Making the Cut
by Trey McElveen

1997


3:00 AM

"I'm glad you could come on such short notice, Jeff." the gray-haired surgical resident said to me, "This is an emergency, and all the other residents are not here, or otherwise occupied."

"No problem, Gabe. Thanks for getting me out of that ER." I said in return. We sat across from each other at a small table in the hospital's lunchroom and munched lightly on sandwiches. Dr. Gabriel Walters was an older man, about 65 years of age and still one of the chief surgical residents Baptist Hospital. He had been around since the Plague, and he has seen people come and go. And go horribly.

I, on the other hand, was 24 and a four-month surgical intern. I had spent most of that day down in the ER, giving whatever help I could to the chaos down there. The worst I had ever seen was third-degree burns on 100% of the body, and that was terrible. I regularly gave thanks that I had not been around during the time of the Plague. The Plague was a disease that ravaged the earth after the War against Germany. The virus would attack the victim and alter the genetic code of all the cells in the body, randomly changing them into cells of other organisms. The infected person ended up as a gelatinous mass of cells. I don't think I could have handled that.

Dr. Walters, however, was one of the strongest individuals I had ever met. Fierce, opinionated, and very skilled, his experiences with the Plague had only made him stronger. He had lost his whole family to the disease in the 1950's, and spent the next few years of his life studying medicine so that he could treat the dying and save them for the same fate his family shared. A true philanthropist, he shared his earnings regularly with local charities and organizations. He was very prominent man in the community. He also had a great sense of humor, and never seemed to lose his cool. Best of all, he was one of my closest friends.

Dr. Walters smiled, "Anytime. I know what it's like down there. I've spent a lot of time in the ER, and I know how stressful it can be." I massaged my pounding temples, he sure had gotten that right. Med. school was never as difficult as working in the ER. "I called you down to offer an operation to you. An emergency appendectomy has just come up. Most of the surgical residents are in surgery or away right now. I thought that this would be the perfect time to get you some time in the OR and some much needed practice. If you accept, I'll be assisting you, but every cut and every stitch will be your own. Just think of me as a glorified scrub nurse."

My heart jumped. "Me, performing an appendectomy?" I said in disbelief. Gabe just nodded. "I... I... don't know what to say." My mind reeled, this was just the break that I had been hoping for! I was actually going to perform surgery solo! My hands started shaking in excitement. This was the Holy Grail of internship, the first step to achieving a residency.

"You don't have to say anything, Jeff. Just go over the procedures and practice your knot-tying for the next hour and a half. I'll meet you at...." He paused to look over his shoulder and check the clock. "...four-thirty in the scrub room. Be there on time now, I'll give you a few pointers while we scrub up."

I nodded, still shocked from his announcement. "I'll be there right at 4:30, Dr. Walters."

He shook his head, "Please, just call me Gabe."

4:30 AM

I walked into the scrub room with an air of confidence. I had done just what Gabe had asked me to with my time. For the last twenty minutes I had practiced tying knots on everything, mostly posts on the stretchers in the ER. The knots were for tying down vessels to stop bleeding. For an hour before that, I poured over the section on appendectomy in "Atlas of Operative Techniques" in our hospital library. I must have re-read that section over twenty times. As I walked into the room to scrub up, I was feeling ready for anything.

I was glad that I did not have to prep the patient, a Mr. Jameston, for the operation. I would have probably unnerved him in telling him that I was an intern and that he was my first ever surgical patient. The man would have had a heart attack or something. Instead, Gabe opted for the scrub nurse to prepare Mr. Jameston instead of me, probably for the same reason.

Dr. Walters was looking as chipper as ever when I met him in the scrub room. He smiled and shook my hand as he checked the clock. It looked too, and I had kept my promise. It was exactly 4:30. "Hey! Good timing, Jeff," Gabe said. "Keep that up and you'll get noticed for sure." I smiled at the compliment. We spent the next ten minutes going over each step of the operation. He would present what-if scenarios and I brushed them off with correct procedures every time. I could tell he was genuinely impressed. I was a little impressed myself, to tell the truth. He finished his mini-lecture and looked to the clock. 4:40 it said.

