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Apr 15 2012

Dolphins and Sea Lions by Jamie Marchant

Published by under The WiFiles

Slathek of Mahngbhayo had been in Murtaghan, the capital of Korthlundia, nearly a month and had disposed of his cargo and come a fair way towards buying merchandise for the return trip. He sat at a table in the Clothmakers’ Guild Hall, counting the gold coins carefully before pushing them across the table to the linen merchant. He knew the amount was as had been agreed upon, but he loved the way the cool coins felt against his skin and the way they gleamed in the sunlight streaming through the window. He hated to part with them, but he knew the linen he’d purchased would bring him twice this amount when he returned home. He smiled as he thought of the jewels and the art he would buy with them. He’d commission a marble statue for the entry hall of his port home—a young woman riding on the back of a dolphin. Malkekek charged outrageous prices for his work, but the sculptor was the best, and with the profit of this year’s trip, Slathek could easily afford it.

“A pleasure doing business with you,” Abenzio said, sweeping the coins into his purse. “Am I to see the lovely miniature of your sister again?”

Slathek tensed. “You’ve seen it every year for the last ten. Do you think you’ll suddenly remember something you had forgotten?” Still, he pulled his copy of her miniature out from under the tunic and allowed it to be passed around the table. He’d placed the small portrait in a gold locket, studded with diamonds and sapphires. Annke, the captain of one of his three ships, said he was a fool to wear something so valuable around his neck, but Slathek had faith in the sword he wore at his side. It hadn’t failed him yet.

“Such a lovely girl.” Abenzio shook his head, clicking his tongue. “Your older sister, wasn’t she?”

“Yes,” Slathek answered, tucking the miniature back under his tunic. His mother died in childbirth, and Sphry had been like a mother to him.

The barbarian clicked his tongue again, but his eyes gleamed. “Such a shame. So much evil in the world to corrupt innocence.”

Slathek’s lips tightened, and his eyes narrowed. Despite the fact Slathek was half the barbarian’s size, Abenzio had the sense to pale.

“I’m sorry,” the barbarian stammered. “I meant no disrespect.”

Slathek gathered his papers and held out his hand in the fashion of the barbarians. “I’ll expect the merchandise delivered to the docks in the morning.”

Abenzio shook his hand. “Yes, yes, of course.”

Slathek walked back through the crowded streets of Murtaghan towards The Traveler’s Haven, where he always stayed.

Among the numerous stalls lining the street, Slathek caught sight of an herb seller. He stopped and examined her wares. The scent of rosemary and comfrey filled the air, bringing him back to his childhood. Despite the fact he had no use for it, he bought a bag of dried rosemary, paying the outrageous sum the herb seller asked. He wouldn’t lower himself to haggle over a few coppers. He tried to remember what Sphry had used rosemary for, and it saddened him that he couldn’t. At six, he’d known the use of nearly all the herbs in his sister’s stillroom and had wanted to be just like her. He wondered just what had happened to that boy and what Sphry would think of the man he’d become.
* * *
Slath had a pestle in his hand and was crushing dried burdock root into powder for his sister. It was hard work, but when they were finished, Sphry had promised to take him to the beach. Aunt Dnrill didn’t think he was big enough to go by himself, and Aunt Dnrill never did anything fun. She never did anything at all, but cook and clean. He didn’t like Aunt Dnrill who wasn’t really his aunt, just some woman their father paid to look after him while he was away trading. Sphry claimed that now she was thirteen they didn’t need Aunt Dnrill anymore, but it made their father feel less guilty about leaving them so often and for so long. Slath barely knew his father. Even when he was home, he spent most of his time at his office on the docks counting his money and buying merchandise. But Slath didn’t care. He had Sphry. Sphry was a healer and took care of every hurt or sick thing. Slath wanted to be a healer just like her when he got bigger. He prayed daily to the Father and the Mother to grant him enough magic so he could. They hadn’t answered yet, but there was still plenty of time. Sphry’s magic hadn’t become strong until she was ten, and he was only six.

The cauldron over the fire hissed as Sphry added ingredients. She looked beautiful in the firelight; even the other boys agreed his sister was the most beautiful of all their sisters. A wild fox sat calmly next to her on the counter.

“What are you making, Sphry?”

“An ointment for this poor fox, Slath. See, he’s got into something.” Sphry pointed to the side of the fox were the fur had been rubbed off, and Slathek could see the fox’s skin was red and inflamed.

“How do the wild ones know to come to you?” The fox had hardly been the first wild creature to show up on their doorstep.

Sphry wrinkled her forehead. “I’m not sure. Perhaps they can sense me like I sense them. At least, the dolphins can. It’s hard to ask other animals because their minds aren’t complex enough.”

The fox’s eyes followed Sphry’s every movement. Slath was immensely proud of his sister. Her medicines were the best in the harbor. Everyone said so.
* * *
Slath held his sister’s hand and skipped at her side. “I’m going to build my biggest sand castle ever today. Big enough to have a thousand rooms, and I’m going to be king of it.”

“We don’t have a king,” Sphry reminded him. “We’re a republic. Adults, like daddy, vote on the laws.”

Sphry had explained this to him before, like she’d taught him how to read and write. His father said he’d hire a tutor for Slath when he got back from trading this season, but Slath hoped he’d forget again like he did last season. “In my country, there’s a king, and I’m going to be it.”

Sphry laughed and, fortunately, didn’t bore him with any more lessons about why it was wrong for one person to make all the laws.

With their shovels and buckets, Slath and Sphry made a castle as high as Slath’s waist. When it was finished, Slath pointed to the bottom right corner. “This is where your stillroom will be,” he told Sphry. Beside it he used shells to build a fence. “Your herb garden will be here, and there will be lots of woods behind the castle where you can gather mushrooms and such.”

“I think I’d be very happy in such a castle, but are you sure you want to be king? They have an awful lot of responsibilities. You wouldn’t have much time to help me grind roots.”

Slath shrugged. “I’ll be a king only if I don’t have enough magic to be a healer like you.”

“Why not be a merchant like father?”

“No!” He jumped to his feet and stamped his foot. “I’ll never be like father. He doesn’t care about us. He doesn’t care about anything but making more and more money.” He started to tell her what the other boys had said about their father, but Sphry got that dreamy look on her face.

