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    Headstall
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Morningstar: The Malaise - 8. Chapter 8 Hiding In Plain Sight

Burnt umber. It's complicated.

The Malaise

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

“Do you see patterns all the time… like, constantly?”

Kellar was startled by the question. Watching the trees go by as Tobyn drove, and running through his checklist for closing up the cabin, he’d just concluded everything was taken care of. “Colors? No. I can turn them on and off.”

“That’s interesting. So you see the way others do when you turn them off, same as the vision you were born with?”

“Yeah, except when I look at someone for the first time; I always see their aura, but then I flicker it.”

“Flicker?”

“Sounds strange, right? I don’t know how else to say it though. It’s more or less automatic to me. There’s no need to keep seeing them once they’re fixed in my memory banks.” Kellar smiled at his new friend, wondering how it really sounded to someone hearing about all the aspects of it for the first time. Tobyn looked over at him with curious hazel eyes, and still, Kellar saw no judgement in them.

“You should stop thinking you sound weird or strange, because you don’t. I’m in awe of what you’re able to do. Man, think about it… you’re better than any doctor. So many times they don’t have any answers for what’s wrong with the people who go to them.”

Kellar didn’t know what to say to that. Tobyn’s faith in what he could do, worried him. “I may not have all the answers either,” he uttered softly.

“Hey, I didn’t mean for you to feel pressure. I’m hoping you can help Adelin, and if you do, that’s great. But Kellar, I don’t expect you to suddenly cure what’s wrong with my pack. I’m not expecting any miracles, okay? Not for Adelin or the malaise.”

“Okay.” The words were comforting, and genuine, but Kellar could read the hope in the man. There was an underlying protective feeling that showed itself whenever he mentioned his pack. There might be no pressure from him, but there was lots Kellar was putting on himself. Seeing this guy happy had somehow become a priority in his life, and there was no way he wanted to let him down.

“Can you tell me… what are Adelin’s symptoms?”

Tobyn looked out his own window before answering. “She’s weak. So weak she can’t shift, although that’s becoming more common in the pack. She’s pale, like, as a ghost, and when she walks, she tires easily. It’s hard to watch. Her appetite is practically non-existent, and she throws up constantly, even with hardly anything in her stomach.” He looked over at Kellar. “Does that tell you anything?”

“How long has she been this way… with symptoms this severe?”

“Oh, man… for months and months, and she gets worse with every week that goes by. Her skin looks translucent now… that’s recent, and you can see her veins through it. Tilly’s really scared. Those two are as close as sisters can be. It will be devastating for her if….” Tobyn’s words trailed off into silence.

Kellar experienced a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach at hearing Tilly’s name, and felt ashamed for it. He had to get a grip. He’d already admitted to himself he was attracted to the guy driving. In his almost twenty years, he’d never held such a fascination for any other person. It was a reaction that had been almost instantaneous. As soon as he’d caught his scent and followed his progress to his driveway, and then on to the woods, his interest had been engaged. The man’s colors intrigued and confused him, spoken to him, like none before ever had.

Carrying someone so incredibly handsome, pretty even, from the blood-stained granite to his bed had cemented a very powerful desire. His need for a connection with the sandy-haired man was almost overwhelming. The feel of him in his arms had awakened something, and he was certain it was there to stay. It had been a huge struggle to tamp down the worry the injury had invoked. It wasn’t often he felt panic, but he did that day. He’d never healed a shifter before, and some doubts had surfaced on the trip to his cabin. He belongs to someone else, so don’t go there... clue in…the man asked you a question.

“I’m sorry, but it doesn’t sound good; the illness I mean. I’ll do my best to help your girlfriend’s sister.” Tobyn gave him a funny look, and Kellar worried he’d given something away in his tone because he thought he’d kept his face expressionless. Maybe not. “I’m getting kind of hungry,” he commented, more to change the subject than anything else. The thought of food, though, did have its appeal.

“Me too. There’s a gas station up ahead that sells great sandwiches, and they usually have a pot of soup on. It’s nothing fancy, but the place is clean and the people are nice.”

“Sounds good. Our run burned off some calories.” Kellar stared straight ahead, and thought about how nice it had been to share what had always been a solitary endeavor. He could still feel Tobyn’s rich, sandy coat against his own. His wolf had been in heaven. He had been in heaven. Dozing on the big rock with the beautiful wolf had put him in a state of pure bliss.

