by Andrew Kaiser
© Andrew Kaiser -- all rights reserved
He stood at the base of the monument, staring up at the patina of the bronze. He heard footsteps approaching from behind.
"Thanks." The stranger didn't know what to make of this comment, but undeterred tried a different tack.
"Did you know him?"
"He was my roommate." Slowly the tears came. The stranger noticed and stepped closer. He placed a hand on the crying man's shoulder, not knowing any words to comfort him. The tears started to come faster. "You would think that after a year, it wouldn't hurt so much." He leaned into the stranger for support.
The stranger put his other arm over the shoulder of the man and held him. "Sometimes it helps to talk about it."
"I wouldn't know where to begin."
"The beginning is always a nice place to start..."
He abruptly sat down on the sod at the base of the monument. The stranger slowly sank down and sat next to him. The man brushed aside his tears and began to tell his tale.
I knew he was special from the moment I first laid eyes on him. I saw him standing in the arboretum looking lost and nervous. I immediately stopped dead in my tracks. There, standing there in a T-shirt and khaki shorts, with a red knapsack over his shoulder was a six-foot tall lion. For at least a full minute I just stood there and stared. Then the lion turned and noticed me. Flashing a hesitant smile he slowly walked over to me.
"Can you tell me how to get to Morris Hall from here?"
I stood there for a couple of seconds, and then I automatically responded "Sure, it's not far, I'll show you." I had seen SCABs before, on TV and in the paper, but I was from a very small community, and I had never known any SCABs. As we walked across campus we were stared at by almost everyone. I guess a lot of people had never had much experience with SCABs. We approached the front of Morris Hall and I turned to the person I had been leading and said, "You're a SCAB, aren't you."
He got a pained look in his eyes and said sarcastically, "Gee, you're very perceptive." At this point I started to stammer apologies incoherently and the lion calmly asked if I was going to freak out. "If you are," he added, "I'd like you to tell me so I can take appropriate measures."
"Freak out? Of course not, I'm just a little...umm..."
"Terrified?" suggested the lion, as he smiled, baring his fangs.
"No, not at all, It's just that I don't quite know how to react, that's all."
"Don't worry, I'll let you get back to your ordinary, hum drum life. Thanks for seeing me to my dorm." The lion turned to leave.
"Wait!" It came out a bit suddenly, and led to an awkward silence. "I don't suppose you'd like to umm... talk or something..."
The lion smiled and asked if I'd like to come up to his room. We sat and talked for hours. Over the course of the conversation I discovered that his name was Thomas, and he hated living alone, despite only being in his dorm room for two nights. It was at this point that I noticed the time, and realized that I was about an hour late for my fraternity's rush party. I stood up and invited Tom to my fraternity house to meet the guys. Tom protested, fearing that he'd incite a riot, but relented when I asked him if he'd rather be alone. On the way I told him he needn't worry about the reaction from the brothers. "Of all the houses on campus, I'm sure you'd fit in here the best..."
I walked into the party with Thomas in tow, and was immediately dressed down by the house president for being so late. I explained that I was convincing a freshman to come to the party and then introduced Tom to the house president. Brian "Funky" didn't miss a beat as he shook Tom's paw and welcomed him to the house. Surprise is a very funny look on a lion's face. Funky offered Tom membership that very night, and the next morning we moved Tom's things. There was never any question of where to put them.
Tom and I became close friends over the course of his pledgeship. It can be difficult moving in with a new person right away after living at home all one's life. Fortunately Tom and I hit it off right away. He didn't complain about my snoring and I didn't complain about his fur all over the couch. Aside from things like that we would often stay up till all hours of the night just talk. To me it never mattered in the least that he was a SCAB. The night of Tom's initiation I drank heavily with all the new initiates. Late that night I stumbled into my room and saw Thomas sitting on the couch bathed in the light of the TV. He never was much for wild parties or drinking, claiming that the noise upset his sensitive ears. He was wearing only boxers, his usual sleeping attire. "I couldn't sleep with all that racket going on."
I smiled half-heartedly and sat down on the couch next to him. "You think this is bad, you should have been here last year..." I reached under the table next to the couch and grabbed my bottle of scotch. "Have a little of this... It'll help you sleep." He grabbed the bottle and sniffed. He winced, but drank anyway. I laughed as he coughed and sputtered.
"How can you drink this shit?"
"It gets easier with time...But don't you feel nice and warm inside?" I leaned over and rubbed his tummy. "You should feel it right about there"
He purred and nodded. He smiled and said, "It tingles."
I scooted closer and leaned into his side, my finger idly tracing the line where the golden fur of his back met the creamy, soft fur of his chest. "God I love your fur." I said. "Do you mind if I just..." Tom nodded and rubbed his big paw on my head. He could tell from the slur in my voice that I was quite close to passing out. He let me snuggle in his fur and go to sleep.
The next morning I awoke in my bed, where Tom had carefully laid me, under the covers. Nothing was ever said about that night, but it seemed that Thomas wasn't wearing a shirt as much, exposing his gorgeous tawny coat.
