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|Tales from the Blind Pig story universe|
I saw the bar from a ways off. Eagle eyes in earnest. A few drinks might be nice, I thought, knowing full well however that now I only drink to forget. SCABs tended to do that to you. I paused, considering my options. Most shelters won’t take people that are drunk out of their minds, but if I decided to find a shelter, I’d have to spend tonight remembering what SCABs did to my life. I choose the drink and fending for myself on the streets. I walked briskly in the late-autumn chill.
Most SCAB-friendly bars I went to were depressing. People went there to drink to forget. I wandered from town to town, living off whatever I could find or get for free. Most of the time, I ate freshly killed rats and mice. Before you go to puke, I’m a golden eagle animorph. I really have two states I alternate in, a more humanoid state and full out eagle. In my most human, I’ve still got feathers, a tail and a beak.
This place was different from the other bars. I could see that from about two blocks away. This place was not sad. Rather, I could hear sounds of laughter as I got closer, the lights seemed to twinkle merrily and the SCABs inside were not the usually sad bunch, or the occasional angry bunch, but a different breed altogether. They seemed to take there changed status in stride, and get on with life with a smile.
Good for them, I thought grumpily. I was reminded of a line from Jethro Tull’s First Snow on Brooklyn, where Ian Anderson croons, “Now, it's the first snow on Brooklyn and my cold feet are drumming/You don't see me in the shadows from your cozy window frame”. I felt like that. Unwanted and uncared for. Cold too. I walked in, and sized the place up. The bar was well lit, but dim enough to create darker corners and long shadows. The place was actually quite large, with booths where some of the more timid prey animals talked in hushed tones. The bar was well equipped for SCABs, I saw all manner of specialty equipment from paw cups to beanbag chairs for flightless birds. This place must really be a hotspot in order to afford all of that, I thought. The patrons themselves were quite varied. There was a man at the piano, singing something from Bob Dylan, and a couple of lupines where howling along. Quite a few patrons glanced up at me and sized me up. Some shrugged and went back to their business, some kept a close eye on the newcomer, but many morphs with enhanced smelling crinkled their noses. Nothing goes by an eagle unnoticed. I probably smelled like shit, actually to be more on the mark, piss, but I really didn’t give a damn.
I had other issues. My predator instincts were kicking in, and kicking hard. I wanted to dig in to the feast around me. Mice, rabbits, voles, even a raccoon in the back, all here for the taking. I took a step in further, and let the door close behind me. I closed my eyes, and told myself that these were people, not food and that I was not a golden eagle, not a predator come for his prey. I was just a sad, kicked out and lonely hobo looking for a drink. Closing my eyes has always helped me to curtail the instincts.
I chose a barstool that had a few empty barstools by it. I wanted to be alone tonight and quickly bowed my head and prepared to wait. I looked like street trash, with a faded red hoodie that was on the brink of being scrapped, an old tee shirt that had yellowed with age, a pair of jeans that had more holes in them than material. I never wore shoes or socks; they just don’t make stuff for talons. I knew that this was a more respectable bar, hell it had a piano and pool table. They probably didn’t want my “kind” here. It was, however, a SCABs bar and I was going to get my drink. Screw all of that class stuff, after all, those upper-middle class bigots were the reason I was living my life like this. I had no idea how long it had been, and I tried my best not to think about it. It had happened so suddenly.
I glanced up and saw the barkeep, a huge man with a bull head. I was surprised to say the least. Some barkeeps never would serve me unless I asked, and then only did it because I would give them hell if they didn’t. Most just put me low on their list of people to serve. I got a drink, but after every one else got their drinks. “Give me the cheapest thing you got on tap. If you got a bottle that’s cheaper, I’ll go for that”, I told him. The barkeep wandered away, and I was again surprised I didn’t get the old jaw drop reaction that I could talk.
The barkeep was good, and I got my drink (beer from the tap) quickly and silently thanked God that I could still process all the normal things humans could. I had still remained faithful all these years, and tonight was a good one, so why loose my faith now? I was in a good bar, a place where I didn’t have to worry about getting mugged, I had a good barkeep and money to pay for the ale I was about to drink. I was warm for the first time in a while. So why on earth was I still depressed?
