|The Myth of Beetlecat
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
Once there was a sad little girl. Oh, not sad in the way you think. She had employment, acting as a ranger and guarding the wondrous wilderness of the great white north. She had food, she had friends, she had all the alone time she wanted.
And yet, she wasn't happy. For, you see, she had dreams.
Dreams of beauty and grace, of fun and boundless amusement. Not only did she dream, she dreamed of being furry. And not only that, what roared through her soul was the dream of fursuiting.
The listening children all oooooed, though some adjusted their tails and others fiddled with their heads. They still needed to learn patience.
Anyway, her soul cried out with a need to pretend. To costume herself as a creature of fantasy and wonder. Sadly for her dreams, it seemed that she was cursed. Too shy to ask someone to make her a fursuit, she couldn't sew or cut to save her life. Even something as simple as an ear, something that required fifteen seconds on a machine. In her hands it ended up a tangle of thread and fur, more a ball than an ear.
At least her pet felines got lots of floofy play things.
Things might have gone on this way through her sad little life, and we would not be as we are now, had not a miracle occurred.
One of the children yawned, and the mortal storyteller glared before continuing.
She was in her workroom one day, working hard, trying as very very hard as she could to make an ear, when it happened.
"You!" The voice was thin, high pitched, squeaky, lonely and tiny, and yet she found herself forced to answer.
"Y-- yes?" Looking around, she couldn't see anybody. "Umm… where are you?"
"Down here silly!"
As though chains were attached to her ears, she felt her head yanked down until, amidst the scraps of fur and mounds of tangled thread, she spotted a little man standing, arms on his hips.
Now, as we all, obviously -- he motioned around -- know, the fey are not the tiny helpful people of near-lost 20th century myth. But, in this case, for his own reasons, the mighty Oberon appeared to her clothed in the degraded myths of her time.
Before Beetlecat's eyes, amidst the mounds of thick floofy and brown fake fur, stood a little man. At first glance he looked to be a human in miniature. But, his ears were pointed, and stretched almost as far above his head as his body was tall. His face was human, with large purple eyes and thick hair that poured down his back in streams of midnight. Upon his chest he wore a tiny burgundy vest with golden buttons and fine detail worked throughout it in silver thread. With it were tiny pants, also dark red, which flared out to let his lower legs, and his polished ivory hooves, stand nobly on the dirty table.
"But--" Beetlecat began.
"Quit your silly jabbering, girl."
The little man sighed. "Fine. Right to the point. I want you to sew me -- a fursuit!"
For a second she blinked; hope burbled through her until it was doused by cold reality. Looking down at the proud little man she remembered her parents, remembered that they'd told her to always be truthful. "You can't mean-- my sewing--" She turned away, ears red. "I can't!"
As if the emphasize her point, one of the cats choose to bat a former ear into the workroom. The shapeless-ball-that-could-only-be-an-ear-by-the-greatest-stretch-of-the-imagination bounced and rolled and came to a stop after following a completely chaotic course. She'd have sworn the cat bowed to her visitor, before bounding off after ear attempt number 207, mewing happily.
"Beetlecat, you will make me a costume of a lion, all in royal purple and gold."
"The head will be balaclava style, with mobile jaw."
Oberon continued imperiously on, describing what he wanted in meticulous detail. What shades of purple, what lengths of fur, what company's fur would be delivered in half an hour, what shape, length, and colour the foot and hand pawclaws would be, how long the tail-- He went on and on and on.
Beetlecat's head began to spin. Not literally-- Stop that! Anyway, she despaired as Oberon continued to refuse to listen. Even if she could sew, there was no way she could remember--
Oberon paused for breath, and for a moment the only sound was the scratch of a pencil in her workbook. Then he was off again. She sighed -- so much for not being able to remember.
Blinking away tears, Beetlecat closed her eyes, letting the words drift past her, letting herself dream of what would never be, imagining the horrors that awaited her upon her pending failure.
Now that moment was what King Oberon had been waiting for. You see, Beetlecat's problem wasn't that she couldn't sew or cut. It wasn't that she was clumsy, or lacked the gift. She just had no confidence. She was so afraid, so desperate for perfection, that she became as clumsy as a drunken centaur after an all night binge whenever she tried.
Time passed, until with an exhausted sigh the pencil stopped scratching. With a loud slam that jerked Beetlecat awake, her workbook shut itself.
"I need it Wednesday by midnight," finished Oberon before vanishing. No smoke, no poof, no gateway. Just there one instant, and not the next.
She had just enough time to look around before the old clock on the mantle began striking six in the afternoon.
Before she could even start to panic, the doorbell rang. "Special delivery" rang out in the distance, and then a little packet of cloth and thread and needles appeared on her work table beside her closed workbook, all neatly wrapped and packaged.
The clock finished its sixth chime and was silent except for its regular ticking.
