Episode 5
By Bernard Doove © 2008

"Ken! If you donít come soon, your meal will be spoiled," Jazmyn called out.

"Just one more minute!" Ken called back.

"Thatís what you said ten minutes ago," Jazmyn retorted.

"No, seriously. Start serving it up."

"OK." Jazmyn served the food onto plates and was taking them to the table when Ken emerged from the extension through the new doorway.

"Iíll just wash my hands and Iíll be there," he told the vixen.

He returned soon, still wearing the grubby overalls but with clean hands. He joined Jazmyn at the table, picked up the cutlery and started eating with gusto.

"I hope that itís still okay," Jazmyn said. "It was on the heat a bit too long."

"Itís fine, Jazmyn, believe me."

"Did you really have to keep going so late?" she asked.

"Yes, you know that I had to. The fresh plaster and filler need to dry properly overnight so that we can start painting first thing tomorrow."

Jazmyn smiled. "So close to being finished. Iím getting excited!"

"Are you sure that you want to help with the painting? It could be hard getting it out of your fur."

"Iíve done it before. With gloves and a little care, I should stay paint free."

"Did those gloves that I bought for you fit properly?"

"I tried them and they will be fine."

"Then weíre all set. First thing tomorrow, Iíll sand back the last of the plaster, then we can start painting."

On Sunday morning, both started working straight after breakfast undercoating the room. Jazmyn had a paintbrush which she used to cut into corners, then worked on the window and door frames. Ken used a roller to cover the rest. When that was done, they moved outside. This was harder as Ken wanted the extension to be a reasonable match for the existing timber, so they both had brushes and tins of wood stain. Between them, they managed to get the job done before dinner time. Ken insisted that Jazmyn shower first as she took longer to dry off. Meanwhile he cleaned up the painting tools, and then came in to man the extra dryer for her fur. She then went to prepare a quick meal while he showered.

They were enjoying their well-earned meal out on the porch, enjoying the evening, when Jazmyn spoke up.

"Iím going to be a little sorry when the extension is complete."

Ken arched an eyebrow in puzzlement. "Why is that?"

"Iím enjoying the work that I am putting into it. It gives me a sense of accomplishment."

"I see. Well Iím sure that there will be other goals to accomplish, and then thereís the stuff that youíre already doing. The garden is going to look fantastic, and youíre spoiling me with all the cooking that youíve been doing. And what about the programming lessons Ė how are they coming along?"

"Steadily. Iím having no trouble at all with understanding the code, itís constructing an actual program that I find difficult. It takes a different kind of thinking," Jazmyn admitted.

Ken nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, itís analogous to learning a language Ė just because you know every word and your grammar is perfect, doesnít mean that you can write a novel."

"It would seem that way. Do you think that thereís any point for me to continue? I hate to admit failure, but I donít want to waste my time on something that wonít work out."

"WellÖ there are other ways to put the knowledge to use. Let me test you on some things when we finish eating."

When they had cleaned up after the meal, Ken sat down at his desk and called up a program on his computer. He turned to Jazmyn and said, "This is some code that has bugs in it that I found earlier. This is the version before I fixed it. Look through it and let me know how difficult it is for you to follow, and whether you can spot the bugs."

"OK, Iíll try," Jazmyn said and took Kenís place. She started poring through the code.

Ken left her alone and found a novel that he had been neglecting, and he sat down to read it quietly.

In remarkably short time, Jazmyn announced, "Iím done."

"Already? Okay, how did you go?"

"I managed to follow all the code, although I seriously doubt that I could devise a program that sophisticated. I did spot two potential bugs though."

"Show them to me," Ken instructed.

Jazmyn scrolled to the lines in question and pointed out what she thought was wrong.

"And how would you fix them?" Ken asked without confirming whether she was right or wrong.

Jazmyn made the changes and then looked to Ken for approval.

"Perfect!" he said with a broad grin. "Right errors and correct solutions. You spotted those in far less time than some professionals that I know."

Jazmyn said, "Iím relieved to be right. Itís one thing doing those exercises in the text books, but this put me under a lot more pressure, and I was worried that I might make a mistake."

"Checking code is not an easy task, but itís an important one. If you want to continue with this, Iíll give you some more code to check and correct. If you do well on those too, then I may have some other suggestions to make."

