by Sly Squirrel
Ka-thump, ka-thump go the rails...
If someone told me I'd be on a one-way train to the end of the line, I'd probably laugh in their face. Just another rimshot in my suddenly Catskills-esque tragedy of a life; they're a dime a dozen nowadays...
A man came to my seat and proceeded to sit down, paying no attention to the tiny squirrel seated on the cushion. With a tinny, angered chitter I scrambled up the upholstered seat backing as his portly back hit the seat, fearing for my own safety. Enraged as a squirrel can possibly be, I jump up on his shoulder and pull on a few whiskers.
If I were still human this guy would have a mouthful of knuckle a la Hulk Hogan, but SCABS changes your perspective a little.
I put on my best ear-sneer -- my facial muscles are too badly transformed to be of any use -- and put on my pathetic tone of indignation. "Excuse me?" I kindly ask in my squeaky, barely-human voice, "Why are you sitting in my chair?" Even with the snobby emphasis, I still sounded like Dale the chipmunk. Besides, what good is a threatening tone when it comes from something that tips the scales at a menacing one pound?
The portly man brushed me off his shoulder with a gigantic hand and brushed his beard out. "I bought this seat at reduced fare because they said a tiny SCABS patient had half of it."
Damned hidden discount clauses...
"So I don't count as a full person?" With a voice like mine, why would I?
I watched with satisfaction as the gentlemen frowned, his wrinkled face showing a twinge of guilt. "Nothing against you, of course; I'm just on a tight budget."
You and me both, brother. "SCABS isn't too light on the wallet, either." It came off cold, callous, and completely alien to my normal personality. But what's normal anyhow?
My seatmate smiled. "Looks like you save a lot of cash on grocery bills, Mr. Squirrel."
I ignore the rimshot in my head. "Ever been to life insurance hell?" I asked acidly, "Well, I live there." I leave out the hidden clauses (much like the bitch that sold me this damned ticket) involved in my insurance flop: like how my girlfriend threw me into a hospital I couldn't afford, how she sapped my savings as I slipped in and out of medicine-induced coma...
My live-in ironic drummer Mr. Skins started going crazy with that one.
As harsh as the retort came off, my aged seatmate ignored it. Instead, he groaned, shifted in the seat, and yawned. Silence fell over the two of us, letting the ka-thump of the tracks fill the compartment.
Suddenly his face lit up. "You know, maybe you could move up into the baggage compartment. There's not much in the hole, and you're small enough to be comfortable there?"
My tail flicked in anticipation as I saw how the joke would unfold. I tried to put on an expression of helplessness and innocence as I looked into the man's eyes. "Could you help me up?" The man replied by reaching for my body with his fat, grubby, monstrous hands. Together, they were bigger than me.
With my best emulation of a human smile I let out a loud chitter and clambered up the upholstered wall into the luggage compartment. Sucker!
Okay, so not every joke is on me. If I couldn't pull that prank every once in a blue moon, I'd probably go insane.
Away from the giant, I recollected my thoughts. The edges were worn from the activity; I've been over it with a fine-toothed comb so many times already. Just like beating a dead horse. A really dead horse.
With a tired sigh I reached into my small suitcase and pulled out an almond, shell and all. Might as well grind down these rodent teeth while I muse...
I tried looking out the window only to find a nice wall. Drat! No window in a luggage compartment? What about these ill-regarded suitcases and whipped squirrel SCABS?
A year ago I would have missed the view. The squirrel transformation not only allowed me to live in high, cramped, dark spaces, I actually enjoyed them. Go figure.
I hate the Martian Flu. I hate SCABS. One in twelve odds, and I manage to get lucky. Maybe I should hit the Strip sometime...
Sure, it beats the hell out of the alternative. I've seen the piles of burning bodies in the street, sizzling like ribeye on the grill. Flaming white moths fluttered around their bodies in a sort of twisted pathetic fallacy...
Sometimes, just sometimes I wish I were dead. Would be much easier... and cheaper.
Looking into my kids' eyes -- my wrestling prodigies, the reason I lived and worked where I did -- was the most painful thing I've ever had to do. Before them I stood, a squirrel broken by medical debt and punishing psychological pain, only a hollow shell of what he once was. It was hard for them to see past the fur and bushy tail, to see the last shred of their fun-loving, respectful, strong wrestling coach.
