Author Topic: *Long story* Five Fingers on a Dusty Window (8000 words) feel-good, sci-fi  (Read 130 times)

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Offline Glycanthrope

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  • Species: European badger (meles meles)
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This is the third entry in my "Brockford Files" series of short stories.
In a near future, humans have relieved the planet of their presence through a short but brutal nuclear war.
Only animal-people survive, being naturally resistent to the nucelar fallout.
Now they try to get civilization up and running again.

Brockford "Brocky" Badger makes a living as a writer of romantic stories about the "good old days" before the war.
When radioactivity plays tricks with the space-time continuum, a portal opens that allows him to communicate with a girl from days past.
As much as he wants to stop the war from happening, he realizes that one person alone cannot stop the world from destroying itself.
But even if you can't save the whole world, a little effort can still go a long way.

You can read the story RIGHT HERE, or your can download it as a PDF file from:
https://www.furaffinity.net/view/25758440/

It's a long read, so I strongly (!) recommend the pdf file. It's nicely formatted and has a neat front cover and all...





December 8, 2078.

Roadside Picnic.
They are only seven miles from Farvale when the engine explodes in a series of loud coughs as if it was roaring over a filthy joke. “AWW! Come ON,” curses Kyell and pulls the car over. “I just had the damn thing serviced.” He mumbles explicits under his breath and struggles to start the engine. The starter screeches, grinds and growls but the Volvo remains passive. Next to him, a slender vixen of 26 with yellow eyes and flowing red fur rolls down her window, takes in the view and the scents of a beautiful day and relaxes back into the passenger seat. The forest is deep and green, and the foilage seems ablaze under the warm June sun.
“Guess we’re stuck, huh?” Her concern is only halfhearted; she’d much sooner spend the day alone with Kyell than going to his annual high-school reunion picnic.
Kyell reaches for his cell phone while Rhania checks her watch. It’s almost two in the afternoon and her stomach rumbles from lunch being late. Kyell finishes his call. “They’ll be here in forty-five,” he says. “Good thing I have nationwide auto-help.”
Rhania laughs. The forest of Farvale is not the worst place to be stuck for an hour, especially when you’re alone with the one you love and the car is loaded with food and drink.
“Maybe it’s a sign we should celebrate your promotion -just the two of us?”
 
Rhania removes the picnic basket from the trunk of the car and unfolds a large checkered blanket in the grass. Woven from soft Indian cotton, it sports a red and white chequered pattern so perfect for an inprontu roadside picnic. But being a wolf, Kyell doesn’t see in colors; he rummages through his knapsack, trying to locate the corkscrew he “absolutely and most definitely put in there before they left; it must have fallen out during the drive.” He rises to check in the car. Rhania rests on her elbows and follows her lover with her eyes. He’s a handsome timber-wolf of twenty-five with a striking grey coat, almost silver in places. 
Kyell wipes the dirt off the rear window and discovers the corkscrew on the back seat. “Found it!” he shouts back, but the electronic car key is acting up again, and the door remains locked. He tries to pry the window open by hand, curses when his fingers turn yellow from pine pollen and wipes it off in his jeans. The corkscrew is inches away from his muzzle but he can’t get to it. He sighs; why did he even lock the damn car? There’s nothing in the world left to fear but old habits never die, they just grow wrinkles. Rhania watches her lover climb into the car through the rear hatch. He looks funny with his tail and hind paws sticking out from the door. Moments later he reappears with a triumphant “HA!” waving the corkscrew above his head like a trophy.

Rhania laughs as Kyell buries his face in the picnic basket, taking in the scents from every appetizing dish.
“My!” he stammers. “There’s just so much food.”
Rhania has packed the leftovers of yesterday’s pulled pork, ripe tomatoes, boiled eggs, tossed salad, a still warm baguette, a selection of French cheese, two bottles of “One Hope” sparkling wine and lashings of ginger beer.
“Hey! Save a little for the ants,” laughs Rhania as Kyell stuffs his mouth until bits of celery drops from his maw. “There’s no hurry. The repair guys won’t be here for another forty minutes.”
Kyell takes a transistor radio from the basket and searches the FM band until smooth jazz pours from the speaker.
“Awright!” he shouts. “The protagonists, recorded live. I went to college with the guy on the piano.”
Rhania reaches over and turns the radio off with a soft click.
“Why don’t we forget civilization and enjoy the silence?”
Kyell yawns and stretches out in the grass, soaking up the day. He watches the languid clouds form shifting patterns as they drift by, momentarily blocking out the sun. 
“Here’s to your promotion,” says Rhania and raises her glass.
“I couldn’t have done it without you by my side,” says Kyell. “We have a pretty good life ahead of us, the two of us.”
Rhania smiles and takes Kyell’s paw. She puts it gently to rest on her stomach and smiles. “You mean, the THREE of us?”

- - -

The story needs a bit of tension. Tomorrow, I’ll add a wasp that almost stings Rhania, but Kyell fights it off valiantly with his newspaper. Maybe he smokes a pipe. I’ll check with the guy at the market who sells batteries if wolves smoke.

