|Days and Nights
by Brian Eirik Coe
© Brian Eirik Coe -- all rights reserved
It rapidly turned into one of those days.
There isn't any one incident that I can point to that dropped me in the dumper. It was a gradual piling on of the little, needling problems that all seemed to hit quickly: The bills came, I dropped my opthalmoscope and broke my last bulb, two difficult patients in a row, an annoying sales rep who refused to leave and five crank phone calls. Taken in themselves, they were not big deals.
For some reason, happening over the course of a few hours it was enough to cloud my disposition. Unfortunately, when my disposition clouds, I start to think about everything else in my life that can make me depressed.
For a SCAB, that can be a long list.
At the stroke of five, my last patient of the day finished, I tossed some paperwork in my case and left my receptionist to lock up. It was only a few minutes before I found myself at the one place where I could drown my sorrows and pray that they couldn't swim.
I walked through the door and slipped off my hat. I waved to the pair of Lupine Boys already at their customary table. Certainly not as many as usual, but it was early. By the end of the night that table was always packed. I glanced over to the piano and was surprised to see the worn bench empty. I couldn't recall the last time I'd walked in and I hadn't seen Jack sitting there, even if he was passed out on the keys..
Instead, Jack was standing at the bar talking to Donnie in sign. I could read their conversation, but I couldn't participate. Somehow, I just didn't have the coordination needed to do it. Ironic considering how dexterous raccoons hands are. I pulled up a stool and sat down. Donnie nodded his greetings and broke off his conversation with Jack.
"Evening Donnie, Jack. How are you two tonight?"
Donnie signed. ::Fine. How are you doing?::
I forced a smile, "Okay. Been a long day, though. Can I get a glass of red wine?" I turned to Jack. "May I ask a trade of you, my mulish friend?"
He snorted once, "You've been hanging around Wanderer too much. You're beginning to sound like him. What do you have in mind?"
"A tune for a drink?"
He smiled, "You don't have to buy me a..." he turned to Donnie "...gin..." he turned back to me "...for a tune. What do you want to hear?"
"Do you know 'Simple Gifts' by Copeland?"
He moved to the piano and sat down. "For a couple more drinks I'll play you the entire Appalachian Spring."
For the first time in hours, I genuinely smiled. "Maybe later."
He shrugged and started playing. It was one of my favorite pieces, and it usually helped me feel a little better. I turned back to my drink and stared some non existent spot on the wall. My mind started to drift. For a while, lost in the music, I started to forget why I was so depressed.
A tap on my shoulder brought me back to reality. I turned to see Jon, grinning as close to ear to ear as he could with that whitetail head of his. "I think I got it, Brian."
I looked at him a moment before I remembered what he was talking about. "Oh, yeah! The interview at the paper! It went well?"
He nodded and sat. He was about to say something when I noticed an ear swivel to the piano and he eyed my drink. "Something wrong?"
"No. Well, I guess. Yes. How'd you know?"
"You normally don't drink and I know that tune Jack's playing."
I nodded and took a drink. "I guess I haven't changed much in the last 25 years or so, eh?"
"Well, no. Unless you count the tail and ears."
Somehow that was the last thing I wanted to be reminded of, "Yeah, well, shouldn't you be mounted on a wall somewhere?" I snapped.
I suddenly realized what I said and turned to Jon. He was absently rubbing the scar on his shoulder, the last physical remnant of an arrow wound from his days stuck as a full deer. "Oh, jeez, I'm sorry. . ."
He shook his head, "No, that's okay." I could tell that the comment bothered him, though. One more bad incident to pile on the day. I took another sip of my drink and noticed absently that Jack had started playing the rest of Appalachian Spring anyway. I'd have to send more gin his way later.
Another hand fell on my shoulder and I looked up to see the sometimes British, always lupine friend. "How are you two gents doing tonight?" he asks as his eyes flipped between the two of us. "Not bloody well, I take it."
