Mr. Horace became a History Teacher for Realdsburg High School in 47 AC. That's not important though. He could teach history like no other, but what he really taught us was a lesson in life. Nor I nor anyone of the class of '30 can forget that fateful year. In that history class, everything changed. I'll always be thankful to the man, still teaching today I hear, for saving me from myself.
There are times in one's life that everything you though you knew comes into question. That happened with me when Mr. Horace came clomping in for the first time. At first, no one even recognized him as the teacher. Once they did, they completely ignored him. The whole classroom was a cacophony of growls and yowls; the fiercest teacher would have been hard pressed to break through the noise.
Forget his fine physique. Forget his calm bearing and lean stature. All we saw was a Shetland pony, his white, mop like mane falling ridiculously over his eyes giving him the dumpiest smile anyone could have imagined. His hoof like hands bore a stack of dusty old books and journals. His attire was plain, a collared shirt and a grey tie, which blended against his cream colored fur making him a spot on the wall, almost beneath notice. Wide, bell-bottomed pants accommodated his large hooves.
A horse had walked into a class of carnivores. No one paid him the slightest attention. I was hardly the exception. After I got a good look at him, I went back to my attempts to steal the pencil off of my neighbor's desk. They hate it when I do that. No one really likes a bad tempered critter, and I was a fine example of a bad-tempered critter. 130 pounds of picture perfect viscous, adolescent wolverine.
We weren't all carnivores. There were some scavengers, some omnivores (they always sat in back), mostly carnivores. There was a noticeable lack of plant eaters, the school kept them in separate classes for "violence issues." That's what they called the fight at Colampoon. "Violence issues."
There were reasons herbivores were taught separate from carnivores. Colampoon was a tragedy no one wanted to repeat. Two of us good ol' wolverines practically disemboweled a mouse teacher. She'd gotten in the way of their fight with some bear football jocks, and sustained enough injury to be bed ridden, on an IV for months.
News spread like grasshoppers and soon all the schools had new rules 'encouraging' the segregation of carnivores and herbivores. "The world has changed," they said, "And we have to change as well." The reassignment of students happened over the course of a semester. Friendships were torn apart, people were scared. I didn't really notice, though I liked the fact that people didn't pick on me as much. They left me happily, bitterly alone.
That's me there, in that class photo. I was, as they call it, a problem child. Always getting into fights, returning home beaten and bloody. I was quick to anger, and quick to attack when the odds were against me, and I paid the price. When I did get my licks in, I gained a reputation I didn't want, and lost the respect of the people I cared about. My friends and family, I pushed them all away.
I took my frustrations out on authority, back talking, clowning, even threatening my teachers, parents, counselors. Not that they weren't part of the problem. Once I passed my Change into a Wolverine, it was like everyone had me figured out. I could see it in their eyes. "That's why he's such a trouble-maker!" All they saw were claws and instinct. They soon forgot that my problems began long before I became a viscous snarling beast. They sat back and took my abuse, rationalizing that I was expected to behave that way, and with no one to guide me I was digging my own grave.
So, I looked at the new teacher, the idiot expected to teach us growling, snarling, screeching kids some kind of history. He was talking too quiet to be heard above the din, which sorely tempted me to outright ridicule the poor sot. I looked at him as a pushover. Fortunately, he had his eye on the Pride, not me.
There were only three of the, but those lions stuck together like old crusty tomato sauce you can't wash off the bottom of a cast iron pot. They were big buddies, calling themselves a Pride of all things. Some people hung around with them, mostly those hyena twins, but I knew a gang when I saw one. I always kept a safe distance.
The problem was, their parents bought in to the whole 'Pride' idea. When they heard their children had been put in different history sections because of disruptive behavior, they slammed the phone lines at the counseling office until the school caved in, and put the Pride all in the same class. I remember how my counselor was complaining to the receptionist, right in the middle of one of my counseling sessions.
"Those stiffs told me that we were 'crippling our children's emotional development,'" he said. "They might threaten to sue. I just wish I could get them the heck off my back." I got up, ready to walk out from the counseling office, telling myself again that it didn't matter. I didn't care. You could tell they had better things to do than help me. The only counseling I got was disdain. They didn't put out more than a token effort on a miserable failure like me.
The lion Pride were the noisiest, rowdiest, and loudest among all the in-class cliques. Mr. Horace noticed that right away, but instead of calling from the security of his blackboard, he strode right up to them. I never realized how short he was until the leader of the gang, Eric was his name, Eric Schneider. He almost dwarfed Mr. Horace by a foot.
The horse spoke in a deep, gruff tone. "Sorry to interrupt," he said. "I need you to do something for me. I want you to go write the 3 rules of this class, just as I explained them, on the blackboard."
The entire class had grown silent. They seemed to hang on the words Eric the lion was going to say. Would there be trouble? I eyed the door nervously, having mapped my seat out for an easy exit in case of a brawl. "How in the heck did that horse get assigned to this class?" I thought, beside myself with... sort of an idle curiosity, perhaps a shadow of the emotions I learned to ignore in years before. Then, my old familiar friend Resentment came down. "A teacher's a teacher," I thought. "It doesn't matter if he eats meat or plants. If he wants to be stupid like that, he'll get what he deserves."
So there he stood, a 5'2" Shetland pony against a 6 foot lion with claws. Everyone in the class was paralyzed, waiting in horror or anticipation for a repeat of Colampoon.
"I don't listen to you," Eric said with a thunderous growl. "I don't follow no one, especially cud chewing greeners. Get out of my way." His casual swat would have eviscerated a cow, but his eyes shone in confusion as his paw stopped dead. He looked down and saw the teacher holding it by the wrist, thumb pushed against the back of the hand to keep the claws from splaying out. He had a second to realize, rather generous of Mr. Horace I'd say, then with a twist, Eric was half bent over, practically falling forward. Only his tail saved him from going *splat* on the floor. Mr. Horace was no longer smiling as he walked calmly to the chalkboard, hooves sounding against linoleum like death tolls.