My one true love suddenly torn from my heart. Damn SCABS...
I was pretty big on the coaching circuit pre-SCABS; I kid you not! Team Indiana head coach, consistent showings at IHSAA Semi-State (and one beautiful run at Team State), kids that would run through a brick wall for me if I asked. I taught them dedication, grit, and determination. God bless every one of 'em.
And my body! Damn proud of what I had. Ever since I won the State Championship in high school, I was committed to keeping myself in good shape. Every day right up to when SCABS took my humanity, I was in the weight room in one way or another. In fact, I had just finished putting up 300 lbs. on my bench press before it all slipped away...
Something like that never leaves your blood. Never.
It poisoned me, and probably always will. Hard to teach a grappling move when you have no hands and can't stand on two feet for more than a few seconds. Which left me without a coaching job and a mind full of finely-tuned information I can't put to use. Great situation, eh?
Sure, I had my teaching job in school. Math was just a way to make money so I could keep coaching. Algebra was easy, and I enjoyed teaching it to kids while recruiting for the team. I couldn't stay there, though; sticking around and trying to fill my old shoes would have been absolutely traumatic.
I could see my kids now: "Mr. Hart? Why aren't you coaching again? Oh, can I scratch your ears?" Oy vey.
Which left me on a one-way train, choked with knowledge I can't use, gnawing on a hard almond shell, trying hard to accept the rodent behavior as normal.
Who was I trying to kid?
No goodbyes, no Casablanca-esque 'Another place, another time' monologue; I just hopped on a train and went where the wind took me. It hurt to split like that, but it beat the alternative by a longshot.
All about the quintessential Catch-22.
The ultimate punchline -- my form -- eats away at the last shred of my dignity. Outside and in, I'm a completely morphed squirrel. For some reason my mind survived, though flight reflexes poison my brain every day.
And if you're wondering how I kept the human intellect, I don't ask. The second I wonder about something it seems to get worse.
I'm still adjusting to the new habits. Due to the lack of clothes in my size, I go around au naturale most of the time. The new diet completely isolates me from the meat I once loved. On top of that, my teeth grow continuously, so I have to chew something for at least an hour a day.
Hell, my dog even turned on me! I came home, and he chased me down like a Sunday night dinner. When my girlfriend captured me in a tree, she knew the leverage she had, so she tossed me into the hospital while she sucked away at my savings.
True love indeed.
One month of therapy and sedatives later, I was released back into the world on probation. They wanted to send me to a colony; $5000 in lawyer's fees later, they dropped the subject. If I'd been human, I would have given them a piece of my mind...
Of course, back then I was confident that I could defend myself against anybody. Lately I'm lucky if I can push away a Yorkshire Terrier.
Lucky me, I had enough money to float my expenses; unfortunately that didn't leave me much to live on. Specifically, a Benjamin with change and my bag of stuff. I couldn't hock my possesions for much money; they were mostly pictures, notes, reminders of my human life. Though the classic Gables would still catch a hefty price...
Not the shoes. Anything but the shoes. They were all I physically had left of my past life, a painful but necessary reminder.
The train sighed as the brakes settled in. I followed its lead and pushed my baggage onto the floor. Portly man (I never did get his name) tried to offer his help, but I ignored him as I righted my bag and attached it to a small harness I could pull it with.
My name is Jim Hart. I am a fucking squirrel. I am a living punchline.
As I pulled my luggage down the handicap ramp, an itch gnawed at the back of my ear. Damned fleas. My doctor suggested I wear a flea collar, but I absolutely refused. To me, the collar was a sign of submission, of a final loss of humanity.
Too late, friend.
I just hope all the fleas on my body have mites. That'll teach them...
Speaking of vermin, the train platform opened up to an anti-Utopia. Dense cigarette smoke reduced my world to the small wood patio. Through the smoke I could see a shadow of the privacy fence erected around the area, isolating the desolate platform even further. The only exit was manned by a middle-aged clerk, his biker-look foreshadowing what I'd see beyond the door.
With a sigh I got my luggage rolling again. I feared the worst case scenario, but there was no turning back now. Nothing to it but to do it. The story of my life -- my so-called life.
Cue the rimshot!
