At some point in the night, I'd turned my head back to rest on a shoulder. I awoke somewhat surprised, momentaily forgetting myself. I'd never slept on a perch before. But I was still balanced on one foot and actually quite comfortable. I seemed designed from toe to beak for this, and it felt good.
I peered out the window, noticing I'd only slept a short while - it was just after sunrise.
I took a deep breath and yawned, feeling the newness of my beak in its length and size. I crouched forward and stretched my wing-arms, then stepped down from the perch. I stretched again in the middle of the room, drinking in the sheer bliss of being what I was. I'd never felt so alive.
I emerged from my room to find Frank sleeping on the couch in the front room. He was curled up into a ball, his tail wrapped around him. It seemed strange, this giant rat asleep on my furniture. A week ago if I'd walked in to find such a thing, I probably would have run out the door screaming. I never was afraid of snakes or mice or anything; maybe spiders; but a rat that size was too much!
I let him alone as I visited the bathroom again. I was finding out pretty quickly that my metabolism was starting to stabilize and settle on a more birdlike one. I felt warmer, too. In fact, I was panting slightly. The spring weather had been comfortable or slightly cool Before. Now not only did I have a wonderful covering of feathers, I was burning up more energy. My heart beat faster and my breathing was more rapid. It felt normal to me, though. I would never have noticed if it hadn't happened practically overnight. I wondered that the intense summer heat was going to be like.
I wandered around a bit, looking at things almost as if they weren't real. The kitchen seemed like another dimension. Excluding the fact there was an elephant-shaped hole in the wall, all the counters and shelves seemed high. Everything looked bigger. It figured, of course, since I was smaller and shorter, but the kitchen was where I noticed it most.
I got a pitcher of water out of the refrigerator, after reaching for the milk out of habit. I'd made the mistake of trying milk during last night's cleanup effort. I coughed up what little I drank a few minutes later. I had ny habits that were going to be difficult to change.
After dribbling more than enough water on my chest feathers, I finished getting a drink and looked around some more. I made a mental note to get some sort of a deep water pan that I could drink more easily out of.
I found myself back in my room, and realized I was getting bored. Without work my life had little activity. I was beginning to get more and more used to the fact I was a sort of hybrid creature. I felt as though I had been one all my life.
Lethargically, I opened the closet doors, and saw the rows of shirts and slacks, shorts and sweaters. With an almost evil-sounding laugh, I took a few favorites out and looked at them from a new perspective. Funny to think Frank and I hadn't thought of them last night. Amused, I picked out a Red-tailed Hawk shirt and tried it on. Amazingly, it fit just fine. While I was overall a lot smaller, my feathers effectively added to my size. It was very perplexing just then, looking down to see my dumb old shirt with feathers poking out the bottom and all around. My feathers.
I took it off again, trying to avoid pulling feathers out of place. Putting it into a "keep" pile, I began going through my closet, overjoyed that I'd rid myself of a requirement of clothing. I tossed just about everything, "No more looking for socks!" I said happily, emptying a sock drawer. I laughed, "And no more mornings without clean underwear!"
Frank entered just as the pile reached the door. When he saw what I was doing, a wry smile creeped upon him, exposing his sharp teeth.
"This looks fun," he commented.
I laughed and stood back to admire my work. One clean closet ready for immediate storage of other, more useful things! I had no idea just what yet.
After a while, Frank said, "I think I'm going to go and retrieve my car, I don't want to leave it parked at the store. Do you want to come?"
I considered it, then remembered the open sky I had yet to explore. "Actually, I'm going to experiment a bit more with my normal form. I haven't had much of a chance to, yet." I looked out the window again, feeling a small lurch of excitement.
"Norm form, eh? Then what's this?" he asked, indicating himself with a downward sweep of his paws.
I was at a loss for words. He had a point. "I don't know. I've just been thinking of it as a half-metamorphosis. A morph I guess."
"Norm and Morph. Makes sense to me." He shrugged. "Okay then," he said, still tired. "See you in a while."
"All right," I waved at him, then followed him to the door.
He started walking along the road, looking about almost as if he thought someone was following him. I stepped out and closed the door, feeling the morning sun on my back. I didn't see very many people out, just some of the other apartment renters I'd seen before.