"Ok, Jeff. Seems like you're ready. Probably even more than I am!" he said with a laugh. I laughed at the joke and went over to the sink. I picked up the soap and small sterile brush used to cleanse the hands of any contaminants. I noticed that my hands were visibly shaking. Suddenly, the realization of what I was about to do hit me. I was about to cut a gash in the abdomen of a man and remove an organ filled with infectious bacteria. My hand started to shake even more. Gabe looked to me and put his hand on my shoulder reassuringly. "I know what you're thinking, Jeff. I'll be there to help you. Just follow the procedure and everything will go just fine."

I took a deep breath and counted to ten. That always seemed to help out. And again, it did. My hands calmed a bit, but not totally. They still quivered a little. "That's to be expected," Gabe said. He had set to scrubbing himself up and was almost finished. "I get that way before any surgery I'm a part of. Look." He held up his hand to me. The water dripping from his soapy fingertips was trembling in time with his hand. I allowed myself a small chuckle.

"So many years in the OR and you still get butterflies?" I asked. I had begun scrubbing up as well and was approaching the finish.

Dr. Walters turned to me with a very serious look on his face. "We are about to take the life of a man into our hands. It may only seem like a routine appendectomy, but there is a chance that that man could die out on that table. Any number of things could happen, and we should be prepared for all of them." he said in all earnestness. I was a bit startled by his frankness. He had never spoken to me in that tone. We had been friends for as long as I had been an intern, and we had immediately taken to one another. I got a distraught look on my face, which I promptly tried to hide.

Dr. Walters frowned, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you like that. It's just that I'm all business in the OR. This is very serious work, and if you didn't get nervous, then something is really wrong with you. I may try to chat ore something like that, but I always remember what I'm in that room for." He smiled and backed out the door into the OR, "So, if you still want to go through with this, then come on. If not, just watch me from the sidelines." I smiled back and followed Gabe into the OR. I glanced at the clock as I left. It read 4:58.

5:00 AM

The patient laid on the table, thoroughly prepped. In other words, unconscious. The room reeked of antiseptic. The lights were inordinately bright. I had been in the OR before, but it was never like this. Everything was strange and awkward. Probably just my nerves, I thought to myself.

The scrub nurse met us and put on our gloves. "This is Jamie Danson. She'll be working with us today," Gabe explained.

I gave Jamie a courteous nod and said, "Hi. How are you?" She nodded back, but said nothing. I shrugged it off. Probably one of those silent types... I thought. We walked over to the table an I looked the patient over. He was heavily sedated and basically out of it. Even through my surgical mask I could tell that the area for the operation was completely sterile. The stench from the anti-bacterial agent was strong. Seeing that everything was in order, I looked to Gabe. He nodded, "Looks good to me. Shall we get this show on the road?"

"Indeed." I picked up the scalpel and held it in my hand. I noticed again that my had was shaking like a California earthquake. Suddenly, all the procedures I had studied for so long just fell from my mind. I had no idea where to start. There I stood, scalpel in hand, eight years of med. school behind me, and four months of internship under my belt and I couldn't even remember something I had read just over an hour ago. I broke into a cold sweat.

Gabe saw my distress and asked, "Is something wrong, Jeff?" I tried to nod in agreement, but instead my head shook furiously up and down in fear. Gabe moved his finger over the abdomen and traced an imaginary line across Mr. Jameston's stomach. "Just cut along here."

I put the scalpel to the flesh and pushed into the skin. It gave way like butter and blood began seeping out of the wound. Jamie held out the hemostats and Gabe gauzed down the wound to slow the bleeding. I drug the knife through the skin, imitating the line that Gabe had made earlier. "Good, good. Not too far," he said reassuringly. My self-confidence was returning in droves. This wasn't very hard after all. I finished the incision and pulled out the scalpel. Us as a team had worked together so well that as soon as I had finished the cut, Gabe and Jamie had stopped the bleeding. I tied off the vessels with same expertise that I had demonstrated a half hour ago.

Gabe was beaming. "Very, very good, Jeff!" We spread apart the skin and exposed the muscle. Apparently I had cut through the fascia as well (The fascia is a tough membranous tissue under the skin.). I was not supposed to, yet. That was supposed to be the next step. "Well, shit," I said under my breath.

"Don't worry about it. No harm done. We'll just get out of here faster." Gabe smiled, thought I could detect a hint of anxiety. He must have been glad that I had not caused some serious damage. "Now," he continued, "do the same for the muscle, but gently." I did, and the muscle split apart smoothly. Suddenly, blood throbbed profusely from the newly inscised tissue. Gabe started back for a sec, "Whoa! Start clamping!"