December 9, 2078.
Slow day at the market because of the rains. I sold only six copies of “Elderberry Wine” out of twenty printed last night. Four copies to the regulars: Mrs Keane, the red panda couple and an aging Lynx who was a school teacher once. Mrs Keane asked me for a sequel to The Sweet Scent of Gorse. I guess I can write something for her in return for tinned tomatoes. I also sold two copies to new readers -a stoat with no fur on his tail, and Goldie Loxx, a lion who is some kind of rich businessman.


December 10, 2078.
Radiation count hit an unexpected low today. Either things are looking up, or my Geiger counter needs fresh batteries. Renard keeps asking why I pay such attention to the rad-levels, because apparently “all badgers are immune to radiation.” He read that much in a medical journal, he found in the remains of the library. Besides, “there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” I guess he’s right; it seeps into the walls with the rain and slides through the window with the sun, it’s in the air we breathe and the water we drink.
 If there are any humans left alive on the planet, they’ll be glowing like fireflies.


December 11, 2078.
I had an unexpected visit today. I was working on “Roadside Picnic”, when one of the raccoons from downstairs shuffled into my writing space. I think his name is Andrew but raccoons all smell like rain and Brazil nuts to me. He asked for a “shot of Naloxone,” which is something they take when they O.D. He seemed lost in space, with pinpoint pupils swimming in a sea of chestnut.
“Naloxone? No…”
Andrew fingered a small bag of white tablets. “I don’t know what they are,” he said. “And I don’t want to risk it.”
“Then don’t pop the damn pills,” I growled, typing a full stop. “Can’t help you.”
The raccoon looked heartbroken, staring at his pawful of mystery tablets. “Probably just Tylenol, anyway” he sighed and lost himself to his inner universe once again. I like raccoons; they’re a friendly bunch but they have fragile minds, and the war did a real number on their kind. Right after humans, raccoons were the second species to die out. I guess they were just too nice to survive. Whoever is left of their kind are either winos or heads. I left Andrew standing by the window gawking at spiderwebs and returned to my writing.

I need to get that story ready by Friday for the market!!

“How about half a cup of sugar, then?” He interrupted, tracing the letters CAFÉ in the dust on my window with an unwashed finger. I was about to tell him to “keep his greasy paws off my damn window!” but then I noticed something: when I aligned my line of sight with that of Andrew, the letters “CAFÉ” hovered above a ruin that was once a coffee house. The raccoon wasn’t just greasing my window up; he was painting the world as he remembered it, rebuilding it from dust and dreams through a broken window. I poured a handful of sugar into en empty soup can. (What’s sugar between neighbors?)
“Is sugar going to make you breathe if you O.D. on Tylenol?”
“Probably not,” answered Andrew having the attention span of a squirrel, “but it sweetens the coffee.”
The raccoon shuffled around, straining to focus on my few belongings. He passed my box of tinned food and my pile of unfinished manuscripts before peaking over my shoulder and blowing rodent breath into my ear.   
“What are you writing?”
“A story about better times.”
“Like the old days… before the war?”
“Writing keeps me sane.”
Andrew nodded and looked around in my two room apartment. 
“You… wouldn’t have anything worth stealing?”
“Have a look around.” I replied. “But I need my soup-can back when you’re done.”
I turned down my kerosene lamp to conserve fuel, conceding I wouldn’t get any writing done until Andrew left.
“Why do you write?” He asked.
“It’s the one thing I know how to do well.”

He poked my pile of manuscripts with an unwashed paw, but winced and backed off when I sent him my most annoyed glance. Badgers have a reputation for going berserk, and while the myth is (largely) untrue, it’s a stereotype I can live with, because people leave me and my manuscripts alone.   
“What happens if you don’t write?”
“I have to,” I said. “Otherwise I grow all irritable, tense and worked up.”
“Same here,” said Andrew. “I guess we all have our addictions?”
Last winter was so cold I wore two pairs of socks on my paws, because I can’t write with hands that won’t move.

December 12, 2078.
Renard came by today, flashing his toothy, wall-to-wall smile. He’s been out scavenging for “antiques” in the East-end ruins and returned with a bulging sack of “relics.” He poured the contents on my table, and scrap with no obvious purpose spilled out; random objects only a fox would find useful.
“Don’t wave that thing at me,” I growled when Renard pointed the muzzle of a space age pistol in my face.
“It’s an air blowing device,” grinned Renard. “Humans dried their head-fur with it.” He proudly flashed a disconnected power cord that dangled from the end of the gadget. At this point I was genuinely worried about the mental state of my friend, as we’ve been without electricity and humans for seventeen years. I miss the electricity.
He also brought a cardboard box, stamped G&E. “Got something for ya’.” He opened the box and took out a handful of pre-war lightbulbs. “They are NOS,” he beamed. “New old stock and mint condition.” He went into our common stairwell and screwed a lightbulb into the ceiling mounted socket, then flicked the switch a few times. “Some day, Brocky,” he said. “Some day we will pick up the world where we left it.” 

 Apart from my typewriter, Renard is my closest surviving friend. I’ve known him for two years, but I don’t even know if he has a place to call home. He’s a scavenger, always on the hunt for useful items in the ruins and abandoned villages. He claims to be seven parts fox and one part human (on his mother’s side), but he has a sense of smell, five hundred times that of a full human. He refers to hybrids as “my people” and insists that, just like badgers, they are fully immune to radiation.