I looked up, seeing no bird-morphs. The morning sun seemed to have some sort of silencing effect.
Almost expecting it to be gone, I probed my mind for the odd mental barrier between my current form and the true Hawk. I found it surprisingly easy, but was somewhat scared to try it again. Something strange had happened last time. I couldn't remember it very well. In a way, it was as though it never happened.
Another glance at the sky, however, made my decision. I thought about becoming smaller; about being a complete Hawk, and abruptly I felt the odd sensation of shrinking. I felt lighter and stronger yet, something I hadn't counted on. My breathing increased slightly and I felt the uncanny wildness I only dimly recalled from my previous experience.
This time I paused, trying to find out what was making me feel that way. It was coming from my heart, it seemed. Someplace inside me I couldn't identify. But it was more than a passing feeling. It was like I yearned to; I wanted to. I couldn't resist.
I looked around nervously. There was a flower pot nearby, which I leapt to in short order. At that point I somehow realized what was happening to me. My instincts were breaking through! So strongly, in fact, that I did not question them. I didn't think with my brain like I was used to, I listened to my heart -- or some place. Whatever made me feel this way. I totally believed what I felt. It was me.
I lowered my head to gaze at myself. I was much the same as before, only smaller and more refined. My legs felt proportionally longer yet more compact. In morph they didn't bend as much at the knees and the tarsus was shorter. Now my knees were comfortably tucked under my feathers, bent more in the fashion like all birds.
Sky would be impressed.
The wild feeling came back into my mind, pressing against my calm thoughts. I suppressed them, feeling somehow guilty. I wanted nothing more than to listen exclusively, but I had to concentrate. I had to think about this. I wondered what would happen if I just followed them completely? Probably something similar to what happened last time -- something I remembered little of.
I spent a moment getting used to my newest form, which I quickly became very proud of. All my life I had taken care of birds of prey, always sick or hurt. Sky had been shot many years ago, leaving her two-thirds of her left wing. She would never fly again.
Now here I was, looking at things from the inside, stretching my wings and seeing a perfectly healthy bird. From within those deep brown eyes! My greatest dream come true.
I stood tall and stretched to my full length, a newfound confidence washing over me. Then I remembered I was perched on a lowly flower pot. That squelched my pride for the moment.
Then I felt the slight morning breeze and spread my wings without even thinking about it. The wind was not enough to provide any lift, but prompted me into a flapping takeoff.
I rose, the push against the air unbelievable. First I felt a strange lightness come over me, then my feet lifted up from the ground. I pumped my wings hard, rising very quickly. I was airborne!
Relying on my instinctive ability to understand the wind and control my body, I turned into the gentle wind, using it to help direct me into a steady glide. The ground and trees below started passing by with increasing speed. I was still rising, flapping less and using my innate skills somehow. I felt my tail fan and angle almost automatically with my wings, like how one simply balances when walking. My body was at home in the air. I was quite in control, able to feel every adjustment and movement. But somehow things were automatic enough that I didn't have to think about them.
I knew I was a bit shaky, but I was amazed at how well I could fly my first time. I flew higher and stretched my wings out fully, gliding effortlessly over everything. Fences, trees, roads, houses... It was all so simple! There were no obstacles! It was one thing to imagine something like flight, and quite another to actually do it. I'd had no idea. I turned, getting a feel for how my feathers reacted to changes in the wind, fascinated with how I could feel every individual one. I felt so small and light.
I powered my wings again, angling sharply upward, feeling the adrenaline saturate my veins for the millionth time. I was higher than any of the buildings, and able to see... Wow! Now that I noticed, my vision was remarkable. I simply hadn't thought about it before. I could still see the little details of the ground below. Sprinklers in the front lawns of homes, numbers on street signs... The grass itself! It didn't look like a big patch of green as I'd expected from this height. The little clumps of weeds were distinct. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I'd known Hawk eyes were superior, but not like this!
I felt the air become warmer, and felt consequently lighter. It was interesting to feel exactly how much the air changed as I flew. I felt every small movement it made and compensated exactly. I could not have been more impressed. This was the ultimate way to exist.
I circled in the warmer pocket; a thermal. Just a current of rising warm air, but it made flying effortless for raptors. I rose within it, doing little more than balancing my speed and angle so I didn't move outside the thermal.
