User:JonBuck/A Kind of Paradise

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Welcome Ursa Major Recommended Reading List readers! I'm very flattered that three of my stories made the list. Thanks to one and all. --Buck 01:45, 6 January 2008 (EST)

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Paradise story universe

A Kind of Paradise

Author: Jon Buck

"What am I supposed to do? Call in furry?" Jerome incredulously tugged on one of his long, pointy, and twitchy ears. They looked familiar. He often saw several pairs on real deer while driving to work in the morning, and occasionally braked for them as they dashed across the narrow two-lane highway he commuted to work on. Why do I have deer ears? What the hell is... He looked more closely at his reflection in the fogged bathroom mirror.

Jerome had been so focused on the ears he'd almost missed his nose.

It was wider, and black, with a rough texture like a dog's. While not that far off a human nose, there were suggestions of things to come in the shape of his nostrils. His stomach clenched as he tugged on the left one again, only to have it try to twitch out of his grasp. "Holy shit. What the hell is this?"

After two days of the weirdest stomach flu he had ever experienced--he could eat vegetables just fine, but any meat just smelled and tasted awful--and strange, nonsensical dreams, he had been awoken by the sounds of traffic outside his bedroom window. He stared at his cervine ears in the mirror. "No wonder everything seems so damned loud." And now previously unnoticed odors were starting to mingle with the noises.

He rubbed the leathery skin between his nostrils again, too numb to properly react. I'm out of sick days... And he didn't own any hats. At least, none that would hide his ears. Let alone anything for his misshapen nose.

The clock beside the bed glowed 8:30. If he did a quickstep and got ready right now, he'd just make it to work... "Damn. I have a deadline today, too."

There was some work he could do from home, but telecommuting could only carry the project so far. The university library didn't have a virtual private network, so there were resources he could only get from on campus. The deer ears moved backwards a little as he pondered. No more sick time, major project due. Maybe, just maybe if he stayed in his office and came in the service entrance, nobody would notice.

Jerome flicked his ears and snorted. "Okay. So maybe I have a weird makeup job. Yes... um... a cousin came over and practiced his makeup technique. He works in a theatre. Uh... and he forgot to bring the stuff to take it off." Well, that didn't explain how they could move. But maybe if he concentrated.

With that paper-thin explanation in mind, Jerome dried off, got dressed, then headed out towards his car.

The funny thing is that nobody looked in his direction, even when they were sitting in their car just a few feet away. At a traffic light he purposefully looked at the driver next to him, who looked back with a nonplussed expression on her face. He flicked one of his new ears at her, and got no reaction. No gasp of shock, no screaming, no pointing fingers. Just an expression that turned more to "what are you looking at, bub?"

Did she even see these things? Jerome wondered. They were rather obvious. Animal ears on a human head. And his nose seemed a little different, with a few white hairs in his unshaven beard.

When someone behind him honked at another light, he jammed on the gas with the hair on the back of his neck standing on end. He was going well over the speed limit when he got a hold of himself. "Crap! Why the hell am I so twitchy?"

Because I'm part deer, he thought, making the final turn into the library parking lot. Unless this is some kind of incredibly detailed delusion. Which it could be.

If nobody else saw them, then maybe he could admit there was something wrong with him mentally. Jerome grasped the steering wheel of his car, pondering a visit to the university's psychology department. What's his name? John Nash lived with schizophrenia for decades and learned to deal with it without medication. Guess I can do that... Cope... Otherwise, well, the consequences did not bear thinking about.

The idea that he could avoid meeting anyone was futile to start with. But, as had happened in the car, nobody seemed to even see his ears. Jerome even flicked them on purpose, just to make sure. No reaction.

Somewhere on campus there was something emitting a high-pitched whine. At first he tried to pinpoint it, his ears rotating like a pair of radar dishes to find the source. But as the noise only got worse, he folded them back again. Nobody else seemed to hear it, but he decided to make sure. He approached a student just outside the library. "Do you hear that?"

The girl looked up from her textbook. "Hear what?"

