Katherine Sato sipped at her styrofoam cup, the hot cocoa's steam warming her muzzle. She blocked out the lobby of First Federal; the rows of tellers and lines of patrons; the obsidian floor, and the high glass windows that looked out on snow-covered skyscrapers. There was only her, and her wet coat and cold desk, and the delicious warm drink in her claws.
She winced, and squirmed in her seat, trying to get her tails comfortable again. They were still sore from where she had fallen on them. And they were dirty and wet, and the back of her coat was dirty and wet, and her hair was all dirty and wet too. At least her side desk faced out into the lobby, so that no one would notice. But she noticed, and it grated on her like her unpaid credit card bills, and her boyfriend's unbought Christmas gift.
She found her claws digging into the styrofoam, and forced herself to relax. Zen, she thought. Clear mind. Nothing in the world except cocoa. Nothing in the world but expensive, overpriced-
She sipped a little too deeply, and started breathing through her muzzle trying to cool off her burning tongue. Good cocoa, she thought, and fanned cool air onto her tongue. Very good.
Something made her tails twitch and her ears perk, and she looked up to see an unusual presence enter the building. It wavered like it was out of focus, and she shifted gears back and forth with her mind to look at both sides of it, like she would have at one of those books with the 3d illusions. One side was a young man in a business suit, clean and executive looking. The other side was a Kitsune like her, with brilliant white fur that had a golden sheen. But he only had one tail, and his clothes -- his real clothes -- looked old and cheap. A worn out jacket covered a thin t-shirt, and a pair of jeans that went down over his shoes.
Kath raised her eyebrows, watching him from across the lobby without his noticing her, and wondered what kind of prank he was trying to pull. She remembered her older Kitsune brothers' dumb antics back home in Vancouver, and the thought of someone like them trying to pull something at First Federal made her grin with anticipation. Go ahead, she thought. Bring it on. We'll see who has the last laugh -- the foolish young fox or the corporate behemoth.
Over the next few minutes, she kept glancing up from her paperwork to see how far he had gotten in line. A fox scent drifted towards her, on the cold air blown in by the doorway, and she detected a hint of forced confidence, overlaying an intense nervousness. She began to sweat as she realized that, because it made her recall her Becoming, and she didn't want to remember it. Or how scared she had been, or how much her brothers had tormented her.
Her conscience began chiding her, and as always it had her mother's thickly accented voice. "He is scared young man who has first Become, and you are just to ignoring him? You should getting up, going over there, saying hello to him. Those papers will still being there when you are to getting back." She imagined her mother's tails fluffed out, as she folded her arms in a huff.
Not NOW, Mother, Katherine thought, and made herself focus on work. But her mind kept drifting off. Was he really trying to prank them, she wondered, or just trying on a persona? Did he have any foxes in his family? Had anyone explained to him what had happened?
A few minutes passed, a few frustrating minutes spent writing reports in Microsoft Word. Then something loomed over the flat panel display on her desk, and she looked up to see the other fox. He was projecting a sheen of businesslike confidence, so strongly that she could only see the young man in the suit coat.
His eyes flicked down to the nameplate on her desk. "Hello, Miss Sato." He smiled at her.
His persona was strong, but felt so fake that it was off-putting. Just like most of the real execs I know, Kath thought. She vanished her own persona for him, letting him see her fox muzzle and three bushy tails, and relished the look of shock on his face. His persona flickered a moment, and past him Kath saw someone in line staring at his fox tail.
To his credit, the young fox recovered quickly. "Do they, uh ... " His eyes flicked to the side, and when he looked back down at her he seemed sheepish. "Do they hire a lot of Kitsune here?" He grinned nervously.
"Oh yeah," she said, and typed something into her report. "Lots. We're just all over the place here." She looked up at him. "Can I help you?"
"Well I, uh ... " He coughed, and pulled up a chair to her desk. "I was told you had a job for me," he said, and sounded like he was trying to be professional.
"Ah, yes," Kath deadpanned, still typing and looking away from him. "Can I see your resume?"
He got something out of his briefcase, and slid it across the glass desk towards her. She took it and glanced at it for a second. High school graduate, Microsoft Office experience, last position held two years ago. Unhireable. No wonder he was trying so hard to fit in.
"I'll make sure my boss sees it," she lied, and put it into a drawer without looking. "If you like, you can take a card," she said, and waved a hand at her business card holder.
He took one, and sat there looking at it for a long moment. Kath's face started to burn, as she realized that he wasn't going away that easily.
"Can I ask you a question?" he finally said.
"Make it quick," she told him.
"How'd you get hired on, here?"
And Kath knew what he meant. He had just Become, after all; he had discovered his powers all on his own, and the world seemed like a new place to him. Kath remembered flying for the first time, and thinking her brothers could never find her up there. She remembered trying on new personas, and grinning at herself in the mirror, and discreetly playing with foxfire, careful not to burn anything important.