"OK. As long as I am doing it correctly so far, Iíll continue for a while longer. What do you want me to look at next?"

Ken laughed. "Not so fast! Itís Sunday evening and time for our usual movie. Of course if youíd really like to work on code, Iím sure that I can manage to eat your share of the popcorn."

"Oh no you wonít!" exclaimed Jazmyn as she made a beeline for the cupboard.

Ken grinned even wider and then went to the DVD rack to pick out the movie for the night.

Ken went to work as usual on Monday, but Jazmyn intended to get the painting finished inside. Because it was going to be her room, Ken let Jazmyn choose the colours of the wall and trim. She had the walls painted before breaking for lunch, then did the more finicky work on the trim and window frame after her meal. With those completed, she cleaned up the room, removing all the equipment and then the drop sheets. That just left the floor to be stained and sealed. Jazmyn decided that it would take too long and left it for the next day. Instead she started working on the programs that Ken had left with her to check.

Jazmyn quit her work when Ken came home, but not before showing him the problems that she had found. Ken checked them and her corrections, and nodded in satisfaction.

"Excellent! You havenít made a mistake yet. Keep it up and Iíll give you one final test when youíre done with this lot. Now what would you like for dinner?"

Sealing the floor was a bit harder than Jazmyn expected, but she was able to look at the finished boards with great satisfaction. Despite taking a lot of care, she had gotten some stain on her left arm, which annoyed her because it was a lot harder to remove from her fur than the paint. With that accomplished, she went out into the garden to water the plants, which is what she was still doing when Ken arrived home.

Ken held up a plastic bag with some food containers in it. "I brought home Chinese food. Come inside and wash up while I reheat it a bit."

Jazmyn enjoyed the different flavours of the Chinese food, and she wondered if she could reproduce them. She put it on her mental list of things to try some day. That evening, she finished working on the programs and presented Ken with the results.

Ken grinned and said, "You not only caught all the errors, but you also found a trivial one that we missed. Well done!" He rummaged in his briefcase and pulled out a thumb-drive. "On here, I have your final test. Itís one of our most complex programs. Itís the beta version before we released the final version to the customer. This is going to be a lot harder than anything that you have done previously. Do you think that youíre up to the challenge?"

"Iíve come this far, so Iím not going to back down now. Hit me with your best shot!"

Ken laughed at her usage of the saying. "Okay, youíve got it. Start it tomorrow and weíll see what you can do before we normally quit for the day."

"Alright. While we wait for the paint and stain to dry out more, we canít do anything with the new room anyway."

Work-at-home Wednesday was unusually quiet. While Ken was absorbed with his work on the desktop, Jazmyn was ploughing through the lines of code on her laptop. The vixen had had an attack of butterflies in the stomach when she had seen what she had been challenged with, but her concentration on the task soon settled them down. For hours they both worked in silence. They both nearly jumped out of their seats when the phone rang around one oíclock.

It turned out to be a call from the office. Kenís business partner, Rick, had called by phone because Ken had failed to respond to an email that he sent earlier, due to being absorbed in his work. Both Ken and Jazmyn used the interruption as an excuse to take a break and eat lunch.

"So, how are you going so far?" Ken asked Jazmyn.

"I think that I am doing well despite the complexity. Iím very glad to take a break from it however."

"Yeah. Software engineer sounds glamorous, but itís a lot of hard work. Still, if youíre good at it, you can make a very good living at it." He waved his arm to indicate the cabin and its contents.

"I donít really need much more," Jazmyn replied, "but I like being stretched mentally. It balances out the more physical stuff that I do."

"I like that. I do all this physical stuff to balance the predominantly mental work that I do for my business."

"Either way, itís hungry work!" Jazmyn said before taking a big bite out of her sandwich.

"Amen!" Ken agreed.

After their lunch, they both went straight back to work. At 4:23pm, Jazmyn sighed with relief, and then announced, "Iím finished."

Ken was startled. "Youíre kidding me? Youíve finished the whole lot already?"

"Yes. You wanted me to finish before we normally quit, didnít you say?"

Ken was stunned. "No, I said weíd see how much you could do before we quit for the day. That program took one of our employees two days to go through and debug! Heís pretty good at that job, but you may have thrashed him thoroughly. Let me have a look at what youíve found."