Jerome cupped his hands behind his cervine ears, trying to emphasize them. "Sort of... a screech-chrip-chrip-chrip? Like there's a fan loose somewhere?"

The young woman shook her head slowly, confused, but also not looking at his animal features. "Nnnooo... Sorry."

He couldn't help but notice that she smelled a little like lavender. He smiled at her. "Well, thanks anyway. And nice perfume."

"I'm not wearing any," she replied, looking back to her textbook.

Once is a fluke, twice is a pattern. But now I'm not just feeling things, I'm apparently smelling and hearing them. Sensory delusions? Or am I just getting senses to go with this? H'okay... There was a 70/30 chance that this was a delusion at this point.

Twice, three times, four. The library was literally on the other side of campus from the staff parking area, and there were more and more students and faculty passing by him. Not one... not a single one, acted like there was anything out of the ordinary about the librarian. They either didn't see his ears and nose, or they considered them normal. He suspected the former.

He opted to enter the building through the front, waving at Renee at the reference desk. She waved back. "Feeling better, Jerome?"

Jerome shrugged. "Still a little lightheaded, honestly." He sniffed. Renee smelled like Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. "Worst flu I've ever had."

"Go see Fran and make sure she knows you're back, okay? How much of that project of yours do you need to finish?"

He scratched his hair behind his ear. The texture was different, not quite hair. Shorter, more wiry. Is it spreading? "Maybe a couple hours worth. I've mocked up all the categories in the wiki at home. I just need to get into the guts..."

"Fran isn't going to want you here if you're still contagious. You're looking kind of pale, Jerome."

Pale? He scratched his chin. There was rather more hair there than just a few minutes ago, as if his beard was growing in on overdrive. There was a growing pressure on his temples and the bridge of his nose, like the beginnings of a migraine that wouldn't quite move over the line to actual pain. "I'll... just stay in my office all day."

"No offense, Jer, but I'd rather you did. You're not scheduled for desk time today anyway." The older woman scooted her chair away from him a short distance.

Jerome retreated to the far end of the building on the second floor where the library staff had their own little offices. They were barely larger than a regular cubicle, but they did have doors, and exterior windows that overlooked the Quad. The library had a peculiar odor all its own, and he wondered how he'd missed it before. Some books were decades old and had picked up oils, water damage, even a little mold. Then there was the weaving of person-specific aromas. He covered his nose with his hand and found it protruded slightly. He decided to head to the restroom before entering his office.

The reflection in the mirror was one he barely recognized.

He had a muzzle. Sure, it was very, very short, extending no farther than the tip of his original nose had been. But there was no way he could call it anything else. There was no possible way he could call that a human nose. It was as if someone had cut off the very end of a deer's muzzle and applied it like a living prosthetic, from his upper lip. The bridge was wider, and his eyes... he leaned closer. The irises were larger. Then he saw the velvety bulges over his ears. The near-migraine intensified.

The entire shape of his head was subtly distorted. Almost-but-not-quite human. A russet-and-white beard surrounded it all, though it hadn't gone farther than the human-norm yet. Am I going to end up like those deer I pass by in the morning? he wondered, stomach clenching. Spend my remaining years dodging hunters?

Jerome thought of a plausible explanation. It certainly made no less sense than looking at the plain reality in the mirror. Who the hell ever heard of a weredeer, for Chrissakes?

The velvet nubs were going to be antlers. There was no question of that. Their growth seemed to be driving the changes to his skull at the moment. Jerome pondered the image of a stag's head on a human body, like a North American version of an Egyptian god. "This is nuts... absolutely nuts."

He felt a friendly slap on his back and almost jumped out of his skin. "Whoa there, Jer. What's so nutty?"

Jerome stared at him incredulously for a moment. You don't see anything wrong with me, Paul? Nothing? This isn't a Halloween mask! "Nutty that I still feel like crap and I came in to work today," he replied weakly. Everyone seemed to have a personal smell. Paul's was sea salt and surfboard wax. How he managed to stand the cold beaches in these parts was a mystery in itself.