“They’re here,” she said. Slath didn’t have to ask who. Only the dolphins gave her that look. As she stood and walked toward the water, Slath saw a dolphin do a flip and dive back into the water. Slath laughed. They were silly creatures. When Sphry told him the stories they told her, he nearly burst his sides laughing. He hoped some day to be able to hear the stories from the dolphins themselves, like Sphry could.
* * *
“Where is your sister?” Slath’s father burst into the study in the middle of yet another boring lecture from Slath’s tutor on the governments in nearby countries. Robrek claimed that because trade depended on the policies of various governments, his son needed to understand everything he could about them. Slath had tried to tell his father that he didn’t want to be a merchant, but Robrek never seemed to hear him. Slath no longer knew what he wanted to be. He was starting to despair about becoming a healer. Even though he was eight now, he didn’t have the slightest hint of the gift. Sphry told him to be patient, but that was easy for her to say. She was only fifteen and already the strongest healer in the port city.

“I don’t know,” Slath answered. He almost never got to spend time with his sister during the day anymore, except on holy days.

“She didn’t go down to the beach, did she? I warned her the pirate ships had been sighted.” The pirates often grabbed young girls and sold them in faraway lands. His father wouldn’t tell him why they only wanted girls, but Slath figured they made the girls do the disgusting thing that his father paid women to come to the house and do with him. Sphry said that was how babies were made, so Slath decided he didn’t want to be a father. The way his father groaned and the woman cried out when they did it made Slath think it hurt a lot. Sphry said she didn’t know.

Robrek sent his servants to every place Sphry might have gone. Slath ran to their favorite spot on the beach. But Sphry wasn’t there. The dolphins were playing off shore, and again Slath wished for enough magic to understand them. Sphry sometimes gathered things from tidal pools in the rocks at the far end of their beach, so Slath went toward them, looking and calling for her.

When he climbed on the rocks, Sphry wasn’t among the tidal pools either, but then Slath saw it—Sphry’s gathering basket, the basket that used to belong to their mother, his sister’s most precious possession. It was lying among the rocks tipped over and trampled. “No!” he cried gathering up the broken pieces. He frantically searched the shore for her, but at the base of the rocks, he noticed a place where a boat had been pulled ashore, and he knew they’d taken Sphry and with her everything that was bright about his world.
* * *
When Slath put the broken basket on his father’s desk, Robrek’s face went white. He fingered the pieces as if he didn’t know what the object was, then grabbed Slath and hugged him as Slath never remembered being hugged before. “We’ll find her, Slathek. We’ll bring her back. This I vow by the names of the Holy Mother and Father.”
* * *
Slath and his father walked through the slave market in Neaseria. They had been tracing the path of the pirates for nearly three months now. His father had learned that this market was where they disposed of their goods. Slath and his father wore gloves and scarves wrapped around their heads, covering their faces like the Bendouins did. His father said that they mustn’t be recognized as Mahngbhayons or the slave traders might not be as forthcoming. They passed cage after cage full of men, children, and old women of all different shades and hues—some as black as ebony and others so white Slath wondered if they were ill until Robrek told him that was the normal color of their skin. Some of the men were covered with hair, even on their faces. The eyes that looked at him from the cages were full of rage, hatred, or despair. He felt sick at the thought of his sister in a cage like that, but when they found her, they had plenty of gold to buy her and bring her back home. Then things would be like they used to be.

Ahead was a gaudy tent. Robrek said it was the last place he wanted to find his daughter, but the first place they needed to look. Sphry was beautiful. She wouldn’t be sold to work some planter’s fields. The tent was full of girls; they weren’t in cages, but chained by the neck to posts placed throughout. They wore nothing more than two small pieces of cloth—one wrapped around their breasts and the other around their privates. Neither piece covered much.

When they went inside the tent, a huge man with ebony skin hurried up to them. “Welcome!” the man enthused. “What type of girl can I interest you in? We have samples from across the world.”

Robrek matched the man’s accent almost perfectly when he answered. Robrek had a knack for languages, which Slath was discovering he’d inherited. “I have seen a girl like the one I want. Creamy brown skin, black hair, emerald eyes, and small enough to fit under my arm.” Slath’s father went on to describe Sphry in detail as if she were one of those women he wanted to make disgusting noises with. Slath vowed to kill any man who did that to his sister.

The slave trader grunted. “Sounds like you want a Mahngbhayon. They’re hard to come by. I had about a half dozen of them a month ago brought in by Salomian pirates. They’re the only ones you can get Mahngbhayons from since they have an unique way of acquiring them, if you know what I mean.” The man winked and nudged Robrek, and Slath wondered why his father didn’t break the man’s neck. “Too bad I sold the lot to traders heading for the northern countries. Apparently dark skin, but not too dark, is seen as exotic up there.”

Robrek stared straight ahead like a dead man as they left the slave traders’ tent. “We can’t follow until spring, Slath, my lad. The seas are far too dangerous now. If only we’d found this place a month sooner.”
* * *
That winter Slath’s father sold his old ship and bought a larger, faster one. He learned what items of trade the cold countries coveted and filled the ship with them. Now nine, Slath insisted on new tutors who could teach him the languages of the cold countries, but most of all he insisted on a fencing master and a well-made sword. His father gave him everything he asked for. He applied himself to his studies as he never had before, and by the time for safe sailing arrived, he knew the rudiments of five new languages, and his fencing master declared him adequate with a blade.

It was a three month journey to the cold countries, and Slath continued to practice both languages and the sword throughout. He helped with any of the sailing tasks that would increase his strength or balance. His father noticed nothing of what he did, but spent his days either on deck staring at the northern seas or in his cabin staring at a miniature of Sphry that had been painted shortly before she was taken. He’d had a copy made for Slath as well, and Slath always wore it around his neck under his tunic. Slath took it out several times a day to look at his sister’s face, but he didn’t waste time staring at it as his father did. He got straight back to practicing his sword work or speaking to sailors who knew the languages of cold countries. He would help find his sister. Then he’d kill the men who forced her to make those disgusting noises.

Slath had the chance to practice his languages as they searched the slave markets of port after port, but he found no use for his blade that year. They’d found no sign of the slavers who purchased his sister from the Nesearian harbor and no sign of Mahngbhayon slave girls. It was years before they found the trail again.
* * *
Slath and his father walked along the docks of Murtaghan, the capital of one of the smallest of the cold countries. The people of Korthlundia had pasty white skin and looked like giant, animated corpses whose hair refused to stop growing. Slath thought them closer to animals than to humans. Now sixteen years old, Slath had grown more than adequate with his sword, and he spoke over a dozen languages of the cold countries, including the barbaric grunt of the Korthlundians.

His father’s eyes, which had grown deader and deader every year they returned empty handed, grew feverishly alive as they followed the directions to the auction house which dealt illicitly in foreign whores. Slavery was illegal in Korthlundia, but it still flourished in the underground market. From the outside, the slave auction house looked like any of the hundreds of other warehouses that fronted the harbor. Inside, nearly every surface was covered in red velvet. They found the owner—a hairy giant, missing half his teeth and with the foulest breath Slath had ever encountered. His father held out the miniature of Sphry. “It would have been nearly seven years ago.”

