A/N: This was written for the comedy round of my writing group last year and I forgot to actually publish it. Oops
Your Dog Isn't Really a Dog
The dwarves, being the most skilled craftspeople in the cosmos, were able to forge a chain whose strength couldn't be equaled; it was wrought from the sound of a cat's footsteps, the beard of a woman, the roots of mountains, the breath of a fish, and the spittle of a bird – in other words, things which don't exist, and against which it's therefore futile to struggle. Gleipnir ("Open") was its name. —The Binding of Fenrir ( )
"What do you think, Doc?"
"I'm wondering how you managed to fit a mangrove habitat into my house," Bian said, her eyebrow twitching.
"Magic, Doc," the younger-looking man replied, grinning from ear-to-ear. "Same reason time seems to pass by slower here. It's a sanctuary. For you. For us— but especially for you. No one in all of Cornwall will have a place like this."
"Luther, it's beautiful," Bian gushed, her hands running across the tops of the tall plants in the wildflower garden. "Amazing. I used to dream of having a place like this. It's not even finished yet, but I feel like there is more here than I've ever had or ever would see in a lifetime."
"All of us put in a little of ourselves into it," Luther chuckled. "Don't think I did all that beautiful stonemasonry. I'm more of a tree and vine kind of Otherkin."
"Patrick called you something else," Bian said, pointing toward where a huge brute of a "man" was setting an entire section of wall down like a child would place a domino. A smaller creature that looked humanoid but for its vibrant monarch-like wings and scorpion-like tail was flying about, daubing grout around the stones to set the wall in place.
Luther grinned. "He's old-school. He still calls us all Gyrï. He also thinks he should reinforce your sanctuary with iron to keep the fae from stealing your shiny objects."
"Gyrï is shorter to say than 'Otherfolk'," Bian said.
Luther shrugged. "There are more of us now. Not like it was before. Different races from different places. Old things waking up. New things taking form. Some— haven't adapted." Luther's face scrunched up and he closed his eyes. "They fade away or haunt places purely out of spite."
"Hey, Doctor B!" A youthful woman with the lower body of a horse and a glistening opal horn set in the middle of her forehead cantered up and skid to a halt. "This place is absolutely gorgeous. I was doing some exploring to tighten up the property borders. Did you know your back garden is going out into the forest preserve? And you have a ley line zooming right under your property to help keep all our enchantments protecting your new place for you! You have an impressive bog past your property line, so you'll never have to worry about neighbours sneaking up your back garden."
"That sounds wonderful, Davina! Thank you so much," Bian replied with a smile. "I'll have neighbours, eventually, but it's kind of exciting being the first one in this new place. The bigger town isn't too far away, but we're far enough out that I probably won't be getting girl scouts at my door."
"Why did you decide to move here?" Luther asked curiously.
"I just had to get away from my family," Bian said with a start of a frown tugging at her mouth.
"Right, the mother who thought you were possessed by the devil because you resurrected a raccoon—"
"I did not bring back a dead raccoon!" Bian protested.
Davina lay a hand on Bian's shoulder. "We know that, Doctor B," she said with a wide grin.
"It was bad enough she had me dragged off to get an exorcism for 'unnaturally resurrecting raccoon Jesus'," Bian muttered.
"As opposed to a more natural resurrection?" Luther quipped.
Bian gave Luther the eye.
Luther quickly waved his his hands in placation.
Bian sighed. "I'll never be the daughter she wants. I've come to terms with that. Mum may have been one of those working mothers who wanted their kid to succeed where she believed herself to have failed."
"Look at it this way, Doctor B," Davina said, stomping one hoof idly. "The Otherfolk keep you busy enough to keep your life interesting, but this place will let you live as isolated or as connected with the world as you wish to be. And with this croc-magnet—he alone will keep your rent paid with plenty to spare."
Luther pursed his lips and crossed his arms over his chest. "I am not a croc-magnet."
"You just keep telling yourself that, Lu'athar'i," Davina said with a smug grin.
Luther harrumphed, wrinkled his nose, and stormed off to help with the house.
Bian tried to cover up her laughter with her hand but only slightly succeeded.
"How did you find this place, Doctor B?" Davina asked.
"You're going to think I'm nuts."
"We're all a bit nuts, I fear," Davina said with a shrug.
"I was out driving one afternoon, and saw this boy on a tricycle, riding along the road like he owned the place. There was no one else around, and he turned down this road. I followed him, thinking I'd watching and make sure he met up with his mum or dad. Maybe they were out here having a Sunday drive too. I could have sworn I saw him run right over the ledge down the pavement there."
Bian scratched her head. "I freaked out. I almost drove my car into a tree trying to stop in time to run out and check on this kid that I was pretty sure was dying— and I ended up here. Never found the kid. Never found the tricycle either or tracks or anything. I figure I had heat stroke or something."
Davina squeezed her shoulder. "Whatever the reason that brought you here, my healer friend, I think this place was meant for you. We aim to see you stay, if anything to keep you from drifting across the world like a travelling vagrant."
"Oh, bugger, you're making me all emotional," Bian said, wiping her eyes and sniffing. "I guess I finally realised I was never going to be normal like mum wanted me to be, you know? Time to face reality like an adult instead of trying to hide under the bed and hope everything was going to go away."
"Yet, you come back here, to England, even after all that traveling," Davina said, her tufted ear twitching as a fly pestered her.
"I missed the sea being so close," Bian confessed. "The small parish feel. If I really get a craving for different food, Penryn is one direction. Falmouth is in another, but then hide away here, close my eyes, and imagine myself to be totally free."
The anggitay shook her head, her mane or hair going every which way. "Doctor B,' Davina said with a snort. "One day you will realise that freedom lies in the heart not a piece of land. Some of the Gyrï rarely leave their homes once they find it, but some, like the anggitay, left the lands they knew for so long in order to connect to the changing world. Others choose a place to protect, but all of us are free. That is why we have the name Gyrï, the Free People."
"You know, you say it like that, it it sounds much better than Otherfolk," Bian said with a smile.
Davina grinned, tail flipping. "We are all Otherfolk, Doctor B," she replied. "But not all of us are Gyrï. Just as not all of the human race are mundane or Mehsa."
"What does that make me, Davina?" Bian asked.
"Ahnda-Gyrï," Davina said. "Healer of the Free People."
Bian's smile tugged at her lips. "I like the sound of that."
Luther skipped back with a large large sign in his hands. "The azeban made you a sign for your new place, Bian. Isn't it beautiful?"
"I worry whenever the azeban put their heads together for anything," Davina said. She peered at the wooden sign that seemed to be a combination of high craftsmanship and a child's art project smashed into one.
Bian read the sign outloud.
Undisclosed Secret Location!
Come get healing here.
Kindly leave any weapons of mass destruction at the door, please.
Oh, and wipe your feet and leave your shoes in the vestibule.
Bian snorted as the bottom of the sign had childlike stick figures engaged in battle with a large red slash through it.
"You like it?" the raccoon-looking trickster spirit asked, whiskers twitching in anticipation. His hand-paws were covered in red paint. His companion, covered head-to-toe in different coloured droplets of paint, rubbed her paws on the other's tail and peered at Bian expectantly.
"I love it," Bian laughed. "Thank you very much."
The azeban chittered excitedly and bounced back toward the project that was to be Bian's house. Bian tried to take a step forward, and tripped, her shoe laces having been expertly tied together by paint-covered hands. Luther caught her in his arms.
"Might want to check your wallet," Luther recommended. "They have sticky paws, too. They stole Rutherford's nuts."
"Damn kids!" an older Gyrï with an impressive beard yelled, shaking his fist threateningly at the trickster azebans.
Years passed, and Bian was finally feeling comfortable both in her home and her "job" just before neighbours began to fill in the other lots. While the other houses around her were spaced quite closely, sharing the same colour schemes as the other buildings around Falmouth, her plot remained strangely rustic, like an old farmhouse in the middle of the city. The other houses did have nice gardens out in front and even backyards, they were nowhere near as expansive as hers. No one seemed to notice or even comment on it, which made Bian wonder what other sort of "gifts" the Otherkin had left her home to protect it from standing out from the other homes down the street.
Most of her neighbours were older folk, middle-aged to retirement age, but there were a few families with children. Most people kept to themselves, perhaps wanting the same thing she had wanted when she had moved in: the illusion of privacy in a location that, while technically remote, had quite a growing population and even a respectable amount of tourism. She realised, however, that while they might have been trying for the illusion of privacy, she actually had it— at least from the human visitor. People seemed to dismiss her residence like it was any other, bringing no large amount of attention to her. It was all fine by her, considering her clientele usually anything from tails, horns, fur, or scales, rarely ever looking fully human, even on a good day.
