“You’re such a bad boy, not trusting little old Cubis. Haven’t I been everything an evil underworld creature should be?”
Cubis, Angel Wars
After touching base with a few other residents of Sahara Square, they decided to drive over to Tundratown and see Mr. Big. The transition from blazing hot desert sand to freezing cold snow stunned Judy a little even though she expected it, but Nick pretty much took it in stride. After all, he used to make that switch with Finnick every day of the week.
Stopping at a red light, Judy took a moment to admire the goings-on in a small park just off the road. Out on a frozen pond, two young bucks – a deer and a rabbit, respectively – were trying to master ice skates with comical degrees of non-success. Not that far from them, a snowball fight between a snow leopard and a bison brought a smile to her face at the sign of recovery after the Night Howler scare. A ways off to the left, a pup who looked to be part wolf and part dingo lobbed a snowball at a tree, dumping a small avalanche on three pups who must have been his sisters. At least, Judy guessed that from the one set of mismatched parents rushing to the scene of the misdemeanor. On a playground towards the right, a young otter dressed in green and red rode a slide while a lemming in red and blue rode him like a surfboard.
A car horn behind her informed her that the light had changed, but not before she caught one last glimpse of warmth amid the ice and snow. A young beaver, tag-teaming with a tiger, was building what looked to be some kind of snow mammal. Judy couldn’t be sure what species it was supposed to be, but it had two heads – one with three eyes – and a third arm in the middle of its chest. It reminded her of ones she had seen some of her brothers build, come to think of it.
Jordy would probably be taking notes, she thought, smirking at the memory of some of his ‘masterpieces.’ By popular opinion in the Hopps household, Jordy was to be thanked (or blamed) for all the nice trees their neighbors had planted on the property line.
“What is it with guys and weird snow mammals anyway?” she asked out loud.
When Nick made no quick reply, she glanced his way. His mouth was a flat line, devoid of either sorrow, mirth, or even his usual confidence. It bothered her.
"You okay, Nick?" she asked.
He blinked as if he had just woken up. "Huh?"
She focused on the road, but kept glancing at him out the corner of her eye. "You seem different."
Nick shook his head. "Ah, just remembering the old days."
“Heh.” She smirked. "You mean about three to four months ago."
"Well, yeah," he admitted.
She reached over and nudged him reassuringly with a fist. "Relax, Nick. Finnick needs a little time to adjust to this, but I'm sure he'll come around."
Nick wished he was so confident. Judy didn't know Finnick like he did. The little guy was tough as nails and had a mean streak that would put a wolverine to shame if you got him mad enough. Still, Nick's breaking up the act had hit the little guy in the two places it hurt most: his budget, and his sense of loyalty. Life was tough enough for foxes, let alone pint-sized fennecs. Ever since the two of them had joined forces, Finnick had had three ways of responding to... well, to being cornered like he must have felt he was now. Those methods had been to outsmart his adversary, team up with Nick, or – if all else failed – lash out. This time, though, Plan A wasn't an option; Nick had, in all modesty, always been just a few watts brighter and a few shades more creative than Fin. Besides, most of what Finnick had in those departments was less tactical and more practical. Squeezing all that gear into the back of a minivan was no sweat for a brain like his, but talking his way around the law… not so much. That was one option down. Plan B was obviously out, especially if (gulp) Nick was ordered to arrest him one day. Now Plan C... well, Nick knew deep down that Finnick wouldn't have it in him to turn violent against his old partner in crime. He also knew that if he was ever proven wrong about that, it would be no contest. Nick's brain was a formidable weapon, but physically, he was useless in a fight – especially against old friends.
"I hope you're right," he admitted. After a moment's pause, he added, "Look, the police wouldn't tell a cop to arrest a friend, right? That's gotta be... I don't know, conflict of interest or something."
Judy frowned. It was true, the police would try to find someone else – if they knew the foxes were friends. Divulging that information, however, could only hurt Nick's chances at becoming an officer. Besides, they might involve Nick anyway on the basis of his usefulness in setting up a sting. She had read about that in the material at the academy, and until now it had all been just words on a page. Looking at it now, she realized it cut a lot deeper than that – and for the first time, a tiny part of her brain wondered if Nick actually had it in him to make it as a cop.
She was yanked out of her thoughts as the car suddenly began to swerve. Instantly tensing, she fought her instinctive reaction to slam on the brake or fight to correct her course. The best thing, she knew, was to ease off the gas and ride out the swerve. She had learned the method from a show about hurricanes, though experience had also proven its usefulness on snow and ice.
Unfortunately, even the best methods sometimes went awry. The car lurched off the road and plowed nose-first into a snow bank, flinging her and Nick against their seat belts with a yank.
"Oh, sweet cheese and crackers," she muttered under her breath.
Nick, seeing that neither of them were injured, instinctively tried to put a lighter face on things. “Ah. Well, you could've gone into the traffic instead," he observed. He pointed left through the cars now going around them to the oncoming ones across the road.
She sighed and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess that's true." She hit the blinkers, shifted into reverse, and tried to back out slowly as soon as a gap appeared in the flow of vehicles. The tires spun, but got nowhere.
"More gas?" Nick suggested, trying to be helpful.
She shook her head. "Worst thing I could do," she pointed out. "If the tires caught suddenly and shot us back out into the traffic-"
Her words were cut off by the rumble of a bus driving past; one made, as best they could judge, for any size passenger up to polar bears. Nick followed its progress and swallowed. "Yeah, I see what you mean." Okay, so he wasn't a rocket scientist at the wheel. There was a reason Finnick always did the driving when they had been partners in crime. He watched Judy try a few more times to get them out, then shrugged. "Well, lucky you've got me around." He unbuckled his seat belt and opened his door.
"What are you doing?"
"Calling roadside assistance," he replied, clambering up the door to the roof. "I've got friends all over this part of town. Give it five minutes tops before one of them comes by."
Judy frowned. “The last time you introduced me to a friend in Tundra Town, he almost killed us.”
“Tuh. Picky picky.”
It was only two minutes before a car stopped behind them, flicking on its own blinkers. "See?" Nick called, his voice sounding through the roof. He had shut the door so Judy could stay warm. "The old Wilde card works every- aw, no."
"What is it?" asked Judy, instantly alert as she opened her door with one paw and checked her stun gun with the other. She expected a gang of hostile animals to come clamoring out of the car, intent on paying Nick back for some past hustle.
Instead, to her surprise, a posse of sultry-looking vixens, white as the snow around them, emerged. A passing wind carried mingled scents of perfume from them to Judy's nose, along with a touch of fur bleach. At a glance, they were all nearly identical; all of them wore black outfits which, though covering most of their bodies, didn't leave much guesswork on the shapes of those bodies. They all looked to be wearing eyeliner, and when they blinked, most revealed eye shadow as well. One of them removed a pair of mirrored sunglasses – not unlike Nick's, though much sleeker in shape – and blinked lavender-lidded eyes at the fox on the roof.
