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The Otter's Wish
by Oren the Otter
Oren the Otter -- all rights reserved
 

I don't remember exactly when it was that I first walked into the Blind Pig. I do remember that I had been nervous. I had never been in a bar before in my life, and so I had no idea what to expect. Not that I'm a drinking sort. I hardly ever touch the stuff. But a friend of mine had told me that the Pig was a great place to go if you were a lonely SCAB in need of some company and a place to feel welcome. I was certainly lonely, and in need of company, and doesn't everybody need a place to feel welcome?

The only problem was that I was not a SCAB.

That is, I was not REALLY a SCAB. I had had the Martian flu all right, and had spent a week in a horrible, indescribable agony through it, and it had done its bit to my genetic template. "Bit" is the operative word here. I had not been rewarded for my suffering with anything grandiose, like a shape-shifting power or even a few animal features. The SCABS virus had changed only my throat, giving me a rather ...er, unique ability.

I could purr.

And not like a cat, either. No. The sound which I made was actually peculiar to the family Mustelidae, the weasel family. I had been given the purr of an otter. This surprised me, of course, since I'd had no idea that otters could purr.

It was a truly annoying thing. I never fit in anywhere. Norms would consider me a SCAB when they heard me, as they invariably did. After all, a purr is not like a tail that you can hide by stuffing down your pants. You have to think about not doing it to hide it, and I must admit, I was not always long on thought.

SCABs, on the other hand, would consider me a norm. Oh, most of them were polite enough to me, but there was always an undercurrent that said "Come back when you're horribly disfigured, or suffer amnesia, or turn so ugly that you get maced just for walking down the street, then we'll talk."

It was different at the Blind Pig, though. There was a different kind of people here. (No pun intended.) Here, it didn't matter whether you were a norm or a SCAB. Sure, it was primarily a SCAB hangout, but that was because a person could come here and feel accepted no matter who, or for that matter what, he is.

The only drawback, I would have to say, is the practical joking that goes on here. In one particular instance, I had been working for three days straight trying to get my latest comic art project penciled before its deadline. When I could no longer focus on my work, I had decided to head down to the Pig for a fifteen minute break. I ordered a ginger ale and after two sips, promptly fell asleep. I awoke to find everyone in the bar looking at me and giggling. I asked Wanderer what was wrong and he promptly found something in the corner very interesting. I looked over at Bryan for an explanation, and he simply smiled. When my curiosity could no longer be contained, I got up and looked in the mirror behind the bar.

Someone had painted my face to look like an otter.

I was so exhausted at that point that I broke into sobs. After that, the general rule became "Don't play jokes on Oren. He has no appreciation for sophisticated humor." I think they pitied me because I looked so pathetic.

Still, the episode stuck me with a nickname that no one will ever let me live down. I will be forever more known as "The Otter". Ironically, that one form of verbal persecution is the one thing that has made me feel most welcome at the Blind Pig.

Yes, coloration tricks aside, the gang at the Pig are a swell bunch. From the melodramatic Wanderer to the unassuming Brian Coe to mark "Don't call me Stinkybutt" Van Scriber. They're the kind of people who will listen to a fellows woes and help him to shoulder his burden, as they were doing that one fateful night.

"IT IS SO UNFAIR!" I cried to no one in particular.

"What is?" asked Brian, seeming half concerned as he swizzled his coffee. He looked calm, but I could tell that I had startled him. His face was getting furry as it always did when his adrenaline began flowing.

"Sorry." I said. "But I am just so jealous."

"Of who?" asked Brian.

"Of you. Of all of you!"

"Of me? Why?"

I swished my drink around a little. "I'm jealous of your powers, Brian," I said.

"My powers?"

"Your power to turn into a raccoon whenever you want to." I said, getting a little emotional. I purred to soothe myself.

"Let me get this straight..." said Dr. Derksen from his perch next to Brian. "You want to be a SCAB?"