The biker-clerk poignantly looked down and nodded as I passed through the gate, wearing a sadistic smile that said 'I'll give you a day, tops.'
I'll show him... He'll have a bite he'll never forget!
I'm sure you know what goes here.
The rimshot fadeed away as the barren landscape unfolded before me. This was an urban desert -- a real Black Hole of Calcutta. All the storefronts had a welcoming steel siding pulled over them, the material plastered with graffiti. Their signs ranged from new-age health shops to nickel smut shows, in varying degrees of disrepair.
Off in an alley, four bums gathered around a drum fire, passing around a bagged bottle as they sulked. A bag lady gingerly picked through a dumpster on the next street; with a gasp of elation she pulled out a rotten apple core that tied my stomach in a knot. I turned away as she bit in to see two poorly-dressed partygoers sleeping peacefully in their own vomit. The pool under the drunks shimmered in the dim streetlight.
Bag ladies, winos and bums, oh my!
Squirrel perspective really changes the way you look at cities. Going from five feet to six inches does wonders for relative size. Imagine a football field of asphalt, surrounded on each side by 15-story skyscrapers; that's pretty close to how I felt now.
Prey instincts set off loud warning bells in my head. This is too open! Must be hidden/confined/higher up...
Imagine that: Big, bad wrestler scared of a little vulnerability. Well, big, bad wrestler turned tantalizing squirrel prey.
Do your stuff, Mr. Skins!
I tried my best to stifle the primal urge to sprint up the nearest pole. I've seen squirrelcides before; logically speaking, running on wires means fried Jim Hart.
Okay, so maybe I was exaggerating on the whole squirrelcide thing. Call me paranoid. For a feral squirrel, ignorance is truly bliss.
One step at a time... that's it. No problem! I can do this. All I have to do is keep walking...
A can clattered on the ground -- smelled like a predator -- DANGER-THREAT-RUN! I took off like a bolt as I heard the soft mrowr of a cat behind me. For the first time in my life, I was the prey.
Take five, Mr. Skins; this is serious life-or-death stuff.
Of course, a lot of this came as an afterthought. While that cat was on my bushy tail, the only thing on my mind was escape. I completely ignored the suitcase strapped to me; it toppled as I took the first corner and I dragged it loudly through the streets.
I turned a corner into a blind alley, desperately hoping for some sort of escape route. The cat was still behind me, still breathing down my back...
Later, I shuddered at the thought.
A chipboard window cover! With a sigh of relief I booked it for the refuge. The relief was so great I managed enough human thought to unhook myself from the luggage so I could climb.
One, two, three bounds and I was out of harm's way.
The cat stayed close to my suitcase, acting like he had all day. My will (and terror) held fast, though, and the kitty went on to other pursuits. As I watched the cat swagger off, I gradually regained my normal human thought-patterns. The heavy, rapid-fire breathing began to settle down, giving my mind a tiny bit of relaxation.
How incredibly embarrassing! A month ago, I would have given that kitty one good boot to the ribs and sent it running. But now, suddenly I was an entrée on its dinner menu.
Great; every time I start feeling the least bit human, something happens and I go completely feral. Let's hear it, Mr. Skins!
SCABS patients have many charity options -- all I have to do is ask.
Never! I can beat this disease without help. A little work, and I'll be on the road to recovery. Once I settle into an apartment and find a job, then I can start putting things back together.
Things will settle down, I'm sure of it; it's the question of when that scares me.
With a sigh I scramble back down the rotting chipboard and recollect my stuff, thinking of where I could possibly lay my head down for the night.
() () () () ()
Well, damn. After spending the night in a shoebox I found on
the street, I tried finding an appropriate apartment. Nobody had
lodgings for my price range.
Okay, so I drove a hard bargain. A really hard bargain. Five bucks a month hard. When it's all you can afford, it seems like so much more... I gave my price maximum to all the local realtors, who stifled chuckles as they gave me a shake. Nothing. Zip. Nada.
Mr. Skins spoke up even as I thought about my options.
Trying to keep a no-worries attitude, I continued walking through the town right up to sunset. The general quality of neighborhood never rose above a low-rent district, sometimes going as low as Hell's Kitchen. Quite charming, when you think about it...
An hour before twilight, I stumbled upon a large park. The street sign toted a 20-acre public forest, open to anyone and everyone.