"Nicholas Wilde," she remarked in a Russian accent as smooth as melted butter, "what are the chances?"
Nick gulped. Not slim enough, apparently. "Hey ladies. Hey... Vanya. Uh, mind lending us a paw?"
Nick briefly introduced the vixens as ‘the Angels,’ and Judy noticed that he introduced her to them as ‘Officer Hopps’ and not something less formal. The crew of females quickly surrounded the car, and with Nick and Judy they were all soon at work trying to get it loose. This wasn't an easy job, but it gave Vanya the chance to sidle up to Nick as they pulled and pushed.
"So, Naughty Boy, what have you been up to?" she asked. Tugging at the open frame of one of the doors, she somehow managed to purr even as she grunted. Judy, who was inside gently trying to coax the reverse gear into action, heard every word and scrunched her face at the phrase, 'Naughty Boy.'
Nick coughed. "Oh, uh, you know. Took some time off from the old hustle, looked into a few new ideas – the usual."
She smirked. "Always something new with you, darling. You know, I've heard a rumor that you are looking into law enforcement."
Judy glanced at Nick as best she could without actually turning her head. He was clearly uneasy. "Well, you know the song: try everything, right?"
This drew a low, almost musical chuckle from the vixen. "Always playing the dangerous games, Naughty Boy. That's what I always liked about you."
At the moment, Judy thought it was Vanya playing the dangerous game. "Hey," she said, trying to sound disinterested, "would you mind not whispering in the back? I'm trying to concentrate."
Mercifully, a passing arctic hare pulled over next with a towing hitch and offered his help. The Angels had to move their car, and Vanya was clearly annoyed to have her time with Nick cut off like that, but in almost no time the car was loose.
"Such a shame to part so quickly, Nick," she called. "Don't forget to call, alright?"
Nick shook his head. "Ancient history, Vanya," he called back, climbing into the car and closing the door.
The vixens left. The hare unhooked his car, tossed a salute to the two sleuths, and then departed as well. Judy glanced across at Nick. "Ex girlfriend?" she ventured.
He nodded. "And before you ask, she was too clingy and I’d rather not talk about it.”
Judy closed her mouth and frowned at him before returning her attention to the road. “I hate it when you read my mind,” she complained.
Nick’s smile returned. “Oh, but that’s bound to come in handy on the job,” he teased.
Meanwhile, in the other vehicle, one of the other Angels glanced at Vanya. "He'll be answering for that later won't he?"
Vanya studied her claws. "Of course he will," she replied, “but only when it suits me. Overt chases are too commonplace.”
Vanya had a way with males rather like a spoiled child's way with toys: she grabbed whoever she wanted, played with him until she got bored, and then broke him or threw him aside, depending on what she felt like doing. Those who refused to cooperate... well, she never did anything to them right away. That would be too obvious. No, she much preferred to bide her time and let them forget her until she came back to remind them. Her methods of doing this were many, but never pleasant for the male who had displeased her.
Nick Wilde had been a particularly challenging one, and the truth was that she had never gotten all she wanted from him – a fact which she would have liked very much to remedy. If he came back, she might even forgive him – or perhaps not. As it was, he wanted to go, so she let him... for the moment.
Just a quick explanation of a few particulars. This story was originally posted as a part of the "What If?" project by Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps. I have chosen to trim out the parts pertaining to said story line and the P.I.X.A.R. machine because, for personal reasons, I felt more comfortable making this strictly a fantasy A.U. The rest of the story will remain pretty much as posted on Cimar's page, except that I will be expanding here and there on the material, explaining such historical details at the end of each chapter as I can without spoilers, and fixing a few oversights which the "test drive" in Cimar's project brought to my attention.
A little background information may be useful here. In this version, Zootopia is analogous to London in the 1800s. If you have read WANMWAD's Sherlock Holmes/Zootopia mashups, you'll have a rough idea of what I'm after. Hopefully, however, my own descriptions will suffice.
Also, having been written as part of the What If project, the original draft was WildeHopps. Many readers commended me for that, but looking back on it I decided it wasn't really my style to plunge into the middle of a relationship without developing it first. So I've dialed it back a bit and made theirs a professional connection with hints of potential similar to that in the movie (but without blackmail). In the time period where this is set women generally had limited options, which obviously would cramp Judy's style quite a bit. One career where women could have a significant impact, however, was writing, as exemplified by Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic Uncle Tom's Cabin and its part in sparking the American Civil War. As typewriting would be the means of choice for a writer at the time, I decided Judy would "officially" be Nick's secretary. Ideally I'd rather have her be a rookie cop like in the movie or a retired soldier as per WANMWAD, but that would change this version too much and I wanted this short version to be at least close to the original.
I'm working on a longer novel-length version of this story with some substantial changes (all for the better, I hope), but between the demands of life and my other stories it's anyone's guess
Carriage wheels rattled like a Gatling gun as the cab horse raced forward, breath heaving in and out on his errand. Inside, Judy clung to the seat with anxious determination. It was barely an exaggeration to say that she was in deadly earnest.
The summons which brought her had been quick and to the point. Nick, who had been gone for months on a business trip in Roamania had showed up at Saint Ninian's, delirious and half-dead with fatigue. No one knew why, and Nick had barely been lucid enough to tell them his name and show his papers. It was nothing short of a miracle that the nuns had been able to get word to her all the way in London, but they had earnestly begged her to come at once. She had begun packing almost before she was done reading the message.
With a jolt and a swerve, the carriage fairly banged to a halt as though the horse had crashed. Judy hung on for her life, then scrambled to stick her head out. The horse, spurred by the money Judy had promised, panted and leaned on one of the pull bars as he drew out his pocket watch.
"Saint Ninian's Convent, miss," he reported, making his way to the door.
Judy didn't wait. Bursting out of the coach, she threw the money to her driver, shouted her hasty thanks, and with lifted skirts bolted into the red stone building. Nuns of many species, all dressed in black robes and white head cloths, turned to look at her in surprise as she plowed in like a blast of wind from a gale.
"Judy Hopps," she introduced herself, spurning all formality as she fumbled in her purse for the letter. "A fox was brought here; Nicholas Wilde? He's my-!"
"Calm down; calm down, child," urged a badger, striding up and clasping her firmly by the upper arms. "Yes, we have a fox here. He mentioned you."
Judy nearly collapsed. "He's here? Where?!"
"I'll take you to him," the nun promised, "but in Heaven's name, calm yourself."
It took several deep breaths for the bunny to settle her nerves. The nun's advice was sound, but it was all a bunny could do to calm down under such duress, and more than most could have managed. Steadying herself, Judy surrendered to a torturously slow pace as Sister Aria – for so the nun introduced herself – led her through the stone halls of the convent with a halting, shuffling gait.
"Tell me what happened," Judy pleaded, hoping for something to take her mind off how long it was taking her to reach Nick. Though she had initially taken to working for him for want of options, they had been together for several years now and developed an uncommon degree of camaraderie. When she'd heard he was in trouble, she'd rushed from Zootopia as fast as she could and was hardly sure if she had slept the whole way.
