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Go Unto Pharaoh
This one is for Philip Jacobs, with many thanks to Bryan Derksen and to Channing.
It stands to reason that I don't usually see all of the regulars on my visits to the Blind Pig. Tuesdays aren't much of a draw for most bar patrons, after all. But I do know some quite well, and when I'm feeling brave, I will sometimes come here on Friday or Saturday night.
Still, I do not believe I have ever seen the man sitting alone at the bar on this Tuesday evening. From my plastic-bag-covered chair I can survey most of the room... Jack de Mule playing something quietly and thoughtfully, as though warming up for later, when the crowd may be bigger... A lone wolf drinking in a corner, perhaps hoping some of the rest of the Lupine Boys will be dropping by, too... all in all a slow, typical Tuesday. My safe day to be here.
I am curious about that figure at the bar. Perhaps I have never seen him because I often come later, when there will be card games. Perhaps he usually stops in for a drink, after work, say, before going home. I am certain he has been here before. That he is, in fact, a regular. I saw Donnie give him a drink without words or signs exchanged... My curiosity is further piqued by not knowing what this drink might be.
It is when I am at my most curious, my most open, wanting company, that I come to the Blind Pig Gin Mill in these early, empty times. The danger of reaching out is always present, and when I am most desiring it I must stifle the need, remove myself from the possibilities. No cards for me tonight, no socializing. I just might let someone go too far. And yet...
A touch could be deadly. But my shining black eyes do no harm in seeking truths, truths I can pretend mean I have a companion. Knowing someone's favorite drink, even if the someone is a stranger, makes for intimacy of the only kind I can accomplish in what is now my form.
The unknown regular has black hair, I note carefully, almost embarrassed at my perusal of a perfect stranger. I haven't done this sort of thing since I was a girl, fantasizing about movie and television stars, collecting their preferences and attributes as if they were physical keepsakes. Now once again, relegated to a lonelier form of childhood, I collect voices and names and mannerisms, all of them for others to touch and myself to dream on. Or so I think in my melancholy, knowing I will go home and soak the carpet in tears and poison, knowing this is nothing like childhood and that it will not end and free me... I am not even female, this time around. This time around. This time. At all.
You can see where my mind goes, as I soak up the ambiance of the one place where I have a social outlet. Everywhere and nowhere. Avoiding the thought of touching, being here because I want to touch.
If only I had been born fearing it. But then I would have nothing to mourn, and with nothing to mourn I should die. With nothing left at all except the body covered by these rain-clothes.
Clothes I think I should remember from somewhere... In a story, though, never in our modern real life and certainly never in conjunction with Linda Armauer.
Lindy Armauer. Let us keep it gender-neutral, for the sake of these sweet and friendly others who try so hard to help and understand me.
What they don't understand is that this is _not_ me. All of me that is left is the desire.
It's in an opaque glass, whatever it is. A brown glass. This makes little difference in my assessment of the regular-stranger, as I can only rule out a few drinks by noting the type of container he is using. Donnie comes near him, wiping the bar, and as the huge bovine bartender approaches the spot opposite the customer, the customer twitches. Just once, but rather violently, all through the shoulders and neck.
Donnie looks in mild surprise at the patron, having just served him with no aggression shown on the black-haired person's part. Something about the motion of the bartender must have scared him... Now he tilts his head sheepishly and mutters something, low, to Donnie. The calm bartender signs that no offense is taken, and tactfully lets the matter go, but the unknown figure is clearly uncomfortable. He turns, scanning the room as if trying to target a safer spot. I am sure my own, less expressive face has registered a look like that before, even if for very different reasons.
The corner with the lone wolf in it appears to be instantly dismissed. I watch the man's gaze drift towards Jack's piano, break, and resume scanning in my direction.
This time there is another tense pause, although no drawing back or shuddering accompanies it. In fact, upon taking a careful look at me, the black-haired man, glass in hand, slips off his barstool and makes a direct approach.
He reaches my table in a few smooth motions and sits easily in a chair across from me.
"Hello," he says as he puts down his glass. "I'm Daniel Jameson. Do you mind that I've joined you?"
