Freaks of Nature

Note: So that news story about the feral pig getting drunk and fighting a cow? Anyway, I wrote this way back in 1997 or 1998, based on a post-card writing assignment given to me by Luis Alberto Urrea.

Me and Bobby had our annual meeting last night up by the south bank of the lake. It was a good night for a meeting. Oh, me and Bobby meet every night, just to shoot the shit and what not. But last night was the Official Meeting.

FishPostcard

We both belong to the International Society of Freaks of Nature — ISOFON for short. And the local chapters meet at least once a year. We’re the only two freaks in the area and we’ve never met any of the other guys, but it’s nice to feel like part of something. I think that’s very important, to be part of something. I remember this scraggly yellow dog tried to join up once. Called himself O’Brien and the only thing freakish about him was his extraordinary use of foul language and his obsession with sex (from what I hear he couldn’t get it up). Well, me and Bobby decided not to let him join. Found out recently that he got shot while on the prowl. Kinda feel guilty about that. Wonder if it would have happened if we’da let him join.

Bobby’s the one stumbled on ISOFON. Few years back, he came across a flier tacked to a tree. It was written in English, Spanish, Swahili and four different types of pheromones.

“Freaks of all species, you’re not alone,” it said.

Such a simple statement, but it meant the world to me and Bobby.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we’re both freaks. I’m a 25-foot long, 700-pound fish. Now that’s not particularly odd for sharks and what not, but I’m a small-mouth bass.

Don’t know how or what happened, really. I started out normal size, had my share of school friends for a week — and then I just started growing. I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea who my parents were (fish usually don’t) and my friends became cruel — lots of “large-mouth” and “lunker” and “trophy-fish” jokes. So I ate them. I felt guilty at first, but I later learned that fish eat their own. That didn’t stop the community from turning on me and shunning me to the middle of the lake. I guess I could have eaten my entire community, but the thought seemed too depressing. Eventually I became suicidal and tried to beach myself on the south bank of the lake.

That’s where I met Bobby. He was trying to drown himself.

Bobby’s a white-tail deer. Back then, he’d just grown his first spikes and he was all attitude when we ran across each other on the road to rest.

“Watch where ya going, ya freakin’ fish,” he said. “Get da hell outa my way.”

“Excuse the hell outa me,” I replied. My attitude wasn’t much better and I was bigger than he was.

“You don’t want to piss me off,” I added, trying to look tough — hard to do with just my eyes and lips sticking out of the water so’s I could breathe.

“Shutup, you oversized carp, or I’ll stick my antlers up your fishy ass.”

“Go for it,” I said and we started fighting. We went on for half an hour or so until he was choking on water and I was suffocating on air.

“Good fight,” I offered when I’d flushed out my gills again. I had no fight left in me and I thought maybe I could reach out to the guy.

“Thanks,” he said. “You didn’t do bad for a carp.”

“Small-mouth bass,” I corrected. “Name’s Jimmy.”

“Yeah, whatever. What the hell’s wrong with you anyway?”

So I told him my story, told him I was trying to kill myself.

“Me too,” he replied matter-of-factly before going on to tell me his story. Turned out Bobby was a freak in his own right. Due to some kind of mutation, he had feet instead of hooves. Well, paws really. Except on his right front one, he’s got what looks like a human hand — opposable thumb and all. Bobby was a text-book case. Friends laughing, calling him names, excluding him from their games.

“But what about your parents,” I’d asked. “Thought that extra parental attention was one of the great things about being a mammal.”

White-tail males, he explained, don’t stick around. “And mom,” he paused. “She disappeared. Shot by a man, I figure.”

“How do you know?”

“Just a hunch…. ‘Man is in the forest’ is the last thing she said to me before she disappeared.”

“Harsh,” I said.

“Yup,” he said back.

And that’s how our friendship began. That first week, we talked for hours on end. Bobby stayed on the bank and I stayed in the shallow end, lips and eyes poking out of the water. I don’t remember quite what we talked about, but it felt good to know I wasn’t alone in the world.

And that’s pretty much why we joined ISOFON, I guess. Bobby, in his typical fashion, mouthed off about it at first.

“What a bunch of losers,” he said. “Bunch of cry babies need to have a group to make ’em feel good about themselves.”

“Whatever you say, Bobby,” I said.

I knew he’d change his mind, so I wasn’t surprised when he came back a couple of days later.

“Ya know, Jimmy, maybe we should join that stupid group. Maybe get some free stuff out of it anyways, ya know.”

“Sure, Bobby. Sounds like a great idea.”

