|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. Unusual... but not always undesirable...
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by Hallan Mirayas
©2002 Hallan Mirayas -- all rights reserved
Snowflakes drifted gently down outside the bedroom window as I lay in bed, gazing up at the ceiling. The alarm clock, barely visible out of the corner of my eye, read 8:00 AM. Christmas morning. Lifting my hand, I flexed the claws out one at a time, checking them over for nicks or broken tips. I can't believe it's been a whole year, I thought as each claw, found undamaged, retracted in turn.
People always ask me how I can stay so cheerful, what with the fur coat and predator's looks. Sure, I know that this is permanent, barring a medical miracle, and that a lot of people will hate me because of it. On the other hand, this has a lot going for it.
A year and a day ago, I wore glasses thick enough that, on a sunny day, they could be used to light a fire. Now, they collect dust on the top of my cluttered dresser, left to rot like a relic from a bygone age. I got up and walked over to touch them, to peer through them into a skewed vision of reality. They look so alien now. I set them down and went back to my bed, stretching out across the disarranged, claw-safe covers, and gazed out the window at the falling snow, my head pillowed atop crossed arms.
A year and a day ago, I would have been able to tell this snow was coming two days ahead of time. Back then, I walked with a pronounced limp, my left leg an inch and a half shorter than my right. It was nearly shattered in a car accident when I was ten. I could predict when bad weather was coming because my leg would start throbbing. Now, I learned bad weather was coming like everyone else: by watching the forecast. Now, I had to watch my head walking through doors that had once been no problem for my short, uneven self.
Feeling my tail curling across my thighs and heels, I remembered how much my balance had improved once I'd figured out how to use the thing. When people ask me about it, I usually say I tend to forget it's even there, but that's not quite true. For example, I still have to think of where to put it to keep it from getting stepped on. Not a pleasant experience. Still, that's a small price to pay for the benefits. Improved balance was a major part, but it also expresses my moods in ways that I couldn't have managed before. Granted, it distributes my body language around a bit more, but I've found that I can actually be more expressive with movable ears and a tail than without.
Rolling over onto my back, I looked up at the ceiling again, nose and ears twitching. I could smell the aroma of fresh bacon cooking, could hear it sizzling on the stove. Mom was up already. A year and a day ago, I never knew bacon, scrambled eggs with cheese, and hot buttered toast could smell that good. I took a deep breath, curling my upper lip a bit like I'd seen on lion documentaries. I still find it amazing how much that improves my sense of smell. Now I can practically inhale my way through a fragrance shop, drifting aimlessly from scent to scent as if I were floating on multicolored rivers of water. If I close my eyes, I can almost touch them, feel them flow through my fingers.
There was a rustle on the hall carpet, followed by a knock at the door. It opened a moment later. "Harry? You awake?" Mom swung the door open and stepped in as I hastily snatched for the covers. She was dressed in festive red sweater and green pants, with a big 'Merry Christmas' embroidered across the front.
"Mom!" I protested, ears dropping in indignation as I yanked the covers over my light blue boxers. "Mind giving me a little more warning before you come waltzing in?" My tail tip thumped a staccato of irritation on the bedspread.
She rolled her eyes and sat down on the edge of my bed, a smirk playing at the corners of her mouth. "Harry, I used to change your dirty diapers. You don't have anything I haven't seen before."
Scowling, I clutched the blankets closer, and changed the subject. "If you're in here, then who's cooking the bacon?" I asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously. I like my bacon crisp, but not burnt.
"Your brother. We've been up for over an hour, sleepyhead, waiting for you." She reached over and tousled my mane. As I swatted her hand away, she leaned in and gave me a hug. "Are you okay?" she asked in my ear, sounding concerned. "You look a little depressed."
"Just... thinking," I said as I lay back, my head sinking into the pillow. "The year passed really quickly, didn't it?"
Mom lay down beside me and nodded. "It has been a whole year, hasn't it? It really doesn't seem like just a year ago, you were in the hospital, lying in that bed."
Did I mention that SCABS probably saved my life? A year and twelve hours ago, the car I was driving skidded through an ice-covered intersection at around 40 miles per hour, crashed into a ditch, and flipped end for end. I don't remember anything after I hit the brakes, but I'm told the car landed hard on its roof, crushing it like an empty soda pop can. A seatbelt doesn't really help in that situation. Neither does an airbag. A year and ten hours ago, the doctors told my mother I had severe head trauma and damage to the upper vertebrae of my spine. They also reported a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. They weren't sure I'd even last the night. Mom told me she went to my room, shut the door, dropped to her knees, and prayed for a miracle. A year and nine hours ago, SCABS set in.
"It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen," she said, putting her hand on mine and giving it a gentle squeeze. "Your body knitting itself back together like that. You came out different, but you came out alive. And you opened your eyes and looked up at me and said, 'Hi, Mom.'" I could see tears in her eyes, like the ones I'd seen when I woke up, a year and seven hours ago. She reached over and gave me another hug. "I was so scared, but you came out alright."
My brother's voice came up from the kitchen, where I could hear pans and plates clinking. "Hey!" he called. "Fuzzy brother! Get up or I'll eat your breakfast!" He always called me his 'fuzzy little brother', even before SCABS, when I couldn't grow a beard to save my life. It had a different meaning now, and a lot of the teasing tone it used to carry was gone.
"You eat my breakfast, I'll eat you!" I roared back over Mom's laughter. I nudged her on the cheek with my muzzle (she said my tongue tickled), then shooed her out the door so I could get dressed. Closing the door behind her, I smiled as I rummaged through my closet for my favorite robe, a blue and green terrycloth one that I'd had for about five years, and a pair of old gray sweatpants. Even before SCABS, I'd been 'roomy' across the shoulders, a trait I'd inherited from my mother's side of the family, so the robe still fit. Threading my tail through a slit in the back of the sweatpants, I shrugged my way into the robe, and gazed out the window for a moment. The snow was gently falling outside, and, on a whim, I exhaled, then pressed my nose to the pane, leaving a foggy noseprint on the glass. Taking a step back to look at my handiwork, I smiled at my reflection. It's going to be a good day, I thought as I turned for the door. A good day, indeed.