But she also remembered the shock of discovering that her brothers were Kitsune too, and that now that she knew they had no end of ways to torment her. She remembered how quickly her elation and self-confidence had worn off, and how the Monday after that weekend had been just another school day, and how her friends hadn't even been able to tell that there was anything different about her.
She remembered her teenage years, and how irrelevant it had been that she was a mythical creature. Because nobody had liked her, and nothing could make up for that.
Kath remembered all this as she looked over at him, narrowly considering the naive young fox. And she knew that someone would have to burst his bubble, and that it'd be better done sooner than later.
"Fine," Kath said. "You want to know how I got this job?" She stood up, and indicated herself from the neck down. "This is how I got this job."
The young fox's face turned red, and he looked away.
"I know what you're thinking," she said, her own face reddened, and folded her arms as she spoke. "You're thinking 'Oh, I'm a Kitsune now, the world is magic! My every dream can be fulfilled! I'm going to go in and get a job at the bank, even though I haven't held a position in two flipping years.'" She gave him a scornful look. "You think anything can make up for that? Or for your lack of a degree?"
He had clasped his hands in his lap as she spoke, and was looking down at them now. "But ... " He looked up at her. "Isn't the world a magical place?"
"Yes." She sat back down. "And you know what the magical force that drives this world is? Money. That's why you are applying to work at a bank, and not at a dumb charity."
"But ... " And now all she could see was his real side, his fox side, sitting in a chair that cost more than his worn-out clothes did. "Today I ... I discovered that I can become anyone that I want to. And I flew. I flew under my own power! Does all that count for nothing?" He gave her a pleading look, and his voice cracked as he spoke.
"Have you tried foxfire yet?" she asked, abruptly.
"Fox ... fire? No," he said, twisting his face as he tried to think.
Kath held out her hand, and a flame the size of a cigarette lighter's appeared in between her fingers. "This is foxfire. See? There it is," she said, and idly played with the flame for a moment, a bored look on her face.
He held out his hand and concentrated on it, but failed to produce a spark.
"Know what it's good for?"
He looked up at her, his eyes daring to hope.
"Setting off the sprinkler system, and lighting cigarettes. That's it." She snapped her fingers together, and snuffed out the flame. Along with his hopes.
He looked shocked and hurt, and Kath found that she didn't enjoy that look on his face as much as she'd thought she would. She glanced back over at her display, and hoped that he would leave soon.
The corners of his eyes moistened, and his face twitched as he fought to maintain his composure. "I'll show you," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "I'll show you what Kitsune powers can do. I'll imagine myself as the brightest, most successful college student ever. I'll get the financial aid that I need. I'll ace every test, and I'll get that stupid degree, and I'll come right back here and shove it in your face." He glared at her, his eyes wet. "And then I'll rise to the top! I'll-"
"Want to know a secret?" Kath asked, her hands clasped underneath her chin and her elbows leaning on the top of her desk.
He stopped, and gave her a confused look.
She beckoned him closer. As he leaned over the table towards her, she pointed out into the lobby, and he looked where her fingers were pointing. "See that lady right there?"
"The, uh, African-American one? In the red suitcoat?"
"That's the one." Kath looked up at him. "She's a Kitsune."
He stared at Kath, not sure if she was joking or not. Then he looked back out into the lobby and squinted at the woman she'd indicated, trying to see her fox muzzle and tails.
"She comes in here every week," Kath went on, "to deposit her paycheck. Every now and then she asks us about a loan."
"What does she do?" the young fox asked.
"Some high-level position. President, Vice President, VP of Marketing. I dunno. She's gotten promoted a few times since I first saw her. Works at some Internet company."
Kath followed his gaze out into the lobby. The woman looked like a lioness ... poised, elegant and powerful. She looked like she didn't have the time to be waiting there. And in fact, as he watched a man came out of a back room and greeted her apologetically. She forgave him and shook his hand, and then they went down the hallway together.
"I couldn't see her tails," the young fox said.
"That's because she's forgotten she has them."
He recoiled, and stared at her again.
"That's what happens, when you take on a persona so intensely. You become it, and it becomes you, and you forget who you actually are." Kath continued to look out into the lobby, idly kicking her feet. "First you forget how many tails you have ... then you forget that you have a fox tail at all ... then you forget you can fly." She looked up at him. "Go ahead. Ask her if she's a Kitsune. See what kind of response you get."
He stared into the hallway, visibly shaken, trying to comprehend what he'd just heard. "How ... why?" He looked down at her. "Why would anyone let that happen?"
"Didn't you just tell me, yourself? You don't really want to be a Kitsune. You want to be another successful human, with money and power and fame. And you don't mind having Kitsune powers, if they'll help you accomplish your goal. But if they won't, you're willing to set them aside, and do whatever it takes." She smiled at him, a sly kind of smile that enjoyed the horrified look on his face. "You're starting to see how the world really works."
He looked away and just stood there, his hands in his pockets, staring down at the floor. And after a moment, Kath turned back to her PC's display, and started typing again.
The young fox mumbled something, and Katherine's ears perked. "Excuse me?"
