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SUNSET OF FURMANKIND

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 36
The Truth

 

“Jon, thank you for being honest with me. We've met periodically over the past weeks, but this is the first time you've really opened up to me.”

The mountain lion looked over at Professor Angelina Flynn and gave her a solemn nod. Back during his first session with the brown-haired psychologist and speaking with her for just a few minutes, he'd come to realize that she had no knowledge of his past life prior to his arrival at the Furmankind Institute. It had taken him a while to make the decision, but he felt it would be difficult to be open with her and hide his background where she wouldn't sense him holding back, so he had finally decided to give her the details of Brian Barrett under the promise of confidence.

The woman's office was small, yet it had a comfortable air designed in colors to soothe troubled minds. The customary couch was present for those who wished to use it, but Jon currently sat in an upholstered recliner with his tail wrapped around his waist and the end in his lap where he held it nervously in both hands.

Although a professional in her career, Angelina chose to dress comfortably so that her clients would not be faced with someone in a pressed suit or fashion dress. Instead, she wore a simple dark blue pleated skirt and a white, short-sleeved blouse with a simple collar. Her long hair was caught up in a ponytail that was draped casually over one shoulder.

“You understand why I can't reveal my background to just anyone,” the mountain lion said. “I'm being honest when I tell you that I don't feel as strongly against Furs as I once did, but I admit I still have some of the revulsions.”

“No one would expect you to conquer everything right away,” Angelina replied, “but you sound as if you have made a great deal of progress overcoming your fears since you arrived.”

Jon shook his head and looked down at his hand pads. “I wouldn't say that,” he countered. “I still struggle with the turmoil on a daily basis, although I've been learning to keep my mouth shut about it in most cases. I've gotten more used to Furs, but the old attitude is still in there. I've tried to move past it, but there are times when it jumps out into the open before I even realize it. I've been lucky, keeping it hidden while around most everyone, but to my housemates who know who I really am, it gets loose too often.”

“Is there anything in particular that sets you off?”

“Yeah, one of my housemates.”

“The other male, Dante?”

Jon shook his head. “No, he’s irritating and annoying at times, but he isn’t the cause of my issues.”

“The other cougar then, Kristen?”

Jon looked up at her and nodded. “She's been pursuing my affections since the beginning,” he answered. “She knows why I don't want a relationship right now, but I suppose she thinks that I've had enough time to get over my ex-fiancé by now.  Maybe I have, but maybe I haven't.  All I know is that I'm not interested.  I like her as a close friend, but not as close as she wants – and she knows why.”

“Because she's a Fur?”

“Because she's a Fur,” he confirmed. “I know that I'll never be able to have a relationship with a human woman ever again, but changing my tastes to chase a Fur isn't happening.  Maybe… in time… but not now.  She's fixated on me even though there are other guys on the premises.”

“Is there anything else bothering you?”

Jon was silent for a long moment, but his companion was in no hurry. After a time, the cougar pursed his lips and then nodded. “Yeah,” he said at last, “I can't seem to get Whelan out of my head.”

“Are you having trouble with closure?”

“No, that's not it. His family didn't want any of his furman associates attending his funeral service. They saw us as nothing more than animals to be kept locked behind iron bars while they paid tribute to his ashes.”

“Are you sure that's why they denied the director's request? Perhaps they were just so overcome with grief from the loss that they wanted to keep it to a small family service.”

“His transformation into a Fur was never mentioned in his obituary, and according to the article I found online, the reason for his death was simply listed as a suicide as a reaction to news of his girlfriend's brutal murder. Yeah, that's true, but the article had a photo from the service showing his portrait as a human next to his urn and there was a large turnout for the memorial. There were more than just family members there, Professor. They just didn't want us there.”

“The director allowed you all to hold a memorial service for him here. I was present and thought it was a nice tribute.”

“Yes, I thought so too, but Whelan was a good egg and it would have done us all a world of good to meet his family and tell them what a great guy he was.”

“Can you think of any reason why they didn't want you there? Relations between humankind and furmankind are still tenuous at best.”

Jon snorted. “They're all a bunch of ignorant and prejudiced idiots. They might have felt better about his last days if they'd had a chance to meet us and discover that our minds are still human.”

Angelina smiled slightly, but the feline wasn't looking her way anymore. “Are you saying they're prejudiced against Furs?” she asked.