"I need to go see Fran. Shouldn't take me long to get the wiki set up. I hate to have to go into my vacation time..." the deer-man said. He could see his muzzle getting longer now, both in the mirror and by going cross-eyed. The nubs had grown large and long enough to put a little weight on, fur was overtaking his facial features... and his forehead was visibly shrinking. I really don't want to watch this. It's grotesque! And I still need to see Fran. "I need to see my boss, Paul. See you around."

"Catch you later, Jer. The musk cologne's a new for you, isn't it?"

Jerome flicked his left ear, more puzzled than anything. "Err... yes. Thanks for noticing."

As he left the men's restroom it started to spread all over, with tingling sensations flowing over his hands and feet, at the base of his spine. It took all his flagging willpower just to walk down the hallway and not topple over from the growing weight on his head. His vision was slowly divided by his growing muzzle. This is so surreal...

He entered his supervisor's office, then clasped his hands behind his back, groping for the tail nub emerging from his behind. Fran looked up from her computer. "Great to see you back, Jerome. How long can you stay?"

Jerome cleared his throat as the new appendage began to twitch under his khaki slacks. "Um... I'm not sure. I'll try to stay all day..."

Concern was written all over her face, and her scent. Her office was a potpourri of conflicting odors. And the bespectacled middle-aged woman reeked of stale floral perfume. "I'll try and finagle you some paid medical leave. You look pale. How long until you can get the wiki up?"

The younger librarian faintly saw his own reflection in the windows behind her. His sloping muzzle was more than halfway there now, forehead collapsing like a balloon with a slow leak in it. The way his mouth felt from the inside he wondered how he was even able to talk. There was An American Weredeer in Providence right in front of her, and she just stood there as if absolutely nothing was amiss. His antlers were quite large now, with several velvet-covered tines.

"Just... just give me a couple hours," Jerome stammered, struggling with his tongue. "I won't leave my office."

Fran backed away a little. "You do that. I'll see about getting vacation time approved for this. Shoo!"

Seconds later Jerome was safely in his office, shutting the door behind him. He pulled down a window shade he used for privacy before getting a look at his hands. Or rather, what had been his hands. Russet fur had spread down his forearms, leaving little bare skin left, even on his palms. His hands resembled taking a deer's forehoof, and changing the proportions so there were recognizable digits. Two large middle fingers, a pinky, and a thumb, all with black hoof-like nails. Make that 80/20...

It was no use denying what was next. He sat down in his office chair and fumbled with his shoelaces. Removing his leather shoes, he rested his cervine head in his hands and waited. In an hour they're either going to find a man raving that he's changing into a deer, or an animal in my office and wonder how in the world it got in here. Make that 60/40 I'm insane.

The next few minutes were all about his legs. He tried to ignore it, shutting his eyes and thinking of more pleasant things. Summer hikes in New Hampshire. Whale watching. His friends at a local pub... until his stomach clenched at seeing them again. If he didn't end up in a petting zoo somewhere. Make it stop... please, make it stop!

He made a fearful sound... and not a human one.

Eventually, after a subjective eternity of waiting, the sensations came to a halt. Jerome was still sitting in his chair, though his tail squirmed in its confinement. There was something rotten somewhere in his office. Employees weren't supposed to bring food in, but nobody ever paid attention. Perhaps it was a scrap of long-forgotten roast beef, or something from the university's sub-par student cafeteria. Whatever it was, he wanted to retch.

Jerome opened his eyes and had a look at himself.

An anthropomorphic deer, even down to his legs. He fumbled with his shirt buttons, undoing the top few to get a better look at his chest. His neck was longer, more flexible. I'm all furry, he thought, looking down the length of his muzzle. He was long in the torso. Wait... wait a second... what...

A six-pack. He had been a little overweight before, but now that extra fat was gone. The muscles were visible even beneath the coat of white fur. And there were... four nipples? Four? One set over the other, complete with their own separate areolas. "If this is a delusion, I'm ready for a straitjacket."

He pushed himself away from his desk a little, lifting his legs up, then slowly pulled off his socks. While his hands merely strongly resembled them, his feet were cloven hooves: jet black nails and dewclaws, slacks bunched up around his reshaped thighs, with a kink that showed that his feet had elongated just like a deer's were. Not human feet at all. Not even legs that belonged on a biped. Better than four legs, I suppose.

