Briiing! I jumped at the sound and had to think for a moment before I realized it was the phone. I hopped to my desk and picked it up in the middle of the second ring. I suddenly realized as I started to pick it up that I didn't have a natural feel for where my ears were yet, and I had to move the phone around a bit before I could tell it was in the right place.
"Um, hello?" I said, feeling suddenly askward holding a phone to my head.
"Hiya!" The voice seemed familiar yet I couldn't place it. I probably wouldn't even recognize my best friends' voices for a while.
"Hello," I repeated, absent-mindedly.
"Hiya!" There was almost a giggle.
"Um, Jared?" I asked, wondering if it was a friend of mine who had the same first name.
The voice changed a bit, with a weird accent. "I understand that you do education programs for schools, is that right?"
I wasn't exactly sure whether to approach the question with humor or not. "Yeah," I said, still running every possible person's voice I knew through my mind.
"How far will you travel?" the caller sounded fairly legitimate. Maybe they'd just been somewhat unsure at first. But wait, nobody would be calling me about that now. Not with the Change so recent.
"Just within the local towns, actually. Who is this?"
"Oh, so I guess you couldn't come to Ohio, then, huh?"
It dawned on me suddenly, and I felt like an idiot. "Matt! What the hell!" I couldn't believe I hadn't thought to call him first. I'd met him on the internet in one of the bird-related areas. We shared an interest in raptors, and had been emailing back and forth for a few months. We'd talked on the phone only once before.
"Like, whoah, dude," he said, sounding kind of like an old cartoon voice. But it didn't sound quite right.
"Sounds a little forced. All right, tell me..."
There was odd laughter, then, "Care to guess, Bird?"
"Hey, how did you know?" I asked, genuinely impressed.
"Your memory must already be deteriorating. Duh, you sent an email out, remember?"
"Oh, yeah," I said, feeling rather puzzled. But judging from his enthusiasm, I almost dropped the phone. "No way..."
"Yes way," he said.
"Well, actually, no."
My spirits dropped.
"I'm a Harris Hawk now."
I picked up where I'd left off. "Really? Whoah..."
There was a second of silence while I again wondered what exactly dictated what species people became.
"So are you flighted or not?" he asked me. I had to mentally kick myself for not paying very good attention. I was still awed at just having discovered I possessed a rather powerful ability to walk through walls.
"No, my arms are kind of like false wings is all, but..."
He interrupted, "Really? Same here. I've been watching tons of other bird morphs though that have wings on their back."
"Me too. But I've been out flying today though. In my normal form."
"Damn! That's what I was going to ask you next. I haven't been able to shift yet. And I'm starting to get a little bit po'ed, if you know what I mean."
"I'll bet. Well... Hey, you know what I am suddenly thinking?" I asked.
"That it's the perfect time to actually meet in person!"
"Uh, yeah!" I literally felt giddy in thinking there was someone else I could relate to a bit more. Frank was about the only person I had talked to since the Change, and I didn't even know him. I decided that if the phones were working now, then I should get started on the long list of people I needed to call.
"Cool! Well, I simply had to give you a ring, but looks like there's some commotion going on over here, so I'd better go."
I heard a beep just then on the line. "Okay, I just got a call waiting, so I guess I'll talk to you later!"
"Yeah, well, see you later bird brain!"
I had to laugh. "Bye!" I pressed the button on the phone base and looked up as Frank wandered into the room again.
"Hello?" I said into the phone.
"Hey, how are you?"
I knew it was Tiff. "Good. Looks like the phones are a little less screwed up."
"Yeah. I had to try a couple of times, though. I've got to see you," she said.
"Same here! A wolf, huh?"
"Uh huh. Suddenly I want to stare at the moon at night."
I laughed again. Frank was leaning on the perch, apparently checking that the nails were holding it securely. "I went out flying a while ago. Actually flying."
It sounded like she sighed. "Wow. That must be so cool. Are you still planning on going to Salt Lake?"
"I guess I was." Actually I hadn't thought about it for a while. I was out of rats and I'd probably need to get some for myself now, too. I was perplexed by the notion. I turned away from Frank. "I guess life must go on, huh?"
"Well, it's supposed to. But I hear the interstate is jam packed. There are a lot of abandoned cars and still a lot of confusion."
