|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. This is the story which kicked off the whole thing...
Go here for more information on the setting.
Tails of the Blind Pig
by Mark Van Sciver
©1996 Mark Van Sciver -- all rights reserved
I'm sitting tonight in my favorite bar, on my favorite stool, watching my favorite people do what my favorite people do in a place like this. Me, I'm writing pithy little notes in this pocket journal I keep, hoping against hope for the day when the "Great American Novel" bursts forth from my pen to enlighten this dark world, but so far, no luck and no novel. Just stories, like this one, that I'm writing down.
If my life were a movie and I was directing, my story would open with a black screen fading to a city street wet from a recent rain. The camera angle would fall from an overhead shot to street level as your point of view moved up the street, you hear a song playing softly in the background, a blues tune from days gone by...
It was down in old Joe's barroom
On the corner by the square
The drinks were served as usual
And the usual crowd was there.
Your focus would come to the door of our bar. It would open and the music would swell louder as you entered...
Let her go, let her go, God bless her
Wherever she may be
She can ramble this wide world over
And never find another man like me.
The place would be filled with smoke and the loud noises of people talking. The bar would be wood -- dark mahogany -- the floors, littered with sawdust and crushed cigarettes. The bartender would be a heavy-set middle-aged mug with a half-chewed stogie in his mouth and he'd be serving whiskey likker in shot glasses to hard muscled men and tough dames with hearts of gold...
Now on my left stood big Joe McKennedy
And his eyes were bloodshot red
And he looked at the gang around him
And these were the very words he said:
"I went down to the St. James Infirmary
"I saw my baby there
"She was stretched out on a long white table
"So cold, so pale and fair."
Yeah, that's how I do it if it were a movie but it's not. Reality is a little different. My bar is in a city and it has a usual crowd. It's even on a corner. But it's not Joe's or Mike's anything cool like that, it's known far and wide in this city as a "specialty" bar. It's called The Blind Pig Gin Mill. We meet here a lot, my friends and I. I've been coming here for years, three-four times a week for a few hours.
CNN is running a special. It's the twentieth anniversary of the Martian epidemic. Twenty years! Hard to believe that only twenty years have passed since NASA claimed to have found evidence of life on ancient Mars. That announcement started the mini "space boom." Mars and back by 2001. That's what they promised and that's what they delivered, all right. An unmanned probe went to Mars and found the definitive answer of "Are we alone out here?" Well, we got an answer to that one, didn't we? They sure brought back definitive proof all right, it's a shame they didn't know until it was too late about what else came back.
Who would have thought that one microbe could mutate that fast and cause that much change, and so quickly? Of course, most people only developed Martian flu. That was bad enough -- six percent of the U.S. population dead and about the same in most other developed countries. However, the death toll was much higher in the Third World, as high as thirty percent in some African countries.
Then, as the worst of the flu passed, people began to change. Not many, but enough. Like out of some cheap movie, some people began to take on characteristics of varying animals, birds, insects, reptiles, you name it. Some became the total animal; some just took on part of it. Some people could control their changes, some couldn't.
Some people changed genders. Some became taller, some shorter. Some became younger, and some got older. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the changes. It took some big doctor brain in the CDC to find the bug and identify it.
Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome -- SCABS. That's what he called the disease and now that's what the normals call us. We're SCABS. Changelings in a changed world. I met Dr. Bob Stein and we became friends a few years ago when he moved to the city and started coming to the bar. I asked why he chose such a rotten name for what's happened to us, but he just gave one of those patented scientist "I dunno" shrugs and ordered another beer.
I guess there's no telling with the scientific types. Of course, Dr. Bob's a polymorph so names like SCABS don't bother him as much as it would others. He can be anything he wants, but he tends toward eight-foot centaurs (at least in the bar, when he's out and about he can make himself as high as 18 hands!) and hung proverbially like a horse, what the hell does he care?
Oh, Christ, Jack's over at the piano singing Dylan again...
"Buckets of rain, buckets of tears,
"Got all them buckets comin' outta my ears.
"Buckets of moonbeams in my hand..."
That's Jack DeMule our semi-serious, semi-official philosopher-in-residence and bouncer. I can live without the philosophy sometimes, but a man that can morph into a full-sized mule damn near instantaneously can make even the most prejudiced normal give this place and us a wide berth. I saw him dropkick a Hell's Angel twenty-one feet one Saturday evening after the guy picked on a shy animorph named Kyle who used to come in here.