“I’ve got another thing for you.” he grinned. “Man, you’ve gotta see this.”
I thought he would pull out another useless “artifact” from his pile of junk, but instead he waved at me from the door with great excitement. We left the house, and Renard dragged me through the streets towards the Bayview area. I never visit that part of town because I’m out of place among the rich survivors. They’re an okay bunch though, especially when they buy my stories. They miss the pre-war days, like the rest of us.

Renard stopped to gawk at a lion driving by in a rusty Ford Pinto. It’s unusual to find a working car today, because most cars melted when we got hit. Besides, fuel is near impossible to get. But this lion cruised the streets, one paw on the wheel, the other resting on the open window frame. A green Wunderbaum air freshener dangled from the rear mirror, leaving a scent of synthetic pine trees behind.   
“That’s Goldie Loxx,” whispered Renard, and wistfully followed the passing car with his eyes until it disappeared around the corner. “That lion’s got it made. Did you know he lives in a twenty bedroom manor?”
I told Renard how the lion had bought a copy of “Elderberry Wine” and Renard stared at me in disbelief. “You… actually talked to Goldie Loxx?”
 Goldie is a survivor like the rest of us, but Renard tells me he made a fortune from trading antiques, such as pinball machines and landscape paintings.” 
“He’s living proof of the Namairian dream,” said Renard. “Working his way up from nothing but the grime on his fur. MAN! Some day I’ll drive a Pinto too.”

Renard dragged me through the entire Bayview area before stopping outside a five story apartment building. Most of the windows are intact, and smoke rose from a chimney like they were waving a banner of plenty. He looked around before pushing me inside, motioning for me to be quiet. We climbed the staircase to the third floor, when Renard motioned for me to stop. He squinted, and checked his watch. It’s an early 1970’s Lanco mechanical that hasn’t given off a single tick since the day he found it in the ruined pawnshop on Fifth, but he likes to pretend it works. “Look!” he boasts. “It reads ONE JEWEL right there. There’s a whole friggin’ jewel inside.”
 
“We shouldn’t be here,” I whispered. I was uncomfortable, feeling like an intruder -or worse. The stairwell has been painted over to cover the soot, and the cracks are plastered up with clay. They even have wall-mounted candle holders for every five steps, so the tenants won’t tumble down the stairs when the go outside to piss.
“Wait!” whispered Renard, smiling in joyous anticipation. He checked his watch and made ticking noises with his mouth.
“Now!” he whispered enthusiastically. “Take a deep breath.”
I shrugged and inhaled. To my astonishment, a rich scent of food and spice snaked its way through the closed door to conquer my nostrils, the fumes flared and crackled like stars from a Christmas sparkler and filled my mind with images of days past; days when dinner was a daily routine. I’m so accustomed to eating bland soup ten years past expiry date that I took in every rogue molecule of nutmeg, basil, virgin olive oil and ground pepper with a greed that was almost human in nature.

“Real food!” I gasped. “Fried luncheon meat and mashed potatoes from powder, in a rich sauce of tinned tomatoes. Traditional home cooking.”
“With just a hint of pepper and nutmeg,” added Renard. “It’s got to be Italian.”
“Why are you doing this to me?” I complained, my stomach rumbling from the awakening memory of a proper meal. “That’s tomato, layered with mozzarella.”
“Just wait, the best is still to come.” Renard checked his lifeless watch again. “This guy is as reliable as a Swiss movement.”
I stared dumbly at Renard while he counted the seconds, not knowing what to expect. The sun had set long ago, and the stairwell was cast in shadows. My eyes are poor in dim light, but my nose and ears take over when vision gives out. Moments later someone began playing a cello from the next door apartment. The notes of an Irish folk tune lept out. They danced like a playful leprechaun and mingled with the wisps of secret cooking while time stopped still like the arms on Renard’s wristwatch.
Renard grinned at me, “This is it, man. Just close your eyes and take it all in.”
For minutes, we bathed in the sound of a single musician playing his instrument, accompanying the scent of pre-war cooking in an old stairwell with wooden railings.
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
“This is what your stories should be like,” replied Renard.

December 13, 2078.
Two survivors joined us today: a beaver couple arrived a few hours ago, man and wife. They have traveled far and the female is pregnant. When they asked if we could give them shelter, Andrew and I set them up in the flat facing east on the second floor. The windows are all busted, but the wind blows in from the west, so they won’t grow too cold. Mr. Beaver said he knows how to fix a window and build furniture, because the apartment is completely bare apart from a bathtub filled with straw. 

December 14, 2078.
Copies sold:
Roadside Picnic: 6
Elderberry wine: 3
Sweet Scent of Gorse: 1

When I arrived at my usual spot at the market, the stoat with the naked tail was already waiting for me. He wore a coat three sizes too large and a sixpence cap pulled down so far it almost hid his black button eyes. Weasels have always been a jittery lot, but this one was exceptionally tense. He was bare-pawed in the rain, and cakes of mud clung to his fur from his ankles to his knees. I nodded at him as I passed. “Evening, stoat.”
“I’m no stoat,” he sneered, chewing an unlit cigarette. “I’m a rat.”
“In that case, hello rat.”
The stoat looked intensely at my stack of printouts. As he moved up close I noticed the cigarette in his mouth was a wooden stick painted white, with a dab of orange at the end. It had been sprinkled with ashes to give it a touch of realism.

