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Posted 16 March 2011
The Gaze: The Glass Goose
Story & art by Warren Hutch

Spontoon Archipelago, 1939
Story & art by Warren Hutch
© 2010 Warren Hutch


   As Dorothy Pearl and Jane Early walked along the darkened thoroughfare, they passed the looming edifices of the resort hotels clustered along the beach, the distant sounds of music and revelry drifting through the dank, slightly chilled air blowing in from the lagoon.

   The further they went, the more off balance the rabbit doe's awkward load became, so they stopped in the light of a bug-festooned street lamp for a moment and set their burdens down.
    Mrs. Pearl's eyes flickered nervously as she noticed movement in the darkness behind them, and she nudged her cohort, nodding down the way they had come. Miss Early's long ears twitched at the sound of footsteps coming up the path behind them, and she turned warily, setting the large bundle down next to the duffel bag and easing into a wide footed fighting stance.

A Kindly Stranger - from The Gaze: The Glass Goose - art & story by Warren Hutch
A Kindly Stranger - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.1 MBytes)

    A tall feline figure stepped into the light, as if a bit of the night had detached itself from it's surroundings. Her fur was a deep, dark grey brown, with faint speckled patterns of darker black scattered across her face and down her neck, the markings of a melanistic leopard, and her lustrous black hair was bound in a braid that hung down her back in echo of her gently swaying tail, underneath a red bandanna tied at four corners to make a cap. She wore an ankle length skirt of dark colored fabric, and clutched a shawl of colorfully woven native cloth around her broad shoulders, over a white cotton long sleeved shirt and a stained white apron. In her other hand, she carried a bundle wrapped in a checkered red and white cloth.

    Her coppery eyes regarded them evenly as she bowed, the shells on her earrings and necklace rattling softly. "Good evening, o wayfarers."

    She smiled knowingly as Dorothy's gaze washed over her, and held her hands out to her sides with palms facing forward.
    Beneath her simple garments she was svelte and powerfully muscled, with fur brushed into patterns that counterpointed the dark rosettes. The smaller feline's eyes flickered as she saw a swelling in the leopardess' belly indicating that she was beginning to show a pregnancy. Aside from a few bands hung with tiny, decorative sea shells, the only other remarkable thing she wore on her person was a small pouch strapped to her hip containing five Spontoon shell notes, a matchbook from the La Royale hotel, an Alpine army knife, and a gold ring with a simple setting of a diamond flanked by two smaller red and blue gemstones, and a brass key on a loop of knotted red yarn. In the bundle in her hand, the tabby saw the tinfoil wrapped leftovers of several gourmet meals, and blushed slightly at the sound of her own stomach grumbling faintly.
    Dorothy's eyebrows raised in interest as she peered into the stranger's aura, noticing that the ephemeral patterns of energy closely mirrored the patterns brushed into the female's fur. She saw a kind, gentle soul with a touch of sadness at the edges, an undercurrent of anxiousness, but a core of unshakeable optimism, and signs of an uncanny connection to larger forces. A faint, pulsing spark, simple and as innocent as emptiness, could be seen in the depths of the leopardess' belly. She could see that the dark furred stranger meant her and her lapine companion no harm, at least.
    As her vision refocused, she could feel the rabbit doe tense at her side, her voice guarded. "Y'all part o' the welcomin' committee too?"
    The leopardess nodded as Dorothy laid a calming hand on Miss Early's shoulder. "Easy, Jane. She's friendly."
    A slash of white teeth appeared across the stranger's dark features. "It is so. I am Huakela Jones, daughter of Huakena."
    Mrs. Pearl haltingly acknowledged her. "I'm Dorothy Pearl, and this is Jane Early. How can we help you, Missus Jones?"

