To Thine Own Self Be Zoo
August 1st, 2023
Mrs Michaels stepped into the pawn shop off the highway, and was greeted by a rush of air conditioning and the chime of a digital bell sounding over the door. Looking around the brightly-lit space, there were rows of DVDs, a bunch of power tools in the back, a wall of various VCRs and other TV accoutrements, and, hanging on the wall behind the glass counter full of jewelry, there was what she had come here for: a selection of electric guitars.
As Mrs Michaels began making her way there, a clerk poked his head up from one of the DVD aisles. “Help you find anything?”
“Well, maybe! I wanted to get a guitar for my son.”
“Everything we have is up behind the counter there! See if anything catches your eye, I’ll be right over.”
The clerk looked blankly down at the stack of DVD cases he held, and then at the shelf of other DVDs in front of him, and then resubmerged into the aisle.
Mrs Michaels went over to the guitars and had a look. Some of them looked a bit ridiculous: one was pancake flat, and another only had the neck where the strings went and no body at all. Two of them were pink which was an immediate big fat N-O.
The clerk came around behind the counter. Polishing a moose-themed novelty coffee mug, he asked, “Anything catch your interest?”
Wearing her consternation on her sleeve, Mrs Michaels informed the clerk, “I don’t really know what I’m looking for here. Do all of the electric guitars for boys work?”
The clerk moved past the idea that guitars were gendered like a kangaroo past a speed bump, and turned to face the guitars with Mrs Michaels. Still polishing the mug, he said, “Well, I’ll be the first to admit I can’t make any of them play The Rolling Stones, but let’s see. This one has... two. Two strings. Should have six. This one has, four. We’re getting closer.” Going down the line, he did ask, “Your son doesn’t like pink?”
“It’s a birthday present, I’m not trying to punish him.”
The clerk gave a customer service laugh, did nothing to call attention to his pink hair, and arrived at the last guitar that was hung up. It was a blue electric guitar, with several faded stickers on it of foxes.
“Six strings! Promising!” the clerk announced. He set the mug down on a foam-padded section of the glass counter, and reached up to take down the guitar. Flashing a little grin, the clerk said, “Now, refrain from being too impressed, but I did learn ONE chord to be able to test these.”
“Ooh, further along than me.”
The both of them chuckled. “Let’s see here...”
The clerk laboriously positioned his fingers around the neck of the guitar. Then, once the hand was in place, he again flashed a smirk at the customer, looked down at the guitar, and used the end of his thumb to give the strings a strum.
All at once the fluorescent lights overhead flashed bright and then shattered. Mrs Michaels covered her head, while the clerk hit the ground behind the counter shouting “TAKE THE MONEY I DON’T CARE!”
For a little bit there was silence in the shop, as Mrs Michaels stood there and the clerk laid there.
Curtly, the clerk then got up, and set the guitar out on the foam padding on the glass counter beside the novelty moose mug.
“Wowza,” he said, “wonder what did that.”
24 years earlier
Gretchen was in her attic hangout in July with the window closed wearing her fursuit and hotboxing the fursuit head while jumping around and playing her guitar. The guitar was blue and had stickers of foxes on it, matching her fox fursuit.
When the heatstroke began to set in, Gretchen, or Poisonberry as she was called in the suit, fell into a series of only striking the D5 power chord on the guitar, sluggishly. Again and again, slower, and then slower, and then, done.
If anyone ever played an open G on her guitar she would blow up all of their light bulbs.
back to present
“Maybe some kind of power surge?” Mrs Michaels offered.
The clerk took in a deep breath and gave a big, well-this-sucks sigh, looking around at all of the broken light bulb glass around the pawn shop. The glass’s shimmering was, in some ways, kind of pretty as it caught the sunlight that came in from the windows.
“Yeah, maybe some kind of power surge.”
The glass had, fortunately, not fallen within a perfect 6.66ft radius circle from the shop’s two occupants, or, more specifically, the glass had not fallen in a perfect 6.66ft radius circle from the blue guitar with the faded fox stickers that was on the counter.
“Um, tell you what,” the clerk said. He ran a hand back through his hair. It wasn’t really on his mind or Mrs Michaels’s that it was pink. “I got a lot of glass to sweep and probably a few light bulbs to order. Price tag on this guitar says two hundred bucks. I’ll knock that down to five dollars and throw in a case and some picks and an amp and all of the cables too, and if any of it doesn’t work you can come back and return it tomorr... well, whenever we can re-open.”
