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Not so Hard Time

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Oct 27th, 2018
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  1. By all accounts, it was a successful program: The rehabilitation of the downtrodden, treating them as women who’d been dealt a bad hand, rather than a number on the back of a orange jumpsuit. Most of them were young yet, late teens or 20s. They had to show a willingness to adapt, of course, the ones too far gone — lamentable as it was — were removed from the curriculum.
  2. A major point was in the skills training. They received not just career training and job placements, but life skills. How to organize and plan, create a budget, manage personal finances, care for a household. And cook.
  3. Although nothing was ever presented as a competition, alas, the women may have been more than willing to set aside their former lives, some things had been ingrained. And in the most recent batch, a class, if you will, had three in particular that had to be the best.
  4. Lypha, tall and proud, legs like tree trunks and her black and orange striped fur had been the one to really kick things off. It’d started innocently enough, with innocent being used to the loosest extent possible.
  5. How to iron one’s slacks and blouses. For wrinkles were an affront to good business sense, and how were you ever going to nail that interview without a pleat in your slacks that could cut an errant leaf blowing by?
  6. The teacher had stressed this point.
  7. The students had been listening.
  8. Everything had been going swell. Irons steamed, shirts were hung up, wrinkle free as could be. The slacks and their pleats, however, proved slightly more difficult.
  9. A wolf of ashen fur and blazing red eyes had placed her paws upon her hips in triumph — the pleats were neat! Sharp!
  10. But Lypha, next to the hellhound, had snickered. “What kinda weak-ass shit is that,” she’d said, much to Stabs (Which was, of course, a nickname, but everyone had forgotten her actual name. Most assumed the name fit the crime. Stabs would neither confirm nor deny, giving her something of an air of mystique to those who had been thrown in the klink for less violent crimes) irritation. “Check this out!”
  11. Lypha held up the pants, so over-starched they were no longer discernable as something made of woven fibers, but with an entire corn-field sprayed and ironed in, the pleats were indeed something to behold.
  12. “Whatever,” Stabs snorted, “How you gonna wear that? Fuckin,” she slapped one of the legs, sending the whole stiff package cartwheeling out of Lypha’s paw, “Hard as shit!”
  13. Whirling pants slammed into Daisy’s ironing board, which more force than pants should ever have, knocking the whole ensemable to the ground in a raucous clatter. Which left Daisy standing there, iron mid-motion, hanging in the air.
  14. Daisy had been in for some minor arson. Just two shacks. The tiny, magical flame at the tip of her red-scaled tail flared and she turned, looking from whence the pants had come with her head lilted sideways.
  15. “Fuck’s your problem?” She hissed, long, forked tongue sliding out from between her fangs.
  16. “Stripes sprayed the entire gods damned can!” Stabs snickered
  17. “You’re th’ one done fuckin’ knocked it outta my paw!”
  18. “Maybe if ya didn’t have such a weak ass, limp-wristed grip!”
  19. Lypha stepped up to the hellhound, and while she was the tallest in the group, the ashen hound did not back down from the tigress.
  20. Of course, the flaming salamander, her tail swishing all about like muscled whip, was not about to let this go and joined in, creating a triangle of glares, grunts, and touching shoulders. (and even hips, as Lypha was, depending on who you asked, either blessed or cursed in that department (and even other parts squished together, rather uncomfortably.)) Hackles were up.
  21. The instructor, a sweet old lady with an eyepatch and two of her nine, golden tails hacked to the base, coughed politely into a fist.
  22. The trio scattered like cats and dogs and lizards from the conquering howl of a vacuum cleaner.
  23. “We mustn’t fight over trivial matters,” the instructor said, in that endearing, grandmotherly voice. She laughed that grandmother laugh.
  24. Lypha and Stabs and Daisy glared at one another as the instructor made her way over to the source of the commotion. She examined the pants by smacking them against a nearby wall. A bit of paint chipped off.