The man laughed without taking the picture. “You think I remember every tits and ass that passes through here.”

“Perhaps you remember this one.” Robrek’s voice was tight as he put a handful of silver coins on the man’s desk.

The man leaned forward in his chair, swept the coins into his hand, and took the miniature. He smiled widely. “Oh, yes, I remember this one. Fiery temper she had. She objected to what men were doing with one of the other girls, so we had good fun with her instead.”

Slath drew his sword and pointed it to the man’s overlarge belly. He’d sworn he’d kill all who had her. “You’re talking about my sister!”

But the auctioneer didn’t even blush. “Every whore is someone’s sister. Now put that toy away before you hurt yourself with it.” The man spoke as if he were a child. Since Slath’s people were much smaller, Korthlundians were always mistaking him for younger than he was.

His father put his hand on Slath’s sword arm. “However much he deserves it, put it away, son. We’re here to find Sphry, not avenge her.”

“I’m here to do both.” Slath glared at the auctioneer who paled as he realized Slath’s size didn’t coincide with his age or ability.

“Now look here, you can’t condemn a man for doing his job.”

“Slath, put it away. I won’t see you hanged for killing such trash.”

Slath hesitated. It had never occurred to him that he might face consequences for killing his sister’s debauchers. Slath sheathed his sword.

“Who bought her?” his father asked, adding a few more coins to the pile.

“I don’t rightly recall,” the man said. “But whatever brothel it was, she’d hardly still be there. Sailors use up whores fast.”

“We’ll try them all,” Slath’s father insisted.
* * *
Slath blanched as they went through the first brothel’s front door. Girls wearing nearly nothing, many Slath’s age or younger, stared at him with hollow eyes. Slath couldn’t help the tightening in his groin at the sight of so much flesh.

A plump woman with large breasts hurried forward to greet them. “Welcome, sir, what can I interest you in today?” The woman’s eyes widened as she caught sight of Slath. “The boy isn’t for sale, is he?”

Robrek slammed the woman against the wall. “This boy is my son.”

A huge man grabbed Robrek from behind and threw him out the door onto the cobblestone street. Remembering what his father said about being hanged, Slathek merely got out his miniature of Sphry and asked about her. The woman shook her head.

The next brothel wasn’t as bad as the first. Three woman—one white, one brown, and one black, lounged on couches. They weren’t chained, and they wore robes of a transparent fabric. Slath could see the full outline of their bodies. Slath tore his eyes away from the women, but as his father talked to the brothel owners, Slath’s eyes kept drifting back to the women, running his eyes over their bodies, and wondering what it would feel like to touch one. He’d heard the sailors talking of the pleasures of a woman’s body, but he’d had no chance to find out for himself.

Hours later when they finished making the rounds of all the brothels in the harbor district, Slath’s groin was throbbing, and he could thinking of nothing but room after room of nearly naked women—any of which could be had for a few coins.

After Robrek went up to bed, Slath sneaked out of the inn and back to the brothel district. He entered the one that had seemed the cleanest and where the whores had seemed the most eager to serve. He handed over the coins to the brothel owner and chose a whore as black as ebony with huge breasts and firm thighs.
* * *

Hoping his father wouldn’t know where he’d been or what he’d done, Slath whistled as he walked back to the Traveler’s Haven. But his father was waiting for him at one of the tables near the door. “So do you think you’re a man now?” his father asked. “Do you think bedding your sister makes you one?”

Blood rushed to Slath’s face. “She wasn’t my sister!”

“She’s somebody else’s sister, somebody’s daughter! Those women are little better than slaves, like your sister is!”

Slath ran from the inn. At the dock, he tore off his clothes and dived into the water of the harbor. The water was frigid, far colder than it ever got in Mahngbhayo. But not cold enough to cool his burning shame. He swam for the rock out in the harbor that the sea lions used. It was farther than he’d realized, and he was shaking with cold and exhaustion by the time he pulled himself onto it. The sea lions barked at him, but kept their distance. “Did you speak to her like the dolphins did?” he asked the beasts, but he could hear them no better than he’d been able to hear the dolphins. Only Sphry had had that magic, and he’d dishonored her. He vowed he’d never sleep with another whore. But as the sun began to rise, he realized what his father wouldn’t admit. It had been seven years since Sphry was taken. His sister was dead, and the family fortunes were dwindling due to his father’s obsessive search. It was time to stop looking for her and tend to other matters. If his father wouldn’t, then he’d have to.
* * *
The bark of the sea lions took Slathek by surprise. He hadn’t realized he’d been that close to his ships. He stopped and gazed on the three ships he now owned. While his father searched fruitlessly for Sphry, Slathek had made the family prosper, becoming a sharper trader at eighteen than his father was at forty-five. But as Slath looked at the sea lions, he realized he’d dishonored his sister far more thoroughly than that single night with the whore. Sphry was the magic of his childhood—a magic that healed and mended. He’d replaced that magic with the cold comfort of gold.

Perhaps he wouldn’t commission the dolphin statue after all.

Bio:

My work has been published on Short-Story.Me and was chosen for inclusion their annual print anthology. My novel, The Goddess’s Choice, is forthcoming from Reliquary Press. I teach writing and literature at Auburn University.

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Sep 11 2011

Wayfarer by Constance Rossman

Published by under The WiFiles

The storm nearly slammed the hunter against the lonely house, but he welcomed it. Sureshot had been out hunting on this new world for three days, and now suddenly this sleet storm blew out of the sky and the winter-bare forest could not shelter him. He’d staggered between the trees, even his high-tech sensors blinded by blowing snow, and almost collided with the big white shape which loomed up in front of him.

He pressed cautious fingers to it to make sure it was real: a building made of vertical logs so natural-looking it might have been part of the forest.

“A house, a lodge,” he breathed. “What good Chance for me!” He’d wandered so far from the freehold’s trade center that he had two days to wait and many kri-veh to walk before he could meet up with the tradeship again. And while he had a sled-load of fresh meat to dine on and fill the trader’s bins, he had no sanctuary from the storm.

Until this appeared.

It looked lived-in, too. He groped round to the front and saw two windows golden with warmth and an entry door of polished carven wood.

“This is hunting luck, on-stat,” he told himself. Now he could claim wayfarer’s privilege and the good folk within would surely offer him sanctuary. They wouldn’t even have to feed him from their own stores. He’d killed plenty of game and could offer them some, in fact. His name was Sureshot for good reason.

