"Well, 'Titanic' is stuck on the bottom and I don't know if I'll ever be able to dredge it up." I said aloud. Damn. My first story for the list and I was stuck. Oh well. It was late, so I shut off my computer and went to bed.
My sleep was fitful that night. I dreamed strange images of running through forest landscapes, but my body felt strange. Very strange. Like I was on all fours or something. Finally, the cat awoke me by jumping onto my chest. "Cleo! Geez! It's five a.m.!" I said, glancing at the glowing numbers on my clock- radio. But she just sat there on my chest, licking herself and ignoring me. She did venture to lick my face. "What? Do I taste good?" I should never have started to feed her that venison Sheba. She won't eat anything else.
I struggled to get back to sleep, but an odd cramp at the base of my spine kept me from drifting off. I generally try to ignore the little pains that sometimes happen when I sleep wrong, but this one was quite annoying. On top of that, it wasn't exactly painful. Merely uncomfortable. I reached over and turned on the light. "Well, I might as well get up." I said aloud. "I'm not going to sleep anymore tonight anyway."
I reached for my glasses and put them on. Or tried to put them on. The pads felt like they were way too narrow for some reason. That, or my nose had gotten wider. Which was quite impossible. I must have bent the pads out of position at some point when taking them off. I scratched a small itch on my stomach. Oh, well. I guess I'll turn on my computer and go to the bathroom. For a drink that is. I was pretty thirsty. I got up.
The world was rather blurry without my glasses, but I could see pretty well. Very well for being as dark as it was, in fact. Funny. I turned on the bathroom light (momentarily blinding myself) and grabbed a cup. Then there was the odd pressure from my spine again, and I felt my pajama bottoms just a bit. Funny, it felt like something was stuffed down my pants. I resolved to remove them once I got my drink. And then I looked in the mirror...
"What the hell?" I said. It looked like my nose was swollen and looked black on and around my nostrils, like I'd banged my face against the wall in my sleep, and the bridge was wider. Which would actually account for my glasses not fitting. In fact, my whole face was swollen! It hardly resembled the one I'd had for nearly twenty years. Then there was an odd sensation from my head, as if my features were being pushed around by some force. In the mirror I saw my nose widen, and my face swell just a little into a short... naw. My ears enlarged just a bit, and I swear they twitched just once. Two bumps also appeared on the sides of my head just above my ears. I felt my face once the sensation stopped.
My mouth felt about an inch or so farther forward than it should be, my lips somewhat more flexible. Even my tongue felt oddly longer, and my face had a fuzz of a rusty colored hair. Even my own hair had mixed rusty hairs mixed in. And then I realized something.
I must still be dreaming. Cool dream, though. Transformation dreams were among my most cherished ones. I heard Joel from MST3K announce "MOVIE SIGN!!!" that said my computer had finished booting up, so with a final tap on the bumps on the side of my head I walked back over to the computer. Still enjoying the strange and apparently dream sensations.
Time to check my email. I wonder how the active the List was last night... or tonight. I was also hoping for the latest response from Brian (and Bryan). Both of them were pretty supportive of me in this story. They made me very happy I'd joined the List.
Without sitting down just yet, still convinced I was dreaming (I figured it must be one of those that were reality based) I clicked the connection program and signed on, trying to ignore the tip of my nose which was just visible in my (wider?) field of view. To my surprise, about two hundred messages downloaded in less than a minute. I also noticed that they seemed to have all been posted in the last few minutes. Most seemed to be from lurkers. Funny. My face felt strange again, but only for a moment. My ears felt strangely larger. But I felt a little bit dizzy so I decided to sit. Funny, dreams never made me dizzy...
"EEYOW!!!" I sat on something hard and round that hurt! Dream (though I was seriously starting to doubt it) or no dream, I'd never felt pain quite like that before. It came from a location that was quite unfamiliar. I pulled my pajama bottoms down.
Dream, this has to be a dream! What I saw was impossible to say the least. I had a tail. Yes, a dream. I'm sure of it. So I've got the tail of... of what? It was fairly distinctive, rusty red/brown above, and when I raised it (with a hand, pulling up on the end hairs, and feeling my pulling on those hairs!) it was very white underneath. It did look familiar, but of course there was no possible way it could actually be there.
"Okay... if you're actually there, I want you to move left." I said aloud. I concentrated for a moment, and it did. Feeling unfamiliar muscles move.
How could a dream tail move? More importantly, how could I feel a dream tail move? (My dreams had never been that realistic!) That was the question I asked myself as I reached behind me to grab my... the tail. It was flicking all over the place now. And what was worse, I swore I could feel it doing it. Then, just as I went to grab it, it went straight up into the air like a flag, and it hit me. That is a whitetail deer's tail. I thought. It could be no other animal. I finally grabbed it. And, in a final effort to convince myself it was only a dream, I squeezed it. Hard.
"OW!" That was the second time it hurt. And I wasn't waking up! There was only one possibility. "Well," I said aloud. "You've always had a vivid imagination, Jon. Why can't one of your dreams come true for a change?" I was noticing that, all over my torso, a new (thin as yet) coating of hair had grown. White on my chest and belly, and a rusty color on my sides and back. For a while I even admired the color. Then the strange pinching sensation gripped my head again, and I rushed to the bathroom to watch.
My enlarged ears got even larger, and became pointed at the tips. As they grew they lost the folds that characterized them as human, and actually started to move around on their own, rising up a bit higher on the sides of my skull. I was becoming aware of many different sounds, like the refrigerator downstairs. It had a high pitched whine that I never knew it had. The lumps on the sides of my head grew out even further, and branched in a few places along a main beam. Then I realized they were antlers. They were covered with a layer of "velvet." But there was no question.
At least in part, I was changing in to a whitetail deer. But for some odd reason it felt almost right. It was a tough and uncomfortable thing to think about. While I stared at the antlers, I felt the odd pushing sensation of my head changing once more. My nose continued to widen and push out. My forehead started to flatten alarmingly (what was happening to my brain?!) and my antlers, whose bases had been somewhat canted wrongly for a deer, drew together as the dome of my braincase shrank as well. I could see my eyes go from their normal green to a dark brown, and the irises grew to cover my entire eye. The bridge of my... (gawdalmighty) muzzle between my eyes was incredibly wide. Colors changed, outlines sharpened. I could still see the muzzle continue to push out in front of my eyes both in the mirror and by seeing it in my own eyes. When I relaxed my eyes I saw almost the whole bathroom. Then the sensation stopped, and I shook my head in wonder.
"This... this actually isn't half bad," I said aloud, feeling very giddy and not quite sure what to think. The fur on my chest had thickened, and all over the rest of my torso as well. From what I could tell it felt just as thick as the natural deer's. My hair had first changed to the same color as my fur, and disappeared. So it didn't look like I'd be needing a comb again. Then I took a deep breath, and was nearly overwhelmed!
The smells! Hundreds... no... thousands of them! All different, all unique. I felt very dizzy for a moment, unused to the sensory input. I unconsciously licked the end of my nose, and smelled even more. But the shock did wear off after a while. And I looked again in the mirror. What looked back was almost indistinguishable from the head of a natural whitetail buck, with a long neck that was attached further back along my skull. I noted with relief that my cranium did seem to be bigger, but one would be hard pressed to tell at a glance.
I heard a scream from somewhere else in the complex. Its clarity was startling, and made me incredibly nervous and jumpy, my heart pounded. Okay, okay. Take a deep breath... or not. And calm down. I took the breath anyway, and the shock wasn't quite as great as before. To take my mind off the situation, I tore myself away from the mirror and went back to my computer, only to discover that my ISP had disconnected me. "Damn!" I said aloud. Then I realized that I could obviously still talk. "Whew! Thank God for that!" I said, out of experimentation than anything. It was a bit tough, but I could speak (I was nearly lisping, in fact, because I felt that my upper incisors were substantially reduced).
I almost sat on my tail again, and I unconsciously reached for my glasses. And then I noticed. My vision seemed much sharper than before, though I'd lost a lot of depth perception. Colors were perhaps a bit more muted, but the outlines of things seemed much sharper. Besides, there was no way in hell they could fit. "Won't be needing those again," I said, putting them down and attempting to smile (I did not really succeed, but my ears moved around "happily" I guess).
I carefully sat down in my chair, lucky there was a big enough space for my tail if I told it to move out of the way. I was privately glad I did not have a longer tail. Funny, but I was already somewhat getting used to it. Sorta. To take my mind off, I tried to focus on the computer screen in front of me. My muzzle obstructed things a little, but I managed.
Probably a hundred of the postings started with something like "I'm changing into a ________!" With the name of the animal in the blank space. Though most were more creative than that. Then I thought a moment. This couldn't be happening to everyone could it? I mean, I'd almost feel guilty for some vague reason. Huh. I read a couple of the posts, trashed the rest, and check on my other email.
Brian's message was our normal ramble. We'd done a bit of our fun dialogue. I was about to respond and add something, then I realized that it would probably be a dumb thing to do, considering. His email ended, saying, "Ever have one of those weird feelings? For some reason I feel like something's going to happen, and soon. Oh, well. Boston here I come!"
Bryan's email ended on a similar note. I decided to type a response to both anyway. But there turned out to be one minor problem. As I was typing I noticed two of my fingers on each hand seemed to be sticking together. And then they suddenly fused, and the nails thickened and turned black. When it was over I only had three fingers and my thumb. The three fingers were thicker than my old ones, and when I bunched them they looked like a distorted cloven forehoof. I flexed my hands over and over. They were a bit stiff, too. But I slowly worked that out, and stared at them for a long while. "Damn," I said. Again, to take my mind off, I turned back to typing. Then I realized I didn't have enough fingers anymore. "Double damn." The fur had spread down my arms even onto my palms, too (though there it was just a fuzz, and white in color from the bottom of my forearms).
I used my altered left hand to massage my altered right hand. This confirmed that there were only three fingers left. I could feel the bones underneath. My nails were rather hard, too. And they almost covered the tips fully. The two inner fingernails were somewhat larger than the outer two, and had a bit of an inward curve to them. I gave up on typing, and heard another scream that sounded vaguely animalistic. My body tensed up, and I started looking all over the place, looking for something. My ears twisted all over, trying to catch every little sound. "Damn! Stop that!" I told myself. But the urge to hide was almost overwhelming!
I looked at the clock. It had been a couple hours, and I'd not even noticed. Across the complex, on one of the balconies closer to me, I noticed a man that was frantically pulling at a pair of large rabbit ears. He was in hysterics, it seemed, and ran (hopped) down his stairs and off into the greenery of the inner area. Then there was an odd flash, and I suddenly saw a normal rabbit.
The strange sight (as if looking in the mirror weren't strange enough!) made me realize that it was happening to others. Among other things. My mother was visiting my sister in Portland. And I wondered if it was happening to them, too. I got out of the chair and grabbed the remote to my TV. Deciding that actually sitting might not be the best way, I lay on my stomach instead. I turned the TV on.
Static or scrambled channels were what greeted me. But then I turned to The News Channel, and gasped at what I saw. The news anchor clearly had the head of an elk. "I repeat, for those for one reason or another have not noticed, all adults worldwide seem to be undergoing some sort of transformation. Children underneath the age of puberty seem unaffected, but we can only hope." Then he got an oddly familiar uncomfortable expression on his face, and they cut to tape.
I'd have watched the tape if I hadn't been distracted by what was happening to my feet and legs. I'd actually just dropped my pajama bottoms enough to free my tail, but inside my pant legs I could see my thighs flatten and spread apart a little. My calves shrank, my foot bones elongated as I watched. It was a strange stretching sensation. My toenails were also rapidly thickening and darkening, my smallest toe withering away, and the middle two increasing in size with the nail covering the whole tip. The other two outer toes shortened, but were still visible as... dewclaws. My feet were now cloven hooves. The fur covered my legs, tickling as it went. Making me laugh. My chest barreled slightly, and my insides quivered. Then it stopped.
