November 28th

This story is being posted out of sequence because I wrote it in an hour while on the bus and enjoyed it so much I couldn’t wait to share it

The Curious Incident Involving Uncle Victor’s Pipe On An Evening In December

I well remember the evening of the third of December 18__
The family was gathered, as was customary, in the card room.
Aunts Mathilda and Jemima were engaged in a hand of whist and cousin Bets was idly prodding at the pianoforte.
Myself, Papa, Mama and Uncle Victor were sat beside the fireplace discussing the Willis family’s new trap and other such trifles.
In such a small town as ours, we made great use of any item which might be considered news, as events of any interest at all were infrequent in their occurence. And so, despite all present being well-versed in the colour and canopy of the trap, the striking chestnut which drew it, and other such minutia we listened most attentively to Uncle Victor’s pontifications as though it were some divine revelation.
“I daresay they shall find the suspension a great comfort on those days the road is frozen,” my uncle speculated as he puffed heartily on his pipe.
At this point I feel it behooves me to lay out for you a brief background of Uncle Victor, pipe and all, for they are key to my tale and I should imagine you would find the events far easier to envisage thus.
He was well advanced in years, five decades and counting to his credit. A stout man, ruddy cheeked from exposure and with a halo of wiry grey hair which floated untamed about his crown. He went clean-shaven, somewhat peculiar for the time but I shall lay out for you the reason why forthwith.
In my uncle’s youth he had travelled extensively in the wilder areas of the world, places untamed by Church or other measures of civilized society. On one such trip down through Mongolia towards the Orient, he had acquired a personal treasure of much sentimental value to him, the particulars of which you shall soon be made aware of.
On this trip, embarked upon sometime in his third decade, before he had met and wooed Aunt Jemima-he had been relatively late to marriage, finding the world altogether too fascinating to be tied down to one place while his knees were still good and his back strong; one could speculate on the existence of byblows gotten upon women the globe over but Uncle Victor steadfastly refuses to engage in any such talk so any such conjecture must remain exactly that.
But I digress…where was I? Ah. His journeys had taken him down through Europe and into darkest Africa.
A land much shrouded in mystery even in these days of noble missionaries and bold adventurers, it holds secrets the likes of which give a man chills to imagine. And even so, mark my words, our most peculiar and deviant imaginings will barely scratch the surface of the true horrors that await civilized man’s encountering them in his attempt to modernize this sphere floating in the Heavens which we make our home. I tell you, sir, I shall not confront such nightmarish wonders as those if I have any say in the matter.
Given Papa’s booming trade in salt and other such basic commodities, I fancy the say shall be mine; although my allowance is more modest than it might otherwise be were Papa a more generous man, it suffices to keep me a gentleman at leisure. And so, although it is certainly within my means to plumb those depths of human habitation as might be found on aforementioned dark continent, I am able to remain indisposed to doing so.
Ah yes. Uncle Victor.
In his encounter with one particularly backwards tribe, whose gastronomic proclivities are best left unimagined (the old boy claims to have sampled the local cuisine and has the audacity to liken it to especially sweet pork, but I refuse to believe I taste of swine, sir. I refuse!), he acquired a trinket in a game of chance with the tribe’s medicine man. I have to say, hand on heart, I rather doubt my uncle played fair. After all, he had introduced the game to them in the first place and had no reason not to favour his own chances. This trinket was a pipe, and were you to ask me if it was the selfsame pipe upon which he puffed so heartily that peculiar December evening, why you would be entirely incorrect sir! No indeed, the pipe he smoked habitually was a very fine (ivory blah blah blah). The very notion that he would ever take tobacco through some filthy old medicine man’s pipe is laughable! I shudder to think of the taste such a stem would carry and I daresay pipe cleaning was a much neglected ritual…
This pipe my Uncle Victor had-we shall be generous and say-won was an especially grotesque example of smoking paraphenalia. It was carved out of ivory to resemble some small, deformed skull. The story the medicine man fed my uncle and which he gleefully recollects given half a chance is that it was an actual skull, taken from an imp which the medicine man had summoned from some nether realm for the purpose of turning its promptly severed head into a pipe bowl. It would supposedly grant visions of the future when select sacred herbs were smoked in it. Of course this is most probably hogwash but there is no denying this tribe was especially bounteous and as the Good Book says, there are more things under Heaven…
Apparently the visage upon this skull retaind a degree of malicious intelligence even bereft of flesh, so much so that my uncle traded it off at the first opportunity, so discomfitting was it to own. The old buzzard truly is a little unhinged, which probably goes some way to explaining why he spent so many years gallivanting in the wilds instead of finding himself a cosy niche to occupy; to each their own as befits their means I suppose.
I forget what he obtained in exchange but I have no doubt he got the better of the bargain.
Your pardon, my thoughts tend to wander when I’ve a measure of brandy or two to my credit.
So! He is clean shaven, because years of smoking a pipe had turned his rather impressive mustachios a rather unsettling shade of yellow. Rather than bear such an undignified look, he shaves. Imagine that! Being forced to forgo the latest trends in fashionable appearance for the sake of a tobacco habit.
He sat there…oh of course, the curio he obtained in exchange for the pipe was an exquisite cameo of some ancient Oriental empress, all ivory and jade, a delightful piece. It was the wooing gift he gave dear Aunt Jemima that finally convinced her to accept his courtship and, eventually, to marry him. Fancy my forgetting that. As I say, once the drink gets in me my wits truly do go every which way.
So yes, he sat there by the fire, puffing and pontificating, and my goodness but what should happen other than that the bowl of his lovely (blah blah blah) pipe popped right off the stem! It fell directly into his lap and set him bounding out of his chair, cursing and slapping at his groin to remove the burning contents of the pipe bowl. Oh, but we had a jolly old laugh at his expense. A little mean perhaps but it was quite the sight, let me tell you. We never did determine why his pipe should have fractured in such a particular manner at just that time, it was most curious.