"You know already what Sister Agatha wrote," Aria began, "so there is little else to explain. He came by rails from Clawsenburg, as you have read, where he ran into the station yelling his head off for a ticket home. When they learned he was English, they ticketed him for the furthest train in your direction. By the time he reached Boarda-pesth, he was nearly half dead with some kind of brain fever, so they sent him here to recover at our sanatorium."
"But why?" wondered Judy. Nick was the last mammal she would have imagined coming down with any kind of mental illness. The telegraph's words – 'nearly dead' and 'nerves broken' – had so contrasted with the calm, confident fox who left England some months before that she hardly believed them.
Sister Aria shook her head. "I don't know. We took him in and gave him the best care we could manage, but it seems it's not his health that's so much damaged as his spirit. Something shook the poor fox to his very core, and not a nun or monk or abbot who's been to see him can understand it. We're hoping that seeing you will help, or at least that you might know him well enough to help us find out what happened."
Judy bit her lip. Nick wasn't the toughest mammal around, but he was strong. If he was even half as badly off as the letter described, she was sure she didn't know what could have done it. Still, if there was a way to pull him through it, she'd do it if she had to sell her soul. "I'll do everything I can," she promised.
Sister Aria came to a stop outside a plain wooden door, turning to Judy. "You have a good heart. I pray it will be enough, or that God will supply whatever it may lack. Now, let's get you in to see him."
She opened the door, and Judy stepped into the room silently. There on the bed, sleeping in a strange position, lay Nick. The bunny's heart felt jabbed at the sight of him there, his limbs twisted around while his chest rose and fell.
"Why are his arms and legs like that?" she asked, crossing towards the bed. She'd only seen him asleep once or twice when she caught him napping at his desk, and this contorted arrangement was nothing like that.
"None of us knows," Aria confessed. "He also has terrible nightmares, but when he wakes up he can never remember them. He only has some sense of impending terror like King Nebuchadnezzar. We can't make sense of those, but the strange contortions… well, I don't want to get you anxious, but it seems like spiritual torment; worst I ever saw."
Judy didn't know how much stock she placed in the nunnery's religious ideas. She thought, at any rate, that the crosses scattered around were a little idolatrous. Still, if the nuns were helping Nick she supposed she should forgive them that and pray that God, if He objected, would overlook too. For her own part, she went up to Nick and stood beside him. As she watched, he rolled to the side away from her and his legs kicked rapidly as if he were running. An inarticulate sound came from his mouth, as if he were trying to form words but kept getting the syllables wrong.
Sensing that he was having a nightmare, she put both her paws on his shoulder and shook him. "Nick! Nick, wake up!"
"Dwah!" he yelped, jolting awake and throwing himself away from her. The caused him to tumble onto the floor, where Sister Aria rushed to his aid.
"Here, here, it's alright," she soothed, catching his flailing paws and pulling him up. "Judith is here to see you."
"Judith?" he asked, fumbling with the name. He clearly wasn't fully awake. Then, as if drawn by some magnetism, he turned and caught sight of her. "Judy!"
He rushed towards her, falling across the bed in the process. She caught him as he wrapped his arms around her, gasping as if he'd been underwater.
Judy wanted to cry, relieved as she was that she'd finally reached him after such sickening dread for his health. "I'm here, Nick," she said.
Sister Aria stood by, paws clasped with relief. "I don't suppose you remember what the nightmare was," she ventured.
He looked at her for a moment. "No," he said, and then returned his attention to his friend. "Judy, what in the world are you doing here?"
She laughed a little in spite of herself. "That's what I wanted to ask you," she pointed out.
The badger cleared her throat. "If you'll pardon my saying so," she ventured pointedly, "I think perhaps Mr. Wilde would like a few minutes to wash himself and dress, and then you two can have something to eat out in the orchard."
It occurred to Judy then that Nick was still in his nightshirt, and while it was hardly improper for her to be there, it was a little out of the ordinary. "Oh, yes," she agreed rather haltingly.
About twenty minutes found them where the badger had suggested. Judy was having a plate of eggplant heavily anointed with thick mushroom gravy, and Nick was snacking on a stew of boiled grubs. Between them sat a plate of biscuits with which to sop.
"So you don't remember what happened?" asked Judy.
He shook his head, passing a paw over his brow. "Like someone wiped it right off the slate, Carrots," he admitted. "At least… well, nothing but snatches after I got to my client, and that's all like something out of a dream."
She bit her lip. "You mean like the dreams you've been having since you got here?"
He nodded. "Exactly. I still can't figure out if I caught some kind of sickness or what." His paw strayed up to his neck, rubbing uneasily. Then he leaned in toward her and whispered, "And to be honest, I don't know if this place is helping much. It feels too… something."
"Something?" asked Judy, scrunching her face and looking around. The orchard was bright and cheery, the air just cool enough to be pleasant, and the nuns going this way and that all smiled to see their patient up and around. "Seems like a pretty nice place to me."
"It's nice, don't get me wrong. I just feel… out of place somehow."
Judy considered that for a while. She and Nick were both members of the Reform Church, and though he wasn't exactly the most devout mammal religion had never made him feel uneasy that she knew of. At the very least, he'd never complained of it, and she would hope that he'd say something to her if that was bothering him. Neither, she suspected, would it bother him being around a bunch of Cat-olic nuns. In his line of business he often had to deal with mammals from all walks of life and even all countries. Neither did the nuns seem to think any less of their visitors for belonging to a different denomination, if they even knew it.
He must have read her, as he often did. "I don't know what it is," he admitted.
"Could it have something to do with your business trip?" she asked.
The answer came with another helpless shrug. "I have no idea. I barely remember the business trip." Then he sighed. "To be honest, I just want to get home and put whatever it was behind me."
This didn't satisfy Judy at all, but if it was what he wanted, she was fine with that. "No problem," she assured him. "I brought enough money to get us both back to Zootopia."
He let out a sound that was half cough, half laugh. "A reynard and a doe traveling together? My my, aren't you the New Woman."
She shook her head. "We can take separate trains, you know," she pointed out. They had, it was true, traveled together once or twice – he on business, she seeking ideas for her novel – but never over such a distance. She was on the whole the more reserved of the two of them, whereas Nick was more of the, 'I know what I've done and no one can change that' point of view.
Nick chuckled a little. "Still stubborn, huh?"
"Nick, the day I stop being stubborn you'll start to find me boring."
"True," he admitted, picking up a biscuit to dip in his broth. "It does have a certain charm to it."
Over the next several days, Judy stayed at the convent, sleeping in one of the extra rooms provided for visitors and newcomers. She was satisfied to see that Nick was tended to at all hours. He had his privacy, but there was always someone awake and in earshot if he should so much as cry out in his sleep.
Sister Aria observed, with evident pleasure, that Judy's presence seemed to be of help to their patient's recovery. Their picnics in the orchard became a regular occurrence as often as the weather would permit it, and during them he began to recall odd snatches. One of these was triggered, he would later say, by the sight of nuns crossing themselves in prayer.