I almost laugh. Almost. This (young? Yes, he looks fairly young) man has some audacity, asking after the fact... I "smile" at him by just slightly parting my lips and bobbing my head. "No, I don't mind. What brings you here in particular, Mr. Jameson?"
"You can call me Daniel, or just Dan, Mr..."
Amazing. People are always trying to tactfully guess my sex. It can be hard to tell, with frogs. He's either an expert or has some unusual insight. "Armauer. Lindy Armauer," I chirp. My light frog's voice gives an impression of cheerfulness, regardless of what's going on in my head.
Once again, however, he's onto me. His rather intense expression softens.
"I can let you be," he says. "It's obviously not the time of evening you'd be expecting lots of company..."
"That's right. But it's welcome. Do stay."
He brightens. "I thought I might join you, seeing just a _little_ glimpse of that impressive coloration under your cloak. Is there a reason you wear that? Protection or some such thing?"
"Yes... But not, in this case, protection for me." This man is not an expert, then, or he would know from my mint and bronze-black markings that I am one of the most highly toxic species on the planet. I tell him, "I wear this to keep any of my... contact poison from affecting others. I am... extremely... dangerous."
"Shame," says Daniel, sincerely. He takes a sip from his glass, places it back on the table and fixes me with a short, but intense, judgment stare. "Handsome markings. At any rate, you don't look dangerous to me..."
I am about to reply to that when he trails off, looks away, then raises his pebbled-brown eyes again, this time almost in puzzlement. "Lindy?"
Another pause. "Nothing."
"This is just so-- ridiculous. Not you!" he hastens to add, "But me. I hope you don't mind."
"Lindy, I have just now seen you, joined you, and begun talking your ear off. I hear myself and I sound almost-- normal. Like I was. I hope you don't mind, but I have absolutely no fear of you. Please don't be..."
"What? What is it, Dan? I am pleased to meet you. I'm glad I don't frighten you, for whatever reason. Is that what you're talking about? Is there more?"
"Of course there's more." He takes another swig of the unknown drink.
"What is it?" I ask quietly, "That you drink?"
He smiles. "Milk. But I've only had the honey added since my Flu. Just another way in which Daniel Jameson is not, anymore. Are you laughing?"
"No." I'm not, but he may think the thinking-chirp I let out sounded like a giggle. "I was just wondering... Milk and honey... I do believe that's a Biblical reference."
"I just like it. Bible? Hm. Interesting."
"So what did the Flu do with you? As long as you don't mind my asking."
"No! I don't mind. I want to talk. You're the first person, Lindy, that I've seen in two years who hasn't... _bothered_ me, somehow. I've just been so touchy... I just..." He looks away and I wait for him to continue. I know he will, and that he is having trouble admitting to the comfort he feels with me. So odd... I have been of no help to anyone in such a long time...
Daniel Jameson plays with his milk-glass for a short time, working over what he wants to say next, and I watch the others in the bar while my polo-shirted young friend collects himself.
Daniel is quite perceptive. "You see the polo shirt."
I must register the slightest bit of amusement and surprise. He chuckles. "One thing I do, even in the nastier weather lately. I always liked short sleeves. Helps me hang onto something from before, I guess. That's why I come here, too."
"To the Blind Pig?"
"Yes. My shrink says I should, to keep myself in practice. Otherwise I'll rot away at home. I would, if my new mind had its way. Stay home, that is. But he tells me the best thing for it is to keep trying. I cheat, though. Most days. I come during the day hours when less customers are around."
So that is why I haven't seen him in here before. "So, you have a prey mind now? Is that it?" I hope my voice sounds gentle. Usually it is others who are comforting _me_.
"No-- I don't know. I don't know what I am. All I know is that most people better not cross me. I mean, it shouldn't make any sense, but somehow it does. Not to _me_, but to my-- _brain_ somewhere. Not that I mean you should be afraid. If _I'm_ not afraid, then you're okay. Do you understand?"
He's avoiding eye contact at this point and I think at first that he's shy, then realize that he's simply scanning the room again, keeping a careful eye on the customers. He does seem nervous. The door opens, and air, chill for this time of year, sweeps in along with a heavy-set dog-morph. Dan twitches in his chair, turns back to me as if for protection.
"See?" He says. "That-- that shouldn't scare me, but it does. Lindy, are you tired of me yet?"