Eric hopped alongside the small pony. The lion's mane bounced up and down like a headbanging 'metal junkie. It was so ridiculous, I had to laugh. For a minute, my chuckle was alone. Then others joined in the laughter until Mr. Horace turned, parted one shoof of hair with his free hand, and stared directly at me.
Even though I knew he was a cud-chewing greener. Even though he could only train one eye on me, the eye was cold, blue and terrifying. I looked and saw perhaps what the mouse teacher saw facing down those maddened wolverine kids. It was held, trapped, but strong. Right then, I stared a demon in the eye, and I couldn't look away, not until his hair fell between me and that eye.
Eric tumbled forward, suddenly free. His paw hit the chalkboard with a *crack* and to his astonishment, he was now holding a piece of chalk. "There are 3 rules, son," the teacher said quietly bass. "Write them down now."
"How the heck can I write 'em down. You think I was listening?!"
"If you aren't able to remember," Mr. Horace paused for tension. "I'll be happy to repeat them, if you ask me."
"Ask you?! I don't... need any of this crap!"
"I think you had better write something soon. You wouldn't want me to lose my patience."
The lion blanched, if that was possible. His ears flat against his head, he stammered out angrily, "Uh... could you g-go over that... once... more?"
"Certainly, my friend," the stallion said losing a bit of his fearsomeness. "1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I know it's an old ideal, so if you can't follow it, at least try to do to them no more than what they do to you. 2. Never give up. Never, ever give up. Weigh the gains, and the losses, and decide to quit if it doesn't work out. Quitting because you don't think you're good enough to go on is the only real way to fail. This applies to homework, and tests so remember it. 3. Attack no one. You may not like to think it, but we're all civilized beings. Attacking such a person mentally, physically, or emotionally always leads to more problems. We have history to learn, and nothing like hatred, prejudice or cruelty," he said looking at me again. I shrugged, used to that sort of thing.
"...will keep me from teaching you the wisdom of the past. Treat me with respect, and you might actually learn something. Treat me with disrespect," his voice darkened again, "And I may forget my first rule."
Eric had already slunk away sulking in his seat. I could see his eyes burning with frustrated hatred. No longer loud, his companions still whispered conspiratorially. If I hadn't still been shaking from the sight of those eyes, I might have growled in disgust. Some people never learn. "Mr. Horace is messing with things he has no right to," I thought. "They're gonna get him killed in the end." Not that I really cared. He was just another teacher, and another loser and...
"Imagine," he started, "Lying cold, sick and hungry, with no fur to keep you warm in an icy trench for years. Imagine the horror of watching your friends die beside you one by one. This one from a bullet wound. That one from gas poisoning. Another one from his feet rotting out from under him.
"Often a soldier of World War I would take up the pen and keep a journal. It was a small way they could cling to their sanity. Some even wrote until their last moments, crippled and dying in a filthy hospital somewhere. You can see it in their handwriting, shaking and coming to a stop as the last seconds of their life came around..."
To say we were spell bound is to say the Titanic hit an ice cube. Mr. Horace slowly drew us into the lesson like one of those ancient storytellers, keepers of lore. He made us feel the terror and frantic sense of duty soldiers discover on the murky battlefield. He sneered of the bickering politics that almost seemed to writhe about on his map of Old Europe. Mr. Horace was good, better than I can explain. His words have stayed with me all these years. That should be explanation enough.
After class during lunch, I overheard two jocks, a wolf and a bear, going on about how terrible it was to let a 'greener' teach one of the classes they went to. Not a single person seemed to even remember his history lesson, aside from me. I resisted the urge to tell some of those bastards what I thought of their complete fixation on the stupidest part of the class. Being the monster I thought I was, I knew my nasty mouth and hot temper would just earn me more bruises, and another counseling session.
Two falcons were arguing over how Mr. Horace beat Eric so easily. John the mink and his buddies were gloating over whatever horrible thing they expected Eric and the Pride were going to do to Mr. Horace. None of that worried me much though. What scared me was that Eric and the gang had skipped lunch. They were nowhere to be found.
"Hey, loser," I said. "Hey, idiot," she said in return. "Jane, you okay?"
Why oh why did my parents have to name me Janed? "Yeah," I said. "Just nervous. What's it to you?"
I did have a friend back then. One. Sandra Phillips. I really don't know why she tolerated me. I treated everyone like dirt. The girl was a porcupine, but she might as well have been a mink. When I took out all my stuff on her, she retorted with a mean streak just as bad as mine. When we argued, I could swear the air ignited between us. She didn't have the kind of restraint most herbivores had; obviously she'd never worry about getting beaten up with those spines. But in a way, her strong personality kept her afloat more than any physical protection. Now that I think of it, Mr. Horace was the same way. "Just wanted to know if your miserable carcass got through the first half of classes."
"Have you heard?"
"Nope. No carnivores stupid enough to talk to a greener. Except you."
"Oh, I feel honored. Now Sandra Phillips thinks I'm a stupid carnivore!"
"You always were. Now what happened?"
"Oh nothing much."
She knocked me on the shoulder. Hard. "You want to die?"
"Alright, alright. There was this history class, World Civilizations I think it's called. The teacher there is cool."
I hadn't noticed her fall behind, until I looked over my shoulder. She closed her mouth, and trundled swiftly to catch up. "Did I just hear that right? You? Said a teacher was cool?"
"Hey, history is my subject! Why shouldn't teachers be cool?"
