by Oren the Otter
© Oren the Otter -- all rights reserved
Sadie looked at me as we stood outside the Blind Pig, trying very hard to hide the curiosity from her eyes.
"So... this is where you and your friends hang out..." she said.
"This is the place." I replied. "Say, help me with this box, would you?" I had been wrestling with the thing for a minute and a half, trying to get it open. It is times like these I tend to wish for my original fingers back. She helped me get the cover off and slip out a trophe, one topped by a shiny bronze horse's patoot.
"What in heaven's name is THAT?" Sadie asked.
"This? This is Hassan's Horse Award." I explained. "I won it for playing the years best practical joke on myself. The house rules say I have to display my prize whenever I visit the bar or I have to buy a round of drinks. On my income, humiliation is cheaper."
As we entered, there were several hearty "Hey otter!"'s. I smiled and waved at everyone, heading to a table where Sadie and I could enjoy a modicum of privacy.
"They call you `Otter'?" said Sadie. "That doesn't seem very sensitive."
"It's not because I'm an otter." I explained. "That was my nickname long before I was transformed. It has to do with a rather embarrassing episode involving cola and face paint."
"I'd love to hear of this."
"Well, that's why we're here, isn't it? Although I had envisioned lying on a couch in your office for this."
Sadie took out her note pad. "I like to let my patients choose their own locale. It makes it easier for them. For you, that is."
I chuckled. "You're the only SCAB psychologist I know of who makes house calls."
"I'm not a SCAB psychologist." she corrected. "I'm a norm psychologist who works with SCABs."
"Too bad." I said jokingly. "You'd have made a great otter."
Sadie seemed to blush a little.
"Well," I said. "Where do we begin?"
"You wanted to talk about your breakup?"
"Mm, yes." I said. "Carly."
"Tell me about Carly." she said.
"A nice girl." I said. "I know it's customary to think of one's ex-girlfriend as an ogre, but I can't. She was just wonderful."
Sadie scribbled her notes.
"I met her at Dr. Stein's last SCABS conference. He had asked me to come along to discuss what we had discovered about the possibility of contracting SCABS twice."
"You can get SCABS twice?"
"Uh-uh. That's just the point. It's kind of a long story. Anyway, Carly was there to discuss the latest findings on inanimorphs."
"She's an expert?"
"Partially. She also is one. She has the ability to assume the shapes of toy animals."
"You mean small dogs and such?"
"No... I mean she literally becomes stuffed toys. That's why she's called an inanimorph. She turns into inanimate objects."
"How is that possible?"
"Nobody knows. Science can't explain it. That's one of the reasons I've been working with Dr. Bob and Dr. Bryan over there... in a strictly amateur fashion, of course, to decipher the riddle of inanimorphs."
"Do you get much time for this with your art career?"
"You would be surprised. Most of the stuff I do is science fiction. I get the latest theories on the unexplainable crossing my desk on a daily basis."
"Tell me more about Carly."
"She's a nice gal, she really is, but there are just some things that she couldn't be comfortable with."
"My being an otter, mainly. I mean, She's really okay with the fact and all, but she just couldn't bring herself to get serious with a man of another species."
"Now I'm not a medical doctor..." said Sadie. "But I do happen to know that SCABS affects the coding of DNA, but not the sequence. You're still human. You haven't changed species."
"I made that point, but the fact remains that I have the physical form of an otter, even if my genes are human compatible. Besides, that's not always true. See Jon over there? The deer? He has two sets of DNA. He has had a large number of kids who were normal deer, so I have heard."
"Is that all there is to it? Just your form?"
"No, there were other things. Old things that I guess caught up with her all at once. You know, I acted like an otter long before I became one."
"You want to tell me about it?"
"Well, Otter was my nickname to begin with. I used to do dozens of otterlike things. I have always loved fish. I go insane at the sight of a swimming pool. I have been purring for years. Used to think that was SCABS, but it turned out to be just me."
"Rarely, but they do. I do it more frequently because I like doing it."
