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Mar 24, 2013



Mar 24, 2013

Beast: Manticore

Peaceful Cohabitation
(745 words)

"Not another step, Barry." I point to the white line painted across the center of the room, and the single red paw that just stepped over it. "You stick to your half!"

I glare at Barry. His eyes narrow, he crouches low, his barbed tail sways slowly back and forth. I've seen him do this dozens of times, but the sight of a predator about to pounce still triggers an instinctive cold sweat. Without breaking eye contact, I reach for the paper I was reading, crumple it up, and toss it at his face.

Barry flinches, and he pulls back his paw. The paper ball sails wide and tumbles to the floor, blending seamlessly with the discarded food containers and torn-up cardboard boxes that litter Barry's side of the living room.

"I was just playing, man. Chill out," he says. His voice grates on my nerves like an off-key instrument. He stretches, yawns, and prances over to lie down on the mutilated pile of stuffing that used to be my couch cushions. I'd pondered taking them back just as a matter of principle but it really wasn't worth stepping foot in Barry's territory for.

I ignore him, try to go back to my reading, but of course I'd just thrown that away. Once again, I ponder finding another place to live. Once again, I remind myself that Barry is paying three-quarters of the rent, and I can barely afford my share as it is.

A long, resigned sigh later, I resolve to go grocery shopping. I'll have to cross the neutral zone, but hopefully Barry's in one of his standoffish moods after what just happened. I'm nearly out the door, tying my second shoe, when his voice startles me from behind.

"You're going out?" Barry asks. God drat soft paws making him sneak everywhere. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Just gotta keep my cool, and hopefully this won't take long.

"Yes, Barry," I say through clenched teeth. Be calm, be polite. "Do you need anything from the store?"

"Nah..." he says. "Can you help me with a thing before you leave, though?"

loving...! Every time I try to go out! Every single time! "What?"

"I've got this itch. It's in my mane, I can't reach it by myself." He rubs his neck against the wall, as if to say: "This is what will happen to your furniture if you don't help me. Manticore hair everywhere!"

"Fine," I say. Intended or not, Barry's threat was clear enough. "Get over here."

He closes the distance in the blink of an eye, drat near giving me a heart attack in the process. I collect myself, then shove my hand into his crimson hair, somewhere in the transition zone between his humanlike face and leonine torso. His tail hovers at the edge of my vision, threatening me like giant, silent wasp. Of course, he would never do it. That'd be like signing his own death warrant even manticores can't get away with murder.

"Hey, uh, listen," Barry says, "I'm sorry about this. I know it's stupid, but it's just my nature, you know? Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim..."

Now this was a rarity! Introspection, from him? I almost feel a twinge of sympathy but of course, he's just making excuses for being an rear end.

"It's fine," I say. "Are we do-"

A flash of movement in the corner of my eye, and a searing pain shoots through my spine. Barry's tail retracts in slow motion as I fall to the floor.

"loving god drat it Barry!" The words come out as a hoarse whimper rather than a yell. A numbness is spreading from the spot where he stung me; I can't manage to turn my head.

"What?!" says Barry, sticking his face into my field of vision. He actually looks upset that I cursed at him. "I said I was sorry! Part scorpion, man, I gotta sting!"

I try to curse at him some more, really let him know how I feel before I expire, but all that comes out of my mouth is froth and gurgling noises.

"Well, if you're gonna be like that," Barry says, turning around, "I won't even bother eating you! Hmph!"

My last sight before the venom takes me is Barry's rear end, as he brazenly saunters into my side of the living room. My last thought is a vow to haunt him till the day he dies.

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