Advertisements

November 18th

There is no story for today. It doesn’t happen as often anymore, but today my depression knocked me on my arse and I did very little of anything much at all today. However, this is not the end of my little project. I will be attempting to resume writing daily stories from the 21st and hopefully I’ll maintain it until the end of the month.
Thank you for reading. They aren’t great, but these stories are special for no other reason than that I am sharing them.

November 17th

The gentle lapping of the ocean was the only sound. The long, rushing sigh as the tide rolled in, followed by a shorter, relieved exhalation of retreat. A slender crescent moon hung overhead. The sky was free of clouds and the air was so clean that the moon seemed to gleam like a polished sickle blade. There are no stars.
A cool, chilly breeze whispered briefly through cloth and hair. It carried the sting of salt and a smell of inland, peaty and clean. Strange that one of the cleanest scents should belong to soil, dirt.
The beach stretches out into the distance, curving gently off to the left. In the night it takes on the colour of dull silver, long neglected. The sand is unbroken. No shells, no pebbles left. They have all long since become sand themselves. Back along the beach from this vantage point stretches the faint suggestion of footprints, one set that much farther back was two. Time is meaningless, merely a marking off of one moment, then the next. The being standing on the beach is not aware of time. It is itself unchanging, so unaware of time passing. To see the world through an angel’s eyes is a unique and peculiar experience. It sees all of everything it will see at once. It appears to take actions, but has no choice, no freedom to act. Free will for such would be a terrible curse. Having freedom to choose which way to turn is only possible if one cannot perceive the entirety of their experience; otherwise what they could see would be constantly shifting and drive them mad. And so, instead, there is free will and a deep, abiding sense of phenomenal loss. This is what it means to experience time. To be left wondering what might have been, if only…
Lucifer had always been aware of the sight of great unrest and blurring confusion. He had moved through his existence aware that he would approach me and ask to experience free will, without having to understand why. It was a thing which would happen, and he would always, eventually, beg to be accepted back, to no longer live under the tyranny of choice. When he couldn’t remember what he had once perceived, he instead felt loss, and carried a vague sense of resentment.
It is hard to explain why I chose this. Impossible to justify. It was simply a thing which happened because it had to, because it was always going to. The pain one experiences in the course of a finite, limited existence can seem so important. It isn’t. It is merely a thing that happened, that was always going to happen.
Perhaps I am wrong. Not having yet experienced reality from a limited, finite viewpoint I suppose means my opinion of what is or is not relevant is, itself, irrelevant. There are no stars.
I recall the turmoil that arose from this discovery. Back when I started to diminish. Almost overnight I crushed the spirit of an entire species. Ending their suffering was the kindest thing I ever did for them. Not that their relative comfort was ever the point. I can imagine how badly humanity would have handled that if they were still around, or the qth’%gur/, or >high pitched chittering< or 1.0234678543966572205E6. I almost smile when I think of how calmly Hrath N’Garr would have accepted it.
The species of this world never knew stars. There is the world, the moon, the sun, and the coid. And that was all. This limited reality in no way limited their potential. They still had music, created art after a fashion. Were a lot more peaceful than most of the races I have imbued with the potential to achieve self-awareness. No war, very little conflict. Knowing this was all there is seems to have given them a comforting sort of fatalism. Not the most interesting race to have existed in the history of the universe, to be sure, but endowed with insights unique to them nevertheless.
I shift slightly in Lucifer’s arms, trying to get comfortable. My being is close to the end of this iteration. I sigh. It has been a very long time, and yet it is also just a moment in a grander scale of being. This world’s sun is gone now. The world remains, and the moon continues to glow because it pleases me that it does so.
No doubt humanity in particular would have derived pleasure in the tracks in the sand. Especially since Lucifer carried me when I could walk no further. I swallow the moon. Then the world. There is a void, an angel, a form carried in its arms. There are no stars.
I think the starry sky was my crowning achievement. All those myriad potentials just waiting for a push into existence, awareness. All those nigh-infinite ways of interpreting being, the countless reflections on what was, could be, might have been. Some lasted longer than others and once or twice even I was surprised. But every thing comes to an end. That is the single constant my grand experiment revealed.
There is only I, and Lucifer, now. Although of course he, like every other thing, is merely me. A part of me, broken off and set along a path to see what would happen. I reach up to cup his face with my palm and he gazes calmly back. Of all my puppets, he had the longest path to traverse, the biggest part to play. He was the most like me, although still greatly diminished. I feel strangely sentimental as I reach out to absorb him back into me. I wonder what, if any, additional insight I will gain from his experiences. He glows, fades, is gone. I am all that is, as it ever was.
And I know in that moment. My experiment has run its course and I understand all that I am.

