LTF: If Life Could Only Be a Catnap — Part II

Steven Bergom

"So, is it healthy?"

"Well, I guess he's healthy, whatever he is."

"What d'you mean?"

"From his markings I'd swear that he was a Bengal tiger, but when you look closer, there are things that are all wrong. Take, for instance, his front paws; the digits are longer and the thumb is almost opposable. His pelvis is shaped strangely. His cranium is thirty percent larger than normal and, though I didn't get a real good look, his throat and mouth do not belong to the panthera family!"

"Then what is it?"

"He is like nothing I've ever seen before! I don't know what to call him!"

Waking up from a tranquilizer is a slow process. My sight and hearing were the first senses to come back to me, but my sight was blurry leaving my ears as the only decent part of my body at the moment. I didn't even think of moving and concentrated instead on the conversation taking place in front of me.

"It — sorry, he  — is a tiger, plain and simple. I don't see why you're making such a fuss…"

"But what if he's one of those transformed people, like what's-his-name, that lizard guy in New Mexico — Luke! What if he was a human that changed into a tiger?"

"Marie, consider the chance of something like that happening; they said there were around six- or seven-hundred people on the mail-list, and seven billion people on the planet. The odds of having even one person in Tucson spontaneously transform into a weird creature is astronomical!"

There were others? I guess it would have to be logical that I wouldn't be the only one… But what was this about a mail-list? The only mailing lists that I belonged to were two tech lists and…

For some reason it didn't come to too much of a surprise when I figured out that most — if not all — of the members of TSA-talk got turned into some strange creature. It even sounded like a strange plot device that an author would use to entice everyone to submit their thoughts on what it would be like to be an X in real-life. I sighed and hoped that I wouldn't have to contend with space-aliens, wizards with a penchant for annoying people or perverse clocks that liked to mess with your life.

I sighed and found that I could move my arms a little. They still felt like they had hundreds of pins and needles stuck in them, like when your foot falls asleep, but the more time passed the faster I recovered.

"Okay, Shawn, but what are we going to do with him in the mean time?"

"How about putting him with Leopold?"

"Are you nuts?! Leopold is a Siberian tiger and I don't think he'd take it too kindly if we just stuck a strange male in his enclosure with him. Even if we kept them in separate areas they'd probably go crazy!"

"We could just leave him in the cage…"

"Which is a cruelty I will not be a part of. That cat has already been cooped up in that cage for long enough. He needs to move around."

"Well, I'm fresh out of ideas; can anyone else think of something?"

"Well," I said, unlatching the spring-loaded bar at the side of the cage, "you could just take me back to my apartment and hope I'm not annoyed enough to eat you." With that I pushed open the cage door and stepped out on unsteady legs.

Shawn and Marie were, to say the least, surprised.

I took another one those long stretches. To tell the truth, they were actually very addicting. I think that the stretching released endorphins and produced something akin to a euphoria. Whatever happened I felt better than before and almost ready to face the world.

"Now, Marie — Marie is your name, right?  — my mouth is a little dry right now. Do you have any water available?" Marie pointed to the table next to my cage from her location across the room from me. I picked up the squeeze bottle that was setting there and nodded my thanks to her. The water quickly refreshed me and I sighed with relief. My mouth had felt the same as after a night of drinking, a feeling which one of my college buddies had described once as "having swallowed a cat." I could not argue with his observation and I started to wonder what it would be like to groom myself with my tongue since taking a shower seemed a little bit silly right now.

Marie and Shawn continued to stare at me wide-eyed and so I stared right back. I know staring is rude, especially when you are a large, hungry carnivore, but they had just shot me full of weird drugs this morning and I wasn't really in the mood to be nice!

The silence dragged on and I felt a little funny about maintaining my belligerent look. Instead I leaned against the table and continued to swig my water while studying Shawn and Marie. Shawn was the taller of the pair. He had short-cut brown hair with the build of an athlete. He didn't look very old, maybe about my age, 24, but then, I've never been a good judge of ages.

Marie was definitely the cuter of the two; she wasn't drop-dead gorgeous, mind you, but she had that wholesome look that was refreshing after growing up seeing the waif look come into style. Her eyes sparkled beneath blonde hair and there was a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. She also had muscles which…

I need a date. No, really; it's been several months, and I really need a date! Of course now that I look like this, I don't know if any woman would ever go out with me, much less kiss me. I could maybe lick her cheek, but then, since a cat's tongue is designed to rip flesh and gristle from bone, I don't think that would be too good an idea.

"So," I said finally, "where am I, anyway?"

Marie pointed to the logo over her left breast unconsciously and answered, "You're at the Ried Park Zoo. We, uh, are the only place in the county that can take care of an animal, that is, um, someone of your size. I hope we didn't, uh, inconvenience you too much?"

