Story (c) 2000 by Keith Dickinson. All rights reserved. Characters
Sabrina the Skunkette, Amy the Squirrel, Tabitha, Carli, Tammy Vixen Shiela
Vixen, Clarisse, and Carrie Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Roxikat (c)
John Barrett. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx,
Susan Felin, Cindy Lapine, Debbye Squirrel, Clarence Skunk, Mr. Canis, Dexter
Collie, Angel Collie, Sarge and Endora Mustelidae, Wendy Vixxen, and Wanda
Vixen(c) Chris Yost. Character Florence Ambrose (c) Mark Stanley. Character
ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character Cyberhorn (c) William Morris. Character
Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character James Sheppard and Marvin Badger (c)
James Bruner. Character John Silverback (c) Himself Character Kittiara and the
restaruant "Callahan's" (c) "Kittiara" Character Katja (c) Herself Character
Mark the cheetaur (c) Mark White Eric W. Schwartz (c) Mr. and Mrs. Schwartz.
Michael Jones (c) Martin Pedersen. Arden Eastridge (c) Keith Dickson. All rights to additional characters
reserved by their respective owners.
Michael watched the gangbanger through a one-way mirror. Sources on the street had lead investigators to believe that he may have been involved in the drive by shooting. The arresting cops had found a weapon on him, violating his probation. They had tried using the promise of a plea bargain to get him to talk, but so far he had refused to talk. Jones had convinced the other detectives to give him the case. Making up his mind, he walked out into the hallway and into the interrogation room.
As the detective entered, the kid watched him with practiced disregard. Sitting down with the case file on him, Jones examined it. The young raccoon had a long history of arrests for drugs, weapons violations, assault, and burglary. Folding the file Jones leaned back in his chair. "Well Nicky, you screwed up this time. A weapons violation will put you back in detention till you're 18."
Acting nonchalant, the kid just shrugged, "I gots friends in there."
Smiling, Jones was sure he did, "What if I could make this arrest go away for you."
The kid blinked at that. Glancing over to the mirror, he looked back at Jones warily, "Make it go away how?"
Making a sweeping motion with his hand, "It never happened. No reports, no entry in your case file, nothing."
Leaning forward on the table, the kid was clearly listening, "I ain't given up none uh my homies."
Nodding, Jones leaned forward, "I want you to tell me who ordered that hit on Mr. Stay Puff yesterday. You give me a name that I can believe in, and I'll make your troubles go away."
Leaning back the kid crossed his arms, "Man that ain't no deal!"
"Sure it is. I don't believe you guys just got a wild hair up your ass to go shoot up Zig Zag's. Someone put you up to it. I don't want you to testify or give up any of your friends. I just want to know who paid you to do it."
Shaking his head, the kid explained, "Man, you wouldn't believe me if I told you anyway. Why should I tell you when you're just gonna tell me I'm lying."
Crossing his legs, Jones folded his hands in front of him, "Try me. You'd be amazed at the things I'd believe right now. Tell me who and why. If it make sense, you walk." Jones watched as the kid mulled this over. "Three years in detention's a long time not to see the outside world."
The kid glared at him, then finally leaned forward, "Ok Mr. Detective Man. You don't spring me for this, you're name's gonna be all over the street, you got that?" Nodding, Jones waited for him to continue, "It was the DA. That Khansman guy."
The name of the DA made Michael sit up strait, "Why would the DA order a hit? And what leverage does he have on you guys that he can do that?"
The kid glanced at the mirror again, "From what I heard, the snow man was screwin' up his plans for Zig Zag and he wanted to get rid of him before he could clear his name."
Leaning back in his chair again, Michael tried to digest what he had just heard. It made sense. When he had determined Arden's identity, the media went after him with a vengeance. If the DA discovered that he was cleared in the death of the man in Kansas City, then that would definitely screw up his plans. But to order a hit, that was unthinkable. "What's he got on your gang?"
Leaning forward, the kid got real quite. "Mike's brother, James, got busted for armed robbery. That's his third. He gets convicted and it's the gray bar hotel for life. DA said he'd plead him if we scratched the bear."
Nodding Michael could see it. The DA had the ability to approve plea bargains that would reduce the crime and keep the guy out of jail. The puzzles were falling in place.
Standing up he pushed the chair under the table. "We didn't have this talk, right?"
Look of betrayal on his face the kid stood up, "Hey! We had a deal man!"
Smiling, Jones nodded, "Of course we did. They'll be letting you out in a few minutes. Seeing the raccoons jaw drop, Jones chuckled. "I never said I wouldn't follow through, just that we never talked."
