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My dad loved animals, parrots and dogs the most.
When my sister and I were kids, he had a small pet shop that sold mostly animal food and birds, and we struggled even with my mother’s income; after she passed, my dad worked himself to the bone and expanded the business.
He was always good with marketing and attracting attention through the perfect amount of information and suspense, and that’s he did when he had the opportunity.
Shortly after we lost Mom, Dad hired who he announced to be “the greatest vet in town”; as far as I know, no one ever saw this person, but they saved our old and sick bunny, Carrots. Carrots lived healthily for years after that, and was the first of many animals recovered from the brink of death.
Soon, the word was spread, and the clients didn’t stop coming, even from other cities, with Dad always keeping the identity of his amazing veterinarian hidden – I myself never met them. Dad never became rich, but he was able to comfortably raise his two princesses, with good schools and nice clothes.
And then last year, right before his 60th birthday, he had a sudden stroke and died.
Since he didn’t leave a will, I was left with the awful task of deciding how to share his stuff with my sister, who I hadn’t been remotely close with for my whole adulthood; as a single mother of two, she was outraged that I wasn’t willing to leave everything to her.
It wasn’t much anyway – our childhood home, the pet shop, and a few thousand dollars in the bank. As I said, rather than accumulating money, Dad wanted us to have a nice life.
“It’s unfair that you keep anything! Dad paid for your wedding!” my sister bitterly yelled to my face; despite being two years older than me and having children, she hadn’t married yet, and it clearly was a sensitive matter to her.
“That’s because you are single and I’m married”, I explained, in a calm tone, rolling my eyes. I didn’t even think it was worth mentioning that, until he died, Dad still paid for most of her bills and spoiled her two boys rotten.
The discussion went on and on with her with no consensus, until our cousin – bless her heart – who is a lawyer decided to step up and mediate the conversation.
My sister’s issue was that she wanted to both have the cake and eat it: of course she had
to get the house because she had kids and needed the space, but as a single mom she also
needed the income from renting the pet shop, “because we’re not keeping that crap anyway”.
I wanted to slap her in the face for saying that. That shop was our father’s life, and the thing that gave us everything nice we ever had. Besides, the building per se didn’t have a good location and would be worth pennies in real state – its value laid in the fact that our vet was nearly miraculous.
Speaking of the vet, I went through the pet shop documents and even contacted the remote accountant that handled my dad’s taxes, but this person wasn’t in the payroll – they never have been. Other than the bills and himself, my dad only employed a single shop clerk at a time.
“Maybe this person’s salary is too high so Dad paid it extra-officially”, I thought. Either way I took upon myself the task of staying at the shop until this person came or contacted me.
I realized that it was no person
before my sister came to agree to let me have anything at all.
I sat inside the tiny shop’s office for days, but no one came. All the documents were already organized and I found no clue about the vet. Intrigued, I decided to take a look inside the practice room – even as a 30-years-old, I still respected my Dad’s instructions to never, ever
go there, that’s why it took me nearly a week to realize there was nothing else to do.
The room was almost as small as the office but very well-lit, and had a cute painting of a happy dog. It was nearly empty, except for a meager amount of veterinary tools and meds, and a walk-in box made of enameled metal, tall enough to fit a child but not an average adult.
The box had no door; it looked like a shorter version of an airport metal detector, except that the sides, the top, the bottom and the other end were closed with more metal.
I circled around it, intrigued, and then saw a note – no bigger than a post-it – attached to its left side. It was in my dad’s calligraphy. Put the sick or wounded animal inside; Pull the lever outside the chamber and wait; Do not enter until something changes; Dispose humanely of the dying animal; Burn incense once a month to thank for the miracles.
I think deep down I understood what it all meant, but it was only when I had my first client that I fully grasped what my dad had meant by miracle.
It was a fat kitten, heavier than a toddler, who had been ran down by its own owner in the driveway. The woman was one of the most hysterical and miserable people I ever saw in my life, handing me the cat like she was a confessed war criminal.
I grabbed the kitten in my arms and carefully placed it inside the chamber. It waited, not seeming scared.
I pulled the lever and bit my lip; I had recently started my second graduation to be, too, a veterinarian, and I was hoping to learn under the master of Dad’s shop. But there was no such person; it was only me, a dying animal, and an alien machine.
The machine whirred for a good minute, the cat still stagnant inside. Some sort of electrical buzz announced that it was done; ready to awkwardly explain the owner that we couldn’t save her chubby boy, I finally dared taking a look inside again.
There were two identical cats.
One of them was battered and nearly dying, with its eyes closed, and the other was perfectly healthy and happy.
I took the second one in my arms and squeezed it in a hug, then handed the duplicate to the owner, who left perfectly content.
Later that day, I euthanized the original kitten and disposed of its dead body. I was somewhat conflicted – it was amazing that this strange gate could simply fabricate a brand new animal, but it was sad that maybe the animal brought here could too be saved by traditional methods. By an actual professional.