"Not by any means."
"Okay, what I'm saying is, that dog-man there, he had better watch out if he comes over here. Like Donnie. Can't trust 'em. You realize that that bartender could crush us if he stepped on us?"
"Dan... I really don't think you have to worry about that."
The young man turns back to his drink, finishes it, and fixes me with a sad, but somehow triumphant gaze. "I am an actor, Lindy."
"Really! What have you been in?"
"Everything. Well, no. But _An Enemy of the People_, when I lived in New York. Actually, I lived there until a few months after I got the Flu. But I couldn't find anyone who could help me... and I couldn't bear walking streets in New York and not being an actor. _Exiles at the Eastern Gate_, for the stage. I was in that, and _Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat_, and _Cats_. You couldn't get me on stage anymore now, let alone into high-contact shows like that. Ever been to New York."
"A few times, with my husband." It's been said before I realize it. Daniel knows, and lets it go, for the time being.
"If you saw me in anything," he tells me, "You wouldn't know me now... I had blue eyes, blond hair. Went by the name Todd James. Todd is my middle name."
"I don't think I remember you from the stage. But that doesn't mean you're not a noteworthy actor."
"Oh, I know." Dan smiles wryly. "And I _am_ an actor. We can pretend that, anyway. We can pretend I'm going to get better. But Lindy..."
Again I wait.
"I bit a costar."
I wince. He seems to realize that this is in sympathy.
"Haven't been able to get far enough into rehearsals to get through it. And I never know what might tick me off-- although basically it seems to be anything I'm not ready for, which can be a whole lot in the theatre. I could drill it into my head that so-and-so was going to be touching me in such-and-such a way, get so I was calm about it, and then they'd improvise something. Then I would be okay, or I wouldn't. Lindy, I am _un-pre-dict-able_."
"Oh, Dan. I'm sorry."
"And I am glad."
"I have met you."
I have not heard such sincere happiness in my company, and mine alone, in a long time. If I could, I believe I would blush. As it is I say, "Strange, to me, I must admit, that the one single most dangerous person in this establishment should attract the most pleasing, if frightened, you."
"Hm. Strange, maybe. But I would very much like to take advantage of it. I like to get out before there's too much crowding, you know... Where do you go from here?"
No! I think desperately to myself. But to Dan I say, "Home. I don't generally take people... I mean, the tox--"
"I'll come with you, if that's okay. I promise not to touch. I know what it means to be afraid. I'm inviting myself, unless you really do mind..."
"I-- don't have anything for company," I stammer, completely lost. What's going on?
"I just want to stop by. I don't need anything. Just company. Companionship, I mean. Lindy? I don't know why I'm doing this. Stop me if I'm being a complete cad."
The poor man. How dare I think he can't look after himself. I remove myself carefully from my chair. "Come with me. Please be careful, though, Dan. Please. The slightest bump..."
"It's that serious, is it."
"Too bad," he murmurs as he stands up. "I wish--"
"What do you wish?"
"Oh-- a lot of things."
We depart the Blind Pig and walk to my apartment, silently. Dan wears a jacket but seems uncomfortable with its loose flapping-- eventually he takes it off. I gladly enter the protection of my plain home, eager for the humidity a hot-running tub will provide. Dan follows me inside, and as I carefully take my coverings off, inside-out, and put them on the vinyl chair, he almost touches the entertainment center.
"No!" I say, just in time. I warn him away from coming too close to me, explain the danger of dried toxins, and all the while he explores my small living space. He moves smoothly around each obstacle, politely asking questions until I do believe I have told him just about everything pertaining to my living style. He is the first person I have ever brought here. I tell him so and he begins to laugh.
"I appreciate that."
"Why is it funny?"
"It just is. Cute. As if you're 'interested' in me, and I in you. See what I mean?"
Do I. "Yes."
"Is your spirit female?"
"You're sure we can't shake hands, even?"
"Not without the gloves."
Daniel stays three hours. He sits in another blue vinyl chair, the one I never use, and we listen to my frog-call CD and discuss black plastic fashions, New York musicals and even my telephone.
"I can put your number on the speed-dial," I say, surprising myself, and he readily gives it to me. I fiddle for a moment with entering it, never too good with these mechanical things anyway, but I can't very well ask him to help me. Finally, I get it right.
