|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. And unusual people can have unusual relationships...
Go here for more information on the setting.
You're a Good Friend
by Oren the Otter
©1998 Oren the Otter -- all rights reserved
Do you remember that fateful day, Oren? That day that we met? Of course you do. How could you forget? I often replay it in my mind, though. It was both frightening and wonderful.
You had just finished up another one of your stories and sent it off to Jesse so that he could look it over.
Oh, it was Gornul? Well, I wasn't there for that part. I was there, however, to see you come out of your cozy little burrow and dive into the lake.
You love to swim, don't you? Me, I just do it because it comes naturally. You were sure enjoying your swim that day. Then you got hungry.
I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, I guess. You locked your sights on me and never let your gaze wander. I must have been the juiciest morsel you ever saw. It seemed like only an instant before you had corralled me into the mouth of the river and up against your stone dam.
In a flash, your teeth closed around my body. It was the greatest pain I had ever known until that time. I remember how your canines dug deeper and deeper as you waddled back to your burrow with me. You laid on your back on your seaweed mat and with a cry of glee, ripped open my side.
I know you saw the lungs form. I felt my ribs exposed to the air. I knew that you were surprised from the way you suddenly froze. Then I screamed. My agony found voice and I screamed a very human scream of pain. I am amazed that you didn't scream as well, and it's to your credit that you didn't drop me. You set me on the floor so gently, wound-side-up so as not to get my insides dirty. I heard you on the phone.
"Hello? 911? My name is Oren Verden, and I'm an otter SCAB living at Mile Marker 12, county road 3, out by the lake. Yes. I just caught a fish and I think it's a SCAB. Yes, I know that, but you don't understand. I almost ate him -- her -- whatever. He's hurt pretty bad. That's right. I'm right where the river runs into the lake. Thank you! Yes, I tore his side off before I realized that he's a SCAB. No I didn't. Do I need to? He has lungs."
I felt you place me, again, ever so gently into a pan of clean water. It was cold and crisp, and helped to numb the pain.
"He's not moving." you said, beginning to cry. "I think he's gonna die!"
The 911 operator kept you on the line for a long time. I think that it was primarily to keep you calm until the police arrived. Of course, you never do keep that phone fully charged, do you? The batteries gave out on you rather quickly. You spent the rest of the wait softly pouring water over me and begging me not to die.
When the paramedics arrived, you had to carry me out to them. I heard one of them make a morbid joke. "Man, I should have brought lemon and butter." I almost laughed aloud at the way he howled when you bit him on the leg. You're a precious one, Oren.
You rode with me in the ambulance. You didn't even know me, yet you had to make sure I survived.
I know you must have been surprised when after several hours in the emergency room, the doctors came out and told you that I was asking for you.
You found me floating quietly in a half-full tank of water. My eyes had a look of intelligence to them that wasn't there before.
"Hello?" you said timidly.
"Oren?" was my reply. I think I surprised you, having remembered your name from when you called 911.
"Who am I?"
You shook your head, sadly.
"The doctors are calling me 'Ick', short for 'Ickthyo'. I think I prefer 'Theo'."
I remember that you began sobbing then. "I didn't mean to hurt you!" was what I heard through your crying. "I thought you were just a fish!"
I asked you to come to me, and give me your hand. You did, and I placed my fin on your finger in what I hoped was a comforting manner.
I see you remember. Yes... as banal as it sounds, I was more concerned for your pain than mine. I had been stitched back together and was already healing, but I can only imagine the torment that you must have gone through. Humans and otters don't often think about the feelings of fish. They're programmed not to, otters especially. What must it have done to you, hearing the agonized scream of a creature that had been the staple of your diet?
Oh, Oren... I don't mean to make you cry. Hey, it all worked out for the best, remember? Of course, there were some hard times before that happened, but you stuck with me. You must have taken me to every hospital in the county trying to find out if any of them ever had a patient who turned into a rainbow trout. It's really not surprising that none of them did. Martian Flu is generally treatable at home, now. It has to be. Hospitals would collapse under the strain if all but the most severe cases didn't get treatment at home.
Imagine my delight when one of the nurses passing by mentioned a neighbor who had turned into a trout. Theodore Jefferson, she said. I knew there was a reason I liked 'Theo'. Like the good friend you are, you took me to the address she gave.
I knew that my family would be surprised to see me again. I was so nervous. It was as if I was meeting them for the first time. Did I have kids? Was I married? Did my parents live with me?
