Excerpt: Fur, Feathers, and Claws

September, 1979. Just like that, the last summer of the 70’s was over. A decade, Tucker thought, as the water ran down rocks and ledges, then over his naked body. An entire decade gone by since the happiest days of my life became the worst. He closed his eyes and imagined human fingers, as the trickles of rain and the rushing falls teased his flesh and trailed down his front. He tried to conjure the image—the memory—of a romantic lover doing the same: someone from his past, someone he had never quite gotten over. Tucker let out a breath that turned into grunt, shifting his thoughts to his actions. His shoulders met the rough wall behind him as his lower half thrust forward.

“Hey, Sam. Took you long enough,” Tucker offered in greeting, not at all shy or bothered by the intrusion. He was happy for the distraction, in fact. “What’s up?” He hadn’t meant it as a straight line, really he hadn’t, but Sam’s dirty mind—the simplicity of it—had to go there, as he tilted his head and glanced toward Tucker’s crotch with a wink. “Yeah.” Tucker said. “Ha ha, Sam!”

Sam snuggled into the back of Tucker’s neck, working his way under the drenched, raven corkscrews, teasing one ear, taking a nibble at the lobe.

A strong gust of wind slammed into Tucker. It brought back a feeling of someone on top of him. “I’m going to cum, Sam,” he warned.

As Sam kneaded Tucker’s bicep, Tucker touched his own lips, applying pressure, pinching the lower one, pulling at it as he softly called a name, almost as if trying to block it and the memory of his first true love from coming out. “Fuck!”

Sam pinched him.

“Yeah, I know, Sam. I wish.”

A burst of laughter from Sam echoed off the rocks.

Tucker stroked himself vigorously, concentrating only on getting it done. “Shush.” Sam’s touch neither aided nor diverted. The clinking metallic sound, however, on certain days, still did. Tucker should have been used to it. Mostly, he was. But suddenly, he was in a mood, maybe because he’d been thinking about the past. Tucker tried to focus on the water, to use it, as he often did, to wash away his thoughts and his sorrow. But his grasp on his own erection, feeling Sam’s touch, it just reminded him how long it had been since he had been with someone he loved, since he had felt someone else’s hot flesh in his grip or someone’s warm body pressed to his. Tucker wanted that so much that it hurt. Maybe that meant he was finally beginning to heal, and was finally ready to consider starting over. “Or maybe I’m just horny, like you, Sam, huh?”

There was nothing to be done, except what Tucker was doing. “So why even think about it?” But still. He continued to think as he pumped—until he suddenly stopped and quit stroking himself, just short of release.

Sam objected loudly, no doubt waiting for the money shot.

“Chill out, man.” Tucker shivered. The fierce wind was blowing variably both warm and chilly, because of a tropical storm wreaking havoc up and down the Atlantic seaboard states that also ushered in nip in the air, signifying autumn would soon be upon them. “Brr!” But Tucker knew the breeze wasn’t to blame. “Something ain’t right, Sam.” An eerie feeling had overtaken Tucker. The park had gotten quiet. Too quiet. “Someone’s here who shouldn’t be,” he said. Tucker reached for his shorts. “An intruder. I can feel it.”

Sam complained again. Damn, man! Don’t be putting on clothes!—or something to that effect. But then he was quiet, too, frozen in place. Sam knew why sex play was over, hot as it was. He sensed it as well: something unsavory was afoot.

Mere moments ago, things at Animalistic had seemed rather normal, or as normal as they could in a closed-down animal theme park during a hurricane. A group of others, including Sam, had been gathered under a metal awning, protected from bullets of rain falling from a newspaper gray sky, as Olivia held court, and Tucker Bishop stood beneath Animalistic’s raging jungle falls for his ritualistic morning shower.

“Tucker Wade Bishop IV came here hurt, angry, and unsure,” Olivia recounted. “His history has plenty of sweet moments, but parts of it were troubled, even tragic. Tucker Wade—”

“His name is ‘Tucker Wide’? Like big, fat, and ‘wide’?” Sam asked.

Olivia, a sophisticated, gorgeous, older Aussie with golden hair and dark, gentle eyes, had arrived at Animalistic just before Tucker. Tucker could easily imagine Sam, a middle-aged, smart-aleck lothario, teasing her about her accent as she told his backstory to new arrivals Penny, the epitome of a plain Jane, and Paul, the most flamboyant heterosexual male Tucker had ever seen. Shy, handsome Zeb, enjoying his later years, and timid, young Bunny were there as well, and also Jake, who was rail-thin and somewhat skittish. They’d heard Tucker’s life story before, and so had Sam, who knew the tale backwards and forwards, and therefore couldn’t help but interrupt with stupid comments or questions. For that was just his way.

Tucker Bishop was one of the theme park’s two dozen employees, most of whom had the day off because of the storm. But Animalistic was much more than a workplace for Tucker. It was his sanctuary, as much so as it was to any of its other allegedly more beastly inhabitants. Tucker lived like one of them. So, while those gathered listened to Olivia under protection from the downpour, Tucker was right out in it—naked.