Jamie was right there to cover my tracks. She gave out more hemostats and together we had the bleeding under our control in a minute or so. My knot tying ability had been hampered by the slipperiness of the vessels, but I tied them with no major difficulties. "Ok, you're doing just great Jeff. Now spread open the muscle to reveal the abdominal cavity," Gabe instructed. The muscle moved apart with relative ease, and suddenly the inner workings of the human body were in plain view. I could plainly see the swollen appendix and the cesum. (The cesum is the portion of the bowel the appendix is attached.) Just out of curiosity, I checked the clock in the OR. It read 5:20.

5:20 AM

A strange tingling feeling swept over me, like warm, thick honey was being poured over my whole body. My knees gave way a bit, and the scalpel almost slid from my fingers and into Mr. Jameston. I caught myself on the side of the table and kept my balance. I looked over to Gabe and he had the same expression that I did, a combination of dizziness and nausea. I heard the first sound from Jamie ever then too, a slight moan of discomfort.

The feeling passed. I stood up and lost my balance just as I attained my full height. I was a good two inches taller than I was a second ago. I nearly fell down backwards onto the floor. That would mean giving control over to Gabe and having to sit this one out, having contaminated myself. More than anything, I did not want that. I stuck a foot out to catch myself from falling. I gasped in surprise when I felt the cold shock of the floor meet my foot, rather than the warm rubber of the inside of my shoe. First impression was that my foot had slid out of my shoe and I had caught myself with my socked foot. I looked down and screamed in horror.

My foot was not a foot. It was a paw.

Jamie was furiously tugging at Gabe's scrubs trying to pull his attention towards the patient. I noticed that her hands were in the process of Changing. She had taken off her gloves and her middle two fingers were fusing into one. Pebbly green scales pockmarked her skin, and short claws protruded from her fingertips. Apparently she had not noticed her own Change. "Doctor! Look! Look at the patient's feet! Look..." Then she saw what was happening to herself, "Oh, dear God! No!!"

I turned my attention from my own dilemma to the patient. Sure enough, Mr. Jameston's feet had Changed, too. Instead of being human, the toes on each foot had solidified into a cloven hoof. His foot had elongated to where he was obviously digigrade, and a thick covering of light brown fur reached up to his knee. I could, from my many hours watching "Wild Kingdom", tell that he was changing into an antelope of some sort. I looked myself over again.

My toes had become shorter and thicker, and the pinky toe had moved up higher on my ankle. I turned my foot over and inspected the underside of my new paw. Small black balloon-like pads had grown out of the balls of my feet. Between those, a small patch of fluffy white fur was visible. Fur had grown out all the way up to my knee, and it was a golden brown color. I set my paw back down on the floor and tried to twinkle my toes. Instead, my paws flexed and unsheathed eight razor-sharp claws, four on each foot. "Holy..." I breathed. "I'm turning into a lion!"

"Gabe, what in..." I said turning to my friend. But I was greeted with another surprise. Gabe had hiked up his scrubs and his jeans that he was wearing under them. His calves had turned very muscular, they were about twice the size than they had been. His shoes were ripped by the growth of his new hoof. He carefully removed it and set it on the floor with a clop. Up to his knee, however, was not a single shade of fur, but a black-and-white striped pattern. "I heard you, Jeff. Looks like I'm becoming a zebra." He added with a nervous laugh, "I hope you aren't thinking of eating me." I laughed at the joke, but I couldn't help but think he actually meant it. In fact, I hadn't noticed until then, but when I first caught a glimpse of Gabe's stripe pattern, I had thought of something like having him for dinner. I shook with alarm, was I picking up the mannerisms of a lion?

"Jeff," Gabe spoke up, with a slight tremor in his voice. I had not heard him talk like that. Ever. "Remember that we have a patient on the table, and that he is exposed." He tottered a bit on his new hooves, then continued, "I suggest we finish this while we can." I nodded in agreement. Turning to Jamie, I asked her to put on a new pair of gloves and work with her new hands as best you can. She nodded timidly and went to a small station nearby and grabbed a set of latex gloves. She slid them on as best she could, taking care not to puncture them with her claws. When she came back, it was all I could do to not laugh at the unfilled glove finger.

