TOO FAMILIAR — CHRISTIAN DICKINSON
The most important thing to remember is this:
Your Familiar is an extension of you — Your thoughts, your dreams, your aspirations. It thinks what you think, values what you value — feels what you feel; In other words, if you truly desire to know thy Familiar –
First Know Thyself
Roger Whitcomb stood in the center of the Malcolm City grocery, just behind the registers, apologizing profusely to the shift-manager. Several dozen cans of barbecue baked-beans, which moments ago had stood in an impressive display tower, now lay scattered across the once pristine linoleum floor. A handful that were sitting at the tower’s top, burst upon impact, flinging their contents for several paces in multiple directions.
“Gosh, Michael, I’m sorry,” Roger stammered. “I just – I have absolutely no idea what got into him, honestly.”
Michael Durum, who Roger had known since High-School, stood with his arms crossed, his head in one hand. He shook his head slowly. “For goodness sake, Roger,” he moaned, “when are you going to get that thing under control? It’s just getting sad now.”
Roger looked down at his Familiar, its gladial head bowed over in embarrassment. It had been ten years since his Familiar first materialized, and Roger still had not the faintest idea what he was supposed to do with it. Nearly everyone else he knew of his age had their Familiar perfectly synced, perfectly obedient to the subtle mental and emotional commands that constantly emanated from the Host by the time they graduated High-School. The only exceptions he knew of were the High-School burnouts who either didn’t care, or who were too drugged up to notice. And then, thought Roger, there’s me. Roger recalled once again the instructional videos he and his primary grade watched while preparing for Materialization and Bonding. As always, it was the penultimate sentence at the end of the very last video, that sat like an immovable weight on his mind: ‘Your Familiar is an extension of you’. And if that’s true, he thought, then who exactly am I?
Michael’s Familiar, a fit, well-groomed Rottweiler with a shining black coat stood next to his Host. The dog stared down at Roger’s Familiar, bared its teeth and was emitting a long, low growl. Roger’s Familiar shrunk back into itself, pulling in its tentacles as close to its own body as possible.
“I know, I know,” Roger apologized. “Look—let me help you clean this up. It’s the least I can do.”
Michael sighed, “No, no—don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it. Just do me a favor…will you just thinkabout getting an impeda?”
Roger shrugged. “Yeah,” he said “okay—I will.” He dropped his head to avoid making eye-contact with anyone else as he left the store. Several of the other customers were looking at him, and the others who had their heads down shook them in irate disapproval. Finally, Roger reached his car, deposited his groceries, and pulled out of the lot. his Familiar sat the passenger seat, body slumped in epic displays of gray-scale shame.
Like all twelve year-olds on the cusp of thirteen in Malcolm, Roger was having difficulty containing his excitement for the Manifestation and Bonding ceremony that marked his class’s primary-school graduation. “It is the most important ceremony of your life,” his parents would often repeat.
That night, as Roger’s parents drove him to the primary school’s auditorium where the ceremony would take place, Roger went over once again his most cherished hopes for what the Manifestation would be.
“A dog, for sure,” he said, “like a cool, big one – like a husky!”
Roger’s mother Laura turned around in the passenger seat and looked at her son. Her Familiar, a white owl that was perched on the right side of the seat, turned its head completely around as she did this, and was now also looking at Roger. “Just remember, honey,” she said. “Whatever your Manifestation is, it will be perfect—it will be an extension of you. So, it will be great, because youare great!”
Roger smirked. “Thanks.” Man, I hope it’s a husky, he thought, no, a wolf!
“Your mother’s right, Roger.” Steve, Roger’s father, glanced at his son in the rear-view mirror of their car. His Familiar, a brown owl, was perched on the left side of the driver’s seat had also turned its head around to look at Roger when his Host spoke. “No one can change their Familiar. People have been trying to since antiquity, but it just can’t be done. So, you just need to decide to be content with whatever Manifests.”
“…That’s not quite what I meant,” said Laura.
“Well, it’s true,” said Steve. “He’s going to have to be happy with whatever his Manifestation ends up being. It’s a good rule for life, really—be content with what you’re given.”
Laura looked back at Roger again, “He is right, really. But I wouldn’t worry. Whatever Manifests, I’m sure you will loveit!” She turned to her husband. “You know, now that I think about it, I don’t remember seeing any Manifestations that didn’t eventually make sense—they all matched with their Host’s personality.” Roger’s father nodded his assent.
Roger and his family walked into the school’s auditorium. As his parents took their seats in the audience, Roger made his way up onto the stage. He sat among his graduating class near the end of the elevated rows of chairs that were placed on stage right.
Roger sat with the rest of his graduating class on a bare stage hung with dark curtains on either side. Though everyone could be seen easily, the lighting both on the stage and in the auditorium was subdued. This was for two reasons. The first was that some Manifestations emitted a brilliant light when they first appeared, and a darkened room made the effect most spectacular. The second reason was that Manifestation was like a performance, a revelation showing the world who that person was, and who they might one day hope to become.
The evening began with the school’s principal walking over to a small wooden lectern on stage left, accompanied by a ruby-red cardinal that landed on the lectern’s front. After giving some opening remarks about the evening and its importance to the development well-being and future success of the children sitting to her right, she called the first graduate to center-stage, starting with last names at the beginning of the alphabet.