Raptors. The word came back into my mind. For raptors. Raptors like me! I'm a raptor... Me! I'm a bird! I felt giddy. Simple. That's what I was, simple. It was all so simple...
Below, the city spread out more as I climbed higher, the details still clear to me. I could see for a few miles in every direction. The routes from my apartment suddenly seemed mundane. The drive to work pointless. I would never drive anywhere again!
The feeling of being completely separate from the earth was immeasurable. The tremendous height seemed easy now. I could go anywhere. Anywhere!
Something caught my eye, and I noticed Frank crossing the street a few blocks from home. I wondered what he would think if I flew by.
Activity was picking up outside in general, with more and more people coming out to check on the world. A few were even driving. If I hadn't been having such a great time, I might have made a pastime of watching the strange things going on below. There were deer driving trucks, sheep crossing the street, a group of raccoons climbing into a van, a zebra running with some horses, and a fox happily talking to a rabbit.
Talking! The tremendous irony of it all. The flood of knowledge that would certainly result from this complete alteration of the universe was stunning. I knew things about birds I'd never hoped to learn. I felt things I never knew existed. Emotions were different, my mind alculated things in a new way, ideas formulated in new ways.
I saw Frank at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. There were no cars right then, but he seemed content to wait. He was busy looking at his arm (front leg?) or something.
I climbed with newfound energy and speed, then circled about once, turning sharp enough to feel the centrifugal force. The stress on my feathers was thrilling. I called out, smiling in my mind when I heard the all-too-familiar sound of a Hawk.
Frank looked up and back, trying to spot me. I pulled up, almost stalling, then tucked my wings and dove straight down. There's nothing quite like looking directly at the ground as it rushes towards you faster and faster. I aimed for Frank, closing in with incredible speed. A dozen feet above his furry head, I spread my wings and circled back up, feeling the powerful tug of momentum on my wings.
After recovering from his initial fright (he was trembling visibly), Frank grinned and waved at me. I spiraled down and landed near him. Or tried to; I'd been overconfident and twisted my right foot a little, coming down too fast. But it only hurt for a few moments before I looked up to see Frank's huge face hovering over me.
"E-eeeee!" I screeched, stepping back. A feeling of stupidity washed over me as I realized both of us were having troubles adjusting to all the new details of life.
I closed my eyes, finding the mental door to my Morph form, and went through. The shift was painless, but the sudden growth and gain in height and weight was a bit dizzying. I blinked a couple of times, and saw a grin full of Frank teeth.
"You birdbrain," he taunted.
"You dirty old rat," I retorted.
He laughed, and I joined him, my own laugh sounding again like a peculiar screeching.
We walked across the street together. I couldn't help but think we were just as peculiar a duo as the fox and the rabbit.
Outside of ourselves, though, everything seemed normal. There were normal songbirds chirping in the trees, normal dogs barking in yards, and normal flies buzzing around. I wondered for a moment if animals other than humans had felt anything with the Change. Yet every time I tried to figure something out about the way things were, I came up empty handed.
I looked at my 'hands' as Frank and I walked down another block. I stayed off the sidewalk on the grass since the hard concrete was annoying to walk on. My wing-arms were an extraordinary combination of many things. They were like wings, with what looked like neatly lined up flight feathers, but instead of continuing into a complete wing, the primaries tapered off and my wrist, like my feet, was scaled. And instead of an alula or anything remotely resembling a bird wing, my hands mirrored my feet, with four long digits -- my thumb opposing the other three just like the hallux on my foot -- ending with long, curved, black talons. I made a fist experimentally and noted that the joints were a little different than the foot. I had a little more dexterity and movement in my hands; apparently some human features were still there, just hidden.
Frank didn't seem to be very preoccupied with himself. He was striding forward with an air of confidence, determined to get where he was going. I wasn't sure if it was because he was trying to ignore things, or if he really was feeling renewed in his life. But everything about him seemed to indicate the latter; from his tall stance to his buoyant stride, long tail swaying in balance.
