This is a story in several parts ... intending to post one part each day.
The Cuddler, part 1
"That's three days now it's been out there. Something needs to be done!" the chief said to whoever was listening.
He contemplated the situation. No one knew where the creature came from; it just turned up one day and took up residence near the main door. No one was willing to venture outside anymore. It may not have actually harmed anyone yet, but it was clearly hostile. Those claws!
He noticed one of the senior scientists walking by, and asked if there had been any progress in dealing with the menace.
"There has indeed. We managed to obtain a sample of its hide, and the researchers have been testing for vulnerabilities. It is immune to most substances, but they had a breakthrough this morning. The creature is strongly affected by the hormone oxytocin."
"Some good news at last. So we need some kind of delivery system ... a dart gun? Or a spray?"
"It's simpler than that. Oxytocin is released naturally through certain kinds of touch. Affectionate touch."
"You mean - what that thing out there really needs is a good cuddle??"
The chief gazed around the room. "I need a volunteer."
The Cuddler, part 2
Everyone in the room pointedly avoided his gaze. An officer at the far end mumbled something indistinct.
"What was that? Any ideas at all, I want to hear them."
"We need to bring in a professional."
"You know, a professional cuddler."
"A professional ..." He shook his head in disbelief. "What kind of person cuddles people for a living?"
"A very loving and kind person, sir."
"Do you know where we can find one of these ... cuddling experts?"
"I believe there is one in the northeast sector."
"Send for her immediately. She is female, I assume?"
"Yes sir. I've heard there are male professionals too, but I've never met one."
"Hmm. Well, get moving! Our very lives may depend on this woman."
@Respectful. I love this!!! I am on the edge of my seat waiting for part 3!
Very interesting. I'm "hearing" all the dialogue with Aussie accents. ;-)
Aussies unite !
@quietman775, @OzVisitor Lol, now you've got me doing it.
There is no Australian accent. For us, it’s just “speech” - it’s everyone else who has an accent
The Cuddler, part 3
The officer had little difficulty in tracking her down. The cuddler's name was Lira, and she was quite well known in the neighbourhood.
He soon found her dwelling and knocked on the door. "Just a minute!" came a pleasant voice from somewhere inside.
A fairly tall, green eyed woman answered the door, wavy brown hair almost down to her waist. For a brief moment the officer was stunned. She wasn't quite a model, but she exuded a warmth that took his breath away.
"Hello?" she said, with a friendly smile. "Normally I would ask people to contact me online first."
He came to himself and began his spiel. "The government has need of your services. You will be fairly compensated."
Lira grew serious. "Why would the government possibly need me?"
"They require someone with your unique skill set."
"You mean cuddling?" she asked with a giggle.
"Yes. I was the one who recommended you actually. You helped my cousin through a hard time a few years ago."
"Oh. Thank you. So who is the client, if not you?"
The officer took a deep breath. "Um ... there's something you should know. The client isn't exactly ... human."
"It's more ... reptilian ... from the description I was given. But humanoid in form." The officer went on to explain the problem that was facing them.
"And is it safe?"
"In your case, we believe so. It seems to have a certain regard for women."
Lira thought deeply. "OK. A bit out of my normal line, but I can try. When do you need me?"
The officer breathed a sigh of relief. "As soon as possible."
She said, "Just give me a minute ..." and went back inside. How do you dress to cuddle a reptile?
lol. More! More! cheers
The Cuddler, part 4
The chief took an immediate liking to Lira; she seemed competent enough. Quite brave too. They discussed the situation, and he assured her they would come to her aid if necessary.
"Well, I was wondering ... what do you expect oxytocin to actually do to the creature?"
"We hope it will render it more passive. All ready?"
She took a breath and nodded "yes". The chief pressed the button labelled External Entry.
The thick steel door swung open silently. There was no immediate sign of the beast. Taking another deep breath, Lira tentatively stepped forward, and the door swung shut behind her.
The officer spoke up. "Sir ... I'm confused. Didn't oxytocin damage its hide in the tests?"
"Exactly," the chief replied.
It took Lira a moment to adjust to the brightness. Shading her eyes with her hand, she scanned the area. There it was ... its back to her, sitting on a fallen tree by the river. Green scales scintilated in the sunlight, and a mess of dark hair sprouted from its head and back. "I hope it brushed its teeth", Lira whispered to herself, lifting the tension a little.