"Early in my trip," he said, "I remember… getting into a carriage with a lot of mammals watching."
"You?" she asked, pausing over some vegetable stew. "In the middle of a staring crowd?" Nick was nothing if no unobtrusive.
He nodded. "Yeah, there was something weird about the whole thing. Everyone kept crossing themselves and then pointing two fingers at me."
That made no sense to Judy, so she asked a nun about it later without mentioning that it had been in Nick's memories.
"Ah, that's a sign," said the nun, shaking her head. "A protection, you might say, against the Evil Eye. Who did you see doing that, and where was it?"
Judy fudged an answer, wondering why someone would do that towards Nick. She knew some mammals claimed that foxes were made by the devil, and she supposed that belief might persist in Roamania since Nick had spoken of the Catpathians being a kind of whirlpool of religions from all across the world. Something in her gut, though, told her there was more going on.
Her unease began to seem better founded as, over the course of a week, other memories came back. Blue flames by a roadside, running up and down halls to escape from something or someplace, and a woman – a deer, he was pretty sure – pressing something into his paws with great earnest. All of these confused him, and the hall one absolutely unnerved him, but the one that seemed to bother him most was something about a tiger.
"He's built like a tiger," he explained one afternoon when they were quite buy themselves, "but he's black all over."
Judy scrunched her face. "That's strange. Tigers don't come in that color. It must have been a jaguar or something."
"I know, but I remember a black tiger… or maybe it was a dream. I don't know." Nick's ears were back, his tail was bunched out, and his eyes had a strangely hollow look to them. "Seems like the last thing I can remember – the only thing I can remember – after these nightmares is that black tiger looking me in the eyes."
Judy didn't know what to make of the whole thing, but the way he told it set her fur on end.
Nick shook his head. "I don't want to talk about this," he said shakily. "I'd rather not even think about it. What's been going on back in Zootopia?"
It was hard to think of anything that would interest him. For Judy, a lot of the time had been spent simply worrying about whether he was alright and why she hadn't heard from him. "Well, there was the shipwreck," she recalled.
"Shipwreck?" Nick's ears pricked up. "That sounds interesting."
She nodded. "It wasn't long before I came out here to get you. This crazy storm just popped up with hardly any warning, and then boom! This ship came out of nowhere and ran itself up on the beach. There was a bear tied to…" Suddenly she stopped, thinking that maybe it wouldn't be best to talk about that part.
Alas, she held her peace in vain. "Bear tied to what?" asked Nick.
Judy bit her lip. "The bear was the captain; the only mammal left aboard. He tied himself to the wheel, and then… he died."
Nick sighed. "Wow, that's… that's awful." He was strangely afraid to ask the next question that came to mind. "Any idea what happened to him?"
With drooping ears, she admitted she wasn't sure. "The newspapers said that the last few days of the logbook talked all about missing sailors and something on board. Apparently the captain was finally the only one left, so he tied himself to the wheel. Guess he thought he had to go down with the ship."
A strange shudder passed through Nick when Judy talked about there being something on the ship. "Did they ever find out what was going on?" he asked.
Judy could do nothing but shrug. "I don't know," she admitted. "I'm guessing it was some kind of disease on board that made everyone crazy. I was pretty busy with Lucy."
"Hmm, that would keep you tied up," he admitted. Orphaned at an early age, Judy had been taken in and raised by a kindly pair of red deer with the name Westenrut. Though she had diligently held onto her original surname through the adoption, she had none the less become very fond of the family that thus chose her. In particular, she had become the bosom companion of their sole progeny, a sweet doe named Lucy. It had been a fortunate friendship for them both, since Lucy had regrettably inherited her father's sickly constitution and needed a companion who could stay by her to pluck up her spirits. Mr. Westenrut had some time back returned to the clay from whence he came, and hardy little Judy had stuck around to keep an eye on Lucy and her aging mother. She even shared a room with Lucy, since neither of them felt like parting company until marriage should draw them away. Indeed, Judy might not have agreed to leave even for Nick's sake if a young doctor – an oryx named Doctor Seward – had not become a close friend of the family and agreed to watch over them.
Of course, Nick's knowledge of this fact raised a significant question. "How is Lucy?" he asked.
Her answer came with a sigh. "She's been…" She hesitated to explain the whole thing. One or two of Lucy's escapades had a terrible prospect of humiliation if they got around, and it wasn't as if the doe could help it. On the other paw, Nick was her best friend (with the possible exception of Lucy), and she knew he would never tell anyone. "She's been sleepwalking."
"Sleepwalking?" asked Nick, blinking a little. "I didn't know she did that."
Judy shrugged. "It comes and goes. She used to do it when she was younger, and for the past couple of months she's been lapsing back into it. One night she went all the way out to the old churchyard, to the seat overlooking the sea cliff."
Nick winced. A young woman in her nightdress that far from home would risk humiliation. "No one saw, did they?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Just her and me, but it got to the point where I had to sleep with the key to the room tied on my wrist. She seems to be doing better, though. She slept just fine for about a week before I got the letter about you. Oh, and she's engaged too."
"Really?" Nick's ears pricked up. The pleasant news piqued his interest. "Who's the lucky guy?"
"Arthur Honewood. Get this: he was the third man to propose to her, all in one day!" Judy's face crinkled with mirth.
He laughed. "I'm not surprised. She's a pretty one."
"Hey!" She scowled playfully, crinkling her nose and putting back her ears.
Nick smiled and slid a paw towards her. "Aw, come on. You know I only go after unattached females."
"You'd better not," she warned with mock severity. Then she remembered something. "Oh, I got a letter from Mother today, actually. I wanted to read it with you around in case it mentioned you."
"Uh-huh. In other words, in case she mentions my rugged good looks?" he asked with smug vanity.
She elbowed him and drew the letter from her purse, proceeding to read aloud.
"I pray that all is well with you and dear Nicholas. I was glad to learn that you arrived safe and well at the abbey. I hope you two are conducting yourselves so as not to bring shame on the worthy sisters there." At this note, Judy cast a glance at Nick, who only smirked. The fox had been playfully dubbed a bad seed by the old doe, and more than once his uncouth ways had raised warnings of scandal if he should go too far. Come to think of it, so had Judy's now and then.
The next words, however, subdued their exchange. When Judy trailed off and her ears drooped, Nick craned his neck to see the letter. It took him a moment to find what had so unsettled the bunny.
Lucy is elated over her marriage, but I worry for her. She's grown weaker since you left, and that fine gentleman Doctor Seward cannot find what's wrong with her. He has sent word to his old mentor, a professor from Germany, who I am told is a man without equal. I must stay calm about all this, for if anything should become of me who knows what it might do to her? You know that you and she are all I have left now that's worth anything.
Nick leaned his ears back. "What's she mean about something becoming of her?" he asked.
She bit her lip before answering. "Mother didn't want Lucy to know, but… her heart's weak, and she's gotten her last notice. She's got maybe two months to live, and any bad shock will… will kill her instantly."
