You have probably heard two things about me: I work at the zoo, and I am an Ogre.
My name is Ehgar. This is my story.
You have probably heard two things about Ogres: they have the Ogre's Hunger that forces them to eat people, and they can look like anyone they have tasted.
I was born in Arlinac Town. My parents are Sagacious Ogres. That means they know a lot of alchemy, and have found the recipes they can use to make potions to calm their Ogre's Hunger. The recipe is different for every Ogre. Sometimes years of work are needed.
My parents keep secret that they are Ogres. When they leave the house, and even most of the time at home, they wear the disguise of another person.
My mother usually looks like a young Therion woman she knew long ago in a place far away. The people of that town found out she was an Ogre. They did not care she could control her Ogre's Hunger. She had to flee. She hugged her friend, and cried a quick good-bye. She gave her friend a kiss on the cheek and ran. That kiss was enough of a taste.
My father usually looks like a tall, strong Therion man. That man had been an evil bandit leader, long ago and far away. My father was a bounty hunter. He was paid to kill that bandit.
My parents worked hard and found out which potion recipe would cure my Ogre's Hunger when I was still a baby. I have never felt their Ogre's Hunger.
I grew up with disguises. I went to school looking like another boy. No one knew I was an Ogre.
Now I am a young man with a job. I work at the zoo. I clean the enclosures. I am learning to be a vet.
I decided to be the only public Ogre. My hope was that a quiet young man who raked and shoveled animal and monster poop would not seem a threat. People avoid me as much as they can. If you are not an Ogre, you think Ogres look ugly and scary. I understand.
Ogres are lonely.
It was a sunny morning. I was raking in the petting zoo. I clean there early, before kids come to the zoo. But that morning a girl came in the petting zoo with her parents. I kept raking. I tried to be quiet and move to the back so they could enjoy the animals. The girl pointed at me. Her mother said something. That happens.
Then the girl skipped over to me and said, "Can I ask you a favor?"
That never happens. "Um, okay," I said.
"Mirrors only do so much," she said. "My father says that far away people make mirrors with something better than lead behind the glass. Those mirrors are big and clear. But you know our mirrors are small and curved, and the glass and lead make you look a bit smeared."
I did not like where this was going.
"Ogres can look like people, right? Can you look like me? So I can really see what I look like?"
I put my rake against the wall. I kneeled down so my head was more her height. "I don't think your parents would like that."
"They said I could ask you. It is okay."
I looked at the parents. The dad looked nervous. The mom's face said it was not okay. But they waved and tried small smiles.
The girl rubbed her hands together excitedly. "Please?"
I looked at her. She was wearing a long, dark brown skirt and two shirts. One shirt was a tunic of dark green cloth that went down past her waist a bit. Over it she had a girl's peasant blouse of nice yellow cloth. There was dried mud on the hem of her skirt and tunic. This girl who played in the dirt, but her family had money. Kids can get dirty at the zoo. I imagined a tiny protest at home: I will wear my dirty clothes, but I also get to wear my yellow top.
"There is a secret Ogre ritual for looking like a child," I said, loud enough for her parents to hear.
"Really?" Her eyes got big.
"It goes like this," I said. Then I scooped her up, tossed her in the air a bit, and when I caught her blew a long zerbert on her side. She giggled and squealed and wiggled until I ran out of breath. Her eyes were moist as I set her on the ground. She wiped them clear and turned to me, pouting with her hands on her hips.
But I was her. I also pouted and put my hands on my hips. It was a familiar pose for this body.
Her jaw dropped.
Pouting with my hands on my hips was not a familiar pose for my brain. I tried not to laugh. When I did it was her little girl's giggle.
She was just staring at me. At herself.
"It's a very important ritual," I said in her voice. "Otherwise the kids come back the next day and want to do it again. I'll close my eyes and be your mirror." I closed my eyes. I heard her step closer.
"I have a cute nose," she said.
"You do," I agreed.
"Can I touch my hair?" she asked.
"Poke me all you want," I said. "I deserve it after that zerbert. If I squirm a bit, remember that you don't like having your hair touched."