"Ppprrrrrrr... I'm supposed to be a SCAB, and what have I got to show for it? I make this stupid noise. Ppprrrrrrr..."

Brian shook his head. "You're a lucky one, Oren." he said. "You can pass for normal. It's not as easy for some of us." he pointed to his ears, the pointy, furry ears of a raccoon, which, no matter how hard he tried, he could not get rid of.

Jon Sleeper, who was sitting at a table with several of the Lupine boys, looked our direction and laughed. Rising, he walked over and said "You can wear a hat, Brian. Some of us aren't so lucky." He was, of course, referring to the fact that he was a humanoid whitetail deer.

"But you guys are beautiful creatures!" I said, momentarily blushing at the realization that I'd called a pair of guys beautiful. "I would give anything to be able to look like you do."

Dr. Derksen cast a questioning glance my way.

"Well, okay, so I wouldn't want to be a giant cockroach."

Derksen wiggled his antennae and sipped his drink.

"Ppprrrrrr... but why can't I have an animal morph like you guys?"

"You don't want one like mine." said Jon. "I was an ordinary deer for twenty years. I had no memory of who I was."

"Yeah, ppprrrrrrr... but look at you now. You've got a great job, a wonderful family, and a set of antlers that are to die for."

"Well, true..."

"Just a little fur!" I exclaimed. "Is that too much to ask? Ppprrrrrrrrr... or a tail? I wanna have a tail!"

At this point, Wanderer made his way over. "My friend," he said. "I have observed your situation, and please rest assured that I share your frustration. Sadly, however, not everyone can be as perfect as I."

"There's a straight line if I ever heard one." said Derksen.

I laughed at that, which was what Wanderer was hoping for. He's always had an amazing talent for throwing out lines for others to play on.

"I think what you need," said Jon. "Is a good night's sleep. You've been working awfully hard, lately, and I think it's taking it's toll on your perspective."

"I dare say he may be correct." said wanderer. "Why don't you let me drive you home, hmm?"

"I'm fine, guys, really. Ppprrrrrr....." I said.

They wouldn't let me argue, though. Caring friends that they were, they "helped" me into wanderer's car. (This was the first time I'd found out he had one.) I found out later about the conversation that occurred after my departure. Someone had said to Donnie, the bartender, "Oren was doing pretty badly tonight. What in the world had he been drinking?"

Donnie shrugged his shoulders and pointed to my empty glass as he signed "Milk."

I spent a few hours at home, alone, unable to sleep. Despite my friends' assertions, I wasn't tired. I was jealous, and that was all there was to it. I sat at my drawing table and tried to get some work done, but I was too distracted. It was about ten o'clock when there was a knock at my door. I knew who it had to be. Only one person ever took advantage of the fact that I stayed up late on a regular basis. I opened the door and found Jesse. "Come in." I said.

"Hey, Otter." said Jesse, hopping through the door. He was in his kangaroo form, of course. He never went out in public without it, for his own reasons. "I was down at the Pig a while ago. They told me you had been in, but you went home cause you were having a rough time with something. I thought I'd come see if I could do anything."

I smiled. "Thanks, Jess. Ppprrrrrr..." I said.

"So what's troubling you?"

"Ppprrrrrrr... Jesse, I want to be an animal."

"You do?"

"Or at least partly. Golly, Jess, it is so unfair, you know?"

Jesse nodded his head. "I know how you feel."

"They call me Otter down at the bar, just like you did just now. What I wouldn't give to be able to really become one."

Jesse nodded again. "Can I offer you some advice?" he asked. "You need a vacation."

"I know, I know." I said. "Lisa was telling me the same thing. 'Go down to Florida.' she said. 'Spend a week doing things that only humans can do. Then you'll appreciate being human."

"Lisa said that?"

"Not Lisa from the bar. A different Lisa. This was long ago, before SCABS hit where my family used to live."

"You wanted to be an animal before SCABS came around?"

"Yeah, I know. I'm crazy."