I looked at Gabe and he shook his head in disbelief, "I didn't include this in my what-ifs earlier, did I?" he said. I shook my head, "Sure didn't. But that doesn't matter now, we've got to get this done before something else happens. Now, if you'll join me, we'll be done in a few minutes time."

Gabe looked at me with an astonished gaze, "I have never heard you talk like that. No offense, but you've never taken charge like that before." I shook my head incredulously. He was right, I was never the assertive type. I usually just hung back in the shadows and let others take the initiative. I was a follower, not a leader. But just then, something in my head just clicked, and I took charge. I shrugged, "I don't know what's going on. Perhaps it's this," I said, indicating my legs. "Could be. Actually, it probably is," Gabe said. We turned our attention back to Mr. Jameston. Jamie just looked at her hands in astonishment.

"Ok, now where were we?" I looked at Gabe confused. Did he not remember?

"We were just about to find the cesum and cut off the... oooohhhhh..." I moaned... I could feel the Change coming again. My thighs thickened and the pressure from my pants being filled with the new muscle was getting greater by the second. I felt a tingle up to my waist that I knew had to be fur growing in with my new Change. Suddenly, I felt a sharp lancing pain through my spine and back as a long, thin tail slid out of the base of my spine and collided uncomfortably with my already filled jeans. I finally heard the ripping of fabric as my thighs expanded too much for the pants. I loosened my pants and freed my tail, allowing a sigh of relief.

The next feeling in this Surge was not pleasant at all. I felt my pelvis jostling inside me. My legs spread farther apart so that my thighs no longer touched each other. I nearly yelled out in terror when I felt my legs dislocate from my hips and reposition into their new sockets. Damn, did that feel strange, not to mention frightening. I stood and seemed to be leaning a little more forward than I usually would, but no so much that I would topple over. I felt the tell-tale tingle ebb away and I looked to see how Jamie and Gabe had progressed.

Jamie's scales had covered her entire upper body and arms. She was worriedly palming her chest, and only after a moment's contemplation did I realize why. Her breasts had disappeared! She looked at me with a helpless expression that communicated distress and absolute terror. I could not imagine what that felt like. Suddenly, a realization hit me. Did she change gender? If so, could, or did, I? I made no effort to hide my attempt to examine myself. I pulled out the waist on my pants and my boxers (thank God I didn't wear briefs today!) and gave a quick glance. I breathed a sigh of relief, everything was as it should be. Or, at least, as close as it could be.

Gabe tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to him and noticed that he had come along quite far as well. His mid-section had Changed in much the same way as mine, except he was not leaning as far forward as I was. It almost looked like he wasn't Changing as much as I was. His legs hadn't muscled up considerably as mine had, but they still filled his jeans out very tightly. I could see just a slight bit of fur peeking out from his jeans at the waist. "Let's go," he said indicating Mr. Jameston on the table. "I don't know what is going to happen when this Changing gets to his upper body. His internal organs may change as well, it's a pretty safe bet that they will."

I nodded in agreement. As I went back to work on Mr. Jameston, I noticed the clock. It was now 6:00 AM.

6:00 AM

"Jesus, he's been lying here exposed for over forty minutes!" I exclaimed.

"He should be all right. This environment is sterile, so there shouldn't be any problem," Gabe said reassuringly. It was like having the old him back. I easily remembered what was next on the procedure. Funny, I was having so much trouble earlier. Without a word from Dr. Walters, I reached into the cavity and found the cesum with two fingers among all the other organs in the abdomen. Jamie guided me out so I did not drop the fragile organ back into the cavity. I smiled at the ease that I had proceeded with, and I felt my tail twitch back and forth behind me. "Heh, cool," I said looking back at my new appendage.

"I was noticing that a second ago." Gabe said, "It'll be interesting to see how it functions. Being a doctor just got a whole lot more complicated."

I nodded. "Yes it has. And all in the course of forty minutes!" Gabe snickered. I clasped the cesum gently in my hand and slid down until I held the swollen appendix in my fingers. "Now, just a gentle swipe of the scalpel and we'll tie off the wound. Then we'll place the cesum back into the cavity," Gabe instructed.

"Right." I put the knife next to the appendix. Suddenly, I heard Jaime moan and clutch at her stomach. I knew immediately that her organs were changing inside her. She staggered back awkwardly and fell back onto the station that held the sterile goods. She tried to scream, but it came out as a gurgle. I looked to Mr. Jameston and his insides too were moving around inside the cavity. The cesum and appendix were quivering in the Change. They almost felt like liquid...