And the Hunting People all over this tautsche’s galaxy took care of their own, freehold or clan.

Relieved and happy, he tied his platform sled to the porch railing, then climbed up and found the scratchpad on the lintel. He drew his arched finger-talons down it once, twice, to announce his presence, then waited, but nothing stirred. The windows still gleamed golden and the house exhaled heat, but no-one came to the door.

The storm howled and beat at his back, throwing freezing lines along the creases of his clothing. He shivered. Maybe the wind was too loud for anyone inside to hear him, though the Hunters have superb senses. Still…

He took a step back, arched his neck and roared: “Arooah the house! Is anyone here?”

Now that a deaf Hunter could hear; and he waited expectantly.

But nobody came.

For the first time, Sureshot hesitated. Someone should have heard that. And if they didn’t answer, that must mean  they didn’t want to be disturbed.  He sighed and eased back another step. The wind lashed him with renewed fury: his facemask instantly fogged over. Technology took care of that almost at once, but the sleet would keep blurring his vision and numbing his limbs, and the thought of spending the night freezing in a tree….

There must be another way. He leaned forward and gently put his talon-tips to the door, trying to think of what else he could do…

…when the door moved under his hand. He jerked back, startled.

But the door stopped moving at a hairline crack of light. No-one stood behind it.

Open…the threshold open as if in welcome, Unlocked, as the tautschen would leave it for the wayward traveler if they were not home. Had they left the lights on as well?

All his inborn caution returned, and he slid in alongside the door, weapon in hand, a hunter again. Did an invading beast lurk here? With his other hand, he thrust the door wide.

Nothing charged out at him except a waft of warm air. The threshold filled with a golden glow, which he now saw came from a fire.

A hearth fire inside.

Sureshot paused long enough to make sure nothing was going to leap out at him; then he whipped inside, put his back to the door, and snap-scanned the area.

He stood in a short vestibule. To his left, he could see the opening to the great room or hearth room, with the fire still flickering above cindered logs. To the right lay another open threshold into what looked like a cookroom.  No sign of people anywhere.

Sureshot relaxed a bit. Nothing harmful here. Perhaps the family was just in the back somewhere, bathing or getting ready to sleep. Ahead of him lay a long hall with other rooms opening off it.

On-target, then; he would seek out whoever lived here, making certain he didn’t surprise them. He would ask for shelter from the storm. He closed the door behind him, eased his pack from his shoulders, and added his facemask to it. He re-sheathed his weapon. No use for a weapon in a tautschen household. He no longer thought some animal lurked here, but just on chance—and he was a great believer in Chance—he still had his own fangs and claws…

He began to move silently down the hall.

Two rooms opened off this central hall, and he chose the nearer one, on the right, to look into first.

Tiny starlites flickered on at his entrance and he saw a marbled and muralled chamber with a round sunken tub nearer the doorway and a glass-walled chamber farther in. The bathing chamber.

The sight made him draw in his breath with an “Aaah…” How good a hot whirlwater bath would feel to soak in right now! He suddenly felt clammy and cold; even his thermo-suit had been soaked and half-frozen from the vicious wind, and he longed to cast it off and jump into a steamy, sudsy bath.

But first—“make yourself known, hunter,” he chided, “or they’ll think you a lawless beast.” So, reluctantly, he turned aside from the bathing chamber and went on down the hall, looking for the tautschen who lived here.

As he drew up next to the second room, a cold draft met him through the half-open door.

Was it a cold-storage room? he wondered. If so, someone had left the door open. Or maybe they’re in there. He reached up to scratch on the door panel—when something bit down on the base of his brain….

…a feeling of danger and wrong.

Sureshot’s breath caught. He’d had these feelings before, in the field, when some beast lay in wait for him, when taking another step would have proved his last. And he’d always respected the warning.

Now it came to him in what should have been the safest place of all, a room in a Hunter’s home.

Don’t call out, his senses warned. Instead, he flattened himself to the half-open door and tried to peer into the room.

He saw the corner of a thick mattress on a bed hung by heavy chains from the ceiling, so it could sway the inhabitant gently to sleep. But the sense of wrongness prevailed and Sureshot eased closer to see beyond the threshold.

A spillway of blankets and furs met his eye, the bed coverings in disarray, half of them on the floor. Shock numbed his reflexes. No tautschen lived like this, unless…unless they were in trouble.

Suddenly bold, he pushed farther into the room, beheld more disruption: the bed coverings sprawled on the floor, cabinets pulled over and their contents strewn, a bewildering rough spot in the life of this otherwise peaceful home.

And then he smelt blood, and he lunged all the way in.

Cold blasted him from a large broken window opposite. Strewn furs and blankets lay in a long scallop descending from the bed; and something was entwined with it. Something which gave off heat—and blood.

Sureshot gasped. He took one long stride into the room and fell to his knees. Suddenly, impossibly, he knew what he would find, even though every experience in his life, every fraction of his training in honor and Hunt Law rebelled against it. It could not be, and yet, and yet…

He reached out gingerly, nipped a fold of blanket between his talon-tips and began to pull it up. Something tumbled out, fell soft and heavy to the floor.

An arm and leg, still attached to the body that bore them.

Sureshot had seen death before. Many, many deaths, mostly of animals he’d slain. And once, of a packmate who died on a hunt, so suddenly that healing could not save him. Nothing like this…a young tautsche woman who had been killed in her own home, her own room.

A little cry escaped him. He reached for her, thinking that despite the blood, she might still be alive. Her face was composed, but her mane all askew and her arms and hands thrust out as if to defend herself. But she had no pulse and her body heat lifted off her like smoke, dissipating.

“Milady, milady, how did this happen?” he whispered. “What did this to you?”

The broken window. Something had hit it with enough force to shatter it—some beast going out, for almost no glass sparkled on the floor inside. The creature must have entered the house in some other way…

 

Grieving, horror-struck, the hunter barely knew what he was doing as he half-raised the woman in his arms. His dazed thoughts raced: he had to get her to help; he had to call someone—

Then her head fell back and he saw the terrible throat wound, and his brain blanked out…

*

“Here, this way, brothers; I’ll get R’sylda. She’s probably in back.”

Voices? Here in the house? Time blinked in again and Sureshot raised his head.

He had just levered himself to his knees, still cradling the body, when a light flicked on and someone’s silhouette blocked the threshold.

Another hunter—who stared straight and uncomprehending at what he saw. Disbelief, then shock, then—

“R’sylda!” the man screamed and lunged into the room. He pulled her away, then whipped around to Sureshot. “Don’t touch her! Who are you? What have you done?”

And he went for Sureshot with death in his eyes.