That's when I put two and two together. I'm a red squirrel. This is a park. A park has trees. Red squirrels live in trees. So, logically, couldn't I just hole up in a tree for as long as I needed to?
Bingo! With a chitter of excitement I unharnessed my bag in a bush and went house shopping.
After going through a few trees I finally found a unoccupied full oak, a true dream piece of real estate. The hole itself was just large enough to house me and a few stores, big enough to make my human side feel less cramped, yet small enough to keep my squirrel instincts happy. There was a homely smell to the tree, something like oak.
Okay, so it is oak. Badda boom.
Once I had tried out my home for comfort, my mind turned back to the luggage. I still had to get it up here... Thankfully I had a length of rope in my bag, so getting the luggage out of harm's way was as easy as running rope over a branch and hoisting the luggage up. A quick knot later and my luggage was on the same level as my home. It was only a jury-rigged job, but it'd have to do for now. Squirrels don't usually have carry-on luggage...
Next stop on my list was food. Sure, I could probably live off the nuts in this tree, but there was a feeling of humanity when I went to the market. Like I wasn't as much of an animal as SCABS made me out to be. If worse comes to worst, I'll always have the option of living off the land; as long as money held out, though, I was still a consumer.
A quick zip (carefully, to avoid losing everything in the bag) and my wallet was out of the case. I strapped it to my back with the harness I used for my luggage; obviously I didn't have pockets in my fur. One more check on the jury-rigged closet and I was springing to the ground. On the tarmac, I could see a strip mall across the street featuring a grocery.
One hundred yards to the store, and somehow I managed to get there without going nuts. My instincts tried, though. Every step was plagued with a command to run up the nearest telephone pole. Smart squirrel that I was, I managed to refuse the urge to take the high (voltage) road.
The automatic door wouldn't open; the motion sensor was made to tolerate small animals like me without opening. Go figure. I sneaked in as another shopper left with her shopping bag. Good thing she couldn't see me; otherwise we'd have a situation on our hands.
Mr. Skins, if you would be so kind...
Big, open, sterile places like the supermarket make me nervous. My claws clicked on the marbled white linoleum floor, shining in the fluorescent glow from above. Shelf upon colossal shelf towered over me, displaying piles of foodstuffs bigger than I was.
I knew what I really wanted. If this market had rotisserie chicken... I haven't had any in so long!
I remembered a place I went to when I was human that had the best chicken I've ever tasted. Meat so tender you could pinch it off the bone with no trouble at all. And it was so tender and juicy...
This time I'll stomach it. This time I'll have the hunger for it...
But as I pass by the butcher stand, my nose wrinkles at the disgusting smell of searing meat. Damn! What's happened to me?
Stay out of this, Mr. Skins.
The stench slowly ate at my already dwindling appetite, leading me down a more fitting aisle. Bags of shelled mixed nuts lined the walls; I scrambled up to the third shelf and paraded down the landing, eventually finding a small bag of tasty macadamias. I would've bought bulk, but I did have to get my booty home somehow. With a little modification, the harness was able to grab onto the bag so I could drag it to the counter.
The clerk was of course skeptical of a squirrel tugging on her shirt with a wallet on his back, but when I muttered "SCABS" she nodded her head in understanding. She removed the bag from my harness, scanned it, and asked for my money. I paid in disgusted silence, making the clerk bend down with a grumble to take my pay.
Feel the pain, woman!
Once she had the parcel bagged for me, I stepped into the plastic straps so I could drag the bag home. It crackled as I walked out the door; fortunately the bag was just big enough to trigger the sensor so I didn't have to ask for help. Things were uneventful on that 100 yard walk to my tree.
My tree. Who knew?
Once I had my bounty up in the small knothole I called home, I sliced open the plastic bag with my incisors. The first macadamia was out almost as soon as the bag ripped open, the shell ripped open immediately afterwards. Macadamias taste so good...
Never thought I'd say that in my lifetime.
The edges of the knothole were sticky with sap.
Maybe I should buy some cotton balls to line it with, you know, to help keep the place nice and tidy? This will do for now, though; it's late, and I've had a long day. I could probably fall asleep in a vat of crazy glue right now and not know the difference.
