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The Man Who Knew Himself
by Mark Van Sciver
Mark Van Sciver -- all rights reserved
 

About the only time I ever think of Donnie as being handicapped is when he's forced to bring out his keypad and type a message.

I remember watching Stephen Hawking's film on the "A Short History of Time" and I remember reading that every bit of dialogue recorded in that flat voice simulator was typed in by Hawking -- one painful keystroke at a time. Donnie generally avoids using the electronic voice box like the plague, contenting himself on making things known with a look or gesture. It's just too much trouble for him. You'd be surprised how little a person really needs to talk to make themselves understood.

Donnie spends his days anticipating. It's probably what makes him a good bartender. When he arrives every day, he has already written out any set of instructions or orders he has to make. The Martian flu that robbed him or his wife, home, and most of his family, also took his human vocal chords. What it gave him in return was the head, neck and shoulders a form that paleontologists have identified with that of the now-extinct breed of wild cattle, called Aurochs.

Today Donnie's problems are in the form of stopped up plumbing. Signs on the rest room doors say "closed." And if it's one thing a bar that serves beer doesn't need, it's closed recycling chambers. Donnie's got a plumber in, a medium sized man in his early forties, black-rimmed glasses and thinned and slightly slicked back hair. Donnie hands him a notepad, which the man reads. He nods at Donnie, drops his tool box on the floor and gets under the sink. Donnie's looking over at him like he can see dollar signs flashing by with every passing minute.

In some ways, Martian flu -- and the subsequent SCABS manifestation -- has been a boon to biology and paleontology as much as it has caused nightmare among creationists. Bryan Derksen -- excuse me, "DR." Bryan Derksen -- has been calling SCABS a manifestation of harmonic racial and genetic heritage. After I said, "Duh..." Bryan told me to imagine that every human being as being a vessel holding a mixture of every genetic combination of life that ever existed on earth.

About this time, Bryan picks up a bowl of pretzels and dumps it on the bar. "That you," he says, pointing at me.

"Gee, why drag tupperware down to his level?" said Lisa Underwood, the norm reporter who hangs out here, snidely.

"Shut up!" I said.

"Drop dead."

"Loser!"

"Scribbler!"

"Lois Lane!"

"Weiner!"

"Geraldo!"

"Hey watch it!"

Jim Chandler walks over to see what the commotion is. "Can't you two ever stop fighting, your worse than kids." He puts his arms around both our shoulders and than pats us on the cheeks and says, "See you children later."

Bryan, who has lost control of the conversation, steers us back to the bowl. "You see, this bowl is you -- your life -- you are the genetic sum of all life that has proceeded you. Not just human life, but life itself."

As he warms to the subject, he picks up a pretzel, "This is your human ancestry gene," he says as he tosses it into the bowl. Picking up another, "But this gene also represents a gene that somewhere in the distant past broke off from our common ancestor and developed into a fish, or a bird, or an insect, or a reptile." With each species, Bryan throws another pretzel in the bowl.

"So within each of us is the genetic seed of all the species past and present that have ever lived upon the earth," Bryan says as he bites my bird gene.

"But wait a minute," Mike Prischelli, one of our norm regulars, says. "Your saying these genes go way back in our planet's history, why all the modern animals?"

Bryan smugly waves about the room. "In this relatively small space and few people, I can point out six out of the 22 people here right now with SCABS manifestations that represent species or genus that are commonly extinct."

He points to Donnie. "The last known Auroch -- the ancestor of modern cattle -- was killed in Poland in the 16th century."

He points to Copernicus, currently in his Deinonychus-raptor form. "It's been more than 65 million years since that form walked the earth -- at least it was until Martian Flu."

"But what about his lizard form?" I asked. "That's not a dinosaur form, it came out of his imagination."

"Did it?" Bryan says with a smile. "Science has found and identified less that 3 percent of all species of ancient life. Coops, in his lizard form, merely represents a species as yet undiscovered or unknown."

"But what about centaurs?" asked Peggy down at the end of the bar. "You're not going to tell me that there's an unknown species of centaurs running around."

"Of course not," Bryan says. "But let's not confuse a equua-morph with a mythological being. What are commonly called centaurs, fauns, satyrs, or -- pardon me, Donnie -- a minotaur, are really partial animal morphs of common stock ancestry. In other words, just because I have goat's feet, don't mean I play panpipes, right?"

Bryan still hasn't convinced the bar, but Lisa, after a few moments, says, "So what you're saying is that technically everyone could be a polymorph because we all have the same number of pretzels in our bowl?"

"No, not quite, imagine SCABS as a key. It fits one specific lock in a person's body. For the vast majority of humanity, the virus is a key that doesn't fit their individual lock. For others -- like Donnie, or Jason, or Kyle -- the door only partially opens and then sticks -- they have no control. Still others, like our lovely Rydia, have total access to their form or genus. Or Eddie, err, Edwina, over there -- gender morphing is the easiest to explain -- since we all start out as females in the womb. Changing gender is a whole lot easier for a body to do than change species, yet Martian flu has proved it can be done."

"But what about polymorphs?" Jason, the hippomorph, asked.

"Being a polymorphs is like having a skeleton key to your gene locker, and the conscious ability to pick and choose, open and close, give and take what you will from it."

Bryan continued, "I have a friend -- a damn good biologist -- who happens to believe in creation science. SCABS has been a sore trial for his faith since it goes against everything he believes about a world unchanged since creation. He and his buddies are trying to come to grips with it now. I read one of his tracts recently which said that this is not the first outbreak of Martian flu, but the second at least since this now proves that dinosaurs and men walked the earth together in the early biblical day."