A cute, red-headed girl with freckles who wore a denim jacket came to the chair in the center of the stage and sat down. She closed her eyes, breathed in deep, and exhaled. As she did so, a bright, beautiful, larger-than life clown fish glowed into existence next to her head and swam around, swishing its tail and casting off white-gold sparks in several directions. The let out a collective ‘ooh’, and applauded respectfully. The girl went wide-eyed and smiled in rapturous delight, and then stood up and walked to the end of the stage, where her mother was waiting for her.
“Well,” said the principal, “I can’t think of a better way to begin the evening, can you?”
Several other names were called, and several other Manifestations took place. More than half the class manifested some variety of cat or dog, with others manifesting some form of bird-life. One young boy Manifested a hawk, while another a blue jay. These both received the proper audience approval. Finally, all but two of the names had been called.
Roger, a tad nervous, walked to the chair center-stage and sat down. He breathed deeply and exhaled. Even a small dog would be fine, he thought. He could not sense anything glow into existence. There were no sparks, no light – and no sound from the audience. He opened his eyes at the end of his exhalation and looked down. Looking back at him from the floor was a mass of chitin, with tentacles and a gladial head. There was a murmur in the audience, along with a quiet, confused smattering of applause.
Roger looked at the heap on the floor, and then up at his principal, confused. “What is it?” he asked.
“I think,” stammered the principal, “I think it’s—”
A shout came from the audience: “It’s a squid, mate!”
Roger looked down at his Familiar, his face screwed tight, “…a squid?”
Thankfully, the principal knew her cue: “You know what, Roger?” she said, “This August will mark my twenty-fifth year as principal here at Malcolm Primary. In all that time, I do not remember seeing anyManifestations as unique as yours!” She turned to the audience. “So, let’s congratulate Roger for being one of the most unique young men in all of Malcolm!” She clapped her hands and the audience followed suit, some even whistling. Feeling a little better, Roger walked off of the stage with his newly-formed Familiar flopping along behind him, gurgling happily.
The car-ride home was mostly silent, with Roger’s parents calling to mind unique Manifestations they had seen.
“There was one guy I used to work with whose Familiar was a moray eel – bizarre.”
“What about Travis,” said Laura, “do you remember Travis from that one class at Malcolm State? Didn’t he have like a—a hairless ferret?”
“Yeah,” said Steve, “No, wait—it was a—a naked mole rat! Darndest thing — ghastly-looking, and I’ve never seen another one!” His father looked in the rear-view mirror, “I wouldn’t worry about it, buddy.”
Roger smirked. His mother turned around. “Honey, there’s nothing wrong with being—different from other people. Even if you never see another Squid-Familiar again, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. Principal Wexler was right—it just means you’re very unique!”
Roger looked at the squid in his lap, and made the decision to be positive. This is not an accident, he thought to himself. You Manifested for a very specific reason, and I promise to do my best to find out what that reason is.
But ten years on, he still had not discovered it.
Roger walked back into his apartment, grocery bags in his hands.
“Hey, you!” said a young woman sitting at the small dining-room table by their apartment’s kitchen. She was typing on a laptop, had her newly-washed hair combed back to dry, and wore shorts and a dark-blue top. A fluffy, white-Persian cat sat just in front of the laptop on the table, and turned its head to Roger with a look of annoyed superiority.
The cat was the Familiar of Chloe, Roger’s girlfriend. The two had decided to move in together for this, their senior year of Undergrad at Malcolm State. Roger never ceased to be astounded by the fact that a girl like Chloe actually liked him. She was beautiful, intelligent, athletic, career-driven. More than once, Roger wanted to ask what exactly she saw in him, but he decided it was best not to tempt fate. At this point, Chloe was the one thing in his life that made him feel like a normal person, like he had done something right.
“Hey,” said Roger, his Familiar closing the door behind him. “Sorry that took so long—had a bit of a mishap.”
Chloe furrowed her smooth forehead. “Oh no,” she said, “not again!”
“’Fraid so,” said Roger. “It was a tower of canned beans this time.”
Chloe scoffed, “Why would Michael even do that? It’s dangerous. Someone’s Familiar could really be hurt.”
“Well,” said Roger, “I know why it happened. We were in line and I saw the stack of baked beans. Squidward here must have sensed my sudden desire to have a barbecue, so he wriggled back, shot out a tentacle and pulled one of the cans—”
“Let me guess – from the bottom of the stack?”
“Nearly—but there was still a bit of a mess.”
“Oh yeah—,” said Roger, “suggested I get an impeda.”
Chloe looked at Roger’s Familiar with pitying eyes, “Noooo,” she cooed sweetly, “we would never do that to our dear little Squidicle.” Roger’s Familiar gurgled pleasantly as Chloe smiled at him and playfully tickled his mantle.
“Hey,” said Roger “I have my presentation in Structural Design tomorrow, but are you still up for going to the Art-Walk tonight?”
Chloe grimaced, “Roger—you know I can’t. I have that meeting with my team for the Entrepreneurship Exhibit at the end of the semester.”
“Chloe,” he said, “you promised you were going to go this year!”
“Roger,” Chloe said, “this is the final project of the semester—it’s like a recital—it’s basically the entire grade of the course! If I do well here, it will get me into a Master’s at Donalbain, easy.”
“You said you were going to going to try to change the meeting time.”
“Sorry, Roger—I just couldn’t. I asked, but this is the only time everyone could meet.”
“Chloe … you’ve known about this for weeks. You know how excited I was about it—how much I wanted you to go!”