I am everything.
I fill the nothing.
My why is whatever I choose.
I choose life, myriad forms and motivations, I choose…
Stars.

November 16th

Okay. Sunday story time. But this one is different. This is the story of the first boy I loved. It’s a true story.
My name is Damian and I am wholly unremarkable. When I was five years old I attended S___ I___ school. I met a boy with whom I was very quickly the best of friends. We went to each other’s birthday parties, ate lunch together, sat together in class, had dinner round each other’s houses.
We were closer than brothers. And then, two years later, his family moved to France. I don’t know how well you remember childhood, but two years can feel like an eternity. I was devastated. So was he. We cried so much, our last day of school together. Held hands, couldn’t look at each other.
Our parents exchanged addresses so we could write to each other. We didn’t realise it at the time; too busy blubbing. We wrote to each other every month. Told what we’d learned, who was friends, where we’d been. I would get so excited when I came home from school and saw an envelope stamped ‘PAR AVION’ on the mantlepiece. Everything would be put on hold until I’d read it, savouring every word.
And then, there was a very peculiar incident which I struggle even now to rationalize. I can explain what happened, but not why; not to my satisfaction.
A year had passed since N____ left. The family were coming back to England for a holiday, and his parents had arranged for him to spend half the day in school, to visit with his classmates. Bear in mind, this would be the only opportunity I’d have to see him. They had a busy week of family visits planned. I was so excited, moreso even than for Christmas. I felt incomplete, that year without him. The morning passed in a blur. I don’t remember a second of it. Then it was lunchtime. And the strange something happened. My excitement at seeing my dear friend was curdling. I was becoming increasingly agitated, until, as his parent’s car pulled up outside the school, my nerve broke and I ran off. I hid in one of the upper school toulets, sat there in a stall and cried.
N___ was out there. I would be able to see him. Talk to him. Hug him. Instead I was stifling sobs in an effort to remain undiscovered.

I would later learn that he and our friends had wandered the playgrounds looking for me. That the infant school teachers had spent a good portion of the afternoon trying to find me. But I was none the wiser. Nobody could find me; they knew I had to be on the property but didn’t know where.
All I knew was that I couldn’t bear to have to say goodbye again. The notion was so upsetting to me that I was squandering an opportunity to spend time with him. So ridiculous.
I came out, eventually. At hometime. Got into a great deal of trouble for having caused such disruption…
The next letter I wrote was about two-thirds apology and a third trying to explain what happened, although I barely understood it myself at the time. I was about ten years old when I first learned about sexual orientation. That boys could be in love with boys. It made so much sense to me because all of a sudden I understood that I loved N____. Unfortunately, this was in the early nineties and it seemed like how I felt was frowned on, and since I was certain he was ‘normal’ I kept it to myself.
This would turn out to be one of my biggest regrets when, at sixteen, he died of leukaemia.
I really believe in letting people know you care while you can. The alternative can weigh so heavily otherwise, and so unnecessarily.