Mrs Michaels reached into her purse, took out a five, and slapped it on the counter. “Deal.”
a few hours later
Mrs Michaels’s son Jackie was getting a ride home with his friends.
“Shut up, shut the fuck up!” Jackie said faintly through gasping breaths, tears in his eyes, stomach muscles hurting from laughter. Bent forward onto the passenger dash, he choked out, “I can’t fuckin breathe!”
“Okay,” Hank said from the back seat, voice flat, dropping the bit he had been doing. “All done. No more joking.”
“Ohhh I don’t trust you,” Jackie said, and had a few lingering fits of giggles, then he sat upright, straight, trying not to think of the gay furry voice Hank had been doing. It had been too good.
“Hey Jackie?” Hank asked from the back, deadpan.
“What, fuckface?” Jackie asked back, trying to equal Hank’s flat delivery, but the voice came out lilted with a smile and an almost laugh.
Hank went on, “No, hey, turn around and face me for a sec, I’m serious. You got something on you, I’m gonna get it.”
Jackie steeled himself, and twisted around in the passenger seat, getting tangled up in his seatbelt, and contorted himself around over the center console to face the back seat.
Hank looked worried, and leaned to see the side of Jackie’s face. “Yeah, you got... hold still. Hey. You got something behind your ear—hold STILL.” Hank reached behind Jackie’s ear. Keeping his hand there, his face scrunched up in confused worry. Under his breath, he said, “owo what’s this?”
Jackie almost ruptured something laughing so suddenly while twisted around like that. He tried to slap Hank, but could barely lift his arm in his giggles, and Hank, giggling evilly himself, had got up off his seat and huddled back up into the corner out of slapping range of the passenger he had enfeebled.
“Alright, alright!” came the voice of Dianna, the annoyed driver. “Children! Driving! I will kill us!”
“Older than you,” Hank countered, scampering to the other side of the back seat to get farther from Jackie, who had caught his breath again.
“I’m eighteen now,” Jackie added, and shot a hand out to grab Hank, but was repelled back by a karate chop from the fucker. It was dumb but actually a really solid hit. Jackie turned and faced forward in his seat again. He rubbed at his wrist with his other hand. It was for sure going to bruise.
Hank settled in in his new place in the back seat on the driver’s side.
“When’s your birthday?” Dianna asked.
Jackie shrugged. “Today.”
“oh my god, happy birthday!”
“Hank say happy birthday!”
Hank gave a deadpan echo of “happy birthday.”
“Thaaaaanks,” Jackie droned.
Dianna slammed the brakes. Jackie’s seatbelt locked and caught him. Hank got body checked by the back of Dianna’s seat, his breath leaving him in an unflattering wheeze. A groaning “ow” came from the back seat. Jackie and Dianna snickered, looking at each other.
“Your house, almost missed it,” Dianna said, eyes flitting briefly past Jackie to his house that was visible out the window behind him.
Jackie’s eyes hung on Dianna’s eyes for a second. Thoughts raced through his head daring himself to ask her for a kiss. Or to be crazy and just start leaning in for one without asking. He could say it was a joke after. Or something about it being his birthday present.
But when her eyes came back and looked straight back into his, he chickened out immediately, looked away, unclicked his seatbelt, and got out of the car.
“Thanks for the ride,” he said as he got out, not even able to look back at her.
The car drove off as Jackie walked up his driveway. His mom’s car wasn’t parked there.
Taped to the front door, there was a note:
Forgot some groceries! Home soon. Your present is in your room.
Jackie yanked the note off of the door and crumpled it up. He really, really did not like his mom going in his room.
He opened the door. On the other side, a poofy poodle overdue for a haircut was there to greet him. He leaned down to pet her as her tail thumped against the walls. While petting her, waiting for it to have been long enough for her to settle down, he repeated, “Hey Bonny, yeah, hey Bonny...”
Jackie closed the front door behind himself. He stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a soda and threw away the crumpled up note. Seeing he was followed by Bonny, he also grabbed a treat out of her treat jar.
She sat down politely, staring at the treat in his hand, wagging.
Bonny barked loudly.
