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Outskirts by Sylvan

This story is an original creation, not a commission. This may end up being the first in a series of short stories taking place in a world where many furries get their wish: they become anthropomorphics. Some don’t get this wish. Many who are not furries have The Change thrust upon them. This, though, is just an opening. It’s a beginning. Whether or not I continue depends on my mood. This is a rough draft, done merely for the fun of it. The world-setting and characters are owned by myself.

Outskirts

©2013 Sylvan Scott

Broad paws splayed for purchase on the icy rock, the red fox mounted the rise and looked back on the columns of smoke rising from the distant city. Nose to the wind, he could smell the ashes from here. Moreover, he could smell the fear. Nearly a million people lived there and the stink of their anxiety was palpable. His keen ears could sometimes hear their cries. It was all a jumble of terror and exhilaration. Some were calling it the Apocalypse; a few: the Rapture. None of them had it right. No holy book or ancient scroll had predicted The Change. It had been as sudden as it had been unexpected.

When the physical forms of humans fell away to reveal the beasts beneath, all the people of the world were overwhelmed.

Everyone but people like the fox.

All his life he’d read stories about animals who could talk or walk like humans. Since childhood, he’d loved the cartoons. As an adult, he’d held on to his loves in games, stories, and art. It had surprised him but not overwhelmed. When his flesh sprouted fur and his senses exploded, it had felt right. It had been like peeling away a scab only to find clean, healed flesh beneath.

The nine-to-five world had been a yoke around his neck for a decade. He’d scrimped and saved just to afford a small apartment. He’d been annoyed by idle prattle, gossip, and the mindless susurrus that passed for conversation among his peers. Over the years, he’d drifted from them—leaving only a few people he could truly identify with—and still found himself aching to escape.

And then, without warning, it had happened. Just before lunch, it had happened.

Muscle and bone flowed like hot wax; his body was reshaped as if in the hands of a master sculptor. He’d grown and changed along the contours of his childhood fantasies. It had throbbed and tingled and ached and thrilled. Whatever was behind this, pain was neither its goal nor its side-effect.

But not everyone had embraced The Change like him.

He still stood on two legs but his ankles had been reformed into high, arched paw-like feet, and his toes were now broad and rounded. Small claw tips poked out from their fur. A narrow fox muzzle stuck out beneath his eyes. Red and orange fur, flecked with tips of black, kept him warm in the cold, early spring.

Patches of snow were everywhere and, in the distance, he could see the ice-locked bay past the city’s edge. The bridges leading over the river were clogged with cars. Both directions were overwhelmed.

Whether they were emigrating or seeking refuge, it didn’t matter. The whole world was different. From what the fox had seen, at least a third had seen their inner animal burst to the surface. Judging by how he felt after the change, he guessed they were all as impassioned and aware. Those who thought animals had no emotions were wrong. They were so much closer to the surface. An animal’s senses added to the experiences of a human was a cocktail he’d never truly anticipated. It was … overwhelming. He’d left the city not to flee or seek refuge but to gain perspective.

As he’d left town, though, he’d found himself less and less connected to it. After cutting through the rural, snow-clad farms, he felt a growing sense of belonging. As the farms turned to trees and the even emptier hills rose up around him, the sensation increased. By the time he reached the summit of the lowest hill, he felt both content and thrilled. Out here, even in the tamed simulation of true wilderness, he felt more alive than he had back home.

As he looked back on the way he’d come, a chill ran through him.

He felt a twinge of longing and wished he had someone with him. The distant cityscape wasn’t a ruin but it was heading in that direction. And as he stood here, reveling in his senses and the warmth of his fur, he wondered if this was really as easy as it seemed. Was he missing something, some trouble he should be concerned about, that had everyone else so agitated? Seeing the city in smoke drove that home. Thousands were reacting so differently to The Change that he had to question his relatively joyful response. Perhaps he was lucky, then: he could embrace it more readily than others. He just wished he had a friend, here, to share it with.

But as his heart slowed after the long run, as his passions began to drown his reasoned, thinking mind. Despite the outer form, his human heart and mind still held their beliefs. His perspectives hadn’t changed: just drenched in new senses and abilities. At his core, the fox was still as bound up in self-doubt as ever. The Change wasn’t a panacea. The fact that he had so few friends, and still didn’t have any new insights on how to make more, was proof of that.

He’d never particularly embraced his life. His family was there but the less said about them, the better. His family-of-choice on the other hand, his friends, were also in that warren of jammed phone lines and overloaded Internet connections. He didn’t know if they were among the changed but even if they were, the chaos had to be a threat. For the first time he felt he was looking upon his home with the right eyes; with the right nose and ears. And, in the midst of that explosion of sensory input, filtered through a tidal wave of emotion, he felt a sense of duty.

How it took the flesh of a beast to make him feel more human was an irony not lost on him.

The wilds sang in his blood. If he continued north he would find a national park, maybe a refuge; he would find a place that felt even more like home. But something else prevented him. Others needed him. He stood for a long moment on the icy heights. His eyes, with a richer color vision than he’d ever imagined surveyed the land to the south and watched the various fires resulting from rioting and fights. He wasn’t a hero.

Foxes weren’t heroes. Foxes were sly and crafty and full of mirth. That was how he’d always seen them in the stories and that was how he felt about himself. But still, he had to act.

As quickly as he’d come, he turned and bounded down the slopes.