As he left the room there was a spring in his step. Jones had found out that the search warrant they had used to arrest the kid was invalid. It listed the wrong address. He would have gotten out anyway, but now Jones had a possible lead.
The question was, what to do with it.
As I was sitting at the table thinking about Jones and my future, a pair of hands suddenly covered my eyes. A whisper in my ear asked, "Guess who?"
Smiling, "Hmmmmm, Could it be Sheila?" I felt a nip on my ear, "Ouch!" Ducking and turning I saw Zig Zag move around me and begin to clean up the coffee service. "What did you do that for?"
Smiling at me, she winked, "Just so you remember that Sheila's not the only woman in this house. We wouldn't want to make your life boring now would we?"
I had to smile, "No, somehow I don't think you could. In fact, I seriously doubt that anyone around you has a boring life Zig Zag." Standing, I pushed the chair in and followed Zig Zag into the kitchen. Looking around I saw she had a very nice setup, center cook top, plenty of counter space, large capacity stainless steel refrigerators, the works. Leaning on the counter I watched as she began to wash the cups. "This is a very nice place you have here Zig Zag."
She smiled back, "Thank you, I had it built to my specifications. It's as high tech as I could make it without trying to automate it."
Looking out the kitchen door into the back yard, I saw a fairly nice sized yard that was well cared for. The porch extended out from the house about twenty feet and then changed to a cement pad around an Olympic length pool with a diving board at one end. The water was crystal clear and the light reflecting from the waves was almost hypnotic. "Do you swim a lot?"
"Eh?" Looking at me, she saw where I was looking. "I used to, but not any more. I guess I just haven't had the time." I could hear the longing in her voice at that last part.
Walking over to the sink, I picked up the dishtowel and began drying the cups she had just washed. "Then I guess that you should make a little more time for yourself. I know it can be easy to throw yourself into something and lose track of what's really important."
Shaking her head, she put the last cup on the counter and began on the pitcher, "It's not that easy. I've got production schedules, conventions, promotional work, editing reviews. These movies won't make themselves."
Drying the last cup, I placed it upside down on another towel. "You've got competent people right? You don't seem to be the type to hire screw ups, myself the exception. Why not trying to delegate some more of your workload and start taking more time for yourself."
Leaning on the counter, she looked out the window at the pool, "It's not that simple, my work is my life, it's been everything to me."
Finished drying the pot, I put it with the cups. Handing Zig Zag the towel so she could dry her hands, "You're work isn't your life Zig Zag, it's your work. It's just a part of your life. Just like James is now." Walking back out towards the living room I paused at the door. "When was the last time you took a vacation? Not a road trip to a convention, but actually got on a plane to some remote location where you didn't give a damn about work?"
Zig Zag just shook her head. "I thought so." Turning I headed for the bedroom. I was still tired and wanted to get some sleep. Laying down I cuddled up against Sheila again, hoping that Zig Zag would give up on trying to loosen me up, and start working on herself.
Sheila lay on the soft moss, listening to the sound of the water trickling down the small rock-fall and into the pool near by. A gentle breeze was blowing, carrying the smell of orchids on its wings while songbirds sang. Opening her eyes, Sheila sat up and looked around. Once again she was in the glade that she had dreamed of before. Looking at her paws, she could see that they were normal. Getting up, she knelt by the pool and looked at her reflection, it was the same face she looked at every day.
Curious, she stood and took a good look around. Having seen repeating dreams, it was strange that this one had changed. Hearing singing, she approached the hut. The song was familiar, yet she couldn't place it. Hesitating at the doorway, Sheila paused before opening the door. Some inner voice shouted to her that she wouldn't like what she saw. Reaching a decision, she pulled on the rope handle, and pushed the door open. Inside she saw that the interior appeared the same, with the exception that someone was sitting at the table.
Examining him from the door, she saw that it was a man. He had short fur on the top and back of his head as well as on the cheeks of his muzzle. The muzzle was short, and rounded, similar to the way that she looked in her last dream. His ears were rounded and low on the side of his head and the nose was smaller and inverted from what she thought to be normal. He had no fur other than that on his head. His eyes closed, he rocked back and forth in time with the singing. Looking behind him she saw a large white female bear, her hands resting on his shoulders, quietly singing.
Her hand, slack with shock, released the rope and the latched clattered shut. Opening his eyes, he looked over at the door, blinking with disbelief, he stood up, the bear stepping back from him, and calmly clasp her hands in front of her. Stepping towards her, he spoke, "Sheila? Is that you?"
