Fur, Teeth, and Claws


sharrow_icon.gif weasel_icon.gif

Scene Title Fur, Teeth, and Claws
Synopsis Late one night in Providence, Weasel discovers a stranger in a house of God.
Date May 3, 2019

By night, Providence is wood and shadow.

The flickering tongues of fire in oil lanterns burn in every other window at the heart of this rural New Jersey settlement. Paint peeling away from the clatterboard casts long shadows against the white-streaked wood. Dust and cobwebs cling to the open shutters, and inside the church the shadows cast by exposed wood support pillars and rough old pews dance with the flicker of each flame.

Long gone are the parishioners, long gone is the priest, long gone are the crowds and the contemplative… save for one. Seated on a pew at the front right row of the church, Charles Sharrow looks the part of an old priest. His long face is weathered with time, creased with wrinkles wrought by both worry and joy, though the former weighs on him more so than the latter. Around these parts he’s come to be known as something of a philanthropist, a man of wealth and status from somewhere vaguely European — based on his accent alone — who has come to prop up the economy of the community in light of threats from things that stalk the night.

Sitting with his hands folded together in his lap, Sharrow stares down at the way the shadows dance across the rough wood of the floor. The scent of old wood, recent rain, and fresh grass fills the air. It is, in a way, peaceful. Only the call of a distant owl high up in the rafters warns Sharrow that he has any company this evening.

But it won’t be his last.

New Hope Church


New Jersey Pine Barrens

May 3rd


Reaching inside of his heavy, black wool coat that fends off the damp chill in the air, Sharrow withdraws a single, brass-plated coin into his palm. A 50 rouble coin, Russian, minted in 2006. He rolls it between two fingers, pausing when the dull surface momentarily catches the light of one oil lamp and shines just a little brighter.

When the coin winds up on top of Sharrow’s thumb, he flicks it into the air, watching it spin end over end before catching it in his palm, snared in a cage of long fingers.

Religion never really was a thing for Clara Winters. She appreciates Max for letting her stay with him, and she listens when he speaks — she even enjoys listening to him preach from time to time, if only for the comforting droning of his voice as he speaks the Word. However, she’s never really quite believed in anything, except for herself and those she cares about and trusts.

By night, she uses her creatures to help her see. Her “friend” of the mephitidae variety doesn’t have the best night vision (or the best vision period) but he does have an amazing sense of smell, and so she follows him to the church for a bit of solace before she makes her way back to Max’s house, where she has been staying. Soon, she will return to the Safe Zone, the place where she doesn’t belong. Before she does that, however, she needs some time to think about things — to think about how frequently she might want to return.

The small woman wasn’t expecting to have to share the space of the church with anyone else, save perhaps Max. So when the door opens and Clara slips in, she pauses halfway in, weary gray eyes landing upon the back of the old man’s head. She lingers for a moment, watching the fellow; the little skunk slinks in behind her, quite intent on enjoying a nice nap under a pew.

After a moment, Clara turns, quietly shutting the door before making her way into the church proper. She doesn’t say anything to the man she now shares this space with; instead, she makes her way to a pew on the opposite side of the church, seating herself and folding her hands as she turns her gaze up to the rafters.

Sharrow curls his fingers around the rouble, depositing the coin back into his jacket pocket. The sound of someone else in the church puts him on edge, though he doesn’t outwardly express it. Instead, he sits forward and slowly pushes himself to stand. It’s a weary process, one aided by a simple birch cane that he wishes was something entirely other. There is a cane he feels entitled to, one that went missing.

Turning down the aisle, Sharrow makes a slow procession down the length of the church. He stops, halfway toward the exit, listening to the small sounds of an animal, then turns to regard where Clara settled down on the bench seat. He narrows his eyes, then performs an about-face and starts walking back up the aisle, watching the back of Clara’s head until he reaches the row she’s seated in. Under lantern light, Sharrow’s features look sunken and extreme, his eyes shadowed by thick brows, his prominent nose hawkish and predatory.

Sharrow’s attention shifts from Clara, down to her skunk, and then back again. “Is he housebroken?” Sharrow asks. It’s a polite way of reminding her she’d brought a wild animal into a church.

For a moment, Clara closes her eyes enjoys the peace of the situation — the click of the cane against the floor is actually quite relaxing, in its own way. It also tells her exactly where the old man is in the building; it tells her when he pauses, and it tells her when he is making his way over to her. For her part, she remains silent until he comes closer.

