Yasha Lizard Deceives a Child
Christmas with Yasha Lizard
Of all God's creatures, none was more miserable than Yasha Lizard
The merry church bells rang the top of the hour, followed by a lone, solemn bell which struck five deep notes. It was time to go home. Yasha Lizard stacked the papers in a neat pile on the corner of his desk and waited while his coworkers grabbed their outerwear off the coat rack. He waited among the forest of legs, stepping backward whenever one chanced to swing around. A sleeve fell onto his nose and he brushed it away.
“Sorry old chap! Do excuse me,” said Bernard Badger, and after seeing that Yasha was not going to respond, he turned back to the conversation he was having with Yolanda Porcupine.
“Why, I do say! That's a fine idea for a gift!”
“I rather thought so myself, Mr. Badger. I'm sure Wolbert will adore it. He's got his spines in a tizzy waiting for Christmas this year. Already got his stockings hung up, he has!”
“And what about you, Mr. Lizard?” Bernard Badger asked, looking down. “Spending the day with your family tomorrow?”
“Reptiles don't celebrate Christmas,” answered Yasha.
This was not completely true. He did know a few Lizards who celebrated it, but they tended to be the type who would give their tails to fit in with Mammal society. He himself had already found a tavern that would be open all day and that is where he planned to spend his Christmas. The lively group dispersed and Yasha took his own coat and hat from the rack and went outside into the cold.
All along the cobblestone walk the shops were lit with bright candles and decorated with colorful ribbons and fir branches. He was about to head to the comforting gray of his favorite tavern, The Scaled Arm, when he heard someone cry, “Daddy! Daddy!” And a little Tadpole, half as tall as Yasha, already with his legs grown in and his arms budding, ran into him nose-first. From behind them Mrs. Yolanda Porcupine made a tittering fuss.
“Oh, how lovely! I didn't know you had a son, Mr. Lizard!”
“I don't!” protested Yasha. The little animal would not let go of him. It was getting its Amphibian slime all over his wool coat.
“Of course he is, no need to be shy. Why, he looks just like you!” laughed Mr. Badger.
Yasha Lizard gritted his teeth and kept silent. How stupid these people are, he thought. Could they not tell a decent, upstanding Reptile from a sticky, mud-crawling, gibbering Froglarva? As for Bernard Badger and Yolanda Porcupine, they were delighted with the thought of finding out something nice about Yasha Lizard, who often disturbed them with his asocial behavior. They went on their way, waving back to him and laughing.
“The Lord bless you with a wonderful Christmas, Mr. Lizard!”
Yasha pried the tadpole off of him and looked it sternly in the eyes.
“Look,” he said, “I am not your daddy. Tadpoles don't have parents.” Tadpoles, and Lizards as well, were hatched from eggs and untended by such distasteful things as parents, a useless and sentimental Mammalian custom. Frogs laid their eggs in the spring, and Tadpoles hatched in the early Summer. Yasha had heard of eggs laying dormant for seasons, only to hatch at the most peculiar time. He had heard of animals who lacked the most basic instincts, who could not find food for themselves, who could not communicate, or prey animals who were not naturally afraid of carnivores, though not he nor anyone else could claim to understand such things. Everyone knew, however, that children born with any kind of problem did not inhabit this world for long.
“My name's Tad, Daddy!” said the creature.
“Of course it is. All tadpoles are named Tad until they become Frogs. Now just go back to the pond where you came from.”
“Does Daddy live in the pond?”
“I am not your daddy. And I live in a flat like a civilized creature.”
“I like flies, Daddy! Can I have a fly?”
Tad walked toward Yasha with his tiny arms bobbing up and down. They were not yet long enough to touch one another, the stubby fingers could not even fully close to make a fist. Yasha found himself backed up against a brick facade, and still Tad was waddling closer. Yasha kicked out his boot and struck the Tadpole on the knee. Tad began to cry.
“Oh, I do say!” shouted a Bear across the street.
“Oh, for shame!”
“Now wasn't that uncalled for!”
A small crowd was gathering on the other side of the boulevard.
“Never could understand Lizards,” the Bear continued, loud enough for Yasha to hear.
