User:Eirik/Questions and Answers

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Questions and Answers

Author: Eirik

Can someone tell me, please, if there is a class in journalism school that teaches about questions? There must be, because each and every reporter that I’ve talked to in the last month has asked me the same question.

"How do you feel?"

I never thought about it until now, but I guess they ask that of everyone they interview. Just lost you child in a horrific plane crash? How do you feel? Won the Tri-State lottery? How do you feel? How did it feel to sentence that man to death? How did it feel to rescue that struggling young man? How did it feel to lose your sight in combat?

I hope that there is a special level of hell for reporters that ask that question, and when they get there there’s a guy with a microphone to ask them, "How does it feel?"

How is it supposed to feel?

It’s not like I wanted any of this. I’m not a mad scientist or some modern practitioner of magic. I own a small deli. I have a wife, three kids and a paid off house. I don’t ride a broom to work, I drive a used Dodge Caravan with faded paint. I don’t dabble in bizarre science. I didn’t know a beaker from a flask until a couple weeks ago. I didn’t ask for this, not in a prayer. I didn’t find a magic genie and make an ill-worded wish. I never even gave the prospect any thought.

Until I woke up one cloudy Sunday morning a raccoon.

I can tell you first hand that this is pretty disorienting. It took me a little while to realize just what had happened. I first noticed the fur in my field of vision. I looked myself over, but stopped when I spied my new tail, at least as long as my body and covered in matching fur. My blood ran cold for a while. I tried to comprehend what had happened. A million thoughts ran through my head, with nothing really coherent. Just when my heart had started to beat normally again, my wife woke up to the sight of a large raccoon next to her in bed.

It took me fifteen minutes to talk her down from hysteria, another hour to talk down the kids. It was only after all that that we all realized that I could still talk.

Strange as it may sound, it actually made it a little easier for me when everyone was awake. I fell right into my role as head of the household. It became my job to keep everyone calm and settled. I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder just what I had done to deserve this. It was certainly an odd sight: A brown and black raccoon standing at the head of the kitchen table keeping four people from crying and screaming.

"What do we do now?"

That was the question that we all asked. It seemed apparent that I couldn’t go back to work, at least not for a while. I could deal with the deli by phone, and my wife had helped me out enough over the years to manage without my presence. But, after a few weeks, people would begin to get a little suspicious, or at least curious. Too many would be concerned about my ill health to keep it quiet, and any well-intentioned person stopping by the house could easily blow the whistle.

I didn’t think about it until much later, but we never even considered faking my death or disappearance. Neither Mary or I would have known how to fake a death, and nobody in town would have believed that I would have up and left with no warning.

We talked about calling a doctor. My oldest boy, Bobby, playfully suggested calling a vet. It wasn’t all that funny, but it was a reminder of the absurdity of the situation. We did decide, though, that we needed to get someone to look at me. We needed to get some answers. We decided on Doctor Ransom.

Ransom was my fathers doctor, and a good family friend. He retired a few years back, but we still talked frequently. He came into the deli at least once a week for fresh, blood rare roast beef. I was the only place in town that ever had any. Mary dug his number out of her address book and called.

She decided not to tell him what was wrong over the phone. She only told him that something was very wrong, and he needed to come over.

"Is it serious? Call an ambulance!"

"Doctor, it’s not an emergency. At least, not exactly. Please, you live only a couple miles away. Doug needs you."

I have to give Ransom credit, he came faster than I could imagine. I peeked up through the front curtains when I heard his car drive up. My vision, I discovered, wasn’t as good as before, but a blind man could see the Doc’s old blue Chevy Caprice.

I jumped off the window sill and curled on the seat of my favorite armchair. Second later, Mary opened the door and met him on the doorstep. "Doctor, I don’t want you to be surprised. The last thing we need is to give you a heart attack. Whatever you think might be wrong with Doug, it isn’t. I think that I can guarantee you that you have never seen anything like this before."

I heard Ransom reply, "Mary, I was an army doctor back in World War Two and Korea. I’ve seen every wound possible. I treated victims of starvation, torture and every disease save for AIDS and Ebola. Nothing’s shocked me in a long time."

