Thomas just wants a simple, stable existence, but saddled with unemployment, an absentee girlfriend, and the impending unpaid rent, change is hurtling down on him whether he likes it or not. Following the sudden murder of his strange elderly neighbor, He awakens on wrong side of the Veil transformed into a mountain lion and thrust into a dangerous world of magic. Does he have what it takes to survive on his own? Or will he be collared by an eager magi?
Thomas must team up with a disgraced Inquisitor and a pyromaniac squirrel to dodge the fate pushed upon him by haughty mages, manipulative union leaders, and violent werewolves. Does Thomas have the will to take control of his life through wit and claw to become the first Freelance Familiar?
Off Leash is the first book in Daniel Potter's Freelance Familiars series, a humorous adventure story beset by immoral mages and fast-talking animals. If you enjoyed the Dresden Files and want an overtone of Discworld, you'll love this rollicking urban fantasy adventure.
"Consistently entertaining, slightly silly, and all around light-hearted tongue-in-cheek fun...though not entirely devoid of grimness!"– Laura M. Hughes, Fantasy-Faction.com
"It's a rousing action story told in a world within our own, but hidden by mystic forces so that we mundanes can't see it. The characters are outstandingly created. The details describing the transition of Thomas' body and mind from man to cougar is just amazing! The plot is never dull for even a split-second. I am looking forward to the next installment!
I give this debut novel from Daniel Potter five stars, and call it a Khatagorically Stupendous Read!"– Amazon Review
"I enjoyed this story greatly. It was well-written, entertaining the whole way through, and kept me hooked the entire time. I absolutely loved the humor, the characters were all quite varied and distinct, and all around it was a fun read. I ended up reading the entire thing the night I bought it. XD
I'm eagerly looking forward to more in this series, and quite glad the book was pointed out to me.
I'm actually thinking of starting it again tonight. XD"– Amazon Review
It had started as a good day. Objectively that was a lie, but after six months of unemployment self-delusion becomes a survival trait. I was two days from getting booted off unemployment, with my girlfriend AWOL for the last week. By "good day" I mean I had wrestled a small drop of hope out of my heart that one of the half dozen jobs I had applied to while guzzling down iced coffees might result in an interview.
The old man, my next-door neighbor, had watched me throughout the entire process as I cut and pasted my meager work experience into the applicable boxes. This wasn't exactly new for either of us. He practically lived in that cafe, ordering iced teas and crunching on the ice for about an hour after the tea had been consumed. He'd sit in the sole comfy recliner in the cafe with a book in his lap and that tiny cat of his sprawled over the top of the chair. The cat, who looked like the sort of thing a Chihuahua could beat up for lunch money, often seemed more interested in the book than the old man was. The bigger the book, the less his wrinkled nose would be in it, but if he had a paperback, he never looked up. Often on the days he hauled in a huge leather tome, he'd look right at me. He didn't try to hide it if I caught him. Just gave me a little smile and a nod.
I didn't think much of it. I used to live in San Francisco, where you let folks be happy with their own weirdness. Grantsville, Pennsylvania, seemed to have the same creed. Between Amish farms and the folks who lived in the national forest a few miles north, it was a very different weird from Cali but still respected. So I gave the guy a polite "hello" sometimes and he'd say "hi" back. The man and his wrinkles seemed lost in their own little world. Or so I thought.
This day had been a paperback day. He had his nose in a wrinkled copy of The Green Mile, and I barely noticed him. I had been busy thinking at a little portrait of Angelica I kept in the corner of my desktop, her brown eyes twinkling with mischief and a grin that came off as a tad aggressive but that fit her, hinting at barbed wit. When we met we had clicked together, a logon and password combo. Too bad every two weeks she unplugged herself and disappeared for the same length of time—I didn't have the access rights to know why. Whenever I asked, she just shook her black locks and said, "Top-secret. Stop asking." If I pried further I'd get a curt, "Do you want me not to come back? Cuz that's alternative." I'd always decided I preferred her more in limited doses than none at all. Now a certain reality called rent might make her next appearance our last visit. As far as I could tell, she didn't come back pockets stuffed with cash; she earned what little she did freelancing from the couch. Unpaid top-secret internships sounded unlikely.
My straw stopped making slurping sounds. A sure sign that I had outlasted even the ice in my cup. Guiltily, I got up. I had the best medicine for my quandary back home. The sweet sound of exploding newbs never failed to push back the feeling of doom crawling up my neck. Doom in this case asking my father for money and the strings that would come with it.
Turning towards the door, I found the old man in my way, shuffling out towards it with an unsteady gait. I held the door for him once I squelched a flash of annoyance. After all, you can't blame somebody for getting old. Usually it means they did at least something right with their lives. So I waited for him to shuffle past while I paused to glance at the bulletin board by the door, vainly hoping to see a job posting before I followed him out of the coffee shop, my gaze solidly on my feet.
I heard an engine roar just as my own foot touched the pavement of the road. I glanced up just in time to see what I still see in the dark of my eyelids. A car ripping across my field of vision. The heavy crunch of breaking bone. The impact of the old man's body slamming into my chest.