At least as long as nobody saw him for what he actually was.

50/50.

Jerome swallowed. Well, maybe I'll just get that work done. Keep busy. Take my mind off the... the hooves. And tail and fur and... and... too much else.

Perhaps some work would take his mind off. He fished in his pocket for the thumb drive that contained the mock-ups he'd done over the past couple days. For the most part it was just a copy-paste job from Word, but there was some typing to do also.

But it was like learning how to type all over again. He mashed multiple keys with his thick fingers, and was tremendously slow. He had to go almost cross-eyed just to see the screen and give himself any depth perception, which left him looking at his own muzzle.

Though he could use the mouse with only a little extra effort, it still took three times longer than he expected to get the basics of the new internal wiki up and running. By then his stomach was growling so loudly he knew he was going to have to get some food before he left campus. This would be the supreme test of the "reality distortion field" that he suspected surrounded him. That is, if this wasn't just a delusion.

Jerome turned his chair to face his own reflection. 40/60 against. Let's see if I'm living in a cartoon. I need to go to the restroom anyway...

After slowly typing out an email to Fran that he was finished and was leaving for the day, the anthropomorphic deer turned in his chair and looked down at his feet. There is no way I'm getting my shoes back on. No freaking way. But maybe nobody will notice. Maybe I need to try standing up first. He levered himself out of his chair.

Despite almost having the hind legs of a deer, it was no more difficult to stand on his new legs than his old ones. He felt just as stable, just as agile. If anything was going to trip him up it was the badly-tailored pants intended for a leg that went straight from his hips to the ground without taking a jog two-thirds of the way down. He wiggled his left hoof, then his right, then bent down to pick up his shoes... "Gyah! Tail!"

The tail was going to have to wait.

Before he could go around his desk there was a light knock on the door. "You okay in there, Jer?" Renee asked. She opened the door before he could say no, and smiled at him. "Just checking up. Heading home?"

"Um, I thought I'd grab lunch first," he stammered. Hello. Deer man standing right in front of you. And can't you smell yourself? Jesus! He was easily four inches taller than he had been, not including his antlers.

She started sniffing. "Do you smell that?"

Jerome flicked his ears. "Smell what?"

The other librarian shrugged. "Smells a little like the deer that helpfully 'prune' my garden. Kind of a spicy musk?"

"I don't smell anything."

"Hmm. Maybe the air conditioning is bringing it in. Need some company for lunch?" She looked down. "You might want to put your shoes back on first."

Crap. Now what do I do? Apparently there were some things the "reality distortion field" did not take care of. How was Jerome going to explain why they just fell off? "Sorry. My feet were killing me. I think I need new shoes."

"Try wearing high heels sometime," Renee replied pointedly.

Jerome stared at her for a moment, then tried to smile while pulling on his socks. They were thin spandex, and his sharp hoof actually tore through one of them. Crap. How am I going to explain when they just slip off, anyway? "Must be torture."

"You better believe it."

He put his hoof in the shoe, and made a show of tying it. There was no way it was going to stay on. At least, he thought so until the moment when it vanished. It was almost as if his human foot was still there, in a shadowy way. He could feel the weight of the shoe when he lifted his foot, but otherwise it was just the hardness of the black nails against the thinly-carpeted floor.

"I'm waiting. Are you feeling okay, Jer?"

The show repeated itself with the other shoe. Somehow, the shoes were there. But they weren't there there. He'd pulled both socks so that the toes were torn, exposing his hooves so they'd have firm contact with the ground. I didn't think this could get any stranger.

"Just let me visit the Men's Room first, Renee," Jerome said, standing up.

She nodded. "Meet you in The Dome."

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A maddening mixture of sound and smell nearly overwhelmed Jerome. The Dome was the center of student activity, and with fall semester classes just starting there were more people in line than there would be for the next few months. There were a half dozen food stands inside that served sandwiches, pizza, Chinese, and standard cafeteria fare. The stench of charring meat and the sound of grease splattering on the grill was enough to make him pause before getting in line.

