the thickening crowd. Natalie arrived with as big a splash as I expected her to make, and the last few of us trickled in. A few hours before the shows were to start, we started dinner runs, sending some of us off to get food while the rest held our position in the crowd.

Mike pulled me to the side at some point, while Crystal was chatting with AT and Natalie.

"I hope you don't mind. I couldn't just leave her home while I came down here. We'll probably skip the after midnight party, if you think it'd be for the best."

I waved my hoof a bit and shook my head. "Don't worry about it. You never mentioned you were married."

"I know. We've been married since the summer, and then I 'got sick'. I originally wasn't planning to come down, but I let slip that a bunch of us were gonna get together for New Years and she insisted that we come down. She thinks we're a support group for the Illness."

"Well we are, aren't we?" I grinned and waved at a camera man swinging the camera on a boom over the crowd. It probably wasn't on, but it didn't hurt. "And you should still come to the party afterwards. Bring her along. Either the field will hold or it'll come down early, but it should be a good time in any case. There'll be some drinks there, so you could probably hoofwave off any weird memories as being alcohol related."

"I'll think about it. And in case I forget about it later, thanks for helping pull this together."

"It's nothing. And it was AT that did most of the pawwork. She deserves most of the kudos."

My sister and a large group of her friends found us soon before the shows started up and we mingled together. I had no idea how she found us in the growing crowd of thousands, until I recognized Crystal's sister in Liz's group.

The show itself was a blast. Local acts kept the crowd warmed up until the televised part and the big names took over the stage. Camera men on booms swung over the crowds, filming teasers of the upcoming show, and reporters paired with more camera men moved through the crowd to record some shout outs.

As AT had suspected, we weren't the only ones underdressed for the weather at the party.. Most people did dress properly, but there were more than a few groups that made us Changed look over dressed. Unlike us though, those guys were visibly shaking and chilled as the evening wore on.

Luck seemed to favour us anyways. Whether it was our position, our appearance, or maybe some subconscious clues that we were different, I don't know; but we did get a few appearances on camera. Natalie, AT and I (with my sister) all got shout outs. Even quiet Claude got a few seconds on camera. (Which was weird, since the camera was pointed over his head. When we saw clips later on, you could see the crowd and Claude's beaver head in the lower half of the screen instead of centered. Somehow the microphone picked up his words). And Mike literally swept Crystal off her feet and planted a kiss on her to the applause and shouts of those around us for a kiss-cam.

The count down started and the crowd roared. At Zero, the lights flashed, the fireworks exploded, and I impulsively turned and kissed AT's muzzle. "Happy New Years," I mumbled before we both turned away, embarrassed.

Of course, leave it to little sisters to make embarrassing situations worst. Even though she had kissed her girlfriend, she had still seen my actions. "Hey Joey! I'm the gay one, remember?. As mom puts it, you're the geek and I'm the gay!" If I'd had anything to throw at that point, it would've been going directly towards her head. Instead AT and I separated and mingled among the fur to watch the fireworks.

The fireworks died down and the hosts lead the singing of Auld Lang Syne. We tried to sing along, but many of us had sudden coughing fits as the winds shifted and blew the fireworks smoke over us.

We joined the crowds filtering out into the streets and made our way en mass to the hotel with our suite in it. AT had picked up the key cards for the room earlier that day, as well as loading the room with cold cut and veggie trays. Some of us, who had other rooms at the hotel, excused themselves for a few minutes and came back with cases and bags of various drinks, and then the fun started.

There were about a dozen of us there, counting Crystal. At first, we tried to stay on safe topics for her sake. But once the beer cans were opened and the drinks started mixing, we loosened up, perhaps too much. I have no idea how the RDF field works, but somehow it held strong on Crystal, not to mention the poor hotel workers who periodically came to investigate the animal noises, and to ask us to quiet down. Around 4 AM, the hotel finally threatened to call the cops on us unless we stopped NOW, so we decided to call it a night. Those with other rooms retreated to there, sometimes with a new roommate (no, not in THAT way, as far as I know. ) and the rest of us crashed in various positions where we could get comfortable.

