|The Transformation Story Archive||With Fur and Claws...|
The Fox Kid
Lucille smiled as she heard the knock on the side door. She knew who that was; even if he weren't the only student scheduled for now, she'd know. Other kids might be early or - more likely - late, but Howaya Metu made it a point to always be exactly on time. It was a joke with him, that in this one thing he would be predictable.
When she opened the door, however, her smile vanished. How, normally almost irritatingly cheerful, looked miserable.
"Are you all right?" Lucille asked, concerned.
"I'm fine, Moondust," How replied, using her old nickname. He gave a sickly smile.
Lucille ushered him into the studio, then made him sit on the couch. He didn't protest. He didn't ask what she was doing, either, which was just one more indication that something was quite wrong with the young art student.
"All right; out with it," she ordered.
How opened his mouth, then shut it. Obviously, he had been going to tell her that everything was fine, but How didn't like lying. He gave a great sigh. Moondust waited while he collected himself.
"Its Mr. Mueler," he told her, finally. "We had another run-in today. He's determined to make my life miserable, and I don't know why!"
That was How's high school guidance counselor. The man was competent enough at his job but a complete mundane, without an artistic bone in his body. Yet Mueler insisted on trying to tell a born artist how he should structure his college education. This jerk was more likely to ruin How's talent than encourage it, because Mueler saw no value in art for it's own sake. And How, gentle, artistic soul that he was, couldn't understand why this respected - and feared - authority figure was tormenting him by telling him to do things which went against everything the young man knew to be true.
With a little encouragement How began relating to Moondust the details of his latest encounter with Mueler. The counselor had tossed out (literally) How's selection of colleges and courses, presenting one of his own. This curriculum focused on technical drawing and industrial design classes, and notably excluded such subjects as painting and life-drawing. As How spoke he became increasingly upset, finally breaking down into sobbing incoherence. Moondust tentatively hugged him, and How threw his arms around his art tutor, grinding his face into her shoulder.
Lucille got him through the initial outburst, rocking the two of them gently back and forth and making sympathetic, reassuring noises. Then she told him she'd be back in a minute with something to calm him.
Lucille - or Moondust, as she liked for friends to call her - was a hippie holdover. Middle-aged, greying, a bit overweight, she was worldly and experienced. She was also a survivor, and knew how to present an acceptable front to the world at large, and how to know which friends to let see her real self. Most of the latter would not have been surprised at what she did next. From under a loose board in the bathroom closet she pulled out a box. From the box she produced blotter paper and a small bottle of clear liquid. She put on latex gloves, and used surgical scissors to cut a small square from the blotter paper. Onto this went a carefully measured drop of the liquid. Moondust rarely used the stuff herself - she had other ways of tapping her creativity - but she was a believer in following one's soul, and in using chemical aid when the process was difficult.
Moondust thought for a moment, and cut the paper in half. Then she sighed and cut one of the halves in half. No sense taking chances, and How was a bit undersized for his 16 years.
"Here," she said, holding out the tiny piece of blotter paper, on the tip of one still-gloved finger. "This will help relax you."
It was a measure of his innate trust in her that How took the paper and - at Moondust's instruction - stuck it under his tongue without question or hesitation. The LSD quickly took effect, and the boy did, indeed, begin to relax.
How was soon giggling, and cheerfully describing his hallucinations. Only Moondust took a step back in astonishment, because they weren't hallucinations; he actually did grow foxy ears and (two!) tails, and the ceramic cats on the shelf really were dancing a hoedown. Moondust remembered how she had introduced him to the works of Mike Jittlov a few months earlier. She could almost hear the music...
The dose was small and How was tired before he started. If Moondust was right, what he was doing would be quite a drain, and he'd soon be worn out. As she expected, How quickly settled down and went to sleep on the couch, though he retained his vulpine features. Moondust pulled a cover over him and went to make a phone call.
How came groggily awake, with the impression that some time had passed. He sat up, shaking his head, trying to clear it, noting from the dim light in the studio that it was late afternoon, or maybe early evening. Moondust was sitting nearby with a friend. It didn't occur to How to wonder why he had labeled the man "friend" instead of "stranger." He was too busy taking in the man's appearance.
The newcomer was tall and lean, almost gaunt, with an air of fragility. He was also beautiful, and even sitting gave an impression of inhuman grace. His eyes were an incredible shade of green, his hair fine and blond, and his ears were delicately pointed.
"Wow," said How, a grin growing on his face. The man smiled back at him, and How could feel the warm laughter behind that expression almost breaking through.
"He's going to be a good one," the man announced, in a surprisingly deep voice.
"How, this is Lord Teleomier, an old friend of mine," Moondust explained. "I've already told him who you are, and about your problem. Oh, and I called your parents and told them you were so tired you fell asleep during your lesson, and that I'd bring you home after you woke up."
"Uh..." How frowned and reached up to scratch his head as he took this in. He didn't seem at all disturbed to find pointed, foxy ears, or that he was scratching with claw-tipped fingers.
