No Reason
by Arthur Pearson


I passed Kyle as he was waiting for his computer to finish something. I rubbed his head and he reached up and latched onto my hand.

"Ky-le. Let go."

"Mine," he said.

I laughed, pulling against his grip. "C'mon, Kyle. I wanna get something to eat."

"Mine," he said, smiling and moving his eyes around in a happy/greedy/guilty/innocent style.

I reached over and grabbed the door, twisted heavily and hurt my own hand as I got out of his hand.

"Aoow," Kyle said disappointingly, sounding like a monkey.

In the kitchen, I saw it was about 4:20 in the morning. It was stupid to get something to eat now. I was going to bed.

I came back into the room and began undressing for bed. "Gonna zip another CD?"

Kyle drew his lips into a thin smile and nodded his chin up and down.

I went back to my computer and saved the No More Fakes stuff, then shut it down. Just in my underwear, I vaulted from my chair up to the top bunk, and went to sleep.

We were in a school bus, driven by my father. We were going to help him on a plumbing job he needed to get done for the Clinton's. Matt Helgeson wouldn't stop picking on me, but I didn't want to say anything because Dad was under a lot of pressure recently - this was the third time he had to go back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He'd replaced their kitchen faucet twice, each time they'd call back to complain of leaks. Dad told me that they had some paintings in the room below the kitchen that they had to move.

Dad pulled the bus around to the back of the white house with the 1600 in wood letters on the front. He had us pile out and go around the back to help him with his roto-rooter. It took all 50 of us to get it down. Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton came out the back porch door and waved to us.

That roto-rooter stunk. Stunk really, really bad. It smelled like 30 weeks of gym socks. There were jockey shorts stuck to it and we were all coughing, trying to close our noses.

There were sheets around me. I was... in my room. My degree of waking was about 4 on a scale from one to ten, with 0 being able to go to sleep in 2 seconds and 10 being "I'm not going to be able to go back to sleep even if I sit here all day." I usually got out of bed at around 8 on the scale.

I felt like I was at around -20 on the scale. I looked up at the clock. It was 6:00 AM.

While looking at the clock, I was beginning to realize that something was decidedly amiss. There was more face in front of me than just my nose. I blinked, then groaned. Some sort of disease was puffing my cheeks and face up massively, though I had no idea how it happened. Maybe it was that I didn't brush every day or sometimes didn't wash my dishes well enough.

I kicked myself mentally. Worry genes ran rampant in my family. I realized that with my worry fit, I'd moved up to about 9 on the wakefulness. If I was going to get to sleep, I would have to get up and do something. That usually worked out whatever anti-sleep condition I got into.

I rolled over and drooped my head over the side of my bunk bed. Below me, on the bottom bunk was Kyle, asleep. He'd probably sleep till 2. Not wanting to wake him, I carefully swung my legs off the bed.

At that point, I noticed a couple things. My toes didn't feel right. Their nails were catching on the sheets in a strange way. The hair on my legs was brushing the sheets a lot more than usual. I could smell something rotting in the trash down under my desk next to the bed.

In the darkness, I pulled my right foot up to feel the nails. As my leg came up it rubbed his other leg, and there was a lot more hair that got rubbed.

Right then I was at about 30 or so on the wakefulness scale. My heart seemed not to be confined to my chest - it was trying to escape it, pumping inside my neck. I'd written stories like this hundreds of times. Me, or variants of me, waking and finding something amiss, something just a bit off... something that led to a definite transformation.

I closed my eyes and felt touched my foot, just feeling along it. Hair sprouted along its top and bottom.

THUM THUM THUM. I thought my heart was going to burst. Dream, dream. Has to be a dream. I should be awake now.

I was awake. I thought back on my "waking up" from my dream. I had realistic dreams sometimes. I remember one where I had convinced myself that it was reality and not a dream I was in, even though I'd walked a spiral staircase in the middle of a cloud to find someone even uglier than Hoggle from the movie Labyrinth.