His oversized paws fought for purchase with each slippery step. Through the black pads on their bottoms, he felt in tune with the living world. Voluminous tail swishing behind him, he crossed back into rural countryside and bounded across frost-covered farms. He passed a mud-trapped plow still attached to its tractor. He passed barns and houses. He dashed across rural roads of old brick and packed earth. His heart pounded while his lungs drank in the cold air. It felt good.

He leapt a fence, past a horse, and continued to run.

“Ho! Fox! Wait! What is happening? Do you know?”

The fox, stopped. Turning, he watched as the mountain of dark brown hair and equine form, rose on hind legs to stand, facing him. Dull, metal shoes were nailed into his hooves but his hands, tipped in the dark material, were unshod. Two horseshoes lay, nearby, their nails still in them. The horse looked, despite its still mostly equine-shaped face, confused.

“Did you … talk?” the fox asked.

The horse nodded. “Do you know what’s happening? Everyone’s afraid and I … I’m confused.”

“It’s a change,” the fox answered, slowly. There was something odd about the horse, something that his brain was having to push his emotions out of the way to assess.

“What sort of change?” the stranger asked. He lumbered forward, nearly twice the fox’s height, as naked as the day he was born. His black mane whipped in the wind. “And why can you talk? Why do I have so many … ideas?” He struggled with his words but they came out cleanly, nonetheless.

Realization dawned.

“You weren’t human, before,” he said slowly.

The horse shook his head. “I and my ...herd... we were here when the smells came. It was like apples in autumn, but it wasn’t autumn. It was like turned earth and mushrooms. It … it was everywhere. Then I changed; so did many others.”

“How many?” the fox asked.

“About one in three.”

The fox boggled at the implications. “Where are they now?”

“They followed our herd-lead back to the shelter. The, uh, barn, I guess. I stayed here. I … I wanted to see what would happen next. I wasn’t afraid. Where did these words come from? I know them now but I didn’t, yesterday.” He paused, thinking. “At least I don’t think I did.”

A third of all humans. Perhaps a third of all animals, too, the fox realized. The world seemed to have gained an explosion in its intelligent population.

“I honestly don’t know,” the fox said. He didn’t have his watch anymore but he knew time was passing. He looked towards the city; towards the columns of black that rose from it. His animal side took his paused conversation with the horse to yell at him to retreat to the north: back to the hills and the wilds, beyond. It was a struggle he knew he’d probably face with increasing difficulty in the future. He pointed to the south. “That smoke is important. It’s the city. There are fires and … and fighting.” The horse looked nervous. “I have to find my friends; my herd. I may not have much love for the buildings and streets but I have friends, there.”

The horse nodded as if mulling over the information.

“I would like to see the city,” he said. “I may have, come to think of it; but I’m not sure.”

The fox started getting impatient. “Look, I have to go.”

“May I come with you?” the horse asked.

“What?”

“May I come with you? I’d like to see this city and I can help you with your herd. You are small and weak; I am much stronger.”

The fox looked from the colossus standing before him to the south where, only a few miles away, the suburbs began. He pictured the horse coming with him, giant hooves like dinner plates cracking pavement as he ran. It was a disconcerting image. And whose property was the horse, now, anyway? Could there be ownership of animals who had changed?

He imagined the farm hands taking the stallion into the barn and tying him up while they tried to figure out what to do. The image rankled him. At the same time, this was his worst nightmare: being asked to take on a stranger. Making friends was hard enough; how much more difficult was it for someone who wasn’t based on being a human?

The instant the thought crossed his mind, he felt embarrassed. It shouldn’t matter.

It didn’t matter.

His senses told him the horse wasn’t going to hurt him and his passions yearned to share his new experiences. It was only his old mind hesitating at taking a companion. If being suddenly half-animal was odd for him, how strange was it for an animal—for this horse—to suddenly possess language and human capability? It had to be at least as hard for the horse to ask to come with as it was for the fox to consider accepting.

“I … I guess that’s okay,” he said. “Come with. Uh, that is if your herd won’t mind.”

“I’ve never felt particularly close to them,” the horse admitted. “And things have changed, now. a huge number ran for the far pasture when so many of us changed. I honestly don’t know which group I’d belong to, anyway.”

The fox nodded and gestured for the horse to follow. No human or animal stopped them as the crossed the fields. When they reached the fencing on the far side, they found it already downed. They crossed it and soon came to a road that led south.

“They call me ‘Brick’,” the horse said. He sounded slow on the idea of introductions, but full of an undercurrent of excitement. “I only, just now, understand that word, really. Do you have a name?”

The fox paused and considered. Everything was different. Literally, the world had changed. He thought about it for a minute and, eventually, shook his head. “Not yet, I don’t. But I will. Sooner or later, I’ll choose one. If you like, you might, too.”

“I like ‘Brick’,” the horse said with a tone of pride. “But what should I call you?”

“Just ‘fox’,” he answered. “But, for now, let’s see about getting back to the city. Let’s find my herd.”

As the first day after the transformation reached evening, they crossed into the city, proper.

And, more than that, the fox—the human fox—realized he’d learned how to embrace others.

The End

Outskirts

Sylvan

23 March 2013 at 18:19:48 MDT

This story is an original creation, not a commission. This may end up being the first in a series of short stories taking place in a world where many furries get their wish: they become anthropomorphics. Some don’t get this wish. Many who are not furries have The Change thrust upon them. This, though, is just an opening. It’s a beginning. Whether or not I continue depends on my mood. This is a rough draft, done merely for the fun of it. The world-setting and characters are owned by myself.

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