Spontoon Island
home - contact - credits - new - links - history - maps - art - story
comic strips - editorial - souvenirs - Yahoo forum
Posted 6 March 2013
The Gaze: The Glass Goose
Story & art by Warren Hutch

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


  The sun rose on a dejected feline figure who sat slouched against a palm tree on an isolated stretch of beach on Casino Island, staring at the ocean waves that lapped at the flotsam-strewn sands before him. He wanted so very badly to rise and walk into the surf, and keep walking until the waves closed over his bandage-swaddled head, swallowing up his miserable life and all of his shame forever, so that the same sun that shone on the Neko Tatei, the sacred emperor of his kindred, would not be defiled by shining on him as well.

   Every time the urge struck him to try, his arms and legs became as wet sandbags, heavy as lead, pinned helplessly to the ground by that... that female's terrible compulsion. He wept, he gnashed what teeth he had still in his head, he thrashed on the ground like a furious kitten, ignoring the agony of his broken ribs and the shattered bones in his tail grinding beneath him, but he could not make his body rise to end his life.

   He had wandered the island all the prior day like a ghost. At first he considered returning to the Steppelander wolf, to report his failure and beg for forgiveness or death, knowing the latter would doubtless be his fate, but found that whenever he turned to head in the direction of his controller's seagoing headquarters his feet would stick to the ground as if nailed there. It was then he realized the extent of the curse those chilling eyes had laid upon him.

   With mounting terror, he had spent the rest of the afternoon trying to kill himself, but found the compulsion stymied him at every attempt. Every time he tried to climb to some height and throw himself off, he would freeze in place at the foot of the stairs, or stand unmoving at the back of the elevator until it returned to the ground floor again, up and down until the operator threw him out. Every time he tried to throw himself in front of some vehicle, he would either find himself rooted to the sidewalk, or sprinting clear like a gazelle with angry shouts and honking horns ringing in his ears. His hands became clumsy and nerveless, unable to hold on to anything if he tried to take up something sharp to slash at his wrists or throat, and he found himself completely, fumblingly incapable of tying a secure knot to hang himself. Poisons wound up poured on the ground or down the front of his shirt before they could touch his lips. His knees and spine refused to bend when he considered the humiliation of lapping his death up off of the floor.

   Finally, as the sun was beginning to set, he had taken the last few Spontoonie shells in the pockets of his ragged trousers and purchased a bottle of gin, wandering down to the stretch of neglected beach between Pier 7 and Red Lantern dock, with the vague hope that if he got drunk enough perhaps he would be lying passed out in the right place when high tide came.

   He had awakened the next day after a night of fitful sleep at the foot of the tree, his disappointment at still being alive overshadowed by the throbbing pains in his head, wrist, jaw, and tail. And thus he now laid, his orange eyes, bloodshot and glazed, staring resentfully at the ocean that would never take him. He stared long and hard at the scene before him.

   The deep blue of the sky above receded before a wave of gold and pink, the glittering of the sun reflecting off the bottomless green of the waves between the long dark shadows of the buildings, illuminating the lush hills of the Main Island that cradled the lagoon, full of boats and taxiing seaplanes and seagulls that all blazed white in the new morning light. From somewhere far away, he heard female voices raising in song, swelling in a rich, clear harmony, as a warm breeze scented with a mixture of sea salt and jungle flowers fluttered against his nostrils.

   He lurched up into a sitting position, his breath catching in his throat as fresh tears rolled down his face, making streaks down the grimy bandages.

   It... it was beautiful.

   So beautiful.


   As the song faded to its last sweet notes, the neko climbed painfully to his feet and staggered across the beach, allowing the empty gin bottle to fall to the ground beside him with a muffled clunk on the sand, followed by one piece then another of his tattered, filthy clothing until he stood naked, knee-deep in the surging tide with his arms stretched wide, the sun turning his dingy white fur to gold and the brown spots across his back to mahogany. He reached up and tore away the bandages across his face, revealing his bruised, battered visage to the breeze as the strips of linen fluttered down to the water and were borne away on the tide. 