I wanted to smile, but realized that a raccoon just can’t. "I think we’ve got a winner here, Doc." I yelled out.

Ransom walked through the door and looked around. His eyes passed over me very fast without stopping and all around the rest of the room. I guess, though he’ll never admit it, that he first thought that I was a stuffed toy. "I swear I just heard Doug in this room, where is he?"

"Right here."

His eyes settled on my curled form. His mouth hung slack and the battered black leather bag he carried fell to the floor with a clatter. "What in the world? What happened?"

"I wish I knew Doc, I really do. I just woke up like this."

I have to give more credit to the ol’ Doc: He regained his composure fast. He casually retrieved his satchel, pulled out a pen light and walked over. "Doug, you’re a raccoon.", he said with a slight awe in his voice.

"Gee, Doc, thanks. Should I pay the nurse on the way out?"

"Sorry Doug, but I wasn’t really expecting this."

"I can tell you, it wasn’t on my calendar either!", I said, a little louder than I intended.

Ransom looked over his shoulder at Mary. "This didn’t exactly mellow out his temper, did it?" She just forced a little smile. She still hadn’t regained all her color.

"Well, I’m not sure what to do about this. Are you feeling any pain? Disorientation? Dizziness? Dry mouth or nasal passages? Anything out of the ordinary?"

I gave him a withering look at that last one, "Other than being a normal, full grown male raccoon, no, I feel fine."

He went into his bag again and pulled out a small lighted scope. "Not normal, obviously. You can talk. It’s the same voice I’ve heard for years. You’d expect it to be different, even if raccoon could talk. Open up your mouth for me."

I did, and he stuck that thing in. He went in a little too far at first, and I had to squirm out of his grasp. He apologized and went in more gently. "I can’t see anything." He took it out. "As far as I can see, there isn’t any reason why you should be able to talk. I can’t be sure, though. After all, I didn’t examine many raccoons over the years. We need to get some people in here with better ideas and equipment." He paused, and his eyes grew ever so slightly wider. "We need to tear this house apart and check everything, including Mary and the kids."

"What? Why?"

"Doug, something in this house may have changed you. It may be something that we don’t know anything about, or that someone knows something about. Whatever changed you could be in this house, and Mary, the kids, myself and anyone whose been in here for God knows how long could be in line for the same thing. I don’t have the authority myself, but I have an old friend at the CDC in Atlanta. I’m going to call him and have this house completely quarantined and the neighborhood evacuated."

I stared at him for a while, "Doc, if I didn’t know better, I’d say that you were ready for this! I don’t want people to know this!"

He gave me a look, "I’ve dealt with plagues before, Doug. They never start out big. They can be linked to a single person in the end, someone who came into town sick and infected everyone. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let your desire for privacy put everyone else in this town, maybe this nation, in danger. Where is your phone?"

Stunned, Mary pointed him to the side table. He picked it up and dialed. "May I speak to Dr. Winterbourne? Yes, I know it’s Sunday. Put me through to his emergency line. Yes, lady, this is an emergency." He looked back at me for a moment, started to speak and then stopped, "Mark! Thank God. This is Doctor Jacob Ransom out at Firewater Creek, Michigan. I think that you are going to want to get a team out this way, fast. I don’t know what it is, but it has singularly…strange symptoms. I don’t know what the cause is…hell I can’t identify the disease. I can’t go into details over the phone. Let’s just say that you won’t believe me without independent confirmation. Okay, I’ll tell you this much: whatever this is, it has caused bizarre and massive morphological and physiological changes to a man in his mid-forties who hasn’t left the town, much less the country, in several months. Okay. Okay. 347 Creek Road, it’s a residence. Yea, I’m quarantining the family and myself here until your rapid response team arrives. Tell them to be in full biohazard gear. Got it. I’ll see you in a few hours."

He set down the phone back on the cradle and fell heavily into a chair. "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"

I jumped off my chair, scurried across the floor and jumped into his lap. "What have you gotten yourself into? Look at me for a minute!"

