Nothing Up My Sleeve
|Constructive criticism and in-depth critiques are welcome|
It was an impulse purchase. Late on a Friday night after a long week of work, actions muzzy at best, I somehow ended up ordering a fursuit.
Don't get the wrong impression from that. I know the stories that go around about fursuits and I'm not one of those guys. I do it for the same reason people want to be a mascot. For that absurd detachment from reality, to be someone else, at least for a little while.
In retrospect, that still sounds strange.
Anyway, the following days, some e-mails with the maker (who I found was a beginner in the business, though showed a lot of talent) and after much internal debate... I caved and carried through with the ambitions of my late-night actions. I placed the order, paid the deposit, waited, and three or so months later a disembodied head, paws, and tail arrived on my doorstep. I could have gotten a full body suit, but some part of me held back from going quite /that/ far. That being said, when I got the costume I promptly panicked and placed it in the closet before I could let its presence set in.
Where it stared at me day after day.
My talent for foresight is again shown to be faulty.
Time passed. I went to work. I stared at a computer screen from eight to five. I went home. I stared at computer screen until sleepy. I went to bed. Meals and chores scattered between. I never could remember what I actually stared at screens for afterward, at either work or home. Pixels just blurred by, acting as a form of time eater, consuming the time from point to point. Life was just being life, in the usual menial way.
Then the e-mail came from the fursuit maker, asking how I liked the suit, and my clicking through pixels stopped for a moment. I returned to the closet, and locked my gaze with the fox. The design of the fox was nice. Russet fur offset by the lower white, black marks on both sides of the muzzle, golden eyes, shiny nose. A fox was not exactly the most original of costumes, but I had a character when I was a kid; a goofy adventuresome fellow who happened to be a fox. He didn't even have a name as far as I knew. As I grew older, I played with the idea of him less and less until only a vague memory remained. So, in a way, it was him staring down at me from shelf in the closet.
I took down the head, the paws, and the tail, from closet and brought them to the living room. I sat holding the head for a long while.
"What are you looking at?" I said.
The fox head stared.
"Yeah, you're most likely wondering why I've left you in the closet for a while. You see, I'm not sure you're right for me. I mean, yeah, it sounded like a fun idea to wear you at the time, but now...when am I supposed to do so? I don't have time or money for conventions. I have no friends I hang out with who would be comfortable with me wearing a fox costume around. And now I'm speaking to an inanimate object."
I patted the fox between the years. "No offense."
The fox kept staring.
Well, there was only one way to end this. I carefully pulled the black paws over each hand, the oversized footpaws over my feet, hooked on the tail onto the back of my pants, and, of course, pulled the head over my own, hooking the velcro strap under my chin.
I stood there, the sound of my breath magnified within the head. I saw the room through the two eyeholes. I settled back down on the couch, moving the tail to the side so I could sit properly. After waiting so long, I supposed some part of me thought finally putting on the costume would be significant somehow. But, after doing it, I just thought the velcro strap felt a little itchy under my chin. I got up and wandered to the bathroom. I looked at myself with the fox's face in the mirror. Same vacant expression--though the smile was visible now-- small plastic canines, pink tongue sticking out a little. A tad surreal to see, but it still didn't stir anything within me.
Dang, this had been a waste of money. At least I'd only bought a partial. I rubbed my temples. then realized I was rubbing the temples of the fox's head. I snickered a little. "My enemy, Lord Fisher of the Laundry Room has eluded me once again," I stated, rubbing the fox's muzzle, "Alas, his leagues of brainwashed lemmings are a force to be reckoned with. They have the nasty habit of setting themselves a-blaze and throwing themselves off cliffs into the canyon we must pass to enter the Weasel Valley."
The memories of tales composed in yesteryears bubbled up as I said the words, those worlds I spun for the fox to explore, the dangers I had the fox face, the challenges that I had the fox solve in his creative and swash-buckling way. I paced the bathroom. "How can I do this? Time is of the essence, to rescue our comrades." I took a towel and tied it around my neck, letting it hang like a cape behind me. I grabbed the plunger by the toilet. I slunk to the door, and peeked into the hall. "I must work quickly. With this magic staff, given to me by the wise Sir Wolfie, I will find a way."
As I kept up this monologue, the story started growing, both old forgotten plots and new formed tangents, I crawled and scampered around the house, before I realized the absurdity of it while giving a one-liner to a pillow as I held the plunger to its nonexistent gizzard. Even then, I finished the sequence with "So long, Lord Fisher," before pressing the plunger into the pillow.
