This story is based on a very intense dream I had. After talking to some of the furs who had visited a children's hospital, I knew I had to write it down. Words are to poor a form to express my dream, but I have tried. As sad as this tale is, I think it does speak to the impact fursuiters can have, and I hope that is something special to carry with you over the holiday season.
I originally wrote this as a Christmas present to a great fur, and he has been generous enough to allow me to share it with everyone. I hope you enjoy it.
Ricki Raccoon headed back to the dressing room, the sounds of the cheering kids still ringing in his larger-than-life head. He stepped through the door and closed it with a quiet click. Slowly he reached up and removed the oversized white, gray, and black head with it's silly grin and bright blue eyes, and placed it on a stand in the corner of the room to air out. Jim looked up and saw his own face, dripping with sweat, staring back at him. He began removing the rest of the cartoony raccoon outfit that had become so much a part of his life, and put all the parts in their proper place after a good spraying.
Jim and some classmates had begun the modest children's cable access show Ricki's Treehouse a few years back. Jim was elected to be Ricki because he was good around kids, and because he fit the raccoon suit best. Now, most of his friends had moved on, but the show had proved to be a modest local hit, and had become self-supporting. Jim had grown addicted to playing the raccoon before the small studio audiences of kids, and sponsors loved for him to make occasional public appearances. All in all, Jim loved his job. Every now and then he got a bit down, because he wondered if he was meant for better things, but he never could hold any resentment for what he did too long.
Still, if there was a part he hated, it was the moments after the show, when he had to stop being Ricki. He always had too much fun, and immediately missed the innate goofiness the character brought out in him. But, there was always next week's show, and the almost weekly public appearances. He walked over and gave the now-lifeless oversized head a small pat before changing into some dry clothes.
He had no sooner finished dressing when he heard a knock on the door. He answered “Who is it?” in his best Ricki-voice, mindful that it might be a small fan that had wandered backstage.
“It's Val,” came the reply. Valerie Nash was the show's producer, and a pretty all-around nice young lady. She kept the show well stocked with sponsors, and Jim would swear she could talk money out of a stone.
“Come in,” replied Jim, dropping his Ricki-voice.
“Jim, we have a request for a hospital visit. St. Francis this week.” She replied, looking at her schedule.
“Wednesday afternoon. Anytime after one would be fine. Dr. Johnson made the request.”
“Ok, shouldn't be a problem. I can do it.” He shot Val one of his trademarked smiles. He loved visiting the local hospitals, and Dr. Johnson was an old friend. Ricki knew the children's ward of St Francis like the back of paw by now.
Jim and Val quickly wrapped up other small matters, and Jim left for home.
Wednesday came, and Jim found himself preparing for an appearance in one of Dr. Johnson's offices. He had the oversized body on already, with its large, puffy ringed tail. A small blue vest covered his torso, and small black costume gloves gave his hands much more dexterity than the paws of most similar styled costumes. He grabbed the head as he spoke to the doctor.
“I'm glad you could make it down here Jim, the kids love seeing you.” Dr. Johnson had a grandfatherly face, and a bedside manner most doctors lacked. Jim would swear in a heartbeat he was the best pediatrician in the state, and not just because he had been his doctor when he was a child. “But the reason I asked you here today, instead of your normal time, is because I have a little girl I need you to visit after you are done with the other kids. She has a rare form of cancer, and the chemotherapy has been hard on her. She's recovering well, and the cancer is in remission, but she wanted to meet you and, frankly, I think it would do her a world of good.”
Jim smiled and places his paw on the doctor's shoulder. “No problem, you know I'd do anything for a fan.” With that, he grabbed the head and slipped it on, reaching under the chin and tightening the chinstrap. The strap allowed the head's jaw to move just a little when he spoke.
Jim had always wanted a suit that he could really 'talk' in, but on the show's limited budget this was the best that could be done. He smiled at his reflection in the nearby mirror. Jim had left, and Ricki Raccoon stared back at him instead. He laughed a bit, and in his best Ricki voice said, “Take me to the kiddies doc!”
Ricki came out and spent a good half-hour playing with the kids. He couldn't stay any longer, not simply because of the suit, but because the kids got too tired quickly. Hospitals tend to sap the strength and life from kids, and Jim loved the way just a short visit from Ricki could give so much of it back. He laughed, and joked, and played until Dr. Johnson came out and led him off. He waved to the kids as they disappeared back into the doctor's office.
“Give me just a minute to rest up and get ready for that last kid, doc,” said Jim as he briefly removed Ricki's head and sipped on a cup of water.
“Sure thing,” said Dr. Johnson. “Now, her name is Samantha, but she likes to be called Sam.”
Jim nodded as he put the head back on. “Ok, I'm ready.”