"Hell, maybe he's right! Centaurs, satyrs, and minotaurs in ancient Greece. Half the Egyptian pantheon was human-animal hybrids -- go figure. Almost every ancient culture has some anthropomorphic beings in their background. Maybe this isn't the first case of Martian flu."

"So why do some SCABS take on the forms that they do?" as Donnie's daughter, Ellen, softly.

"Who knows?" Bryan replied. "When I figure that one out it will be in my acceptance speech in Oslo when I pick up my Nobel Prize. Look at me, I'm a polymorph -- not as good as some, but no slouch. Yet despite my ability to assume nearly any shape or form I want, for some reason I drawn toward insect shapes. Don't ask me why, they just seem to come easier, and feel more natural to me than other species."

I asked Bryan if he thought they'd ever cure SCABS. He rubbed his chin, and eat another one of my pretzel genes (I was beginning to get upset for some reason).

"Cure ... no," he finally said. You could almost see the faces of some bar patrons drop. "No, I don't think we'll ever cure SCABS, but I think we'll learn to control it. Maybe reduce the ill effects -- find the key that will allow Donnie or Jason or Kyle or anyone of you to control SCABS rather than let it control you. But it won't happen today or tomorrow. But it will happen."

A loud bang from in back of the bar broke up the atmosphere. "Scabs-schmabs," a voice muttered. Standing up next to Donnie was a man dressed in a pair of overalls. In his hand was a pipe wrench and a goose neck from the sink in back of the bar.

"Youse guys are worried about the wrong things. Life is short, get on wid it. Name's Storfe -- Barney Storfe. Just moved here from Jersey. I'm a normal sort of a guy, and I'm here to tell you that ... Geeze I never saw a bigger group of sourpusses my whole life! SCABS and norms -- norms and SCABS ... all of you walkin' around pissin' and moanin' about life and how tough it is and how nobody understands. Jesuschristonacrutch! Let it go!"

We all sat there, mouths open, when Wanderer indignantly said, "What do you know about it? It's tough having to deal with SCABS."

It was about then I noticed that Barney's coveralls had a number of slits cut into it at chest level. As Wanderer continued to point out that Barney couldn't possibly know what we went through, I saw a bulge forming at one of the slits. Then a small snake-like protuberance slid out and down the hole in the goose neck. I think I was the only one who noticed. With my mouth open, I saw another snake come out of another slit and then another. From my vantage point on the corner, I could see the snakes picking about the floor or the man's toolbox.

Suddenly the clogged sink in back of the bar burped and Lisa screamed (I did, too) when a snake with a wig popped out of the water.

"I told you it was a hairball, Donnie," Barney said nonchalantly.

They weren't snakes, they were tentacles. Barney was molluskmorph or an octamorph. I just wasn't thinking clearly at this point, but he was clearly one of us.

"What's going on?" several people demanded.

Lisa jumped up, her eyes flaring. "You're a SCABS, too. Where do you get off acting so high and mighty?"

"Your wrong, Miss. I'm not a SCAB."

"You may be a norm," he said point at Mike Prischelli.

"And you may be a SCAB," he said, choosing Stan at random.

"But I'm neither. I'm just me. And until SCABS and norms stop thinking of themselves as scabs and norms nothing is going to change. When I get a call from someone with a stopped toilet, they don't care what I am as long as I fix their commode. I had one of them human first people call me a few months back. He was hammering a nail in the wall and hit a pipe. He calls and asks if I can come over. Then before I could answer, he wants to know if I'm norm or scab.

I says, ‘Listen pal, I'm a plumber. If that ain't good enough, the phone book's full of my competitors.' Then I hang up. You know he, called back and asked me to come. He discovered he didn't give a rat's ass how many arms I had if I could stop the water from ruining his house. He may never call me again, he may still call me names or whatever. But every time he goes past that wall, he can't help but admit that no matter what else I was, I was a damn good plumber."

Donnie takes him by the arm and gestures toward the rest rooms. Barney nods as they go, "I'm telling you Donnie, ya gotta make them felines show hocking hairballs in the commode ... ."

I notice several feline morphs in the bar are looking nervous, including, surprisingly, Rydia ...

My clothes are feeling funny -- almost baggy. I turn to say something to Lisa and I notice she looks different, too. I can't put my finger on it. Then it hits me -- YOUNGER. That damned Chandler, he's chronomorphed Lisa and me. The process is speeding up and within minutes, Lisa and I are a couple of 10 year olds. Lisa's about to spit nails, but it's hard to work up a real good rage when you look like you've been playing dress up in mommy and daddy's closet.

"Give up, Lisa," I squeaked. "We've been had. With any luck, it will wear off in a few hours."

While I'm calling us a cab, she's ranting about what she's going to do to Chandler when she gets a hold of him. All the time she's hopping up and down.

"What's the matter with you," I say, grabbing her arm while the rest of the patrons are laughing at us.

"I'VE GOT AN ADULT SIZE DRINK SITTING IN MY 10-YEAR-OLD BLADDER!" she hisses at me. "And the bathroom's broken!"

"Well I guess that will teach us both to act more our age next time. My place is closer, can you hold it till then?"

"I guess I'm going to have to, won't I?"

I hitch up my pants and head for the door, looking back once more as Bryan continues to eat pretzels from my gene pool. Between thoughts of revenge to come, extinct species and a plumber who know himself a whole lot better than most of us no ourselves, it's been just another day at the Blind Pig.

... I wonder if the taxi will give me child's fare..?

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