|This story is set in the Tales From the Blind Pig universe, in which an extraterrestrial disease called Martian
Flu has unusual effects on a significant number of its victims
-- Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome, SCABS for
short. For those victims, adaptation to their new circumstances
may not be easy, but is very possible...
Go here for more information on the setting.
Another Trophy for the Wall
by Sly Squirrel
©2002 Sly Squirrel -- all rights reserved
Outside the Pig's window a gentle rain whirled over the tattered tarmac. I sat in my usual stool -- well, it was actually a converted piece of the bartop, but no one was counting -- and drank deeply from a glass of wine. Around me were the smiling and cheery faces of my best friends, cheeks warmed by cider and gently used Tiffany fakes, smiles etched by the rousing two-step played on the old piano.
It was a night for celebration, and everyone knew it. Not only was Christmas just around the bend, but sitting beside my little roost was a prestigious piece of plastic and fake marble. A true crowning achievement: that dinky trophy was the first my school had seen in a long time.
A merry Christmas present for Jim Hart, my friends all said. And they were right, too.
It was a long, hard climb to the top, especially considering what I had to work with when I was hired onto the school. They gave me next to nothing, and I whipped the little whelps into machines. Intense training will do that to you; after a week of having one's head bashed in, one learns to deal with it. It was one of the few things that actually did put a smile on my face.
That, and winning. When that team took the Connersville trophy from the two-day ordeal, I couldn't help smiling. I was so immensely proud of them; they had earned every last bit of celebration on the bus. They went out to celebrate later; I decided to stay behind. After all, I just led them to the trophy. It was their win, and their time.
Me, well, I was happier back at the Pig, watching the rain pitter-patter on the window, listening to the good ol' boys hoop and holler at the back tables. The team insisted that I take the trophy with me -- well, they insisted that someone take it for me and drop it off at the bar.
Nice gesture, I thought to myself sullenly. They said I earned it. I didn't.
"That's a real accomplishment," Steel said, pawing the gold-painted plastic wrestler on top. "Two years of coaching, and you've already got a big win under your belt."
"Kind of." I was used to winning state championships, but this dinky little 32-team tourney would do for now. Steel was only trying to help, after all. He dropped in from time to time, made sure to wave hello to me whenever he could. Seemed a lot happier today, too; I guess when you're not being hunted down like prey you can afford to be a little happy-go-lucky.
At least he had something to be thankful for.
Phil wasn't around -- he had more important business to attend to, wherewith him going to bat for the SCABS population and all -- but Steel filled that void just fine. He was a nice drinking partner, especially with all his cheery charms. At least he tried to make me happy.
"How many teams participated? Thirty-two?"
"10, in the two-A class." I said it with a tinge of disgust; he gave me a strange look.
"But all teams competed in the same individual brackets."
He smiled. "Well, then you can be proud of it! From a squirrel that once teetered on the edge of insanity, you became quite the coach. And in two years!"
It was all I could do to nod and sip at my drink. The sip turned into a gulp, and before I knew it the tiny shot of vodka was past my gums and burning in my stomach. Steel frowned at that, and pointed his cup towards me. "You know, you really should take some pride in this. Most SCABS faced with your difficulties would just give up and look for another life."
"I didn't get much choice."
"You teach. And coach." Outside a chilly, rain-soaked wind smacked the window. My tail twitched slowly while the rain's patter turned into a drumroll of droplets.
"Guess that means I'm doing well."
"Damn right, you're doing well! What do you say, boys?" The bar erupted in a triumphant cheer, raised their glasses up on high.
"Thanks for the drink," I said as I scampered down from the bar, "It was quite nice. I think I'm going to head out."
Steel reached out to stop me. "You've only been here five minutes! Besides that, you're the reason for the party!" The crowd roared again, and I had to turn away.
"Guess I don't feel like celebrating much." A sick feeling rattled the pit of my stomach; the cheers tailed off to a near-standstill. The urge to wail like a little baby racked my body, and it took a Herculean effort to hold it down.
"What about the trophy?"
"Dunno. Throw it away."
Steel's voice became firm. "Jim, you're not going to go and do something stupid --"
"I'll be fine! The rain's getting pretty heavy; I just feel like romping. You know, burn off a little energy."
"The fresh air will do me good."
"Whatever. Just don't make me check on you." His eyes glowed with a passion I never knew existed, like someone actually cared about my welfare...
"Merry Christmas, Steel." Before he could protest I pushed the door open and scampered out into the rain. The gentle, heartwarming noises that filled that tiny bar suddenly faded from existence, and I suddenly found myself very, very alone. In the rain. In the humid, warm, sweltering rain.