Tomorrow I'll fix everything. Yes, tomorrow I'll go for a run and sort my thoughts out. Until then, I'll give in to my reflexes and sleep, semi-happy to be alive.
() () () () ()
I shook off a little morning dew and started towards the densely
wooded 10-acre reserve inside the park with a shiver of anticipation.
A small drip of adrenaline surged through my body, and I found
myself actually looking forward to the run.
Am I going crazy? A few years ago I loathed running. Terrible memories from my senior year of high school ruined the activity for me, waking up at dawn every morning in two layers of sweatsuits running sprints up and down my park. The things I did for that sport...
No pressure here, just a perfect amble through the park. Maybe that competitive pressure is what I'm missing...
Not now. This is supposed to be a relaxing jog, after all.
The aromas of a forest full of life assaulted my sensitive nostrils: fresh wild herbs greeting the day, earthy topsoil aerating in the morning dew, the smell of moisture everywhere, a lot like the air just before a rainstorm. I remember how I used to look forward to a downpour just so I could get a lungful of the air.
Yeah, I had a soft side too. Go figure.
The morning was incredibly relaxing, and suddenly I found myself doing that ear-smile thing again. It's so different from a typical smile; it comes from a different place entirely. In fact, it's almost enough to make me actually appreciate the form... The sudden odor of a wild cat's musty territory marking made my hair stand on end, though, so I bolted up a large cypress tree.
Once up the tree, I found my body arguing with itself. My squirrel side wanted to simply start hopping from tree to tree, while my human side was afraid of falling. Years of training in a human body taught me a thing or two about climbing trees, how careful I had to be, how to keep my balance, which branches wouldn't hold my weight...
But that was when I weighed more than a few ounces. And I didn't have a tail to balance myself.
Without thinking about it, I picked out a line to take across five trees. One deep breath later, I started out across the tiny branch, halfway expecting it to crack under my weight. It swayed a little, but my tail moved autonomously to counterbalance me.
I reached the end of the branch with a nervous intake of breath. The gap ahead of me was only six inches, but it was a long way down from here. Trying to visualize myself making the jump, I went through how I would do it in my mind, letting my new squirrel instincts guide me. Three times I hunched back like I was going to jump, but dropped away at the last second.
On the fourth squat, I leapt and prayed that my instincts would pull through.
I didn't notice that I had landed until I was five steps into the branch. My blood was pumping with energy, suddenly infused with the new event. The ear-smile grew wider as I set up for the next jump. This time I didn't hesitate, taking a running start and getting a heady rush of weightlessness before I landed.
Three jumps later, I was going at full tilt. It was such an incredible and heady feeling; the jumps were at the back of my mind as I planned the next part of my line in human portion of my mind. Every aspect of my brain was dedicated to getting from point A to point B.
After a good ten jumps, I gradually slowed to a stop. The heady feeling slowly died away, leaving me warm and fulfilled. This was such a great way to get around! If there's a crowd, I could just leap over them all...
Wait a second -- I have trouble with large streets and sidewalks, but who said I couldn't jump from building to building? Reduced traffic, and a whole hell of a lot easier on my nerves.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!
I started chuckling in my strange high-pitched voice as I start up again. So this is what it's like to be a squirrel, eh? Count me in.
A pop, a splinter out of the tree, and my shocking jolt of terror.
The event registered while my squirrel body scrambled into deep cover. As I turned to look back to the ground, I found a pair of orange-vested kids toting guns. I never understood orange vests; I can't believe animals ignore the color...
Why was I thinking that? God, I was just inches away from being on the wrong end of a gun!
The human side of my brain thought about the hunting trips I used to take with my dad. We'd go to a forest one of his friends owned for a weekend. During the day, we'd strap on rifles and go hunting. He usually sat up in a deer stand, but I preferred tracking down prey. So I followed squirrels all day. I was good, too; an average weekend bagged me ten or more squirrels...
Mr. Skins, meet Lady Irony. Mr. Skins, you've been a great guy, but the Lady's got this one covered. O lady who wears her feather boa like a bandolier! Dance your seductive dance of comical tragedy! Clack your castanets of calamity! Tap your toes to the terrific beat! Dance, Irony, Dance!