Jazmyn handed over her laptop, and Ken pulled up the debugging notes from the records. He started comparing them to Jazmynís.

"Iíll make us some tea while youíre doing that," Jazmyn said.

"UmmÖ OK," replied Ken, distracted by the work in front of him.

When Ken had finally completed crosschecking the results, he leaned back in his chair in deep thought. Eventually Jazmyn couldnít stand it any more and said, "Well? How did I do?"

Ken was shaken out of his reverie. "Oh, you got it all correct. In fact you found a major bug that our man missed. Weíre going to have to send our clients an update before it becomes a problem."

"Phew! You had me worried. Why the deep thought then?"

"How would you like to do this sort of thing professionally, part-time?" Ken asked.

Jazmyn was startled. "Professionally? I hadnít really considered it. Iíve just been doing it so far mainly out of interest in what you do. Do you really think that I could?"

"Jasmine, if you were a human applying for a job at our business, youíd get the job without a doubt. However, youíre not human, and that gives us problem. First though, do you really want to do it? Secondly, Rick has to approve you also, which is somewhat awkward. Thirdly, youíre a non-entity. You have no background, no social security number, no records whatsoever, and that is extremely difficult to deal with in a modern bureaucracy. So, what do you want to do?"

"Iím really going to have to think about that a bit more, Ken. It seems that I am good at it, but I donít know yet whether I want to keep on doing it. On the other hand, I donít want to rely on charity for the rest of my life, and having a useful skill is a big step towards my independence."

"OK. You think about it as much as you want, and then let me know. Weíll deal with the other problems if and when they occur."

"Good. Iím going to start dinner now."

"Iíd better finish my task. I canít have Rick thinking that Iím slacking off here at home."

After dinner, Ken said, "Has the paint smell died down enough for you yet?"

Jazmyn went to the door of the new room and stuck her head inside. The window had been left wide open since painting had started so that the air could circulate and the smell disperse. Jazmynís nose had been a bit more sensitive to it, so she had wanted to delay moving in until it had reached an acceptable level. She sniffed a couple of times, then turned to Ken.

"Itís okay now," she informed him.

"OK, letís start moving a few things in from the shed. I could do with your help with the mattress."

Taking it easy so as not to overtax Jazmynís recently healed leg, the two carried the mattress into the house, then Ken fetched the bed frame which they assembled in the new room. After they had placed the mattress on the frame, Ken left Jazmyn to put sheets, blankets and pillows on it while he went to fetch a set of drawers that were also in storage. Finally he added a bed lamp.

"Thatís all that I have for this room right now," Ken said.

"You have forgotten something," Jazmyn said.

"Oh? What?"

Jazmyn pointed to the window. "Blinds."

"Whoops! Never thought of that, and I donít have any out in the shed. Iíll have to pick some up tomorrow. Other than that though, the room is ready for you. Congratulations Ė youíre officially moved in!"

Jazmyn said, "It will be good to have my own room again."

The next weekend was rather lazy. Although Ken had some plans for other improvements, they were not urgent, and after the major effort that they had put in the past few weekends, he felt that they had earned a break.

"Is your leg feeling good enough for a short hike, Jazmyn?"

"I think so. Why?"

"There are a few nature trails in the area. I thought that you might like to try one out. Just a short one for starters."

"That sounds lovely. When do you want to go?"

"Right away if you want. I just need to put on my hiking boots." He stopped and frowned. "What about your feet? It may be a bit rough."

"My paw pads are quite tough. Besides, I donít think that youíll find boots to suit my feet here."

"Thatís unfortunately true, so be a little careful, OK?"

"I will," Jazmyn promised.

Ken chose a track that led from the lookout along the rim of the cliff. They took it slowly, enjoying the view and the sight, sounds and smells of the forest. The walking track eventually met up with the dirt road that went past their cabin, but as it was almost never used, they werenít concerned about running into anybody.

"Where does this road end up?" Jazmyn asked curiously.

"At an old logging camp. It hasnít been used in decades. People come up here to have a look around, but other than that, itís abandoned. You can see how overgrown with weeds that the road is due to the infrequent use. We can go look at it sometime if you like."

"Can we walk there from here?"

