Enormous thanks to Ghost Goat (@TheGhostGoat on Twitter) for the generous donation to the site. He helped me determine that things weren’t working quite right with the redirects from PayPal back to oldpines.wtf; so, I’ll have to keep tinkering with that. Probably I’ll just have to have donors DM me on Twitter (@old_pines) so I can send them a link to the reward form.
Speaking of rewards, though, here is the first Quiction reward as a token of my appreciation to a donor, a friend, and a “former brother” (long story).
“If you’re up for it, can I please have a thing that doesn’t feature GG at all, except at the end, when he shows up to make something along the lines of a :/ face?”
The office was weirdly boisterous for a Thursday afternoon. There was a buzz of excited chatter radiating from the back corner of the space. More than half of the staff from the floor were clustered around the door to Marta Lin’s office. The young Accounts Payable temp waved her hands and begged everyone to settle down, heavy scales raised slightly in flustered self-consciousness. She blinked her dark eyes at the crowd and fumbled for words.
Danny, the gruff sales manager, shouldered his way through the bodies and popped out just inside the office door. The manul barely stood taller than the waistlines of most of the assembled workers. He wheeled on the masses and scowled at them with somewhat impotent ferocity. They all suspected that the tiny cat was capable of little more than bluster.
“Now look what you’ve done,” he growled. “Ya scared the shit out of her. Break it up and give ‘er some air!”
Looking over Danny’s head, the folks in the front of the crowd took in the stuttering pangolin with tears in her eyes. The excitement broke into sincere—if muttered—apologies, and the staff began to disperse. A few filtered back to their desks, but the majority remained a dozen feet away in clusters of whispered conversation.
The manul shook his head and grumbled, “You ok, Lin?”
Marta plopped down onto her chair and favored him with a weary nod. “I’m fine. I just didn’t expect so many people to be interested.”
That drew a chuckle from the little grey cat, who leaned his shoulder against the door jamb. “It’s been just about the worst kept secret this office has ever seen. People couldn’t help but talk about it.”
“Sorry,” sighed the pangolin, curling her prehensile tail around her legs.
“Bah! Knock it off. You’ve done no harm. Just got a bunch of people excited.” He rubbed the fluff of his cheek with one paw and wedged the other into his hip pocket. “Did it really come in, though?”
The grin that struck Marta’s lips rode up her cheeks and squashed her eyes shut. She nodded and drew a parcel out of her desk drawer. The cardboard had already been ripped open at one end of the flat box and the claws of her right hand found easy entry. The trembling pangolin slowly extricated a slim hard-bound book, as if it were wrought from the most delicate of crystal. The glossy black cover bore “Copy Cats” in tall silver lettering and a subtitle in red that proclaimed it the catalogue of Marta Lin’s debut gallery exhibition. Below the text shone a bright white photocopier with a black cat in silhouette against its open scanner cover.
A low whistle escaped the manul, and he reached for the book with an awed “May I?” Marta chuckled and handed the book over, then sat stone-still with her hands clasped on her lap. Danny gently opened the cover and paged through, his ears gradually folding to cover the redness that was growing there. Clearing his throat, he handed the book back.
“It isn’t bad is it?
“Nah!” He flashed her a lopsided grin to reassure her. “It’s incredible, Lin. For real. Congrats on scoring the exhibition.”
“Oh! Th-thank you! But,” she hesitated, “why did you look upset?”
Danny shifted against the frame. “Nah, I’m not upset. Promise. I just—” he sighed and scratched at his stomach, “—guess it’s a different perspective than what I’m used to.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yup. Now, I know that dog pile a minute ago was a lot to deal with, but the other folks here who helped you out with this project are probably just looking forward to seeing how it turned out.”
Marta gave a subtle nod. “Maybe if they came in here one or two at a time it wouldn’t be so bad…”
A stubby grey thumb gestured over the cat’s shoulder. “That meeting area in the middle of the floor is a bit more open. Might not be quite so claustrophobic in there?”
Five minutes later, the nervous pangolin found herself sitting at an oblong conference table with twenty-odd coworkers gathered around. It was still closer than she would have liked, but Danny had been right: it wasn’t nearly as bad as her office. The exhibition catalogue lay closed upon the coffee-stained wood before her. There were repeated murmurs of appreciation for the cover design and pats on her armored back. Paradoxically, the anxiety seemed to swell along with her confidence at the flood of positive comments.
“C’mon, the suspense is killing me!” chirped Abbas, a wiry cheetah from the direct marketing team.
The sentiment was echoed by the only jaguar in the company, Rosa, whose crossed arms and stoic pose were contradicted by the trembling twitch of her tail, and a chorus of agreement rippled around the group. Marta motioned for lower volume and glanced around the room to see if they were disturbing any of the other employees.
Taking a deep breath, she flipped the cover open to the accompaniment of the chattering of its stiff spine. The first non-blank page bore an introduction and artist statement, along with a photo of Marta hunched over a table littered with paper. The concentrating pangolin’s tongue stuck out in a curl that dangled beneath her jaw.
A squeeze on Marta’s shoulder startled her, and a plump tigress called out from behind her, “That’s a cute photo, Marta!”