"As I recall, Janed Richardson himself once said, 'Teachers are all losers. Not an ounce of cool in all the teachers combined.'"
"Well, I didn't know about this one!"
"So tell me..."
"He teaches like he's telling a story. It's amazing just listening, you could swear he'd seen it all. He doesn't even read from an outline. It's all in his head! He's gonna have us read journals, real journal not the cheezed up textbook exerpts. And he has tons of old maps and documents he's gonna hang all over the room."
"That sounds like a possible cool."
"Oh, and he's a... horse."
I called back as she stood stock still. "Hey, I'm not going to slow down if you're going to keep stopping in shock."
"Gimme a break!" she said, running up again. "It's our natural reaction to surprise. Just be glad I'm not an impala. I'd moon you, and run away every time you dropped one of those whammies on me!"
"Look, it's not like it's illegal..."
"But a horse? How could he possibly teach? Carnivores and herbivores..."
I smiled grimly, and she seemed to catch the irony. "I get you Jane," she said. "So how did he deal with a pack of animals like your history class?"
"Well, Eric and the Pride were in the class--"
"And how many pieces of this teacher are left?"
"Just one. He kicked Eric's tail! And embarrassed him in front of the whole class."
"That's not a good idea," she said, looking around to see if Eric and his Pride were anywhere around. "Tell me about it!" I snarled. "The Pride isn't beyond ganging up on someone when he's alone. I give Mr. Horace 3 weeks before he gets sent to the hospital and resigns."
"But he could handle them in class..."
"Yeah, but there's 3 of them! That time, it was only Eric he got. No one could stand against 3 lions out for blood!"
"Well quit talking like he's already gone," she said. "Tell me about the other stuff, the cool stuff."
"You know," I mused. "You're the only one who's asked me that."
"I asked 'cause you're a big softie, that's why."
See why I could never get rid of her?
I really didn't have much to say; just what he'd promised to teach us. We sat down in our usual spot, behind a tree out in the courtyard. Nobody bothered to come off to this far corner of the square concrete are open to the sky. Sandra and I loved peeking around, spying on the people in the tables at the center of the area. Our tree was one of many in a stone box filled with dirt that encircled the courtyard, broken in places for people to walk between the outside and the inside. A few scraggly bushes graced the area, but for the most part it was unkempt, and walked upon so much nothing really grew.
The cafeteria was across from us, about 100 feet away. That was why no one came out here. There was an informal war for the closest tables to the cafeteria. Whoever sat down first won, so lunch started with a panoply of herbivores and carnivores, struggling to balance trays while charging about for choice seats. Sandra and I... just kept to ourselves. For the most part, I just didn't care, and I think she liked being able to laugh at them.
"Look at those idiots," she would say, with her hoarse laugh. "Now they're arguing over whether you get dibs if you put your tray down, or when you sit."
"Yeah, that's pretty funny," I would say back. Then she'd notice something, like "Some poor faun is getting picked on in the carnivore's section," and we'd finish our lunch in silence.
That day I told her about the 3 rules he made, and she nodded with approval. She downright laughed when I told her how Eric had to go write them up on the board, even though he'd been so loud he hadn't heard the teacher say them. For some reason, I didn't laugh again. Still spooked from him looking at me, I guess. She grumbled darkly when I told her the other kids didn't care about his history lesson and said, "I think they're just star eyed over the fact that he beat up a lion. If he's as good as you say, soon as all this stuff cools down, people will start talking about it."
"Yeah, as soon as this stuff cools down..."
After a while, she mumbled around that weird brown crunchy salad she always had, "'s not gonna cool down, is it?"
"Errm?" I said, ripping a piece out of... well I didn't usually try to identify what I was having for lunch. Not the most appetizing thing to consider. "All this stuff," she said, swallowing. "With the school acting like it is and everyone afraid of each other. I mean, how are we going to keep on like this? Like animals."
"We are animals," I said matter of factly, not looking her in the eye. "We have to live with it, even though we can't get along. It's in our nature..."
"Dork!" she said suddenly. That was one of her more innocuous words, but it carried the steel taste of her worst. "You just keep doing that, letting 'em tell you how it works. You just go ahead and keep listening to those counselors and administrators. I'm done."
She left, waddling away with her tail waving like a spiky club. She was angrier than bullets, and quite a bit frustrated too. I stared at her lunch, left idle and alone in the far corner of the cafeteria. I thought about giving it back to her. Thought about what I would say if I saw her again, and told her how angry I was. "Aw, what does she know," I said shoring up my attitude and leaving both our trays alone for the janitors to find.
It might have been luck. It might have been fate. But I was walking down an empty hallway when a second shadow joined mine in the long light of afternoon.
"Something bothering you, son?"
I didn't even need to look back. I could remember his voice as though I heard it a second ago, in history class. "Nahh, nothing really."
"You're Janed Richardson, right? 3rd period World Civ?"
I almost laughed at the acronym. "Yeah, that's me. Just got out of lunch."
"Anything good on the menu?"
"Not for me."
He followed me in silence for a while. Then spoke up again. "So what happened?"
"What makes you so sure?"
"Just my horse sense telling me something's wrong," he said in a joking manner. I did chuckle, under my breath. I don't think I let him hear me. "I'm okay, just had an argument."
"Oh, with one of your friends. I'm sure a bright boy like you--"
He danced away, jitterish as a horse when I turned around, shaking in rage, fangs bared. Though I knew it was only his instinct, it almost seemed like he knew exactly what he was doing, landing a safe distance away with eerie grace. I don't know why I was so angry, it just all came down on me at once. "I only have one friend," I managed to spit out. "And she walked off on me today. Why do you want to know?"