   With a joyous laugh that bubbled up from somewhere deep inside him, he fell forward into the surf, the white breakers crashing around him. He hung in the water, floating weightless for a moment as the waves pushed him back toward the shore, before planting his feet in the sand and surging to his feet once more with a wordless cry of triumph, puffing the sea water out of his nostrils as he slicked his sodden hair back between his ears with his undamaged hand. The salt stung the cuts and contusions all across his body, but the breeze blew on them like the gentle breath of a tender mother. His sinewy frame trembled all over as he breathed it in, feeling life, sweet life, coursing through him from his heels to his ears to the aching root of his broken tail.

The Island's Embrace - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.4 MBytes)

   Someone cleared his throat behind him, and spoke to him in a laconic voice. "Hey pally, no swimming on dis beach. Can't yez read da signs?"

   The neko turned, and saw a tall, beige-furred jaguar in a Spontoon constable's uniform, rocking back-and-forth on his booted heels on the damp sand of the beach, his rosette-speckled arms crossed in front of him, his badge glinting on chest of his khaki tunic.

   The officer's black rimmed ears laid back when he caught sight of the smaller feline's raw, half-swollen face and black eye. "Whoa, yez look like yez stepped face first into a propeller. Are yez okay dere, pally?"

   The pale-furred feline turned to face the constable and spread his arms wide, causing the jaguar to roll his eyes and avert them. The neko's battered face creased in a wide, gap toothed smile. "I am alive!"

   The constable's tail lashed gently behind him as he let out a weary sigh and muttered to himself. "It's too < accursed by all the gods> early in da morning for dis < tribulation from the gods so that they may make sport of mortals >."

   He crouched down and picked up the neko's discarded trousers, shaking the sand off of them and proffering them to the pale-furred feline. "Yez not gonna be alive for long if yez gonna try swimmin' out dere. Der's rip tides, an' I don't even wanna think about what's floatin' down from Red Lantern Dock. Now come on and be a good little < one upon whose head a coconut has fallen and knocked out all sense > and put yez pants on fore I gotta run yez in fer drunk an' disorderly."

   The smaller feline bobbed his head agreeably and splashed over to the constable, taking the trousers and jamming his legs into them, hopping on one foot than another and losing his balance on the second leg, tumbling backwards into the surf. The water cushioned his fall, sparing him another jarring landing on his broken tail.

   The jaguar helped him to his feet and stood looking him over with his hands on his hips and a baleful eye as the neko clumsily buttoned the sodden pants around his shivering frame. "So what's yer story, pal?"

   The feline's orange eyes shone as he looked up at the officer. "I was standing in the water, and you came along and started talking to me, and kindly warned me about the dangers of swimming there."

   The constable's brow furrowed and his tail began to lash behind him in annoyance. "No, I mean where d' yez come from?"

   The neko turned and pointed to the spot in he surf where he'd been standing. "I came from right there."

   A low growl sounded from the officer's throat. He held up a shaking hand, pinching a thin margin of air between thumb and forefinger and gazing through the gap with a slitted green eye. "Look pally, I'm dis close t' losin' my temper, so quit bein' cute wit me and tell me who da < rude mating ritual best performed in a closed hut under a new moon and not spoken of afterwards > yez are."

   The battered feline became abject and bowed deeply several times. "Gomen ne. I am sorry. I do not mean to irritate you, policeman-san. I cannot tell you who I am, or what my story is, or where I came from. Any answers I could give no longer have any meaning."

   He straightened up and looked at the jaguar with a gleam in his pumpkin colored eyes. A gentle smile spread across his face. "I'm new."

   The constable let out a deep breath and pushed back his pith helmet, scratching his head in bemusement. "Well, yez seem harmless enough."

   The smaller feline bowed again, folding his hands in front of his scrawny chest. "I assure you, officer, I cannot hurt a soul even if I wanted to."

   The jaguar gave him a long, hard look, stroking his chin as the smaller feline meekly looked up at him. The constable shrugged his shoulders and threw up his hands. "Okay pal, yez free t' go. Can't run every outlander I meet in for bein' crazy, or we'd have to build a jail over da whole < thrown into turmoil by mischievous spirits > island."

   He turned and started walking away down the beach, turning back to jab a warning finger at the smaller feline as he departed. "Stay out of trouble, yez hear me, pally?"

The neko bowed deeply in gratitude to the receding constable. "Thank you, officer. I will do my best."

