Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis. Even in this COVID year, a lot of mainstream churches held the Blessing of the Animals – possibly by drive through! And why not? Pets have comforted so many people during shutdowns and quarantines. Even those without pets have been made happy by seeing pictures of pets on Facebook.
Again this year I’m delighted to be in the Pets in Space 5 Science Fiction Romance anthology. A dozen stories NYT and USA Today bestselling authors have concocted wonderful stories about space and starships, romance and adventure, and helpful, companionable, mysterious or surprising pets. I know Pets in Space 5 will entertain our readers. And I hope it helps some of them through a bad night or bad day. That’s what a good story with heart can do.
My PISA 5 story is Pastfinders, and here’s an excerpt from it:
The scratching came again, the unmistakable sound of blunt claws on tent fabric. Haze eased away from Mercury. He got his feet under him in a tense crouch and touched the flap of the tent. His heart pounded as he anticipated what he’d see, or not.
The flap opened to reveal a creature looking up at him. It was compactly dog-sized but unlike anything Haze had ever seen. Except it had the eyes he’d dreamed about, large golden eyes with diamond-shaped pupils.
He stared at the creature in wary wonder. Its wide, feathered head had long flexible ears and a hooked beak. It had wide shoulders and a thick ruff of feathers lighter in color than the rust-brown fur on the rest of its body. It stood on front paws with blunt, tent-scratching claws. It had taloned back feet. And a long tail with a feathery tuft at the end.
The strange compassionate eyes didn’t leave Haze. The creature put a paw on his knee.
His wariness melted. The reflexes of a lifelong biologist remained. Breaking off eye contact—animals consider direct eye contact potential threat—Haze slowly extended his hand, palm up, below the creature’s shoulder—animals take a hand reaching for their head as a threat.
It sniffed his hand.
He slowly raised his hand to its ruff. The feathers felt much colder than the air. This was an unexpectedly detailed encounter to be just a dream. Haze was puzzled. “Where did you come from?”
It wagged its feather-tufted tail in such a doglike, Dusty-like movement that his heart warmed.
Behind him, Mercury rolled up with a puzzled little sound. She looked over his shoulder and gasped.
“Do you see it too?” Haze asked. “Or am I dreaming?”
“What is that?!”
“I dreamed about my old dog. I had a nightmare and it led me to safety.” He looked into those strange, compassionate eyes again and some of the tension that had his nerves stretched taut eased.
She put her hands on his shoulders. “That is not a dog!”
“The eyes were the same. My old dog was named Dusty because his fur always picked up the dust in the street.”
The long, flexible ears pointed toward him. The early sun picked out reddish notes in its fur and its feathers. He heard himself ask, “Can I call you Rusty?”
The creature cocked its head as though trying to understand him.