Fae Goes to the Shelter

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Chapter I.XIV

"Ma'am, are you aware you're heading to Boring?"

"What even kind of question is that. Yes, I'm fully aware."

I was parked on the side of a paved but not particularly maintained woodland road, somewhere up in Oregon. I wasn't usually so irritable — had I stopped for anything but gas since leaving from San Diego?

"Any particular reason you're headed there?"

"Look, do you need license and registration? I can take a speeding ticket, I have been a little antsy and that might have come through as speed."

The officer paused. I tried to read his expression, but found that strangely difficult. He was an average man, by no means extraordinary, but something about him is impossible to put into writing. It only really struck me after the fact, when I tried to describe him to people, but in the moment it barely even registered.

"Yes, license and registration please."

I dutifully pulled my license out of my pocket and handed it to the officer, and was then fishing for the registration from my glove box when:

"Faeowynn Wilson?"

"Yes?"

"Relation to Tim Wilson?"

"Uh — yes, actually."

"Nevermind," he passed me back my license, "have a safe trip."

"Wha—" but he had already begun to walk away. I leaned out the window to yell at him: "But what was I pulled over for?"

He nonchalantly waved a hand at me without turning around, got into his patrol car, and pulled a U-turn to speed off. I watched until he was out of sight around a turn, and then rolled up my window. Huh, wow, I thought to myself. The police up here really are as strange as Tim said. Good to know.

And then I pulled back onto the road, and nearly forgot the whole thing ever happened.


* * * * *


I don't know if there is a perfect way to describe just how surprising it was when I finally saw the Wilson's Wildlife Solutions building. Whatever the consensus may be about how large a wildlife shelter typically is, the avocado- and mint-green building was several times bigger than that. To say it was imposing would be wrong — it was all-in-all a very welcoming aesthetic. The style of walls I would almost call Mexican; that same texture, just if it were green, but the pueblo look of those somehow rounded ninety-degree angles and flat, shingle-less rooftops. It was on top of a not insignificant wooded hill, conspicuously tucked behind a more residential area, making it not only an unusually large building, but an unusually secluded one — like an inner city office crammed wherever there was space for it. On a cursory glance, I counted two stories, but it filled out on the sides so far that the Pentagon came to mind.

I pulled into their dirt parking lot, that somehow had streetlights but not pavement, and sat in my parked car for a moment simply to appreciate what had been built here. In the wake of such a structure, the last thing that came to mind was "nonprofit". What sly businessman was Tim to have made something so large out of something by nature so small? They clearly had money to spare — the sign pronouncing loud and clear Wilson's Wildlife Solutions looked like multilayered metal, with chocolate-brown for the letters and a design of white-green leaves behind it. If I were a citizen in this town who donated to the Shelter, I would have to wonder where my money was going, to be quite frank.

I got out of my car and made my way up a small cobblestone path that led to the entrance, taking note of another road that came out of the parking lot and led around the back. I assumed such a street would be used to load and unload animals, and deploy whatever vehicles they had.

The front doors were glass, flourished with the same white leaf pattern as a trim along the sides, and brown silhouettes of animals dotted around.

I pressed my hand against the glass, and hesitated at some mental block. But then, I pushed through. The lobby was more reasonably sized, I felt, though it had an exhorbitant number of what looked like hunting trophies, except that plaques gave them all names. And were they imported? Familiar to Northern America were the bald eagle, deer, brown bear, and river otter, but I also spied an ostrich, spider monkey, and was that an elephant seal?

"Hello, how may I help you?"

My attention snapped to the sole receptionist, a chubby woman with straight brown hair and an inviting smile (as all good receptionists have). I walked to the desk and saw that she had a crutch leaning against the counter, and was actually sitting in a very high chair, despite the appearance of standing one might get when coming through the front door.

"Hello, ah," I read her name tag, "Sarah. I'm Faeowynn Wilson, and I'm here to see my dad."

"Oh! Fae! I've heard a lot about you!"

I smiled politely. "I'm sure you have."

"Tim's office is right this way." She started to fumble to her feet.

"Oh, no, if you could just direct me, you don't have to, uhh…"

"Don't worry, don't worry. I'm supposed to walk on it."

"Oh, heh, okay." She started down the hallway to my right, her left, and I followed close behind, making sure not to outpace her. "So, what's with all the animals in the lobby?"

