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Reinkarmation

Copyright (c) 1998 Phaedrus; All rights reserved

This story was written for a contest on the TSA-Talk mailing list. The theme of the contest was "nasty stories." This story is indeed nasty, involving a variety of distasteful acts. Please don't read this if you're young or easily offended.


When Scott returned from his day at the beach, there was a paper bag on his doorstep. A note, in a familiar handwriting, was attached:

Darling,

Is there something wrong? Now that we're engaged, we're supposed to be seeing more of each other, aren't we?

I hope you haven't forgotten about the costume party tonight at six; I've been so looking forward to it. Remember, it's at Fourth and Ivy--you can't miss it. Please do be there; I'm so concerned about you...

Debbie

Scott sighed, crumpled up the note. Costume party? Of all the dumb ideas... But, dammit, he had to go. Anything to keep her happy--for the next three months or so, at least.

He looked at his watch. Shit. 5:15. And the cab was long gone already. He grabbed the bag without a second, went inside, called the cab company--they'd have another cab there in 15 minutes--it would be close, but he'd make it. Then he opened the bag, pulled out the costume.

A gorilla suit.

He was halfway through dialing the cab company's number again when he got hold of himself, took a deep breath. It was all for Debbie. All for Debbie. That beautiful face. Those beautiful eyes. Those twelve million beautiful dollars. His biggest haul yet, by far, if he could pull it off.

One night of utter embarrassment was a damn small price to pay.

With that thought fixed firmly in mind, he quickly stripped down to his underwear, and slipped into the suit. He was half-hoping that it wouldn't fit--but, knowing Debbie, it would. And, sure enough, it did. He had to admit, it was a damn good gorilla suit. It was made from some kind of stretch fabric; it was tight, but comfortable. It put just the right amount of pressure on his knees and waist, pulling him down into a realistic-looking half-squat. The hands and feet were nicely detailed, and the head was incredible; he could see clearly out the eye-holes, and the jaw even moved with his own. Some nobody in Taiwan had worked overtime on this thing.

There seemed to be only two problems. First, he could barely hear a thing. But, with Debbie's friends, that would be a big plus with him. Second, there were no pockets.

The taxi honked.

Scott cursed a blue streak. No time to worry about that. He grabbed a twenty from his wallet, and the note. He'd get a ride back with Debbie. Those eyes. Those lips. Those bank accounts.


Sure enough, the party was impossible to miss. The taxi arrived at six on the dot--but Debbie must have wanted him to be fashionably late. Things were in full swing, and nobody batted an eye as Scott shuffled through the door. Even with his ears covered, the music managed to be loud; he doubted he would understand the lyrics even without the suit, and didn't mind in the least.

He saw no sign of Debbie--of course, he had no idea what she'd be wearing, so that didn't mean much. Well, he'd just have to mingle; as long as he was embarrassing himself, there was no reason to do it halfway. And she'd recognize him; he was the only gorilla in the room...

There was only one other "animal" in the room--in some kind of humanoid dog suit, the sort of thing a mascot would wear. As good a place to start as any. So he headed that way, walking on his knuckles as best he could, and ook-ing up a storm.

As he got closer, his target turned, saw him, and immediately started clapping. It was a coyote, not a dog; and he--it was definitely a he--was at least nine inches too tall to be Debbie. Still, Scott thought, it would be nice to have someone to be embarrassed with; and this fellow seemed agreeable enough.

Between the suits and the music, conversation was impossible. But the two of them seemed to synthesize an act from thin air--the coyote and his pet gorilla--and started working the room with it. The reaction was immediate and enthusiastic.

Wherever they went in the room, there were ripples of applause. People shook the coyote's paw. People patted Scott on the head. People talked to the coyote; Scott couldn't understand a word of it over the music, but it seemed very pleasant, and everyone would smile and laugh. People would lean down to try to talk to Scott; he couldn't understand a word of that either, but he nodded and ooked in reply, and everyone laughed.