My pajama bottoms were now bunched up around my new high ankles. So I took them off. Flexing my toes revealed that what I saw was true. My legs basically seemed to be the same as a natural whitetail's, but modified for a biped (I hoped). The elk news anchor came back on again, his hands had changed to be a lot like mine, and he was staring at them as much as I was my feet. And then I realized I must be finished. I felt like it. And I really hoped I'd not change anymore.
The complex was going absolutely nuts, I could hear. Hear all too well. I got nervous once more, with even more force. And in my mind, I swore I could hear a "voice" saying, -danger? danger? dangerwhere? Wheredanger?-
Before I could stop myself, I rolled off the bed and onto the floor. What? Why'd I do that?! I didn't seem to be in control of my own body! But the Voice faded after a moment. Perhaps, I mused, the fact that if there was danger I probably couldn't smell it. That's how deer normally sensed danger, after all. But now here I was, on the floor, practically under the table I used as a computer desk. "This is silly!" I said aloud, regaining my composure. I picked my head up and took my arms away from around my eyes, and almost knocked my antlers against the bottom of the table. Almost being the operative word. I seemed to instinctively know just how far they went from my head.
I resolved to stand up. Something that might otherwise be the easiest thing in the world, but now... I used the side of my bed as a support, and lifted, lifted. And I balanced. Balanced on hoofed feet! My ankles seemed just under eighteen inches above the floor, and I must have gained several inches in height (excluding antlers). I let go of the bed, and did not fall over. Then I realized I was hungry. Which presented a problem. The kitchen was downstairs. Well, I've got to walk sometime. Deer are vegetarians, too. And I think there's some green stuff in the 'fridge. I thought.
I probably wasn't as calm as I seemed, but food always seemed to help. So I took a step away from the bed. And tripped when the somewhat pointed tips of my hooves caught on the carpet. I stumbled, and kept myself from falling on my face. I was on my hands and knees, though. Then there was an odd sensation. As I'd fallen my body felt like it was going to do something, but it didn't. My hands had felt stranger than they already did for a fleeting moment, my fingers feeling more stuck together. But it passed.
Slowly, carefully, I stood up again. This time I didn't trip. I just picked my feet up a little more. Their completely different arcs of motion was a bit disturbing, but I tried to focus on what my body was telling me instead of my brain. In a way it helped to block out the sensations from my hearing and nose. Walking the fifteen feet to the top of the stairs was a careful, slow affair. It took me nearly five minutes just to get there, taking shallow breaths the whole time to keep from being overwhelmed by the amazing scents! On top of that, my ears were still rotating every which where, and I really couldn't do anything about it.
But taking shallow breaths was starting to make me feel lightheaded. Not good with my new headgear! And I was about to tackle something that I was really dreading. Stairs.
My new legs looked so fragile and delicate compared to my old legs. My shortened calves and long foot bones didn't have any real muscle on them. But I picked up a... hoof (sheesh). I picked up a hoof experimentally and flexed my foot and toes. What I felt was a movement of muscle in my calves and thigh, but my hoof moved. I also felt a lot of strength in those muscles! So I wasn't as fragile as I seemed to be. "Well, it's down the stairs or starve. If you trip, you trip." I said. I gripped the handrail (only three fingers... double sheesh) and stepped down.
It took me at least five minutes to get down to the landing, right to the window that looked out into a branch of the inner green area. I pulled the curtain away to look.
In one of the trees perched a bird morph. He(?) looked like a cross between a crow and a human. He also had wings on his back. Then he waved at me, and said, "Hey deer! Watch this! I cawwaan fly!" And he leapt off the branch into the air.
I carefully rubbed the velvet on my antlers. I could actually feel my fingers on them, which made sense since I was remembering that it was basically growing bone covered with skin. I was a bit wistful at the sight of his jumping into the air like that. I wish I could do that... but antlers are enough for now, thank you. I thought. The sight also reminded me that I wasn't the only one that this had happened to. Below I saw many others milling around of lots different animal morphs. I saw a squirrel, a ferret, an otter, a bat (with wings), a coyote, a lynx. Wow! Any one transformed to a different degree than the others. I was almost tempted to go down and mix, thought the sight of the coyote gave me that jumpy feeling again. But food was highest on my list anyway.
I heard a "meow" and Cleo suddenly rubbed against my right foot. Cleo was a small cat, but by her meow (to my ears with a lot more nuances than it had before) she was hungry. But as I went down the second flight a scent started to make me nervous again. -whatsthat whatsthat?- The Voice said (though it wasn't actually speaking in words). I began to think I was hearing things. -whatsmell whatsmell?- There it was again! I did my best to ignore it as I reached the bottom step. Then my next challenge. Linoleum.
Oh, it wasn't much linoleum to cross. Only a couple of feet, really. But I had to take a step on it in order to get onto the carpet. I put one hoof on the floor, and heard it click as it made contact. It was very slippery. I put my other hoof on the floor. And stood there shakily facing the hallway. "Well, here goes nothing..." I said, and lifted a hoof.
And my other hoof slipped out from under me, and I fell forward onto the carpet in front of me. My only (odd) thought was that I might damage the antlers! But I really wasn't hurting. Much. Though I knocked my knees on the floor, but that ache disappeared after a moment. Cleo had gone into the kitchen, eating apparently. I could hear her. She must have had a bit of food leftover from the night before. More of that Sheba stuff. But the smell... I heard the Voice again. -whatwhatwhat? Whatsmell? Whatsmell?- I sniffed. Whatever it was, my body started to vibrate strangely. I felt my mind pushing against a barrier of some sort. It was like my mind was in a fog. The only thing I could think of was the oddly disturbing scent. Cleo appeared licking her chops from around the corner.
She came right up to my face and I sniffed her. I was doing little breaths, and I realized I was pulling all the scent information from her that I could. She smelled... wow! I never realized there was that much one could tell from just a smell! She smelled... she smelled. Well, there's really nothing one can compare it so. Suffice to say that she smelled uniquely Cleo. But her breath. Her breath... Though I was overwhelmed by her scent (she was even rubbing against my nose!) I remembered what I fed her last night. Venison.
The sudden urge to run hit me so hard I did not have a chance to stop it! The Voice screamed -Predator!!- and an odd sensation surged through me. As if things weren't odd enough. I'd managed to get up on my hands and knees, then there was a feeling like jumping into cold water. Suddenly, there was a wrench from my pelvis, up my back and chest, even my arms and neck. I did not have time to wonder about it. The Voice took control and I bounded over the cat.
-Trappedtrappedtrapped!!!- It yelled in my head. I couldn't think! The world was spinning around me! I wrecked furniture, shattered potted plants. There was no way out! Cleo ran up the stairs in fright.
After who knows how long, I eventually I regained "consciousness." As the Voice went into the background once more I realized. I was on all fours. I had four hooves. I was a... no way. No way! Being half whitetail was tough enough! But this? I was panting hard and almost panicked. Again! I have no idea why I didn't, but I kept my relative cool. With a bit of reluctance, I turned my head back on my flexible neck to look back at myself.
Sure enough, stretched out behind me was the long, horizontal, furry, back of a normal whitetail. A glance downward and backward revealed what my nerves were telling me. Four cloven hooves. I saw my tail flick a few times, felt it too. I picked my feet up, one at a time. Right hind(!), left hind(!), right fore(!), left fore(!). No way I was seeing (or feeling) things. So I was standing in my living room, broken stuff all around me from my panicked attempt to escape from Cleo. Whom I'd fed... um. Oops.
So, the Voice is my deer instincts. It must have recognized the scent as... what it was and acted like Cleo was a dangerous predator. Though It might have overreacted just a little. Cleo had come back down and was now biting playfully at my right front hoof. 'Dangerous Predator' indeed. Stop it, cat. Those teeth're sharp. I shooed her away with it.
I tired to grunt or something to get her to go away, I was still unwilling to move (much) lest I fall over. What came out was a kind of snort-wheeze that sounded like an airgun going off. But I was finally calming down enough to examine my situation. And then I realized. At least I wasn't losing my mind. Not just yet, at least. But I was still twisting my head around and around, and my ears went every which way. Like I was looking for something. Probably predators. I thought. I realized I was damned hypersensitive to pretty much everything. Great, just what I need.
I knew I was on a verge of another breakdown, and if I thought about what Cleo had eaten (the smell was still in the air, thought not as strong) I'd probably lose it. Okay. I need to calm down. And how do I normally calm down? Music. Enya, I thought. Now came the hard part. Walking.
It actually turned out to come quite naturally. I managed to turn myself around, then put one foot in front of the other. I eventually got in front of the stereo. Great. Now how do I use the remote? I couldn't with my forehooves, so I gently tapped the 'on' button on the unit itself. The DVD was already in the player, so I just as carefully tapped the 'play' button. And I realized what I'd done was a good idea. My nervousness slowly faded to the likes of "No Holly for Miss Quinn" "On My Way Home" and "Smaointe..." It was a totally new experience! Like I'd never heard music before!
A while later I noticed that somehow I'd put myself down on the floor, my legs folded beneath me in an amazing way. I was calm again, almost sleepy in fact. But then I thought; was I going to be stuck like this for the rest of my life? Okay... I might be able to deal with this. But Mom won't be back for quite a while. I thought. Surly not for a couple of weeks, considering. And I didn't have any hands to open the door. But I wondered what she and my sister were now. It was almost frightening. But wait a second. This body felt right for some reason. But it sure as hell did not feel permanent. I was laying my head comfortably on the floor, thinking, when I felt a sort of barrier.
The mental barrier was a little funny. I couldn't really tell what was on the other side, and wasn't inclined to experiment, really. But then the phone rang, nearly starling me out of my skin! It must be Mom! What do I do? I can't even pick up the phone! It rang four times, and the machine answered. "Jon, are you there? Please pick up!" It was my mother's voice. Plainly worried, and it had a yipping quality to it...
My mind was racing! I had to pick up the phone! But... the barrier! Just before I'd lost control I remembered It pushing through it, and the next moment I was on all fours. So, trying to put what may happen out of my mind I jumped in, like jumping into a pool after being in a spa.
Before I knew it my pelvis kinked, swinging my legs around, and I had my hands again. "Jon? Are you there. God, please be there." Without another thought I jumped onto my feet and picked up the phone. "Yeah Mom I'm here!" I yelled.
"You don't have to yell, Jon. My hearing is better than it used to be. But are you okay?"
"Yeah. A little shook up is all. What time is it?" I hadn't checked.
"Just after twelve." I'd been "out" for four hours??? (The last time I'd checked it was about eight) "I called and got the machine twice when I could get through. Where were you?" Worry was plain in her voice.
I looked around at the wrecked room. "I, um... went out for a while. Don't worry, though. I'm fine now. It just took me a while to get to the phone. Too busy staring at myself." I had to hold the phone differently. My ears and mouth were in different places after all, and I had to bend an ear forward for the mouthpiece to be at the corner of my mouth. Then the question I was dreading came.
"Jon, forgive me, but I think you can understand. What do you see when you look in the mirror?" She asked it in a funny way, though. So I answered in kind.
"Well, to put a fine point on it, I see the head of a whitetail staring back. Antlers and all. Mom, I'll put is this way. If you took a deer, stood him on his hind legs, gave him opposable thumbs and a more human torso, you'd have me." I heard a sigh on the other end. "Don't worry mom, I'm fine. But I found out by sitting on this new tail of mine at five this morning."
"Ouch." She said, sympathetic. "I'm... It's hard to say this. I've not changed very much. But I've got a tail too. I think I'm somewhat of a fox. A gray one. And your sister... well. I'll let her speak to you."
I heard her hand over the phone, and a kind of click as the hard plastic knocked against something just as hard. (I wonder...). "Hello, Jon. What did you say you are?" I told her. And she laughed. My sister's always been the accepting type. "Wow. Well... all I'll say is that I can look down at the world from a great height, I have wonderful eyes, and seem to have this incredible craving for fish."
"You're an eagle? Do you have wings?" I really wanted to know. It seemed important.