    An eyebrow cocked in the dark face, shifting a rosette of faint spots higher on her broad forehead. "I am here to help you, Dorothy Pearl and Jane Early. It has come to me that you are lacking a place to sleep tonight. I would offer you both hammocks in my hut, if you would care to accept my hospitality and my company."
    The rabbit eyed her suspiciously. "How'd y'all know we were outta doors?"
    The leopardess flicked an ear with a wry smile. "Perhaps I have strange mystery powers. Or perhaps word just travels fast." She winked a coppery eye at them both. "Or perhaps I was walking home from my shift at the Royale, and overheard you in the lobby of the Pelican shouting great slanders against poor Mister Dinkhov's lineage."
    Miss Early blushed as she relaxed and rubbed the back of her head. "Ah, well that explains it, I reckon. My voice carries purty far when I git my mad on. Sorry y'all had t'hear that..."
    The leopardess chuckled. "Not at all, there was a certain... poetry to it. I shall have to remember some of what you said the next time I must argue with Julio the sous chef."
    The embarassed doe dug her toe in the coral gravel at her feet. "Long as y'all don't credit the source, y'all can be my guest."
    The dark furred feline looked at the she cat and rabbit doe earnestly. "Oh no, Jane Early. Tonight you can be MY guests, if you would follow me, please."
    Mrs. Pearl shifted her shoulders in the coat wrapped around her and gave the native leopardess a smile. "We'd be happy to take you up on that offer, Missus Jones."
    The leopardess's face lit up with a wide, white grin of sharp teeth and she stepped forward, proffering her tablecloth wrapped bundle to Miss Early. "I am glad. Here."
    As the tan furred doe took the smaller bundle in hand, the large feline effortlessly slung the rabbit's own bulky package over her shoulder, beckoning them to follow her. The cat and rabbit looked at one another, and fell into step behind her.

    The leopardess led them along a winding path away from the lights of the resorts, until a soft darkness lit only by the stars overhead enveloped them. The rustle of foliage in the ocean winds and the chirping of a thousand night time insects and birds surrounded the three females, as their footsteps sounded softly on the mossy rocks marking the pathway. Occasionally, they would pass a lonely torch on a pole jammed into the ground alongside the path, surrounded by fluttering, ghostly moths.
    Soon, they entered a valley leading to the coast on the opposite side of the island, where clusters of thatched huts on low stilted porches huddled along the beach like a herd of shaggy, peaceful sheep, their cheery yellow lights contrasting against the blues, greys, and flat, wide blackness of the ocean beyond, it's breakers lapping softly against the silvery beach.
    Huakela led them to a smallish hut at the outskirts of the villiage, pausing at a coffee can painted with flowers and the name JONES that hung from the doorpost. The leopardess let out a soft cry of joy as she found an envelope inside, her long tail waving happily behind her as she tucked it under her arm and beckoned her guests inside, pushing aside a canvas curtain that covered the door.
    Their tall, dark-furred host set her burden down inside the door and turned to take the checkered bundle from Miss Early, setting it and the envelope down on a table at the center of the room.
    She then snagged something from under a bowl that was sitting atop it, leaning up to fiddle with a lantern hanging from one of the roof beams. A corona of golden orange light flared as a match was struck, and moments later the room was suffused with a pleasant glow as she turned the wick and settled the glass into place. She turned to her guests with a smile as she draped her shawl on one of the chairs. The dark furred female pulled the chair out with a soft creak of its bamboo legs scraping across the floorboards, and indicated to Dorothy that she should sit. "Please make yourselves at home."
    She indicated the bundle on the table with a smile. "I've got bits and bobs of several fine gourmet meals to eat, and I could put a kettle on for coffee or tea."
    As the brown furred tabby settled herself into the proffered seat, she smiled, taking her hat off and setting it down on the table as she shook her unruly hair out. "Whatever causes you the least trouble, Missus Jones."
    The leopardess paused as she untied the apron strings behind her back, giving the smaller feline a warm smile. "Call me Huakela. Please. My mong of a boss calls me Missus Jones all day and I get sick of hearing it."
    Miss Early set the bags down by the door and looked earnestly over at their hostess. "Y'all kin call me Jane, then. Is there anythin' I kin help y'all out with, Huakela. I'm purty handy round th' house."
    The leopardess smiled over at the rabbit doe as she hung her apron in the crook of her arm and began to unbutton her shirt. "That is very kind of you, Jane." She nodded over at an old fashioned wood burning stove in the corner. "If you can get the fire started while I change out of my work clothes, you would honor my hearth."
    The rabbit nodded and rolled up her sleeves as she crossed to the small pile of firewood next to the stove and set to work, stacking the chunks of palm log into the hinged maw of the stove and crumpling wads of old newspapers that lay stacked nearby in around them for kindling.