I walked away, intending to leave him there in stupid greener shock. Mr. Horace just kept plodding on. He was so stunned he almost stopped, but he kept on with a dogged determination. I couldn't see his eyes, but he was obviously spooked. "You... only have one friend?"
I just shut him out, mumbling something about going to my locker. "Janed, I want you to come by the classroom. There is something--"
*riiiing* Well, the lunch bell had to ring sometime, didn't it? Mumbling another excuse, I left Mr. Horace pooling in his frustration, confusion and... thoughtfulness? I almost turned back, but then just let it go. I had to get to Physics. Not that I liked Physics. I was in a hurry to get there so I could leave.
"Mr. Richardson. Do we need to go over this again?"
"Shredding your math homework in your teachers' face is not the proper conduct in this school."
"Eh, he was asking for it."
"What did he ask for?"
"He said 'Turn in your homework. There will be a quiz on it afterward.'"
"It was a quiz! A stinkin' pop quiz! You don't get it..."
"Mr. Richardson, you are the one who does not get it. You have to learn to deal with your temperament. Now what should you have done?"
"*sigh* I should have--"
"That's not sincere."
"I should have given the guy a stinkin' medal! There, you happy?"
"Mr. Richardson, calm down. Your temper is getting the best of you again."
"I'm tired of looking at your face. Good bye."
Another counseling session, and 25 bucks down the drain. Oh well, my parents were the ones paying for it. It was their money. But why did they have to make life a living nightmare? Some things we'll never know I guess.
You could never tell where Mr. Horace was looking. That blasted hair covered both his eyes most of the time, and he could almost see in a full circle around him. It was disconcerting, downright frightening, when the subject of his attention was not where his muzzle pointed. I sat there, still sulking from the lunchtime counseling, not to mention the cafeteria food. To heck with the fact that there are more herbivores! The carnivore line was packed, while the herbivores had lots of lines, not many of them full. To top it all off, Mr. Horace went and said,
"Alright. It's time to collect the homework. I'll have a few questions about it after you turn it in..."
I kept myself from snarling as the weight of anger pressed down on me. I tried what the counselors said, breathing and thinking of water, but all I could think about were pitiful spurts of disgust at having to answer questions about the homework again! Mr. Horace might have noticed the fact that I was inches away from shredding another homework assignment. He looked at me and almost nonchalantly brushed aside his head of hair, fixing that eye on me again.
All of a sudden, I practically face planted on the desk. I sagged with relief as the anger washed away. I was still fuming mad at having to take another pop quiz, but all the angriness coming from around had melted. I didn't know what Mr. Horace did, but I felt numb all of a sudden. Numb and calm, and myself for once. It turns out, he just wanted to know what we thought about it, about the supply lines and such. I actually knew what he was talking about and answered some of the questions. But after class, I was my old self again, and I practically bit the head off of Jerome, a fox, who was whining about having to take two pop quizzes in one day. Not that I literally bit off his head, I just snapped, "Why don't you take your sorrow and ( ) it! Anyone with half a brain could tell you're just hoping for attention. As if anyone would want to pay attention to a loser like you."
His self pity turned rotten so fast, I didn't even see the punch coming. I reeled as pain exploded across my nose and cheek. Almost reflexively, I tore into him, trying to remember the 'no claws' clause in our school code of conduct. He wasn't pulling punches though, and soon we were both getting pretty bloody. I howled when he bit down on my leg, and right then two hall monitors managed to pull us apart. A quick anesthetic unlocked Jerome's jaws, letting my hurt leg free. The rest of me was captive, and bodily dragged down to the assistant principal's office.
"And what do you have to say for yourself?"
"I don't use canned lines?"
"Don't get sassy with me, mister. What happened back there?"
"Jerome and I had a fight."
"I see we're being captain of the obvious today."
"No, I am sir."
The great bear of a principal slammed his fist down on the long oak desk so hard it rumbled. "What in God's name were you doing attacking a student? I honestly don't know why we tolerate your kind of people here. You viciously attacked a student, and all you have to say is back talk?!"
I closed up even further. He was so mad it was rubbing off. "Look, I got mad and hit him. He fought back. What else do you want me to say?"
"We're doing our best for you, Mr..."
"Richardson. The name is Janed Richardson! If you're going to be so mad, can't you at least get my name?"
"You should know how to speak to your betters, mister. Can you at least tell me you'll try to control your nature?"
"Right," I chuckled inwardly. "Sure," I said. "I don't have any hard feelings toward the guy. It was my fault."
After it was all over, I walked out of the room, past the statue of golf balls, past the pictures and framed awards, past the long close grained oak desk behind which Vice Principal Binks sat brooding. I sat there in the office outside while Jerome got the exact same treatment as me. Jerome was a bit proud of himself, and ashamed at the same time, but he hid it well. The principal let into him until it was obvious nothing else would come clear. Then we were both called in to the Vice Principal's office. We glared at each other almost in jest, while VP Binks went on about some section of the school code. I could tell Jerome was ready to let it go, let bygones be bygones, a lot more than the VP who never seemed to get enough. He gave me a wink, and we both started to get up for the door.
"Gentlemen? I'm not finished with you yet."
"Oh, but Mr. Binks, you convinced us of the school code so well, we no longer have any argument," Jerome said smoothly. Typical fox. Mr. Binks tried not to reveal his pride. I kicked in, "Yeah, we need to get going or we'll miss the bus. I'm okay, don't worry."
"Well I'm impressed," he said, "But I'm still confused why you two were fighting."
"Never mind. Go get yourselves home now. I know how it is with fights. No one starts 'em." He waved a paw. "Enough wasting time here. Just make sure I don't catch you doing anything funny again."