   He stood and looked around when the jaguar had gone, stroking his chin thoughfully. "But where DO I go?"

   He shrugged, shoved his hands in his pockets, and started walking down the beach as his pale fur gleamed in the early morning sunlight and the breeze caressed him.

   Jane Early stepped down from the doorway of the meeting hut, yawned, and stretched her tan furred, athletic body in the early morning sun that bathed the tiny islets of the Nobikini Atoll. She looked across the beach and saw the two otter girls standing by the canoes talking to Gwen Riley, who's mellow orange fur gleamed in the sunlight as the ocean breeze played through her unbound hair and ruffled the colorful native patterned wrap knotted at her hip.

   The rabbit doe pulled the cotton kimono she wore closed around her muscular torso and ambled over to join them. As she approached, her ears drooped as she saw the otters exchange nervous glances and fidget.

   Gwen turned and gave her a cheery smile. "Good morning, Miss Early."

   The rabbit stopped before her and self consciously dug her toe in the sand. "Mornin', Miss Riley. Gals... I... I jest wanna say I'm powerful sorry 'bout last night n' all. A lotta stuff jest kinda... came t' a head and, well, I'm sorry I gave everybody a fright."

   The vixen held up a dark furred hand. "Don't worry about it. It happens to all of us..." An uncertain look crossed her face. "Well, what specifically happened doesn't happen to anybody... I guess it happens to all of you... I mean..."

   She shrugged helplessly. "You know what I mean, I hope..."

   The tan furred doe let out a chuckle and nodded. "Yeah, I do, and thanks."

   Gwen gave her a smile and indicated the otters. "I was just sayin' aloha to Malakeli and Nolakeli here. They're settin' out for Pipikaula to live like island queens with their hard-earned wages." She nodded at the bundles and packs loading down the canoes. "And to deliver our quarterly rent payment to the King of Pipikaula for the use of this Atoll. He's their grandfather's cousin."

   Jane gave them a smile. "Well, I hope y'all have a safe trip."

   The otter girls both nervously bowed and Malakeli spoke. "Th-thanks to you H-honored Miss Jane."

   She turned to Gwen. "On our way we will be now, Miss Gwen. Best of gods' blessings of fortune upon you fall, and safe may you be from strange spirits."

   As she said this her eyes darted nervously in the tan furred rabbit doe's direction. The dark furred otter turned to her cousin and gave a nod, and the two sleek-pelted girls stepped up to the canoes, each laden with packs and bundles, and pushed them into the surf. As the narrow watercraft picked up momentum, they leapt lightly into them and settled amidships, each taking up a double bladed paddle and rowing the canoes forward with powerful strokes, casting a few furtive glances over their shoulders as they receded across the water.

Exit the Otters - by Warren Hutch (Larger file here - 1.2 MBytes)

   Jane's ears drooped over her slumped shoulders as she watched them row away, her voice sorrowful. "Dang, them gals is right spooked o' me, ain't they?"

   Gwen laid a hand on her shoulder and gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I tried to explain but they just don't understand. Heck, I don't understand it either, but I at least don't blame everything I can't figure out on spirits."

   She nodded toward the meeting hut. "How's Junko doing?"

   A smile flitted across Jane's face as she looked back at the hut. "Oh, she's jest dandy."

   The vixen gave her a searching look, self consciously crossing her arms in front of her bosom. "Good! Good." A blush came to her cheeks. "So... did you... uh..."

   The rabbit doe clenched her fists on the edges of her kimono, holding it tightly shut as she rounded on Gwen with flashing eyes and a blush flaring on her cheeks.

   When she saw the vixen fearfully recoiling, she relaxed, giving her a wry smile. "I know they call me Miss Early but it's waay too soon fer that, darlin'. We jest cuddled a l'il, n' then fell asleep in each other's arms..." She let out a sigh. "Best nights sleep I've had in a month o' Sundays."

   Gwen grinned at her and nodded. "I hear you. I just sleep better when I've got Takky's arms around me."

   Jane glanced back at the hut then turned and gave the vixen a wink. "Matter o' fact, I'm still back thar as we speak. As much as this thing o' mine lets me git done, it really pays off in how much sleepin' in I git t' do."