"Hello?" she asked in a quiet voice, then a little louder: "Hello there?". She approached the creature slowly, not wanting to alarm it.
The beast turned towards her, and Lira had to stifle her reaction. It wasn't exactly attractive. She remembered her cuddler vows: to accept others regardless of race, age, gender, orientation ... or in this case, species. Looking closer, she discerned a hidden beauty beyond its surface features. She pulled herself together.
"OK if I sit with you? On your little log there?"
It contemplated the request, then nodded, not taking its eyes off her for a moment. It either didn't trust her one bit, or was fascinated by her every move. Either way, she concentrated on broadcasting love and acceptance through her smile and body language. "It's OK, I'm a friend," she assured him gently. For surely this was a "he", not an "it".
Lira reached the log and sat down beside him. His eyes remained fixed on her, but this seemed like unfamiliar territory to the strange creature.
She looked down at a green scaly claw, talons dug into the log. "OK if I hold your hand?" she asked kindly.
The sharp talons retracted and he offered her a clawed hand, which she took in both of hers. She leaned her head softly on his shoulder and let her long brown hair fall down his back, gently caressing his hand with her thumb.
He took a long, deep breath and sighed in contentment. Apparently her touch was getting through.
The Cuddler, part 5
Lira assessed the long grass by the river's edge. It looked soft enough. Holding the creature's hand, she stood and led him down to the river bank. He followed willingly.
"Would you like to lie down?" she asked, motioning towards the ground. He nodded and they both made themselves comfortable.
She put her arm around him and explained, "This is what we call platonic cuddling. You know this word, 'platonic'?" He stared into her eyes, but gave no indication of understanding.
"Hmm, how to explain ... friends? Not romantic?"
He hesitated, then nodded twice. Lira felt relieved.
She brushed a hand through his wiry hair, and held a clump of it affectionately at the back of his neck. Then she slowly ran her hand down his arm, feeling scaly muscles beneath her fingers. An unusual sensation, but not unpleasant.
Reaching around his body, she gave him a tight squeeze and nuzzled her head into his neck. She felt strong arms around her as he hugged her back. Surely he could crush her if he chose to, but there was a distinct tenderness in his actions. He seemed almost human. Not very much of a conversationalist though.
She ran her fingertips slowly down his spine. His back felt a little rough. In fact, his scales seemed to be coming off ...
He drew back and curled up into a foetal position, scales falling from all over his body. Lira was deeply distressed. "Oh, I'm so sorry ... I didn't mean ..." She watched in panic as his breathing grew more intense.
Soon he had completely shed his scales, which to Lira's amazement revealed ordinary human skin underneath. His breathing slowed back to normal.
Lira reached out and touched his shoulder. "Are you ..."
He raised his head, and she gasped. His slitted pupils transformed into perfect circles before her eyes, and sharp claws retracted to become ordinary fingers.
Every vestige of reptile had vanished; the one before her was one hundred percent human. It struck her that the inner beauty she had noticed when they first met was now truly visible on the outside.
"M-my name is Kalen," he stuttered.
"Lira. I'm Lira. And you're ... human." She was still in awe of what had just happened.
"I d-do feel human again. You d-don't know how much that m-meant to me."
He looked up at her. "I was w-wondering. Could we d-do it again?"
Lira smiled and embraced him once more.
The Cuddler, part 6
Lira soon lost track of time. Kalen was very demonstrative and affectionate, and she was enjoying their time together as much as he was. He soon recovered his normal voice and opened up about life as a reptile - which was fascinating, to say the least.
A little too late, she remembered that she was meant to use her remote to check in. The main door opened and several worried looking troops poured out, followed by the chief.
Spotting her, he ran over and demanded, "Where's the creature? Men, search the area! And who the heck is this?"
"It's me," Kalen replied. "Or it was me."
"What are you blathering about man?"
"Look," Lira said, indicating the pile of scales.
Comprehension dawned on the chief. "And you were like that for how long?"
"I lost track ... about six months I think."
The chief nodded. "We'd better talk inside. There's been a development."
The chief called a general meeting.
"The bad news is that we have reports of many more of these creatures migrating to the area. We need to act immediately.
"The good news is, we think we understand what is happening ... it seems to be a reversible mutation caused by some kind of virus, aggravated by a lack of affectionate touch.
"We also have an effective cure, as you can see." Kalen bowed slightly.
The chief addressed Lira directly. "M'am, the government would like to retain your services in the area of consultation and training."