     Huakela padded across the floor to a chest-of-drawers in the opposite corner of the hut and shrugged out of her shirt, revealing the dappled pattern of black on dark grey across her sinuous back, then unbuttoned the front and taillet of her long skirt and allowed it to tumble down her muscular legs to the floor, showing yet more rosettes down her bottom and thighs as her long tail waved languidly behind her. She picked up the skirt and folded it neatly, along with the shirt and apron, and laid them in a drawer, then pulled out a length of light, floral print cotton and wrapped it around herself and knotted it around her broad chest, the hem hanging down to mid-thigh. The leopardess tied her apron back on over top of the delicate cotton wrap and crossed back over to her small kitchen.

    As her two companions busied themselves about the hut, Dorothy took stock of her surroundings with her glittering eyes.
    There was only one moderate-sized room to the hut, with a small closet separated by a woven rattan partition at the end of the room next to the wood stove. Inside that closet, a metal wash tub and a steel drum full of rainwater, with a green glass bottle sealed in wax sitting at the bottom full of hazy yellow-white liquor. A scorched copper cookpot hung from a nail on the wall, presumably as a ladle, and a crude wooden shelf held a variety of powdered soaps and other imported cleaning products in mouldering tins and boxes, with a few melted candles clinging like waxy pale tree stumps to the leading edge.
    The stove sat on small platform of concrete, set with mismatched ceramic tiles. The stovepipe was corroded, and had been repaired with more recycled coffee cans and twisted wire. Next to the stove, a sawhorse supporting a couple of planks of wood lashed together with twine and nailed to the framework of the hut wall. This improvised platform held a small stack of polished pots and pans, a block with a couple of well kept kitchen knives, and some other miscellaneous cooking tools in yet another coffee can. A shelf made from a single plank hung from the wall by rope held a motley collection of boxes, tins, and open packages.
    The table she sat at held a souvenir ashtray modeled as a crude topographic model of the Spontoon Atoll in green and blue glazed ceramic. She noticed that Sacred Island had been omitted, and that Meeting Island and in particular Casino Island's representative bumps bore more than their share of ash marks from stubbed out cigarettes. Several matchbooks from the La Royale resort hotel lay scattered around the tiny model of the islands.
    Her gaze lingered on the envelope their hostess had set on the table. It was crumpled and a bit dirty, with several airmail stamps and a postmark from Halfway Island further west in the Pan-Orient Ocean dated a week ago. It was addressed in block letters to Mrs. H. Jones, Halo Villiage, South Island, Spontoons, with a return address from CPO. A. Jones, SS Palomino Bay.
    She looked across the table at the wall facing her, between two windows draped with colorful native cloth curtains. A picture frame hung in the space from a nail, with a garland of silk flowers around the edge, its cheap glass protecting a photo of Huakela, clad in a white sarong and veil, with a smiling male cougar standing behind her with his arms around her waist, dressed in a dark suit and tie with a white peaked cap on his head. Both felines were smiling brightly in front of a crudely painted backdrop of a tropical beach with a straight horizon and little white letter M's that probably represented seagulls. It took her a moment to resolve the black, jagged shape on the end of a long neck, rather like a sea serpent or menacing snake, into a failed representation of a palm tree.
    Pulling her eyes away from the picture with a weary twinge in her heart, she looked at the opposite side of the hut. The plank floor was covered in woven reed mats in the corner opposite the chest of drawers, with several cushions and patched hotel pillows scattered about. A hammock made from heavy, striped cloth hung from the rafters, and a couple more hung folded on the wall, ready to be strung up as needed.
    The chest-of-drawers was old and battered, with the bottom drawer secured by an iron hasp bolted onto the wood and held closed by a brass padlock. A selection of combs, brushes, and other articles of toilette were scattered atop it, beneath a faded map of the Pan Orient ocean affixed to the wall above with corroded brass thumb tacks. An blue line in grease pencil connected several points on the map like stars in a constellation, a pin hung with a tiny St. Christopher's medal marking a point along the line.

      The upper drawers contained neatly folded clothing and linens, while the fortified bottom drawer held what Mrs. Pearl surmised was the Jones family treasures. In one corner, a fine bone china tea set, in the other a stack of papers and several piles of neatly stacked Spontoon shell notes, all weighted down by a grimacing canine tiki figurine with glaring eyes made from hammered copper pennies. She decided not to pry any further, feeling a bit ashamed of looking so deeply into this kind female's private affairs.

