Part One: The Trade
"Have a lovely weekend, Ms. Fayral!"
The fat badger waved at Raquel, and she couldnít help but grin as his glasses once again seemed to be inching towards the end of his muzzle. As bosses go, Mr. Ringtail was one of the best; jovial, friendly and quick to praise and heap rewards. In fact, he had very little of the famed badger temper. Then again, for a tiger she wasnít very aggressive.
She smiled at her boss as she took her pocketbook out of her desk. "You too, sir! Have a nice weekend!"
Her boss wrinkled his nose. "Feh. Marthaís sister-in-law is coming over; canít stand the woman. And for the thousandth time, itís Bob to you!"
"Okay, Mr. Ringtail," she giggled. He bared his teeth in a mock growl which came out as a squeak.
"You take care," he sighed as he waddled back into his office. Raquel knew he customarily put in 10-hour days at Blue Chip Incorporated making sure the investment portfolios were just so.
She gave herself a good stretch. Her four breasts strained against her shirt and she felt her spine loosen; sitting all day did not agree with tigers, but in these fiscally troubled times any job you had was a good one. She paused to fluff her blonde hair out a bit and padded off to the elevator. She hated elevators. Usually there were people in them, and one of them was bound to be impolite. This time proved no different; it was a brown female otter, one of the secretaries from the higher floors if she remembered correctly. Raquel caught her staring at It, as she thought of her tail, on the way down.
Intellectually, Raquel could understand. Here was this well-toned tigress with good stripes and a developed set of secondary breasts, with this furless scabby thing hanging from her butt. Doctors told her it was a birth defect and when hair transplants were available the problem would be cured -- which it wasnít. Her therapist told her it wasnít anything to be embarrassed about, a sentiment echoed by the doctor. Fat lot they knew; Raquel threw herself into the gym to give herself the perfect body and she still had problems getting men to notice her, even if they were of a difference species!
Mostly, Raquel ignored the stares. For some reason, today she wasnít in the mood. She glanced behind her at the otter who was trying very hard to pretend that she wasnít staring. "Can I help you with something?" She growled, displaying a toothy grin.
The fur paled as her gaze jerked upwards. "Er...no."
It did nothing to ease Raquelís mood.
By Saturday, Raquel had managed to stuff her funk back down into her subconscious where it belonged. The apartment she shared with her roommate Cyndi was all hers for the weekend -- she liked the porcupine girl but tigers needed their space -- on account of a romantic camping trip in upstate New York the latter was taking with her boyfriend. Today was warm and sunny, and she could think of nothing better than to bask topless on the outside porch.
She rolled over to get her back and saw an old fur tottering down the street looking lost. A female black cat, stooped with age, tapped along using a stout wood cane for support. Raquel couldnít help but notice how absolutely gorgeous her tail still was, almost Persian in its fluffiness. The brief spike of jealousy didnít last; it didnít have a chance against the pity. She quickly slipped on a robe and called over the banister, "hello, are you lost?"
The cat looked briefly around and glanced up. "Hm? Oh! Yes, yes, Iím afraid so. Could you tell me where South Pluge street is?"
Raquel began to open up her mouth and them mentally shrugged; she had nothing better to do today. "Why don't I take you there? Itís a little hard to find."
The fur smiled up at her. "Oh, no need to go through so much trouble."
"No trouble at all. Iíll be right down!" Raquel bolted from the balcony and into her bedroom, slipping on a pair of sweats and a sleeveless workout shirt. She came outside puffing a bit; sheíd rushed dressing. "Sorry to keep you waiting, maíam."
"No trouble at all," she beamed. "Thank you again, miss."
Raquel pulled her car out of its parking space and up to the curb to help the old fur in. They chatted about minor things on the way; Raquel learned her name was Patricia and she was paying a surprise visit to her granddaughter Jill. Jill had just moved here two weeks ago and Patricia had never been to Providence before.
"So I got off the bus station hoping to find a map," Patricia said. "After all, I told myself, how hard could following one be?"
"Pretty hard," Raquel giggled. "Iíve seen those wretched things." A street sign passed her on the left. "Oh, weíre here! "
"Just let me off at the corner, my dear," Patricia nodded. "Sheís not far."
"Land sakes, you fret worse than my third husband!" Patricia shook her cane in mock severity. "Youíve already been too kind to me; I can walk it form here!"
"Okay, okay," Raquel laughed.
She pulled the car to the curb and helped the old fur out, staying nearby as she toddled up to an apartment complex and went inside. It wasnít until Raquel had almost driven back home that she realized that not once had Patricia given It any funny looks.
"Seems youíre not always the attention-getter," she murmured at the wretched thing. For some reason, the thought made her feel better.
