'They came again last night, but Bleacher heard 'em a mile off and warned me.' I rubbed my hand through my hair, bits of earth, twigs and a small insect or two fell out onto the pile of crates I called a table. Dasha snatched a hand out quickly, caught one of the juiciest bugs and popped it into her mouth, then looked sheepishly at me.
'Sorry,' she said and then crunched her sharp little teeth down onto it. 'It's in my genes.'
I laughed; it was an old joke, told many times and it was wearing thin around the edges like a favourite shirt.
'Knock yourself out, 'I replied, 'I'm sure I've a crab or two in my crotch, if you want to forage.'
She slapped me playfully, her claws sheathed, and for that I was grateful, 'I'm not that desperate.'
'Your loss.' I shrugged.
'Don't you think they're gonna find your bolt hole one day? Or Bleacher or someone else will sleep through and not warn you in time?'
'Someone else, yeah, maybe. But Bleacher? Never, well as long as they don't start coming during the daytime, then I might be fucked. He doesn't 'do' sunshine, as he's often telling me.' I handed her a nice fat centipede from inside my shirt and she popped it into her mouth, sucking it down like a strand of black spaghetti. 'Night though is a different matter. He'll never waste time sleeping through the night. Recombs tend to live by their genetic make-up, well; I haven't got to tell you? Have I?' I asked as she watched a small bird land on the sill of my open window. But my words were wasted on her now as all attention was focused on her next potential meal. Dasha, or Dash as she liked to be called was a gene-spliced Native American and Bobcat. She told me that the Latin name for the feline part was Lynx Rufus, and when I'd replied I thought Rufus was a dog's name I remembered how her back had arched and how the low, angry growling from her throat made me think it was more likely they'd spliced her with a cougar or puma.
She'd picked Dasha as a name because it meant beautiful, I couldn't have agreed more. She was lithe, petite, and covered with the finest smattering of fur which varied from light brown to grey and was enhanced by mottled patches of black. Her form was human however, and for decency sake she wore a halter-type covering over her pert breasts and a cut-off pair of khaki-coloured pants. She wore no shoes, her hands and feet were too useful to keep covered as the extremities of her fingers and toes sported razor-sharp claws, which although had been kept sheathed in my presence, were now slowly appearing as she crouched and dug them into the wooden floor. Next, she wiggled her arse slightly and prepared to leap at the unsuspecting bird which was preening itself on my windowsill.
My door burst open suddenly. The bird flew off in a flurry of feathers. Dash whirled around spitting, a ridge of fur was raised down her back, following the contours of her spine and her luxurious tail twitched ominously. Benjamin knuckled his way in through the door and slid to a stop upon seeing Dasha's state of agitation.
'Oops,' he said and then scratched his arse before smelling his finger. 'Have I disturbed something?' He asked and then collapsed onto the floor like an old orange rug.
'Only my lunch, Ben.' Dash said gradually unwinding. Her claws retracted silently into their sheaths.
'Sorry, want to share mine?' he asked generously and produced a bunch of greenish bananas from a haversack looped around his hairy neck.
'Don't do veggie, Ben,' Dash said looking at him suspiciously, 'but you know that anyway, don't you?'
'Just being polite,' he shrugged and then looked at me, 'what about you Addy?'
'After you've been scratching your arse?' I exclaimed. 'No thanks, I don't want to catch something.'
He looked downcast, 'my fingers are clean. Licked 'em all, I'll have you know. And anyway, you have to peel the banana, so what's the problem?'
I'd thoughtlessly offended the orang-man and so apologised.
'I'm sorry, Benjamin. Of course your fingers are clean. Didn't mean to upset you - but - no, I still don't want a banana. I'm not really hungry. I'm still a bit upset.'
'Ah, yes. I heard they'd come into the camp for you last night again. I can't see what all the fuss is about. Why don't they just leave you alone? You've been with us ages now, why do they want to take you away all of a sudden?' He picked at a patch of fur on his arm, examined something that he'd tweezed off and then put it into his mouth.
'It's because he's too old to stay with us any longer, that's why.' Dash blurted out. I looked at her in amazement.
'Whatever gave you that idea?' I asked.
'Clayton said it,' she pouted, 'and you know he's nearly always right.'
'Oh, Clayton said it so it must be true,' I retorted. Clayton was a Recomb-dolphin who spent most of his time in the lake on the outskirts of the village, but now and then walked into town to preach or give a ruling on some trivial dispute or other. I never liked the guy, too full of his own importance, I thought. And I'm sure he didn't like me. Probably because I was one of the few villagers who swam in his lake. Anyone would think he owned the damned thing.
'He is nearly always right though, Addy.' She said.
Loath as I was to admit it, I had to agree. Clayton was probably the smartest of us all.
'How did he come to that conclusion?' I asked her.
'He's made a friend of one of the teachers.' She replied.
I laughed then. 'Now that I cannot believe, no-one makes friends with a teacher.'
She shrugged her shoulders. 'Well, that's what he said.'
Benjamin knuckled his way to my side and tousled my hair. I thought for a moment it was just an excuse to look for nits but it wasn't.