I raised one eyebrow in response. "Nah! I always set aside a day or two to get drugged and studied by unknown people. It seems to be happening quite often lately!" Marie smiled and ducked her head. "Now, what's this about others who've been transformed? After this," I pointed to myself, "happened I didn't really pay attention to TV or read any of my email." It was at this time that my stomach decided to make his own discomfort known in very understandable phrases. "As you can hear, I've only had a small steak I had in the fridge to eat since yesterday."

"Oh, right! I think we can do something for that. Shawn, go and get our guest tub 12 from the cold room. It's on the top shelf on the left." I almost laughed when Marie had to send a backhand to his gut to break Shawn's wild-eyed stare. "He'll be back in a short while. From what I can tell so far, you should have no trouble eating what any normal tiger would be eating. Unless, of course, you know something that I don't… ?"

Laughing aloud I responded, "At this stage of the game, you probably know more about what's happened than I do. And back to my earlier question…"

"Right! I was watching the news last night and they were re-running the interview with some guy in New Mexico that turned into a big lizard and he was saying that all the members of some email list got transformed, something about transformation stories. Are you on that list?" I gave her my best, 'Do you really need to ask?' look and she blushed in response. "Yeah, right! Dumb question! Anyway, he said that there were probably over six hundred people who might have gotten transformed, so don't be afraid if you see a werewolf or centaur next door."

"Of course, who woulda' thought the statistics would put something like that happening in Arizona!" Shawn said as he stepped back into the room carrying a large plastic container.

"But Shawn, didn't you know that nine out of ten statistics are wrong, anyway?" Shawn blinked in confusion while Marie covered a laugh. At least my humor wasn't completely lost on my audience like it usually was. "What've you got there?" I asked while motioning to the tub with my nose.

"It was supposed to be Leopold's breakfast for tomorrow," Marie answered, "but I think you need it more right now."

Shawn took the top off the tub and as the aroma started to waft in my direction my nostrils flared catching the scent of fresh meat. I restrained myself while Shawn set the tub on the floor and prudently backed away, at which point I fell back to all fours and made my way to the meat, sniffing it before I began to eat.

The two zoo employees watched me silently before I stopped and growled, "Keep talking, I'm still listening." As I ate Marie listed off all the things they had learned about me. I was a healthy tiger — or whatever — at 437 pounds and 9 feet 3 1/2 inches from nose to tail. Though they didn't measure, I would probably be around 8 feet tall standing up. (I wonder if Shaquille O'Neal would be interested in playing a game of one-on-one?) I had the markings of a Bengal tiger and should survive quite well in most environments, though a Tucson summer would put a strain on my internal cooling system. I was probably a strict carnivore, though more testing would be needed to confirm that.

During this time I ate my meal with a greedy pleasure. I've always eaten my steaks cooked rare, but if this was any indication of my future eating habits, I would be saving a lot on electricity for the stove! "This tastes good, what is it?" I asked when I was down to stripping the last remnants of muscle from the bone in front of me.

"Horse," Marie said. "It's cheaper than beef and there are quite a few ranches around the city. We actually don't feed our big cats a complete diet of meat; we generally feed them a diet of a specially formulated feed mixture with the occasional fresh meat and vitamin supplements."

I had stopped listening at her pronouncement of my dinner. I hadn't thought about the other listmembers beyond Luke, but hearing that I was gnawing on a horse made me think of Bob, Cody and Bill. Could this…? Is it possible…? I mean, could I actually be eating…?

'No,' I told myself, shaking my head. 'It's too early after the change for something like this to happen.' Still, the thought of the many stories they wrote tumbled through my head as I hesitantly finished cleaning the bone with my tongue. I guess I would need to find a good butcher when I leave the zoo and, hopefully, he wouldn't have any sales on that kind of meat.

Finally done, I groomed myself unconsciously for a few minutes trying to get certain unsettling thoughts out of my head before turning back to Shawn and Marie. "Well, it looks like I'll be using the two of you as an information sink since my knowledge of cats extends only so far as the housecat I had when I was younger." I again stretched and stood back up on my hind legs. "But right now, if I could get a ride from someone back to my apartment I…"

"That won't be necessary." Shawn, Marie and I turned to stare at the doorway which was now blocked by a figure in a contact suit. "We don't know what agent has caused Mr. Bergom's change nor do we know what organisms may have accompanied him, so we would like to extend an invitation to our Center for Disease Control. And that includes you, too, Mr. Martin and Doctor Callahan, since you have been in direct contact with him for an extended period of time.

"I am Dr. Miles Smith and my friends here," he motioned the similarly costumed figures behind him, "are on loan from Davis-Monathan Air Force Base and will make sure that nothing untoward may happen to you. Now, if you will excuse me, there are some preparations that I need to make. If you need anything within reason, just let me or one of my friends here know and we will see what we can do.

"Good day, gentleman, my lady." With that Miles turned and walked through the wall of military men.

Men in black? No. Men in green-colored plastic with a transparent faceplate? Yes.