"But all of this is normal for you now, right?"
"Depends on your point of view. Take Phill over there. He acts like a rabbit. That's normal for him. And yet Brian over yonder acts like a human, even when he's a raccoon. What's normal for one person is boanthropy for another."
Sadie seemed surprised at hearing that.
"What?" I asked.
"Wherever did you hear the term boanthropy?"
I put on a pedantic face and said "boanthropy: the belief that one is an animal. Look around you. To quote Jim Henson, this place is crawling with Dogs and Frogs and Chickens."
"I don't recall Henson ever saying that."
"The point is I make it my business to know all there is about SCABS and animals and everything remotely related to the two."
Sadie shook her head. "You are remarkably inteligent, Oren. Are you sure you're only 28?"
I blushed at the compliment. "I am sure." I said.
I also wanted to tell her about some of more thrilling moments involving SCABS, but that would have to wait. I did not want my friends at the pig knowing about my days as a crimefighter. "There is more that I want to tell you." I said. "But It has to be in private."
"No. It can wait."
"All right." said Sadie. "We can make our next appointment at your apartment."
I shook my head. "Not my apartment." I said. "I have not cleaned that place since my transformation, and I would hate to see anyone have to endure the mess."
Sadie seemed to hesitate a moment before saying "All right then, we can talk at my place."
We spent the rest of our time together talking about the bar and the people in it. I told her of the joke that gave me my nickname, and of the night Jacob fox had a friend transform everyone in the bar, including how I wished I had been there. I told her of the latest joke to come out: "One man turns into a bar. The other one walks in and orders a drink." It was just basically a time of getting to know what makes me tick and what kind of world I live in.
I saw Sadie a couple of times before our scheduled appointment. We talked about the weather and about science and I told her about a story I was writing in which I absolutely HAD to calculate the relative speed of the Earth. She actually KNEW offhand that the Earth travels its own diameter every 8.12 seconds. When Tuesday came around again, however, we would talk about the really interesting stuff.
I sat there on her couch as she sat in the recliner across from me and listened intently.
"You've heard of the SCAB vigilantes?" I asked.
"I remember them." she replied. "They used to fight against violent anti-SCAB crimes, up until a few years ago."
"Do you remember much about them?"
"I followed them closely." Sadie answered. "I wouldn't even call them vigilantes. They were just concerned citizens helping their fellow man."
"Do you remember who was in it?
"Let's see... there were two inanimorphs. One was a car, the other was a scarecrow. There was a gorilla, a piranah morph, and a fellow with the abilities of an electric eel."
I nodded and pointed to myself.
"Yes. I was one of the vigilantes. I was the eel man."
"How can that be? You're an otter now."
"While I was still human, a polymorph friend of mine would give me these zappers. You see, I just couldn't stand to watch all the brutal crimes happening all around me. Scabs getting randomly maced, slavery rings running in broad daylight, firebombings, muggings, murders... Something had to be done."
"And you did it."
"I had to. I saw that there were those out there with the ability and will to take a stand, but they needed to be rallied, brought together. They needed someone to give them courage."
"And that was you."
I bowed my head and stared at my flippers. "You didn't know I was a criminal."
Sadie smiled and said "You guys did a lot of good, Oren. If not for you, many good people would be dead. I'm proud to know such a wonderful man."
I smiled and patted my fur. "I'm not exactly a man, anymore."
"Oh, but you are!" she replied. "You are more a man than many human men out there. You are a wonderful person, Oren."
I sat there and looked at Sadie for a long time.
"A penny for your thoughts?"
"I... I have to go to the bathroom."
Some things are always the same no matter what you are. Animals still have to pee, and it always comes at the worst possible moments, just as it does for humans.
"What a moment to feel my bladder fill." I said to myself. After I had done my business, I washed my hands, and then my face. I looked around for a towel, but it looked like they were all out being washed.
"Sadie, do you have any towels?" I called.
"There are some in the closet!" she called back.