Backing away from the door, Sheila turned and ran. She had recognized the voice. It was Arden's.
Being in Nanuk's hut as my old self had been strange enough, but to see Sheila here was a shock. The look of horror on her face as I called to her and the way she ran was devastating. Turning to Nanuk, I shot an accusing glance, "What are you trying to show me? That she won't be able to accept knowing who I was?"
Smiling at me, she held her arms out and stepped forward to embrace me. Backing up I shook my head, "No. First I'm here looking like this. Next you take the woman I think that I may love, and show her this form! Why!"
I could see my words had stung. Lowering her arms she sat at the table, and gestured for me to sit also. After I sat down, she explained, "She must begin to accept you as you were, and as you some day may become again. If we do not do this now, then it may be too late. You wouldn't want to lose her because she wasn't prepared for the truth would you?
Realizing the truth in what she was saying, shook my head, "I'm sorry Nanuk. But you could have warned me. I could have played it different."
Reaching across the table, she patted my hand and smiled, "Nanuk knows what she is doing. This way is best. You must trust Nanuk."
Nodding, acceptance, I got up and walked out of the hut. There was no trace of Sheila. I had no idea where she would go from here.
Sheila awoke with a start, panting for breath; she realized that her heart was pounding. The dream vividly alive in her memory, she slipped out from under Arden's arm, and climbed out of bed. Turning to look at the bed. Hugging herself unconsciously, she stared at Arden's face. Why had she seen him in a dream that way? What had prompted it? Remembering her words this morning, "You are not just an unacceptable risk. I don't know what you are, and neither do you, but that's not the point damn it!"
Why in the world had she said that? I don't know what you are? How come she didn't say 'I don't know who you are?' Somehow that didn't sound right either.
Shivering from the adrenaline still pumping in her system, Sheila went into the bathroom. Grabbing a large towel she headed for the shower. Maybe some hot water would help her to relax again.
Forcing myself to wake up from the glade, I saw that Sheila wasn't in the bed next to me. As I started to get out of bed, I heard the shower being turned on. I had noticed blood on the sheets when I got back in bed from my back. Apparently I had pulled something open. Taking the medicated shampoo from the overnight bag I headed for the bathroom. Sheila was already inside, standing under the spray with her head down, unmoving. Watching her for a second I saw that she was just soaking under the hot spray. Taping on the glass door, I saw her jump back, startled. Cracking the door, I peaked in, "Is this a private party or can just anyone jump in."
Sheila just stood flattened against the tiles, like a wild animal trapped. After a few seconds I saw here shake her head and give a week smile. "Sure, you just startled me."
Stepping into the shower, I closed the door and put the shampoo on the shelf under the showerhead. Sheila still had the look of a frightened cub on her face. Reaching out slowly, I paused as she flinched. Dropping my arm, I gave her a pleading look, "You will never have anything to fear from me Sheila. Please, don't ever be afraid of me."
As what I said penetrated the vale of fear, she took a hesitant step forward, and then another. Stopping a few inches away, she looked up, "What's happening to me, to us? Why am I having these dreams?"
Taking her gently into my arms I held her, "I don't know. You haven't even told me about them." Searching her eyes, I continued, "Give me a chance, and we'll work this out. I promise that I'll tell you everything I know once all the pieces are in place. Right now, there are such gaps." It wasn't quite a lie. She was missing important pieces of the puzzle. I couldn't, no wouldn't risk alienating her again.
Sabrina once again pulled up in front of ZZ Studios and parked. Getting out, she waved at the security guards. There was a work crew replacing the glass front to the building. Heading straight into the building she walked from the foyer into her office. There was a brand spanking new 25" flat screen monitor on her desk where the old one had sat. A stray bullet from the drive by had taken out her old monitor tube. James had helpfully suggested a flat screen display not only as a way to get her a bigger work space for her graphics, but also to free up room on the desk.
Grinning like the proverbial cat that ate the bird, she moved the mouse canceling the screen saver. Seeing that the tech that replaced the monitor had killed WinUAE she double clicked on the icon. As the words "This is Amiga speaking" flowed from the speakers, she clicked on her working configuration. Watching the Amiga desktop come up over windows, she glanced at the door and smiled. Sabrina had managed to keep her Amiga emulator a little secret. It was so much easier to work with her old Amiga applications than to try to learn that Adubie stuff.
Picking up the days work, she laid it on the scanner and opened up the capture program. Time to become productive.