    She snapped into focus at the sound of her hostess' voice, looking over to see the leopardess unwrapping the bundle and drawing forth  the foil wrapped packets inside.
    The copper colored eyes looked at her quizzically. "Miz Pearl? Miz Pearl? Are you hungry? Hello?"
    Before Dorothy could reply, her stomach grumbled, much louder than before. She gave her hostess a rueful, fragile smile, twirling one of her loose strands of dark hair absently on a finger.  "Hungry, tired, filthy, frazzled, sore, you name it. It's been a long day."
    Huakela smiled over her shoulder as she carried a double handful of the foil packets and laid them out atop the stove. "We can see about each of those problems in turn. How about you and Jane start by washing up while we wait for the food to get warm?"
    She crossed back to the table and plucked a matchbook from the surface then went into the small partitioned space past the stove and lit the candles, filling the little room with flickering golden light. She plucked a cake of soap from the shelf and laid it on the table in front of Dorothy. A rich scent not unlike coconut rose up from the unassuming white block. Huakela briskly crossed to the chest of drawers and pulled out two more light cotton wraps and a thick beach towel.
    A large smile settled on Jane's face and she shrugged out of her suspenders and pulled her shirt off over her head, hanging it in the crook of her arm as she leaned against the wall of the hut and started to untie her boots. Their dark furred host set the things she carried down on the table and stepped around behind the smaller feline. After helping her to her feet, Huakela pulled the slip up and off over Dorothy's head and upraised arms.
    The feline looked over to see the tan-furred doe had finished undressing and had left her clothing in a pile on the floor as she walked over and stood beside the doorway looking over her shoulder with her cotton tail flicking as she cocked her head toward the doorway. The brown-furred tabby gathered up the towel, soap, and sarongs and hurried after her.

    The she-cat and rabbit doe proceeded to take turns standing in the washtub while the other dumped potfulls of rain water over their companion's head, rinsing off the rich lather from the cake of soap, and then took turns drying each other off with the towel, followed by a brisk session with  brush and comb. The native made soap had left a residue of light oil that caused their fur and hair to become soft and lustrous when brushed out, and filled the air with more of that pleasant, coconut smell.

    As they walked back into the main room, each wrapped in a clean, slightly clinging sarong, a delicious scent of cooking food was filling the air. Dorothy stood with her eyes closed and sniffed the air with a luxurious smile on her face, as Jane crossed behind her and picked up her clothing from beside the wall.
    The she cat sighed. "Mmmm. That smells SO good. I haven't had anything since that bottle of soda this afternoon."
    The black furred leopardess stepped back from the stove and looked at her with a critical, coppery eye. "That's all? No wonder you're thin as a bamboo staff." She scooped the foil packets up from the stove and carried them back to the table. "Come, let us fix that next."
    The rabbit and cat sat themselves down on the chairs on either side of the table and ate heartily as their hostess bustled in her simple kitchen. It was the best meal that either had had in a long time. While the food was in small portions of any given dish, combined together it made for quite a feast, and the quality was top notch, lacking only the presentation of a gourmet restaurant as they ate with their fingers out of the foil wrappers shaped into serving dishes by Huakela's deft hands.

"The Kiss of Friends Over Strong Fruit Mash" from The Gaze: The Glass Goose - by Warren Hutch
<"The Kiss of Friends Over Strong Fruit Mash"> - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.7 MBytes)