Renee looked impatient. "Something wrong, Jer? Stomach still bothering you?"

Jerome scratched his furred belly under his shirt. "Something like that. I think I'm going to eat light. Maybe a salad..."

His coworker looked incredulous as he picked over the various salad possibilities. "A salad? Jerome, you? You always get the pizza, though I can't imagine why. And can you speed it up? There's a line growing behind us, you know. Why so picky?"

Because half the veggies smell past due, he thought, though he wasn't sure he could tell her that and be believed. A miasma of slight rottenness hovered over the entire salad bar. But with Renee pointing out that to everyone else he had no reason to hold the line up, he just piled it on his plate. At least the bread rolls seemed good enough.

Once the cashier took care of his food and he was in the seating area proper, Jerome smelled something new.

And with his new eyes, he saw it, too. Or rather, saw her.

An anthropomorphic lynx wearing a men's polo shirt and slacks. She was looking at him with her head tilted, tufted ears a-flick. Jerome couldn't help but stare as the crowd flowed around her. She was holding a tray with a couple of burgers on it. The way her shirt clung to her torso betrayed that she wasn't wearing a bra. But before he could approach her, she turned and sauntered towards the far end of the eating area.

Renee tugged on his elbow. "Hey, what's up? Did you know that guy?"

Guy? he thought. "N... no. Well, maybe."

"Well, he certainly seemed interested in you. Why don't you go over and say hi? I won't get in the way. I've run into some friends I haven't seen for years in places I'd never expect. I don't mind eating alone." With that, she walked away.

Curiosity and a desire to find out if he really was just hallucinating, Jerome wound his way through the crowd. The lynx-woman had taken a seat at the very far end, and had her nose in the first burger. She obviously saw him, because as he approached she waved him over. "Have a seat, there," she said, after swallowing. She had a voice that almost purred and a Canadian accent. "Don't worry. I won't pounce or bite. I'd rather hunt the wily hamburger."

The plastic chairs conveniently had large holes in the back, but Jerome still winced as he partly sat on his tail. The lynx raised an eyebrow. "Before we go further, I think I need to clear something up." She fished in her pocket and handed him a passport book. "Here, this is me. Happy to meet you, newbie."

To his surprise, the picture inside was of a short man with a goatee and glasses with the name of Brandon Derringer. The cervine librarian handed it back to her in confusion. The Canadian lynx chuckled. "Do you know someplace more private than this? I'm new to the university, so I don't know exactly where I'm going..."

"Sure. Um, follow me."

Five minutes later they were at a little-used picnic table a few hundred feet from the university buildings. The table itself was run down and probably should have been removed years ago, but they had never gotten around to that. It was very, very hard to walk with the large lynx behind him. She--or was that he?--was careful not to smile. She also, he noted, apparently wore no shoes. And her large paws actually left pawprints in the dirt, most of which she was careful to cover up behind her. "Okay. Now... can you tell me what the hell is going on?"

"We're furries," she replied matter-of-factly. "As of today there's over a million of us. It happened to me last year, you know. And as you can see, it wasn't just my species that changed. You and the other furs see me as a female lynx. To the rest of the world I'm a male medical equipment salesman from Edmonton."

"What you're saying is that I could have ended up a doe this morning instead, but everyone else would still see me as I originally was?"

"It's rare, but that's about the size of it. Except myself, yes. Makes for a very complicated life, let me tell you." She sipped soda through a straw. "Thought I was just hallucinating for a few months, until I found another furry. He set me straight." She started panting a little. "It's hot down here. I'm already getting my winter coat. I'd like to take my shirt off, but I don't want to freak you out. I'm sure you've had a very weird morning, Mister Deer. What did you say your name was?"

"Jerome Slater. I'm a librarian here."

"Ah. Well, don't let me keep you from your work, Mr. Slater. I just wanted to make sure you knew you weren't alone. Like I said, there's a million of us furries now. Next year, it'll be double that. Then again the next, and so forth. It always happens in August. We're supposed to keep and eye--and nose!--out for newbies today." She took a large bite of one of her burgers, and swallowed without chewing much.