November 14th

A fly buzzed lazily through the kitchen, as sluggish from the heat as Mike felt. He’d attempted to shoo it out the window but the damn thing was too stupid to take the easy way out. Sighing, he crouched down and reached under sink, rummaging for the fly spray.
“Stupid bug,” he muttered, “you chose death over freedom.”
His hand passed through a peculiarly chilly draft and came to rest on what felt surprisingly like a rock. But why would there be a rock under his sink? He pulled back. He was definitely holding a rock.
Mike got up and placed the rock on the kitchen table, sat down. He stared at it. A lumpy, grey, rock. Not at all extraordinary, save for where he’d found it. He wasn’t a particularly imaginative man, and could not for the life of him figure out why it had been there. Perhaps most confusing to him was how it had got there. He knew, from the rambling of the contractors who’d laid his patio, that this area was all red clay deep down. Apparently he’d have issues with his basement some day; he’d stopped paying attention as soon as it sounded like they were angling for more work from him. Let tomorrow’s problems alone until tomorrow came, was Mike’s attitude.
A random rock beneath the sink. It didn’t seem possible. He bent down and peered into the cupboard beneath the sink. There didn’t look to be any other rocks, but he did see the fly spray. Happy to have at least solved that problem, he dismissed the question of the rock’s source and straightened up to exterminate the annoying buzzing pest.

It was fully a week before he contemplated the rock again. He peered at it, idly chewing a mouthful of pancakes. Ordinarily such a thing wouldn’t preoccupy his thoughts. There was no obvious explanation, therefore there was no reason for Mike to dwell on it. But there he was, staring at the rock as if he could read its origin in its cracked, potted surface.
Oh. Maybe he couldn’t. But surely somebody could. There was a university in the next town over. They probably had a geologist who could tell him where the rock was from. Happy, the mystery solved in his mind, he finished breakfast and left for work.

