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Entrances and Exits
by Phil Geusz and J.(Channing)Wells
The rest of my mini-vacation was pretty routine. Shortcake got some of the attention she deserved, and I began to tentatively consider adding a second bunny so she wouldn't be so lonely while I was gone on business. I read some old papers, caught up my e-mail, and...
...wondered what to do with all my spare time. It was an old problem, one that dated back to my going into the carrot business. Before SCABS, I had enjoyed travel, fishing, shooting- all things that took me out into the wide world. Sure, I had participated in many sedentary pursuits as well, like reading and even a bit of writing here and there. But I MISSED touring museums and national parks, MISSED heading across country in a fast car with a map and no set plans, MISSED the recoil of a handgun or the buck of a fishing rod in the hands I no longer had. For an endless time, I had sat in my apartment alone, obeying my lapine instincts and giving in to my rabbity fears. Now, I was starting to live again but it was all stress, all business, and I had lost my unwinding mechanisms. Sure, I could snuggle with Shortcake, something I could never have done as a man. And it helped, in its way. But it provided no break in the monotony, put no spark into my existence. It was a requirement, not a pastime.
Rabbits thrive on boredom, but all work and no play would eventually make Phil a very dull bunny. Even the Pig was getting old...
It was just another one of those SCABS conundrums that I was becoming so familiar with, where fur or feathers or whatever made someone unable to enjoy the things they'd once lived for. A significant part of my professional life was spent finding new careers or pastimes for these clients, or perhaps new ways to enjoy the old ones, while others I had to help learn to live with a new reality.
Unfortunately, I knew I was one of the latter. And I had no cause for complaint- my new life was at least beginning to shape up- I was a lot better off than I had been immediately after leaving the hospital...
I trembled. Usually, I try not to remember that. Counselor, heal thyself...
And closed up my laptop. It was time to leave my "burrow" for a while and get out. Be human. Even if it meant doing work instead of R&R. Carefully I eased out of Shortcake's cage, squeezed through the pet door I still used for security, and headed out to the front yard. Usually if I waited there, it wouldn't be long before I snagged a ride to the Pig...
Today it was Jack De Mule who picked me up. I was halfway into the battered old Chevy when I realized that he already had another rider...
A full-morph coyote. Doug Linger.
It was pure reflex- I slammed the door and backed away. But my guilt at seeing how "Wiley"'s head hung got me back in. I had the whole back seat to myself, and Doug was the very model of politeness. I feel like such a louse when I snub a predator-SCAB that way- they don't deserve it, not a bit. But it is SO hard for me to trust. Especially since a certain evening when I was stalked by a feral tiger-SCAB, and nearly lost my life. Many of us prey SCABs are suspicious by nature. But one who's actually been hunted, well, it turns on a certain switch inside of us, one that never really gets turned off. After that night, I can never forget that some see me only as a midnight snack of hot salty blood and yummy, clover-fed flesh...
Jack dropped me at the door, and in an effort to at least partially make amends to Doug I stepped on the treadle and opened the door for him. He bowed slightly, recreating human body language on four legs by buckling his forelimbs a bit, and trotted through the portal and back to the Lupine corner. Meanwhile, I hopped up onto my usual stool by the door and greeted Donnie. He filled my paw-cup, and asked me how things were.
Fine, I responded, and asked him if Wanderer had been around. I knew he wasn't in at the moment, having been inside the Pig for over 45 seconds without hearing his voice. Donnie signed that he was out getting a pizza and would be back momentarily. I thanked him, and waited.
But not for long. He burst in, carrying the pizza with a dramatic flair accentuated by the cape he always affected, and immediately was going at it with that wonderfully full English accent.
"I have returned as promised, dear friends, with provisions for all!" Hungry howls answered him and I involuntarily flinched again, though no one saw me. "Hello, Bunny Rabbit!" he greeted me as he briskly headed for the back.
"Hey, when you get a minute can you come back by?" I asked. "It's business."