Many people brought them drinks; and they accepted graciously. Thanks to the marvelous mask, Scott found drinking out of a glass to be no problem. And he realized that this was one of those wondrous times in life when public drunkenness can actually be an advantage; the more he drank, the less embarrassed he felt. The more he drank, the easier it got to shamble around the room on all fours, and the more convincing his hoots and grunts became. He was having a blast.

When he started having trouble holding the glass correctly, the coyote disappeared for a moment, and returned with a bowl; people simply poured the drinks into it, and he lapped them up. The applause doubled.

The evening spun happily on. More people arrived. The music blared. Scott couldn't see straight anymore, but that was all right; he could still hear bits and pieces of the laughter. He just smiled, and grunted, and licked the bowl clean. Everybody was happy...

Everything faded to black.


Some time later, Scott came to, slowly. He was under a table. The music was gone. Every cell in his body screamed in agony. He howled. Somebody walked over, petted him; it was the coyote. He said something, and poured something from a bottle into Scott's bowl. Almost without thought, Scott slurped it down, and within moments everything felt warm and wonderful again.

Something poked him, softly. He looked up; the coyote was gesturing towards the door, and saying something--Scott could make out the word "home". The coyote took a few steps toward the door, holding the bowl and the bottle, and beckoned for Scott to follow.

A ride home. That would be nice.

Scott shambled out after the coyote, walking expertly on all fours.

Outside, the jumble of cars had long since cleared; just a few scattered vehicles were left. One of them was a green van with tinted windows. The coyote opened the rear doors, and beckoned Scott inside. Scott hopped in happily. There was something odd about the van, he thought; but he couldn't think of what it was. And just then, the coyote put the bowl down next to him, and filled it up again; and Scott stopped paying attention to the van. As he slurped up the contents of the bowl, he barely noticed the doors slam shut.

Scott slumped to the floor. Everything was so hot all of a sudden; and he was so tired...

In a few seconds, he was fast asleep.

The van smoothly drove away into the night.


By the time Scott woke up again, the sun was high in the sky.

The pain was back, but nowhere near as bad as last time. Scott managed not to cry out. He had had many, many hangovers before, and he knew what to do. He waited for his senses to report on how bad things were.

He could hear the van's engine rumbling, the gentle vibrations from the road.

He could feel the pain in his muscles. His bladder throbbed with pain, full to the bursting point; and he could feel the dampness in his skin, smell the gentle stench of urine.

Oh, God. A bad one.

He finally managed to open his eyes...and he saw a blur of silver.

Huh?

He pulled himself up a few inches, got his eyes to focus.

He was in a cage.

Adrenaline surged through him. Almost instantly, he was fully awake.

He looked around. The cage filled the rear half of the van, with solid metal mesh on all six sides. The floor was lined with straw; there was a rubber ball and a big bunch of bananas in one corner, and a feeding tube poking through one wall, hooked to a large bottle of clear fluid. He was still in the suit; the fur at the waist was damp with urine.

Gods, he hadn't even noticed that the suit was anatomically correct...

"Good afternoon, sleepyhead! It's nice to have you up, the road getslonely."

He whirled to face the front of the van. The coyote was driving.

"What the fuck are you do..." yelled Scott, and ground to a halt, eyes wide. He had meant to say that; but it had come out as an incomprehensible mishmash of hoots and grunts.

The coyote laughed. "Sorry, but I'm afraid I don't speak your language."

There was something different about the coyote. His head was smaller, more refined-looking; the padded paws were gone, replaced by clawed hands, still covered with golden fur.

What the hell was going on?

Then Scott noticed the two bundles of fur on the floor next to the driver's seat--one of them golden-brown, the other a very familiar, deeper shade...

A few seconds of utter panic followed, as Scott groped for the zipper that was no longer there, pulled at his own head in the desperate hope that it would come off. His hands caught on something, but it wasn't a suit; it was a collar, tight around his neck--a collar that didn't seem to have a buckle...

