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. Some people see SCABs as a problem -- and some have exceptionally radical solutions for this perceived problem...

Go here for more information on the setting.

[tsat home] [#44] [stories]
The Downward Spiral • Ch. 1: i ii iii Ch. 2: i ii iii

The Downward Spiral
by the TBP Round-Robin Collective
©2005 the TBP Round-Robin Collective -- all rights reserved

Christmas Nightmare (Chapter 1, part ii)

13: Help the cat out of the tree (Greg)

Now that I try to remember the last few hours, time comes together like a blur. I left my shady home for a few pints and some nice golden firewater. The problem was to find an open bar at Christmas Eve in this part of town. The only thing that I saw, while I walked through the dark and loitered streets, were bums and hookers -- most of them SCABs of course.

The feeling I had, when I watched them pass by, is one thing I remember the most clearest: pure disgust. 'Crawl under a stone and die!' is one of the nicer things I wanted to scream. It's a feeling I always get when I see them. And it doesn't matter if they are poor slobs living in the gutter, or if they try to pretend to live a normal life. In a way it's good that they are cramped together in this slum. They are separated from normal people. Unfortunately there is not much for a single man to do, especially if he is such a coward as me. I would have gone postal if it wasn't for my 'the pen is mightier than the sword' mentality.

I had to swallow a bitter pill when I realized that the only open bar around was a watering hole for these vermin. But the driving need for alcohol forced me to go in. The stench that hit me when I entered the bar was pure agony for my sensitive nose; I felt a familiar tickle on my face. The fur tends to grow faster when I'm stressed, and only alcohol can delay the hated effect. So I ignored all the animals that pretended to be human and went straight for the bar. I felt that I needed to skip the pints. What a shame -- I wanted the numbness to kick in gradually.

I signed the barkeep to come over. My face tickled again when I saw that he had the head of a bull. And by Jesus, he even had tinsel strung through his horns!

"Do you have whiskey?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Single malt?"

Again he just nodded.

"Can you give me a glass and a bottle? I pay up front."

He shook his head.

"Why not?"

He pulled out a pad of some sort, scribbled some words and gave it to me.

[IT'S CHRISTMAS,] were the words.

Great. "Could you please give me two shots of whiskey?" I sighed.

He nodded and went away to get my order. When he came back with the two glasses of the golden liquid he handed me his pad again.

[KEEP IT LOW,] stood there.

"Will do. But I can take a lot," I replied.

I may hate them, but that's no reason to be impolite. I took one of the glasses and sipped at it. The whiskey went down like silk with a nice, smoky aftertaste. Definitely the right stuff for such a festive day like this. I took a look around the bar. It was rather packed for a Christmas day. Most of the customers seemed to be regulars, like the group of wolves who tried to sing Christmas carols. They seemed to have a game of poker going; the loser was the one to sing. From the few words I understood, I could see that Disney would never use them for a movie.

There was an impressive figure who looked like a shrunken dragon on two legs. He (or she?) was a majestic sight for the sore eye of an old Dungeons & Dragons player; I nearly wished for a sword. I had killed a lot of those through my high-school time. I wondered if he would make a good game-master. There was a mule of some sorts sitting by a piano, but he concentrated more on his beer than on his keys. No wonder, the wolves provided 'music' for a bar twice the size.

There was another individual at the bar who seemed to have the same intentions as me. This lone figure, wrapped in a long coat, clutched desperately to his glass. As if he would drift away if he'd let go. Carefully I tried to get a closer look. He must have recognized this because he swung his head towards me. He looked like a normal human. But I just knew that he was a SCAB too. What would he do in this bar otherwise? But then, I always know things like that. The eyes behind his glasses gave me a haunted glare. Then he continued to stare into his beer. He emptied the half-full glass with one big sip.

This reminded me of my own drinks. I downed the second shot with one gulp. I gestured the barkeep to bring me another two. I insisted on paying for my drinks up front. I didn't want to cause problems if I had to leave quick, nor did I want to run out of money. I lit a smoke and stared into the room without watching anything or anyone.

I sat there like this for, oh, nearly  an hour. During this period some other individuals entered the bar. Among them was another lizard-like thing who shared some looks of a dragon. Again I wished for a sword but asked myself in the meantime if these beings didn't feel frosty in the winter cold at all. I shrugged and started a closer conversation with my eighth whiskey. A slight numbness started to kick in; I would need some more for a full grown smasher. Unfortunately the alcohol came way too late. Either this or the tension in the room was just too much for me. My fur wasn't back to its full glory yet, but it was thick enough to let me look like a lynx again. Curses!

The lone individual by my side was much further than me. He started a rant about this and that and the barkeep was his victim. He rambled some nonsense about Christmas and how hard his life was. He was quite agitated. While he spoke with a slurring tongue and a slight spray of spit, his ears seemed to become pointier. Also there was a slight trace of fur in his face. I knew it. Unfortunately he again recognized my stare and looked towards me.

"Ish there anyth'n' speshial ta shee buddy?" The words were muffled.

"No, no, nothing. But maybe you should cut down on your beer," I said, trying to calm him.

"Ah know how much ah... can... take. Mind yer own bizzniss, kittey!" he growled, then drank on.

I shrugged. It's never a good idea to stare at drunken, disgruntled strangers.

Time passed by. The barkeeper refused to serve me another drink. I said that I understood that. I already had twelve shots. An untrained individual would be under the table by now but I still was in control of my tongue. Not like the lone individual. He now looked like a bipedal leopard. A quite majestic animal, one should think, but not when completely drunk. The barkeep had cut him off ten minutes before me. This didn't calm down the big cat in any way. He rose to his feet and stumbled to the middle of the room where a Christmas tree stood. He stopped in front of the tree and started to throw foul words towards the plant.

The whole bar went silent. Even the wolves stopped their singing. Everyone was watching the leopard-morph as he started to throw punches at the tree while continuously screaming nonsense. Some were clearly amused while others were shocked and stunned. The barkeep reacted faster than everyone else -- faster than I thought he could, with his mass. He grabbed my hand and gestured towards the unfair battle. I nodded in understanding and rose to my feet. Maybe he thought I would be able to calm him, being a cat-morph too and all. But I was unsure of what to do. I only started to move when some other guests did the same.

That's when things started to blur. I don't know how much force it took to separate the leopard from the tree; it was definitely more than a bucket of water. Together we were able to force him out of the door. One of the others told me to drag him away from the door. He was barely able to stand on his feet. The others went back in and I looked for a place to sit the leopard down when suddenly a black car virtually appeared out of nowhere. I stood there in shock, with the leopard's arm resting on my shoulder, as the window of the black car went down and a gun barrel appeared. Then they -- whoever they were -- started to fire at the bar.

That was the point when I lost my head. I let loose of the leopard I supported and ran for my life. I just wanted to get away. I didn't see a thing around me. My guess is, I dodged into an alley and then ran to the hills. I came to my senses when I found myself back in my room, cowering in a corner behind a chair. My fur was back to its full glory and standing as if fixed with glue. I was completely out of breath and almost unable to resist the urge to pant. When I finally found the bravery to stand up and go to my bed, I remembered the leopard. I fell on my mattress.

That's where I still am. I don't know for how long I've been sitting here thinking. The memory of the shooting passes my head again and again, and I can't help but think of all the people who might have got hurt. Especially this leopard. Maybe I am even responsible for his death... I should have dragged him to safety. But I feel no regret. After all, this is what I wanted, isn't it? But why do I feel this sting in my guts then? I shake my head and try to find some sleep.

14: A Turn to the Worse (Matusleo)

The place stank. Filled with, and only with, the victims of SCABS, there was a profuse abundance of odors that tickled his nose with increasingly desultory sensations. It was all he could do to keep himself from rubbing his muzzle every few minutes to wipe away the latest offending stench that assailed him. Combined with the vigorous scent of beer and other, more noisome, alcoholic beverages, as well as that of whatever food was being served at that hour, it made for an atmosphere that he had to date rarely seen.

In fact, as he surveyed the bar -- The Blind Pig it had been called -- he could not help but repress the small smile that threatened to expand across his now-feline muzzle. In the months since he had finally succumbed to the change and had been forced to flee his family's home in Maryland, he'd travelled from city to city, trying to find any place that might be accepting of SCABS victims. While there had been a few places that had at once offered some hope, none of them had satisfied the longing that he'd felt.