He looked at me, "I know Doug. It’s just that I don’t particularly want to be the raw material for a coonskin cap. Look, we’ve got maybe an hour before the rapid response team gets here, and we need to have certain information on hand. Let’s get started."

We spent the next hour and a half going over everything that I had eaten over the last month, all the places that I’d been, all the suppliers of the Deli. He took down the names of all the people who even might have been at the house at least going back a month, as well as the deli, and anywhere else that I may have been. By the time we were done, I realized that I’d had direct contact with about half the people in this small town.

We also realized that absolutely nothing out of the completely ordinary had happened to me in the last several years, much less months.

The first members of the team arrived dressed in white biohazard suits and came into the house by the side door. They didn’t want to cause a completely unnecessary panic in the neighborhood. One thing that I discovered in all this is that high training doesn’t make you more willing to believe anything. It took nearly an hour to convince them that I was a man turned raccoon, and not some clever trick.

At least, by then, the lead genetics expert had finally come too.

That is when my life really began to become a living hell. I was poked, prodded, x-rayed and examined. They took samples of all my body fluids, flesh, hair, bone, cartilage and a few other samples that I didn’t recognize. As more and more team members arrived, they came up with more and more tests. They performed more and more tests.

Their verdict: I was a raccoon.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

They tore apart my house. They took samples of all the food, the garbage disposal, the carpet, plaster, all the chemicals under the sink and in the garage. I found out later that another team was taking apart my deli with a fine toothed comb, taking samples, investigating suppliers, interviewing employees.

Their verdict: A perfectly normal house and a perfectly normal small town deli.

The FBI was called in to do extensive interviews of friends and family, trying to catch me in a lie, or to fill in gaps that I may have unintentionally left in my life history. They even found people that I hadn’t seen since my kindergarten days, and friends that I had totally forgotten about.

Their verdict: Perfectly normal people in a perfectly normal life.

The Division of Military Intelligence were called in. My father was an officer in the Navy when I was a kid, and we moved around a lot. So they checked every possible military base that I had ever been too, the commanders, the soldiers, the personnel and any experiments, authorized or not, that had gone on during those times. They checked school records for odd periods of absence or illness. I found out later that they held my younger brother for two weeks and gave him a battery of tests, just for comparison. I was more disturbed that they exhumed my parents and older sister, killed five years ago in a small plane crash.

Their verdict: Nothing abnormal. At all.

Despite extensive testing, no one that I’d been exposed to showed anything out of the ordinary. My wife, kids, Doc Ransom, no one. There were no reported transformations anywhere in town, or across the world. My brother was given a clean bill of health. The bodies of my parents and sister showed nothing. There wasn’t anything in my body to account for this. No unusual viruses or bacteria. No chemicals, hormones, or anything else that could even be considered remotely dangerous or strange. Nothing in or around town.

They didn’t have an explanation for a lot of things. I kept asking questions and getting no answers. How did this happen? We don’t know. Can I be cured? We don’t know. What’s going to happen to me now? We can’t say, we don’t know. Before you ask, Doug, we don’t even know how you are talking. You have the throat of a raccoon.

Naturally, the CDC didn’t release anything officially. I’d been held in my home while the CDC surrounded it. They had been tempted to move me away, but were frankly nervous about it. They didn’t want to risk exposing the rest of the world by moving me to a lab in Atlanta, or even nearby Chicago. I think that they also didn’t know just who I had told, and were afraid to make me simply disappear.

By that time, the international media had surrounded the area, desperately attempting to get a story. You know, the old adage is true, every person you bring into a conspiracy, the chance that it will be discovered goes up exponentially. By this time, perhaps thirty medical personnel knew about this, as well as at least fifteen military officers, the President and anyone he chose to tell, and close to a hundred investigators. It took about a week before I saw unconfirmed reports on CNN that I had been changed into a small woodland creature.