I don’t remember ever getting any free stuff — maybe Bobby kept it all. But we did get an official membership letter from the president of ISOFON — he’s a jackalope that lives in Arizona. And every once in a while we get a chain letter that starts in Arizona and makes its way to various places where freaks add to it and send it on its way. Some of the mammals and other land creatures gather for larger conventions at times, but with new highways and faster cars, it’s getting harder to do. Me, I can’t get out of the lake.

But anyway, we had our meeting last night. Memo from higher up said that this year’s meeting was supposed to focus on “Memories Together — Fun With Freaky Friends.” The leader of each local chapter was supposed to conduct a big love-in with the members and remember the good times they’ve had since joining ISOFON. “An evening of togetherness featuring stories, jokes, photos and old fashioned community,” the memo added.

“Jeez, would you listen to this crap,” Bobby said as he read the memo out loud to me. “This is worst than last year’s — ‘Dealing with Stereotypes in the Predator/Prey community.’ Can you imagine what it must be like at those big chapters…everybody sitting around, laughing and telling jokes until some sap starts up with, ‘Well, before I met you guys my life was hell’ and then they’re all trying to outdo each other. And by the end of the night everyone’s depressed and probably pissed off because they didn’t get to tell their sob story like they wanted to.”

“You’re so right, brother,” I commented. He was.

As for me and Bobby, we made a pact after that first week together never to speak of “the time before.” The only time that pact’s been broken was the night when Bobby got hold of what he called some “stinky corn soup.” He stumbled down to the bank that night, insulting everything he could think of and laughing at himself. Then he broke down crying, saying that it was so hard growing up, how he missed his mom and wished he’d had a father like some other mammals. For a week after that night, he carried on about how much he hated himself for breaking down like that. “I’m such a wus,” he kept saying.

But despite his macho attitude, Bobby held the meeting. He fixated on the photo aspect of the Memory theme, made a big production and formality about the photos we had, how we got them, etc. There are only two photos — one of him, one of me — and they’re getting pretty old and greasy around the edges. But talking about the photos was something to do, something to remind us of our first crazy days together.

It was Bobby who got the camera.

It was a cold winter morning and I was enjoying the rather strange sensation of letting icy wind blow over my lips. Deer hunting season was in full swing so I was surprised to see Bobby running down the bank, right out in the open, with something dangling around his neck. I figured he’d been running for awhile because he was extremely out of breath — which is something you don’t see often with deer. But he had that weird smile that deer get, so I knew right off that he’d been up to something.

“Ya gotta come see this,” he said between breaths. “This is just too much. I can’t believe I did it. You gotta….”

“Slow down, slow down,” I interrupted. “Now let’s start off by telling me what that is around your neck.”

“Camera,” he said.

“What’s a camera?” I asked.

“It’s a device that records visual data and imprints it onto a negative which can later be transferred to paper and kept for viewing enjoyment.”

“Oh yeah, one of those. Where’d you get it?”

“From a human.”

“How’d you manage that?”

“Can’t tell you right now…you gotta come see this.”

I stared at him.

“What man? C’mon, let’s go.”

“I’m a fish, Bobby. Gotta breathe water, ya know.”

“Oh yeah, yeah,” he said as he paced the bank quickly, his mind clicking out a solution. “I know. Meet me down at the north boat ramp.”

“I can’t go down there. Somebody’ll see me.”

“C’mon, Jimmy. It’s too cold for anybody to be down there. See you in half an hour.”

So I headed toward the north boat ramp. Back in those days, I hadn’t eaten or scared away everything in the shallow, south end of the lake where I met Bobby almost every night — so I didn’t venture out much. Going through the center of the lake, I could pick up the fear coming from a younger generation of animals who, until then, didn’t believe that I was real. By the time I reached the north end, I was drunk on power and stuck my eyes and legs out of the water without a second’s thought. I wanted to be seen. I wanted the ultimate power trip — to frighten a human.

When this old green and yellow car started rolling up with a bundle tied to the top of the front end, I didn’t go under. The car inched slowly toward the ramp and came to a jerky halt right before the slope leading down to the water. The bundled turned out to be a human and at first I thought another human was going to climb out of the vehicle and roll the dead one into the lake — happens all the time around here.

But then the car made a loud honking sound and I heard Bobby’s voice –yeah, Bobby’s voice coming from inside the car.

“Man is in the forest, Jimmy,” he was yelling. “Man is in the freakin’ forest.” Then he started that weird deer laugh of his.

“What’s going on, Bobby? What’s going on?” I was yelling. “What did you do?”

“I knocked him off, Jimmy. He left his gun against a tree and wandered off to take a leak.” He was talking wildly. “And something came over me. ‘I’ve been hiding for weeks,’ I told myself. ‘Same thing every year.’ Jimmy this could be the guy what did in my mother. Should have seen the look on his face. Hey, sorry I took so long. Took me forever to figure out this damn car thing and that gun bruised me up pretty good. Shot him four times. Give me a second, will ya. Let me try to get out of this thing.”