"Those are our 'dearly departed', animals who died in our care but not before they made a home in our hearts. The star of the show is definitely Copper. He's going to be right in the middle of the lobby once we get a little fountain up."

"And what was with the, uhh… the ostrich?"

"Oh, Miracle Jr.? What about her?"

I screwed my face at that remark, but decided just to brush it off. "What's so special about Copper?"

"Our taking care of him was sort of the turning point for our whole organization. Pushed us more towards the care side of things than the capture, recuperate, and release. We're now both a hospital and a home, for those we can't let back out. I'm sure you know all that already, though. Tim never told you about Copper?"

I briefly remembered that conversation I had with both my mom and Tim, over half a decade ago. "It came up once. I must have forgotten."

"Mhmm. He's just about the most important animal we've ever had in our care. Well, the one remembered fondly. You must know of… well, you know." Sarah pointed at her mangled right leg. "I actually lost this in the same blast that took out Copper. Copper died but looks pristine. I live but I've got a lot of healing to do. Thankfully I've been befriending a healing rabbit, Apple, but she's one of those that we're going to release back into the wild soon. They've actually just extended her stay because of me. I feel a bit bad about it."

Red flags were going off left and right. I had no clue what the response would be if I asked about the crazier parts of her story, but I suddenly realized that "healing" must have meant "therapeutic", and relaxed a little bit. "What, uh, what blast?"

"You don't know…? The polar bear?"

What the fuck is she talking about, I thought. Some of that thought must have come across in my look, because she at once wore a dejected expression, and turned away from me. "Um, here is Tim's office." She turned around instantly, and hobbled back down the corridor, towards the front desk. Sure enough, this was Tim's office — a cocoa door with his name on it and everything.

Worrying thoughts shot through my head, but they were non-committal in every way. They were only worrying because I was worried. First among them was, what is going on here? and the rest that followed were a fractal, twisting and expounding on the first thought, coming in on themselves and then elaborating for infinity. There was no end. No conclusion. I couldn't think of a single answer that would truly solve what I was seeing and experiencing.

"You should visit him sometime," Mom had said. Was this what she saw? I considered my mom a well-grounded person. This was not a well-grounded scenario.

But, then again, I considered her well-grounded, and she had visited. She'd come back from this, and I had noticed nothing significantly different. She was fine. I would be fine. And I needed to talk to Tim. Alright then. I breathed in deep. I stretched my back. I placed a hand on the knob, and I opened the door.

Inside was an office, just as I expected it. There was an irregularly-shaped natural-wood desk, highly polished but still with all the rings and protrusions of the tree it was cut from, in the middle of the room. On the walls were shelves upon shelves, filled both with files and with personality, such as images of people I recognized as my step-mom Alice and my half-brothers Anders and Robin. The room was made of the same greens as the entire rest of the building. I logged in my mind that this was the color palette of Tim.

But I didn't spend a long time taking this all in, as something else caught my attention. Tim was sitting behind the desk; his golden placard with his name on it sat just in front of him, next to a cup filled with pens, a mug, and a small bowl of putty. But to my left, there was another person. A man, almost militant. The first thing I thought, after considering his buzz cut, muscular build, and camouflage-green uniform, was that he might be a bodyguard.

Our eyes locked. A bodyguard? Why? This felt like my second opportunity to run. I didn't want to be there in the first place. I had come out of some feeling of obligation, like this conversation I was to have with Tim was entirely unavoidable.

"John, this is my uh, my daughter, Faeowynn Wilson. Fae, Captain John Schut."

John stood and extended a hand forcefully in my direction, which I rather timidly shook.

"Nice to meet you," John growled in a way that made me question his sincerity. He sat back down, and Tim motioned me into the seat opposite himself. I took it without speaking, all the while my brow got sorer and sorer from this look I couldn't shake off of me. This what-the-hell-is-going-on-here look.

"Did I walk in on a meeting?" I got out, slowly and carefully.

"No, no, ahh, we're both here, for you!"

"For me?"

"A-yeap," said John again, his deep powerful voice reminding me of a 60's actor I couldn't place.

"I didn't tell anyone I was coming."

"N-no, you didn't. Not except the patrolman, coming in."

I squinted. "You're paired with the police?"

"Now, now, F-Fae, look, this is starting in a strange place. If you had told people you were coming up, we could have planned this a bit better, now, but, we're rather sprung-upon, you know, and… this isn't an elegant… as elegant a meeting as I would have hoped, heheh!"