And then he'd found this place. There had been a shelter in the town, although he had only need of a place to rest his head, and there he'd learned of the bar. Run by SCABs and for SCABs. It certainly could be no worse than any place he'd been before. He'd stay for a few days, and if things didn't work out, he could continue northward.

Idly sipping at his glass of water -- he had no taste for beer -- he regarded the bar's numerous occupants. A group of wolf-morphs were busy singing holiday tunes. Others, many felines like himself, were talking, drinking by themselves, or listening to the carols. He turned one ear to regard the singers, their voices united in dissolute discord. It was not too bad, he thought. Rather reminded him of his church's choir at about this time. Never could quite decide on the key.

He frowned then and fingered the glass with tawny paws. He pressed his fingers to the glass and watched as the dark claws began to slide free. He could feel them moving in his fingers, brushing across the fur. It was so strange. For six months he had been this way, but still it startled him to watch, and to realize that it was all him. And to think he'd be celebrating Christmas here in this place with strangers. He'd never been away from home at this time of the year.

With a heavy sigh, head leaning back against the booth, his thick dark mane cushioning him as his hair had once done, his mind reviewed Christmases past in his father's home. Mother, dressed brightly in a purple evening gown, would greet the guests; some distinguished, others merely friends from the neighborhood. Once or twice a Senator or Representative would also attend, usually those his father had business with. His older brother and sister would be dressed smartly and primly, and would tell him about all the people there, sharing the gossip with him. He listened and learned, but parlor talk was never something he cared for.

His two younger brothers would be at play with the latest toys they had, and it was often his job to make sure that they did not get themselves into trouble. He had been just that right age, old enough to know how to behave, but too young to sit at the adults' table. He turned eighteen a few months ago, and would have been with them that year.

But then the Martian Flu struck. Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and quelled his reveries. He was here at the Blind Pig now. There was no sense denying it any further: Though his father had given him money enough to sustain him for a time, he was on his own.

When he had changed, his father had given him two choices, neither of which involved him continuing his life there. He could either leave with nothing but the clothes that barely hung on his back, or he could give up his name and be given money enough to get him far away from Maryland and the Cavanaugh family -- or, rather, what was left of it after the ravages of disease had killed three and irrevocably altered a fourth in form. He took the money, though the name he took for himself had been a subtle joke on his part.

His father's penchant for Biblical names was unmatched, so far as he knew. Thus, where once there had been Methuselah Cavanaugh, Matt to his friends, was now 'Matusleo'. The money he'd received was stashed in every place he could find amongst his clothes, as well as a few places in his fur that were sufficiently thick. He'd been glad for the money at first, and he'd assumed that where his leonine features might instill anger, the money he carried could buy him at least grudging acceptance.

He was wrong. At his first stop in Baltimore, he'd tried to enter a family restaurant, but the proprietor stopped him as soon as he set foot within the door and told him to leave. Even after he'd been shown the money, the full human waved a butcher knife in his direction and ordered him out before the cops were called.

Matusleo never set his paws within such an establishment again. There were few places where SCABs could dine, but he made do. Traveling northwards, he went wherever he could, and found himself subsisting on the hospitality of the inevitable shelters he encountered. But now that he was here at the Blind Pig, perhaps that could change too.

He smiled a bit as he leaned back in his booth. It might not be much, but it was a start. He only hoped that it would not fall apart as had so much of everything else. Lifting his glass, he finished the water. His long pink tongue scoured the few drops that resided on his muzzle and whiskers. He breathed deeply of the zoological atmosphere, the individual scents becoming plainer with each breath. Maybe he could get used to this. Of course, he'd have to find somebody who would employ him. The grooming his father had done for each of his boys looked wasted to him now. He doubted anyone would ever ask a six-and-a-half-foot-tall African lion to run a lobbying firm; even the Sierra Club would turn him away.

A sudden racket made him turn his head. A leopard -- he could tell instantly from the spots -- was shouting obscenities at the Christmas tree in one corner of the bar. Matusleo smiled in amusement at the drunk feline's antics. This sort of thing never happened at his father's parties. The leopard, daunted by the tree's imperturbability, began to level several blows when the bar's bovine proprietor, Donnie, gestured to several other patrons. They went up to intervene and guide the inebriated feline out the door.

Laughing to himself, Matusleo looked down at his own glass, saw that it was empty, and decided that perhaps he should have something more. He fished in the pocket of his sports jacket for a few bills, curled them around his thick fingers, and rose up from his seat. His long tail drew across the fabric after him, and he could feel every bit of fur as it brushed across the smooth surface. He waited for the others to guide the leopard outside before starting to cross the room to the bar.

A sharp staccato detonation erupted from outside. Matusleo was flung back against the wooden siding of his booth. He tried to keep his paws beneath him as the shouting started, and all across the bar people began to rise up, alarm filling their faces, voices, and scents. Matusleo, still feeling quite dizzy, pressed himself back into the booth, even as the world began to swim around him.

Why was he so dizzy all of a sudden. There was a certain numbness to his chest. He reached down and pressed at his side, and felt something slick. Glancing down, the scent reached him just as the color did. Blood. A moment later, the awareness began to dawn. He'd been shot.

Slumping back in the booth, opening his mouth to call out for help, but his voice was lost amidst the cacophonous uproar. He leaned back further, finding the strength fleeing his arms. He felt the seat cushion catch and cradle his head, his mane flowing around his face. Matusleo starred at the ceiling, watching as one of the fans turned, turned, and turned above. Am I dying? he wondered as he tried to work his mouth again. The din was becoming indistinct, as if it were simply a murmuring laughter. The susurration from the ceiling fan seemed far clearer and distinct.

His father had such a fan in his private office. He'd often thrown bits of string up into the blades just to see where they'd be flung to. Of course, his father had scolded him for it each time. Matusleo smiled and wondered how his family was handling the festivities this year, with so few of them left. The smile faded to a disconsolate sigh. He missed them all, he just never understood how much.

Merry Christmas, he thought to himself. The world was numb, and the only thing he could do was stare at those spinning blades. Turn. Turn. Turn.

15: Late but Safe (Draxa)

The night was positively singing with activity as I walked through the dark streets. It wasn't that late yet, and many revelers were still traveling to and from parties of all sorts. I only saw one person who recognized me all night, the pawnshop owner.

"Bye, Draxa," he said as I left, probably assuming that I was off to get some more loot for him. I waved back and continued on my way, not caring what he thought I was doing. Just because he was my only means of survival, doesn't mean I like him very much.

The night was cold, but not too cold for me, as I'm still warm-blooded, unlike a lot of other SCABs who have attained lizard-like form. All I needed to stay warm and active were the specially made pants and top I'd acquired a little while after arriving in the city. I was afraid and completely new to life alone at that time, but I managed to figure out what was needed to survive pretty quickly. Plus, with my small size and strange looks, something as normal as clothes went a long way. When you survive the way I did, any trust you can gain from fellow pedestrians was welcome.

Even if their wallets seemed to lighten after they pass me, does that necessarily make the trust misplaced? Anyway, I didn't follow them all home to separate them from some of life's lesser-needed necessities, so some trust was well founded.

Either way, I'm warm and happy as I traveled around the city. It might have been Christmas, but to me it's a busy time of the year. I need to survive as well, and life was easier when everyone assumed that good will prevails. My only wish was that I didn't have to resort to using such an evil tactic to live... but that can't be helped.

As I drew near to the bar that was my goal, I saw a black SUV drive past me, and stop in front of the bar. I sensed something was wrong, and then ducked into a little alley I had just passed. I was right. Gunshots rang out seconds after I hid, and I knew what had happened. Someone, for some reason unknown to me, had opened fire on the Blind Pig. I hadn't been there before, but still, this was unreasonable! Even a petty thief like me has morals. Murder was just wrong. You can rob someone, but killing them? That's just not proper! (I know, I know, maybe I need to work on that one, but if someone can find me a better way to survive, I'm on it in a heartbeat!)

I waited what seemed like forever before poking my head outside of my hiding place. The assailants were gathered outside of the bar, and from what I could see, only a lone individual, what looked like a spotted cat-morph from where I stood, was on the ground injured. Thank god he was the only one. It sounded like they had more than just pistols, If a crowd had been in front of the bar at that moment, my best guess was that the majority of them would be on the ground -- dead.

