I just don't like this kind of living!

Outskirts 
#1
At almost fifty years old, Marybeth had already endured many pains. She knew what loss and fear were before she ever moved into her little apartment in Mountainside. An unexpected death floored her for a week or so, literally lots of time on the floor whimpering at the chat history of hers and Cris's texts, but around the 7- or 8-day mark she woke up from her dead sleep and felt that she was a little bit ready to face the world again. Or to at least break out of her coffin and get some fresh air.

Soberly, she outfitted herself in hiking gear, tall boots and green pants with a reassuring amount of pockets. A big knit cap and a big coat which made her feel snug and secure. Then she exited her apartment and rode a series of buses that would take her more or less to the edge of town, not so far from the Eden Project. She tugged on a pair of wool mittens and began her trudge off into the winter-dry prairie, on a solo mission to find peace (and perhaps see some owls).
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#2


Vidya was no owl! She wasn't, currently, any animal. She was herself, as a human woman, out in the evening for a cool night air stroll. She had been in Magic Hollow for her salon's Holiday party, and after a few drinks and being surrounded by a lot of people, she figured she needed a walk before heading home.

The landscape was nice, if not a bit quiet. That was, of course, until the sound of someone down the path from her came to her attention. The jaguar perked up, and she let herself take in a few deep breaths through her nose and mouth. What met her was the smell of death. Vidya's nose crinkled and her brows knitted. Death, nearing her. A vampire.

Vidya liked to think she was an accepting sort of woman. Never one to judge or assume. But the smell did put her on edge, and she found herself slowing down and turning to face the path, not at all comfortable with turning her back to an approaching vampire.
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#3
Marybeth trundled, her eyes fixed on the sky. Cold and dark and quiet, with not much more than the sound of her boots on the ground. Winter nights made her feel small and alone, though in a way that was peaceful; the stars above and the indifferent earth reminded her that her pain and troubles were very, very small.

She was so busy feeling small that the presence of someone else caught her completely off-guard, startling and wiping her mittens down the shapeless front of her coat. "Oh! Um, hello." What was that smell? She knew that smell. ...JAGUAR?
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#4
She watched a woman round the corner, and it was certainly not what she expected. A middle-aged blonde woman. Someone that looked like one of her clients. A mom of three, or something like that. Vidya was taken off guard, but admittedly relieved. The picture she painted of vampires in her head was much worse than what they likely were. Still, she was cautious. "Hello." Vidya called back, shifting in her step a bit. "Were you looking at the stars?" She had seemed a bit distracted.
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#5
Marybeth stood with her feet glued to the ground, feeling shy; she felt a homesickness, too, for the days where she'd been able to jump into random conversation, trying to make a friend out of everyone. Now it was hard even to walk closer, to a normal distance for talking. "Um, yep." She glanced down at her mittens. "Are you a jaguar lady?"
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#6
Despite putting judgement aside, she did stiffen as the vampire guessed her exact species. The cat shifted uncomfortably, and her eyes likely betrayed her. She blinked and cast her gaze down to the ground. "How do you mean?" She asked with a stiff jaw. It felt wrong to willingly agree with the woman. It was disconcerting that she knew. Could all vampires tell? How?
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#7
Marybeth's mitten rose up to muffle her mouth. Maybe it didn't always feel good to be identified right away like that, and she had been rude? The reverse had happened with the last Magic Hollow catman, but this one looked tense and offended, just like last time! She bit at her lips. "Sorry, I didn't mean it in a mean way."

She didn't notice the eye color change, because she was staring busily at the woman's feet. "This is the only time I can go out walking, is all. I was just trying to get out of my house." Oh, no. Even thinking about that made her throat tighten.
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#8
Her eyes flickered back up when the woman apologized. It was very, very hard to be too cautious of a woman that looked like she belonged in a sitcom, and apologized so openly about being forward. Vidya found herself smiling despite herself, and despite the cat's irritated rooing. What the woman said next had Vidya's brows relaxing some. "It's good to let your head air out some times. I hope things are not too bad at your house..." She had become so used to being the ear for people's troubles, that it came naturally to coax whatever the woman was escaping out of her. Vidya gave good advice! Or so she had been told.
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#9
Okay! Catman faux pas avoided, maybe. But she didn't particularly want to stand and talk, when instead she could be walking, and working away at some of this sadness. She pointed shyly up the path, glancing at the woman's face again. "D'you wanna keep walking?"