"Not an eagle. An osprey, I think. Geoff's a cat. I think Calvin influenced his transformation a little." Calvin was my sister's pet cat. Which made me wonder just how exactly species were chosen. There seemed to be really no pattern to it. But an osprey! "I've got wings, too. I've already taken a couple short flights. And would you believe I saw a man who was shooting some kind of beam from his eyes? This beak is hard enough! Looks like we're going to have to deal with strange powers, too. And would you believe Geoff can transform himself too?"
Hmph. I'd believe the first part when I saw it. Though at the moment it wouldn't take much. Then I realized something. "So now I'm the vegetarian and you're the meat eater, huh?" Which reminded me. I was still hungry and wanted something to eat.
"Yeah. Funny, huh. I'm coming down with mom to see you once the roads are clear. I'd better let mom talk to you again. We should clear the line for others. See you later, and try brussel sprouts. They're not bad."
I said a somewhat hard goodbye, and mom came on again. "Before we hang up, Jon. Could you do me one favor?"
"Stay in the house today. Things are horrible in some places, and I don't want your head to end up on someone's wall. And something else. Have you stumbled on any... abilities?"
I decided to lie a little. "Not yet. But I'll try to. Heh. See you later." I hung up before my tears got the better of me. I mean, my mother looks like a fox, my sister a osprey, and her boyfriend a cat. Things had changed. But hadn't changed. To take my mind off I walked into the kitchen, and smelling what was still in Cleo's food dish, I gritted my teeth, picked up the bowl, and washed it out. I scrubbed it until I could smell... it no more and put it back down. Empty and almost scentless except for the plastic. Cleo walked in. Her breath still having that smell on it. "I'm sorry Cleo. But no more of that kind of food for you." I said seriously. Of course she just ignored me, and sat there licking her paws. "Dumb cat. Oops." Remembering what Geoff now was...
I opened the refrigerator and found that there was actually a lot in there. My mom tended towards a veggie eater anyway, and I pulled out some green lettuce. It smelled absolutely mouthwatering. I took a bite, and found it as good as it smelled. I ate the whole thing! Then I started on the spinach that was next... God was I hungry! Each time I'd take out another green thing, I'd sniff if carefully, and then take a bite. If I found it nice I ate some of it. I didn't notice I wasn't even using any bowls. I just ate. Eventually I got full. And frankly there wasn't much left. I was feeling rather tired, too. So I turned around and walked back to the TV.
And then I realized I was walking without trouble. "Wow. How'd that happen?" I said, stepping in place, trying to throw myself off balance (and not succeeding). I decided not to question it and instead turned on the TV. Most stations still were very staticky, other than The News Channel, I only found one local station. The person who came on looked interesting (a bald eagle!) and I carefully sat down in the chair.
The bald eagle morph looked quite disconcerted (if that was possible with that kind of face) sitting (?) in front of the camera. The caption at the bottom of the screen said "Kimberly Moss." It was hard for me to tell she was a she. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen." She said. "It is hard to be on like this. I'm... quite understandably, a bit shocked. I'm sure we all are. There are only a few of us at the station here, and only a couple reporters out in the field. But I think we all need to just sit back and think. It has been an exciting morning, as you all know. All you have to do is look in the mirror.
"I think today should be a day to look back and reflect on things. It seems that Mother Nature is either really mad at us or is rewarding us for our diligence at protecting Her planet. It's hard to tell." She stared at her scaled hands. She did not have wings, though her arms were somewhere in between. "We can only hope that the children will grow up as they are. Though by the look of the station manager's thirteen year old son that may not be the case." She continued, "So, under the circumstances I think you can understand that Channel 8 is going to shut down for the rest of the day. And since this reporter can no longer fit in her car, she is going home another way."
Abruptly she jumped up on the desk, and began to shrink into a normal eagle. She spread her wings, looking fairly majestic I thought, called once, and seemingly at the cue a test pattern appeared on screen. Wow. So I definitely wasn't the only one who could change forms. I smiled in relief. So I was not alone. But then Cleo started to meow. She was hungry. And the only food we had was that kind. I tried to ignore her, and sat in the chair, thinking. Thinking about me.
Okay. What next? I thought. Well, for one thing my stomach felt vaguely upset. Then I realized something. Deer were ruminants. Great. I rubbed the space between my eyes, near my pedicles. God. I guess I have to have breakfast all over again. I thought. So, with a sigh of complete resignation I tensed my diaphragm and with an ease that actually made me feel nauseated, brought up a little wad of lettuce.
To my surprise, it actually tasted good. So I chewed it, swallowed, brought up another and did it again. It was actually quite relaxing, so I didn't stop. I listened to a bit of Sting while I chewed (and wondered what he had become, too). It was maybe 1:30 before I was done and noticed the clock again. Then I noticed that Cleo had actually jumped into my furry lap and had been sleeping there for the past hour. Great. I must have spaced out. Which seemed a bit unusual for a deer... but oh well. She was all stretched out across my... oops.
Funny. I hadn't even noticed I was naked.
And, when I thought about it, I didn't feel naked either. I mean, I had all this hair all over me. I couldn't really see my... ahem... under it. But the thought of even sitting in my own house with no clothes on was a little bit strange. So I got up and went up the stairs back into my room.
Out the window I saw animals... er... people. Still milling about. Things had calmed down, yet in the distance I saw smoke. There was a fire somewhere. A bird morph of some kind (looked like a lark) jumped off one of the balconies and into the air, twittering at the thrill. Then I noticed that there were children, unchanged, with their parents. Some were screaming, others tugging at their parents' tails. In the pool was what had to be a fish morph. He (arbitrarily) did not seem to be enjoying the chlorinated water. I had a sudden urge to go out and join those hoofed mammal morphs I saw out there anyway. I knew mom said not to leave the house, but I felt all cooped up (Thank god I wasn't a rooster morph!) and needed some fresh air in any case. So I took a pair of scissors and some shorts and cut a nice big hole in them. They fit okay, actually. And I put on one of my button shirts, though I didn't button it up all the way (it was a bit hot with my fur). I started to reach for the sock drawer, then I remembered just how silly that would be. So I stopped.
I went to the bathroom to look in the mirror again. And I had to admit, I looked pretty good for not being human anymore! It looked like I was going to be an eight or ten-pointer! Not bad for my first set of antlers! Funny how easily I was beginning to accept that reflection. There was nothing I could do about it, anyway. So I had no choice. I used a comb a bit to straighten my neck and facial hair, stopped myself from reaching for my razor. Not shaving was going to take some getting used to. But then there was a lot of habits I would have to break very soon.
I went back down the stairs and went to open the door. Then Cleo started to meow her hunger again. I sighed. "Okay, Cleo. I'll go buy you some food. I just hope Vons is open." I went for my wallet and keys, and went back to the door. There, I paused.
I stopped just short of turning the doorknob. I was, after all, about to do something that was quite significant. I realized that no one that had known me would recognize me, nor I them. I started feeling quite shaky. Then Cleo meowed plaintively. "Okay, okay. I'm going. Don't rush me!" I opened the door.
Wow! The smells! The amazingly complex smells! Though I didn't know what even a quarter of them actually were, they were all new to me. So I didn't know what was good or bad. Though some of them actually made me nervous, I did my best to ignore it. I opened the screen door and closed the main one behind me, and locked it. Now, in a way, I was committed.
It was fairly quiet compared to earlier. Panic seemed to have given way to normal shock and disbelief. I saw a rodent of some sort and a cocker spaniel morph wandering around aimlessly. Trying to ignore them, I continued to draw in large breaths, my nostrils flaring each time. Wow. The stairs down from my 2nd floor condo were concrete, and even though I could walk now, smooth surfaces were still a problem. I held onto the rail as tight as I could, and reached the bottom in a respectable amount of time. I was even more committed now. I jingled my keys in my pocket and headed for my car.
I walked quickly, my tail flicking around every few steps or so. It was a little embarrassing having a part of my body sticking out of my shorts like that, but only when I thought about it. So I didn't think about it. Things had cleared out, and but just before I got to my car I noticed someone leaning against a tree just in front, eyes closed with a dreamy expression on his face. He looked kinda familiar, in that he was a similar species. Though he wasn't changed quite as much as I was. Then I saw his nostrils pulse once or twice, he opened his eyes, and saw me. "Hey! You're a deer too!" he said, getting up.
I was quite taken aback, and I backed up a bit in fact. But I realized that was possibly a silly thing to do. But I'd felt so cautious at that moment I couldn't help myself. I extended my hand. "Um, hi. It's been quite a day, hasn't it?" I stammered. Dumb question, but...
"Yeah. No kidding." He rubbed the tips of his own antlers. "I know I'm a deer, but I don't quite know what kind. I'm Nick, by the way."
I looked at him critically for a moment. He had a stockier build than I did, was a brown/gray in color. But most of all his ears were huge and his antlers (still covered in velvet like mine) had two main branches, which looked like they would each branch again. My own antlers differed in that they had a single main beam, with tines coming off of that. "I'm Jon, and I think you're a mule deer."
"Nice to meet you. Mule deer, huh? That would explain these monster hearing appendages. But can you believe the smells? I never knew the world was like this! So you can see I'm pretty happy about it. And hey, watch this!" He abruptly let go of my hand, then got down on his hands and knees, seemed to concentrate. In half a moment his body expanded and he was on all fours, a normal mule deer. Then he changed back. "Pretty cool, huh?"
"Um. Yeah." Well, if he could be enthusiastic about it, so could I. Or at least act like I was. "I think I can do that too, but I can't quite figure out how I've been doing it."
"It's really simple," he said. "Just think of jumping through a thin bubble and you'll have it. But I don't think that would be a good idea for you now, since you'd probably rip your clothes." I hadn't realized it, but he was naked. What the hell was wrong with me?? Why wasn't I noticing these things?
"I'm sorry, but I need to go." I said.
"Sure thing. I want go for a run anyway. I've been absolutely itching to try out these hooves!" With that, he changed again and bounded off.
I opened the door to my car, and quickly realized that I was way too tall to fit. I normally have the driver seat all the way back anyway, and... no, it would not work. Instead I reached into my car for a few mircodisks for my walkman that'd I'd brought with me. Lucky I'd found a pair of earphones that didn't need to go around a person's head! The other kind would not have fit. I turned on Enya to keep calm. It worked fairly well.
They say that in California you can't do anything without your car. Even go to a supermarket that was about a quarter mile away (which Vons was). So I was about to do a distinctly non-Southern Californian thing and walk to the market. I just hoped my new legs were up to it. I figured that as long as I was out, I was out and frankly, I thought that if I stayed in the house I'd never leave again.
I'd figured out that if I just let my body do what came naturally, and did not think about it, I could walk pretty well. Just around the corner from the entrance to my condo complex was a freeway bridge, and I stopped to look over the side. The freeway was jammed with cars, and so many different kinds of morph I couldn't even venture to name some. The smells coming off the road from those people was what seemed to be rank frustration, mixed with fear. I easily heard the angry growling voice of some canine, even over the music, so I moved on.
It wasn't far, and I arrived around back. And of course it was closed. "Duh. I shoulda known." I said aloud. "But as long as I'm out I might as well get used to things." I noted a couple of bird morphs in the air above me. And I watched them for a few minutes in fascination. Wishing again that I could do that.
I smelled three people walking up behind me. If I hadn't smelled them first I would have jumped out of my skin, as it was I still did not respond until one tapped me on the shoulder.
Three more hoofed mammal morphs, a horse, a antelope, and a goat. "Hey," the goat said in an almost bleating voice. "We're all going over to Chase Field. You wanna come with?"
The question was rather confusing to say the least. I shook my head. "Why would I want to do that?"
"Oh, we'd heard that there's a lot of other hoofers gathering over there. So we're asking other hoofers like Mich here asked me." He finished, pointing to the antelope.
I appeared to think it over. "Nah. I'd love to but I need to go by cat food. Do you know if Albertson's is open." Albertson's was another supermarket, about a mile away.
