by Charles M. Bonanno
© Charles M. Bonanno -- all rights reserved
"You're a bigot!" a low-end mid-degree equine-morph declares with absolute conviction as he points a hoof-like three-fingered hand at his drinking companion's wet black nose.
"Am not!" a slightly higher degree canine-morph whisper-yells back across the claw-scarred tabletop before lowering his muzzle to lap from a plastic bowl filled with gin n' tonic.
"So why haven't you taken your eyes off that scaly since he walked in, John?" The equine-morph asks as he flicks his mane towards the bar counter, and the stooped-over figure huddled beneath a threadbare too-large trench coat ordering his fourth triple-decker hamburger in less than an hour.
After licking his thin black lips dry with a long pink tongue, the nearly six foot plus a couple inches tall canine-morph replies, "There has gotta be a thousand bars in this city, Oscar. Why does someone like him have 'ta come into the Blind Pig? I'll punch his lights out if he even looks at me funny!"
"After all those burgers, you're probably safe. Nope. Scratch that thought. Now that I think about it, reptiles in general can sure pack it away when they're hungry." The equine-morph responds while looking slightly queasy as yet another blood and grease dripping hamburger disappears between toothy jaws in a single bite.
"Stinking belly crawlers! They should stay under their rocks and leave decent folks in peace!" Obviously feeling a fair measure of drunk's courage, the canine-morph yell-barks the last statement loud enough to be overheard by everyone, Scab and Norm alike, in the crowded bar.
Oblivious to the insult, the five-foot-six vertically challenged reptile-morph waves a grease-slimed five-fingered scale-covered hand to attract the attention of the hulking bovine-morph working the counter.
Equally oblivious to the fact he's cooking flesh much akin to his own, Donnie Sinclair, the bar's proprietor / bartender / short order cook / bouncer nods his huge horn-adorned head and turns around. In a matter of seconds yet another trio of frozen beef patties is sizzling on the grill just long enough to be defrosted.
"Keep your voice down, you stupid mutt! You wanna get drop-kicked outside by a double-twelve size cloven hoof again!" the equine-morphed warns his doggish companion as two angry bovine eyes track his drinking buddy's every movement with predator-like intensity.
"I ain't done nothing! Donnie has no beef with me!" the canine-morph chuckles loudly at his unintentional witty reply.
The bar's patrons began to bet furiously amongst themselves. None knew exactly when it would occur, but tonight's free entertainment... courtesy of a loud-mouth Doberman and six-hundred and forty pounds of ticked-off extinct Auroch... was bound to be memorable. All the lucky winner had to do was guess how far from the front door the canine would land this time.
"Chill, dude!" the equine whispers urgently with a hint of white showing around his eyes. "You're already in hot water with Donnie over that marking incident last week.
"That... that was an acci...dent! It... it could've... could've happened to anyone!"
Alcohol consumption and a canine's rapid metabolism is a widely known impediment to clear speech.
"Yeah. Right. You... accidentally... forgot where the restroom is and pissed on all four tires of a car parked outside. Donnie's car. Donnie's brand new car.
"Look who's.... look who's talking! Mr. The-world-is-my-toilet. I know for a fact those road apples in the ally outback are yours. This nose isn't here for decoration. No matter what... what kinda horse you become, youse always dump a load when your energy poops out and you morph-shift back onto two legs a couple... a couple hours later.
And I stepped... I stepped in it on my way in!"
"Be that as it may, that still doesn't give you the right to look down on other people. It isn't their fault the Martian Flu Virus dropped 'em a little lower on the evolutionary ladder." The equine-morph shots back while surreptitiously examining the hooves that'd replaced his human feet for evidence of his latest excretory indiscretion.
Sensing a nearly microscopic decrease in his blood-alcohol level, the canine-morph buries his muzzle once more in his bowl while the equine's attention is drawn back towards the subject of their discussion.
Reaching into a inner pocket of the thrift-store trench-coat that's apparently the reptile-morph's sole piece of clothing, a slightly clawed hand/paw extracts numerous multi-denominational bills and piles them on the bar top.