“Look—I’m sorry, but I just can’t.” Roger looked away. “I’ll go with you to the next one—I promise.”
Roger sighed and nodded his head, “Alright, alright—sorry, I know the Exhibit is a big deal.”
“It’s okay—I’m sorry too…we’ll go to the next one.”
He laid the grocery bags on the table—“I should head over to the drafting lab and put the finishing touches on tomorrow’s project.”
Chloe nodded and smiled up at him. “Okay—good luck!”
Even before Manifestation, Roger’s dream was to be an artist. As he grew older, however, this dream slowly began to give way to the necessities of career in the modern world. Striking a compromise, he decided to major in architectural design. He would become a draughtsman, apprentice to a designer, work at a firm.He justified the decision by telling himself that he would still be creating art, even great art of a sort. It would simply serve a much more functional purpose.
At the campus’ drafting lab, Roger leaned over the large blueprint of the project he had been designing for several weeks. The next day, he would present his design in the course and receive either a passing or failing grade. The design was for a beach-front restaurant that served burgers and seafood. Because it was Roger’s design, his Familiar did not register the cuisine choice as a personal insult; nevertheless, Roger could not help feeling slightly guilty. He wondered if he was subliminally projecting some sort of hidden desire, particularly when he wrote calamari into the menu as a seasonal appetizer.
After working for a full two hours, he leaned over his design one final time to make just a few finishing touches. I really ought to add outside seating, he thought. Yeah—small, two-person tables ranged equidistant around the entire outside of the restaurant. Beach-front seating—that would look nice…He looked at his watch, and let an annoyed grunt. The Walk had already started. He looked at the draft, tapping his pen on the table. I’ll just have to add the tables later, if there’s time.
As Roger walked to the door of the lab, his Familiar started to follow him, but then stopped. He looked at Roger – he looked at the blue-print – then back at roger – then back to the blue-print. When Roger had reached the door of the drafting room and looked in before turning off the light, he could not see his Familiar. But soon, the gladial head and tentacles appeared from around the legs of the large drafting table at which he had been working.
“There you are,” said Roger “you get distracted so easily. You always need to stay close to me, okay?”
The Familiar gurgled in polite tones of acknowledgment.
“Okay,” said Roger, “let’s go.”
Roger found the Art-Walk to be somewhat disappointing. It was filled with installations and pieces from artists Roger had seen for years, and none of the new artists were particularly impressive. One installation announced ‘Make art with your Familiar!’ Roger scoffed and shook his head. Since the Renaissance, self-proclaimed artists had attempted to create art symbiotically between Familiar and Host. The idea was inaugurated by da Vinci in his “Lady with an Ermine” portrait. It was the first portrait in which a Host and Familiar could be seen together.
But since that time, save for two or three rare exceptions, the attempt to create completely symbiotic art had proven impossible. Any art created was, to Roger’s mind, never truly inspired, and ended up becoming popular novelties rather than true artwork. Either the artists themselves were poor practitioners of the craft, or the amount to which the Familiar was actually employed as an integral part of the piece itself was negligible. Most Hosts, even good artists, could only come up with a ‘paint by numbers’ types of designs that the Familiar would then fill in—but even this was something that any Host could do —nothing truly symbiotic. And as for having the Familiar create a piece of art purely through the mental connection with the Host, without the Host actually doing anything—you would get better results if you gave a toddler a case of finger-paints.
As he stood looking at a particularly depressing installation, a series of comic panels titled ‘The Adventures of Tommy and Bumpo: The Story of an Artist and His Tortoise-Familiar,’ he heard a voice behind him.
“God, the Walk gets more pathetic each year.” Roger turned around. A young woman of about his own age stood behind him, looking at the comic panels. She was definitely an ‘artistic’ type, thought Roger: Black, curled hair that reached to her shoulders, curved glasses, a mixed blue-grey infinity scarf around her neck; a long, dark-purple rain jacket, black top with purple designs, a dark-purple skirt that came just to her knees, black leggings, and dark-grey flats.
Roger smirked. “Yeah” He looked around her – ground, shoulders, arms – but could not see anything else. On the very rarest of occasions, Manifestations would not occur at all. Roger had always had a twisted curiosity to meet just one person like this, but they mostly stayed isolated, formed communities of support. But this girl, could she…? “Hey, I don’t mean to be rude, but—where’s your…?”
The young woman slowly raised her left arm straight out in front of her, palm up. A shimmer appeared just above her left shoulder and extended down her arm. The shimmer waved brown and then dark-green. A reptile appeared on her arm that just covered its full length.
Roger raised his eyebrows, “A—chameleon?” he asked
“Flat-tailed Gecko,” said the woman. “But essentially right—it has the same camouflage mechanism.” The Gecko crawled onto her Host’s shoulder.
Roger nodded, turned the corners of his mouth down, and raised his eyebrows. “Unique.” He hated using the word, but it was all that came to his mind just then.
The woman gestured with her right hand toward the squid wrapped around Roger’s shoulder. “I could definitely say the same thing about you.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, shrugging. “I suppose so.”
The woman stepped closer to him and crossed her arms. He could smell her perfume. “Be honest,” she said, almost in a whisper. “Were you disappointed when he Manifested?”
Roger looked at his Familiar with a slightly pained expression. “A little – yes.”
“Hm—don’t worry.” She said, backing up a step and speaking normally “I know exactly what you mean. I remember so badly wanting a Grey Tabby-cat or a Persian – or a unicorn, before Manifestation. When I got this beauty, I was terribly upset at first—slightly disgusted, even. But then, just one day, I finally realized something I’ve never forgotten.”