"Cat food?" He seemed perplexed by my little errand. But frankly, it was the one bit of normalcy was clinging to. "I think it is, suit yourself. But if you're meat on the table later don't blame me." With that, the three of them changed shape and trotted off.
The sight of those three doing that seemed to indicate that this shapeshift power was going to be very common. And all at once I felt very silly for not thinking of using it to get around more quickly (from what I'd read deer were great runners). But I had all these clothes on. So I decided to return home and figure out a way to carry my wallet without needing to wear shorts. Then I realized that I was actually considering going out in public naked.. And once more it hit me that those three had not been wearing anything either.
So it was the domino effect, really. The whole concept of "modesty" seemed to have gone out the window in a few hours, mostly for practical reasons I was sure. But it didn't seem so embarrassing to think of since many others seemed to be doing the same thing. I'd noted a nuance in that horse morph's scent that could have been slight embarrassment. But all the same I was not about to do anything without going home first.
I pondered trying to use my car again as I walked back. But something had happened in the past half hour or so that seemed to put those plans on an indefinite hold. As I walked into the complex I saw a trail of car parts. Some of which looked a little... no. I started to jog, an actually pretty easy thing to do with my hoofed feet. I came into sight of what was left of my car about a half minute later. It was totaled, but obviously somehow the other car was still operable. "Damn you!!" I yelled at the person, wherever they went. "Well, say hello to the bus," I said to myself, sighing heavily. Then I thought a moment. Nick had run away with incredible speed, and apparent excitement. I sighed again, and went back up to my condo. Careful on the stairs. My ankles were starting to hurt me anyway. And I was thirsty. Thirst. Another thing I was not sure how to take care of. I remembered seeing pictures of animals who looked like me drinking water by dipping their heads down, and apparently slurping it up by putting their mouths in the water. Now, I was not opposed to being a ruminant, but the prospect of doing something like that struck me as going just a little bit overboard. So I tried a glass. And I only managed to spill a quarter of the water down the sides of my muzzle.
The more pressing problem of thirst out of the way, I eventually got around to what I was thinking of doing. I remembered that I had an old belt pack that had a strap that had a fastener. It took me ten minutes of rummaging around in a closet to find it (snagging my antlers, painfully, once in the process, I stopped to make sure they weren't damaged, then continued). Once I found it there was another problem.
I was sure that in my shapeshift my torso would change enough to constrict the strap, and possibly break it. I went to the bathroom to go (a different process that I won't bother explaining) and to think about my predicament. Geez. The things I do for that cat. I thought. I rubbed my neck, and a thought occurred to me. My neck was rather longer than it used to be, I carried my head horizontally, but my neck was connected more or less to the back of my skull. It was practically just a shorter version of the normal whitetail's neck. Which meant, I hoped, that it might not change much.
I left my clothes in the bathroom, and snapped the belt pouch around my neck, making it so it was loose enough, I hoped, for my shapeshift. It rubbed a little uncomfortably, but it wasn't all that annoying through my fur. I decided to take one last look at myself in the mirror. I needed to psyche myself up for what I was planning. I didn't feel like losing it again.
All in all, I decided that I didn't look bad. Overall, I was a rusty red/brown. There was white in my ears, in a ring around each eye, surrounding my nose just behind my nostrils, on my chin and throat. And of course, white on my chest and belly, between my thighs, on my rump, and where it gave my new species its name. I smiled, feeling all at once, perhaps for the first time, comfortable with my appearance. I consciously moved my ears around as a test, sniffed the air a few times, and flicked my tail. Then, in a somewhat serious (yet tongue in cheek manner) I said to my reflection, "You are one sharp buck." Sure, it might sound arrogant. But it was how I really felt at the moment. This was my real body now, and I doubted that it would change again in my life into an entirely different species. Being able to become a normal whitetail was enough, thank you. Besides, I was trying to give myself as much confidence as I could about what I was about to do...
I turned towards the door. I put my hand on the knob, and I stopped, and looked down.
I just had to have one final look. My... ahem... was in some sort of sheath (which had made going to the bathroom an adventure) and there was a lot of hair surrounding that area. Nothing made it stand out, and one would have to look closely to make out anything. Very closely. "Okay, I'm going to do this." I said, attempting to give myself confidence. I opened the door, and went to the front door. There I paused again.
But when I thought about it again, I didn't feel naked. It was a very strange feeling, as if a part of me didn't know (or care) what the word "modesty" meant. And of course that was it. Deer did not wear clothing. And I was one. They were not embarrassed by their "nudity" the concept of that was in fact a human invention. And I was not all that human anymore. Or was I? Cleo started to meow again. I'd have to ponder that question later. I gritted my teeth and opened the door.
I took in a deep breath and all at once my heart dropped into my shoes. For some reason it finally hit me. Things were different. They would be different forevermore. On this day of a miraculous Change, we all became something we did not expect. But that gave us a unique chance to start over. I sighed once in triumph of that realization. The past was past, it was the future that I was about to step into. I opened the screen door.
Not that I wasn't still nervous about being naked, though. I know I was blushing furiously as I went down the steps, one by one. And then I reached the bottom. Okay. Now what do I do? I asked myself. Nick told me to imagine a barrier. That was easy. But in my mind that barrier was a huge black wall extending to infinity in every direction. I pushed a mental "hand" against it experimentally, and found it springy and porous.
When my mental "hands" touched the barrier, my real hands changed. My fingers stuck together, and elongated into forehooves. It was a strangely pleasurable sensation. Like putting one's hands inside comfortable gloves. The sensation drew me in, and I stepped through.
A strange sensation surged through me. My pelvis buckled, throwing my body forward. My chest inflated, my upper arms merging with my barreling chest, my shoulders pushing downward. My back lengthened, and that was it. I was standing on all four hooves, getting used to the different proportions, and sniffing the air.
The first thing I noticed was my vision. I could see few colors, but any little movement caught my eye, and the outlines of things stood out in bold relief. And then there was my nose...
It was only a tiny bit, but my nose was ever so slightly more sensitive. But it meant a world of difference. Especially since my vision had changed. In this form, by far, smell was the most important sense. I attempted to draw in a deep breath... but something was around my neck! -whatwhatwhat??- said the Voice inside me. I shook my head to clear it. Duh. The strap is just a little tight. Now if I could only change back... It didn't take much. I just went through the barrier in the other way, and I was on my hands and knees.
Just then, a car drove up. It was a familiar looking Mazda with a raccoon-man inside. He stopped right beside me while I was messing with the strap. "Going out?" He said.
"I need cat food," I replied.
"Cat food?" Another perplexed look. And smell. It was slightly different than the scent that had come off the goat-man, but it had the same tint. "Well, I just wanted to tell you that I've heard of some strange goings on around town. Stranger than this fur, that is." He looked at his furry forearm. "I've heard rumors of people who've become carnivores eating people. Whoever you are, you're a prey animal now. I know a lot about deer, though. And you seem to have one of those transformation powers that TNC talked about. All I'll say is: pay attention to your senses. Your nose, and your ears, especially. They will tell you everything you need to. You have the advantage of having a brain to go along with your senses. Use it. But is that your building behind you?"
"Yes." Uh oh. That meant he probably knew who I was. With my mother (and all three neighbors) gone...
"You can't be Jon? Can you?"
I started to blush, crossing my legs. "Um... yeah. It's me." I sniffed once. He didn't seem familiar. But then, everything seemed different now that I had a nose to add to my eyesight. But the car he was in looked familiar. "Paul?"
He nodded, and I sniffed once more. And in that moment there was a click in my mind. And I realized that I would forever associate his scent with his face. "Wow. I never knew..." I said quietly.
"Nothing. But I wonder. A friend of mine likes raccoons a lot. I wonder if he's a morph of one now. What does it feel like?" I was a bit curious.
"Well, how does it feel to be part deer? But suffice to say I haven't had any urges to go rummaging around in garbage cans. But it looked to me like you can change forms?"
"Yep. Do you know if Albertson's is open?" I finished playing with the strap.
"I just came from there. I got this incredible craving for shellfish so I had to go. But take my advice. Take the beach route, and avoid Chase Field if you can. It'll take you longer, but like I said. I know a lot about deer. You'll cover the distance in no time." He smiled. With that, he drove away.
I'd loosened the strap just a little, and I hoped it was enough. Then I got on my hands and knees and jumped through the barrier once more. Okay. Now for a walk... I thought. Walking wasn't actually a problem. But I actually went a little bit slow at first, getting used to the four-legged gait of my hoofed feet. There was a click every time I put a hoof down, which took a bit of getting used to. And I really couldn't feel the blacktop underneath. My hooves were fingernails, actually. No feeling in them. Though by the way my toes were being pushed I could distinguish the texture just a little. I walked a little faster, more confidently. Then I came to my car once more.
Looking at it, I sighed. It sounded more like a light snort-wheeze. And them I smelled something familiar, and walked over to where Nick had been sitting.
I smelled him, or what had to be him, around where he had been. His scent was pretty close to my own, considering that he was a close species. There were enough nuances that said "mule deer" in a general way, and "Nick" in a much more specific way. I also stopped to smell the grass next to where he had been. It smelled absolutely great! (And it looked like he'd nibbled on a few blades, too) I took a nibble before I could stop myself, and it actually tasted as good as it smelled. Wow.
I guess I'm a grazer too, then. But maybe later, I thought. Though I was hungry. With a last sniff at where Nick had been, and a last look at my wrecked car, I walked off towards Carlsbad Boulevard, the road that follows the beach, and incidentally goes right past my workplace.
The first thing I noticed, really, was just how nervous I was while in very open spaces. I was also still at a walk because I wasn't sure how to trot or gallop. Add to that I was stopping every hundred feet or so at some sound (which my ears would rotate towards, pinpointing the distance) or something that smelled suspicious or interesting. And there were a lot of those things that smelled that way. A hell of a lot.
Because of my frequent stops, it took me an hour just to go a mile at a walk. There were few people around. But I did learn a lot in that time. I started to make a mental list of what smells (and sounds) belonged with what. Most of all, that there were two kinds of scent. Generic, and Specific.
Generic scents are fairly, well, generic. For instance, this was a distinctly feline smell. Every other feline, whether domestic cat, tiger, lion, or whatever, has that overtone (seemed logical...). Also in the Generic category are smells that say: canine, bird, grass, tree, car, road, house, rodent, etc.. I found that I had what had to be a natural ability to distinguish these general scents without thinking about it. But then there was the next level.
Specific scents actually had three major subdivisions. The first identified the exact species (or item) of the Generic scent. So, Cleo would be Feline: Domestic Cat in my mind. Or in other cases; Feline: Lion, or Canine: Wolf, or Tree: Torrey Pine. Those associations took very little thought to remember. And I found that I could make such associations for about a hundred different things when I sniffed. Then there's the second Specific level.
Put simply, along with the level one Specific that identifies the exact species comes with identifying the exact individual in the species. So it would look something like this; Feline: Domestic Cat: Cleo, or Canine: Gray Fox: Mom, or Tree: Torrey Pine: "tree on Third Street." This way I could tell who was who, and what was what. All without needing to see it. Then there was the final level, and the hardest to interpret for me (at least for now).
Third Level Specific, in my mind, had to do with the physical condition or emotion of the person or whatever I was smelling. Put simply, in my mental listing it looked something like; Feline: Domestic Cat: Cleo: Hungry, or Canine: Gray Fox: Mom: Concern (though I had yet to even smell her). I could easily smell these subtle scents, but at the current time I just did not know what each meant. Everyone is different, after all. And different species. I suspected it would take me years to lean all the nuances. But the thought made me smile.
A whole new world. I thought. I never knew. Now I know what Nick must have discovered. Hearing got a similar mental list, though it tended to lack the Third Level Specific. Which was okay. It was hard enough getting used to their incredible flexibility.