Panic scrabbled at Beetlecat, but she forced it down. Fire service training had taught her that there was always time to panic later. She knew she was going to screw it up. Knew it.
And yet, what could she do but try? After all, hadn't she warned him?
Maybe he'd let her live.
With that thought, she opened her workbook to what had been its first blank page, and started reading the fine notes that had been magically written there in her own script.
The clock struck seven before the mighty Beetlecat was even able to begin sewing. She knew in her bones that any result would be a tangled mess. She knew it. All she could do was her best. Midnight would come when it came, and worrying about what Oberon would return to find, and what he'd do, wouldn't help.
Taking her favourite pair of scissors, she began cutting the first piece of the fine, almost silky, short hair purple fur.
And then the miracle began.
Her hands didn't shake. The scissors moved along the tiny fine curves with quick precision. Full of concentration, she didn't even realize at first, and was cutting the third piece when it hit her.
She wasn't messing it up.
Not at all.
Her hand shook a little, the clock showed seven fifteen. Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to concentrate on her work.
And the magic continued.
Piece by piece, following the meticulous instructions written in her hand, she cut and assembled the tiny fursuit. Nimble fingers moved the tiny needle in and out; her sewing machine did what she wanted it to do for the first time ever. Seemingly entranced, the cats sat and watched her work, tails whipping back and force in synchronization. Bit by bit the creation took shape, a tiny purple lion with golden mane and glowing eyes, regal and proud. The body was soft velvet, the mane rich golden fur. The tail stretched and coiled, ending in a tuft of matching golden hair. Layer after layer the tiny sculpture came together.
Beetlecat was entranced, captured by the magic of the moment. The only sound the ticking of the clock, the whine and click-click-click of the sewing machine, the tiny dings of the hours striking one after the other. The sun set and she turned the primitive fluorescents on and continued working, her clever tiny fingers doing what she wanted as her gifted mind worked with the design, changing it from an idea on paper to a thing of magic, infusing it with her dreams and her imagination.
As midnight began dinging its presence, she snipped off the last thread of the last bit of sewing to hold the tiny leathery pawpads onto the tiny purple pawhands.
It was done. A masterwork. A thing of beauty. A thing like those she'd always dreamed of.
And it had come from her hands.
With that, the tiny figure was standing beside her work as it lay on the tiny dummy that had come with the materials. Holding her breath, she watched Oberon as he walked around the fursuit, poking and tugging at bits and pieces of it, examining the mane with a frown on his face. Picking up the tail held stiffly backward by the fine brass wire inside of it. Running a tiny perfectly trimmed finger along one of the handpaws.
She gasped, breathing again as the mantle clock dinged the last of its twelve dings.
For a moment she was blinded, unable to see anything other than darkness. She could hear muttering, and the rustle of cloth on cloth. It was only a moment though, and then, eyes blinking, vision returned.
In front of her was a tiny purple regal lion, standing there on its tiny paws, tail wiggling a bit from the forms motion before the wire dampened it out. The figure looked up at her, its mouth opened, and then closed. It nodded.
A voice came from the figure, clear and growly, something that should not have been possible. But it was. "As a gift for a job well done, let the mortal attend the ball with me."
Her jaw hung down, but her wits swept back in. "But, I can't--" She looked around at the scattered failures of all her attempts. "I don't have--"
"Oh posh!" The lion looked at her. Somehow one of its gleaming glass eyes blinked and Beetlecat felt her body float up out of her chair. She felt herself folding smaller and smaller, legs and arms bending in ways they shouldn't, and shrinking, ever shrinking. Or was the world growing? She had no way to know. Energies swirled around her, wind ruffled her hair, she felt herself getting stiff, changing. Her legs shrunk, a second pair of arms grew, hair and muzzle blossomed from her face solidifying into a golden solid. Something pressed against her back, brushed at various places over her body, tongues, or ears, or something, burst from her forehead. And then all was still.
Blinking, she found she could not move. Except for her eyes. And the only thing they could see was an ancient bronze-rimmed mirror that had appeared in front of her. Of them. In the mirror was reflected the royal purple and gold lion she'd made, and she could feel the fine velvet of its chest pressing against her back. On the beast's left breast was a tiny golden broach shaped into a beetle body with a lion's head, gorgeously carved details. Six legs were folded against the figures, against her chest, immobile. She could see the golden lion head, eyes still blinking, with a rich golden carved mane, and long fine antennae. Somehow she was the blinking those eyes. Details were brought out by what appeared to be carefully applied purple lacquer that glistened and gleamed in the light that now seemed the rich flickering warmth of candles. Glistening and gleaming off a tiny beetle-lion.
Beetlecat tried to say something, to thank the king, or maybe curse him. She wasn't sure. But all she could do was blink her eyes, not even needing to breathe, and, maybe, wiggle her antennae a teeny tiny bit. She could feel cold air whisper across them, feel the caress of sound vibrations slithering along them, read the molecules that contained the scent markers of her cats--
"To the ball! And let no one see who I truly am until the unmasking!"