   Gwen planted her hands on her hips and gave her a wry half grin. "Okay, you're definitely tipping me over from scared to jealous. I'd have sold my tail through the mail to be able to do somethin' like that back in Songmark."

   She let out a chuckle and and began to unknot the colorful cloth around her hips. "Anyway, I was just going to go for a little swim. Since we're short a couple mermaids now, I wonder if you'd like to join me?"

   Jane grinned and slipped out of the kimono, letting it flutter to the ground next to Gwen's wrap. "That'd be right nice, Miss Gwen. I better git t' practicin' if'n I wanna keep up with that sweet li'l Kokoro pearl in th' water."

   The vixen grinned broadly. "Better worry 'bout keepin' up with me first, landlubber. Last one in's a rotten egg!"

   With that she spun on her heel and pelted across the damp sand and into the surf, leaping forward into a dive and slipping easily into the water. Jane let out a whoop and ran after her, splashing through the waves with more force than elegance as she pursued the gracefully swimming vixen into the pristine lagoon.

   The neko had wandered down the beach a ways, his footprints trailing behind him in a meandering course as he looked down at the pebbles and seashells with the white foam of the breakers washing over them. His eyes lit upon a pair of delicate, grey toed feet standing before him, beneath a rattling curtain of grass that played in the breeze as he lifted his gaze to face a carved mask that reminded him somehow of the masks of a noh performance he'd seen at a festival in another life.

   At the time, he'd surely brushed it off to seek the rough pleasures a young tomcat would look for in the low quarters of his hometown, but now the serenity of the polished face struck him, kindling the memory of how a similar visage of white laquered wood had haunted him then.

   He gave a tentative bow and spoke in Westcommon, hoping that the figure would understand him. "I... I am sorry, I appear to be blocking your way. My apologies."

   With that, he humbly stepped aside, casting his eyes down the surf once more as he waited for her to continue on her way. The figure didn't move, save for the rustling of her grass skirt and cape.

   She turned to face him. "My way led to you, o wayfarer. What way are you headed today?"

   He looked up again at the smooth wooden face, giving an apologetic shrug. "I don't know, madam. The only place I may not go is to my death."

   She cocked her head, causing the trailing kapok to clatter down her back. "Ah. It is good to not go to death. It comes to us all soon enough." The figure reached up and took his arm, pulling him into step beside her as she walked forward through the surf. "But come, if you do not know where to go, perhaps I can help you find somewhere to be, now that the islands have drawn you to their breast."

   A gentle smile spread across the neko's face, and he gave another bow as he walked at her side. "I am most grateful, madam. It is quite beautiful here."

   The serene mask nodded. "Indeed it is. Welcome home."

   Dorothy came down the steps wrapped in her satin robe, which billowed around her in the ocean breeze as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. A smile stole across her features as she watched Gwen and Jane dive into the lagoon.

   As she ran her fingers through her dark, disheveled hair, she cocked an ear at Loretta's voice at her shoulder. "Disgusting, isn't it? No one should have that much energy this early in the morning."

   She turned to see the raccoon blinking and squinting in the sunlight, buttoning up the front of her beige coveralls with a surly expression on her face. "Thanks to the schedule at Songmark I can't sleep any longer than six-thirty, no matter how hard I try."

   The raccoon turned and called back toward the sole occupied hammock in the hut with a note of impatience on her voice. "Kaleia! Make fire. Make coffee. Please thank you."

   A soft moan sounded from the bulging hammock, the Spontoonie vixen's white tipped brush the only part of her visible as it began to slowly withdraw into the soft cloth cocoon. "mmmm. Please thenkyu fire coffee. Quick soon Miz Loredda."

   The raccoon shook her head and slouched down the steps waving vaguely at the brown furred tabby. "Whelp... Plane ain't gonna check itself over. Mornin' Miz Pearl."

   She turned her head and shouted back toward the hut. "Kaleia! Coffee to plane! Please thank you!"

   Dorothy looked bemusedly over her shoulder at the sound of a body softly thudding on the grass mats that was the only response.

