BACK to the Main Index
BACK to Miscellaneous Universes

Last Word
by Feech and Captain Webster

        For some obscene reason I neglected to check the mail today until about 2:15 AM. With a front coming through the area, my back was not about to allow sleep, so I was watching the tube when I remembered. I snapped it off and came over to the box, where I now stand, idly sifting through the contents.
        I find an assortment of mail: circulars, bills, a Christmas card... and a cardboard mailing tube with a return address at Iowa.
        Those stinkers. One day I give them my address and the next they come up with some cheer-up-the-Captain ploy. My last few email messages to them before Christmas were, admittedly, a bit dark.
        At the time I almost wished they would join in my negativity. Easy for them, the audaciously young and healthy, to blithely instruct me to "call if you need to talk" and "realize you can be anything you want to be." As if a lifetime of regret can be smoothed over by a chat. As if denying the reality of whole meals of pills will make it go away.
        Sigh. I don't have any idea what could be in here. Darn this post-office tape anyway. Pick, pick, pick. In my 2:15 state it's going to take me half-an-hour to get the end off this tube.
        No. I don't really wish my sometimes-dreary outlook an anyone else, least of all those two. It's just that when they come back with a message that's so serious, so concerned, I worry about what I've done to them with my own ranting about my condition. And now mailing me things. _I'm_ thrilled, but don't _they_ have anything better to do with their lives?
        Goodness knows, I've often wondered about some of the time I wasted when I was younger. And yet, all experiences go toward creating the individual I have become. But is what I have become good enough? And if not, how can I guarantee that any further experiences I have will tailor my soul to my tastes? Heck, I shouldn't be worried about internet friends from Iowa. My own family, my _own_, must be more affected by the vibrations of my questionable spirit than those who communicate with me only by mechanical means. But then... the List is a family unto itself...
        There. Got the cap off. I slide the rolled-up papers out. A note, on two pieces of sappy drugstore stationery (not that I care-- like it or not, I can be a real sucker for sappy and cute), and a large drawing and a small drawing.
        A large drawing and a small drawing. Colored-pencil portraits of... I let the pictures roll themselves up again and read the note, since that is proper procedure.
        Slightly odd handwriting. No, not odd at all, in fact. Confusing my mind only because it is so... REAL. People on the List actually write with pens? They're not supposed to do that. Each of us exists as two distinct creatures-- the one who sits and types, and the one who lives another life, albeit a life often typed about.
        There is almost a frightening intimacy to reading a List member's _handwriting_. I'm sure the novelty will wear off in time, but Feech and Channing have never communicated with me this way before.
        The butterfly is Shadow, she writes, and it was his idea-- at least I take that as her meaning when she tells me that he "volunteered to pose for a drawing." I don't pretend to understand exactly how those two perceive communication with their story characters, but I think I am _beginning_ to get the hang of it. Something to do with voices and other worlds. She hints that I should feel flattered at Shadow's willingness to communicate. It dawns on me that she did these drawings, _for me_, and one of those I'm-not-worthy shudders takes over for a moment, the way it does when one of my kids gives me a gift. I tell everyone that I'm stubborn, proud, and am in no danger of low self-esteem problems. But maybe, when someone gives me something, a little of the emotionally fragile Captain comes through. I imagine my expression being a little like Christopher Plummer's when Captain von Trapp walks in on his children's rendition of "The Sound of Music."
        At any rate, my young Iowan friend seems casual enough about the sending. There seems, however, some sense of implication in the note... something I can't quite put my finger on. I finish reading it but there seems to be no deeper meaning than "hope you like them." I take a good look at the drawings.
        Oh, yes, that's Shadow, all right. Outdoors, in this picture, which she tells me is rare for the Swallowtailed Hayden Heath dramaturg. His is the large drawing and I can see why. Displaying those black-and-yellow wings takes a lot of space.
        _My_ picture is the other one, rendered on a typing-paper sized sheet. An otter. Reddish-brown coat, black claws, a mischevious yet intelligent brown eye regarding me as he sits up on his haunches on a sketchy riverbank somehwere.
        An otter.
        I told Feech my favorite animals during one of our random correspondings, and she deviously held onto that information to use later, it seems. Butterflies and otters. The otter picture is labeled: "Captain Webster."
        Well. That's nice. She turned me into my favorite animal. I'll have to get these things framed when I have time.