If I had known this before, things would have been easier. After we left, Mr. Horace came out of the other hallway to address the bear. He stood with the calm, unselfish pride that he brought to our class every day, smiling at the corners of his equine nose under the mop of hair covering his eyes. "You noticed...?" Horace asked. "Yes," said Mr. Binks. "Honestly, it was amazing, and quite catching. He's a trouble magnet, alright. Now I know why."
"Maybe I should talk to the boy..." Horace trailed off. "Oh sure!" Mr. Binks guffawed. "Right after you track him down. He's had such a bad experience with authority, there is only one way I can think of to get him in the same room alone with a teacher."
"Well, whatever you have to do," Horace said conclusively. "That boy needs to learn how to deal with his nature."
"I couldn't agree more, Dad."
I was in such a hurry to beat Jerome to the bus, I took a shortcut through the staff parking lot. Such was my luck, I practically ran into the Pride. I scrabbled to a halt, standing there staring like an idiot. Eric was there 10 feet away, armed with a crowbar. The other two had various implements, a socket wrench and a portable acetylene torch. On the ground beside them was a hunting knife. They stared back at me, caught around the wreck of Mr. Horace's automobile.
The car had seen better days before it got its windshield and hood bashed to pieces with a crowbar, forcibly separated from its two doors, and pilfered of bolts by a wrench, the engine practically hanging out the bottom. On the side of the twisted metal, words were burned in melted slag by a blowtorch: "Don't mess with our Pride." The only sound breaking the tense silence was the hiss of air escaping the slashed tires.
They say the best way to escape a wild cat is by being as noisy and aggressive as possible. "You guys are so in for it," I practically bellowed. "If you get caught."
"What makes you think we'll get caught?" the female, Nadia was her name I think, answered defensively. Good. "Hey, it's no skin off my back. You go ahead and make the teacher's life miserable. I couldn't care less. Mr. Horace is a loser anyway." I sensed them relax and chose that time to start walking slowly away. "You just keep up whatever you were doing. I didn't see nothing." Oops. "Wait--," the female growled. I broke into a dead run, heading for the school complex. As I heard them give chase behind me, I dashed into a hallway, looking desperately for some place to hide. It was awful; their black despair at being caught, losing everything they hoped for, haunted me as I spun around corner after corner. Finally, with a running leap, I crawled over a fence and crashed into some bushes on the other side.
I couldn't see what was going on behind me, and I dared not move a whisker. "I saw him come through here," I heard one of them say. "Look around," Eric answered. "We got to keep him from telling." How... euphemistic. Peaceful negotiations were the last thing on Eric's mind. To my horror, I found myself delight in the anticipation of the strike, the kill, to hunt with one's brothers over he who would steal the prey...
I could smell them coming closer. No doubt they could smell me. Being a mustelid does not lend itself well to concealing one's scent. Not that I... did it or anything. I learned not to... do that very early on after my transformation. Such was a thing not talked about it public, and I wasn't going to use it except as a last resort.
One of them did pick up my scent, and he excitedly signaled the others. The tension was almost tangible as my own shaking fear drowned out their... shock and the only sounds left were the treads of their retreating paws. I sat there, shuddering in horror and relief. What a monster I was! I had feelings of murder and malice just like they had. I couldn't hardly even move as the painful emotion of a lost hunt faded away, until I was myself again.
I peeked out of the bushes and saw Mr. Horace standing there. He wasn't looking in my direction. "Janed!" he shouted, and I felt my blood run cold. "Janed, I know you're out there. Where are you, and what the hell happened to my car?!" Great. So he blamed me. Of course, I'd be the one to do it. Right. As soon as the old fool walked off, I ducked back into the bushes, and made good my escape, a cold pit of sadness wedging in my gut.
Nobody would believe me. The Pride were just a bunch of rambunctious teenagers in the public eye, a group of fluffy friendly lions that would soon grow out of their "phase." I was nothing. Even if I could convince Mr. Horace, he was only a teacher, against a pack of angry lions. I managed to find my backpack where I'd dropped it, and left through a back exit in the school. The Pride didn't show their face once; I think they beat it once they knew a teacher was taking the rounds. It was just me and my pity, slowly trudging the 5 miles home.
I walked into my house, dead tired from the long trip. With no more than a "Hi mom," I went upstairs and threw myself down on the bed. My bed. "Honey?" she said, coming carefully up the stairs, her nose twitching in worry, her naked scaly tail following her like a snake. "Don't call me honey." I tried to say. Muffled by the pillow, it came out as "Mmm cmm mm MMmm"
"Honey, it's okay to tell us if you had a fight. We know how easy it is for you to lose your temper."
I didn't answer her, trying to hide under the pillow. She tapped me on my shoulder, and said, "You have to learn to accept your nature. It's not healthy for you to try to hide from it. Now tell me..."
"I said I didn't get in a fight," I snapped, rising up to a sitting position. "To tell the truth, I actually avoided one."
"That's wonderful, honey! But what--"
"I don't want to talk about it. I missed the bus. That's all."
I felt a tiresome apathy settle around. She knew we'd been through this before. But just one more time... "I don't buy that for a second," she said. "We're going to sit here until you tell me what happened."
We sat. And sat. Right when her patience was about to give out, I said, "I did get in a fight. With a fox named Jerome."
"You know we hate it when you lie to us."
"Well, I don't want to keep bringing home bad news like that!"
"It's better to tell the truth," she said softly, standing aloof. "I need to attend to dinner."
"When's dad coming home."
"He's on a business trip. He'll come back late this morning. You know that--"
"Yeah, I know. Sorry."
The rest of the night pretty much passed in silence. I went to bed early, and left on the bus for school before my mom woke up. A sea of faces passed me by as I blurred through the day, lost in my own worries. I remember Eric, crystal clear, in the hallway trying to elbow his way past some penguins to get to me. He couldn't do more than whisper threats in public, but I went down a side passage, and ducked in an empty classroom until he passed by. No use taking risks.