   Soon, a pouting native vixen was storming out the pier having barely combed her hair or brushed her fur, a sarong haphazardly tied around her curvy frame as she carried a steaming coffee pot and a tin cup in her hands. Gwen looked up from drying off with Jane over by the sleeping hut, and called out to her in conciliatory Spontoonie, receiving a terse reply from the young vixen as she came to a stop at the trailing edge of the wing of the Glass Goose and called over to Loretta, who sat cross legged by the open cowling of the left engine.

   "Miss Loretta. Coffee here!" The raccoon grunted a reply and crawled over the curve of the engine and down the wing, rearing back on her knees and reaching down for the proffered pot and cup. The vixen barely managed to dodge out of the way of a rain of dribbling hot coffee as her employer sloppily poured herself a cup and drank deeply. Kaleia winced, sheltering her head as Loretta abruptly climbed to her feet, balancing the pot and sloshing, half filled cup in her hands. As the raccoon walked across the wing back to her work, the dark haired vixen turned, flicking her tail in annoyance, and headed back toward the huts.

   A soft cry rang out from the meeting hut, and Junko came hurrying down the steps, clutching her purple and blue kimono around her shapely body. She stopped when she caught sight of Kaleia, bowing repeatedly and calling out in apologetic Spontoonie liberally sprinkled with "Gomen. Gomen ne!", before she hurried across to the sleeping hut.

   She stopped short at the sight of Jane towling herself off, and turned back, flustered to see an identical tan furred rabbit stretching luxuriously in the doorway of the meeting hut, then smacking her lips drowsily as she scratched at her ribs. The pale furred usagi let out a breath and shook her head, then bounded up the steps, dodging nimbly past Dorothy as she stepped out dressed in her gear, buckling her gun harness over her light blue blouse.

   Jane ambled over to her duplicate and Gwen, cocking her head at Kaleia as the native vixen stood transfixed, her brown eyes wide and staring, at the sight of the identical rabbits. "Mornin', gal's. What was that all about?"

   Gwen shrugged as she wrapped her towel around herself. "Junko was apologizing to Kaleia for oversleeping." She grinned as both identical does blushed a bit, and bobbed her head toward the native vixen. "She gets a little huffy if she has to pull kitchen duty all by herself."

   The newly awakened Jane grinned, rubbing the back of her head. "Well shucks, since that's kinda my doin', how 'bout y'let me do th' cookin' today. Jest let me throw somethin' on."

   Dorothy stepped out of her way as the rabbit headed into the hut, giving the Gwen a smile as she approached and nodded at the Jane who stood beside her rubbing her close cropped orange hair down with a towel. The feline's eyes glittered merrily. "You girls are in for a treat. Jane here can make any meal a feast, but she really hits it out of the park when she fixes breakfast."

   The rabbit gave her a grin, digging her toe on the sandy ground. "Aw shucks, all that an' a baseball metaphor. Y'all're makin' me blush."

   She looked up to see her duplicate standing in the doorway buttoning up a khaki shirt over cutoff fatigue pants. "Okay, I'm gonna need y'all t' rustle me up a skillet, n' some bread n' butter, I reckon we might as well use them eggs while they're fresh."

   She turned to the tabby with a gentle smile. "Dorothy, I'm gonna make y'all an egg white omelet with a l'il parmesan, it'll be nice n' light so y'all can keep it down easy while we're in th' air."

   At this the feline's back stiffened, and a blush spread across her features. After a moment her ears drooped and she nodded. "Sounds good, Miss Early."

   The duplicate Jane draped her towel across her shoulders and stepped up to rub the tabby's back. "I know y'all're embarrassed about it darlin', but we're all friends here, and we gotta be pragmatic."

   Her duplicate came down the steps, nodding to Gwen. "How'd y'all like yer eggs, darlin'?"

   The vixen responded, cocking her head toward Loretta, who labored out on the wing of the seaplane. "I like mine over easy. Lori likes hers scrambled with catsup."

   The tan furred doe nodded and cocked her head toward Kaleia, who still stood staring open mouthed at the identical rabbits with her brush frizzed out behind her. "How'bout th' other gal's?"

   Gwen shrugged. "I dunno, lemme see."

   She turned and called out to the native vixen, then called out again more emphatically when Kaleia failed to respond the first time. Shaken out of her reverie by Gwen's more insistent query, the dark-haired native girl stammered out a reply. The two vixens exchanged a series of quick phrases.