"Whaddaya think? A pretty good job, if I do say so myself."

Scott rushed towards the front of the cage, slammed his massive shoulder into it once, twice...

It didn't budge a millimeter.

"Unless you think you can pick those locks back there, I'd listen reeeeal carefully to what I'm about to say."

Scott ground to a halt, muscles still quivering. He stared at the coyote--the coyote glanced back once, in the rear-view mirror, then turned his eyes back to the road.

"You're probably wondering why I've called this meeting," the coyote said, conversationally. "Well, I'll be happy to tell you--it's a lot more fun to watch if you know exactly what's happening...

"You've been a real asshole, Scott. You've done some pretty damn nasty things, and you've managed to fuck up a lot of decent people's lives. You've made yourself a problem, Scott. And I'm a problem-solver from wayback.

"You've got one thing going for you. I don't kill people. Death is messy, and it's bad karma. Life is a precious thing, even when it's wasted on a shithead like you. And frankly, killing you would be letting you off pretty damn easy. So, when I run into useless specimens of humanity such as yourself, I just find a way to make 'em useful. There's not many things out there that are so damn useless that you can't find something to do with 'em if you try hard enough. We coyotes are kinda resourceful that way.

"In your case, the answer is pretty damn simple. You've been a completely useless specimen of a human being, but with a few weeks of training, you'll make a very nice gorilla. Before you know it, you'll be in a zoo somewhere, providing cheap amusement value to thousands. For once in your life, you'll actually be useful. Won't that be nice?"

Scott slammed into the walls of the cage; the coyote just laughed. He tried to find the latch to the door; the coyote just laughed. He screamed and howled until he was hoarse; the coyote just laughed, and turned up the radio. Finally, he stood at the front of the cage, and pissed until his bladder was empty; he hosed down the coyote, the seat, the dashboard. The coyote laughed harder than ever. "You're getting the idea already!" He even leaned to one side, away from the seat, giving Scott a better angle of aim. Then, when Scott finally ran dry, the coyote got up, turned around--the van rolled on, apparently driving itself--and expertly returned fire. The barrage went on for minutes on end, impossibly long and impossibly strong; the whole cage was damp with urine, and Scott was a dripping mass of wet fur huddled in the back corner of the cage. Finally, the coyote sat back down in the damp driver's seat, and turned his attention back to the road, still laughing.

For long minutes, perhaps an hour, Scott sat in the back of the cage, glumly staring out the windshield at the unfamiliar road. The coyote howled along with the radio, and hurled good-natured profanities at the other drivers, who never heard or saw a thing.

Gradually, Scott found himself staring less and less at the road, and more and more at the bananas.

He started across the cage towards them... then caught himself, and returned to his corner.

A few minutes later, he went halfway across before he stopped. Then he howled, slammed into the front wall of the cage once more. He grabbed the mesh with both hands, reared his head back, as if to smash his head against the iron... but as he started forward, he came to a halt, as if he had lost his will at the last moment. He tried again, with the same result.

He crawled back to the corner of the cage, and put his head in his hands.

Ten minutes later, he crossed the cage once more, pulled a banana from the bunch, peeled it, and began eating it. Halfway through, he looked at it, threw it down, and retreated to the back corner... but a few minutes later, he returned to finish it off.

A few minutes later, after eating another banana, the gorilla was sucking the feeding tube, enjoying the sugary fluid.

The coyote just smiled. Everything proceeding according to plan.

The van rolled on, into the sunset.

Some hours later, it finally arrived at an isolated ranch. It backed up to a large, caged enclosure, already fitted out with food and straw. With minimal encouragement from the coyote, the gorilla placidly emerged into the larger quarters. The door swung shut, and the locks clicked into place on their own.

"Well, I must say you've been a thoroughly enjoyable guest so far, Scott," the coyote said, chuckling. "Get a good night's sleep; we do have work ahead of us tomorrow." With that, the coyote turned and walked towards his own house, whistling off-key.