"So it was that sort of weekend, was it," Raquel giggled into the phone, trying very hard not to sound jealous.
"Oh, yeah!" Cyndiís excitement was clear even though the static; she must be using her portable, Raquel thought. "Donít wait up for me, Iíll be coming home late tonight."
"Already? But itís Saturday!"
There was a derisive snort from Cyndiís end. "I know, but the construction firm Byronís working for has a rush job and theyíre paying double-time for anyone willing to come in Sunday."
Raquel curled her legs up underneath her and gazed outside a window at the clear night sky. "Oh well, sorry your weekend got cut short."
"Not as sorry as I am, girlfriend. Speaking of weekends..."
"Er..." Raquel thought frantically out of getting another talking about her lack of a significant other. "Could you speak louder? Youíre breaking up."
"Nice try." Cyndi sounded amused. "You realize this just gets you off the hook until I get home, right?"
"Er..." The doorbell sounded. "What the...I have company! You werenít expecting anyone, were you?"
"No; hey, it could be someone whoís gonna ask you out!"
"You read too much romance novels, Cyndi," Raquel teased. Cyndi devoured Harlequin romances like they were gourmet tree bark. "Oh well, talk at you later!"
"Iíll call back in a bit, tell me who it is!"
Raquel hung the phone up and padded to the door speaker. Pressing the button, she announced, "who is it?"
"Itís me, dearie." Even through the static of the speaker, Raquel recognized Patriciaís voice.
Curious, Raquel buzzed the fur in. Patricia still had that solid-looking cane and a basket of what smelled like fresh pastry. "Hope you donít mind me stopping by without calling, but I didnít know your number." She handed the basket to Raquel. "These are from my grand- daughter, as a thank you."
Raquel took one out and looked at it; the thing was some sort of pastry pocket, folded over itself; her tigerís nose detected the odor of beef. Extremely puzzled, she took a bite; the things were filled with a meat paste that was oddly spiced with cloves and nutmeg. "Mmmm," Raquel purred, licking her muzzle. "Youíre granddaughterís a good cook!"
"So is her mother. Pity sheís got her motherís mouth, too," Patricia winced. "You wouldnít believe the tongue-lashing I got for coming here by myself.."
Raquelís mind threw up a mental image of the older woman being harangued by someone a quarter of her age and suppressed a giggle. With a surge of self-control she put the basket of meat pastries down. "Well thank her for me, but it really wasnít necessary to go through all that trouble."
"Hogwash!" The old fur shook her cane at Raquel for the second time that day. "Dearie, charity like yours deserves to be rewarded. You went out of your way to help me, and I mean to say thanks."
Raquel was starting to squirm in embarrassment. "Really, youíve done enough..."
"That was from my granddaughter," she interrupted. "I want to give you something as well." She looked Raquel up and down. "I donít mean to be rude, but do you mind if I ask what happened to your poor tail?"
Raquel drew in a deep breath and fought the irritation down; Patiricaís tone was one who sincerely wanted to know because she wanted to help. Besides, no one had ever been so blunt yet so gentle about asking. "Why donít you come in? We can sit in the pallor and talk."
"Of course." The two padded into the apartmentís parlor which had a couch and two padded chairs for guests. Raquel curled up on the couch and Patricia eased down on a chair opposite it.
"I was born with it this way," Raquel said, sticking It out in all its shriveled glory. "All the doctors tell me itís a genetic disease, even though no one else in my family seems to have it." Tears stung her eyes, but for once she didnít try to suppress them. "I hate it. Itís ugly and every male fur I meet canít get past the way it looks, so it makes me ugly. It kept me home from the prom, made sure I was virtually dateless throughout college, and if I had half the guts I should Iíd just hack the thing off!" She realized she was close to a full roar and didnít care. "Iíve never despised anything as much as this tail! No doctor can make it look better and donít get me started on wigs or coverings; they only make it worse, if possible."
"Oh my dear," Patricia, said with sympathy. With surprising agility, the old fur swept off her chair and embraced her fiercely "You poor thing."
Crying over It was something Raquel though she had put behind her. Now, in the embrace of the older fur, Raquel released a lifetime of frustration out in wracking sobs. Patricia stroked her back and rubbed her ears, murmuring word of comfort. Finally, Raquel gently pushed her away. "Thanks, I...Iím sorry for falling apart on you like that."
"Donít be," the older fur disagreed. "If youíre crippled thatís one thing, but show a fur an ugly deformity and youíll see how Ďunderstandingí they really are." She snorted, patting Raquelís shoulders. "I wish I could make your tail pretty for you, dearie, but I canít. I can, however, help you get rid of it if youíre of a mind."