Hopefully, yes. Hopefully no more faux pas-es. She clumped forward, looking down at Vidya's shoes. "I like to go out and be somewhere I feel small when I'm sad," she volunteered in her little voice. "Is that a good thing to do?"
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#10
Whatever the woman was, it would still be rude to deny walking with her. Vidya would nod but keep a considerable distance as she turned to fall into step with the woman. How could someone that felt like the polar opposite of her own species be so incredibly sweet? She reminded Vidya a great deal of some of her older clients, and she felt her heart warm to the woman despite herself. Her lip pouted some as she looked at the woman. "Whatever makes you feel better is a good thing to do." Vidya assured her. "Are you alright?" She added after a pause. She did sound incredibly sad.
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#11
"No," she answered immediately, still trudging dutifully down the path. It took a beat for her to realize, hey! Maybe that wasn't the kind of question she was expected to answer honestly! But she had, and it was hard to feel bad for telling the truth.

Oh no what's wrong? was all you could really say to that, so she tried to answer it preemptively, in a way that was also easy to handle. [b]"My friend got murdered, and my boss said I shouldn't tell anyone about it."[b] Oh she fucked that UP! She grimaced.
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#12
No.

Well, she had heard that answer to that question before. It was never good to hear, and Vidya prepared to tell the woman that it was better to talk about it. But the vampire was two steps ahead. The explanation, however, was not something V was prepared for. It took her a moment to wrap her brain around the gut-sinking words. Then her heart clenched, and chilled, and she found herself looking to the woman with stitched brows and parted lips. For a second, she was able to forget that the woman was a vampire. "Oh, dear. I am so sorry!" She said, and she nearly did reach out a hand to place on her shoulder. The cat held her back, rumbling inwardly with distaste at the idea of it. Instead, she clutched her hands to her chest.

"Was she..." A vampire? "Like you?" And her boss! Why would she not tell anyone about it?!
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#13
It always felt nice to have someone say they were sorry about it, even when she didn't know that someone. It made Marybeth feel a little more supported than she really was. She glanced over at the catwoman with a little smile. And the pull was there, to talk about Cris. Even though she shouldn't.

"No, she was a person. With magic powers, though."

She had come out to try to escape this hurt, but here it was pooling up inside her again. She brushed at her face with a mitten. "I could have protected her." If she'd known. The thought made her throat get very tight.
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#14
A person. Well, what made this woman not a person? She was dead, yes, but there were still feelings! It was very obvious, since Vidya; a self proclaimed empath; could certainly feel for this woman. Her heart was so heavy. It was this type of stuff that she was prepared to handle and hear about, but it never was easy. Especially when she blamed herself!

"Oh, dear." She said, and despite herself and her cat, she shuffled to place a hand on a cold shoulder. She was thankful for thick fabrics. "You can't blame yourself! I don't know how it happened, but surely it wasn't your fault." Murder was usually spontaneous, and there was nothing that could be done to stop it.
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#15
The pat on her shoulder was nice, but sadness had swallowed her up again. She shrugged under her many layers.

It was devastating and awful and words didn't make it better. Cris was dead and whatever chances she might've had to keep her safe were dead and gone, too. Forever. It made her want to disappear.

She didn't, though. But she did turn into a dog. Who froze in place, and then querulously turned its floppy head to look up at the catman. "Uh??"
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#16
She was so sad! Vidya did not know what to do. There was a distant thought of what she would do when she had to leave the woman alone. How could she sleep tonight? But then, the woman beside her was gone. And in an impossible blur, she shrunk. Into the form of a small, ugly dog. Vidya shuffled back as the cat roorororororooooo'd from within, alarmed and excited and still upset that they had touched a dead person and. The dog was talking. "Oh, I-..." She knew that vampires could shape shift but! Not into small ugly dogs!