She'd come to realise that while she thought it wasn't her fantasy getaway, her patients certainly seemed to think so. Under her care, they didn't have to worry about whatever grudges they had once they left. Her healing mended them up, and they stayed for days or even weeks to set themselves right again. They would often leave in the middle of the night, leaving her their "payment" which ranged from baskets of wild-harvested foods, fruits, gemstones, and even the occasional white truffle, saffron, vanilla beans, freshwater pearls, and the most stunning semi-precious stones she'd ever seen. Sometimes she was left a basket of still-warm goose eggs, sometimes she was left the rather baffled goose itself. Her front garden sometimes contained a horse she never remembering buying, a pond she never remembering having, or trees she knew she'd never planted.
Some of her "patients" even refused to leave, deciding to take up residence either in her garden or in the surrounding natural areas. Miniature quetzalcoatls had taken up residence in her rose bushes in the summer and her attic in the colder months, wolpertingers had decided to nest in her vegetable garden, and she was pretty sure there was a black dog raising a litter of puppies in her compost heap. None of these patients, much to her relief, did her any harm (at least not deliberately) and they never attacked each other. Whether it was because of the sign the helpful Gyrï had made for her or some unspoken rule, she had no idea.
Sometimes, she felt like the crazy old cat lady, only she replaced the cats with random magical creatures. Not all of them were sentient in the same way Davina, Luther, and most of the others that had helped her with her house were. She talked to all of them, feeling like they could all understand her on some level, but there were times she felt like the person who went around talking to their plants.
Despite her healing work, Bian couldn't help but feel a little alone. She spent most of her time helping and tending her Otherfolk and Gyrï visitors and the property that had become their shared sanctuary, but she felt alone. Her old friends from school were too busy with their families, work, and wrangling their children to pay her much mind. The neighbours were too busy ignoring each other, pretending like they were separate islands unto themselves. She hadn't managed to get a peep out of her cranky neighbour save for hearing him yell at the kids playing in front of his garden, and her neighbour on the other side apparently worked nights in some sort of hoarding business.
Well, she wasn't sure if that was his job, but every so often things from his shed would blow off into her yard and leave her with unintended presents, scare the quetzalcoatls and winged kittens, or some other such drama. And, thanks to whatever enchantment had been placed on her property, said neighbour always blamed the other neighbour, and they would get into heated fights over the one stealing the other's stuff.
"Well, this is awkward," Bian said, fidgeting as her neighbour yelled at the constable that 'Old Man Parker' was stealing his stuff. She couldn't hear exactly what was being said, save for a few very loud, distinct words and names. She got the gist easily enough with the angry gesticulating.
"That constable looks like he wants to arrest your neighbour instead and go out for a beer," Patrick said, appearing in a puff of mist.
"Eegahh!" Bian exclaimed.
"Still not used to that, eh, Doctor B?" the giant Gyrï chuckled, sitting next to her in the garden.
Bian slumped. "Just you wait, Patrick," she mumbled. "One day I will figure out how you do it and pop in on you in the middle of whatever you are doing."
He grinned back at her. "You would be welcome to."
Bian sighed. "I can't even threaten you with social awkwardness."
"Nope," Patrick said with a wink. "I moved your collection of wind-carried debris back into your neighbour's yard. He might have trouble getting back into his house, though."
Bian sputtered. "Thank you, I think?"
Patrick gave her a wink. "You are our Ahnda-Gyrï, Doctor B. Word travels fast that we should check on you after big storms to make sure you can find your front garden."
"The mini quetzalcoatls are hiding in my kitchen cabinets after some of his building material came crashing over the wall into their rosebushes."
"Given their size, I don't blame them," Patrick replied, rubbing his bushy beard with his fingers. "Their bigger cousins want to eat them, and just about everything is bigger than they are."
"Mew!" A winged kitten perched on top of Patrick's shaggy mane of red hair.
"'Cept for maybe a few notable exceptions," Patrick said, rubbing the kitten's chin with one finger.
"I have no idea where those came from!" Bian rubbed her temples. "I've never seen an adult winged cat. All I see are the kittens!"
"Their mam is probably out flying around finding the little blighters food," Patrick said, rubbing the little kitten on the belly. "She knows this is the best place to leave them because no one will eat them here.
"I'm noticing a distinct trend here, Patrick," Bian said.
"Well, I don't exactly have to worry about something trying to eat me," Patrick said. "No worries there. Lu'athar'i, on the other hand, well, you'll be patching him up for the next hundred years or more."
"Luther and his crocodiles," Bian muttered. "He's going to have to find another healer. A human isn't going to be around for him for that long. Maybe he should tie himself to the tree when he sleeps instead of falling out of the mangroves."
Patrick laughed. "Job security, Doctor B."
"Is it too much to ask for my patients to try not to see me so often?" Bian asked.
"What fun is that? We wouldn't want you to get lonely."
Bian sighed, leaning into Patrick's side.
The giant curved his arm around her. "Don't you worry, Ahnda-Gyrï. We all find our mates eventually. Some of us even want to give them back after we find them."
Bian snorted. "You want some tea? I'll bring out your favourite tea bowl."
The giant chuckled. "You're the best, Doctor B."
"I'm telling your wife that you want to get rid of her!" Bian laughed her way back into the house.
"Don't make me shake your house, Doctor B!" Patrick retorted.
"If it comes down on me, you'll be destroying one of the last refuges of the miniature quetzalcoatl!" Bian exclaimed from inside the house.
Two sets of angry serpentine eyes glared at Patrick from the roof of the house. The quetzalcoatls flared their feathered manes at the giant and hissed.
"Peace, little friends," Patrick soothed.
As summer holidays released the children back into the world, Bian found a box sitting in her yard when she went out to do her morning chores. Taped to the box was a letter written by someone with surprisingly legible cursive, which she suspected was from some of the neighbourhood kids who were actually still graded on their handwriting.
Dear Ms Ballard,
Found him (smudged writing) Please help keep him from the warden. Been feeding him, but he's all tangled up in ribbon. Scissors won't cut it, and he's been been all bitey. Please don't let the warden find him. They'll try to put him down!
Bian opened the lid of the box and stared inside.
A low growl came from inside the box, and a pair of baleful golden eyes glared up at her from inside the cardboard prison.
"Oh, boy." Bian stared at the tangle, growling mess inside the box. "How am I even going to begin?"
After untangling the unfortunate furry victim from his knotted predicament, she washed him up, and took him to the vet to be looked over for general health and inspect him for a microchip. She decided to be responsible, despite what the note had pleaded for her not to do and posted lost dog posters around the neighbourhood. Despite even putting up posters in the larger city of Falmouth, she came up with nothing.
Meanwhile, her bond with the dog, whom she named Conor after her old stuffed toy wolf as a child, grew quickly. She contacted the wardens to tell them she would take responsibility for the dog if no owner could be found, and after an obligatory period, they informed her that Conor would be hers if she wanted to pay the licensing fee. By the time that happened, she and the stray had become thick as thieves, and she could no more abandon him than cut off her own leg.
The following year became an exercise in patience and canine ownership. She bought supplies, took a few classes in new dog ownership, and tried to convince the dog she wasn't trying to kill him when she just wanted him to wear a collar. He complained bitterly when it was bath time, making it sound like she was torturing him. He liked to shove his nose between people's legs to greet them, and lick childrens' lollypops when they knelt down to pet him so they'd end up giving it to him. He wouldn't let the mailman by unless he came with at least half a sarnie to be used in sacrifice to the gatekeeper.
She'd never owned a dog as a child, as her mother had always claimed she was far too irresponsible when she was young. Later it had been an issue that her daughter was "unnatural" after she'd caught her "resurrecting roadkill" and having it follow her home. She'd tried to tell her mum that the animal had been hurt, not dead, but it had not gone over well. She'd learned to not say anything about pets and healing injured animals after her mother dragged her off to a church to be exorcised. It was just better to keep some things to herself. Because of her lack of experience with dogs, she had no idea if what she was experiencing with Conor was normal dog behaviour or not. She didn't seem to have the same problem as her neighbours, who ended up being walked by their dogs rather than the other way around, and short of bathtime (torture) and trying to get him to eat dog food (poison), Conor was usually very well-behaved.