It was about a month or so later that everything fell apart. It was late, and I was finishing up a sculpture in the art building. I wandered out to the hallway to rest and stretch my aching back. I glanced out the window and saw Tom walking back to the house along the railroad tracks. Then I noticed a small cluster of guys in black trench coats huddled across the way. They looked like trailer trash, nothing but trouble. They broke and started toward Thomas. Bad news. As one of them passed under a streetlight I saw the flash of a knife. Worse news. I immediately broke into a run, crashing through the door onto the street. The three punks had clustered around Tom and were taunting him. They were spouting the usual trash about humans first, and how all Scabs should be eliminated. Tom tried to push through, but one of the punks grabbed his arm and put a knife in Tom's face. Tom batted the knife away easily, but from behind one of the punks carved a wicked looking gash on Tom's shoulder running down his back.
At that point I had closed to about fifteen feet. Thank god they were too interested in Thomas to notice me running up behind them. As Tom roared in pain I dived, tackling the one who cut Tom. The knife flew off into the brush beside the tracks, and in my adrenaline-fueled rage, I began bashing the face of the kid I had tackled into the track.
The third kid, largely ignored, came up beside me and kicked me in the head. It was a huge mistake, as he was 16 if he was a day, and scrawny to boot. I abandoned his limp friend on the ground and moved in on the third punk. He reached behind his back, presumably to get a knife, maybe a gun, and I wasted no time. A sharp sidekick to the throat left him gurgling in pain, his hands coming up to his neck. I then gave him a sharp jab to the solar plexus that sent the wind from him. A quick kick to the crotch bent him over and allowed me to give a crushing double-fisted blow to the back of the neck. The third punk lay on the ground motionless.
The guy in front of Tom was either very brave or really stupid. He pulled out a backup switchblade, and had slashed Tom's forearm several times, leaving deep cuts. I moved in on the punk and he slashed at me. The knife caught my shirt, leaving a small scratch on my chest. As he swung through, I grabbed his wrist and pulled him toward me. I stepped behind him and applied a one-armed chokehold. I twisted his wrist and he dropped the knife with a pained squeal. I then tightened up the choke and resisted all his attempts to escape until he grew limp in my arms. I then dropped him and turned to Tom.
What I saw scared me. Tom was crouched over, holding his left forearm close to his chest. In the dim moonlight it looked black. I glanced at his right shoulder, to where the second punk had slashed, and saw a large stain spreading down Tom's shirt. I put his arm over my shoulder and led/drug him back to the house. In the light things looked worse. Tom's front and back were covered in blood and blood was flowing freely from my nose where I had been kicked in the face. Adding to the gore, I was covered in Thomas's blood. I set Tom gently down in the bathroom and went to get my meager medical supplies and help.
I had just grabbed my first-aid kit when I heard a roar from the bathroom. Seems some of my brothers had found Tom lying in a pool of his own blood and were trying to get him to go to the emergency room. Thomas had roared and lashed out with his claws. Fortunately he missed. I ran back into the bathroom to Thomas's side. I saw the look in Tom's eyes as my brothers said emergency room and knew he would never go. I think he was afraid of leaving his den injured. I don't think he was quite all there but he seemed to recognize me.
"Help me get him into the shower." I said as I tried to lift him. I failed miserably, only succeeding in causing Tom more pain. My brothers saw the look of desperation in my eyes and lifted Tom, guiding him into the shower area. I turned on one of the showerheads and started to wash the blood off. I saw that the wounds were not as bad as I feared and told my friends I could handle it. They looked at me and then Tom. A snarl from Tom sent them to the relative safety of the hallway. I pulled off Thomas's shirt and began to gently rinse the blood from his fur. Thomas whimpered as I cleaned the wounds, but didn't resist. I pulled him from the shower and removed the rest of his wet clothes. As he sat there I liberally spread antiseptic cream on his wounds and wrapped his arm in gauze. I used the last of the gauze making a pad for the slash wound on his shoulder, tying it on with an old T-shirt. I dried him off and wrapped a towel around his waist and led him back to our room. I laid him on the couch and sat beside him all night.
The dawn found me still sitting by Thomas's side, suffering from exhaustion and light-headedness, still wearing the blood-soaked clothes of the night before. I was barely able to see Tom waking up and wincing in pain. I moved to massage his shoulder and he smiled at me. I told him I would get him some water, and stood to get it. The room spun and went white. Then it came crashing down.
I awoke to something tickling my nose. I tried to bring up my arm to scratch my nose, but something was holding it down. I tried to roll over, but found I couldn't move. It was then that I slowly opened my eyes. I saw the creamy bellyfur of Thomas. I looked up and saw his face. His look of concern faded into a warm smile as I rearranged myself and went back to sleep cuddled in his soft fur.