Lira agreed enthusiastically.
"Good. You begin immediately. You will need to pass on your skills to a select group dedicated to restoring affected individuals via therapeutic contact."
"You mean an army of cuddlers?"
The chief smiled. "Precisely."
"No time like the present." She turned to the assembly.
"Now ... who here has ever heard of spooning?"
-o-o-O- The end -O-o-o-
You should consider writing a book! What better way to communicate the power of cuddles.
Lol @ army of cuddlers. Nice! I enjoyed that.
Someone should write a new and different five-part serial every Monday. ;-)
@j4jimbo, @AlexBabyBoo23, @o0ashley Thank you!
@quietman775 Lol. Your turn then! ;-)
I'm actually considering this. Watch this space Monday. ;-)
Awesome! Bravo @respectful
“aggravated by a lack of affectionate touch” ... man, some of us in remote areas are in danger Fortunately the story teaches us it is reversible !!
@Respectful this has been a great read. Thank you
I enjoyed it.
@OzVisitor, @DeliMan, @I_am_Polylover Thanks guys! Appreciated.
@OzVisitor Maybe there's a Flying Cuddler service in your remote area? ;-)
Okay, so @Respectful inspired me. His cuddle fiction thread is a nice change from regular forum fare. It might be fun to see how many good stories we can get. So I'm going to attempt some cuddle fiction to keep it going. His was six installments, averaging 296 words each. I'm anticipating five daily installments with this one, and me being me, the word count will probably be a bit higher. [You've been warned. LOL] The trick will be not to duplicate the ideas and themes already presented, while still communicating something useful about the the cuddle movement in a fictional setting. So here goes nothing. I call this short story "Running the Gauntlet." Part 1, coming right up.
Edit: The formatting tools don't seem to be working. I need italics to distinguish internal dialogue from regular narration. When I highlight text and push the italics button, all I end up with is an odd little underscore mark surrounded the chosen text. If I can't fix this, what follows will be much less readable. Oddly enough, bold seems to work. Just not Italics. If someone can PM me some help I would appreciate it.
Running the Gauntlet
I hit the water with a slap that stung the whole length of my body. The sudden cold was a shock. Submerged, I felt myself tumbled along by the strong current. I fought the urge to gasp, and instead clamped my jaws shut. Had to get myself oriented; figure out which way was up.
As if from a great distance, part of my mind informed me that my situation made no sense. This cannot be. How did I get here?
No time to contemplate that. Reaching the surface was all that mattered. I wasn’t much of a swimmer. I hadn’t been in water more than knee-deep since I was a kid, since Mom had made me take swimming lessons thirty – plus years ago. Instructions from those childhood lessons somehow bubbled up into my consciousness. Work your legs like scissors. Pull water down toward yourself with your cupped hands. Too bad I couldn’t feel my hands. Or my legs either.
I was losing the fight against the current. The muscles I could still feel burned with the anaerobic exertion. More life-saving advice came to mind: Never try to swim against a riptide. Swim perpendicular to the current until you get out of it. Riptide. Is that what this was?
I could see the water’s surface, though my field of vision was oddly bifurcated. Had I sustained a head injury? Or was this a side effect of oxygen starvation? I turned more or less perpendicular to the current’s push and angled my body upwards.
Oof! Something heavy and cylindrical hit me hard in my ribs. A big fish. My mouth flew open in pain and surprise and I knew my lifespan would be measured in seconds from that point. I don’t know what felt worse --- the spasm of terror, or the regret that I’d finished my life's course without accomplishing anything meaningful.
But just when the water filled my mouth, hit my throat --- sweet relief for my aching muscles. I could breathe again. How can this be?
You're dreaming, you know. This is just a nightmare. That little voice that always analyzed and second guessed me sounded vaguely disgusted. But I wasn’t ready to agree with its conclusion. No nightmare I’d ever had packed such a wallop.
Then this is that other thing. Oh, no. That must be it. I’d only experienced visions a handful of times. It had been years since the last one, long enough for me to almost forget the panic and the dislocation that came with them. The first time it happened, I had seen my sister’s death in a terrible car accident, six months before the event. No vague premonition for me; I’d seen everything, right down to the color of the rented truck that hit her. I watched through her windshield as it veered toward us. I felt the impact as if I’d been in the car.
There had been three other visions over the years since then. I told no one. Who would have believed me? Not the buttoned-down rationalists in my family. Nor could I talk to any of the professionals in the Employee Assistance Program that was part of my health benefits at work. I might be crazy, but I’m not dumb enough to jeopardize my security clearance by talking about prophetic visions.