"Yes, but itís a bit far. I wouldnít recommend that you try it just yet."

"Iíll leave it for another time then," Jazmyn conceded.

They started walking back to the cabin along the road. Then Ken asked, "Did you and Julius ever go walking in the woods?"

Jazmyn nodded and said, "Not here in the mountains, but we would do so in the forest near our house, and sometimes weíd walk around the lake and feed the ducks."

"There are a couple of streams up here, but no ponds. Thereís a long trail that eventually reaches the summit up there." Ken pointed to the highest peak of the mountains surrounding the valley. "That trail is fairly popular with the hikers though, so itís probably best left to the off-season if you want to risk it."

"Iíll keep that in mind if I get the urge," Jazmyn promised.

They continued walking in silence for a while before Ken spoke again.

"Have you thought much about that potential job yet?"

"I still havenít decided anything. Have you spoken to Rick about it at all?"

"I brought up the matter obliquely. Heís interested in a talented person like you."

"Iím leaning towards accepting because itís the only thing that I know that I can do to contribute financially to my upkeep, but I donít want to be stuck in a job that I might not like."

"Thatís fair enough, although if you do get the job, itíll be on a casual basis, so you wonít be stuck in the job if you donít wish. Anyway, thereís no hurry, Jasmine. As Iíve mentioned before, Iím not hurting for money, so your upkeep isnít a problem. Look after your own interests first."

"Maybe we can do a trial run sometime soon and see how that works out? Iíd like to be able to buy a few things to brighten up my room."

"What sort of things?"

"Some curtains, rugs for the floor, maybe a painting, that kind of thing."

"Maybe some new clothes too?" suggested Ken.

"Are you body-shy, Ken? You always seem uncomfortable when Iím just fur-clad."

Ken avoided the question though. "I thought all females liked to dress up?"

Jazmyn realised that Kenís question was an answer in itself, so she let it slide. "As a matter of fact, I used to have several lovely outfits which I wore when there was a suitable occasion, and of course there were fashion shops that catered specifically to the different needs of anthro Companions. But at home by ourselves, we were always very informal, and I preferred being fur-clad which is a lot more comfortable for me. Here Ė I canít see the need for formal wear if I am to remain a secret."

"So, no temptation to try something just in case?" Ken asked slyly.

Jazmyn hesitated and Ken grinned. The vixen poked her tongue out at him. "Okay, youíve got me. It would be nice even if I never get the opportunity to wear it. Weíre still stuck with how Iíd shop for something suitable though."

"Solutions may present themselves in the future. Itís only been a few weeks so far. Anyway, youíre still going to need spending money of your own, so do you want to give the job a try? Weíve got something that will be ready Wednesday or Thursday."

"Alright, youíve talked me into it."

"Iíll let Rick know on Monday."

They walked on for a little more, and then Jazmyn said, "Thereís something that I'd like to get to fill my spare time."

"Oh? Whatís that?"

"Art supplies."

Ken looked intrigued. "Do you paint?"

"LandscapesÖ or at least I try. I had just started teaching myself before the incident."

"I suppose youíre a whiz at that too?"

"Hardly. Julius charitably said that my last effort was Ďniceí. Believe me, itís going to take a long time before Iím competent at that. I have no particular talent for it, so it will be just hard work that will make me improve. Nevertheless it is enjoyable, and it certainly fills my spare time."

"I canít argue with that. Not that Iíve ever tried it for myself. I prefer tinkering in my spare time."

"And walks in the woods?" Jazmyn added.

"That too, especially when I have someone to share the pleasure with."

"Then I think that weíll have to do more walks soon."

"Sounds good to me," Ken said with some anticipation.

When Monday evening came, Ken arrived with an armload of curtains for Jazmynís room, plus a catalogue from the homewares store for her to peruse and perhaps choose some other things that she might like. Jazmyn was delighted and immediately set about putting them up. Ken grinned as he was so rapidly abandoned. He enjoyed making her happy, and he hoped that the news that he would tell her at dinner would be the icing on the cake. While Jazmyn was preoccupied with the curtains, Ken started their meal.