"No, you're not. And I wasn't going to suggest that kind of vacation, either."

"Oh? What were you going to suggest?"

"A vacation from yourself."

"Huh? Ppprrrrrrrr..."

"I could do it."

I pondered this for a moment. He could do it. He could alter my body for 24 hours. After all, he was a pollymorph. The only problem was that he had a severe limitation. Using his powers caused both himself and anyone he used them on excruciating pain. That was why he did not advertise the fact that he was actually a polymorph, but contented himself with his single kangaroo form. He did not want people to ask him for favors, only to end up being tortured by his abilities.

"I'll have to think about that for a minute." I said, wiping a bead of sweat off of my brow.

"It would hurt, of course."

"Ppprrrrrr... I know. I suffered quite a bit at your hands every time you would give me those electric eel zappers."

"Yeah, but admit it, you loved them."

He was right. Jesse used to give me those electrical organs and I would... well, that's a story for another day.

My stomach began to churn from nervousness as I considered his offer. I would no doubt be sorry for it, but I wanted it so badly that I finally made my decision. "Let's do it." I said.

Immediately, I felt a horrible pain in my stomach, almost as though I had been impaled. Jesse had not even touched me yet. I didn't know he could work changes from long distance. The pain was excruciating, twisting my guts up. By the time he put his hands on me, I was on fire! The next thing I knew, everything went black.

I had no idea how long I had been out, but I awoke staring at the ceiling of my bedroom. My body still felt sore. In fact, I felt like roadkill. I lay there for some time, too sore and tired to move. Gradually, I shifted my eyes downward. I saw a muzzle. It was broad, furry, and heavily whiskered. I slowly brought my hand up to feel it. My hand, however, turned out to be a paw. It had claws and tiny little webs between the fingers. As I became able, I hoisted myself up to look at my body. I had become my namesake. I was a small, chocolate brown otter.

A sound grabbed my attention. It was a snort. I looked over to see Jesse sitting on a chair, fast asleep. I jumped up on Jesse's lap and tried to wake him, but it was no good. He was zonked. Apparently, the transformation had been as hard on him as it was on me.

"Jesse!" I said. "Jesse, ppprrrrrr... wake up!" Good. I could still speak. No dice, though. He remained fast asleep.

Well, he had worked hard, and probably been through heck. I decided to let him sleep. I had twenty four hours to make use of my body. I was going to go out and make the best of it.

Naturally, the first place I went was to the Blind Pig. It was not a long walk, even for an otter.

When I entered, I receive only the brief glances regulars always give strangers. I didn't expect them to recognize me anyway. It was fairly obvious that I was a human in full morph. Otherwise, why would an otter be walking into a bar? I made my way over to my usual stool and climbed up with only a minimum of difficulty.

"What'll it be?" Donnie signed to me. His gestures were grandiose as he did in order to be sure that I got the meaning even if I didn't know sign.

"Milk." I said. "Thanks."

Donnie turned toward the refrigerator and immediately did a double take. I think he began to suspect.

"And some fish juice, too, if you have any."

Donnie chuckled at that. He looked back at me and signed "Glass or Bowl?"

"Glass. With a straw. I may be a fullmorph, but I'm not totally uncivilized."

Donnie was eyeing me curiously, now.

"What's the matter?" I asked, at last. "Ppprrrrrrr... don't you recognize me?"

"Otter?"

"It's me!" I said proudly.

Jon, who was sitting over on the other side of the room reacted with shock. He got up and walked over to me. "Oren?" he said. "How are you feeling?"

"Great!" I replied. "Though I have the strangest craving for fish."

"We've all been so worried about you!"

"Why?"

"You've been deathly ill for three days!"

I stared at him.

"Say this again, Jon?"

Jesse told us that he was visiting you when all of the sudden you just collapsed on the kitchen floor. He's been staying with you ever since. Didn't he say anything when you finally came to?"

"No. He was out like a light."