To the gorilla, the words were just soothing sounds; as the coyote disappeared through the front door of the house, the gorilla calmly inspected his new surroundings. He picked a comfortable-looking corner, quickly gathered some of the straw into a nest, curled up in it, and drifted off to sleep.


Scott woke up just as the sun poked over the horizon in the east.

He rolled over, stretched. God, what a weird dream.

Then he looked down at his furry chest, saw the iron bars surrounding him...

It took just a few seconds for the events of the previous day to sink in.

Then he attacked the door. When that failed, he methodically worked his way around the cage, trying every bar, every weld.

Then he howled at the top of his lungs, for long minutes on end, until he collapsed, gasping, to the dirt floor...

The coyote just rolled over in bed, and smiled.


A lesser man would give up hope. But Scott was not about to be a lesser man.

His life settled into a routine. Every morning, he would wake up, knowing what he would see. The straw was always clean; the piles of leaves and fruits were always there, and the feeding tube would always be full. And there, next to the cage door, would be the morning newspaper... and, neatly placed on top of that, a chocolate mint. The writing on the wrapper was always the same: ENJOY YOUR STAY WITH US.

He could not break out on his own; there was no question about that. Every morning, he made the rounds, testing every bar and weld of his prison, climbing methodically up the walls and hanging from the ceiling. Every day, he seemed to be a little bit larger, a little bit stronger; but the bars never moved.

He could not yell for help, even if there was any hope of being understood. Wherever he was, nobody seemed to come here... nobody but the coyote. In his first few days here, he had hooted and screeched for most of the morning; and sometimes the coyote had come out to howl along with him. There was never a reply.

Several times, he had tried to kill himself--and had found that that was not an option either. Every time he deliberately tried to hurt himself--by slamming his head into the mesh, or by choking himself on fruit--his will would weaken at the last moment. He wasn't sure whether the magic was responsible, or whether he simply couldn't really conceive of dying--at least not while the coyote lived. For that was his goal now. He doubted that he could ever be changed back. But at least he could have the satisfaction of choking that coyote until his tongue turned blue, until those eyes of his turned red with ruptured blood vessels, until he lost control of his muscles, until his neck finally snapped...

So there was only one course available to him. He would simply have to wait for his captor to make a mistake. And when that mistake happened, Scott would be there to capitalize on it.

But the mistake never seemed to come. Sometimes, the coyote wouldn't even show his face in the morning. Other times, he would sit next to the cage, and watch Scott for hours, sometimes reading a book, sometimes talking nonstop about anything at all--the book, the weather, current events, the keepers at the zoos Scott might be visiting. He never sat within reach of the cage. But sometimes, he would sit within a few yards, as if inviting Scott to take a shot at him--and Scott would drink his fill at the tube every morning, just to be ready if that opportunity arose. It clearly didn't faze the coyote in the slightest--in fact, he seemed to enjoy it. But Scott enjoyed it too, and he didn't care what the coyote thought.

But there was one more thing that was constant, every day. Within a few hours, when the sun was high in the sky, Scott would feel his mind start to wander--the gorilla's thoughts creeping in. For the first few days, he fought it--sitting in the corner of the cage, gripping the bars with both hands, concentrating on nothing but don't move. But soon, he learned that it was useless, and switched tactics; he would deliberately act dumb, hoping to lull the coyote into a false sense of security. But the coyote never bought it; in fact, he would almost always leave Scott to himself for the next few hours, as his thoughts spiraled downwards, as his movements in the cage became more and more meandering. And by midafternoon, Scott would be gone, and only the gorilla would be left, gorging itself on leaves, playing with the rubber ball.

It was then, in the evening, that the coyote would enter the cage. The gorilla loved him. He would make soothing sounds to it, and it would placidly watch him as he changed the straw and replenished the food. Then, some nights, he would walk over to it, and smile, and wave a hand; and the gorilla would go limp. And the coyote would kneel down next to it. And one hand would stroke the fur on its chest, while the other hand gently massaged the top of the gorilla's head, sending waves of pleasure that seemed to penetrate all the way into its brain, gently rearranging things...