“Twenty minutes now.”

“Huh?” Kellar was jolted back to the present.

“We’re twenty minutes from food.”

“Cool.”

“You know what’s really freaky… in a good way?”

“The fact I haven’t said you drive too damn fast?”

“Hey, I don’t drive too fast. The speed limit’s too slow, that’s all.” He shot a smirk at his companion, and for what seemed the hundredth time since yesterday, Kellar’s heart experienced a few extra beats.

“Okay, so what’s freaky in a good way?”

“My wolf wants out.”

“So?”

“Dude… that just doesn’t happen. Heck, this morning was already an aberration. I don’t think I’ve ever shifted that long in the daytime before. In fact, I know I haven’t. You must have done something when you healed my head… and my ulcers.”

“Maybe… I didn’t do anything different, but I’m glad you were able to do it as long as you did. It was a pretty special morning for me… running with another wolf, I mean. That rock is now my favorite rock.” Damn. Why did he say that? Kellar turned his head to look out the side window, and silence descended again for a couple of minutes.

“How long can you shift for in daylight?”

Turning back, Kellar had sufficiently composed himself. “Um, all day, all night. I can shift whenever I want for as long as I want. I don’t have any restrictions or limitations on it.”

The blond man looked amazed. “You can hold a shift as long as you want? That’s unbelievable!”

“I don’t understand. Why is that unbelievable? When Fendral ‘wolfed out,’ wasn’t he doing the same thing?”

Tobyn shook his head. “No. I don’t understand exactly how it works, but what Fendral did wasn’t shifting. He let the wolf take over, so the human form becomes, I guess you would say, secondary. Some of the pack think of it as a kind of suicide. When he would show himself as human to us kids, that was his shift, and he never held it for long. So, he’s the reverse of what he was. Does that make sense?”

“In a way, yes. It would explain why his burnt umber is so strong.”

“What did you just say?”

“I said his burnt umber is strong.” Kellar smiled at the open-mouthed look Tobyn shot him. “As far as I’ve seen, all shifters have this color—burnt umber—that no other animal, human or plant has. It’s unique to us. I’m pretty sure it’s added after we shift, because the first time I saw my own colors was a few minutes before I had my first one, and there was no burnt umber… it’s a shade of brown. It wasn’t till after I shifted that the new color appeared.”

“Oh, cool. That means you know right away if someone’s a shifter, even if you can’t smell them?”

“Yup. So anyway, the old grey has about double the burnt umber you and I have. You solved a mystery for me. It must be a choice we can make.”

“Yeah, from what I understand it’s a choice, but it hasn’t happened often. The stories say it comes from tragedy, and the person totally gives over to the wolf. I remember as a kid, listening to the adults talk about what a terrible state Fendral was in when he lost Esther. They say he became a different person. Before he ‘wolfed out,’ he’d become unresponsive. According to the old keeper tales, when this happens, the wolf usually goes away to die within a year or two, so no one knows why Fendral has hung around this long.”

“Well, I can tell you his brain smells wrong, and the colors are a little off, although there’s nothing I can pinpoint, like a tumor, or even depression. I think there are herbs that could help him, but I’m not sure. It would be easier if I could flicker him in human form. The time I was close enough to him, my wolf just wanted to play, so I didn’t really try to get much of a read on him. He didn’t stick around long. When I shifted back, I hoped he would too so we could talk, but no dice. He wanted nothing to do with me after that.”

Tobyn sighed. “Yeah, like I said before, he refuses to interact with adults, and even children now. It’s a sad thing, but we all love him as if he was still our leader.”

“You know, I’ve read stories, fiction stories, about werewolf packs, and the leader is always referred to as the Alpha. Is that what Fendral was, or is that all hogwash?”

“Werewolf stories, eh?” Tobyn snickered before he continued. “No, not hogwash. That part is accurate at least. Fendral was our alpha, but we have learned to be very careful about what we say, for fear of discovery. Everything is different, and the old ways have been adapted. It’s safer for the pack to not use certain words, and alpha is the one which would stand out for anyone hunting our kind.”

“That makes sense. If I heard someone referred to as Alpha, it would raise my curiosity. Who is the leader now?”

“We don’t have one leader anymore. When Fendral left us, we hoped he’d eventually return, so a committee of three was formed. Some shifters want a new alpha, but so far, we’ve stuck with the status quo, and it seems to work. My mother happens to be one of the three.”