Then Tiffany answered the door. Instantly, I remembered her. She was a vision of beautiful chocolate-brown skin, long, ebony hair and deep blue eyes (the result of SCABS).
"Tiffany?" I breathed.
"Theo?" she answered. "Oh my word, what are you doing back here?"
"I've just gotten my memory back, or at least a little piece of it. This is my friend, Oren. He's been helping me."
"Hello." you said. She didn't answer.
"I've come home." I announced.
Tiffany stood for a moment and sighed, then she destroyed my world. "This isn't your home any more, Theo."
"You caught the Flu eight years ago. At first we fooled ourselves into thinking that everything would be all right, but then your mind went. I couldn't take being married to a fish, Theo."
Yes, those were her words. They're still etched right onto my brain.
"I took you up to the lake and set you free. When you were declared legally dead, I got married again. Bill is due home in an hour."
"No. I cannot handle this. Theo, you're a nice guy and all, but I am not ready to have you back in my life." With that, she closed the door.
We both stood there... well, I floated... looking dumbfounded. "I know a polymorph who can turn her into a water beetle." you said. "Very painfully."
I just floated. I had been so totally crushed. My mind was still intact, but I didn't want to reveal the fact. I kept silent.
"I think," you said, "that I'd better introduce you to a rabbit friend of mine."
That was when you brought me here. I thought it strange that you were taking me to a bar, but you knew your friends' habits. Phil was there, just as you predicted. As I recall, he was having an argument with Barney. They were extraordinarily polite about it, but they were arguing. I don't even remember what it was over. I think it was women. I don't know. My attention was on the others.
They were making jokes about how you had gone out and gotten supper for everyone. I have never seen you so mad before. Apparently, neither had they. When you yelled "Stop it! He's not dinner, he's a SCAB!" in that deep, booming voice so out of place in such a small animal, even the Lupine Boys looked positively frightened.
Barney pointed to my bowl and said "Yuze guys need ta notice details. Dis fish gots human eyes."
"This is Theo Jefferson," you said. "He's in need of some SCABS counseling, and I think both you guys could help him a lot."
You set me on the table. I guess you expected me to start talking. It took a while, didn't it? It took almost an hour of soothing reassurances mixed with subtle chastisements from Phil to get me to say anything.
You never left the bar during that time. I watched you play pool with Copernicus, trying very hard not to trip over Jack's hooves. Donnie never did get him to stop sleeping under the table, did he?
I stayed at the West Side Shelter that week. I spent many hours talking to the rabbit. Don't think I didn't notice how often you stopped in, though. Hang on a second...
Scratch! Can I bother you? My bowl's getting a little dry and I... Ah! Thank you! You wouldn't believe the way this low humidity just sucks the water out of a fishbowl.
Where was I? Oh yes. The end of the week, I made a decision. I wanted to go back to the lake. Human society is nice, but it's really no place for a trout. You know how surprised I was when I got up there and saw what you had done? I still can't believe that you dug that great big pond in one week. I guess it made sense, though. You could be absolutely certain of never hurting me again simply by never fishing in the pond. Otter, you are something else. By the way, thanks for hooking the pond up to the river. That water was starting to get a little stale.
Wolverine claws? Is that how you did it? I didn't know you could do that. Learn something new every day. I truly appreciate it, though. It really is a nice, cozy place for a fish to live. And then when Annette came...
Were you there that day? It still galls me what that man did. His wife hadn't even gone feral like I did, but even as she begged him not to, he dumped her in the pond and drove off. Well, you know how well Annette and I hit it off. That's a matter of history. You know something? I think it's much too incredible a coincidence that two fully morphed trout SCABs would end up in the same pond. That guy had to have heard I was there. I suppose that means that I never would have met my wife if you hadn't tried to eat me that day.
Did I mention that we've got eggs? Oh yeah! We're waiting to see what they're going to be. Of course, I don't care. Long as they have scales and gills, I'll be happy.
A doctor? Oh, no. We haven't. After all, it's not like I have a job, and...
You will? Oh, thank you Oren! We never thought we'd be able to afford one! We're so afraid of what might happen if the children are somehow born half-human or something. Annette's been going out of her mind with worry!
You're a good friend.
Hey... looks like Brian's starting up a card game. Wanna sit in for a few hands? I could use someone to hold my cards for me.