Nick cringed. "Ouch. No wonder she's keeping it hush-hush." He paused anxiously. "How are you taking it?"
"I've known for a while," Judy admitted, wiping her face. "I guess I always knew she wouldn't live to turn gray, but it's… well, it's hard to believe it's happening."
He laid a paw on hers. "I'm sorry." A long pause preceded his next bit of advice. "Listen, I'll be fine here. You go back home and take care of Lucy and your mother."
She hung suspended between loyalties for a long moment before answering. "No. I'm not leaving you behind like this. You're well enough to travel. I'll get us tickets and we'll be back to Zootopia in a few days."
Nick raised an eyebrow. "You're suggesting we travel together?" he asked doubtfully.
Snorting, Judy slapped him on the arm. "Don't push it, sir. This is bigger than propriety and you know it."
She was right about it being bigger than propriety. Alas, she had no idea just how serious it would be.
I described Judy's arrival in a manner borrowed from WANMWAD's material, though it's pretty intuitive that in older days when horse-drawn carriages were the norm, many equines of the Zooniverse would make their living pulling people around. Essentially the arrangement would be the same, save that the horse and driver would be one and the pulling mechanism would be designed for a biped. The reference to a Gatling gun is also period accurate, as Gatlings were one of the earliest forms of machine gun.
The name of Saint Ninian's Convent is, of course, borrowed from Saint Ninian's Church in the Redwall books. Convents and churches were widely associated with medical care and other charitable endeavors for much of history, ultimately leading to today's Catholic hospitals and the like. Sister Aria is based on Constance from Redwall and named for the voice actress behind Constance Kendall of the Adventures in Odyssey cartoons and radio dramas.
"Brain fever" is an old term for ill-defined mental illness. My classes in psychology never got very far into disease, but I think Nick's symptoms would be diagnosed today as dementia, paranoia, and/or some form of PTSD. The twisted limbs spoken of were historically, and in some circles still are, associated with demonic affliction as Sister Aria implied. The reference to King Nebuchadnezzar (of Babylon) echoes a point in the Hebrew book of Daniel. While the Jews were dominated by the Babylonian empire, the king had a terrible nightmare which he couldn't remember on awakening but was convinced must have some important meaning. He was so desperate to know the meaning that when his wise men and magicians couldn't tell him what he had dreamed he ordered that they all be executed. Fortunately, God showed Daniel what the king had dreamed and what it meant, saving quite a few lives.
I stretched a point with Nick's religious positions, since I suspect Nick would be an agnostic or atheist. The Reform Church I put him in for this story was a denomination which eschewed the elaborate pageantry and iconography of Catholic practices (statues, crucifixes all over the place, rosaries, etcetera), seeing them as idolatrous. This makes more sense if one knows that the bronze snake Moses raised on a pole, to which Jesus even likened Himself at one point, was later worshiped by the people and ultimately destroyed for that reason.
The "Evil Eye" alluded to is rooted in an old superstitious belief that some people have the power to curse someone just by looking at them. I've read in some sources that this belief is tied into such modern expressions as "dirty look" or "if looks could kill," and while I'm not sure of the truth of that I dare say it makes as much sense as anything.
The concern over Lucy's nocturnal escapades is period-accurate. Not only would a late stroll in a nightgown raise chances of a chill, which could be dangerous to someone sickly, but in those days a woman would no sooner go out in her night dress than one today would in her underwear. Even being seen barefoot was something to be avoided for form's sake.
Judy's reservations are another bit of character stretching to fit the time period. While in the movie she does strike me as being a lot more conservative than Nick (as seen in her reaction to Mystic Springs), I suspect that our 21st Century Judy would have few qualms about traveling with Nick unmarried. If she were born and raised in the 19th century she would probably be a bit more reserved.
One thing that came up when people read this on Cimar's project: the black tiger is not a black jaguar or leopard; he is, in fact, a black tiger. Though melanism – the trait which produces so-called black panthers – is not known to occur in tigers, there have been numerous reports of tigers with the black-on-dark-brown fur known in melanistic specimens of other species. Since black tigers fall under the umbrella of cryptozoology – an old fascination of mine – and hang just on the edge of the known, it seemed appropriate to choose one for a figure of such ominous and supernatural aspect as this one.
This chapter proofread by AngloFalcon. Thanks a million!
"Suspicion often creates what it suspects."
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Judy faxed the highlights of Ramses’ file to the city court, hoping to get a warrant on Olivia's factories and farms.
"Ah, the glamorous life of a cop," Nick quipped when she returned to the meeting room. He was leaning back in his chair with his arms folded behind his head and his ears at a lazy half-cocked sort of angle. "Traffic stops, paperwork..."
Judy huffed, dropping her ears back. "Nick, let's take this seriously, okay? Remember, this case could make or break your chances with the ZPD – and you already have a history that's got you at odds with Bogo."
"Funny you should mention that," he replied, tilting forward until his weight rested on his arms, which he crossed casually on the table. "You missed something; something big."
"What?” Judy looked around, pricking her ears up alertly as she tried to figure out what he meant. “Where?"
He studied his claws. "You're slipping, bunny," he teased, thoroughly enjoying the moment. "Got a guy right in front of you with networking skills that would put the internet to shame, and you need this explained to you?"
Judy's face lit up. "Let's go!" she exclaimed. She reached into her pocket for her cruiser keys, only to find them inexplicably gone.
Nick smirked and held up one paw, swinging the keys on a finger.
"Hey!" Judy snapped.
"Ha ha," he laughed. "Got-"
Suddenly the keys were in Judy's paw, and she had him by the tie. "You blinked. Come on, rookie – and stay out of my pockets."
Their first stop was a shopping plaza in Sahara Square, not far from the Palm Tree Hotel. According to Nick, the area was one of Finnick's favorite hangouts.
Sure enough, they found the van parked between a beverage shop (one of many in the area) and a thrift store. The former looked almost as if it had been carved out of a single piece of stone, with wavy walls in thin lines of strata in varied hues of red, yellow, and brown. Even the sign was carved from a slab of stone, with the letters carved down into a layer lighter in hue than that of the surface. About the only thing about it that looked like it hadn't come out of Baaadrock was a little sign with changeable letters reading, “Special of the Day: Coconut Water.” The thrift store was of more modern build with clean-cut cement walls, a neon sign, and a notice in the window that they were having a special on male clothing. Its effort to look new was somewhat spoiled, as the paint had suffered from wind-blown sand.
Judy glanced at Nick. "You must come here a lot too," she quipped, jerking a thumb at the sign in the thrift store.
The fox folded his arms. "I thought you ladies appreciated a good sale. Come on, let's go see Finnick before-"
A gust of wind peppered them both with sand.
"... the wind picks up?" asked Judy when it had died, leaving both of them looking a good deal more beige.
"Let the record show you slowed us down with the crack about how I dress," Nick pointed out as he strode to the back of the van and knocked. "By the way, duck."