Tim winced the whole time, clenching and unclenching a fist over his chest. I looked between him and "Captain" Schut. One thing hadn't changed; I felt like Tim had a lot of explaining to do.

"Alright, then. What's going on. Tell me."

Tim sighed. "Well, no. Telling won't prove it to you. I tried that, and you… didn't believe me. Though part of that was that some of the evidence was missing. It's a long story, heheh! Ahh… but, no, you need to be shown, or else you won't believe me. So will you…?"

Tim started to get up, and looked pleadingly at me. I was standing up and following him out the door before I could think. Schut walked close behind me, as I walked close behind Tim. From the outside, I had judged that the building would have been a sprawling maze, much like I imagined any governmental establishment, but there are windows everywhere you turned and signs clearly pointing out the directions to follow. We were, apparently, headed outside, behind the building, to the enclosures. Soon we emerged, and I got a view of the building from the other side.

It is a large U, the front of the building being the bottom of the letter, and so I found myself in the clearing hugged on both sides by the arms of the headquarters; a clearing full of decorative flora, winding dirt and cobble trails, a sparse number of extraordinarily tall trees, and all throughout there are these smaller buildings. The enclosures. A dirt road makes a circle around them all, with clear convenient access to each building for loading and unloading what I imagined would be animals, feed, and miscellaneous equipment.

"You should have seen what this looked like before, the landscaping required was extraordinary, heheh!" I wondered why Tim said that, then realized I needed to shut my mouth. "We haven't talked about animals since you were a lot younger, because… you asked… so I don't know your current tastes, but, I remember you liking birds a lot, so we're going to the aviary!"

As we walked down the path, I realized that the clearing isn't even completely flat, but a little concave, like they'd made a Wilson's Wildlife crater. "The aviary is close by, too, because — hi, Feather!"

"Hello!" A young, short lady with dyed purple hair and a good many piercings was pulling a coil of hose out of the back of a mint-green van. "How are you today?"

"Wonderful! This is my, ah, daughter, F-uh, Faeowynn!"

"Your what!?"

She stopped what she was doing and came up to greet me. I stuck my hand out for a handshake, but she went in for a hug that came too quick for me to stop. "You finally visited! Tim's been talking about you coming for years."

"…Nice to meet you too, Feather."

"Feather," interjected Tim, "which bird should Fae see first?"

"I don't pick favorites and you know that."

"I know, I know. I just mean… what's the most spectacular? Craziest?"

"Craziest?"

"Yes, craziest."

"Well, that's gotta be none other than Henry."

"Henry?" I muttered.

"Henry, yes," Tim hummed in approval. "Heave-ho to Henry then!"

"You got it!"

We then started following Feather, who broke out her keys and opened the building labelled 1-5, with the subtitle aviary. Even within the first inch of the door creaking open, I began to hear the squawking, tweeting, singing, and croaking of what seemed like a thousand different birds.

"Hello babies!" Feather sang into the building, at which I thought I heard the chirping swell. Inside, I beheld a flurry of feathers; the building is an O shape, with the center being the largest birdcage I have ever seen. It covers over half of the floor on the bottom level, and through it I could see that there is not only a second level, but also access to the cage from the roof, meaning the cage itself was three stories tall. I didn't even notice, in this first visit, that the cage is divided into sections, so that birds that might prey on each other or otherwise feud were kept separate. At the time, I was too awestruck at the scale of the thing. Well, the scale and something else.

"Are those kiwis?"

The small, brown, plump little ground-walkers were treading the soft grassy ground — so extremely natural-looking that I had no choice but to come to the conclusion that it was actual forest floor, and they had built the building around it while leaving it in place.

"That they are!" Feather tweeted. "Though, since they're flightless and all, we're thinking of moving them to another enclosure. I think… 18?"

Tim nodded. "But we're still getting it ready for them. After…" Tim trailed off.

"After Emma passes, the rest of the kiwis will be able to be shipped off to New Zealand."

"Emma?" I asked. "Which one is Emma?"

"I think Henry is waiting," Tim said impatiently.

"Oh, uh, sure!" Feather beckoned us to follow her up a set of stairs. I had to avert my eyes from one of the large flood lights that were making sure every level of the enclosure felt like it had sunlight, no matter the time of day. On the second level, I was doubly surprised to discover that there is an "outer ring" — the aviary is right next to one of the humongous redwood trees, and, using the tree as a foundation, a walkway was made around it, and on it were more birdcages, though this time for small groups or individual birds. We circled the tree, and as we went I saw several more extremely out-of-place specimens.