Every movement I made felt straight from real world. I got off the bed and giddily looked around, debating weather or not to wake Kyle.

I sat down on the chair. I looked at my computer, then over to Kyle. With his black sheets and the very dim light... and with how skinny he was, I couldn't tell weather or not he was in there.

One hundred percent real. No going back. Of course, if life is just a dream, don't you dread the waking? I smiled to myself and turned on my computer.

That garbage just wouldn't stop stinking. I got up and snagged the bag of trash under the desk and brought it out to the kitchen. It was a little nippy out there. I flipped on the light and took out a couple plastic recyclable containers and put them in the plastics bin. The garbage did not begin to sing. Nobody from my high school days came in to berate me for not taking out the recyclables for about 3 weeks. I didn't feel compelled to rush outside and just glide up above Duluth, surveying the snowscape.

One hundred fifty percent real. I dropped the bag and strode resolutely into the bathroom and switched both lights on - the ceiling one and the one right over the mirror. Pointed ears. I reached up to touch them. My nails were wide and darker. There was stubble on my chin, but that's not unusual. The color was what was unusual. Brown, and thick. More unusual, the nose, flattened against the face, nostrils stretching strangely wide.

"No. No, no no! Please, don't be what I think it is." I threw my hands up and walked around the room. "Now I wish this was a dream." I sighed and sat on the closed lid of the toilet. Some sort of equine. From the nails, the nose, the ears even. My sister and her stupid horses. Of course, I thought to myself, I should be glad that I'm transforming at all, much less than into the exact genus and species of creature you want. I cocked my head to one side and raised my eyebrows. Not that there was a certain species I'd have chosen over another. Mink, maybe, for the fur... Wolf for the predatory and iconistic "were" quality... Rabbit, for what they're famous for...

I smiled to myself. Equines weren't exactly slackers in that area, either, though.

I'd left the door open, and my heart leapt as I watched it open. There was Kyle, all six feet, 130 pounds of him. Plus one brand new round pink nose. "What're you doing up?" he blearily asked.

I smiled at him. "Notice anything different?"

"Wuh? Where'd you get those ears?"

Truthfully, I said, "I don't know." Then, I challenged him. "Look in the mirror."

"Something wrong with my nose?" He asked lazily, leaning toward the mirror. "It felt weird." He reached his hand up to the nose and rubbed it. "Uh, it feels okay." He squinted angrily around the room. "Jeez this place stinks. I wonder if Nate's been in here."

Nate was our other roommate, living in the next room. Kyle thinks it's the new suit he got. My friends thinks he doesn't wash. I think it's something in his genetics. His roommate, Dale, moved out after the first quarter to go earn some more money for college. "... Or so he says," I said knowingly to Kyle once.

I said, "It's your nose. You can probably smell better with that thing."

In faux hillbilly southern dumb butt accent, Kyle said, "Whut?", sticking his chin out and shaking his head in miscomprehension.

Something was happening. I saw it start on Kyle. His 2 and a half foot long hair was shrinking back into his skull, like something you'd see out of a morph program. Gray fur fanned out of his face, filling out his sunken cheeks and replacing his normal wiry thick black goatee. His eyes swiveled toward the mirror and he watched himself change and I was distracted by my own.

I held my hands out in front of me, kind of like I'd done many times before and willed as strongly as I could to do what was happening effortlessly now. Well, sort of. I pictured claws in stead of hoof. I couldn't help but think "glue" as my nails began taking up space on my fingers. I gasped as I felt them slap together and merge into two thick stubs.

For such an historic event in my life, I looked away from the change for a moment, horror stabbing, wrenching, killing me. My hands. I couldn't lose my hands. "No." I said, my heart beating not in joy or excitement but dread. "No please god no!"

I stood, ignoring the growth of fur all over me and the tail which pushed into, then tore my briefs. Into my room, to my bag, I shakily took out my paper with my increasingly numbing fingertips. My pencil then. I turned around and sat on Kyle's bed, ignoring the slight pain of sitting on my tail.