  25. She “Hmmed.”
  26. She then examined Stab’s handiwork, noting a feature the others had missed: The backside was mostly scorch marks.
  27. She “Hmmed.”
  28. Daisy had grumbled and setup her station, having laid out her project once again.
  29. From the cuff to the knee of the left leg, it had been a fine job no doubt, but, unfortunately, the rest was untouched by steam or heat. Over 10 minutes had elapsed since they were told to begin.
  30. She “Hmmed.”
  31. And then, with a clearing of the throat, proclaimed to the class as a whole: “Attention, fine, upstanding young ladies. Please pay careful attention to these three.”
  32. All three puffed up at once.
  33. “This is not what you want to do.”
  34. Once puffed, there was no unpuffing, no matter the shame. They glowered at the class, daring them to laugh, and each other, as if to say that while they may have fucked up, yes, they’d fucked up the least.
  35. The kindly old fox then instructed them to start over, advising them what they should fix. Less starch. Quite a lot less. In fact, avoid the starch altogether. Lypha was advised there would be consequences if she approached the cabinet with the cans of starch.
  36. Stabs had to keep the iron moving, and yes, it did need water in it. Stabs responded that she had filled it, and as instructed, never took the iron off. Clarification was given about the particular nuances of the meaning.
  37. As for Daisy, well, the salamander was simply told to speed up, to which she asked how she was supposed to ensure it was proper and neat? Find a way, of course.
  38. Of course.
  39. The stage was set. Vows were made, both publically and privately.
  40. They’d be the winners.
  41. How a winner would be decided? Fuck that, who cares about that shit. Only important bit was that someone won.
  42. Days passed. Groups formed. Colors were worn. All in secret, of course, because anything remotely close to a gang was grounds for expulsion and a return to the cell.
  43. The instructor was aware of what they were doing even before they were aware, of course. Grandmothers knew these things. Especially when they were former bosses. Underlings and employees, depending how valuable they were, always got up to mischief, and It was a poor boss who didn’t know what, exactly, they were up to. A good boss then, wasn’t just one who knew what they were up to, but knew that sometimes, tigers were wolves were nitpicky lizards, and micromanaging everyone was never good for business.
  44. But, as a reminder to not get too wild, the instructor left each of them a butterscotch sweet on their pillows one night before they returned from one of their skills classes.
  45. Wildness had been curtailed.
  46. To a point.
  47. “Nice double-stitching ya got there,” Lypha sneered in one class, feeding the two halves of her fluffy fabric through the machine. It clattered in a speedy beat, pushing and pulling thread by some sort of mechanical wizardry. In seconds, the two halves had been done up neatly.
  48. Stabs had, for the moment, given up to stare angrily at the machine, arms crossed across her chest. Thread had bunched up and even managed to explode out in a knot. Poking and prodding and tugging had failed to undo the calamity that’d befallen the sewing machine.
  49. “Whatever, bitch. I smoked your ass in cooking.”
  50. “Yeah and I fucked both of you,” Daisy intervened, as she hand-stitched a pattern on the surface of her piece of fabric. To everyone’s great surprise, including the instructors, her claws worked in a deft blur; in half an hour the pattern was half complete. It’d taken the instructor two to make a completed demonstration model. Soon, she would have a mighty fine mofucore embroidery.
  51. “And you sluts better bend over, ‘cause I’m about to fuck both y’all in the asssss again!” She snorted.
  52. “Whatever, nobody got time for that,” Lypha jeered, thrusting a padded finger in Daisy’s direction, “unless you’re making a fucking handtowel. We’re s’possed to be makin’ fuckin throw pillows, remember?”
  53. “I remember.”
  54. Stabs, losing her patience, had begun tearing at the knot of thread and fabric, pulling so hard the metal on the machine creaked and whined. “If I didn’t get sucha piece of shit!” She howled, and with one final tug, the whole assembly carrying the sewing needle gave out, sending a hunk of steel and cotton whizzing across the room, straight for the instructor.
  55. The class, as a whole, had been watching in the sort of silence that crowds always did when shit was in the process of escalating, and, as a whole, gasped, for the instructor was not facing them, and was about to get decked in the back of the head.