Along the road, just between it and the sidewalk that is at the top of a short cliff behind the beach, is a nice grassy area. Along the pathway I saw a lot of people (I had to convince myself they were not animals). Most were still dazed, wandering around aimlessly. Some staring at me in fear, amazement, or a knowing smirk. After all, here I was hoofing it down the street with a belt pack around my neck, and probably acting very strange for someone who looked like a normal deer.
I started making my mental listings as I walked down the street on the grass. Correlating what I saw with what I smelled. Canine: Spaniel, Feline: Lynx, Bird: Sparrow. It only went to level one Specific since I didn't know anyone personally. I got very focused on it, and as I walked along I started to not bother to look, instead the grass was looking more and more appetizing... So eventually I broke down and took a bite.
It was a little bitter, but all they use to fertilize is some sort of organic stuff (manure, probably) so taking a bite wouldn't kill me. But once I got over the bitterness it actually tasted quite good. So I decided to rest my legs a little and, without thinking about it really, dropped my head and started to graze.
-Hungry- the voice said in my head. I agreed wholeheartedly. I didn't even think that what I was doing might be a little bit strange. It felt so natural that I just decided to go with it. Every once in a while I'd stop at some sound, some smell wafting from somewhere. The sidewalk had cleared and the road was empty now. Apparently everyone except me had gotten to where they were going. I probably grazed for about a half hour before I was sated. But just as I was finishing up (going through my mental catalog in the process) a familiar scent reached my nostrils.
I quickly realized that no one could ever sneak up on me again. If I didn't smell them I'd hear them. And if not hearing my field of view (about 270 degrees) was so wide I didn't even have to raise my head to see things. The breeze was from the south, and at the scent I looked towards the mule deer I saw running in my direction about a quarter mile away. I didn't think to change myself back for some reason. It was a very strange feeling. And as Nick got closer I think he felt it too.
It almost felt like I was pushed a little bit to the side, almost like one of those dreams where you know what's happening in reality but can't do anything about it. He came up to me so we were standing nose to nose. But there was only one thought from the Voice. -herdmate... herd-brother- It said. Whoa. I think Nick was just as spaced out.
For a moment we just looked at each other. Even though he was a different species, I now saw Nick as a kind of friend. Though perhaps that wasn't quite the right word. We sniffed each other just a little around the head and neck, fixing our scents in our minds. I was still in that semi-conscious state. Then abruptly it ended, and I changed back, falling to the ground in a daze and perhaps a little lightheaded.
"What the hell just happened?" Nick said, just as stunned as I was. Perhaps more.
"I don't know. And I really couldn't guess. I just wish the world would stop spinning..."
"You and me both, brother. Brother?"
I was coming to realize that whatever had happened, I now thought of him in the same way. I rubbed what forehead I had, more than stunned at that. "I don't believe this. On top of everything else... but for some reason it doesn't seem bad, my bro... um. Friend."
"No kidding." He smiled.
"Where did you run off to, out of curiosity?"
"Del Mar. Only about twenty miles there and back. I'm hardly tired, though. But right now this grass smells terrific. You don't mind if I graze a bit, do you?" He'd obviously done it at least once before.
"No. But if you want to meet me at the fountain in the Village Faire shopping center in about a half hour I'll wait for you. Besides, if you've felt what I've felt periodically it might not be a bad idea to team up." Off and on, ever since leaving the house, I'd had the uncomfortable sensation of being watched. Stalked, perhaps. Like I was being hunted, really. I tried not to think about it, but it was always in the back of my mind... And perhaps it always would be, considering what I was. So maybe I was just paranoid.
Which incidentally made me wonder if Brian was ever going to finish that story now.
I changed again, and with a bit more confidence than before, broke into an easy trot (it came rather more naturally than I thought). My morning meal had made me very energetic, and after I got used to the trot I tried a canter. That felt good... though not as good at it could be. So I galloped, though I almost tripped over my hooves once. But after that it was great! Ya-HOO!! I yelled to myself, jumping as high and far as I could (which was... quite far indeed). The physical effort gave me a natural high! But I came up on the shopping center where I work all too quickly. No matter, I thought, I can run all the way home.
I had to cross the street, but even though things were fairly quiet I changed back to my more human self to cross that way. I thought that crossing my normal whitetail shape might get me "caught in the headlights." Something I didn't want to experience...
I had to cross two times, because the center was on the opposite diagonal corner from where I was. While crossing the second time I noted some activity in the store... it almost looked like... A sleek black-furred figure was carrying a computer monitor out of the door. A looter! I've got to stop him... her. Whatever. I ran for the person. "What are you doing!! Put that back!!" I yelled.
Then I noticed his scent. It was basically Pinniped: Sea Lion (I'd seen one down below on the beach, and smelled what might have been him. Smelling this one confirmed it.) But it also had an eerie ring of familiarity to it... He was looking at me, he seemed to be thinking hard. "Do I know you?" He asked, his voice somewhat familiar.
"I work here!! Put that back!!" I said strongly.
"Work here? Jon?" He seemed surprised.
"Yes... that's me. How do you know my name?" Could he be a regular customer? If he was than I must have been a poor judge of character. But once I looked at the door it looked to be unlocked, not broken into. The gate within, too. Which could mean...
"It's me, Jon. Marcus. You know, the manager. The son of the owner. Don's a bit out of it right now so we're closing up until things return to some kind of normalcy."
"I'm not sure I believe you..." But there was a scent coming off of him that absolutely rung truth. Wow. "Never mind. What is your father, by the way?"
"A cockatoo. No wings, but he has another way to fly. I just spoke with him. But you're a deer, huh?"
I looked at myself, suddenly self conscious again. "Yep, whitetail. Sat on it this morning, in fact. My tail, I mean."
He laughed, sounding a lot like a sea lion bark while doing it. "Well, I went out early to do some bodyboarding. But I didn't even notice I was any different until I got back onshore, looking like I do now. I was having so much fun I can't even say... which is why I didn't panic, I guess. It's not so bad. I like it. I only got here a few minutes ago, in fact. You can imagine what I was doing..." He blushed a bit.
His hands and feet were flipper-like, but he was still basically human-shaped. His fur was slick looking and he was so streamlined he looked like he was still wearing his wetsuit. "Oh, don't worry about it. I was just trotting around myself." And still panting from my exertions. I guess I had no sweat glands, so I panted. I smelled Nick (heard his hooves, too) walk up a moment later. Here came that strange feeling again. -herdmate- The Voice said. Oh, shut up. I told It. Though for some reason I really didn't feel like resisting.
"Who's your friend?" Marcus said.
"Oh. This is Nick. Met him this morning and we're already friends."
"I can see why. But if you two want to just go and talk somewhere, Vinaka is open. I was going to go up there myself, but I've got to get this stuff back home. So I guess I'll see you later? I'll call when the phones clear a little. Don't worry, we'll pay you for your lost time."
"Sure thing, see you later." Vinaka was the coffee shop in the center. Nice place, with the eclectic style those places have. Nick and I carefully went up the stairs, and found the place crowded. Very crowded. Though not so much that we couldn't get into a line to order something to drink. We both got a fruit drink, not sure if caffeine would be a good idea.
The shifting smells were nearly too much for us, which is why it wasn't as crowded at it could have been. But the atmosphere of the place. There was no fear at all in the air. And there was a lot more mixing between wildly different species than I would have thought. I saw a hawk-morph talking with a rabbit-morph. A lion with a sheep (some sort of heated religious discussion), a lizard with a kangaroo, and a wolf with a deer morph (another whitetail, in fact).
Nick smiled over his Snapple, looking at the crowd. "This is great, isn't it?" He took another deep breath.
"Yeah. I'm glad I went out now. But what about us? This is way too weird to be a coincidence. I'm not gay..."
"Neither am I. I was going to go out on date tonight. But I've not heard from my girlfriend today. Frankly, I'm a bit worried. But anyway, for some odd reason you feel like a family member. I didn't know that deer herds were that bound together."
I took a sniff, then a sip of my kiwi-strawberry drink. "Neither did I. Huh. Looks like we're going to have a while to figure this out, though. Considering..." The wolf tapped me on the shoulder (of course I knew he was coming, but for some odd reason I knew he meant me no harm). I turned around. "Yes?"
"I've got a very depressed friend back here," he said. "And I'd appreciate it if you could talk with him. But I think I should tell you that he spent fifteen years hunting deer, and now... Well, you can see him. As for why he's depressed. I'm not sure. He loves deer, and now he is one. I just think he needs companionship from someone who's the same species."
I looked at the man out of the corner of my eye. He was changed very little. Unlike me, he had an actual forehead, he still had his hair (the same rusty color as the rest of him) with his antlers sticking out from there, his muzzle was shorter, and he had almost human-normal hands (Though the nails were thicker and jet black). His feet were not as extreme as mine were (The ankle not as high), his antlers looked smaller at the base. But he still had a coloration similar to me, and the distinctive white-underneath tail that was stuck through a hole in the shorts he was wearing. "I'm Jon," I said, extending a hand.
His scent, when matched with his expression, was definitely depression. Or confusion. He shook my hand. "Charles." He said with a sigh, focusing on his drink. He looked up, and it seemed he saw me and Nick for the first time. His face brightened, "Hey! You're both deer too! I was beginning to think I was the only one around here. So that's what I smelled..."
"Smelled what?" Nick said.
"Well, when you to walked in (I guess) I felt really strange momentarily. I think I spaced out a moment. But I feel like I know you guys. It's very strange."
All at once Nick and I felt it, too. Though it wasn't nearly as much of a shock. Probably because were weren't both in our normal animal shapes at the moment. And Nick wasn't the same species. "Um, yeah." I said. "But why so glum?"
"I'm a bit confused by all this. I'm sure everyone is, but I hunted deer for years. Now I look like one. I don't know if I'm being punished or rewarded. I did some things I'm not proud of over the years, so this might be a punishment. But I just don't know..."
"Why would it be a punishment?" Nick asked. "Personally, I think it's Nature's way of brining us closer to Her."
Of course, from there I had to say something. That started a pretty long conversation, and not just among ourselves; but with the diverse others in the shop. The coffee shop seemed to be a gathering place of sorts for everyone of every kind. Birds, canines, reptiles, even a fish or dolphin morph or two. The diversity made the landscape of odors most intoxicating. Most of the time the conversation was about the obvious subject. Why did this happen? And how do we deal with it? I rotated my ears all over, trying to follow lots of conversations at once, and if valid bringing a point up that I'd heard in another corner of the room. Nick and Charles did the same thing, I noticed.
Conversation died down when the rat woman (I've never seen anyone happier to be a rat in my life!) behind the counter announced, "Everyone! Take a look at the TV!" We all looked.
TNC was in Calcutta, India. On the screen was a man who looked like a tiger, and a reporter who looked like a mouse. "And you say you know what caused this... Change?" the reporter said.
"Oh, yes. And I think I know how to reverse it, too. The Indian government has been good enough to fund my experiments. They've been quite... helpful." The tiger-man had an insane look in his eyes. I immediately felt vaguely nervous about him.
"Well, considering the money they're giving you they'll have your stripes if you don't." Apparently that was meant as a joke of some sort. The tiger-man laughed a sadistic laugh that sent shivers up my spine. And I wasn't the only one.
"Something tells me that man is lying through his fangs." Charles said. I felt similarly, but much stronger. But there was no keeping it to myself. "Something wrong, Jon?" Damn. I must have smelled uneasy.
"Well... for one that guy gives me a really bad feeling about what's going to happen to that country. And two, do you realize that we all barely know each other, yet we've been talking like we've been friends for years?"
"You know you're right..." Nick said. "But geez, Jon. Look at us. We're different now. We might not have altered much on the inside, but the outside is all changed. And we've got instinctual baggage to go with these new forms. For an hour now I've suspected that what we all feel for each other is a kind of herd-bond. A brotherhood if you will. I can't really put it to words. And I'm sure you two can't either. But it's there." He looked at his drink. "But for some reason I don't mind too much. I'm an only child, and my parents live on the east coast. And I'm really scared for them. And frankly, I've needed someone to talk to."
