|The Transformation Story Archive||The Blind Pig|
There was snow on the ground, and I was glad of it. It helped me blend in, made me less conspicuous. And, it gave me an even greater than usual speed advantage. I rarely left home anymore, except when there was snow.
Not that I didn't worry even then. I planned my trip as a series of dashes- from mailbox to trash dumpster to parked car. And so forth. I constantly thought about cover.
So much so that I forgot about plows....
I was right in the middle of crossing a street, down on all fours and loping along at a good rate when I heard the horn. I looked up, and was hypnotized in an old but powerful part of my brain as two glowing eyes glared at me. I froze, as my instincts demanded, and the horn sounded again as the brakes locked up on the now skidding plow. It slewed around...
..and caught me on the blade, though not fast enough to hurt me. Shocked back to reality I sprang from where I had been pushed and dashed for a recessed doorway . There I sat and hyperventilated for a moment in terror. A figure walked up, not shouting and cursing as I expected but being quiet and keeping its distance. Sure enough, when it got close enough I could see that this was another SCAB like me, and a fellow herbivore to boot. The cow lady waved gently- it didn't look like she could talk- and, seeing me wave back that I was OK, returned to her work.
I gulped. Damn, that had been close. And people wondered why I didn't get out more often...
Finally working up more courage, I peered around the edge of the doorway, and located another mailbox just about a good dash away. When the shaking finally stopped, I went for it...
And so, from cover to cover, I made my way to the place I'd heard about, The Blind Pig Gin Mill. It was supposed to be quite a SCABS friendly place, and my doctor was threatening me with the lapine colony again if I didn't do more to fit in with society as a whole. I knew full well he'd have me committed if I didn't socialize some- there were damn few of us rabbits surviving on our own, and the courts were tending to put us away for our own good. My assigned case psychiatrist would be more than glad to have one less patient in his overfull case load.
Finally, I hopped up into the alcove I sought and stood up. Damnit, the door was a pull-to-open type. I knew from experience that I could never get enough traction on this slippery surface to move it. I was too light, my hindpaws too large, and there was nothing but cement and snow to sink my claws into. A treadle operated buzzer had been provided but the ice and snow had rendered it inoperable. Since I had established long ago that I would NOT scratch at a door to get in except in the most dire of circumstances, I sat down, tucked my ears and feet up close, and waited.
This was a lot easier for me now than it would have been while I was still human. Rabbit fur is very warm when it needs to be, and mine held heat so well that I didn't even melt the snow my posterior was compacting. Moreover, I heard a lot of commotion inside, loud laughter and singing and a few shouted comments that made no sense to an outsider. I hadn't liked loud parties as a human, much less did I like them now.
But I liked the idea of a lapine colony even less.
The scents worked against me too. There were all sorts of predators inside. When I had first hopped up I had planned to step right in, bold as all getout, before I could chicken out. Or bunny out. Whatever. Like all SCAB joints, the patrons were mostly predator-types. This was a reflection of the fact that a) for unknown reasons the virus had produced a statistically improbable predator-to-prey species ratio, and b) most rabbit and other small prey species tended be unable to adapt themselves to living in a world with so many dangers. A large minority flipped out within a week and regressed to their base forms, while most of the rest were committed to places like the lapine colonies where they could feel safe. I refused to give up control of my own life, however, and despite close calls from feral dogs, a SCAB tiger gone berserk and even, tonight, nearly becoming pavement pizza I refused to give in. Yes, I had more rabbitlike tendencies than was really healthy, but they couldn't quite commit me. Not yet.
I was pretty lonely, sometimes. Lapines need lapine company, and I kept a doe back in my efficiency apartment to socialize with. But other than that and a twice-weekly produce delivery, I was alone. I had no human contact at all anymore, except for my shrink, who didn't count as human company anyway. No human could consider sending me to live in what amounted to a hutch with access to a tiny overgrazed clover patch and a communal TV, surrounded by wire that would serve as much to keep me in as danger out. And humans need human company as much as lapines need lapines. I had been neglecting my human side something fierce.