Gabe exploded, "CUT THE DAMN THING OFF! QUICK!"I jumped at his shouting and swiped blindly at the appendix. The cesum plopped loudly into the cavity and I gasped at the sound. I still held the stub of the appendix in my fingers. I watched in amazement as Mr. Jameston's internal organs liquefied right in front of my eyes. "Dear God," Gabe whispered, "I haven't see anything like this since the Plague." The gelatinous mass that filled his abdominal cavity quivered and moved along in currents. I heard a crash and turned to the noise. Jaime had fainted and taken some of the metal bowls on the table she was leaning on to the floor with her.

"You better get some help in here for her," I said, "No telling what will happen." I indicated the now solidifying gel in Mr. Jameston's stomach. Gabe nodded and rushed towards the door out of the OR. Just as he hit the door, he doubled over and groaned piteously. "Oh..." he managed. I still felt fine, however, and it puzzled me why I was not Changing along with Jamie and Gabe. No sooner had I thought that, when what felt like my insides dropping out of myself occurred. I gripped my stomach with both arms, which I noticed were no longer the arms I once possessed. I watched through squinting eyes as my biceps and triceps enlarged. My chest muscles rippled with new-found power. The feeling in my stomach was ebbing slightly, I must not have had much to change in there.

I looked at my hands and watched in amazement as my middle two fingers began to fuse together. I quickly ripped of my gloves so not to impede the transformation. The middle and ring finger moved together to become one, and my other fingers thickened to match the new one. My fingernails disappeared, my fingers themselves shortened, and claws poked from their sheaths and then retracted back into them. I guess I spoke too soon, I thought. I stood up as best I could and checked the patient. The incision I had made earlier was healing itself! I could make out, before what was left of the cut was sealed, the intestines and a four-part stomach. Apparently, Mr. Jameston had become a ruminant. I looked for a couple seconds more, but I could not find the cesum that I needed to tie off.

The rumbling in my stomach had ceased, and I straightened up. I made it all the way, and without a hitch. I looked over to Jamie and saw that she was slowly coming around. I walked over to her and helped her to her feet. I noticed her newly grown tail right off. I hadn't noticed its appearance earlier, so it must have grown in the last Surge. It was about four-feet long, and covered with the same scales her torso and mid-section were.

"Thanks," she said wearily. She stood and he eyes widened. She turned her head around as far as she could and saw her new four foot long tail. "Oh. My. God. What the hell is going on?" "I don't know. But right now I need your help," I said. I was taking charge again, I noticed, and it felt totally natural, "I think Mr. Jameston is finished. Let's seal him up and get him to Recovery." She nodded. Damn, I thought. That was way too easy. I felt a hand on my shoulder, and knew that it was Gabe.

"You all right?" he said, a look of genuine worry on his face. I blinked a couple of times. His face had puckered into a short muzzle, and light black and white stripes covered his head. His ears were pointed slightly, and some of his gray hair had whitened even more while some had darkened into a jet black. His hands were four-fingered now, like mine, but were stronger and more powerful. His nails were much thicker now, and when he put his hand at his side, it resembled a hoof.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just a bit shaken," I said with a smile. My tail did its twitching thing again. Suddenly Gabe's look of worry become one of fear. I closed my mouth quickly. I hadn't noticed, but I too had a short muzzle. I must look just like a lion, I thought, Lions and zebras do not mix. My nose was flat now with my muzzle and could I could smell a slight odor in the air, but I couldn't discern it. He began to shy away from me. Suddenly, the scent registered in my mind. It smelled like fear, a hot, thick odor. It was intense! I had never experienced anything like it! I was smelling a feeling.

Suddenly, something in my mind cried out -food! prey! run! catch! kill! KILL!!!- I was startled by these thoughts and snapped myself out of it. They could have only been the instincts of the lion I was becoming, or part lion as it were. Gabe was still moving away from me; I could see the humanity flow away from his eyes and the animal within him take hold.

"Oh, Christ," I said. He was losing his grip, and his zebra instincts were taking him over. That's why he's been so conceding to me! He was scared of me! I realized. I remembered that Jamie was behind me and I asked her over my shoulder to get some orderlies down here, and fast. She said, "Ok," and left the room, running down the hall. I took a step forward and Gabe took one back. I rethought that strategy, Lord knows what would happen if I backed him into a corner.