There were two doors in the bathroom besides the one I had come in through. I opened what I thought was the closet.
It was Sadie's bedroom.
Sadie whirled in surprise as I opened the door. She was obviously not expecting to be seen for a few minutes. Her shirt was open, revealing bare and tantalizing breasts, and snuggled up tightly to them was a plush animal, an otter who looked exactly like Oren.
"Sadie?" I said in amazement.
"Um... I guess I have some explaining to do."
The situation was now reversed. I sat on the bed next to her and listened to her tell her story. She told me that she had feelings for me, but she was afraid to let them out, scared of what people would say because of our doctor/patient relation ship, not to mention the difference in our ages and body forms. During all this time, she never buttoned her blouse.
"Sadie," I said to her. "I am almost afraid to say this, but..."
"Say it." she said, looking away.
"I love you too."
She looked back at me in surprise. I merely nodded. "I was afraid to say it." I told her. "But I do. Maybe I shouldn't, but I can't help it."
I embraced her, hugging her as best my tiny little arms could, I realized that my face was pressing against her breasts, but I didn't really care. Or perhaps I did.
"Maybe you'd better go home before we do something foolish."
I sighed and nodded. She was right, of course. I went home.
I didn't see much of Sadie for a while after that. I knew that it would not be a good idea for us to fraternize, as I'm sure she did. We couldn't go fostering a relationship that we both knew was not meant to be. I am what many would call a religious man. I had prayed a lot since that day, and was convinced that such a thing was not what the good Lord intended for us.
So why did I love her so much?
It was the next Tuesday that we met for our weekly appointment, once again in the Blind Pig.
She didn't look too good when she showed up. I guess I should have known it then. She was sweaty and pale, and her chin was pulled back in a display of nausea.
"Sadie?" I said. "You don't look so hot. Are you feeling okay?"
"Allergies." she replied. As she took a notepad out of her purse. "Now then, is there anything in specific you would like to talk about today?"
"I was hoping we could pick up on the subject of displaying otter tendencies before I contracted SCABS."
Sadie nodded and coughed. "You said you used to purr while you were still human."
"And you said... what was it... you thought that it was... SCABS?"
She was looking really pale, now. I flashed Donny an order for a ginger ale in sign language, hoping it would make her feel better.
"Yeah. See, What had happened, was that I'd caught this virus that infected my throat. The infection altered the shape of it so that... Sadie?"
Sadie was teetering, now. "Oren, I think I... I think that I..." I was too slow to catch her as she fell sideways out of her seat, hitting the floor with a resounding whump.
Bryan, Brian and Pascal rushed over from the next table. The cockroach- shaped doctor gave her a quick once over and knew immediately what had occurred. "She's got it." he said. "She's got the flu."
"Oren..." she groaned.
"I'm right here."
"Don't leave me." With that, she fell unconscious.
"This looks severe." said Bryan. "Pascal, call an ambulance. Brian, grab some CA40 from my medical bag before she goes into shock."
"Is she gonna be okay, Doc?" I asked. I knew the answer, of course. I wasn't a doctor, but I knew enough about medicine to understand what was going on. CA40 was a new variation of liqui- breathe which substituted for blood. You gave someone an injection of CA40 if they had lost an enormous amount of blood. Sadie was not bleeding, nor did she seem to have any wounds anywhere. That would leave only one possibility: SCABS incompatibility. Her body was rejecting its own blood.
"She'll be fine." Bryan fibbed. "Do you want to accompany her to the hospital?"
"She asked me not to leave her."
Bryan nodded. "Do you need anything? I can get Brian or Pascal to bring you whatever you might need from your apartment."
"Just my laptop computer." I said casually as Bryan made an injection into Sadie's arm.
It wasn't that long before the ambulance showed up. Bryan helped the paramedics to load Sadie in and then he and I climbed into the ambulance with her.
