Illustration by Mistie Newman
It all seemed so hopeless.
To the outside observer, Kataryna Delilah Lemieux appeared to have the ideal life. She was slender, and elegant, with her black and white ringed tail; her rufous brown and grey fur and tufted white ears. She had a job that she enjoyed – rehabilitating abandoned and injured animals – and she had a mate that loved her, and whom she loved very much: the handsome lupine, Daniel. But inside her, a seed of despair and hopelessness unfurled its poisonous leaves.
It sprouted innocuously, hidden from all.
And outside, the world grew darker, the shadows stretching longer.
It was the scrapbook’s fault.
Kataryna did not really understand why she had begun collecting the articles: cutting and pasting pictures of half starved war orphans in distant Kalimere; stockpiling articles about animals found broken and violated; collating pictures of barren wastelands where forests had been reduced to desert rubble and rivers ran thick with the sludge of pollution. It was a compulsion, a sinister hobby. Whenever she was alone – which was often, for Daniel worked long hours and his family, not accepting of a lemurine/lupine relationship, forbid the two to den together – she would pore over the pages, or search through piles of newspapers and old magazines, seeking new additions for her macabre collection.
And then, one bright and cheerful spring day, as the birds argued in the trees outside and daffodils bent their heads with the wind, it all became a bit too much.
The sprout of despair began to bloom
Taking a jar of sleeping tablets and a naked razor blade, Kataryna filled her claw-footed tub almost to the top, leaving just enough room for the water to displace. She had no wish to flood the bathroom, to leave too much a mess for Daniel, or her landlord – which of the two would find her first? – to clean up. The water was hot, almost painfully so, as she dry-swallowed two of the tablets and eased herself carefully into the watery embrace.
It was harder to make the first cut than she had expected. Slicing a jagged smile across one wrist, and then, with shaking, almost nerveless fingers, the second. She fumbled, dropped the blade, which bobbed away on pink-stained waves. She stared at it, uncomprehending, as a great weariness overwhelmed her. The tablets took her in the clutches, drew her down, down, down into the sanguine tinted water and closed the final curtain over her head.
She opened her eyes to a hazy room and the smokey cinnamon scent of incense. Looked up, and met the long, slender muzzle of a canid, a jackal with golden eyes and a flowing black mane.
“You have taken your own life, Kataryna Delilah Lemusu.” Anubis’ voice was low and richly golden, but also tinged with shadows of sorrow.
Kataryna nodded, and stared at her hands, at the jagged scars bisecting her fur. “Yes. I did.”
Anubis reached forward, his long fingers brushing her chin, raising her head so that her eyes met his. “Why?”
“The world was a terrible place.” Kataryna tried to look away, but his grip was firm and she could not, so she closed her eyes instead. “I could not bear to be a part of it anymore.”
Anubis gave a short sharp bark of laughter, although there was no humour in it. “The world is a terrible place,” he admitted, “but what did you do for it?”
Kataryna frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Did your presence make it worse?” His long ears pricked forward and he tilted his head at her. “Or did you help to heal it?”
A great sinking feeling settled on Kataryna’s narrow shoulders. She had done nothing, nothing of consequence. Saved a few animals; donated a few reds when the collectors came calling. Pointless little droplets in a sea of despair. “There is nothing that can be done,” her voice came out a hoarse whisper, “the problem is too big. The world is dying. Nothing anyone can do will save it.”
“That,” said Anubis, “is where you are wrong.” A single tear trickled down his cheek and he caught it on his finger. Bringing his hand to Kat’s face, he ran the tear-stained finger down her forehead. “One person can change things. Maybe not save the world, but one tear is scarcely alone, is it not?” He placed his hands on her shoulders. “Kataryna Lemusu, I am sending you back. And you will not be allowed your final rest until the world no longer needs you. This is your curse. If you sit back on your haunches and do nothing, then you will be nothing. You must take action, for every teardrop counts.”
Then he leaned forward, his muzzle brushing against hers, forehead pressed to forehead, his long ears tickling the sides of her head. A darkness descended, crashing in, consuming her, and whirling her away into a tornado of stars.
Sunlight danced across her eyelids, teasing her awake. She stirred, finding herself curled around her tail. Roused herself, the ground crinkling and rustling beneath her.
“Where am I?” she pondered, then recollection, recognition came and with it the flood of despair, of guilt.
She was lying in a pile of autumn leaves. She had taken her own life, spoken with Anubis and then re-awoken here.
“Am I dead, or am I alive?” she wondered, struggling into a crouch. There was something strange and heavy, wrapped about her shoulders, down her back. “What have I done?” She held up her hands, staring at the jagged scars – one long and deep, the other rugged and short, a clumsy incompetent mess. “Daniel,” his name came to her lips, along with crushing pain. Had he been the one to find her? Had there been anything to find? “What have I done to you?”
She tried to shrug off the heavy cloak that dragged her down, but it moved with her. Reached back, touched it, fingers brushing against the warm, soft warmth of feathers.
A glance, and then another, as though to prove to herself that what she saw were true.
Wings. She had wings.
Now that she saw them, she could feel her blood coursing through them, feel the muscles that controlled them, just as she could feel those in her fingers and her feet. She flexed those muscles, unfurling one wing, running her fingers along the silky feathers; feeling their barbs clutch to one another, smoothing them back in place.
“Can I fly?” The thought was too terrifying to ponder on for long, and she dismissed it. A glance at her surroundings and she saw, lying in the leaves, three objects.
A mirror, a cloak and a rolled scroll.
Her fingers fell first to the mirror, but it held not her reflection – and how might that have changed? – but the gentle face of Anubis, gazing out at her with compassion in his golden eyes.
“You have been reborn for a purpose, Kataryna Lemusu. Do not fail me.”
The image blurred and changed, but she could still hear the words, but not through her ears – directly in her head. “You are dead to him now, Kataryna. There can be no return from the other side of Heaven.”
As the image gained clarity she threw the mirror against a tree, glass shattering.
For in the mirror she had seen him, her beloved Daniel, holding her limp, damp and bloody form; brushing his muzzle against her cheek – as though begging her to return to life.
Illustration by Angela Oliver, 2003
“Furritasia: Reborne” was first written and serialised in 2002, via Livejournal (Lemurkat_Studio). It was never completed, and was abandoned in favour of its sequel, “Scavengers of the Deadlands“. However, the characters are still near and dear to my heart, and their stories deserve to be told.
Illustrations will be provided, where available, thanks to the online community that supported and encouraged me in the early days of Furritasia (2000-2005).
(and yes, the “reborne” is intentional, not a typo, more of a pun)