“Yeah,” said Roger, “what’s that?”
“Being different from everyone else?” she said “It’s not a sin.” - and then she winked at him.
Roger blushed and turned away; he was slightly annoyed with himself that he could not suppress a smile. He nodded his head, sighed, and looked back at the installation.
“Well if it isn’t The Artful Roger!”
Roger turned to the sound of the voice. It was Bradley, a friend from the architectural program, a black lab trotting happily beside him. As a rule, the competitiveness of the program did not offer many opportunities for strong friendships. Most of the students saw others not as peers, but as possible hurdles to their future employment and success. But Bradley was different, and Roger appreciated having a friend in the program that was intelligent without being a complete jerk.
“Hey, man,” said Roger
“So, you’re up tomorrow, huh?”
“Yeah—,” he said
“Hey, don’t sweat it, man,” said Bradley “you’ll do fine.”
“Listen, I’m starving—you want to go over to Jimmy’s and get a pizza?”
“You just want to flirt with that one waitress and stare at her legs,” said Roger.
“Yeah,” said Bradley “and? I mean, her Familiar is a freaking fox. If that isn’t Bonding done right, I don’t know what is.”
Roger guffawed. He looked behind him, but the young woman had disappeared.
The next day, Roger felt better than he had in a long while. Why should he be depressed? He was doing well in a competitive program, was dating a gorgeous girl that actually seemed to like him, and his Familiar meant that he was unique—special. What was the problem? He dressed for his presentation and headed toward the architectural college with a renewed sense of purpose.
The large room was filled for the end-of-semester exhibitions, though Roger was one of only three students presenting that day. His blueprints had been rolled and placed in one of the plastic cylinders that leaned against the wall. When his name was called, Roger made his way to the front. After making some preliminary remarks about the philosophy behind his design, he rolled out the blueprint of the restaurant and laid it on the table below the classroom projector.
An audible gasp came from the classroom. Roger, who was centering the image on the projector, looked down at the table. Around the outline of the restaurant were dozens of dark circles. No, not circles, spots.
… ink spots.
Outdoor tables, thought Roger. Several of these spots had run down the blueprint. It was ruined. He looked down at his Familiar, who had turned ashen from fright—much like his Host. Roger took a moment to collect himself and then looked up at the assembled class. “Well,” he said, “it looks like I’m going to just talk through the design today.”
After the class ended, he met with the professor and explained what exactly had happened.
“It’s all right Roger,” said the Instructor. “I knew it must have been an accident. You know, I remember I had one student whose Familiar was a mountain goat—tore his prints to shreds.”
“Okay so—I’m good?”
“Well,” shrugged the professor, “I’m afraid I am going to have to ask you to re-draft the design. It’s the only way I can be fair to the other students. However, I am willing to give you an incomplete if you need more time after the semester—you can just bring the design to my office when you finish.”
Roger sighed and nodded. “Okay…” he said, and left the room, shoulders bowed.
Roger sat outside the architectural college that afternoon, arms crossed, thinking. His Familiar sat on the ground beside him, slumped into oblivion. Roger’s cell phone rang. It was his mom.
“Hey mom,” he answered.
“Soooo,” she said, “how did it go?”
“Oh no! What happened?”
He looked down at the lump beside him. “Um—it just wasn’t quite as ready as I thought it was.”
“Did you speak with the instructor?” said another voice, “You never know, sometimes they’ll let you try again.”
“Oh, hey dad,” said Roger “yeah, I did and he’s letting me re-do the draft.”
There was a pause.
“I was going through some of the stuff in your room yesterday, and I came across those paintings you used to do in Middle School and High School—you know, the sort of abstract ones with all the curves and everything?”
“Do you want those?”
Roger sighed, “Uh…nah.”
“Oh, okay … do you remember those?” asked his mom “Do you still do any of them?”
Roger scoffed, “Not exactly, no.”
“Oh,” she said, “but those were so good!”
“I think the boy has more important things to worry about, Laura,” said Steve.
“Well, yeah—I guess so,” said Laura
“So,” said Roger’s father. “If you don’t mind my asking—what happened exactly?”
Roger looked at his Familiar. “It’s a long story,” he said.
Roger began the drive back to his apartment, brooding. He was coming up on the exit for Malcolm General when he made a snap decision, and took the exit toward the hospital. He looked at his Familiar in the passenger seat. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but this is my career now … I promise it won’t be – too terrible.”
Sensory Impedimental Chemicals, or impeda, are designed for one very specific purpose—to subdue or deaden completely the psycho-emotional connection (‘The Bond’) between Familiar and Host. Before the creation of modern-day chemical science and pharmaceuticals, impedas came in the form of electro-shock therapy or even brain surgery. Simply remove that part of the Host’s brain that produces the chemicals for Bonding. Unfortunately, these early methods meant that the Host would many times suffer intense mental or psychological trauma, and in the most severe cases, complete brain-deadness. Today, however, the same effects can be produced without damage to the Host through chemical injections, or even pharmaceuticals. Though, in some cases…
Roger Whitcomb walked up to the reception desk in the Hospital’s Lobby. The receptionist had a white ermine curled around her shoulders.
“Um—hello,” said Roger. “Where can I go to schedule a—a Bonding Evaluation?”
“Psych Lab,” said the receptionist, pointing. “down that way.”