Then, gray eyes open, turning to take in the old man’s face and general features, a closer look that she didn’t bother trying for when she entered in the interest of letting the old man have some peace. For a moment, she seems almost mute in her silence; then, her eyes turn down to the little skunk who is curling up next to her feet. “He is for me,” she replies, leaning down to gently run her fingers along the soft fur on the fat little skunk’s back. “If he needs to go, I’ll know,” she adds in a more gentle tone, one hand reaching up to tap two fingers against her temple — a simple explanation for what she can do.

“I’m sorry if we disturbed you,” she adds, leaning back in the seat once more and folding her hands before her. “I needed a quiet place to think a little bit.”

One of Sharrow’s brows rise slowly, eyes moving down to meet the black beads of the skunk’s. There’s a momentarily assessing look, and Sharrow offers something of a mild smile to Clara as he looks back over to her. “You can communicate with it.” It isn’t a question, it’s something spoken with certainty. He’s seen enough animal empaths and animal telepaths in his time to know one when he sees them.

“How long have you had your gift?” Sharrow asks, his tone soft and conversational, attention occasionally drifting back down to the skunk, keeping an eye on where it is at any given time. He’s known enough animal telepaths to know not to underestimate them, either.

“I can, yes.” The girl reaches down, gently scratching the little skunk atop the head. “His name’s Pepe Le Pew,” she adds, as though that information is important to the identity of the plump little creature. It’s spoken with the sort of fondness that some reserve for their children, and is accompanied by a look of affection that seems reserved only for the little stinky beast.

“Since…late 2011, early 2012?” Dark eyes roll up toward the ceiling, a visual representation of her thoughts. “Little bit after the Lighthouse took me in,” she adds as an afterthought, as though it is truly no big deal to admit that you are an orphan. “I ran away for a bit, and found this fellow. He was the first one I ever spoke to, and we’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since.” A pause. “I talk to anything in the Musteloid family, as far as I know. Weasels, raccoons, skunks obviously…I think I can talk to Red Pandas, but I’ve never met one to test that theory.” Sounds like she wants to.

“It’s a potent gift,” is Sharrow’s subtle way of making a skunk joke. He only smiles just as much as is appropriate, which isn’t much given their surroundings. “But one that can be easily underestimated as well. The caretaker of this place,” Sharrow says as he re-adjusts how he rests his weight on his feet, “Providence, not the church. I knew her when she was your age…” he says with a subtle turn of his head. “People underestimated her ability, underestimated her brilliance… and I myself am guilty of that. But old dogs can indeed learn new tricks, and the trick I have learned is humility. I know when I was wrong, and I was wrong for so many years.”

Taking a few steps closer to Clara, Sharrow looks in the direction of her monochromatic friend, then back to her. “You’re resilient to have survived the war, the persecution of your kind, the ignorance of those unwilling to learn. You have a miraculous gift, and even as young as you are… you should be respected for that miraculous potential living inside of you.”

Bushy eyebrows raise slightly at the old man and his kind words — one can almost see the girl’s chest (and ego) swelling just a bit as Sharrow speaks. His first line brings a small scoff of laughter. Then, a bit less consciously, her posture improves ever-so-slightly in reaction to the praise — deserved or not. She even got a comparison to the woman who cares for this place — she’s assuming it’s the avian telepath that she has yet to meet.

“I mean, I didn’t really do much in the war. It was never really my war to start with,” she explains, feeling the praise for surviving the war is undeserved. “I, ah, woke up in a hospital up in Calgary when I was, I think, about seven? I don’t really even know how old I am.” She quiets a little. “Jumped around in the foster care system up in Canada, until Brian Winters and the Lighthouse took me in up there.” There’s a pause as she ponders her own story. “I never fought a day in the war, never even set foot in this country until after it was over.” She ponders a bit more. “They’re nicer to Slice people up there.”

She shakes her head as if shaking off the webs of a dream, turning a polite smile up to Sharrow. “And my power isn’t really that miraculous. I mean, my animals help me hunt, and I’m great at pest control, but…it’s not really as cool as avian telepathy.” There might be a note of resentment in there — she loves her ability and her animals, but she can’t help but be a little jealous of some others with more flashy abilities.

Sharrow stumbles over Slice as slang, struggles with it, and leaves it behind and moves on. “It is your war,” he argues, “because it was for your soul.” Settling his weight more firmly on his cane, Sharrow looks down to the floor, then back up to Clara. “You underestimate the importance of the war’s size… but… that’s natural. I was the same when I was your age.”

