TBP: Midnight, With Stars
by Phil Geusz
The Pig was far more crowded than usual, of course. Crowded and busy and a happy riot of scent and sound. Activity swirled all around me- Jack was ragtiming away like the fool he wasn't, while the Lupine boys tried to howl in time to the Joplinesque beat. Card games abounded- at the nearest table Copernicus was quietly teaching probablility theory to Drs. Coe, Derksen, and Stein, using poker hands as examples and charging his fee in matches. The Sleepers had chosen to spend the evening at home as a family, but virtually everyone else in the world that I could count as a friend was at the Pig.
Where else would a SCAB spend New Years Eve?
The riot of predator scent was far more intense than usual, and the stress was telling on me. I'm afraid I jumped quite a bit when Splendor came up behind me and laid a hand on my shoulder. "Glad you came?" she asked.
"You shouldn't sneak up on me like that," I replied, a bit crossly. I WAS quite nervous after all. "It's not nice."
She scratched my ears a bit by way of apology, and I calmed almost immediately. Splendor has always had that effect on me, though I've never quite understood why. You'd think a snake would scare me as much as, say, a fox. But she doesn't. So I relented a bit. "Yes, I'm glad you made me come along. I do need to get out more."
Still scratching, she grinned. "So next time don't make me get nasty."
I winced. She had reminded me that I was technically her ward since she had taken over as my case worker. In the eyes of the government, Splendor was responsible for my well-being and had the legal authority to act as my guardian. And, she had explained, she REALLY wanted me to leave the shelter hot line to someone else for the evening and get out...
I hadn't had much choice. She actually would have leashed me and dragged me- you don't know Splendor if you doubt that for a minute. But I had enjoyed seeing everyone, and listening to Jack play. The lupine howl along I could have lived without, but what the heck. Live and let live is my rule. It comes naturally to a rabbit...
It wasn't until the head of the West Street Shelter started putting the silly pointy party hat on my head that I realized how late it was. I let her get it just so (resistance is futile) and begin passing them out to others before slipping away. My life has few rituals, few ceremonies, but New Years Eve is home to one of them.
I always greet the New Year under the silent stars. Alone.
It was cold outside, but rabbit fur is very warm. I sat in the snow just outside the door and contemplated. Last year I had spent these same moments on my apartment balcony, thinking about how alone and isolated lapiform SCABs had made me, and worrying about how very much a rabbit I had become. The year before, January First had found me in a lapine colony hutch, huddling almost mindlessly against the warmest wall and hoping against hope that the wheels of justice would turn my way and set me free before I assimilated completely. At that point, I had lost most of my ability to talk, and much of my rational mind. Still, even in that state on New Years Eve at midnight I had asked the universe some pointed questions, and wondered who and what I was.
This night the theme was the same, though I expected no more insight. Why had SCABS come to Earth anyway? What was it's purpose in the greater scheme of things? Why was there so much suffering? What was the point of it all?
Most of all, I wondered about myself and my place in the world. What was "human"? The lines had been getting blurry of late. What does being "human" mean? Can you be more or less "human", or is it an absolute?
I thought about my instincts, and my sometimes-bizarre behavior. Was I still "human"? Or had I become an animal? Or something in between? Who was I?
The riddles never change, really. Pharaohs and great kings, slaves and peasants, wise men and fools. All wonder the same things, even those without the whiskers and cute tail. And every year under the cold stars I pondered the same eternal mysteries again myself. Why did I exist? What was my part in the great plan? Why must there be so much pain? Is there a reason for all this? Three years ago, a full human had contemplated, not something with white fur and paws and big blue eyes. I was so much different then, so much more assertive and outgoing and, for lack of a better word, normal. Was I still the same person?
I sighed, my breath a brief puff of greyness in the night. What was the point of all this? Could such an absurd thing as this reality come to pass for no reason at all? Why had I become a rabbit, of all things? Why me?
As always, the stars were silent and cold. Inscrutable.