Eventually, the coyote would finish up its tasks, and smile once more, and leave, taking the old newspaper with him. He never left the new paper, or the mint; they just seemed to show up on their own, during the night.

The gorilla would pace the cage for a few more minutes, then curl up in its corner, and go to sleep.

The next morning, Scott would wake up, and remember all this. He would fantasize for a few minutes, about breaking the coyote's back, about shoving a long stick up his ass and seeing how hard he could twist it, about slamming him into the cage wall until his skull came apart and his brains flew out.

Then, he would go to the door of the cage, and begin methodically testing the bars...


That first morning, Scott had urinated on the newspaper, thrown it out of the cage. These days, he read it; there might be something useful, and besides, it was something to do.

Some of the stories were about himself. For the first three days after his disappearance, he was front-page news; after that, he shifted to page two, then farther back. But the stories were always there.

That second morning, when he first read the paper, the stories were about his mysterious disappearance. Police had been called to his residence when his fiance, Deborah Danvers, had gotten no answer to repeated phone calls. There was possible evidence of foul play, police said; there was clothing strewn around the living room, as well as his wallet and identification. There was a photograph of Debbie crying, pleading for any word. Scott had hoped; maybe they would look here. But there was no mention of the party, no last known whereabouts. The police had no leads.

And the next day, the lead story wasn't about the search. It was about a taxi driver, who said that he had picked Scott up at his home, taken him to the bank, then to the airport. He had said that he was leaving for two weeks in Bermuda; but he had no luggage, just a briefcase. He had seemed nervous, irritable. He hadn't tipped. The police hedged; there was a strong possibility that his disappearance was voluntary, they said. The search continued.

The day after that, the nothings started to come out of the woodwork, and they were talking. His old boss in New York, and those "accounting discrepancies". The geezers in Pensecola, and their "investment fund". The DA in Orange County, who thought that he might be the "Gregory Scott" wanted for insurance fraud. A search warrant was being sought for his bank accounts, as well as for a storage locker near his residence...

The day after that, the search had been called off; he was believed to have fled the country. Fingerprints were being sent to the FBI, for comparison to those of other wanted felons. Debbie was interviewed once again, this time wondering how she could have been so close to a man, and been so wrong about him...

By this time, Scott was losing interest. There was only one detail that concerned him; and, in the next few days, it played itself out. One by one, his bank accounts, his brokerage accounts, his safe deposit boxes, were turned up. Almost a million dollars was found in two accounts; and the lawyers were already lining up for their cracks at it. But almost everything else--at least eight million dollars, the papers estimated--had already been cleaned out, the funds transferred through shell accounts, leaving nothing behind but convoluted paper trails that seemed to lead nowhere. He had clearly been planning his disappearance for some time, the police said; and when the time came, he had executed his plan quickly and professionally. He would likely never be seen on US soil again...

Scott crumpled up the paper, threw it in a corner of the cage. He knew who was responsible. He turned to stare at the coyote's house--only to see his captor on the roof, happily tightening the final bolt on his new satellite dish...

That was the final straw. No, he wouldn't shove a stick up the coyote's ass; he'd use his fist. He'd pull out his intestines and shove them down his throat...

But the days passed, and the mistake never came.

And within a week or so, Scott found himself having more and more trouble reading the paper. He could still sound out the words, but the meanings seemed to be sliding away. And when the coyote sat by his cage and talked to him, the words seemed to run together as well.

He knew exactly why this was--every time the coyote would visit the gorilla in the cage, and run his fingers into its scalp, a bit more would be missing from Scott's mind the next day. And there was absolutely nothing that he could do to stop it.

In another week, Scott couldn't read the articles in the paper anymore, or follow what the coyote was saying; he could pick out the individual words, but he couldn't put them together in his mind anymore.