Looking down at enough cash to pay the bar's rent for a month, the steer-headed proprietor sways his massive horned skull in the negative and pushes most of it back towards its owner.
With a look on his toothy muzzle that could pass for either a smile or grimace... it took many years serving drinks to reptiles-types before Donnie could tell for sure... the trench-coat is partially unbuttoned and Donnie's eyes grew wide in surprise. With a tear rolling down his furred cheek, the minotaur-like barkeep reaches out and rests a massive hoof-like hand gently upon the reptile-morph's shoulder.
He doesn't object when the money is placed on his side of the counter once more, nor refuse a small sheet of brightly colored paper a clawed hand shoves within his blunt horn-covered fingers. While looking anxiously towards the a neon-lit Coors Sparkling-Wines clock mounted on the wall, the scale-covered figure points at the large glowing timepiece with one hand and mimics the use of a phone with the other.
Nodding his large bovine head in the affirmative, Donnie drops the cash into the West Side Scab Shelter's collection box and reaches down beneath the counter for his private high-powered Voder(tm) equipped phone. As much as it pained him... literally... to utilize the device, the situation left him little choice.
Meanwhile, the reptile-morph rises from the uncomfortable barstool... uncomfortable for Scabs with heavy inflexible tails attached to their rear ends that is... and looks for somewhere else to sit.
As luck would have it, the only unoccupied chair in the over-crowded nighttime bar is between an embarrassed looking equine-morph, and a canine lapping the last dregs of his drink from an old yellow plastic bowl with the word Fido painted on the side.
On feet whose every toe is tipped with a short black talon, the trench-coat wearing reptilian crosses the room and sits heavily upon the tail-friendly wooden chair. Human eyes tinted deep red stare blankly at his new tablemates.
The silence is broken when the equine lifts his hand/hoof in a friendly greeting and announces, "Name's Oscar. Oscar Chapman. Friends call me Seabiscuit."
<"Not much of a talker, is he?"> The equine-morph muses as he stares into eyes without a trace of human, or animal, emotion. A reptile's eyes. A mindless cold-blooded killer's eyes.
"I'm fast. Real fast. When I norm-shift I can compete in any horse race... not that they'd ever let an equine-Scab like me onto the track or..."
"Or any where near stables filled with friendly fillies!" the canine-morph interrupts finishing the sentence.
Seemingly unimpressed by the statement, or the comic response, the reptilian replies, "Meat... meet... many horses. They never seemed that fast to me."
"And what would a scale-belly know about fast!" the canine-morph blurts out drunkenly before the equine can inquire about the reptilian's odd response. "A snail could give most of your kind a run for their money!"
Swiveling his blunt toothy muzzle in the canine's direction, the same unemotional eyes examine the inebriated Scab from the tips of his pointed ears, to the heavy pads on his bare feet/paws. Feeling like he'd suddenly become the main entrée at an all-you-can-eat buffet, the canine lowers his gaze to the tabletop to avoid eyes that reveal not a hint of the thoughts going on behind them.
Breaking the silence once more, Oscar asks, "What's your name?"
With eyes still fixed firmly on the canine, the reptile-morph replies, "Name's Martin... Martin Oswald."
"Don't mind kibble-for-brains. John always gets that way when he drinks."
The reptile-morph gives no sign he'd heard a single word. His gaze remains fixed and unblinking upon the nervous canine. A fleeting moment later a sudden hiss of pain escapes the wide toothy reptilian maw and both pupils narrow to razor-sharp slits. It doesn't take a herpetologist to realize that something's seriously wrong with the slow-talking Scab.
"You okay, buddy?" Oscar inquires with genuine concern in his tone. It's the rare Scab indeed who can't sympathize with the plight of all those who've felt the virus' mutating touch.
"Time... nearly over. Three days gone. I must... I must go back." the reptile-morph replies holding the sides of his head with both hands.
"Where would that be? I've got my old German Harley outside. I'll take ya on my hog if it isn't too far."
"No... no need. Feeling better. They... are coming for me. Take me back."
"Far away, huh? Not that I'd mind taking you, but gas cost more than blood these days."