I nodded, saying "Dang, that's probably right." Briefly, I wondered if I could fly down, but knew it was pointless in light of having things to carry back. Then I pictured myself driving, and suddenly wondered how that could even be possible now. I was built rather considerably different. Frank still retained a lot of his human posture, and indeed was sort of sitting on the edge of my bed listening to my half of the phone conversation. I, however, was for the most part an oversize bird. I stood digitigrade like a bird, on my toes, but my tarsus was shorter and my knees were visible, which allowed me to walk more effectively, without having my tail touch the ground like Sky's would if she stood on a flat surface. Then my arms were an odd combination of wings and human arms. From my shoulders to my elbow I had a very wing-like appearance, with feathers arranged the same as a wing, but from my elbow out, the feathers diminished in size instead of grew, as on a true wing. Just before reaching my wrist they were reduced to small down feathers and then were gone altogether, leaving my hand very much like my feet, with yellow scales, gnarled, rough pads on my palm, and sharp black talons on my four digits -- I'd lost my smallest human finger. When I'd slept curled up on the bed, my legs folded under me like a bird's, but my feet had been under my tail instead of under my belly. My wing-arms folded against my sides like a bird's wings, but my taloned hands came to rest near my throat, instead of having a wrist joint that continued 'backwards' as in a true wing. In any case, I didn't really have much of a posterior anymore, and my center of gravity was such that I could be comfortable perching. I knew I'd be uncomfortable trying to sit down and run the pedals in my truck, though I was certain my legs were long enough to reach them even though I was maybe half the size I'd been Before. Very quickly the idea of going very far in an automobile seemed less appealing than ever to me.
My thoughts swirled as I contemplated the possibilities. Frank was noticably silent, musing over our recent discovery of my ability to walk though walls.
"Are you going to be home for a while?" Tiff asked.
It took a second for me to get back to the conversation. "Yeah. Yeah, I'll be here."
"Okay, I'm coming over. Don't fly away on me."
I felt so elated. "I love you," I said.
I hung up the phone slowly, turning to look at Frank with as much a perplexed look in my eye as there was in his. I shook my head. "Can you believe all this?"
Frank grinned a toothy grin and scratched at one of his pink ears casually.
"So, uh, when are we going to Fort Knox?"
I had to laugh at that one. But as I thought about it, I wondered something. "I'd have to be able to carry stuff with me. I wonder if that works?"
So Frank and I started experimenting. Over the next half hour I found out I could pretty much go through anything I wanted. The refrigerator, which was eerie, walls, counters and shelves, furniture, anything. When I tried to take something through with me, like a pencil from my desk, it just stopped at the object surface. If I pulled hard, I just broke it. I found that kind of disturbing, but it made sense. I was the only thing with ability to pass through objects, not the pencil or anything else. Although I did find, when I put half of the broken pencil in my beak, that it came through with me just fine. I found out that I couldn't see or feel anything when I was passing through something. If I walked through the kitchen counter, I couldn't feel my legs and tail, but I could see just fine. Frank found it extremely bewildering to see me 'merged' with the countertop, just this upper part of a bird sticking out. I couldn't change directions once I'd started into something, either, which kind of had me perplexed. It was like walking through some kind of thick gel that had little resistance in front of me, but total resistance to each side. I could back out the way I'd come in, which was a comfort. I didn't relish the thought of becoming stuck within some huge object.
I supposed that being unable to change direction was a good thing. If I ducked under the shelves in the front room, then thought about passing through them upwards, I could go through them vertically, but not move away from them horizontally. That also turned out to be a startling experiment, because as I poked my head up, I also lost my footing with the floor, and wound up falling through it to the ground beneath the foundation.
Quite suddenly I found myself standing with just my head above the carpet and the rest of my body hidden somewhere below the floor of my front room. Frank jumped and tried to help me out. I couldn't get any leverage against anything. It was as if everything was liquid against my efforts. I concentrated on the... concrete?... whatever was under my feet being firm, and slowly, with some flapping of my wing-arms, was able to get above the carpet again, and allow it to become solid once again for me.
"Geeze, I thought you were going to wind up in China," Frank told me as I inspected myself and made sure I was all there.