A voice in my head said "Tail! Tail! You've got a tail!"

I ignored it and waited for the change to get over with. I suddenly whined in surprise as my face ran away from me. "A.j., what did you do?!" demanded Kyle from the bathroom. I didn't reply. I realized that at least I would keep my long hair, it'd just be tanish brown now instead of dark blond. The sensations in my face raged like ants into different things. Fatter lips, two sets of teeth, a crazily huge nasal region. And those ears... they pulled up like someone yanked on them, though there was only a vague uncomfortable feeling as they moved. I flipped them back, then forward, then relaxed, and they rotated forward.

"Damn." I said. I got distracted. I picked up the pencil again and bent over.

Kyle came into the room and said, "A.j., what did you do?"

"Shut up I'm trying to draw."

"A.j.! I'm turning into an animal -- I know you like those furries, what dark power did you make a deal with?"

I finished up the little picture. My own human face, sticking its tongue out at me. It wasn't a Rembrandt, but I never said that I could draw like that. I sighed in relief. "It wasn't me. I don't know what's happening. At least I can still draw."

Kyle said, "Yeah, if this's the last of it." I looked up at him. His face was pointed, almost completely changed like mine. He was turning into an opossum.

I giggled. I then threw my head back and laughed.

He looked at me. "What?"

"The Grip is back! With how you always like to latch onto people..."

Again, he said, "Whut?" in a slow southern accent.

"Possums hang upside-down from trees by their tails. Incredibly good grip." I smiled snidely to him. He rolled his eyes.

I stood up to survey the damage. Looking down, I saw tan brown fur that covered my body. My legs were changed. They were... "Well, wadda ya know." I was standing on two hooves.

We heard a sudden, "AH! AAAAH!" from the other room.

Kyle and I looked at each other. "Nate."

I walked toward the door, opened it, and was greeted by... A greenish-skinned, web-fingered, white-bellied, wide-lipped Nate. "What the fuck?" he said.

I shrugged. "I don't know what's going on." An idea popping up in my head, I went back to my computer, turned the chair around, sat down, and used the mouse to select my TV player, and switched to the news channel. The screen then filled with an elk man, giving the news.

"For those of you who just tuned in, we have confirmed that people all around the world are turning into half human, half animal creatures. Children under the age of 12 seem to be unaffected."

"God I wonder what the TSA is like."

"TSA?" Asked Nate.

"Transformation Story Archive mailing list."

"Gawd. Everybody in the world's going to have a transformation story." Nate then laughed for a while, ending in a croak.

Kyle and I looked at Nate. "This is just too weird." Said Nate nervously.

I heard knocking on the door. I walked over and opened it.

Seven feet of black shag carpet stood in front of me. "Haakenson?" I asked the massive creature. He had a pair of white tusks jutting out of his mouth, and his nose was decidedly elephant-like.

The woolly mammoth morph nodded, and said in a very deep voice, "A.j.? That you?"

It was my turn to nod. "Where's Paul?"

I stepped aside and Haakenson lumbered into the room. "Growing moose antlers upstairs. He didn't want to come down."

Kyle held up his hand. "Kyle." he said.

"Nate." Said Nate.

"Bryan Haakenson." I said, gesturing to the woolly giant beside me.

"This really sucks, Pearson. I don't want to be a fucking elephant!"

I was taken aback. "What can I do about it? I'm not doing it. I promise!"

While I said that, I noticed that Kyle's ears were moving. Up. Another change. I clenched my hands, wishing to god on high that they wouldn't change any more.

They did. I felt them warp and thicken. Panic flooded my entire being, and I doubled over to fall flat on the floor. But I didn't -- I was suddenly standing in his smelly place, with screaming panicked friends around. -Panic? Friends fear? I fear! Something to fear nearby! Gogogo!-

I hollered in fear and took the only open route I saw, and scrambled for it. I bowled into solid air - glass - and landed on dewy grass outside. I couldn't get away fast enough. I couldn't tell how far I went, but when I regained my senses, I was clip-cloping down a street someplace.

