a story by
(c) 1999, 2000 by Chris Yost and James Bruner. Chapter 1 (c) 1999 by Chris Yost. All rights to story content reserved. Characters Tabitha, Sabrina the Skunkette, and Amy the Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Cindy Lapine, Clarence Skunk, Wendy Vixxen, and Calvin (c) Chris Yost. Character Mark the cheetah created for Mark White. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard (c) James Bruner. Character Iron Raptor (c) Himself. Character Psychofrog (c) Himself. The band "et al" (c) Chris Yost All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners. Story conceived by Mark White. Based on characters and situations created by Chris Yost and Eric Schwartz.Amiga (TM) Gateway Computers.
Richard Badger watched the portal glimmer and then fade away. He was barely aware of the voices behind him; he was numb. When he saw the end of Tabitha’s tail disappear into the vortex without a homing signal, he felt his heart sink to his feet.
He wanted to scream, call after her. His mind raced with possible explanations for what just happened. He’d tried to yell after her, couldn’t she hear him? The transformers weren’t that loud. Could it have been the portal or worse, a malfunction? What didn’t they allow for that caused this to happen?
As the wheels of his mind spun in tiny circles like a car on a greased track, he finally turned away from the portal and walked slowly back to the control area. Barbara had pushed Harvey to one side and was trying to boost the reception settings for the beacon. Harvey was trying to reverse the settings and reopen the portal, his paws moving quickly over the computer controls as he attempted to bring back his friend.
“Dammit! There’s just nothing to grab hold of and lock on to,” Harvey spat as he worked the computer. There was a subtle tone of resignation in his voice.
Richard slipped his paws into his pockets and sighed heavily. “What happened?” he asked quietly.
Barbara was staring at the unchanging readouts. “I don’t have a clue,” she admitted. “The beacons work and the locator works, we know that from the tests.” She looked haunted.
“Why did the portal shut so fast?” Ezequiel asked from across the room.
“It’s designed to that,” Barbara explained, finally lifting her head from the console. “If the system loses contact with the beacon, the portal closes to prevent -- to prevent what just happened.”
“The system failed,” Badger announced. He sounded as if he were pronouncing a death sentence. “The question now is, how can we find her and bring her back?”
“I dunno,” Barbara admitted.
Harvey banged his fists on the computer interface. "We can't! If we open the portal again and go in after her, the times will overlap. Without a solid lock-on, we'd just be pissing in the wind anyway. There's no way to know where in time she is."
“Too risky,” Badger declared. He ignored Harvey's colorful descriptions. The rabbit was upset and frustrated at the turn of events. Badger understood that and he also knew that it would serve no purpose to upbraid Harvey about his language without making things worse.
The room was quiet except for the background noise of the equipment. Depression and resignation were sinking into each member of the team. They avoided looking at each other as the seconds wore on.
Barbara turned her attention back to the console to look for the one nonexistent button that she could press and bring Tabitha right back.
Along the far wall, technicians shifted from foot to foot. Doctor Badger wandered back to the portal and walked up the entry ramp, his tail and short whiskers low and drooping. He leaned onto the sides of the opening, staring into the nothingness. For the first time, he felt truly helpless.
Slowly, she regained consciousness. Muddled voices became less muddled and started to separate into different speakers as Tabitha’s brain slowly came online.
Her eyes opened slowly and she brought her paw up to shade her eyes from the harsh light. She blinked several times until they became gradually adjusted to the bright surroundings. Her head ached and she slid her paw up, over her forehead, around the top of her head and gently rubbed a large bump that was the source of the pain. She winced at her own touch.
“Oh, God,” she muttered, “my head hurts.”
“You’re lucky that was a red light.”
"Lucky? I'd feel better dead," she muttered.