“Beastly creatures. Hitting their own children.”
Yasha wanted to shout at them how Tad was quite obviously a Tadpole, but but he didn't fancy a fight with those who were, at the least, a foot taller than him and who possessed pointed teeth meant by nature for prey animals such as himself. But he was quite aware that if the slimy animal had attached itself to one of them, there wouldn't be this kind of confusion.
He grinned and said, “Just a bit of discipline. Spare the rod, spoil the child and what have you! Good day!” Then he grabbed Tad, still wailing, by his tiny arm and dragged him off down the boulevard. Tad was looking back and forth at the brilliant lights and gay decorations, and shortly he stopped crying and became excitable.
“What's that, Daddy? Can we go there?” he asked, pointing. Yasha did not look up.
“Oooh, look at the lights! Do you like lights, Daddy?”
“Where are we going, Daddy?”
“Taking you back to the Lake where you belong,” said Yasha.
“I'm hungry,” the helpless animal moaned as it was pulled along.
It seemed every minute of the day that passed, the temperature dropped another degree. A little pinprick of cold seeped into a tear in Yasha's left boot. To get to the Lake, they had to go first through Toy Town, the district inhabited mostly by Toy Dogs. It was a wealthy neighborhood which spared nothing, neither money nor taste, on decorating. Where other shops had ribbons, Toy Town shops had banners. Where before were candles, here were blazing torches. Reds and greens in Toy Town were not the comforting reds and greens of your grandparents' at Christmas time, but traitorous colors that could make even the bravest creature dizzy. Yasha kept his eyes firmly on his feet as he hurried along. Tad saw something and leapt at it. Yasha turned around. A fat pink purse made of some greasy material lay at the foot of a well-groomed Pomeranian. Tad was trying to pick up the purse, but his arms did not stick out further than his chest, and so it was impossible. He spun and twisted about like an epileptic ballerina.
“Yeeeek! Thief!” yapped the Pomeranian, her manicured claws sweeping down at her purse.
“Come along, Tad,” mumbled Yasha. “I'm sorry, ma'am, don't mind him. Just a little excitable, he is. Children are all trouble, don't you agree?”
“How disgraceful,” growled the Pomeranian, and continued on her way, the heels of her pumps click-clicking on the cobblestone.
Up ahead Yasha Lizard saw an opportunity. A group of Toy Dog children were laughing and pulling one another in a sled. There was a Papillon, a Chihuahua, a Terrier, and two Poodles with their hair done in elaborate curls. None of them were much taller than Tad. Quickly Yasha ran into the nearest tailor's, and while the clerk's back was turned, grabbed a child's hat and coat. Back outside, he dressed Tad and pulled the hat low over his head to hide his big eyes. The sleeves hung limp at his sides as there was not much to fill them.
“Go on, now, Tad. Go run and play with the other children,” he said, giving the little creature a shove. Tad ran ahead giggling.
If the young creature could make friends with them, maybe they would want to take it home. And then, if all went well, and if Tad was smart, he would call those children's parents “Daddy” and “Mummy.” That was what Yasha Lizard hoped. Mammals were all about raising young, and anyway, if the parents could afford such expensive clothes and toys, surely they could afford one more child. Yasha turned and went back down the street.
When he made it to The Scaled Arm he ordered two shots of vodka and joined a game of cards already in progress with his gaming mates Feodor Skink, and Konstantin Cornsnake.
“Ah, Yasha, you look like legs have been in the running,” said Konstantin, who was from the East and whose syntax was not always comprehensible.
“Barely escape a hungry Bobcat? Siddown, I got just the thing for that,” said Feodor, pouring a glass of ale from the pitcher in the center.
It was illegal for citizens of the Collective Province to eat one another, but sometimes a mammal was down on his luck and desperate for food, and accidents happened, and generally the police were Mammals themselves and understanding. It had not always been this way. During colonization, society was divided into the Lower and Higher species. Reptiles and Amphibians were not considered sentient; they were raised and traded as food. Then, some enlightened and socially-conscious Mammals doing research of their own (with the help of a few outstanding Cold-blooded individuals) determined that Lower animals were, in fact, sentient, even if they didn't raise their young or regulate their own body temperatures. After a long struggle there followed the great emancipation. This happened a generation or two before Yasha was born. He knew a fair bit of history—more than most animals. It irked him that the Bernard Badgers and Yolanda Porcupines of the world acted like they had always treated Reptiles equally.