   Gwen rolled her eyes and looked back to the rabbit. "She said she doesn't care how you make her eggs as long as you don't place a curse on them."

   Jane pursed her lips and exchanged a wry glance with Dorothy. "Two eggs, scrambled, hold th' bad mojo. Gotcha."

   The vixen chuckled, shaking her head, and repeated what the rabbit had said to the nervous vixen. Kaleia didn't seem reassured.

   The cat, vixens, and identical rabbits looked up as Junko appeared in the doorway dressed in a floral print smock and grey cotton leggings, tying the strings of an apron behind her back with a kerchief over her loosely bound hair. She gave a little bow with downcast eyes and made to move past when Gwen spoke up to her in Spontoonie, cocking her head at the Janes. The usagi gave a shy smile at the tan furred does and bowed, giving her reply.

   Gwen smiled over to Jane. "She says you needn't trouble yourself on her account, but if you insist she is sure anything you make will be delicious."

   Jane cocked an ear and thought for a moment, then looked over at her duplicate. "Do we know any Kokoro style egg recipes?."

   The damp furred doe shifted the towel on her shoulders and scratched her chin, then a thought came to her. "Thar was that layered omelet deal with soy sauce n' sugar. Y'remember? Th' one Bee always liked?"

   The dressed duplicate nodded as the recollection came to her. "Right right. Tama- somethin'. I think I remember how t' do that." She turned to the sandy-haired vixen. "Could y'ask th' gals here t' show me where y'all keep th' supplies?"

   Gwen turned to Junko and Kaleia and spoke to them in Spontoonie, then turned to Jane. "Okay, just follow them and they'll show you were everything is."

   She glanced down the dock at the seaplane. "Now I'd better get suited up and go help Loretta with the maintenance. Just give us a holler when breakfast is ready."

   She beckoned the Jane that had been swimming with her, and they went into the hut, while the rabbit's duplicate fell into step behind the graceful usagi and the jittery native vixen.

   Dorothy ambled over to the corner post of the sleeping hut and leaned on it, gazing after the receding pair of rabbit does. As they walked side by side, they exchanged shy glances and tentative smiles. Their auras flickered into view before her gleaming eyes, and she smiled fondly as she saw the tentative connections between the shimmering lattices of emotion and meaning that existed in parallel to their physical bodies. The loneliness that she saw hidden deep beneath the surface of both females was beginning to unwind and fade away.

   Soon Jane was kneeling by the fire, deftly working a skillet atop the coals while several slices of brown bread toasted on a wire rack beside her. Kaleia and Junko hovered nearby, watching her work.

   Occasionally, the tan-furred rabbit would need something out of reach, and a duplicate would materialize at her side, go get what she needed, and vanish as soon as she'd set it down. The first time it had happened, Junko had fallen back on her bottom, her hands to her open mouth and her almond eyes wide and staring, while Kaleia had spun on her heels and fled with her bottle brush tail trailing behind her, taking refuge behind the corner post of the meeting hut as she watched, trembling.

   Soon, the native girl's fascination overcame her fear, and she crept closer as Jane continued to work. By the time the tan furred doe had finished Dorothy's omelet, the young vixen barely flinched as Jane handed her the plate and nodded toward the meeting hut, flatly stating who it was intended for. As Kaleia hurried away, she scooped some butter out of a nearby crock, cracked a couple eggs into the skillet, letting them sizzle and congeal a while before flipping them over with a spatula.

   The dark haired vixen was soon back, and sent away again shortly afterward with a plate of eggs over-easy on toast for Gwen and instructions to call her and Loretta in from atop the Glass Goose.

   Jane cracked two more eggs into the pan, and started whipping them gently with a fork, stirring in half of the yolks she'd removed from her feline cohort's breakfast. When it had attained the desired consistency, she poured the scrambled eggs onto a plate and laid some toast at the side, and passed it to Junko with a smile and a nod, directing her to take it to Loretta.

   While the pale furred doe hurried away with her employer's breakfast, Gwen set to work cracking a couple more eggs into a a bowl, stirring in a half teaspoon of sugar and a liberal dose of soy sauce and mixing it thoroughly. She poured a thin layer of the mixture out on the skillet and rocked it back-and-forth over the hot coals to spread it evenly and then let it cook, popping any bubbles in the surface with a knife.