"Business? Do you ever think about anything else?" Wanderer rolled his eyes and sighed. "Yes, of course. Let me get a plate and secure a ration for myself lest these pig-dogs eat it all..."
And presently he was back. "At your service, my pale wiggly-nosed friend."
"Michael Bix." I said.
Wanderer's mood darkened a bit. "Yes. What about him?"
"I hear he can act."
The wolf-morph looked thoughtful for a moment. "Understand that I've never seen him perform. But he was touring with a Harald Wallace production."
The lupine looked at me strangely. "You don't follow the theater much, do you?"
"Not at all. My artistic leanings, such as they are, tend toward the homespun and the literary."
"Ah. Too bad. Harald Wallace is a God of the stage, a man who has made more careers than I can name. He does real art, not mass-appeal material. And to be in his productions, one must be very, very good indeed."
Wanderer looked sad and angry. "The same thing that keeps happening to me. Who wants to put a SCAB on stage? Bix got rave reviews in Peoria- I pulled them off the 'net once I met him and found out he was a fellow thespian. But everywhere else he was seen as a disturbance, a distraction, a SCAB, if you know what I mean."
"SCABs like Bix and I, well, if there's a lupine or canine role open we might be considered. But the fact is that there just AREN'T that many roles. And Bix, well, he's been something of a nuisance here sometimes, and often seems more than a bit stuck up. But do you think a Shakespearean trouper is going to find any peace playing the part of Spot the Dog on a children's afternoon TV show? At least as a lupine I get the odd werewolf part, roles that at least allow me to stretch myself a little. But Bix? It's no wonder he's made a profession of changing oil- the parts he could actually get would be an insult to him."
"So you think he's better off as a mechanic?"
Wanderer glared at me like I was stupid or something, then relented. "Phil, you have never trod the boards, have you?"
"Then you cannot understand. The need to perform is like a flame inside you, a burning that never stops. It's heroin, cocaine and crack, love and sex and hate. Picture Michelangelo with a set of paws like yours, or Caruso rendered mute. Envision Rasputin emasculated. Then you can BEGIN to comprehend what has happened to Michael Bix." Wanderer sighed. "Bix hasn't talked much here lately- he never says a word to anyone in fact. Knowing what he's been through, what had happened to him on his worst night here, I have wanted to get to know him, to try and make friends. He COULD fit in with the lupines well enough, after all, if he accepted his canine nature a bit and let himself go a little. But he can't. Frankly, I'm worried."
"Damned worried. He's going to explode again, Phil. Acting is his natural release. Without it, the pressure just builds and builds. And this time, he may just take it out on himself.."
Wanderer needed to say no more. The suicide rate among SCABS was among the highest on Earth. And the wolf was a good judge of character. Damn!
But continue he did. "Frankly, I'm glad to know you're taking an interest. He needs someone, and you seem to have a knack."
Just what I needed. Wanderer didn't know about my current string of failures. "This is a little bit out of my usual line..."
"You'll do fine anyway. We all have faith in you." And with that, he smiled, excused himself, and headed back to his pack. They were saving a seat for him in a poker game, and Wanderer had to get there before someone thought of some especially nasty prank to play on him...
For several hours I sat at my stool deep in thought, hardly noticing Donnie topping off my carrot juice. Finally, I took advantage of an offered ride and headed back to the Shelter. It was time for some studying...
The research lasted long into the night.
Wanderer was right- Wallace was a true artist and maker of careers. And Bix had gotten fine reviews in Peoria, while escaping any negative comments elsewhere. But the play as a whole had been ridden mercilessly everywhere it appeared (Peoria excepted) until Bix had been dumped. Then, magically, all had been made well. Reviews were excellent from that time forward.
It doesn't take a Shakespearean to scent something rotten in Denmark.
I also read up on acting and human psychology. Based on a light once-over, Wanderer was right on track about the need to act. The more I read, the more apt his comparison to a gelded Rasputin got.
