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Raining in Baltimore
by Andrew Kaiser
Andrew Kaiser -- all rights reserved

(this title is a reference to a Counting Crows song, NOT an attempt to name the city of the Blind Pig.)

Where does one begin? There are those who say that the beginning is a good place to start. While normally I would agree, in this case I do believe I'll make an exception, for enough has been written about the agony of SCABS. The transformation was typical enough except for one trivial detail. I enjoyed it. The pain that I suffered was intense, but I suffered it gratefully for it meant that I was leaving behind my human form. I saw early on in the transformation that I was going lupine, and that only excited me more. It meant that when the pain went away I would return to the Blind Pig and take my place among the lupine boys.

I had frequented the Blind Pig briefly as an anonymous norm, never bold enough to even introduce myself to anyone. I would sit quietly in a dark corner slowly nursing the one drink my strained finances allowed. Quietly sitting, I watched the goings on, wishing I had the courage to join, wishing I wasn't wearing this stupid human form. Wishing I was one of the Lupine Boys.

I was overjoyed when I first showed signs of developing scabs. Glad and delirious...I collapsed on the sidewalk, and after a few hours of agony, a shopkeeper was gracious enough to call the police, who were only too glad to drag my sorry butt to the hospital. At least I think they were, I wasn't really paying attention.

As soon as my form stabilized, someone from the hospital came to see if I could function in society (i.e. pay my hospital bill). The rather gruff male nurse informed me that I had lost my human voice and any vestiges of human hands. He told me that to communicate I would need to by a voder. Unfortunately he quickly ascertained that I had neither money nor insurance. That night I left the hospital in a pair of Goodwill pants walking unsteadily on my digitgrade hind paws toward an address on West Street they had given me.

At the West Street Shelter I got a hot meal, but refused a bed. Call me noble, call me stupid, but somehow it didn't seem right to deny a bed to somebody worse off than me. Before this whole scabs thing and my recent stint on unemployment I had managed to snag (barely) a BA in communications from the local community college. I figured that with that and my new form some Scab-friendly company would snap me up in a heartbeat. Now is where you add "naive" to my list of qualities. A month later I was still on the streets, and if possible even more disheveled than before. I had given up almost entirely on communication and taken up residence in an alley across from the Blind Pig. From there I could strain my ears and sometimes hear the noise from the bar and imagine myself at the lupine boy's table, having fun.

Now tonight. Tonight it is raining, giving local crops relief from a mild drought and giving me my first bath since I went lupine. Wet fur smells bad, or maybe it's just the garbage in the alley. In the rain one begins to smell like the other. It's been over a week since I even tried to talk to anyone. Something in me snaps. I stand up and decide that I'm going into the Pig and I'm going to drink until Donnie throws me out for not having any money.

I boldly cross the street, shaking water from my pelt. I reach the door, and hesitate. NO! No hesitation! I push open the door, and stop again. I'm frozen. A thunderclap stuns the bar into momentary silence. From the Lupine Boys table comes a howl. Then laughter. Hot burning laughter. They're laughing at me. My ears burn. My cheeks flush. I think everyone can see it, even through my fur. I run.

Wanderer looked up from his table in the back. Someone was standing in the doorway. Lupine, but unfamiliar. Suddenly a flash of lightning illuminated him and a loud clap of thunder silences the crowd. Now that's an entrance...Someone at the lupine table howled, completing the image straight out of a B horror flick. The poor man ran away when he heard laughter from the regulars at the bar, and Wanderer shook his head. Just then he caught a snippet of conversation from the bar. "Just some homeless mutt from West Street." Something about the tone made Wanderer think, and he suddenly tossed a few coins on the table to pay for his cola, tossed his cape dramatically around his shoulders and stalked moodily out of the pig. A few people gave him looks of concern, but nobody said anything. Wanderer had been a touch melodramatic lately.

Wanderer stood outside the pig and felt just the tiniest bit smug as water dripped off his weatherproof (Thank god for scotch guard. When you frequent the Blind pig, it's a necessity) cape. And there were people who called it impractical... Wanderer heard a mournful howl echoing through the empty streets. He hurried off in the direction of the howl, his nose confirming that it had most likely originated with the mysterious stranger from the door of the pig...