In another week, even the words were gone--they were just a stream of ink and sound.

And a few days after that, as the sun set, the coyote pulled the van up to Scott's cage.


The new arrival had no name--just a number. But within a week, one of the keepers had suggested Aries, and the name had immediately stuck. Like a ram, he would lower his head and charge at the walls of the enclosure, only to pull up at the last moment. And he was like the month of March--in like a lion, out like a lamb...

In the morning, he was utterly unpredictable. He might attack the door, trying to batter it down. He might climb up the front wall of the enclosure, and piss on the signs and the railing. Or he might do something completely inscrutable--like painstakingly collecting leaves and straw, and arranging them into meaningless patterns, then crouching by them, and staring at the visitors as they walked by.

But by midday, he would start to settle down. And by three o'clock, he was the kindest, gentlest gorilla you could ever hope to meet.

The keepers had never seen anything like it. He was transferred to San Diego, then to Portland, in the hopes that a change of scenery would calm him; but nothing worked. He couldn't be kept with other gorillas--he would frequently attack them in the morning, only to be attacked in turn at night. Finally, he was placed in a separate enclosure with Tanuki, a female who had also shown difficulty socializing; the two of them worked out better than expected--she could fend for herself in the morning, and seemed to hold no grudge. And before long, the two of them would be playing, as if they hadn't a care in the world.

A year passed. They were not expected to mate; Tanuki was barely ten, and Aries looked to be fairly young himself. But, as animals were prone to do, the two of them surprised their keepers; they were seen experimenting with each other, and before long, Tanuki was obviously expecting. The keepers were overjoyed, but the sight seemed to throw Aries into a rage; he had to be kept isolated. Sometimes the keepers allowed him to see Tanuki, but only in the evenings...


Early one morning, Scott paced his cell.

"I have a proposal for you. Are you interested?"

It took Scott a moment to realize that he understood the words. He turned... and saw the coyote standing there, just a few feet away, on the other side of the iron mesh.

Every fantasy he had ever had flashed through his mind. But he never moved. He knew it was useless; he had tried those bars so many times before.

Instead, he simply turned back around, facing away from the coyote, and sat down, paying no attention whatsoever.

"Suit yourself."

A few seconds later, when Scott grudgingly turned to look, the coyote was gone.


More months passed. Tanuki gave birth to a female; she was named Star, after a light mark on her forehead. Aries had to be kept far away. But Tanuki showed poor mothering skills, and before long, Star was taken away, to be hand-raised. Aries was carefully returned to Tanuki's enclosure; and before long, things were back to normal--or at least back to what passed for normal around Aries.

The months turned into another year, then two. Aries and Tanuki mated again from time to time, but no new young were produced. The keepers were disappointed. They tranquilized Aries, took semen samples. His sperm count was low, almost zero. The keepers were disappointed--but perhaps, with time, things would improve. And in the meantime, at least Aries was manageable.

Every so often--perhaps once or twice a year; Scott had little interest in keeping track--the coyote would appear, always early in the morning. Each time, the question was the same--"Are you interested yet?" Scott would studiously ignore him, and he would go away.

Another year passed. Aries was back in isolation. An interior door had been left improperly latched; Aries had managed to open it, and had made his way into the service corridors. He was captured. Better locks were being installed.

"Are you interested yet?"

This time, Scott didn't turn away. He stared at the coyote. Whatever he had to say, it might be useful. And besides, it was something to do.

"Have you ever wondered what else I do with my time?"

Scott just stared. He couldn't say that he had. And it didn't seem interesting.

"The world is a damn big place, Scott. Damn big. To say nothing of the universe. Like the song says, there's much more to see than can ever be seen. You of all people should know that, right?"

Scott thought about turning his back. But he didn't move.

"There's no way that anybody can ever know everything that's going on. So there's no way that anybody can ever know how everything works either. So people look at what they can see, and they figure out how that works.