What I knew from experience was there would be no escaping this vision until I let it run its course. So I steeled myself and settled in for the ride. Feeling myself fully back in the water, I twisted and turned to look at myself. That’s when I understood why I couldn’t feel my legs.
@quietman775 Excellent! Now where is this heading ...
@respectful That was great! Thanks for sharing.
Running the Gauntlet
This might be a good time to point out that I’m a normal guy. Though overworked and underpaid, I’m happy to be gainfully employed. The commute is brutal. There is a mortgage on my condo, eight months left on the car note, and too much junk in my garage. I’m a registered voter, a fair weather fan of my local NFL and NBA franchises, and an occasional volunteer at a soup kitchen. A case of beer lasts me more than a month, and drugs of any kind have never been part of the picture.
The point is I’m a sober, responsible man, not a nut job. So you can imagine my dismay when, gulping mouthfuls of water that somehow didn’t choke or drown me, I twisted to look down at myself and saw only scaly, mottled skin instead of clothing. Where there should have been legs and feet, I saw only a fish’s profile and fan-shaped tail. Now I understood the weird visual perspective, the bifurcated field of view; my eyes were on either side of my head. I was twin to the toothy catch of the day that had slammed into me earlier. My brain served up a name: Coho salmon.
Laughter overflowed my thoughts. I had become a FISH??? No, that wasn’t it. This felt more like a ride-along, like my consciousness was sharing head space with a real fish somewhere. That’s when I relaxed completely. Previous visions had always indicated major events in my life. This one couldn’t be that serious. It wasn’t showing me a dire end for another loved one, and whether some fish was destined to become a senior salmon or sushi was no skin off my back.
Relaxation made me more attuned to my host. After two years of living a solitary life far out to sea, he had been overcome by a compulsion to travel back to the place of his birth. He’d spent two weeks at the mouth of this river acclimating himself again to the chemistry of fresh water. He, along with thousands of others, had milled around dodging otters and sea lions that were looking to get fat on fish. As if hearing an invisible starter’s gun, the salmon --- Coho, steelhead, sockeye, and several other species --- had started upriver.
A hundred miles upstream, the fish encountered a waterfall. Many tried to jump from the pool beneath to the top of the cascade. In the right conditions, a salmon can leap twelve vertical feet. Some made it. But mine repeatedly fell short and battered himself on the rocks before falling back. I’d joined him just in time to share the experience of the most recent bruising fall. Exhausted but unrelenting, he worked his way toward an eddy near the shore where the current seemed slower. There we/I/he was surprised to discover an easier way up. Someone had carved out a series of pools built like steps. It’s called a fish ladder. Some nice person had gone out of his or her way to construct something that would make the quest a little easier.
Fish probably can’t feel gratitude. But I did, so I breathed a silent thank-you to whomever had built it. My host climbed the ladder and resumed his journey. But years of watching nature shows on TV told me what the Coho couldn’t know: I knew what lay ahead.
Running the Gauntlet
Immersed in the vision, I rode along sharing the experiences and thoughts (such as they were) of my Coho salmon host. I was struck by his singleness of purpose his drive to return to a place he hadn’t been since he was a small fry. I sensed no specific memories of the place he sought; just a certainty that he knew the way there, and that he would recognize it when he found it.
Fish --- for so I had named him, not wanting to assign him a more specific moniker --- felt himself in the prime of life. He was strong and fit, and certain of success. But the journey from the feeding grounds in the Pacific had been a thousand miles already, and the most dangerous miles lay ahead.
The farther we went, the narrower the river got, and the more powerful the current we had to fight. As the river narrowed, Fish goggled at monstrous apparitions that appeared on the bank to threaten the migrating masses. A huge brown thing shambled on stilt-like limbs and stretched a cavernous mouth toward Fish as he leaped past. Grizzly bear, I informed my host. I don’t assume he could hear my thoughts or that he could understand them even if he heard.
As the water got shallower, Fish had to advance by wiggling and squirming more than swimming. He had the large humped back that identified him as a male, and that provided a bigger target for the hawks and eagles that descended from the sky and flew off with doomed salmon in their talons. The number of our fellow travelers was thinning rapidly.