"There!" I cheep. "Now, Mr. Jameson, you are the first and only person officially on my speed-dial."
He grins. "I'm flattered."
"I would offer you some milk, but I'm afraid that anything I've touched--"
He raises a hand. "S'okay. I'm just fine. Really."
"For a nervous person in a room with a poison-arrow frog, you seem remarkably calm."
"I know, it's amazing. And I can't do anything except thank you. Suppose it's those pretty colors or something?"
"Well... They're supposed to be warning colors."
"I don't know, then. But thank you."
"Daniel... Thank you."
He looks at me seriously for a few moments.
"I want to do something for you," he says at last.
"Oh, that won't be--"
"But I want to."
And I know he will.
Daniel's own inspired idea is a humidifier.
He takes care to find out what model I might like,
as in what it should do and whether it will be
likely to require servicing in the future... It
doesn't seem likely that I will ever be able to
let repairpersons contact anything used by myself.
I don't know whether to let Daniel do it, but I
can't hurt him by saying no. We've been meeting
at the bar on a regular basis, mainly because he
has kept my own fears at bay by being extremely
good about the no-contact thing. I have not,
however, ascertained that Dan actually has any
sort of decent income, and I cannot impose.
When I protest, finally mentioning something to that extent, he tries to reassure me.
"I haven't been able to... act... but I do work on phones, where there's not so much of the unexpected. Please let me use some of my paycheck on you. Please? I'll buy the humidifier and bring it over someday-- maybe next week. Okay? Please. Come on, Lindy, you know you want it..."
When Dan goes into that I-can-read-your-desires mode I know it's no use to protest. "All right, Daniel. My friend. Bring it over whenever you like. And you are right... I will very much appreciate it."
He smiles. "It would be traditional now for you to give me a grateful hug or the like..."
"... Okay. On the side of my cloak only. Careful of the opening at the front. Careful of the back feet."
I feel the pressure, but Dan is quiet.
Not that I blame him.
The phone is ringing.
I pick up the receiver and speak into it, "Hello?... Hello?... Who is this?... Is anyone there?"
Sounds in the background are silence and nothing, but agitated. Lindy. No one else would call and not say anything. She hit the speed dial and--
Drop the receiver and dial emergency. Lindy's address-- what is it-- tell them-- Dash out the door in a short-sleeved shirt, into uncomfortable wind-- into the still car and drive (_carefully_) to where the phone call came from. It had to be Lindy. If she's not in trouble I made a stupid emergency call but they tell you better safe than sorry...
Standing on the cement is the old lady from down stairs of Lindy's apartment, watching nothing in the dry wind, shivering. "I called the fire department," she says. I nod to her and dash upstairs. She calls out, but once I'm on a forward course there's no stopping me. The dark hole that is the upper level is forced into my brain as inviting, wanted. A place to hide. Now I have it set in my mind that way and I can function forward, always forward, up into the hole (the door-- open it), into the front room, smoke is everywhere but very little heat. Safe, I tell myself. I am safe. Grab the poison frog and get out of here. Nothing in the smoke, nothing to be afraid of on the sidewalk.
Sirens and yellow trucks so loud they should hurt my senses. Strange when they come right to you. I am clutching the frog and remember to put it down. Mucus dries on my arms as my sensibility returns. I can't help a swipe across my face with a hand, knowing as I do so there is something cold about this action, something bad, but I can't, just now, think what.
Lindy's on her back and I turn her over, massage the throat, anything to get the breath working again. I know she needs moisture but the den at the top of the stairs is not where to get it. The elderly neighbor stays back, stops the firemen. With a presence of mind that I don't have, she explains Mr. Armauer's contact poison, so the ambulance personnel will prepare before further steps are taken. Water and equipment readied and employed, are loud but not as confused as the wind and my brain.
Periodically I think of burning, not of smoke but of toxins, and shove the idea away so violently that I seem to be able to stave off the discomfort, at least for now. I know I've touched my eyes and try not to worry about them. I scream that Lindy needs moisture and oxygen. The hair on my arms raises in cooling and at last I do fall back as the paramedics take over. Then somebody throws a blanket over me and one over the old lady, and because I am warm I do not fight back. I have forgotten about poison: now I am comfortable and warm and worrying about where they are putting the frog. Green and black. _Mine_.