16: Burning Bright (Anton Nymous)

He had been working at a local factory, even since before the Collapse. At that time babies had been eaten alive at the nearby hospital. Those from the temporary emergency government had said it had been rats, proliferating on the lack of sanitation that had come with the disorder. But he knew who those "rats" really had been. How could you not set out to exterminate this vermin?

That was when he first met the Reverend. A rock in a sea of chaos, the very soul of his church. He hadn't been a man of God before, religion not figuring greatly in his simple life, but now he had seen the light. He worked hard to spread the Reverend's glory ever since, to illuminate the dark and evil recesses with his righteous light. Just before Christmas, before the celebration of the Lord Jesus' birth, the Reverend had asked several of his flock if they were willing to bring the Flame of his Justice to those marked as evil. Some -- hell, most of them -- had declined. But the Reverend, a true man of God, had well understood it.

He didn't. These spineless maggots, feeding off the help of others, too worthless to help even themselves. Huddling together, hiding, that the evil of the world might overlook them, pass them by. Let it strike others, just as long as it wasn't them.

He despised them.

How could you say no, to a man who was clearly trying his best to do God's work, helping those in need whether they needed food, shelter or protection from evil? Doing his best to bulwark his flock against the spawn of hell.

While he wasn't the brightest around -- most would describe him as an honest man, hard-working but simple -- he was smart enough to know his duty. And he was no chicken-hearted coward; he wouldn't hide when the call for duty came. When it was time to stand up for what you believe in. When it was time to protect what you held most dear, what was most precious. His family -- all simple but honest folk -- had done so over more than ten generations. They had fought for their beliefs before they fled from Europe in the 17th century. They had fought in the War of Independence for their freedom. They had fought for the freedom of others in the Civil War. They had fought in World War I to end all wars, and in World War II to liberate Europe from tyranny. They had fought against it again, when it took the form of Communism in Vietnam and during the Cold War. He was a patriot, he knew that you had to stand up and fight for what is right -- for your country, your friends, your family, yourself. At least once in every generation one of his family had fought. Now it was his turn.

When the Reverend asked him if he would help to clean this city of evil, if he was willing to take up the Flame of Justice to drive out the wicked, he knew what to say. He knew his duty.

How could you look away, when these marked by the devil were threatening your family and your life by their very existence? They had been marked clearly, for all to see. If not for their deeds in this life, then for the sins of their ancestors. A sign on their bodies; a sign for the stain on their souls. Marked to burn in hell, to taste the flame of justice, to repent their sins before it was too late.

But did they repent?


How could they even ask for human rights? How could they try to live on as if nothing had happened, as if it was a mistake, as if they did not deserve the punishment He had put upon their body -- the outward sign of their disfigured, mutilated souls, their bestial nature?

Some would say that what they were about to do was murder. But these weren't humans. Even if they might once have looked like real people, their bestial nature was now apparent for anyone willing to see. They were slaying these evil monstrous abominations to protect the helpless, the innocent.

Some day -- in a more enlightened age -- all people would realize this.

Some day all men would recognize them as patriots, if not heroes, for protecting the American Dream once again.

For this he was willing to die.

For living their lives as God has meant men to do, for those He had made in his image. Fighting for their freedom, for living again without fear of the wild beast, showing the signs of evil, threatening every good soul.

For all this he was willing to die.

Was it not even rumored that some of these devils in disguise were able to transfer the stain of their souls to others, or at least to those not walking in the light of His glory?

Well, they might be able to kill his body, but they would never be able to stain his soul.

And was it not written:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Hadn't he found a home within the flock of the Reverend? A job? Even a wife? A family? Had his soul not been restored, protected from evil, from the manifestations by the prayers of the Reverend when he had come down sick?

Had he not found a purpose for his life?

He knew: Only when all walked in the light of His glory again could humanity be safe. And wasn't saving humankind from this evil a purpose worth dying for? Didn't a shepherd need a few hounds to keep the wolves at bay?

Nothing happened by accident.

He knew that his meeting the Reverend had been destined. His faith, the prayers of the others had let him survive the Flu unchanged. It was now time for him to give back, as he had been given. To protect those innocent, those who had not turned to evil. It was time to eradicate those who had let evil into their hearts and souls, who had been measured, weighted and found wanting.

Today, this night, it would be his time to kindle the Flame of Justice, to bring the light back into the darkest part of this city. He was driving the Reverend's brown van. He knew that today the war for freedom, for humanity, for their very souls, would start anew. And he had the privilege to help their leader, their spiritual guide, the Reverend.

The boneheads driving in the black SUV in front of him, Leroy and some of his friends, were still ignorant of their role in this war. These imbeciles only wanted to have some fun. He knew that involving them had been necessary; Leroy was the one with the right contacts to get what they needed tonight. Still it irked him that such a profane, godless heathen should share in their holy cause. Even so, him and his drunken friends, they would serve as cannon fodder well enough.

By god, it seemed Leroy had added to his marginal spirit some in bottled form. Did he have to drive his car so fast? They were almost there, and the way that idiot was driving would draw attention to them when it wasn't needed. Now he had managed to send a blast of snow and nasty slush water flying at one of the pedestrians still on the way. Better stop and apologize, before that guy called the police because of Leroy's speeding.

"Sorry about those idiots, they're with us," he said to the boy, who seemed nice enough to forgive them, and added on a more serious note: "It's Christmas Eve. I suggest you go home, mister. I wouldn't want to be out on a night like this. Could be dangerous." It was time for the Flame of Justice to burn bright in this holy night. It was time to eradicate evil in this night of the celebration of our Lord's coming. Having given fair warning to an innocent soul, he drove on to the cesspool of sin... the bar they called the Blind Pig.

17: Oh, What Fun it is to Ride (Duncan Cougar)

"Oh, what fun it is to ride..."

It felt really good to be prowling in the snow, just for the pleasure of being outside, feeling my muscles working again as they were meant to do. I had spent the last hour dashing about the area, jumping up on roofs, walking their tops, jumping down into snow drifts, in general, getting an idea of the layout of the surrounding area and having fun strolling around in it. Hey, I'm a cat! What do you expect, huh?

There are appearances to be kept, even for big cats like me.

I had just gotten back to The Blind Pig, squatting low on a nearby roof with a nice look down on the road and the yard in front of the bar, when the front door banged open. Several patrons stumbled out; partly carrying, partly dragging, partly shoving, partly escorting and in no small part upholding a leopard-morph I had seen standing at the bar earlier that day. Seems he was deep in his cups, hardly able to stand (let alone walk!) on his own, caterwauling obscenities to each and anyone. One of them -- a SCAB who seemed also to have some feline in him, lynx by the look of his beard -- helped the drunken cat to slump down near the door. Meanwhile the others went back inside the warmth of the bar, satisfied that they had managed to get the leopard out to cool his temper, literally.

That's when a black SUV slowed down in front of the Pig. One of the car's windows rolled down as the vehicle slowed to a halt and the barrel of a pump gun poked out.

What the f-

Fire erupted from the end of the gun. Hitting the leopard, who had been spinning around to duck for cover, right in the back, bringing him down -- hard, him tackling the other SCAB to the ground in the process.

Another car -- a white pickup -- had meanwhile stopped about 10 meters behind the SUV on this side of the road, while a brown minivan crossed the lanes to stop on the other side of the road, only a little lower than the SUV.

I doubt that they have seen me yet, I calmed myself. So keep cool. Fear is the mind-killer.

But then should I act at all? Sure, I kill for a living. I am a predator, damn it! Meat doesn't grow on trees. Hunting is in my nature, there is no way around that. And before you look so disapprovingly, eating your hamburger, savoring your steak, munching your carrot, don't you think those come from living things as well? We all kill to survive, that is the way of nature. Nature doesn't know about morals; out in the wild there is no good or bad, only us and them.

The rational being, any being, is a purpose in and on itself. I had to hunt to survive, yes. But what I choose to be my prey, that I had rational control over, and this control is what makes me sentient. Or more precisely, letting rational thought control one's actions -- not instincts, not fear, not hunger, not beliefs, not passions nor fads. That, in my opinion at least, is what distinguishes a truly sentient creature from being savage, from being feral, from being a beast.

So I watched, knowing that they wouldn't expect me to lounge on a roof, trying to reason the best course of action; the way of causing the least harm; the way of protecting those who were most deserving of it.

Like myself for example.

Never forget about getting out with a whole hide: 'Hero' is only the second part of the full title, namely, 'Dead Hero'.