When Roger entered the psych-lab, the receptionist, a college intern, looked up to greet him.
“Oh!” said Roger, breaking into a smile “I - uh…”
The girl placed her right elbow on the table and leaned her head in her hand. She returned Roger’s smile with a broad one of her own. “Hi,” she said. Roger felt his face flush. “well,” she said, “this is — interesting.” A shimmer in the air by her left arm announced the arrival of the flat-tailed gecko that soon appeared.
“So,” asked Roger, “you work here?”
“—ish,” said the young woman. “I intern. I’m applying for the Psych School over the summer—internship is a good way to make your application stand out.”
“Makes sense.” He said
“So,” said the girl, “what can we help you with?”
Well, first—what’s your name?” asked Roger.
“Emma,” said the girl, smiling. “And you?”
Emma stood up and held out her hand. Not everyone can look cute in glasses and a lab coat, thought Roger, but this girl pulls it off. “Nice to officially meet you.”
Roger shook her hand. “You too.”
“So,” said Emma, “What can I—we do for you?”
“Um, actually,” said Roger looking at his Familiar, “I was wondering about a psych eval for – an impeda.”
“Oh?” Emma came around the desk and looked at Roger’s Familiar. “Hm—he doesn’t look too good.” She looked up at Roger. “What happened?”
Roger shrugged, “You know, it’s just—,”
Emma placed a hand on Roger’s arm. It was very sweet. “Tell me—please. I want to help.”
Roger looked around and motioned to one of the smaller rooms used for consultation. They went inside and sat down, and Roger told her about that day’s incident.
“Oh, gosh,” said Emma, “that’s awful!” She rested a hand on her chin and tapped her fingers on the table. “Hm—I don’t know. That behavior would certainly be classified as ‘disruptive’ rather than ‘dangerous’, but I can definitely understand your frustration—from personal experience, I might add.”
“Oh?” said Roger, “What sorts of things—?”
“Oh,” said Emma, sighing, “lying over keys and camouflaging because she didn’t want to leave the apartment, camouflaging over assignments for the same reason. Over my phone, my purse…anything that symbolized me spending time with anyone other than her.”
“Hm,” said Roger, “I understand the frustration.”
“Frustrating, yes” she said, “But it did actually get dangerous once or twice. She camouflaged over my front windshield once, right in front of the driver’s seat. I nearly hit someone getting out of my complex’s lot.”
“Oh,” said Roger. “Geez…”
“And then there was the one time she camouflaged over my epilepsy meds. Thatwas an interesting day.”
Roger scoffed “Oh man,” he said, “what did you do?”
“Well,” said Emma, “At first, I wanted to do what you are doing now—get an impeda and have done with it. But thankfully, someone convinced me to change my mind.”
“What did they say?”
“It was one of the counselors here, actually,” said Emma. “They said disruptive behavior might be the sign of a weak Bond—that you and your Familiar never really came together as you should.”
Roger felt his stomach sink. He knew she was right. It was not that his Familiar was uncontrollable, it was that the Bond with him had never fully formed. Ten years, and he had never really Bonded in the right way. His Familiar was only trying to, in his best way, do things that he thought would please his host; his Familiar just needed to feel that he could do one thing right. Roger felt a surge of guilt. He looked at his Familiar and sighed, two pees in a pod, he thought. He looked back up at Emma. “Did you find something?” he asked “Something to make the Bond stronger?”
Emma smiled, “Yes! And it was brilliant—let me show you. Stay here.” She walked out of the conference room and to her desk, she took something out of one of the drawers and put it in the pocket of her lab coat. She walked back into the room, took the material from her coat pocket, and placed it on the table. “I always have a couple of these with me,” she said. She laid them flat on the table in the conference room.
They were two rectangular pieces of cloth, and each was sown into a beautiful, complex pattern. “Before I went into Psychology,” said Emma, “I wanted to be a fashion designer.”
“What changed your mind?” said Roger.
“The need for a steady income, for one,” said Emma.
“Hm,” Roger nodded. He definitely understood what she meant. It was the struggle all artists face between calling and vocation, between the desire to create art and the need to make a living—that sort of tension can tear someone apart, and Roger realized, maybe even for the first time, that he was feeling it keenly. No wonder my Bond is so brittle.
“That’s why I was at the Walk the other night—I always go there to look for patterns, but these I sew myself.” Emma placed the two cloth rectangles in front of her, faced long-ways on her left and right. “I took something I had a passion for, something my Familiar would want to be a part of, and made it a symbiotic activity. She hasn’t acted out since. More importantly, the Bond between us is incredibly strong. I can feel it—every day.”
She looked at each pattern in turn, thinking. “Let’s go—here.” She placed her right hand on the cloth in front of her on the right. It was a beautiful dark-burgundy cloth with swirls of greens, greys and dark yellows accentuated by red and green flowers which appeared throughout. The gecko, who had once again become a shimmer on Emma’s shoulder, walked down her right arm onto the pattern. The gecko camouflaged itself to match the pattern. It then walked back up Emma’s arm and curled itself comfortably around her neck. All at once, Emma was sporting what looked like a beautifully painted, gecko-shaped necklace. “There,” she said, “Fashion by Familiar.”
Roger sat up, mouth agape. “Emma,” he said “that’s brilliant!”
“Oh,” she said, blushing, “thanks!”
“But, I mean—do you realize what this is? You have actually found a way to create symbiotic art!”
“Hm,” she said, “I never thought of it that way - but I guess you’re right.”
