I’m not the most observant of people. Likely some of that is due to my night job, but enough people have mentioned it over the years that I’m pretty much resigned to this particular character flaw. This is how I came to find myself flinging my hand wildly to dislodge the tribble with teeth clinging by said teeth to that pad of skin between forefinger and thumb. I admit it wasn’t my proudest moment.
My codename is Morpheus. You, like most people, are even now envisioning the character from the Matrix and that’s fine, but no amount of weight lifting will get me a body like that. While my friends are out fighting the bad guys, I plug myself into the resulting brain waves from people in REM sleep. I keep a log of the dreams I see and my organization checks it out. The easy term for what I am is a spy, but James Bond I am not. Sad, but true.
Because of my job, my schedule is a bit different than most. My alarm clock goes off at sunset and my work shift ends around the time when most people are finishing their lunch. This isn’t the end of my day yet, so my first stop is the kitchen. Even had I not been bleary-eyed from a long night, it’s unlikely that I would have noticed the furry booby trap, especially since coffee is needed to get me functioning normally.
So, it’s coffee that’s on my mind. It’s later that I’ll look around at the messy countertops and sink full of dishes and conclude that my friend Virgil is cooking again. The sunlight streaming in through the windows and muffled noises from the outside world likewise go unnoticed. Only the coffee maker is what I see and it’s my coffee mug that I reach for. I know all this because that’s how my days go. What I missed, somewhere in there, was the transformation from mug to beast. I challenge you not to holler and freak out under such conditions.
I dislodge the critter after a moment or two but even after that resounding thunk on the wall I’m still shaking. I am more wide-awake than I can remember being in years. My heart is pounding so hard I have a second of worry that it’ll come banging right out of my chest. The blood pounding in my ears is deafening, but at the same time, the whir of the air conditioning seems so loud. An airplane buzzes by and the linoleum has frozen my feet to the floor.
My hand has me transfixed. Blood slowly rises to the surface from a row of deep white pockmarks and dribbles across my knuckles. I know that it’s going to really hurt in a minute. This realization switches my brain back on. I can hear just how hard I’m breathing and I know I’ll pass out if I don’t calm down, so I take a few slow, deep breaths.
Then I hear something sort of like a bird’s chirp. The kitchen seems brighter and all my senses are magnified as I tense, creeping toward the source of that groaning, sullen chirp. Around the kitchen island I tiptoe. My fingers slide over the countertop to seize the first weapon I find. A spatula is hardly menacing, but reason is abandoned when I hear that chirp again.
No bigger than a baseball, the ferocious beast lies on its back, kicking its little three-toed feet sporadically. I must’ve flung it harder than I thought. Perhaps it sensed the change of mood because all at once it flips right side up and screams at me.
I practically jump out of my skin. Who expects something that small to make that much noise? So I do what any normal person would have done: I chuck the spatula at it and flee.
I know, I know, but I’m the person who peeks in people’s dreams to seek out bad intentions; I’m not the person who foils the bank robbers and the terrorists and all those things that end up on the front page news. Another reason I couldn’t be the hero is because of my innate clumsiness. I’m not surprised when the floor shifts, as it so often does, and I careen right into a kitchen chair. Grace is not my middle name. Now I’m the one who’s dazed.
I blink my eyes open and through all the glittering, neon lights, I revise my initial classification of my assailant. It’s on the table in front of me now and I see it clearly. With its eyes, feet, two perky ears, and a long tail, the creature isn’t exactly a tribble. It’s more like that thing in the Dark Crystal that followed the main character around and howled through the whole movie. Oh, yeah, and he bit people, too!
It bares its teeth at me, but its ears are perked up and it’s wagging its tail, so either it’s trying to be friendly or it’s about to bite my nose off. What I need right now is for one of my teammates to walk in the door, one of the guys with super human strength or reflexes. Hell, I’d even settle for one of the guards with those really big guns. Of course, those guys are all most likely out saving the world or something else suitably heroic and news-worthy, like rescuing kittens from trees. It’s a mixed blessing; I’d never hear the end of it if I needed rescuing.