The librarian did the math in his head. "That would mean... that there was just a single one twenty years ago, and in a little over a decade everyone will be furry."

The gray lynx nodded, wiping her cheeks with a napkin. Oddly enough she had a mop of human-style "hair" atop her head, though it was cut short. Her tufted ears poked through it. "That's about the size of it. The next few years are going to be really interesting. Here, my card." She handed him a business card. "I'm taking a couple of intensive business courses here the next couple months. I know this is a lot to take in right now, so feel free to give me a call. I have class in like twenty minutes."

"I'll be in touch," he said. "See you around? Um, do you have a different name you'd rather I use?"

"Smell you, that is. You'll grow to depend on that nose," she said. "Just call me BD. Less confusing that way. I still don't really think of myself as a woman, despite appearances. Maybe when there's more furries I'll change my mind, but not right now." She extended her hand-paw.

Jerome took it, a little reluctantly. Her retracted claws looked very impressive. It was that single act that really convinced him that this was not a delusion after all. Her palm in his, her fur against his, her paw against his "hoofhand", made him feel ill. "Call me Jerry, or Jer. All my friends do."

"Later, Jer. We'll meet here for lunch tomorrow, okay?"

The deer-man nodded, then watched her as she walked away through the underbrush. Then he realized something.

She hadn't explained why regular people couldn't see them for what they were. He looked at the cell phone number printed on the business card. "Guess I'll just call her later."

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On the way back to his car Jerome decided to stay off the more crowded pathways, instead taking a roundabout route intended to keep himself away from people. Away from humans. I'm not human any more. In the back of his mind he worried that whatever was keeping people from seeing him as he really was--call it a "Reality Distortion Field" or "perception filter" or whatever--would break down and they'd cart him away to some research laboratory.

But if BD was right and this had been happening for twenty years now, perhaps that was unlikely.

Jerome could clearly see that the filter wasn't perfect. He left cloven hoofprints behind in the dirt, despite the ghostly shoes. The sound of late summer birds surrounded him, and a multitude of odors he simply could not identify. He grasped his muzzle with his hands and leaned against an oak tree, lunch sitting in his stomach like a wad of concrete.

To his surprise, up it came. Unswallow. He started chewing it reflexively, getting it down from a mass of barely-digested lettuce and turnips into something more palatable, before swallowing again. It felt like second nature. He didn't even feel nausea. He tried to do it consciously, and once more up it came. Thoroughly chewed salad went back down again. Okay, I'm a ruminant. No surprise here!

A short distance away there was a gasp that sounded like half a bleat. He spun around just in time to see a flashing white tail dashing away, but this deer wasn't on four legs. "Hey! Hey wait!" he shouted, breaking into a dash to follow the tail.

It smelled female, and had only fled a short distance. The frightened doe-woman had become tangled up in her dress. She was panting heavily and staring at him what a mixture of shock, panic, and disbelief. She struggled to get to her feet again, but the long dress just tangled up in her hooves.

"Calm down, I'm not going to hurt you," Jerome said in as calming a tone as he could muster.

"It's not... it's not a..." she said between pants. She stared at her hands then at herself, then back at Jerome. "You're... you're..." She half-whimpered, half bleated, then started to sob.

Slowly, carefully, Jerome moved towards her and lowered himself down to sit next to her. Her hands weren't quite so animalistic as his, and she had long russet hair that matched the fur he could see. Her ears were folded tightly against her neck, and she trembled like a leaf in a strong wind. "I'm not going to hurt you, ma'am. We're in the same boat."

"I can see that," she said miserably, not looking him in the eye.

Jerome realized that he recognized her voice. "Doctor Janssen?"

The doe flicked ear ears forwards and looked at him suspiciously. "Yes? How do you know that?"

He patted himself on his chest. "Jerome Slater. I'm your department liaison in the library. I've done some instruction for your classes."

Her ears went even higher. "Oh? Oh! I think I recognize your voice now. It's hard to know for sure with these funny ears."