Tiedly, Sharrow finally relents his standing and sits down on the bench in front of Clara, turning sideways so that he can better see her. “I lost my parents in the London Blitz. That was… seventy-eight years ago. I wasn’t much younger than you, then. It took me a long time to learn a lesson in the importance of that conflict, from someone older than I… from someone who saw history with a broader perspective.”

Taking a breath, Sharrow looks to one of the lanterns burning in the church. “That isn’t to say the lesson I learned was the right one, or that my teacher was infallible. In fact, he came to change his ways, his beliefs, after realizing the error of them. I can only hope to follow in those footsteps…” He looks from the lantern to Weasel, “and help make a better world for people like you. The ones who will inherit it.”

The girl watches Sharrow thoughtfully as he sits, listening to his words quite earnestly — she’s a good listener, if nothing else. He has an interesting perspective on the war, to say the very least. The girl folds her hands and wedges them between her knees, leaning toward the old man with raised brows.

“My world history is a bit rusty,” she points out at his mention of the London Blitz — something she’ll have to look up next time she’s in the Safe Zone, probably, “But I’m sorry you lost your parents.” She fidgets, resisting the urge to add in her personal wish to just who her parents were — that would be enough.

She fidgets a little. “You have a better perspective than most older people,” she points out; after a moment, with nothing to do with her hands, she suddenly reaches down and scoops the fat little skunk into her lap. The typically stinky creature lets out a soft, contented squeak, and promptly rolls over to enjoy the belly rubs that follow. He’s kind of like a cat, clawed paws waving in the air.

“Most of the people in the older generations don’t seem to care what kind of world they leave behind.” It’s an honest statement. “They fight over stupid sh — stupid things,” she censors her normally crude language out of respect for the older man. “And it’s always the younger people who have to pay for it. I hope my generation doesn’t turn out the same way, but that’s a good twenty or thirty years in the future, so there’s only room for speculation.” She doesn’t know where she’s going with that, entirely.i'm

Sharrow smiles, patiently. There’s a nod of recognition from the old man as he folds his hands across his lap, looking over to Clara with a thoughtful expression. “I thought the same thing when I was your age,” he says with an incline of his head toward the young girl. “I and many others my age all presumed we would be the light in the darkness, torchbearers of a better age. But it doesn’t always come to pass. People are blinded by half truths, greed, contempt, or any number of driving factors…”

Looking down to his hands, Sharrow shakes his head. “No one learns without losing something,” he admits, blinking a weary look up to Clara, “and no one loses something without learning a lesson. What’s important is the quality of that lesson. That is where I failed, and where the world often fails. For a very long time, I thought people like you,” and he nods to her again, “were a blight that needed to be expunged. I dedicated my entire life to that cause, to that misguided belief, and then… my world view was challenged and I realized the truth.” Sharrow looks at Weasel for a long, silent moment. “I was the blight.”

“I mean, I’m sure that’s not entirely true.” Clara turns, examining the older man thoughtfully, taking in his features. “I mean, the world isn’t a great place. I hear Britain and Japan are horrible places for someone like me.” She’s heard the stories. She leans down, pausing to collect her thoughts and give the skunk a bit of attention in the process.

“The way I see it, is that humanity has these hurdles that they all have to jump over,” she explains of her view of the world. “And usually they do. Some of us stay back behind the hurdles, bitching about the hurdles, but most of us clear them and move on to the next one.” She pauses.

“My American history isn’t really up to snuff because I was raised in Canada,” she starts with, “but I know that Americans came to escape the oppression of religious rulers. There’s still people who would oppress others based on religion, but this country at least did the religious freedom thing. But we had slaves, so then it was abolishing slavery. There’s still slavery these days, but it’s a criminal act.” She pauses. “Then it was women’s rights and and ending racism. Those are still issues, but not like they were before I was born. Now it’s Slice rights. This is just another hurdle for humanity to clear before it moves on to the next one. It never ends.”

She focuses on Sharrow, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Were you Humanis First or something?” She looks him over again, as if re-appraising him for a moment. “I’m glad you had a change of heart.”

Sharrow smiles away some of what Clara says, folding his hands in his lap. But as he considers what she’s asked of him, he tests the waters of her knowledge with a crystal clear truth:

“I was a founding member of the Vanguard,” Sharrow says without any hesitation.

The name ‘Vanguard’ certainly rings a bell for the girl, though her reaction is perhaps not as fulfilling as the old man might hope. Her eyelashes flutter a bit as she reaches back into the depths of her memories for what little she does know. Finally, bushy brows climb their way up on her forehead.