I stopped and took charge of my senses. The spring air invigorated my lungs with power. The houses seemed more lively than usual - sounds of distress, panic, -panic? gogogo!- I suppressed my uneasiness, content to just walk in place nervously a little. Walk - I was on all fours. I--

I went into another panic attack. I did not run, I planted my feet firmly on the ground, and the rest of my body shook. Hooves. Four hooves. I cried, no-brayed loudly into the morning air.

It didn't seem all too bad to just run for a while. So I did. Out of town, up and down massive Duluth hills, wilderness, trees, the occasional street and house. I let myself go - down within my mind, away from people, art, the world.

I set myself free.

Four months later. White things falling from up. Don't like cold.

I stomped through the woods, tearing angrily at the dying grass and foliage. Food was getting sparce. So was light. It was getting difficult to tell the difference between open and closed eyes.

While having that very difficulty, my legs locked in that comforting way, I dropped off into sleep.

I was walking into the two legs' place. I didn't want to be here -- something bad happened here once. I really should just leave, but I was here for a reason.

Good ground around here. I didn't see any two-legs around, so I wasn't as nervous. I stopped and took a good look around, breathing deeply the brisk air, filling the lungs under my brown furred hide. The tall sharply shaped things were all along either side of the nice, tough ground. They were strange, interesting somehow. They were places somehow, with something that put them apart yet very linked to my world.

Buildings. All around me, houses, paved roads, falling multicolored tree leaves. The smells, the sounds of the city. I shrugged off a little confusion, readjusted my backpack on my shoulders, and continued walking back to the apartment. I was coming back from Jubilee's with a backpack full of groceries. Just the essentials - 5 RPG books, dice, and a new video card for my computer.

Somehow I was passing by Steve's place. It was pretty cold out, so I ducked in for some warmth. I found that everyone was there - Kyle, Haakenson, Paul, and Stoeke. Some of them waved, I waved back. "So, what's the plan?" I asked.

"We've just got Steve's computer hooked up for Warcraft II. Wanna play?"

So, we all got on our computers (which were all in Steve's tiny apartment, naturally) and started playing. Paul, who was the controller of the game on his computer, asked, "What board do we want?"

"One with lots of Tiberium!" Kyle said.

We were all logged on as our computer monikers : Me - Picklejuice, Paul - Croaker, Kyle -Backslash, Steve - Steve the Evil, Stoeke - The Wizard , Haakenson - Captain Haak.

We started the game, but I didn't start near a tiberium mine, and by the time I started building one, Steve's orcs came over with attack planes and dragons. He just toasted my butt. I cried out as the planes flew out of my computer and began peppering me with little fireballs. They all had evil looking Steves piloting them.

I mock-fell dead, and everyone gathered around. "Bummer," someone said.

I was cold. I always hated being cold. It bugged the beans out of me that my parents wouldn't keep the house warm, that I froze my rear off every morning getting up for school. Huh. One of the reasons I loved school. It was warm there. Since I was about 4 I've always had the dream of going to California to live.

That didn't change the fact that I was cold. I brought my long neck up to blearily take in where I was. A forest of some sorts, the thin trunks of pine and decidious trees reaching up, up, up. I shook myself to start my blood moving, sending flakes of snow off my back and legs.

I snorted, clearing my nose. I had no idea where I was. Walking around in a circle didn't help, either: forest in all directions. Nobody. Gods, I was lost. How did I get here? Why did I go to sleep here? Why...

Why was I standing on all fours?

I recoiled instantly from the ground.The bottoms of my hands and feet were under the snow. Even if they still were hands and feet and not hooves, they were on the ends of very horse-like legs. I didn't want to look, but morbid fascination forced a front leg up.

There it was. A hoof. Not a hand.

Somehow, I was relieved. The crisis over, I put the hoof back into the snow and just relaxed there for a while, my legs locked like I had done the night before in preparation for sleep.