The following Monday he took the rock and drove up to A_____ University. Polite enquiries at the front desk led him to a professor’s office. Chemistry professor, but apparently he’d be able to help.
He seemed exactly like what a professor should, to Mike’s mind; old, a bit absent-minded, an impressive beard and an office brimming with books and curiosities. Mike explained why he was there and handed the rock over. The professor sat, turning it over and over in his hands, making quiet musing sounds.
“Well, it appears to be a flint pebble, such as you would find on a shingle beach,” he told Mike, “most likely a souvenir from some holiday?”
Mike frowned. He’d never been to a stony beach; how could you sunbathe comfortably? And he would certainly never consider a rock to be an interesting souvenir. He told the professor as much.
“Well. You’re quite certain? Yes of course you are. How odd. I’d judge this was sat on a beach within the last month. There are traces of salt deposits, here and here. May I keep hold of it and run a couple of simple tests?” He asked.
Mike shrugged. “I suppose. Will that tell you where it’s from?”
The professor smiled knowingly.
“Oh absolutely,” he replied, “rocks are easily traced to their point of origin. Why, I’d even go so far as to say they’re more distinctive from each other than fingerprints!”
Mike couldn’t share the professor’s enthusiasm. He just wanted to know how the rock had ended up there. It wasn’t exciting. It was annoying. He gave the professor his number and left.
When he got home he went to the kitchen and peered again into the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink. Cleaning products, plumbing, a bucket. Exactly what he expected. Not knowing how the rock got there was proving surprisingly vexing. He reached in and started removing various cannisters and bottles. As he reached right to the back, an odd shimmering appeared in the air and his hand vanished. He scrambled back with a yelp, clutching his hand close. No sign of injury, nothing to indicate it had disappeared for even an instant. And no shimmering. He crept slowly closer. There. With his head tilted just so, he could see a shimmering patch of air, roughly three feet in diameter. He sat back, closed the cupboard with his foot, and remained there for some time, woefully ill-equipped to reason out what was happening. It seemed like something straight out of a trashy sci-fi story.
He resolved to put this mystery to rest. This was his home, and he’d be damned if he’d let this make him feel uncomfortable. He retrieved a hockey stick, video camera and duck tape from the basement. Taped the video camera securely to the blade of the hockey stick. It was somewhat unwieldy, but should do the trick. He started to record, then slowly poked the stick forwards, through-THROUGH-the shimmering patch of air. He slowly waved the stick from side to side, then pulled it back through.
Shaking with anticipation, he rewound the recording, hit play. Pause. Rewind. Play again. He couldn’t process the enormity of what he was seeing. The expanse of grey rocks like the one he’d pulled from the cupboard. Grey, purple-tinged clouds curling across the sky. And off in the distance. It looked like buildings. A huddle of slender towers. This was incredible. His mind was reeling from the evidence before him, incapable of accepting anything so extraordinary.
Whatever was he to do now? Poor, unimaginative Mike was stumped. He couldn’t think of a thing. He was aware that he should be more worked up about this, but merely assumed he was dealing with it. The professor had told him the rock came from a stone beach. He hadn’t seen an ocean, but maybe it had been behind the portal beneath his kitchen sink. There was only one course of action presenting itself to Mike. What felt like the next logical step. Twice he’d stuck his hand through to this other place to no ill effect. There would be just enough room for him to crawl through it. He would do it. He had to, before his resentment of this mystery ate him up from inside.
That night he sat up, planning his exploratory mission. The next day, he drove to the hardware store and bought a coil of rope. Back at home he packed a flashlight, camera, water and sandwiches into a bag. Then, he wound the rope round and through the legs of the kitchen table, over and back on itself for fully half its length. Confident in his makeshift hitching post, he tied the other end round his waist and crouched down, facing the unknown with the beginnings of excitement. He’d never done anything so reckless and he felt like he imagined some brave pioneer would have, setting foot on an alien shore for the first time.
He crawled forwards, and through. Wriggled across the uncomfortable stones until he was all the way clear. It was cold, colder than he’d expected, but the jacket he was wearing provided some protection. He clambered to his feet and turned on the spot, surveying this strange land. He coughed. The air was cold, and carried a sour, slightly bitter taste. He coughed again, harder, doubling over with the force of the coughs wracking his chest. Still coughing, he glanced down at his hand…blood. The air. He realised it must be causing this at the same time that he coughed, body convulsing and shaking painfully as his lungs broke down under the influence of the alien air. He gasped one last time, then was still.

It was several months before anybody looked for Mike. His employers didn’t raise the alarm, merely assumed he’d quit and happily hired a replacement with a little more personality. The professor had given up ringing after just a couple of days. The mystery rock, he had concluded, was an elaborate prank; on no earthly beach could it have formed. The number he’d been given was disconnected, confirming his belief that it had been fabricated to pull one over on him. It ended up as another of the curiosities littered about his office.
It was Mike’s brother, months later, who finally contacted the police for assistance; he’d been trying for several weeks to get hold of Mike, to make Thanksgiving plans. The police, once pestered into action, sent a patrol out to Mike’s house. They poked around, saw no obvious signs of habitation. From the patio, the sight of the bizarrely roped-up table gave them pause. They forced the door so as to investigate further. But the other end of the rope, melted and blackened, answered none of their questions once they retrieved it from beneath the kitchen sink. Mike had simply vanished off the face of the earth.

