A Letter From Cinderflurry


For Annette,

Where to begin? It’s 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 I’m 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, ‘Nette. But somehow I thought that I’d always get to come back. I’m not sure why I’m writing to you now. Maybe I’m hoping for a miracle, or just trying to sort my thoughts. We have plenty of paper now, though it looks like something I’d run over with the mower if I found it in the yard. I’m already rambling, just like I did when we first met. It’s a waste of paper, but I traded to get a little extra just for this.

I’m Zachary Paul Gates, freelance photojournalist at large, or I was anyway. Now I’m 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. It’s 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 don’t believe you, ‘Nette.

I burned my forepaws two days ago, and now some of the others are jokingly calling me ‘Hotfoot’. I’m afraid the name will stick. I’m 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. They’re healing fast and people are being helpful, but I feel useless watching them all go out and work. Food you don’t earn doesn’t taste good.

Anyway, Wintry is resting beside me. Shi’s been working all day and running back to check on me constantly. At least shi still calls me Zach, though shi’s been trying to talk me into taking a ‘real’ name. Jillian and Fargone (shi’s from North Dakota, it’s a bad pun, but shi apparently loves it) are a few feet away, making out like weasels. Jillian’s 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 isn’t 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. There’s a joke about how artists who can’t draw take pictures, and for me it was true. Now we don’t have any cameras, so I don’t have a choice. Almost all of my work has been character studies of you, ‘Nette, but I’m beginning to have trouble remembering what you look like. I don’t want to forget. There were days early on when I had to run far away and have screaming fits about you. I’d 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 couldn’t 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 didn’t want to bring that up. This place is like a dream, and I can’t preserve my memory of it the way I’m 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 I’d be able to come home and stay caught up with me. I didn’t even have my photo wallet to remember you by. The whole colony was too busy staying alive for the first weeks, and we couldn’t worry about anything else. Then I began thinking about the last time we talked and realized what that "something important" was. That’s when I started running away and breaking down.

Wintry couldn’t 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. I’m thankful for hir, Jill and Fargone. Just having them purring beside me keeps things in perspective a little better. I can’t 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 didn’t 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 I’m never going to have the moments since then. It’s 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. I’m losing your face, and I’ll never get to see hers. I’m sorry, ‘Nette. Barring a miracle, we’ll 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 won’t mean a great deal to them even if the capsule somehow survives. Instead I think I’ll throw these pages into the fire when I’m 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 I’m afraid that you might think I died without knowing that, or hate me because I wasn’t home to tell. I’ll have to try and make up for that here. Wintry hasn’t said yet, but I’m sure I can smell it on hir. Shi’s 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 someone’s 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 Azimuth.

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