“Lay down. Sit. Lay down. Sit. Shake.”
Bonny did all asked, lastly offering her paw to be shook.
Jackie did shake her paw, and then gave her the dog biscuit.
Bonny crunched up the dry treat in her teeth, wagging.
With his soda, Jackie made his way over to the stairs and went down into the basement. There, there was an unfinished part of the basement that had the boiler or whatever, and a bunch of plastic boxes that were filled with Christmas decorations, off-season clothes, old papers and stuff. And, after walking through a valley of that stuff, was the door into Jackie’s room. Jackie and Bonny arrived there, turned the doorknob, and pushed the door open.
He flipped his light switch on, illuminating his blue walls with gaming posters taped up, his flat screen, his couch, his computer desk, his bed. His wastebasket beside his bed that he cringed at the idea of his mom going through, and the box of tissues on the bedside table. And, in the space between the couch and the TV, next to an amplifier, on a guitar stand, was a guitar!
“Woah, Bonny, look at this!” he said, coming around the couch to go look at the instrument. Bonny came with, wagging, although the poodle did not care about the guitar whatsoever, and hopped up into the bed, grabbed a pillow with her teeth, set the pillow down at the foot of the bed, and laid there at the foot of the bed with her chin on the pillow.
The guitar was blue, and had a bunch of faded fox stickers all over it.
Jackie got his phone out of his pocket, and texted his mom, Thanks mom!
He saw the indication that she was typing, and then a second later he received a heart emoji. Then more typing, and then, At the checkout line. Looking forward to getting home.
Jackie also took a picture of the guitar, and sent the pic to Dianna, Hank, and his other friend John J.
“Does it work, Bonny?” Jackie asked.
Bonny just looked at him, not really caring at the moment about whatever his question was, as long as it didn’t involve her having to get off the bed or have her comfy pillow taken.
Jackie found a place among his outlet strips to plug in the amp, and then plugged the amp into the guitar. He slung the guitar on with its black strap, grabbed a pick out of the baggie of them that sat there, and finally, flipped the amp’s power switch to ON.
The speaker came to life with a pop and an awaiting fuzz. Jackie got excited shivers up his body. He played John J.’s dad’s guitars on sleepovers pretty often, and had gotten some pointers from the old hippie. He hadn’t learned to shred or anything, but between the pointers from John J.’s dad and from being forced to play clarinet in band class, Jackie knew a little bit about notes and could proudly play power chords all the way up the neck.
He started with the lowest, E.
Pens rattled on his desk. Bonny sat up and barked. Jackie giggled in pleasure to himself as the sound washed over him.
He went up the power chords one by one, not to any scale at all, just loving the volume of it reverberating deep in his ears.
When he got to D5, a flash exploded out of the amp, and then one second later some chick was standing there in front of it.
“AH WHAT THE FUCK” Jackie yelled, flinching so hard at her arrival that he had ended up all the way back at his door, hanging on for balance by the frame. Bonny darted past him and ran away across the basement and up the stairs.
“Woah,” the woman said to herself, looking down at her hands, wiggling her fingers around.
Jackie didn’t realize until then that the woman was see-through, kind of, and had a chromatic glowing tint to her that slowly faded between green and blue, back and forth. Her clothes, a tank top and baggy cargo pants, seemed to be of one piece with the rest of her body, having the same ethereal qualities.
She took her eyes off of her hands and looked up at Jackie. “Ohhh, far out,” she said. “I actually died that time, I think. And now... this. Sorry to crash your digs.”
“Th-that’s fine,” Jackie said with a stutter. He stood upright. He thought about following Bonny’s lead and running, but this ghost—it definitely seemed to be a ghost—wasn’t attacking him or anything, and he didn’t want to make a rude impression. He looked down at the guitar he had. “Is this yours?”
“Oh, yeah. Don’t worry about it. Wow.”
“Are you a ghost?”
The probably ghost snorted in a laugh. “Yeah. What’s that all about, right? I think I was kind of high and had weird ideas about haunting people if I died and it... worked? Or did you summon me?”
“No I don’t think so.”
“Yeah probably the first thing then.” Putting a ghost hand on her ghost chest, she mentioned, “Gretchen.”
“H-hi, Gretchen. Jackie.”
“Isn’t that a girl’s name?”