The only lingering problem she had was that he kept having nocturnal adventures after she went to sleep, leaving her "gifts" in the morning that were ranged from pieces of car tire, bicycle handlebars, water buckets, one half of a crutch set, a pheasant, bowling balls, polo sticks, ripped up papers that looked like half of someone's homework, stirrups, hunting horns, dead rabbits, boat paddles, and sometimes the morning paper.
"How do you even get out of a locked door? The shutters are closed!" Bian moaned, throwing up her hands. "Do you crawl up the floo?"
"Bowrl!" Conor would reply, tail wagging for her approval.
Bian wilted. "You're incorrigible."
Bian woke one morning with her arm wrapped around a warm, furry body and about twenty-some catcher poles and slip-ring leashes piled in the middle of her bedroom floor. Trapped in the leashes was a—
Bian stared at Conor. "Did you bring me an entire chicken coop, you naughty boy?"
She narrowed her eyes. Furry hooves were smashed under the chicken coop. Distinctive tusks protruded from the other side. "You brought me a wild boar too?"
"Bowrrr," Conor said, yawning and showing his pristine ivory teeth.
Bian was used to presents from her patients, but she wasn't sure if this some sort of payment from her wayward clients or if this was the work of Conor himself. Her mind screeched to a halt as she realised that Conor—or someone—had brought her breakfast in bed: eggs and bacon. There was only one problem: eating raw pig, wild or otherwise, was not considered a healthy practice, nor one she would wish to try, even if it was.
"Conor are you… bigger?"
"Nevermind." Bian rubbed her head and sighed. "Good thing I have a butcher friend who's willing to work for a decent dinner. God, I hope that thing is dead and not going to trash my house."
After she dragged the carcass of the dead-but-surprisingly-not-bleeding boar carcass to the magically chilled habitat that wasn't currently being used, she checked in on her patients.
"Morning, Doctor B," her aquatic patient greeted, extending her tail out of the water and unfurling it for Bian to examine.
Bian ran her hands over her tail, checking for missing fur and tenderness. "You're looking good today, Meriel," she said with a smile. "Next time don't get so close to the shark, eh?"
"I do try, Doctor," the selkie said, slumping and shaking her head back and forth. "I just got so wrapped up in finding that flounder that I wasn't really paying attention."
Bian tutted. "Could you turn over for me?"
The selkie rolled over in the water, flopping her tail up so Bian could examine it.
"Everything looked healed up, Meriel," Bian said. "You should be able to go whenever you feel like it doesn't feel stiff or painful to move."
"Thanks, Doctor B," her patient replied. She pulled herself onto the shore of the sea-like habitat and gave a sigh of relief. "I think I'll rest here for another day or two before braving the sea again. I'd rather me mam didn't see the new scar first thing."
"If selkie mums are anything like human ones, she'll be first to point out you have a new scar followed by a 'I know every scar on your body, young lady, and that one is new'!"
Meriel shook her head. "You're probably right, but I can always hope, right?"
"Do you want something from the tank over there?" Bian asked. "I think today's menu includes crab, molluscs, herring, and maybe a squid or octopus if it didn't escape and go walkabout overnight."
"I would love an octopus," the selkie replied, licking her chops.
"You can thank Mr Ballard in Falmouth for keeping me supplied with 'the best live seafood this side of the pond'," Bian chuckled.
"He probably doesn't know you are feeding Otherfolk with them, eh, Doctor B?" Meriel said.
"No, I think he believes I'm one of those strange people that insist on live fresh food for the best flavour."
"Well, fresh is better," the selkie agreed.
"You're in luck, Meriel, your breakfast didn't escape." Bian managed to wrangle the octopus out of the tank and pass it to the selkie.
"I'll be good and not eat it in front of you," Meriel said with a grin.
"I appreciate that, Meriel," Bian said.
"Browl!" Conor said, tail wagging.
"Well, it's time I got this guy some breakfast and me too," Bian said.
"Thanks again, Doctor B," the selkie said, "and thanks for—"
Bian turned back and waited.
"Thanks for not treating me like a talking seal," Meriel said. "It means a lot to me. The last healer I went to wasn't nearly as accepting as you."
"Well, I'm still learning a lot from the Otherfolk, but I promise that if I insult you it is not on purpose," Bian said.
"I believe you," Meriel replied. She eyed her octopus meaningfully.
Conor grabbed Bian's shirt sleeve and tugged on it, moving toward the kitchen.
"Okay, okay, I get the hint," Bian said with a laugh. "Have a good breakfast, Meriel."
The selkie licked her teeth. "I will!"
Bian finished her rounds with her other patients and then found her way back to the kitchen to prepare food for Conor and herself. Once breakfast was done, she set about the project of moving the chickens into the empty coop in her backyard. She gave her butcher friend a ring and invited him and his wife over for dinner and spent the rest of the afternoon preparing chilli con carne with all the sides for her butcher friend and some beef for Conor. "No doggy farts from you, sir," she told Conor as he eyed the chilli con carne hungrily. "Never again, buddy."
As the food was cooking, Bian spent the rest of late afternoon and early evening tidying the house, checking on the mini quetzalcoatl family, the winged kittens, and making sure her front garden wasn't full of building supplies again.
The doorbell rang shortly after seven, and Bian let her friend in with a smile. "Hey, Mitchell. I think you'll like dinner tonight." She gave him a kiss on both cheeks and let him in.
"Please tell me it's chilli con carne." He gasped. "It smells like heaven."
"Can't fool you." Bian chuckled. "How was work today?"
"The same," he moaned. "Holidays coming up, so everyone wants their sausage and meat for their pies. The old lady is holed up at home making bread sauce for the turkeys."
"Aw, is that why she isn't joining us?" Bian said. "I'll give you a takeaway container so you can bring her some."
"You're all heart, Bian," Mitchell said with a smile. "How's the healer life?"
"About all you would expect, considering most folks don't even know what I do," Bian said. "You do, though."
"I should say so, after you fixed up my fingers right good," Mitchell agreed. "The lady appreciates what you do for us. She'd want me to tell ya that."
"It's nothing, Mitchell," Bian said. "Thanks for helping me out with my random hog issue."
"I'd love it if my clients paid me in wild game," he replied wistfully. "I just get cold, hard credit now. Every so often they pay in cash."
"Well, you know the deal," Bian said. "Take a portion back with you to the wife."
He smiled back at her. "Oi, when did you get a dog?"
Conor was staring at Mitchell, golden eyes boring into him.
"He's not mine," Bian said. "I found him all tangled up in the sewer tunnel during the storm. No tags or collar. He seems to have experience evading the wardens."
"He looks wolf to me," Mitchell said. "He's got the narrow chest and long legs."
"I figured he was one of those sled dogs that look like wolves people are all obsessing over," Bian said. "They have the look but they're not wolves."
Mitchell shook his head. "I dunno. His eyes are more almond-shaped. Slanted to the side, see? Heh, see how he watches me?"
Bian sighed. "I don't know much about dogs and wolves, Mitchell, save for a few canine care classes I had to take to be a responsible dog owner. I was never allowed animals as a kid."
"Ah, that explains it. Well, this fella's a right smart one. You can just tell."
Bian nodded, her hand rubbing between his ears, and Conor lay his head in her lap, his golden eyes never wavering from staring at Mitchell.
"Well, let's eat, Bian. Then, I can drag that boar back to the shop and butcher it up for you." Mitchell gave her a smile and nod.
"You got it," Bian said with a laugh. "Let me get some roast here for Conor. He's not allowed to have chilli. I don't want my alarm clock to be doggy flatulence."
Mitchell shuddered. "Wise woman."
Conor eyed the serving dish of chilli wistfully. "Brrowr."
Bian woke up feeling bad about having banished Conor to the outer hallway during the night, which she tried to remind herself wasn't her fault. She wasn't the one who had stuffed Conor's face into the leftover chilli and forced him to eat the entire bowl, giving him horrible doggy flatulence. After about an hour of suffering through listening to him whine and scratch at the door as well as pass gas, Bian had opened a window and managed to sleep.
Deciding it was time to face the doggy-guilt, she pulled on some clean clothes, brushed her teeth, tried to tame her hair with limited success, and opened the door to her bedroom to look upon—
Bian's jaw dropped to the floor. All the potted plants that had lined her hallway were drooped over and shriveled as if no one had watered them for months, and in the middle of the hall was Conor, his tail beating against the floor. Around him were the unrooted bases of about ten large rosebushes.
"Whaaa?" she said, unsure what to think. She stared at her dead houseplants in horror; her eyes kept returning to rose bushes. "You wouldn't happen to have seen who left me a bunch of rose bushes for payment, would you have?"
