by Eric "Otter" Vary
©1998 Eric "Otter" Vary -- all rights reserved.
He was the best. He was the absolute best that there was. This fact was indisputable. Of course, that didn't always keep his conscience from bothering him. After all, it wasn't any sort of real talent that made Zane Allen the number one furry-artist in all the world. Or was it? Zane usually kept his conscience quiet by arguing with it over the definition of art. He had managed to get that part of his soul politely silent as he entered the Phelps building.
"Mr. Allen!" said the receptionist gleefully. "Glad you're here! Everybody has been waiting for you!"
"Morning." Zane answered simply.
"Mr. Jones?" said the receptionist into her intercom. "The artist is here!"
"Send him in! You come on in, too, Gina. We need everyone here."
Gina smiled at Zane and showed him in. She made no attempt to take his equipment bag for him. It was obviously much too heavy, judging from the way it caused Zane to lean.
He was greeted on the other side of the door by a large man in a tweed suit. "Hello, Mr. Allen. I'm Blake Jones."
"Hi, Mr. Jones. Where can I set up my shop?"
"Call me eccentric. I have a little booth that I use to do my work. In fact, I do a lot of things you might think strange. But then, it's worth it for the kind of work I do, right?"
"No problem here. You can do what you want when you're the best." Jones prattled as the artist set up. "And we want the best for our boss."
"Let me get this straight." said Zane. "You want this picture to put on a greeting card?"
"That's right. You see, Mr. Phelps is going to be tending to business in Kinshasa until January, and so he'll be missing Thanksgiving and Christmas. That's why we wanted to send him a really special card."
Another person came up and continued the explanation. "We could have gotten any old card, but we want it to be the very best. That would be you."
"All right." said Zane. "But you should be aware that I have an unusual way of doing things. I like to take a photograph to work from and then do my artwork on-site in my private booth."
Zane set up the booth and climbed inside. He knew, intellectually, that it was not necessary. He'd been inside one once and so was protected from what was about to happen, but he felt safer inside, nonetheless.
He took a little device out of his pocket and pushed a button. Somewhere, trillions of years in the past, a neutrino shifted vectors. It was negligible, really, but that particle affected others, and those, others. The seemingly random action of the particles affected the formation of organic material on Earth. Human evolution changed drastically.
Zane put on a mask so that no one would ever know that he was human. There was no such thing as a human. The people in the office proved that. They were bears and dogs and cats and raccoons and ferrets and mice... all vaguely humanoid.
"Mr. Allen?" said a cat. "Why are you wearing a mask?"
"Well, you want me to paint you all as humans, right?"
"So you can look at this mask and imagine that I'm a human underneath. It's all part of the psychological setup."
No one understood it, but they bought it.
Zane arranged everyone so that it looked like they were all working and just happened to gather in one place and smile toward the camera. A dick-dick was looking up from her typing. A zebra was lounging at the water cooler. A mongoose carried papers while a German shepherd filed folders away.
"Okay, now, think human! Everybody say 'Clothing!'
Zane snapped off six or seven pictures to make sure one turned out good. He then thanked everyone for patiently holding their poses and went back to his booth. He hooked his camera up to a small computer and brought up the first photo in the camera's memory. It looked good and he went with it. He digitally added a few brush strokes so that it would look like he had painted the thing and printed it out in a greeting card size. He waited a few hours so that everyone would think that he was working, and then he picked up his history changer and prepared to put reality back the way it was.
At the instant his finger hit the button, a tiger entered the booth to ask if he needed anything.
"No!" he cried.
"Mr. Allen? You're human!"
Zane shook. He looked panicked.
"Mr. Allen? What's wrong?"
"You entered the limbo closet! You're cut off from history!"
"What are you talking about?"
Zane just sobbed and said "What have I done?"
The tiger looked very worried. "Mr. Allen, what is it?"
"I've changed you into a tiger!"
"But Mr. Allen, I've always been a tiger. You're the one who changed."
"No. No, I changed history. Changed evolution."
"With this." He said as he held up the tiny hand-held device.
"What is it? How can this change time?"
"I wish I knew. It belonged to my Father. He was a brilliant... brilliant man. An expert in temporal physics. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps, and so he willed everything to me, but I couldn't make heads or tails of anything. So, I took the time changer and the limbo closet and used them the only way I know how... by cheating people."
"I don't paint people as furries. I take photographs of them in the alternate timeline and make them look like paintings."
The tiger smiled. "One: Photography is art. Two: Your customers are satisfied. What's the difference?"
"I never thought of it that way. But look at you... you're a tiger."
"So? Just change history back and drop me off in the other timeline."
"It won't help. When you entered the limbo closet, you cut yourself off from history. Oh, people will still remember you the way you were in their own history, but you're forever cut off from any changes in the timeline that took place before you came in here. You can never change back."
"I'm sorry, Miss..."
"Hyde. Tawnya Hyde."
"I'm sorry Tawnya."
"Don't be. As far as I'm concerned, I haven't changed at all. I like who I am."
"But now you're stuck as a tiger in a human world!"
"Well then, I guess that I'll have to adjust my life. Maybe I could be... oh... an advertising gimmick for a certain brilliant 'furry' artist."
Zane smiled like an idiot. "I like that idea. Yes... I love that idea! I'll pay you three times whatever you make here!"
Tawnya smiled and picked up the print of the photo. "I think first that we better find out the public's reaction."
Zane and Tawnya stepped out of the little studio. Instantly, all heads turned to stare at the tiger. "What do you think?" asked Tawnya. "I've been offered a job doing advertising for Mr. Allen. Is this a great costume or what? He let me try it on to see how it fits."
"It's impressive." said Blake."
"And here's the picture for our card!"
Zane snatched the picture. "Call it another one of my eccentricities, but I just want to run this through the copier real quick before showing it off." He knew that if he gave them the copy that had been inside the Limbo Closet, they would be extremely angry the next time he changed history. He tucked the original away and gave them a quality copy.
Everybody swarmed around to look.
"Oh, Bob, that anteater has to be you!"
"I look good as a koala."
"I always said you looked like a dog, Kathy! Ha ha!"
"It's so realistic! I could believe I was actually an antelope!"
Tawnya turned to Zane and asked him "Can I just see my office the way it used to be... one last time?"
Zane nodded and pushed the button on the time changer.
"That's what I always thought I'd look like with clothes on."
"Ha ha, I always said you looked like an anthropoid, Kathy!"
"I look good as a black man."
"I just love that thick head hair. It looks so realistic!"
They were so engrossed in admiring their human images that they didn't see Tawnya helping Zane to pack up and slip out quietly.