After that, I quickly returned the costume to the closet and slumped back on the couch. I sat there wondering what had just happened. I was pretty sure I had not lost my mind. Just, doing all that had felt like the right thing to do when I had that fox head on. All in good fun. And I had enjoyed it. I occurred to me that I had been playing with my imagination, which, for someone in their mid-twenties, was an unsettling thought. Perhaps I had lost my mind. But no, I wasn't doing anything I hadn't seen people role-playing do, and that really was my motivation. it was just fun to act like the fox for a little while. That fox of my younger imagination, who I'd almost forgotten, who may very well be reincarnated by that costume.
With these troublesome thoughts, I headed to bed.
The events of the evening did not leave me. The following day at work I could not stop thinking about it. I found myself jotting down notes of possible adventures. My fingers danced on the desk, plotting out daring-do escapes. I couldn't get my mind off it; even in discussions with co-workers, my mind wandered to the quests I would set forth upon once I got home.
My evenings changed.
The moment I got home, the adventure began again.
My schedule changed from staring at the computer screen to questing to defeat whatever evil happened to be plaguing the land. I overthrew the tyrannical Master Jupiter, the crazed wildcat from the far west. I tricked the Haze the Owl Dictator at his own games. I set free the lemmings enslaved by the gang of arctic foxes, who used an abbey as their cover for their trading of labor. Castles made of couch cushions, forts made of sheets, mountains made of comforters and pillows, each day a new landscape or adventure. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, until, just before setting off on a quest for the Eternal Fresh Scone, the phone rang.
It took me a few moments to place where the strange sound came from, that it came from my phone, and then actually find the phone to answer it.
"Evan? Is that you?"
"This is Mr. Roberts from across the street. Just wanted to present you an invitation to the Neighborhood BBQ this evening. Everyone will be there and Mrs. Roberts and I did not want you to feel excluded. We know you live alone and perhaps you will meet some new friends."
I knew that tone all too well. It was the one my parents used. It meant that "You are coming to this event whether you like it or not and oh! Look over there! There is a girl your age who is nice looking and single, why don't you go over and chat with her!" Though Mr. and Mrs. Roberts were not my parents, they were the same general age and seemed to have the parent aura about them (plus, I had my suspicions that my parents had built a network of informants among my neighbors.)
"OK...when is the event?" I asked, hoping to fend it off with some made up scheduling conflict.
"Just started. We will be waiting for you. See you soon."
He hung up before I could respond. I glowered at the cell phone. I had little choice to put on a coat and head across the street. I did not like social events. Not that I had any trouble talking to people, but normally, conversation revolved around the current local gossip, a topic I could only nod to while retaining a hopefully interested blank expression.
I did not expect the odd looks I was given when I entered the backyard. I decided they were a pleasant change of pace. The kids there were very warm towards me, which I should have found suspect. Still, I decided to play along with the social coil, and at least make an effort to be grown up.
"Seems like a nice BBQ," I commented, to the first neighbor I encountered, "You're Mr. Cory, right?"
The man nodded, eyes a bit wider than I was used to seeing.
"I didn't miss the good steaks, did I?" I said, nudging Mr. Cory on the arm, flashing a smile.
He shook his head and edged away.
It was then I noticed that the odd looks had turned into odd stares from everyone at the BBQ. I saw Mrs. Roberts walking towards me. I gave a good-natured wave, then noticed her face was covered by a nervous expression. "Excuse me, who are you?"
"Evan, Mrs. Roberts. Mr. Roberts just invited me, I thought..."
"What are you wearing?" she whispered, gaze giving me a once-over.
"Don't be silly, Evan. That is not what I'm talking about."
The reality dawned on me as I went back over my actions between getting home from work and getting the call from Mr. Roberts. Putting down bag and hanging up jacket, taking out the fox suit, setting forth to defeat the zombie squirrels, getting the call from Mr. Roberts, putting on the coat...I have obviously missed a step somewhere. I was still wearing the fox suit. It would seem something I would have noticed. I guessed I was getting so used to wearing it after work that it felt natural.
"Ur...this is...my...costume...for work."
Mrs. Roberts pursed her lips. "As a software engineer?"
Mrs. Robert's sighed and took hold of my paw. "Come with me, Evan."
She led me over to a girl, rather, a girl about my age, brown flowing air, cute classes, a bit of freckles on her nose.