There was a cockatoo; three budgies; a species I didn't recognize that I could only describe as "serpentine"; a pelican; a toucan; some bats (I guess those counted); seagulls; eight or so hummingbirds; what looked like rats with wings (I paused here but Captain Schut pushed me forward); and a few other unimaginable sights before we came upon:

A peacock.

"Hello, Henry!" Feather cooed.

What was remarkable was not the bird itself. Especially after seeing the rest of those exotic species, a peacock was relatively normal, actually. I remember interacting with peacocks that were allowed free roam of a zoo once, so I had not only seen them in person, but been on the same walkways as them before. No, what caught the eye were its surroundings.

It was pruning itself on a royal purple satin pillow, humbly ignoring the beautiful, polished silver bars around it that shone like they had been dipped in oil moments before I turned the corner. The floor of the cage was encrusted with verdant emeralds, fiery rubies, oceanic opals, and crystals I had no name for. Looking closer at the bars nearest me, I realized that they weren't simply shiny, but had tiny spirally markings all over, little engravings so subtle as to be shy about their impervious elegance.

"Why did you…?" I started, but couldn't finish, as I found myself rubbing the bars to try and see if I could feel the carvings.

"Henry's quite the artist, isn't he?"

I turned to Feather. "Are you really trying to tell me a bird did this?"

Feather was about to say something, but Tim cut in: "Caterpillar, please, indulge me one moment. Is there anything you would be alright… changing?"

"Changing?"

"It would be so easy to show you what I want to show you, but you have to be willing to give an item to Henry. If you see one of us do it, you'll think it's a trick, or some setup. So please. Is there anything?"

"Wait, you don't mean…" Feather put a hand to her mouth. "She doesn't know about…?"

I looked to Tim, who had redwood bark in his hair, and ran simulations in my mind. But none of them went anywhere. In fact, just about the only coherent thought I could hold onto was that I was having trouble thinking. So, without thinking, I took my phone out of my pocket, and pried off its case. "What do I do?"

"Your arm can fit through the bars, just, hold it into Henry's cage."

Aren't you supposed to not put your limbs in animal cages? But despite the thought, I found myself complying. I dumbly waved my phone case around in the ornate cage, trusting — though was I trusting? — that something would inevitably happen. For a moment, nothing did. I startled as I felt movement under my fingers.

The phone case slipped out of my hand when I jolted, and fell onto the floor of the cage. It was just a plain black phone case, barely any character to it at all, but I started to see it change before my eyes. Those same spirally engravings on the bars began to show up in a glittering white around its entire surface, and then they began to deviate, smaller spirals coming off of bigger spirals, and soon I noticed that it was making a face.

It was my face.

Faeowynn, or a caricature thereof, stared at me from an exemplary stylized work of art. The process took no more than thirty seconds, and then the peacock began pruning itself again (I hadn't noticed it was staring at the case until it stopped).

There was a silence as I simply held eye contact with the facade, half expecting it to begin moving and talking. That I could recognize myself in those spirals was a feat of the artwork. I sometimes didn't even recognize myself in the mirror. I suddenly realized that my arm was too close to what had ostensibly carved a new pattern into my phone case. I retracted it at lightning speed and quickly began to inspect it for damage.

"Henry loves spirals!" Feather spouted awkwardly. "He doesn't always do spirals, though. He hasn't been very experimental, lately."

"You never lied." My tone of voice put that right between a question and a statement. I believed it, but did I? Could I believe what I was seeing? Was this real?

"No, I never did."

I looked towards my dad, and I felt, for the first time in a long time, total honesty. A cleanness of character. I at once wanted to apologize for ever being a rational, thinking human being, with logical doubts and questions left unanswered. I wanted to rewind time and play over those conversations, through email or in person, in which I had dismissed or denied him. There felt like so much time lost, so much mistrust misplaced, that the bewilderment subsided and quickly gave way to shame.

And I might have. I very well might have broken then and there, but as I looked to Tim, a frog stuck itself in my throat, because a hand was on his shoulder, and behind him stood the mountain that was Captain John Schut, teeth grinding, who for all intents and purposes should have had a large, smoking cigar in his mouth.




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