A Letter From Cinderflurry

 

For Annette,

Where to begin? Itís now day two hundred and sixty-five since we all awoke in the caverns. Things are good. The people are wonderful. That sounds so hokey, like Iím writing to you on a postcard. "Wish you were here!" on one side, and on the other a photo of me with the other Chakats and a lake behind us.

But I do wish you were here. Traveling always made me miss you, ĎNette. But somehow I thought that Iíd always get to come back. Iím not sure why Iím writing to you now. Maybe Iím hoping for a miracle, or just trying to sort my thoughts. We have plenty of paper now, though it looks like something Iíd run over with the mower if I found it in the yard. Iím already rambling, just like I did when we first met. Itís a waste of paper, but I traded to get a little extra just for this.

Iím Zachary Paul Gates, freelance photojournalist at large, or I was anyway. Now Iím a Chakat, as they call us, left to survive with the others, wherever we are. I have flaming red fur splotched with a sort of muddy black-grey and off-white paws. My mane is black but turns almost cherry-colored on the tips. Itís not a good look. I used to worry about losing my hair, and now sometimes I want to shave it all off. I remember you used to sneak up on me when I was examining my scalp and tell me that bald men are sexy, but I still donít believe you, ĎNette.

I burned my forepaws two days ago, and now some of the others are jokingly calling me ĎHotfootí. Iím afraid the name will stick. Iím sitting in front of another fire right now (taunting fate, I know), scribbling and trying to remember your face. My paws are wrapped up in leaves to keep the ointment on. Theyíre healing fast and people are being helpful, but I feel useless watching them all go out and work. Food you donít earn doesnít taste good.

Anyway, Wintry is resting beside me. Shiís been working all day and running back to check on me constantly. At least shi still calls me Zach, though shiís been trying to talk me into taking a Ďrealí name. Jillian and Fargone (shiís from North Dakota, itís a bad pun, but shi apparently loves it) are a few feet away, making out like weasels. Jillianís even making little squeaky noises. We all share love, though we tend to pair off like this. I tried to stay faithful at first, but it just isnít possible. I hope you understand. The feelings are so much different than what we had; We Chakats supposed to have an empathic connection, and I believe it. My refusing to make love to my friends was making us all sick.

On the side opposite Wintry, I have a small, sad stack of attempts at art. You know I gave it up after my freshman year for lack of talent. Thereís a joke about how artists who canít draw take pictures, and for me it was true. Now we donít have any cameras, so I donít have a choice. Almost all of my work has been character studies of you, ĎNette, but Iím beginning to have trouble remembering what you look like. I donít want to forget. There were days early on when I had to run far away and have screaming fits about you. Iíd have probably kept doing it, but Wintry started coming after me. Shi told me that life heals or something, and I tried to laugh and tell hir that shi was full of it. I couldnít do anything but sputter and cry, and when I tried to run again, she actually tripped me! Wintry lay down beside me, and we just talked about things we miss. Ice cream, guitar solos, chocolate, books. Shi asked me if I missed being able to take pictures, and I did. I do. I just didnít want to bring that up. This place is like a dream, and I canít preserve my memory of it the way Iím used to doing.

Then I told hir what I was going to miss. I remember the last time that you and I talked, just before I got on the plane and they told me to turn my phone off. You told me that you loved me and that you had something very important to talk about when I got back. The flight attendant was talking in my other ear, and I paid more attention to her than to you. I think I said, "See you soon, Babe," or something about as idiotic. We woke up not long after that, and all the times I thought Iíd be able to come home and stay caught up with me. I didnít even have my photo wallet to remember you by. The whole colony was too busy staying alive for the first weeks, and we couldnít worry about anything else. Then I began thinking about the last time we talked and realized what that "something important" was. Thatís when I started running away and breaking down.

Wintry couldnít really say anything to console me, but hir caring shone through like a star, and I realized how much I still had left, even after I let everything slip through my fingers. Iím thankful for hir, Jill and Fargone. Just having them purring beside me keeps things in perspective a little better. I canít take pictures, so I have to earn the memories and burn them into my heart instead of making copies of them to look at later. Annette, I didnít keep close enough. All the times I went out on an assignment for days or weeks are coming back to me. It never once occurred to me that I could work locally. I wonder how many of those times you might have worried if I was coming back, or if you should come with me.

There are so many details running through my head about you, how adorable you were with those oversized glasses, how you could make any sweater from the Salvation Army look regal, how you would never throw away a coffee cup no matter how many cracks it had. But Iím never going to have the moments since then. Itís been almost nine months since we awoke, but I have no way of telling how long we were asleep. For all I know, our child is grown already. Iím losing your face, and Iíll never get to see hers. Iím sorry, ĎNette. Barring a miracle, weíll never speak again. This letter will never pass on to you. I was going to build a time capsule to keep letters and pictures to give to you or our children, but ultimately, it wonít mean a great deal to them even if the capsule somehow survives. Instead I think Iíll throw these pages into the fire when Iím done. Looking at this, I guess that I had to write so I could let go.

I wish you had been able to tell me if you were pregnant, and Iím afraid that you might think I died without knowing that, or hate me because I wasnít home to tell. Iíll have to try and make up for that here. Wintry hasnít said yet, but Iím sure I can smell it on hir. Shiís going to have our cub. Maybe being a Chakat will give me the instincts and wisdom to stay with my family. Maybe writing this will. I strayed close to the fire too many times and got burned for it, but at least there were friends here to lick my wounds. I hope someoneís there to help heal yours. Goodbye, Annette.

 


 

Chakats and the Chakat Universe are the creations of Bernard Doove and are used with permission.

The Colony and its original characters are copyright V. Ducain and are used with permission.

All else is copyright © 2004 to Charles L. Honeycutt.

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