Tires screeched as the blue sky filled my vision. Dazed, I lifted my head and looked at the car jetting off down the street. Black sedan, tarnished silver letters on the trunk spelled out "Sable." Common sense finally lit up my brain, and I sought out the license plate number. I stared at those white numbers as the car raced away, not a single number registering in memory.
The old man's chuckle, a dry and reedy sound, drew my attention. Numbly I looked down at him sprawled across my legs, his limbs bent at odd angles. A rivulet of bright red blood flowed from his left nostril as he coughed out another laugh. "Didn't see that one coming."
"Hey, s-stay with me." The words slipped from my mouth as I looked around for somebody, trying to ignore the creeping sense of panic. A woman stared wide-eyed from the door of the coffee shop. "Get help!" I screamed at her, and she ducked back inside like a frightened rabbit.
The old man laughed again, his yellow teeth mottled with red. "Too late for that, Kitty."
And here comes the delirium, I remember thinking as his grin widened. "Oh, yeah?" Keep them talking, right?
My mind clawed for some first aid knowledge that might be useful for somebody who was probably bleeding internally. I came up with nothing other than it probably wasn't a good idea to move him.
"I got something for ya. It's in the cupboard," he mumbled, his eyes starting to drift from my face.
Desperate and not having a better idea, I waved my hand in front of his eyes. "Sure. Right after the ambulance comes we'll go check that out."
"Heh." He breathed out and died. I heard something that might have been a snap, and the world went all funny. I'm still unclear on the how or why. But that is the moment that my life jumped down a green pipe into crazy land.
My next clear memory is getting blasted in the ears by the razor-sharp beeps of my alarm clock. It took me three tries to successfully smack the clock hard enough to stop its awful screeching. When I did finally hit the damn thing, the force of the slam set my entire hand tingling. It took me two additional sleep-wake-flail-smack cycles to become curious as to cause of my sudden loss of button-pressing aptitude. Normally I could hit that big bar with the accuracy of a laser-guided missile.
Cracking my eyes open illuminated the problem. On the top of the clock, where I expected to see my hand, was not a hand at all. It was something else. The bottom of my stomach fell out as I stared at the thing on my alarm clock. My thinking bits had never been fast wakers, so I squeezed my eyes shut. Only to get another bolt of unfamiliarity as something slid up underneath my eyelids and over my eyes. This sent a shiver racing down my spine, a sensation that flowed well past my hips. Flutters of panic shot through my brain and snapped my eyes open again. The world was still blurred for a split second before the membranes across my eyes retracted back from whence they came. My "hand" sprang into focus, covering the entirety of my alarm clock. Slowly I lifted it and turned the palm towards me. My heart scrabbled into my ears as my brain reluctantly put the individual components together. The brown fur, the short digits with round leathery-looking pads. The claws that just poked out of the tip of each digit. I tried to close my fist and each one slid out, hooked and wicked. This was no hand, my brain declared. This was a paw, a very large cat's paw. What was it doing on my wrist?
It turned out my wrist was covered in the same brown fur and merged into an arm that looked more like a leg before diving into the rest of me, the shoulder concealed in the same thick pelt. My thoughts thrashed in panic, undulating between incredulous and straight out denial. I went through all the standard scapegoats for an altered reality. Who slipped me LSD? Could I be dreaming? Had I gone mad?
Yet the simple act of pulling my limb back to myself stomped on those panicked thoughts with a pair of army boots. The way the muscles in the arm-leg moved against each other, the sensation of each individual hair shifting in response to the movement spidered a sense of vertigo over the limb. You know that feeling when you miss a step? That wrenching moment when you discover that reality does not match your internal predictions? Expand that single moment into a creeping awareness, and you might have an inkling of the alien sensations that were flowing into my brain at that moment.
I screamed and lashed out at my bed sheets. It only made the sensation worse. My spine moved like it had been replaced with a serpent, extending farther than it ever had before and thrashing with a life of its own. I discovered my sharp teeth by nearly piercing my tongue. Every movement of unfamiliar muscles poured pure wrongness on my brain. Everything in me told me to run away, to hide, but all I managed was clawing and kicking at the air, futilely, blindly. Screaming for help only produced a raw and ragged sound that burst through my skull. It made me try harder. Yet there is no escape from your own body. Minutes, perhaps hours later I slumped back into a tangle of shredded sheets, utterly exhausted. All I could do was feel the air sweeping over the hotness of my too-long tongue. The clock went off again. I listened to its needy beeping for a long time, head empty. I focused on those needle-like notes. If I stayed perfectly still, then I could pretend my body was still human.
The beeping stopped and sleep claimed me. I woke later in a still room. The only sound was the faint buzz of electronics. My ears panned on their own to focus on the buzz. I felt broken and uprooted, knowing that every movement would bring more horrible unfamiliarity.
Instead I focused on the familiar—the distinct feeling of a swollen bladder was about as normal as it got.