So, it was inevitable. I was besieged by requests for interviews. They had to disconnect my phone to get it to stop ringing. The media got more persuasive: They started using megaphones. When Hard Copy had offered me $100,000 for a five minute exclusive, I knew that things were way out of hand. With the extremely reluctant agreement of the CDC and FBI, I decided to grant an interview to a single camera and pool reporter. Everyone would get the tape at the same time. The interview could be any length, but not live. I wanted to give the reporter time to formulate questions on the fly.

To be honest, I don’t really remember much about the interview. I never watched it, and refuse to have my memory refreshed by viewing the tape. I just couldn’t believe the questions that the guy started out with. Have you ever wanted to be a raccoon? No, not really. How did this happen? That’s what the fifty scientists in the biohazard suits are here for. What do raccoons eat, normally? I don’t really know, why don’t you look it up in a textbook. Have you had any "raccoon-like" urges? What the hell does that mean? Has there been any talk of restricting you to a lab facility? Of course, but obviously nothings come of it. Anyone suggest dissection? Not in front of me, I guess they’re willing to wait until I die. You don’t mind, do you?

How do you feel?

Like a raccoon.

The questions got even worse after that, and I practically stopped paying attention. He ended the interview after a couple hours, having asked nothing of any real substance or use.

I made a second mistake then, I allowed additional interviews. I don’t even know why. I guess I just hoped that there would be someone out there who might know what to do about what had happened. I wanted to make sure my story was out. I guess I hoped that someone would step forward and say, "I did it. I’m responsible, and here is the cure." Actually, a bunch of people did claim that, but they had a combined IQ of a block of Cheddar Cheese.

By that time, the quarantine had been lifted, the CDC having found nothing to be worried about. There were still some doctors and scientists hanging around, but most had all gone off to examine all the samples taken over the last several weeks. I’m still waiting for new results.

Over the next few weeks, I gave about fifty interviews to the press. I talked to people from all the networks, probably every interested nation, all major news magazines, newspapers and the like. I even got interviewed by the National Geographic. That photojournalist was so nice, I offered to accompany her for a story she was planning on doing on raccoons later that year. She’s hoping to get some real candid shots of them in their habitats.

I particularly liked the cover of Time that week. A really good picture of me under the heading "Michigan Mystery". The story was pretty much crap, though. I still wouldn’t mind getting that original picture framed.

I remember seeing a news picture of some New York newsstand, which had about five hundred magazines. I think that I wasn’t on the cover of three.

But the time it was over, I had heard the same damn question about a 1000 times, in twelve languages, in more accents than I could count.

How do you feel?

They no longer accepted, "Like a raccoon".

It’s been a couple months now. The CDC and all the world universities that assisted had no answers. Other than me being a raccoon, nothing was out of the ordinary. They still can’t even explain how I’m able to talk.

One of them told me that they might be able to tell with a dissection.

I guess that question wasn’t as stupid as I though.

I still get the occasional call from so-called experts who claim that they can cure me. I usually cut them off once they ask for the up-front money.

I fell out of notoriety, finally. The phones stopped ringing so often. A friend who works for the local paper told me to expect a similar furor on the one year anniversary, and every five years after that. I still get the occasional offer. A few want to do books on me, but I’ve turned them down. It’s too boring. Same goes for a couple of TV movies. I am considering taking a part in a kids movie written just for me, about a friendly raccoon. It pays pretty good, but I have other considerations right now.

I finally went back to the deli for the first time since that Sunday. It was a sight coming in on Marys’ shoulder like that. Everyone who was supposed to be at work was there, the customers I remembered still shopped. Doc Ransom even stopped by later that day when he heard I was in. I guess that business had even picked up a bit since I changed. The coast-to-coast broadcasting from in front of the deli was certainly more advertising than I ever could have afforded.

It was only when I got back to my office, when Mary gave me a quick pat and a kiss, that I realized just how lucky I really was. In those first minutes, I remembered later, I had worried about myself, that I would lose it all. My family, my business, my humanity. I did lose my human form, but nothing else. My family is still there. I still sleep with my wife, though I curl up on a pillow now, and she gets all the blankets. My business survived and prospered. In a way, I still have my humanity.

How do I feel?

I feel just fine, thank you.

Copyright 1996