It dawned on Tabitha that she was having a conversation with someone and she turned her head in the direction of the new voice. She saw stars from the sudden movement. A smiling calico feline, just out of nursing school from the looks of her, looked calmly at Tabitha. She had a metal clipboard held under her arm and a name badge that said “Jackie” above her right breast. She pulled a small wheeled stool across the room and sat on it beside Tabitha's bed.
“That poor civet was slowing for the signal. If that light had been green, you could’ve been killed!” She touched Tabitha's arm. “Don’t you remember: ‘cross at the green, and not in-between’?”
“It’s been a while,” Tabitha confessed. Her wits slowly but surely were returning to her. “Your accent … it sounds Spanish.”
“Guatemalan,” the cat corrected. “It’s a beautiful country. I came here to study, but I decided to stay after I graduated from nursing school.”
Tabitha smiled weakly. “Sounds like you have everything all planned. She suddenly remembered what she was doing here and looked around. "My purse!” she yelled. She sat up quickly, causing her head to feel even worse and asked, “Where’s my purse?”
“Right here,” the nurse said in a calming voice as she pulled a drawer open. Tabitha’s eyes followed the cat as she picked up the shoulder bag and put it on the bed next to her. Tabitha opened the catch and quickly fumbled around inside, making a mental inventory; beacon, cell, cap, paper bag with medication … She opened the inside pocket and mentally counted three hundred United States old series dollars out of view of the feline.
She lay back on the bed and sighed with relief.
“No need to worry,” the tabby said with her perpetual smile. “We’ve got the most honest ambulance drivers in the state of Ohio.”
“That’s a comfort,” Tabitha admitted, returning her smile. Then, the smile dropped, and she again sat very quickly up. “Where am I?”
“Ohio.” The nurse replied in a calm voice. Some amnesia was to be expected after a head injury like the one this skunk suffered. “What do you remember last?” she asked quietly.
Think fast! Tabitha urged herself. “I remember --,” she paused, trying to think of a reasonable-sounding excuse on the fly, “ -- wanting to cross the street, and --,” she forced a giggle that she hoped sounded contrite. “ I guess I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“No, I’d say you weren’t.” The nurse patted Tabitha’s arm. “The doctor will be here in a few minutes to check you out now that you're conscious,” she said. “In the meantime, let’s see how much you do remember.” She opened the metal clipboard. “Can you give me your name?”
Tabitha rubbed at the bump on her head to stall for a moment. “Tabitha. Tabitha Mephit.” Mom’s maiden name, close enough for her.
“Can you remember your address?”
My current address shouldn’t cause any problems, Tabitha thought. “14251 Rosewood Condominiums, Terrace Level, North Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”
The nurse wrote down everything Tabitha said. “Your date of birth?” she asked.
"June 12, 1994."
Jackie frowned minutely, set her pen down against the form, and tilted her head. “Are you sure?” she asked. “If that were true, that would only make you five years old.”
Tabitha grinned. “I guess it would, wouldn’t it? Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.” She closed her eyes to help her think. Five? I’d be five years old. That means -- this is 1999? Quick Tabitha, do math! She opened her eyes and looked at Jackie. “I meant to say 1964.”
Jackie wrote on Tabitha's chart. “That’s a little more like it.” She filled in some other blanks and Tabitha used the time to think some more. This is 1999? Last century? How the hell did I make that kind of an error in calculus!? And if I’m five, Sabrina and Chris may not even be together yet! Jackie placed her fingers around Tabitha’s wrist to take her pulse, which broke Tabitha's reverie.
“Look,” Tabitha said as she started to get up, “I’m only in town for the day, I’ve really got to get out of here.”
“No, I’m sorry,” the nurse told her, placing a paw on her arm and keeping the skunk from rising. “We’ll have to wait for the doctor to say it’s okay for you to go.” She let go of Tabitha, reached for the blood pressure cuff with one paw and removed a digital thermometer from her pocket with the other.
Tabitha tried being indignant. “Look, I know my rights,” she said in a sharp voice. “You can’t hold me here against my will; there’s laws against thmmmph.”