As if on cue, Jesse burst through the door of the bar. His entrance was so sudden that he actually sent a rabbit morph scurrying in panic.

"Jesse!" I said. "What is this about me being unconscious for three days?"

"Oren, you were!" Jesse exclaimed. "You were pretty much comatose the entire time, and while you were out, you turned into this!" He motioned to my little body.

The entire bar was staring at me, now. Even Jack had stopped his incessant tinkling of the ivories.

"But, Jesse, you..." I caught myself. I didn't want to reveal that Jesse was a polymorph.

Jesse shook his head. "Oren, there is only one possible explanation. This is the result of SCABS."

That was not a good thing to hear. Sure, I had wished for SCABS to do something dramatic to me, but this... "That's impossible." I said. "I had SCABS once already. Ppprrrrrrr... A SCAB can't contract it again!"

"Then how do you explain THIS?"

I looked down at my furry little body, suddenly an object of horror as a realization hit me. "If people learn that SCABs can still contract and carry Martian Flu, there's going to be panic!"

"So don't tell anyone." The comment had come from Rydia, the normally quiet, aloof feline lady.

"Rydia's right." said Jon. "We aren't absolutely positive that it is in fact SCABS. For all we know, you had latent morphing abilities all along."

Jesse nodded.

Jon continued. "I say we get you to see Bryan or Bob. They can figure out just what's going on in that body of yours. Until then, everybody has to promise to keep this under their hats."

We looked around the bar to see nods of ascent, but there was something wrong. The Rabbit morph was missing. Jesse and I looked at each other, understanding the same thought. "I hope that guy was smarter than he looked." I said. (Author's note: It ain't you, Phill.)

Knowing it would be best to get the matter taken care of right away, Jon offered to take me to the hospital to visit the good doctors. He was on foot, but that is hardly a limitation to a whitetail deer. I clung to his back while he dashed along the city sidewalks.

::Let me know if I'm going too fast.:: he told me through his tinny vodor.

"Ppprrrrr... I'm fine!" I called back. "Just be careful when you cross the STREET!!" I thought for sure we would hit that crosstown bus.

::Relax.:: said Jon. ::I know what I'm doing.::

If you ever think about riding on the back of a whitetail deer through city traffic, take this peace of advice: don't. You'll arrive in one piece, all right, but you're sanity may be permanently affected by the harrowing experience.

Once we finally arrived at the hospital, Jon shifted back to his half-human form and put on the clothing which he kept tucked in a "saddlebag". We walked inside and asked at the front desk if Dr.'s Derksen and Stein were available. The nurse at the desk sighed and said that she was sorry, but both of the good doctors were very busy at the moment. They were both involved in a very difficult surgery requiring the foremost experts on SCABS available. There was a patient who was turning into a cyanide bug but who had developed no immunity to his own toxins.

I had no reason to be anywhere anytime soon, so I settled in for a nice, long wait. I told Jon to go home. He had a family waiting for him. Eventually, it became clear to me, sometime in the middle of the night, that neither doctor would be available any time soon. I made the decision to catch a cab and head home to bed. I hade made that decision, but there wasn't much I could do about it. How do you pay a cab driver when your wallet is in your pants and your pants are at home? I began to see the wisdom in Jon's saddlebags. Well, nothing for it but to hoof it, then.

The phrase made me chuckle as I remembered how I'd gotten here to begin with.

When I arrived at home, after several long hours of walking on all fours, I went straight to the bathtub and filled it up. I thought of how fortunate I was that I was dumb enough to leave all my doors open all the time, otherwise I wouldn't even be able to get in. Then I had remembered that Jesse was the last one to leave my apartment. He must have forgotten to lock up in his panic to find me when he awoke and found me gone. Ah, just as well. I climbed into the tub, floating on my back, and promptly went to sleep.

BANG BANG BANG

The sound of pounding on my front door awoke me from my aquatic slumber.

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM "Oren! Oren, are you in there?"

