City of Bears: The Skin Between (Part 3)

With that, Trey didn’t say anything else, he just pulled on some socks and work boots, and then left Darren to his own devices in his place, and hurried down to the street so he could get to work at the construction site, hard hat in hand.

Work, in the city, was an odd endeavour, and it certainly wasn’t for everyone, or even for most. After all, what was there to labor for, in a city where everyone could have what they needed at any moment? The city provided everything you might need–everything but a purpose, but most men could find ways to manage that inconvenience. Still, work did have a certain appeal, to a certain kind of character. For some, play felt so much more rewarding after a day of work, while for others, work became a kind of service, something they could provide for their own innate pleasures, or perhaps for the pleasure of a master. Some others desired it merely as a way to fill time, something to provide a rhythm to the endless cycle of change, something they could use to entertain themselves while they waited for a better reason to come along, as reasons had a way of doing, eventually.

But Trey wasn’t working for purpose, or for pleasure, or for service, his was a more…desperate measure, and much of that had to do with the hard hat he held in his hand, better known as a RuffHat, as they had been branded years ago, when, as Darren had said, the old craftsman Abrahams had first manufactured them. He had been an odd craftsman–most bears who crafted artifacts found pleasure in creating things that brought about a rather instant effect, but Abrahams advocated the particular pleasures of a slower, more deliberate process. He claimed a Change lasted longer for two reasons–first, if you wanted it, and second, if you earned it. So, he sought to give people ways to earn them.

Trey caught a bus, checked the clock again, and if he ignored the growl in his gut, he could almost convince himself all of this had turned out alright, and he really wasn’t running all that late. The bus moved out of downtown and towards an outlying sector of the city where much of the…rougher work happened in the city–the docks, the warehouses, the factories. He was headed for Construction Zone #5, where he worked as a grunt worker, building a new factory, or a new warehouse, or a new dock–it hardly mattered. Everything in the city was always changing anyway, and buildings and their purpose were no exception. When they finished, Zone #5 would move elsewhere, possibly tearing down some other, now derelict building, just to give the men something to do. Trey tried not to think about it, it was easier to not think about whether there was meaning in process with no resolution. Better bears then him had driven themselves nearly mad trying to reason their way to the meaning of the city and everyone’s place within it. Better to just exist. Better to stay in the moment.

He got off the bus and made his way towards the zone. The streets were full of men, most of them on the way to the same sorts of jobs he was going to, and all of them looking like they…belonged here. It only seemed to heighten what he’d been losing all of these last few months. Why was he even doing this? He’d been lying to Darren earlier, telling him this was something new he’d been doing, working with the RuffHat. He’d had this job for almost two months, and the only thing the hat had done for him was slow down what was happening to him. It seemed like an old joke somehow, that the hat was refusing to help him, most likely because his own guilt and insecurity was holding him back. He knew he didn’t deserve anything other than what he was sliding towards, and secretly, he was wondering if he might want it, as well. He should give it up, and just give in. It would be…so much easier, at least. He’d enjoy it too–giving into a Change always felt so satisfying, and maybe he’d finally be able to forget about Willis, and quit being haunted by all of this…but he didn’t want to be that–this loser. This pervert, this slob, this waste. He hadn’t been good to anyone, he could admit that, but he didn’t deserve this–no one did.

He slowed down as he got to the zone, and ducked into the nearby alley, where he prefered to change. Everyone in the zone knew he was a Ruff, but he…hated changing in front of them, he preferred arriving and leaving as the person working, without having to admit who he really was–without having to admit this wasn’t working at all. After all, Ruff’s commanded a certain inherent respect. It meant someone was working to improve themselves, and Ruffs were usually the hardest workers on any zone, when one showed up. It was…humiliating, in its own way. With a deep breath, he put the hat on his head, and felt it wash down over him. He leaned into the brick to steady himself, looking down at his body, watching his frame fill out the overalls, hair covering his arms and shoulders, his mind slowing down to a relative crawl–but a happy crawl. He was going to work. He liked working. He liked lifting things, and hammering, and carrying stuff, and he was good at it! He was a Ruff, after all, and that’s what Ruffs were most good at in the whole world. The Ruff grinned, wiped a thick hand across his heavy, tanned brow, and realized he needed to hurry. He was running late, and he’d feel real bad if he was late for the job–a good Ruff was never late. They worked hard, all the way to quitting time, and then they were done, and took off the hat, and then the Ruff could go away knowing he had done a good job until the next day, when he would get to work again.

The Ruff stepped out of the alley and hurried down to the zone, apologized to the foreman waiting for him for being late, and then got to work. Work was the best, wasn’t it? Nothing could satisfy a man like work. The Ruff could feel the apprehension inside him, which he was holding at bay for the moment, and it made him a bit sad, as he started hauling some bags of cement over to where some men were working on the foundation. Still, he’d work as hard as he could–it was all he knew how to do. There wasn’t anything more to being a Ruff than that, after all.

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