They crashed to the floor with Sureshot trying to keep the other hunter from sinking in fang or claw, trying to stay alive long enough to explain. They rolled over and over, a high-pitched keening sound coming from the other’s throat. Sureshot tried to fend off talons and teeth, his hands a blur, when they smashed into the wall and he ended on the bottom.

The other hunter throttled him and swung his arm back to strike….

“Keras! No, stop!” someone shouted and hit the attacker side-on, dislodging him.

Sureshot twisted free and started to get to his feet.

Only to be knocked down again as two more hunters hit him.

They yanked him up and pinioned him, and all he could hear was the Hunter Keras screaming, “My wife! My wife! He killed her!”

That stilled everybody. One of the hunters pinning Sureshot muttered, “Great Spirit,” while Sureshot tried to croak, “T-t’chak—I didn’t.”

“Look, look,” Keras screeched, mad with grief. He reached for the body, “R’sylda…R’syl—“ then crumpled in his captor’s grip, his hands over his face, and howled.

The death-howl. It tore from the hunter’s heart, from his broken soul.

“Keras, brother—ah, what a dire sight…” mourned the hunter who had been holding him. “Are we sure?” turning to the pair who held Sureshot. “Alantor, check on his mate.”

She went, releasing Sureshot, but just confirmed what they already knew: “She’s dead, Chief Hunter.”

The confirmation stunned them. As uncertainly hardened into reality, they looked at each other, then at Sureshot, their eyes afire with hate.

“Who are—“ the Chief Hunter began, but was interrupted.

The husband Keras lurched up from the floor and almost made it to Sureshot before his Chief Hunter tackled him again. Keras kept fighting, snarling and demanding “Let me have him! It’s the Law. His life is mine!”

Sureshot backed up as his accuser nearly went airborne. The Chief Hunter, a big, strongly-muscled tautsche, managed to keep him anchored, but Sureshot could feel his own captor’s hands on him going pain-tight, talons denting his flesh. He realized with a shock how very bad his situation was here. He was a stranger, a trophy hunter, and he’d been found holding the dead woman in his arms. Who else could have killed her?

“On my Oath, I didn’t do it,” he began.

Liar!” screamed the bereft hunter, surging again. “Oathbreaker!”

The Chief Hunter once more dragged him back, scruffing him and commanding, “Hunter, attend! Obey the Code.” He hauled him off his feet, shook him to emphasize; “I know what this looks like, Keras, but you cannot act yet. We have to call in the huntpack to judge him. And then you may take vengeance; or let the freehold do it for you.”

What was this? Sureshot made a small sound in his throat. Was the Chief Hunter already declaring him guilty, just on appearances? Weren’t they going to bring in a tracker or an evidence hunter? A chill shivered down his back. That meant the hideshare was already stacked against him.

The Chief Hunter let Keras down, so he could go to his wife. He crawled to her, lifted her upper body in his arms and wailed piteously. The Huntress Alantor moved over to comfort him.

Sureshot felt his remaining captor take a better grip on him and heard the man utter a low growl.

Quick judgment there, too. T’d’faal, who else had they found on the scene? Why even listen to theories of another killer? The beast had fled.

Meanwhile, the huntress murmured something to Keras. He looked up, his eyes blank. Then he seemed to “connect,” and what color he had left drained from his face.

“The little one—our chk-kiy,” he whispered. “I…don’t…know.” He turned a horrified glance at the huntress, then heaved to his feet.

“Where, vr’hunter?” Alantor asked.

Keras made a head motion toward the doorway. “If not here…then…in the play-yard? The next room.”

Suddenly they all began to move, Keras, the huntress, and the Chief Hunter, making for the door. Sureshot’s captor shifted his grip and half-turned away…

Sureshot abruptly went limp and slid from his grasp. He dropped down to balance on his hands and double-kicked his captor off his feet. He somersaulted to a stand, took three long running strides, and hurtled out the broken window headfirst.

He landed rolling in the snow, snapped to his feet, and ran for his life.

His life. Which these excited freeholders would take from him because they could not see past their pain. He had only one throw at Chance: get away from here long enough to find the perpetrator himself.

In a sleet-storm, with the tracks covered and cold. Get a clawhold, hunter, his mind taunted him. Running away will only make them certain you did it.

But he had no other choice. So he ran.

And he’d seen something the others had missed. Whatever had crashed through that window after killing the young woman had not escaped unscathed.  He’d seen blood-trace on some of the jagged edges, and he thought he would find more out here.

The icy wind nearly blasted him off-stride, but he kept his balance and used plain old keen tautschen eyesight to scan the ground before him.

He’d landed in a large flat spot where something else had landed first. And it hadn’t been subtle—it had bulled its way through the tree-cover, smashing everything aside, leaving a hole big enough for a maddened spearhorn…

…and stripes of hot blood, which the sleet hadn’t quite covered yet.

Sureshot went through that same breach after it, oblivious to the shouts of pursuit stirring behind him.

*

The beast left a trail a blind Hunter could follow, crashing along through brush and scrub, cracking saplings and digging up divots of earth in its flight. It seemed to be running on two legs; and Sureshot filed through his knowledge of this world’s creatures to see what it might be. But nothing came to memory, and its prints were too blurry to read.

Sometimes the pre-settlement searchers didn’t find all the species: they could hardly account for every animal on a planet, no matter how many hunters went down. And satellites and probes weren’t good enough to catch every living thing, either.

Even so, they rarely missed anything as large and strong and dangerous as this seemed to be.

The trail was so fresh he must have just missed the beast in the house. Perhaps his shout had startled it and sent it running through the nearest exit—the quartz window.

Except…if it had killed a full-grown huntress, why would it be afraid of him?

He slowed to a jog, thinking, and wiping the ice from his eyelashes. Another thing puzzled him: if the creature had killed the young woman, why hadn’t it taken its prey when it left? Its earlier actions did not seem to be those of a fearful beast…

Suddenly he remembered the stricken hunter’s last words before he’d escaped: “The little one—our chk-kiy…” and he knew.

The beast had taken its prey with it.

Sureshot surged into a full-out run, crashing through brush and timber as recklessly as the beast he chased. Find it—the child might still be alive!

The trees began thinning out as he ran. His adversary’s path was no longer clear in patterns of broken branch and brush. He concentrated on ground-trace instead—on footprints, for the sleet melted at their centers, so fresh were they…

And warm blood was pooling in them, getting warmer…hot…

A warning keened in the hunter’s mind and he ducked and swerved to miss a heavy branch overhead—

–just as something big swung down and struck him hard on the side of the head. Knocked sidewise, he grunted, and heard the whicker of claws slashing at his face.