I crawled out of the bathtub.

"Oren!" BANG BANG "Oren, it's Jesse and Brian!"

I made my way to the front door and climbed up on a chair where I could reach the doorknob.

"What's going on?" I asked groggily as my two friends burst through the door.

"Oren, haven't you been watching the news?" Jesse demanded.

"I've been asleep all morning. Besides, no TV. What's up?"

"You are in deep kimshie."

"News about you leaked." said Brian. "The whole city is talking about the man who got SCABS twice. Now they're saying that no SCAB is safe. Anyone could be a carrier."

"Well, technically..."

"It's gone beyond talk." Brian continued. "There are anti-SCAB riots breaking out."

"WHAT?"

"The Humans First guys are all over. They're telling everyone that the only way to be safe is to kill off all the SCABs."

"And you can bet you're going to be at the top of the list." said Jesse."

"ME? Why ME?"

"Because you're the one confirmed case of re-infection."

"But I'm NOT confirmed!"

"As far as they're concerned, you are. Oren, listen... you are in danger. We've got to get you out of here."

I stared at them for a moment, then asked "To where?"

"Jon and Maxine have a summer cabin that you can use out in the country. You'll be safe there until this blows over."

I looked out the window at that moment. I don't know why I did, but something caught my attention. It was a column of smoke. In my mind's eye, I could see the source of the smoke... fires started by rioters. There were mobs out there, driven by hate.

Mobs which were killing SCABs.

Mobs which would soon kill me.

I grabbed a portfolio full of projects I was working on and headed out with Jesse and Brian.

I wish I could say that the drive across town was uneventful, but it wasn't. My apartment was on the south side of town. We had to travel North. That meant a drive through the heart of the city. I spent much of the drive being philosophical. "You ever wonder..." I said. "Why people are so afraid of SCABS?"

"The people or the disease?" asked Jesse.

"The disease. I mean, is it really all that bad?"

Brian who was driving, turned around and eyed me for just an instant.

"Really, I mean, is it really so bad? It gave me exactly what I wanted."

"That's a rarity."

"Is it? Look at Wanderer. He had pretty much no future as an actor until he got changed. Now all of the sudden, he's landing parts left and right because of his wolf-face. And when Dr. Bob got stuck with a single form, what did he get? He got his favorite. A horse. Jon became his favorite animal. He's a whitetail deer."

"But what about guys like Vincent and Ishmael?" asked Brian. They lost their dreams to SCABS."

"There are those who got a raw deal." I agreed. "But is it really so bad on the whole?"

I didn't get an answer. Brian and Jesse were both distracted by the fact that traffic was stopping. It was a traffic jam.

There really wasn't much that we could do except sit there in Brian's hot stuffy car until something cleared up. Hours passed, with cars slowly creeping. We moved maybe a handful of feet in all. Up ahead, two drivers began to make rude gestures at one another. It was only natural of course. As time rolled by, however, the temperature got hotter, and so did tempers. The two drivers began yelling at one another. This, again, was to be expected. What happened next, however, was not.

One of the drivers got out of his car, a tire iron in his hand. He walked quickly around to the other driver and began shouting obscenities and waving the iron. She tried to ignore him, but he wouldn't have it. He opened her unlocked car door and pulled the woman, a frail-looking mouse morph, violently out.

We had seen enough. All three of us, Brian, Jesse and I, sprang out onto the pavement. Even as the fiend began to beat the poor woman, Brian grabbed the hand with the weapon, while Jesse grabbed the other hand. Me, I bit him on the leg.

There was a lot of screaming and kicking and yelling and struggling, but I held on tight until....

AAAAGH! My eyes were on fire! I had receive a shot of pepper spray! I hadn't even seen where it had come from. I lay on the pavement, clutching my face, unable to see anything. I heard a dozen new voices joining the fray, and someone on a cellular phone calling 911. They were reporting four SCABs attacking a norm.

WHAT?