I took a long gulp from my glass, and put it down to find the barkeep signing something at me. My eyes widened in shock. I hadn’t used sign in so long, I was surprised I still remembered some of the motions. I remembered using it to pass along answers back in high school… can’t think about that kind of stuff tonight. I shook my head and signed that I needed to see that again. I don’t think I wanted to talk out of my troubled mood, but I wanted to talk out sheer curiosity. I wanted to see what kind of grasp I still had on the language. I had no idea, but this was the start of an important night, and the start of me finally turning my life around.
You want to talk about something?, he signed. I started to try and sign back that I didn’t want to talk to anybody when I couldn’t. I just didn’t remember all the motions. I fumbled around for a bit and then just gave up. I was embarrassed and felt a blush, but I knew I didn’t show it. Feathers don’t turn red.
“Its been forever since I last signed… I’m- I’m sorry, I just don’t remember all the motions. I…I guess now I kind of owe you my story. My name’s Chris…,” I said. My name is Donnie, and well, I got time for a story. If you don’t want to tell, fine, he signed back. I needed him to resign a few things, but I got the sentence in the end.
I looked into my drink and toyed with it for a few minuets. I really hated talking about my past… but I’d told other barkeeps the whole thing when I was drunk enough, and Donnie was good. I would probably tell him it anyway, later tonight. No harm done, I thought if only one person hears about it. Now that I wanted to talk, I had to figure out where to start. I took a deep breath and began.
“I’m…I’m from central Alabama. We really don’t get too many people up that way, so ours was one of the last communities to be hit by the Flu. I got it, just like everyone else. My uncle died from it. I got off with just flu-like symptoms, but I… I also got SCABs. I transformed into a golden eagle in the middle of catholic mass. Heh, I was actually singing lead in the choir when it happened. It was so fast, I never even figured out what the hell happened. One moment I was gearing up my voice to jump up an octave, the next, I’m screeching as an eagle to go in for the kill… It was the St. Patrick’s Day mass and on that mass our priest does a blessing of all pets. I killed a small pet ferret right there in front of everyone. There was blood every freakn where, and a little girl screamed in terror. That did not go over big with the congregation, to say the least. I was still an eagle, so I took off with my kill and flew away”.
I finished off my beer, and noticed several other people beginning to listen in on my story. The barkeep had drifted away to help some other customers but he came back, and refilled my glass. “So, what did you do then?” a wolf morph asked me.
“Well”, I replied, feeling more confident now, “I totally lost my human half for a while. I think it was about two months. I began to remember in fragments what I had done and who I was. I lived as a hawk in the same area I lived as a human. My parents never gave up on me… they eventually found a golden hawk who could faintly remember their faces as important and didn’t fly away when they got close. They worked hard, taking me in my feral state and showing me pictures and all sorts of things that were important to me. I took another month of piecing together, but I slowly began to find myself amid all my eagle instincts. One day, I was looking at some computer code I had never finished, and I all of it came rushing back. All the memories and everything I’d ever done, myself came back. At that moment, I ‘switched’ into my more humanoid form… this. My parents never rejected what had happened to their son, and they were there through it all. Everything looked like it would work out. I began to figure out how to sing again and in another two weeks, I was able to join the choir again. Those two weeks were the hard. I relearned how to eat, sleep, drink, talk, and drive… everything. I caught on quick, and I was persistent. I’d never be able to do some things, but I could sing again.”
“I guess I need to explain a bit, but I’m still Roman Catholic. My faith is a very important part of my being, and I am… was very attached to the mass and choir. Perhaps too attached, because as I’m sure most of you know, SCABs tends to bring out the religious fanaticism in people. I still try to go to mass, but I’ve been thrown out of more churches than I can count. And somehow, every one still hurts… but the first one hurt the worst”.