And then I had a curious thought. I was looking at Frank's grey fur and wondering whether he was as satisfied with it as I was with feathers. And then I wondered what fur was like. I realized then that I knew a vast amount more than I ever did before -- having been a bird, but the amount still unknown to me was limitless. I knew two worlds; two ways of life. Everyone now knew two as well. Surely humans, or the beings we now were, would learn something from all this. Having at least one more insight should give us even more respect for things. I knew I did.
"What's the matter? Can't keep up with me?" Frank turned and said.
I abruptly noticed I was falling behind as I got lost in thought about everything. Without thinking about it, I hopped and flapped my wing-arms once to catch back up. I guess I'd expected to land right beside Frank, but he hadn't, by his surprised look. And that made me pause to consider that I'd just jumped about fifteen feet. It all made sense, though. As I was getting more used to being what I was, unusual things for a human were becoming easy for me. At the same time, I told myself, there were going to be some more difficult things, too. I would have been fooling myself to pretend there weren't.
We crossed another intersection, waving at a huge hamster driving a yellow pickup truck. I think it was a hamster, anyway. I might have found it funny if I weren't halfway an animal myself. Or more than halfway.
I was happy to get back on the grass after the smooth asphalt. I found the brushing sound and cool grass on my bare feet quite enjoyable.
We were on a city block now, with a long strip of grass in front of commercial buildings. Frank's car was in a small parking lot in front of the corner 7-11 store. I noticed there was little activity and only two places were even open.
"Haircut Hut... Guess I won't be stopping by there again," I said passively.
Frank laughed. "I don't suppose I will, either. Rats just shed their fur."
"I guess the whole economy will go through a wild shift, huh?"
"Yeah," Frank agreed. "But I think businesses will adapt, too. They're not going to just close overnight."
I thought about it and realized he was right. "Oh, so you mean that haircut place will start doing, like, fur combing and feather preening or something?" I joked.
"Or something," Frank said.
We passed a theatre and a dry cleaner. Every place evoked a lot of new ideas I hadn't considered. Movies would be forever different, of course. I chuckled, wondering what some of the big-name actors and actresses had turned into. But all would adapt, just like Frank said. The dry cleaners, I supposed, would find some way to stick around.
Frank got to his car and crawled in, moving the seat as far back as it would go. It was a blue Honda Accord, and Frank was apparently a little bigger than Before. I wondered why he'd grown and I'd gotten smaller though both our norm forms were smaller than human by a good amount. Plus, I'd noticed that some people still looked quite human while others were almost identical to the animal they'd become.
I approached the passenger side door and stopped short, facing a problem. I wasn't exactly able to sit down any more, and though smaller, I knew I couldn't stand on the seat and still fit in the car.
Frank had figured out a way to somewhat sit, with his tail looping around the seat and his short legs barely reaching the pedals. He looked up at me after locating his keys, and realized my situation.
"I'll just fly back," I said, and he nodded, starting the car.
Frank backed up and maneuvered the car around the gas pumps and back to the entrance to the road.
"Damn, I just love saying that!" I said to myself.
I closed my eyes, still unsure of my own ability to change. I willed myself to be the smaller, wild bird I felt inside, and felt myself quickly transform. Opening my eyes and looking upwards, I gladly leapt forward and spread my wings to once again fly.
I kept up with him easily, circling around houses and brushing past the tips of branches on trees. He pulled into the driveway near my apartment and I circled around one last time before gliding down.
I noticed that my living room window was open, which I thought odd, since I never leave them that way. But Frank must have gotten hot and opened it. I'd ran an antenna wire outside last week and never put the screen back, so, on a whim, I thought I'd just fly inside.
Frank walked up to the front door as I turned and glided as slow as I could towards the apartment -- which was still about fifteen or twenty miles an hour. I tilted my tail just a bit and straightened out, heading right for the opening. And just as I was getting ready to close my wings for the window, I had a sickening lurch in my gut as I saw a white glare. The window was closed!
I couldn't possibly stop... I flared my wings and tail as hard as I could and braced for impact. But the second after it should have happened but didn't, I opened my eyes quickly to see what was happening. If I'd managed by some miracle to slow enough, I'd need to turn and fly or my momentum would just carry me into the brick below the window. But what I saw was not what I expected: the sofa, television and chairs of my living room.