"No!" I cried, still clutching my eyes. "You don't understand! We're the good guys! We..."

I didn't say anything else. I heard a loud thump, felt an impact on my head, and fell unconscious.

When I awoke, the stinging in my eyes had stopped, but it had been replaced by a throbbing headache. "What happened?" I asked.

"We got mobbed." Brian replied. "When we tried to help that poor woman, a slew of norms came to the rescue of her assailant."

I looked up and saw Brian's face against a cold, gray ceiling. "Where are we?" I asked.

"Jail." Brian said matter-of-factly, with only a hint of frustration.

"JAIL!" I shouted. "How did we end up in jail? No way can it be legal to throw a guy into the slammer when he's asleep!"

"Calm down." said Jesse from across the cell. Phil. is on his way down here to post bail."

"Oh, man." I said, my hands in my paws. "I'm in jail. I have never been in jail. I've never even been grounded real bad!"

"It's not so bad after the first dozen times." said Jesse.

I stared at him, incredulously.

"I'm kidding!"

I glared at Jesse as I sat up straight. I took in all my surroundings. Two fellow SCABS, a toilet, and some gray steel bars. Cheery. Then, something occurred to me. I looked out the front of the cell. There was a passed out wino in the cell across from ours, and a prostitute in the next one down.

"Oren?" said Brian. "What's wrong?"

I listened carefully. I could hear the activity in the police offices not too far away.

"Oren?"

"This place is too quiet." I said.

"Is it supposed to be loud?" Jesse said.

"Yes, Jess, it is." I replied. "We were expecting world war 3 to break out here. Riots, mobs, violent crimes... what would you expect a police station to look like during all of that?"

"He's right." said Brian. "It is too quiet."

It wasn't long before Phil., or "Bunny Rabbit", as wanderer calls him, came to get us. He wasn't driving himself, of course. Lisa had brought him down.

Lisa's a reporter, in case I haven't mentioned. And she's good, too. She's always on top of what's going down, so when we piled into her car, I asked "Hey, Lisa, what do you know about these riots that are going on?"

"Riots?" she responded.

"These guys told me there were riots going on downtown."

Lisa chuckled. This bothered me. "If you want to call it that." she said. "There was ONE downtown, according to channel 2 news. What it really was was a few of the more militant human firsters trying to stir up some trouble. The police rounded them up in a few short minutes."

"What about the fire I saw?"

"There was a fire, but it wasn't violence related. It was a refugee from the Congo who didn't realize that you can't build a cooking fire on the floor of your apartment."

"Oh......"

"Home?"

"Uh unh. Take me to the hospital. I'm going to see Bryan and Bob the first chance I get. If I really did catch SCABS twice, I want to know why."

I was relieved to find that the city had NOT overreacted to a rumor about SCABS, even though I did get an awful lot of stares, even for a fullmorph. Actually, I found it comforting. It meant that instead of going bonkers, the city was waiting patiently to find out the truth about what it had heard. I, for one, wanted to give it the truth before something did happen.

I don't know exactly what time of the morning it was when I was finally roused from a restful sleep by the claw of a giant cockroach.

"Hmm? AAH!" I was too groggy to recognize him until I saw the nametag that said "Dr. Derksen". "Oh, it's you, Bryan!"

Bryan smiled gently, or came as close to smiling as he could with his beetle-oid mouthparts. "I hear you had quite an adventure today." he said.

"I got maced, bludgeoned and thrown in jail." I said, matter-of-factly.

"How did your day go?"

"I spent all day trying to save a cyanide bug from his own glands. Finally got them all removed. Those buggers just kept growing back."

I groggily stood up on my hind legs. "I need you to...."

"I know. Jesse told me all about it."

"Ppprrrrrrrrr... shoulda figured he would." Jesse is, after all, the kind of guy who would handle a friend's problems while that friend was asleep. "I'm really tired, right now, but I'll do what I can before I fall asleep." I raised my eyebrows... or what was left of them.