"I did too! That was weird. But, I could feel dirt under my feet. It was solid."
So Frank and I went outside, where I started trying to pass through the ground, but I never got more than a half-inch past the grass. Apparently my ability didn't apply to the earth itself. I felt sort of releived at that, not wanting to see the fiery mantle, but I hoped I was never headed for a collision course with the ground.
Tiff drove up by herself in her yellow car just in time to find me jumping up and down on my front lawn, with Frank, the huge rat apparently cheering me on.
I stopped and stared as she parked and got out, seeing for the first time my girlfriend forever Changed by the most awesome universal event known. Her fur was luxurious grey, long and silky just as beautiful as any fur I'd ever seen. She was wearing a pair of maroon oversize shorts, which almost seemed to go with her fur, but at the same time seemed out of place. Her face was adorned with the same graceful features I'd known from the most wild wolves, but still retained an almost recognizable quality that was still her. She walked up to me, almost seeming not to notice the differences, her bushy tail balancing her walk eloquently behind her. I smiled inside at her presence, knowing it was her, but just as she approached me for a hug, I jumped back, startled and tense. Something wasn't right.
She seemed surprised and withdrew cautiously. "Jared?"
I felt my rapid heartrate slowing down again, and realized I'd just had a natural response to a large predator running at me. I sighed and tried to calm down. Frank just seemed kind of parylzed by the whole thing. He was surrounded by rodents' worst enemies.
"I'm... okay. Just, not quite the same old me, you know?"
Her voice was more raspy than I'd known, but still familiar. "I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to scare you!"
"You didn't, really. I just have, I don't know, instinctive feelings I guess."
She nodded and for the first time seemed to take in my new body with a look of wonderment.
Now over the initial shock, I approched her with my high avian steps and threw my wing-arms around her. She did the same with hers, which were a hybrid cross between lupine forelegs and human arms. We hugged each other tight, for the first time finding a strange comfort in our new world. It was at the same time a most incredible and odd feeling to have several inches of feathers and fur between us, like a warm pad of air that separated us, but at the same time we were separated by nothing.
After a moment I stepped back and took another long look at her. Her eyes were dark brown and baleful, but delicately beautiful. An irresitably cute black nose sat at the end of her compact snout, moreso than a normal wolf's. She was about the same height she'd always been, five and a half feet, which made me about a foot shorter than her.
"You're... feathered!" she said hysterically.
I never thought I'd care whether I smiled again or not, but just then, as I felt a subtle giddiness, I wanted to. "I guess I am, yeah," I said, looking at her and wondering how I was still so attracted to her. We were completely different species, yet I still found her intensely beautiful. Was there some deeper magic at work here?
Her pointed ears wiggled atop her head as she looked me over more carefully. I could tell she felt the same way, somehow loving me though I was entirely different from her.
She reached towards my face with a unique grey arm and touched my beak, running her black-padded finger down the hooked curve and back up to touch the point at its end.
Oddly enough, I found it tantalizingly wonderful. I reached back and felt her strange new face, too, both filled with curiosity and lightheartedness. There was definitely something more to it than a dog's muzzle, hers was strong and... just hers. It was indescribable.
"Okay, you two. Stop it, you're making me sick," Frank said, approaching.
I laughed and spread my wing-arms. "Ah, excuse me!" I said to Frank. "Introductions, of course. Tiffani, this is Frank, one of the rats of Nymh, and Frank, this is Tiffani, my girlfriend and greatest nose in the forest." As stupid as it was, we all found it funny and laughed as we tried to act civilized despite being so nearly animals.
We talked for a while, getting updated on what we'd all seen and done since the Change. Tiff's mom was a whistling swan and her brother was a hedgehog. I still couldn't believe how random it seemed, outside of my own lucky alignment. Was it really purely random?
Tiff's ears perked up at about the same time I heard the phone ringing inside my apartment. My own hearing hadn't improved a great deal with the Change, but so far I noticed a certain clarity I hadn't possessed before.
I turned to go back inside and felt a strange tug, which I discovered was Tiffani pulling on my tail when I looked back at her. I hopped forward out of her reach and allowed her to give chase. Frank sighed and followed, slowly bringing up the rear. I hopped up the steps and decided to give Tiff a real surprise. She expected to catch me as I stopped to open the door, of that I was sure. So instead, I simply ran through it. At about that same time, I heard an odd yelp from outside. I laughed, then thought better of it, hoping she wasn't hurt.