There was Kyle, sitting on a bar stool, cowering. I mean, he was literally shaking; he was so scared. Hell! So was I for that matter! Most of us were new to this morph business, unsure of ourselves, willing to let others label us as freaks and weirdoes. Everyone just sat there looking down at their drinks, trying to ignore the guy and secretly hoping that he wouldn't notice us.
And poor Kyle, even as a man he was small, but who's going to take a man with the head of a Koala Bear seriously? Anyway, poor Kyle's scared shitless and Big Ugly is giving the bar the low down about how this used to be a great city until all we weirdoes and freaks showed up and how he was going to clean up this pest hole when Jack, red-eyed and hung over, came out from his "stall" -- he was sleeping under the pool table again -- and wants to know what the hell was going on?
Big Ugly must have been six-six, 280 pounds, and Jack (no midget) gave him his best "what rock did you crawl out from under?" look and asked the jerk very politely to leave. Then, calmly, Jack turned his back on Big Ugly. I learned that night that Jack's never more dangerous then when he turns his back on you.
The last words out of Big Ugly's mouth were something about kicking Jack's ass. In one fluid movement Jack went forward on his hands, muscles rippled across his clothes, which literally exploded from his body. Where a moment before stood our slightly inebriated philosopher, now stood a full grown mule, who promptly kicked Big Ugly straight through the door on the other side of the room. The mule trotted over to the door and Jack shape shifted human again. Looking down at Big Ugly, he said that anytime he wanted Jack's "ass" again, to come back, but to remember that Jack's Ass had hoofs. Well after that, Jack, always popular, was everyone's favorite; he was our "Norm" and the bar, his kingdom.
I don't know this for sure, but I suspect that Jack's no plain animorph. Although I've never seen him in any other form than a mule, I'll bet he can do more.
The Blind Pig is open to anyone, but it tends to attract mostly SCABS. We've got twenty or thirty unamorphs that come in regularly. They're the most common form of SCABS. There are those that can fully morph into a specific genus of animal, reptile, bird, or insect, like Jack and others like Kyle, who only partially transform into animal form.
Those are the ones I feel sorry for the most, especially if they can't voluntarily change form. I can't think of any worse existence that to have to walk around looking like a B-movie monster. No wonder the suicide rate is so high among some unamorphs.
Then there are gendermorphs like Steve or Stephanie, depending on what mood he/she is in when he/she gets up and gets dressed. You know, I've know Stef for five years, and I still don't know if he was a man or woman to begin with. I've seen Stef in a bikini at a pool party we had once, and I'd never mistake him for a guy. Yet, I've played B-ball at the "Y" with him and others and seen him in the shower, so... This gender morphing is very hard on pronouns, that's all I can say.
Then there are the big shots, the polymorphs, people like Dr. Bob. They're not limited to any one shape or form. Something in their body chemistry allows them to universally adapt to any age, sex or shape they choose. They're the crème de la crème, and some of them don't make any secret about their feelings of superiority. Fortunately, we don't get many who feel like that here at the Blind Pig. I guess those types wouldn't hang out in bars like us regular folks. Although, like I say, Dr. Bob's a regular, but then again, we don't treat him as something special because he doesn't think of himself as something special.
Let's see: who else? There are inanimorphs, people who can assume an organic or inorganic shape. There's a guy named Bill who does chairs real good. He's a scream late in the evening when people are feeling no pain. He takes the shape of a bar stool, then shifts away when people try to sit on him.
And what about me? I'm a chronomorph, although I have no control over my power. A chronomorph's body is subject to changes in the physical and mental aging processes, depending upon the individual. A person who can control the ability can appear as any age he or she wants. Unfortunately, people with that kind of control aren't that common. Dr. Bob estimates that there are probably only about a hundred thousand total control chronomorphs in the world. However, most are like me, or my neighbor, a sixty-year-old widow. Her power is limited to the ability to age herself. Needless to say, she doesn't exercise her power much. I age normally for three weeks, then loop back approximately twenty days. This goes on day after day week, year after year. I've looked thirty for most of my life. I'll be forty-nine this October. It has its advantages, I'll admit, but my life's no bed of roses either. You have to be careful with yourself as a looper. I nicked myself shaving once and it took almost nine weeks for it to heal, since I kept looping back. I had a cold for almost the entire year 2014 and part of 2015. Moreover, I can't tell you how embarrassing a zit on your nose can be if when you have to relive it for six months!
Oh, boy! Rydia's here!