"Gabe... Gabe, you there? It's Jeff. You remember me right?" I said as I took another step forward. Gabe moved back, and now he began trembling. I checked the clock. It was now 6:35.

6:35 AM

I felt a sudden physical pressure on my head. My muzzle became more elongated and I could feel my teeth sharpen and become more carnivorous in nature. My human ears flattened against my head and were absorbed, only to poke out and reappear on top of my head. My hair grew longer and came down across my chest and neck, where more of it grew. I gave myself a little chuckle. I now had a mane, just like a real lion. My eyes blurred and tingled, but only for a second. Then it was over.

I was almost overwhelmed by the smells in the room. The antiseptic in the room nearly killed all the nerves in my nostrils. The scent stung at them and burned my nose. I could hear the clamor of the hallway outside. People were yelling and crying, it must have been total pandemonium out there. I suddenly felt very guilty about sending Jamie out there. I wondered if she was ok...

I could see better than I could before, as well. Detail was much more intense, but the colors in the room were slightly muted. The blue walls faded to a bluish-grey hue, and most of the other colors followed suit. But I could read the engraving on a scalpel across the room. "Stainless steel," it said.

Gabe gave a muffled whelp. I returned my attention to my friend. His head was now fully Changed, and I could only surmise that he was totally finished. His muzzle was shorter than a natural zebra's, but everything else was just the same. His hair had aligned itself into a mane, and his ears were now triangular and on top of his head. But his eyes drew the most attention from me. I could see their whites, they were so wide. They cried out to me from beyond Gabe's body. His soul was screaming to me, pleading for me to help him. I took another step forward. There was a flash of light, and Gabe was suddenly replaced by a full-blown zebra! The animal looked around in fear, fear so strong that it broke through the medicine smell in the room. The zebra spotted the door and made a run for it. I pursued him, and checked up on Mr. Jameston in passing. I hardly had time to notice that the incision I had made in him had sealed itself perfectly. There were no visible scars in the skin or discontinuities in the fur. I was amazed at what I had caught in passing, for I must have had less than five seconds to really examine the area on Mr. Jameston's stomach. I was thinking much clearer than I ever had before now...

The zebra, or should I say Dr. Walters, bounded out the door, with me in hot pursuit. The hallway outside was packed with panicked people, all half human and half animal. I allowed myself a muffled curse under my breath. So, everyone had changed. Incredible. Dr. Walters charged down the packed corridor at full speed, so fast that often times people could not get out of his way. He leaped over a stretcher and collided with a nurse who had become part collie. The nurse screamed in pain when Gabe's foreleg came crashing down on her arm. He hit the ground for a second, but was up again in a flash and quickly turned the corner. There was a crash and metal hitting the tile floor. A sharp piercing whinny filled the hall. Dr. Walters must have hit a crash cart and hurt himself. (A crash cart is used to revive a patient from a 'crash' or when the heart stops beating.)

I immediately ran towards the end of the hall, dodging the disarray that Gabe had left in his wake. Just then, Jamie appeared from an adjoining hallway I passed with two orderlies that I had instructed her to retrieve. I almost didn't recognize her. She, too, had completed changing. Her head had elongated to where she had very little forehead left, and her eyes were green with vertical slits for pupils. She had not one whisp of hair left, pebbly scales covered her body. A frill of loose, leathery skin hung from her chin down to the base of her neck. She noticed I was checking her over. "Iguana." she said. The orderlies were quite Changed as well. One was a bear-morph, the other an ox. Figures that they would become burly creatures, I thought to myself.

"Where are you going?" Jamie began. I broke her off by waving my hand. "Gabe's lost it, Jamie. He just Changed into a zebra completely. The new instincts from his Change must have gotten the better of him, so when he caught sight of me, I guess he got so frightened he couldn't contain himself." I tilted my head towards the hall Gabe had turned down. "He ran out of the operating room and down this hall. When he turned the corner it sounded like he hit a cart and hurt himself." The orderlies moved past me and down the hall. "There's a nurse a little ways down the hall," I said to Jamie. "She has a broken arm, I think. I'll go check on Gabe." She nodded, and I followed her down the hall.