Jesus. What was I going to do? Maybe Bix would never call...
RING! went the emergency line, startling Shortcake out of a sound sleep. Having lapine sleeping habits and often being up at strange times, I frequently handle the hot-line calls in the wee hours. Still, I was groggy from my intense study, and slurred the words a bit. "West Street Shelter, this is Phil. K'y help you?"
"Phil," I heard in a ragged overwrought whisper that my big ears identified instantly as that of Michael Bix. "We need to talk."
I propped up the phone's receiver in the cedar shavings that Shortcake and I prefer to sleep in, and twisted myself around in the cage to get comfortable. While doing so I clawed my mob-mate firmly in the face, and she recoiled away. Damn! I so love these early-morning crises! But my clients never, ever know it. They are hurting far worse than me.
"Michael? Is that you?" I knew the voice, but the question is settling to the client. And who knows, maybe someday I'll be wrong.
"Yes, it's me." Long pause. "Whoever that is."
Oh-oh. "What's on your mind?"
Another long pause. "I'm..." More silence.
"I'm... I'm tearing myself to bits. I'm just.... lost." There were no more words, but I could hear heavy panting. Bix was under tremendous tension. Anything could happen. Or might already have happened.
"Are you at home?" If not, I might have to figure out how to get him there. Or here. Or to a hospital. Damnit that I could no longer drive, anyway...
He giggled a bit, with more than a small overtone of hysteria. "Yes, I'm home alright. Or I'm in a dream. Or a nightmare. Could this have become my home? Is this really my life?"
"Have you been drinking?" I had done my homework, after all. Or as much as I'd had time for.
At that, he straightened out a little. "I wish I had been. Then, I would understand, would have a reason..."
Shit, shit, shit. I knew he was violent at times. What had he done? "Have a reason for what?"
He was a little bemused now. "I just tried.... I tried to wash my face off, Phil. Just as if it were makeup, as if I were playing a role. I scrubbed and scrubbed until I bled, trying to find my real face. It was... crazy. I was... out of control."
He'd never know how glad I was to hear that his lapse had been so relatively minor, his violence so harmless to himself and others. Somehow, I had been expecting far worse.
"It happens sometimes, Michael. Happens to us all. Did you ever hear about my first night at the Pig?"
He had, and he laughed a bit, nervously. Good. The hysterical edge was gone. Or nearly gone. I was anchoring him back to normal, everyday experiences.
"Even Norms lose control, and most of them have a hell of a lot less reason. It's OK, Michael."
Michael tried to explain, somewhat incoherently , what had happened. But he couldn't finish. The tears had come, tears of relief, rage, and fear. Tears of envy and anger, love and hate. This man's emotions were backed up beyond belief. Where did he find so much pain? Again Wanderer was right- Bix was like an infected blister ready to burst. He had lost his emotional drain, and the pressure would grow and grow and grow until either the old tap was opened or a new outlet found. Tonight's episode would keep him functional for awhile- the pressure had come off a little. But what about the time after that? And the time after that? I let him go on until he wound down and slowed to a stop, giving him encouraging "Uh-huh"s and "Yeah"s at appropriate times. At first I wished I could take notes like most therapists. But soon I was so overpowered by the story that I knew I could never forget it. SCABs. Territorial instincts. Fight. Dead lover. Parking lot. Christmas duck and mystical experience. Burned résumés. Miracle role. Friendship, rejection, lost role, violence, and auto mechanic.
What a screwed up mess.
Bix was sounding better toward the end. I worked hard at staying positive and professional, accepting Michael's transference of his problems to me. We were going to meet in two days' time- I had an evaluation scheduled on a feral mouse patient 150 miles away in the morning; even for Bix I couldn't put it off. And someone coming in from out of town the morning after. But the afternoon was Bix's .
He sounded much better as we finished, with a new element in his voice, one I'd not heard from him before. He had hung up before I was able to put a label on it.
It was hope.