I took a moment to gather my feelings. I took a deep breath. Tears pooled up in my eyes. I couldn’t breakdown, not right here, not in the middle of the bar. I blinked back the tears and was angry at myself for almost loosing control. I was holding my beer glass, and had another mouthful. I bottled my anger inside of me, yeah, psychiatrists say that that’s a bad thing to do, but it works, and its quick. Just force it down and deal with it later. I never even noticed the small crowd that was now gathering around to hear my tale. Eagles may have amazing eyes, but that doesn’t help at all when you’re not looking around.
“I walked back into the church, dressed as best as I could in my choir uniform. The other members of the choir had helped me out over those two weeks. My girlfriend, Lynda, even helped me relearn how to eat with a beak. She had decided that we were still meant for each other, and wanted to go out on a date, as soon as I felt ready. Life was looking to be great. As more of the congregation filed in, they looked at me and were very suspicious. I can’t blame them, after all I killed a -very- special ferret right there in the same church. About fifteen minutes before the mass started, I walked up to the podium. I still remember what I said, probably because my words would be twisted against me not three minuets later”.
“Dear ladies and gentlemen, I think an apology is in order. I have committed a huge error right here in this church. I can’t say it really was my fault, because I was not of my mind when it happened. I killed one of God’s creation right here inside of God’s house. My offence is even worse, however. I killed a little girl’s favorite pet, her lifelong companion, the one special thing she attributed to helping her through her chronic illness. I have destroyed that girl’s guardian angel, her hope and her love. I don’t have the words to say that I’m sorry, and I can’t bring the pet back. I humbly submit myself to her family and you, my brothers and sisters, and ask that you judge me with forgiveness, as our savior would have done”.
“Now, I thought that was a damn good speech, but… I was too late. I hadn’t told the choir I planed to do this, or else they may have warned me. The girl’s father had already turned the congregation against SCABs, and had pronounced us as demons and the spawn of hell itself. Our pastor was a hard line catholic and was inclined to agree. My plea for mercy was nothing compared to his emotionally charged speech. I looked out upon the faces of the Catholics assembled before me, and saw hate, disgust and fear. Some people were trying to control there facial expressions, but nothing escapes an eagle’s gaze. Most just didn’t care, and were angry that a hell-spawn would profane the sacred alter and mock Christ. If I saw a Satanist give the speech I gave, I’d have felt the same way. Only problem was that I was and am not a Satanist or demon spawn”.
“Our pastor strode up, furious, and threw me off the alter and into the central isle. I was so shocked, I just laid there and didn’t even try to defend myself. ‘You! You of all people- no, you are not a person, things- to ask for forgiveness! Do you know the full story of that girl, demon? Do you!? Her illness killed her, because she didn’t want to fight it anymore! You stole that fight from her, and you should be charged with murder!’”
“His face was bright red and he spat out every word with disgust. His nostrils flared, he was clearly pissed. I heard catcalls of, ‘Yeah, SCABs aren’t human!’ and ‘Kick it out father, this is a place for humans not animals!’”
“He continued, ‘You heard me, murder! You claim that you were not totally of your right mind, all the more reason for the charge! The devil overcame you and lives within your soul, because in there is no light and only darkness! Be gone from my church and my sight!’”
“I staggered to my feet, angrier than ever before. I felt my body beginning to change, my hands starting to become wings. ‘Take that back! I don’t deserve that! I’m not a demon, I’m still a person! I didn’t want to hurt that girl or the ferret! It was out of my control, but I’m better now!’ I yelled. The priest turned his back on me then, and threw his nose in the air, as if he was above all of this. ‘Look at me when I’m talking to you!’ I screeched (more physically than metaphorically) and felt my predator instincts begin to kick in. I didn’t care, I was so angry. I wanted to hurt him, slash him, maim him. I lunged forward at him, starting to leap in the air to slash at him with a talon, when strong hands griped me and slammed me down. I twisted my neck around and saw an old friend, his face contorted with fury and hate. That facial expression shocked me out of my anger. It also accelerated my change, so in a few seconds, I was full golden eagle. I pecked and ripped at the hands holding my feet. He was shocked by my change (after all, he started holding down something man sized, and was now holding something bird sized) and let go almost as soon as I began to peck at him. I flew out as fast as I could”.