But what really scared me was that if I lived in a lapine colony for a week, I might never be able to face the real world again. The need for security runs deep in us rabbits, deeper than I can express. Would I trade my freedom for it? It didn't help, I guess, knowing that I was genetically derived from domestic roots, not wild. My "ancestors" already had made that trade... So I figured that it was my purpose in life to keep that damned shrink very, very happy.
I listened more closely to the sounds from the bar since I wasn't really doing anything else. I'm a pretty talented eavesdropper, and the threads of conversation fascinated me. I had been horning in for quite a while when I realized something important.
No one, not a soul, sounded unhappy.
I'd tried SCAB joints before, of course, mostly before I really understood how dangerous the world was for me. And I'd been to other bars as a human. Always I had noted the drunk who was about to become belligerent, the husband-and-wife quietly or sometimes not so quietly having a domestic squabble, the patron with too little brain and too much mouth complaining about the norms or the SCABS or the spooks or the Jews. Try as I might, I could find none of that. Even with my talented ears.
This was remarkable. I began to wish someone would open the door, instead of fearing it like I had before.
Presently, someone did.
He looked normal from a distance, galoshes flapping through the muck, but as he got close I picked up the scent. At least this was no predator.
He was almost on top of me before he noticed me, what with my white fur on the fresh snow. In fact, when I stood up I'm afraid I startled him. "Oh!" he said, jumping back a little as the distinct bandit's mask showed itself for a second. "Sorry about that, didn't see you sitting there. Why in the world didn't you knock?"
I held up my forepaws. They're a little soft to make much of a knock with.
"I see," he said, understanding immediately as only a SCAB would. "Well, I'm here now. Come on in." And he swung the door wide for me.
It looked wonderful inside, brightly lit in some areas while darker areas held patrons looking for a little privacy. But the scent of wolf and feline and predatory reptile was just so strong...
The raccoon gently pushed the small of my back. "You may be plenty warm," he explained, "But's there's folks here that are really temperature sensitive." I stepped on in so he could close the door. As it slammed shut on its heavy spring I noticed that this side had a hard, glazed floor in front of the entranceway. It was wet and slick from the melting precipitation. I could never push the door open unaided, not to save my life. "Trapped!", part of my brain screamed, but I managed to swallow it down and step to the bar. If I needed to leave someone would let me out. These were not animals, I told my rabbit-mind, but people. I even convinced myself. A little. A stool was open on the far right with a couple empties next to it. I really didn't like making the barkeep take the extra steps down to the end, but I needed the space just then. It took me three tries to settle on the stool, as I'm pretty short now and have a hard time climbing, but this was nothing new to me. "Barkeep!" I said in my high voice, and waved a paw. The bovine headed gentleman came over and looked at me expectantly.
"Uh", I said intelligently. How long had it been since I ordered a drink anyway?
"Uh, I don't suppose you get many requests for a Jack Strafford, do you?"
He held up his hand in a "wait just a second" gesture, and disappeared into the back. A few moments later, he emerged with a can of frozen carrot juice, something that even I had trouble getting on a regular basis. This guy must stock all sorts of wild things... He held the can under my nose, where I could read that it had expired a couple weeks back. He shrugged, and waited.
"Of course," I said, "I can't believe you had any at all. That's wonderful."
So help me, through that bovine face he found a way to smile. Most of us locked in furry-face mode never do work that out. Then I realized that we had just had a conversation without him ever having uttered a word. The poor guy must not be able to talk. Didn't seem to handicap him much, though.
Because the juice was hard-frozen, it took a while before I was served. The barkeep made finger-gestures at me, but I had to shake my head and explain that I didn't understand. From two stools down, an apparent norm interpreted. "He said his name's Donnie, and he's the owner. What's yours?"
"Phil, with an 'I'", I explained. Rabbits have almost no visible sexual dimorphism, and I am so fuzzy that the only way to tell my sex is to either smell me or ask me. Once, somebody had misheard the 'I' as a 'y' even when I had explained it, and I had spent the next half year arguing about my sexual status with the social security people. Sometimes I hated computers- garbage in, garbage out...