Still, my Dad believed it to be a heaven-sent, not only because it “saved” countless animals but also because it saved our family, and I’d respect that.
It was the last day of the month so, to be meticulous, I burned the incense.
Through time and many trials, I came to learn that there were no side-effects, no hidden price to pay for the miracles: as long as I followed the instructions, almost any animal could be saved.
The limitation was simply the weight of the animal: a malnourished newborn kitten was too light for the machine to work, even if I tried to put extra blankets to make the apparel recognize the baby cat as a bigger creature.
Almost any dog was heavy enough, as well as parrots and cockatiels, but smaller birds didn’t stand a chance. Rabbits and guinea-pigs (unless they were too young) were fair game, but mice rarely made the cut, unless they were particularly fat.
After two months of my Dad’s passing, my family life slowly started falling into place. My husband and I used to live in a larger city an hour from my hometown, where he was born and raised; but since he mostly works from home, he was glad to move to a cheaper, calmer suburb. My sister finally agreed to let me have the shop, as long as a)
she got the house b)
she got all the money and c)
I contractually agreed to pay for her wedding if she was to get married someday.
I gave a good laugh with the last one because it was quite unlikely that anyone would choose to spend her life with a 32-years-old who threw a tantrum over literally anything, and that came as a package with two unruly brats.
My first terrible failure with the machine happened a month after my husband moved to our new place; I found a litter of stray kittens nearly dying in the gutter, the feral mother still devouring something furry that looked awfully like her weaker offspring. She hissed to me but didn’t try to protect her babies and ended up walking away.
I fished them out of the manhole and brought them to my clinic.
They would be cute little things if it wasn’t by the fleas, eye infection, and the terrible smell that came from their fragile bodies. I had nearly no hope of saving them, so I did something experimental.
I put all of them inside the machine at once and pulled the lever.
Whenever an animal was too little to be duplicated, nothing happened as soon as I started the gate; however, this time, the familiar whirring started. Maybe I had found the way to save baby animals. I just need to do it by the batch.
My hopes were crushed the moment that the machine was done; instead of the familiar electric click, there was a flash not unlike lightning, and there was nothing but charred remains inside the machine.
Instead of saved, the kittens had been pulverized.
I spent the whole night weeping.
Loss was part of my work, and I considered myself fortunate to experience it less often than most in my field. Over time, still going to college, I was able to save some of the original animals and either keep them or find them a new home; I didn’t want to get desensitized to the normal cycle of life or think that I was a demi-god that could revive animals as brand new versions of themselves over and over. I was careful not to cross any limit that my father either didn’t know or didn’t bother to write down for me.
Still, I had to euthanize more animals than any other veterinarian, and it took a toll on my mental health. To cope with it, and cover the costs of therapy and medication, I ended up raising our prices. I had a better head for business than my dad, and I knew the field way better than he did, so I had been surprised with how much he was able to afford with such a puny fare.
Even having to pay three times what they paid my dad, the clients still came, knowing that other vets would bill them a similar price but with way less guarantee of success, and a delicate recovery time.
While under my father, our business relied on mouth-to-mouth about a great veterinarian who could save almost any animal from almost anything, but under me our services were announced on social media, attracting people from all over the country.
And then my second terrible failure happened.
Some rich man two states away flew his Great Dane all the way to my small clinic. I weighted his dog – 75 kg. I had just treated a Saint Bernard that was 15 kg heavier than the Dane and, other than the metal box being really
cramped with two identical molossers inside, the dog was perfectly fine.
But, for whatever reason, the Great Dane seemed to be too heavy or too tall for the machine and, just like it happened to the kittens, after one minute of whirring there was lightning.
Instead of charred remains, however, this time there was a corpse; burned to a crisp, but still whole and recognizable enough.
I didn’t know how I’d manage to explain to the owner what happened so, instead of doing it, I kept asking him for more time, while I looked for a solution like a madwoman.
I drove around three cities, street by street, before I found another Great Dane. This one considerably shorter than the first, which was good.
I then stole someone’s dog and managed to duplicate it, give my client the replica, and then put the original dog back.
If the rich man noticed that his beloved dog was several centimeters smaller, he didn’t say a thing.
After that, I started driving around near the wilderness almost daily, looking for wounded large animals to bring back to my shop in the middle of the night, and test if they could be duplicated. My husband, a loyal squire and patient weight-lifter, was my only confidant in my little adventures.
“What do you think about that?”, I asked him once, after an expedition where I successfully created a healthy doe.
“I think that your father tried to duplicate your mother.”
“Think about it. You said she was diagnosed with cancer. And then she died, but it wasn’t from the cancer, it was some electrical accident. And right after that your dad started this best vet ever
I carefully considered his words, and they made a lot of sense.
“Good thing it never occurred to me to duplicate a person”, I replied. He nodded.
After that, I tried to find out where and when my Dad got this machine, but, to this day, I still have no clue. To be honest, he was – I won’t say a hoarder, but – an enthusiast of going through other people’s garbage and finding “little treasures”. He never brought home anything a crazy person would, or downright trash, but sometimes he’d become a little obsessed with fixing some old machinery he scavenged.