"Not far. I got... I got away. Long time no see city... any city. Hunters follow. Follow thing inside me." The reptile-morph taps a spot in the center of his chest. "Had to keep moving or they find me. Not sleep for three days. Can't sleep or will change back. Tired now. Hard to think."
"Got away? Hunters? Change back?" Oscar repeats as a terrible hunch regarding the mystery reptile's origins comes to mind.
"I think our friend here escaped from a hutch."
"Have you been grazin' on wacky-weed again? Does he look like a rabbit to you?"
"Of course not, butt sniffer! Hutch is just a politically correct term for internment camp. Where do you think Scabs windup if they score too low on those IQ tests they gave us? Or if they've been transformed into something potentially dangerous?"
"Him? Dangerous? That's rich!" the canine replies loudly followed by a barking laugh. "What's lizard-boy gonna do? You figure he'll turn back into an iguana and nibble us to death?"
"You know what I meant! What about that gorilla-guy, Ted Bundy, who went on a serial killing rampage strangling people in California a couple years back? Or that tiger dip-weed who got his jollies terrifying helpless prey-types right here in the neighborhood? It's a miracle that cop blasted him before he slaughtered Phil in broad daylight.
"So... what are we suppose to do? Do you really think he's dangerous?"
"Nah. You're probably right. Odds are they just gonna dump him back inside his terrarium. I'll bet you ten bucks they stuck a micro radio-tracker inside him. Isn't that right, my friend?
Only vaguely following the conversation, the reptile-morph taps his chest again and replies, "Yes."
"Talks your ear off, don't he?"
"He'll be okay when he's done sliding back. Your marbles would be rattling around too if a powerful polymorph zapped ya to norm-ville."
"That's... that's not possible. I'm no shifter like you, hay-breath. Like a lot of morph-locked Scabs, I gave it a shot anyway. But all I got was a wicked migraine and a big freakin' hole in my savings account."
"Did you tell the polymorph to go for broke no matter what? That you didn't care if you died trying?
"Hell, no! I may've been plastered at the time, but I sure in heck wasn't drunk enough to take that kinda chance. Waking up from a bender with my fur cut French-poodle-style and dyed bright pink is one thing, but taking a permanent six-foot-deep dirt-nap trying to get the old me back for a few days is nuts.
You don't think...?"
"Wanna put your next paycheck against mine, flea-farm."
"Wow! He must've wanted out... BAD!!"
"Why don't ya ask him yourself?"
"Yo... is that right? Did 'ya take that kind of chance to get out?
With a voice growing stronger with each word, the reptile-morph looks down at the tabletop and replies, "They caught us... they caught us and take us to city. This city. Long... long trip in tiny metal cage. Mate... wife... angry at me for not protecting her. I talked to...I talked to someone I knew from before."
"Take your time, bro." the equine-morph rests a comforting hoof on the trembling reptile's shoulder. "You're among friends."
"Thank you... friend. Long time since... since it happened. Since it happened to me. I didn't want to go away, but... but they caught me. Caught me and sent me... there."
"Rough place, huh?" the canine-morph inquires as the reptilian's slow narrative pikes his curiosity.
The goings-on within the hutches is hardly a well-kept secret, yet few people transformed by the MFV care to know the ugly details behind the bland statements put forth by the government. Turning into a mindless... something... and getting locked away forever is a terrifying nightmare shared by most Scabs.
As if speaking solely to empty air, the reptilian lifts his gaze and stares into empty space, "A rough place. Trust no one. Run from anything stronger. Feed on anything weaker. Join with others only to kill the stronger. The never-ending hunt. Survive at any cost."
"Damn!" the equine-morph whinnies in shock and calls Donnie over to refresh his Bloody Mary. The new celery stalk swizzle-stick is nibbled to nothingness in a few bites of his blunt herbivore teeth. "That sounds even worse than the last hutch I visited."
"What were you doing inna hutch, Seabiscuit?
"My job, you mangy cur. I drive an ambulance for the Coroner's office, remember? Whenever there's a violent death in the city... a violent Scab death that is... they send me out to bring in the body. You don't think I spend my evenings in a bar because I enjoy your clever repartee, do ya?"