        {That's nice? Is that all?}

        _That_ wasn't from _my_ mind.
        The otter is still looking at me.
        Okay, I'll play along. My brain is already addled from staying up so long. Might as well hallucinate about the mail while I'm at it. I reply to the thought.
        "What else is there?"

        {I'm surprised that you don't know your friends any better than that. You think Channing and Feech would send you a transformation drawing just so you can slap it on a wall and call it a "fond memory"? Memory of what? A wish? They don't go in for idle cheering-up and you know it. Feech wanted you to be _genuinely_ happy. So why are you waiting?}

        "Wait. Am I talking to myself?"

        {He can be taught!}

        "But the self I am talking to is..."

        The colored-pencil figure just looks at me.

        "An otter."

        {An otter! And give him another point for wildlife identification!}

        I think I begin to smell river water.
        The house is not fading around me, but I get the distinct sense that this world of mine is super-imposed over Somewhere Else.
        "Who are you?"

        {I thought we covered that. It should be obvious from the little title, there, that I am Captain Webster. But I am only, as of yet, a _potential_ Captain Webster. Hence this discussion. Which I think is simply a waste of time. Haven't those List friends of yours ever told you that you can do whatever you like? Take a hint, man. Magic pictures are rarely labelled as such. Feech sent you one thinking you might appreciate it. I suppose, though, if you don't want to take full advantage of the situation, then that's your prerogative.}

        "But I thought... Feech drew the picture."

        {Captain, _you_ drew the picture.}

        "Well, you do look just as I pictured myself. But then who drew Shadow's portrait?"

        {Shadow did.}

        "I don't understand," I admit.

        {It's like Feech told you. He volunteered to pose. He chose the colors. Shadow has no counterpart in your world. He communicates through Feech. I, however, do have a counterpart. I am you. You made this picture.}

        I look again at Shadow's drawing. Solid, finished. Not sketchy in the background as is the otter's riverbank. Shadow is already _there_. The otter... is issuing... an invitation.
        It occurs to me how silent Shadow has been. While I yack away with myself, the butterfly merely sits and looks on.
        That's right.
        He's mute.
        I had forgotten about that.
        But the otter is mute, too, I realize. His thought-voice comes to me only because of the intrinsic link between my two personae. If I-- do what I believe he is telling me I can, then for all intents and purposes I will become voiceless. My human speech will be gone.
        If I do this, if I actually accept this opportunity, it may well be _the_ single most selfish thing I have ever done.
        What is the last thing I said today? I can't remember. No matter how I retrace my steps and conversations in my mind, I am unable to recollect the last word out of my mouth.
        I wonder what Shadow's last words were.
        Or Donnie's.
        Oh, I know Shadow and others like him can communicate in many ways. But what about my wife? What about my children? Never to _say_ the words again... Could they forgive me? Could they forgive _themselves_ for letting me go?
        And yet... the otter.
        A playful, skilled hunter-swimmer with an indomitable sense of humor. I have never been able to imagine an ill or depressed otter. I know such things must be, in life, but to me the only truth of this creature is the friendly, yet demanding brown eye that I see before me on the curved paper. Surely the friendship of such an animal would be a benefit to my children. Not to mention the _energy_ I too-often lack. Stubborn, yes. Athletic, no. The otter is the epitome of athleticism.
        I _think_ my wife likes otters. It can be hard, even with someone whom you know beyond your knowledge of yourself, to determine whether their professed loves are only attempts to humor you in your odd tastes.
        No. It's not fair. Not fair to myself, not fair to them. I can't make a decision like this. Feech and Channing meant well, but butterfly and otter belong on the wall where I can converse about them with my family and forget them when need be.

        {Not fair?}

        The indignant thoughts break in again.

        {Not fair? You've always wanted to feel this coat, these muscles, the sleekness of your self, the health of your self. You can now do this and you're backing out because your power of _human_ speech will be gone? That's an insult to your wife.}

        "I would never insult my wife!"

        {Sounds to me like you're doing just that. It surprises me that you _assume_ that your athletic, healthy, beautiful, intelligent woman would actually _prefer_ a depressed, wish-denying, imagination-lacking man who ignores opportunities and avoids adventure. If any decision here is unfair, it's the one you're making _not_ to change.}

        "Now that's going too far."