"Hilda? This is Evan, he lives across the street from us."
Hilda giggled. "You told me about him. But you didn't..."
Mrs. Roberts sighed, interrupting her. "Hilda is new to the neighborhood, she lives just around the block. I leave the rest to the fates." She sighed again, and moved away.
Hilda smiled, and not an odd forced smile either. "Mrs. Roberts did not mention how cute you were."
I shrugged, "I guess my rugged good looks did not meet her standards."
"Shall we get some food?" she asked.
"Why not?" I said, "I suppose you're not up on the neighborhood gossip."
"I don't know," Hilda said, leaning in, "I have it on good authority that the person who lives across the street dresses up like a fox in his spare time."
"Really?" I said, lowering my own voice conspiratorially as I picked up a paper plate.
"Yeah, and there's a good chance he might be a furry."
"You don't say. How scandalous." I chose a hamburger bun and blackened hamburger to place inside.
"I know. But I'm sure he's harmless. Not a sexual deviant or anything."
"For sure. I've heard he just does it to release his inner child." I added ketchup and mustard.
"That sounds oddly cute."
"Or just weird."
"I like weird," she said, rubbing my snout. "By the way, how are you managing to eat through the costume head?"
I stopped in mid-chew. I tasted the mix of burnt meat, bun, ketchup, and mustard in my mouth. Though, I didn't quite know /how/ I had the taste in my mouth. I chewed a little further. I swallowed.
"Evan? You know. That's really cool how your costume is moving like that, the jaw and everything. Aren't you worried about stains."
I felt my tongue across my teeth. I felt my tail twitch.
"I'm sorry. I must go."
"But you just got here. I..."
"I really. I just..." I started backing away. "Nice to meet you. Long day tomorrow. Work."
I ran. Through the yard, through the gate, across the street, to my door, opened it, went inside, closed it, leaned against it, gasping for breath. I took account of myself. Everything felt odd. I rubbed a paw across my face. It was hard to describe. it was as if I could /feel/ the touch, in both my paw and on my muzzle. I slowly walked to the bathroom. I turned on the light. I looked the same. Though now, I knew, I wasn't looking through two small holes in the fox costume's eyes. The costume’s eyes and my own were one in the same. I stared cross-eyed down my muzzle. I could tell in the mirror that nothing of my appearance had changed. Wait. I opened my coat. I lifted my t-shirt and found white belly fur. Oh, my partial suit seemed to have become a full suit at some point.
It still looked like a costume though. I could see seams, I could still see the eyes were plastic, and, though I could move it, the tongue was even fabric (but now with slight mustard stains). I breathed. Still a costume. I could feel it. Perhaps I could just take it off. I pulled off my left paw.
I yipped in surprise.
I rose my left hand. Or rather, the space at the end of the left arm where my hand ought to be. I tried to move my left hand. The left paw, still being held by my right hand, clenched. Carefully, I placed the left paw back near the arm. It stayed. I wiggled the digits.
Ok, this could still be just a very absurd dream.
I took my left arm, and this time, pulled the fuzzy sleeve down. There was my left paw, hovering in mid-air. No arm. Cautiously, I moved my right paw through where the arm should be. It passed through air. My left paw made a peace sign. I carefully pulled the sleeve back down. The strange part was that when I'd done that, I could swear I could feel my skin wrinkle back..
One last test. I unhooked the Velcro strap of my head. I put a paw on each cheek.
I was suddenly looking down from a foot higher, my head detached from my shoulders. I chanced a look down at the empty hole where my head ought to be on the suit before my paws dropped my head into the bathtub. Soon after, I heard a soft thump, which I assumed was my body loosing balance. I felt the impact.
There I was. Head lying sideways in the bathtub, cheek soaking up a puddle of stagnant water left over from the last shower, body lying elsewhere. I wondered if this was the time to panic. Oddly enough, I felt rather calm about the situation. Yes, I had somehow turned into an animate fursuit. How was I supposed to react to that? All I could really do was try to get my head back on my shoulders and go from there.
I concentrated on my body. I made it feel its paws about itself. Floor. Porcelain. No, too curved. Must be the toilet. Plastic sheet. I saw the shower certain move. OK. I could guess where it was now. Sit up. Strange to do when I was literally disembodied. Took a bit of effort. Eventually, after a bit of fumbling, feeling wetness as I tried to seek purchase on what I concluded was the toilet, I saw two black paws, and then my headless fox body rise over the rim of the tub. I'd say it was looking down, but you see how that wouldn't make sense without a head. It was a disorienting action, but I somehow got my paws to grip my head, lift up, dizzying as I tried to get my head to an upright angle, and place it back onto my fuzzy shoulders. I reconnected the Velcro strap. To what, considering I was lacking a chin, I could not say.
