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A Christmas Story
by Captain Webster
Captain Webster -- all rights reserved
 

The air was bitterly cold. Snow fell fitfully through the rapidly darkening December night. People hurried home from last minute shopping, or rushed off to parties. People wrapped in their thick coats for warmth. Of course some of those coats were store bought...and some of them were natural. Such was the reality in this small city, in this Christmas season. SCABS had twisted many people into new, and sometimes frightening shapes. Some adapted...some didn't. Many died, from the disease, from violence, or from their own hand. He knew what he would die from. He was tired, weak, and so cold. SCABS had done little to protect him from the vicious cold. Oh he had his fur, a short fine pelt of grey on a lean-almost to the point of emaciation-body.

"A freakin' Greyhound!" he thought bitterly. "I couldn't be a Saint Bernard or some other big hairy dog, who could survive this kind of cold. No I had to be a Greyhound."

Fat salty tears ran down the young man's cheeks. It just wasn't fair. When he ran away from home he figured to get himself a good job in the City. He was bright, good looking, and a willing worker. He was destined for more than just the farm where he grew up. Yeah...he was destined to freeze to death because he got caught by SCABS.

A week after arriving in the City he was running low on money, but had a job interview lined up. A furniture store needed a strong delivery man. If he did well during the Holiday rush, he could probably work that into a full time position. He was excited as he went to bed, in his small-dingy-apartment that night. He thought his head felt a bit hot, and his feet a little colder than they should. It was his last thought as a "normal".

He woke up three weeks later in a hospital. He was a Scab. A greyhound/man blend. Thin and with a light coat of fur. They talked to him at the hospital about all the "charity" hostels and agencies in the City to help "his kind". His kind. Not a man...not any more. When he got back to his apartment he found that the landlord had changed the lock and rented it out to someone else. His clothes had been left on the curb and disappeared into the City in the hands of the faceless masses. The unseen...the nameless...the not normals...people like him-now. Animals, true animals, received more recognition, more sympathy and consideration than did the victims of SCABS.

His metabolism had increased drastically. His thin, nervous body demanded food on a much more frequent schedule. He found himself jumping at small noises...things he wouldn't have noticed before. He had a little money when he got sick. With the hospitals assurance he was allowed to access him meager bank account. No "normal" apartment building would take him, and he refused to seek shelter at one of the hospices within the City. He had his pride after all. Pride was about all he had left though. He had managed to get a shabby coat in a second hand store. He used this as a blanket, at night, as he huddled in layers of cardboard and discarded newspapers, in stinking back alleys. Yeah...his pride, right.

He went through his dwindling supply of funds rapidly. When you have to eat at fast food joints and greasy spoons your money goes fast. Three nights before he had heard a disturbance at the far end of the alley. A gang of punks hassling another SCAB who had camped out near the vent from the subway. The warm air made for nice sleeping, but exposed you to unwanted attention. He had startled when he was awoken out of his fitful sleep by the shouts of hatred and moans of pain. That was when they saw him.

"Hey guys look! It's another one of those filthy freaks!! Let's get 'em!!"

Several had broken off from the main group and started in his direction. Five or six remaining behind to kick the weakening SCAB into unconsciousness. Terrified beyond his ability to reason he had ran...and ran...and ran. His coat and the last of his money forgotten behind him. It was the one advantage this form had. He was fast! Real fast! He had gotten away, but ultimately it made little difference. Starvation and the cold would take him before morning. He remembered his parents and their warm and loving farm home. He remembered Christmas Goose...the skin crackling and brown. Mounds of mashed potatoes, and thick hot gravy. He remembered the cranberry sauce, made from fresh cranberries. The pumpkin and mincemeat pies with home churned ice cream. The corn, the carrots and lima beans.

The tears came faster now, as did the snow. A thick white blanket muffling all that was dirty and ugly about the City...about life. Looking up through the thickening blizzard he saw a single star twinkling, and, as he sank to the icy sidewalk-shivering uncontrollably-he remembered the Christmas Story. The one his Mother always told at this time of year. How the Christ Child's parents could find no room at the Inn, and the light of the world had to be born in a manger, with the animals as witnesses. Well he was an animal now...at least as much as he was a man.

"I'm so-so-sorry M-M-M-Mama." he stammered through chattering teeth "I gu-guess I sh-sh-should have list-listened. G-G-God forgive m-me f-f-for what I d-d-did t-to you."