When they sat down to eat, Ken waited until they were about halfway through their food before he said, "By the way, I talked to Rick about employing you sight unseen. He was rather obstinate about it. At first he thought that I was protecting a Mexican or some other illegal alien. I assured him that you were born and bred in the area, although I neglected to mention that it was in another universe. Then he was concerned that I was hiding a fugitive from the law. I told him that nobody was after you for so much as an unpaid jaywalking fine. He kept badgering me for details, but all that I would tell him was that you had deeply personal reasons to not meet other people in person. Eventually I wore him down and he relented. Your services will be required as of Wednesday. Congratulations on getting the job!"

Jazmyn grinned. "Thanks! I wonít let you down. You know, being a Companion isnít really a job, so this is going to be my first real employment. How am I going to be paid?"

"Rick said to leave that to him. He will arrange some form of cash payment because you have no bank account to pay into, or can cash a check. Iíve always left such details to him. Heís always been the better one for the business side of things, while I was the better software writer."

"How long have you and he been working together?"

"Since we graduated. Weíve been friends since we were eight years old. We went to the same school, went to the same classes, and did the same sports. In our final year, Rick asked me if Iíd like to go into private business with him. It was a bit more risky than taking a job with one of the big companies, but it has paid off. Admittedly we had a bit of luck in landing a couple of good contracts early in our careers, so we got up off the ground pretty quickly. I credit Rick with getting those contracts, and heís kept us growing ever since. We still hang out occasionally, and he sometimes comes up here for a barbecueÖ which I just realised is going to cause a problem sooner or later. Heís going to wonder why I stop having him up here."

"Perhaps if he is such a good friend, we can take him into our confidence? I donít know if I can hide indefinitely," Jazmyn admitted.

"Jasmine, Rick is my best friend, and I trust him implicitly, but I could not extend that trust on your behalf. Itís up to you to take that chance, but I would put it off for a while. Thereís no need for a hasty decision."

Jazmyn shook her head. "No, I wonít. Iím just leaving that possibility open."

"Fair enough. I donít want you to feel trapped here."

"I havenít so far, Ken. So is that all there is to the job?"

"Well, I have a form with a few details to be filled in that Rick insisted that he needed to play around with the legal bits, but thatís all. No big deal Ė itís a pretty basic contract. You pretty much just have to sign it and youíre done."

"Iíll do that straight after dinner."

Jazmyn looked over the form after they cleared up after the meal, but she could not see any major problem with it, so she started filling it in.

"Ken, what do you think I should I put as a surname?"

"Why not put ĎFoxí? Itís not only accurate, it isnít that rare a name."

Jazmyn giggled. "I like that. Rick will have the truth under his nose and not know it."

The vixen filled in the rest of the form and then handed it to Ken to get it double-checked.

Ken started reading it, and his eyebrows went up in surprise. "Is that really how you spell your name?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Iíve been thinking that it was J-a-s-m-i-n-e. Thatís the way itís spelled here anyway."

"Obviously yet another difference in our languages. I had come across that flower name, but didnít think about it much. I will retain my spelling though."

"Of course. Thatís your name, Jazmyn, and nobody has the right to change it."

Ken finished reading the document and handed it back to Jazmyn to sign. She did so with a nice flowery signature.

"Congratulations Ms Fox on joining our little company. I hope we have a long and beautiful relationship."

"Should I start calling you Ďsirí now?" Jazmyn asked cheekily.

"If you did, youíd be the first employee who ever did! Weíre very informal."

"Right then, boss Ė you wash and I dry."

"What have I done?" Ken wondered aloud as he got up to wash the dinner dishes.

"Are you sure that you still want to go for a walk before your sister arrives for your picnic?" Jazmyn asked Ken as he put on his hiking boots.

"Sure! Weíll just take a short walk and weíll be back well before sheís due. Heck, even if she gets here early, you just need to stay out of sight until we head off."

"Okay, Iím ready then." Jazmyn stepped outside. The blustery wind immediately threw her long hair into her face.

"Itís days like this that Iím glad that I have short hair," Ken told her.

"Just a moment," Jazmyn said as she went back inside. A few moments later she re-emerged with her hair tied back in a ponytail. "Much more practical!" she declared.

The two started off on their walk. It was a lot different from their walks the previous weekends because the wind roaring through the leaves and branches added a new dimension to the experience.

"Do you get winds like this up here often?" Jazmyn asked.