I sat next to the bath a long time, absently rubbing my tail. Events caught up to perception. I realized I felt different and felt the same. Different, because my body was obviously...was. Same, because all my thoughts and feelings felt normal. What instincts would an animate costume have need to corrupt me with anyway? Avoid starches? I lifted the shirt again to look down at the white stomach fur. I felt along it. By all accounts, it felt like there was something under the fabric fur. I felt under my chin again and my claws caught hold of a zipper. I mentally steeled myself, and pulled down to my stomach. I lifted the shirt again, and pulled the opening apart. I could see the back of the costume, an athletic mesh, similar to that of the paws and arms. No insides whatsoever.
I zipped back up.
Shouldn't this awareness cause me to collapse? By all accounts, I should be limp on the floor. Then again, by all accounts, I shouldn't be a fox costume either. So perhaps one weirdness met with the other and collaborated so I could remain in this odd middle ground.
I needed some coffee. I wondered I'd be able to. Then I realized the half of a burger I'd eaten had went somewhere, so coffee couldn't hurt to calm my literally thread nerves. As I contemplated the odd sensation of coffee soaking into my tongue, I considered my options.
Well, there was always the fursuit maker…
It took a few hours to find her contact information. Between getting used to the limited paw-typing function and the perspective through these new eyes, it took a little long than normal. I did know she lived somewhat nearby. She'd actually dropped the costume off on my doorstep when she'd finished. Her website didn't seem like it'd been updated for the last five months though. The last pictures in the gallery were work-in-progress shots of my costume being made. After that, some general note how life and gotten busy and then nothing. This worried me as I carefully dialed her number with one plastic claw.
It rang six times before someone picked up.
"Hello, is...Gig there?"
"Oh, Emily. Yes, she's here. Emily! Phone for you!"
Some shuffling, some strained statements with "mom" in them, then a wary, "Hello?"
"Yes. This is...Evan."
"Evan? Evan! I tried e-mailing you a few months back. How's it going?"
"Fine. No. Wait. Not fine."
"Do you like the suit?" I could hear the slight wariness in the tone.
"Yes. Yes, the costume has been great. I need to meet you."
Silence on the other side.
"Just...I think. Has there been any side effects reported...from your commissioners?"
"Side effects? What are you talking about? No..." her voice moved away from the phone, "Mom, stop being a snoop. I'm not..." A door closed. "OK. What was that again?"
I rubbed my muzzle. "This is really hard to explain over the phone. Can't we just meet up somewhere?"
I heard the hesitation.
"Somewhere public. Like, there is a Starbucks not far from here. How would that work?"
"I don't know..."
"...would tomorrow evening work?"
I breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes, that would be fine."
"The Starbuck on Jackson Ave, right?"
"Six be alright?"
"Yes, thank you."
Only after I hang up did I remember I had work the next day. It wasn't a matter of it conflicting with the meeting, it was a matter of it being /work/. A fleeting hope that this condition would pass scampered by.
The following morning, mid-way through bushing my plastic canines, did the reality slap in the muzzle again.
Of all the reasons to skip work, you would think this would be near the top next to "I appear to have been disemboweled." And truth be told, I /had/ been disemboweled. Just not in the conventional way. I didn't skip work though. I really couldn't bring myself to do it.
So, wearing a tie (because it was the only dressy thing I could fine that fit me), I took the bus, I entered the office building, I went to the fifth floor, I sat in my cubical, I turned on my computer, I typed productively. Between the lines, many stares, bugging out eyes, surprised gasps, whispers, and (oddly enough) high-fives to my raised paw filled the spaces in between. Never having worn my costume in public, besides that brief BBQ interlude, I found the effect...not altogether dissatisfying. For every glare my fuzzy frame attracted there were three grins with a chuckle or two on the edges. To be fair, I did ham it up, with exaggerated waves and proclamations of love, despite my growing fear of actually making it to the office.
I had hoped, perhaps, to fly into the fog of menial labor that the office bred, and maybe no one would notice that a six foot fox had snuck into the workspace.
I don't know why I thought that would work. Not minutes after sitting at my computer did I feel the pressure points of dumbfounded stares cast down upon me from surrounding cubicles. I leaned closer to the screen, muzzle almost touching the monitor, trying to get used to coding with four digits and plastic claws.