Observe -- evaluate -- act. And in that order! You lose your head in this, you are dead meat. First, what's going on and why..?

Judging by the little clouds coming from his muzzle, the wounded feline was still alive, if barely.

The other SCAB was doing the smart thing: Getting the hell out of the line of fire. Good.

The one with the pump gun was just jumping out of the car, yelling, "Hey, I got one of the devils! Did you see him fold?"

Checking what the others were doing...

Shit, shit, shit! I thought, a wave of despair rolling over me. There were at least 10 or 12 people, some carrying pump guns, some hunting rifles and the rest holstering pistols. Too bad these bastards hadn't bothered to get out of town for their hunting. Worse, seems they considered anything with fur a valid target, be it sentient or not. But why? Were they just some drunkards, or was something more dire going on?

The four stepping out of the pickup were going to its rear, three from the minivan and one of the guys from the SUV were also headed towards them. The last one yelled back: "Yeah, great shooting, Leroy! Make sure it's dead and help unloading. We all gonna have fun in hunting down these diseased beasts, later."

One of those at the pickup called: "Make it quick, Leroy. You don't wanna catch it too, do you?"

'Diseased beasts? There ain't any 'beasts' around here -- Does he mean the SCABs?? But, no one in the Pig is feral -- if they were, they wouldn't be there nor go there! And what nonsense was that about catching!? You can't catch SCABS by casual contact!

Are these people crazy as well as stupid??

This Leroy hadn't been out for a specific target; there was no rational cause for his action. He was out to kill, and any fur would do. Worse, he intended to kill indiscriminately, kill even other humans, kill as many as possible, no matter what they had done, no matter if they were innocent, no matter if they could ever cause what Leroy feared. Worst, seems he had brought some of his friends to join the 'fun'.

Someone on the other side of the minivan shouted over the road.

"Stop your blabbering! These demonspawn got ears like the animals their forms mock. Get moving and grab those gas cans already -- the rest of you get ready to pick off anything that tries to escape. Let's smoke them out in the name of the Lord, and kill anything showing its fuzzy muzzle."

These weren't sentient beings anymore.

They feared something to be true, and so they believed that it was true.

They let their fear, their passion, overrule their reason.

They let their primal instincts of protecting the pack from outsiders control their actions.

In short, these 'humans' had turned feral.

They had to be stopped, or at least slowed down, so that the patrons of the bar could either protect or flee -- whatever was in their nature to do.

As the last statement was answered with "Yeah"s and "Amen"s from the others, I knew that I had found their leader. He was well in the back, supervising his troops. Let's call you Custer, I silently snarled to myself. And you and your troops ain't gonna kill nobody -- not on my watch, you hairless apes!

As the bar was a bit removed from the road by a front yard, the building whose roof I was using as a perch blocked the line of sight between those at the pickup and the Blind Pig. Some cars parked in the front would provide enough cover from the two still on the other side of the road. One of them was Leroy, whose attention was fixed firmly on the victim of his shot; the other was looking for something inside of the SUV.

Time to act: Rescue the cat, get their brain out of the game, and get the rest away from the bar.

Silently, I jumped down the roof, converting a good deal of potential energy into forward movement. Accelerating to my maximum speed of about 90 km/h (55 mph) within two more leaps, going straight for his head, I was already in midair, when this Leroy realized that something was approaching, fast!

The rest is simply physics:

In reference system of target, take incoming mass (90 kg) with relative velocity of 25 m/s, hitting target mass (head, 2 kg), connected by spring (neck) to larger mass (body, 80kg). What's going to happen..?

Crack, that's what's going to happen. Tackling his head had broken his neck. The gun fell from his hands into the snow, his body crumbling like a puppet whose strings had been cut.

You ain't gonna shoot no one ever again, bastard.

"Leroy -- you idiot -- where'd you put the gasoline?" came a shout from the pickup.

Hardly being slowed down, three short leaps not only brought me back up to speed but also to the side of the SUV. Damn it, he must have heard something, I cursed to myself. The one on this side had dropped whatever he was getting out of the car and was starting to turn around, drawing a pistol. Sorry, pal. Can't have that.

Changing my trajectory, I crashed with all four legs into him. The impact not only drove the air from his lungs, but also broke at least half a dozen ribs in the process, as well as slamming his head against the car's frame. Good -- another one out cold.

"Leroy ?"

Unfortunately, our collision had rocked the whole car, startling the driver standing on the other side.

"What the fuck!" he exclaimed. "John, you o.k.?"

Crouching low, I ducked below the open door, slinking to the front of the car.

"Hey, what happened to Leroy?"

"Fuck, they took out John as well!!"

"Watch out, they must have a sniper over there!"

If they keep looking in the wrong direction, maybe I can have surprise on my side just a little while longer... I silently prayed to myself. Glancing around the SUV, I saw the driver and the two still standing on this side of the minivan searching for the hidden 'sniper' at the Blind Pig.

Holy shit! That slob has a submachine gun! He'd either bought it as an automatic straight from the shop, probably 'for hunting only', or had it modified later. Merde! I would never get to the other side of the road in one piece, not with those three waving around their guns and one of them having an automatic and the rest just waiting to get out of cover. Shit. What do I do now?

18: Christmas Past and Christmas Present (Michael Carson)

I sat at the bar listening to the Lupine Boys offering their latest rendition of some Christmas carol. Looking around at the assorted animals, half animals and humans, I reflected on how long it had been since I'd been able to celebrate any holiday in a normal fashion.

How long has it been? I mused to myself. Let's see... September of 2006. That would make it just a bit more then twenty years.

Shaking my head, I took another sip of my beer and looked at my reflection in the bar's mirror. The thick orange hair on my head reminded me all too well of why I was spending the holiday here at the Pig. It really wasn't all that noticeable as I was holding myself right now. I'd seen kids who dyed their hair a brighter color than mine, and other than the shade of the hair on my hands, I looked completely normal. But this wasn't my normal appearance, at least not for the last twenty years that is. If I stopped putting forth the effort to hold this form, I'd quickly revert to the hairy ape I now was. This made me wonder why I hadn't let go after I got to the Pig. Usually I wouldn't worry about it here: In the Pig, you could allow your animal form to take over and nobody would care . So I relaxed and immediately felt the change begin. My arms lengthened and flowed out of my shirt, became covered in the shaggy orange fur of the ape. It only took a few minutes before most of my humanity had drifted away, being replaced by that of the orangutan.

"Well, now I am the monkey's uncle," I said, reciting the perpetual joke that SCABS had made me. Still, it's a lot better than others had been given. At least I can still talk and have fully functional hands. An outburst from one of the others in the bar drew me out of my reflection. Looking over my shoulder I could see a feline of some kind addressing the Christmas tree with language that would have made my old Marine DI sound tame.

Wow, now there's a flashback, I thought as the memories of my service days and another Christmas jumped into my head. Christmas in Bosnia. What a hellhole that was. I'll take this over that one, any day.

At this point the cat was no longer content with a verbal assault and several of the bar's patrons escorted him out the door before he could completely shred the tree. As the last of the furs reentered, I heard a sound that had been forever burned into my brain. Long-forgotten instincts kicked in; for a moment I lay on the floor, thinking I was having a flashback to my days as a Marine. It was then that I saw one of the others slump to the floor with an all-too-obvious gunshot wound. A second burst from the Soviet automatic got me moving.

"Everybody! Get down!" I screamed, looking for anyone else I might recognize as ex-military, but saw none. Instead all I saw was people frozen in disbelief or shock.

"Damn it, don't just stand there, move!" I snarled as I scrambled to the front of the bar.

I remembered that Donnie had bulletproof glass installed some time back, so I hoped to be able to get a look at what was going on outside. Pressing my back against the wall near the door, I took a quick glance out the window. Someone was yelling at a man standing near a black SUV with a shotgun. There were at least four that I could see; two with the rifles were looking down the street. I assumed they had fired at those who had just left the bar. Some of the men were moving from a minivan to a pickup behind the SUV. All of them were well armed.

I leaned back to consider my options. There were cars that could provide some cover but reaching them with the shotgun-toting goon out front was impossible. I could go out the back, but without a weapon, what could I do? Just as I turned to look again, a streak of tan caught my attention. I focused on it just in time to see a cougar pounce on the man with the shotgun.