“Doc,” Ricki said in a voice that sounded like for all the world like it belonged to a giant raccoon, “I ain't even warmed up yet. Don't worry about me!” With that he gave a short jaunty step and motioned for the door. Johnson just laughed as he led the raccoon down the hall to a small room.
He heard the doctor go in and tell someone she had a visitor, then saw him beckon him. He slowly peeked around the corner at the small figure lying in the stuffy hospital bed.
Sam looked pale, and Jim noted that at one time she must have been a beautiful child. Her hair was sparse, but what remained after the chemotherapy bore evidence of what must have been long golden curls. Her cheeks looked a bit shrunken, almost gaunt, but all of that changed when she caught sight of Ricki. She smiled. Jim would never have believed a smile could so transform a face until that moment. Her eyes sparkled with life, her whole complexion regained its color, and even her face seemed to magically fill out. It was like watching a flower bloom after a harsh winter. Jim smiled under it all and slowly made his way in.
“Ricki,” said Johnson in his grandfatherly manner, “This is Sam.”
Ricki put his paws over his eyes and shied away a bit, acting hesitant.
“Oh, there's nothing to be afraid of, come on over and say hello Ricki!”
Ricki inched over, his paw trembling as Sam slowly grabbed it with all of her strength, her face never once losing her smile.
“Hello Wicki!” she said, slurring the “R”. She giggled and shook his paw up and down.
Ricki stooped down so he wouldn't tower over her. “Hi there Sam, I hear you wanted to meet me?”
Again, a giggle. Sam was so enthralled she couldn't think of anything to say.
Ricki picked up a hospital tray and started to sniff it, pretending to look for food.
“Now Ricki, don't spoil your appetite, you know you aren't supposed to eat hospital food.”
Ricki looked at Sam and giggled, and she returned the laugh.
“I watch your show every Saturday! You're funny!”
“Awwwww!” Said Ricki, “thank you!”
“Did you come to visit me?” she asked.
“Yup! The doc here is my friend, and he said you wanted to see me, so I scurried right on over. Ta-da!” With this he did a little step, making it seem like he nearly tripped over his own two feet. Sam clapped at the impromptu performance. “And how have you been?”
“Oh,” said Sam, her eyes lighting up even more, “The doctors say I'm getting much better, I might go home soon!” She sounded excited, but there was an edge of concern to her voice. He noted Dr. Johnson had picked it up too.
“What's wrong?” he asked. “You can tell Ricki, is something the matter?”
“Well, she said, a little hesitancy creeping into her voice, “I get bad dreams.”
He didn't doubt it, not with all she had apparently been through. He whispered something to Dr. Johnson, who quickly left.
“Well don't you worry about them any more! I have something to help you.
Ok?” His big goofy grin and deep blue eyes smiled at her, as she looked up at him.
“Uh-huh! 100% guaranteed.”
He kept her entertained while he waited for the doc to return. Apparently she'd been in chemotherapy for quite a while, but was in remarkable spirits. Soon enough, there was a knock on the door.
“There it is!” Ricki exclaimed as he jumped up. He let the doctor in, and turned around to give Sam her gift. It was a raccoon plushie, looking remarkably like Ricki, a bow around its neck.
“For me?” Sam asked, unable to believe what she saw.
“Just for you,” Ricki said. “This doll is very special. It's name is Wicki, and he's gonna sit next to you all night long and chase away your bad dreams.”
“All of them?” she asked.
“Well,” Ricki paused, not wanting to promise too much, “some might slip by, but just little ones. He'll keep away all the really scary ones!”
She actually cheered this time, her voice louder than he had heard it before. “Oh thank you Wicki! I love you!” With that she actually surprised the doctor by sitting up and giving a huge hug to Ricki. Jim just smiled and gently, ever so gently, returned the hug.
“Ok,” said Dr. Johnson, “Ricki has to go, it's been a long day for both of you.”
“Awwwwww!” Both Ricki and Sam said in unison. “Will you come back?” Sam asked eagerly.
“You bet!” said Ricki. Jim knew his schedule was pretty clear for the next 2 weeks, and this visit seemed to do Sam a world of good. “That's a promise!”
They said their good-byes, and Ricki disappeared shortly thereafter into Dr. Johnson's office, where Jim soon emerged carrying a large bag. He would definitely have to visit again in a few days.
For the next week Jim made sure Ricki stopped by to see Sam at least every other day. Every time he saw her she looked better and better. He could see her recovering right before his very eyes. Dr. Johnson was even surprised as the progress she made. It seemed only a matter of time before she'd be allowed to go back home.
Apparently, even Wicki was working. Sam soon stopped having bad dreams, and her and the little stuffed raccoon were inseparable. Jim had talked to Val about getting an even larger one for Sam for Christmas, along with tickets to his show. He had a goal now, to get Sam well enough to be released, and to make sure she could see his show live, at least once. Despite the fact he had performed for hundreds, if not thousands of kids, Sam was still somehow different. She had become almost like a daughter to him in the short week since he first saw her. Still, he knew that wasn't true. She didn't have a clue Jim existed, she only knew Ricki. Still, that was enough for him.