Gabe was on the floor, kicking and bucking anyone that got near him. His right foreleg was caught under the crash cart that he had hit. It was a sure thing that his arm was broken; the cart contained very heavy equipment. The orderlies approached him, but as soon as they got into hoof's length Gabe started kicking and fending them off. I watched in amazement. Not more than ten minutes ago, I was performing surgery with that man. Uh, horse. I shook my head in disbelief. The orderlies weren't helping at all, so I waved them off. "Dr. Walters? Gabe?" I said, keeping my distance so not to spook the zebra, "It's Dr. Williams. It's Jeff, remember me?" I stepped forward, and Gabe only began to thrash around again. It was hopeless, while he was awake, no one would be able to approach him. And the longer he stayed like this, the harder it would be to bring the old him back.

I looked around, hoping for something that would help me. I remembered the medicine desk. The desk was staffed at all times, and it was used for quick access to sedatives and medicines in the event of an emergency. I deemed this to be an emergency. It was on the same hall I was now, but behind me about twenty yards. I ran as fast as I could to the desk, and when I got there I was greeted by a strangely familiar mallard duck. She was obviously female, her coloration gave that away. I noticed that compared to me, she had changed very little. Only feathers, webbed feet and hands, and bill distinguished her from human. Interesting, I thought, No wings. She looked at my name tag closely.

"Dr. Williams? Is that you?" she said. I just nodded. "What's going on down there? Other than this," she said, holding up her hands to me. Other than the covering of feathers, her hands looked totally human.

"Dr. Walters has had an unfortunate accident," I said, "I need a tranquilizer, fast."

"Which one? And how much?"

"I don't care. And enough to knock out a zebra."

"A zebra? Gabe's a zebra?" I nodded. She allowed herself a chuckle and went to the back of the room. She returned a few seconds later with a 100cc syringe filled with a clear liquid. "Here," she said, "This will put him out long enough to do what you need to." I hoped so, I didn't think to tell her that Gabe was a real zebra, not just part zebra. I took the needle from her and ran back to the where Dr. Walters was.

The orderlies had lifted the crash cart from his leg, and he lay on the floor whimpering. The foreleg was twisted grotesquely to the right. It was surely dislocated and broken in God knows how many places. I walked up to him and before he could see me I plunged the needle into his flank and injected the sedative.

Dr. Walters thrashed wildly as I removed the syringe. He attempted to stand, but he yelped at the pain that zinged through his twisted foreleg. His head reeled back and forth, and his frightened head rolled back into his skull. His eyes closed, his breathing slowed, and he stopped moving. There was another flash of light, and I recognized the form of my friend returning. 'Thank God, I just hope he's himself.' I said to myself.

I had not noticed it in my excitement, but the smell-of-fear hung thick in the air. I heard the instinctual voice in my cry out -RUN!! gogogo!- but I shuffled it off to the farthest corner of my mind. After what I had just seen and been through, I did not want it to take control of me. I looked at my friend lying unconscious and helpless on the floor, and I felt a sob well up in my eyes. The mallard nurse that was at the medicine desk had left her post and offered to take him to a room, and I obliged.

I walked dazed into the OR, passing by all manners of creatures. The hospital had packed to overflowing as frightened people had poured in from the street and their homes, trying to find an answer to the Changings. The operating room greeted me with its overpowering tang of antiseptic. Jamie was there, and she told me that the nurse was already being treated. I asked to be along and she nodded, understanding. She began to leave the room, when I asked her what time it was. "6:59 AM, Jeff." she said, and I heard the door close behind her.

I looked to Mr. Jameston. He still lay on the operating table, oblivious to all that was going on outside him. I wondered what dreams he was having in his sedative-induced sleep. "I'm going to have to explain a lot when you wake up, sir," I said aloud to the patient. At last the dam inside me burst, and I fell to my knees, weeping bitterly on the table.

7:00 PM

I walked into recovery later that day with a file and some test results under my arm. I chatted with the collie receptionist, and she told me that she was leaving her job and going to work out West somewhere, probably at a motel, or something. I asked what room Gabriel Walters was in.

"467, sir. Just down that hall," she pointed.

I followed her instructions and knocked on the door to Room 467. "Come in!" a cheerful voice from inside answered. I took a deep breath to calm myself, and walked in.

"Jeff! Hey, it's great to see you!" Gabe said from his bed. He was reclined up a little, and he worked a remote with his left hand. The TV across the room lowered its volume. His right arm was bandaged and cast all the way up to his shoulder. I couldn't detect any signs of fear or anxiety in the air. In fact, he smelled rather happy to see me. "You here to give me my test results?"