“Your mother? I never thought to ask you about your parents.”

“There’s not much to tell. My father died when a tractor flipped on him. He was trapped, and had bled out by the time someone found him.”

“Jeez, I’m sorry, Tobyn.”

“Thanks, but I was five when it happened. I don’t remember him much at all. It would have been nice to have him around, though.”

“I don’t remember my parents either. They burned up in a car crash when I was four. I was thrown clear somehow. It was all foster care after that. What about your mom? What’s she like.”

“Wow... I'm sorry too, Kellar. Maybe you can tell me more sometime… my mom? She’s cool. She never remarried after my dad died, but she handled it okay, I think. They weren’t earth mates, of course. You’ll like her. She’s tough on the outside, and she worries way too much about everything, but she’s great.”

“Something tells me you two have that in common.”

“Have what in common?”

“The worrying part.”

“Why do you say that?” Tobyn directed another curious glance his way.

“I can read you, man. Every time you talk about the pack, I can sense your loyalty, and the fears you have.”

“So this is another one of your powers? You can tell what people are feeling?” he asked jokingly, but with an underlying uneasiness present.

Kellar took note of it immediately. “Not normally, but I can read you. For instance, the only time you were truly relaxed today was on the rock in the sun. You let everything go, for just a little while. The rest of the time you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

Tobyn slowed down, and surveyed him with only some attention on the deserted road ahead. Kellar met the look, his face as open as he could make it. “Well, I guess you have me pegged. Just don’t go reading my mind, all right?”

Kellar laughed, and it broke the seriousness. “Yeah, I definitely don’t have that power… not yet, anyway.” He gave his friend a smile, and it was returned.

“Okay, we’re here. Time to feed the lumberjack.”

“I have a feeling I shouldn’t have told you about that," he said with a groan.

“Sure you should have. I want to know everything about you.”

Wondering what that meant, if anything, he maneuvered his large frame out of the truck and stretched. With all he was feeling, reading the handsome sandy-haired man’s mind would certainly come in handy. Regardless, there was no place else he wanted to be at that moment, or no one he’d rather be with.

Much thanks to my editor, Timothy M., and to all those who support my writing. If you wish to discuss this story, you can do so in the COTT thread of the promising author forum:

www.gayauthors.org/forums/topic/39932-cards-on-the-table-by-headstall/

Copyright © 2017 Headstall; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

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Chapter Comments



Ever so slowly, they are inching closer. I wonder if their arrival at the pack will make it apparent for them and others what is going on...? They seem to need a little push.

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More world building, and more easy companionship between these two. I am glad we are learning a bit more about them before they become overwhelmed with the problems of Tobyn's pack. :D

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You wrote this and had time for my scribbles? Seriously impressed G-Man.
The slow development of the relationship is driving me crazy, but in a good way--the final resolution will be all the more satisfying when it comes.
I hope the Malaise can be cured, and that it has already been done for Tobin. The world you've created here is a sad one, with a sickness slowly diminishing the numbers of shifters, and Tobin not knowing if other packs exist anymore. I hope they do, and the lack of communication is due to no one realizing Tobin's pack still exists.
More please, my dear friend.

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If Tobyn is not careful, he is going to slip up and accidentally tell Kellar how he really feels...I will be so happy if he does hehehe

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I think tobyn and kellar are sweet to each other! I just want their love to move forward so bad but, I feel like it might be a bit of a fight if tobyn keeps this sense of duty theory up. I'm seriously loving this story I'm SO happy I found it. My only problem would be how story the chapters are but that's okay because that just means I have to treat them like gold and not get greedy.

 

You're doing an awesome job. Keep up all the good work!

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Just binged chapters one through eight and I love this slightly different twist on the shifter world. Can't wait for Tobin and/or Kellar to slip and reveal their true feelings. Looking forward to more. Thank you. Jeff

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Like others have said, I'm really enjoying how you're feeding information about the world and how everything works. It's really well done. Actually I want to commend you on this, this is something many writers struggle with, especially in this genre. Often, especially newer writers, will cram info dumps or the infamous "as you know" speech into the writing. Instead you've fed the right amount of information into these chapters that I'm learning but still caught up in the story and you're using natural story interaction to impart these details. So you're doing great here.