  56. One ear twitched, and a curtail of tails shot up. The projectile pomfed into the sea of fluff and clattered, harmlessly, to the ground.
  57. She turned and smiled. “It seems some of you are having problems?”
  58. All eyes fell upon Stabs, silently indicating the perpetrator, save for her particular members, who tried to diffuse stares with counter-stares. It was a battle they were not to win.
  59. “We must use delicacy,” said the instructor, walking towards the hound with hands clasped at her back, a stoop, and shuffling, sandaled feet.
  60. Despite the fact her head came up to Stabs’ chest, the hellhound still shrank away.
  61. “Brute force will not win you any battles here,” she intoned, with her usual grandmother smile, “Now, this machine is hopelessly broken. Let’s find you another to use, hmm?”
  62. Lypha and Daisy couldn’t contain their toothy, shit-eating grins, but they were not to last, for the instructor turned to them. “And we must provide assistance to those in need, hmm?”
  63. “Er, uh,” they mumbled in unison, looking anywhere but at her.
  64. “Hmm?”
  65. “Yes,” they said in small voices.
  66. “Good. In working together, you will accomplish more than you ever could alone,” the instructor smiled.
  67. More sweets were discovered upon their pillows that night.
  68. In the following class, on cooking, the trio met at the neutral ground of the fifth cooking station; the one in the center of the room.
  69. “Butterscotch?” Whispered Stabs.
  70. “…Coconut for me,” Lypha said, eyes glazed over, focused on some place far away only she could see.
  71. “Cherry Cordial,” came Daisy’s response.
  72. They all asked an unspoken question, “What does this mean?”
  73. “That fuckin’ fox,” Lypha said, shaking her head, paws clasped to either side.
  74. “Don’t say that! She might hear!”
  75. Stabs scoffed, “She ain’t magic, but…”
  76. But she probably she has connections on the outside. Why doesn’t she just kick us out already?!
  77. The neutral ground was deathly silent for a long, pregnant minute, broken only when the instructor entered the room with a sunny greeting, sending the trio fleeing to their respective stations.
  78. “Now then, students, we will be making something a little more complicated than usual, today, but worry not! I am confident all of you will succeed,” she said, as she spoke she somehow managed to aim her words to three particular individuals at the same time, at least as far as each of them was concerned.
  79. There was much paw and claw wringing.
  80. Least of all because none of them were clear victors, and classes would be over in another week and they would be ejected into the so called ‘real world.’ Provided the instructor gave them passing marks and found them suitably prepared and changed to enter society as productive members.
  81. For Daisy, cooking was always harrowing. The pilot light on the oven danced, urging her to help it grow. She broke out in a cold sweat, or would have, could scales sweat. So, she just broke out in a cold nothing in particular.
  82. And then the entire class got to experience a similar feeling when the instructor broke out the double boiler and made a sort of pudding, which would be the filling for a layered desert. Pudding, thick, whipped cream, a chocolate crust that was somewhere between pie-crust and brownie in its consistency, and last, but not least, a cheesecake layer.
  83. Nothing was premade. No containers of whipped cream. No instant pudding. No ready-to-spread creamcheese filling.
  84. They had two hours.
  85. Lypha beat her chest and her throng cheered as she tore open the fridge and gathered the pudding ingredients. For it was the most difficult thing to make, and thus should be the first.
  86. Scoffing at the tiger’s stupidity, Stabs went ahead and worked on the crust first. You always put the first layer down first, everyone knew that.
  87. And Daisy had a thought as she decided the first thing was to pre-measure every ingredient and line them up on the counter-top, that she couldn’t remember what order the instructor had done things in.
  88. Flour flew. Sugar arced in the air. Somehow. Measuring cups were packed, or some of them were. Each recovering criminal had varying ideas about how things were to be done. A rapidly heating argument over weight versus volume earned Daisy and Stabs a smile from the instructor, quenching those flames before they could spread.