We exchanged pleasantries for awhile, though I admit I felt pretty awkward from lack of practice. I found out that Donnie's head was that of an aurochs, and that my interpreter was actually a chronomorph. That was interesting- I was tempted to tell him that I hadn't aged a day since I had the Flu myself, but this was usually something I kept very private. Being as how the world is full of dogs and such, I didn't figure that I would experience a very long life in any event. What a waste of a wonderful gift...
My Strafford came in a "paw" cup, something you usually don't see. Donnie sized the handles to fit me, and I was able to enjoy my drink with some assurance of not spilling it all over myself. This was in itself a rare pleasure. I made my gratitude known, and Donnie shrugged it off. Somehow, he seemed to communicate that anything less would not be hospitable.
I found myself really liking Donnie and the chronomorph, and even the little "trapped!" voice that kept sounding in my head was beginning to recede a little. I explained about how I didn't get out much, and rarely left my apartment. They understood completely, which was more than I can say for most folks. They even knew something about the lapine colonies, calling them a national shame. I explained how I'd managed so far to avoid them by having enough funds to support myself as long as I lived very cheaply. And, I pointed out, with no clothing expenses, and the city park to help out with food in the summertime, I could make do with very little. I was actually saving money, much to the disappointment of my shrink.
They were taken aback by that. They didn't realize that we lapine unamorphs, along with a few other genuses, were still having to report in. Oh yes, I explained, they keep telling me it's for my own good...
They bought my next Strafford in sympathy.
Presently, I noticed that several hours had passed and I actually had talked more than I had in years. The predator scent still bothered me, and so did the door I couldn't open. But I was starting to feel a certain warmth inside, one that I had to attribute to more than just the Straffords. I could have stayed at the bar all night, but lapines have to go to the bathroom, too, and I excused myself and headed for the back. This door was also heavily sprung, and I was having difficulty pushing it open when a wolf-morph in a cape came up and kindly opened it for me. He'd heard my low-ground-pressure hindpaws scrabbling for traction. I didn't really like being that close to him- the scent was overpowering- and I mumbled my thanks as I backed into the "can" so as to be able to keep an eye on him. Without being asked, he even waited by the door for me while I did my business. The plumbing was impressively clever- almost any kind of being could feel at home. I was on my way out, passing much too close for comfort to the wolf-morph when it happened.
There was a terrible pain in my right ear, and an impact that knocked me clear off my feet. I was being attacked!, my instincts said, and even my rational mind agreed. I rolled to all fours, reared up and desperately kicked at the wolf to throw off his pursuit, both hindfeet getting him square in the ribs with considerable force. He doubled over, but the rest of his pack was on their feet already and closing on me quickly. My instincts knew what to expect from a wolf pack, and the adrenaline flowed freely as I pumped for traction on the slick tile. I bounded across the bar like a wild thing- well, I guess for the moment that's what I was- upending tables and customers alike in blind flight. One last leap over a mule that seemed to have come from nowhere and...
I remembered I was trapped.
My previous panic was nothing compared to this. I bounced over every inch of that bar like a super ball on amphetamines, desperately seeking escape. Everywhere I went, I met another predator- there were reptiles, felines, carnivorous insects, you name it. How had I ever been stupid enough to enter this deathtrap? Gradually my intelligent mind vanished entirely in panic. I was in rabbit Hell.
I left chaos in my wake, of course. And the more chaos I created, the more upheaval there was and the more agitated all the predators got. It was a vicious cycle that finally ended only with my exhaustion and despair. I ended up under the bar, trembling violently and waiting dumbly for the end.
Many rabbits have gone permanently psychotic from less. It's how the damned lapine colonies got started in the first place. Thank God I was surrounded by knowledgeable SCABS...