Raquel wiped her eyes, thinking about what a fright her pelt must look after crying. "How?"
"I know magic."
Most furs would have belittled Patricia, if not called the nearest mental ward. Raquel, however, had never been a skeptic as far as things like that went. Figuring she had nothing to lose, she sat up on the couch and leaned forward. "What kind of magic?í
Patricia smiled at her. "I can tell youíre not sure whether to believe a crazy old fur." Raquel blushed in embarrassment but she patted Raquelís hand. "Itís okay, dearie. I can also tell youíre keeping an open mind about it. Thatís a lot more than most manage. To answer your question, I can do all sorts of minor spells but my specialty is transformation."
"So you can like, change lead into gold?"
Patricia shook her head. "I'm afraid not; the change is too closely related. I could turn lead into wood or marble but not gold. I couldnít change your tail into a better looking one; I could change it to a dogís tail or that of an alligator, though. I could even turn it into a different body part."
"Growing from my butt?" Raquel giggled.
Patricia grinned along with her. "Land sakes, hardly! If I changed it into, say, another arm, it would be behind you right shoulder -- or left if youíre left handed."
Patricia leaned back against the couch. She gave It a speculative look; having her tail become something useful was appealing. The fact she would look like a freak didnít bother her in the least; after all, she already did. Why not become the freak of my choice? she thought. "Will this change go away?" Her voice dripped eagerness.
Patricia shook her head. "No. The only way to undo it would be to have a more powerful spell-caster in my area of expertise cast a spell."
"I know what I want then." Raquel took a deep breath. "I want another head."
She could tell sheíd surprised the old fur. Patricia sat straight up in her chair, her gorgeous tail fluffing out and then smoothing back down. Her eyes were wide. "What?"
"Make it into another head," Raquel repeated. "I like the idea of having an extra body part, and I canít think of anything more useful than having another head." Then a thought occurred to her. "Uh, it wonít have itís own personality, will it?"
"Iím not sure." Patriciaís expression grew thoughtful. "I've never done it before. I'm not saying I can't, dearie, I...well, it's not what I'd call a popular request."
"Oh." Raquel wasnít sure she liked the idea of sharing her body with another person. She stole another look at It, and a bubble of disgust popped in her stomach. Youíre not going to ruin this for me, you disgusting thing, she snarled at it silently. She squared her shoulders and faced the old fur. "I donít care."
"Are you positive?" She urged. "Once done, the change will for the most part be permanent."
"Yes." God it felt good for her to say that! "I want it. What do I have to do?"
"You already did," Patricia said. Her expression was strangely distant. "Your permission was all I needed, dearie. Now, Iím going to cast a spell that will make you sleep."
"Canít I be awake for this?" Raquel wanted to know.
"You wouldnít want to," Patricia disagreed. "Having your body rearranged is going be painful; if youíre asleep you wonít feel it."
Raquel sighed. "Oh well. Itís a shame, really. I did want to know what it felt like. How long will I be out?"
The old fur smiled. "Not long, dearie. Youíre strong and healthy, so Iíd say an hour. Now why donít you lie down on the couch? Iíll get started."
Raquel stretched out on the couch and closed her eyes. She felt Patriciaís hand touch her forehead. I wonder how long before I - she began.
She didnít get to finish.
Sometime later conscious returned in little drips.
Mm? I fell asleep.
"Are you okay, dearie?" Patricia sounded very concerned.
"Iím fine," Raquel said wonderingly. Her voice had an odd echoing quality, as if it was coming from two locations at once. Hesitantly, she put both hands on her collarbone and slowly traced upwards. First her right, then her left had found the base of a different neck; her heads seemed to be side by side, with a little space between them. She traced up both necks, running each hand over a face. Curious, she felt between her necks with her right hand and gasped at the sensation. Patricia started forward. "No, itís okay." Raquel giggled. "A piece of advice, though. When you have two heads, the spot between your necks is VERY sensitive. Feels good too."
"You are just you, correct?" Patricia was looking confused.
"Yes," Raquel said, sitting up. "At least, I donít think Iím two people. How do I look?"
The old fur held out a hand. "Why donít you see for yourself, dearie? Is there a large mirror around here?"
"Yes, in my room." She stood up and had a brief moment of vertigo as her new broad field of vision played havoc with her sense of perception. Iíd better walk slowly for now, she thought. Her center of gravity felt different; heavier on top and weaker down below.
"Thatís right, I donít have my tail anymore," she exclaimed aloud. She stretched her neck out to look and her new vision went wild. She stumbled, felt herself fall and somehow managed to land on the couch again.