I turned around and opened the door to find her holding her nose and looking quite seriously bewildered.
"I'm sorry!" I said, and approached her with my wing-arms open. She looked at me as though I were some hallucination, but allowed me to hug her close, and bring her into the front room. Frank followed and shut the door, chuckling despite himself.
The phone rang again, and I nodded to Frank to grab it. He went off into the bedroom to answer it.
"What...?" she managed, sniffling and letting go of her head.
"It's my ability. One of a couple it seems. I can change into a normal-size, normal-looking Hawk, and apparently walk through walls."
She seemed a little mystified at that.
"And refrigerators," Frank added, coming back around the corner. "It's for you, Birdbrain."
I glanced in his direction, "Thanks, I think," then back at Tiff. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, just... Well, for one, I'm not used to this body. You know? I've never had a four-inch snout before. And I thought you'd pushed the door open, not ran right through the damn thing!" She rubbed her nose once more and gave me a look as though everything were my fault.
I shrugged and ran my fingers through the fur on her back, avoiding poking her with my talons. "Well, apparently there is a bit more to our lives now than just adjusting to a decidedly more animal nature to ourselves," I said, walking away from her. "Frank and I both can shift into normal animal forms of those we basically are now, plus," I started walking through the couch, "I've found a bonus in that I can do this."
Tiff stared with disbelief, but seemed to accept it quickly.
"Well, that's quite impressive. I hurried over here because I found something out, too. But you'd better get the phone first."
I nodded and went into my bedroom and picked up the phone.
"Matt! What's up?"
"Well, I told you I hadn't figured out how to change into my normal form yet, right?"
"I guess I figured out how!"
"That's great! How did it go?" I asked, thinking of my own confusing experience.
"It was really strange. I'll have to tell you when I get there."
"You're coming out here?"
I was a little dumbfounded at that. I couldn't think of any sort of response except, "Okay."
"Hey, see you in a while, okay?"
"Um, all right."
With that, he hung up, at about the same time I started to ask him whether I should meet him at the airport or something. I opened my beak, but too late.
I hung up the phone slowly, starting to get a little overwhelmed by things, and returned to the front room. Only, it wasn't my front room any more. It was completely gone. The clear blue sky had replaced the dull white ceiling above. I looked at Tiff to find that behind her there was no longer a wall. I looked around and was startled to find that the whole apartment complex was suddenly gone!
Tiff smiled, sharp teeth evident in her jaw. "The enchantress waves her arms dramatically..." she said, giggling and waving her furry arms poetically, "And away goes the world!" The air shimmered and the walls of my apartment replaced the view of the outdoors, as did the ceiling.
"You made it all vanish?"
"Well, not quite."
She looked around for a moment, then tilted her head just a bit, and suddenly my front room was a vast, echoing lobby of some huge castle. There was a winding staircase a few hundred feet behind me, beyond where my kitchen would have been, and elegant tapestries hung from the walls. Marble columns stretched up to a high ceiling with sparking chandeliers and immense stained glass skylights. I looked around in awe then back to Tiffani. "Wow, very impressive!"
Frank walked around a bit, admiring the marble tiled floor and the two oak doors that served as an entryway. Just as suddenly as it all had appeared, it was gone, and we were back in my considerably smaller apartment.
"Was that all real?" Frank asked.
"No," Tiff replied, "I can only create the illusion. I don't know yet how it works. I just think about changing things around me, and will it to happen, and it does."
I nodded and felt a tinge of jealousy. But I remembered my own ability, then shook my head. "I wonder if everyone has some kind of new... magic or whatever?"
"So I can go through objects, you can create vast illusions," I said looking at the most beautiful wolf I'd ever seen, "and you..."
"Have yet to find something special about myself," Frank finished for me. "I feel like I've been put on the set of Sliders or something, but nobody's acting."
I laughed. "You'll find something, Rat-boy."
At about that precise moment, an almost mirror image of myself appeared between Tiffani and I. It took me about two seconds too long to open my beak and say something.
"Hi Bird!" Matt said, flapping his own wing-arms excitedly.
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