Yasha sat down and took a long gulp of ale, then chased it down with a caustic shot of vodka that left his nostrils burning. The cold that had taken up residence in his bones was finally evicted. The lights were kept bright and warm in this tavern. Under the soft voices of the patrons was an almost imperceptible sound of scales sliding over scales, like a fine silk cascading to the ground. He picked up his hand, which was, of course, worthless. Yasha had poor luck with cards.
“You wouldn't believe this fella at the docks today,” grumbled Feodor over his cigar.
“Wanted to trade me one copper for a 10-pound bag of seaweed. One copper! I told him I knew a few beggars who would be offended by a single copper.”
“Oh, that's nothing,” said Yasha as he looked at the card he was just dealt, a six of hearts. It did nothing for a Jack, a nine, and two fours. “Wait till you hear what happened to me,” and he began to tell them about the strange child that had attached itself to him and how he got rid of it in Toy Town.
“And you have no idea where it came from?” asked Feodor.
“No, and I don't care to know,” answered Yasha.
“A progeny has the mixed-up head. In the expire soon,” said Konstantin, almost to himself.
After they played a few more rounds, Feodor stood up and began to re-buckle his belt, and Konstantin slithered into his wool outer garment. Yasha sat with his drink halfway to his mouth, looking up.
“Where are you going? Should I order another pitcher for when you get back?”
“Unnecessary for the more drink. At home, in the sleeping. Tomorrow, in the celebrating.”
“Kostya's right. Tomorrow's Christmas! We ought to get at least a few hours of rest,” said Feodor.
“What? We don't celebrate Christmas!” Yasha burst out. “That's a Mammal's holiday!”
Feodor and Konstantin looked at one another.
“Why not? We don't go crazy or anything, like the Mammals, but there's no harm in exchanging a few presents and having a nice supper, is there?”
“Even you?” Yasha looked at Konstantin, who nodded. “Well, isn't this lovely? My own mates, turning their backs on me.”
“Sorry, mate, I told the old lady I'd be home three hours ago. Take care, Yashka,” and with that they left. Yasha looked about him and noticed the bar was as spacious as a poor man's breadbox. In the corners, hiding from the lights, one or two shapes could be spotted, but they were in a stage of drunkenness too advanced for playing cards. Yasha paid his tab and left.
The snow on the streets reflected the colored lights. The shops were closed but the streets were lively with families and children, young couples holding hands, groups of carolers, their voices visible in the cold fog made by their breath. Yasha kept his gaze on his feet and did not notices such things, trying instead to ignore the cold. Presently he bumped into something.
“Yasha Lizard! Just the creature I hoped to find. Come with me,” said a self-satisfied voice. Yasha looked up into the golden eyes of Officer Shorthair and immediately wished he'd never come out of the bar. “You're not in trouble, at least not this time,” chuckled the Officer, and led him away to the jail.
The inside was dimly lit and made no concessions to the festive season, save for one drooping wreath hung over the Chief's desk. Officer Shorthair led Yasha along the cells, and in the dark the skin of Frogs, Newts, and Caecilians glistened between the bars. A velvety sound made Yasha turn his eyes and he saw the familiar triangular head of a Lizard. They stopped at a cell which appeared to be empty. But then a rustle and a cry of “Daddy!” and Yasha Lizard was filled with both relief and frustration. Relief that Officer Shorthair hadn't brought him there to give him his own cell, and frustration because he thought he was done with Tadpoles.
“This little speck was caught stealing from a shop in Toy Town. Witnesses say he was last seen with you, Mr. Lizard. I'm feeling lenient today, because of the holiday and all, so I'm going to let him go,” said the Officer, whose only visible features were his slanted eyes and two white fangs.
“No, thank you. I don't want him,” answered Yasha.
“Daddy!” came another peep from the other side of the iron bars.