"Shit, here we go," I moaned, thinking I was about to see him get gunned down by the others. What I saw instead was what appeared to be a light switch kill. The cat had struck the man in the head and was already heading for a second gunman as the first one's limp body dropped to the ground. I saw him nail the guy before he could use his pistol, which clattered to the ground. As the others became aware that something was amiss, the cat ducked out of sight.

I've got to help him, I thought. But how?

I pulled back from the window enough to stay out of sight of those by the van, and looked at the only source of firepower I had: The two downed attackers. If I could get to the shotgun, I could give the cougar some much-needed cover fire. Then I saw the guy on the other side of the SUV.

"Shit! That mother's got a SMG," I gasped, recognizing the weapon. With that firepower, there was no way for any of us to get out the front. I couldn't believe what I saw next. The cougar left the front of the car and ran out of sight.

"No, you damn fool!" I yelled aloud, knowing he'd be cut down in a matter of seconds.

19: What Do You Do When You Got a Lion by the Tail? (Duncan Cougar)

I might be able to bring down the one with the SMG, but then the other two would be free to shoot me at their leisure, with the rest probably joining the fun shortly after.

Neither could I just dash over the road to take out their brain out of the game, this preaching bastard. Then all would make mincemeat out of me.

And even if ran for cover myself now, they would just shoot me down like standing on a firing range, hardly working up a sweat.

Damnit, those still in the bar wouldn't stand a chance of getting out, not as long as they had to dodge bullets all the way. I had to draw them away, somehow...

My thoughts raced: Think of the solution, not the problem, stupid cat. Can I get the SMG away from him? Maybe, but I wouldn't be able to use it; even if I could aim it, how should I operate it with my paws at the same time. Mmmh -- do I have to operate it? Maybe he can do that for me...

Scampering around the front, I streaked towards the one holding the SMG, fixing my aim on the arm holding it. He had heard me rushing in. Turning towards me, the SMG started firing.

Things went into slow motion.

I saw the first shots -- still off aim -- going past me. Still off by a wide margin, but closing in. My jaw opened wide, connecting with his underarm, my teeth shredding through jacket, skin and flesh. Severing muscles, crushing bones and locking sinews and tissue in place, I brought him down to the ground, the gun now aiming at those two standing in front of the minivan. My muscles were fighting the recoil and the trashing of my unwilling sidekick. His accomplices got caught in our 'friendly fire', one getting shot in his right arm and left leg, the second going down with a bullet in his guts. The other bullets were deliberately peppering the van behind them.

Ouch, writhing on the ground for pain, that lucky bastard had knocked his knee right into the half-healed wound. After a whack with a paw he turned limp. Panting in pain through my nose, I arched the fire over to the pickup. Emptying the magazine, I hit wind shield, tires and the rear of the pickup, my fusillade driving all standing there to dive for cover.

"Waste that beast!" I heard a shout coming from behind the van.

Thanks for letting me know where you are, Custer. Almost forgot about you, I reminded myself. I dropped the bloody remains of the arm still holding the SMG from my mouth, darting sideways towards Custer's position, leaping up and over the van. He was crouching low at one corner behind it, lying in ambush. Hardly touching the roof of the car, knowing where to expect him from his shout, I went straight off for him. His attempt of aiming an automatic pistol came to a dead stop when I crushed him to the ground, the impact -- only slightly cushioned by the new snow -- knocking him out cold, his steely grey eyes glazing over.

I heard the sound of boots crushing the snow beneath them, coming closer in a hurry.

When I turned towards my planned evacuation route -- I had been looking around the area just earlier, remember? -- the smell of gasoline hit my nose. Uh oh! The van's fuel tank is breached, either from the fusillade of the SMG or a stray shot from the others.

Intent on using their shock of discovering the fate of their leader, I made my way past the van, when late Custer's in-rushing buddies opened fire. Making sure to keep the van well between me and the guns of Custer's remaining men, I concluded, Time to draw them away from the Pig... It would take them only a moment to realize what must have happened on this side, but then I only needed a moment to get away.

"Oh my god! You will pay for that..." was all I heard before they opened fire, all guns blazing, hitting the van behind me.

Well, I believe I got their attention by now, I mused. High time to tail out. The onslaught not only wrecked havoc on the car, but also ignited the gasoline that had been leaking onto and down the street. With a wooooshhh! the rear of the van caught fire and a wall of flames was effectively blocking the way for my pursuers coming up behind the van; they were mad with a vengeance, almost frothing at their mouths.


Although I had been sprinting as fast as I could towards the small alley leading away from the road, opposite of the Blind Pig, the shock wave from the explosion not only singed the fur on my tail, but caught me completely by surprise. Jesus Christ! What did they put into that van beside fuel? I wondered. The force of the blast had knocked two of the six down to the ground. Faking a limp, I made sure that they saw me hobbling into the alley. How could they be so crazy as to shoot at that thing if they had it loaded with something that volatile? Of course, rousing their anger past any clear thought had been quite deliberate on my part...

Seems no one had bothered to tell them never to lose your head in a fight.

20: And Burn They Shall (Anton Nymous)

What a mess -- that idiot Leroy and his drunkard friends had started the shooting already. Well before anything was ready! Changing lanes, he stopped on the other side of the road.

"We should never have let Leroy in, contacts or not, Reverend," he said before jumping out of the car.

Fast now, as drunk as those slobs are, at least they got the front side of the pigsty well covered. Things could still work out as planned. Jogging over to the pickup, he was planning where to best put the cans of gasoline to smoke those beasts out.

When he reached the pickup the others had already gathered at the rear end.

Damnit, why where they just standing there and talking? Why weren't they getting those cans off the truck ? Instead they were joking! George and Bill had even started name calling.

Good thing the Reverend put a stop to that when he called over from the van.

"Stop your blabbering! These demon spawn have the hearing of the animals their forms mock. Get moving and grab those gas cans already, the rest of you get ready to pick off anything that tries to escape. Let's smoke them out in the name of the Lord, and kill anything showing its fuzzy muzzle!"

Yeah, that's the spirit. At least with Leroy and his buddies in front of that place, those inside would have to be even more drunk than his buddies to come out, until they got desperate enough to do so no matter what.

"Where are the gas cans?" he called to those now gathered around when he reached the rear of the pickup. Their only answer was shrugs and helpless looks.

The rear of the pickup was empty. Curse that son of a bitch.

"Leroy -- you idiot -- where did you put the gasoline?" he shouted.

It was then when everything went haywire. He couldn't see what had happened in front of the bar; he just heard Samuel call out, "Hey, what happened to Leroy?"

"Fuck, they took out John as well!!" exclaimed Carl, who stood at the SUV, brandishing the SMG Leroy had given him.

"Watch out, they must have a sniper over there!" Allen shouted, alarm raising his voice.

Had we been expected, had we been betrayed by one of our own, who wasn't one of us? While everybody looked out toward the place of sinful pestilence, our adversary sneaked up on us.

A cougar -- "lord of stealthy murder, with a heart both craven and cruel," as Theodore Roosevelt had so aptly described them -- cowardly attacked Carl from behind. He tried to fire his weapon at the wicked fiend, but was quickly subdued by its bestial strength. The shots that had been aimed at this most sadistic, voracious and bloodthirsty predator went wide, forcing all of our men to duck for cover.

All the stories about these dastardly cats killing indiscriminately, for sheer brute exhilaration, were proven true by how it mauled the poor man's arm.

He remembered what his grandfather had told him about these yellow-bellied brutes: That their seemingly skillful violence was not just designed for food or self-protection, but to satisfy an insatiable lust for destruction. There are reasons why no animal feels safe in its company. Unlike the lion or jaguar or leopard, feared by other animals only when they are obviously on the prowl hunting for food, this cat's unrestrainable ferocity makes it bad company, even for others of its kind.

"Waste that beast!" the Reverend ordered us from behind the van. But with the bullets flying wild in all direction, only Fred and Sam were in position to obey. However, both had taken hits by the spray of lead from Carl's SMG. Only when the magazine had run out, that villainous scoundrel finally overcame Carl, in obvious joy of its natural conquest of others, either larger or smaller, stronger or weaker, now showing its true pusillanimous nature.

"After it, don't let that monster get away!" he screamed.