"Borwl?" Conor answered, his tail beating on the floor.
"Nevermind," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Why am I asking a dog like he could reply to me?"
Conor turned his head to the side, ears perked forward.
Bian's expression softened as she kneeled down, beckoning Conor with her hands. The giant dog—and she swore he was getting bigger each day—eagerly came up and gave her affectionate slurps on her face. She rubbed his ears affectionately.
"Borwl!" Conor replied, licking her face.
She stood up, giving Conor a pat. "Come on then. Let's go check up on the patients and make some breakfast, yeah?"
Breakfast came and went quickly, and Bian found that having Conor with her seemed to calm both her and her patients. The normally feisty patients were on their best behaviour when Conor was watching, and Bian was caught somewhere between awe and worry, wondering just how that had come about.
"Hey, Doc B," one of her patients greeted as he sat up from the branch nest. "I'm feeling good today. You?"
"Hey, Luther," Bian greeted. "Glad to hear you're feeling better. You looked like you'd lost a wrestling match with one too many crocodiles in those mangroves."
Luther grinned at her. "It's hard to save the creatures when they don't realise you're helpin'," he said with a chuckle. "I'm sure you know what that's like."
"Oh, I think it's changed now that the only ones that show up uninvited know I'm a healer," Bian said with a wink.
Luther grinned. He waved his hand and pulled a small log out of thin air and put it into her hands. "Here you go, Doc B," he said. "A small token to help you keep healing us. I just hope I didn't give you my clumsiness as a magic payment to go with it!"
Bian blinked. "I don't think it works that way, Luther." Bian chuckled, patting him on the shoulder. "My god, what are these? Are these gemstones?"
"Just a little something to show my appreciation for patching me up again, Doc B," Luther said with a grin. "Something tangible to go with the intangible."
Bian arched an eyebrow at him. "Thank you, Mr Cryptic."
Luther swung his legs back and forth as he sat on the branch. "Bian, has no one told you what happens when you heal us?"
Bian gave him a look.
"Oooookay then." Luther hopped down and tugged on her wrist.
Conor growled at him.
"Hey there, big guy," Luther said, trying to placate him. "I'm not going to do anything fresh with your lady!"
"Conor!" Bian gave the dog a look, and Conor's eyes went back from Luther to her, and he sat down.
"Protective," Luther chuckled. "I know who you are, un-dog," he said with a knowing look.
"An undeniably naughty dog!" Bian said, pushing Conor to the side.
"Browl!" Conor protested.
"Stop it, you overprotective creature," she chastised.
He lightly took her hand in his mouth and beat his tail against the ground.
Bian let out her breath slowly and knelt beside him, rubbing his ears. "Hey. I need my hand."
"Hrowl!" Conor gave her soulful eyes. He let go of her hand, but he slurped her face.
Luther snorted. "Look, Doc B," he said after she sat down beside him. "It may not work this way with most humans, but us—we don't usually pay in objects. We do for you because we know you need things to keep this place going, to keep it secret, safe."
He looked around at the various bed-like habitats that had been lovingly crafted for her patients, all of them looking like one nature type or another. "Ever wonder why no one, no one human, I mean, who visits you ever questions why your living space is full of random creatures and strange habitats?"
"I just figured people thought I was some kind of eccentric collector," Bian said with a smile.
"Well, you do collect patients," Luther replied with a wink. "Still, mundanes—typical humans—would see this place very differently. If I may?"
Luther placed a hand on hers, and Bian's eyes went wide as her entire living space changed to look disconcertingly normal, like it belonged in her grandmother's apartment. "This is what other people see," he said.
"Oh my god, no wonder I can't get a date!" Bian moaned, holding her head in her hands. "People think I'm living like my bloody gran!"
Conor laid his head in her lap. "Browl!"
"Aw, I wouldn't worry any about that, Doc B," Luther said. "I have a feeling love will find you soon enough."
"Soothsayer now, Luther?"
"Hah! No," he replied. "Let me guess, though. You'll end up falling for the bad boy type. Little destructive, protective, dangerous exterior but does well by you. Treats you like a queen. Brings you breakfast in bed."
"Stop invading my dreams, Luther," Bian huffed.
"Hah!" Luther said, tapping his nose. "I don't need to be in your dreams to know what you want, Doc. It's not so bad, you know, me knowing exactly what you want." Luther scratched his head. "But, as I was saying, we Otherfolk, we tend to pay in the currency of our kind. For some it is magic, for others it is favours. Back when we built this place, someone put a protective glamour over this house so no one would ever think it anything but 'boringly normal'. It was to protect you just as much as us, I'd imagine. But each of us try to give you something to help you out. Way back in the olden days, when more people knew about us, they called these boons. You don't ask us for anything, so that makes the magic stronger. It helps us help you."
"The old saying, don't ask the fae for anything," Bian said, "and never say thank you."
"Aye, that!" Luther said with an eager nod of his head. "Fae are a little bit strange in their rules, even for the rest of us, but I think it was because they just got tired of helping and wanted to do more mischief. They made up a bunch of random rules and then used the chaos to sew the seeds of trickery and woe more often than they helped. It got so bad that even when they tried to help, they were hindered by their own rules. Got what they deserved, the arrogant buggers." Luther paused. "But healers, Doc. Healers are neutral ground. Always have been. We all need them. We aren't allowed to harm each other in a healer's domain, least of all the healer, and we wouldn't want to! In exchange for your healing, we give something of ourselves. A blessing, perhaps. A—gift. Thing is, we're never quite sure what it will be. But it's always beneficial in some way, so I'm thankful you won't end up inheriting my clumsiness with crocodiles."
Bian stared at him dubiously.
"You've been healing us for what?" Luther said, tapping his finger to his chin.
"Since I was a child resurrecting Racoon Jesus," Bian muttered.
Luther laughed. "That story never gets old, Doc. If only. If you could actually bring the dead back to life, you'd have lines coming out your door and down the street—and a lot of creepy clients."
"I have enough clients, I think," Bian said, eyebrow lifting. "I don't really need creepy ones to go with the ones that stumble in with injuries."
"Anyway, with all the patients you've laid your hands on to heal, each of them gave you something, no matter how small or how large, each time. The stones, the gems, even the rose bushes—they are all small physical tokens of thanks to balance out the magic." Luther shifted awkwardly, looking ever the father having to explain boy-biology to his twelve-year-old daughter.
Conor seemed to take a better liking to Luther after that and padded up to drool on his knee.
"Thanks ever so much, mate," Luther said, crinkling his nose.
"Luther, why are you telling me all this now?" Bian asked him, visibly baffled.
Luther stood up, preparing to leave. He took her into a warm hug and smiled at her. "There is that old saying, yes? Be careful what you wish for?"
Bian nodded dumbly.
"All the more careful when you are Otherfolk, Doc B," Luther continued. "Wishes aren't just wishes. They are thoughts and will given form. Whether you realise it or not, you are becoming more and more like us every day. There will come a time when some seemingly random event will trigger all that you have stored and buried within you, and you need to be ready for that."
"I'm just a healer, Luther," Bian said with a disbelieving shake of her head.
"Healers are never just healers," Luther admonished her gently. "Of all the creatures of the world, you have laid your hands upon the gods and healed them. Their gifts are rarely small because none of us, Otherkin or god, wish to see you harmed."
"Where were you when I was getting kicked in the kidneys by Robbie Walters?" Bian groused.
Luther smiled at her. "Probably trying not to lose my foot to a crocodile."
Bian slouched. "Some good you were."
"Aw, Doc. Don't be mad. You hadn't even resurrected your first raccoon Jesus."
Bian slapped her hand against her face.
"Perhaps, it was because of this Robbie Walters that you first discovered your healing talents, hrm?" Luther asked.
Bian shook her head. "And lost all chances at a normal life."
"Bah," Luther said with a snort. "Normal is not the life for you, Doc. If it was, you wouldn't be here tending a clinic for the Otherfolk, right?"
Bian took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're right. It really would be boring." She stared at the odd collection of scars down her arms. "People think I'm a vet with all these scratches and such. They ask me if I could come look at their cows or barn cats."
"You could, you know," Luther pointed out.
"I could get in some trouble practicing veterinary science without a degree or license," Bian laughed.
"Holistic healer?" Luther suggested. "Faith healer? Some mundanes are far more apt to believe in faith healing than magic."
"I'm not really keen on having people showing up at my door asking me to share my opinions on faith, considering some of the things I've seen under this roof." Bian puckered her lips, twisting them to the side.