"Not too often, but if the wind direction is right, the valley acts as a funnel and it can get a bit wild."

"So I can see," agreed Jazmyn with feeling.

They continued their walk, looping around to head back to the cabin. They were still several minutes away when Jazmyn heard a loud crack overhead. She looked up to see a huge tree limb crashing its way through other branches on its way down, and she froze in fright.

"Jazmyn, move!" Ken shouted.

A moment later, the vixen was shoved violently out of the limbís path. Jazmyn sprawled on the ground, disoriented but safe. She started climbing back to her feet. "Phew! That was close. That was quick thinkÖ KEN!" Jazmyn spotted Ken trapped underneath the enormous branch, unmoving. She hastened over, knelt beside him and said, "Ken! Are you okay? Speak to me!"

Ken didnít respond and Jazmyn looked at his situation more carefully. He was still on the path, which had saved him from being crushed due to being a worn low spot in the ground between the rocks and shrubs on either side. That didnít mean that he wasnít badly injured though, and he was certainly pinned tightly. Jazmyn tried futilely to shift the branch, but scarcely moved it at all.

Ken groaned and opened his eyes.

"Youíre alive!" exclaimed Jazmyn.

"Oh shit!" Ken rasped out. "My ribs are killing me!"

"Youíre completely stuck under the branch. I canít budge it."

"GetÖ get the crowbarÖ from the shed," gasped Ken.

"I donít think that will be enough. I should call for help."

"No! Donít riskÖ yourselfÖ Get crowbar," Ken insisted.

Jazmyn got up and started heading back to the cabin. "Iíll be back as soon as possible!" she cried as she started running.

It didnít take her long to get back to the cabin. She went inside, found the key to the shed, then ran back outside, unlocked the shed and looked for the crowbar. Just as she found it, she heard a familiar sound. She emerged from the shed and confirmed it Ė it was Sakuraís car. Jazmyn made a quick decision and headed back inside the cabin and closed the door. Then she waited for Kenís sister to arrive.

Sakura pulled up in front of the house. Finding no one out in the yard, she headed for the door. Jazmyn opened it just as the woman reached it, but stayed out of sight behind it. Thinking that Ken had opened the door for her, Sakura walked straight inside.

"Whew!" Sakura exclaimed as she entered, "What a windy day. Itís going to eeeeek!"

Jazmyn had closed the door behind Sakura and waited for her to notice. Sakura gave a little scream and stumbled back away from the vixen. "WhatÖ what the hell are you?"

Jazmyn held up her hands placatingly. "Sakura! Itís okay! Iím Jazmyn, Kenís friend."

Sakura was even more stunned. "Jasmine? Kenís gardening friend, Jasmine?" she said disbelievingly. "AreÖ are you a kitsune?"

"Yes, Iím the gardener, but no, Iím not a kitsune. Ken asked me that also." Jazmyn reflected that she might actually be a kitsune, if she wasnít the first fox morph to cross universes and perhaps start one of the many animal-person legends, but this was not the time for speculation. "Sakura, we donít have time for this. Ken is in big trouble and needs your help."

"Trouble? What kind of trouble?" Sakura asked suspiciously.

"Ken and I were walking in the forest when a large branch broke in the wind and fell on him. Iíve just come back to get a crowbar to try to lever it off, but I donít think that I can do it by myself. I need your help also."

"Is Ken badly hurt?" Sakuraís fear of the fox morph was evaporating by her concern for her brother.

"Broken ribs, probably. He was lucid when I left him, but he might have concussion too. We need to get back to him as soon as possible."

"OK. You lead and Iíll follow." Sakura wasnít 100% trusting of Jazmyn as yet, so she wanted her where she could keep an eye on her.

"Letís go!" Jazmyn said, heading out the door. She grabbed the crowbar that she had left by the door. "We need another long lever for you. Grab that length of timber."

Sakura picked up the off-cut from the extensionís framework and hastened after the vixen.

Jazmyn wasted no breath on talking. She knew that Sakura would be in a more receptive state of mind once they had dealt with Kenís problem and knew that Jazmyn could be trusted.

Ken looked up as Jazmyn arrived, much to her relief. "Hang on, Ken. Weíll get you out soon," she promised.