“Yes!”

“Like you?”

Jon looked up sharply, his eyes narrowing as a scowl pulled his lips back to bare his teeth. The professor did not appear to feel threatened, but before Jon could spit out a retort, he realized why she'd said it. He deflated almost immediately.

“Yes,” he admitted in a quiet voice, “they're prejudiced like me.”

“What do you think could have been done to persuade them otherwise, Jon?”

The cougar looked her right in the eyes. “If I knew the answer to that, Professor, then maybe I wouldn't be so messed up right now.”

“Would you have killed Mr. Parker if he hadn't been a Fur?”

“Probably,” he answered truthfully. “He stole my fiancé!”

“Would you be so prejudiced against Furs if he hadn't been one?”

“Probably not, Professor, but he was the catalyst.  I had months to stew over what he'd done and now the hatred of furmankind is so ingrained in me that I'm fighting myself daily.”

“You said you had months to stew over what he'd done.  You don't think your fiancé was at fault?”

Jon cleared his throat and looked down at his hands. “He was the Siren that enticed her onto the rocks,” he said, purposely gender-twisting Greek mythology. Angelina raised an eyebrow at his analogy, but the cougar ignored it. “She always liked exotic animals, so I'm sure she was attracted to his… exoticness. She was very beautiful, so he probably turned on the charm when he met her and likely seduced her without bothering to check to see if she was already taken.”

“Probably?  Likely?  You don't know for sure?”

Jon stood up, fists clenched at his sides, and tail whipping back and forth in agitation behind him. “I caught them in the act, Professor – twice!  I can't get any surer than that!”

Angelina sat back in her seat. “Of course, forgive me,” she said. “Still, you feel like he's the only one at fault?”

“It takes two to tango, yes, I know,” he grumbled. “It wouldn't have bothered me if she'd only introduced him to me as a new friend, but we were only weeks away from our wedding when I caught them rutting like wild animals!”

The professor caught a brief glint in his eyes that was only there for a second, and suddenly she thought she understood something. Licking her lips, she leaned forward again.

“Jon,” she began tentatively, “if you and a Fur were to sleep together, is rutting like wild animals how you see it?”

He glared at her furiously, but then he deflated once more, collapsing back into his chair with his face in his hands. “That's exactly how I see it,” he admitted after several moments. “My head knows I'm still human inside, but the mirror is trying to convince me otherwise. I've tried and tried to just let it happen, but part of me won't give in.”

“For someone who is battling his dual nature, you seem to have a good head on your shoulders, Jon.”  Angelina set her notepad aside and gave him a compassionate smile. “You know what your problem is and you've tried to overcome it. I think all you need is more time. Just remember that when you leave the Earth, it's likely you'll never see another human again in your lifetime. Your only companions from then out will be Furs.”

The cougar sighed heavily. Just how many times was he going to hear that?  

*** 

Jenni was stretched out face down across the top of the large floor pillows in the middle of the pit. She and Dante had moved the dining table and chairs up and out of the circular recessed area so they could spread out the pillows on the floor in their place. The afternoon sun streamed in through the overhead skylight and warmed the pillows, making it the perfect place for a feline to relax.

Dante was sitting up on top of her legs just beneath her tail, which was draped across his lap. He was leaning forward, slowly massaging the leopard woman's back, his fingers working out kinks in her lower back muscles earned while mopping up the restroom floor during a weekly house cleanup. Jenni had her head turned to the side, her eyes closed and a contented smile upon her lips.

Marcy came out of the exercise room in shorts and tank top, a towel draped around her shoulders and her platinum hair up in a ponytail. She didn't see anyone in the room, but heard whispers and an occasional moan. She walked quietly across the carpeted floor, wiping her face with the towel, her brow furrowed at the sounds she heard.

When she approached the pit, she looked down and saw the spotted leopard and white tiger. From her vantage point, it looked like Dante was doing something a little more intimate than just a massage.  She cleared her throat and the white tiger flinched, freezing in place with his hands on Jenni's hips.

Both felines looked up at the nurse, and even though their actions were innocent, they both instantly realized what it must look like. Dante quickly crawled off of Jenni's backside and sat down beside her on the pillows.

“Hi, Marcy,” Dante said with a cheesy grin. Jenni looked embarrassed, but gave their nurse a smile too.