"I'm sure the miniature quetzalcoatls appreciate your not revealing them to the press," Luther said with a wink. "Most of us just want to preserve our homes and keep the mundanes oblivious to our existence."
"I prefer to live without people thinking I'm that weird, mental lady who lives next door."
Luther barked out a laugh, placing a large hand on her shoulder. He put the hollowed log in her arms, filled to the brim with wild mushrooms. "I think things will start to look up for you very soon, Doc. You just have to be open to the possibilities."
"Your magic wouldn't happen to be able to conjure me a date who might stick around for longer than a few days?"
Luther shook his head. "If you want a new mangrove swamp out in your back garden, I'm your Otherkin. Alas, the ways of love are infinitely baffling, as I have managed to be mateless for more than few hundred years."
Bian glared at him. "Luther, you live in a mangrove swamp in a highly unpopulated place. There's no one around, save for all the crocodiles, fish and assorted amphibians."
"Don't forget the birds."
"Oh, and the birds," Bian muttered.
Luther grinned at her. "I'll get back to you in a few hundred years. I should be mature enough by then to attract someone to a mangrove-loving bloke like myself."
"You can visit my grave," Bian groused.
"Browrl!" Conor nipped her hand.
Luther shook his head as Bian glared down at Conor, rubbing her hand. "Tell you what, Doc. If I visit you in a few hundred years and it isn't at your grave, you owe me a whole dinner of those delectable dumpling things you make, the ones with the cabbage, bacon and potato stuffing in them."
"You want to meet up in a few hundred years for homemade pierogis?" Bian asked a bit dubiously.
"I'm a simple guy with simple wants," Luther replied with a cheeky wink.
Bian sighed. "Deal, but I'm not sure exactly what I get out of this since in a few hundred years I'll be too dead to care."
Luther kissed her on the cheek. "You just keep on thinking that, Doc B. Just remember I like the apple, blueberry, sweet cheese and prune ones for dessert."
With a sudden foop of mist, Luther disappeared.
Bian stared at the bundle of wild mushrooms and then at Conor, who was staring up at her with his tail wagging. "That's one tall order for a dead woman to cook."
Conor stared up at her with a hopeful look in his eyes. "Bowrl!" He licked his chops.
"Why do I get the feeling you'd eat just about anything?"
Conor happily wagged his tail at her.
Weeks turned into months, and while Bian tried her best to find human companionship to augment her healer life, it seemed like she always ended up back in her garden with winged kittens batting at her hair and Conor at her side.
Bian sat down in the garden and propped her back against the fountain that had conveniently shown up without warning one foggy morning. She watched her latest "date" pull away, hardly able to leave fast enough after another rescue text came in. Emergency at the office, mothers needing help, best friend in the hospital, grans taking falls—she'd heard them all.
"I must be cursed," she said with a groan.
Conor lay his head in her lap, tail wagging. She stroked his ears and smiled.
"I'm never going to find anyone who can accept—" Bian closed her eyes and slumped. "Me."
"Bowrl," Conor whined, snuggling into her lap, his enormous size making her feel like she was being snuggled by a polo pony.
"Are you sure you're a dog?" Bian laughed, wiping her tears on his massive scruff.
Conor's tail beat against the ground with an audible thumping noise.
"Can you imagine yourself a polo dog?" she asked, wrapping her arms around his neck. "I could ride you across the field, striking terror into the poor sods trying to have a nice, normal game."
Conor bathed her face with his tongue.
Bian's body slumped into his, her hands clutching his fur as her eyes closed. "I just wish the ruddy bastards who have to make up reasons to dump a gal instead of just telling them the truth would all just get bent."
Conor's tail thumped a little harder against the ground as his golden eyes glowed.
Male Epidemic Worldwide
Men across the world have been flooding into hospitals everywhere with a rather alarming new type of erectile dysfunction. The emergency rooms across the world are turning back frantic male patients, telling them to go see their urologist or andrologist.
"Emergency rooms are not meant for erectile dysfunctions!" Doctor Herbert J. Sunley stated as he took a break from sorting through the multitude of new admissions. "If you are one of those unfortunates that took a medication and can't get it down, then yes, that is a problem, but not being able to get it up in the first place is not what the emergency room is for!"
Thousands of men continue to flood clinics, emergency rooms, and individual practitioners to take care of what seems like a growing epidemic, yet not all men seem to be suffering from it.
"I'm not sure what's going on with these other guys," a patient visiting the ER with a broken arm said. "I'm here to get my arm taken care of. They make it sound like they're in worse shape than me."
Local police are having to break up brawls at various clinics where some patients seem to think they are in more dire straights than the other patients. This has led to quite a few arrests around the world and a lot of shaking heads.
As to the cause of this mysterious erectile epidemic, no one knows.
"Watch where you're going, you bloody IDIOT!" Bian yelled as some fool driver nattering away on his mobile almost ran her over. "This is a street, not a ruddy race track!"
She glared at the passing car and growled to herself. "I wish people would just throw their sodding mobiles away before they even get in their cars and start driving. ARGH! They could kill someone trying to text, WhatsApp, Facebook, whatever!"
Conor shoved his huge head under her hand, tail wagging madly.
Bian ruffled his fur and ears and smiled. "At least you're not a jerk driver, eh, Conor?"
"Whuff!" he agreed fervently.
Mobile Companies Suffering Heavy Losses As Record Amounts of People Decide to Trash Their Phones
Having a hard time holding on to your phone? You're not alone. According to reports from various mobile companies across Britain, people of driving age are trashing their phones in order to drive.
Just put it away, you ask?
That would make sense, true, but that's not stopping people from compulsively throwing their phones out the window or in the trash before getting behind the wheel. Some people seem to have learned to avoid this increasingly common compulsion by taking public transit and walking, leading to a severe decline in traffic on Britain's roads.
"I can't even stand holding it!" teenager Gideon Wise said. "The moment I try to walk toward my automobile, I can't get it out of my hands fast enough, and I usually destroy it some really violent way!"
Mobile insurance has stopped paying people wishing to replace the surge of mobile phones being tossed out of windows, into lakes, onto the street, into the sewer, and even into surface water retention areas. People are being hired in record numbers as public transit soars. More people are being hired to rake waterways for mobile pollution, and even more people have been given jobs putting in fences to keep random people from tossing their mobiles into their wells, livestock troughs, and quarries. Even stranger, everyone who has compulsively thrown out their phones seems to have an instinctive knowledge on how to make their phones not survive the experience.
"With insurance companies refusing to cover it, people are refusing to buy replacement phones!" a Giffgaff representative told us. "The only people buying new phones anymore are the ones who don't drive!"
Giffgaff mobile provider is not alone. Tesco, Vodafone, and many others have all reported record drops in mobile use.
Tourists have not suffered as many tragic phone losses due to their primary use of taxis, trains, and busses, but various car rental agencies have started posting signs for a new service called "Phone Check," where all renters of automobiles may check their phones for free in one of the company safes before taking out a car. People are required to sign on their contract stating that if they choose to not check their phones, the rental company is not responsible for what might happen to them.
Strange benefits have started popping up after this unexplainable anti-phone compulsion has swept Britain. The levels of air pollution have dropped drastically, employment is up, the streets are spotless due to a surge in street cleaners, tech recycling is on the rise, and public transportation of all kinds are having the best fiscal year they've seen in decades.
Bian tapped her iced tea glass to her chin a few times as she watched the children running past her front garden, suddenly screech almost to a halt before walking ever so carefully past the next yard, and then continuing on their run.
"Oi!" a notoriously cranky neighbour yelled. "Go find somewhere else to loiter!"
"Cranky old dodger," Bian chuckled. She stroked Conor's ears. "Makes you wonder if he ever had a drop of fun in his entire life, eh?"
"Howlr," Conor said, seeming to agree, then rolling over to expose his belly, begging for a rub.
Bian snorted, indulging him. "Life is so simple with you, isn't it?" She smiled as he pegged her with his tongue. She sputtered and shoved him away, but he came back, giving her a slurp everywhere her skin was exposed.
"Nnnnngggah!" she sputtered, pushing him away again, laughing.
Conor stared at her, ears perked forward and tail swishing against the ground.
"Wouldn't it be great if I could experience the world as you do?" Bian asked, ruffling his ears with a grin on her face. "Wouldn't that be fun?"
"Browl!" Conor replied, his tail wagging playfully.
"I really wish that was possible, my big furry friend," she said wistfully. She stood up, cocking her head as she listened to her ever-grumpy neighbour yelling at the kids again. "You know, this place used to be so much more kid-friendly. It's no wonder they go riding out in the rain doing stupid stuff when the neighbourhood doesn't seem to care about them anymore."