“Roadside Picnic,” he sniffed, leafing through my prints. “Why don’t you write the truth?”

I giggled at the notion. The truth is that every damn part of the world looks the same, with surviving animals rebuilding everything from spit and a dream. Writing about spit won’t fill my stomach, but writing about dreams does.
 The almost-rat inhaled deeply from his stick and blew an invisible smoke-ring. “The resistance could use someone like you.”
“Resistance? I didn’t even know we had one.”
“We’re guerilla journalists, baby,” rasped the stoat in between puffs. “We observe, we wait… and then we write.”
“Journalists? You actually run a newspaper?”
“Like u-n-d-e-r-c-o-v-e-r news.” He reached into his coat and took out a folded sheet, which he quickly slipped in between my pile of stories. He touched the side of his nose with one finger, then tapped his right ear and blinked twice. “Ask for Thompson when you get there.”
“Thompson, the rat?”
“Just… Thompson. I may have the body of a stoat, but right in here…,” he patted his chest. “I’m all rat, baby.”
“I’m Brocky.”
“I know,” said Thompson. “It’s all over your stories, but IF you’re gonna work with us, you’ll need an alias.”
“Well, Brocky IS short for Brockford.”
“Something to keep you incognito when “THEY” begin looking for you.”
“They?”
“If you cover up those stripes, you might pass for a ratel.”

- - -

The Undercover Gazette is stapled from two A4 sheets folded down the middle. Today’s issue showcases a two-page feature on a phenomenon called “rad mirages,” and how “THEY” don’t like it when you look into them. The paper also has a weather report: cloudy with chances of sun and rain, but “they” might change it for the worse with their secret weather machine.
There’s also a crossword puzzle on the back that was partially solved before it was copy-pasted into the master copy. The bottom right of the back page reads: 

Secret headquarter: Lancaster Blvd 50 (behind the burned down Chipotle.) Knock twice and speak the secret word.
 
The Gazette is printed in two colors: red and black, on a rotary press much better than my own. Maybe Thompson’s resistance group will let me use their press if I join them. Will look them up tomorrow.

December 15, 2078.
The resistance has their HQ in the remains of “TOMMY’S AUTO”. It wasn’t difficult to find, because they have painted thick black arrows that lead to the door, all the way from the main street, across the vacant parking lot, and on the wall of the Chipotle. The front door wasn’t locked; it isn’t even even attached to the hinges, but rests against the frame at a slight angle so it doesn’t topple over. Above the entrance, the resistance has written: “YOU are not welcome.”
I knocked the door, twice, then I remembered how they wanted some secret password. I could not recall Thompson mentioning anything about a password, but he had made a strange dance of touching nose, ear and blinking. I shrugged, and repeated the gesture to the closed door. When nothing happened, I knocked again. This time I heard someone shuffling around inside, but no one came to the door. Finally I grew weary of waiting, lifted the door and moved it aside. The HQ is a vacant auto repair garage, fitted with a few chairs, a table and three mattresses. A pot of soup boiled on a wood-fuelled stove by the rear wall, sending vapors of salt and palm oil into the air. It mixed with the scent from a goat who stood by a book case with his back turned. He was lost to his thoughts, but when he sensed he was no longer alone in the room, he turned and smiled. He wore a set of ear mufflers, and a rectangular box with dials and knobs hung suspended from his neck, resting on the chest of his grey dinner-jacket.   

“This is Mr. Brown,” said the box suddenly. I nodded at the goat. “Nice meeting you, Mr Brown.”
The goat nodded back and stroked his beard, but otherwise remained silent. “Mrs. Brown is in the kitchen,” continued the box. It didn’t make much sense, because we were in an almost barren garage and kitchens don’t work without electricity or city gas. I presumed he meant the makeshift kitchen down by the park, providing food for the homeless. “Is your wife one of the volunteers?” I asked. The goat smiled back without offering any reply and I began to suspect he might be deaf as well as mute. “Mr Brown smokes a pipe while listening to the radio,” said the box. I was stunned; how could he listen to the radio when electricity has been out for seventeen years?
“Please,” I bent down and spoke directly into the box. “Where did you find a working radio?”
“This is the end of lesson one,” said the box. “Please turn the tape over.”
The goat touched a button and the human voices died out. He removed the headset and flicked his ears into place. “Now I can hear you.”

- - -

“Humans loved to talk,” said the goat when he noticed my interest in the talking box. “We have thousands of audio tapes where humans talk and talk, but we have no record of them ever listening to one another.”
“Dr. William Capra, PhD in human history.” offered the goat and we shook hands.
“Err.. I’m Brocky”
“Ah!” beamed Dr. Capra. “Thompson said you might swing by. Funny, you don’t look like a ratel.”