At the hospital (I think there were lights and sirens involved in my getting here), my eyes are almost frantically flushed with water for minutes on end, and as nurses clean my skin I realize for the first time that they are treating me for having handled Lindy. My brain has been erratic... I still am unable to connect and articulate about all the things that happened in my mind and body when I carried her out of the apartment. I ask where she is, all of me wanting to know that much, at least, and the busy nurses continue checking and working on me while they tell me that a doctor will be in soon with information on Lindy's condition.
About then I get shivers of the old anxiety coming back. Anger-- a just-in-case anger that readies itself for the explosion should anyone speak the least negative thing of Lindy, or make the least threatening move towards me. Of course it is questionable, as always, just what it is I might find negative or threatening, and I hope the warmth and comfort of being cleaned will not leave and set me twitchy and dangerous. I forget, at the moment, whether I have ever hurt anybody when mishandled. I don't know. All I know is that I want to, if they cross me in the slightest. I can move pretty damn fast, I think, but if they hold me so I can't go then I'm going to--
Crike's sake, Dan, getahold on yourself. Still, I draw back from the next nurse who comes in the room. Four I have counted already and this is a strange one, new, and so not trustworthy. Where's the doctor who took my frog? "Hold still, Mr. Jameson. It's all right-- you're jumpy but there's nothing to be afraid of."
I can't believe that actually came out of my mouth and further avoid the nurse in my embarrassment.
The nurse is about to reply when an important-looking figure in a white coat comes in and makes the slightest of dismissive motions with one of four insectoid arms. I twitch, look up, consider. An insect. Nothing to fear. The nurse departs.
I begin to calm down, and the doctor obviously notices this. Still, let him talk first. He does. "Hello, Mr. Jameson. I'm Doctor Derksen, the physician in charge of Lindy Armauer's case. If you'll choose a seat somewhere in the room, I will share with you all we know."
"Why do I need to sit down? Is it bad?"
"No, no. Lindy is fine. Now choose a seat or get in the bed and relax. I'm going to talk to you and you'll want to be all with me here, okay?"
I nod. Dr. Derksen seems to know what's going on in my brain. I guess I'm not really surprised, just caught a bit off guard by a harmless-seeming but highly perceptive individual. They seem so rare since my Flu. I sidle up to a chair, pause, and sink into it. There. Now I'm ready to talk.
Dr. Derksen spends a moment letting me settle while he also takes a chair and faces me, thoughtfully positioning himself so the door is clearly visible. I'm safe in a room with an insect and no obstacles between myself and the exit.
"Mr. Jameson," the doctor begins--
"Call me Daniel, please."
"Daniel, then. Daniel, I am going to begin by venturing an assumption; that being, that you are aware of the effects Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome has had on Mr. Armauer."
"Yes. Yes, she's an arrow-poison frog. Highly toxic. Yes? Is that what you mean?"
The cockroach nods. "Mr-- Miss--"
"Miss Armauer has been identified as a SCABS-induced member of the species 'Dendrobates auratus'."
"Yes, Doctor, I know. Is this going to affect her recovery?"
He sighs. I think I'm missing a point here. He gestures faintly with an antenna, then continues to explain. "Lindy's recovery from the effects of smoke inhalation should be uneventful, as we are treating her based on the breathing requirements of frogs. She is currently resting and you will be able to see her shortly. Before you do, however, we need to establish some facts about _you_."
Another pause, so I nod my head for him to go on.
"Daniel, when you carried Miss Armauer from the apartment, what did you experience?"
"Fear. For a little bit. I was afraid. Then moisture on my skin, you know, because of the way she is--" I waved a hand over my arm as if he might still be able to see where the mucus had been "-- and some of this-- this _way_ I get in a strange situation. You know? Maybe you don't. But after the Flu, after I got SCABS, I started having these... nervous attacks, of a sort. There was some of that, too."
"I see." The doctor speaks in that medical tone which unfailingly indicates that he is way ahead of the patient and just covering all the bases. "And since touching Lindy, have you had any discomfort, itching, stinging, nausea...?"