"If I am right about you, you are already sensing a certain kinship between us," said Teleomier. His smile widened at How's expression, revealing long and delicately pointed incisors. "Yes, you are one of the fey. Given your ancestry, and your true form, I'd say you are a kitsune. I, myself, am a pooka, with a feline affinity."
"If you say so," said How, distantly.
"His family has been in the country for four generations," Moondust explained. "He doesn't speak a word of Japanese or Chinese, and isn't familiar with Irish folklore."
"You are a fox spirit, who decided to leave the faerie realm and live as a human," said Teleomier. "How much you will be able to remember of your previous existence is not yet known. It should start coming to you, now that you have wakened."
How had a vague, brief memory of light and color and sound, and of endless pranks and revelry. It faded rapidly, but he felt that it was still there, in the back of his mind, waiting for him to recall when he needed to.
"All Fey currently in the physical world have made this same choice," Teleomier explained. "In Arcadia we are immortal, but bored. We can have anything we want, but life is shallow. Nothing is real and everything is always the same. Here, we have the unexpected, and the chance to change, even grow. We cast our spirits into this world, and hope that we are born into a good family, one that will appreciate the difference we bring."
"How's mother is a musician," Moondust told him, "and his father collects - and still reads - comic books. They're good folks."
"Excellent," said Teleomier, grinning. He reached out and gave How's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, his grip quite firm, his retracted claws just pricking How's skin through the thin fabric of the shirt. "Well, you have much to learn but too much too soon could be harmful. Think on what I have told you, and we will talk again later. Moondust knows how to reach me."
Moondust drove How home, the pair remaining silent the whole trip. How's parents were worried, but after looking at the tired smile on his face, allowed themselves to be reassured.
"Your supper is in the refrigerator," she told him. "Eat, then go straight to bed."
How's father took him into the kitchen. Moondust started to leave, then turned back, as if something suddenly occurred to her.
"How is under a lot of pressure at school," she said. "I think he needs some time off, to get away from the trees so he can see the forest. I'm going to a Renaissance fair next Sunday. I need someone to help me set up and run my booth, and I think it would do him a world of good to go."
"What an excellent idea!" How's mother exclaimed. "I'll talk it over with his father, but there shouldn't be any problem."
As Moondust climbed back into her Citroen she had a sly smile on her face. Teleomier would be proud. She had told the exact truth, only neglecting to reveal that many of those at the fair would not be human. It wouldn't just do How a world of good to attend, but an other-world of good.
How paused outside the office, creating a clot in the flow of students. He was steeling himself, working up the nerve for what was to come. Before he could ready himself, however, a pair of strong arms wrapped around his shoulders.
"How ya' doin'?" asked Tina, nuzzling him from behind, as she used their old joke.
How was only a bit below average height for a guy his age, but Tina was the second-tallest girl in the school. How grinned up at her, looking over his shoulder as he put his hands on hers.
"Not too bad," he responded. He glanced at the office door and grimaced. "Up until now, that is. Today's the final day to send off my college enrollment. Mueler is determined to put me into an industrial arts program. Guess I'll just have to disappoint him."
He gave her a weak grin, and she grinned back. Tina hugged him tight and started to say something reassuring, but she frowned as she noticed an odd pressure on her chest. Leaning close, she whispered in How's ear.
"I told you not to do that!" she hissed. "If I want bigger boobs I'll ask for them!"
"Sorry," said How, chagrined. "Just nerves, making me forget."
This odd couple had first dated tentatively over two years earlier, and immediately hit it off. Over the past few months, since How had discovered his true nature and soon after shared that with Tina, their relationship had grown even stronger. Whatever it was that Tina found attractive in How had apparently been amplified by his awakening.
"Well, let's get together at Moondust's after school. I'll make you forget Mueler and his stuffy little office."
With that encouragement, and a swat on the rump, she sent How into the lion's den.
How sat nervously on the edge of the chair while Mr. Mueler flipped through How's "revised" application. Finally, with an expression of disgust, he slapped it down on his desk, the sudden sound and movement making the student jump.
"How, this is effectively the same application you gave me earlier," he said, sounding exasperated. "You promised me that you would change your courses and college to one of those I suggested."
"No, sir," said How, quietly but firmly. "I promised that I would consider making a change, which is what you asked me to do."
Mueler made a growling sound, and ran his hands through his thinning hair. He seemed to think hard for a moment, then abruptly leaned forward, hands extended, almost seeming to plead.
"How, you've got to forget about all that artsy-fartsy stuff and learn something practical, like drawing plans and blueprints." He saw that his imploring gesture wasn't helping, and leaned back in his chair, glaring at the young man. "You're seventeen years old! You need to grow up and face reality!
"What prompted you to apply to the University of Louisville, anyway? There are plenty of better colleges which have accepted you."
"Tina is going there on an athletic scholarship," How explained.
"You mean Tina Moore?" the counselor responded, surprised. "How, when are you going to give up this juvenile infatuation? Listen, you need to get away from her, find someone more your type, better suited to you."