November 13th

Chapter 1

Look at this guy. Sitting as far back in the booth as possible. Glancing round nervously. So guilty-looking. Why in the world would he choose to meet here, where he stands out like a croc among cats? I stroll over and slide into the booth. He jumps. Amateur.
“Uh, I’m…I’ve a friend coming-” he begins.
For just a moment I consider feigning ignorance, messing with him. Good thing I’m a professional.
“First of all, Cavendish, I’m your associate, not your friend,” I tell him, smiling, looking casually around the club. “Secondly, your tail isn’t here so relax.”
He jumps in his seat again. This is going to test my patience.
“How-I mean…I don’t…” He doesn’t want to admit who he is, the trouble he’s in. Understandable. I motion for a waiter, order a glass of bourbon. I’m not going to drink it, but I have a part to play.
“My name is Arnie West, Mr Cavendish. I reached out to you about a particular topic, and you suggested we meet in person to discuss it. I made arrangements for your shadow to get distracted so nobody would know you’re here, talking to me,” I lean back, smiling, hoping he starts to relax a little.
“Ah. I suppose you’d know. How to do that. I’m sorry, this is all…I’m not accustomed to this,” he replied, calming a little.
Up on stage, the dancers were taking position. The lights were turned down, the band began to play, and catkin couples began to waltz, every step, every motion perfectly poised and inhumanly graceful. Every pair of eyes in the room was transfixed, including Cavendish. He watched, rapt, seemed to grow melancholy. I reached out a hand to tap his arm and he recoiled like he’d been burned. Now wasn’t that interesting.
“Not a fan of zookin?” I asked.
It wasn’t exactly uncommon among older generations, but I could hardly help how I’d been born, ya know? I wasn’t human, but human and zookin emotions are damn near analogous and revulsion at my touch stung my feelings.
“I’m sorry,” he stammered, “I…you startled me. I didn’t know, on the phone…” he trailed off, clearly unsure of how to proceed without making himself appear more prejudiced.
“Listen Cavendish, I’m pigkin. Get over it. It doesn’t get in the way of me being a damn good journo.”
Not strictly true. My bylines rarely include a picture. Even so.
He was growing more agitated. I didn’t want him to leave. His employers, a big pharma company called New Dawn, had something to do with a spate of ‘vanished’ zookin. I was sure of it. They also had suspected financial ties to a right wing group called Humanity Now, whose main concern was ensuring zookin weren’t recognized as fully sentient.
Nobody was talking, but I was certain. I’ve got a snout for sniffing out scandal, and a vested interest in anything related to zookin. Cavendish had responded to my request to do a ‘scientific profile’. Then cancelled. I’d assumed it was just another door being slammed shut, until I got a call from what had turned out to be an unregistered phone, probably a cheap burner. He wanted to speak to me in private, an issue of great delicacy and importance.
“I apologize. Yes, I assumed you were human. But I really don’t think you can help me so maybe I should just leave.” He was rising from the booth, froze in place, halfway to his feet.
“You said,” he whined, “you told me we were safe.”
My head whipped round to follow his gaze. And so I wasn’t blinded by blood and brain when his head popped. I was frozen in shock for the briefest instant, up and moving before the shocked yells and panicked screams of the other patrons began. I ran my hands down Cavendish’s body, snageed wallet, keys, phone. And a tiny memory stick.
Then I was running, away from the scowling gents headed towards me. I bounded up onto the stage, ignoring the outraged hissing of the catkin dancers, outrage that turned to fear when my blood-drenched arm registered. I headed backstage, dodged stagehands and various other grips and technicians. Out to the back alley. Hauled my blazer and shirt off, stuck them deep into a trash can. I dove into a dumpster, wriggled deep beneath the trash. Tried to ignore the way it made my mouth water. I could hear the goons stomping back and forth, tipping over trash cans and slamming dumpster lids. I squirmed deeper, held my breath. I swear, they stared into my dumpster for what felt like hours before letting the lid drop. No way was I chump enough to climb straight back out. I curled up, waited for my nerves to fade and sleep to claim me.
Next morning when I awoke, I don’t mind admitting I ate my fill of that trash; hey, everybody eats garbage for comfort. Pigkin and goatkin just take that more literally. I was filthy, which fortunately fit most people’s assumptions about pigkin. Barely anybody looked twice, and a lot of people made an effort to avert their gaze.
I got back to my apartment. Unsurprisingly, my roommate was sat hunched over some kind of joypad, playing some kind of game, likely had been all night.
“Ger, do me a favour and put some coffee on,” I said, not stopping for small talk, desperate for a shower.
When I came back out in my robe I would swear he hadn’t moved except there on the counter was a fresh pot of coffee. I poured, savouring the smell. Important matters to attend to but damn did I need this.
“Arn, you aren’t reverting are ya? You smelled like you slept in a dumpster.”
Ger sounded jovial, but years of friendship allowed me to interpret his genuine concern.
“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I did,” I told him, “hiding from a couple of you damn, dirty apes.”
Ger was a solid guy. Not bad as humans go. But he was part of a welcoming minority. Fortunately for us zookin the majority were accepting, not hostile. Hostile. I’ll admit, I hadn’t been prepared for the open hostility that soaked my sleeve in Cavendish last night. I couldn’t put off the business at hand any longer. I fired up my laptop and stuck the drive in the side. While I was waiting I idly flicked through the phone. No real leads there, just a generic cheap burner. The files on the drive were password protected. Fortunately for me, I had journalistic resources.
“Gerry! Get up, get over here, do your,” I waved thick fingers in a vaguely hocus pocus mime, “your thing.”
Heaving a long-suffering sigh, the ingrate, he bounced to his feet, wandered over and clicked on one of a dozen icons on the desktop. Windows opened and progress bars ticked by. “I told you, pork chop,” he said as he returned to his gaming, “I set up a bunch of automated stuff for you. Point and click.”
“Oh. Thanks.” I sipped coffee and flicked through newsfeeds while the laptop did whatever the hell it was doing to the file. I found a single article about an unspecified disturbance in an as-yet unnamed bar the previous night. Hell. Murder, open and public and bloody, should not be so easily suppressed. Fortunately I was a masochist, else I might’ve been nervous.
A status window finally popped up with an unlocked list of files with generic labels, just initials and dates. I opened one at random. Looked like it might have been account transfers, but I wasn’t an expert. I knew a guy at the Post who could help me decipher that. Move on…lab reports. Autopsies. Humans…some kind of viral infection. And at the bottom of the report, reference to another file. Which led me to wonder exactly what I was stumbling into.
I was getting nervous. This didn’t seem connected to zookin so far. What had Cavendish dumped in my lap? The new file. I started reading. Went stone cold. Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad about Cavendish biting it. The bastard had been part of a team working on a virus that affected zookin. A lethal virus. He’d been brought in to help figure out how to get it to cross from one species to another, catkin to pigkin to ratkin to sheepkin and on and on through the whole damn zoo.
Humanity First’s work, undoubtedly.
Further reading of memos and copied e-mails proved it. They were funding research into exterminating zookin. New Dawn had been collecting ‘volunteers’ from amongst the most disenfranchised zookin; maybe society accepted us by and large but they didn’t rush to help us flourish.
And then it all went horribly wrong. Those human autopsy reports. Technicians from New Dawn’s labs. They’d done sterling work in breaking the cross-species barrier and it had jumped to humans too…and that should have been an end to it.
But apparently Humanity First wanted what they’d paid for. Seemed like they wanted to go ahead and start infecting zookin anyway. Figures. As soon as a few filthy apes dropped dead, they could push their agenda against the zookin. Round us up, and wait for us to die.
Ah but Cavendish wasn’t down with that. A bigot? Sure. But dead zookin and dead humans were two very different things to him. The way I figured it, the guilt of all that human blood on his hands had led him to this. He planned to expose them. That’s why he reached out to me; I’m a successful, anonymous investigative journalist. Of course, he’d assumed successful meant human, because bigot. I wouldn’t be losing any sleep over dear, departed Cavendish.
My only real problem now was staying alive long enough to break the story. I had a feeling my anonymity would not last much longer. More importantly, my life might not last much longer. I needed the account stuff broken down, needed back ups, precautionary measures, the works. Mostly I needed time, although who knows how much of that was up for grabs.
“Gerry. Clear your calendar and pack a bag,” I said, “we’re vacationing as of right damn now.”