Okay, so I wasn't too hot on romping. I never had been. It was a good way to get away from Steel and the gang, though. All I really wanted was to be alone. Alone, and left to my own thoughts.
That's all I really deserved, at that time.
My kids did a great job at the Connersville invitational. Wrestlers stepped up from the woodwork and really wowed me. Sophomores who had never cut weight before dropped pounds to fill holes. A select few wrestlers even ignored all their injuries to come out on top.
Five champions out of fourteen slots. I really didn't deserve such a hardworking bunch, and I knew it.
A sudden gust of wind drenched my fur right down to the skin. It was a trifle of a thing; no one really needed to worry about the fact that I was insanely jealous of each of those kids. SCABs just needed to adjust to their lifestyle on their own.
Three years. It's been three years since I woke up as a squirrel. Any second now I'm expecting to blink back into my old human form, never skipping a beat. It just wasn't fair; why did everyone else come out with decent bodies, and I ended up stuck in here...
Why couldn't I be like Phil or Jubatus or any of the other great guys in that bar? They made something of themselves. Jube is filthy rich. Phil's campaigning for fair treatment in the colonies. What do I do? I teach kids a sport I'm unable to participate in for myself.
I missed it. Crazy as it sounds, I missed everything about it. Cutting so much weight that I could barely move. Crawling out of the practice room. Suffering through long days in a stuffy gym, wearing sweaty clothes. I missed every last detail!
Yeah, Phil and Jube went about making a name for themselves. Me, well I kept on spinning my wheels. I teach kids how to wrestle, and make money as an algebra teacher. Where the bunny and the cheetah had personal achievement to call their home, I had 14 weight classes and 14 kids to fill them with.
And no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't participate!
The rain went from a drizzle to a hard squall; bombs of rain splattered on my forehead painfully. It's Christmas time, and I have nothing to call my own. Nothing! I'm teaching kids how do to the same things that I could only wish to do.
It wasn't for lack of trying. Every time I thought I was getting somewhere, I'd try to jump into the action only to fail. Then the kids would laugh, and I'd have just another reminder of how my life had gone to hell in a handbasket.
What a Christmas present!
I'm lucky, I keep reminding myself of that. I'm still doing what I love to do. I'm living the same life I lived pre-Martian Flu. Why couldn't I enjoy it?
Swearing, I pounded the asphalt with my paw. I couldn't even fit into a decent pair of wrestling shoes, for God's sake! Who was I trying to kid? My real life had been hollowed out by SCABS, and I'd never get it back.
"Jim!" I whipped around to find a worried face peeking from the Pig's door. Steel had something in his hands, just behind the door jamb. "Something's here for you." Before I could refuse he disappeared back into the Pig, leaving me obligated to come in and see what the fuss was all about.
"We don't know where it came from," he said honestly, "all we know is that it's addressed to you." Under his paw was a box wrapped in red foil and tied with a bow. Very ornately done; probably a professional job.
"Look, I don't know who got this for me, but I'm not in the mood for presents --" No one moved. "Who got this for me?"
"So you really don't know who got this for me."
I mumbled something about lying, and scampered up onto the bar. The present sat in the middle of the bar, where everyone could see me open it. Not that I was too comfortable with the idea; when I could, I preferred taking care of things in private.
The crowd waited patiently as I tore away the paper. The pieces started to fit together slowly: the shoebox, the lack of a sizing diagram, the wrestling logo on the package...
And when I pulled off the lid I nearly fainted from surprise. Gables. Sitting right in front of me was a pair of honest-to-God Gables! I rubbed my eyes and looked again; Dan Gable's legendary signature still streaked across the pair of tiny shoes.
I didn't know slipping on a pair of shoes could be so gratifying. If SCABS hadn't turned me into a squirrel, I probably would never have known.
Attached to that squirrel-sized pair of shoes was a tiny note; I pulled it from the lace and read it to myself. "You have accomplished more than most any man, and what you can't accomplish your unending drive makes up for." No signature.
"Someone thinks mighty highly of you," Steel said candidly, "And they're not the only one."
He grinned. "Sometimes it's better just not to ask. Merry Christmas, Jim Hart." A smile formed on my face for the first time in a long time; with that grin I went about lacing the tiny shoes, thinking back to matches and victories long gone. I couldn't go back -- not anymore -- but I could damn well pass it on to every kid I taught. I couldn't jump onto the mat to show them myself, but maybe if I just showed my excitement and spoke candidly they'd take a bit of the fire away with them.
Donnie brought the trophy over to where I was now standing, and I hugged it tightly amongst cheers from the crowd. The piano broke into a dance tune, and before I knew it I was even dancing, jumping around while telling stories about my prime.
I may not be doing anything new or exciting, but I had someone to be happy for. Fourteen someones, in fact.