“Doesn't matter if you want him. He's leaving with you. He's not staying in my jail, he talks too much, and my prisoners don't like to be talked to,” said the Officer, turning a thick key in a rusty lock and opening the gate. Tad slipped past Officer Shorthair and attached himself to Yasha. The hat and coat were gone, presumably confiscated and returned to the shop owner.
“Daddy, I'm hungry!”
“But—” protested Yasha as the Cat pushed them back down the hall.
“I'm sure you'll have a lovely Christmas together,” laughed Shorthair.
“Daddy! We played jail! It was fun!”
The front door of the jail house slammed behind them. An icy gust blew straight through Yasha's flesh, taking with it the last traces of relaxation the alcohol had given him. He looked up and for a brief moment wondered why the Tadpole hadn't yet frozen to death since he hadn't any clothes. Then he turned and stomped off through the snow towards his flat.
“Wait for me, Daddy! Wait for me!” came the ever-trusting voice of Tad. Yasha walked faster, his head bowed forward as if he was trying to plow through the air with his hat. The Tadpole's short legs carried him faster than Yasha would have ever guessed. Yasha started to run. Tad ran faster, yelping, “We're playing tag!”
But it grew fainter and as the dark distance between them swallowed his cries. Yasha kept running. His boot caught something, a crack in the sidewalk perhaps, and he began to fall, and kept falling until he realized he was sliding down a hill, the red, green and gold colored lights twirling in and out of his vision until he hit something with a thud. There was another bump and he wondered if he was still falling, but then saw beside him the tiny shape of Tad Tadpole, laughing and saying how fun it was and could they do it again. Yasha's arms and legs were shaking with cold and his sock was beginning to get moist from the tear in his boot. Tad was still laughing: ear-splitting screeches assaulted Yasha's ears. In another minute his eardrums would shatter like a fallen icicle. He suddenly took his hand from his pocket and slapped Tad. The laughter stopped. His wide smile fell downward and curled, his eyes watered, but he seemed too frightened to cry.
“Go away!” shouted Yasha. “It's not fair! I was just minding my own troubles, not doing anything to anybody. I never asked for you!” The freezing air flooded his lungs in gallons.
Tad opened and closed his mouth. Small bubbles of spit formed on his thin lips and popped. He was trying to form a sentence, but kept making a gurgling, choking sound. Yasha felt suddenly humiliated and disgusted with himself. He was not a friendly creature and that was fine with him. But there was a ocean of difference between “unfriendly” and “violent,” and Yasha made a silent promise which side of that ocean he would remain on. He dug into his pocket and came up with a few coins.
“Here,” he said, handing them to Tad, “It's enough for a night or two at an inn. Now go.”
The little animal didn't move. In the dark sky the stars burned with tight, cold, fire. Judging by the position of the constellations, it was late. Or early, rather. At any rate, Yasha knew the taverns would be closed for many hours. Prison! thought Yasha. They acted like they were so much better, but when it all came down, though they had the means to help Tad, they just sent him off to prison. Of all the cruel things. At least Yasha had tried to find the useless animal a home. The coins had fallen onto the snow, too big for Tad's fingers to grasp onto. Yasha pocketed them and then stood up.
“Come on, Tad. Let's go. We've got to get you to the Lake.”
It was slow going through the snow and they spoke no words to mark the time. No one bothered to ring the church bells at this ungodly hour. They passed unlit shop after unlit shop along streets that all looked the same without people to color them. One event, however, broke the monotony of the journey:
Yasha almost failed to notice except for the lack of those soft footsteps. He looked around and saw he was alone. Calling, he followed his marks in the snow until he found the Tadpole, laying on the ground, the drool on his mouth frozen solid. After this, Yasha carried him inside his coat.
It should not have been a surprise to Yasha Lizard that the lake was solid ice. Perhaps he believed that since there was a Tadpole, there must be water. No water creatures rustled nor insects buzzed on the shores. The cattails were hard gray sculptures. Frogs would be in hibernation, no way to find them and they would not care about one Tadpole anyway. Far away in the distance, the dark shapes of skeletal trees stood out against an ultramarine sky. The sun was rising. Still holding the small creature beneath his coat, Yasha Lizard turned around and took him back home.