The countdown began inside. "10! 9! 8!..." I braced myself, hunkering down....
...and at precisely midnight the world exploded with noisemakers and firecrackers and horns honking and shouts of joy- the whole spectrum of happy sound. Being ready for it, I was not too bothered. Expected noises are not nearly so bad for rabbits as the sudden ones.
I would have to get back inside before being missed- no need to get anyone worried about me. But I wasn't done yet. Lifetimes have been spent in contemplation of the kinds of questions I was asking, lifetimes spent without getting any closer to answers. Most shrugged the mysteries off and got on with life, or came to accept answers that I found hopelessly incomplete, utterly limited, without real substance. Yet here I was, long past adolescence, still deeply needing to understand...
A shadow stirred under a nearby bush. Startled, I tensed and stamped...
Whereupon the shadow tensed too. I relaxed- it wasn't a predator. Just another bunny that had taken cover from the New Years cacophony. My relaxation acted as a signal of safety, and the wild rabbit hopped out onto the little lawn and began to scratch away the snow. He was hungry, and seeking food. On a whim, I helped him dig away the white stuff.
The grass was dry and tasteless looking, but the wild bunny fed eagerly in the big scrapes I made for him. He tore and chewed at a simply amazing rate, packing away the unappetizing stuff as quickly as possible. He was merely taking on fuel, not enjoying his food. Then, without even looking back, he hopped away to his den. The stranger had shown no gratitude at all. Somewhat miffed, I nibbled at a bit of long-dead clover myself. It was as bad as it looked, though, capable of sustaining life perhaps but not of giving any pleasure...
Of all the beings on the planet, of course, I should have known better than to expect more from a wild lapine. No one was home there. His eyes had been empty and blank, his actions purely instinct driven, his existence an unending blankness of raw unreasoned emotions. Never could the bunny plan a course of action, never could he create something new, never could he know the beauty of a moment of revelation. Never could he ask questions about why he was there. In short, he was not human.
Not like me. Not like me at all...
I might smell like a rabbit, and even look and eat and have reactions like one. But in the important things, I realized, a vast gulf separated me from the real bunnies. And not for all the carrots in the world would I trade places with them.
Sure it's hard not having the answers. And it's tough not knowing what is right and proper in the Grand Scheme of things. We scurry about in some ways as blindly as animals ourselves. But there is a difference, a big one, between what is "human" and what is not. Even for us SCABs. Or maybe especially for us. And that night, under the cold sky, I finally, irrevocably knew I was human...
Animals don't ask questions. But humans do...
I looked up at the stars one last time in gratitude for my lesson, my experiences, my life. They twinkled on, uncaring in the cold sky, unmoved at the plight of Man and his mighty works alike. Ultimately remote, they burned in their orbits unheeding of my gratitude, unquestioning of their role in the great adventure of life.
Only Humans ask the stars questions. Humans like me.
A tear rolled down my cheek. This surprised me- I'd thought I had lost the ability to cry...
It was about then that "Wiley" opened the front door and sniffed the air. Clearly he was looking for someone. Probably me. "Right here, Doug!" I called, using his human name. "I'll be there in just a minute."
"Just checking on you," the full-morph coyote's vodor clicked. "I saw you sneak out, and wanted to make sure you're OK."
"Thanks!" I said, warmed by the human concern. "I'm fine, brother."
The coyote cocked his head oddly, and withdrew. Oh well, everyone thought I was crazy anyway...
I sighed again, making another little puff of fog. It was time to go face the real world, maybe get into a poker game myself and think up a prank or a pun, or perhaps just strike up a conversation. To enjoy being human, live my life as best I knew how in the company of the other humans struggling alongside me. To make do as best I could with what I have and what I know, and enjoy happiness where it was to be found. To show gratitude and kindness and love, and plot against the worst Nature could throw at me.
To be a human.
The stars would still be there next year. And so would the mysteries...
Copyright 1998 by Phil Geusz. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.
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