I could understand where he was coming from. I felt like he did at the moment, too. My mother was 1200 miles away, so was my sister. And I had two friends I was really wondering about. At the moment my thoughts drifted far north to Canada, and a little closer to San Luis Obisbo. "Damn. I hope my friends and family are okay." Which incidentally made me think. Cleo was still at home, and hungry. I'd gotten so embroiled in my conversation that I didn't notice how much time had passed. "Guys, I hate to say this. But I've gotta go buy cat food."
"Cat food?" They both said simultaneously.
"Yeah. The only kind back at my condo is ve... veni... God." I gritted my teeth. "Venison." You have no idea how hard it was for me to say that word. But at least I did it without gagging.
"Oh," Nick said. "No wonder you can't say it. I have a bit of trouble myself. Do you want me to come with you? We are a team, after all." He smiled.
"Sure thing. Charles?"
"I'll stay here a while longer, I think. Besides, I can't change my form like you two can. Heh. But if you each give me your names and addresses I'll be glad to contact you later."
My altered hands made my handwriting nearly illegible. But it had never been all that legible anyway. Nick's was in similar condition. We both shook hands with Charles and left the shop, the whole place still abuzz with what that tiger-man had said.
"Still skeptical about that guy on TV?" Nick asked while we were going down some stairs.
"Yeah. I'm sure that he's a fake, and he'll be bounced out of a job when he's discovered. But enough gloomy thoughts. How about a trot?" I said, smirking.
"Sure thing." He replied. But neither of us did. Almost as soon as we left the area around the center we somehow clicked into a "cautious movement" mode. Probably due to the fact that the empty street looked—and felt—eerie, and the dead quiet sent shivers up my spine. My instinctual Voice was saying quietly to me, -carefulwatch... carefulwatch... stop... looksnifflisten... go...- and I would, though I tried to resist it. But for some reason it made too much sense. We were about a half mile up the street, each of us scanning with all our senses for something we both knew was out there.
We moved the way our instincts were telling us, which was exactly what my instincts were telling me. We'd both find a nice piece of cover, look at the empty street (Grand Avenue, a street parallel to Carlsbad Village Drive, where the supermarket was located on. It had a nice area of soft grass, which was easier on our hooves.) sniff a little, do a full ear rotation. And if we found nothing amiss one of use would sprint to the next location, then the other would follow. Then we'd begin again.
After a while it almost became a sort of game, though the caution was still there, we'd managed to push it into the background. It was actually kind of fun doing it! We were learning the limits of our fully changed bodies in the process, and our senses as well. Nick and I didn't even really need words to communicate either. When one knew it was safe to move on a tail flick was enough of a signal, and I was next to Nick (or he next to me) before I knew it.
It continued to be a game until, while I was scanning to make my next sprint for cover, I felt a sort of chill wash over me. It wasn't exactly a smell, nor a sound, but something else. A sense of foreboding that was hard to shake. Nick felt it too, apparently. I changed to my morphic shape. "You felt it too?" I asked. He didn't change back at all, just continued to scan. His eyes almost glazed over. "Nick?"
He only then seemed to notice me, and he almost bolted! Like he didn't know who I was! Then his eyes cleared, and he shook his head and changed forms. "Yeah, I felt it. Like someone stepping on your grave. Damn! that compulsion to run almost got the better of me. I don't know if I can resist it again." His face was grim. Only then I noticed just how hard the two of us were panting. Whatever it was, it was out there. Perhaps out to get us.
We heard a car coming down the street, and I smelled canine, though it had a lot of what was appeared to be human-scent. Both of us turned to see a police cruiser with a man who looked a little bit like a German Shepherd inside. He was changed very little, looking merely unshaven, with furry-looking hair, pointed ears, and claw-like fingernails. But that practically was the extent of it. "You two okay?" He said, sniffing like we still were.
"I don't know," I said, matter-of-factly. "Ever have one of those feelings?"
"What kind of feelings? It's been a strange day, son. I've seen stuff today that would make your fur stand on end, though nothing that's broken the law yet. Do you want a ride?"
Nick and I looked at each other. We agreed silently (I swear we smelled it between us!). And wedged ourselves inside, very careful of our antlers (hmm... perhaps I'd look into calcium supplements. Might help them grow right).
"I'm Mike Fleming, German Shepherd. A little bit." the dog-man said, grinning a little like dogs do (he actually had a short snout, which kept it from looking silly).
"Jon Sleeper. Whitetail deer, mostly. And that's Nick... um..."
"Nick Cummings. Mule deer, about middling. Thanks for the ride."
"Sure thing. The force is a little thin right now, unfortunately. Most deserted their posts. Can't blame them. Almost did myself. I talked to my wife, she's a goat of some sort now. Wow." He looked at his own hands. Everyone seemed to be doing that lately. Than again, considering... "But I'd never have guessed I'd be my own K-9 unit!" He bark-laughed. "Where were you two headed?"
"Albertson's. I need cat food."
"God! Will everyone please stop repeating what I say?! Yes, I need cat food. The only thing I have to feed her is stuff that's a too uncomfortable for me to give her! Geez!"
"Oh, hey. I was heading that direction anyway. I need to check on Chase Field. Where do you two live? I'll take you to the market, then home."
Home sounded good. Nick and I lived in the same complex, and the route home went by Chase Field anyway. Inside the cruiser Nick and I felt a whole lot safer, though the feeling of being watched was still there, there was a feeling of frustration behind it that satisfied the both of us. But then something happened that put my plans on hold... "Braak! Ahem! Attention all units. You are instructed to deputize who you can and head over to Chase Field. We've got a stampede brewing! You heard me, a stampede. We need all the able-bodied people you can find to help contain it." The voice sounded almost parrotish.
"Oh, God." Mike said. "Anything but this! Guys, I'm afraid I'll have to draft you two."
"What? I'm not cut out for policework!" Nick said, something I echoed.
"Well, if you don't I'll have to bring you in. Failing to obey an officer in this kind of situation is punishable by law. You won't have to do much, I suspect. Just stay in the car until I tell you to get out. Now, let's get going." There was really nothing Nick and I could do about it, he gunned it and the souped up gas turbine of the police car whined so loudly it hurt our ears. "Carlsbad Baker-six responding, I've got two bodies on board." He said into the radio.
I was scrunched into the front seat, my legs against my chest so I could slouch to keep from damaging my antlers. Nick was sitting sideways on the hard plastic back seat, he couldn't sit on the floor because of his tail. Both of us had to twist our necks uncomfortably to avoid damaging our growing headgear. Then Mike turned on the siren. "Damn, that hurts my ears!" I yelled above it. Mike seemed none to comfortable with it himself. Chase Field was very close, and we were there in no time.
He turned to the both of us. "I'll say this only once. Don't get out of the car unless I tell you to. Get it? This situation is tense enough. But you both seem to have level heads." Yeah, I had no forehead anymore. "So just wait here." And then he opened the door, and it hit us.
The scent could only be one thing. Fear. I wasn't able to look out the window I was ducking so much, but Nick said nervously, "there's got to be a thousand ani... uh... people out there!"
Mike had gotten out and I was able to move into the driver seat, somewhat. So I could see out. The fear-smell was incredible, and so was the sight out the window.
Apparently some people who'd become herd animals were not resisting acting as such. They were rather tightly wound, too, by the anxiety in their body language. Mike and a couple other officers were out there just to make sure things stayed peaceful. I heard Mike talking to another officer who looked like a cougar. "Why did you say they looked like they were going to stampede, Dave? They look calm enough to me."
"Obviously your nose isn't much stronger than it used to be. Just a few minutes ago they were on the verge of panic. I felt something ghosting about here. But considering how strange this day's been I can't say what it was. But it was like it was prodding these people into panic."
Prodding? I wondered. The smell-of-fear was very strong. I was in my scanning mode, and I felt my tail move from side to side, on the verge of springing up into that flag that most deer watchers know so well. I looked into the back at Nick. Apparently he was more affected by the smell and the feeling of being watched, something that had returned into my perception.
Strangely enough, there didn't seem to be any chatter of conversation that I expected. Only deadly quiet, broken by the occasional radio reports spoken by the parrot-voiced dispatcher. Neither Nick nor I felt any inclination to leave the cruiser, we felt safe here. But when I looked at him, I could see the whites around his eyes.
And I saw the whites around my own eyes when I looked in the mirror. My heart was pounding, my muscles tensed and ready to move. How I stopped myself from running off was beyond me.
It started to get dark, the beginnings of what would be a beautiful sunset I was sure began to appear in the sky to the west. Twilight. It didn't seem quite as dark as it would have when I was fully human, but the reducing light suddenly made my other senses more important. It was still deathly quiet, but somewhere close I heard a tick-tick-tick-tick of a watch. My ears swung nearly all the way backward, surprising me again with their flexibility. Along with the ticking came that sense of being watched again. The "herd" seemed to feel it, too. And the environment was rapidly driving things towards a climax I knew would come very soon. To break the tension, Nick said "If I stay like this much longer I'm going to have one monster crick in my neck!"
I already did, but I was still too scared to say anything. I took off my neck pack.
It happened when two canine-morphs showed up. The presence of Mike and the cougar-morph officer was making things tense enough. When those two arrived on the scene, apparently oblivious to what was actually happening. The next thing I heard was the cougar yelling (nearly in a cougar-scream, in fact) "Put that gun down!" Nick and I immediately perked up at that, and looked in the officer's direction. The tension grew.
One of the people who was now a goat morph (looked like the same one I'd seen earlier in the day) was pointing a revolver at the canines, who looked very surprised. "Get away from here!!" the goat-man said, apparently not noticing what the policeman said. But he was obviously fearing for his life. The smell-of-fear doubled, it came off the "herd" in waves. At that calculated moment, the chill washed over Nick and I once more.
Apparently it was too much for him. "I'm going... I'm going! I c-c-can't stay anymore! It's too much!!" he said, fear plain in his voice. He opened the door and crawled out. It was then that two things happened.
The first was the wave of danger washed over the herd. Already at the breaking point, the whole herd broke and ran. A good half of them changed shape into the normal animals they now resembled, with the rest just running. There was a thunder of hooves. "Jon, Nick! Get out here now!" Mike said forcefully. "I don't know if you can do anything, but get out of the car!" Nick was already out, and gabbering incoherently, his hands pulsing between forehooves and hoof-hands. His eyes somewhat glazed over. Mike turned his attentions back to the stampede. Just then, the other shoe dropped.
Even over the noise of the stampede I heard it. Tick-tick-tick-tick. Someone's expensive watch. It was very close. I had slid myself out of the passenger door, and was leaning against it while sitting uncomfortably on my tail. In the dimming light I saw a distortion. Like a slight refraction of hot air. Then it happened. The distortion started to wave and pulse. And between one moment and the next a man was standing about fifteen feet in front of the both of us. Mike didn't notice.
But what most stuck out about the man is that he looked totally and completely human. Though there was something in his scent that was a bit funny... or... "Well now," he said in a cold voice. "It's been a good hunt. But I've played with you two animals for long enough. I think it's time to end it."
"Who are you?!" I said, scared out of my wits. Though I still didn't run for some odd reason...
"I don't talk to animals. God has chosen me to be the only adult human left. I will raise the children. He has chosen me to lead the world into the new millennium! He has given me these powers so I may better do His work! To hunt!" He was clearly insane. Because when I thought about it, the scent I was finally able to categorize matched to Feline: Lion. It was only a scent, too. And if I didn't have any better senses I'd think he wasn't changed at all. Clearly he didn't think he was. But it was there. He had a rifle strapped on his back, and a holster with a large handgun in it. I was still rather frozen to the ground, Mike was preoccupied, and Nick was about to bolt...
The madman looked at Nick, and undid the high-powered rifle he had on his back, and pointed it at Nick. Almost point-blank. "No!" I yelled. But something funny happened a split second before he pulled the trigger. Nick had changed to normal mule deer, his eyes nearly as glazed over with instinct as they had been earlier. The insane man's finger twitched... and Nick was suddenly gone in a streak of light and a thunderclap. It sounded almost like the Enterprise going to warp speed in Star Trek. There was a blam! and a ricochet off the metal of the cruiser. "What th...?!" the madman said, very surprised.