She took in a deep breath that she regretted. Hush, cat.
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#17
The dog's droopy little face turned down to goggle at its splayed feet, then looked back up with wet, pale eyes. "Am I a bird?"
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#18
What! The dog was speaking like in a Disney movie, and making no sense. Vidya stared, dumbfounded, her mind reeling to make sense of the... the woman-turned-dog. "No?" She managed after a few moments. "You're a dog... I think." Her face was incredibly smushed. Could she breathe alright? Wait. Vampire.
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#19
She looked down again (of course those were dog feets), then sort of craned to look over her broad little back and did a small half-circle, whirligig tail flopping. "Oh."

Unable to really see herself, she sighed, defeated. Then looked up at Vidya again. "Am I a pretty dog?"
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#20
This was crazy! Was she awake? This would have been a terrible and incredibly weird dream to have. She blinked at the question, and she grimaced a bit. "Er..." Well, no. She was actually terribly ugly. But how cruel was that to say! Especially after talking about her friend. Oh, dear. She held out a finger for pause as she dug her phone from her pocket. "Um, hold still." She instructed, then snapped a picture with a slightly trembling thumb. With that, she knelt to hold the phone in front of... the dog vampire.
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#21
Marybeth had ascertained that she was small, and had a floppy-curly spitz tail except it was not fluffy, it looked like a mammalian worm. Beyond that she could see very little of herself. But the nice cat woman was helpful and pulled out a phone, and she sort of pulled taut into an alert and rigid posture, which she also did while being photographed in human form but which was maybe a little more natural coming from a dog.

The catwoman knelt, and Marybeth approached politely, getting close enough to the phone that her lips caught on it, kind of.

Oh. That was...

"Oh."

She had wanted to be a bird, and spiral around above the trees and see everything.

She laid down in the dirt-gravel trail and wriggled miserably on her side. "This is a bad day for me."
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#22
She got near, and Vidya stiffened some. It was hard to separate the fact that this was a woman and not an actual dog. But when she drooped sadly, and sat down on her rump, and expressed how this was a bad day for her... Well, she might be ugly, but she was still the sort of miserable cute that tugged any heartstring. Vidya mostly still felt sad for the woman. But it felt natural to reach her hand out and scratch lightly behind one ear. "Oh, don't be so sad. Four legs are better than wings." She had four legs, sometimes, and she did enjoy romping around like that. This was a bit different, but surely there was fun in being an ugly little dog.
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#23
The catwoman reached down to scritch Marybeth in her misery, and she appreciated that after it got done being surprising.

Would people keep trying to touch her if she was a dog? Was that good or bad?

She rolled onto her back to look up at the woman, her head tilting to double up little doggie chins beneath her short muzzle. "You're nice," she admitted, as a thank you. "My name is Marybeth. Do you know Asha?" Her tail thwapped hopefully between little chicken legs.
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#24
It was strangely easier to get comfortable with the woman like this. She was used to dogs running in fear of her, so it was sort of nice despite the ugly face. She was tempted to pat the dog's belly, but reminded herself that this was a woman still. At the question, she hummed with a nod. "I do. I'm Vidya." So it was Asha this woman knew, and subsequently learned the jaguar smell from. She wondered what she smelled like to vampires. She hoped it wasn't bad. "Do you know how to change back?" She questioned. Was it like shifting? Did it hurt as much?
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#25
Asha and Vidya! Exotic, which made sense for people who turned into jaguars, huh. She continued to wriggle, kicking her legs to inch forward along the path and pawing gently at Vidya's hand.

She didn't want to turn back.

She made a noncommittal noise instead of answering, her buggy eyes looking around at the world turned on its head. "Tell Asha I can turn into a dog now, okay?"
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#26
She could take that as a yes, then? Vidya wasn't entirely sure, but Marybeth was moving down the path, and she would rise up to watch after her. "I will." She said with a chuckle. She could even send that picture, maybe! And find out why Marybeth knew enough to be able to pick out her species. "I'll let you explore. The world is much different on four legs." She knew from experience. Pity the woman couldn't climb trees as a dog.
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#27
Marybeth sighed, and flipped back around to all fours. The world was dark and sad and horrible, but at least there were nice pockets, still. Vidya was nice. She wagged her curlicue tail at the woman before hopping off the path, to disappear into dark cold prairie grass. "Goodbye!"
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