Roger sat back. “Okay,” he said, “See—that’s what I need—if I could just find somethinglike that, I could finally create a strong Bond, I know it.” He thought for a moment. “You know, we have a similar background.”
“Oh?” said Emma, “In what way?”
“Growing up, I wanted to be a painter. I used to paint all the time when I was a kid, before Manifestation.”
“What did you paint?”
“It was unusual for a kid, actually, now that I think about it,” said Roger “It wasn’t puppies or trees or anything like that—it was these really abstract pieces with all these swirling lines and patterns. Really complex for a pre-teen when I think about it now.” I should have asked for those sketches mom found, he thought to himself.
“Why did you stop?” asked Emma.
“Same as you,” said Roger, “adulthood and its responsibilities called.”
Emma smiled and nodded, “I thought so,” she said.
“What do you mean?” asked Roger.
“When I saw you at the Walk, I recognized the look on your face immediately. It was the same one I had on my face for years.”
“What’s that?” asked Roger.
“The look of someone who desperately wants to participate in what they see around them, but just can’t.”
Roger raised an eyebrow, “Hm!”
“You’re an artist, Roger—I can definitely see it. And then there was another thing. You know, I’ve never seen another person with a flat-tailed gecko as a Familiar. When I saw you, I felt - sympathetic - almost at once.”
Roger nodded. “Yeah,” he said, “same here.”
“Right—and now, what you said about having to stop making art, and your difficulties with Bonding—it makes perfect sense! The desire to create art is a part of you—your Familiar needsthat connection.”
Roger sighed and rubbed his forehead, “So, what should I do?” he said “I like the idea of creating symbiotic art, but – I mean, this guy can’t exactly handle a brush.”
Emma sat back. She looked at a clock on the wall. “I have an idea,” she said. “If you can wait about ten minutes for me to clock out for the day, I have somewhere I want to take you.”
Roger smirked, “Okay,” he said, “let’s do it.”
Malcolm General stood near one of the large commercial plazas in the center of the city, and just a few minutes’ walk took Roger and Emma to where Emma wanted to go. “Let’s see,” said Emma—it’s somewhere around here—ah.” Emma made her way to a large section of a strip of shops. At first, Roger thought it was abandoned or up for rent, but it turned out to be a large, open warehouse of sorts. The sign above the door read ‘Make Art with Your Familiar!’
Roger groaned, “Ugh—not these guys. Are you serious?”
“Oh, come on Roger,” said Emma. “Just give it a shot—you have to start somewhere.”
Roger shrugged, “all right,” he said.
Roger and Emma walked into the warehouse. Roger looked around—there were several different projects going on in various corners of the space, but nothing to really inspire confidence. The few people there were mostly young teens with paint-brushes sketching their Familiars. A few moved their Familiar with their bond to dip their paws or feathers (or fins) in paint and then apply them to the canvas, with varying success. In one corner, Roger watched a particularly nasty-looking boy dip his beaver-Familiar’s back into a paint can and then repeatedly slap it against the canvas by the tail. Not too sure about this, he thought.
A middle-aged man at the reception desk looked up. A large turtle on the desk beside him poked his head out from inside its shell. “Oh,” he said, “hey Emma.”
“Hey Trevor,” she motioned to Roger. “This is Roger, a local, aspiring artist I met at the Walk the other night.”
Trevor smiled, “Welcome!”
Emma turned to Roger, “Trevor adjuncts one of the Fashion courses I’m in. He helped start this business.” She turned back to the desk. “Is one of the project rooms free?” she asked, “I’d like an hour.”
Trevor looked down at a schedule on his desk “Uh…yeah, no problem—twenty bucks.”
Emma took out her cash and handed him two bills with the well-known face of Alexander Hamilton centered, a marmoset perched on his left shoulder.
Roger took out his wallet and opened it. He sucked his teeth, “Sorry,” he said to Emma, “I don’t have any cash with me.”
Trevor waved his hand, “Tell you what,” he said, “first-time visitor and friend of Emma’s, we’ll put it on the house.”
“Thanks, Trevor!” said Emma.
“Yeah,” said Roger, “thanks.”
Trevor stood and looked around. His eyes landed on a guy that looked to be a high-School senior. “Billy,” he said, “come and take over the desk for a second.”
“Yes, Sir.” The young man and his border collie trotted to the desk.
“All right,” said Trevor, “come into my parlor.” Trevor led the two to a space in the back of the warehouse, behind a partition. “This is where we keep materials for people eighteen and over,” he explained, “metal for welding, wood for carpentry, paints, brushes, canvases—anything to help an artist explore and create. The only rule is that you must attempt to create something symbiotically. The use of the space is monitored by one of our staff at all times, and as long as you’re making a serious effort to be symbiotic, keep yourself safe, and don’t turn anything into a weapon, you’re only limited by your own creativity — and the one-hour session time, of course.” Trevor smiled as he said this last bit.
Roger looked around. “This is all amazing, really,” he said. He looked at Emma, “I was wrong—I should have come here much earlier. But I don’t know—nothing has worked so far. Besides, this isn’t going to help get my degree.”
Emma looked up at Trevor and smirked. Trevor smiled back. “Did I miss something?” said Roger.
“Emma,” said Trevor, “Tell Roger what I say in class almost every week—it goes right to the heart of his concern.”
“You say it better than any of us,” said Emma
Trevor turned to Roger and put a hand on his shoulder. “My friend, we work so that we can live, but we make art to remind ourselves why we’re alive!”