I can vaguely remember what happened, even though I had quite definitely checked out for the moment. There were screams and shouts and hisses and growls and every other kind of biological shriek of distress you can imagine for what seemed forever, until someone with a loud but calm voice called for order, order, order. It worked for everyone but me- I was 'way too far gone. Presently there was calm, and the voice asked what had happened. There was chaos again, and another plea for calm. This time, it worked, and someone admitted to hitting me with a snowball meant for someone called Wanderer. He grunted, and in an English accent that was still quite musical despite the obvious pain in his midriff denounced the thrower. I could see from under the bar that I had left him in a lot of pain, but I was still too terrified to feel any remorse. Wanderer coughed slightly, and cofronted the prankster. Then, in a voice like a thin, honey-coated knife, he began to speak.
"You", he said, rubbing his sore belly, "are one of the most <cough> insensitive <cough> idiots <cough> I have ever <cough> met."
His grin edged closer to baring his teeth as some of the patrons began to draw away.
"In one ... fell swoop. You brought chaos ... injury ... and true mortal danger to a room full of people. For <cough> that alone ... I ought to tell you precisely what I thi ... <cough> ... think of you."
"<cough> But I won't. <cough> I don't ... want to ... make thi- ... things ... worse. <cough>"
The crowd visibly relaxed.
"In <cough> future ... dear heart. Please ... remember the ... motto of the ... good practical ... joker. <cough> Always ... hi ... <cough> ... hit your target. And ne ... <cough> ... never hit anyone ... else."
Everyone started to turn away.
"Oh", Wanderer said, "One last ... thing. Donnie?"
The bartender stepped forward.
"<cough> Run visual ... interference ... <cough> ... ?"
Donnie blocked off the view of Wanderer's head from everyone except the offending party. As soon as he did so, I saw the man's face go pale as he started to back up. And from behind the outward-facing Donnie came a sweet, honey-coated knife of a growl.
"Next time ... be. More. Carrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreful."
God bless them, every last one of the predator types, even the cold-blooded ones, trooped out into the snow for I don't know how long while I recovered. Meanwhile, the Mule-morph (I later found out his name was Jack) and Donnie and everyone else in the place who would smell non-threatening came and laid down on the drink-spattered floor to let me catch their scent. There was a full-morph whitetail that happened to be there that night- he helped a lot. Gradually I calmed down and got my mind back.
It took awhile, though.
When I came back to myself a warm herbal tea was waiting for me in another paw cup, and while the non-threatening crowd stayed close the predators trooped quietly back in. They seemed oddly subdued, like they'd seen something they'd rather not have. The snowball thrower apologized profusely from a respectable distance, and I assured him that I realized no harm was meant. In turn I apologized to Wanderer for what might yet turn out to be a broken rib, and he explained not only that he understood, but that the only real damage was to his reputation. Not all wolves get beat up by bunnies... And he laughed it off, albeit painfully.
I offered to pay for damages, but Donnie would have none of it, claiming he had a special fund. I needed to sit for awhile, and presently found myself talking again about my life.
I explained how I used to be employed in a factory, but that I really had no work I could do anymore. I was living on the interest from the proceeds of the sale of my home and all the belongings I could no longer use, plus a small pension. This made me feel really useless, I explained, almost like I already was in the damn colony. All I did was cause trouble for people, like tonight. I existed without purpose, without meaning. I'd been through a lot that night, and had two Straffords in me. For a hundred pounds of body mass, that's a lot of alcohol. I'm afraid I wept a little.
A lady had come by with a really odd reptilian scent about her- I couldn't quite place it. She asked me if I minded being sniffed, and I gave her permission. Surely she was some kid of SCAB, because she nailed things right off. "Your scent is pure lapine, isn't it."
It wasn't a question. She knew. " Yes. Both the skin and fur are 100%, and I have the glands too."
She pursed her lips. "I bet you have trouble getting around then, huh?"
I explained, told her about a couple near-misses. And how I couldn't drive anymore either.
"That's about what I figured. Have you ever worked with underprivileged or unbalanced SCABs?"
"Just me. Why?"
She grinned. "With your scent, I think you can probably work with some of the more jittery cases I deal with every day. Maybe better than anyone else I have on staff. Care to give it a try? I can arrange transportation."