"I'm kidding Otter. Come on."

I spent the next hour being poked and prodded and scoped and scanned and x-rayed and tested. I think that by the time we were done, I was as exhausted as Bryan. It was some time the next day when the lab results came back from the last test. It had given both Bryan and myself a chance to get some sleep. I had passed up a hospital bed, content to curl up in a waiting room chair. Bryan, accompanied by Dr. Bob, roused me and brought me into a private room.

"I have some interesting news." said my cockroach friend. "Your otter form is the direct result of SCABS. There is no question about that."

"I thought that was obvious."

"What I mean is, you have contracted SCABS within the last month. Before that, nothing."

"Huh?"

"You were never infected with SCABs before this. In fact, from the antibodies in your blood, it seems you've never even had the Martian Flu before last week."

"Then where did this purr come from? Ppprrrrrrr......."

"I've been looking into that. I wanted to get some x-rays or something from your time after you developed your purr, but it seems you've never even been to the hospital in that time. I finally had to resort to sending Jesse home to get your hairbrush and doing a DNA print off of one of your human follicles."

"And?"

Doctor Bob held up a picture with a group of horizontal lines. I recognized it immediately. "That's a DNA print. Is it mine?"

"Your old one." said Bryan. "This is you as a human, just before turning into an otter."

Bob produced another picture. "This is your old, old DNA print, scrounged from your military medical records."

"How did you get THAT?" I asked.

Bryan patted his computer. "One call to Webmaster was all it took."

I looked at the two DNA prints. The lines matched perfectly.

"You were never mutated, Oren. From what we can figure, your purr is something you learned to do yourself."

My jaw was on the floor. Literally. (I was on all fours.) "You mean I was never a SCAB?"

"Not until just recently."

I laughed at the irony. "You mean I got a plain old flu, fooled myself into thinking I got SCABS, and started making funny noises all on my own? Ppprrrrr..."

Dr. Bob nodded and nickered, his way of laughing.

I put my paw over my face in embarrassment. I felt so stupid!

Bryan smiled (again, as much as he could) and put his claw on my shoulder as he said "Why don't we go alert the press, hmm?"

I was sitting once again at the bar, drinking a wholesome pint of milk from a paw-cup, feeling relieved that the events of the past few weeks were over. I had successfully convinced most of the public that SCABS still can't get re-infected. Jesse, Brian and I made our appearance in court concerning the assault charges pressed by the man who attacked the rat morph. It turns out he was a militant Humans-Firster who had a record as long as an anteater's tongue. The judge, who happened to be a gendermorph, by the way, took one look at his record and threw the case out. In a way I was glad I had been arrested. Had I made it out of town and successfully hidden away in the woods somewhere, I might have gone bonkers. I've never liked to run away, and looking back, I'm very glad I didn't. So wrapped up in my thoughts was I that I barely noticed Kim, Jack and Wanderer coming up to where I was sitting.

"Ahem!" Wanderer cleared his throat.

"Yes?"

"On behalf of the patrons and staff of the Blind Pig Gin Mill," said the lupine in his best British accent. "We wish to present you with this prestigious, though seldom coveted award."

Jack produced a small trophe. At the top was the hind end of a horse.

"Hassan's Horse award." I said, more in terror than in awe.

"Hassan's Horse award." Kim repeated. "Given annually to the one person who receives the best practical joke of the year."

Jack said "we feel that this year, the greatest joke of all is the one our dear friend otter played on himself."

Wanderer smiled and added "How can anyone outdo the act of convincing himself that he has SCABS? We are in awe of your prowess."

I accepted the award humbly. How else could I accept it? Crumbs. I'd have to show this thing around in here for a year. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how funny the whole thing was. I burst into laughter, and the entire bar soon followed suit. Oh, it felt good to laugh. How ironic, that this crowd could make a person so happy by humiliating him! It felt great.

The gang at the Pig are a swell bunch o' folks.

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