Instead of facing us, facing a worthy opponent, facing his death, it ran, ran away, ran to --

"Oh my God." The beast jumped the van with a snakelike graze in a single leap. His worst fears were confirmed when there was no shot fired, only the thump of a body hitting the pavement; their hopes of a new, better life crushed, like the windpipe of the Reverend, all by the fangs of this merciless, sanguinary cutthroat.

"That demon murdered the Reverend!"

Now he knew why people had named these murderous savages the 'Cains of the animal world'. They were slayers and should be killed for their sinister and diabolic nature. And if that hellcat had once been a man, it had by now succumbed to the carnal instincts of its new embodiment.

Without a second thought, they all, to a man, opened fire, running towards the van.

"You will pay for that!" he screamed in anguish.

It was then that our fusillade ignited the gas tank of the van we'd stored our spare ammunition in. The shockwave of the resulting explosion drove our archfiend from its cover; that fraidy cat was once again running -- no, limping! -- away from the flames of justice. But this time we singed its tail. This time it wouldn't get away unpunished for its atrocities!

21: Shifting Gears (Steve Carson)

What the hell? I turned the corner to face the bar and all Hell broke loose. Those were definitely gunshots I heard, and some people were screaming. I ran forward a few steps to see gunfire coming out of the passenger windows of the vehicles that had just passed me. They were shooting people on the sidewalk with shotguns and automatic weapons! It was like something out of a war movie going on directly in front of me. I stood frozen like a fool in the middle of the road, just watching the nightmare going on in front of the Blind Pig.

When the onslaught of ammo stopped, those people that had taken cover behind a pickup got up and began to give chase after someone, or something.

I couldn't move.

While the others opened fire at some sort of cat creature, which dashed across the road, jumping for cover behind a van. With that, one of the gunmen joined his friends giving pursuit to the poor SCAB who seemed to be limping away into an alley.

My God, what should I do?

It would be wrong to say that part of me wanted to run away from the massacre. Almost all of me did. I panted in a confused motion as the men ran into the alley to my forward left, every bit of my consciousness screaming at me for self-preservation.

I can run to the nearest building and call the cops. No, they've probably already been called by now, and that would be a waste of time. My fear was still making my stomach turn, and I wanted to run away.

But something else was more powerful. Rage. Anger at the pointless violence going on in front of me. Anger at the anger, really. These normal humans were senselessly killing SCABs, and if I'd gotten here earlier I might have been one of their victims.

I don't normally view myself as a brave person; in fact I can be quite cowardly at times, in my own opinion. But something about the sheer injustice of what was going on just infuriated me beyond reason.

I gritted my teeth as I burst toward the alley, logic taking a back seat to unbridled fury. I casually made note of a group of SCABs running out of the Blind Pig, seemingly in my direction, but this didn't concern me.

22: Dragon at the Gate (Draxa)

Suddenly, I heard some shots ring out down the street, and immediately took off into the air. Landing on top of a nearby roof, I looked toward where the sound of the shots had come from. What I saw looked like a mountain lion, attacking the people who'd launched the attack on the bar. The lion seemed to have the upper hand at the moment; from where I was standing, I could see two of the attackers on the ground, one with his neck bent at an awkward angle, suggesting a broken neck. I decided it might be for the best if I slipped into the bar to see if I could help out with anything. As I started to glide towards the entrance, I saw the mountain lion lead the attackers down an alley. That was just the distraction I needed to get inside.

In the bar, the first thing I noticed was the abundance of SCAB individuals. The second thing was the look they gave me.

"Hurry up! Someone's keeping them distracted for now, but he needs help! " I yelled at them, managing to get a bunch of them to come back outside with me. "A mountain lion was fighting them off, and led them down that alley. They're armed, but I'm sure someone can help him!!"

After conferring with themselves for a moment, a group of them broke off towards the alley, to take care of the terrorists. I stayed behind, to see what I could do for the individual that had been shot. He was still breathing as far as I could tell, but had been shot at least once from what I could see, so was in need of help, fast. I ripped off my shirt, and used it to apply some pressure to the bullet wounds.

23: Into the Line of Fire (Michael Carson)

I heard the weapon start firing, and then the cat leaped for the gunman's arm. The two vanished from my sight behind the SUV, but I saw the results of his action; those standing across the road dropped in the hail of bullets peppering the van. Suddenly I saw the windshield of the pickup become a spider's web as the bullets riddled the truck. Those standing near it were either hit, or had dove for cover. I knew this was my one chance.

As the SMG fell silent I burst out of the door and toward the SUV. In my ape form I was far from swift on the ground, but I figured I had enough time before the goons would dare raise their heads. I had only gotten a few feet from the door when I saw the feline bounce over the top of the minivan and heard a shot followed by a muffled cry from the other side. Looking to my left I saw one of the goons starting to move out toward the van.

Shit, caught in the open, I thought and took a leap for where Bubba lay with his shotgun. In a move more graceful than I would have imagined I was capable of, I grabbed the gun and rolled into a firing position. Fortunately the attackers were focused on the cougar and didn't even give me a glance. One of them screamed something and they all started to run again. Noticing that the casualty next to me had a bandolier of shells around him, I took a moment to relieve him of that and looked for the best route to assist the cougar.

I moved to the front of the SUV just in time to see a group of six goons run down an alley across the street. There was a thud behind me and I turned, my weapon at the ready. A small dragon like SCAB had landed near the fallen leopard and was heading for the door.

"Maybe he can get somebody to move their ass," I growled as I again searched for a safe but fast way to get to the cougar. A power pole a short distance from the SUV gave me an idea. Looking at the layout of the lines, I noted that one ran into the alley.

"Time to get into the swing of things," I  muttered, moving to the pole and climbing to the top. I grabbed the shotgun with my foot and leaped for the line. It sagged and flexed like a rubber band -- but it held. If there's one thing spending twenty years as an ape will teach you, it's how to swing. With my arm span, once in motion, it would be hard for a human on the ground to keep up with me. The problem was that I had to swing up the street to the next pole in order to get the line that crossed the street. Not the shortest route, but for me, the fastest way to get there.

Reaching the other side and starting back toward the alley, I saw a kangaroo-SCAB heading in that same general direction. Across the street, the first of the Blind Pig patrons were finally coming out of hiding. At first they appeared to be in shock as they surveyed the carnage. Just as I swung into the alley they started to cross the street.

"Hang on there, old mountain cat. The cavalry's on the way," I said to myself. At that moment I heard a number of shots being fired at the end of the alley. I just hoped the cavalry was in time.

Sometimes it pays to plan; other times it pays to be lucky. Well, this night luck was on my side. The power line I was swinging along ended at a light near the end of the alley. From my elevated vantage point, I could see the attackers were busy reloading. As I made my final swing to grab the heavy mounting of the light, I saw the 'roo bound up to one of the goons who had been busy stuffing shells into his weapon. He started to bring the piece up but the roo was too fast, and tossed him like a sack of beans into the wall.

The familiar sound of a melon cracking told me he wouldn't bother us again.

24: Cornered (Duncan Cougar)

I heard their shouts -- the crushing of their boots in the snow -- as they came after me, rushing towards the alley.

Why couldn't they do the smart thing and run away, damn it! I berated myself.

The whole incident so far had only taken about a minute, and already half their people were down. It spoke well of their esprit de corps that they would continue their quest, but it didn't say much for their intelligence; not even fools should so willingly rush into an unknown situation. I had hoped that they were only some bullies and troublemakers, mislead by a fanatical leader, the one I had nicknamed Custer, but they were desperately trying to prove me wrong. Well, bullies are easily scared away by a superior force, but the only way to deal with fanatics is to make sure you don't grow more of them, and then and only then get rid of those you already have, e.g. by old age.

What's that? You're wondering how I be so calm, talking about risking bloody murder? Well, as far as I knew, none of them had died; even if they had, it would have been in the purpose of defending others as well as self-defense. They had either already committed an act of terrorism, or were responsible for others to attempt to do so, and me pouncing on them should bring their plan to a grinding halt and save the lives of many others. Yes, even the lives of those running towards me right now, zealous in hunting me down once and for all.

I would have preferred if they'd done the smart thing and run away, instead of following me. However, whatever they choose to do, I couldn't allow them to just continue their mindless act of violence against those innocents in the bar. So I had to get their attention, get all of them to either run away or else hunt me. Half-measures would only get more people killed. You might want to call it excessive force, brutal, barbaric. But if only some of them would stay behind and continue with their plan of burning down the Pig, the death toll would have been higher than all of us would like to think about.