"How do you know that?" she demanded.
"Part of the disguise," I said. I heard her walk around me. Her hands touched my hair. I realized I had tucked it behind her ears: one of her habits. She moved some hair over my ears and walked in front of me again.
I explained more. "I do not get any of your memories. But I get reactions. You are a bit afraid of the bigger animals here. Thinking about you touching my hair made me know you would not like that. I can ignore all that. But it helps with the disguise."
"What else?" she asked.
"I am imagining someone coming to us with a big silver tray with one of every kind of cookie. And we pick..."
"Oatmeal raisin!" we shouted, together. The urge was to raise one hand and point at the sky to affirm the proclamation. So I did that with her, even though my eyes were still closed. That made her mother gasp. I opened my eyes to look at her parents.
"Uhrg!" I moaned. I was myself again, lying on my side, holding my head with both hands.
"Are you okay?"
"No. Yes. Uhrg." My head cleared. I opened my eyes again and stood up. "Sorry."
I looked past her at her parents. "Reactions. I am not sure I ever loved my parents that much. Maybe I did but now that I am older I do not remember it." I smiled at them weakly. "Sorry," I said.
Then I knelt down and looked at Eleanyr again (I had felt what name she reacted to). "Ready to try again? No need to taste you a second time."
She had backed away when I fell and changed. "You are okay now?"
"It was so strong. It took me by surprise. The surprise is done. I'll be okay."
She nodded. I became her again. This time she watched the change, how quick it was, and gasped. "Wow!"
I smiled her smile, and closed my again again.
I like my dimples when I smile," she said. She stepped to me, and felt my hair and face. "Can you make any clothes?"
"Not your favorite yellow dress. Only what you had on when I tasted you. The clothes are part of a disguise. They are not real. They disappear if I take them off."
I nodded. Then I opened my eyes and took off my copy of her yellow blouse. I tossed it to her father. But I was not used to her little arms, and it fell short onto the dirt halfway between us. He picked it up. "In a few minutes it will start to fade away."
Eleanyr giggled. "Now you're just in my mud clothes." Then she realized what the short throw meant. "And you're not any stronger than me." Then she cackled and rubber her hands together.
"Dear," he mother said. "I doubt he wants to roughouse."
"He's me, Mom," she said. "Of course he does. I've always wanted to roughouse with myself!"
So she gave her real blouse to her mom, and we moved to the cleanest part of the enclosure, and wrestled until we were both too tired to stand. Then I collapsed, lying on my back in the dirt. She rested on her back too, but with her head on my belly so her hair would not get even more dirty. After a few minutes she turned, zerberted my belly, and ran away shouting "Now we're even!" I knew it was the only good-bye she would give me.
Her father went after her.
"Don't change back yet," her mother said. She looked at me with a face I could not understand.
"Thank you," Eleanyr's mother said. Then she lowered herself to one knee and held her arms open.
I could have stopped this body from rushing into that hug. But I did not want to. She held me until I stopped crying. I knew she would.
Then I stepped back many steps. "It would be a bad idea for a six-year-old girl to have a young man as a friend," I said. I became me again. I saw Eleanyr's mother try to still her face, but she could not hide her shock and disgust at seeing the real me again.
"I wish you well," she said. She meant it.
"Thanks," I said. "But Ogres don't get friends. Even if I became an old man, and spent time with real old man walking in the park and playing cards and sharing stories, he would only be a friend of my disguise. The real me gets no friends. Not even other Ogres. Except for parents and kids, we are all rivals."
She turned and left. I had ruined a nicer good-bye.
During the next six months talk about Eleanyr's visit to the zoo happened. Some zoo visitors now looked at me twice.
You can imagine other things if you want. Maybe kings visited, wanting me to be a spy for their kingdom. Maybe wealthy women visited, wanting me to stand still for hours while they were fitted for a new ballgown. Maybe a pair of identical twins visited, wanting me to help them prank their parents. I do not mind if you make up stuff like that. All that really happened was I worked at the zoo, quietly cleaning the enclosures.
Then the boy ran up to me. "Lock me in a cage!" he said.
