Things were good for several days. I found a place to hide and sleep that was dry and warm enough, and I found food to eat. I didn’t even have to chase it. It was being put in a big metal box behind a restaurant, and nobody seemed to want it.
It wasn’t long before that went bad. I ate something that made me feel bad, and went to go sleep it off.
I woke up in a cage again. For a few minutes, after the usual wooziness from being tranquilized, I was afraid I was back where I’d come from. This didn’t last long, though, because I looked and sniffed around and everything was different. Around me, I could see other cages, these with humans in them. I presumed I was someplace really terrible, and I was very worried. How bad a place is it where they’ll put their own people in cages?
Shortly, a uniformed person came by and noticed he was awake. He brought some other people, who started to talk to me. One of them said, “Hello there. Do you speak English?”
My throat was dry, and it took me a moment to say, “Yes, sir. I speak English.” Before I got that out, he had asked me something in a language I didn’t understand, or maybe two… they sounded different, but I didn’t know either of them. The others all looked startled when I spoke, and began to talk to each other. They were standing right there so it was easy to hear, and said things like, “My God! It talks!” and “What do we do with it now?” and things.
The man talking to me shushed them, and said, “Will you be all right here for a little while? Do you need anything?”
I said, “I’m thirsty, sir.” and he nodded. One of the others said, “Oh! We can take care of that.” He said to me, “I’ll be right back.” The first man said to me, “We can definitely get you some food and something to drink.” He smiled, and said, “Someone will be here in the morning, to try and figure out what to do with you, all right?”
I nodded. What else would I do? I was warm and dry, and they were going to feed me. So far, so good.
They were good to their word, too. I had food and water. There was even a toilet right in the cage with me. Nobody asked me to do anything unpleasant. It wasn’t a bad place at all to be.
The people in the cages around me were mostly quiet. None of them had a cage to themselves, but they weren’t crowded. They tended to stay away from each other, warily. Another group of the uniformed men brought someone in and put him in the cage next to mine. He was shouting and noisy. I went over to the separating bars while he was yelling. He was ranting something about not being locked up and that they couldn’t do this to him, did they know who he was. It seemed like a foolish thing to say, because they obviously had done it to him. He also smelled terribly of something strong.
I asked him, “Are you all right?” That was exciting.
He stopped his shouting long enough to look at me, screamed, and then bolted to the far side of his cage. He started shouting, “Oh my GOD! What the hell is THAT?!” He was terrified. I looked behind me in great concern, but there was nothing there. It took me a moment to realize he must be terrified of me. I’d never had anyone be terrified of me before. I decided I didn’t like it much, and said, “I’m sorry.” and moved away. I couldn’t go anywhere much out of sight, but I did go sit on the bunk, and tried to hide. It, as usual, worked, and I became less visible, although the bright light in the room didn’t make that easy.
The other people in the cages laughed at this. I thought they were laughing at me, which made me feel even worse, but their talk made me realize they were laughing at the one who was frightened of me. They teased him, “He’s in another cell, man. He can’t hurt you.” One added, “He’s been quiet anyway. Look, I think he’s more afraid of you than you are of him.” The one I’d talked to said, “It’s a tiger!” and the others replied, “Naw, it’s just a guy in a tiger suit.” and, “Or a tiger-guy, or something.” and, “Some poor medical experiment gone wrong.”
I wasn’t enjoying it here any more at all.
A quiet voice from the other side said to me, “Hey. Hey, stripes. You okay in there?”
I looked over at the other man, who was leaning on the bars between our cells, and said, “Yes, sir. I’m all right. I didn’t mean to cause a disturbance.”
He laughed, and said, “Poor drunk bastard probably thought he was being attacked by a tiger. Serves him right.” He added, “My name’s Bill. You got a name?”
I said, “Uh. No, not really. They called me thirty-seven.”
Bill replied, “That’s a hell of a way to be known. I think I’ll stick with ‘stripes’, okay?” and grinned an easy-going grin. I smiled back and said, “That’s fine.”
“So,” Bill asked casually, “What’re you in here for, anyway?”
I replied, “For? I’m not outside, so I’m in here.”
I was obviously confused, and Bill saw this. He said, “Hey, Stripes, man! They’ve got to tell you what you’re in for! I’m in here for being “drunk and disorderly” and I can’t argue with ’em on that. Got wasted and made an ass of myself, and I get to spend the night in here because of it. That’s my own damn fault, and maybe I’ll be smarter next time. If they can’t tell you what you’re in for, they’ve got to let you go.”
I looked confused again, and said, “Go where?” Bill just laughed, apparently thinking I was making a joke. I smiled tentatively at him, and waited. Maybe I’d ask when the other men came back.
The bunk was more comfortable than the ground had been, and it was easy to fall asleep. I’d ask the men who came in the morning what was going on. Maybe they would know. Until then, sleep.