|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. But no matter what happens to the body, nevertheless the
human spirit remains unalterable...
Go here for more information on the setting.
by Sly Squirrel
©2001 Sly Squirrel -- all rights reserved
I would have thrown my headgear into a corner and screamed, but I was too drained to do much more than push towards the empty interview room where my stuff was hidden. Pain drove the yearning to hurt someone, anyone, leaving no room in my mind for more than a vestigial wish for relief.
Conseco Fieldhouse's locker rooms were the best I'd ever seen; my competitor's pass gave full access to the Pacers' home locker room. We're talking Robin Leech nice here: Elaborate marble sinktops, blue tiled showers (with heads ten feet in the air!), even a T1 connection for the media in a tiny interview room.
Too bad I couldn't spend more than a day here...
The match burned brightly in my memory, like a fresh wound that had been doused in iodine. Every detail gouged a deep trough into my long term memory, from the mat number to how my opponent smelled like talcum powder. JT Woodson was one big black guy, with muscles bigger than my head. He probably knew the match was already over when he found out he was wrestling a bunny SCAB...
Inside the interview room, I painstakingly pulled off the layers of warm-up clothes I'd worn all season. Ripped nylon jacket and pants, ratty New Palestine shirt, long black mesh shorts, kneepads, wrestling shoes, singlet, and underwear made a massive pile inside my laundry bag. It was an effort to bend down and pick up the rag and body wash beside my bag; as my spine curved down I felt the raw bones rub up against each other.
I tried, God damn it I tried! So why doesn't that make it feel any better? Losing hurts, especially when it's a 16-1 tech fall at state finals. The warm shower water washed JT's sweaty musk from my fur as the match jostled my mind. I pulled out the rag, squeezed a dollop of green anti-fungal soap onto it, and started scrubbing, sorting out my emotions as I went along.
Sure, I always had my excuses. There was the case of Martian Flu which led to my coming down with SCABS early in the season. Then there was the spinal injury I sustained while I relearned every move after my rabbit transformation, which added excruciating back pain to the twitchy slings and arrows of rabbitdom. It's amazing I got this far, especially with the pressure to go to the government warrens.
But still I lost!
I yelled out; swore; and pounded the tiled wall with my paw. Someone walked in and asked if I was all right. I nodded to him and he went about his business; I didn't want to talk, and somehow he sensed it.
That kid wasn't supposed to be here. The aftermath of this kind of loss is supposed to be a solitary affair, replete with romanticized, lonely introspection. I was supposed to be talking to the mirror, but simply moving was a pain; walking was hard on my massive rabbit feet, and hopping jostled my stress fracture.
Which left me in a susurrant flume of scalding water and disappointment. My heart felt like someone had hollowed it out with a grapefruit spoon.
Woodson made me look like a fool! When I missed my takedown, he used his strength to muscle me to the mat. Once I was down, he threw in cradle after cradle, scoring three points every time I turned. When I tried to fight the move, lances of pain shot through my spine and he had his cradle once again. The one time I managed to escape from underneath him, he snapped me down and went back to his cradles.
And the worst part -- the most sickening feeling in the world -- was the last cradle. I watched in amazed horror as the referee slowly counted out the nearfall points. Even though I managed to escape the hold, Woodson still won by tech fall. The pain was mind-blowing; it would have been so easy to give up right then and there and plant my shoulders on the mat.
But no, I fought with my last shred of will to get off my back. As soon as I hit my belly, the ref blew his whistle and called the match 16-1 in Woodson's favor.
I turned off the shower and slowly walked over to the mirror, fluffing my fur as I went. Coach was all smiles when I stumbled off the mat. To quote him: "That took guts to go out there with an injury like that. And with SCABS too? I'm proud of you."
Why wasn't I proud of myself, then?
It's not just the coach. Everyone's all smiles around me ever since I became a SCAB. Oh, look at the rabbit boy! So friendly. So compassionate. So cordial. So complacent.
I was so sick of it I could have screamed.
But what of Woodson? The realization slapped me across the face as I stared at the wet rabbit in the mirror. Woodson won the match, but he couldn't pin me.
I let him beat me, but he could not conquer me!
There will be another year; I just have to keep fighting. If I never give up, I'll never fail completely. With a smile I touched the pink nose on the tip of my muzzle.
Never give up, and never fail completely.
And, for just a second, my heart was alight with a warm fire. Not one fueled by rage or vengeance or fear, but a much tougher compound: Determination.
With the warmth still within me, I walked over to my bag, pulled out a set of street clothes, and dressed. Next year!