I never left Sadie's side through the entire ordeal. She was placed in a room with specialized monitoring equipment, and Dr. Bryan had managed to arrange things so that I would be able to stay by her side while she slept. I threw myself into my work that night. I couldn't work on my art. I was too upset to draw, so I typed up my scripts for stories to come. I typed and typed and typed, totally oblivious to what was happening to me as I did. The constant clackity-clack of the keys was broken early in the morning by the sound of a woman's voice. "Who is over there?" she asked.
I looked over my shoulder at Sadie. She was propped up on one elbow and staring at me. "Sadie!" I exclaimed. "You're awake!"
"Oren?" she asked. "Is that you? What happened to you?"
I then saw my shoulder. It was smooth and pink. Looking into the glass of the outside window, I saw my reflection. I was human. "I've changed." I said. "I've become human. I..."
Sadie just stared at my naked body as I stood there stammering.
"I... I've heard of this happening before. Jon Sleeper, when he concentrated hard on his work, changed back into his human self. Could my intense concentration have done the same for me?"
"It's possible, honey." said Sadie, wearily.
I ran to her side and said "Are you feeling okay?"
"I feel like I got run over by a truck."
"You want me to call a doctor?"
"I am a doctor, Oren. There's not going to be anything they can do for me except give me some aspirin. What is this tube in my arm?"
"Blood supply. Your body is rejecting your blood for some reason."
She sighed. "We can hope it is an intermediate symptom that will be rectified after I finish changing." she said. "And Oren?"
"I hope I become an otter."
I blushed at that. My ears began to feel quite warm.
"Oren, your ears just changed."
I reached up to feel them. Surely enough, They were covered with fur, and had settled high on my head. "Why did they do that I wonder?"
"I don't know, but you know what? I think it looks sexy."
I blushed again. This time, my hair changed to fur, lengthening into a strip down my back. My eyes and cheeks began to fuzz out as well.
"Adrenaline." I mused. "It's the adrenaline making me change back. It's just like Brian Coe... So..." I got quiet as I pondered. "Heavy thought makes me human, heavy emotion makes me otter..."
"Heavy emotion? Are you saying I'm turning you on? I wonder just how furry I can get you."
As she said that, my muzzle sprang forward and my tail shot from my bottom. Fur exploded all over me like I had seen it do on Jesse Roo. POOF! All at once. I stood there, staring and shrinking slightly.
"I'm sorry." said Sadie. "I don't mean to make you change like that, but..."
"It's okay." I said. "It's gonna happen, I guess. I'm just glad that you're feeling better."
Sadie smiled. "Oh, Oren," she said. "I love you!"
I zipped down to my full otter form, quite involuntarily. I climbed up on the bed where she could see me.
"Oren I'm sorry."
"No need to be sorry. I love you too, Sadie.
"Oh, Oren!" She hugged me. "Can I just ask one thing?"
"Can I hold you the way I do my plushie?"
I smiled a smile a mile wide. I had seen how she held her stuffed otter.
I nodded. Snuggled against her breasts, I purred her to sleep.
Morning seemed to come much too early. I sensed movement about me, and bright light. I looked up through slitted eyes to see a familiar cockroach examining some of the medical monitors. I looked down at Sadie and saw fur covering her body. Her lips and nose had changed to a shiny black.
"What's going on?" I asked Bryan in a half-whispered voice.
"It's a small problem." said the doctor. "Nothing to be concerned about."
I suddenly realized that the body I was lying against felt cold. Brushing a tuft of fur aside, I noticed that formerly pink skin had turned a pale blue. "She's rejecting blood again, isn't she?"
Bryan looked at me with his inscrutable bug eyes. I know he was wishing I was just a trifle more ignorant on medical matters. "She is." he said. "This time, she's rejecting the new blood supply. I'm putting her on CA40, but it won't work forever. Her body needs to start producing blood it can use." He took a syringe and drew a small amount of blood from her arm. He'd used one of those new anasthetic needles, so his patient did not even stir.
"What are you going to do with that?" I asked.
"A DNA print." answered the doctor. "If we can determine what she is turning into, we may be able to find some compatable blood."