“Thanks, Corrine,” she replied with a bashful smile.
The next page was a black field with the catalogue title in white lower case letters at the center. Another turn brought a burst of laughter from the assembly, as Ruíz’s squashed face filled both sides of a two-page spread. The hairless cat’s ears f deep burgundy and he practically shrieked in delight. Heads raised over cubicle walls in bemused consternation.
Paper hissed across paper at the command of the pangolin’s claws and a tangible pressure change accompanied the matching hiss of a score of drawn breaths. The next page featured the front view of a lion’s muzzle with its nose pressed flat and wide, rough tongue spread against a transparent barrier—displaying pale barbs and a metal stud. Opposite this was a black void, interrupted by the pale skin of a feline vulva and anus.
Marta scanned the wide-eyed expressions of her colleagues and caught some of them glancing around, as if to try to identify who might have been the subjects of each image. There weren’t many lions in the company and only one black cat: a shorthair with a severe demeanor who worked in building security. She hardly spared a word to staff as they entered the building, and the thought that she might have so thoroughly cast aside her icy countenance was scandalous. Their surprise showed how poorly they had ever bothered to get to know her. Before conclusions could be drawn, the pangolin cleared her throat.
“Harlone is an old friend from high school,” she said, tapping the outside curve of her long claws against the lion’s page. “He was one of the first people to jump onboard with this silly idea of mine. He took this with an old document scanner that he and his boyfriend found in a thrift shop.” Pulling up the corner of the mostly blacked out page, she came up with the most convincing lie she could. “This panther was in a network-building seminar I attended, no one you all would know.”
The whish of the turning page blended with a mute “ohhh” from the cluster of coworkers. Page after page, it went by much the same. A striped face or tufted ear pressed against glass here, a arm or leg there, and so on. Rosa’s bare, white belly flipped by on two pages. Abbas’s spotted back took up one page, across from a calico’s patchwork fur. Occasional glimpses of people’s squashed nethers eventually lost their power to shock the crowd. Halfway through, she came to an image of two paws with intertwined fingers. The pads were pale where they flattened against the glass bed of the copier. Metal bands glinted in the harsh light of the scanner bulb, half-buried in the fur of each paw’s third finger. A sticky note sat and a slight angle below the paws. The bright white square was scrawled on in two distinct scripts. One read “She finally asked!” and the other “She said YES!!”
The group turned to Lynn, who was bouncing up and down and had seized Tara in an embrace that threatened to topple them both. The ocelot weathered her serval wife’s enthusiasm with a giddy laugh and said, “Yes, it’s us. I see. I see! Ok, don’t wet yourself. Settle down.” A chorus of “awws” and chuckles filtered in from the cluster of colleagues and some of the nearer cubicles.
Paging through the rest of the catalogue took about fifteen minutes, including pauses for commentary from the artist and her peanut gallery. Marta’s nerves had more than calmed down and she was chatting comfortably about her selections for the exhibit. She flipped over to the final image, a final two-page spread. This one was different from the others.
“Whoa!” gasped Greg. He covered his long vulpine muzzle with his paws.
The others shared his sentiments in varying degrees of volume and verbiage. Some chuckled, others shifted uncomfortably. They hardly noticed the arrival of a goat in their midst. One of a handful of spirits working for the company, he tried to float between folks as carefully as he could on his way to his nearby desk. The goat’s arms clutched a three-ream stack of paper, and five or six sheets dangled from his teeth.
“Shorry, guysh…oh! Hi Marta,” he mumbled around the papers in his mouth. “Excushe me. I’m jusht trying to get back to my deshk from the cop—”
His eyes had fallen on the last spread of the catalogue. Unlike the previous images in the series, this one was not a photocopy. It was a full-color photograph of the office’s copy room, with the lights dimmed so that one could just make out the huge copier and a small cat laying belly-down on the scanner bed. The manul grinned in the low light, chin propped on the backs of his paws in a pose that was a deliberate parody of seductiveness. His elbows rested on the edge of the copier and his feet and tail swung lazily in the air. The bright glow of the scanner bulb cast a V over the side of his hip, highlighting the subtle dark striping of his fur and drawing attention to the portion of his anatomy currently being imaged.
With a distressed grunt, the spectral goat spat out the pages in his mouth and looked at the assembled people with an expression that seemed at once to beg for help and for no one to notice the implications of his reaction. Danny immediately broke into gales of laughter and slumped against the conference table. In between his wheezes, the others started to pick up the amusement. As the mirth made it’s way around the space, Marta shook her head and glanced up at the aghast spirit.
“It’s all right. We always disinfected the copier afterward,” the pangolin said with a grin.
Her reassurance didn’t seem to help much. The poor caprid’s eyes flicked from the catalogue to Marta’s face, then to Danny and back again. He cast a wry look at the book and floated away to his desk, either refusing to touch the fallen papers out of disgust or having forgotten them entirely. He sat out the rest of his shift at his desk, staring into the middle distance with the twisted muzzle and glassy eyes of a man who has walked out of his grandparents’ kitchen after finding them engaged in passionate intercourse atop the breakfast table.
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