He twisted, fell on arms and knees, immediately bobbed and rolled—and came up feeling the hot streaks of blood across his cheek—clawmarks that could have sliced his throat just as easily if he hadn’t acted on his feeling.

He paused at a crouch, weapon primed—and at the last moment pulled his shot, so it fractured the tree limb rather than the body lying along it.

The child—if it still held the child—

The beast roared to shake the forest, slid away from the falling limb and jumped off, putting the tree trunk between it and his sights.

But not before he saw it, and knew what it was he faced.

Shock stilled him just long enough to let the prey escape; then he lunged to his feet and ran after it, his heart fluttering like a bird’s wing—for what he hunted now, he had never faced before, and his nerves throbbed with horror at what it was, and what it had done.

The trees cleared away and he found himself on the verge of a long curving rise, frosted with ice, which bridged a deep ravine and led to tumbled rocks on the other side. Long scuffed foot-marks gouged the snow leading up to the ridge and halfway across—where they stopped.

Sureshot raced out into the open, where he stopped, too. Had his quarry run out on the ridge, and jumped? Or worse, fallen? Or was it hiding somewhere nearby, camouflaged and ready to attack? The hunter spun in a half circle, wary and afraid.

It was the only way he saw the attack coming from behind him.

He turned his shoulder to the attacker, his hands forcing away the other’s; but Keras’ momentum slammed them both to the ground.

“Killer! Liar!” the other snarled. “Take your death like a man!”

Sureshot wrestled him over to one side, gasping, “Not me! Not me—look!”

“AROOAGH!” The blood-chilling roar froze them both. It came from the ridgeline, and as they glanced over, a huge figure arose, shaking off the covering snow. A Hunter, a tautsche, one of their own. It glared down at them from a distance halfway across the ridge, too far to run, too far to leap—then it raised one arm and held the small writhing infant over the ravine below.

“Keras!” it thundered. “Do you remember me? How you and your friends exiled me to death?”

Sureshot felt the Hunter beside him go boneless. “Murgoth…” he heard the man whisper.

“H’vack?” Sureshot asked.

“A…criminal…a Codebreaker. We sentenced him to exile half a continent away, and now he’s come back and he has…he has…”

“Your chk-kiy, hunter!” The outlaw bellowed, shaking his arm to make the baby wail. “You took everything from me, all of you—and now I take from you. First, your wife…and then”—He swung the infant over the abyss, grinning. Then swung it back again. Then forth…then back. “Let us see who”—

That’s when Sureshot blasted him with the laser. Not in the chest, but across the elbow, which sheared the forearm off at the joint. It and the baby fell to the snowy ridge with a soft thump. Murgoth stood there dumbfounded. He didn’t yet feel pain. The laser seals as it burns.

“Eiiaaah!” Keras screamed and bolted from the snow, running full-tilt, in the blinding charge of the panther for its prey.

Blanking Sureshot’s target from sight.

“Hunter, hold!” the marksman began. But he didn’t shoot. He could hardly draw down on a guilty tautsche, let alone this innocent one.

Still standing, the outlaw saw his chance. With a feral grin, he leaned over to reach for the child with his other hand.

And a rocket shot from the sky, streaked into his chest and knocked him off the ridge and into the ravine. The explosion ensured the kill.

A brace of rakken, the Hunters’ swift airbikes, slid into view above the clearing. The Chief Hunter watched as Keras swept up his child below, then glanced into the ravine with a look of satisfaction. He met Sureshot’s eyes and said:

“There. That is one twisted soul that will not trouble us again, at least in this world.” And—“That was a fine shot, vr’hunter. I could not have done it, myself. What did you say your name was?”

This time he told them.

*

They’d made a mistake in accusing him, and they tried to make it up to him. But by the time the tradeship returned, Sureshot felt glad to go.

He’d learned that the Codebreaker Murgoth had been generally a bully and a troublemaker, but it was not until he began attacking others and stealing their kills that they exiled him.

“Not a murderer, then?” Sureshot asked.

“T’chak,” said the Chief Hunter, “but he hated well.  It took him more than a year, but he found us again. And Keras was one of the witnesses against him.” He shook out his mane slowly, in regret. “R’sylda fought for her child and he killed her.”

“Churr…” Keras agreed, his eyes downcast, his arms tight around his little girl-child, who now purred in contentment. “We—I –owe you a life-debt, vr’hunter. First I wrongly accused you, and then…”

“Krr…it is no debt. I’m still here, and the past is a dry bone, and dust, as some would say.”

“Still,” the Chief Hunter intervened, “we hope we have learned from this: not to jump at the first prey in sight, because the greater may be lurking in the brush. Here is your hideshare, then, vr’hunter,” giving him his sled’s tow- rope. “We have added something to it. At least accept that, and our deepest apologies for the wrong.”

Sureshot gave a curt chinlift but said nothing. He took up the towrope and pulled the sled up-ramp toward the tradeship. He could hardly wait to get this run over with and go back to his home world.

But Keras called after him, “And my thanks, Esteemed One, for whatever it means to you. My heart-deep thanks for the life of my little one.”

That he did acknowledge: he turned at the top of the ramp and inclined his head once. Then he pivoted and strode inside, and the ramp closed after him.

*

Constance Rossman – I’ve been writing about the civilized carnivores the tautschen and their spacefaring adventures since the early 1990’s. My first book, “Renegade the Hunter” told the story of one young man growing up and learning to become a man through his society’s very dangerous Master Hunt.

I followed up with two more novels and about 20 short stories in 2003-on, most of them about this race that follows its code of honor and tries to incorporate ancient wisdowm with modern technology.

What, I wonder, would mankind have been like if we had done the same?

I was for many years a reporter and columnist on various Michigan newspapers. Now I am writing fiction about my favoirte characters, the fierce yet disciplined Hunters; and have been published in a number of print and online magazines like “Golden Visions,” “Strange, Weird & Wonderful,” “Crossed Genres,” “Aoife’s Kiss” and “Afterburn SF.”

 

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Jun 12 2011

WACK WHACK by David Perlmutter

Published by under The WiFiles

Her name was Possum. Nothing more or less than that.

She exited the plane cautiously upon landing in New York, her enormous blue eyes covered by sunglasses, a threadbare coat over an equally threadbare shirt and pants, ragged black hair and translucent white skin rendered almost see-through by the explosive amount of sunlight in the air. Her contact waved a sign in the air with her name on it, as was still the custom for receiving guests at the airport in this futuristic America. Spotting it, she went over to meet him. They feigned the excitement of long lost relatives reuniting for a moment in front of the crowd to create what they felt would be a convenient alibi before retreating to a silent corner to discuss the mission that the man- a “true” human- had recruited Possum for.