An oddly familiar young boy on a tricycle was peddling his shiny tricycle down the pavement at high speed, paying little heed to where he was going and instead wanting to go as fast as possible. He looked familiar, as though she had seen him before, but that boy had been this boy's age years previous. She frowned. He couldn't be the same boy, she thought.
"What is it with this kid? Does he have a death wish?"
"Browl?" Conor remarked.
"Oi! Boy! Slow down, yeah? Nobody is on fire!" Bian yelled.
No sooner as she let the words pass her mouth, the boy jerked his head around, which caused him to turn the handle bars sharply. The boy then went tumbling off, careening right up the cranky neighbour's driveway and skidding out in the gravel with a sound that clearly screamed "skinned knee" long before the boy let out a loud, pain-filled wail.
"Hey! Get off my bloody driveway!" the neighbour yelled, not even bothering to come out of his house, instead choosing to bellow out his window.
Bian leapt up over the bordering garden wall and ran over to help the boy. "You could at least check to see if he hasn't broken anything, you barmy old sod!"
"Get off me property!" the man yelled at her through the window.
"Oh, go stick it in your ear!" Bian yelled right back, running over to check on the boy.
The boy was sniffling, tears coming down over his face as he hiccuped.
"Why is it always you, boy?" Bian said softly, carefully checking to see if anything was broken. She cast her hands over the boy's body, laying them on certain key places. Ignoring the old man's frequent outbursts from the window, she picked the boy up and carried him back towards her garden.
"You make sure to take that bloody bike with you!" the man yelled.
Bian narrowed her eyes even as Conor came bounding over, wrapped his large mouth around one of the handlebars of the small tricycle and carried it off with him—awkwardly dragging the tricycle like floppy, dead prey. The dragging, of course, created a rather large swath of disturbed gravel which caused the grumpy older man to spew a loud stream of foul language out the window.
"I wish you cranky old bastards would just take a healthy interest in the neighbourhood kids instead of just screaming abuse at them like they are some kind of unnatural heathen beasts!"
He continued to bellow profanities at her, and she covered the boy's ears with her hands. "Do you kiss your mum with that mouth?"
By the time she brought the boy to her garden, the man was threatening to call the police and report her for trespassing.
"Really?" Bian groaned, rolling her eyes.
Conor spit out the bike's handlebar, dropping the unfortunate, mangled tricycle in the garden grass.
"You okay, love?" Bian asked the sniffling boy.
The boy rubbed his eyes and nodded.
"Here let me look at that leg once more. Where are your parents?"
The boy was tight-lipped, shaking his head.
Sighing, she placed her hand over the boy's injured knee. She pulled out a first aid kit from her pocket and taped a gauze bandage neatly in place over the scrape. She knew her magic would have fully healed the wound by the time the boy got home, wherever it might be, but the bandage would neatly cover up the evidence. His mum would probably think someone had bandaged his knee because he'd been crying and wanted comfort, but it was unlikely to come back to her as "She's the lady who made my leg stop bleeding!"
At least, she hoped so. She didn't have much experience dealing with human patients.
She tipped the tricycle back upright. "You think you can handle getting back home without ending up in the pond or back in grumpy man's garden?"
The little boy nodded, still sniffling slightly.
Bian smiled. "Off you go, then."
"Brrrrwl," Conor said, tail wagging as the boy got back on his tricycle and zoomed off down the pavement.
Elders in the small village of Redmire are taking retirement by storm by inspiring local youth with games and stories. No one seems to know when it all started, but the art show that has been scheduled for a month from today promises to bring the very best of the village talent into the light. Proceeds are being donated to the National Association of Boys and Girls Clubs of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
"Our older people had seemed to lose interest in the next generation," Mrs Potts said to us in interview. "It's so nice to see such active interest in helping to raise our little ones again."
Indeed, it isn't just fun and games that have taken off in Redmire. Young people from all around are taking more interest in helping their elders tend their yards and help them with chores. Children who once had only to entertain themselves after coming home from school, due to both parents working, now find themselves with many more places to go.
"I am really bad at maths," one of the children said. "Mr Parsons has been helping me every day when I come back from school. It finally makes sense now!"
Redmire has managed to put itself back on the map with its surge of social consciousness. Other villages are starting to take notice. We can only hope that this continues to spread!
Bian opened her eyes and yawned, startling herself as a loud whine came from her throat.
Strange growling sounds emerged from her throat.
Bian bolted out of bed, but her body was tangled up in the duvet, and she tumbled arse over teakettle onto the floor, only to land on her back with a loud yelp.
"That looked pretty painful," a deep voice said. A wet nose snuffled her face as a tongue slurped her.
"Wha—what's going on?" Bian cried, trying to stand up, but ending up flat on her stomach with her arm and legs sprawled out.
Conor wagged his tail at her. "Ready to have some fun, love?"
Bian tried to stand again, and her arms seemed locked in some odd position. Her nightgown was tangled up around her tail, and her tail was smacking her in the face with enthusiasm.
Bian cranked her head around to stare at her back.
Smack. Smack. Smack.
That was a tail—attached to her bum!
Maybe it wasn't her bum. Maybe it was Conor's. It was a tail after all, and last she remembered, she didn't have a tail.
Bian spasmed wildly at the feel of her own teeth (when had her teeth become so sharp? Hell, when had she EVER had the inclination to bite a tail, hers or anyone else's?!) snapped into that invitingly fluffy appendage.
Conor licked her face. "I don't recommend the entire gnawing on your own tail thing. I tried it for a long time when I was tied up in a cave. It's very painful, and it takes a while for the fur to grow back right."
"Buh?" Bian managed to say.
"You wished for this, love," Conor said, wagging his tail. "You wanted to see what it was like being like me."
"You can talk?"
"You can, so why not me?" Conor replied, tongue lolling.
"I must be dreaming," Bian groaned, her ears flattening against her skull.
"If you are, I rather like it," Conor said. "You look quite stunning in fur. Far more attractive on a proper four legs instead of galavanting around upright."
Bian pinned Conor with a look.
"Come on then," Conor invited, tail wagging wildly. "The Polish place down the street is doing their baking for tomorrow morning. They love to feed stray mutts."
"You don't just wake up a dog!"
"Well, to be fair, you aren't a dog." He used his teeth to pull her nightgown off her four-legged self. "You're, uh, kind of a wolf."
"Kind of a wolf? I'm a wolf hybrid?" Bian asked.
Conor scratched his ear with his hind foot. "No, you're—" He licked his teeth. "You're more akin to the wolf-shaped spawn of an ancient Norse god."
Bian stared at Conor.
"You have the most beautiful, baleful yellow eyes," Conor said, tail wagging happily. "Come on, love," he said, play bowing. "Let's go have some fun. You know you want to instead of being cooped up here making sure patients don't die."
Bian tried to stand up, but her rear end seemed to have a better grasp on it than her front end, and it stood straight up while her head smacked into the floor as her forelegs spread out in a sad attempt to do the splits.
"Shouldn't I be a little more freaked out that you just told me you're the wolf-shaped spawn of an ancient Norse god?" Bian asked, trying to get her front legs to obey what she wanted them to do.
"Not really, considering what you've been healing for the last three decades—"
"I was not healing things from my crib!"
"So you say—" Conor said rather dubiously. "Babies do tend to put their hands and mouths on everything."
Bian pushed herself off the floor and managed to stand, albeit awkwardly, on her four new legs. "I doubt I was healing anything at that age, and I definitely wouldn't be mouthing people to heal them."
Conor wagged his tail. "Oh, I wouldn't say you were entirely guiltless there," he said with an amused lupine grin on his muzzle. "Ever wondered how we even knew you existed?"
"My mother screaming from one side of Britain to the other that no child of hers was going around laying her hands on filthy, disease-ridden animals and resurrecting raccoon-Jesus?"
"Amusing, but no," Conor replied, tongue lolling at her. "Healers are a rare breed. We can sense them. It's why we can't ever, intentionally, mean you harm. You've obviously been socked a few times, clawed, gained a nice collection of scars, but that wasn't ever intentional—"
"So there really is a beacon over my house that says 'Come plunk your injured arse down here'?"
Conor made an odd half-growling sound as he cocked his head. "Somewhat?" He shook his head, making his ears flop back and forth. "You should always know where your healers are, but in exchange, you never fight anyone in a healer's care. Neutral ground."
"Wish that worked the same with humans," Bian mumble-growled, remembering quite a few bullying instances where she definitely came off the most bruised.