"You," he said, and looked up at her. "How come you're still a Kitsune?"
She gave him an incredulous look. "I beg your pardon?"
"How come you still remember that you're a Kitsune? I mean, if that's really what you're supposed to do. Forget who you are, and forget you can fly, and do whatever it takes to earn money and buy things. Then why do you still have your tails?" His eyes bored into hers. "Did you lie to me, when you said your Kitsune powers don't help with anything? Or when you told me that's how the world really works, were you just lying to yourself?"
Kath stood up, kicked her chair back and gripped the edge of her desk. "Listen, you little snot!" He jumped back as her tails went ablaze behind her, the air rippling with heat distortions, and several people in line gasped. "Don't you ever talk that way to me. Ever!"
She glared up at his shocked face, and her eyes glowed. "Yes, I have my tails. Yes, I have my stupid powers! But I also have a job, and a life, and a place to stay besides my parents' house. And you'll never have any of that, because you're worthless! The corporate world doesn't want you, and you'll be lucky if you can find a job scrubbing tables at Arby's! Do you hear me!? I said-"
A loud, beeping noise cut her off. And for a second she looked around, startled, before the sprinkler came on over her desk.
The people in line cried out in alarm, unable to see why her outburst had made the sprinkler system go off but able to see the results. Her tails went out, and her suit was instantly soaked through. A second later her computer fizzled and gave off a loud spark, then shut down. Steam poured out of the case.
The young fox was nowhere to be seen.
Kath stood her chair back up and slumped into it, soaking wet all the way through, as her mother's voice chided her. "That was not a wery nice thing you did, Katerina."
She sighed. It's not a nice world, mom ...
* * *
Two weeks later
* * *
" ... consumer confidence at an all-time low, as evidenced by this year's dismal holiday sales. Macy's and JC Penney's have revised their fourth quarter earnings projections, and ... "
The TV newscaster went on, unaware that he was sitting inside of a beat-up plastic box on a bare wooden floor. The furniture had already been moved out, and Katherine's things were piled up in boxes, hastily patched up with boxing tape and with black marker scrawlings across them.
She stood in the kitchen nook, wearing blue jeans and a white sweater with the sleeves rolled up, and mopped at her face with the bandana she'd been using to tie back her hair. Then she looked past the TV set out the window, at the tops of the trees on the street outside, and sighed into the telephone. "Hi, mom ... "
" ... been unable to stem the tide of rampant bankruptcy. Many lending institutions have been forced to close their doors altogether, including the First Federal Bank of ... "
"Yeah, it's me." Kath smiled a sad smile, and twisted the telephone cord around her finger. "Listen, can I ... " She coughed. "Can I ask a favor of you and dad? I kinda need a place to stay for a few weeks -- maybe months -- and I ... " Her voice cracked.
She turned away from the window and hid her face, as she started to cry uncontrollably. "I know, mom," she said, her voice husky. "I know."
" ... pleas for a bailout were soundly rejected by both parties. But leading analysts warn that if taxpayer money isn't pumped into the system, and soon, the entire country could face a financial crisis."
Kath sniffled, and tore off a wad of paper towels before pressing it to her eyes, and then blowing her nose on it. She kept the phone to her pointed ear, occasionally nodding to it. "Yes," she said, and sniffled again. "Yes. Yes, I'm looking forward to your cooking, too." She opened the refrigerator door. There were a pizza delivery box and a half-empty two-liter bottle inside. "Believe me, mom, I'm looking forward to it."
" ... was brought to you by Consumer Refinancing Center. Got debt? We can help!"
"I love you too, mom." She nodded, then laughed, then sniffled again and brought another paper towel to her muzzle. "Yes. Okay, I'll see you there then. Do svidaniya!"
She hung up the phone, turned around and then stopped, taken aback. Floating outside her window was a familiar-looking young fox, leaning one arm on the windowsill and looking up at her blankly.
He didn't move or say anything. And Kath finally stormed over to the window, unlocked it and pulled it upward, paint flaking off as she did so. Cold air poured inside, and she ignited a foxfire in one hand, to ward off the cold and ward back the intruder. "What do you want?"
"Do you need any help?" he asked, unfazed.
"What makes you think I need your help?" she said, and sniffed.
He said nothing, but looked past her. And she turned and saw the stack of boxes piled up against the wall, haphazardly placed and crushing each other.
Kath took a deep breath, then let it out in a sigh. She hung her head in defeat, and squeezed her palm shut to extinguish the flames. "Come in," she said, without looking up.
He went around to the front door. And the TV played a commercial, that ended with scenes of a family playing on swings in a park. "So you can forget about your finances ... and spend time on what's really important."
Summary: A newly-minted Kitsune discovers his powers, and is giddy with all the possibilities until reality smacks him upside the head. But is it really reality, or just cynicism? This story may be my favorite one that I've written so far.
Legal Info: Licensed CC-By-SA, written as a request for Creator-Unreal. Please do not use his fursona without his permission. Visit Become Your Fursona if you'd like to get your own story!