Approaching an alley Wanderer caught the smell of blood, and heard footsteps running away. Cautiously, keeping to the shadows, Wanderer entered the alley.

I looked up to see a figure in the shadows. I squinted, the lines were funny, it was as if the figure was wearing a cloak...or a...cape? Could it be? I sniffed cautiously, it was difficult to tell in the rain, but...

Wanderer saw the wretched mass of fur lying under the one functioning streetlight in the alley next to a Dumpster. A quick glance around the alley confirmed that there was no one else left. This wretch was definitely the one from the door at the blind pig, but something was wrong. The smell of blood was heavy in the air, despite the rain. Wanderer stepped from the shadows and understood. The wolf had been mauled, and was still curled in a defensive posture. The wolf's chest was covered in blood, slowly dripping and tinting the puddles in the alley red. Wanderer walked up to the broken creature, and noticed the shallow breathing.

I looked up to see Wanderer walking slowly toward me. I grinned, at least I did my best to grin, and it must have looked awful disturbing, because Wanderer hesitated. He didn't stop coming, and soon he was at my side. He gently rolled me onto my side and gave my wounds a cursory examination.

"I can't help you. I need to find a doctor. I'll be back." Wanderer stood and hurried off to find help. He had reached the end of the alley when he heard the wolf's whine. Wanderer turned, and saw the wolf in obvious pain. Scrawled on the Dumpster were three letters "STA".

I heard Wanderer's words, and saw him rise. I knew I couldn't last until he returned. Even if I did make it... I shuddered and was unable to contemplate going back to the life I had been living. He had to stay. I had to make him see...I put up my paw, and saw my blood. Then I knew what to do. I hadn't finished, and when I saw him reach the end of the alley I knew I had run out of time...but there was still a chance he would see...

Wanderer saw the letters, looking almost black under the harsh electric streetlight. He walked back, almost in a daze. "But I've got to get help..." Wanderer trailed off as he saw the wolf shake his head and move his paw to the Dumpster. Slowly, agonizingly the paw scrawled "2 L8" on the side of the Dumpster. Wanderer stared for a few seconds, uncomprehending, until the meaning clicked. "No, it can't be...I can get help...I can..."

I saw the understanding flash across Wanderer's face, and heard his words. I shook my head and returned to the Dumpster. I hoped I had enough strength...

"PLZ I NO DI ALON" Wanderer stared as each letter appeared. The wolf collapsed against the brick wall of the alley, weakened by the effort. Wanderer looked into the wolf's eyes and saw pain, but aside from pain he saw longing...

I looked up at Wanderer. For some reason, I wasn't able to focus on much else. I felt the wind shift. Now instead of being in the lee of the wind behind the Dumpster, I was being buffeted by wind and rain. It was cold...so cold...

Wanderer noticed the wolf's eyes roaming the alley, but without any sense of comprehension. The wind shifted. The wolves were pelted with cold rain, and the writing on the Dumpster began to melt. The injured wolf began to shiver. Wanderer, without a thought took off his cape and used it to cover the wolf. The wolf's eyes no longer moved, instead focused on some nonexistent point off in the distance.

I watched the marks on the metal slowly fade into a single blob. They had seemed important somehow, i was sad to see them go...i felt something on me...i wasn't cold anymore...i was having difficulty seeing...so bright...i sniffed deeply...smelled like family...

Wanderer stayed by the still form of the wolf for a long while, and then phoned the authorities from a payphone. The next few hours were a blur of flashing lights and unfamiliar faces. "Thank you for your statement Mr. uhh...Wanderer. We'll be in touch." The door of the last car slammed shut and Wanderer was again alone in the alley. The rain had stopped and the city air for once smelled clean. Wanderer left the alley as the morning sun's first light greeted the city. Wanderer sighed and ran a paw through his soaked cheekfur...not all rain. He padded through the deserted streets. Tonight there'd be a long conversation with the Lupine Boys...

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