I flapped again and corrected my stall, and landed shakily on the carpet. It took me a while to just breathe and get over the panic I'd felt when I realized I was going to get myself hurt. But then humor cured me as I realized birds always have trouble with windows... I turned and looked up at the window, realizing that of course the glare must have been from something else. But I was almost frightened when I saw that the window was closed and even locked.
I chwirked, puzzled, thinking, What the hell? Frank came around the corner, looking bewildered.
"Hawk? I..." he breathed hard for a second, "I ran back outside when I saw what you were going to do. I was going to yell at you, to let you know... But..." He panted for a second, sort of cooling down from his panic.
I shifted back to morph and stood looking at the window in silence. I still somehow expected to feel at any time the cuts and bruises from crashing through glass. I extended my right hand and touched the glass with a click from my talon. It was rather solid.
Frank approached me and said, "Now I know I was fully awake when I saw you come flying through here..."
"Me too," I replied, recalling the horror I felt when I discovered the stupid window was closed. Even flying 'slow' was faster than I'd ever gotten used to making distance judgements.
I cocked my head, perplexed by this new twist, and reached out to touch the glass again. Click. Remembering what I felt when I was gliding towards it from the other side, I tried to recall what exactly happened when I closed my eyes for the crash.
And that's when my hand pushed through the glass. Startled by my sudden loss of balance, I jerked my hand back and looked at Frank to find him staring at me. I didn't know a rat's eyes could get so big.
I felt a tiny bit of hysteria. "Will someone please tell me what's happening in the world today?" I said, only half joking.
"What did you do?"
I looked back at the window and then at my scaly yellow hand. Nothing unusual, if you didn't count being half-animal unusual. Touching the window again revealed that the glass, however transparent, was still there and unmoving.
"I don't get it," I said, but as soon as I said it I knew my mistake. "Wait a second..."
In knowing that all I had to do was think and I could turn into a bird, I realized that perhaps a bit of that same... magic... might apply to everything else. I purposely tried to push my hand through the glass, mentally pretending it was not a physical barrier. Miraculously, I watched as my whole hand went through the glass and I could see it through the glass.
I heard a little gasp from Frank and I was quite excited myself. I looked at where the glass seemingly ended to accommodate my wrist, expecting it to have some sort of pain associated with being cut in two. But there was no feeling whatsoever. No tingling, no warm or cool sensation. I didn't have nearly the same sensitivity I did with human hands, but I could feel the wind blowing a bit on the outside of the glass.
I pulled back again and looked carefully at my own fingers. I tried pushing my fist through my other hand, wondering if perhaps some sort of anomaly was going on with my body, but nothing happened.
For a moment I froze, thinking about it. I'd flown through a window that was closed. Then I'd stuck my hand through it as though it were so much air. I shook my head just a bit and chuckled -- though it wouldn't sound like it to anyone else. I had to laugh at how funny it sounded to say that "I'd flown through a window." Not at the window part, but that I'd flown! I was only starting to accept things and that I was a bird. Much as I liked the Change, the adventure, and the discovery, my mind demanded answers. After only a day of getting used to myself, I didn't need a whole new puzzle just yet.
"How... how exactly did you do that?" Frank asked.
I looked at him, wondering how he expected me to know.
Some silence passed, then Frank stood next to the window, and repeated the same experiment. But his own claws clicked on the glass and nothing more. He looked at me questioningly.
"I don't know," I said, still in shock, "I just think about it and it works."
Frank sat on the couch and pondered. I looked down at myself, seeing for the hundredth time the ivory and brown feathers of my chest, belly and legs. I looked back up at the window, then through it, eyes unfocused.
The implications were overwhelming.
I turned towards my bedroom, facing the wall that separated it from the living room. Mechanically, I stepped forward and pressed my hands against its smooth surface. I breathed deeply, feeling the cooling effect of the air sacs that I knew were throughout my body. Closing my eyes, I stepped forward again, thinking of the wall as nonexistent. There was no resistance.
I opened my eyes and lowered my wing-arms and found myself standing between my desk and the printer stand just inside my room.
A strange feeling built inside of me as I looked around at all the things in my room. Once important things seemed not to matter. There was a sense of separation I felt from all that I had once known.
I looked out the window at the blue sky and felt an odd happiness and pride.
Softly, I said, "You cannot keep me in a cage... I am a bird that cannot be held."
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