“IT’S—” Jackie started, and then gave a defeated flail with his arms. “It’s really Jonathan but my schools have all had like fifty Jonathans so I staked out Jackie, okay?”
Speaking quickly and trying not to laugh, the ghost said, “No I like it I was just asking. Here. Handshake. Truce.”
Gretchen offered out her hand.
Jackie came back to the center of the room, and shook.
Upstairs, a door opened, and the two could hear a call of, “Jackie I’m home! Come get cake!”
Gretchen and Jackie looked to each other. Then realizing they were still holding hands, Jackie quickly pulled his hand back, and took off the guitar, and set it on the couch for the time being. “That’s my mom,” he mentioned. “There’s cake if you...”
“Normally I would say yes to that so fast but I’m kind of um, having a moment.”
“Well I do have to head up, at least for a sec.”
“Please, don’t let me stop you.”
“I’m probably not going to mention you.”
Gretchen laughed a little to herself. “Yeah that’s probably not a bad idea, huh? Oh, what’s the occasion? Or do you just get cake sometimes?”
“Right on. Anyways, go! I’ll be here, I think. Don’t let me hold you back from cake.”
Jackie nodded, and then did turn and head upstairs.
Upstairs, Jackie’s mom was setting out a big chocolate cake on the dining room table. After shouting happy birthday at him, she asked, “Talking to your friends on your games?”
“Hm? Oh. Yes.”
“Does the guitar all work?” she asked.
“Yeah! Yeah it sounds uh... really cool, actually.”
A while later, Jackie returned back down the stairs with a piece of cake for the ghost from his new haunted guitar. They sat side by side on the couch, her eating the cake, him toying at the guitar, and they chatted the evening away.
about a week later
Jackie’s ass was falling asleep in his plastic desk as he sat through the bullshittest class of the day. To begin with, it was the middle of summer, but his school did more frequent breaks year round, meaning that the end of the school year was still yet to come. Besides that, it was final period study hall. Most of the time, at Jackie’s school, if you had a first period study hall or a final period study hall, you were fully allowed to skip. But that was at the discretion of the teacher, and Jackie’s teacher, even after he had become a legal adult, still took attendance. Jackie spent most of the period on his phone.
Lately, he had been following a lot of cringe tags. He had secured a back corner desk where nobody could look over his shoulder and see his screen, so for this period he didn’t even have to be conscious of only dipping into the light stuff. As the last five minutes of the hour were ticking down, and some people around the classroom were starting to pack up, Jackie came across a callout post on some brainlet who ran an entire account posting about how much he liked shitting in diapers. He had entire brand reviews, live commentating sessions of days he spent doing this, even posted actual filthy pictures of his fat body from the waist down in his fetish clothes.
Kill yourself, Jackie typed into the comment box, and hit send.
Very quickly, it got a few hearts.
He spent the remaining couple of minutes of class scrolling back through each of his comments from that day to see how well each of them had done.
One in particular was getting a lot of likes and shares. Jackie quietly giggled to himself in pleasure at seeing how big the numbers were getting. A furry had posted that they missed colored pencil art of old cartoons. Jackie, under his anonymous alt account with the profile picture of Sasuke, had pointed out that colored pencil drawings could be found by children going through someone’s desk drawers and that this degenerate should be glad it was all digital now if he wasn’t trying to groom children into his sexualized furry shit, and told him to get help and that he was the reason nobody took LGBTQIA+ issues seriously anymore, when they made a whole social justice movement out of jerking off to cartoons and demanding everyone else watch them do it.
On that day, he caught a ride home with Hank. He was glad it was just the two of them, just the guys, so he could talk all about what he had seen. “It’s so fucked up,” Jackie said at one point, after explaining the diaper guy thing, and someone else he had seen who liked it/it pronouns like that was anything that humans were ever actually called. “Like, just look up boobs and beat your meat to boobs, what the hell is so complicated about that?”
“They’re weird,” Hank agreed, and then slammed on the brakes. “Your stop.”
Jackie unclicked his seatbelt. “Thanks for the ride.”
“Have fun beating your meat to boobs,” Hank returned, and then blasted the radio volume to max and peeled out before Jackie could muster a witty comeback.
Jackie saw in the driveway that his mom’s car was gone. And it was a late workday for her. House to himself. He had a full hard-on trying to raise its way out of his pants before he even got to the door.