Jon brightened up fast when he saw Wanderer. Somehow, their friendship puzzled me, given that it stems from the time before Jon remembered much beyond his years as a deer. Back then he had a hard time separating himself from the animal he looked like, and a friendship with a wolf seemed unlikely. "I'm fine. I think I got that job at the paper."
Wanderers grin got larger, "I told you Lisa would help you out. When will you know?"
"They told me sometime next week. Maybe two."
"Well, let me know." he turned back to me, "So if Jon is fine, that must make you the prince of depression at this little party."
I raised my wine glass, "Shouldn't you be bowing in my presence, peon?"
He bowed with a bit of flourish, pulling his cape across his front in the process. "Will my liege allow me to have a drink with him?"
I sighed. "It's tough to stay in a bad mood in this place some nights. If this keeps up, I'm going to have to find a place with more depressing people. Shouldn't you be over with the rest of the Boys?"
He shrugged. "I should, but I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop."
I laughed grimly. "It's your own fault. That was a hell of a stunt you pulled." I was referring to his still talked about prank on Halloween, when he managed to convince the entire bar, myself included, that he'd been killed.
"Well, I think that the Boys are cooking up something, but I might just be paranoid. Have either of you heard anything?"
"My friend, half the bar thinks that I was in on your little prank. I was unlucky enough to be the one to loudly declare you dead. Rather a big mistake for a doctor, even an eye doctor, to make. They aren't going to let me in on anything."
He shrugged sheepishly, "Sorry."
I smiled evilly, "Don't worry about it. Just wait 'til your next eye exam. I'll have you dilated for two weeks." I turned my attention back to my drink, my face and mood returning to its previously sour look.
Both Jon and Wanderer looked a little concerned. "What is it, Brian? This isn't about a bad day, is it?" asked Jon.
I glanced up, into the mirror behind the bar. I looked at my reflection, looking at my ears. They weren't much, just fuzzy and peaked. I absently flicked one with my finger. "It's these. The tail. Everything that they represent, everything that's happened. Sometimes it all catches up to me. Snowball effect, I guess."
Wanderer gave me a sideways glance, "Brian, for a SCAB, you've drawn a rather decent lot in life. You survived, you've started to prosper. Heck, you're still working in the same field you were before you got the Flu. Most of us can't say that."
I nodded, "I know, and that makes me more depressed. I guess that it's some sort of survivors remorse." I sagged in my seat a little more.
Jon looked at me seriously. "When was the last time that you had a vacation, Brian?"
I looked at him a moment and faked a smile. "When was it that you visited me in Boston? Thirty years ago?"
He rolled his eyes, "Seriously."
I thought. "Three years ago, Christmas. I flew back to California to visit my folks."
"Look, I won't pretend that this will make you feel better, but you really should get away. You're self employed, you can get some time off. Why don't you come with me out to the national forest next weekend." He smiled, "We can go au natural."
I thought about it a minute. "I don't know, Jon. I don't go fully raccoon very often."
Wanderer looked at me oddly, "I thought that you only changed when you were scared. At least, you always do." he added with a smile.
"I can shift on my own, if I want to. It's a little painful when I do it voluntarily, but I can do it."
"Ever change all the way when you were scared?", Wanderer asked seriously.
The lie rolled off my tongue easily. "No. Never."
I'm not the best of liars, and it's hard to lie to people with heightened senses. Two, sometimes three nights a week since a few days after I caught the Flu I woke up a raccoon. It was the real reason I never shifted. I was always panting hard, and feeling like I'd just run a marathon. Aching muscles, sometimes more tired than when I went to sleep. For a while, I thought that I was running around outside and just not remembering it, living like a natural raccoon. But even when I slept in a sealed room, a room that a raccoon simply couldn't get out of, I still felt the same.
Neither of them pressed the issue, but did pass a look between them that told me they both knew I wasn't telling them the whole truth. I thought about it a long moment, took another sip from my glass, and told them the truth.