 

This tension between these two is going to become overwhelming soon enough. Like I said before, trying to fight a tidal wave. Tilly's sister doesn't sound too good, I hope Kellar is able to help. Overall this was another enjoyable chapter in a story I now look forward to every week.

 

One question (forgive my slowness) why was the chapter titled "Hiding in Plain Sight"?

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I know, I know, dragon :D
The shifters / packs are Hiding in Plain Sight by being careful with the words they use, and what they do and don't do. Unfortunately, the latter includes not using human hospitals, so they cannot get help with the malaise or even with the illness of Tilly's sister.
But more importantly, both men are hiding their new and scary feelings, yet putting them out there in plain sight for us to see - well, also for the other man to see, if he chooses to notice and think about it. Tobyn saying he wants to know everything about Kellar, and the healer saying their rock is now his favorite place. The way they both react to the word 'girlfriend' and lots of other small but significant details sprinkled around by our clever author. ;)
The Burnt umber. It's complicated. also points the same way. Being a shifter is complicated, even without the malaise, and sorting out your feelings is difficult, espcially when they are new and you're not only getting the burnt umber color but perhaps more. Their wolves know how right their connection is, but the humans have to work it out too. For Tobyn he has to try to understand Kellar's descriptions and explain all the shifter stuff and answer the questions arising from Kellar's abilities, and at the same time deal with his attraction to the amazing man who may be able to save more than Tilly's sister.
It's difficult to remember those two men are barely out of their teens, but i guess taking on responsibilty so young has matured them fast - another thing they have in common. :yes: Wonderful chapter once more. :hug:

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On 06/08/2016 05:25 AM, Puppilull said:

Ever so slowly, they are inching closer. I wonder if their arrival at the pack will make it apparent for them and others what is going on...? They seem to need a little push.

Hey, Puppilull. Yes, they are. Kellar sees the dedication to pack Tobyn has though, and that, along with Tilly dispels any notions he has. There is so much more to come, and I don't know if pushing will work... We'll see :) . Thank's for sticking with me on this... cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 05:44 AM, Lux Apollo said:

More world building, and more easy companionship between these two. I am glad we are learning a bit more about them before they become overwhelmed with the problems of Tobyn's pack. :D

World building is right, lux. I want it to be a slow reveal so we aren't overwhelmed. It seems to be working... I like these two. Each in their own way, has an underlying sadness that pervades their lives. This companionship they have suits them both... for now. Thanks for your support and the review... cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 05:45 AM, Mikiesboy said:

Whatever it is, it doesn't sound good. Hopefully Kellar can help. Nice chapter, Gary!!

No, it doesn't. The pack is in dire staits, and it's taking its toll on them all. Sickness is something they didn't have to deal with a century ago. There is a lot of expectation Kellar is putting on himself. It's going to make for an interesting introduction to the pack. Thanks for the review, buddy... cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 07:03 AM, dughlas said:

Bit by bit you're filling in information in an easy natural way. Wonder which one of the two is going to be first to admit his feelings.

I like the way this is evolving and am curious about what is to come.

Thanks, dugh! I was concerned the story might be unfolding too slowly, but it appears that's not the case. I'm glad you like how it is evolving. I think both men are struggling with a lot of things at once, so it may be some tough sorting ahead. Thanks for the great review, buddy... cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 07:36 AM, Kitt said:

Thanks, Sis! I love the purple heart, and I really appreciate the support. Cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 08:02 AM, ColumbusGuy said:

You wrote this and had time for my scribbles? Seriously impressed G-Man.

The slow development of the relationship is driving me crazy, but in a good way--the final resolution will be all the more satisfying when it comes.

I hope the Malaise can be cured, and that it has already been done for Tobin. The world you've created here is a sad one, with a sickness slowly diminishing the numbers of shifters, and Tobin not knowing if other packs exist anymore. I hope they do, and the lack of communication is due to no one realizing Tobin's pack still exists.

More please, my dear friend.

Thanks, CG. I think the story needs to unfold slowly, and it's an added bonus if I'm driving you crazy :) . I love your speculation but you'll have to stat tuned. The malaise is a serious situation indeed. As always, thanks for the marvelous review, my friend... cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 09:30 AM, LitLover said:

These two make me smile with how sweet they are with each other. Unfortunately, I think there's going to be some heartbreak in their future if Tobin's sense of duty to his pack is as strong as I think it is... and Kellar would never dream of going after someone who he see's as being taken. Its going to be a rocky road.