He opened the door, and there was Bonny, wagging to greet him. His heart raced as he pet her, knowing to himself already what he was about to trick her into doing while he was home all alone with her.
He shrugged off his book bag by the door and then went straight to the kitchen. Bonny followed after, clueless of what the horny human had in mind.
There in the kitchen, he dug around in the cupboards, and pulled out a jar of peanut butter. He let out a nervous, shuddering sigh, and then turned around to face the poodle who stood in the kitchen with him. She met his eyes with not much of any emotion at all, probably just waiting to see whether any snacks were on offer. And, there kind of were.
Jackie unbuttoned his pants, and then zipped them down. Then, with another deep, shaky breath, he pulled his pants and drawers down to around his knees, letting his dick and balls out to the exposed air in the middle of the kitchen, right in front of his dog.
Bonny looked at his package briefly, and then back up at his eyes, with the same non-expression. She didn’t see his hard-on and immediately come over wanting it, curious what it was about. She also didn’t run away or anything. It—and what they were about to do—was nothing to her.
Jackie opened up the top of the peanut butter, stuck his finger in, and scraped some out. With a trembling hand, he spread it from his finger onto the underside of his erect penis. Bonny craned her head forward to try and lick his finger, but he held his hand up away from her, and waved his thing in front of her face instead.
Taking the alternative, she started giving it licks. Having actual mouth on his thing was unlike anything else in his life. Unlike talking on social media, unlike playing video games. Definitely unlike doing it with his dry hand. It was like porn videos had come to life. It was exciting, it felt straight-up pleasurable, it felt like a load off after a long week.
When she stopped licking, he put on more peanut butter. She got back into it and he couldn’t be happier for her to do so.
Jackie leapt away from the dog giving him a blowjob like she was a hot stove, and pulled up his pants as he looked around. By the short time later that the pants were zipped and buttoned, he still hadn’t seen anyone, and he began to halfway wonder whether he had been paranoid enough to imagine it.
He stood stock still for a bit, holding his breath so he could hear better if there was any other noise.
“Hello?” he called out.
Gretchen stuck her head out from around the corner, cheeks raised in a just-been-laughing face.
Bonny, at the arrival of the ghost, scampered off to be somewhere else.
“Oh hey um, I didn’t um, I didn’t know you could leave the basement,” Jackie said. He had also kind of just completely forgotten she was around now.
“I didn’t know you were into bestiality,” Gretchen returned.
“I’M NOT—I’m not ‘into bestiality,’ what the fuck,” Jackie tried, avoiding eye contact super hard.
“Okay, well, you’re an adult getting a dog to lick peanut butter off your dick, WHICH I SAW, so whatever you want to call that.”
Jackie felt his cheeks burning up. He muttered, “Just blowing off steam.”
“How many times have you ‘blown off steam’ with her? Ten, twenty, a hundred—”
“Four!” Gretchen echoed back in a squeal of laughter. “Is she your first?”
“She—it doesn’t count!”
“Hey, THAT’S fucked up, kinda,” Gretchen said. “I don’t actually care, to be clear. Just asking.”
“I just... I’m bad at talking to girls.”
“She’s a girl.”
“You know that’s different!”
“True, I don’t think your girlfriend from school would fall for the peanut butter as easily.”
Jackie, still avoiding eye contact, kind of shrugged. “Dianna and I aren’t together.”
“Wait, Dianna? That’s her name?”
“Oh my god, little story bout Jackie and Dianna?”
“What do you mean what! Jack and Diane!”
“I don’t know what that is.”
“Wait, what year is it?”
“Whaaaat the fuck, I thought it was like, 2002 or something. How long was my guitar in that pawn shop? Anyways, off topic. Look. I wasn’t even trying to interrupt, I was about to turn around and go back downstairs when I saw what was going on, it just surprised me, you didn’t seem like the type.”
“I was just trying it out.”
“Foooor the fourth time.”
“It is kinda nice,” Jackie admitted. “But I’m not ‘into bestiality,’ it’s just, she’s the only one available.”
“Who cares if you are?” Gretchen asked.
“Into bestiality,” Gretchen said.
“Everyone would care?”