I was a horse. That was it, that was that, nothing to do about it. I was a horse. Come to think of it, I had been a horse for a good long time now. A chill that had nothing to do with the brisk air sank into me, numbing my brain. It was freaking summer the last I was thinking like a human. The beginning of summer. It must be, what, at least September? Thinking back, I found I could remember almost everything I'd done over the past couple months. The fields, the wilderness, the other predators... Hmm...

There was a couple different times where I'd seen other animals -- carnivores -- and they weren't friendly. However, I curiously couldn't remember how I managed to get away. Baser instincts musta blocked them out.

I snorted a slight raspberry (PTHTppbt!) and got on with a much more pressing matter. I was cold. So, I started walking.

No idea where I was. No idea what was going on, what happened back at the apartment. I made a mental chuckle. I broke the window in the living room. I wondered what happend after that. Kyle scrambling for cover, Nate hopping around, Haakenson... Jeez, he'd better have followed me out the window, or he'd have broken down the apartment. Wooly mammoths aren't short.

When I thought about it, a wooly mammoth was somehow appropriate to Haakenson. He was just about the biggest guy I knew personally. Originally a wimp in early high school, he started seriously working out. By the time he graduated, he got straight A's in gym class but was smart as a whip, too. On top of that, he literally had a neandertal's sub-orbital ridge. In a couple videos he and some of his friends made, he played a really menacing Terminator.

Kyle as a 'possum. I just had to laugh. Mr. Touchy/Feely/Latch-on-for-ever was now an animal that could hang from a branch by his tail while he slept. I once made a joke to him that, if he accidentally grabbed onto the struts of an aeroplane when it took off, the pilot would suddenly realize he's down there, and shout, "Woah! Man! You ok down there?" To which Kyle, hanging on with his hands, would grin unconcerned and shout back, "No, I'm fine! Just keep going!"

But Nate a frog? Paul a moose? Me, a horse?

I remembered the first time I ever rode a horse. It was on my uncle Butch's farm, and I was only 2 or 3 years old. I remember the strong musty smell, the really big animal, the fear that I'd fall off.

Then I remembered something else important concerning horses. My mother moved us out into the country because of horses!

I tried screwing up my face in a scowl of digust but only manged to tuck my ears back. I remembered that, up until 2nd grade, we lived in that big ol' blue house - seven-ten west first street. I had friends I'd go visit, play with. We were pretty popular because we were the only people besides the city to own a pool. For the land of 10,000 lakes, Blue Earth, Minnesota had none.

Then my parents bought the farm. No, they didn't die, they actually bought an 8 acre farm 7 miles out of town.

Seven miles. From the hotbed of popularity, fun, friends, to nowhere. From being able to go down to Hogan's Hill every winter for sledding to staring at the absolutely flat Minnesota landscape, sled in hand, noplace to go. Mr. Rolly-poly, I never gave a second thought to bike-riding that distance.

For what? My mom wanted horses. She grew up with them, rode them when she was little, loved them. My sister, too. Whenever I watched tv shows where the little girl begs her parents for a horse for her birthday or chirstmas, I just couldn't relate. My sister had a horse. She and Mom would go out horseriding regularly.

Man, did I hate my mom. I was forced out in the country because of her. I didn't like her personality, either. I just detested her for the longest time. I made a game of it at school. Remember the old rhyme, "Step on a crack, break your mother's back"? Well, as silly as it seems, I'd whisper that in school, deliberately pounding my foot down on every crack, crevice, and break in floor tile as I walked. I came to believe those words, secretly wishing she would break her back and die.

Then Mike showed up.

I stopped, tears pressing against the inside walls of my eyes. Although I never said it at the time, I intimately knew the meaning of another line, "You don't know what you've got... 'till it's gone."

No, mom didn't die this time, either. I remember my dad bringing me and my sister Amy to the basement, sitting us down to talk to us. He explained that mom was going to be living someplace else for a while. I took it quite well. Amy cried horribly, and I just did my 8 year old best to be understanding for my older sister.