  89. “Haha, fuck you bitches, this gonna be the greatest shit, just you wait ‘n see,” Lypha boasted as she poured out her finished pudding into a bowl, “Eh, is this shit s’posed to be in here?” She wondered aloud, prodding at a brown honey-comb-like material on the bottom of the boiler.
  90. “Only one getting’ fucked is you! Kahaha — SHIT” Stabs retorted, laughing so hard her she fumbled the bowl of cheesecake mixture she was beating in her paws. The whisk perished upon the dirty tile, but the bowl was caught safely.
  91. Meanwhile, Daisy, the obviously most intelligent one, watched in smug silence. Once she’d gotten the perfect amount of flour in the cup, she could begin. Their asses were going to be so sore they couldn’t sit for weeks when she was done with them.
  92. Whisk whisk, beat beat, stir stir. Clatter, crash, “Shit!!” “Why does my whipped cream keep fucking collapsing!”
  93. Tick, tock, tick, tock.
  94. The instructor watched on with some interest, reading a steamy novel on her tablet at the same time that really got her tails swaying. If anyone had been close enough, they might’ve heard a faint voice pining for a moment of youth.
  95. Five minutes to go.
  96. Lypha’s was… finished, in a sense. It resembled the finished product up at the instructor’s station, if one was far enough away and didn’t look hard enough. Somehow, she’d messed up the layer order, inverting the desert. Maybe it could be fixed by flipping the glass pan and tapping it out? She bit her lip; better not risk it.
  97. Stabs, too, was finished, and she’d had the layers correct, but the proportions were… off. Her desert was mostly crust and cheesecake with a thin veneer of pudding and whipped cream, with a drizzle that looked as if applied by shotgun.
  98. And then there was Daisy, attempting to make all four layers at once in a mad flurry.
  99. Tiger and Wolf were highly amused, pointing and laughing, “Slow bitch! Good luck! Kahaha! Haha!”
  100. They may have even high-fived, for, in their minds, her loss would be so severe that it meant only they were left for the final classes to come.
  101. The instructor had appeared from nowhere, startling the both of them with a quiet, “Let’s see what we have here!”
  102. She looked over their deserts, saying nothing but a steady “Hmm,” and came to observe Daisy in her frantic pace. Again, she said nothing, but reached into the pocket of her yukata and handed Lypha and Stabs a candy each, “For finishing early,” she said.
  103. They swallowed massive lumps in their throats.
  104. And found, deep in their hearts, a sudden craving to help their fellow woman. Lizard woman. Flaming lizard woman. Nearly breaking into a fight to scramble towards Daisy first, feet squeaking and sliding on the tile and arms shoving, they raced to finish Daisy’s desert. Of course, Daisy gaped in abject horror. The sloppiness!
  105. But a candy from the instructor had her suddenly agreeable. “Ha. Ha. Boy I sure am glad to have help,” she said, in an entirely un-mechanical fashion.
  106. In that narrow span of time, magic happened. What should’ve taken any person 20 minutes, if they were fast, to complete, resulted in the final dashes of nuts and drizzle falling upon the desert as the egg timer went off.
  107. “All right class, spatulas down! Let’s see how you all did,” said the instructor.
  108. She made her way around to each of them, taking her time and altering her course as to make the trio’s the last to be inspected. Perhaps because she had already, in a sense, reviewed them earlier.
  109. She said nothing, unlike the others. What was there to say? All three were cocked up in ways unimaginable to most chefs, bakers, and those who simply had an inkling of cooking and baking.
  110. Instead, she went “Hmmm” for some time, and then awarded them each a chocolate bonbon and a reserved “Good work.”
  111. They gazed upon their prize and then each other. Failure? Success?
  112. Maybe it meant they won because they helped each other, albeit at the last possible moment.
  113. Maybe it meant they won because they’d just finished the damn thing.
  114. Or they lost because they were hopeless and they knew it.
  115. This argument lasted some time.
  116. Well after they graduated, as a matter of fact.
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