"Browl," Conor growl-ruffed, bouncing down on his forelegs. "Come on, live a little."
"How did this happen?"
Conor shrugged, which seemed oddly human set upon a lupine body. "You wanted it to."
"Things that I want don't happen just because I want them to."
"Not always, no," Conor replied. "Magic requires will and focus. You do it every single day when you heal your patients."
"That's not ma—"
Conor gave her a raised lupine eyebrow. "It is magic. It doesn't stop being magic the moment you accept it's possible." With that, he nipped her tail and dashed out the front door. "Let's go find some magic of our own."
Street Vendors and Shopkeepers Alike Proclaim Redmire Doggone Wonderful!
Were you visited by stray dogs last night while walking the streets of Redmire? No? Perhaps you should have been!
A pair of stray dogs—described by those who have seen them as "wonderful animals"—were making their way through downtown Redmire last night, leaving a trail of half-eaten treats and mysteriously now-healthy people.
Healthy people you ask?
"My daughter Sonja has been afflicted with muscular dystrophy since she was very young," Mrs Aleska Kowalski of the Polish bakery, Pyszne, said to us. "She's been in a wheelchair since she was five. Last night, she asked to feed the puppies, so my husband Wjotila and I gave her some hazelnut potica. She sat out there for an hour, refusing any help, but feeding the strays—and they waited patiently for every single bite."
Mrs Kowalski began to cry before continuing. "She walked back inside to tell us the puppies had gone away. She WALKED! Those furry angels were a gift from God. Anyone who doubts that needs to come and see our daughter!"
Other shopkeepers have reported strange occurrences with rearranged chairs, mannequins arranged in lewd poses, shopfront pavements decorated with rather explicit drawings and accompanying comments made in coloured chalk. Even more strangely, CCTV showed no sign whatsoever of the culprits. Some of the shopkeepers blame the stray dogs that have been plaguing the downtown streets. Hundreds of reports have been called in to the wardens from a few of these shopkeepers, often every night, but unlike previous nights where planters and gardens had been dug up, shops and trees urinated on, and rubbish bins overturned and rooted through, again, absolutely nothing showed up on the CCTV.
"I KNOW those damned dogs did it!" Mr Carleton Heathrow yelled at our reporter. "I don't CARE what the bloody CCTV shows or doesn't show!"
"Dogs can't write lewd messages—"
"These dogs CAN!"
A few doors down from Mr Heathrow's menswear shop, Mr Kama Singh from Mr Singh's Indian Eatery, reported that he had the best night ever thanks to a pair of friendly strays that wandered in looking for pets and scraps.
"More customers come in to pet the friendly dogs," Mr Singh said. "After close, I paid them both in scraps. Oddly, I have noticed I haven't experienced any back pain ever since."
It seems that for every person like the angry Mr Heathrow, there were five others like Mr Singh and Mrs Kowalski, who appreciate the strays and welcome them to their respective businesses. Those people seem to have given a range of blessings to their health.
While quite a few citizens and shopkeepers are positive that the pair of visiting dogs are a test of goodwill that rewards them with good health and good business, others remain skeptical.
"It's just a coincidence," Charles Webb said. "I love dogs and all, but you can't really say that a dog's responsible for miracle cures, save for stress relief and maybe finally getting your kids to go outside to play and getting out to walk them and enjoy the weather. I'm just saying, don't credit the dog for miracles, but especially don't blame them when you don't get one after petting a stray."
"Stray dogs keep digging up my ruddy planters every single night!" Addison Hunt claimed. "Those mutts are a bloody menace!"
But, if you talk to Mrs Kowalski or happen to see her daughter Sonja running around the bakery, you might find yourself making your own opinion about miracles. So, the next time you wander down Main Street and see a pair of strays, put on some good will of your own. You never know. It might just come back to you.
Bian woke up slowly as the sun peeked through the shutter. She also seemed to have less fur, no muzzle, and hands again. She was also really craving a proper cup of tea.
She frowned, pulling her pillow to her face, remembering that she was out of milk. She groaned and pulled the duvet over herself. "I should just get myself a dairy cow and be done with it," she muttered.
It wasn't as if her neighbours would even notice a new bovine, considering she already had a full chicken coop, a few pigs, garden geese, a pair of goats and a whole litter of winged kittens hanging about already. All of them had appeared on various mornings either as gifts or payments. She really didn't know which. If her neighbours weren't beating down her door by now, they probably weren't going to.
"Psh, as if," as an old classmate was fond of saying.
Her garden had basically become part-farm and part-wildlife sanctuary, and it had all happened over the course of the past year—ever since Conor had injected himself into her life and then proceeded to turn it upside down. While she had never considered her little corner of the universe to be a paradise, she was starting to see some definite possibilities that making her home into something more than just a place that Otherkin came to seek healing was entirely do-able.
In fact, her little corner of the universe had changed from a somewhat dysfunctional, apathetic retirement community into something truly remarkable.
Was it truly because of involvement of some wolf-shaped spawn of an ancient Norse god? Why was she not freaking out about that?
"You haven't exactly been wanting for strange and impossible surprises lately," she reminded herself, "not that you ever were before, but you definitely have more than your fair share now."
"Well, if I'm going for strange and impossible surprises, why can't I just find and keep a date?" She blew an errant strand of hair out of her face.
Her left temple began to throb painfully, and Bian had the distinct impression that her mind was punishing her for something. "Ow! What? What are you trying to tell me?"
"Maybe you need to stop looking for what is already there staring you in the face, silly woman."
Bian froze in place, her eyes slowly working their way to the doorway of her bathroom.
A tall, heavily muscled, almost wild-haired man wrapped in one of her too-small towels was standing there, using an even smaller towel to dry his hair. Piercing, deep gold eyes stared into her—feral and an almost liquid amber, like a wolf's.
Bian's legs turned to jelly, and she would have fallen had she been standing up in the first place. Instead, she just drooled out of the corner of her mouth and stared.
"Mmmm," he growled. "See something you like?"
Forgoing any attempt at demanding what a stranger, albeit an exceptionally gorgeous stranger, was doing walking out of her bathroom into her bedroom, she managed to whisper, "Yes, please."
"You know, for someone who makes these wondrous wishes," he said, "you have a horrible memory about making them."
"Hrm, what?" Bian said distractedly, almost in a trance as she stared at him.
"You did wish we could be together forever," he said with an arched eyebrow. "You also wished I could be more… accommodating to your human body's needs."
"Conor?" Bian managed to croak.
He approached shamelessly, crossing the distance between them with hardly a sound. He sat down next to her, the action causing his towel to drop to the floor. His palm touched her cheek as a feral grin tugged at his lips, exposing a set of slightly elongated, pristine canines. "It's Fenrir, love," he growl-purred. "I would have you cry my true name as we become one."
"Nnngh?" Bian attempted coherency and ended with incomprehensible babble.
"Is this not what you wished for? Hands with which to wipe away your tears? Arms in which to hold you? Other parts in which to give you endless pleasure?" He froze her with his gaze, smiling. "I seem to be quite well endowed for any such requests, yes?"
Bian mumbled something about cheese and kabobs.
His hand brushed back her hair, his curved, thick nails resembling claws. "For you, I would suffer this unnaturally bipedal form if only to insure you were most happily under me."
Bian's trembling hands touched his face, feeling the odd scrape of his whiskers against her palms, tiny hairs that felt both coarse and soft at the same time.
"Do I not please you?" Fenrir rumbled. "Do you not want me anymore?"
Whatever notions of friendship and species barrier seemed to be leaking out of Bian's ears as her pupils grew wide and her breaths came heavy and wanting.
"Say that you want me, love, and you will never want for anything—or anyone—ever again," he rumbled, pressing his cheek to hers as his voice beat a path into her ear.
"Mooo!" a brown milk cow stuck her head into the open window as she chewed a mouthful of grass and flowers.
"Oh, I brought you a cow," Fenrir added, somewhat unnecessarily. "I am also a very good hunter, that you shall never go hungry. I have left you a horse and its bridle grazing in the garden, and I have brought five pounds of silver to satisfy any father's mundr and more for the morgen-gifu."
Bian blinked. "I'm not on speaking terms with my father."
"Then I shall make an anonymous donation and leave out the sword, shield, and spear," Fenrir growled, his lips hovering tantalizingly close to her mouth. "I do hope you are ready to see me as more than just woman's best friend. Will you accept me?" he rumbled.
"Yes," she whispered.
Whatever else she was going to say was cut off as his mouth descended upon hers, and he pinned her against the bed.