Nails click against wood as the creature drums its feet against the table edge. It chitters at me like a squirrel. I must say I prefer that sound to the chirping or screaming I’ve already endured, but I’d rather it chitter with its mouth closed because all those rows of tiny, sharp teeth are hardly reassuring. My poor brain just can’t get a break; I’m still processing those shark-like teeth when it leaps at me.
I’d be horrified by the very girly shriek I let out if I wasn’t so intent on protecting my face. It lands on me and I fling myself backward. I’m slinging my arms around with enough force I’m surprised they don’t fly off. I only stop when I run into something and can no longer retreat. I freeze, but instead of slicing my arm open or gouging out my eyes, the creature wraps itself around my wrist and stares at me.
I stare into those bright, beady little eyes and the “please don’t kill me” mantra in my head morphs into “aww!” I sneeze because I’m allergic to everything. It purrs at me. I reach out hesitantly, because even though I’m turning into mush, I’m still waiting for my face to be ripped off. The fur is bristly on top but as my fingers sink deeper, I feel the softness. I hope that no one else has claimed this little guy.
“I think I’ll call you Max,” I say.
I get up and perch on a stool, listening to the purr. He’s a bony critter beneath all that fur but it’s soothing to run my fingers along his spine, until he licks me. Ever dragged the scratchy side of a sponge over your hand? That’s what his tongue felt like. Ugh.
There’s something oddly cute about the fuzzy bracelet I’ve acquired. Now that the immediate danger is past, my stomach starts growling and I’m reminded of my interrupted quest for coffee. Max seems comfortable, so I leave him there, grab the nearest mug, and reach for the coffee pot. The pot smashes on the floor, coffee staining everything in the splash zone, and I’m up out of my seat, hollering and flapping my arms around because Max bit me! He’s got his teeth in my arm and his claws digging in. I’m sure that tail is going to leave a mark.
And that, of course, is when someone comes running in. Evidently, my cursing at the top of my lungs attracted attention. The good part is that it’s Dargon who comes in. He’s the leader of the building’s security and the person least likely to gossip. He peels Max off me and gives him a shake until the little guy stops snarling and starts whimpering. All I want to do is rip him out of Dargon’s hands and cradle him to me. I find I want to pet and reassure Max, but I’m still angry and, yes, just a wee bit freaked out.
“I see you’ve met Maxwell,” says Dargon, grinning at me.
I scowl and rub at my arm. There are definite marks. “Don’t look at me like that,” I tell Dargon. “It hurts!”
“Maxwell is new.” Dargon thumps him on the table. “He’s a shape-changer.”
I lift an eyebrow, only now remembering that I’d reached for my mug and gotten a handful of Max.
“How did I know his name?” I ask.
“He’s telepathic, too.”
I cross my arms over my chest and look away. So, Max probably knew exactly how freaked out I was and he’d still scared the crap out of me! I hate being played for a fool. It’s bad enough that all the other superheroes treat me like a little kid.
Max chirps, but I refuse to look at him. Defiantly, I grab the coffee maker and instantly have to fend off a ball of razor sharp claws. Dargon’s yelling, I’m yelling, Max keeps chirping, and it is chaos. Then I feel something on my foot. The sudden pain is intense and I almost faint.
The floor is smoking and now so is my foot! I yell even louder, leaping to the counter and shoving my feet in the sink. I’ve got the water running and I’m splashing it everywhere along my legs and feet. There’s a prickle on my back and I look over to see Max perching on my shoulder. He rubs his head against my cheek. I can’t help it; I melt. Again.
Dargon’s on the radio, calling in backup and medics and who knows what all else, but all I can think is Max saved my life. He’d twice prevented me from drinking the coffee that was even now eating through the kitchen floor. As I sit here with my feet in the sink, I cuddle Max under my chin and kiss the top of his head, right between the ears. He purrs and I’m content.