Mister Shine came to town

Maybe it was a mistake to come out here. The city is no place for people like me who are used to night skies and open spaces. I was enjoying one of them out here in the park, but the city lights were preventing my enjoyment of the other.

Of course, being different didn’t help either. Oh, I knew it was safer for furs in cities than out in the sticks, but most furs were at least otherwise normal enough to pass. But a tiger with a brightly-shining belly doesn’t have much in the way of life options. It’s a more distracting thing than, say, a tattoo, and not as easily covered. So that cut out the service industry, and I didn’t have the skills to make it in the higher classes of jobs. I had managed to find a job loading trucks down by the waterfront. I was the only one there who spoke English—everyone else there was an immigrant from Western Slobovistan—which gained me the right to real, live minimum wage.

I was having trouble meeting people though, with the hours I had to keep, and on my own I couldn’t afford a place on my pay, even if I decided to give up eating. So I was walking through the park tonight to reach my usual sleeping-place, behind some shrubbery on the east side, but when I got to the place I found it already occupied: a pink fox was sleeping under one of my blankets. I set down my pack and sat down and watched him a while.

Was it better to wake him, or let him sleep? I didn’t begrudge him the blanket, but I didn’t want him to think he was getting away with anything. Not that he was awake to think it…

An enormous snore ripped from him, and decided me. I nudged the form under the blanket with a paw. “Hey, kid,” I said. “Get up.”

The fox groggily opened his eyes and immediately wished he hadn’t. “Sweet Apollo,” he said. “Turn out that danged light!”

“I can’t,” I said. “I just wanted you to know that’s my blanket you’re borrowing. And that you snore like a fire engine. Try not to fall asleep again before I do. My name’s Billy, and I’ll meet you properly in the morning.”

The next morning I was up after he was; if he’d been able to sleep at all, I didn’t know. I got up and started packing my blankets; I had been leaving them here rather than lug them around, but clearly here wasn’t safe anymore.

“Thanks,” the fox said. “And sorry. You weren’t kidding about that light. Has it always been there?”

I finished tying my blanket rolls to my pack. A sunbeam came over the east wall and hit the bushes. “Yeah,” I said. “But I’ve really got to get to work now.”

“You have a job?” he said, following along as I picked up and started moving. “Can you help me then? I lost mine when my fur changed color. And my parents kicked me out because they thought I did it to spite them. I’m Jan. Where is it you work?”

“I load trucks. It’s a twelve-hour shift. If you have ID they’ll hire you proper, and if not, they’ll pay you under the table, no problem. They always need help but as you can tell, it’s not exactly a living wage.”

“Do you eat?” Jan said.


“Well, with a stomach like that, I didn’t know… but I haven’t eaten since I got here…”

“And you can’t work on an empty stomach. I’ll buy you breakfast, for now. But once you start getting paid, you’re buying your own.”

“I’ll buy you breakfast, then, to make up for it. Thanks.”

“It takes a lot of fuel to fill this tank,” I said. “I won’t hold you to that.”

I bought him a short stack and got myself the lumberjack meal, which is essentially ‘one of everything, drowned in syrup.’ Tina the morning waitress calls it ‘a Shine special’ when she yells it back to the kitchen, and they understand. We sit at a booth in the back; I face the wall so my light doesn’t blind customers or passing traffic; Jan sits across from me, his shadow up large on the dingy wall behind him.

When Tina brings our plates, she passes the fox a pair of sunglasses. He tries to refuse but she insists. “You’ll need them when he gets to eating,” she said. “He’s not ‘Mister Shine’ for nothing.”

I was blushing all the way to my eartips; she patted my shoulder and said “Don’t worry about it, hon. We’ve all got our quirks.”

Jan put on the shades halfway through breakfast. “So is that food just burning up inside you, or what?”

“Maybe,” I said. “You can feel the heat?”

“Heat?” He reached out a paw to my stomach. “Holy Hercules, that’ll keep your breakfast warm.”


“And you’re not uncomfortable?”

“I guess I’m just built for it,” I said, shrugging. “It’s just how I keep warm…”


“Well, I’ve been shining for as long as I can remember. The light gets dimmer when I’m sick or very hungry. And when that happens I get to shivering really bad.”

“You see a doctor about it?”

“I sleep in the park. I can’t afford a decent doctor.”

“What about growing up? Didn’t your parents take you?”

“The only doctor in town wouldn’t treat furries.”

“Ah,” he said. I finished my breakfast without further conversation.

Me and Jan got to the warehouse by eight. The Slobovistanis laughed when they saw him, but Marvin said “If he can work, he can work.”

The work is tiring. The leads aren’t heavy, but they take their toll. When my shift was up I found Jan waiting for me.

“I couldn’t go the whole day,” he said. “Marvin said I could do better tomorrow. But I got paid for the work I did. Thanks, Billy.”

“The least I could do. And… you can call me Shine. Everybody else does.”

“I like ‘Billy’ better,” he said, putting a paw on my shoulder. “It sounds friendlier… not like calling you the Bearded Woman or something else like you came out of a freak show.”

I looked at his paw. “You’re not sharing my bushes again without a shower. I know a place, and then we can get some dinner before bed.”

The city pool is on the south side of the park. It was a big place with lots of sunlight, always warm, never very crowded. I paid a membership for free bathing and a locker for my truly valuable stuff.

We showered without speaking, and I could feel him watching me. Admittedly a shining tiger is an eye-catching sight, but I suspected there were other reasons his parents kicked him out.

I beckoned him over and gave him a warm hug, holding him for a while, and let him go when we heard footsteps coming. I didn’t want to push it any further anyway—a guy’s gotta be a gentleman, after all—but I could see he wanted more.

We walked back through the park, buying some hot dogs off a vendor as he was closing up, and made it back to our bushes.

“I’m glad I met you, Billy,” he said. “I dunno what I would have done.”

I hushed him up and we went to sleep, sharing my blankets, my lantern belly warming his back all night as I held him.

I was glad to have met him too. On my own, I knew the city was a mistake. With a friend… with a friend I could make it.

I fell asleep, purring softly.

Return to library?