After what seemed like eternity we arrived at a spot 900 miles inland, 7,000 vertical feet higher than our --- I mean, his --- Pacific feeding grounds. Many of the Coho and sockeye that started the journey with us had been lost along the way. My memories of nature shows told me that losses on a typical salmon run could be as low as 3% and as high as 90% of those who start. Though battered, bruised, hungry and weak, Fish had arrived at the place he somehow knew to be home. I smiled a satisfied smile.
My coworker Brandon smiled awkwardly back at me from across the cafeteria table. My head swam for a second. These visions never ended with a gradual fade to black and a gentle reintegration with reality. They ended as abruptly as they began. I struggled to reconnect with where I was and what I had been doing.
“You okay, dude?” Brandon looked a little worried. “You were totally zoned out there for a couple of seconds. If you don’t mind my saying, you looked a little green around the gills.”
So it had been only a few seconds. Good. Though I felt like I had journeyed with Fish for many days and nights, only a few grains had dribbled through the hourglass in the real world.
“Yeah, I’m okay. Ever had a moment of panic because you thought you forgot something important? It was kind of like that.”
“Yeah, I hear old age will do that to a guy,” he smirked. Brandon was 29 and thought anyone more than ten years his senior was old.
I gave him my “don’t go there” look. “Anyway, what were you saying?”
He pointed to his phone. “I was asking you if you thought this website I found was legit or not. Platonic cuddling for a fee?” His tone radiated skepticism.
The browser showed a site called cuddlecomfort.com. I had seen it before. Heck, I was actually a repeat customer. That’s not necessarily something I wanted to shout from the rooftops. Still, I decided to tell him the truth as I understood it, an understanding now enhanced by my out-of-body foray up a river in Idaho.
Running the Gauntlet
“I know it seems funny at first; online cuddle communities complete with pro cuddlers. But it makes sense when you think about it.”
“How‘s that?” Brandon’s skeptical expression hadn’t changed.
“Think about it this way. We’re all born into a world of touch. Babies and toddlers generally get plenty of loving touch. But the older we get, the less touch we get. Especially boys; one day, we’re suddenly too old for all of that. We can roughhouse with our friends, but gentle, loving touch goes out the window. I’m generalizing, I know.”
“I’ll accept it for the sake of argument,” Brandon said.
“Okay. Now just because many adults get very little touch doesn’t mean we want it any less. But from puberty on, we’re trained to associate loving touch only with romance and sex. That’s why you can’t just ask the woman in the next cubicle for a hug, right? I mean, do that, and you’re looking at a sexual harassment charge. So you have this need --- some call it skin hunger --- and no way to safely address it in your normal social circles. People are now turning to the Internet to meet folks who want the same thing.
“So, presto, the Internets save the day? Cuddles on demand at the click of a mouse?”
“I’m not saying it’s that simple.” I visualized the ladder that let Fish conquer the waterfalls. “That website is what someone built to get you past some of the natural barriers to cuddling. It makes the quest easier, but doesn’t guarantee success.”
I thought of the salmons’ 900-mile trek upriver to the spawning grounds. “This is a new movement. As such, it gets a lot of pushback. To seek cuddles with strangers is to swim against the current. People will question your sincerity when you say your intentions aren’t sexual. Media and politicians will cast aspersions. They assume there is something … fishy going on. Didn’t you? Isn’t that why you asked me about it?”
He shrugged, but I knew I was right. I continued, “And then there are the predators.”
“Predators? I thought you were just saying it’s not like that.”
“Dude, haven’t you ever watched a nature show? Wherever any living things gather in large numbers, they attract predators.” I remembered Fish dodging otters and sea lions at the mouth of the river. Upstream, he’d run a gauntlet of bears on the banks and raptors bringing death from above. “This site is no exception. You’ll find fake profiles put up as part of romance scams, or as a means to collect email addresses to sell. You’ll find predatory pros collecting advance deposits for appointments they have no intentions of keeping. And yes, some guys sign up under false pretenses, looking for more than cuddles. There is attrition. Not everyone who joins in search of cuddle nirvana actually gets there.
“Then why bother if it’s so hard? It sounds as iffy as Internet dating.”
“Because finding great cuddle buddies is the greatest thing since sliced bread. And lots of folks succeed, despite the hardships along the way.”
I relived Fish’s do-or-die commitment to his journey. It was hard-wired. He had no choice. Unlike the salmon, we in the cuddle movement were not merely fulfilling a biological imperative. We were leading a mass migration to a warmer culture. And we were spawning an industry.