I hardly even noticed, wandering along the paths I had wandered for weeks, but I found myself reaching for the door of Mr. Horace's classroom. I stopped in shock No way I was going in there. I'd never skipped class before, never had a reason to, but at that moment, I almost walked away instead of facing that Shetland pony. "You okay, man?" came a voice behind me. "You look like a greener in shock." A nameless feline "'Name's Cori." okay not so nameless feline stood there with a worried look on her face. She might as well have been dripping with honest concern. "I'm fine," I said somewhat beside myself. "Just... ah, sick today. Not feeling too well."
"Oh, well!" she said stepping away. I went forward through the door, and immediately decided it was one of the worst mistakes I'd ever made.
Mr. Horace was looking at me.
He didn't say a word. He didn't move a muscle, but I could tell he was looking at me, even though his sideways eyes were hidden under his shaggy mane. I almost backed into another student, then stubbornly went on, refusing to give up my pride. I sat at my desk, like I always do. I even whistled a bit, like everything was fine. But the whistle died in my throat as he said in that deep ominous tone of his, "I have an announcement. Everyone, listen! Last afternoon, someone threatened me and vandalized my car. I apologize beforehand for my bad mood as I had to take the bus 20 miles to here from where I live. I want to say that whoever did this will receive the fairest treatment from me or the law, whoever finds out about them first."
I was dead. No question about it. "Janed," he said to me as the bell rang after class, "Come stay a while before lunch. We need to talk." I ran out the door so fast, I even left my Physics book behind. Not that I ever intended on returning for it. Everything had fallen apart. My life, my first cool teacher. I could only hope to go on so much longer before the Pride caught up to me. I considered leaving school, never seeing my parents again. That laughable Afghan hound of a father paired most unlikely with my ratty mother, constantly worrying about me, constantly reading those "Pop Animal Psychology" books so popular these days. I thought of my room, all covered with psychedelic posters and filled with the eerie escapist music of the 70's. Old fashioned, to be true, but nothing beats late Bob Dylan.
I wasn't ready to give any of that up. I had to tough this out, somehow come to terms with the Pride and their ways. I hadn't told on them yet, so they might let me go. Everything could go back to normal, like before... like before Mr. Horace. Dejected, sad, not knowing what else to do, I took it out on my lunch, tearing at the ... whatever it was with an uncharacteristic viciousness. The faces around me came clear again, as she sat down beside me. It was Sandra. Oh geez...
"Hey, idiot," she said almost in a subdued manner. When I didn't reply, she looked me straight in the eye. "Hey idiot! Mr. Horace told me--"
"What?!" I screamed. "Not you! It... it wasn't what you think. I swear!" The people across the courtyard were looking at us funny. "Fine,"
I said. "Let him say what he thinks. Just try to remember who was your friend." I ran off before she could answer. I was so afraid, but determined to make my point. I didn't even look back.
I escaped her easily, just like I did the rest of my classes. I wanted to go home, just sit in my room and cry like I sometimes did. I sat there dry-eyed for another two periods. Then, I made it on the bus that she didn't ride. "God, she must hate me," I thought. It didn't occur to me that when I'd seen her last, she had only been afraid, but determined to make her point. Get it? Point. Heh heh.
"The school just called," my parents said. Here's some flowers for your grave. "A Mr. Horace wants us to meet him this evening."
"Y-yeah, that's my... history teacher," I said trying to stop shaking. "You d-didn't... we're not gon-na... go"
"Of course we're going. What's the problem with you? Did you catch a cold?"
No I died. "I'm f-fine," I said losing my composure. I tried to run to my room, but my dad caught me no problem, and dragged me by my waist out to the car. "Not this time," he growled. "I remember the last time you tried to get out of a parent\teacher conference. You can't hide forever. Now get in there!"
I was unceremoniously dumped in the back seat, where my mother sat, looking with sad disapproval. I couldn't hold it in any longer, and soon I was crying like a baby. Ugh. If only my voice had gotten deeper with the change, not higher. My mother was surprised, but she held me until I calmed down, whispering things to me. My father just stared silently forward, concentrating on the road. He was afraid I would get embarrassed so he didn't say anything. What a guy.
Crying with your head in someone's lap does wonders for the psyche. Whether it's your girlfriend, or your mother, it fixes things where nothing else could. I was halfway calm by the time we reached the school. I shuddered inward on myself, and prepared for the inevitable. The school bell ringing when no class was in had the grave quality of a death toll. We went in.
Mr. Horace's classroom seemed tilted in the angular evening light. The chairs askew, the bookshelves oddly wrong. Mr. Horace was the demon himself, brooding in shadows over some dusty tome of lore. "Oh, please come in. Turn on the light," he said. It was done and frosty fluorescent light filled the shadows, making everything look normal again. "I'm terribly sorry for the short notice, but I think you need to know right away."
My parents weren't sure who he was talking to. It was impossible to tell where he was looking. Finally, my dad spoke up. "Well, anything that will help our son is of utmost importance."
"You really think he's crazy?"
"What? How could you suggest such a thing?!" stammered my father, but I could tell he feared for it in his heart. He never quite shook the fear that I would get replaced by what I turned into. "We realize he has some... issues to deal with," my mother added energetically. "Issues?"
"Well with the way he's always getting into fights, and having trouble integrating with public society, he's clearly not dealing with his nature."
"I agree with you totally," Mr. Horace said with a snort of surprise. "But how can you tell?"
Both my parents squirmed a bit, then my mom blurted out, "It's rather obvious he's become a wolverine. The counselors say that's a sure sign of inherent aggression and antisocial tendencies."