"You must have them in the buildings, where you do vet work."
"Who are you? I can't..."
He howled. It was not a strong wolf howl, but a shrill cry of brain pain. "Cage! Now! Please!"
I took him inside, and locked him in a cage.
He changed from a Therion boy of perhaps ten years into an Ogre of perhaps seven. He snarled and rattled the cage. "You look tasty! Thank you."
"You...have no potion," I said. "How are you here?"
He was panting. He strained against the bars as he talked. "Mom and me in the wilder-ness far away. Other Ogre ate her, missed me. Therion actors found me. They were kind. The hunger comes and goes. When it got too bad they tied me up. I was one of them. Traveled far. Once Kobalt bandits attacked us on the road, troupe leader became the biggest bear I ever saw and killed them all. Said he wouldn't judge me for my hunger if he sometimes had to chomp folks too. But this town! So big! So many wonders! I ran away. Four days ago. They are gone. Then the hunger returned. Heard about you."
"Let me take you to the Sagacious," I offered.
"No! No! They will keep me in a cage until they find the right recipe for me. Might be days. Might be years. The actors told me about that. After a day I'll have control again. Then I can leave."
"Leave where? You said the actors left town already."
"Not them. They used me. Kind, sure, but not friends. I was a pet, a stage prop, a danger."
"I'll find something. We Ogres are survivors."
"That we are. I must go. I'll change the schedule in the main building so no one comes in here today or tomorrow."
"So tasty! Bye!"
I did that. But what could I do next?
I changed myself to the disguise of a young man with nice clothes. (The son of a man my father used to work with. One night he had drank too much at a party. I had carried him home. No one had seen me lick him.)
I had been curious months ago and found where Eleanyr lived. It was a nice house. I went there now, and knocked on the door. Eleanyr's mother answered it.
"Excuse me," I said. "I do not wish to trouble you, but do not know who else to talk to. There is a boy about Eleanyr's age. Do you know any families willing to do foster care?"
Eleanyr's mother looked at me. "Ehgar?"
"Indeed. The boy...did not come to me because I work at the zoo."
"Show me," she said, stepping outside and closing the door behind her.
We walked to the zoo. "He is in a cage," I said. "He asked for that. He does not want to hurt anyone. He knows that if I bring him to the Sagacious they might cage him for years: however long it takes to find the recipe that will cure him. It is different for every Ogre."
When I opened the door to that room, the boy saw her behind me and lunged towards her, arms through the bars. "Yummy!" he screeched.
Eleanyr's mother shrieked, put her hands to her mouth, and backed away. I closed the door and led her away. I had seen enough in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I can't have him in my house. He..."
"It's okay. I saw. I think I understand. The same mother's love that let you hug me...it will not let that near your family."
"Yes. Close enough." She was still shaking. "Can you turn into a woman my age and walk me home?"
I had only one disguise as a woman at all near her age. She grimaced. "That is a very fancy dress."
"It was a very fancy dance. I was a charming man. She wanted a kiss good-bye."
"She probably wanted more than a kiss."
"Ogres don't get friends."
I walked her home. She wanted to talk about anything other than the Ogre boy.
At her doorway I said, "I will give him to my parents. They will send him through a portal stone to a Sagacious academy. Some day he will have his potion."
"Are you sure? He will be caged."
"They cannot risk him escaping. I saw why in your eyes." I spoke more slowly. "If you had any fear that the Ogres in this town could not control their own, then you would lead the effort to kill us all and not weep when the task was done."
"True." Her face was hard.
"I came hoping for something else. But I thank you. There was only one answer."
Her face softened. "I...if you have a disguise of a child Eleanyr's age, perhaps a tea party?"
"No, thank you. A young man and little girl do not need each other as friends. Ogres do not get friends."
I thought a moment. "But if your family some day decides to travel, and you need a disguised body guard, then a tea party might be fun."
Eleanyr's mother sighed. "If I was an old man, and thought you were an old man and my friend, and then I found out the truth...I would forgive you and not regret a single walk or card game or story."
"Perhaps. But Ogres still do not get friends."
"Perhaps. But they do get stories."