I had seen this before. Sometimes, when SCABS effects a partial transformation, the old and new body parts proved to be incompatible. This was what was happening with Sadie's body, and we could only hope that it was a temporary condition until the transformation was complete. If it was not, Sadie would die.
Sadie studied her face in the hand mirror. "I wonder what I'm going to be." she said. "I do hope I'm going to be an otter."
"You know that the probabilities are against it." I told her.
"I know, but I've heard of it happening. Sometimes, two people who love each other will become the same animal."
"Sometimes." I agreed. "It did happen to Jon and Maxine. And Grace.
"And how about Kris and his wife?"
"Kris is a norm."
"Ah, but he spent twenty years in a monastery trying to cure his affinity for cats, and now look at her."
"And there's a couple I council who both turned into rhinoceruses.
"I'd love nothing better than for you to become an otter." I said. "But you have to be prepared to be anything else, as well."
"Well I already know I'm a mammal, and a carnivore. We shall see."
Bryan poked his head into the doorway. I have some good news." he said. "We know your new species now, and your blood type. We have several donors lined up, waiting to give blood."
"Really?" asked Sadie. "Anyone I know?"
"Mostly folks from the Blind Pig. They all wanted to know if there was anything they could do to help, and so I rounded up all the compatible donors I could find right from there."
"They're great folks." I said. "Who's donating?"
I had hoped to hear names like Vincent and Debbi, mustelid morphs.
Bryan shook his head and said "I heard a bit of your conversation from out in the hall. I'm sorry to say that you are not turning into an otter."
"What am I, then?"
Never in my life have I seen fate pull so mean a stunt as it did just then. Into the room, calling cheerful hello's, walked Kieth, Carlos and Wanderer. Canids, all. Sadie observed them and asked Bryan "Wolf?"
Sadie began to cry, much to the bewilderment of the three new guests.
I had been typing for hours. The total concentration I had given my task Had once again caused me to revert to my human form. Sadie had been sleeping, but awoke without my noticing. I heard a high pitched sound. I looked over my shoulder. By the light of my computer screen, I saw Sadie sitting on her bed and whining. She was a fully morphed dog. A saluki, if my knowledge of canines served me. Long, silky golden fur hung on her wiry yet muscular frame. Her long, thin muzzle was drawn tight in the canine version of a frown.
"Sadie?" I said. "Are you all right?"
"Mo." she said, obviously having difficulty with her new mouth.
"What is it?" I asked as I sat next to her.
"Oen, I wanded do be rike you."
"You Gan'd love be like dis."
I looked at her in surprise. "Who says I can't love you?"
"Gan you lub me as a dog?"
I smiled. "You loved me as an otter." I said. "Before you ever knew about this." I motioned to my human body. "You were willing to accept me just as I was."
"I don't care about the form you wear. You are a wonderful woman inside, Sadie. You are a precious jewel, and I love you!"
Sadie snuggled up to me, smiling lightly. She put her paw around me, and then gave me a slobbery kiss, right on the naval.
"EEHAA!" I yelled ticklishly. That only encouraged her. She continued to tickle me playfully with her nose and tongue, and I continued to laugh noisily.
Suddenly the room door opened and flooded the room with light. A vaguely equine form stood in the doorway and demanded "What's all this noise about?"
By this time, I had gone otter from my ears, down my back to my tail. I looked like a bad Brian Coe ripoff, and naked to boot. "She's tickling me!" I said, thinking it a poor explanation.
The equine form stepped into the shadows where the lack of backlight made his features visible. It was Dr. Bob. He stared at me for a moment and asked "Otter? Is that you?"
"It's me!" I said proudly.
Bob was intrigued by the discovery that I could become human again. He asked me if I would be willing to submit to some tests. In truth, they were as much to test the tests themselves as they were to test me. I had been helping the doctors come up with a series of tests he help determine the full extent of one's SCABS powers. Of course, they needed some refining. On the first trial run, they had proven conclusively that Edwina the waitress was a polymorph. Well, it got a good laugh anyway.
