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.

Identity Crisis - Chapter 35
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

  Sheila had just gotten out of the shower. Looking around, she couldn't spot Arden in the house anywhere. Seeing Zig Zag she asked, "Hey Zigs, have you seen Arden?" Looking up from the morning newspaper, Zig Zag nodded towards the back door, "He's out there doing laps. I've seen bears swim before, but never like that."

  Thanking her, Sheila watched the pool through the window for a few minutes. She watched as he lost himself in the simple yet elegant act of swimming. She had seen others do the same thing while running. They entered their own little private world where they could think about life without the distractions of things around them. Smiling, she walked back to the bedroom to get dressed for the day.

  After getting dressed, Sheila straightened up the bed, folding the covers up over the pillows. Finished, she noticed that the drawer by the bed wasn't completely closed. Opening it, she saw the diary that Arden had been writing in.

  Flipping it open, she read the first page.

The Doc said that I should start at the beginning and relate the events as they happened to me. I guess that kind of makes sense. Even now I'm still not sure if this is real, a dream or a nightmare. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Arden, as in the forest over in Germany. When all this started, I was a 38-year-old networking specialist who enjoyed spending his spare time riding his motorcycle, checking out the movies, and reading. Always reading. I stood a solid 6'1", weighed about 350lbs and enjoyed lifting weights.

  Mind you, I'm not one of these guys that are body builders; I just do it as a casual workout to keep fit. It's hard to work up a good sweat when one's sitting in front of a computer all the time. To round out my face, I wore large, round glasses that helped take a little bit of the chubbiness out of my face. Nice hazel green eyes, and brown crew-cut hair and a full beard rounded out the picture. The only drawback was that I'm an introvert.

  An introvert? Arden? That was a good one. Flipping pages, she saw other notes he had made. She read about his conversation with Zig Zag in the hospital, how he had toyed with the two traffic cops who had come to interview him after the accident, and their first meeting. He had been devastated by her reaction, and rightly so. The poor guy thought that all was lost. Thank goodness Philippe had a long snout.

  Skipping several pages she read about his first attempt to use the bathroom, laughing at his having to 'learn the rudiments of fur care.' She could understand his problem; it was something every young cub learned early. The poor guy had to learn it late in life.

  Again flipping, she read his account of the drive by shooting. He had lived in neighborhoods where this kind of stuff was commonplace. Further in she read his account of their first shower, and their conversation afterwards. Then she spotted his monolog.

  At this point I sat down on the bed and thought about what I was doing. What's my problem? I know I'm squeaky, but good lord, I've had the hots for her ever since I saw her. Now that I'm here, I've been resisting her every move. Looking at Sheila, I could see that she was watching me closely, trying to see what I was thinking. Running my right hand, paw, through my fur on the top of my hair, I was reminded just how different I had become as my ear brushed my arm. Looking over at her dressing table, I saw myself again, as if for the first time. I had really changed. This had been going on too long, and hurt too much to be a dream. I needed to spend some time deciding just how I was going handle this. I was going to have to decide if I'd become a recluse again, or loosen up.

  She remembered his kiss. It was their first, real kiss, and to her chagrin the fact that she had petulantly resisted him because of the promise he had made her make before the shower.

  Flipping a couple more pages, she read about his nightmare. He had been a storm chaser, the kind of person who lived for the hunt, looking for the most dangerous of all things, Tornados. How he had gone out in search of his love and wound up killing her through a freak accident of nature. The accident reminded her of the night Zig Zag had hit him. Stifling a tear, she continued to flip through.

  Skipping a large section she came to the night James had given Arden the guns, the time at the gun range, and finally his talk with Zig Zag and why he had wound up singing her to sleep that morning. She read about their argument when he hit her, and the turmoil that it caused within him. Then she read about his meeting with the dragon.