As the instinctive terror died down, my human brain replaced it with rage. How dare they fire upon another human! Without any consideration for my form, I picked a line and bolted towards the two kids, screaming human expletives that would make a sailor blush as I went. Needless to say, they were flabbergasted that a squirrel they had just fired upon was chasing them down. One tried to run, but gave up as I ate the gap between us with massive leaps.
"Damn kids!" I screamed, "I was running there. Do you know what happens to boys that shoot at other people?" I stayed in the tree boughs; the height advantage gave me the psychological edge I needed to keep this tone of voice.
"W-w-w-e're sorry, misther," the smaller one said, "our dad told us this woods was SCABS-free. We never wanted to hurt nobody..."
Why didn't someone tell me that?
The teenager tried to wave me down, but I stayed put. With a sigh he shrugged his shoulders and stated in a harsh tone of voice, "You're not from around here, are you?"
I shook my head, knowing that if I were to open my mouth I'd probably cuss the kid out again.
"We have rules and regulations here that protect SCABS," he continued, "but there are areas where the rules fall away. Public parks that allow petty hunting..."
Oh, so now I'm a petty squirrel. Just make me feel that much better, will you?
"...protect SCABS only if they wear an orange vest."
Great; so now I'm going to be a fashionable woodland creature? Images of Bambi in a bikini come to mind.
The small one lit up, and pulled out a pocketknife. "I can fix you up, misther! I'll give you part of my vest!" He was suddenly enveloped in concentration, humming as he cut out the arm-holes in a small square of heavy orange nylon.
"Dad's gonna kill you for ripping his vest," the teenager mumbled, his warning falling upon deaf ears.
"Here you go, misther squirrel," the boy held out a tiny-size jacket, frayed at the corners, "This should do you just fine."
The teacher in me surfaced as I accepted the gift graciously. "Why thank you, kind sir! It's a wonderful jacket." You gotta treat the little ones this way. He beamed with pride, making my effort worthwhile. I felt my jitters melt away as I tried on the jacket, suddenly thankful for good Samaritans.
"You should really visit The Blind Pig Gin Mill," the older one cut in. "They know more about this stuff than we do."
I was moving around while he talked, breaking the new jacket in. "The blind what?"
"The Pig for short. It's a bar for all the SCABS. When our uncle came down for the weekend, he was adamant on going there."
"Why was that?"
"SCABS turned him into a five-foot rock golem."
Oh. That's why. Open foot, insert footpaw.
"Anyway... I can tell you where it is, if you want."
Hell, why not? I nodded, and he pulled out a convenient pen and paper. Must be a writer... In an instant he handed me a very small note with the address scrawled upon it; amazing that this kid had some consideration for my size. I slid it into the sleeve of one of my pockets and said a cordial thank you.
As I slipped the note away, the boy frowned and spoke candidly. "And for what it's worth, we're both really sorry about this. Right?"
"No problem!" Like hell it's not a problem. I almost died! No reason to push my luck, though... "Have a nice day!"
"You too." And they were gone, mumbling amongst themselves as they trailed off.
I let out a massive sigh, feeling like a great weight had been lifted from my chest. Okay, so now I'm potential petty game for hunters. Big hairy deal, right? The sun was high in the sky now; I must have spent three hours out here in the forest. With a shrug I started picking a line out of the forest en route to my tree.
My, how time flies when you're having fun!
() () () () ()
Okay, so after being shot at I thought I could spare a few bucks
for entertainment. An arcade I passed during my grocery escapade
advertised an insane token deal, so I thought it would be nice
to play some good ol' violent video games. If it weren't for the
virtual bodies I put away in arcades, I'd probably go nuts!
I never took off the hunting jacket; a few modifications with my incisors and a length of rope let me carry my wallet on my back. Oh, didn't you know? Wallets are all the rage in backpack fashion. All the squirrels in Europe are sporting it. Hit it, Mr. Skins!
The arcade would be a pleasant diversion from my hectic life. Besides, I didn't want to give in to the Pig just yet. I still had a chance to squeak through on my own, without charity or help. The address was in my wallet, there just in case I fell.
But I wasn't going to fall.
The door conundrum faced me again, suddenly faced with a wall I didn't have the strength to push open. Armed with my newest squirrel instincts, though, I was able to climb up a drainage pipe and get in through a small open window near the ceiling of the place. I used the wooden trim molding to slither down to the redemption desk, nearly giving the young clerk a heart attack.