“Besides,” said Emma, “You need this, remember? For the sake of your Bond—so that you can become the designer – the person- you need to be.”
“Does she have a project in mind for you?” asked Trevor.
“Not sure,” said Roger, “I guess that’s what we’re here to find out.”
As they made their way to the back of the warehouse, something caught Roger’s eye. It looked like a large, glass tank. As it turned out, this is exactly what it was. “What is this?” asked Roger, pointing to the tank.
“Ah,” said Trevor, “this is what I wanted to show you first. It’s the first thing that came to my mind when I noticed your — aquatic Familiar.”
Trevor and the two younger people made their way to the tank. It was like a large aquarium, but filled with something that, though it looked like water, seemed to be a bit thicker. Encased in the tank were several species of fish, frozen in place. They were larger than life, so Roger knew at once these were several Familiars, placed like a still-life. In the room facing the tank was a group of people looking at the tank and sketching on pads.
“The tank,” said Trevor, “is filled with a translucent gel that behaves like water. The idea is that you navigate several Familiars into place through the mental Bond, and once you have them all where you want them — viola. Instant still-life! Just sketch what you have, or take a picture and then print it out. It’s not true symbiotic art, per say, since the Familiars just sit there. But one of our regulars, an engineer, came up with the idea and it’s become our most popular installation. We get dozens in here to create still-life scenes; and not just sea-creatures, either. Since Familiars don’t actually use or need oxygen, it’s worked for a variety of things. One guy came in here with a few friends, made tree cut-outs from our lumber-pile, and re-created a jungle scene with his and his friend’s Familiars — monkeys, a couple lemurs, and a macaw. That was a fun one.”
Roger looked at the tank a good while without speaking. He was turning something over in his mind. He shot a look at his Familiar.
Yes, I understand – do it.
“Roger,” said Emma, “what is it?”
Roger looked at Trevor “Have you ever tried adding any coloring to the gel?” he said, “paint or anything like that? Would it even show up?”
“It would depend on the viscosity of the material used for coloring,” said one of the men sketching. “But yeah, it should show up.”
Roger looked at Trevor. “How much does the gel for the tank cost?”
“Well, it’s not cheap,” He said, “but this installation’s been so popular, it’s paid for itself a couple of times over already. Why?” he asked, “are you planning to ruin my tank?”
“Maybe,” said Roger, “Would you-all mind if I had the tank to myself for a few minutes?” The group in front of the tank looked up at Roger, silent.
“Come on guys,” said Trevor. “Your hour’s been up —take a picture and finish the sketch tomorrow. I have a feeling we’ll all want to see this.”
Emma looked at Roger expectantly, “What are you thinking?” she asked.
“I’m thinking it just might work,” he said. The other people in the room maneuvered their Familiars out of the tank.
Then Roger closed his eyes…
Roger’s Familiar suddenly sat upright, alert. He wriggled his way to the large tank and tumbled up one of the transparent walls on his suction cups. He dove in, and then positioned himself near the back of the tank in the exact center of the space. He turned himself so that his tentacles were facing the tank’s front wall. In his mind, Roger envisioned a pattern. He smirked when he realized it was one of the patterns he used to draw as a child, even before Manifestation. Roger’s Familiar opened all his tentacles to their fullest extent, and shot out a long stream of black ink.
The group looking at the tank gasped.
“Ho-ly shoot,” breathed Trevor.
“Oh, Roger,” said Emma, “It’s beautiful!”
Staring back at those gathered in front of the tank was a large canvas filled with the most intricately sketched pattern any of them had ever seen — swirls, circles, crosses, dots. It was absolutely mesmerizing.
Trevor looked at Roger. “Roger,” he said, “I believe you may have just succeeded in creating the first truly symbiotic work of art in the last seventy years. Quick—someone take a picture before the gel mixes it up.”
“Well,” said Roger weakly, “would you look at that?” He then groaned and fell backward onto the floor with a sickening thud.
“Roger!” Emma ran and kneeled down next to him. He was senseless. She bent over him and placed a hand on his cheek. “Roger…Roger, can you hear me? Oh…”
Roger’s eyes blinked open. He smiled up at Emma. Emma smiled back, her face slightly crimson. She helped him to his feet. He was still a little shaky, and he leaned on her for support. “Roger,” she asked, “what—?”
“The Bond.” he said. “Ten years of it—coming together all at once.” He smiled. A warmth spread through his entire body—he had never felt anything like it before. He felt complete.
A picture was taken of the design. A crowd started to gather around the tank. Trevor pulled out his phone. “Will—hey…yes, I know it’s your day off—but you’re going to want to come in and see this. One hour? Okay…” He turned the phone off.
One from the group that was sketching the still-life came up to Roger, followed by a stingray. “So, I’m a chemist by trade,” he said. “I know the sort of gel Trevor has in the tank here, and if we can empty it and fill it again, I think I might be able to do something very cool.”
“Okay,” said Roger. “Sounds great!” He would have agreed to anything just now.
It took an hour for the tank to be emptied and refilled, and the chemist who spoke with Roger earlier, came back after this was done. “Okay,” he said. “I added an extra chemical to the mix. If this works like it ought to, it should be pretty spectacular.”
A man with a pigeon on his shoulder came into the project room just as Roger’s Familiar climbed back into the tank. “What did you want me to see, Trevor?”