Possum was not a “true” human being at all, but actually an animated cartoon character. A very perilous situation, considering her race was now at war with the “true” human beings of America, the country she had been created in. But Possum, and others like her, managed to get by, even if it meant some duplicitous dealings with both halves of the equation.

“Was it bad on the flight in from L.A.?” the man asked.

“Of course,” Possum answered. “You know what L.A.’s like all the time.”

“Have you ever been to New York?”

“No! I told you. My kind of ‘toons don’t get around much. Thank you for Fed-ex’ing me the plane fare, though. It really helped.”

Dentinger, the man, cautioned her to lower her voice as unsuspecting passengers walked past them. Then they resumed their talk.

“It used to be better than this,” Dentinger said absent-mindedly.

“What?” Possum asked.

“The whole country. Before….you know, your kind….”

“You don’t have to pussyfoot around this,” Possum answered. “I know what my “kind” are doing- and the fact that they won’t involve me in any of their rotten transgressions, so I gotta do my own! Lousy bunch of….”

Possum was beginning to assume the anger that was the Achilles heel of so many ‘toons- and the cause of much of their destructive behavior. Dentinger was able to calm her down, however.

“Come on,” he said. “We need to get you settled in.”

They walked away from the airport and headed into an apartment house in town. After ascending, Dentinger opened the door of the farthest room from the elevator and they entered. They were not alone.

There was another “true” human at the kitchen table, named Mintz. This was the man whom Possum had been contacted about doing a “hit”- and the man whom she had traveled across the country to meet with in order to negotiate the deal.

“Aha!” said Mintz when they entered, ignoring Dentinger’s presence entirely (he was used to this). “You must be Possum! How wonderful it is for me to…”

“Yeah, yeah!” Possum held up a hand to silence him. “Cut the crap, Mintz! I didn’t come all the way out here to listen to your cheap beatitudes!”

“You mean platitudes,” suggested Dentinger, unhelpfully.

“What-ever!” Possum growled. Then, to Mintz, she added: “Why didn’t you come and meet me at the airport yourself instead of sending him?”

“I was otherwise engaged,” Mintz protested.

“Sure you were.” Possum was used to lying and being lied to, and so she viewed Mintz’s statement with a grain of salt. “Does he have to be here while we….?”

“No, he doesn’t.” Mintz silently pointed to the door and Dentinger exited the apartment.

“All I know about this thing,” Possum said, “is that you want me to kill one of your kind for a change instead of one of mine. Is that it?”

“Uh huh,” said Mintz. “He’s a businessman and ‘toon sympathizer named Evan Hunter. We want him to be dead within two days.”

“I can do it in less than that.”

“Good. We know you’ve taken out hits on your fellow cartoons before, but not nearly as many on human beings. Are you up for the challenge?”

“Look, it’s no difference to me whether or not it’s a ‘toon or a human, provided the guy’s a bad egg. Those are the only ones I take out, understand? I have nothing but contempt for little goody-two-shoes wuzzys no matter what form they take. So I’m assuming you wouldn’t have called me in for this job if the guy didn’t need to be whacked. Am I right?”

“You’re right. Now, let me tell you something about Hunter that will surely convince you. Since the war between our species began, he has been buying up stockpiles of surviving animation art from the major film studios, with which he intends to intimidate the ‘toon leaders to account by burning it and thus separating them from a major part of your heritage. This, he believes, will lead to them committing themselves to negotiating peace with the human beings. But, at the same time, he has also been secretly funding outside parties that intend to subvert the American war effort and allow the ‘toons to conquer the true humans. Therefore, Hunter is considered a threat by both sides, since he is capable of acting at once to threaten one or both of their war efforts.”

“And you want me to kill him so he’ll get off both of their backs and let this thing go on,” Possum assumed.

“Right.”

“Then let me ask you this. What’s in it for me?”

“Your usual fee, plus double your normal expenses.” He counted a large sum of money in a small number of bills into Possum’s hand, which made her eyes bulge in the traditional “wacky” style of her ancestors.

“That’s all I needed to hear,” Possum replied, when she had popped her eyes back in her head and the money into her pocket.

“There’s one other thing, though,” Mintz cautioned her.

“And what is that?” demanded Possum.

“The death must, in all ways, forms and fashions, look as much like an accident as possible. No one must know that you murdered him.”

“I’ll…do what I can,” Possum uttered evasively as she left.

*

Possum returned confidently to her hotel room. Now that she had been paid such a large sum of money- in advance, yet- it was even more important to her that she look her best while disposing of Evan Hunter. She had these thoughts in mind when she was confronted by a fellow ‘toon at the very door of her room.

He, like she herself, was clearly from among the ranks of the minor-league Hollywood ‘toon bit players like herself. He took the form of an oversized, big-eyed teddy bear, but in all other respects he was about as “human” as Possum herself was. Possum was taken aback at first upon seeing him, but soon calmed down enough to address him in her firmest tone.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, in a voice resembling a rusty hinge very much in need of an entire bottle of WD-40. “I came out here from Los Angeles to find you.”

“Why?” Possum demanded suspiciously.

“I’m a reporter,” he said, pointing to his hat, a fedora with a crudely made badge with “PRESS” stenciled on it at the top. “I want an interview.”

“You’re not getting one,” insisted Possum. “I don’t do interviews. Especially not with the kind of rag you write for! How DARE you accuse me of being a plotter against my own kind? Just ‘cause I went and did a couple of hits I was PAID to DO….”

“It’s not that,” the bear answered. “There were rumors about you being paid to kill a human….”

Possum forcefully put her key in the door and opened it. “Get in there,” she ordered, and the bear meekly followed her inside.

“How did you find out about me?” Possum demanded, once she had shut the door behind them. “And how did you know about me….?”

“Not much to hide, really,” the bear admitted. “The ‘toon press in L.A.’s been all over you ever since you did that hit at Disney….”

“Okay, okay!” Possum cut him off. “That’s all well and good. But how did you know I was coming here? To New York? And especially about me doing it to a human?”

“Sources,” was all the bear would answer. “And you can’t make me say anything about who they are or stuff. The law and that, you know.”

“I know,” retorted Possum sourly. “So you want a story, huh?”

“More than that.”

“What the hell are you getting at?”

“I want you to apologize.”

“What for?”

“For all of our people that you killed! I mean, my girlfriend was one of those, man! You didn’t even give me a chance to say goodbye to….”