A flash of light, and then Beetlecat found that she was no longer in her workroom surrounded by scattered cloth and fur, but instead in a gleaming ballroom. It looked human sized, but then maybe everything was just in scale. All around were people in costume, a glittering Venetian ball of centuries past, full of itself and its own importance. Glittering constructs of gold and silver and red and brown and pink and white. Massive dresses streaming for miles behind tall bodies that moved slowly as swirls of magic held up the voluminous trail. Noble figures wearing fancy coats and velvet waistcoats and gleaming black shoes, each holding a Venetian mask in front of their face, pointed ears curling up as almond eyes glittered and glistened behind the carven holes. A single intake of breath, and then a long silence tickling against her antennae.
But there was only one lion, and everybody turned to look at the source of the silence.
Beetlecat could feel the wall, or the cloth she was pinned to, quiver for a second as if in fear, but there was never a sound. She could feel the lion that wore her looking around fearfully, and then it hung its head, let its tail droop, and formed itself into a body full of despair and fear. As one, the ornamented dancers turned away, a few sniggering at the poor fool who'd come in such a weird dress. Her antennae quivered. What would Oberon do? What would he do to her?
But then the lion that wore her shrugged. She could feel a stubbornness in its body as it forced away the fear and sadness and looked up and around at those that ignored him. He refused to let them dampen his day. Refused to acknowledge their disdain.
Instead he bounded down the long staircase, Beetlecat's antennae bouncing, and then pounced the long floating trail of an ice blue dress held by a silent woman, hair bundled up high above her pointed ears. Landing on all fours, pressing Beetlecat against the spidery material so that her antennae could taste the staleness, the lion sniffed and nibbled, pulling at the material, having a play fight, tail wagging.
The party stopped, and slowly the lion looked up, looked around. Everybody was staring. A cold chill swept through Beetlecat and she looked around frantically for an escape.
"I never!" said the woman upon who's dress the lion had pounced. Lowering her mask she glared, eyes cold, mouth hard and firm.
Somewhere, somebody giggled.
The lion cocked his head and opened his mouth and let his tongue hang out. He bounded away from the dirty tangled dress and chased after a butterfly flittering across the ballroom, bouncing and bounding after it, but never quite catching it.
All the time silent, except for the pad pad pad of his leather-padded footpaws on the cold hard marble.
And so it went through the night, a night of magic and arrogance brought low by one lowly lion, mocking in his silence. He grabbed and batted at their ornate head pieces, got his handclaws tangled in the long cloth, fought play fights against streamers and dancing mists. In complete silence he made a fool out of himself, and out of the entire ball. Mocking them all for their seriousness.
And, grudgingly, laughter begin trickling out of the corners.
Everybody seemed afraid at first, but nobody was quite brave enough to say that the lion was a fool. The night passed and he became part of it. People began to play, to secretly tease him, to hope that this strange mocking lion would pounce on their costume.
And they began to hug the soft fuzzy creature, because it was just the right thing to do. Hug and laugh. And smile.
Beetlecat blinked, waking up in her hard work chair. The fluorescents were still on, and scraps of fur were scattered everywhere. The cats were curled up with the scraps, snoozing peacefully. Glimmers of sunlight could be seen sparkling through the window.
For a wondrous moment the magic remained in her mind, clear and glittering. Then it faded. "A dream-- it was all just a dream--"
Tears glistened in her eyes as she looked down at the worn desk, and at all of her endless failures. She turned to her worn workbook, closed now, but then something gleamed, and her mouth fell open.
Sitting there in the centre of the cover, was a little broach in the shape of a golden beetle with a little lion head and long antenna. Glistening, decorated in patterns of lacquered purple.
The broach winked.
She stared. Could it-- could it have been real?
Hands shaking, she opened her workbook to her first dream, her most powerful dream. A simple, rough, pencil sketch of the head of a Kilpspringer. Terrified, she picked up a piece of soft white fur, and her battered pair of scissors. She didn't need to check the pattern, she knew it by heart. For a second her fingers shook, gripping the scissors tightly.
A memory of the mocking lion flickered in her mind.
She began to cut, a neat perfect straight line, the magic of her gift flowing effortlessly from her fingers.
The story teller looked around, the children curled up in their furry suits snuggled against each other, snoring gently. One or two had their natural pointed ears just visible. He smiled and stood up, slowly moving away, or as slowly as his hoof stilts would allow him to.
Even Bards needed a break.
His hooves clopping on the floor, he carefully stepped over the tired little bodies, over the dirty and loved fur and velvet, and back into his study. In private he reached under his balaclava head and scratched at his sweaty cheek. Then he picked up the book he was reading, and turned to "The Moon Moth" by Jack Vance, smiling under the fur and cloth.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org