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by Rodford Edmiston
This story is set in the Spring of 2006.
"How and I were both a little leery about this," said Tina, taking a sip of her coffee, "especially How. He's still fixated on how foxes and wolves are natural enemies. But Jackie and Jill are such good friends that when I heard your daughter talking about how much fun this place was I decided to let Jill try it."
"Well, I think you'll find that first and foremost, the kids here are all kids," said Joyce, smiling. "We've werewolf kids who can already change, and human kids, and wolf kids, and even Lisa's grandkids have been here a few times. We provide the right environment to make sure they're properly socialized. They play better together than what you'll find in most schoolyards."
"That's not saying a lot," muttered Tina, rolling her eyes.
"What I find interesting is that the human kids often are the leaders," Joyce continued. "Wolves are good at following good leaders, and the werewolves have been taught so persistently to keep their aggression in check that they usually just follow along with the wolves."
Tina looked out the window, at the huge back yard bordered by woods.
Supervised by two adults and four teenagers, the kids - humans, wolves, and werewolves in various forms - were playing an informal sort of tag, which usually resulted in "It" being forced to the ground and subdued with licks and finger tickles. Tina was half-tempted to join them...
"The problems start when they enter puberty," sighed Joyce, bringing the young athlete back to reality. "We have to be careful about which wolves we let stay after they stop being pups. And we have to be really careful about which werewolf teenagers we let in here. Even kids who started with us when they were 6 - our usual minimum age - will get surly and irritable and may go off at some insignificant thing, once the hormones start flooding."
"I bet you have to be really careful, telling someone their werewolf kid can't come here any more," said Tina.
"We frame it as a coming of age," said Joyce, with a slight smile. "Beaty came up with that, diplomat that he is. "'They're old enough that they don't need us any more.' The few adolescent werewolves we let stay, we solemnly tell their family they're of age, but responsible enough to act as supervisors for the younger kids."
"Like that one," said Tina, grinning and pointing as a werewolf in midform walked by, apparently ignoring the pure-white, 7-tailed fox kit playfully pulling at his pants leg. "Jill certainly seems to have taken a shine to him."
"That's one of mine," said Joyce, proudly. "He's taking after his father, though I don't think he'll be quite as big."
"So many..." said Tina. "I thought werewolves were supposed to be rare."
"There are more every year," said Joyce. "I've talked with Lisa about this. She's conferred with a lot of others, and the consensus is that the level of magic in the world is increasing. Which explains a lot of things besides more shapechangers."
"This place is like a dream," said Tina. "It's hard to believe such a place can exist, without being found out by the media or politicians, or... or... whatever."
"We've been lucky, but we've also been careful," said Joyce. "You know how territorial werewolves can be. They're also very good at hiding. And we have more than werewolves working to protect this place. Your Jill isn't our first Changeling, you know."
"I know. I heard that Broderic and Susan sent both their kids here."
"It's more than just those with animal affinities," said Joyce, earnestly. "Ever since the Exposure a few years ago all the supernaturals in this area have been looking out for each other. People don't notice anything unusual about this place unless they're supposed to. Half a dozen top-level Sidhe and some other powerful magic users have seen to that."
"Whoah!" said Tina, impressed. "Well, Jill seems to be enjoying herself, so I guess..."
"Mom!" came a yell from the kitchen. "Mom! Come quick!"
Both women hurried out of the den in response.
The kitchen was a disaster area. Though the refrigerator was roaring like a supercharged V-8 and a mini-glacier of ice poured from the freezer section onto the floor, the room was hot as an oven. The floor was ankle-deep in water, which was pouring under the door to the basement steps. Jackie sat in a corner, a shivering white bundle cowering in her lap.
"What... happened?!" demanded Joyce, stunned at both the magnitude of the disaster and its suddenness.
"We got hot and thirsty and Todd told us we could come inside for a drink and Jill asked me why we used bagged ice when we have an icemaker and I told her it was broken and she said she could fix it and..."
"Stop," said Joyce, holding up her hand. "Now, deep breath in... and out. So she tried to fix the ice maker and it worked too well?"
"Yeah," sobbed Jackie, stroking the trembling fox. "She couldn't make it stop, so she got scared and tried to melt the ice. Only it's still coming out and about as fast as it's melting."
"Jill, come here," said Tina, crouching down and coaxing.
The white fox kit reluctantly pulled her nose out from under her multiple tails and looked up at them with woeful eyes.
"Go on," said Jackie, encouragingly.
The fox sighed and rose. She stepped out of her friend's lap and walked gingerly through the water over to her mother. Tina lifted her daughter into her arms and straightened.
"Now, Jill, I want you to remember what your father told you. When the magic gets out of control, you just shut off the magic. Can you do that?"
The fox sighed and nodded. Jill closed her eyes and furrowed her ivory brow. There was a pause... then the refrigerator motor groaned back down to a normal speed and the intense heat began to abate.
"Okay, now I want you to change back. No more being a fox for today. And I mean all the way to human."
The kit's form flowed and shifted, and Tina now held a young girl.
"I'm sorry, Mommy."
"Don't apologize to me," said Tina, sternly, "apologize to Joyce. It's her kitchen you ruined."
Tina put the girl down. She sighed and, eyes downcast, turned to the older woman.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Jones. I'll fix everything, I promise."
"No, you won't," said Tina, firmly. She looked up at Joyce. "I'll have How come over this afternoon and put all this back the way it was."
"Don't feel too bad," said Joyce, actually smiling. "Remember, we keep werewolves here. A certain amount of breakage is expected. The house is old, and so are all the furnishings. The only stuff that's of good quality is what has to be."
"Well, that's a relief," sighed Tina.
Jill looked back and forth between them for a moment, hope dawning in her face.
"Does this mean you aren't gonna not let me come back here again?"
"If I untangled that right, I'd say it's up to Joyce," said Tina.
"Like I said, we expect a certain amount of breakage," Joyce replied, smiling at Jill. "She didn't do it deliberately, and a large part of what we do here is teach control."
"Yay!" yelled Jackie, jumping up and down.
"Stop splashing," said Joyce, her smile slipping a bit.
This work is Copyright 2000 Rodford Edmiston Smith. It may not be reprinted or reposted without permission of the author, who can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.