"But then people make a mistake. They start taking all those rules that they've worked out to explain what they've seen, and they start thinking that those same rules must work for everything. They start thinking round and round in circles, locking themselves up in cages, thinking about everything the same old way. And when something comes along that's outside the cage--something that doesn't fit inside all those little rules they've worked up--they pretend that it doesn't exist.

"Well, we coyotes, we sort of like to do something about that. We play tricks on people. And sometimes it's just for fun. But sometimes, it's to get people outside their cages--even if we have to push 'em out to get 'em there. And when we can't get 'em out, sometimes we can just get their attention. You can pretend all you want that that guy outside the cage doesn't exist--but when he stands up and pisses in your face, it sorta grabs your attention, doesn't it?"

Scott was half-expecting the coyote to demonstrate his point; but he made no move to. Did any of this have a point?

"I wasn't born this way, you know."

That grabbed Scott's undivided attention.

"Some are born great; some have greatness thrust upon them. Up until about six years ago, I was as normal as you'd ever want to see. Hell, I was a schmuck... not half as much of one as you, but a schmuck nonetheless. And then, one day, a magnificent stranger showed up, and he showed me the way.

"Thought about a career change lately, Scott?"

He can't be serious, Scott thought. This is crazy.

But Scott couldn't bring himself to turn away. After all, he already knew that the coyote was crazy...

"I did say I'd find a way to make you useful, after all. And besides, if I can turn a shithead like you into a decent coyote, I'll be a legend.

"The question is... if I do that for you, are you willing to do what it takes?"

There was only one sane answer. Scott nodded.

"Sure about that?"

He nodded again, more enthusiastically this time.

"I thought so. Everything's all set. See ya in three days."

And with that, the coyote vanished.

And Scott just stared, past the bars of the cage, at the big world beyond.


Scott went about his business, such as it was. He refused to let himself believe it.

But, three days to the dot later, in the wee hours of the morning, a transfer team showed up at his cage. And behind them, he could see a stranger, a perfectly normal human... but somehow, when he looked again, he could see the shadow of the pointed ears, the muzzle. He was smiling. As always.

My God. It's really happening.

He made a token show of resistance, but allowed himself to be herded into the carrier cage. In a matter of minutes, he was once again in the back of a truck, rolling down the empty pathways of the zoo.

Every fantasy he had ever had evaporated. If he could really get out of here, he would kiss the coyote's feet. He would clean his house with his tongue. He would smear himself with Vaseline and get down on hands and knees. He would...

The truck pulled up to an unfamiliar building, at the outskirts of the zoo. Scott couldn't read the sign, but he dimly remembered what the red cross stood for.

A needle poked him from behind.

His muscles began to go limp. He saw the coyote looking in at him, and he saw the look in those eyes...

And he knew.

With the strength that he had left, he slammed his body weight twice into the door of the cage, desperately trying to escape. But it was hopeless, and he knew that from the start.

As his head sunk to the floor of the cage, he prayed that he would lose consciousness.

He did not.

He was hauled out of the cage, strapped to a gurney, wheeled into an operating room. He could not move a muscle, could not utter a sound. But he could hear the keepers talking, though he couldn't understand a word. And he could feel the straps press against his flesh. He could feel everything. Very clearly.

The coyote stood over him, holding a scalpel, and smiled.

His mouth never moved--not his human one, not even the muzzle that only Scott could see. But Scott heard a single word, very clearly, in his mind.

"Gotcha."

The scalpel bit into his flesh...


The keepers were sad. They had given up hope of Aries ever mating again, and they had hoped that neutering him would at least curb his violent impulses. And it had worked--all too well.

Every morning, Aries would just huddle in the corner of his cage, refusing to move at all, staring hopelessly at the bars. Not even the electric prod could budge him. It was as if he was waiting to die.

There was no risk of that, of course. Aries was still young, and showed no signs at all of ill health. With any luck, he would live for another thirty years, perhaps even forty.

And he always snapped out of it around noon.


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