I love how you're giving us little glimpses into this world. No piece of information is overwhelming. It all adds to the fabric of these characters' lives. I can't wait to see what the new chapter brings :)

Thanks, Lit. I appreciate the review, and your comments. You have Kellar pegged. He's a man used to not having much in the way of happiness, but it never jaded him. Tobyn is taken and he accepts that. I'm pleased you like how the story is being told so far... cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 10:40 AM, JayT said:

If Tobyn is not careful, he is going to slip up and accidentally tell Kellar how he really feels...I will be so happy if he does hehehe

You could be right, jt... or not :) . There is still much to keep these guys occupied, so we'll see. Thanks for sticking with me, and for the great review... cheers... Gary...

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On 06/08/2016 10:47 AM, W.E_Rosenthal said:

I think tobyn and kellar are sweet to each other! I just want their love to move forward so bad but, I feel like it might be a bit of a fight if tobyn keeps this sense of duty theory up. I'm seriously loving this story I'm SO happy I found it. My only problem would be how story the chapters are but that's okay because that just means I have to treat them like gold and not get greedy.

 

You're doing an awesome job. Keep up all the good work!

Thank you, W.E. These first chapters are shorter than I usually write, but I don't want to impart too much information at one time. There will be a few longer ones. Thank you so much for the kind words. I'm so glad you found this story too, and I'm glad you like my guys so far. Both of them have a lot to deal with, but they are proving to be good for one another. Thanks for the review... cheers... Gary...

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I like how the Malaise's impact on Tobyn's senses and the fact that Keller had been raised outside of the shifter world usurped the mate-scent convention. In the typical shifter romance, at least one of the characters would have some awareness of the other as his mate, but you've set up a nice, slow build over the whirlwind affairs that dominate shifter romances.
Since shifter immune systems make them, well, immune to human disease, would the Malaise be a shifter immunity resistant superbug, some kind of cancer (like in MetaWolf), or maybe an auto-immune disease?
Something that would be interesting would be the possibility of genetic disorders. Shifter packs tend to be insular and isolated, and there are strong prohibitions against turning outsiders. Yet, I've never seen the issue of inbreeding, nor the resulting genetic problems, addressed in shifter fiction. Perhaps the ability to turn humans (or mate with them, at least), or the instinct to search beyond one's pack for a true mate, was born out of the need for genetic diversity within shifter clans. If the Malaise was a genetic disorder, then the decision to further isolate themselves, and to suspend mate quests, would only compound the effects.

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On 06/08/2016 02:19 PM, JeffreyL said:

Just binged chapters one through eight and I love this slightly different twist on the shifter world. Can't wait for Tobin and/or Kellar to slip and reveal their true feelings. Looking forward to more. Thank you. Jeff

Hey, Jeff. I'm glad you're liking it. Tobyn and Kellar are dancing, for sure, but they have their reasons at the moment. What's happening is big for each of them. I hope you stick with me... I believe you'll find quite a few differences in this shifter story. Thanks for the support and the review... it's really appreciated... cheers... Gary...

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I really love this story, I like seeing how he describes the colors he sees. I keep wondering what exactly is wrong with the pack, I can't wait for the next chapter! :)

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Oh, I so want to focus on the unspoken feelings between Kellar and Tobyn. Instead I find my self drawn to all the other details that make this story. It just draws me further into the story. We learn more of how Kellar uses his gift and I feel sad, but admire him for figuring it out on his own.
The fact that Tobyn and his wolf are feeling better after Kellar treated them is good, yet I'm worried by Adelin's symptoms. Is she too far gone? I mean translucent? Are there more like her? No pressure Kellar. Fendral knows things I'm betting, but how to convince him to return to his human form, and why hasn't he passed yet, if he's only supposed to last a year or so. Is he waiting for Kellar? Does he even know who Kellar is? I am ever more curious as to how the malaise started and is spread.

 

Why did Tobyn look at Kellar funny when he mentioned Tilly being Tobyn's gf.. There's more to the story? We know that Tobyn won't act on his feelings because he's dedicated to the pack and he's still trying to work out why he's feeling that way toward Kellar. Kellar definitely won't want to lose this new found friendship, possible inclusion in a pack of his kind by crashing their relationship. So we're left with watching them keep those feelings at bay while they build a friendship and get to know each other. And we get to know their world too..

 

So amazingly well done my friend.. I enjoy every chapter..

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