I don't regret snapping the neck of the guy who shot at the Leopard. By my experience -- and I have a lot of experience in breaking the neck of my prey, normally just white-tailed deer -- he should be still alive.

Alive, but not well. Sure, he might find an anti-SCAB jury or judge, might even get of with a minor infraction, like shooting down a drunken, suddenly turned feral, possibly very dangerous SCAB... but he wouldn't walk free of what he had done, no matter what. The rest sure had gotten a few serious wounds and some were very likely still unconscious, but all of them should recuperate within a month or two, given some medical aid in a hospital, able to face jury and judge for their deeds and intentions.

I don't relish killing, but -- contrary to my looks -- I ain't pussyfooted about doing what I deem necessary. And if people dislike or even hate me for this...

I've learned to live with that. What would be the alternative, hm?

Should I have stepped down and tried talking them out of it? 'Please Sir, it's Christmas, couldn't you embrace all of god's creation in brotherly love.' A noble gesture for sure -- but a futile one as well, since they had already started shooting. While it's possible to deal with violence by presenting the left cheek after getting hit in the right, you better be sure that you will survive those hits and that those hitting you are actually willing to listen to reason. If they're not, well, the whole thing becomes pointless.

Again: What other alternatives were there?

Since those slugs wouldn't even have known that I was there, should I have just sit back to watch them burn down the bar or worse?

Sure, I could have done that. But I don't think I could live with the knowledge that I had been there, could have made a difference and didn't do a thing. Could you? Could you hide and watch from safety, while others are being murdered?

Call it a flaw in my mental makeup, but my mind just doesn't work that way.

Which brings us back to the present...

Those villains had picked themselves up and just rounded the corner into the alley, clearly enjoying the sight before them.

Since you got them away from the bar, now the people from the Pig only have to show up in time to save your fuzzy butt, I worried.

"Hah! See that stupid beast. Got itself cornered!"

I'd seen some of the patrons getting out when I ducked into the alley. The gunfire obviously hadn't gone unnoticed inside the bar.

"Now that devil will pay!"

If only someone would point out to them what's going on, or maybe one of them figure it out by himself. Those slobs were closing in and I couldn't play the dumb cornered cat for too long, if I didn't want to become one for real. Timing was crucial.

"Let's make that a long and suffering death. Hey Darren, give me your baseball bat!"

I made a few more desperate rounds. Looking for an escape from the obvious dead end I had ran into.

"Yeah, let's break every single bone of that vile beast!" exclaimed another one, swinging his bat through the air.

Cornered on the sides by three-story-high houses, the rear was closed by a flat roofed garage of some sort, while the remaining humans were closing in from the front, in obvious glee about my predicament, already planning out the various stages of a long lingering suffering death for me.

"That fur will make a nice trophy," another one noted.

Not if I can help it, I thought to myself.

"Yeah, let's skin it alive!" That one had some kind of Bowie knife.

As some from the Blind Pig were rushing around the corner -- Finally! -- I decided that now was the time to infuriate my chasers one more time.

"And at last let's roast that demon over a small fire. Let's give it a warm farewell to hell, fueled by the Flame of Justice!"

With another little dash I leaped up onto the roof of the garage, rolling out of their line of sight and fire. An easy enough task for me, as that roof was about ten feet high and it just happens fifteen feet is about as high as I can easily frog jump in a single leap -- and yes, that's not unusual for cougars. Although, I doubt that those hairless apes would be able to jump straight up even one third of  my limit.

Especially not with me waiting for them at the top, claws at the ready.

The gasps of shocked surprise of my escape were followed by them firing with all guns blazing at the top of the wall. The racket they made nicely drowned out the noise of the in-rushing patrons.

Cornered? Absolutely -- only it was them, not me. They had me just exactly where I wanted them.

25: White as Snow, Cold as Snow (Anton Nymous)

It was then that something smashed into him, hurtling him into the wall. His body sank down onto the snow covered ground. Mary, look at these snowflakes. Aren't they beautiful? One of the Lord's most wondrous creations. So white, pure and innocent... were his last thoughts, before all got cold and dark.

26: Taking Action (Steve Carson)

I entered the alley as the men were reloading their guns; the wall they were facing was coated with small-arms mortar holes from their gunfire. The cat-morph must have eluded them. The man closest to the alley's entrance, about twenty or so feet in, managed to catch a glimpse of me. But by then it was too late.

Let me just first say that I've never hit anybody in my entire life. Mostly because I try to avoid violence, but also because I tend to be quite uncoordinated. Because of this I never felt that I'd be able to do much damage, since I didn't think I'd be able to fight properly anyway. Such normal governing rationale was stricken from my thoughts here tonight. It just came to me in a flash, instinctively, and I let my feral nature take over.

Without even thinking, indeed operating on a basic primitive level that negates conscious thought, I simply reacted. In two swift moves, I hopped in front of the man and then quickly pulled my feet off the ground while my tail planted itself on the concrete. My legs lashed out with a speed and force I had no idea I was capable of mustering, and violently crashed into the man's stomach.

With a sickening crunching noise, he was literally lifted off his feet and sent flying backwards, smashing against the wall behind him and then falling to the ground in a jumbled heap.

"Damn!" one of the men exclaimed as he viewed his fallen comrade, and quickly tried to slide another magazine into his machine gun. I quickly got into position to pounce on him once he got the gun loaded, but didn't need to. No sooner had he finished his shriek then the mountain lion SCAB came down on him from above, obviously having sought rooftop shelter from the earlier gunfire. He made short work of the man, and I turned my attention to the remaining men.

27: Back Into the Fire (Duncan Cougar)

Thanking Mother Nature for providing mountain lions with these powerful hind-legs, and grateful that the Martian Flue hadn't messed too much with nature's plans when it overwrote my original body code, I rolled out of the line of fire, after gracefully landing in the snow on the roof of the garage I had leaped to. Seems I had just gotten away in time. Heilige Hundescheisse, those goons must be really mad at me now, the way they were shooting at everything here! With ricochets, chips of stone and concrete, pellets from the shot guns flying all over the place, I crouched as low as I could, while still trying to scan the progress of those from the bar.

Shit -- where did that kangaroo SCAB come from? Damn it, he's too fast, he'll be here well before the others!

Unless he was an experienced in fighting in close combat, his chances of taking down all six humans in the alley before at least one could get in a good shot were marginal at best.

And then those idiots still emptying their guns in my direction were going to become aware of the others coming from the bar.

Damnit! The best I can hope for is for him to create enough of an diversion that I don't have to slip between a rain of bullets coming my way. But jumping down again I'll have to, I muttered to myself.

At least some of the goons had run out of ammunition by the time I heard the kangaroo-morph make contact: A heavy thud, followed by the noise of a body hitting a wall, badly.

A quick glance confirmed my suspicion. Only one of them was down, while the others were all busy, either reloading their guns or already taking aim at the new target that had suddenly appeared in their backs.

"Damn!" one of the men exclaimed. This time at least I agreed with his sentiment, although for completely different reasons. Since they all now had their attention on my new sidekick, it was my turn again to jump back out of the frying pan into the line of fire. Taking careful aim, I jumped down with all the force I could muster; pouncing hard into the back of the only goon down there still holding an automatic, sending it spinning away wildly and out of reach. My 200 pounds almost snapped his backbone, hurling him forcefully down, his fall only softened by an inch of snow. Rebounding off his body I leapt for the next guy, who was almost finished reloading his shot-gun, when I heard a muffled scream from my 'trampoline'. Probably broke his jaw or cut his tongue when hitting the ground, I thought, my aim already firmly fixed on the shot gun rising up in front of me. With a thud and clang my jaws closed around the barrel; my paws got a firm hold on it on either side as well. The force of my last jump, together with my weight, brought this gunman down, pinning him to the ground. I pressed the gun barrel down against his throat with my paws, hopefully switching the safety back on with a claw-swipe. My hot breath mixed with the odor of cheap liquor and stale beer coming from his mouth. He was clearly immobilized by the shock of finding himself suddenly face to face with this beast out of his worst nightmares.

Suddenly, a voice boomed out from above: "Everybody freeze!"

28: Standing Down (Steve Carson)

At this point, the rest of the SCABs from the bar had made it to the alley. I quickly grabbed ahold of one of the men and decked him in the face before tossing him over, knowing the others would deal with him. The last one managed to actually load his shotgun, but the mountain lion jumped on him and shoved him to the ground, holding the length of the gun down on his neck and choking him.