The Oakenford resistance is a group of three friends: Thompson the rat, Dr. Capra and “Cozmo” -a red panda with a trendy goatee who works as a photographer. Cozmo circled around us, taking pictures with an old-fashioned camera while we talked. He must have shot three rolls of film, which leads me to believe the resistance has access to a dark-room and chemicals. Thompson was out today, researching that phenomenon he calls “rad mirages.” This seems to be the common name for a series of disturbances in space-time, caused by radiation. According to Thompson, they serve as a window into the past: you can see shadows moving around inside like ghosts, but you can’t touch or interact with them. Dr. Capra refers to the phenomenon as “oneiros” because everything sounds better in Greek. He also confided that Thompson went loopy the day he realized how the rest of the world is just like bombed-out Oakenford: there’s no better place to escape to, no Shangri-La anywhere, no golden Eldorado and no Furtopia. We have to build everything from scratch with our own paws. The disillusioned Thompson now fights an imaginary war against an entity known as “THEM.”
“The world can be rebuilt,” I argued. “Look at Goldie Loxx; He’s worked his way up from nothing.”
“If you ask Thompson, THEY gave Mr. Loxx a helping hand in reaching that goal,” laughed Dr. Capra and gave me a copy of last week’s Undercover Gazette that read:
 
“Exposé: Goldie Loxx - alien creature or hired servant of THEM?

December 16, 2078.
Thompson has discovered a live rad-mirage down by the old soup cannery. He begged me to go there to prove he wasn’t crazy, and to write a news item around it for my “pilot assignment.” I asked about “Them” and he gave me a fifteen minute lecture about “them” being a secret conglomerate of powerful beings who use rad-mirages to control the past, shape the future and manipulate everything in between. Having heard the same story for years, Dr. Capra and Cozmo rolled their eyes behind Thompson’s back. I left to see the mirage for myself before he got too worked up.

The mirage is a fascinating sight. It’s a teardrop shaped membrane that looks like it’s made from soap-bubbles; transparent and iridescent with swirly patterns moving around. It’s around six foot in height and shimmers like a desert mirage, emitting a faint gassy crackle. I can see through it, but the concrete wall behind it is blurry.

“Is that all there’s to it?” I wondered. Then I noticed a strange, blurry shadow moving around. I thought there was someone else in the room with me, but the shape never left the rad-mirage.
“Hello?” I muttered, feeling awkward about talking to a mirage. The figure returned into the frame of the mirage and as it got closer, I made out the form of another person. The view through the mirage grew clearer and my heart nearly stopped when I recognized the shape as that of a young vixen.
“Are you a ghost?”
“Funny,” replied the vixen. “I was about to ask the same.” She was now so close I could almost reach out and touch her. “Do you mind?” I asked and held up my hand, fingers spread. She repeated the gesture and our fingers almost touched -but only almost, then our paws passed through each other. “Oh!” gasped the vixen. “It’s not physical.”
“They tell me it’s a way to see into the past.”
The vixen stared at me, confused. “So, who is in the past? You or me?”
“Depends,” I replied. “Have you been through the war yet?”
“War? What war?”
“World war III of course; 2035.”
“But that’s in two years,” cried the vixen “This is 2033.”
“They launched the nukes September the sixth, around eight thirty.”
“Morning or evening?” she asked but cut herself off. “Oh, like it matters. Is the war over?”
I nodded. World war III lasted exactly ten hours and fifty five minutes. Everything was over by nightfall. It’s surprising how many nukes humans can launch in a day.
“May I ask… Who wins?” asked the vixen.
“We’re still trying to work that out.”

- - -

That was the end of our brief conversation, before the rad-mirage faded and dissolved into a puff of warm gas. It left a scent of ozone behind that still tickles my nose. We can’t have talked for more than a minute or two, but it feels like we got to know each other, more than some people I’ve known for years. Tomorrow I’ll return to see if the mirage opens again.

December 17, 2078.
6AM: I’m sitting by the spot where the rad mirage appeared yesterday. The air is so frosty I can see my breath and I’m sipping heated water from a tin to stay warm. It’s so cold!! but I don’t want to miss the chance to talk to my newfound friend.
 Note to self: Remember to bring a blanket tomorrow. 

17PM: The first sign of the rad mirage reappearing was that tingling scent of ozone. A flame-shaped fan of air rippled softly, like hot air from some long extinguished fire and the cracked wall behind it was gradually replaced with an image of a room with several large ovens.

“You’re a badger,” noted the vixen, whose name is Vicky.
“Eurasian,” I replied. “Apparently I’m also one eighth wolverine on my grandmother’s side.”
“I never knew that many badgers,” she said. “You guys are waaay too moody.”
“That’s true for ratels,” I said. “Most people get us mixed up. And yourself?”
“You know,” laughed Vicky. “Standard red fox; hard-working, boring types.”