"Man! I'm sure glad I work for the post office. Except for the urge to bite myself while walkin' my delivery route in uniform, nothing much ever happens."
"Lucky you. Just last week they sent me on a pickup-run a few miles out into the 'burbs. A norm computer geek working in a hutch thought it'd be fun to screw around with their security system workstation. The virus he was coding to download on 'ta the Net got loose and crashed every computer-controlled gizmo, light, alarm, phone, and electronic lock in the joint."
"Big whoop! They'll just slap him on the wrist and send him home."
"They'll have to find a wrist to slap first. I sure in heck couldn't. And I spent most of the afternoon on my knees scraping up what little remained of him, and the other three norms, that use 'ta work there."
"Hot damn! What the hell did he set loose, Oscar? A saber tooth tiger psycho? Some guy the virus transformed into a high-degree lion?"
"Worse. A lot worse. And I was told to keep my muzzle shut or my next visit would be permanent."
"You can tell me. I'm your best bud."
Knowing the equine wouldn't be convinced by anything he could possibly say, John deploys dog-kind's ultimate secret weapon. A strategy guaranteed to get the user almost anything they want from even the most heartless of viewers: The Look.
Tilting his head slightly to the side, he emits a pitiful high-pitched whine and opens his eyes puppy-dog wide. Despite protest to the contrary, all canine-morphs practice The Look on a regular basis. Although, letting one's tongue hang out is considered in rather poor taste and allowed in high-society doggish circles only under the direst of circumstances.
John, the canine-morph post office delivery-person, would not be allowed membership in any high society.
"Shut it off! Shut it off! I surrender! Pull that thing back in! If you must know, we're still not sure what killed the other guys but the would-be hacker was gnawed into itty-bitty pieces by a high-degree guinea pig."
"Okay, that's it. I'm nowhere near drunk enough... drunk enough to swallow that line! You trying to tell me he was done in by a kid's pet?
"I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't seen the damned thing with my own eyes. Three quarters of a ton and built like a buffalo. The largest extinct prehistoric rodent you'd never wanna run into!"
"You'd better cut back on those drinks, Oscar. I'd hate to have 'ta shoot you if youse fall down an' breaks a leg!"
"I'm not drunk! That's your hobby. Well.... that and chasing cats up trees. See? I couldn't believe it myself, so I made a copy of the death certificate when no one was looking."
Out of his wallet, the equine-morph removes a many-times folded Xerox copy of an official document covered in multiple 'Private' and "Do not copy' stamps.
"Gimme that... shit! It's real!"
"Told ya. Now give it back. I'd get put out to pasture for sure if they find out what I did."
"If you're worried about getting fired, read it to me then."
"I'll do it, but you're not gonna like it. And please try to calm down. You're slobbering all over the table!"
Looking over his shoulder to make sure no one was eavesdropping... although, in a place where some of the clientele had ears a good fraction of a yard tall the effort was probably a waste of time... the equine begins to read omitting the less sensation elements.
"Name of victim... blah, blah, blah. Male human norm age and race... blah and blah. Toxicology results... blah, blah, blah. Cause of death... indeterminable. Condition of remains... extremely poor. Head and limbs severed from torso by blunt sheering teeth. No signs of industrial cutting tool or instrument.
Skull suffered several massive fractures. Lower jaw missing and presumed lost. Microscopic examination of bone fragments still pending. Upper torso crushed. Sternum and five ribs fracture into multiple pieces. Lungs shredded. Lack of fluid within vascular system indicates major blood lost due to severance of limb, or limbs, several minutes prior to death.
Doc sure can snap a mean picture. Take a look at these."
"Gross!" The canine-morph groans clutching his stomach.
"Wanna switch jobs? Getting' chased by your relatives would be heaven compared to what I do for a living."
"No shittin' way! Damn... that's gross!"
"You already said that. Can't say I didn't warn ya, Scooby!"
"Don't get insulting! I'm pure Doberman and I've got the papers with Dr. Stein's hoof print stamp to prove it!"