Nonchalantly, I walked over to lion and man with the sounds of struggle behind me, and leaned down to face him while he was kept pinned by my fellow SCAB.

I gave him a glance that only could be read: My advice to you: Stay down.

"Everybody freeze!" a voice suddenly shouted from above.

29: Freeze! (Michael Carson)

A little further back, one of the guys with an automatic had spotted the 'roo and was preparing to fire. I raised the shotgun, but the cougar pounced him before I could fire, driving him hard into the ground. The 'roo took hold of the next nearest goon and flipped him toward the approaching posse of SCABs just as another raised his shotgun. He never got a chance to use it before the cougar had him pinned with the barrel of the gun across the man's throat.

"Well damn it -- if I can't get into this fight I'll sure as hell end it," I grumbled, somewhat annoyed that I hadn't been able to lend a hand.

"Everybody freeze!" I boomed out from my position on the wall. "Put down your weapons and put your hands on the back of your head."

For a moment everybody stopped, both SCAB and human alike. As some looked in the direction of the command and saw the shotgun-toting ape they realized whose side had just gotten the drop on who. I decided to make it clear for everyone.

"You human goons drop the weapons now." I glanced at the cougar and continued, "I think you can release him, Mr. Cougar. If he so much as twitches he'll find out how a shotgun feels from the business end."

The cat stepped off the man, flinging the shotgun off to the side as he did so. As it clattered to the ground I thanked God it didn't have a hair trigger. With that, the other SCABs stepped forward and roughly assisted the men to their feet. A new concern jumped to my mind; seeing I seemed to have command at the moment, I spoke up.

"Just hold them until the cops arrive," I called out. "Killing these creeps would be too quick and easy for them."

Even in the darkness I could see the color drain from each of the attackers as the thought of what might have happened entered their very small minds. Fortunately, the sound of approaching sirens reinforced my suggestion. Those still able to stand were led out of the alley. Placing the shotgun in my feet, but still covering our prisoners, I slowly retraced my steps down the power line toward the Pig.

30: The One You Didn't See... (Steve Carson)

I looked up to see an orangutan SCAB hanging from the wall above us, aiming a shotgun down into the alley. He added, "Put down your weapons and put your hands on the back of your head."

I turned around in time to see a regular human, pointing his weapon at me, who begrudgingly dropped it on the ground and sneered at the orangutan. I suddenly felt very afraid -- I hadn't even seen him. One second more and he might have blasted... I closed my eyes and exhaled, nervously running the palm of my hand back and forth over my mouth.

The mountain lion got up off the man and limped away, this time for real, I believe. Still breathing heavily, I backed up into the wall behind me and slowly slid down it until I plopped down sloppily on the ground.

In the distance I could hear police sirens, and I watched as the SCABS led the shooters out of the alley. I began to shake, my nerves finally catching up to me. I should be dead, but I'm not. I needed some time to think about that.

31: Help! on the Way (Draxa)

"Don't just stand there! Call an ambulance, the police! Now!!" I yelled to a doe-morph who, unsurprisingly, was standing like a deer stuck in the headlights. She ran inside, and I stayed where I was, trying to rouse the unconscious man. It was no use; he seemed badly injured, and needed medical attention as soon as possible. There was nothing for me to do but wait, and hope they got there in time. I barely noticed as the mountain lion, limping and covered in blood, walked past me. He glanced in my direction as he passed, a look of pure exhaustion on his face.

"Please... get help," I said to him, and he nodded his head in return. With help imminent, I could only hope that the group going after the terrorists held them off until the cops got there, because if I let go of the pressure, I was pretty sure the injured man would bleed to death. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, and then I waited some more. Whatever happened, whatever else went down, I knew that for the sake of this injured person, and whatever other SCABS had been hurt that night, the terrorists had to get what was coming to them. I barely noticed when someone came out from the bar and said, "I'm a doctor, I'll help him."

32: Impersonations (Terence F. Lee)

Suddenly I was startled into flight again by series of loud, chattering reports. Gaining control of myself, I dropped back to the rooftop and glanced upward anxiously, unwilling to take off into the middle of a holiday fireworks display, but the sound seemed to be coming from the street a few blocks distant. What the heck? Gunshots -- on Christmas Eve!?

I'm as big a rubbernecker as the next guy; I swooped over to the roof of a building overlooking the commotion. Gingerly I peered over the edge of the roof, and then cringed back with an inadvertent squawk as another fusillade of shots tore up the brickwork. After a few moments I heard shouts and the unmistakable thud of flesh striking stone. I risked another quick look over the edge.

The scene below looked as though a gang war had erupted. Several bodies lay in the street at various points, some still alive, some apparently beyond help. The snow-covered pavement was splashed vividly with blood in several places, and the stench of cordite hung heavy in the air.

In the alley directly below me, several armed men were faced off against what appeared to be a large kangaroo. A crowd of people burst from the front door of the bar, and I was surprised to note that they all appeared to be victims of Stein Syndrome. As the gunmen turned to face their new opponents, some type of cat-creature leaped into their midst from a nearby rooftop and began a whirlwind attack on the nearest gunman. With fearsome speed, the bar patrons subdued the rest of the gunmen before another shot could be fired.

As the battle was being resolved, I noticed one of the wounded men in the street pull himself groggily to his feet. He had sustained at least one injury to the upper body, although the blood loss seemed to be minimal at this point. He snatched his pistol from the sidewalk and took off down the street at a limping run.

Before I had time to consider my actions, I was aloft and shadowing him from above. He ran south as far as the corner of the next block, then paused, seeming to debate whether to return to his companions or keep right on running. As he reloaded his automatic, I landed in a shadowed spot above and thought furiously. Could I do anything here to prevent further bloodshed? Suddenly inspiration struck.

I leaned over the edge of the roof, striving for maximum volume and fidelity: The gunman jumped in place as he heard a loud siren warble to life, soon followed by the screech of brakes. Then came the sound of car doors slamming and running feet. He looked frantically up and down the street, training his gun into the alleys surrounding him, trying to place the origin of the noises.

"Drop your weapon, and raise your hands above your head!" boomed a loud, take-no-prisoners voice -- the voice of tough veteran actor Ed Harris, actually. Chuckles down below probably wasn't a closet cinemaphile; too bad for him. I added a crackle of megaphone static for verisimilitude.

The gunman jumped again, seeming to rotate his head 360 degrees. "Lie flat on the ground!" I ordered. "This is your last chance. Lie down or we will open fire!" His face a study in bafflement, the gunman complied.

Great. Now what? A nearby storm drain gave me another idea. "Take your weapon by the barrel and throw it into the drain on your right." I commanded. The gunman hesitated; he'd probably never been given such an order on any of his previous arrests. "Now, goddamnit!" I shouted, followed by the sound of weapons being cocked. Totally unnerved, the gunman hastily threw his pistol into the drain, where it vanished with a satisfying splash.

"Good. Put your hands on your head and remain still." Where the hell are the real cops? I could hear sirens, but they were still faint. The guy below was getting fidgety. "I said to remain still!" I warned. Instead, he raised himself to his knees and stared up and down the street. "Where are you?" he shouted.

Uh-oh. The jig's up. "Put your hands on your head," I warned, but instead he stood up and stared up at the rooftops, a thunderously angry expression on his face. "Now bring your knees in tight."

"What!?" he shouted. "What the fuck did you say!?"

I couldn't resist; I switched to Tim Curry. "But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insay-, ay-, ay-ay-ay-, -ayne."

"Who the fuck is this?" he shrieked.

Now for Charlton Heston. "This is Jesus, Kent," I intoned, "and you've been a very naughty boy."

He ran to the storm drain and groped futilely for his pistol. At that moment a police cruiser rounded the corner. The gunman leaped to his feet and dashed in the opposite direction, back toward the scene of the shooting. He stopped short as he saw several of the bar's patrons emerge from the alley and head toward him. Reversing direction once again, he ran straight into the waiting police officers. Screaming curses, he was cuffed and hauled bodily into the cruiser.

"And stop masturbating!" James Earl Jones shouted after him, then I took to the air and circled back to watch the police round up the rest of the gunmen. This was turning out to be the weirdest Christmas ever.

The Downward Spiral • Ch. 1: i ii iii Ch. 2: i ii iii
[tsat home] [#44] [stories]