I realized my glass was empty again, and Donnie promptly gave me a refill. I was so lost in my tale, that I never even saw that large group that had stopped to listen in. I didn’t need tears to show my pain at recalling these memories. God, I had been living most of my life on the streets, and I’ve seen my fair share of the horror humanity could do, but I never saw anything that made me as scared and angry and sad as that day. I think it broke something inside of me, but… I never lost my faith in God. I did loose my faith in humanity and eventually lived my life by the maxim, “The world would be a great place, if there weren’t so many people on it.” It’s how I felt ever since that day. After a long pause I continued.
“My life never really got back on track. The papers were all over it the next morning. There were reporters who camped out on my families’ yard for a week. We were constantly being harassed and asked questions. Fame sucks, take it from me. I felt horrible about the pain I caused my family. Eventually, the press went away, but the looks never did. The college I had been accepted to withdrew my acceptance, citing a unforeseen admissions problem. The other schools I had applied to said that my application had been lost in the paperwork and I would need to wait until next year to apply again. I was fired from my job due to a downsize. Funny thing is, I was the only one laid off”.
“My friends stopped receiving my calls. I couldn’t go to most of the stores in my community anymore, they didn’t serve SCABs. The cops down there are just as crooked as the crooks, and refused to help me. If suicide wasn’t forbidden by the Catholic Church, I would have killed myself. Instead, I ran away. I ran from all the religious fanaticism and hate. I ran from the twisted small town I lived in. I ran from what I saw as a small black well of corruption that was threatening to swallow me whole. The hate was everywhere, and was inescapable. I just left one night. I walked out with twenty bucks, a credit card that expired a month later and the clothes on my back. I still wonder what ever happened to my family. I don’t know if they were shut out and hurt like I was, or seen with mercy and needing help due to the child I was. I really hope the latter…”
My tale was finished and I drank the last of my glass. I looked out among the people watching me for the first time, and saw twelve faces looking back with pity and sadness. I never meant to spill my heart out to so many people; I wanted to be alone tonight and instead got twelve people who saw me as a poor little birdie caught in a cage. They had no idea how much the cage hurt. They hadn’t lived most of their lives on the streets or out in the country, roving (actually really flying) from town to town running from a past burned with hate. I didn’t want their sympathy, it was too much. Eventually, the wolf morph put a paw on my back and said, “I’m sorry, I really am. Luckily, you came to the right place. We can help-”
My bottled up rage and shame broke at that point. This was just too much. I think also I lost track of how much I had to drink that night and alcoholic rage had quite a bit to do with my reaction. All my emotions just flowed out in a rush. I glared at him in a way only an eagle can. I focused my gaze and loaded it with all the emotion I had bottled up in me all these years. He stopped talking, which was my intent.
“I don’t want your help. I’ve managed to live by my self all these years, and I’ll keep doing that. You know, the psychiatrists said they could help too, but all they wanted was for me to pay the stupid government money that they’d just embezzle. Yeah, help. You’re not the first or the last I’ve heard that line from. Help! All I want to do is enjoy my drink and try to forget about what I once was, so leave me be, all right!?” I screeched. I mixed in eagle whistling and calling with my yelling. Promptly, all noise must have died off when I had my outburst, so now everyone in the bar was staring at me.
My self-control broke at that point, and I felt my self change. My clothes fell to the ground, and a golden eagle in all his magnificence stood on the barstool. It was all I could do to fly out of the bar and into the starry sky, rather than slash a few faces off. Lucky for me, someone was just coming in when I zoomed out.
I flew around for a while, and eventually landed on a church steeple. I cried for a bit, (sobs wracked my eagle body, but I never shed tears… eagles don’t have tear ducts) but got my emotions in order and when I calmed down realized I blew my best chance and turning my life around. God, I was sick of living like this. This was only a bit better than back home. I still got the looks, even though people would try to hide it, or only look when they thought I wasn’t looking. An eagle never misses much. I was cold at night, hot during the day and hungry all the time. Winter was the worst, because I could only rarely find mice and such to hunt or fish, so I had to beg for food sometimes. God that’s bad, because you got to look everyone right in the eye to challenge them to donate. You can’t turn your face away from the hate, you got to look right at it and plead with it. I realized I’d have to go without clothes again this winter, because I just left my current set at the bar, and I was not going back there. Why did I blow up like that? They were only trying to help… and I need help, I realized. I needed it bad, because I can’t keep running like this. I might as well blow my brains out, because I couldn’t keep doing this, and I didn’t think I would ever find a place like that bar again.