Patricia was at her side in an instant. "Raquel, are you all right? What happened?"
"I donít know," she answered, and then it came to her in a flash. "Yes I do. I tried to look at my tail and forgetting I have two heads, looked at it from both sides. I gave myself vertigo!" She couldnít help but laugh. Her voice still sounded like there was an echo.
Patricia had a confused look on her face. "I donít mean to be rude, but could you not do that?"
"Sometimes you talk out of both mouths at once; sometimes you go back and forth between sentences. Itís a little disconcerting."
"Really? Iím sorry. I didnít realize I was doing it." She concentrated on keeping her left mouth shut. "Howís this?"
Patricia smiled. "Lovely."
Raquel thought her voice sounded a bit more normal, although she was still hearing it from two different areas. Must be my other set of ears, she thought. "Come on, I want to see the new me!" She stood up with greater care this time, and slowly padded to her room with Patricia close by.
Her new reflection took her breath away. Her second head looked indistinguishable from her first, so much so that she couldnít even tell which was her original head. She peered at her reflection more carefully and saw the stripes on her right face differed from the familiar ones on her left.
"I would have thought that my original head would have been on my right because Iím right handed," she said in a soft voice. She craned her necks apart a bit and felt new -- or was that additional? -- muscles bunch between them. Carefully keeping her right head looking in the mirror, she glanced behind her with her left, to get a look at It.
There was not a trace. The area where It should have been was bare, as if sheíd never had a tail at all. "Amazing," she gasped, feeling the vacant spot with a hand.
"How do you feel?" Patrica was giving her another intense look.
Raquel spun and outstretched her arms. "Beautiful!" She crowed. She rushed forward and embraced the old fur. "Oh thank you so much!"
Patricia stiffened at first, but soon was returning her enthusiastic hug. "Iím glad to see youíre happy, dearie.
"Oh, I am," she sighed. A sudden thought struck her and she giggled. "My roommate going to flip, though."
"Sheís not the only one," Patricia cautioned. "íTaurs are rare enough, but a two-headed fur? I would get used of being stared at, if I were you."
Raquel relaxed the hug and bend backwards a bit to look at the old fur with both sets of eyes. "Iíve been stared at all my life, Patricia. Believe me, itís better to be a freak of my choice."
The old fur shook her head. "This will be a different kind of staring. Besides, there may be more problems. Two heads are not always better than one, even if they both have the same personality."
Raquel had no idea what the Patricia was getting at and didnít care. Still, polite to the end, she said. "Iíll take your warning to heart." Patricia was giving her a look that said very plainly she wasnít buying the act for a minute but Raquel gave her another enthusiastic hug which left her gasping.
"Ooof!í Patricia protested over Raquelís happy purr. "Any harder and Iíll be strawberry jam and Jill will yell at me again!" This gave Raquel and extreme case of the giggles, she laughed so hard she raored, and Patricia laughed right along with her.
After they recovered, Raquel wiped both sets of eyes. "Would you like to stay and meet my roommate? Sheís should be back from her camping trip in a couple of hours."
"Another time, Raquel," Patricia said. "I must get back to Jill apartment before she starts to fret. I suppose Iím lucky she cares about an old fur like me but land sakes, sheís a worrier!"
"Well, feel free to stop by anytime," Rachel grinned, with one head. The other was examining her reflection with delight.
"I mean to," Patricia nodded. "Just mind what I said!"
"I will," Raquel murmured; her second head had joined the first in contemplating the mirror.
She never saw Patriciaís glance as the old fur left, and wouldn't have understood it if she had.
Cyndiís coming home soon.
Did it work?
Wonder if Byron proposed yet. The way he keeps looking at her...
It must have. I feel odd.
Mr. Ringtailís been red in the face lately. Thatís not a good sign. Iíd better talk him into going to the doctor.
I canít seem to focus my thoughts. I must not be awake yet.
I wonder if Cyndi ever caught on that I hit on her in college. I know Iím straight but I was so depressed...
Hey! I am thinking clearly, just about different things at the same time! Does that mean Iím two people now?
I think Iím going to enjoy having two heads. Having all my clothes altered is going to be a pain, though.
All right, thatís it. Iím waking up right now!
Racal forced herself awake. She briefly took note that her blouse and top bra had been removed, but there were more important things to consider at the moment. The familiar parlor swam into focus...but it looked odd. At first she couldnít put her finger on it, then it hit her; she was seeing more of at once! It felt like she was looking straight ahead and over her shoulder at the same time without the uncomfortable feeling one gets from craning oneís neck. Patriciaís concerned face was to the left of her field of vision; with a start, she realized the old fur was only visible by one of her heads.