'I've heard a rumour too, Addy.' He said.
'Not you as well?'
He nodded. 'You're 'different' right, Addy?' He couldn't blush but the expression on his face showed a pained embarrassment.
'Yeah, I know that, but everyone is different. Aren't they?' I asked. 'Even the teachers are different, some are cat-adapts, like Dash, some are apes, like yourself, Ben. I've even seen a bat-adapt like Bleacher once, when I was very young.'
Dasha moved closer now too and put an arm around me. I began to feel worried.
'But have you ever seen anyone like yourself?' She asked.
I opened my mouth and it remained open for quite some time as I thought and thought, and then finally replied, 'no, I haven't, but I didn't really think too much about it.'
She nodded her head, 'you've seen what you look like though haven't you?'
'Of course.' I remembered the first time I went swimming in the lake and saw my reflection in the crystal-clear water. I have to admit it, I look rather strange.
'You're not really one thing or another, are you?' She asked.
'I suppose not.' I shrugged and felt my face turning red.
'You could be a bald orang-man?' Ben asked hopefully.
'That's not what Clayton says he is.' Dasha replied.
I narrowed my eyes, 'Clayton knows what I am?'
'He's heard the teachers speaking about you. They say you are too mature to stay here anymore and can only cause trouble.'
'But that's not fair!' I cried, 'I get on with everyone. Ask anyone; even ask Clayton if you want. I know he doesn't like me because I use the lake, but that's all, I'm sure.'
'Clayton says you pee in the water when you're swimming.' Ben volunteered.
I turned a deeper red, 'well - yeah - okay, so I do. But that's no reason to want to give me up to the teachers, is it? Well, is it? And anyway, who is Clayton to talk? He pees and craps in the damned lake all of the bloody time. Have you ever seen him take a crap out of water? Well, have you?'
Benjamin looked thoughtful for a moment, 'no, come to think of it I haven't. But, there again, I haven't seen Bleacher take a crap either.'
'Well, that's easy to answer. Bleacher craps at night, you know he roosts during the day, he's not going to crap in his roost, is he?'
'You do.' Benjamin pointed out.
'I don't bloody-well crap in Bleacher's roost! Where did you get that idea from, Ben?'
'I didn't mean you crapped in Bleacher's roost, Addy. I meant you crap here, in your roost.' He explained and pointed to my wooden bucket in the corner.
'Oh, well that's just a convenience, Ben. Saves me getting up and wandering around in the dark should I need a crap after the sun's gone down. That's all. I don't keep the bloody crap. I bury it and wash out the bucket.'
'In the lake?' he asked.
'No, of course not. In the river, downstream from the village.'
'And the river flows into the lake?' Ben asked again.
I hesitated, 'Umm, yeah, I suppose it must.'
'No wonder Clayton is saying all those things about you.' Ben decided.
'No, Ben. That's not true. Clayton has only told us what he's heard. He hasn't said anything himself about Addy.' Dash said turning to me. 'Clayton might not like you very much but he's an honourable person. He hasn't told the teachers where you hide, has he?'
'Not so far.' I replied and made a mental note not to wash my bucket in the stream again. 'Anyway, you said Clayton knew what I was, what did you mean by that?'
'The teachers called you a name. I think it's what breed you are.' Dasha explained.
'But I think I know what breed I am anyway.' I replied.
'Well, you're no Recomb, Addy.' Ben said. 'And you're certainly no orang-man or any other type of gene-spliced ape. You're too damn ugly.' He rolled back onto his arse, grabbed his toes with his fingers and laughed loudly.
I pushed him over onto his back, 'yeah, yeah, take the piss out of the afflicted.'
'You're not afflicted, Addy.' Dasha said, reached out and pushed a length of brown hair from my eyes.
'Yeah, I suppose so, 'I replied, 'but how many other humans do you know?'
Dasha and Benjamin looked at each other and shrugged.
'See?' I said.
'I don't think you are one though, Addy.' Dasha said quietly.
'Are one what?' I asked.
'Why-ever not?' I asked.
…because, bloody Clayton!' I interrupted her, 'I'm getting sick of Clayton!'
She waited for me to finish my ranting, 'can I continue?'
'Sorry, go on.'
'Because Clayton heard the teachers say they had to get you out of the village now. You're too old to be allowed to stay here.' She explained.
'But why?' I moaned, 'and that still doesn't explain why you don't think I'm a human anyway'
'It's because of your nature, they said. And because pets are best removed from the village before they get too old and start questioning things.' Dasha replied.
'I just don't understand. What's a pet? What's wrong with asking questions?' I asked.
'Beats me,' Ben said, 'fancy a swim? You can always ask Clayton. I, for one, would like to hear what he has to say.'
'It's worth a try.' Dasha agreed.
'Yeah, okay. Let's go see Clayton then.' I grumbled.
'Good, we'll soon have this all cleared up, now go get your lead, Addy. Good boy.' Dasha said and I smiled, eager to get to the water for a swim and even more eager to ask Clayton what breed of animal a pet was.
But Everyone is Different was originally published on-line by Wily Writers, 2009