"Why-YEE!?" yelped Judy, heeding Nick's advice just in time. The opening door was followed almost instantly by a swinging baseball bat.
"Easy, Finnick," Nick laughed, standing up straight again and catching the weapon before Finnick could do the back swing. "It's just me and Carrots saying hi."
"Nick? What the heck, fox! Give the password next time. I coulda took you out!"
Nick smirked. "Just giving Carrots her daily reflex check."
"Nick!" Judy cried, smacking him on the arm. "You didn't tell me he'd be so jumpy this time." She'd met Finnick and his bat before when she was trying to find Nick, but the last time he'd asked questions first and swung later – or rather, not at all.
"Oh, he's always a little grumpy this time of day." Nick raised a fist to bump with his old pal. "How you doing, buddy?"
Finnick put aside the bat, and the two foxes bumped knuckles. "So what you doin' here this time?" he wanted to know.
Nick shrugged. "Business," he replied casually. "Mind if we discuss it inside?"
The fennec fox threw a skeptical glance at Judy, then stepped back and waved them in.
Nick climbed in first, then extended Judy a paw which she passed up for dignity’s sake. "Thanks. By the way, proper introductions; Finnick, my little friend here's Judy Hopps, and Carrots, my very little friend here is Finnick."
Finnick glowered at Nick. "You're never gonna let that joke die, are you?” He apparently didn’t think it worth pointing out that he and Judy had already met.
Judy surveyed the van's interior as she chuckled at their banter. The seats had been pulled out, and most of the floor had been covered with shag carpet. The windows were tinted, making the whole interior feel cool and shaded – an effect which, combined with a few posters on the ceiling, conjured images of a night club or a college dorm room. A little electric cooler hummed in one corner, and a flat area with some loops in the wall alongside it, she guessed, showed where the foxes had once hitched the wagons for their popsicle sticks.
It occurred to Judy that she might have to re-think some of her habits. She might be working for the greater good, but could she really consider herself an honest cop if she consulted with known criminals? Then there was that business with Mr. Big; she'd have to figure her way through that too. On the other hand, this might not be the best time for it.
Finnick reached into the cooler. "What flavor pop you want?" he asked.
"Usual," Nick replied.
Judy wasn't even sure what brand of ‘pop’ Finnick meant, but decided to just follow Nick since he at least knew what they were doing. "Whatever he's having."
Finnick pulled out two bottles of blueberry soda and passed them to Nick before he pulled out a cherry one for himself. Popping the cap with his teeth, he extracted it by paw from his mouth and flicked it aside. "So," he asked, "Whatcha want?"
Nick used a small protrusion on the interior of the van to pop both caps, then handed one bottle to Judy. "Following leads on the fuss with ex-mayor Bellwether," he replied. "You know anything?"
"Who doesn't?" asked the miniature fox, still glancing warily at Judy. They hadn't talked much even when she came to ask him where Nick was less than a week before, and he was still cautious around her in light of her chosen occupation. "What kinda leads we talkin' here?"
Nick gestured to Judy, who took that as her cue to start talking. "Well, when Nick and I found the operation, we managed to apprehend Bellwether and two accomplices. At least three are unaccounted for, and we have reason to believe she had other suppliers besides the guy we also nabbed."
"Duke Weaselton," Finnick concluded.
"You know about that?"
Finnick smirked. "Fox-boy here's not the only one who keeps his ear to the ground." Catching the look on Nick's face, he added, "And I don't have to bend down so low to do it."
Nick pretended to be annoyed. "Darn it, you stole my joke."
"It's not stealing if it's worthless," Finnick quipped. "So you came here lookin' for information. Well, I got nothin' – not even for Nick."
Judy had a sneaking suspicion that the fennec wouldn't be so tight-lipped if she weren't around, but decided not to say anything.
"Well, would you mind keeping your ears open? Maybe getting into a few places we can't?" asked Nick.
From the look on Finnick's face, Judy was beginning to wonder if laughing at Nick's predicament when she forced him to help her was the only time the little fox ever smiled.
"I've been pretty busy just trying to keep gas in the van since you split the popsicle business," Finnick replied with a shrug. Then, seeming to lighten just a fraction, he added, "But I guess I could do you a favor for old times' sake."
Nick smiled. "Thanks, buddy – and talking of gas money, there's a reward out for any info leading to these guys' arrest." He handed Finnick a collection of photos of the known suspects, with a bill slipped in for good measure.
Finnick noticed the money, and he did smile a little. "Hey, copper," he asked Judy, "would you mind giving us a minute to ourselves? We've got catching up to do."
Judy got up and showed herself out. Finnick checked the window to see if she might be listening, then looked at Nick.
"So you've really thrown in with the fuzz, huh?"
Nick had been afraid it would come to this. The truth was, he still wasn't entirely sure about the career change – and between Bogo's remarks earlier and what he expected his old friend was about to say, his limited confidence was slipping. "I'm helping her out," he said evasively. "Being an informant has its benefits."
"To the tune of $200 a day?" asked Finnick, raising an eyebrow. "Come on, Nick. Only fools go into that for the cash, and they usually don't last long, if you get my drift."
Thank you for summing that up, thought Nick. He already knew all too well that there were several crime bosses who'd gladly give him the same kind of 'cold shoulder' Mr. Big nearly did. Still, he wasn't about to let his guard down. "Hey, Carrots thinks I can make it."
"You mean she thinks you can change," Finnick argued, "or that she can change you." He spoke with absolute confidence that this was what Judy had planned. There was no question in his mind that the bunny was trying to make some kind of convert out of Nick. "The question is, do you want that?"
Martial artists sometimes practiced the trick of wearing their opponent down with a series of small, well-placed blows to throw off their balance before toppling the foe. Finnick, intentionally or not, was applying much the same approach to their conversation.
Nick, however, was no slouch when it came to verbal MMA either. "Are you worried about me changing," he asked pointedly, "or are you worried about us changing?"
That gave Finnick pause. Of course there was the fact that, if he did become a cop, Nick might be required one day to arrest Finnick. Another aspect of their dilemma, however, went deeper. There was a certain truth among those involved in unscrupulous business, which nearly all of them knew but few ever admitted, even to themselves. No criminal had anything against those who engaged in honest professions – provided that the profession in question didn't get in the way of the crook's line of work. At best, the criminal could laugh at the honest folks behind their backs, fancying himself to be of a higher class who did not let themselves be confined by society's concepts of right and wrong. He might convince himself that if the lowbrows working nine to five had the imagination, the guts, or the intelligence to hack it outside the law, they'd do it in a heartbeat, or tell himself that they simply didn't know what they were missing. At worst, they could be shrugged off. 'Nice that they can live without breaking the rules,' the crook might say, 'but it's not for me.'