I landed on the ground and flipped back to my more human state. I tried the church doors, and found that they yielded easily. It was dark in there, but some low running lights illuminated the alter enough. I walked in, and blessed myself with holy water. Finding a pew, I knelt down and began to pray.
“God, I know that you are out there, somewhere. My life has gone to hell, but I’ve never lost faith in you. I’ve always believed, even when I got thrown out of my own church. I had faith in you, even when I was starving on the streets. I had faith in you when I almost got shot by a hunter. You’ve more or less kept me alive. But, God, I can’t do this anymore. That girl’s picture is burned in my eyes forever. I can’t keep living like this, I keep having nightmares about the first time I was kicked out of a congregation. I’ve let shame and grief ruin my life, and I got to get away from it all. I’ve run for so long, I don’t know how to do anything else. I’ve got to run to the only place where the hate can’t get me. I’m asking for forgiveness God, because I think I’ve blown my last chance at healing. I’m warped and twisted and sick. Bless me Father for I have sinned, my last confession was a lifetime ago”.
I began to confess all my sins in that church, on that cold, empty night. I heard the priest say his part in my head, and I confessed to all the crimes I had committed to survive these long years. With each sin confessed, I felt a memory tug at me. I apologized to all the people I had stolen food from, the people I stole clothes from, and the poor guy I pick pocketed to get money for tonight. The last things I confessed were murder, for that poor girl and murder, for myself. I was so lost in thought that at first, I thought it was just the mental priest I thought of to make my last confession.
“Well, you’ve done quite a lot, haven’t you? Your penance is to go back to the Blind Pig and tell them that you need help. Don’t bother about those murder charges, because they aren’t your sins”.
What?! I pulled my head up and saw a ferret look up at me. He cocked his head to the side and showed me his custom little vestments for him. He smiled and made the sign of the cross with a little paw and said, “I absolve you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now get out so I can lock up. I heard your story at the Blind Pig, and they can help you. You haven’t been doing that well on your own, but with some friends and a bit of love, I’ll see that you become the proud eagle God made you,” he said.
I was outright shocked, and didn’t fully realize what I just told that ferret until I was outside. He now knew both sides of my life, the before and after, and I quickly became angry again. How could I have been so stupid? However, my anger just boiled off. I just let it go, on that night, because I might never find that ferret again. And he was a priest. A SCAB priest! The thought hit me like a freight train, and I jumped up and down with elation. A church that didn’t hate SCABs! I might be able to sing for God again! I could go to mass again! I sung out to the starry sky. Then, I remembered his penance. I didn’t want to go back to the bar… but… I knew that he was giving me a second chance. God was giving me a second chance. I morphed full eagle and took off, allowing my eyes to pick out the bar again from the other buildings in this city.
I decided to go in full eagle, hopefully recognize a face and get my clothes back. Then, I’d apologize and get help. I’d get my life back. I let out a sharp whistle when I saw the place, I was so happy. I swooped down and right in, as luck would have it, as someone was leaving when I was coming in. I perched on the bar, and forced myself not to whistle at the bartender.
“Hey, look whose back!” I turned my head and saw the wolf morph. “You going to change back so we can talk a bit, or are you stuck?” I made a jabbing motion with my beak at his shirt and pants. “Ah, you don’t want to be naked… decency is not as strict here, but if it’ll make you feel more comfortable…” I looked around and saw quite a few almost total animorphs with nothing on. I still wanted clothes, however. “Here,” he came back with a much nicer pair of jeans and a collared shirt and jacket. “I’ll help you in the restroom where you can change in private”. I fluttered over to his shoulder. I realized that I didn’t have to run anymore. I found a place where I could go if life got rough and no one would look at me with fear or hate. Well, that raccoon was still pretty scared in the back, but I’d work on that. For the first time in my life, I wanted tomorrow to come. I really couldn’t wait.