I nodded, "Yes sir," and I flipped on the backlight setup used to illuminate x-rays. I stepped aside so that he could see what I was indicating. The x-ray was of his damaged right arm. I pointed to a split in the solid white that indicated his bones. "You've got a major fracture right here. It'll take a while for this to knit." He nodded in agreement somberly. I pointed next a few other breaks in his lower and upper arms. "Finally," I said, indicating an expanse between the joint of the upper arm and the shoulder, "you dislocated your shoulder in the accident. We took care of that already." My tail twitched back and forth in happiness. I was glad that I didn't frighten him anymore.

Gabe nodded. "Thanks. You know how long they're going to keep me here?" I shook my head, "A couple of days, at least. They want to learn more about your new systems. Oh, which reminds me," I held up another x-ray to the light. This one was of his abdomen, and it clearly showed the different placements of internal organs. Gabe's eyes grew wide at the sight. Things were rearranged and twisted from what he and I had learned in the past few years. I pointed to a faint outline of what looked like a large lima bean. "Well, there's good news and bad news. Good news: you're not a ruminant like our friend Mr. Jameston." Gabe laughed, "He's a ruminant? Heh! That's great!" He laughed too hard though, and he grimaced and held his arm.

"Careful there," I said. He waved me off, "It's ok. Just have to be more cautious." He looked to me, "So what's the bad news?"

I pointed again to the x-ray, "It seems that you'll be needing an appendectomy." I could hardly contain my smile. Gabe, on the other hand, could hardly contain himself.

"No!" he exclaimed. The smell of surprise and fear suddenly appeared. "You've got to be kidding me! Don't tell me you're going to do it!" I couldn't take it anymore, and I burst out laughing. My tail swished in vast amusement.

"I'm just kidding you! I thought you would like the joke! I didn't mean for you to take it seriously!" I said as I took a breath. Gabe sat back in his bed and frowned. "You didn't fool me. I knew it all along."

"Suuuure you did," I said sarcastically. He smiled. "Ok, ya had me going."

"I knew it. But other than your arm, you're in perfect health. Oh, and I thought you might like to know, that way you turned into a zebra earlier is popping up everywhere. It's pretty common."

"Interesting," he said. "Can you do it?" I nodded and closed my eyes. There in front of me, I saw a door. Just a plain door, nothing ornate about it or anything. I took the handle and turned it. The door swung open and I walked through.

I felt a tingling that permeated through my bones. My hands shrunk down to match my feet, and my muzzle elongated to full length. I shrank in height and fell to all fours, becoming quadrupedal. I felt the tingle leave me and I opened my eyes. The white lab coat that I wore easily allowed for my transformation, but it now hung over my eyes. I moved it away and looked up to Gabe. His eyes were wide with astonishment. Seeing a zebra in my norm form sent my instincts wild, and soon all I could hear in my mind was -food! prey!! hunt!! kill!!!- I quickly closed my eyes and thought of walking out of the door behind me in my mind. I felt the tingle over my body again and the now familiar sensations of my body changing to my morph form.

I stood up straight again and fixed my lab coat back around my neck. "Simply incredible..." Gabe said. "Yes, it is," I agreed. "You did it earlier, but I doubt you remember."

He shook his head, "No, I don't. All I remember is seeing a lion and going sbsolutely nuts." I nodded, "Yes. Those were your instincts taking over. When they saw me, you ran like I was hunting you."

"Ah... That would explain it. But how come I feel fine now?"

"You have more control over your instincts in your morph form. When you change into your norm form, as I just did, the instincts become much stronger. Just then, part of me was looking at you like potential prey, while the other part was still recognizing you as my friend."

Gabe shook his zebra head in astonishment. "Jesus, Jeff. What happened to all of us?"

"I really wish I knew, Gabe." And I headed to the door. As I reached for the handle, Gabe called to me.

"I'm sorry about what happened earlier. I didn't mean for it."

I sighed, "Nobody meant for it. I have to get back to the ER. The place is a war zone. There's people off the streets coming in to ask what's happened to them. It hard to tell who's hurt and who's isn't." Gabe nodded, "I understand. Go on." He motioned me out the door. I was just about to close it when called again.

"Hey, Jeff!"

"Yeah?"

"You look nice."

"Thanks. You too." I closed the door and left for the ER.



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