Vicky works in her father’s bakery four days a week, while studying for her engineering degree. It’s the small family bakery in the Bayview area. I remember passing by the bakery on the school-bus, and the fleeting scent of fresh pastry as we stopped at the traffic lights. The tempting scents of apple filling, ground cinnamon and caramelized sugar filled the bus. Then the lights turned green, leaving a wake of exhaust, and stomachs that ached for sweet rolls. I lied when I told Vicky how the bakery is still standing. She has white freckles across the bridge of her muzzle that makes her look slightly mischievous, she has yellow eyes and pointy ears. I only wish I could catch her scent, but that’s another thing the rad-mirage doesn’t project. It’s like a membrane that allows waves to pass through time and space; light and sound, but no objects or particles. We tried to touch, but our paws pass right through the membrane and into thin air.
We must have talked for more than an hour before the rad-mirage dissolved. We talked about the war and how the humans blew up the world, how their bombs missed the hydro-plant outside town. If I had known about the war in advance I’d have hidden myself in the hydro-plant.

Vicky is 26, one year older than me, and like me she’s not seeing anyone. We talk so well together I think we will make great friends if we ever meet in the same time zone. They are two years away from the war, and Vicky is so scared she could hardly speak without stuttering.
“Can’t we stop the humans?” she kept asking.
“They’re humans,” I said. “They only pretend to listen to advice.”

I’ve promised to return to the mirage every day and talk to her. Gods, she’s beautiful. 

December 18, 2078.
9 AM.
I couldn’t sleep all night, just thinking about Vicky. I’ve written so many stories about romance and love, but I have never felt it as real as I do now. I know the window to the past is not a physical thing, we can’t touch, but at least we can see each other and talk.

17 PM.
Disaster strikes; the mirage is gone!

I brought Cozmo along to the cannery, so he could take pictures of the mirage. We waited for a full hour, until Cozmo grew impatient and shuffled around. He took photos of empty soup cans and the dim sunlight pouring through the window, of our reflection on the walls. Click, click, click. He must have taken a hundred pictures in the span of one hour.
“I’m sorry I dragged you here for nothing,” I said.
“It’s okay,” replied the red panda. “I captured some fine moments.” Yet he never changed his roll of film.
 “There’s no film in the camera,” admitted Cozmo and grinned when he saw my baffled expression. “It’s something I learned from studying humans. They always shot hundreds of images, but never looked at them afterwards. They only put them into neat boxes, which they stored in their attics. I save a lot of room this way.”

- - -

I miss talking to Vicky. Tomorrow I’ll do two things:
A: Check to see if the mirage has come back.
B: Check the hydro plant outside town. It may be a long shot, but if Vicky took my advice to hide in the hydro-plant, she might have left clues behind. I asked Renard about the plant, because he’s been to most places. He claims to have seen a bear and a wolf up there, but no vixens. Still, it’s worth a try.

December 19, 2078.
I walked to the hydro plant today, hoping to find traces of Vicky. When I arrived, I was greeted by a she-wolf and a bear. They are older than me, I guess in their forties and they were too busy welding a water driven generator together to pay me any attention, until I was right next to them. Then the wolf turned off her welding-torch.
“Waiiitaminnit,” she said, pointing at me with the tip of the torch. She looked me over from head to paw. “You must be that ratel, huh?”
“About that…” I started.
“The ratel who warned Vicky about the war?”
In that moment they could have confused me for a skunk, a raccoon… hell, even a human, and I would still have grinned wall to wall. There was a chance Vicky had taken my advice and was alive today.
“Vicky’s alive?” I gasped.
“But of course,” replied the bear in what sounded like an Italian accent. He pointed an oil-stained paw towards the double door that leads into the plant; “She’s a-changing the capacitors.”
I was overcome by a series of rapid palpitations and clung onto an old street-lamp like a drunk. Everything had happened so sudden. Three days ago I was a lone writer who sniffed other people’s cooking along with my best friend. Now I’d found someone special, maybe even someone to love.

“You’re Ok?” asked the bear and offered a helping paw when I lost my footing. I waved him away and grinned. “I’m AOK.” Actually, I was much better than AOK; I couldn’t believe my luck in finding Vicky. “Va bene,” shrugged the bear. “I’ll go and get her.” The bear left me alone with the she-wolf. Her name is Shiobhan: half Irish, half Namairian.
The bear is Giuseppe, an Italian electronics whiz from Milan. “Mister Ratello!” he shouted from the door. “Vicky is a-coming to meet you.”
My heart raced like a steam engine on meth, right until the moment Vicky stepped out; then my world froze over: I barely recognized her anymore. Vicky has aged seventeen years overnight and, like Giuseppe and the wolf she is now in her forties. The face I had seen in the rad-mirage had been vibrant and round from living a comfortable life as a baker. Now she is almost unrecognizable. She is lean and greying around the muzzle, her kind and curious eyes are now determined, almost penetrating. She wore dungarees, a chequered shirt and safety boots. She wiped something oily off her paws in a rag, stopped dead in her tracks and looked me over.
“Brocky?”
“I hoped to find you here at the hydro plant.” I both laughed and cried from seeing her alive. I wanted to wrap her in my arms and hug the living breath out her, but she took two steps back, avoiding my advances.
“It’s been seventeen years,” she cried. “Why didn’t you contact me before? I waited for weeks to talk with you.”
“I didn’t even know you existed, four days ago.”
Then her words struck me. If she’d waited for weeks, it can only mean the rad mirage won’t appear again.
“So, we won’t see each other tomorrow?”
Vicky shook her head. “There was never another mirage.”
“But,” I objected. “This is NOW; we can pick up where we left.”
“Listen,” she said. “I appreciate what you did for us back then, but it’s been two decades. Things have changed.”