"Evan, is that you?"
Grudgingly, I turned around and forced a grin. "Hi Tim."
"It /is/ you." Tim took a sip of coffee. "Is this for a protest or..." He let the inquiry float, as if waiting for me to catch it. I didn't oblige.
"When is the deadline for this project again?" I asked, "I have the format down, but I need some time to insert the elements and test the..."
"Seriously. Is this a joke? Are there cameras set up to see our reactions?"
I growled low and steady. I didn't like Tim that much. He tended to steal my pens when he thought I wouldn't notice. I kept growling until Tim took the hint and slowly backed out of the cubicle, nervous grin pasted on his face. My tail wagged as I turned back to the computer.
Time almost got to that point where moments flowed into each other, coding out programs used for boring teacher tasks, and I could let myself float until five came around and I could escape to home...until a throat cleared. I turned again. Ah, Manager Susan. I should have known. Interminable middle age, tweed dresses, and a strange shade of burgundy lipstick;she could strike fear in any person's heart. Even mine, though I didn't have one at the moment. She adjusted her square-rimmed glasses.
"Walk with me."
I could feel my ears and tail lower as I rose from the chair. The sound of co-workers frantically typing spoke of their attempt to keep from making eye-contact with Manager Susan or my doomed hide. She looked me up and down.
"Nice tie," she stated, "It complements the fur."
"Thank you," I squeaked, a slight yip on the edge.
We walked down the row of cubicles, into the hall of real offices. She smiled, in a way that may me feel more mouse than fox. She opened a door and motioned me to enter first. This was it. I was going to be fired. Would it happen with yelling? Or just a simple "You're fired, have a nice day"? I felt my tail twitch. I closed my eyes and entered the room.
I opened them, only to see a half dozen people in suits seated around a table.
Manager Susan stood next to me. "This is Evan Stephens, he is our junior software engineer here at the company. Evan, these are our investors, here to see what new projects we have in development."
I gave a weak wave back, hoping that I would suddenly flop into a pile of fur on the floor like I should. Oddly enough, a few of the investors waved back, and a few smiles snuck in as well. Others glared with such an effect I was impressed my synthetic fur didn’t start melting. They didn’t even have jaws and I felt they wanted to rip out my throat. I pressed myself against the wall, my paws held behind me, clutching each other tightly.
Susan cleared her throat. "Now, as you know, our demographic here is aimed at teachers and instructors. But, I heard that you wish us to widen our scope, to look further into our education fields, and help a younger demographic. I believe that Mr. Stephens here is the...fox to take us there."
My jaw dropped. I wanted gave a little yip of surprise, and before I could object Manager Susan put an arm around my shoulders. "In Mr. Stephens's spare time he has been creating a plot that we can use to get through to students though adventures and quests using animal characters. In fact, this fox costume he is wearing represents the main character of these stories. Using this format, we can educate kids about anything they need to know in a new and fun way. Real education can be achieved when students don't even know they are being taught. This is no new..."
I just stared blankly at Manager Susan as she pitched this idea with a passionate vigor that would make a wolverine jealous. The investors were obviously interested, and smiles grew. She patted me on the back as she winded down, "And Mr. Stephens will be the Creative Manager of this new project, meaning he will be in charge of the organization and creative design of this program, assuming he agrees to take on the position. Will you, Evan?"
I nodded dumbly.
"Thank you for your time." The investors clapped as she took me by the paw and led me out.
"Wha-?" I started.
"I saw that you have been distracted for the past few weeks, scribbling notes during work. It would have been irresponsible for me to see that you were not wasting company time."
"You saw...I'm sorry..."
She rose a hand. "Evan. You scribbles gave me this idea. Our investors have been chiding us for something new, and you are it. It was only luck that you happened to be wearing this suit on the day of the bi-annual investor meeting. Any other day, I would have, pardon the pun, thrown you out on your tail, but between the scribbles and this, it turned into the perfect storm for you, Evan. Enjoy the promotion. It will include an office, higher pay, and..." She have me another look from footpaws to ears. "You may wear the suit. If this is what you need to play with this idea, I think I could convince the boys upstairs that this is your official outfit. Assuming you would agree to some PR events."
I tried to speak and ended up yipping again.
"You may go home a little early, Evan. You deserve it. Plus== I was watching you a few minutes ago; you really suck at typing with those paws."