  Getting a better grip on myself, I sat up, crossing my legs in front of myself. "I take it then, that I'm back in the spirit realm. If so, why you? Why am I not with Nanuk?" I felt the air flowing from behind me as it began to breathe in, "Bear no longer has sufficient power to bring you to her. By bringing your woman across the barriers this morning to save your life, she used the last of her remaining power. Even then, the dragon of that realm had to help her return. She now rests, trying to regain power for the next stage."

  Her actions had caused more than just harm to Arden; it had caused Nanuk to expend energy she couldn't afford to loose. Reading on, she saw how the dragon spirit had adopted him to walk its path, explaining his sudden burst of rage. He hadn't known to guard against it. Thinking about his struggle in the shower last night, Sheila realized that he could very well have mauled her if he had lost control. Reading on.

  Nodding I understood, "I understand, but you said I had a mission. What is this mission." I got a feeling of immense satisfaction from the dragon, "Duty and Honor, these too are traits of Dragon. Bear chose well for us. You must go to the realm of the Sorcerer Ruddygore and obtain the Lamp of Lakesh from him."

  Wait a minute... If he had to go to another realm, that means he'd have to leave her. Reading on, she saw how if he did this, Nanuk would be renewed, but at a cost to him. He'd have to give her up. He'd have to leave. On the next page over, she saw a poem.

My light, my life, my love,
How could I do this to you?
Pulled from the beyond the vale,
All I could hope for came true.

You're touch, you're warmth, you're smell,
These things were but a dream to me,
Embodied anew, you have restored my soul,
This truth is all that exists for me.

As I walk the path set before me,
By my side, I envision you,
Constant companion and friend,
My way would be lost without you.

As bear, as dragon, as man,
One thing always remains the same,
The light that has sustained me,
I pray never to cause you pain.

I would live or die at your word,
I would kill or spare at your whim,
I would guard you from all harm,
I pray I can protect you from within.

My destiny has now been shown,
To save my spirit I must now decide,
A choice I must make is now known,
Do I condemn another or sacrifice?

A promise is made but duty calls,
My soul in transition, my way is lost,
This decision, I know not how to make,
It is a bridge that I am forced to cross.

To stay will bring death, darkness and pain,
Leaving will destroy all that I am,
This conundrum is beyond all I know,
I fear that my time with you has come to an end.

My light, my life, my love,
How could I do this to you?
Pulled from the beyond the vale,
All I could hope for now is through.

  Sheila was shaking. He was being forced to decide between her, and his spirit, his soul. How can anyone be asked to make a decision like that? Then there was the big question, could she let him go when the time came? Closing the book, she sat, softly crying.


  Standing in the doorway, I watched her reading my journal and the emotions that played across her face, happiness, sadness, and amusement. I could have stopped her before she got to the end, but did I have the right? She needed to know, and I had been unable to find a way to tell her. Maybe this was the best way. As I watched, I heard her read the poem, then close the book and quietly begin to cry. With each soft sound, a sharp pain pierced my soul. Walking over the wall opposite the bed, I slid down to sit, leaning against it.

  Looking at me, she held up the book, "Is this true?" Breaking my eyes from her gaze, I looked down at my paws and nodded. "And will you do this?" Giving a shrug, I tried to find an answer, "I don't know yet." Moving to kneel before me, she put her face by mine, "And how can you not? What about 'Honor and Duty'? Don't these mean anything to you?" Looking up at her, I felt only numbness, "Those are the way of the Dragon. Though I am forced along it's path, I am still bear, and yet by that declaration I again doom myself. I'm holding onto two ropes, suspended between them, pulled apart by them, being ripped in two, you and my spirit. I must release one, but which?"

  Dropping the book in my lap, she stood, "I can't make this decision for you. It can be only yours. I don't know if it's destiny, or maybe something else. All I know is that you have to do what you feel is right. If that means leaving me.... then I won't stop you."

  I watched her go into the bathroom to finish getting ready for work. Looking down at my palm, I once again looked at Lakesh. The edge of the symbol was tattooed with the holes I caused last night in the shower. I wondered how he felt, knowing that he was going to help save the good guys.

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