Dr. Tara Janssen was one of the younger professors in the history department. Jerome had found her quite attractive before, now, she smelled like a fine wine. "How did you end up back here?" he asked.

"Are you kidding? I can't let people see me like this! I've been avoiding people all day. When I saw you, I thought..."

"Thought what?"

"That my mind had finally broken."

The stag carefully took her slender hand, and held it in his. "It's real. We're real. And believe it or not, no human out there is going to see a difference."

She regarded him incredulously. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Dr. Janssen, look at us. Neither do we. And there's others. Other furries, that is. And we both know that there's at least one other deer."

It was going to take time to convince her, when Jerome needed some convincing himself. But seeing another deer furry had shocked him in a way that BD had not. And after the initial fright, Tara was starting to calm herself down. Talking and sitting near him helped. Eventually she agreed to watching from a hiding place while he walked into the center of a crowded concrete pathway, hooves clacking. A few students waved, but most moved out of the way.

Jerome returned to her side. "Now do you see?"

"That's incredible," she said, breathless. Her ears drooped. "Crap. I guess I shouldn't have cancelled class today after all. I've been gone three days this week already."

"If you have any sick leave left, take it. Reality distortion field aside, this is going to take some doing to adapt to. I have no frigging idea how I'm going to fit in my car with these things. And I have to do something about my tail..." he trailed off at a familiar, feline odor. BD was coming down the path.

The Canadian lynx waved at them. "Hey there!"

The history professor bleated in surprise and almost bolted, but a gentle hand around her elbow prevented her from fleeing. "Hold on there. She's fine, Dr. Janssen," Jerome reassured. Instead, the doe stood behind him as the cat approached.

"You found another one," BD said once she got close and they moved out of the crowd. "And a doe, too. I guess we're going to get a lot of deer this year." She rubbed her fuzzy chin. "Looks like you both are going to need a mentor..."

"Mentrix," Tara said. "Sorry. That's the correct feminine version in Latin."

BD gave Jerome an "oh, this is going to be fun" look. "Mentor, anyway. I brought the whole orientation package one of my fellow furs cooked up for newbies. I gave Jerome here some of the speech already, but not all of it. Can we possibly retreat to somebody's house so I can give you all the what and whyfors?"

"Lord knows I could use some reassurance," Tara said. "You two spoke earlier?"

"We met in the Dome," Jerome informed. "She's not going to eat us, Tara. Can I call you Tara?"

The doe put a hand on her hip. "Getting a little familiar, don't you think? Not really very professional," she said indignantly.

The stag backed off. "Okay, sorry."

Tara chuckled. "No, really. I don't mind. You've never called me 'Doctor Janssen' before now anyway. No reason to be so formal, especially on a day like this."

Jerome felt his ears grow hot. He'd known Tara for almost two years now, and the unmarried history instructor had been very attractive to him as a human. But he had a personal rule not to get involved with co-workers, even if they were in other departments. Now, perhaps he'd change his mind about that policy. "My car has a sunroof, but it's going to be fun getting into my car with these," he said. "Just... follow me."

Preceded by:
None
Paradise Succeeded by:
Tall Tales
Author's Comments

The title to this story was inspired by a song from Wolf's Rain soundtrack:

Strangers, sung by Raj Ramayya

We've found a kind of paradise in a flowers bloom.
We've seen the end of a mystic land so close it meets the parting sun.
We've shared the thoughts that two could share, we feel the truth, magic that we send...

Searching for something new
Isle of Gold in flowers bloom

We've heard a kind of paradise beyond the desert's dunes.
We've walked the earth in solitude, so cold we need the warmth of sun.
We've lived the life that we could live, we see the truth magic that begins...

Searching for something new
Isle of Gold in flowers bloom

We've found a kind of paradise, below a sky so new.
We've weaved a web of mystery so wide, we need the light of day.
We've worn the cloak of secret lives, we've seen the truth, magic that we send...

Searching for something new
Isle of Gold in flowers bloom

so when will it end?
so when, when will we meet, my friend?

Please see Paradise (Setting) for notes.