Instantly, I trusted this woman. Why, I still don't know. They say snakes can hypnotize rabbits and small rodents- maybe it's true. I didn't even ask any questions. "When do I start?"
I bought the next round of drinks for the house, budget be damned. It was the first time I'd looked forward to tomorrow since I didn't know when.
The Blind Pig is a wonderful place, indeed...
Sure enough, she was waiting at the curb at 8AM the next day, and as soon as she pulled up I squeezed through the tight-fitting pet door I used instead of a lock (no norms and few SCABs could get through it, and if they did I wouldn't lose much anyway as most of my stuff was useless to anyone else) and made time down the stairs and out the front door. I kind of had the impression that this was not a lady I really wanted to keep waiting...
I was right- the car was moving even as she reached over and slammed the door for me. As a rabbit I've become used to quick starts and stops and sudden turns and such, but this trip was a revelation to me. I'd seen people drive as fast, even done it myself a few times way back when. But not on ice and snow! It was pretty frightening, but there was just something about this woman that inspired confidence. With anyone else driving my heart would have been pounding and I would have been furtively looking for an escape route. But for Splendor, I was able to relax and enjoy the waves of heat flowing out from under the dash. With her reptilian tendencies Splendor needed this heat, but for me it was sheer luxury. In fact, by the time we hit West Street I was almost asleep.
West Street woke me up pretty quickly.
We've all seen places like it in the papers, of course. Being there is different. You can actually scent the dozens of flavors of urine splashed by territory-marking borderline feral SCABs, and hear the arguments taking place in mixed English and growls and screeches. I was glad I was so confident in Splendor- otherwise you wouldn't have caught me dead here. Or rather, I would too likely end up dead.
I followed her out her door as she exited, being small enough to hop easily across the driver's seat and saving her the walk around to let me out. She liked saving seconds, I could see, and my action got the first glimmer of approval I'd seen from her since last night. She made no comment as I stayed VERY close to her walking to the Shelter's entrance, and held the door for me. I thanked her, and we were inside.
How is it that a building can be old and worn down and dilapidated, but still be a warm and happy place while it's neighboring structures just grow bitter with age? Maybe it had something to do with the love and kindness I could sense here, in sharp contrast to the wasteland outside. Or maybe it was the old-fashioned fireplace with the pictures above it. Looking closer, I recognized a couple of them, fellow SCABs I had met last night at the Blind Pig. There must be some kind of connection, I figured.
But I really didn't have any time to think about it. The argument erupted suddenly and bitterly, as the worst ones usually do from long buildups. An apparent Norm lady and a sheep-man squared off the middle of the lobby and began shouting, loudly.
My rabbit instincts said "Run and Hide!", of course. They almost always did in any given situation, damnit. But my self-confidence was unusually high that day, I guess, and I have other instincts as well. Professional ones. As a Union rep of many years standing, getting in the middle was pretty natural too. Using a well trained authoritative voice that had apparently survived it's translation into a bunny's larynx, I demanded to know just what the Hell was going on.
They turned on me, of course, but the anger was immediately lessened and I was able- barely- to stand my ground. It turned out they were fighting over who always had to change to (expletive deleted) litterboxes in the feline areas. As I had expected- it almost always worked when people were this agitated- they were more eager to make their case than question my authority. I established a few facts, and asked the sheep whose job it was. As the Norm glared, he hesitated and stumbled. Then I gave the Norm a chance, and she couldn't answer either. So I asked if there were any written job descriptions. Of course, in a place this small there weren't. People always think "small" means you don't need these things, but it just isn't true. I turned to Splendor, who had walked up behind me, and asked her if she thought these two could sit down with her later to work out some job descriptions. I suggested that the litterboxes could be dealt with after some rules had been worked out, and in the meantime they could focus on getting done what each knew themselves to be responsible for. Rather shocked, Splendor agreed and the two left, if not completely happy, no longer at each other's throats.
Piece of cake.