“Hello,” Marcy replied. Then, after looking about to make sure no one else was around, she squatted down at the edge of the pit and shook her head. “I haven't said anything to Doctor Renwick,” she said, “but I've been noticing just how chummy you two have become.”

“It's all just play,” Dante explained quickly. “We're not a couple.”

“That's what you've told me before,” said the human woman, “but I'm not as blind as you may think I am.”  The felines stared back up at her without responding, both trying look innocent.

“Let me caution you again about getting too familiar with one another,” Marcy said quietly. “With the constant changes at the genetic level in both of your bodies, an accidental pregnancy could be disastrous, both for the fetus and for the mother.”

Dante swallowed and exchanged quick looks with Jenni. “Isn't feline fertility limited only to certain times of the year?” he asked. The nurse raised an eyebrow and then sat down on the edge of the pit.

“That would be true if you were fully feline,” she informed them, “but you're not.  Due to the retained human genetics in your new DNA makeup, you are not necessarily bound by the limits of rut and estrus. Due to heightened senses and pheromones, new Furs sometimes have trouble controlling their mating instincts, so unless you wish Doctor Renwick to administer a sexual suppressant in your food or medication, I suggest the two of you cool your jets a little.”

“We're cool…” Dante said unconvincingly.

Marcy wiped her face with the towel again, ready for her shower. “As I said, I'm not blind, and neither is your doctor. I just happen to interact with you all more than he does. I'd like to think that I'm your friend, but no matter what kind of relationship you may have, you'd better be on good behavior if you don't want to be medicated.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Dante and Jenni said in unison.

The nurse got to her feet and looked back down at them with a smile. “Good, I'm off my soapbox now. Enjoy your back rub.”  

*** 

“After them!”

“You don't have the authority to give that order!”

“The captain is down and the first officer isn't present – our prey is getting away!”

“They're already gone. By the time we can get a fix on their new position —”

“Let them go…”

“Captain? You're okay!”

“I'm dazed, but still here. Someone silence that alarm.”

“Aye, sir.”

“You're just going to let them go?  What kind of pirate are you?”

[smack!]  “I am captain of this ship!  Your insubordination will not be tolerated!”

 

Dante's attention was riveted to the scene on the large screen of the vid they were watching later that night. The pillows that had been piled up earlier in the pit were now on the floor in front of the screen. Jon had initially resisted, choosing instead to sit in a chair while the rest of his housemates reclined on the pillows, but after a while he had to admit it looked comfortable and joined them on the floor, relaxing between the two females. Kristen happily scooted next to him, but maintained a small boundary so he wouldn't feel too crowded. She and Jenni both swished their tails back and forth, alternating one to another lightly tapping the guys' legs. After a while of watching the show, Jon didn't even notice this light interaction anymore, even though they kept it up all through the vid.

Later on, Kristen was feeling calm and relaxed, even though an action-oriented scene in the vid filled the room with its bombastic musical score. She looked over at Jon and was amused at the intent expression on his face as he watched the show. She reached out and gently took his hand, but he closed his fingers into a loose fist and pulled it back without looking at her. Undaunted, she waited another moment more before sliding one of her feet up and over one of his legs. She saw his brow furrow briefly without taking his eyes from the screen and then he pulled his leg out from beneath her foot.

Kristen frowned inwardly, but was determined to have some contact with him, so she simply scooted up against him to watch the rest of the vid. Jon sighed audibly, but allowed her to lie beside him like that for a while longer. When a slow moment came to the vid, Dante picked up the remote and paused the video.

“This commercial interruption is brought to you by all the soda I had with my supper,” the white tiger said with a grin. “Let's take a break and then continue the vid in a few minutes.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jenni remarked, sitting up to pull at the fabric at the back of her waistband. “My tail flap is binding; I need to go put on a looser pair of shorts!”

“A break is a good idea,” Jon agreed. “I'm feeling snackish, myself.” He got up to his feet and walked to the kitchen while the others headed for opposite ends of the room. It wasn't until he turned on the light and entered the room that he realized that Kristen had followed him.

He reached for a bowl of fruit, picked out a fresh banana and held it out to her. “Want one?” he asked casually.

“Thank you.” The botanist took it and quickly looked around to see if either of the others was nearby. Satisfied that they were alone, she set the banana on the counter beside her and then stepped up close to the taller cougar.

“Jon” she asked quietly, “have I done something to offend you?”