Neither of them noticed the horse sticking its head through the window as it watched the pair celebrate the joyous exploration of each other's bodies.
"Ah, my son, I see you have finally decided to indulge in the glories of the two-legged nature."
Bian blinked, frozen in the doorway. There was a tall man standing in her kitchen, cooking sausage and bacon. His hair seemed to switch between a silken black like Fenrir's and flaming red. He, much like his "son" wore "clothing" that left very little to the imagination.
"It is my hope, father," Fenrir said smoothly, walking by Bian as he picked up a banana from the counter, peeled it, and polished it off in two bites, "that once she gets this silly humanity out of her system, she will take some time to explore the joys of the four-legs."
Fenrir's father waved his hand dismissively. "You may do whatever you wish once your marriage is settled. Have you paid the mundr?"
"At her request, anonymously," Fenrir answered.
"Horse and bridle?"
"Ah, excellent," the hair colour-shifting man replied. He shuffled the sausage and bacon onto plates filled with scrambled eggs, toast, mushrooms, tomatoes, and fried bread. He thrust a plate into Bian's hands, Fenrir's, and took his own to the table. "I am Loki," he said as he bit into a sausage. "Father of that one," he said, pointing his sausage-fork at Fenrir.
Bian sat down at the table a little awkwardly, unsure what to make of anything.
"Since you are to be family," Loki said casually, "I took it upon myself to arrange the feast, procure Mjölnir to consecrate your marriage, and invite all of the neighbours to the wedding. We wouldn't want any pups of yours to be born out of wedlock, now would we, my son?" He turned his eyes to Fenrir.
"Weeuhhh—wedding?" Bian managed to say, her face turning pale as milk.
"Well, you are carrying my grandpups, woman of Miðgarðr. Truly you can understand?" Loki said. "At least there are no silly divorce issues you have to worry about. My son, unlike myself, was not forced into a marriage against his will."
"You feel the call to his side, yes?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"He brings you pleasure?"
Bian paled even more as a tinge of bright pink fought to spread across her cheeks at the same time. "Erm—"
"I'll take that as a yes," Loki said, waving her off. "You've obviously waited all this time to finally find the one, and that one is him, yes?"
"Yessss?" Bian said, making it sound more a question than a confirmation.
"Good, because really, there are only so many tricycles a man can fall off of to get your attention, woman. My son was getting all woeful thinking that you'd never find him."
Bian slid to the floor, unconscious.
Loki tilted his head. "Oh dear. Too much too soon?"
"You could have at least waited for me to give her a human token. A ring or a crown or something," Fenrir growled at his father.
Loki plunked a ring into his son's hands. "Here, I stole this off a Rhine maiden. It should do."
Fenrir glared fiercely at his father.
"Kidding, gosh, children these days. No sense of humour. I had a dwarf craft it. I even paid him. I'm not about to let the one woman in all the Realms who trusts and loves you, Fenrisúlfr, to get away just because you weren't prepared and forgot to get the poor woman a ring." Loki chewed on his fried bread, seemingly unimpressed.
There was a knock at the door.
"Oh, excellent. The priest is here," Loki said cheerfully. "Might want to get her dressed for the wedding, my son."
"I really hate you sometimes, father," Fenrir mumbled.
"Evidently, there is a line," Loki replied, polishing off his sausages and grilled tomato. "I really should start paying more attention to Miðgarðr. Perhaps I might even find myself a mate who isn't all blonde, blue-eyed and completely mental."
As Bian opened the front door to her home, her face lit up with a radiant smile. "Luther!" she exclaimed. "Come in, come in!"
"Bian!" Luther greeted, kissing her on both cheeks before stuffing a bushel of wild mushrooms into her hands. "This is my mate, Aria," he said, as a petite, pointy-eared woman with a crown of bright red berries in her hair came into view. "Aria, Bian. Bian, Aria."
"How good to see you at last," Bian said with a grin. "I was beginning to think Luther was just making you up in his crocodile injury delirium."
Aria grinned from ear-to-ear. "That's my Luther," she chuckled. "Thank you for inviting us."
"Oh, this was planned long ago," Bian said with a snort. "Luther tried to warn me of the consequences of healing gods and Otherfolk."
"Pity his foresight does not include avoiding pointy teeth from lurking reptilian predators," Aria said with a wink.
"Then my mate would be out of business," Fenrir rumbled from the kitchen as he brought out a large platter of pierogis. "The sweet ones are the right side. The savory are on the left."
"Oh, I can feel my stomach churning in anticipation," Luther crowed.
"I fear my father could not join us today," Fenrir said with a barely disguised sigh of relief. "He is taking his own mate to the Tate Britain museum. Apparently, there is a new Norse exhibit that is to die for."
"Whatever keeps the God of Mischief out of your fur, eh Fenrir?" Luther said with a cheeky wink.
"He did sire me, but he's utterly insufferable," Fenrir muttered.
"Tell me, Fenrir, where are those lovely pups of yours?" Luther asked.
Bian let out a sigh. "Aren and Rana are out there playing sea serpent with their Uncle Jörmungandr," she said with a shake of her head. "They love him to death, and he spoils them rotten as he teaches them how to torment boats, shake up submarines, and eat the halibut right off the hooks of fishermen's lines. Erik and Bren are with Auntie Hel watching over the new litter of Hel-hound puppies. Hel wants us to take at least two puppies, but I told Bren that she's allowed only one. The mailman is traumatised enough."
Luther let out a bellowing laugh. "You know, Fenrir, when Gleipnir tried to bind your powers by anchoring you to an 'oblivious Midgardian woman' I'm betting it had no idea it was the one woman in all the Realms who would innocently fall in love with you and give you your powers back freely."
Fenrir wrapped his arm around Bian and pulled her close, indulging in a shameless snog. "Mischief does seem to run in the family," he said with a feral smile. "Just don't expect me to ever give birth to an eight-legged horse."
"What about you, Bian?" Aria asked. "How do you feel about being mated to Fenrisúlfr here and yet still being a healer to us all?"
Bian took a bite of her pierogi and smiled. "I'm cautiously optimistic."
"Does this mean we get to revisit this in a few hundred years?" Luther asked. "With more pierogis?" He wiggled his eyebrows.
"Next time come early and we can make it a pierogi-making party," Bian said with a wink. "Or, I can just teach Aria how to keep you begging."
"Doc! How could you?" Luther gasped. He glared at Fenrir. "You've been spending way too much time with Fenrisúlfr!"
Fenrir smiled, showing off his slightly elongated canine teeth. "If one is going to have a co-conspirator in life, it should be their own mate."
Luther took a large bite of one of the pierogis, and his eyes went really wide. He fanned his mouth with his hand and did a little dance on his feet while waving his hand wildly and chugging down a large glass of water.
Bian watched her friend with considerable amusement, allowing him to turn red and sweat for a while before she fetched a pitcher of milk from the fridge and poured him a large glass. "Water just makes it worse, love," she said. "Trust your doctor."
Luther quickly downed the entire glass of milk, poured himself another, and drank that one down too, his eyes tearing.
"What the hell was in that dumpling?" he cried, sniffling and scrubbing futilely at his streaming eyes.
"Homemade elk sausage with Trinidad scorpion pepper and ginger-sriracha sauce," Fenrir said, utterly deadpan. He picked one up and ate it slowly, purposely staring the Otherkin in the eye as he did so.
Aria picked one up, stared at it with some curiosity, and then popped one in her mouth, chewing and swallowing. "These are amazing!"
Luther sighed. "What do you call those things?"
"Wrath of the Sun," Fenrir said smugly.
"Can someone point me toward the normal, non-fire-breathing pierogis, please?" Luther whinged.
Bian stuck little flags on the tray marking off which row was which.
"Bless you, Doc," Luther said in clear relief.
"To old friends," Bian said, raising her glass, "and new ones."
"To friends!" they all replied, clinking their glasses together.
"To Ragnarök!" Fenrir toasted.
Bian, Aria, and Luther all gave Fenrir a cold stare.
"Um—" Fenrir gave them a charming grin. "To Miðgarðr, where all of us have made our home."
Bian raised her glass. "To Miðgarðr."
"To Miðgarðr," Aria and Luther cheered.
Fenrir looked as though he wanted to say something else, but Bian promptly silenced him with a kiss followed by a large pierogi.
"Mmfmfmmph!" Fenrir mumbled, chewing.
"I love you too, my mate," Bian told him as she clinked her glass with the others.
Fenrir's tail wagged furiously between the slats in the back of the chair.