Splendor was still staring at me for some reason, though. Then, quietly, she asked me to come to her office. I agreed, a little lift in my step. First time I'd felt useful in years...
She sat me down on a truly comfortable chair, and said half-wonderingly and half angrily "I thought you said you have no counseling training."
"But how... Those two have been fighting off and on for months! I was starting to think I was going to have to let one of them go! What..."
I imagined I was seeing a rare sight, Splendor at a loss for words. I explained that I used to be a union rep. No, I got no training except OJT, but it was MOST intense. Eventually you just either absorbed some skills through your skin, sort of, or you weren't re-elected. Until I became a rabbit, I explained, I had experienced no trouble getting re-elected.
I watched the wheels spinning in her head as she did some serious re-evaluation. The less human a SCAB looked and the more instinct-driven their behavior, the easier it was for anybody, including fellow SCABs, to forget that we'd once had other lives and skills and professions, and that these might not be entirely gone. I had made pretty much of a rabbit of myself last night- I was glad I had gotten a chance to be a little more human in front of Splendor this morning. For some reason, I needed her respect even more than her sympathy.
I think I got a little. She hit me with a bunch of questions about how to handle various counseling situations, which I answered in my rough-and-ready way. I also told her that I had already encountered many of them or their close relatives on the assembly line, things like a gay worker being outed on the job by an angry ex-lover, confronting violent workers and getting them to cool off before management noticed, once actually taking away a gun. All the fun stuff. She didn't like all my answers, but it became clear that I actually had, within my field, a lot more actual experience in dealing with some of the negative side of human nature than either she or her professors. She was rather shocked to hear this coming from a bunny.
But it was true.
She sat and thought on it for awhile, and came to a decision. "Follow me", she ordered. And I did. Experience or no, I did NOT want to argue with this lady...
She took me down a back hallway, and stopped me outside a door. "Phil," she explained, "this is one of the most critical cases we have to deal with right now. We found her wandering in an alley a couple blocks down the street, and she hasn't gotten any better in 3 weeks. We have no ID on her, nothing. It's not pretty." Kindly, she waited until I nodded that I was braced and ready, then she opened the door and we went in.
She was right. It bore not even a passing resemblance to pretty.
Jane Doe was a hamster-lady, about as completely so as I was a rabbit. She had been cute, once.
Festering cigarette burns covered most of her body, and an eye had apparently been poked out. About twenty percent of her had been severely burned, and there were cruel little puncture wounds all over. Her female parts were swollen and bloated from, I would guess, repeated sexual violation with organs or implements too large for her. She was listlessly lying on the floor of a wire cage, seemingly oblivious to the world.
It was awful. I would have nightmares for the rest of my life, just looking at her. No wonder her mind had gone bye-bye. Clearly, she was a victim of torture.
How had she looked three weeks ago, when first found? Jesus...
I stiffened in shock, and Splendor absently scratched my ears, understanding. Then she asked the $64,000 question, the one I feared most.
"Any ideas, Phil?"
My mind was blank, and I couldn't stand it. How could I NOT help this creature? I demanded ideas, forced myself to think. While trying to come up with something, I circled the cage a bit, Splendor letting me take my time.
Hmm... "Splendor, who set this cage up?"
"Oh, I don't know. Whoever was handy, probably. A SCAB, for sure."
"But not a rodent SCAB? Or a lapine SCAB?"
"I hate to say this, but it shows. Look, she can't get more of her than her head and shoulders into the covered area, where she could feel secure. And the lights are glaring right into the "safe" area. It should be dark there. The chew toy is much too big to be comfortable. And see how she's spilled her food? The dish needs to be moved into a lower traffic part of the cage, where she rarely goes. At least the spilled food means she's moving sometimes, though..."
"No one's ever seen her do it."
"She probably doesn't feel safe with any kind of creature around. First, I think we need to get her functioning on at least a hamster level, then we can work on humanity. Would you agree?"
"Makes sense to me. By the way, how do you know so much about cages?"
"It took me awhile to settle in, Splendor. I lived in one for the first six months after the Flu got me."