I was dumbstruck. I sat there blinking like a stupid carp as Bobby struggled to get out of the car. Cars apparently aren’t made for a four-legged creature Bobby’s size and after five minutes or so of watching his twisting and turning, I came around and started to laugh.

“Problems there, Bobby?” I called out to him.

But I stopped laughing and fell silent again when he finally wrestled his way out and stood on his hind legs.

“Pretty amazing, huh?” he said, holding his front legs out, pad of paw and palm of hand turned up. “Never even thought to try it, but I had to learn real quick like when I decided to kill this guy here.” He dropped his front end back to the ground and walked over to me. “So whadaya think, ya big perch? Am I amazing or am I amazing?”

“Pretty amazing,” I whispered, still in awe. “What are you gonna do with him?”

“Drive him into the woods and call up a few coyotes and wolves — figure I’ll be able to scare them a little and make a deal for myself besides. Won’t have to worry about being hunted anymore.”

“Good idea.”

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot. I figured out how to work this camera-doohickey. I want to get a picture of this.” He explained how to work the camera. It had a wire leading from the main body. At the end of the wire was a little tube with a button on it. My job was to bite down on the button after everything was set up. After placing the camera on the rock, Bobby struggled back into the car.

“All right, Jimmy. Go ‘head, take a couple.”

I pressed the button twice and waited for him to get out. As he was walking down to the bank, going on about how great the pictures were going to be, I heard the slow drone of a motor out on the lake.

“Oh shit,” I said, turning to see a boat moving slowly toward the north ramp. “Oh shit, Bobby, you think he saw me?”

“Jeez, I hope not,” he said quietly, a bit of worry clouding his triumphant mood.

The motor sputtered to a stop and we watched as the man stood in the boat. He was still a long way off but he was obviously angry about something. He pulled the motor off of the back of the boat and hoisted it in, bent over and began working on it.

“Whadaya think, Bobby?”

“Don’t think he saw you yet.” He paused. “But if he did, the lake’ll be full of fishermen by tomorrow.” Another pause. “Whadaya gonna do?”

“Only one thing I can do,” I said. “Get the camera ready.”

“Wait a minute…. You don’t mean.”

I chuckled before saying, “Man was in the forest, Jimmy. Now he’s on the freakin’ lake. Just get the camera ready.”

I went under and swam for the boat, swam as fast as I could. What was going through my head at the time, I don’t quite remember, but the power-trip I’d felt earlier paled in comparison to what I was feeling as I pulled up short behind the boat and surfaced quietly so that Bobby would have time to get ready for the shot. The human was bent over the motor, cursing it and hitting it with something, the metallic clinks the only sound on an otherwise still morning.

I lunged.

I came up out of the water and swallowed him whole, hoping that his bones wouldn’t get stuck in my throat. I got caught up on the boat and nearly choked to death on air before it broke and I fell back into the water. Like a giant worm, the human kicked and struggled inside of me until he drowned.

Bobby and me stayed awake that entire night, recounting our day over and over.

It was a year before we got the pictures developed. We had to wait until the next fall, for that day when humans dress like animals and spirits and what not. Bobby walked into a Walmart, dropped the film off, and spent an hour walking around the store while the film was being developed. He paid with money he’d taken from the hunter.

“Ya shoulda seen this place, Jimmy,” he said when he got back. “Humans everywhere — buying clothes, buying noise disks, looking at boxes with moving pictures in them. There was even huntin’ and fishin’ supplies.” He rustled in a bag. “Look, I got a salt-lick for me and a couple jars of pork-frogs for you — no hooks in ’em.”

“What about the pictures?” I asked after swallowing a couple of the pork-frogs. I gotta hand it to humans, they’re great with fish bait.

“Oh yeah,” he said pulling them out. “They came out great.” He paused. “Even the ones of the human with a dead deer.” He paused again, then smiled. “What the hell, I guess it evened out.”

So that’s what we did at our meeting last night — relived our big moment in life. We were laughing so hard, youda thought it all happened yesterday.

But after the laughing, after the storytelling, a nervous silence fell over us.

“You’re a good guy,” Bobby finally said.

“You’re not so bad, yourself,” I replied and we started laughing again, both glad we’d said what we’d said. Those few words are kind of like ISOFON, I guess — not much at all, but enough to make us both feel appreciated, like we’re part of something.

Well, Bobby should be back any second now. It’s that time of year.

He went to Walmart for a salt-lick and a couple of jars of pork-frogs.

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