"Mn-n." I shake my head.
"How soon would you say it took the paramedics to wash off your face?"
I try to think. I know it must be important-- at any rate I trust him and don't want to be uncooperative. I can't get it, though. I'm not sure. "I'm not sure. I know I picked up Lindy, and felt some smoke coming in through my nose, so I quit breathing. Then I went down to the sidewalk, _fast_, and took a deep breath. I put her down. That's when I-- wiped my face. I felt pretty cold so there must have been some time passed..."
Dr. Derksen prompts, "Did you touch Lindy again, after you put her down?"
"Yes, I did. I tried to get her to breathe-- I didn't see her throat moving-- I tried to massage the throat and put my arms around her." Here I pause, with the slightest of gasps. This just happened today. Damn it was scary. Didn't seem so at the time, in my odd state, but it does now. My best friend. "She's all right?"
I relax again.
"Daniel, it has seemed to all concerned with this emergency that you spent a dangerous amount of time exposed to Lindy's skin toxins, even should there have been no contact with the mucous membranes, which by your account there was. You experienced no discomfort at the time?"
"No... No, not unless you count from the smoke."
"And you have no symptoms now..."
"Do I? I don't know. I feel fine. Are you saying I'm going to get sick? How long does it take? Can I see Lindy first?"
"What I am attempting to get at, Daniel, is that you should have experienced symptoms almost immediately, if not sooner. And you spent what in our opinion should have been unquestionably dangerous amounts of time essentially wearing the arrow-poison excretions. But so far you have had no side effects whatsoever."
I stare at him. He continues. "We have ascertained that Lindy Armauer's toxins are as potent as they were at the time of her SCABS transformation. Therefore, any answers to the question of _why_ you were not affected must lie with you."
"That's right. The most obvious answer would involve your own symptoms of SCABS. Where were you treated originally?"
"New York. Not here, if that's what you want to know."
"Yes. Were your doctors there able to give you an idea as to what species you had acquired the characteristics of?"
"No," I almost scoff. "Not enough to go on. They had a _reptile_ specialist come in, based on something-or-other, my 'behavior', or something, but nobody could tell me exactly. All I can tell you, Dr. Derksen, is that I've been one big mess since then. Scared and nasty. I was _never_ like that. And I'm sorry if I've been rude to your staff but that's all there is."
"That's fine, absolutely fine, Daniel, no problems," he hastens to assure me. Dr. Derksen seems to be stuck on the word 'fine' today. Still, it is comforting to hear. "You'd be surprised how much it takes to offend our staff. This is a _slow_ day."
That gets a smile out of me and he seems to appreciate it. "So what," I ask, "does this tell you about Lindy?"
"As I have been saying, it is as much about you as it is about your friend. From what you have told me, I believe we may have an explanation for what is apparently an immunity to the poison-arrow frog toxin."
It hits me now. Yes, I am terribly slow. But up until now, until he's connected it for me, I've been distracted by Lindy and the fear of experiencing those 'severe side effects' she panics over so often. "Immunity?"
"There are, of course, still difficulties with the situation. And as far as your diagnosis goes, I cannot guarantee a specific species identification, though that may well be possible. But you may be glad to know that there is a rational, pathological explanation for your nervousness. Simply, that it is due to the natural tendencies of your, shall we say, 'other' species. Which seems, in all likelihood, to be a member of a group of snakes who feed upon the 'Dendrobates' frogs."
"I never was shy with Lindy..." I say, in a sort of daze.
"As would make sense, given that in your new mindset she is perfectly harmless prey, rather than, say, a large mammal who could harm you. You seem to be consistent with the behaviors of a rear-fanged 'Liophis' or 'Leimadophis' species, most probably 'Leimadophis epinephelus', combined with the sometimes-opposing tendencies of your human mind. Do you follow?"
"This is not to say your time with Lindy will be without risk. The toxins are potentially deadly to individuals other than yourself-- it is imperative that extreme caution be exercised in contacting Lindy physically. You will need to be certain that you are free of the poisons before touching anyone else. Do you understand this necessity?"