Final Damage Tally:

  • 1 shower curtain rod, when Bridgette tripped over her hooves on the bathroom tiles and yanked it out on her way down.
  • Two hoof holes in the wall. One from Natalie somehow, and one from when I tried to dodge around Ryan and crashed into the wall instead. (and no I wasn't drinking)
  • Horn gouges in the wall from the same incident.
  • Too many scratches and tears in the wallpaper and carpet from unwatched claws.
  • A shattered vase, and shattered lamp from a drunk Crystal tripping over Michael's tail.
  • 2 Full set of bed sheets and covers and pillows that can be considered 'no longer useable' and let's leave it at that.

Needless to say, the hotel wasn't entirely happy with us when we left, but we arranged to split the damage costs amongst ourselves and promised to make plans with a different place next year.

Anyways, it's I-don't-know-when in the first afternoon of 2006. Liz and Mindy are sleeping off their own party, and I think it's time to rejoin them in the land of Z's.

Tuesday, January 2, 2006

All good things must come to an end. Between what was left of yesterday, and today, the Changed fled the city, most of them severely hung over. The gods must have a wicked sense of humour though. Not only did Claude, Natalie and I end up on the same bus back to Moncton (we have planned for that to occur at some point during the party), but we got the same bus driver to.

Of course since now the three of us really knew each other and we were still coming down from the fun of the party (or coming up from the depths of a hangover), we were a bit more lively trio coming back, to the poor driver's dismay. He clearly thought all three of us were completely off our rockers by the time we got off in Moncton.

We shared dinner at a sub place near the station, and then regretfully parted ways to head to our respective homes. If I do say so myself, all of us were clearly better off than we were before. It's one thing to cope with the changes and such, but in the end, we are still trying to put on a human face to our changed bodies. To be able to cut loose like we did and be our real new selves released a strain that most of us never suspected existed. I now really understand why Aidan and the others I'd glimpsed back at the Fan Faire gathered together so much. And my desire to find more Changed who may not know what's going on has only been redoubled.

Speaking of which, the shout outs look like they may have been a success, even if they didn't go out as we had hoped. (When the cameras were on us specifically, most of us got too tongue tied to say what we had planned to say, but some of the banners and signs we had made showed up clear enough). AT says that she's been in contact with an Islander who changed, and there may be another she's still trying to call back.

Michael contacted me later via IM, just to touch base and chat a bit.

<SilverFox27> Hey Joe, you home yet?

<Jetfire> Just getting in the door. Wassup?

<SilverFox27> Just wanted to make sure you got home alright. And to apologize again for the damage we caused.

<Jetfire> *LOL* stop that. We all did damages there. It's paid for and behind us.

<Jetfire> But speaking of damages, how is Crystal?

<SilverFox27> Hung over and confused. Can't figure out how you put such a small hole in the wall with your foot. And we probably should not have had that 'who has the sharpest claws' contest with the linen and towels.

<Jetfire> *G* You shouldn't have. I'm just glad I stopped you guys before you started on the mattresses and couch cushions.

<Jetfire> But she's fine otherwise?

<SilverFox27> Otherwise fine. She wishes she could find the soft, fuzzy blanket she slept on after the party though. Wish I could tell her it was my own fur.

<Jetfire> Yeah, that can be the hardest part some time. Maybe you'll get lucky and she'll join us this August.

<SilverFox27> That's what I'm hoping. Even if she doesn't end up a vixen.

<SilverFox27> I'll let you get settled then. Thanks again for getting us gathered up like that. We both had a blast. (And yes, I've thanked AT too)

<Jetfire> C ya.

No matter what happens, 2006 is already shaping up to be a fun year.

Preceded by:
Lifting the Veil
The Veil (A Paradise Series)
(First: Holes in the Veil)
Succeeded by:
Film at 2011