Jim came in the next Thursday and changed into Ricki. Dr Johnson wasn't around, so he went ahead and prepared to start. Dr. Johnson had long ago gave him clearance to do it, and he was well known enough in the ward not to have any problems. He finished suiting up, and grabbed a small book he had brought to read Sam. It was The Cat in the Hat, and had been one of his favorites when he was a child. He made his way down the hall and to Sam's room.
He knew something was wrong when he opened the door. The bed lay empty and clean, and Wicki was haphazardly placed on a nearby shelf, face down. Jim felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Jim,” said Dr. Johnson in a low voice, “there were complications last night. We lost her early this morning. I'm sorry.”
Jim stumbled into the room and sat down on the chair, faint sobbing coming from underneath the large head. Dr. Johnson continued trying to explain what happened, but he wasn't listening. His mind just kept going back to the words we lost her. He shook his head and removed Ricki's, his face wet from tears, not sweat. He couldn't breathe, it felt like someone had just punched him in the gut. Dr. Johnson told him that he'd leave him for a moment, and quietly closed the door behind him. He wasn't sure how long he sat in that darkened room, he didn't even remember undressing and leaving the hospital. The last thing he remembered before crying himself to sleep that day was calling up Val to cancel his appearances this week.
Jim stepped out of his car and approached the funeral home where visitation for Sam was being held. He didn't know why he had come, but needed to see her at least one last time. The last few days had been a blur, and it humbled him to see how much one child had made a difference in his life in such a short time.
Needless to say, Ricki had stayed home. Sam would have wanted him there, but it wasn't appropriate. Instead, Jim wore a gold raccoon tie tack that had been a Christmas gift a few years ago. His heart sank as he walked up the cold stairs into the foyer.
The place was packed with people. Slowly he signed the guest book and made his way toward the room she was held in. He was a little surprised to see Dr. Johnson there, and they exchanged a few quick words and hugs. Soon he had made his way to her casket, just as a group of people had stepped away.
Sam's picture was displayed next to it, surrounded with dozens upon dozens of yellow flowers. The picture showed the face he had come to know over the past week, eyes full of life, and a warm smile. Long golden curls, long since ruined when he had seen her, rained down into her eyes and face. She truly was beautiful. He caught a glimpse of her in the coffin and froze. It didn't look like her, not really. The wig they had on her was a pale imitation of her golden locks, and her face seemed distant. The only comfort he took was that she truly looked to be resting, as if she had found some great peace that had eluded the rest of us for most of our lives. He approached the last few feet, then had to catch himself on a pew to keep from falling. In her arms was Wicki.
Jim lost it. He couldn't hold back any long, and Dr. Johnson quickly led him outside. He just sat there, embarrassed, angry, confused, and hurt. He wanted to lash out, to blame someone, to attack whatever had did this to her. And he couldn't. All he could do is feel small and helpless. He got up to go when a couple came out to meet him.
“Are you Jim?” they asked. It was clear they had been spending most of the night crying themselves. The woman's face bore a strong resemblance to Sam's, and he could only guess they were her parents. Jim simply nodded in response.
They both took Jim in their arms and embraced him. “Thank you,” was all the Sam's mom could say. Her father, a bear of a man, couldn't speak either. A minute passed before she could continue.
“Sam so enjoyed your visits,” she said, fighting to keep control of herself. “I hadn't seen her that happy in months. And that silly little raccoon,” here she had to collect herself briefly, “she never let it out of her sight, not even for a minute.”
Jim just stood there. His mind couldn't come upon what to say or do, all he could do was listen.
The father spoke up. “What we wanted to say is, thank you. There's no way we can ever repay you. What you did for Sam was nothing short of a miracle. For one week, at least, we had our old Sam back.” With this his voice cracked and he broke down. Jim held them both and gave what comfort he could. The night air carried a chill to it as the evening soon faded into the past.
“Five minutes until you are on!” cried Val. Jim stared down at Ricki's head, the only thing left to put on. This was Ricki's first outing after Sam's death, and Jim honestly didn't know what to expect. He hoped he'd make it through the show ok. He'd have to, it was dedicated to Sam's memory. They were even going to run a number for donations after the show to help take care of some of the hospital bills. He looked at himself one last time before putting on the head. Ricki stared back at him.
He loved Ricki, and still felt a little more alive when he was Ricki. He also realized something too. Ricki made a difference. Whatever the pay, whatever the work involved, or the occasional abuse Ricki had to suffer through, he mattered. He thought of Sam on last time before heading out the door. On a chair in the corner of the room sat a battered old copy of The Cat in the Hat. After the show, he planned to go to Sam's grave and read it. She would have liked him to do that.