"Hoo boy," Mr. Horace whinnied. "You truly believe this?"
"We're not afraid to face the facts," my dad said warningly. "And what do you think of this, Janed?"
I started. Never before had anyone directly addressed me in a parent/teacher conference. Nothing in that name said student. But there Mr. Horace was, asking me what I thought. At this point, I was beyond caring what the consequences were. "I... well I don't really know. A lot of counselors are full of it,"
drawing a shocked intake of breath from my mom. "And they never really helped me at all. I get into fights all the time, but I don't want to. Everyone used to say I was too sensitive before I changed into... this."
"And now they don't?"
"How could I be sensitive now? I'm a stinking vicious wolverine!" and my father growled again. Why was Mr. Horace drawing it out so long? Why didn't he just accuse me right up front of breaking his car?!
"Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, I think I've seen enough. If you could be so kind as to wait in the hall...?"
"What about Janed?"
"I have a few things to say to him."
My parents left, though I knew they were going to listen at the door. They had to know what was going to happen to their baby after all. I waited for a while, then they got tired of listening and decided to argue amongst themselves. I was alone against Mr. Horace. The horse who could tame a lion.
"Son," he said in a tone that was neither offended or gratified. "Are you aware that you have an amazing empathy?"
I smiled wryly. "It's a joke, right?"
He said nothing. "Come on, Mr. Horace! Even I can tell that I'm an antisocial freak. I don't got any friends hardly. I'm always getting into fights. And you say I'm some kind of a compassionate flower boy?"
"No, I said you have an amazing empathy. Tell me, what emotions are there right now."
He didn't ask what emotions there were in me. He asked what emotions there were. Geez, what was he talking about? "Uh... right now I'm feeling a bit uncomfortable because of these questions. I'm upset because I think something's wrong with me, but I can't find out because he says I shouldn't listen," I started to drift off a bit. "I'm a bit embarrassed as though I were watching someone who didn't know I could see them. I'm a bit worried for an old friend I hope to see again, if he ever trusts me."
"If who ever trusts you?"
"If he ever trusts... hey, what are you trying to pull?!" I opened my eyes in shock. "I told you I only got one friend, and it's most certainly not a 'he.'"
"You can come out now," Mr. Horace said, smiling. From the other room, through a door between the classrooms, came none other than Vice Principal Binks, and Sandra Phillips!"
"Hey idiot," she said cheerfully. I responded out of dumb shock. "Hey loser."
Sandra was looking worried, as though she didn't know if I trusted her. The VP just looked sheepish, obviously not comfortable with the idea of being a Peeping Tom. Wait... "Wait are you saying," I saw Mr. Horace's smile hesitate. "Are you saying I was feeling what they were feeling?"
"Son, I think this is a good time for a short history lesson."
"God, I must be crazy. Will you guys stop smiling like that? Ok, fine. History away."
"50 years ago, when your parents' were just being born or conceived, something shattered our lives and the way we used to live them. A change, as an exploding universe collided with our own, occurred on every single post adolescent human on Earth. You may know about this, but bear with me. People became combined in some way with animals of all different types and species. The sort of collective goo adults drew their substance from became irrevocably blended with that of the other universe.
"You had a double, everyone has a double, some kind of animal that was living in the other universe. After hitting puberty for a while, you began to combine with this animal, until you became what you are today."
"How the heck do you know this? It sounds like a bunch of hocus to me."
"I'm a History teacher. I make it a point to know these things. Anyway, there was something else I'm sure you've seen in the news, other consequences of our universes colliding. Some people developed... Powers. Stuff we only saw in comic books before. Some people could call on amazing reserves of strength, often without their conscious knowledge. Others could shift their form from one thing to another, mostly of a specific type. Some people can use and manipulate energy. Some people can use and manipulate minds."
Wow. "I thought all that stuff was just stories. Why doesn't anyone here...?"
"You know the most common power? It's called Norm-shift. About 60% of the people can do this, and nothing else. It takes a while to learn, but they completely transform into whatever animal that's their double. Around here, people have been so dead set on denying one's "animal nature." I'm not surprised the people who can do it keep quiet."
"Sandra? Mr. Binks? Do you believe any... of... this."
Sandra was just swinging her feet on the desk, but beside her was a full grown grizzly bear. Norm-shift.... Her eyes widened when she turned to the left and saw what was left of Mr. Binks, but he just picked up his clothes in his mouth, and lumbered embarrassed into the other room. "Well I'm convinced," Sandra whispered bawdily.
When Mr. Binks came back, he apologized for scaring me and Sandra. We laughed so hard, I swear his lower jaw was going to drop off. Mr. Horace chuckled a bit himself. "So I guess you're saying I'm not in that 60%?"
"Not likely. You do have a Power, but as far as I can tell it's not Norm-shifting."
"You can tell those things?"
"No, though some people can. I might be wrong, but most people only have one power, especially the strong ones."
"So that fight with Jerome..."
"My fault, I'm afraid. I tried shielding you to see if you were responding to your classmates' emotions. There was a backlash and poor Jerome got the brunt of it."
"So why doesn't this idiot have more friends?" Sandra asked. She was feeling notably left out. I wondered how I knew that. "I can answer that I think," or at least hoped I could. "Kind of like being a bat in a rifle range. I'm not comfortable around people, except you. Everyone else must have been hitting me so hard with whatever was bothering them, I couldn't get it out of my head."
I gave in to temptation. "It's aaaall so cleeear to meee now." I said making googly eyes, and waving my paws at the side of my face. She punched me across the nose. Ouch.
"You deserved that, idiot!"
"I feel so privileged."
"If you two don't mind," Mr. Binks started.