I turned to Jack DeMule, “You ready?” He nodded. I let out a loud screech, and promptly got the silence I wanted. “Hey, everyone, I need to say something,” I told the patrons. “I want to thank everyone for getting my life back together. Sherry, thanks for hooking my up with the computer services job and teaching me how to type. Rich, thanks for finding me a place to stay. It beats every tree I’ve ever slept in, and has a roof to boot. Joy, you still owe me five bucks because you lost that bet, that sign was green”, I got a few chuckles and guffaws. I wondered how I ever got mad at all these wonderful people. “Most of all, I want to thank Joseph, my favorite lupine companion and Father Fur, as he goes by over here, for taking care of me on my first night at the pig and showing me light at the end of a tunnel. Most of all, I want to thank you, Donnie, for opening the tight clamp I put on my past and letting me change. I’ve told all of you how I could sing, but I don’t think I’ve ever sung for you. I might have when deep in my cups, but I don’t remember it. Tonight, I’m singing Old City Bar by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and I dedicate it to our good barkeep Donnie over there. Hit it, Jack”.
He began to play and I felt the old rush of singing begin to fill my veins. I looked out over the bar and saw my audience look at me with expectant, curious faces. I took a deep breath and began to sing.
In an old city bar/That is never too far/ From the places that gather/ The dreams that have been
In the safety of night / With its old neon light / It beckons to strangers / And they always come in
And the snow it was falling / The neon was calling / The music was low / And the night Christmas Eve
I remembered how I spent weeks figuring out the guitar as piano music. I remember spending just as much time with Jack helping him learn the part I had written. I remembered the hours I practiced in my room just to give a little back to this bar… no this community of people which gave me a new lease on life. I whished I could have given more. Then the door opened wide / And a child came inside / That no one in the bar / Had seen there before
And he asked did we know / That outside in the snow / That someone was lost / Standing outside our door
Then the bartender gazed / Through the smoke and the haze / Through the window and ice / To a corner streetlight
Where standing alone / By a broken pay phone / Was a girl the child said / Could no longer get home
And the snow it was falling / The neon was calling / The bartender turned / And said , not that I care / But how would you know this? / The child said I've noticed / If one could be home / They'd be all ready there
I began to increase my intensity and get louder. My heart thumped harder as I began to inject the emotions I felt that night into my song, a song that told the story of this wonderful place better than anything else. I would later wonder if somehow, that band had been here and used the Blind Pig as the inspiration for it. My voice told a story that was not what was written down. I sung my song that night, the song of a busted, burned out bum who was given a second chance by not friends or even relatives, but strangers who had seen a burned out young soul and give it a second chance to rise from the ashes. The song naturally rose in intensity as I started on the bridge.
If you want to arrange it / This world you can change it / If we could somehow make this Christmas thing last
By helping a neighbor / Or even a stranger / And to know who needs help / You need only just ask
I poured out my soul as the song hit its climax, and I hit an intensity that I’d thought I’d never be able to sing again. I didn’t even bother trying to stop the emotion in my voice, and sung out my very being. I revealed more of myself tonight than I did that autumn night, but now I wanted them to know me. Now, I wanted them to see how they rekindled my old flames.
And the cynics will say / That some neighborhood kid / Wandered in on some bums / In the world where they hid
But they weren't there / So they couldn't see / By an old neon star / On that night, Christmas Eve
When the snow it was falling / The neon was calling / And in case you should wonder / In case you should care
Why we're on our own / Never went home / On that night of all nights / We were already there
With that, the song was done. Out of breath and emotionally spent, I smiled and said, “Now I’m not the bartender, and I am not that rich, but everyone’s next drink is on me. Merry Christmas to all of you, and God bless”. I walked over to the bar amid the best thing a singer can ask for. The only signal that the audience accepts him and wishes him to share his gifts: applause.