Seeing no choice in the matter, I put all my legs under myself and stood up on my mattress. It was . . . easy. The sense of unease blossomed, but instead of exploding into panic, it faded as I stood there. The weight of what had to be a very long tail lashed slowly behind me. I did not turn and look at it. Not yet. I wasn't ready for that just yet. Looking down, I studied my front paws. I had seen those already and carefully repositioned them on the edge of the bed while fighting to keep the claws from slicing open my mattress. I was struck by how large they were, far wider than my hands had been.
The hop down and short trot to the bathroom were also easy. Too smooth. If I had stumbled or felt a bit off balance I'd have been more assured. This body seemed to know how to handle itself even if I did not.
Before tackling the logistics of the porcelain throne I popped my paws up onto the bathroom counter and stole a look in the mirror. A feline face stared back at me. I had already guessed that, but it was still jarring to see a face that wasn't mine staring back at me from the mirror. It had light brown fur, except for a whitish muzzle, and blackish markings where long whiskers sprouted. The half-folded ears communicated my unhappiness at the sight well enough. At least I knew what I was. The cat with a thousand names: mountain lion, puma, and cougar, to name a few.
How? Why? The old man had called me a kitty. Had he done it? Had his injured brain somehow twisted my mind? Induced a brain clot that had driven me insane? Would someone else walk into the bathroom and see a naked man on all fours making funny faces in the mirror?
And if my senses could be trusted and the line between possible and impossible had been moved, what then? I couldn't decide which would be more of a disaster: being mad or being the serial killer of the animal kingdom.
Worse, Angelica detested cats. At least people don't call animal control when they see a dog. I hissed in frustration and recoiled instinctively at the sight of vicious fangs in my own mouth! I'd have to be very careful about smiling.
Using the toilet while mulling over how my old neighbor had turned me into a cougar with his last breath proved to be a disaster. Paw pads and smooth white plastic don't make for a very high coefficient of friction. I wound up with a sore nose, an aching shoulder, and sopping wet. The sopping wet was mostly the shower's doing. I only put one foot into the toilet, but when a very strong urge hit me to lick said foot, desperate measures were called for. I'd never been so happy that our cheap old house has L-shaped faucet handles in the shower. A round plastic crystal would have been murder on my teeth.
I was rolling around on a towel, utterly failing to dry myself in a civilized manner when a small high voice declared, "Holy Walnuts! You're huuuuuuuge!"
There was a squirrel perched on the sill of my window, his paws pressed up against the glass and his beady little eyes so wide I could see the whites. His paws quickly slapped over his mouth when he saw me looking and then he flashed the bush of his tail as he bounded away.
I was a very large cat, and now a squirrel had talked to me. My eyes shifted to the door, waiting for the men in white coats to burst through and take me away.
After they didn't show, I untangled myself from the towel and padded over to the window. My house had been remodeled so many times that the layout showed signs of schizophrenia. The window in my bathroom stood three feet wide with two sliding panes of glass side by side. Fortunately for my finer feelings, it faced a stone wall, which occluded the old man's yard next door.
Pawing the window open, I shivered as the cool outside air struck me. I didn't have to worry about being spotted from that house, did I? All my wet fur felt wrong, cold and heavy on my skin. I found myself licking my chops as my tongue itched to do more. That frightened me. A few minutes, maybe an hour before, I had been totally out of sorts. Now it took a conscious effort to stop myself from acting like a cat. Worries circulated through my mind. Would animal instincts eventually override my thoughts? How dangerous could it be to give my paw the lick that it desperately itched for?
My stomach rumbled as I stuck my head out of the window and peered towards the back of the house. No squirrels. My stomach gurgled a bit at the very thought of a squirrel. The story of my life: food first, thinking later. If the squirrel did come back, I wanted to talk to him, not eat him.
I slunk to the kitchen, trying very hard to ignore the discomfort of my damp fur. The fridge proved to be a bit of a challenge, but yielded after I placed a few claws in the seal of the door. I fished a bit of leftover steak out of the crisper drawer. It was fortunate that neither Angelica nor I are vegetarian. Hell, Angelica almost never ate anything but meat unless forced, so the fridge was well stocked in the event that a resident of the house ever became an obligate carnivore. Had I been transmuted into a rabbit or a donkey I would have been truly screwed.
Remembering, or rather not being able to recall, the last time I had mopped the kitchen floor, I hopped up on to the counter with my steak in a bag. The cold beef tasted better than I thought it would. The meat had a sweetness to it that I never noticed before. Still, as I congratulated myself on not ripping the entire fridge apart in a ravenous frenzy of feeding, I conducted a well-ordered ransacking of our nonfrozen foodstuff. Another leftover steak from a few nights ago was on the edge of edibility. The cold cuts were next: ham, baloney and a half pound of American cheese, which while tasty I would pay for later. Finally, I found a stash of fancy holiday salamis. Those greasy meats were as sweet as candy once I clawed the plastic open.
Sated and feeling more like a stuffed turkey than a feline, I curled up on my countertop and began licking my paws to get off the last remnants of that almost sugary grease.