“Oh, Vanguard,” she replies. “I read that Wolves of Valhalla book.” She squints a bit at the old man. “Didn’t mention anything about you, I don’t think.” And there it is — she is rather sorely uneducated on the topic of the Vanguard. She lets her words hang there, giving Sharrow ample opportunity to educate her on the topic if he so wishes — she seems open to learning, at least.

“History doesn’t mention the middle-men,” Sharrow concedes, “but that is not without some intentional obfuscation of my role in things. I have always been the unseen hand,” he admits with only slight pride. “But that was a different time, a different me. My worldview has changed, much as my old friend’s had. Now, I come here, to places like this… and I preach something that isn’t religion, but does require a measure of faith.

Sharrow lifts one hand and puts it on the back of the pew. “I preach faith in yourself,” he says with a resolute tone of voice. “Because, as others have said before me and others will say when I am long gone… it is your kind who will one day inherit this world. The age of the unenlightened has ended,” he says softly, with long-considered resignation. “You all are the coming of a new age. The…” he smiles, “as someone once said to me, the Children of the Eclipse.

Judging by her slightly raised brows, Clara doesn’t seem to mind the notion of an unseen hand. Not that she’s any good at that — she’s about as subtle as a slap to the face. She smiles at his words, though there is certainly a healthy dose of skepticism behind her dark gray eyes as she attentively listens to the men.

The name for her generation prompts a slightly amused smile — it is through sheer willpower alone that she doesn’t outright laugh. That would be disrespectful. “Children of the Eclipse?” She can’t help the amused lilt to her tone, despite her conscious attempt to avoid being rude. Momentarily, her face scrunches up. “You’re talking about the eclipse, right?” She’s heard about it. “I don’t remember it. Brain’s broken for any memories before my wakeup day. But I guess that works.”

She gently fluffs up the skunk’s fur to keep her hands busy. “I’m glad you had a change of heart,” she adds thoughtfully. “Wish more people thought like that.”

Sharrow’s brows momentarily furrow, then his attention drifts down to a distant space across the room. He slips past any recognition of his change of heart, instead sliding a conversational knife between the ribs of personal details. “You have an unreliable memory?” Sharrow is careful how he words that, not necessarily framing it as a problem or issue. With a deep breath he nods, seizing an opportunity as well as seizing his cane to lever himself up and out of his seat.

“You are one of the blessed,” Sharrow says to Weasel, finally looking from that thousand yard point over to her. “Many people do not get the chance to mold themselves from scratch, fully-formed as an adult. We are beholden to our memories, haunted by them across the rooms of our lives. Yet you… you are building a house of new experiences. Fresh timbers, colors of your choosing.”

It’s clear from his posture that Sharrow intends to excuse himself from the church for the night, but he wants to leave the girl with a seed. “I hope you make the most of that opportuity.”

The petite girl reaches up, tapping the side of her temple. “Nothing before the age of seven. Or at least, I think I was seven when I woke up.” She shrugs. “No clue what my actual birthday is, or if I’m twenty or twenty-five or what.” To her, it definitely sounds like it’s a problem that she is not pleased with.

“If you say so,” she replies, shrugging. “I don’t really share the same view.” She’s not going to argue with the old man, though — instead, it seems like more of an ‘agree to disagree’ opportunity.

“It was nice to meet you,” she adds. “I’m Clara, by the way. I’ll be around a lot.”

“The lost can often be found around here,” Sharrow agrees in his own way, “looking for what it is they feel will make them complete.” Tiredly, Sharrow turns his eyes down to the floor of the church, then back up to Clara. “They don’t realize that what is absent can often be built by hand.”

“I’d love to find my lost.” She shrugs. “No use being upset over it, though. Not like it’s going to accomplish anything except for stressing me out more,” she points out, mostly for her own benefit.

Then, she dips her head respectfully toward the old man. “Don’t let me keep you from your rest. We should probably all turn in.” She pauses. “Would you like Pepe to escort you to wherever you need to be? He can find his way in the dark pretty well, and you won’t have to worry about anything bothering you on your way back.” She pauses. “Or I could,” she adds as an afterthought.

Sharrow starts ahead down the aisle between the pews. “No,” he says with a dismissive gesture of one hand, “I believe this old man has bothered you enough for one night.” Slowly, Sharrow makes his way toward the front of the church, the intermittent click of his cane between footfalls making the cadence of his departure stick in memory.

“I believe I’ve given you enough to think about,” Sharrow says quietly. “What matters next is…” he looks over his shoulder to Clara, face barely visible in the dimly lit chapel.

“…what you do with that knowledge.”

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License