“Back off, okay?” Possum ordered him. “Just BACK OFF! I don’t know what antiquated code of chivalry you and the other ‘toons in the establishment are working with, but I DON’T PLAY LIKE THAT, understand? I am a professional assassin. I use my skills and my abilities to kill people, wherever or whoever they are. Up ‘til now, all of my hits have been of the ‘toon variety because I was asked to do that. Now, I’m being asked to kill a human being. Do I get paid to do this? Yes! Am I carrying the money I got for the hit on me now? Yes! Is this person a bad egg who deserves to be killed? Yes! Does it matter what race, creed or color the bastards are that I off? NO! The only reason you thick headed bunch of sucks got so mad about me doing those kills was because of your flattering but wrong-headed belief that we supposedly are one group of “people”. HELL NO, WE AREN’T! We’re not one group- we’re not even “people”! I look like a human being, but I’m not, any more than you’re really a bear! We’re all a bunch of cheap FREAKS some true humans drew so they could feel BETTER about themselves! And, honestly, I want to kill as many of you people as I can before I die, so I can get rid of them talking about CURSED and MISERABLE they are! So why don’t you just get the hell out of here before I make you into a victim yourself!”

That extended, long-winded monologue served its purpose of getting her would-be tormentor off her back, and he exited the room with all possible speed.

*

The following morning, and for much of the following day, Possum tailed her eventual victim, Evan Hunter, as he went through his very busy day. She followed him to his high-rise office building, then followed him to the restaurant where he had lunch, sitting only mere meters from him so that she could follow every word that he said, then followed him back to the office until the end of the work day, when she finally concluded her tailing. It had not been easy. Even though she could pass for an albino human girl fairly easily, Possum had difficulty convincing certain security officials and restaurant managers that she actually belonged or could possibly be a patron at the establishments she targeted, and she was therefore ejected bodily more than once before she could finally gain access through subterfuge. Eventually, though, the day ended, and she could breathe something of a sigh of relief. She calculated that it would take Hunter’s chauffer-driven limousine at least an hour or so to arrive at Hunter’s sumptuous mansion in suburban New Rochelle, so she went back to her hotel, waited exactly that long to the precise second, and made a call to him.

“Hello?” Hunter asked when he got to the phone.

“Mr. Hunter?” Possum asked.

“Yes.”

“Mr. Hunter, you don’t know me, but my name is Possum, and I am a member of the ‘toon community who’s concerned about….”

“Look, “ Hunter said sternly, “you can say all you want about those model sheets being your people’s equivalent of unborn fetuses, but I’m not….”

“It’s not about that, Mr. Hunter. This is more urgent. And more directly involving you.”

“How directly are we talking about, Postum?”

Possum, sir.”

“Sorry.”

“That’s all right. You’d be surprised how many things about me people get wrong, none the less being my name. No, sir, this doesn’t have anything to do with the model sheets. This is an important matter that I have no one else to confide in about.”

“What are you?” Hunter asked suspiciously. “A double agent?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out,” countered Possum. “The thing is, I know about you, Hunter, and that you’re playing both sides of the war. And I can make things real hot for you if you don’t do what I say.”

There was silence on the other end for a moment. Then Hunter said:

“Would it be okay if we met for breakfast tomorrow and deal with this? I really can’t afford to have this stuff leaked out in the open, but I can’t really give you any other time….”

“Oh, that’s fine with me,” Possum said sweetly, firmly disguising the fate that she had in store for Hunter.

*

Possum waited for an hour at the restaurant Hunter had chosen for the meeting before he arrived. He was in the company of a few business associates when he entered and seemed to have forgotten all about the meeting until she gave him the evil eye as he passed her. At that point, Hunter gave his excuses to his associates and sat down beside Possum, apologizing profusely as he did.

“No matter,” Possum said, with her feminine sweetness once again masking her true intentions. Hunter’s head was balding, and the harsh lights of the restaurant reflected back upon it, giving him the appearance of a skull. Possum felt this appearance was apt, given how much he was interested in killing both ‘toons and humans, if only from afar in both cases.

“So,” Possum said, fishing around her mind for small talk. “Nice place.”

“I like it,” answered Hunter tersely. “By the way, you don’t need to hide anything about yourself.”

“Anything like what?” Possum asked, feigning innocence.

“I know what you’ve been doing. Those “hits”, as they put it so crudely in your trade. You kill people for money.”

“Don’t I know it,” Possum said, acting and speaking confidently now that her cover was blown. “That’s what I came to talk to you about.”

“Well, what is it?”

“Like I said, I know what you did, what you’ve been doing, and what you intend to do. You want to wreck both the ‘toon cause and the human resistance. And, being the businessman you are, you want to profit on burning both of the houses. But you can’t do anything about me going to the press with what I know. I tailed you all yesterday. So I know what you’ve been planning to do. Every detail. And I’ll expose you unless you do exactly what I want you to do.”

“And there’s nothing I can do to persuade you?”

“There are some things.”

“Name them!” Hunter demanded.

“I want money, first of all, to get out of America,” Possum said. “I need asylum. And, of course, I’m going to need some more to set myself up in style in some exotic tropical paradise. You know, like you were planning.”

“How did you know….?”

“I told you, I tailed you yesterday! And I heard everything!”

“Well, then, everything you heard dies with you!”

Hunter removed a pistol from his pocket, aiming it at Possum, intending to kill her with it. He fired at her three times- but the bullets merely passed through her body!

“Amateur,” Possum scoffed. “This is how you do it!”

With the superhuman strength that all members of her race possessed, Possum lifted him up in the air and uttered a cry very reminiscent of one of her real-world animal namesakes in full anger. Her human hand and nails abruptly turned into a paw with razor-sharp claws, claws with which she used to rake open Hunter’s belly and then to severe his head from his neck. Then, to the horror of the few patrons who were in the restaurant that early in the morning, she dropped the body in the aisle next to the table and made a hasty exit out the back.

“Man!” an African-American patron observed. “That was one wack whack!”

*

With a crazed gleam in her eye, Possum sped as best as she could out of the city in the direction of the nearest airport. She’d insisted upon being paid in advance, because she knew she had many enemies in the ‘toon community, even in far away New York, who could advance and conquer her at a moment’s notice.

As she waited impatiently at a crossroads for the light to change, it happened. The shadows, representing a small army of fellow ‘toons, was coming right towards her from an alleyway. And, even with all her success killing individual ‘toons, there was no way of knowing whether she’d escape this mob.

Still, she had to take a chance…..

*

David Perlmutter is a freelance writer living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where he has lived his whole life. His passions are American television animation (the subject of his MA thesis and a projected historical monograph), literature (especially science fiction and fantasy) and music (rhythm& blues, soul, funk and jazz.) This explains why much of his writing is as nonconventional and defiant as it is. He is challenged with Asperger’s Syndrome, but considers it an asset more than a disability.

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