"Hello, miss," I said in my high-pitched voice, "I'd like a 50 for 5 deal, please." She chuckled at my voice, puled out a bag of tokens, and took my fivespot without a word.
Oh well. At least she didn't take a shot at me...
I looked over to the line of pinball machines with a sniffle of regret. When I was human, I had a passion for those gigantic physics demonstrations, but with this body I couldn't fathom playing the games. All the old tricks come back as I look at an old favorite, eating at my soul like acid.
Mr. Skins takes a moment of silence as I try to put the past behind me.
Shrugging off the pain, I scrambled onto the counter of a football game. I had played the game before: no-rules football with massive tackles and high-speed play. It was gratuitously violent, allowing players to body slam and perform unnecessary roughness.
And you know what? I absolutely love the game.
The problem overcame me as I looked at the joystick and button configuration. How was I going to reach all the buttons? I tried different positions, but eventually settled for using my forepaws to move the joystick while smashing the buttons with my footpaws. Silly, yes, but sometimes you have to work with what you got.
I asked a passerby to put in my money. He stared for a second, but eventually complied. I hit the start button and fell into video game trance.
Those who play video games know the feeling. For a moment, you're not moving a joystick and smashing buttons in time with a flickering screen. Instead, you're enveloped in the action, watching the game unfold as you pick the plays in living color. All your focus falls in on that small square of light, conducting the ballet as you see fit.
An hour passed, and I started to get the hang of the strange joystick handling. Two hours passed, and I was starting a season with my team. Incoming challengers added tokens for me when I needed it. Two hours stretched into three hours. Three to four.
Hard to believe when you only have 50 tokens, right? Free game for every win. Let's hear it for honest and fair arcade owners!
I was on my last game when it happened. The clock was right at six -- five hours of work on this machine -- and I was pumped to get my record in the book. In fact, I was so pumped I didn't notice her sneaking up behind me. Usually I see the glare of a watcher in the glass on the screen, but the new angle makes it hard to see an eight-year-old who can barely see over the cabinet herself.
No, my only warning came from a squeal of elation.
"Mommy! Mommy! A real squirrel!" The surprise caused me to whip around, suddenly face to face with the tiny Shirley Temple-esque cutie. She was close enough to grab me and squeeze me to a pulp...
I was so terrorized I froze. For a moment a tense silence filled the air, intermingled with the sound of my game behind me. Damn, turnover on downs...
Okay, now I'm a little angry. No problem.
Mommy came over, and she backed away enough for me to come back to my senses. "Mommy! It's a squirrelly-whirlley! Can I pet the squirrelly-whirrley?"
"Why don't you ask squirrelly-whirrley?"
Oh no, don't peg this one on me!
"Awwww... doesm's Mr. Squirrelly-whirrley want his lil' head scritched? Does'e? Does'e?" Her finger dangled just above my head, coming ever closer. I instinctually slithered out of the way as she came close, trying to come up with a tactful response.
Come on, now, she's just an eight-year-old. She can't possibly know this is the image I loathe, that I never wanted to be cute in the first place. She can't understand that being treated like a lower being is as demeaning as being called a slave...
"Listen, little girl..."
"Yous'a got the cutest lil' voice!" she interrupted, "Isn't Mr. Squirrelly-whirrley cute? I could love him for-ever-and-ever..."
I completely lost it. With my most sarcastic cute voice, I cooed to the girl, "Would you excuse Mr. Squirrelly-whirlley while he takes a barfy-warfy in the grassy-wassy?" Crass, yes, but effective in getting the scary girl to back away.
Mommy gave me the look of death, and I knew I had made a mistake. I booked it before she could bring her purse in position to swing at me. I'd always prided myself on being able to keep my cool with kids...
Wow! I didn't know a drum solo could be that fast.
What was happening? These damn flight reflexes were destroying every shred of self-control I had, from how I walked to how I reacted. Suddenly my reflex was on a "me first" basis.
Once I was up and out through the window, I high-tailed it up onto the roof. In the blazing sun I angrily whipped out the instructions to the Pig, smirking as I read the directions.
The Pig means SCABS patients. SCABS patients mean predator morphs. I'll whip this flight reflex yet!