Have I told you about her? She's what called a non-specific, conscious, cross-genus animorph. Dr. Bob's writing a new book on SCABS classifications and he's hired me as a part-time research assistant classifying morphs here in the city. I think it's a sort of control group. I'm getting pretty good at identifying people by SCABS classification.
Anyway, Rydia... Rydia... uh, what was I saying? Yeah. Rydia can consciously control her morphing ability, which encompasses a specific genus, in her case, felines. She can assume the shape, size and power of any species of feline from Tigress to lap cat. She also retains all of her human intellect. She also possesses the power to selectively morph portions of herself into humanized feline constructions -- and quite effectively, too.
I remember the first time she came into the bar in her partial cheetahmorph, looking like she just stepped off stage from a production of Cats. There she was, part cat and all woman. I swear she moved so seductively, that her walk alone was probably illegal in six or seven states. Jack, a hard man to impress under the best of circumstances, swears she's so hot her footprints leave scorch marks on the floor!
The Lupine boys, the bar's resident lycanthropy support group, were running around howling like a bunch of excited puppies. My! Little dogs certainly have big ideas! Donnie, the bartender, gestured to them to calm down before he had to put newspapers on the floor. All I have to say is the guy who said dogs and cats don't mix never met Rydia! I guess Jack said it best: "Rydia could make a gelding stand up and salute." 'Nuff said.
Jack's got Rydia over at the piano. He never gives up. Rydia's kind of like Garbo, friendly but detached. We amuse her. We're her entertainment. I just love a man who's willing to make an Ass of himself. Jesus, he's doing Gershwin again...
"I'm deLightful. I'm deLicious. I'm DeMulllllleee!"
Christ, doesn't he give up! About time for a practical joke or two.
Jokes are stock in trade at the Blind Pig, that and puns. "Have pun will travel," Jack says. In our circle, practical jokes must be big and they must be outrageous. And the best and most admired jokes are the non-traceable -- the ones that don't leave fingerprints to identify the perpetrator, thus avoiding revenge.
Each year, on April 19, the anniversary of the world's first confirmed spontaneous morph, some Austrian guy who went equine, we hold our annual Hassan's Horse Award. The winner is determined not by who pulls the best practical joke and gets away with it, but the person it got pulled on. The so-called winner receives a statuette of a horse's rump on a pedestal. It must be in your possession at all times when in the bar, and on display. Failure to have or display the statue results in buying a round for the first offense, a one-month suspension for the second offense and permanent expulsion from the bar for a third. We can't stand sore winners.
I won one year. It's not a well-known fact that some polymorphs -- the really good ones -- can effect short-term physical or biological changes in people. The effects generally only last an hour or two, but normals will seek out powerful polymorphs and pay big money for a temporary tummy tuck, new hair, boob jobs and butt lifts.
Unbeknown to me, I wound up with a temporary set of skunk glands. Then my unknown assailant set off an M-80 firecracker under my stool. You can guess what happened next.
Donnie banished me from the bar for two weeks and I wasn't allowed to return until I produced a certified letter from a vet confirming my scent glands had been removed. The only polymorph I knew powerful enough to pull off this stunt was Dr. Bob, but he was out of the country at the time. That is when I started suspecting that Jack was a polymorph. I just can't prove it, and he's not "fessin' up".
Jack won this year, but I had nothing to do with it. We were at the awards dinner and Rydia had already been announced as the winner. She had gone to the annual bar picnic and had caught and eaten a field mouse. "I'm honing my hunting instincts."
Anyway, somebody noticed that Kim was missing. He specializes in rodent morphs. Rydia turned pale, and then got deathly sick for the next hour. Kim eventually showed up. "What? I was fishing."
But nobody, Rydia included, could remember who planted the "My God, she ate Kim" seed. Rydia was clearly the hands down winner that year, until a special delivery telegram suggesting that we examine Mr. DeMule's rump before awarding the prize. A quick examination of our muley friend revealed that his right rump had been tattooed in insect bites with the legend "Insert brain here" with an arrow pointing you know where. Jack was stunned, he'd never even suspected. After Jack swore a no revenge oath, my friend Bryan Derksen, the quiet polymorph molecular geneticist who works with Dr. Bob, shyly raised his hand. He told me that he'd developed a dye substance he coated his mandibles with, so every time he bit Jack, he left a little permanent mark behind.
It had taken him almost 11 months to tattoo Jack without him noticing. Whenever he could catch Jack in mule form, he'd get a bite in or two. Keeping the pattern seemingly random, Jack had never noticed. I'd bite him other places, too, but that was just purely for pleasure.