This thing was 4 cubic meters of metal, not some ancient music box, but maybe he just found it laying around in some old hangar or something. I gave up after finding no clues about it.
Despite some failed clients and experiments, things were perfectly fine until my sister had to go and ruin everything.
She started getting jealous of my prosperity because of my higher rates and success; I wasn’t wealthy, but I was well-off, and she wouldn’t have it.
After selling our childhood home for pennies and spending all our father’s money in useless shit, she was once again unhappy with her life, cramped with the boys in a small apartment. So she came to ask me for money.
She guilt-tripped me, saying that I don’t have kids so I don’t know how hard it is, and that Dad used to give her an allowance even though he made a fraction of what I did.
After the first time that I refused, she became more obnoxious and would send her infinitely annoying sons to pester me at work.
I was having a bad day; the body of a relatively light but tall deer had just exploded without a warning inside the gate, and I had to enter the machinery for the first time to clean it thoroughly. Not being too tall, I could manage to do it without having to crouch, but my legs and back were hurting anyway.
I was distracted after spotting some inscriptions roughly scribbled in the metal. “Do not pull the lever on humans.”
Which is funny because my imp of a nephew had just entered the room and pulled the lever on me.
When I woke up again, I was lying in the cold hardwood of the store and my whole body felt like static.
I saw an unknown clerk behind the counter, a girl no older than 20, but she didn’t give a fuck about me. I painfully got up, still feeling electricity running through my whole body, and then my arm collided with something – someone.
It was my father.
He looked way more tired and worn out than he did before he died, but he was there. I tried to hug him, but he didn’t stop for me. I cried, but he didn’t care.
I thought that maybe I was now a ghost, but no. My body was solid; I could grab objects if I wanted to, but I couldn’t interact with people.
He said goodbye to the clerk and started leaving; I ran after him, but to no avail. He couldn’t see me, the clerk couldn’t see me. It was safe to assume no one could.
I then decided to sneak into the small practice room and, to my surprise, there was another version of myself there. A full-fledged veterinarian, deeper bags under my eyes, another hair color, but it was me – she looked dreadfully towards the door when I entered, but other than that she didn’t notice me either.
But the strangest thing in the room wasn’t her, but the fact that there was no metal box.
Somehow, I seemed to have ended up in an alternate reality where things went very differently. Confused, I took the bus to my house, but I found out that I never married nor bought that place.
Soon, I started piecing together information about this new version of my life: my mother died of cancer five years after her actual death, my sister never had kids and instead got a nice husband and a good career, our upbringing was difficult because all our money went for our mother’s treatment, but we ended up as successful adults.
Dad still lives alone at our childhood home; well, now he has me, living as a ghost in my old room. I try to be careful not to move around too much or make noise – although he’s going deaf, he noticed more than once that things were out of place in the morning, so now I make all my meals by simply walking into a restaurant and sneaking to the kitchen, where I grab anything that’s unattended.
It’s a strange life, being invisible to people but still having needs such as sleeping, eating and peeing. I know I’ll be damned when I need a doctor.
I found this old computer of mine, where I spend most of my time, trying to look for people who went through something similar. My body still aches, buzzing with electricity discharges from time to time – not enough to kill me, if I’m even alive, but enough to make me scream in pain, so it’s a good thing that no one can hear my voice too, only the sounds of my interactions with things.
I have no idea what happened to me in my original dimension; maybe I died, maybe I simply disappeared, or I’m simply still there. But now I think that the duplicated animals were simply stolen from other timelines. Unfortunately, I have no way of proving that; it’s really hard to track my clients when they don’t talk and have names like Ginger or Sprinkles.
My mind is starting to get foggy, like the unusual electric impulses are corrupting my memories, especially short-term. I know it’s 2020 and I know that my dad (originally) passed early 2019, but I have no idea how long it’s been since I ended up here – days, weeks or months.
I keep trying to find my husband to see how his life went, and deep down I hope that he’ll be able to see me. But he lives in a big city (or at least I think), and I have to rely on busses and trains; on that note, it’s not like people pass through me like a ghost, but they seem to instinctively avoid the spot where I stand. Automatic doors open to me, others just don’t seem to see anything entering or exiting when it happens.
I can look in the mirror too, but I’m nothing but a silhouette that seems to be made of data and chaos. It’s unnerving and even scary to see myself, so I don’t, and I suspect that other people actually
see me, but their brains simply can’t process what their eyes captured, so their brain ignores it.
I still remember my previous life perfectly, but every time I try to recall something that happened after I ended up here with this electric and invisible body, it’s like trying to watch something vaguely familiar behind blurry glass.
The other day in the bus I thought I saw someone on the street that was made of green static like me, but I was unable to make it stop so I could run after them.
If I focus on that memory, I can almost remember it was a woman in her late 30s, thin from the chemotherapy but winking at me with a familiar face and a motherly smile.