I came into the SCAB LAB and saw Bryan sitting there with a very puzzled look on his face. "What you looking so pensive about?" I asked.
Bryan motioned to the strewn about papers, which included Karyotypes, phenocopies, and DNA prints. "This is the youngest ever recorded case of SCABS." he said. "This boy contracted SCABS at five. Now we're trying to figure out what's so special about him that he was able to get this disease long before puberty when no one else ever has.
I looked at the DNA print. "Well here's the answer." I said. "Look at this defective gene. That's William's disease. His body has a telomerase deficiency, as you can see in the shortened chromosomes..." I pointed to the karyotype. "Here... and here. It fooled SCABS into believing that he's older than he really is."
Bob and Bryan looked at each other for a minute. Bryan then said "You know, he's right? That explains the slow healing factor."
"Are you sure you're not a doctor?" said Bob. "Or maybe a computer? I mean, how do you know this stuff?"
"Critter-man #785. Doctor Damage tried to use a virus that would give Critter-man William's disease and take away his immortality." I smiled, being very pleased with myself that I, a simple cartoonist, could keep up with two of the world's most famous doctors.
At this point, I wish to apologize to any poor SCAB who may be subjected to the tests that I helped devise. One of them, is, at this point, highly unrefined. It is a psycho-somatic test designed to test one's mental triggers. Essentially, you wear a whole mess of wires hooked up to a million sensors and you watch a movie. As the test progresses and the computers sense you morphing, they alter the course of the movie to test your reactions to certain stimuli.
For me, the movie ended up being a complex mystery about shapely female weasel-morphs trying to track down a missing fish. "Don't take it personally." Bryan told me. "Bob took the test. For him, the movie ended up being about a Greek were-horse who falls madly in love with a steam locomotive."
I returned to be with Sadie for a little while as I waited for Bryan and Bob to puzzle over their findings.
Her ears pricked up the moment she saw me. I smiled. "Hello, Honey." she said.
"Hi, Sadie." I replied. "How are you feeling?
"Much better. How did the testing go?"
"It was heck. Worst part is, I can only blame myself."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. They want to do you next."
Sadie gladly volunteered for the tests. I waited in her room and tapped on my computer. I was pleasantly surprised, when I checked my E-mail, to find a note from a friend I had met at a SCABS research convention. He was the first confirmed case of spontaneous transformation.
I just found a copy of one of your comic books. Congratulations on HEA#12. +# is a funny kid.
I composed my response.
"Thanks, Thomas. Nice to hear from you. Glad you finally found a way to type with those hooves. By the way, I didn't write that particular issue, but I will accept your praise on behalf of Mr. Dracodan.
How're you of late? Things are going good over here. I'm keeping company with a friend in the hospital. Her name is Sadie Sherry, and I think I'm gonna marry her someday."
I paused. Did I just write that? Sure enough!
I hit the "send" button in a bit of a daze.
After that, I went back to typing my stories. I was careful to stop and distract myself every few minutes so that I did not revert to human form and embarrass myself.
Bryan came in later on and gave me some very interesting news. "You're going to be very interested to see this." he said. He pulled a tiny video playback device from his pocket. There was a video playing, showing me as I watched the interactive movie.
"Okay." I said absently.
"Watch this part coming up." he said. "This is where the skunk morph in the bikini comes on."
I watched myself. Though the me on the screen pretended to be indifferent, a observed a stripe forming down the middle of my head and back, as my tail went from conical to extra-fluffy. Bryan put the device away as I blushed deeply.
"That happened a total of seven times." he said. "It seems that we've discovered a nice little side ability to your change. You're able to borrow from all over the mustelid family in much the same way Rydia can take features from the entire feline family. The difference with you is that it appears to be connected to the perception of a need."
"Oh gosh." I muttered. "You mean I'm going to change like that every time a pretty weasel turns my head? Sadie is going to hate me."
"Why is that?"
"Bryan," I said. "That is my future wife."
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