Yeah, you've got to have style to make it with our group.
At the annual picnic, Dr. Bob had an entire hay field flavored with different sauces and stuff so he and his equine buddies could have a little variety from their "usual" picnic fare. Now imagine being downwind of Dr. Bob, Tony, Flinthoof and eight or ten other horses (and a mule!!!) that have been grazing on bean dip and jalapeño pepper hay! Yeah, that's style -- don't have an open flame around those guys -- but that's style just the same.
I've just noticed that everyone's still working on Copernicus.
Almost everyone here has an alias. Most feel it sort of adds an air of mystery to their lives as morphs. Jack's got a real name, but to me Jack DeMule is just as good as the name he was born with. Dr. Bob goes by Posti a lot of the time. There's others: Fox, Blade, Kellvar, Dracon, Minos, Pegasus. I could name a hundred I've met over the years.
One guy came in in a cape once and announced himself as "The Wanderer" -- big dramatic pause. "Well, son, wander over to that there bar and buy me a beer," quoth Jack DeMule.
Wanderer's a regular now. He helped organize the Lupine Boys.
I don't have an alias; I'm just me. Jack called me Stinkybottom for a while after the famous skunk incident, but I explained to him calmly and rationally that I didn't like his nickname for me and would he please stop. When that didn't work, I threatened to start using his private pasture as my latrine and not tell him where or when I did it. That worked.
Donnie, the bartender, doesn't use an alias either. No real point, I guess. He's morph-locked into bovine-humanoid shape. He's not quite a Minotaur, but definitely bullish. He's totally man-shaped, except for his head, and weighs about 640 pounds. He has an electronic voice box when he has to talk, but he gets by quite well with gestures, expressions and writing. He makes a great bartender; he always listens.
I used to feel sorry for Donnie. Before the change, he lived in Utah. He owned a fancy restaurant, had a family and was a deacon in his church. Afterwards, after his wife left him and the church threw him out, Donnie sold his share of the restaurant, moved here and opened the bar. I didn't know Donnie before but I suspect he was as quiet, calm and deliberate as he is now. People, even normals, like talking to Donnie. Ask him a tough question or his advice on an important matter and you know he will give it long hard thought before he answers. When Donnie ruminates over a problem, he really ruminates.
Because of a significant portion of his internal anatomy is bovine, Donnie generally hangs out with the equines (and the mule!!!) but he's everyone's friend and the fact that we have a few new bar patrons who are normals is directly attributable to Donnie's ability to make friends with anyone, anywhere.
I also heard that one of his daughters has resumed contact with him. I'm glad.
Anyway, it's getting close to closing time. Copernicus, the herpamorph, made the mistake of sitting under a cold air return. Cold blooded, doncha know? Nobody noticed for an hour or so. He likes his fearsome seven-foot lizard shape, teeth included. I think he thinks the shape gives him a Klingon-like appearance and aura -- kind of a Worf thing. Now, he's stiff as a board and oblivious to everything around him. The Lupine Boys noticed first, so they got first crack. One of them went to a costume shop and brought back a rainbow-colored clown wig and oversized shoes, which he's now wearing. Everyone else has been busy body painting him with non-toxic, but permanent dyes. His right leg is now fluorescent orange; his left leg is cerulean. His torso is a white background covered in little happy faces. Both his arms are done in a barber pole motif. My contribution was writing "Lizard Lips" across his lizard lips.
Donnie has made the last call, so we've dragged Copernicus' stiff form under the overhead lights. He's going to be pissed when his torpor passes. He'll have to shed his skin to get everything off him, but that doesn't take long -- and I did tell him he ought to stick to warm-blooded dino-raptors before he had an accident. The city's no place for a cold-blood after the sun goes down.
The Lupine Boys are making plans for Halloween. They want to find a total control chronomorph to temporarily reduce them to children on Halloween night. Their plan is to make themselves as cute as possible without costumes, go door-to-door, and when people ask why they aren't dressed up -- well I guess you can figure out the rest. The thought of a dozen half-grown werewolves running around the city's quiet neighborhoods will keep many a cop gulping Zantac hand-over-fist this Halloween.
Donnie's turned off the lights.
Jack's just asked a few of us to go out to the diner with him for a little breakfast before going home. What the heck, why not? That's the way life is around the Blind Pig. Stop in sometime if you're in town. We love good stories. Come by and tell us yours.