    As the meal was drawing to a close and the feline and lapine sat back in their chairs, satisfied, drowsy smiles on their faces, the leopardess ducked into the side room and reached down into the rain barrel, pulling forth the wax stoppered bottle. She walked back into the main room, wiping her arm dry with a hand towel and set the bottle on the table. With a smile on her face, she popped a thumb claw and cut away the wax on the bottle, the fished her folding knife out of the little pouch at her hip and opened out the corkscrew, driving it down into the chunk of cork and pulling it loose.
    With her white teeth splitting her dark features in a broad grin, she proffered the bottle to Dorothy. "Here. This is some of the islands' finest pineapple brandy. I would share what we Spontoonies call <the kiss of dear friends who gather around the strong fruit mash> with you."
    With a nervous smile, the feline took the bottle and placed it to her lips. Her ice blue eyes widened as the cloudy yellow liquor burned its way down her throat and into her full stomach. She gripped the edge of the table, her ears levered back and her tail frizzing, as tears started at the corners of her eyes, but she blinked them back and forced her expression back into a smile, as her claws scraped shaky lines into the underside of the tabletop.
    Huakela grinned knowingly and took the bottle back, then handed it to Jane, who accepted it with a smirk and took a long pull. A moment later the rabbit's long ears flopped down onto her shoulders as she exploded in a violent fit of coughing. "Thunderation! When y'all said "pineapple brandy" I didn't realize y'all were talkin' 'bout hand grenades..."
    The leopardess cocked an eyebrow as she took the bottle back. "You didn't like it?"
    The rabbit doe gave her a grin as she sat back in her seat, fanning herself with her hand. "Shoot, darlin', I liked it jest fine. I love a good fight, an' that was like gittin' cold cocked by a fruit salad."
    The black furred feline raised the bottle. "Indeed. To wayfarers who become friends, fated to return from their journey one day. <An oath of friends over strong fruit mash.>"
    With that, she took a sip, pursing her lips as the swallow went down her throat. She plucked the cork up off of the table and pushed it back into the bottle with her thumb, smiling warmly. "Well, that is that. I dare not have any more with this child quickening in my belly." She smiled gently down and ran a caressing hand across her midriff, then looked back up at her guests. "And you are both looking quite drowsy enough as it is. I think it is time for bed."
    Dorothy nodded with a dreamy look settling over her face as she felt a warm, sweet heaviness spread through her from the pit of her stomach outward to her limbs. She looked across at Jane, who pushed herself up from her chair with some effort and returned her gaze, cocking her head toward their hostess. "How'bout y'all let us help clean up a li'l 'fore we do."
    The feline nodded and pulled herself to her feet, stretching with a wide, luxurious yawn and running her fingers through her lustrous, slightly damp tresses.
    She smacked her lips as she gave the leopardess a sleepy eyed grin. "Yes, I think I have just enough left in me for that, but then I think I'm gonna pass out."
    Huakela gave a nod and a grin and beckoned them over to the woven reed mats. "There is little to do in the kitchen but gather the rubbish. Let us hang the hammocks and get you both tucked in."

    In short order, the three females had hung two more hammocks from the hut's sturdy rafters, adding pillows from the mat beneath and blankets their leopardess hostess produced from the chest of drawers. Dorothy and Jane then untied their sarongs at Haukela's urging and climbed in, using the soft cotton cloth as another blanket to wrap around their warm, weary bodies, bidding one another and their gentle hostess good night.
    Jane Early fell asleep almost instantly, nestling down in the embrace of the canvas with a soft sigh, but Dorothy remained awake, watching the dark furred feline through heavily lidded eyes.
    The leopardess crossed over to the table and sat down, her tail waving gently behind her. She picked up the envelope with a tender smile, popping a claw on her pinky finger and running it down its length with the faintest sound of tearing, followed by the rustle of paper as she pulled forth several folded pages and read them in the yellow light of the lantern above the table.

Missing Him - from The Gaze: The Glass Goose - story & art by Warren Hutch
Missing Him - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.5 MBytes)

    As the tabby studied her hostess from across the room, the great cat female's expression went from mirthful, to concerned, to happy, to wistful as she finally laid the pages down and picked up a sheaf of loose bills that had come out of the envelope as well. These she carefully counted, smoothing each down on the stack as she went with a look of concentration on her face.
    With a final nod, she gathered up the envelope and its contents and stood, turning and walking over to the framed picture on the wall, where she leaned forward and placed a kiss on the glass, then removed the handkerchief on her head and carefully rubbed out the smudge on the glass.
    The leopardess then crossed to the chest of drawers and crouched down on her haunches in front of it, fishing the key from her hip pouch by it's red yarn loop and unlocking the padlock. She added the letter to a string wrapped bundle, piled the money under the snarling little tiki after planting a kiss on each of its glaring penny eyes, and then carefully locked the drawer.
    Then she stood, leaning on tip toes over the chest of drawers with her tail idly waving behind her, and pulled the pin with it's dangling medal from the map, and carefully pushed it in at another point along the blue grease pencil line. She kissed her thumb and touched the medal with it, then clasped her fingers and bowed her head for a moment.

    Her brief prayer finished, Huakela arched her back in a long, luxurious stretch, and undid her braid, allowing a cascade of long black hair, like oil or ink in its flow and luster, to tumble down her back over the dark flower field of rosettes. The leopardess paused and unbuckled her hip pouch and set it on the dresser, then padded across the room to the table, lifted the glass on the lantern, and blew out the light, plunging the hut into a velvety darkness.
    Finally, sleep crept up upon the brown furred tabby as the soft rustle of her hostess removing her sarong and climbing into her own hammock sounded beside her.


        The Gaze: The Glass Goose