It wasn't really much to tell. I never remembered the nightmares, or whatever it was that was making me change. It only took me a moment to tell them about it. As I finished, I glanced around the slowly filling bar. "Guys, please don't tell anyone about this. It's stupid, I know, but I don't want it to be public knowledge."
Jon looked at me a long moment. "Brian, don't you think that we all go through that?"
I furrowed my brow. "What do you mean?"
Jon sighed. "I spent twenty years stuck as a deer. Twenty years. I'm still stuck like that for most of the day. You don't think that I get terrified sometimes when I think about it?"
"You never told me. . ."
He interrupted me with a shrug. "I never thought I needed too. I guess I do now."
I looked at Wanderer, who looked back with an uncomfortable grin. "Don't look at me. I guess I'm more a fatalist than you are. I won't say that I enjoy every minute of it, but I don't let it rule my life. I actually enjoy it sometimes."
A light seemed to dawn over Jon. "Brian, the last time you changed by choice, why did you do it?"
I thought back. "I'd dropped something and it had rolled under the bed. I changed to get it."
"Have you ever tried to have any fun in that form? Even in the beginning? Before the nightmares?" asked Wanderer.
"You know what it was like back in those days. I was lucky to keep the friends and family that I did as it was. If they had known that I could change completely. . . " I let my voice trail off, a little nervous to finish the thought. I looked back at my reflection, the ears. . .
Jon shrugged. "I can't really help you with this, Brian. You're going to have to deal with it yourself. I'll help you any way that I can, though."
I looked at him for a second, a slight smile slowly spreading across my face. "Is that offer to head out to the national park over the weekend still good?"
"Sure. You want to go?"
I shrugged. "Maybe it's time that I hit this head on." I glanced over at Wanderer. "You interested?"
He smiled and bowed slightly. "In deference to the fact that Jon is still not comfortable around me when I go fully lupine, I'll decline. But, I'm afraid I must be going. I see that there is only one seat left at my table, and I hate to have to sit under it. I might as well see if they've got something for me tonight." He took a couple steps away, stopped and turned, "Brian?"
"Should I refrain from chasing any 'coons digging around my trash tonight?" he said with a slightly evil smile.
I returned the expression. "No, catch them if you can. But it's going to be a cold night. Leave a window open to let them in."
He bowed with a smile and found his way over with the rest of the Lupine Boys. Jon and I stared after him for a minute. "He's an odd sort, isn't he?"
Jon glanced at me, "In this world, that's saying a lot."
I sighed and went back to staring at my reflection in the mirror. I let out a sigh and signaled Donnie. "Have any tea around?"
::Lemon or Earl Gray?:: he signed.
"Earl Gray sounds good. Can you send a gin over to Jack?"
Donnie nodded and went to fill my order. Jon put a hand on my shoulder. "I guess that means you're feeling better."
I looked at him and smiled. "Not really. It was still a lousy day, and only a mediocre life. But it's looking like a better night." I said as I raised the steaming mug in a slight salute.
I poked my head out of the log and looked over at Jon, who was himself laying down, hidden among the bushes and shrubs of the forest. He'd managed to find a spot in these woods sheltered from the freezing November wind. One of the advantages of going camping with a whitetail / meteorologist, I guess.
He nodded his head in my direction. I nodded back. Then I yawned, an action that Jon almost immediately repeated. He nestled his head down and closed his eyes.
I stayed out on that log for a long time and mused over the day. It was the first time that I'd actually enjoyed being in this form that I could remember. My fears, coming from years of unremembered nightmares, had been unrealized. I was still a little clumsy, not used to using a body so much smaller than my own, but it had been an adventure learning.
I yawned. Leaving my sleeping friend, I climbed back into the log, curled up and fell asleep.
It was one of the few good nights of sleep I'd had in almost twenty years.
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