I shrugged helplessly.
"See you about, Evan." She winked and headed off to torment some other soul. Such a brilliant woman.
So, loosening my tie, I headed to the coffee shop early to let the details of what happened settle in. Three varieties of coffee (grande) later, many stares, two flirting occasions, and three tail pulls by little children later, Gigwolf entered. Blue hair, messenger bag with many buttons, pink shaded sunglasses. I waved. She, after a slight pause, waved back and slowly approached my table.
"You got a body to go with the rest, I see," she commented.
"Heh. Yeeeeeah. Not exactly. How about I buy you a coffee and I'll explain."
She got a raspberry banana smoothy. I explained the events of the past month, mainly the last day. She took it rather well, claiming me to be insane, before I did my little trick of pulling down my sleeve and wiggling my digits. A little creative swearing later (does "jackalope droppings" really count as a swear?), we got to her side of things.
"I didn't do anything weird with the suit, if that's what you mean."
"Are you sure...didn't dig it up from an Indian graveyard or something...?" I asked, half-serious.
She sucked the last of her slurpy. "Well, I did get the fur from Goodwill."
I chewed on that. "Goodwill?"
"I washed it before I used it."
"They have quality stuff there!" she said.
"So, no Chinese guy who spoke in haiku there?"
"At least you're taking this all well."
"No, seriously, was there a Chinese guy there?"
She gave me a look only humans under the age of twenty could properly give.
I sighed, and let another large drink of coffee soak into my mouth. I relished the hazelnut. "I suppose trying to find where the fur came from would be impossible."
"The place burned down a few weeks back," she offered.
"Convenient," I said, "I wonder if this will just...wear off. I just can't shake this feeling that I'm going collapse in on myself under the force of both logic and gravity."
"Do you ever have the feeling you want to be...worn?"
I growled at Gigwolf.
She held up her hands, "Sorry, it needed to be asked." She looked down at her empty slurpy cup. "You know, I feel responsible for this. I know this is absurd and proves I shouldn't make a business out of fursuits, but I really want to at least...help out somehow."
I slanted my felt eyelids.
"It will requires a needle, thread, and twenty bags of cotton padding."
"You're going to make me stuffing ?"
"It will keep logic from making you collapse."
I agreed to her proposal.
After I got home, I slumped against the front door, exhausted. The fear of collapsing had diminished greatly after being properly stuffed with stuffing, and having my limbs sewed together did help avoid any future senses of detachment. Though a fun effect, I did not want to wake up after some late-night quest to find my right paw missing, or my whole body. The visit with Gigwolf had been an satisfying affair. Plus, she had agreed to help with any wear and tear I might run into. She bought extra bags of plush filling just in case.
I still couldn't quite believe the situation. Even after all this. I rose my paw and wiggled the digits. Felt a dash more substantial when it had plush rather than phantom force within it.
I now existed as a large animate fox costume.
That statement's significance did not jar me as much as I supposed it would. I breathed a lung-less sigh. I spotted a empty paper towel roll nearby. I picked it up and swung it lightly, as if testing the balance of a blade. Ah, my reliable weapon. I pulled the cushions from the couch, making them fort walls, arranged the blankets for a moat of sorts, I used magazines for winding pathways, put the tall lamp in the middle of the castle's courtyard, to use in warding off dragons. I had just gotten some pots to make some outposts when the doorbell rang.
The doorbell rang again.
I didn't react. I wondered if I should just continue the construction work. Just lose myself.
"Evan?" Hilda's voice called through the door. "Are you there?"
"Yes," I responded.
"Are you busy?"
I looked at the half-finished world in the middle of my living room. "I suppose."
"I just wanted to check if you were sick or anything. You really seemed panicked about something last night. And you didn't answer the cell phone number Mrs. Roberts gave me."
I tried to recall where that devious electronic device was hidden.
"Are you sure? I really...just...you /are/ cute. I know that's silly to say. I mean, I really don't even know what you look like, but just, even when talking with you, I can sorta tell you're...nice. I was hoping just..."
"You want to be friends?" I ventured. My mind started clutching at the meaning in Hilda's voice. I started slinking to the door.
"Hilda. That would be nice...but...I need to ask you something."
"Would you be willing to go on grand adventures into the unknowns? Go on quests for items of mystical power? Defeat creatures of ill repute? Fight for the good of the world? And be accepting of hugs in times of pain and...just in general?"
A long silence settled from beyond the door.
I opened the door.