“Noooo, try like, maybe your pastor or your principal. Look, you’re not even hurting her, which is why I don’t care. If you were, I might be like, blowing up light bulbs and shattering windows and stuff. But from what I saw? I would definitely say you’re being weird, and like, pervy, but there’s no shame in that. Anyways. I’m going back downstairs. I got you to level 72 in your army guys game by the way.”
“Oh um, cool.”
“Have fun,” Gretchen said with a smirk, and then scampered away back around the corner, towards the stairs to the basement.
After letting a few seconds pass, Jackie punched his fist into his palm a few times, let out a silent mock-scream into the crook of his arm. Then he took his phone out of his pocket, opened one of his socials, and typed dog peanut butter into the search bar. After scrolling past a number of results that were people just posting about treats they had baked for their dog, he got to one post of someone actually saying, Just got my dog to lick peanut butter off me :3
Jackie went to the comments, typed I hope you die, rapist, and hit send.
Bonny came trotting back around the corner, and looked at him.
Jackie came over to her, and gave her a pet on the head as he peeked around the corner for Gretchen.
“Little more,” he whispered to Bonny, and then pulled his pants back down and went to the peanut butter again.
It took him a sec, though really not that long, to get back in the mood again. Gripping the edge of the counter, he finished into her mouth, the cum disappearing in her licks as soon as it came out.
“Good girl,” he said breathlessly. He leaned down and gave her a few pets. Then he grabbed three treats out of her jar, and gave all three of them to her, one after the other as she wagged. He then washed his hands, and dick, and pulled his pants back up.
Jackie then sighed, grabbed a soda out of the fridge, and headed for the basement. Bonny stayed upstairs on the couch, knowing there was a ghost down there.
Jackie entered his room, and closed the door behind himself. Gretchen sat on the couch, leaning towards the TV, rocking left and right along with the shooter game she was playing. She let out a loud “FUCK” as her guy got blown up. “Why is that in the game? Why is that fun for anyone?”
Jackie came over, turned on the amp, and sat down on the other side of the couch with the guitar and his soda. He strummed a few power chords, and then sat practicing scales.
“Did you finish?” Gretchen asked, gaze still dead locked on the flat screen ahead of her.
“Yeah.” Jackie continued to play up the scale he was on, until fucking up one of the notes. He started over again, and fucked up earlier. He shook his head. “Hey um, I know you were like, a furry.”
“Yes,” Gretchen said, “and if you were wondering, very pissed off my ghost form is me instead of Poisonberry. That was my character. Vixen whose claws would poison you. FUCK. THAT. ROCKET LAUNCHER. OH MY GOD.”
“Wait, like, poison-poison claws? You would kill other people?”
“Pff, yeah, a lot of people were actually pretty into that role play.”
“That’s... a little fucked up.”
“It was role play.”
“No, not ‘still,’ it literally never happened.”
Gretchen continued to play the game. Jackie sat with his arms limply hanging over the guitar for a bit, watching the game, and then he leaned back, and strummed a few non-chords, leaving his left hand completely off the instrument.
Gretchen asked, “If Dianna wanted to date you, would you say yes?”
“Yeah, I would love that.”
“You’d get head from her instead of getting lickjobs from your dog?”
“Of course.” Jackie also blushed at that. He hadn’t thought of that name for them.
“But do you dislike getting licked by dogs?” Gretchen asked.
Jackie sat watching the game, and didn’t answer.
Gretchen tried again, “Put it this way: If you had a girlfriend, but she wasn’t available 24/7, would you be disgusted by the idea of filling in the gaps with a poodle if she said that she was really turned on by the idea of you using her dog like that?”
“I um... if the poodle didn’t mind I don’t see why not.”
“I think you’re a little attracted to animals,” Gretchen said. “Which is like, normal, a ton of people are. You just seem really in your head about it.”
Jackie gave a few more non-chord strums. “Maybe. Yeah.”
“Who told you it was bad?”
“What! Oh that’s so sad. The internet used to be cool. Does it suck now?”
Jackie had an epiphany.
“Yes. It does, actually.”
Jackie took out his phone and deleted his social apps, making the taps with all the power of killing the final boss in a really tough video game.
He texted Hank, Sorry if I’ve sounded like an asshole lately. I think I’m bi and was kind of lashing out.
Most within Volume I written by Eggshell Ghosthearth.