Finnick had never been especially good at such defense mechanisms. Mammals like Nick – mammals who had lived in the dark and then embraced the light – made it harder still. They presented an uncomfortable reality: honest living was possible for anyone, if they were willing to do it. When it was someone talented and sly like Nick, the old lie that crooks were in any regard superior to everyday Joe Schmoes fell apart. A crook who went straight was like one of those guys in advertisements who said, 'If I can do it, you can do it,' and they inexorably begged the question: 'So why don't you?'
Deep down, Finnick was not as comfortable with his life as some crooks as many others in society’s underbelly. His conscience was burned somewhat, but not ‘seared with a hot iron’ as his old mother would have said. Maybe that was what stopped him from considering this a personal blow; an attack not just on his career, but on his identity. Still, the pragmatic question remained. "And what if the big cheese tells you to bring me in, huh?" he asked.
Nick shook his head. "I can figure that out when I get to it," he argued. "The police haven't thrown me a mess yet that I couldn't slip out of."
Finnick folded his arms. "Until now, you didn't play their way."
The conversation didn't really go much of anywhere beyond that, and finally Nick just let his shoulders slump. "Look, buddy, this doesn't have to change things between us. Even if we're not in business anymore, we can still be friends, right?" He stuck out his paw to shake.
Finnick hesitated, then shook Nick's paw. "Alright," he conceded. "But you come here with pawcuffs..."
Nick's smile suddenly fell into a dead serious expression. "That's not gonna happen," he promised.
Each of them knew full well that they were making promises they might not be able to keep.-------------------
Meanwhile, somewhere in Olivia Poisson's house, a cell phone rang. The owner picked up. "What is it?"
"Judge just got a warrant request on Pwasson's Passions," answered a shaky voice.
"Is that so? Has the judge seen it yet?"
"No. The fax came while she was out of the office."
A grim sigh – possibly weary or possibly content – came through the phone line. "Very good. I'm sure you can file it... appropriately."
"Consider it done." Just before the call ended, there was the sound of a paper shredder.
"People pass me in the street, they see me, but they try to ignore me. They'd prefer I wasn't part of their city."
Bird Lady, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
It had taken some doing to find a flat-topped building in Tundra Town. With the endless presence of snow, ensured by the climate wall for the sake of its denizens, most structures were topped with sharp peaks or domes like inverted onions to save the cost of perpetual snow removal. Yet conveniently for the mammal making his way up the bleak and dun-gray stairwell inside of it, this building was flat-roofed. It was almost as if whatever god or gods there might be had, after heaping stone after stone upon his back, seen fit to grant him this kindness – or else, having driven him to his fate, had chosen now to expedite it. He might have gone to some other part of the city, but this one had… conveniences.
Reaching the door to the roof, he slipped a key from his pocket. If there was one advantage to being a small mammal in a city so full of large ones, it was the ability to go unnoticed. The musk ox assigned to clear the snow from the roof had never realized that one of his keys had disappeared and returned again, leaving a gleaming new copy in the borrower's possession. If it was a sin, the borrower was not concerned in answering for it. The key would be gone soon enough.
It took some doing to reach the lock and push the door ajar. His leg, damaged beyond repair when he was still young and lively, made for slow going, and with the rest of his body weak he had to stop and rest several times from jumping. Moreover, there was a bad wind blowing outside which pushed against the door as though some angel, trying to turn him from his course, meant to thwart the one wish left to him. Yet his old skills had not forsaken him yet, and if he had but one wish he would grapple for it with all his might, be it against flesh or phantom. Driving his toe-claws into the old sheet rock wall, he managed at last to wedge his way into the doorway. With a final effort, he was through and the door shut with a bang behind him.
Now he was out in the wind and the snow, and though he tried to shield his face the flakes stung him like a thousand tiny needles. There was a half-foot of snow on the roof, coming up to his knees and soaking the fur of his feet. It mattered nothing, and he forged his way through it toward a low wall surrounding the rooftop.
Weary from his battle with the door, and with the wind fighting to throw him down as if that bothersome cherub meant to wrestle him flat, he could not jump up onto the wall. Instead he struggled up, standing sideways to the wind as it chilled his face and numbed his paws. His ears were hidden under a ski mask, though it had openings for them. Gazing down at the stretch of city below him, he eyed his mark.
Running past the building on which he stood was one of the district's ice flows; channels of running salt water with pieces of ice floating therein. They served as a kind of moving sidewalk for mammals who favored saved energy over the warmth that came by walking. For him, however, they served another purpose, such that it was for them that he had chosen this district… in which to end his life.
He had calculated it well enough. Math and physics had always come easily to him. The wind would not carry him so far as to miss the water, though it was harder to say whether he would hit floating ice or flowing liquid. It made little difference. At this height the water might as well be the street beyond it. Its' sole advantage was that he might sink in it, and lie there until the trumpet sounded for all he or any other mammal cared.
Sighing out a puff of fog, he thrust a paw into his pocket and drew out a folded stack of papers. In a quiet whisper he uttered what were to be his final wishes.
"I, Shamus Stampett, being of sound mind if not sound body, do hereby present my last will and testament."
Out came a paper from the stack.
"The final notice on my rent, I leave to the winds." The paper was almost snatched from his paw before he could let it go, and shot away into the darkening twilight spinning and twisting like some battered pinwheel.
"My medical results, I also leave to the wind." Another paper joined its adopted brother, carrying with it news that the illness had grown worse.
"My balance with the hospital, also to the winds."
"My identity, to the water."
He watched numbly as a little plastic card, tied to a piece of broken brick, plunged down toward the ice flow. It was too far down to see or hear the splash, but he knew it had reached the water.
He took out the key and threw that as well, but a sudden shift in the wind flung it behind him to vanish untraceable in the snow on the rooftop. He shrugged in indifference. Perhaps the caretaker would find it. It was his by rights anyway, unless one wished to make an argument of his carelessness in letting the original disappear.
At last the figure started to lean forward, waiting for the moment when he would plunge into the abyss. Yet before he overbalanced, a sudden twitch ran through his body like one who has been shocked or who suddenly jolts on the verge of sleep. He wavered and toppled back into the snow on the roof.
"Agh!" he cried as the fall jostled his leg the wrong way. He hissed through his teeth and struggled up, climbing again to the edge. Yet he was not so resolved this time, and a fearful coldness entered into his inner parts as he looked down towards his intended sepulcher.
No, a part of his mind uttered in cold horror. He had a flash of himself lying frozen at the bottom of the waterway, and shuddered at the picture of it; a lifeless thing wearing his face.
Yet, was he not already dead to all purpose? What was life if not more pain, more sorrow, more isolation? Had a wise mammal not once said, "If I die, I am promoted"? Again he leaned forward, and again he drew back, though this time was less a spasm and more of a flinch.
So he tottered for an interminable period, faced with but one choice and yet afraid to seize it. He had nothing to go back to, no one to miss him… and that was even if he could get the door open, which was now impossible. Even if he didn't jump, he would freeze to death in a couple of hours. That might be more peaceful, but… no. To stay up there was to ensure discovery, and with it pity. He would not be pitied; he couldn't bear that emasculating indignity, even in death. If he would die he would have one last rush and then obscurity. The only way off the roof was forward to a swift end, and then to sleep.