November 12th

It was so cold. Why isn’t it cold…ah. Of course. It is cold. I’m freezing to death. Incredible that I can realize that. Amnesia…I’m sure I read amnesia is part of hypothermia. Wait, I don’t know how I got here. Amnesia. Haha. Something must have happened. Cause and effect. I didn’t just appear. Maybe I did. Did I? Have I always-no. That’s just, just my mind getting confused.
Think. I came here from-where? Inside. That would be warm. Inside would be warm. I need to go back, to retrace my footsteps. Think…

The house is cosy-looking on this cold winter night. Inviting. The light glows on the snow, like a beacon promising warmth. The man moves closer, smiling to himself, humming. He’s wrapped up against the cold. Thick coat, hat, gloves. His tracks theough the snow lead away behind him into the darkness

The house. My house? Feels like a dream. Have to stand…have to…have to get back there. There is a faint whisper of worry at the back of my mind. I should be in more pain. This should hurt. But I can’t find it in me to care. Will I die out here? Is there anybody who will miss me?

He rings the doorbell, stands back from the door.
It opens partway, on a chain. A young man, no, a boy looks out.
“Can I help you?” He asks

I glance up at the empty night sky. No moon or stars. Oh. Clouds. I see…I see snow. That’s not good. Am I him? Am I the boy, or the man, or neither…how did I get here?

