Chance, nature, compulsions, habit


"Tell me: what do you see when you look at the page?" Phillip relaxed a little bit more into his armchair as he said it. Perhaps that would help. There were subconscious stress cues that the human body could pick up on, and from the looks of things his client needed all the help she could get.

Annabel was practically rising out of her seat, gripping the arms of her own chair, determined not to slip back into its worn-cushioned embrace. There was a blunt intensity to her stare that you sometimes got with older trauma victims, as if even her eyes were ready at a moment's notice to fight. "Isn't this a little archaic?" she asked.

Phillip shrugged. "So is tarot. That doesn't mean it can't be a wonderful prop for getting at the secrets and sublimated feelings we like to keep from ourselves. If you would prefer not to use the Rorschach, we can try something a bit more modern instead."

"I've painted a lot of tarot cards, you know," Annabel remarked. She was still staring at the page with a fixed intensity, as if she had already picked what she wanted to see out of the skein of inky tangles and just wasn't sure whether she wanted to say it aloud. "There's quite a demand."

"And you specialize in...faerie images?"

Withdrawal. A shadow across the eyes. A glance toward the door. "It's always been a theme in my art."

"Since you were a child?"

"No. Since I was eleven."

"Some people would say eleven is still a child."

"Some people would be right."

"And yet you do not think of yourself that way?"


"Would you care to elaborate?"


Rebuffed, Phillip reminded himself to keep relaxing. "These tests work best when their impressions are instant. Let's try another one."

Reaching out, he took the piece of blotted paper back. Under his own scrutiny it looked like two murky figures locked in an embrace, and for a moment he was extremely glad he had never leaned Freudian. Extracting another sheet from a stack, he passed it to the client. "Here. Tell me what you see."

"Ink. Paper."

"Mrs. Simon, you don't have to be here if you don't want to be. If your daughter pressured you into making an appointment, we don't have to talk about any fears or concerns you might have. We can just chat."

"She didn't pressure me."

"Is there some other reservation, then? Would you be happier seeing a female therapist? I can make a recommendation and-"

"No. That's okay. I chose this. I'm just finding it...unpleasant to dwell on certain things. Can we speak hypothetically?"

"Of course."

"What would you do if you found yourself living with a monster?"

Unconsciously, Philip shifted forward in his chair. "Is that a situation you feel yourself in?"

His client settled back. "I'm asking you the question."

"Well, do you mean a Hollywood movie monster? Or is this more figurative?" His fingers twitched, wanting so badly to etch some lines into his notepad but he held them still, afraid to spook her.


"It's a figurative Hollywood movie monster?"


"How figurative?"

"Not very."

"And do I feel in danger from it?"

"A little."

Phillip nodded. "I would get out, then. At least until I could assess whether it was safe for me to be around this monster."

"What if you couldn't?"

"Then I suppose I would have to make a choice. Either I would fight back, or I would make my peace with it. Those are the only two options when it comes to dealing with our monsters."

Annabel gave him an indecipherable look then, and stood up. "Thank you. You've been very helpful."

"You sound like you've just made some kind of a decision. Would you like to talk about it?"

"No. Or, at least, not now. I'll call you if I find myself feeling otherwise."

"Mrs. Simon, I do want to you to note that I was speaking hypothetically, without any knowledge of your particular situation. I answered as best I could given the nature of the question, but please don't take it as advice-"

"No, it was perfect. Thank you for your time." Annabel made her way to the door, ignoring his protestations, and there at the threshold she paused for a moment. "Elves, by the way. Elves and violence and fire were what I saw in your pictures, but less than I've become accustomed to lately. In another few months, I expect I will hardly see them at all."

Before Philip could frame a proper objection, the door clapped closed and she was gone.


Movie night had never really been a tradition before. Mostly, like two cats sharing a room, they had kept to their own spaces and their own schedules and intersected mostly in passing. They had shared an unspoken bond, and so only rarely did they feel a need to speak of it.

Killing had made Annabel a little more fragile around the edges-even if that killing had been performed in an act of aggressive self-defense against an entity that shouldn't exist-and so Emma kept close, but not too close. Her wolf-shape was a loaded gun, one that was kept buried under her skin, and so it was inevitable that some friction would come from that. This was not the kind of thing her mother could tell a psychologist, not without a heavy couching in metaphor, and so it was up to Emma to try and bleed off the stress. On the laptop screen, Marilyn Monroe was saying something witty, and so Emma laughed a little more forcefully than she usually would.

Annabel raised an eyebrow, but she didn't remark on it. Instead she fished a handful of popcorn out of a shared bowl and began to nibble. Her eyes remained rooted on the screen.

There was an almost mesmeric quality to the old black-and-whites, and Some Like It Hot was one of her favorites. Still, since the attack, she had been staring at everything too intently-as if she was waiting for the kitchen table or the microwave or the cats to show their true colors and become hideous beasts.

Not that she needed to be concerned about that, Emma mused. Especially when I already have that particular area covered.

"Mom, I'm going for some more juice. You want some?" She reached out towards her cup and Annabel jolted back just a fraction.

"Sorry." She stared off into the dark, away from the computer glare, turning her head to hide her eyes.

"It's okay. I'd be jumpy if I thought you were going to randomly turn into a cougar or something."

"A cougar?"

"Ew. Gross. No." Emma shook her head violently, hair swishing in counterpoint. "First animal I pick. Figures it would be the one that sounds completely wrong."

"Nowadays it's practically a compliment."


"At least you didn't call me an ass?"

"Mom, please stop."

"Okay. Sorry, Duck. I just…" Annabel coughed out a strange, startled little laugh, then looked down at herself in puzzlement. "I guess I needed that."

"Yeah, great. Now let's just completely drop that I said anything about-"

"I've been a bit awful lately. Since the...since the thing that happened." Annabel looked down at the rug. The computer and its actors prattled on, undisturbed by the drama. "I'm sorry if I've been on edge. I know you're going through these changes, but I want you to know that it's perfectly normal for a young girl-"

"You know what? You can get your own juice." Emma stalked away, fighting to keep a smile from her face.

The worst was over. The storm had broken. They could just be regular people again.

She had never felt a relief that was so chest-hollowingly profound.


On the whole, there were worse things than hibernation, thought Darren. There was death. That was certainly a big one. There was also physical frailty. Mental infirmity. Flunking the college application process.

Entirely by accident, he had dodged a lot of existentiall bullets.

As far as either he or the bear knew, his new body was not going to age. It would respond quickly to sickness. It would recover from even the most heinous of injuries. And if the price for that was to be paid in opposable thumbs, well...he could live with that.

More specifically: he had to. They didn't sell safety razors in Ursa Major size.

This wasn't how he had imagined his life going, but maybe that was the point. All things diverted from their natural courses. All things found their ways beset by calamity and change. He could make the best of it.

And besides, there were few creatures better suited to being philosophical about life than a giant bear.