"Want me to go on?"
"Might as well. I'm going home when you're done. My stomach doesn't feel too good right now."
"There's not much else anyway. I didn't have time to copy the paperwork on the other three guys."
Looking like he'd missed up-chucking everything he'd drunk that evening by inches, the canine-morph waves a paw/hand in front of the equine's lengthy muzzle to get his attention.
"Screw the rest. Just get to the part about the thing that killed the hacker."
Turning the paper over, the equine-morph begins to read the last few handwritten paragraphs of the pathologist's report.
"Of all the candidates permanently housed within the Sunny Vale Hutch and Convalescent Retirement Home, the most likely perpetrator of his homicide is patient number one nine seven triple-alpha.
While numerous fur samples found mixed in with the remains are insufficient direct evidence to lay blame upon this individual, the bite marks and major physical trauma evident upon the victim's remains are well within the physical capacities of this nearly one-ton Scab.
As a semi-sentient, and highly aggressive, example of the giant extinct Upper Miocene rodent Phoberomys pattersoni, this bison-sized individual could have easily circumvented numerous physical barriers impassable to an untrained animal and killed anyone unfortunate enough to have crossed his path during the crisis at the facility.
If further tests prove the culpability of this MFV victim, it is, with deepest regret, the opinion this office that this patient, Mr. Jeffrey Dahmer, be terminated with all due dispatch to avoid the chance of any future tragedy.
Signed.... blah, blah, blah!"
"That's it. I've had enough excitement." The canine-morph announces pushing his chair back and standing slightly unsteadily upon his large paws. "And I've got to work tomorrow, too. You can stay here with lizard-lips until closing time if you want, but I'm going home where it's safe!"
After several minutes without showing a single sign he'd been following a single word of the equine's narrative, the reptile-morph also raises and repeats the canine's last words in a barely audible voice, "I'm going home where it's safe."
"You sure you're up to that?" the equine-morph inquires still sitting firmly on his chair.
"Feeling better. And Susan is waiting for me to return."
"See. I told ya. The closer he gets to slipping back into his morph-locked state, the better my scaly friend here will be able to think."
"I'm overjoyed for the both of you, "the canine-morph barks back sarcastically, "you'll make a nice looking couple."
Strangely, it's not the equine who takes offense at the comment, but the reptilian."
"No! Susan my mate... wife! I love Susan! Not safe to make her mad! Must remember... must remember... must remember... promise?"
Unable to complete the thought, the reptile-morph goes silent until the equine suggests in a calm tone, "Keep trying. It'll come to you if you just try a little harder."
Unable to contain his personal dislike for reptile-kind, the canine-morph adds, "Nothing personal, but I couldn't care less."
Once more he shows no sign of having heard a single word the equine said. With no warning whatsoever, the reptilian steps forward and rests both clawed hands gently upon the startled canine's leather-jacketed shoulders before he can react.
Nearly nose-to-nose, the reptile-morph begins to speak in a bland and totally non-aggressive tone once more, "Promised... I promised... I would bring back something. Something different. Something new. Something she has always wanted. I promised..."
Less under the effects of alcohol consumption than he'd been a fraction of a second before... but far from sober by any means... the surprised canine-morph tries, and fails, to break away from the seemingly casual grip of those clawed digits.
Surprised by the close proximity of so many sharp teeth to his furry face, the canine asks, "Ahhh....Oscar?"
"Isn't he supposed to get smaller as he changes back?"
"I... I see what you mean."
Indeed he did. If anything, the once shorter reptilian-morph matches the canine's height inch for inch. A situation that lasts only a few seconds before the crown of a scale-covered skull begins to sprout a Mohawk of brightly hued feathers and continues its upwards movement.
As chairs belonging to alert bar-patrons scrape across worn floorboards, these same wooden planks begin to protest the sudden weight being placed upon them by the five... then only three... claw-tipped toes.
The sound of numerous chairs falling and shoes, hooves, paws and flippers running away becomes a dull roar as the creaking protest of wood under tension increases. A sound that is soon joined by the failure of thick cloth under more stress than the manufacturer had ever envisioned.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org