"What do you mean?" asked How, confused, wondering if the man meant he should stick with Orientals.
"Well, you know that she's not really interested in you," said Mueler, vaguely.
Once more, the advisor had managed to say something so at variance with reality that How couldn't even think of a reply. He and Tina had been an item for nearly three years; she was the only human besides Moondust who knew what he was.
"Actually, we're hoping to get married eventually," How said, hoping that some facts would cure Mueler of his delusion. "Tina figures she can make a good living as a professional athlete until at least her early thirties, so even if I'm not able to support us by then with my art, we'll have enough saved up to live on."
"How, you've got to quit deluding yourself!" said Mueler. He leaned forward, his voice lowering. "That dy... young woman just isn't interested in guys."
It took a moment for what Mueler had said to make it through How's parser. Then the young man flushed, angry and embarrassed. He settled back in his chair, glaring at Mueler.
"How, I know you don't like to... to..."
Mueler stopped in confusion. The face of the clock on his desk was smiling at him. Then the bland, institutional paint on the walls began to form patterns, which resolved into images of dancing animals. And the animals pulled themselves free and began to caper around the office...
Tina went to their favorite spot, a wooded lot near the school, and not too far from Moondust's. How liked to come here when he was feeling moody or wanted to think. It was one of the few local places with some of the old magic left, which may have been the reason it had never been purchased for building a home. Most people felt uneasy there. At first, Tina saw no sign of her friend, and was about to leave, but then she remembered that How - like others of his kind - could hide himself. Tina decided to try something, as long as she was there. Recalling what How had taught her about seeing the unseen, she cleared her mind and let her gaze unfocus. The woods subtly changed, blurring a bit here, sharpening there. The old rotten stump was glowing a pale, eerie blue, now, and the large oak to her left seemed to have gained a face in the bark. Those weren't what she was looking for, though.
Tina concentrated on How, on the mental composite she had of him. What's that called? Oh, yeah; gestalt. It was what he was to her, her total concept of him, in shorthand. What had been a blur on a branch resolved into a fox with two tails.
Tina walked toward the tree, smiled gently at the rather surprised fox, and held out her arms. How hesitated a moment, then jumped, Tina catching him neatly. She cradled him in her arms, touching noses with him as she scratched the back of his neck.
"What did you do to Mr. Mueler?" she asked, gently. "They took him off in a straightjacket!"
I just tried to... wake him up, said How, sounding miserable. I didn't want to hurt him, just shock him into realizing that he was wrong and maybe he would stop trying...
"Hush," said Tina, realizing how guilty her friend felt. She hugged him, could feel him trembling, on the edge of tears. "He must have been crazy already. That's why he was so hard on you and others. You showed him something he couldn't handle and he cracked. If you hadn't done it, something else would have."
Later, at Moondust's, How was still subdued. Tina had to do most of the explaining. The older woman listened quietly, occasionally asking a question, mostly just nodding.
"Well, it sounds like the bastard got what he deserved," she declared, when the teenagers were finished. "One more strait-laced mind has wound up in a straightjacket because it didn't have the flexibility to deal with something different."
"That's pretty much what Tina said." How didn't look relieved or comforted by this.
Tina grabbed him and gave him a playful noogie. That made him grin, which made them all a little more relaxed. Moondust gave them both a brief hug.
"How, would you go fix us a snack, please?" she asked him. "I want to talk to Tina alone."
How nodded, rose and left. The two women sat in silence for a moment, the younger growing increasingly uncomfortable under the older's evaluating gaze.
"What do you feel about How?" Moondust asked, finally.
Tina started to answer, paused, then shook her head, sighing. She shrugged. "I love him. Is that what you want to hear? I know its easy to say, but I mean it." She paused and gave another sigh. "I need him. He fills a hole in me I didn't even know I had until I met him. He's the trip to Disney World I never got to go on, because I'm always training or competing. He's my reality check, my RDA of fun and silliness. He's my muse; he inspires me more than all my father's pressuring and nagging."
She paused for a moment, to knuckle a tear from her eye. When she spoke again there was a catch in her voice. "He's my little fox."
Moondust was surprised, and impressed. Tina wasn't the most articulate person in the world, but she had managed to convince even this hardened, skeptical hippie holdout.
"My first great love was one of the Fae," Moondust said quietly.
"What was his name?" asked Tina.
"Her name was Clelleya," said Moondust, smiling a bit at Tina's startled expression. "She was much more serious than How - I was the silly one, back then - but she served as my muse. Unfortunately, she was too serious. She eventually became so depressed over human existence, pining for Arcadia, that she wasted away and died."
"Oh, no," whispered Tina.
"I don't think that's a serious risk for How. For one thing, he remembers enough of Arcadia that he knows how boring it was there." Moondust sighed, stretched, and leaned back, smiling. "You and How have something precious together. Don't take it for granted. Pay attention to him, and what he needs, as well as what your relationship needs. You two are off to a good start. With luck, you are creating something which can last a long, rich lifetime."