"Yes." I understand that I have a reason for the way I am. I understand that I may reach for Lindy with no danger. I feel odd, listening to Dr. Derksen's calm, professional voice, knowing he knows how I feel, knowing, I think, that somewhere deep down I am horrified at the prospect of admitting to a serpentine 'other' within myself, and yet blessedly relieved to _know_. Suddenly I begin to love the serpent. If I love it, I am already thinking, then I can persuade it... I can _act_... "'Leimado--what?"
"'Leimadophis epinephelus'. Most likely. Our information is somewhat sketchy, but that seems to be the only effective 'Dendrobates' predator that fits the bill, so to speak. This is not a guarantee, but it is a start. They are agile snakes, nervous, with a tendency to be easily provoked-- most _will_ bite when handled by humans. Sound familiar?"
Like me, of course. "Yes, it does, Doctor Derksen. Thank you."
I think he smiles. "I wanted to get that out of the way before you went in to see Lindy. If you like, we may go to her now."
For the first time I truly appreciate the depth of the doctor's sensitivity, matching Lindy's gender to the one she and I have chosen for her. The one she _is_. For a medical doctor, he is very emotionally flexible. When it doesn't apply to the treatment, he'll let the customer be right. Thank you for that, I think. And thank you for being a cockroach. Goodness knows there are enough predators around anyway. Out loud I say, getting up from my chair, "I do want to, thank you. I'm anxious about her no matter what you tell me."
He nods and 'smiles' again. "Of course." As we head to the hospital hallway he turns to me once more, this time curious. "Daniel?"
"You were incredibly lucky. The odds of your species matching are incalculable. Did you realize that?"
"Yes, of course."
"But you did it anyway."
"That was quite a chance to take."
"I don't think so."
He pauses at the door. "Why not?"
"She's my natural prey. I had no instinctive fear. I wanted to take her."
"That makes sense, I suppose, given your reptilian behavior."
"Oh, of course it makes sense. And it explains why my snake's brain let me do it. I'll just let that be my scientific explanation, shall we say."
"And the other explanation?"
"Makes even more sense. I knew the danger and I did it anyway."
"Is that your 'heroic' explanation?" The cockroach asks, pleasantly.
I mull that over. Hm. "No. I don't think-- that's quite the word for it."
"Ah. I see." The doctor wisely leaves our conversation at that.
A few minutes later I am standing at Lindy's bedside.
There is a mist tent surrounding me and I
don't know how I got here. It is a hospital, grey
and white, I know that much.
Dan. I hope he got my call. I hope the sweet people at the Blind Pig aren't worried about me. Have I missed...
Yes. I am _here_ because Dan answered his phone. Thank God. What a bad time to go, when I had someone who needed me. But I'm here, I am living, I believe. At least as the frog I became the last time I was in a hospital. Yes, the frog. My limbs move in the manner to which I have become, somehow, accustomed. There are shadows outside the mist tent and I try to speak. Only a slight, raspy exhale comes out at first. I rest to try again.
Time passes and a shadow moves. Then voices enter the room, one, two voices I know. Daniel Jameson and Dr. Derksen.
"Hello!" I say, eagerly, desperately. What if they don't know _I'm_ in this tent?
But of course, that's what they're coming for.
Damn! I don't usually swear, but this time I think it. I ruined the wonderful Humidifier. Or it ruined me. Or my apartment, anyway.
"Daniel, I'm sorry."
"Lindy! Thank God you're okay." Dan's voice fades a little as he speaks directly to Dr. Derksen. "Will she be all right, if I pull away the tent?"
"I'm certain the contact will do her good."
"No!" I chirp, reflexively. "Don't touch me!"
He pulls back the cloudy tent anyway and bends his face close to me. "Hi, Lindy. What happened?"
"Daniel! I'm sorry. I turned it on and I must have screwed something up or something. Stay back, I'm crying. The tears have poison."
"Lindy..." Dan _sits on the bed_. I get as far from him as possible, covering the avoidance in explanation.
"I had to go fast, I could hardly breathe. I'll have ruined the apartment, I know. One neighbor..."
"She's okay, too."
Sigh. "Dan. I knew to call the emergency number. But I didn't wait to dial more than one. One button, you know, or something. I don't want to endanger you, please. I just knew you might know, know to get me out safely. You know me and all."
"As a matter of fact, I'm your only predator."
Long pause. "What?"