Seventeen years ago, no one believed Vicky when she spoke about a future badger, warning about an impending war. Like a modern day Cassandra, trying to convince the world how a nuclear war is on the rise doesn’t grant you too many followers. Shiobhan and Giuseppe were the only friends who stuck with her, and as time went by, Vicky herself began to believe she’d been seeing things, that our meeting had been some kind of waking dream. Still, she spent two years storing tools and food in the bowels of the hydro plant, preparing herself for the impact. Six hours before the war, the three friends camped out in this hydro-plant, mostly to put Vicky’s mind at ease. Giuseppe, who is one food-loving bear brought a recipe book that’s been in his family for generations, and Shiobhan brought her cello. “The acoustics in the building is perfect,” she told her friends, but in the back of her mind she feared Vicky was right about the war all along.

- - -

I didn’t go straight home tonight. I walked the streets aimlessly until my feet hurt. I had a crumbled five dollar note in my back pocket and decided to treat myself to coffee in a downtown cafe. The place was lit by a few kerosene lanterns and it took a while before my nose adjusted to the dim light. Then I recognized the scent of a familiar lion slumped over a beer made from fermented Weetabix. It was Goldie Loxx.
“You probably shouldn’t leave your car unattended in this part of town,” I said.
Goldie looked up from his drink and squinted, trying to focus on me. He was drunk and I could smell on his breath he was on his fifth Wheata-brew. He pulled a gold-plated lighter from his pocket and lit the stump of a wax candle planted in an Alka-Selzer bottle.
“Hey, I’ve seen you before,” he slurred. “You’re the badger who sells stories at the market.”
I nodded. “And you’re Goldie Loxx, the richest survivor in Oakenford.”
Goldie had left the lighter on the table and in the dim light of the candle, I noticed the gold plate flaking off to expose grey metal underneath. Unexpectedly, the lion laughed out loud. It sounded something between a bark and a cough. “There IS no Goldie Loxx,” he whispered. “No riches, and no twenty bedroom manor either.”
“But you’ve made millions from trading antiques?”
“It’s all pretend,” said Goldie. “I’m a stage actor from Penbroke, and I don’t live in a manor. I live two blocks from here in an office building.” After some thought he added, “but my patrons fitted it with windows and a front door. They wouldn’t want their star to freeze to death between two seasons of the Goldie Loxx show.”
Goldie held up two fingers and growled “waiter!” in a rich baritone. Seconds later, a mare arrived with two Wheata-brews. “They pay me to give people hope,” said Goldie. “Folks hear about me living out the Namairian dream, they see me in the streets driving a Pinto, they read about my good fortune in the Oakenford Courier. We’re telling the survivors you can make it, if you only hang in there -but it’s all pretend.”
“They?” I asked.
“People who believe in hope and dreams. There’s a paid actor in every city: Jupiter Ace in Farvale, Mitzi Fergusson in Ra’gasso. Believe me, post war actors are not that expensive.
“Why do you buy MY stories?” I asked.
“Lions need dreams too,” replied Goldie.

December 20, 2078.
I'm writing with a fountain pen.  It’s something I’ve avoided since my teenage years because my paw-writing is terrible and I’m much faster on a typewriter, but Andrew stopped me at the ground floor when I returned to my apartment. He was shaking, and sweating profoundly. “Before you rage out,” he said. “I just want you to know I’m REALLY sorry.”
“Sorry for what?” I asked, but judging by his condition I had a pretty good idea why he was apologizing.
“Let me take wild guess,” I sneered. “You broke in and hocked my typewriter to score yourself a fix, didn’t you?”
Andrew nodded and studied his worn sneakers where the claws on his right paw were sticking out through a hole in the toe. “Something like that.”
 “You stole my Olympia!” I was two whiskers away from living up to my stereotype and fly into blood-rage. The perimeters of my vision went dark as I wrapped my paws around the scrawny raccoon’s neck and shook him, until his eyes bulged out like ripe olives.
“You..hocked..my..Olympia to get drugs! you doped-out trash-panda,” I screamed.
“Gaah! No drugs,” rasped the raccoon. “I traded it for a mattress for Mrs beaver.”
“Beaver?”
I released the racoon who scurried into the far corner to compose himself.
“She can go into labor any moment now.”
I felt strangely embarrassed I haven’t paid attention to the beavers. They are new here and their apartment has neither heating nor water. Andrew could have traded the Olympia for a handful of tablets, but he put someone else’s needs first, and now he was shivering from withdrawal.
“You could have asked,” I replied quietly.
Andrew reached into his pocket and took out this fountain pen I’m writing with right now. “I got you this instead, so you can go on writing.”
 The pen is a worn MontBlanc model with an engraving that reads: “world’s greatest dad.”

December 21, 2078.
Copies sold: None.
Current project: Nothing.