“Yes, yes there are,” Jackie agreed. The cat was obviously used to dealing with uncooperative patients and placed the thermometer sensor into Tabitha's muzzle in a well-timed maneuver. She wrapped the cuff around Tabitha’s upper arm and began pumping the bulb with quick squeezes of her paw. “But remember, you were hit by a car and you bumped your head. You were unconscious and you show some signs of mental impairment. That may be temporary but it’s best the doctor look at you first and release you properly.”
“Mm, Gommph.” Tabitha lay back, trying to think of a way out of here quickly. The little blue box beeped and the nurse noted her temperature and removed the probe.
“I know a Mephit family in Kentucky,” Jackie said to make conversation. “Al and Geraldine. Any relation?”
With a move achieved with lots of practice, Jackie removed the temperature probe and ejected the no-longer-sterile sleeve into the wastebasket several feet away.
Tabitha nodded. “They’re my aunt and uncle. Not in that order, though.” She grinned, hoping to endear herself enough to get out of this place. “I haven’t seen them in years.” To herself, Tabitha said, Considering Aunt Gerry died 7 years ago, my time. She heard some air released from the cuff, then a little more, then the nurse released it completely and put it away, marking down her readings on the chart.
Tabitha rolled her head to look at the feline. “How long have I been here?” she asked.
“About fifteen minutes,” Jackie answered, closing her clipboard. "I'll let the doctor know that you're awake and send him right in. You can be released shortly after he's finished."
“And how are we this morning, Tabitha?” asked a young coyote in a white lab coat as he walked into Tabitha’s examining area.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Tabitha said with a feigned sense of urgency to her voice. “Listen, I’m only in town for the day, and I have a seriously important meeting to get to and -- ”
“Well,” said the doctor as he interrupted Tabitha's protests, “you may have to reschedule your meeting. I’m going to have the nurse take you down the hall for a CT scan and take a look inside that head of yours to see if there’s any damage.”
“A cat-scan?” Tabitha said outraged. “Absolutely not! No way.”
The doctor smiled, mistaking Tabitha’s anxiety to leave as a fear of the unknown. “You have nothing to worry about, these machines are perfectly safe.”
“Right, while bombarding my body with X-rays, which cause cellular damage. A magnetic resonance induction scan, maybe.”
Now the coyote was shaking his head. “Now, doctor,” he teased.
“I’m not a doctor yet, dammit!”
Tabitha flashed back to her encounter with Ezequiel yesterday. The real doctor lowered his arm. “I see,” he said. “You’re in pre-med, or residency?”
“Neither,” Tabitha sighed. “My Ph.D. in theoretical physics. I’m one year and half a dissertation away.”
“I wish you luck,” said the doctor. “And as doctor to almost-doctor, if you’d look both ways before crossing the street, you’d be at your meetings on time and not arguing about MRI’s, which don’t reveal as much as CAT scans do in cases like this.” He caught Tabitha off-guard and seized the moment, just as Jackie brought a wheelchair in. “Now if you behave yourself and let the nice nurse take you down, you might be able to still make your meeting. If we find anything serious you’re staying the night for observation.”
Tabitha realized that the doctor was right about checking for possible brain damage. She knew that she could check out against medical authority of she chose to do so. “You were sick on the day they taught bedside manner, weren’t you?” she asked as Jackie helped her out of the bed and into the chair, watching the doctor as he took her handbag and placed it in the locker with her jacket on the other side of the room.
“I was at a football game,” he corrected. He smiled and watched Tabitha wheeled out of the room and down the hall.
Tabitha smoothed the wrinkles from her jacket and slung her purse over her shoulder. Her CT scan had shown no internal damage, bringing about the obvious joke “We analyzed her head and didn’t find a thing” from Doctor Sensitivity. She was finally leaving and she had a lot to get accomplished today. At that moment, Jackie showed up again.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Tabitha looked at her. "Leaving."