Splendor was nothing if not a mover and shaker. She had a reworked cage on the spot in under an hour, a double.
I was moving in.
People keep hamsters and other rodents with rabbits all the time. It doesn't always work out, but problems are rare. I figured that if I caged up with our poor Jane Doe for a bit, she would either accept me or she wouldn't. If she didn't, we had lost nothing. And if she did, it would be our first progress.
I hated being caged, but I could see no other alternative. Splendor agreed to feed Shortcake, my doe bunny, for me and visit with her a bit every day. It worried me that she would be lonely, but this hamster needed me more than she did. I also asked for a couple special things from home like my own favorite chewing material- I was likely to get very bored- and told her how to get the landlady to let her in. And then they locked me up with Jane.
I was extremely meek, of course, staying to my own end of the cage and rearranging things the way I liked them. I kept a weather eye on my companion, of course, but she did nothing but breathe and shift herself a little from time-to-time to rearrange the uncomfortable weight on her wounds. I ate and drank a little, and chewed a bit of cud as I thanked heaven once again that my insurance had covered the corrective surgery that made me a cud-chewer instead of having to do things the good ol' rabbit way- I had been forced to recycle cellulose in the more normal lapine manner for the first few months and I still kept the memories at a distance. It hadn't tasted the least bit bad, but it was still revolting.
Hours passed. Jane didn't move.
Carefully and with malicious foresight I had designed the new cage with one large "safe" spot instead of two smaller ones. I grabbed a bunch of chew sticks and headed there, waiting. If she was responsive at all, she would join me eventually. Something would startle her.
Eventually something did. It scared Hell out of me, too, but all I had to do was hunker down when the pan was dropped in the hallway. Jane had to take cover. She did, right on top of me before she could think about it. It was a tight fit, and we could feel each others tight muscles and rapid heartbeats. Both of us were rigidly alert, but I soon relaxed.
Jane stayed wired for almost an hour.
Eventually, she got up and without so much as a sniff of recognition she went back to her corner and laid down again. Damn, didn't she ever even get up to eat or drink?
I went over and nosed her, told her I was lonely. She ignored me, and I didn't push it. I could see now that I was in this for the long run. I was going to have to outstubborn her.
Days passed. After a week, Splendor took me out and let me exercise a bit, and visit with Shortcake, who she'd been kind enough to bring in to see me. Shortcake had really missed me, and I felt a little guilty. But it couldn't be helped. Then we went down to the Blind Pig for a drink, where my visit went much better than it had the first time around. They had replaced the door springs and installed traction-mats apparently just for me- I was quite touched. They explained I was their first lapine customer, and this was the first time the issue had ever come up. Every once in a while, something unforseen developed even at a SCAB-friendly place like the Pig. They were so apologetic it embarrassed me. I told them that if they ever had a patron with traction problems and paws full-time before- looking around I didn't see any- then it must have been from a species which was less in need of an escape route at all times. Which was almost any species. They laughed at that, as I hoped they would, and we got along famously. I was even beginning to trust the predators. A little. Then it was back into the cage and a return to grinding away on chew toys, grooming myself, and watching and waiting.
I was NOT going to lose Jane, damnit. Not even if it took months.
The third week, I realized that I forgotten certain problems of my own.
My government-appointed therapist was supposed to meet with me monthly, at least. I had forgotten to check in. Naturally, even with all that free time on my hands I had forgotten the unpleasant duty until he showed up outside the door, peering in through the one-way glass that had been set up to allow clients like Jane to be checked on discretely. But I knew his voice, all right.
He was demanding that I be released into his custody.
"Look at him!" he was shouting. "He's regressed all the way to cage-state, just like the rest of the messed-up lapines. I knew it was going to happen! How long has he been in there, chewing mindlessly away? You had a duty, damnit, to report this. We have lapine colonies for a reason, you know- not all SCABS forms are viable in society. And rabbits just don't work!"
"Excuse me, what was your name again?" asked Splendor.
"Dr. Finkleman. Dr. Roy P. Finkleman." he replied haughtily.