Only then did Mike notice what was happening behind him. The stampede had finally moved on, Nick had done whatever he did the opposite direction, northward. Mike reacted fast, pulling his gun and yelling, "Police! Put the gun down! Right now!!"
The madman just looked at him. "I don't obey dogs. They obey me. If they don't, then..." With lightening quickness he pulled a handgun and shot Mike in the shoulder. He yelped and fell onto the ground behind the cruiser.
Unfortunately the cougar-officer had left during the stampede to follow. So it was only Mike, me, and that madman in the area at the moment. But I didn't run. For all my instincts were screaming at me to do so, I sat there. I was shaking in fright, but a part of me didn't want to give in to the animal and do what deer do best. Run.
But I still didn't feel like getting shot. I heard a whining, like a dog would do, and a door open. The madman could look inside the car where he was, he apparently saw something. With another bit of speed he shot at something inside the car. I heard another yelp, and a sparking noise. "Bad! Bad dog!" the man said. "You won't call anyone for help. I feel like venison tonight, and I'm going to get it no matter what."
Venison? Oh no... I thought. The three shots right above my head did something strange. I thought at first he was going to shoot me and it'd be over. But at the third shot something went click in my mind. Then my antlers felt odd. They tingled. That distracted me from my fate a moment to ask. "Why are you doing this? You're not human."
"Shut up! Dinner. Of course I'm human! None of you are because the Lord has seen the falsehood in your hearts! The treehuggers have had their way too long!" And more incoherent jabber followed. His scent was definitely lion. No question. I smelled lion-scent long enough in the in the coffee shop to know what it smelled like.
"But you're not human..." But saying it again seemed to push him over the edge. I'd almost forgotten he even had a gun (a symptom of desperate hope, probably). He stepped back, took out the rifle and pointed it at me... I shut my eyes tightly, expecting the end. I wonder how my head will look on his wall... I thought. I heard him pull the trigger, there was a BANG. But nothing hit me. Though I did feel a light tap on my chest... And my antlers tingled more. I opened my eyes.
"What the hell?" the madman was saying. He cocked his gun again, and fired. This time I didn't close my eyes. There was another tap on my chest, and I heard a clink of something metal hitting the ground near my legs, which were folded underneath me. I was sitting on my knees, covering my head with my arms. He drew his hangun (it had a huge clip), and fired right at me... And then I noticed it.
Surrounding me was some kind of layered forcefield, invisible except when the bullets were hitting it. A bullet would hit it, and slow down; as it contacted each layer slow down even more. Where the bullet was contacting the shield there was a small red red-glowing dent in the shield. The layer would heal itself once the it passed. The bullet could penetrate, but by the time it got to my skin all it did was tap lightly. But I felt an increasingly odd sensation in my antlers.
I heard a whining again, and looking over my shoulder, I saw Mike weakly pointing his gun at the madman. "Fr-eeze! Or I'll shoot!" He said, his voice still strong. He was clutching at his shoulder with his other hand. It was obviously shot through. He looked very weak.
The madman (lion, really) looked at me. "Well, no matter. I'll just put your doggy friend here out of his miserly like the mutt he is and then I'll take care of you later when your guard is down."
Then I realized that this was the source of my uneasy feelings. He just didn't want to do anything while there were too many people around. He pointed his handgun at Mike, who was obviously too weak to pull his own trigger.
My instincts were still screaming at me to -runrunrun!!! gogogo!!!- But with the realization that he couldn't hurt me made me rebound into doing something that would seem quite opposite from my species. I felt I had to balance the instinctual fear with something. I felt an incredible force building in my antlers. I saw a dim yellow light in the darkening area. Even though Mike was looking death in the face, he still took the time to say to me, a bit dazed. "Did you know your antlers are glowing?? Funny. I wonder if you have one of those powers I've heard about..." He started to slide down the other side of the cruiser.
"Good bye, mutt." Said the madman.
All at once there was another click in my head. Glowing? I wonder... The kinetic force from those bullets had gone somewhere. I wondered... with a thought the tingle and glow moved down my antlers, down my shoulder, and onto my hand, which was now surrounded by a nimbus of yellow light. The madman moved to pull the trigger... And I acted. "NO!!!" I yelled, making a throwing motion with my arm.
A glowing yellow ball, moving incredibly fast, leapt from my fingertips and hit the madman right in the chest, knocking the wind from him. He staggered back, dropping his gun in the process. I stood up, feeling angry as hell and not a little bit cocky. Mike had risked his life for me, and hell if I was going to let him die! Especially since I seemed immune to bullets... My fear gave way to rampant courage. It came upon me in a flood, and I wasn't afraid anymore. "Get away from him!" I said, feeling very giddy, yet there was fire in my voice. He seemed surprised. "What? A deer can't be angry? Can't fight back?"
He backed up and picked up his gun. He then proceeded to empty it, all ten shots that were left, right into me. But of course it didn't work. I brushed them off like I would a fly. My antlers started to tingle and glow again, this time a green instead of yellow. I felt even more force in them than before. I did a transfer to my hands. I grinned evilly, and heard a siren coming. Now it was the madman's time to feel afraid. I couldn't resist taunting him. I held up a glowing fist. "Come get some," I said. Then I laughed maniacally.
He just disappeared. "Try to get me now!" he said. The police cruiser, with the cougar in it, drove up. But I paid no attention, except to tell the officer to be quiet and go help Mike. He just looked at me while I quickly filled him in. But after that the only sounds were Mike's groans and the radio blaring that an ambulance was on the way.
The feeling was still there. He might have some sort of self-cloaking ability, but to my senses, now that I had his scent and the tick of his watch I knew I could find him. But only in my normal deer shape. "He's still around, I have to bring him in," I said to Dave. We were right next to Mike, giving him first aid.
He was about to protest, but Mike said weakly, "Let him, he can handle it. I'm fine. Get him before he kills someone!" And he wheezed in pain. Dave nodded, and I immediately changed forms and walked off a ways and focused.
What I'd discovered throughout the day was a tendency to focus on the input from a single sense, depending on a situation. The light wasn't too dim, and I could see. It was just all in black and white, looking almost surreal. But neither sight, nor smell, nor sound alone was going to help me find him. But an idea formed. One that would require me to correlate everything from every sense, something my instincts alone couldn't do by themselves. So, in effect, I'd have to act like a sentient whitetail. I cleared my mind and took a sniff.
The lion-scent lead south. His stealth ability didn't include masking out odor, it seemed. Staying in the shadows, keeping under cover, my hunch paid off. In the distance, he seemed to be running, I heard a tick-tick-tick-tick of a watch. When I carefully sprinted closer I heard the puffing of his breath. And, in a daring move, I ran ahead of him on a parallel street, just making out the distortion of his cloaking power.
I got far enough ahead of him, changed forms, hid in a bush. The bush was just thick enough to hide my glowing hands, which I'd cupped together. Ryu, eat your heart out! I thought to myself. What I was about to do required using all my senses in concert.
The first thing I sensed was his odor of sweat. Lock one. Then the puffing of his running. Lock two. (my hypersensitivity was paying off!). Then, the sight of the distortion. Lock three. No way I could miss him now. He got within twenty feet, and I chose that moment to stand up. "Tag!!! You're It!!" I yelled, feeling a need to say something. I pulled back, just like Ryu in SF Alpha (I play those games way too much) and fired.
He'd stopped and tried to run in another direction, but not fast enough. The glowing green ball hit him square in the back, apparently with a lot more energy than the orange one I'd surprised him with. It blasted him right out of his cloak. He was thrown twenty feet, across the road, right into a concrete block fence. Knocking him out cold.
All at once the adrenaline rush never knew I had ended, and I started panting like mad. A police car came up a few minutes later to clean things up. "That's... that's our man." I said through my pant. It was Dave in the car.
"I can see that, he matches Mike's description." Said Dave. Yet another police car drove up, and a woman who looked like an otter got out to bring the unconscious madman in. "Look, it's been a tough day for all of us. How about I take you home and we'll take statements in the morning? Mitzi there will take care of things." She already had the cuffs on him, in fact. Another ambulance had come up and some paramedics (I couldn't tell their species) got out.
"I thought you'd never ask. But call me anytime if you have any news about Mike." I carefully got into the back seat, and gave directions. "How is he, by the way?" I was very worried about him.
"Fine. The meds said he'll live. Though how he survived a collapsed lung that bad they have no idea. Just give me your number and I'll call you. In fact, in light of that power of yours, we'll be in contact for other reasons, too."
I did that, and a few minutes later I was home. It was still early, but I was so tired I just couldn't stay awake, so I ignored Cleo's meowings and went up to my room. But one minor problem...
Just how was I supposed to sleep? Any normal position would knock my antlers against the headboard. But then I had an idea, and changed forms. I folded my legs underneath me, and laid my head on the mattress. It proved very comfortable, and with one last troubled thought about Mike (and Nick, I wondered where he'd warped off to...) I fell asleep...
A light stroking on my shoulders woke me up. I opened my eyes to a familiar-looking (and oddly, smelling) fox woman. "I'm sorry, Jon. Did I wake you up? You looked so peaceful sleeping there like that... I guess you can shape change..."
I tried to say "mom" but I couldn't talk at the moment. And I was still somewhat half-asleep. How could she be here? I'd only just... out of the corner of my eye I saw the clock. It said 1:00. I'd slept into the afternoon. And I was also becoming aware of an uncomfortable stomach. And I realized I still had unchewed cud from yesterday. I woke up more, and unconsciously brought up a bit. I started to slide off the bed onto my four hooves.
Mom was sitting on my computer chair right beside my bed. Apparently she'd been sitting there, just looking at me (and stroking me around my shoulders). Perhaps unsure that the deer on the bed was me at first, but now her fox-like face seemed happier. She really wasn't changed very much, just a short muzzle, furry, with the flaring fox tail (I assumed). I could make out her old features in her new, and her smell... wow. It was this feeling of familiarity and love that made me very happy for my new senses.
I stood there and stretched a little, one long leg at a time, getting the stiffness out of my neck (apparently I didn't move throughout the whole time I was asleep). But mom was still looking at me, seemingly still unsure that I was who she hoped I was. Then I realized that I couldn't speak to her like this, so I pushed myself up on my hind legs and changed back to morph. My first question was, "Just how did you get here?"
She fox-grinned. "Well, we couldn't wait. The three of us hopped in Steph's car and headed south. We had incredible luck, because when the freeway was blocked we'd detour to a side street. We made amazing time. Only got here a couple hours ago, in fact. Your sister was rather uncomfortable in the back, though. She had to lay on her stomach the whole way. I drove and I really must say I've got a kink in my tail something fierce." She rubbed her backside, her tail evident by the bulge in her dress.
I was still chewing my cud, apparently I was relaxed enough now that I could chew. And the chewing itself relaxed me even further. I swallowed before I spoke again, then I clicked my black, hoof-like fingernails together. And in that moment I realized... this was me now. This... this Change had done something to us all. And with my family now here, I did something that I probably would have done yesterday if I'd stopped to think about it too much. The bottom fell out of my confidence and happiness, and I collapsed on the floor and cried.
I would have cried on the floor longer if not for sitting on my tail. But I'm the type that once I've gotten the bulk of my grief out, I talk about it. I went back onto my bed, laying on my stomach, sniffing out my stuffed up nose. Apparently I was still human enough to have tear ducts. Mom hugged me, carefully reaching around my neck with her clawed fingers. "There, there. You're not alone."
"I know... but... God. Look at me! Disney is going to want me for the remake of 'Bambi!'"
"And me for 'The Fox and the Hound.'" She said, attempting to comfort me.