He knew his leaving had broken his Mother's heart. She had dreamed of his taking over the farm and continuing the legacy started by her Father, his Grandfather. He had destroyed those dreams, along with himself, when he ran away from his family and their love.

He tried to scrabble to his feet-paws-but digitigrade feet were not meant to get sideways purchase on ice slippery concrete. The snow made a gentle blanket over him, and he began to get very sleepy...so very tired. He thought he would just close his eyes for a moment and sleep.

"Daniel?" the voice was softly insistent. "Daniel? Are you awake? You cannot sleep here Daniel. Come with me."

His eyes fluttered open and he saw a man bending over him. He was a large man, big and blocky. He wore gold rimmed glasses over the bluest eyes Daniel had ever seen. His smile was kindly and dimples showed in his cheeks. He wore a dark colored jacket and pants. He held a silver cane in his left hand.

"Who-who are you?" Daniel asked bewildered. The snow had seemed to stop and it was quiet and warm.

"A friend Dan. Now you must come with me. You need food and shelter from the storm. I know a place where you will be welcome. Your parents are worried about you and you can call them from the place I will take you. They still love you Dan. Love doesn't end because of our form. It is not dependent on our looks, or our talents, or our wealth or any material thing. Love is forever. Come with me Dan."

Reaching up with his cold paw Dan took the mans hand and was lifted to his feet. The man led him through a City that was coldly silent. The lights seemingly frozen in the cold air. No noise penetrated the unnatural silence, except for the tap of the mans cane as he walked, and the rough sound of Dan's breathing.

"Why is it so silent?" Dan asked his mysterious guide. "Why do the lights shine so steadily and seem not to twinkle? Where is everyone?!!?"

Dan was starting to get frustrated at the lack of answers to his inquiries. He stared at the big mans back as he limped ahead of Dan. Who was this man, and why should he care what happened to a SCAB on Christmas Eve?

"It's not far now Dan." the sound of the man's voice, coming so unexpectedly as it did, startled Dan as much as if a siren had gone off next to him. Dan began to feel the cold seeping in from the night air, and he noticed a few flakes floating down in lazy spirals.

As they turned the corner Dan could see a bar ahead of them, just across the street.

"The Blind Pig Gin Mill." Dan read wonderingly. Turning to his guide Dan asked, "What are we doing here? I don't understand!"

"Trust me Dan. All will be well. The man dug in his pocket and, as he did, Dan saw an odd device in his left breast pocket of his shirt. A tube running from the top of it disappeared into the collar of his shirt. "Here Dan, this should see you through until your parents can get here."

Dan looked down and saw a wad of bills in the mans hand. "But-but why? How do you know me? Why do you care?"

"We're all family Dan. At Christmas time family needs to pull together and give each other the love and support we need. Now you had better hurry. The storm won't wait on your questions any longer."

As the stranger said these words the storm returned with a vengeance. The wind howled and the snow slashed at Dan. Running he reached the door and wrenched it open. Blessed heat and light poured over him. Looking back over his shoulder for his mysterious benefactor, Dan could find no sign of him. In the distance a church's bells sounded the midnight hour...it was Christmas.

"Close the door!" someone yelled at Dan. Stepping into the room Dan leaned his weight against the frame and the door closed against the gale force winds that howled outside.

Looking around for the first time, Dan caught his breath. The bartender was a huge man...with the head of a bull. A donkey headed man played the piano, a group of wolves held counsel at a table in the back. A rabbit sat talking to a plushy porcupine. The most beautiful woman Dan had ever seen walked up to him.

"Hi." the woman said. "I'm Edwina. Welcome to The Blind Pig. How can we serve you"

Dan started to feint. The shock of the evening, his long fast, and the biter cold taking their toll on him at last. As he started to slip into unconsciousness Dan saw an Otter/man run up to catch him, assisted by a Dalmatian/man.

Loving hands nursed Dan back to health. His parents were called by one of the patrons who happened to be a Doctor. His parents were so relieved to learn that their boy was alive that they did not care what he looked like. On the day that Dan was to return to the farm, he had his parents return to that bright haven that had saved his life that night. He asked everyone about the man with the cane. No one would admit to knowing exactly who he was, but Dan suspected that they were concealing something from him.

Dan lived a long and healthy life on the family farm. Eventually he married a wonderful and loving woman, who didn't care that her husband was a bit hairier than normal, or that he had a cold black nose. And every Christmas after that Dan returned to the City to distribute food baskets, and blankets to those who were lost and alone in the dark. Dan had learned the lesson, the stranger taught, very well. Love...is the greatest gift of all.

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