“No,” he answered almost too quickly, “we're good.” He rubbed the skin of a green apple across the front of his furman robe and then lifted it to his mouth. Kristen stopped him with a touch on the arm. His immediate reaction was to pull away, but she closed her fingers gently around his wrist. There was no strength in the grip, but her expression was enough to stop him.

“I thought we were close friends, but lately you've been shutting me out,” she said quietly. “What happened?  What did I do?” Before he could reply, she shook her head. “You used to let me sleep by your side. I didn't do anything to take advantage of the situation; I just wanted to share your company. Now you won't even let me touch you anymore.”

Jon frowned and set the apple back in the wicker fruit bowl. “I'm sorry, Kris,” he said. “I know I've been distant lately, but it's not because of anything you've done. I've been having a lot of nightmares that the Doc says is because of changes in my brain. I can't tell you how many times I've awakened in the night thrashing around in bed. I've even slashed a few sheets with my claws. It's for your own safety that I sleep alone right now.”

The botanist looked up at him with a frown and released his arm. “I might have believed that if you didn't also avoid me when you're awake,” she said dryly. Jon looked at her and felt stung by her tone.

“Kris…” he began.  He paused and sighed, trying to choose his words carefully. “I know you are looking for a relationship—” she raised an eyebrow at him “—but you've known for a long time that I am not.”

“Have I pushed you into anything more than friendship?” she asked bitterly. “Jon, I've always been the kind of person who likes physical contact, but you won't even touch me as a casual friend anymore. Yes, I freely admit I would like something more, but I've never pushed. If all I get from you is a warm arm around me at night or a friendly touch during a vid, I'll take it, but I don't even get that from you anymore. We used to take walks together and had good, intelligent conversations. You rarely have lunch with me now, and seem annoyed all the time if I stand too close. You just stopped spending any more time with me than necessary. What did I do?

“Nothing,” Jon answered, beginning to feel agitated by her emotional attack. “You've done nothing.”

“What then? What turned you against me? You owe me some kind of explanation!  I'm tired of being shut out!”

Feeling backed against the wall with her attitude and demands, Jon snarled at her. “Enough already! You aren't going to like it, but here's what you wanted to know —” He crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter behind him. “You already knew my background and why I was forced to come here before you signed your contract. You already knew that as a mountain lion, I was sentenced to wear the face of the guy I murdered and look at it in the mirror for the rest of my wretched life — and then you chose to wear the same face!  Kris, I like you – I like you a lot. You could have become any other cat and we probably would have hit it off a lot easier. I've had to work through a lot of my issues toward Furs and I might have accepted you otherwise, but no — you had to choose the one I'm stuck with!” 

Moisture appeared at the rims of the botanist's large golden eyes, but Jon leaned forward so that he was almost touching noses with her. Months of bottled-up emotions caused his voice to break.  “I killed a guy for taking my mate, and you want to give me a constant reminder of it?  My problem with you is not because you're a Fur, Kris. Despite what I've let everyone think, it never was. I look at you and see a female version of him, and I've been looking at him for months in my own mirror!”  He stood up straight and flung his arms wide for emphasis.  “Did you ever stop to think that what you did to me was cruel?”

A cry of despair escaped Kristen's lips and she suddenly bolted away from him, hiding her face in her hands. She ran out of the kitchen and dashed across the saloon to her room, slamming the door behind her and startling Jenni who had just emerged from hers.

Jon swallowed the lump in his throat and wiped a hand across his face, instantly sorry that he had spat out words that he could never take back. Sometimes telling the honest truth could be more damaging than a heartless lie, but she had cornered him and he'd slipped up.

Hearing her small cry of anguish had broken him. He took a tentative step out of the kitchen toward her room, but knew that she would never listen to him now.  He clenched his fists so hard that his claws drew small beads of blood from the thick pads of his palms.

He closed his eyes and let a feline shriek of frustration escape his throat, and then he stormed off to the building's exit. When he got outside, he chose a direction at random and began running just as fast as he could to burn off the excess energy coursing through him. He leaned forward in his run, his tail out behind him for balance, and then without thinking about it, Jon dropped to all fours and continued running.

Inside the Felis Wing, Jenni and Dante stood at opposite ends of the saloon mutely looking at one another, both of them having witnessed a breakup of their housemates without even knowing why.

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Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.