Ken was about to query her use of Ďweí when Sakura came into view. "Sakura!" he gasped. "Jazmyn, whatÖ what haveÖ you done?"

"What I needed to do, Ken. Sakura, put that timber under there. Iíll lever from the other side. You need to lift at the same time so that it doesnít roll onto Ken further and perhaps do more damage. Ken, can you pull yourself out when we lift? Itís going to hurt a lot."

"Forget painÖ. Iíll move."

"OK. Ready Sakura? Heave!"

"Aargh!" yelled Ken. "Stop! Stop!"

The two stopped their efforts. "Thatís not working," Jazmyn said. "It seems to be digging into Ken even more."

"Let me grab that rock so that I have something better to lever against," Sakura said.

"Good idea," agreed Jazmyn.

With the rock in place, they tried again. This time the limb moved upwards instead of sideways. Ken groaned again, but a moment later he pulled himself out from under the branch. Jazmyn and Sakura let go the moment he was clear, having pushed themselves to the limit to lift the massive tree limb. Ken remained on the ground, softly cursing as his face contorted with pain.

"Ken, are you okay?" Sakura asked.

"Broken ribsÖ for sureÖ left armÖ maybe alsoÖ. Back is soreÖ but I think Ö itís okayÖ. Hell of aÖ headache."

"We need to get you to a medic," Jazmyn said. "Can you walk, or do we need to get a stretcher?"

Rather than trying to talk more, Ken held out his uninjured right arm. Jazmyn grabbed his hand and carefully helped him to his feet. Ken grunted with pain a couple of times, but he was fairly steady on his feet. "Iíll make it," he declared, and started walking.

Jazmyn grabbed the crowbar and moved up alongside him, his sister taking the other, ready to support him if necessary. They made their way slowly back to the cabin. Once there, Sakura opened the passenger side door of her car and Ken gingerly climbed in, relaxing with a look of utter relief when he finally got into place. Sakura quickly got in and started the car.

"Call me from the medicís when you can!" Jazmyn called as the car started pulling away.

Ken gave an acknowledging wave of his hand, and then they were away.

Jazmyn knew that the drive to the medic would be a long one, especially if Sakura needed to drive more carefully on the dirt track, and attending to Kenís injuries might take a long time, so she tried to keep herself occupied while she waited. She spent the time weeding and watering, the blustery wind occasionally blowing the spray back in her face. It seemed like forever before the phone began ringing. She dropped the hose that she had been holding and ran inside. She had never answered the phone here before, so she answered it cautiously.

"Ken Moritaís residence," she said.

"Hi Jazmyn," came Kenís familiar voice.

"Ken! How are you? What did the medic say?"

"Iím bandaged like a mummy and doped to the gills with painkillers. Iíve got four broken ribs and a fractured bone in my arm, but no damage to my spine, thankfully. Theyíre going to keep me here at the hospital overnight for observation, but as long as everything is normal, I should be back home before midday tomorrow."

"Iím so glad that it wasnít worse. That should have been me under that branch. You probably saved my life."

"Itís okay, Jaz. Iíll be fine and youíre fine, so everything will be alright. Iíd better go now though Ė the nurse is giving me dirty looks."

"Iíll make something special for you tomorrow, Ken. See you then!"

Jazmyn went back outside feeling an enormous emotional weight lift from her. She picked up the hose out of the large puddle that it had made, turned off the tap, stowed the hose, and then went back inside to cook dinner for herself. Worry had left her without an appetite, and she hadnít eaten since breakfast. Now her hunger was making itself known.

She was cleaning up after her meal when once again she heard the sound of Sakuraís car approaching. Knowing that Ken was supposed to be staying at the hospital, Jazmyn was curious as to why Sakura was returning. She waited until the car had pulled up outside and she could see that the woman was alone before she stepped out onto the porch to meet her.

Sakura got out of the car, walked up to the porch, stopped and had a good long look at the fox morph. Then she said, "So, youíre a visitor from a parallel world. Ken told me all about you as I drove him to the hospital."

"So where do we stand now, Sakura?" Jazmyn asked with some trepidation.

"Let me join you inside. We have a lot to talk about, Ms Fox."


All characters and this story are copyright © 2008 Bernard Doove.

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To be continued in episode 6.

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