   Presently Kaleia returned, tentatively offering a cup of coffee to Jane with a slightly shaky hand. The rabbit took it with a smile and a nod, sipping it and carefully setting it down in the sand next to her. The dark-haired vixen gave a start as Junko leaned around the corner of the meeting hut and called to her, prompting a series of questions and impatient answers in Spontoonie, where Jane distinctly heard the word "catsup" repeated several times.

   When the egg mixture had cooked into a thin skin at the bottom of the pan, the tan furred rabbit took the spatula and rolled the layer of egg up, and poured out the rest of the mixture, lifting the roll slightly to allow the new layer to spread underneath.

   While the new layer of egg congealed, Junko returned, cocking her ears curiously as she settled back down on her haunches next to Kaleia, craning her graceful neck to see what Jane was cooking. The tan-furred rabbit gave her a smile and a wink, and proceeded to roll the second layer of cooked egg around the first. With a flourish, she slid the double roll of egg out onto a plate and took up a knife, deftly slicing the
style omelet on the bias. She plucked two more pieces of toast off of the rack, laid them beside the sliced eggs, and handed it to Junko with a fond smile.

   The usagi's eyes lit up when she saw what she'd been given. "Ah! Tamagoyaki! Domo arigato, Jane chan!

   With that, she rose to her feet and skipped lightly around the fire pit, leaned down and planted a soft kiss on Jane's cheek. This caused the tan-furred doe's fingers to clench on the egg she was lifting from the carton, breaking it and drenching her hand in viscous goo. The pale usagi put her hand to her muzzle and tittered as Jane blushed ruefully up at her with a grin on her face, and even Kaleia couldn't help but let out a little laugh that she quickly, nervously stifled.

   A duplicate appeared at Jane's side, her hand covered in egg, stood and walked off, a fond grin over her shoulder at the startled usagi as the native vixen cringed back with a small whimper. The remaining Jane cocked her head in her double's direction and mimicked washing her hands, then held hers up to show that they were both quite clean. Junko stared at her, her long ears cocked in puzzlement, until Jane nodded at the plate held loosely in the former pearl diver's pale furred hands and pantomimed eating. The usagi shook out of her reverie and gave her a shy smile, bowing gratefully and scampering away toward the meeting hut with a blush dusting her eggshell features.

   This left Kaleia alone, watching nervous and quiet as Jane whipped another batch of scrambled, adding the rest of the yolks that she'd removed from the eggs in Dorothy's omelet. When it had cooked to perfection, she rolled it out onto a plate and laid two slices of toast beside it, and proffered it with a smile to Kaleia. The vixen recoiled and stared at the plate as if the rabbit doe were presenting her with an inverted horseshoe crab.

   Jane's smile became fixed, and she offered it more insistently. "Good! No bad mojo!"

   Kaleia shrank back, giving a small shake of her head and trembling. The rabbit let out an exasperated breath and rolled her eyes. A duplicate appeared beside her with the plate in hand and stood abruptly, causing the vixen to topple backwards onto the sand, shielding her face. With a toss of her head the tan-furred doe carried the freshly made breakfast to the meeting hut, fuming, while the Jane that crouched by the fire scooped a little more butter into the skillet. She glanced across at the cringing Kaleia and cocked her head emphatically at the hut. The vixen gave another little shake of her head, refusing to budge.

   A moment later Gwen and Loretta came stalking around the corner, stern looks on their faces. Jane gave them a nod as they stood on either side of the native vixen, who looked up at them with pleading eyes while the rabbit doe diffidently selected one of the remaining eggs from the carton. Without a word, the two Songmark graduates grabbed Kaleia by the arms and dragged her to her feet, frog-marching her around the side of the hut. An argument in Spontoonie erupted from inside as Jane tsked to herself and shook her head.

   The tan furred doe looked down at the skillet and cracked the egg into it. Jane liked hers sunny side up. She glanced down at the remaining egg in the carton and plucked it between her thumb and finger, cracking it into the pan next to the other. A smile flitted across her features as she saw it contained a double yolk.


        The Gaze: The Glass Goose