I awoke again later, cradled in Thomas's strong arms. I wanted to stay there forever; it felt so warm and safe. Unfortunately Tom had other plans. "Come on, sleepyhead, time for you to get something to eat." I rolled out of his embrace and sat on the edge of the bed. I looked down and saw that I was no longer wearing the clothes that I had been wearing during my vigil over Thomas. I turned to look at Thomas. He smiled and said, "I can't believe that you'd let yourself go like that, silly." I gave him a weak smile and stumbled to my closet and pulled on a pair of pants. Thomas was soon beside me and we both got dressed and headed to the cafeteria to get something to eat.
Two days later I heard a roar as I was walking on the mall. The roar was quickly followed with a gunshot. I ran toward the sounds as my mind went blank. I ran into the arboretum and saw Thomas running toward me. I started running toward the house and Tom quickly caught up. I pushed him ahead as another shotgun blast tore through the trees. I winced in pain as several tiny pellets tore into my shoulder, but kept running. We reached the parking lot of our house and made our way through the cars, trying to get to the door. We made it and rushed to our room, where we locked the door. In a rush of adrenaline, I shoved the couch and every other piece of furniture I could move in front of the door. I pushed Tom into the corner and crouched defensively in front of him.
I turned when I felt a gentle paw on my shoulder. My adrenaline rush failed me and I fell into Thomas, hugging him as I cried and asked what the hell was happening. He winced and I looked over his shoulder, noticing for the first time that he was bleeding. I jumped up and grabbed the nearest clean shirt and ran back, pulling Tom's bloodstained shirt over his head as I applied pressure to the wounds. Tom laughed and shook his head.
He gently pulled my hand away and took the blood soaked shirt from my trembling hand. Thomas then gently lifted my own bloody shirt over my head and preceded to apply pressure to my wounds with the blood soaked T-shirt in his paw. I collapsed into his chest, sobbing, "What happened?"
Tom rubbed his free paw up and down my back. "I'm not positive, but I think is was a bunch of Humans First bastards," he said softly, "I was walking through the arboretum, and I saw a bunch of rednecks yelling about SCABS. Some of them had knives and the one who appeared to be their leader had a shotgun. They charged at me and I roared. The leader fired as I turned to run." He paused, looking down, "You know the rest." I silently sobbed into his chest for a few moments, then a brick shattered our window.
I looked up and heard a pounding on the door. "We want the monster!" came the shout from the mob outside my door. I silently shook my head and mouthed "No" to Tom.
Thomas stood up, pulling me with him. He kissed me, softly, sweetly, and I melted in his arms. "And if we die right now, this fool you love somehow is here with you..." Tom sung the bittersweet line from the Smashing Pumpkin's song beautifully.
"I love you" I found the strength to stand, and kissed him passionately. I wrapped my arms tightly around Thomas and slid my tongue into his open mouth. I rubbed my hands down his back, slippery with our blood. Tom's tongue entered my mouth and I entered a state of bliss.
Tom broke the passionate kiss, pulling back, saying, "I always thought we'd get time for this..." We were rocked by the sound of a shotgun blast and the top of the door swung open. Thomas flung me aside and bared his chest to the man wielding the shotgun.
I tried to dive and tackle Tom out of the way, but as I dove I heard the roar of the gun, followed by the roar of Thomas. I landed on top of him, and hugged him tightly. I looked up at his face and saw a peaceful smile.
"I never thanked you for saving me from those thugs the other day..."
"Yes you did"
"I love you" Thomas's eyes slid shut and I buried my face in his chest. I felt it rise and fall once more, then it was still.
The stranger on the sod in front of the memorial wiped the tears from his face. "How awful..." he murmured.
"No. The awful part came after that." The young man rose and bitterly spat out, "The mob didn't go away. They piled into my room. They wanted souvenirs, and they had knives to carve them out with, too." The young man buried my face in my hands as he sobbed through this part of the story. "I tried to stop them, but there were so many of them. They had weapons, and..." He paused to gather his strength to finish the story. "They beat me until I couldn't move. I laid in the pool of our blood semiconscious for what seemed like hours, just waiting to die before I finally passed out." The man continued, "I awoke in the hospital, cold and alone."
"So you made this statue to remember?"
"It kept me from killing myself." The younger man shuddered. "I carved sixteen hours a day until it was done. The college took up a collection so it could get cast." The man looked up at the face longingly. "Some nights when I can's sleep...and I think about finding a knife...and finishing off what the mob started...I come here...and snuggle up to him...and then I don't feel quite so..."
"Hopeless?" finished the stranger. The young man looked at the stranger for the first time...and fell into the golden eyes of a grizzled old lion. As the young man started to collapse to the ground, the lion caught him and held him tight. "Thomas was my son."
"Thomas never really talked about his parents...I wish he would have told me his father was a lion, too."
"The reason he didn't like to talk about his family is because his biological family threw him out when he became a SCAB. I adopted him, and tried to help him deal with his family problems, but he never really got over it. God I miss him so much."
"So do I."
The lion led the younger man away from the statue, holding him tightly in his strong, furry arms.
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at email@example.com