“Lighten up, smartstripes!” said Renard with a smug smile across his vulpine face. I got you THIS.”
He slammed a compact typewriter on my table and wiped a paw across his forehead in mock exhaustion. “You know, Goldie Loxx is so damn rich he didn’t even want money for it, when he heard who it was for.”
The typewriter is a 1980’s Rota-Letric 2000, almost an antique. The ribbon has long dried out, but it’s in fairly good condition. I’ll leave it to soak in ink made from walnut husks. I punched a few keys but it’s useless without power, just like the lightbulb in the hallway. Renard ran his fingers over the brushed metal of the machine with love in his eyes, never noticing the keys are dead. “Some day I’ll make it big, just like Goldie.”
December 22, 2078.
- no entry-


December 23, 2078.
- no-entry -

December 25, 2078.
1AM.
Mrs Beaver gave birth shortly before midnight. At first, I didn’t recognize the mewing sound and I thought it was a door creaking from the cold. Then Andrew burst through my door, shouting “It’s a boy!”
Now was the time to celebrate, so I invited Andrew in to share a tin of spaghetti hoops I’ve saved for a special occasion. I put the tin on the wood burner and waited for it to boil while the otters tended to their baby. Andrew stood next to me, inhaling the vapors rising from the tin and watching bubbles of tomato sauce burst and release small puffs of flavor. “Pure ambrosia!” he sighed, a strand of drool yo-yo-ing off his chin. Then he lost interest and stared at my front door, eyes set on panorama mode. I thought he’d zoned out, and I went back to stirring the food. “Look!” Andrew tugged at my sleeve, his voice shaky. A sudden, dim light poured from the hallway and through the cracks in my door, casting bright patterns on the floor. The raccoon giggled and yanked the door open. Outside, the stairwell was illuminated by the single lightbulb suspended from the ceiling. The light pulsated unsteadily like stars on a frosty night. “My God,” rasped the raccoon. “Power’s back up, but how?”
“The hydro plant. Vicky and her friends finally got it fixed.”
Within moments, we were joined by the other survivors who share our building, and the otters with their infant wrapped in blankets. We were almost blinded by the light, but tried not to blink in case the light vanished like the mirage. Everyone was quiet, even the baby otter, all too mesmerized by the light to respond when Thompson and his friends dashed up the stairs.
“We saw the light from outside,” panted Dr. Capra, still breathless from leaping up the stairs. “-and we haven’t had a child birth for quite some time.”  Thompson scribbled a few notes and tickled the infant’s paw with his pen. “This night will make headlines.” The otter responded by wrapping its fingers around the pen and refusing to let go. Thompson smiled. “Well, consider it a gift then,” he said. “Perhaps you’ll use it to make history.”

We went back to my apartment for a cup of hot water but left the front door open. Andrew traced a cityscape in the dust on my window, Thompson played around with my Rota-lectric. He typed a quick QWERTY, and the typewriter responded with a series of resounding clicks. “We’re on our way,” he said. “but how?”
“They fixed the hydro-plant.”
“THEY?”
“Vicky, Giuseppe, Shiobhan… could be more. People who never gave up hope.”
Thompson scratched the back of his neck in thought. “You know, they might not be so bad after all.”

December 25, 2078.

The Commander and the Huntress.
Commander Thomas B. Brockford plunged his hand into the swirling mist that was the rad-mirage. A thin veil of aether that separated his world from the alien planet of Phi Centauri; a mirror universe across time and space, and only seconds away from destroying itself in a volcanic inferno of fire and lava. The rift between the two worlds was closing rapidly, as if it meant to shield Earth from the cataclysmic destruction moments away.
“Come on!” he shouted. “Hold on to my hand.” And there, engulfed in smoke and embers he saw her running towards him: Viq’ee the stunning barbarian fox huntress of the Phoenix plains. His superiors had frowned when they learned of their passionate love affair; “Why, you don’t even speak the same language,” they barked, but love knows no language barrier.
“Hurry!” gasped Vi’qee. “The meteors from the K’rgon constallation have entered the atmosphere.”
“Jump, my love,” shouted Commander Brockford. Viq’ee turned her head and took a final look at the burning city of Kla’ar. Everything she knew, the place she called home, the place where she lived and hunted was about to be devastated by an exploding sun. The moment she jumped, something cold wrapped itself around her ankle, holding her back in an unforgiving embrace. To her horror, a bara-bara blood beast had wrapped its long tentacles around Vi’qee’s slender leg. “I’m stuck,” She screamed. “Leave me behind and save yourself.”
“Never!” sneered commander Brockford, and with the precision that earned him so many medals in marksmanship he fired his space-age laser pistol at the salivating beast. The laser burned a pencil thick hole through its skull and the blood-bug collapsed and died in a series of rapid spasms. Vi’qee was free. With only seconds to spare, she held on to commander Brockford’s strong arm and threw herself through the narrow gap before it closed itself forever. Gasping with relief, she burrowed her face in her lover’s strong chest, listening to his calm heartbeat. 

“It’s gone,” she wept. “Everything I know is gone.”
“We’ll go back in time,” promised commander Brockford. “We’ll go back and rebuild your world from dust, dreams and broken windows –you and me together.”
Vi’qee smiled and looked at her belly where a small bulge was noticeable. “You mean, the THREE of us?”


THE END

 

SONA SI VOS AMAS PELLIGELLIBUS
(Honk! if you love furries)
- inscription found on the rear bumper of a roman chariot, ca 77AM