"Not like that, you aren't," Jackie informed her. She pointed to the wheelchair. "Hospital policy. Sit. I'll take you out."
Tabitha started to tell her that she was perfectly capable of leaving under her own power but the stern look on Jackie's face dissuaded her. Tabitha dropped into the chair and looked at Jackie.
"That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"I'm not an invalid," Tabitha muttered. She understood now why Chris got so prickly when someone tried to assist him.
"Of course you aren't. Hospital policy is hospital policy though."
"Heaven save us from bureaucracies," Tabitha muttered.
Jackie laughed and started pushing her charge toward the door.
Once outside and in the fresh air, Tabitha's outlook improved. The chair stopped and she stood up. "Thanks, Jackie."
"You're welcome, Tabitha. Be careful and follow the doctor's instructions."
Tabitha watched the nurse re-enter the hospital before turning toward the street. A well-dressed civet started walking in her direction.
“Uh, hi, Miss Mephit?” he asked awkwardly as he tried to get her attention.
Tabitha turned and looked at him. "Can I help you? " she asked. The fact that he knew her borrowed name made her wary.
"Uh, hi, I’m Calvin, I’m the one who, well, hit you.”
Tabitha thought he looked more nervous than she felt. “Oh, hi,” she said.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “I’ve been worried sick. I don’t know where to begin; I never saw you step out in front of me. I just saw, well, this kind of quick flash of white and you were there. I never saw you. Thank God the signal had changed to red; I was slowing for it, y’see, and I never had the chance to react.”
In another reality, Tabitha would probably have enjoyed watching him fidget as he talked. He’s probably more worried about being sued than anything, she mused. Still, he seemed honestly concerned about her and that mitigated any animosity she could have felt toward him. After all, she was the one who appeared in front of his car. “I’m fine,” Tabitha replied. “My head hurts a little where I bumped it, but otherwise I’m fine.” She spied a newspaper rolled under his arm. “Uh, is that today’s paper?” she asked, pointing to it.
“Yes!” he answered quickly, holding it out to her. “Yes, would you like it? I can get another.”
“Thanks,” Tabitha said, taking the paper, “I just need to check something.” She read the date in the upper right: May 3, 1999.
“Oh, my God.” She thought as she lowered the paper.
Calvin looked at what he thought she was looking at. “The trade’s good for the Bengals,” he told her. “They didn’t have much in the way of defense last year.”
“Huh?” Tabitha looked and saw the article on the page. “Yeah, defense.” She carefully handed the paper back to the civet. “Thanks. Look, I’m kind of new here. Can I impose on you for a lift back into town?”
The civet nodded quickly. “Of course! Anything. You name it. I’m glad to help!”
Tabitha couldn’t help being amused; this was a period of time where lawsuits flourished and everyone was afraid it being named in one. “Thanks.”
For Chris, 10:30 in the morning was very late to be just getting out of bed. He stretched and gave a final yawn as he walked through Tabitha’s living room in his bathrobe; something he hadn’t been able to do since he was checked into the nursing home from the hospital. Knowing Tabitha wasn’t here, he grinned to himself and undid his dressing gown sash, letting the robe slip down his arms to fall onto the floor behind him, and he opened the curtain to the picture window and stood before it in all his glory. He knew the height of the building floor and the tint of the window would allow no one the ability to look inside and he took advantage of it; he began doing weightlifter poses and flexing his muscles, watching his faint reflection on the inside of the glass. As he straightened he exhaled, letting gravity and age return him to reality.
Grinning at his own antics, Chris turned to make himself a cup of coffee. As he passed the coffee table he saw the CD’s of his home movies. And his thoughts turned warmly to memories of his late skunk wife.
“Tabitha’s said before I shouldn’t keep myself locked away,” he said aloud. “But at my age … no, forget it, Chris. You can’t cheat on Sabrina!”