"Tell me, Dr. Finkleman, why are you insisting on interrupting one of my top counselors in the middle of a treatment session?"
"My apologies to the hamster. But I'm getting Phil out of there, now!"
I began to tremble. Damnit, I was scared and this was the last time I should be showing it.
"Phil IS the counselor."
"A lagomorph counselor? Ha! That would be like having paranoids as shrinks!"
"Well," Splendor said, "You've made it clear they give licenses to blithering idiots."
Dr. Roy was always a little slow on the uptake. It took a few seconds. "Why, you miserable SCAB..."
He got no further. "God damn you government bunglers. How come you aren't interested in that poor sweet little hamster in there. Look close! Are you so stupid you can't see the scars? Why don't you care about her? I'll tell you why- Phil has a little nest egg you can grab to help pay for your damn colonies, and she doesn't. That's what it's all about, isn't it?"
He spluttered. "The money has to come from somewhere! You can't expect the taxpayers..."
"Horssessshit!" she screamed, and I noticed her "s"'s getting a little more drawn out. "That hamsster isn't even regissstered. Do you know why? Becausse if you're indigent the sssystem doesssn't care! I've been trying to get her into it for over a month, but sshe'ss jusssst a hamssster off the ssstreetsss, right?"
I definitely didn't want to be Roy just then. Even not being the focus of Splendor's anger, I felt the panic gripping me more and more. Somebody came and scratched my ears just then, or I almost certainly would have lost it. The tension in the corridor was unbelievable...
Dr. Finkleman knew when to back down. Well, that's not quite true, or he would have done so sooner. But he got out with everything intact but his pride and dignity. I would call myself damn lucky, if I was him.
Whoever was rubbing my ears was doing an excellent job. I calmed down a bit, even though there were more angry words at the front door before it slammed convincingly. Then, as I came back to myself, I realized that there was only one other person in the room.
I looked over at her, moving ever so slowly, and watched her continue to groom and calm me. As a rodent and close relative, she was quite good at it. Very carefully, I leaned over a bit into her, snuggling. She pulled back away at first, terribly frightened, but then I trembled a bit more for her and she decided I needed the contact. She began to rub up against me in a healthy fashion, and I rubbed back contentedly. Pretty soon, she was enjoying it as much as I was.
Splendor walked in on us, still agitated and moving more quickly than she should have around someone like Jane, but before she could speak I waved a forepaw in front of my face in the nearest thing I could make to a "shush" gesture. She was a lot quicker than Dr. Finkleman, and quietly backed out before the spell was broken.
Jane wanted to snuggle for hours. I let her- it had been a long time since she'd been able to. Presently, we slept pressed together. It was nice, I must say. Shortcake's not quite so big and warm...
That was the big breakthrough, of course. Within a couple weeks we had introduced a real hamster into the cage, and then another. As Jane began to relate to them, I started spending more and more time back in the real world. Eventually, I was just visiting. And then came the day when she said her first word as I left. Never did "Bye-bye!" mean so much to me... I was pretty moved as I waved a forepaw and "Bye-byed" back. She's still not recovered yet, but the prognosis is good. She uses full sentences. Someday she'll recall her name.
Splendor pulled strings for me, and got herself made my case worker. And I have interacted with a couple interesting patients since then, too. They've really strained my ingenuity, sometimes, and my patience. Splendor and I are learning a lot about how to deal with the traumas of SCAB cases together, and she's been after me to go to school with her. Her professors have even come to meet with me and promise credit for life experiences. I just might take them up on it, if I can find the time. But there's so many cases out there, and I seem to be able to help even without the schooling...
I've moved into the shelter full-time as a resident counselor, literally taking over a broom closet. That's OK, I like tight spaces. All I need is room for me and a computer and Shortcake anyhow. The rest is all just junk. My life is not in my things.
Oh, my! I just checked the time! The Blind Pig is having a special dinner tonight to celebrate another anniversary in business. I wouldn't want to miss a minute of it!
I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date!!!
Refugee copyright 1998 by Phil Geusz.
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