I continued to stare at my hands, wiggling my reduced number of fingers. "I'm nothing but an animal. Yesterday... Well, you probably saw the damage when you walked in. I lost it for a long time. I'd just come out of it when you called, in fact. Just discovered my 'talent' too. But... what are we supposed to do now?" A question that I'm sure was asked a billion times yesterday.
"We survive, we adapt. Your grandparents only survived the Plague through pure chance, you know. This isn't any different. You're not an animal, Jon. But I think I should say you make quite a handsome buck."
"And you're a foxy lady." I said, smirking. Mother always tries to use humor to cushion a bad situation. She made me realize that no matter what, I had to get on with life. "Mom, if you don't mind. I think I need a shower." Yes, my morning routine. If there was anything that could that I thought could help me it was trying to get into a routine again. It would take my mind off my furriness. Mother sniffed a couple times, and nodded, then grinned again.
I was still a bit detached as I went into the bathroom. There I turned on the water for my shower. God this is going to feel good! I thought. Just the thing to take my mind off. Such a normal thing to do... and yet, not normal. I snagged my antlers on the shower rod, knocking it off the wall. "Damn!" And then there was the shower itself...
I almost slipped up when I stepped in, I had to keep to the rubber grip mat else my hooves would just go right out from under me. I used huge amounts of foul-smelling shampoo (never knew Head & Shoulders smelled like that) and just the sensation of water flowing through my fur was so strange... Then I turned off the shower, and realized just how much water fur could hold. Then I slipped and fell on the way out, just missing my tail. Bruise city.
"Are you okay in there Jon?" It was my sister's voice. Sounding a little different, but undeniably hers.
"I'll be out in a second!"
"Well, don't worry. I'm sure you want to look your deer-best when you see me, though." She chuckled a bit, an odd sound that didn't sound much like laughter.
"Funny, Steph. But could you do me a favor and get me about three more towels?"
"Sure thing..." she said. I stood on a towel, dripping like mad, and wiping myself with towel number three. A moment later the door opened just a little... and a blue scaled hand with four hugely taloned fingers reached in. "Here you go." she said. "What're you waiting for?"
At the sight of those talons I'd backed against the wall. With a shaking hand, I reached out and took the towels. "I'll... I'll be out in a few minutes. Let me dry off a little more."
"Sure thing. I'm anxious to see you, and I see very well now."
"I'd imagine you do." I dried off quickly, or as dry as I could get without using a blow drier. Surprisingly, though, it only took another twenty minutes to dry completely. After that, my fur was smooth and soft. It felt great! I took a brush and did some minor rearranging to some of my chest and body fur, and I brushed out my tail a little. I flicked it around a few times. "Different," I said aloud.
Yes, different. Everything was different, yet also the same. What was a bit of fur and a muzzle to the necessity of getting on with life? I found the pair of shorts that had the tail hole in it. I decided to put it on because I was still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of being in front of my family naked. Even when I realized that I'd had no problems being that way when my mom was up earlier, nor when I was out in public yesterday. Down below I heard my sister make a kyew sound, and then say in a more human voice, with a trace of a laugh in her voice, "Geoff! Get up you lazy bum! You're supposed to be helping with the clean up!"
I heard a sleepy, cat-like voice reply. "But Steph, I've done what you asked me to. I'm tired... and Cleo doesn't like me anymore."
"Well, you were eating her food, that's why. Mom had to go out and buy more."
Eating her food? "Excuse me! But just what kind of food did he eat?" I said loudly. I had an uneasy feeling.
"I don't know," my sister said. "Let me go check the package... oh here it is. It's... um... sorry Jon. I didn't know."
"Well, I can smell it on his breath even up here. Just use some mouthwash before I come down."
"Will do!" Geoff said. "Sorry, Jon. I just couldn't help myself. It smelled so good."
"Well, just see that I don't smell that good. I had a terrible day yesterday, if you know what I mean." Personally, I'm amazed I didn't panic. I guess I was somewhat desensitized to such things after yesterday, though it was still uncomfortable to think about.
They had to go to the store to get more mouthwash. Vons was open, though. Which amazed me. Even a bare day after what would simply be called the Change people were going back to work. I sat and listened to the radio a little, but there were few stations that were still online. So I turned it off. I tried to connect to my ISP, but no go. I wondered once more about my friends (And my mailbox was probably overflowing with mail from the TSA). I heard the bathroom door below open, close. There was a gargling sound, and then the door open and close again. "Okay! We're ready!" My mother said.
"I'm coming!" I said. I looked at my antlers (eight-pointer, at least!) and brushed out my tail one last time. Then I opened the door and slowly went down the stairs.
They were sitting (well, mom and Geoff were sitting, and slightly forward to keep their tails free) in the living room, just under the huge windows. My sister had turned her gaze up into the sky, looking at the few bird morphs visible in the air.
For a moment, I was afraid of my reaction to her, considering what I did when I saw her one hand. But, strangely enough, all I felt was relief. "Hi Steph! You look great!" She seemed surprised, I must have snuck up on her. She looked at me with a glare that made me back up a bit. "Oops! I'm sorry, did I make you angry?"
She just looked at my mom, who was grinning, and sighed heavily. "I did it again, didn't I?" She had a predatory face that always made it seem like she was deciding how you should be served for dinner.
"Don't worry, Stephanie. You'll get used to it. You'll have to," my mother said. Then she looked at me, "she's not going to eat you, Jon."
"Oh, I know. It's just that... um..."
"I know what you mean. Heck, I looked in the mirror and scared myself this morning! But you look great Jon! Nice antlers. Maybe you'll be a twelve pointer! And just what deer species were you again?"
"Well, I don't know about that. But thanks. And..." I turned around, and lifted my tail, showing its blindingly white underside. "I'm a whitetail, what else? But where's Geoff?" I noticed that he was absent from the room. Though his scent was strong.
"Sleeping under the chair. You might want to pick the chair up. He's certain to wake up if you do!"
One of the chairs in the living room is totally covered, but it's very light. Underneath was a moderate-sized black and white house cat, who opened his eyes sleepily, and in a literal flash was suddenly a catmorph laying right below me. "Awww Steph! I wanna sleep..."
"I know you do, but get up and meet my brother. Besides, you slept all the way down, you lazy cat," my sister said, with a smile in her voice.
He stood up, somehow still wearing a pair of shorts. His feet were digigrade, and his hands paw-like. His head was plainly feline, with just a bit of long fur left of his human hair. He was a mottled black and white. He had a tail. But above all that to me was his scent. In my new mental categories, it was Feline: Domestic Cat: Geoff: Harmless. Even though he was a meat eater, he clearly wasn't the type to hunt for anything. He looked me up and down, then extended a hand. "Nice to see you again, Jon. You look a little different, but hey, everybody's got to be something. And I'm sorry I.. uh.. ate what I ate earlier. It just smelled too good. I couldn't help myself."
I really couldn't fault him for doing what he did. In response, I brought up a bit of grass cud and chewed it. We shook hands. "Itsh okay, Geoff. You gon't mind if shew, do you?"
"Chew what, Jon?" My mother asked. "I didn't see you put anything in your mouth."
"I'm a ruminant... and I like it." They would have reacted to that, but there was a knock on the door. My mother got up and went to answer, leaving my sister, Geoff, and I standing there grinning (well, I could smell my sister's "smile" I think) at each other.
"Jon, there's a mule deer named Nick at the door who says he knows you. Should I let him in?"
"Nick? Oh yeah! Let him in!" I was wondering what had happened to him, and frankly I was a little bit peeved at him. He walked in, smelling nervous and guilty, his hands clasped behind his back. His ears were somwhat turned backward, too. He and I just looked at each other, my own ears were back against my neck in an expression of anger. But that passed after a moment. He was just saving his own hide, after all.
"I'm sorry, Jon. I let my instincts overtake me. I... I... Well, I heard a voice of some sort tell me to run so loudly I couldn't resist it. But would you believe that I ended up in San Francisco?"
My ears came forward again in surprise. "Where?"
"San Francisco, in a fraction of a second, no less. Wow. I must have one of those powers. Heh. But I'll never run away again! I promise!"
"Don't make promises you can't keep, herd-brother. But from now on what I say, goes." I said. Nick looked downward in submission. Mom tapped me on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, but did something happen yesterday? I thought you said you wouldn't leave the house... And 'herd-brother?'"
"Well, I, uh..." Just then we heard a flapping of wings, and an owl morph landed just outside. He (she?) climbed the stairs slowly. Around her (his?) neck was a belt pack that looked familiar... and I realized I must have taken mine off last night in the cruiser. Eventually the owl (A great horned owl, it looked like) reached the top and took out a small wallet.
"Can we help you?" My mother said.
The owl sighed once, and looked inside the wallet thing for a moment (it wasn't my wallet, I could tell). "Yes, I'm..." a feminine voice came out of the beak, and she seemed to be thinking for a moment. She then nodded once in finality. "I'm Captain Nightsky of the Carlsbad Police Department. I need to talk to a 'Jonathan Sleeper' who lives here?" She showed a badge that was inside the wallet.
"Yes... and 'Nightsky?'" My mother grinned.
"Yes, I think it's better than my old name, so that's who I am from now on. I need to take statements for what happened yesterday. And I also see Mr. Cummings is here, too. The mule deer in the room behind you matches Officer Fleming's description of the other I'm supposed to interview. I wouldn't be doing this myself, but we're thinned down a lot. Can't blame the other officers for not showing up, but... May I come in?
"Of course." My mother gave me a dark look and her scent was none too pleased with me either. I just shrugged, flicking my ears. We went into the dining room to the table. Mom pulled out a chair. "Won't you sit down?" she offered.
"No thanks, ma'am. I'll stand," Nightsky fanned her tail feathers. "I suspect I'll be standing for a long, long time."
"Isn't that the truth," my sister said from the next room. Both of them laughed.
I sat down carefully on the wooden chair. My family looked on with curiosity, my mother with a little bit of suspicion. "What's first?" I asked.
"Well, first off. Officer Fleming, Mike, is going to be just fine. The meds say he should have died in a couple minutes. But they swear his tissues are healing about fifty times as fast as they normally would! He should be back on duty in a couple of months. So rest assured he'll be fine. Another one of those strange powers that have shown up, I guess.
"Second. Frankly, Mr. Sleeper, we lost most of our officers yesterday. Most are in no condition to come back to duty for quite some time. So we need all the people we can get, experienced or not. So, in light of that power that you demonstrated so effectively last night, by the authority vested in me, you are hereby drafted into police service for the duration of this emergency. I'm sorry, but in such situations we need all the officers, unwilling or no, that we can get."
"But I'm not cut out for policework! I'm a deer! I'm prey! I'll be killed!"
"You're immune to bullets, Mr. Sleeper. And perhaps more than that. That alone makes you invaluable. You cannot be harmed in that way. Not only that, but from what Mike described you just throw their own stuff right back in their faces. And besides, you certainly didn't act like prey when you apprehended that madman! We need more people like you on the Force."
"But, but... aw, hell. Never mind." I knew she was right. The Thin Blue Line, and now I was a part of it. "I can't refuse, I guess. Besides, I don't have anything pressing coming up. Two questions though: What does it pay, and when do I get my badge?" When I thought about it, helping people actually sounded kind of nice. A challenge, and away to keep my instincts from getting the better of me.
"Pay? In this situation very well. Three times normal, in fact. You're about to become a fairly rich deer, Mr. Sleeper. Perhaps enough so you could get your own place and still have money left over. Heh. And second, just as soon as I take down what you recall of yesterday. The whole day, that is. You too, Mr. Cummings." Nick had sat down next to me.
Just then I noticed my mother standing there in the living room, ears back, and tapping her mostly human foot on the ground. "Jon, I thought I told you to stay in the condo!"
I shrugged. "Sorry, I needed cat food... and don't say it!"
"Say what? I'm fairly displeased, Jon. So you'd better get started, I'm as interested in this as our good policebird, here."
I sighed, and in what was sure to take the rest of the afternoon, began at the beginning, "Well, I was awoken around five in the morning by you-know-what..."
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