He dropped into Tabitha’s recliner, sullen. “She’s gone, Chris,” he reminded himself. “You can’t cheat on her … I mean, right? ‘Till death do us part’ means I really wouldn’t be cheating … ” Chris put his head in his paws. “Get a grip, Foxx.” Standing, he gathered his robe and slipped it on, got himself the mug of coffee he’d promised himself, and returned to the living room.
He studied Tabitha’s videophone as he sipped through 1/3 of his coffee. Finally, he picked up the handset and entered in the number.
His expression sank as the ring tones continued, until finally a groggy voice on the other end synced with the familiar picture on the other end.
“Hellomph?” it said.
“Good morning, is this the home of the world’s greatest stunt fox?” he said with a grin.
The striped fox on the other end woke up. “Dad! How are you!”
“Slipping,” the elder told his son, “I slept in this morning. I hardly ever do that.” He admired his son; for a single todd on his own, he was doing well for himself and appeared to be in fine shape.
“Showing your age, Dad,” Alan teased. “You’re timing’s pretty good, I’m just starting breakfast.”
“You’re slacking,” Chris kidded. “I thought you’d be on location by now.”
Alan shook his head. “Nope,” he told him, “shooting ended the other day. I’m sliding for another day then if I don’t hear from my agent, I’m calling him. So meanwhile, how’re you? How’re things in The Joint?”
“Your aunt sprung me. I’m house-sitting for her.” Chris sipped his coffee.
“Sue or Tabitha?” Alan asked.
Chris could hear the background sounds of Alan making breakfast in his kitchette, watching him take two slices of bread from a bag. “I always liked her,” he told his father. “How is she these days?”
“Doing fine,” Chris reported. “Workaholic, still in need of a husband to take her away from all of it.”
The tinkle of a spoon stirring a beverage and a slurp preceded Alan’s next question:
“When are you gonna find someone to take you away from it all?”
Chris slumped his shoulders. “I dunno, kid. I’m not really actively looking.”
While he took a drink Alan seized the opportunity. “You really need to move on, Dad. I know male foxes traditionally don’t remarry, but it’s the 21st century. You need a mate.”
“Tabitha’s been saying the same thing,” Chris said to him. Then he sighed. “I think that may be why I called -- approval-seeking.”
Alan’s tone changed a bit. “Dad, the last thing you need is my approval! I know how much you loved Mom; I miss her like hell, but there’s nothing we can do. And you need someone.”
Chris laughed. “You’re sounding like your Aunt Tabitha.”
“She’s a smart lady, Dad, you better listen to her.”
Chris sat. And thought. And sighed.
“Maybe, maybe not,” he said finally. “Women like Sabrina don’t fall into your lap every day.”
“I’ll buy that,” Alan said as he dropped the two slices of bread into his toaster. “Maybe you and Aunt Tabitha, huh?”
Chris became suddenly defensive. Too true, Tabitha had grown into a glittering jewel of skunk womanhood, much like her older sister had. “Don’t go there, kid. You’re talking about someone I watched grow up almost as long as you.”
“Sorry, Pop.” Alan took another sip of coffee and decided to change the subject. “So, when are you coming out to California?”
“In a couple of weeks.” Chris settled back and widened the picture with the tiny remote so he could take in Alan and the view from his kitchen window. “The doctor says another week, two at the most, then I’ll settle things at home and catch the next flight to the left coast.”
“Great! I’ll get you a walk-on in the next movie I’m in.”
Chris laughed; this was an old inside joke. “I dunno junior, I don’t think the world’s ready for a geriatric fox in $60 sunglasses.”
Alan pulled a grim face. “Don’t put down my father, old man.” And he blew a raspberry.
Chris shook his head sadly. “No respect from my offspring.”
Alan snorted a laugh that blew coffee over the rim of his mug. “Hurry and get out here,” he said. “I miss you.”
It brought a warm feeling to Chris’ heart. “I love you too, guy.”