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Book 2 – Introduction

I lived, until the week of Furrificon, with the ghosts of two tails hovering around the edges of my thoughts. The one I had known and touched and given away became a willful little brat. It snapped, twisted and curled while I was standing up. It’s beautiful, older sister was very well behaved, and watched over her younger sibling with resignation. The brat chased her sister, imitating and mocking her. “You’re perfect,” she said, “But you’re not real. And you never will be.”

I learned to drown them out by walking away and paying neither of them attention.

In traditional Japanese folktales, fox spirits start with one tail but they graduate with up to five as they grow in spiritual power. The very dedicated may attain nine eventually. I began to consider that this was a misinterpretation by the storytellers. Maybe foxes lost and regained their tails several times. The foxes would never admit the truth, though. In these stories, a single-tailed fox spirit could never hide their tail in human form. They could cover it in clothes, but it was easy enough to find, like a witch’s mark. If no one ever saw a fox spirit with more than one tail, perhaps I was right. Foxes gained and lost tails, but kept only one on their backside, with a pantheon of departed tales fluttering around it, each known, named and loved.

Life became pretty much as it was before. I went on a couple dates through PlanetOut. One was with this mouse of a girl who said “Oh my!” every few minutes, then confessed she had a boyfriend and if I wanted to keep seeing her, I would have to meet him for his approval. The other turned out to be one of the girls Della had introduced to me as a friend. We made it through one avocado sandwich at the Diesel Café. We really did try. We tossed out every bit of gossip we knew, but she had heard most of my stories already.

Ted set me up on one of the online games everyone was leaving SarnMUCK to join. He was friendly with a small group of regulars on “Final Fantasy”, who were pulling in more people to start a proper guild. I said I’d give it a shot. The problem was, Ted’s character level was in the forties, and people couldn’t play together unless their levels were very close. So he bought me a character. They were companies that sold old characters from people who had quit the game. They sold game money and game weapons too. He said it came from one of his guild mates, but I knew he bought it. It was a catgirl ranger, too close to what I would have made myself.

Unlike SarnMUCK, almost nobody roleplayed. They treated the game like a big chat room, and it took me a few days to realize why. The game was an obsessive-compulsive’s crack. You had to know what the phase of the moon was to craft armor and potions. You had to know the day of the week to cast elemental spells. You had to know that your earrings weren’t the best for your job, and get a better belt or shoe to compensate.

And Ted was there, laughing and bitching about the same problems I was. Secretly, so was everyone else.

I got along well with the guild. A stay-at-home mom from Alabama always had a moment to help me through quests, listen to my rants on Manager Badger. She used to paint, but with her kids, she didn’t have the time. She explained that, with her art, she needed a solid block of time which was hers alone. She couldn’t wait for her toddler to start grade school. Her husband was always busy.

After I had gained a few levels, my equipment went to crap. My armor didn’t protect me like it used to and my arrows bounced off the monsters. I needed to upgrade, which cost money. The game had been fun when I started and the chatter with Ted was still interesting, so I made up my mind to earn it. I wouldn’t give a cent to the companies that sold such things.

I found a ravine in the Meriphataud Mountains where pumas lurked, I started hunting them. Their hides and whiskers sold very well, when I could get them. The area was patrolled by a character named Q31TP. He never said anything at first, just taking down one cat after another. There were other Q3 players all over the game world. They were employees of one of the companies that sold the money. I hated him for killing my cats. He was very fast.

One day, I ran up to him the quiver of poisoned arrows, and handed them to him. I saw that those were his favorite. I had only been free of him when he had ran back to the city to get more. As long as I had arrows for him, he let me farm the pumas for an hour a day.

I saw him at the marketplace occasionally. He was always surrounded by players shouting at him. “Fucking Chinese gold farmers, fucking the auctions,” they yelled, “Nobody buy from him. Why don’t you go fuck up some other game?”

“Scroll of Wind IV, 300,000 gil, please send /tell,” he shouted back.

“That’s what I mean,” some kid would say, “It was 10,000 when I started playing.”

I heard stories about these gold farmers, how rival companies would start turf wars. They exploited every glitch in the game, dragging powerful monsters to kill one another since no player could directly attack another.

Q31TP started talking to me eventually. He said, “Good day,” or he shook his head he was behind in his quota and needed the pumas I would be hunting. I knew that Q31TP was actually several people, each hunting around the clock, but their behavior and conversation were the same.

“You like your work?” I said once. It was important to keep the question simple. English wasn’t his first language.

“No,” he said, “How tall are you?”

“5 feet 5 inches,” I said.

“Metres please,” he said.

I had to track down a conversion in my dictionary. “1.6 metres,” I said.

“Nice,” he said, “Blood type?”

“B positive,” I said.

“Fire girl,” he said.

Flirting made the night go faster.

I still couldn’t play as often as Ted did, and slowly his level inched away from mine. He had run out of stories, and I have many either. I didn’t blame him for having fun. The last straw was when a rival from the Di-Mond company moved into Q31TP’s territory. I would show up to hunt while Di-Mond-L would be racing against Q31TP for pumas. I was lucky if I could make half my kills. The mom from Alabama said I should move onto crafting, and follow the moon like everyone else.

On my last night, a week and a half since I started playing, Q31TP hurried over to me on my hunt. He gave me a couple hides. “You wait,” he said, and I spotted Di-Mond-L approaching us.

The two of them stood around me, on each side. “Who farms here?” Q31TP said.

“Yes,” Di-Mond-L said, “Who?”

I was flattered, and I immediately whispered the situation to Ted. He was busy and couldn’t answer long.

I pointed to Q31TP. “You farm one hour,” I said, then pointed to Di-Mond-L, “Then you farm one hour. Harmony!”

The two of them shook their heads. Q31TP whispered to me, “I am good to you. You help me now.”

I couldn’t. The second I chose aside, it would be over. I would be persona non grata for not only the loser, but his entire company. This was politics and at its most brutal.

I stepped out from between them. I stripped off my armor and dropped my bow. A puma was patrolling a ridge nearby, and I hit it with my bare fists. The cat attacked me, and I took my hands off the keyboard. Q31TP and Di-Mond-L chased after me, but I had claimed the cat as mine and by game rules, they couldn’t touch it. They watched helplessly as the cat roared and clawed at my near-naked body, chipping away my life to black. Q31TP tried to give me a health potion. I declined. I’d whispered to both of them, “I would rather this.”

The puma hit the last blow and my corpse collapsed on the ridge. Neither one of them attacked the animal. They stared at me, but my death would not pay their bills. They split up and, as far as I knew, returned to hunting.

I kept watching as my little catgirl lay facedown in the dirt. “You have died,” the screen said.

I shut the game off. I emailed Ted to let him know he could have his character back.

I thought about the gold farmers a lot, and bad dates, and my naughty tail. I thought about how the sun comes up on Mondays or traffic lights turn green with them halfway across the street. I thought about the sweat, thirst, and stub toe is my last hiking trip. I thought about how bad it was for me to think this way, only recalling the demon half of my experiences.

I knew I had to get out of town soon. Furrificon was coming up, but I couldn’t go. Manager Badger had said a new batch of programs was coming in and I had to write a report on them. I was being a good girl and staying with my job for my future. I would leave town some week, for a cruise, a retreat, or a San Francisco bathhouse. But not that week. I rattled and shook inside myself.

Of course, I did end up at Furrificon, and Elory has never forgiven me for it.

Categories: Book 2 - How Cheryl Lost Her Tail, Book 2 - Introduction.

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