        {Oh, come, now. I like you fine, Captain Webster, but I naturally think you would feel more at home in this form. In fact, I _know_ you would. What do you have to say to your family that you can't convey as an otter?}

        "I admit that non-human animals can communicate effectively. It's not that. It's just that the _voice_ makes it... real, somehow. I have the power of the voice now, and becoming my other self would forfeit that. I can't assume my family would prefer never hearing 'I love you' again."

        {But you feel that you _can_ assume that they would withhold from you your heart's last desire. They are all you ever wanted-- except for one thing. Don't you realize that they want you to be happy?}

        Happy. Yes. They do.
        Feech and Channing want me to be happy... that's why Feech sent these pictures. Feech knows of my family. Surely she would never willingly send anything to hurt them. On the other hand, that nagging knowledge that I don't even recall whether the last word I spoke was one of love, of anger, or of indifference. If I take this step now, what is the last word I will speak _forever_? How can I choose?

        The river-dwelling Captain Webster insinuates his thoughts among mine again. {If you don't remember, Captain, then how important can it be?}

        _Important_. It must be important.

        {I say again, what you recall is what's important to you. Shadow is closer to Melodie than ever he was before he was changed and became mute, remember? I don't think he ever mentioned any "last word" in his story. And what about Feech and Channing? Two people you communicate with as if they were family. This is the first you have ever touched anything that passed through their hands. It's the spirit that counts, Captain. Surely you know that. Never once have you seen those two, nor heard their voices. So where does the connection come from?}

        "The internet."

        {Get real. We're talking _personal_ connection here. You choose who to send email to. Why them, that night before Christmas Eve when you spilled your guts about your condition? They're giving you a way out, Captain. You and your family. But _you_ made this picture, and _you_ will have to decide to use it.}

        "I don't know what to say."

        {Say you want to become another Captain Webster.}

        "No, I mean I don't know what to say before I-- go."

        {I've told you it doesn't matter. I guarantee your wife would have married you if you hadn't been able to enunciate during the ceremony. Tell me, if she, or your daughter, or your son, were to choose to fulfill a wish and become a hawk, or a luna moth, or a margay, would you take offense at their choice because, pleased as you might be for them, they don't act or talk the way they used to? Especially if the change were to make them _healthier_...}

        "But this is such a drastic shift!"

        {As I recall, you wrote to Feech that you have been trying to change. That it's slow going, but that you hope to be very different in the future. Haven't you wished to be a drastically different father, husband, self? Are you saying you'd rather take a handful of pills and go to bed? You can't tell me you don't smell the river right now.}

        I do smell the river, still present, flowing beyond the solidity of this room, waiting to be defined past the pencil shadings where the other self sits.
        My family loves me. The spirit, the _self_. Have I been, could I possibly be, letting the body dissolve the self? I wish to change, yet have refused. That is _not_ what my loved ones would want. 2:55 AM or no, I am suddenly clear-headed. Whether or not my wife likes otters, she likes-- LOVES-- _me_.

        {Ready?} The playful, eager expression intensifies.

        "Okay. Do it now."

        {Come in.}


* * * * *

        I _know_ this riverbank! Recognition dawns even before my bones are firmly settled in the clean, strong flesh of the otter.
        I know this river! My nose lifts to catch a scent, confirm a direction.
        I know this river, and home is _that way_.
        Instantly my lithe, dark self is in the water and out on the other bank. I have no fear of the dark or the approaching dawn, though I suppose both may bring danger. This form is my dwelling now and the claws, and teeth, and webs, and tail, are a vision in my mind worthy of Revelations. For some reason, the chill and pressure in the wee-hours air no longer bother me at all.
        I feel as though I have become a description of a dream, and suddenly _do not care_ whether I ever have another experience in my original human form.
        So this is what it feels like not to regret.
        At the speed with which I bound in slick brown curves over the bumpy terrain, my dear wife will not have awaked by the time I reach the house.
        Fish. That would be nice for dinner.
        Maybe for breakfast too. Maybe I'll have the kids take me to the park and show off a little of what I can do.
        A strange, slight feeling of worry fades from my senses. What was I worried about? Oh yes. Speaking. Well, we'll just have to work around that.
        I don't even remember now what I did say as I let the change overtake me.
        I know it was one word, spoken in relief, a declaration of triumph and release. That body, the sameness, the discontent, gone.
        I know it was... yes, that was it. Not meant as a tribute to the past, nor as a last poetic outcry of love to my family. Just a statement of newness that had been awaited, desired, avoided, and, at that moment, gained.


BACK to the Main Index
BACK to Miscellaneous Universes