The man smiles, a slow, lazy smile.
“My truck broke down. I thought for sure I’d make it to town but…” He shrugs, as if to say, ah well.
The boy looks incredulous.
“You’re not from round here?” he asks, wary of this stranger with so little respect for this harsh country.
The man sighs. His smile is smaller, bashful.
“Long time ago,” he says. “Guess I’d forgotten quite how cold it gets, ya know? Like, I really thought it wasn’t as bad as it seemed when I was a kid.”
He glances back into the night.
“Listen,” he says, “ya don’t have to let me in. If you could call the emergency services, maybe lend me a flask of coffee, I can wait for help in my truck.”
The door closes, and he hears the latch slide across, then the door was thrown open.
“Come on,” the boy says, “you’ll catch your death out and my mom’d tan my hide if I didn’t help.”

That happened. Happened tonight. It’s why I’m here. But who am I? What happened? I don’t…don’t want to die not knowing my name. I shuffle-stagger in a circle, spot a disturbance in the snow. That must be the way I came. It’s hard. To move. I feel…nothing. It’s like I’m watching somebody else’s body moving. I’m not wearing a coat. Why…am I the boy?

The man glances round the hall, shrugs out of his coat.
“Are your folks home?” He asks, trying to make conversation, tone light and casual.
“It’s just my mom,” the boy says, “she works real late, most nights.”
The man nods, looks…sympathetic? Yes, of course. For a moment it seemed-no.
“My dad raised me himself,” the man says while he unlaces his boots, “we moved away after my mom died. I was real young.”
The boy shrugs, uncomfortable. He’s not sure what to say. The man picks up on his discomfort, changes the subject.
“We should call someone about my truck, huh?” He suggests.
The boy is clearly grateful.
He smiles, says “My mom’ll be back in an hour or so, tops. She can give you a lift into town, then you can get it towed tomorrow.”
The man smiles broadly, clearly pleased by this news.

I think…I think I’m the man. That kid. He sure was nice…don’t remember his name. Must’ve asked him, right? No way I wouldn’t ask he…he helped me. I…I left my coat there? Why? Stupid, to come out without a coat. Did I leave my boots too? Something…something big must’ve happened. But what? What…

I follow the boy into the kitchen.
“Would you like some coffee mister?” The boy asks.
I smile…

Wait. Do I want to remember? It might…might be something bad. Can’t be good…freezing to death. Should I go back? Ha. Do I have a choice? I’ll die out here. Have to…have to keep going, force my body forwards, reach the house, the warmth.

“Gee, that’d sure be great,” I tell him. I’m…irritated. Keeping up this farce is a chore but I have to be patient, wait for my moment.
He turns away, opening a cupboard and taking down two mugs. And I…

…stumble. Fall, face first. Couldn’t…couldn’t lift my arms to catch myself, barely manage to roll over. I lie here, contorted, curled on my side. The snow is falling, coating me, but I can’t feel…what did I…
Why?

…step forwards, softly, up behind him, and calmly, confidently, my arms wrap round his head and throat, squeeze. He flails, struggles, but I’m an old hand at this and soon enough the fight fades from him. Check the pulse. Faint but steady. Been a long time since I killed one. But I can be over-eager. I drag him back through the hall, into the toasty warm den. Cable ties around his ankles and wrists, then the gag from my coat pocket. Can’t have him raising a fuss and scaring his poor mom when she gets home. I have to wait for her. Can’t start the party until all the guests arrive.
Damn, what…that noise.
ow
Ow?
Holy shit, I’ve been shot. I stagger round, face the broken front window. Out in the yard, I can see…oh wow. Hahaha. That’s just. His mom. She’s a deputy. Well goddamn. Ow. Oh yeah. Shot. My arm hurts like hell. She’s gone. I hear the door. I have to get out. Get to my truck. I plunge through the wreck of the window and take off, sprinting into the night, trusting she’ll put her kid first and won’t chase me.
Damn, it’s cold out here.

oh that’s right i’m a monster
fancy forgetting…something like that
didn’t…never thought, never dreamed it’d end like this
heh
guess i’m lucky i can’t feel anything my arm’d be sore as anything
must have…i got turned round, lost, never found my truck, can’t see the house
wow she probably doesn’t even know who she shot
she’s gonna…gonna be famous when they figure it out
almost feel bad
for her
for the boy
Pop’s gonna be real mad at her
heh