Shampooing Sheila had been an experience I hadn't gotten around to last time. It was both entertaining AND educational. I learned several new things about our bodies that just wouldn't quite have worked in the old world. At one point Zig Zag had opened the door and shouted for us to leave some hot water for everyone else. Sheila looked embarrassed, not being used to sharing a bathroom. Me, I had decided to loosen up.
Shouting back out I replied, "Hey Zig Zag! If you want some hot water, why not come on in? There's room for the three of us!" Unfortunately for me, I couldn't see her reaction because of the frosted glass and also my lack of glasses. Sheila gave me a grin of utter astonishment and a light shot to the ribs.
Zig Zag said something that I couldn't quite hear. After asking her to repeat it I finally heard, "I'll pass. Just hurry up will you? You're going to miss lunch."
I was actually beginning to enjoy taking showers. Unfortunately for my cast, I had forgotten to wrap it. After climbing out of the shower, both Sheila and I came to the same conclusion. I was going to have to get it redone. Using my claws, I finished splitting it down the side and took my leg out. Placing the wet cast in the trash, I climbed back in while Sheila washed the remaining plaster out of my fur. While in the shower, I tested my leg by standing on it. Although it would probably hold my weight, it still hurt. It may be healing fast, but it wasn't completely repaired.
Sitting on a stool in the shower, I waited for my turn at the dryer. I'd have to talk to the doc and see if he'd do a house call. If not, maybe I could get someone to give me a ride out there. Then again, if I used crutches, who's to say I wouldn't be OK without the damned thing.
At lunch, I took the opportunity to bring up a question I had wanted answered. "Zig Zag, James, I need your advice." Seeing I had their attention, "After my impromptu interview in the hospital, I got numerous interview requests from all the local stations and some networks."
Nodding, Zig Zag swallowed the bite of her sandwich, "I know, we've got a ton of messages at the studio for you too. I've been having them toss the duplicates. Are you thinking about doing an interview?"
Nodding, "Yah, that detective got me thinking. Right now someone's after me because they think I'm this other Arden guy, when we know for a fact that I'm not. If someone out there thinks that I'm actually him, maybe we can set the record straight. If nothing else, I can try to answer some of the bizarre things they've been saying."
Shaking her head, Zig Zag disagreed, "I don't trust the media. No matter who you go on. Even 90 minutes tends to distort things for their own use. There's no way you can be sure you're not going to get screwed."
Nodding, I put down the food, "I agree. Most all of the media I've seen around town isn't what you'd call impartial, except one, the guy on the UHF station."
Zig Zag's jaw dropped, "Are you kidding? That guy looks for ANY excuse to talk bad about someone."
Smiling I nodded in agreement, "Exactly why I want to talk to him. He's not going to try to smooch up for an exclusive. He tells it the way he sees it, even if he does it in an off-handed way. Personally I like the guy. I think he's a hoot."
Scowling, Zig Zag took a sip of her coffee, "That's because you haven't had him dragging your name through the mud."
Sitting back, I crossed my arms and arched my eyebrows at her, "I beg your pardon? He may not have as much material to work me over with...... yet...... but I do think that he's going to be the fairest platform out there. And believe me when I say that I think I can hold my own with him. But I wanted to talk it over with you first."
Looking over at James for some direction, Zig Zag finally shook her head, "I'd rather you not, but it's up to you."
Trying one last-ditch idea, "How about if David comes on with me. I could have him stand behind me with a Nerf-bat and hit me whenever I was saying something I shouldn't. Kind of like they do at those congressional hearings."
Chuckling she just shook her head. Oh well, maybe after I got HER loosened up a little, she'd mellow out with the media. If you can't fight them, join them.
After lunch, Zig Zag loaned us her Mercedes to head over to the docs. He had agreed to redo my cast at his place. After getting the directions we had headed off. A few blocks from the house, Sheila turned off the radio. Sitting in silence I remembered Philippe saying that she was very eclectic. Just about to suggest that she could have changed the channel she spoke.
"What's that mark on your left hand?"
Wow, what a question, short and to the point. Opening my hand, I looked at the face, once again mocking me. "It is an imprint, a brand of sorts, from an item called the Amulet of Lakesh. I think I was holding it when I got hit by the car."
Still staring at the road, she was careful to watch everything but me. "How did the mark get on your hand?"
Clenching my fist, I tried to think of an answer. "I'm not sure exactly. When I woke up in the hospital it was there, but I had no pain, yet I don't remember having it before the accident."
Watching her take a deep breath, I could see she was fighting her emotions, "Do you remember what happened before the wreck? Or did you really have amnesia?"