“Oh—hi Will,” said Trevor. He pointed to the tank: “take a look.”
Roger’s Familiar positioned himself again. Roger pulled up the image of another pattern from childhood in his mind. The squid in the tank turned and spread out his tentacles. Ink shot out, and another beautiful pattern appeared. But this time, the pattern appeared in a rainbow of colors.
Will’s mouth dropped open. He looked at Roger. “Come into my office for a second,” he said.
Ten minutes later, Roger left Will’s office with several papers in his hands.
“What is that?” said Emma.
“It’s a contract – I have agreed to let my work be displayed in a public exhibition!”
Suddenly, Roger heard his phone vibrate. He took it out; the screen read ‘3 missed calls from Chloe’. “Uh Oh,” he said.
He called Chloe’s number. “I’m so sorry, I lost track of time—no, everything’s fine—better than fine, actually. Yeah, I’ll see you in a bit.”
“Who was that?”
“Oh that was—um—my girlfriend.”
“Oh,” said Emma. “Nice. Um, Listen—do you mind if I ask you a huge favor?”
“I know it’s really late,” she said, “but I missed the last bus on my route about an hour ago—would you mind driving me back to my apartment?”
“Uh—sure,” said Roger. “No problem.”
It was late in the evening when Roger finally reached Emma’s complex. She got out of the car, but turned back, holding the door open. “Hey,” she said, “you want to come up for a minute—have a drink?”
Roger thought of Chloe’s texts. “Oh—sorry, I really should go. My girlfriend …”
Emma tossed her head. “Oh, right,” she said, “of course.” She sighed. “Take care!” She walked up to her door and opened it, eyes downcast. Roger watched as she closed the door behind her and walked the stairs up to her apartment, head bowed and looking at the steps. He looked out of his car’s window for another minute. He then looked down at his phone and let out a protracted sigh.
Several minutes had passed when a knock came on Emma’s door. “Come in,” she said.
Roger opened the door and saw Emma sitting on a couch in her front room, facing a blank television screen. She was in her pajamas, curled up on the couch, clutching her Familiar in her arms. When she raised her face to him he could see that there were tears on her cheeks, and that her eyes were a little red. She looked at him, her mouth beginning to move but no sound coming.
“Oh hey…yeah,” said Roger, looking at the ground and scratching his neck. “Listen—I don’t—I mean, everything today happened so fast…I just, I mean, it was great—but…I can’t…”
He looked at Emma. The corners of her mouth trembled, and she used a hand to wipe a tear from her face. She clutched her Familiar tighter.
Roger looked away. Oh, for God’s sake. He walked over to her and locked his arms behind her. She threw her arms around his neck. Their lips met. Lips locked, Roger stood up, raising Emma to her feet. The two of them stood in a mutual embrace for several seconds, drinking in another long kiss. The kiss ended, but they continued to hold onto one another pretty closely.
Emma placed a hand behind Roger’s head, stroking it. “Everything okay?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Roger, smiling. “Definitely.”
There was another long kiss.
Finally, the two stood looking at each other. “Listen,” said Emma. “do you mind if we … wait? Take things slow?”
“Oh,” said Roger. “Yeah—sure. No problem. We are—‘unique’, right?”
Emma laughed, “right”. She smiled, “thank you,” she said.
They kissed once more. Roger, with great difficulty, pulled away. “So—I should probably get back, actually.”
“Oh,” said Emma. “Right—finish your design—it will be great, I just know it.”
Roger smiled. “Thanks - See you soon?”
“Oh yeah,” said Emma, smiling. “Definitely.”
Roger left the apartment and took out his phone. He sighed and punched a contact name. “Chloe—yeah, hey. Listen…we need to talk.”
Two days later, Roger and Emma sat together outside a café by the Malcolm campus.
“I hope Chloe wasn’t too upset?” said Emma.
“No,” said Roger. “Actually, it turned out to be a good thing. She had been having doubts for some time—and apparently had her eye on a guy in the business school.”
“Oh,” said Emma, “well—that’s convenient.”
Roger smirked and rolled his eyes.
“So,” said Emma, “What are you going to do?”
“Well, that exhibition for one,” said Roger. “Some places are even starting to use that gel for decor.”
“You are a pioneer!” said Emma.
“We’ll see,” said Roger. He added, smiling. “But hey—I took a page from your book today.”
“Oh?” said Emma.
“Yeah—went to my advisor and added a second major—Art and décor—it will add about a year to the degree, but I’ll finally get back to painting again.” He looked at Emma. “Emma—how can I thank you? You have no idea how much you’ve helped me over the last few days.”
“I think I have some idea,” she said, smiling.
Roger guffawed. “Right,” he said. “Speaking of which—what do you think of my offer?”
Emma breathed in deep and then sighed. “Well,” she said, “it’s not that I don’t likeit.” She looked at her Familiar, who chirped in approval. “But it might be a little too soon to think about—”
“Moving in?” said Roger.
“Yeah,” said Emma. “We’re—unique—remember?”
Roger smiled and nodded. “Okay—hey, we do what the lady asks.”
“That’s right,” said Emma, smiling. “Plus, I think it keeps things interesting, leaves a little mystery. I mean, you don’t want things to get — you know.”
Roger smiled. “I think I know exactly what you mean,” he said.
Chris Dickinson is a teacher of English Literature at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Florida. He has spent the last decade earning a Doctorate in the field of Victorian Literature, but his first love has always been the science-fiction and fantasy stories he read as a child.