A thought struck him, and jumping back onto the rooftop he pulled out his phone; the one thing he hadn't tossed over the edge. This struck him as strange, but now it proved convenient. Music, he thought, unlocking the device with numb, shivering fingers. One last song to ease my nerves for the dive.
He chuckled then. The typical last bit of pleasure, at least in all the old movies, was a cigar. Perhaps he should have brought one; he'd always wondered what the attraction was, and what had he to worry about? He was already doomed. The sentence of death was in his very flesh and bones. Music would do, though. He opened the apps menu and reached for the Music icon.
A sudden shiver made his paws shake, and instead of Music he hit the News app by accident. "Blast it," he hissed under his breath as the window opened. He tried to close it and get to his intended destination as soon as possible, but just as he closed it the page loaded and he got a flash of a face… and a name.
What?! he thought as the app closed. His heart, though already beginning to feel cold and sluggish, gave a painful twist. No! Come back! With all his might, he willed his paws to open the app again and prayed – if such it might be called with so little hope of being heeded – that the selection system would not take him to some other story in the endless shuffling mass of news.
Then there she was… a small figure seated on a stretcher, with the shot so zoomed in that clues to her whereabouts were virtually non-existent. He could not have cared less about that, though. All that mattered was the face… and the headline.
Judy Hopps Back. Rabbit Officer Exposes Plot.
The headline – apart from the atrocious pun – was scarcely informative, but the first three words seized his attention as swiftly and held it as firmly as a starving alligator. For a long moment all he could do was stare at the picture as though he were seeing a ghost. Yes, a ghost, but the ghost of an old and dearly cherished friend.
He had known her once, long ago when they were young. Their friendship had been brief due to the hands of fate and family, but there had been a camaraderie close enough to set a few tongues wagging. It was all empty talk. A rock sitting alone in the woods had, he surmised, more romance than the both of them put together. Yet she had shared his peculiarity, and when he learned that she was in the city – and moreover that she had achieved her dream where his had died beyond any hope – he had watched for her in the headlines every day. He was no stalker; the thought of contacting her barely even tickled at the edges of his mind, busy as he was with his treatments. Yet despite having no idea he was in the city, she had impacted him… for better and for worse. When the headlines exploded with news of her resignation, his heart broke within him and the brief improvement in his health crashed into the dust.
Now, so much later, he fervently read the rest of the article, taking it in like a starving mammal who eats so fast as to taste nothing. Two things did catch his attention: that she had been hospitalized for minor injuries, and that – according to the closing line – it was unclear whether she would resume her career with the police.
Ha! he thought, the reporter's ignorance making him smile for the first time in… how long had it been? More than three months, for certain. Yet now he nearly laughed. If Judy was anything like she had been in her younger days, her future was sure as summer, as his old uncle Ben used to say. Yes, she was the same; at any rate she wore the same old 'I don't know when to quit' smile. She'd be back alright. Within a week most likely, she'd be back on patrol if she had to do it in a wheelchair.
You always were a fighter, Judo Judy, he thought, recalling the old nickname. Some kid whose name he'd long since forgotten had stuck it on her in mockery, but she had worn it with pride – kind of like the song "Yankee Gnu-dle."
Yes, she had always been a fighter… and like a ray of sun slowly breaking through the clouds, it came on him that if she were there at that moment, he knew what she would say. She would tell him to keep fighting, and convince him too. Though he'd always had the advantages of size and strength, any sort of debate had always been over before it began. If there was a mammal who could win an argument with her, he'd want to shake their paw; the paw of the finest wordsmith in the state, if not the galaxy.
She would tell me to fight, he reflected. She'd tell me not to stop; to keep trying no matter what.
He looked up again; not at the street this time, but at the skyline and the sun still visible up here, though in many parts of the city below it was as good as night. The tapestry of reds, oranges, yellows, and purples decorating the skyline stood out brightly over a city whose lights were now beginning to blink on; the same city as so many other nights, and yet now different.
Wrong had been made right. The savage predator attacks were over now, and the villain behind them was now under lock and key. Mammals would go to sleep in peace that night who had, for so long it seemed like forever, lived every moment in fear that they or someone they knew would turn in an instant into a crazed killer. For the vast population of Zootopia, life could begin anew.
And somewhere out there – maybe in a hospital bed or a private one or even on a couch – lay one mammal who just might remember her old friend. One mammal whom, he was sure, he could tell anything in the world without fear of dismissal or doubt or the dozen other things that had held him silent for so very long.
The wind still blew, though, and the snow still jabbed. He sighed and turned to the door, still shut against him. It was just as cold, impassive, and impenetrable as before. Yet now that hope had come back to his heart, it brought with it its brother, inspiration.
An hour later, the door jostled as a large, heavy animal shoved at the other side. Through several grunts and a nasal bellow or two, a hairy head and shoulders came into view. The musk ox was so intent on his work that he never noticed the hollowed-out cave in the mound of snow by the door… or the tiny form slipping through the gap he had made in the door. Nor did either of them quite detect – though the latter had perhaps a small inkling of it – how the subsiding wind sounded strangely musical in that little form's wake.
Shivering and slapping his paws together to get the blood flowing, the small mammal was already thinking over his options. He'd find a place to spend the night, and then… oh, there was no knowing what he'd do next. He would think of something, though. He would find a way, and now he had at least one goal in life; one thing on his To Do list to keep him going.
I've got to see Judy again, he thought. Somehow, I have to find her… and tell her what she just did.
Every year, countless people all over the world end their own lives for one reason or another. Some do so because they feel they will never measure up, some because they want to escape regrets for the things they've done, some because they feel life has no meaning, and some because, like this unfortunate mammal, they just want to die on their own terms. The causes and means are many, but the reality is always terrible – and made worse because in most cases, the key common thread is a sense that no one is listening.
I don't really know why it first came upon me to write this story, but it happens that this is Suicide Awareness Month and the weight of it came so heavily on me that I had to put aside even working on my books to put this piece together. As I told a friend early in the process, I truly felt that God was compelling me to write it. I still feel that way. It seemed appropriate to do it this way and have Judy's actions in the movie unwittingly stop a suicide because something of the kind happened in real life. Some of you may know the band Third Day. I don't know if their song, I Need a Miracle had any role in inspiring this story or not, but it has much the same plot and was based on a story a fan told them about one of their other songs actually saving his life. The truth is that, like Judy and Third Day, sometimes we really don't know the impact of our actions. To condense Judy's words, though, "But we have to try. So I implore you, try."
The first part of this story was written to Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. The latter, starting about where the character smiles, was written to In Like a Lion (Always Winter) by Relient K, and toYou Know Better Than Ifrom the movie Joseph, Prince of Dreams. If any of those needs explanation, I suggest listening to them. I just don't have the words.
All I can say in closing is please, try. If you're thinking of suicide or know someone who is or even just have a concern about the issue, please. Don't. Give. Up.
Special thanks to Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps for proofreading.