Hanging my head, "Yes. I could remember everything. But if I told people what had really happened, they would have locked me up in a padded cell." Looking back at her, I saw her swallowing. "Sheila, pull over somewhere. I don't want to get in another wreck."
Spotting a small public park, she pulled into a parking spot and stopped the car. Turning off the engine we sat there for a few minutes. Finally I opened the door. "Let's go sit at that bench by the water. I think it will be more comfortable than in here."
Getting out, I used the crutch with my right arm to support my weight. Walking around to the driver's side door, I opened it for her. I stood for a minute or so before she made up her mind to get out. Closing the door I followed Sheila as she mechanically walked over to the bench.
Not looking at me, she said quietly, "Tell me everything."
The question is, where to start. "Do you remember the dream you had this morning?"
Her head snapped around towards me. "You came into a hut and saw a strange looking man sitting at a table, furless except for on his head. Behind him a bear stood, her hands on his shoulders singing."
Her eyes got wide enough to show the entire pupil. Quietly I said slowly, "That wasn't entirely a dream."
I could see the emotions playing across her face, confusion, disbelief, astonishment, and panic. Taking her paw, I broke the train of emotions. Laying her palm against my muzzle I continued, "The bear you saw was Nanuk. She is my spirit guide. She is a force of nature that manifests in my dreams as a bear since that's the form that best represents her to me."
Her paw was trembling slightly. Lowering it from the side of my face, I held it tightly with both my hands to steady it. "What you saw in the dream was me. The old me, not this form I have now. When the amulet brought me here, it changed me somehow so that I would be able to fit in here."
I paused to let that sink in, eventually she looked back into my eyes, "Why did it bring you here? What reason could it have had?"
This was going to be tricky. "Have you ever heard of the idea that writers don't actually create the story, but are actually transcribing the events in another reality?" Thinking for a second she shook her head no. I tried to think of a way to explain, "There are millions of alternate realities, entire worlds sitting side by side occupying the exact same point in space and time, only they are somehow separated by a barrier that prevents people or objects from crossing. Our minds though, are immaterial, and some people have the gift for seeing what is beyond. Do you understand?"
As she nodded I continued, "Now imagine if the same thing worked for art too? The fantasy pictures that look so vivid and real are of people or events that actually occurred somewhere."
Slowly, she nodded again, "In my original world, I was depressed. I had lost some people very important to me. I didn't know how to move on. A friend gave me that amulet; she said that it would allow me to start my life over, but at a great cost. I would have to be willing to give up everything. I didn't believe her. Who believes in magic right?" She actually smiled a little at that. "I had a picture of you on my computer as the backdrop. Every time I saw you, I felt a longing in my heart. One morning I made the fateful mistake of holding the amulet while looking at you, and it brought me here."
Hearing that her eyes got wide again as she realized what I was saying. "In the hospital when I said you're the reason I'm here, it wasn't just some obsessed fan, it was the literal truth. My desire to be with you caused the amulet to bring me to you in this world."
Chuckling, I smiled, "Unfortunately for me, you and Zig Zag were in your car at the time. Not the best situation to be in, but then again, what can you expect from a cursed item that was fashioned by a demon hell bent on creating chaos."
I don't know how long we sat there. I just held her hand and waited for her to digest the information. In due course she asked in a weak voice, "And what about the guy in Kansas City?"
Shaking my head, "I don't know. My last name is Eastridge not Bearridge. The only thing I can think of is that it's either an incredible coincidence, or the amulet somehow caused the accident to get rid of my counter part in this reality. Either way, it has cost not only MY life and all I knew, but also that of my twin in this reality. Now you see why you and Zig Zag are so important to me. Without the amulet, I have no hope of ever getting back home. I can't just assume my alternates identity since he's dead. I'm a stranger in a strange land Sheila. You are my lifeline. You are what's keeping me going right now."
As we sat, I tried to relax. Listening to the birds singing, I felt a gentle breeze blowing through my fur. Looking down her hand as I held it in mine, "I don't know what to say."
With one hand, I lifted her muzzle so she looked me in the eye. "My old life is gone. Up until now, you thought it was amnesia. Now that you know the truth, does it make that much difference?" Looking straight into here eyes, I prayed that she wouldn't send me away. "If you say you never want to see me again, I'll walk away. It's your decision."
Letting go of her, I used the crutch to help my self up. Walking back to the car I climbed into the passenger seat, and rolled down the window. She would have to make a decision one way or another. I only hoped that Nanuk was right, and she'd choose to stay with me.