"I still haven't told him my Power," Sandra protested. Uh oh. She smiled. "You know the evil enchantress always seduces the hero in the end. Well that's me!"
One eyebrow rose above my muzzle. "What?"
"I can project emotions, silly! You suck 'em up and I spread 'em around. People like me more because I can make them feel happy. I'm really the only person who could help you."
"Help me what?"
"Even though I didn't know it, Horace told me that I was using my Power to keep yours on a leash. That's why you could stand me, but not anyone else."
We both turned to Mr. Horace. "So what's your power?"
The horse sighed. "It's not important. I just wanted to get the message through to you before you ate yourself alive. Now all we have to do is convince your parents."
Sandra got up still smiling. I felt suddenly afraid. "You know," she said. "People say I have a mean backhand, if you know what I mean Mr. Horace."
"Okay, okay," he said laughing again. "Off with your evil wiles, I'll talk!" The oppression cleared from the air.
"I'm somewhat telepathic. I can sense what people are going to do, occasionally catch surface thoughts, and form a poor shield. I have another Power..."
"Wow, so you're lucky then." Sandra said. "Would you be lucky if you woke up one day with two heads?"
Sandra frowned, considering the question. Mr. Horace sighed and began hesitantly to speak.
"I don't... get older. That is, I age at an incredibly low rate. I have been approximately 30 years old for the past 47 years."
"So how... so you're 77 years old!"
"78 in August."
"Man. And I thought I had it bad."
"It's not so bad..."
Sandra piped in. "You were around for the Mexican war then."
Mr. Horace seemed to retreat, his face sunk. "I don't like to talk about that."
"It's not a happy story."
"Oh come on..."
"It's not a happy story!" he shouted. "I don't want to talk about it. You don't want to know. Leave it be."
"Guys?" I said, a note of worry in my voice. "Don't look now but I think there's trouble."
Just then my parents came charging in, closing the door behind them. "There are people outside," my mom whispered. "All dressed in black. I don't know... they didn't see us."
I couldn't see them through the walls, but I knew that desire, hunger to hunt all too well. "The Pride," I said, all heads turning in my direction.
"Eric, are you sure this is a good idea?" came a harsh whisper from the shadows. "We gotta teach that greener what it means to mess with the Pride."
"But he's such a good teacher, why don't we--"
"Whose side are you on, his or mine?!"
"Yours Eric. You know that."
"Good. We're just gonna rough him up a bit. Help convince him to leave town. He won't ever know it's us."
"And we'll get him back for the humiliation."
"And the ridicule."
"We do this for the Pride," quothe Eric triumphantly. "He'll never forget us."
The black clad lions more represented panthers, their claws temporarily put aside for untraceable clubs and bats. A chain to tease the larynx as though it were being sliced. A cudgel to strike the back of the neck the way teeth would bite in a killing blow. A killing blow. They were a single shadow, waiting in the darkness for the greener to finish his business and come blithely strolling out. The door opened and out strode--
"It's that shaggy looking wolverine!" one whispered. "Now he told Mr. Horace. Now we have to get him."
"What if he knows we're here?"
"That idiot? How could he possibly know?"
They closed in.
There I stood, not knowing which way to turn. I walked a ways forward, then a ways back. I was just about to give it up as so much noise. Then I saw a gleam in the darkness.
They leapt. I ran. Oh boy did I run. Of course, lions are much faster than wolverines, but we do corners quite well. I had them practically skittering up the walls trying to keep up with my tortuous route. It only made them madder. I could feel them closing in as I broke for the only hiding place available: the boys locker room. I ran through the double doors even as the pride chased me out into the open. Instead of turning at one of the rows of lockers, I charged as fast as I could towards the other door; the only other exit in the building. I reached the door just as it started to swing closed on its own...
...and I was through. BANG. The door crashed closed and I heard their yowls as they threw themselves at it. But the door through which I so easily passed was not going to budge one inch. There was a 400 lb. non-morphic bear leaning against it. And I earnestly prayed as they rushed to the door they came in... yes! Sandra had gotten the thing chained shut like it usually was. After that, a simple matter for her to slip through the coaches' entrance and lock the door behind her.
Mr. Horace stayed in his classroom, trying not to chuckle while he called the police.
So that's a story. No, it's not the story, only one among many. I wasn't the only student in Realdsburg High with a story to tell. Nor were my own stories finished. I didn't become Mr. Happy Poo overnight. I was actually crabby and snappish at everyone the next day from lack of sleep. But I snapped in a sort of friendly way, and I even got to joking with Jerome. When we traded insults, I stayed idiot while he became jerk. My parents, bless their hearts, only wanted the best for me. My dad took a month before he would admit that he was not entirely correct, but my mom was just fine about it. The years pass by, and I often think what would have happened to me if not for Mr. Horace, and his willingness to help someone everyone else had given up on.
Poor Eric and his Pride ended up going to some cloistered private school and ultimately joining the military. For some reason this bothered Mr. Horace, but he wouldn't say why. They stayed together though. Together all the time.
I don't regret my early years. They had to happen, to clear up this mess that the world was making of Animal Psychology. It turns out History wasn't my thing after all, but what I found in its stead was good in its own right. I think telling this story did me some good. Maybe I'll use it as an anecdote for that little Sophomore lion cub who I'm currently counseling.
The following has been an attempt at a story in the Winds of Change Universe
Hmmm....Ok,this comes a bit from life.
You have a teacher, and equine, his first time teaching in a classroom. He's given the absolute worst class. The class is composed of carnivors and omnivors (I leave type and number up to you, and 40% must be fem)and they look at him as a pushover. He (the teacher) left the military recently and spent most of his assignments in special ops, and hates to talk about it.
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Last Updated: Saturday January 22, 2005 (13:55:51)