Alone, later, in my room, I sat on my bed, and realized something very important. I might loose mom. She might leave us, for ever. That's what tipped me over, and I hollered and cried primal denial, guilt, pain, sorrow.

It's the funniest thing. From then on, in school, I constantly had the compulsion to tip-toe through the halls, watching carefully where I placed my feet so as not to even skim a single crack.

Cheezy? Stupid? Stupid enough to be real.

From my current enraged perspective, I could switch my blame for the whole divorce from Mike to horses. If mom didn't love horses, she'd never have left dad.

I stopped in the forest and snorted in amusement. With that line of thinking, the reason they divorced wasn't because of mom, Mike, me, even the horses - It was my grandma's fault for getting mom to love horses in the first place. I chuckled a kind of braying sound. No, no -- it was all of mankind's fault for domesticating the horse in the first place. Better yet, it's god's fault for making the human race.

"Eeh -Aaah! Eeeh Aaah!" I couldn't stop laughing. "Eeh- Aaah! Eeh Aaaw!" Waitaminute. I sounded just like a donkey. I whipped my head around and flicked my tail into view. Yup. That's a donkey's tail.

I clomped my mouth shut but kept laughing on the inside, shaking myself in mirth. Not a horse, a donkey. All this time, I was thinking of Amy's quarterhorses when I was really a donkey.

After laughing myself out, I let out a contented sigh of air through my donkey nose and I started walking again. I felt a lot better after my laugh.

Oo, but I was hungry. Really hungry. I didn't notice it over the cold, but that tree bark was beginning to look mighty tastey. I stopped again, looked around guiltily, then went over to a deciduous tree and put my mouth up to the bark. I tore off a piece and began chewing.

Eew. Not what I would have chosen, but it was doing something for me. Unlike Mom's and Amy's horses, though, I wouldn't eat the bark all the way around the tree, killing it. I just stripped a good chunk up and down one side before setting off again.

Animal. I was an animal. I then shrugged. Well, everyone else is probably an animal, too. Whole world, animals --

I was still an animal. Eating the bark off trees, probably eating grass if it were around. Walking around buck naked. Hmm. I checked the equine equipment between my rear legs. Still there. Large as life. I looked back up, then got going again.

All this stupid thinking was getting me nowhere. No wonder I left it behind for so long. I'd stopped at least 4 times in the last 20 minutes. In an effort to occupy my mind, I broke to a trot, then a run, and gallop.

I immediately slowed down as quickly as I could. Thinking to myself, I don't know this terrain. A donkey with a broken leg, well... Even I knew the old vet's book on equines: can it move? It's well. If not, shoot it and put it out of its misery.

Like it or not, I was stuck with thoughts, feelings, emotions. I thought I might have killed myself. I felt like running. I did not want to end up in freakish misery.

Then again, I was lost as lost can be, out in the middle of America's siberia, Minnesota. I think. I didn't know how or when I'd ever find civlization or a house, or --

Or a road. There was a road up ahead. As I picked up the pace a little bit, I realized that this wasn't some complete change for the whole universe. Sure, we were all turned into animals, but we still had the trappings of the humans around.

I got to the minimum maintainance, dirt road. Look left, nobody. Right, nobody. I was reminded of a furry story on the net, the Human Memiors, where a guy in a military supplies vehicle took the wrong short cut over a desolate road. A lightning zapping dimensional portal transported him to a world of medieval cat people.

I chose left. Now this I could gallop on. I did so.

R-R-R-Rump, R-R-R-Rump, R-R-R-Rump... My hooves thudding on snow covered dirt. My hooves. I set my eyes and cleared my mind of that dark path. I was running at a speed I'd never done before.

Fascination grew into unadulterated joy. Running full bore, shoving the earth underneath me as I rocketed down the track. Gods, the wind, the breathing vast lungfulls of air, the fact that I was doing everything myself... No car, no bike, no glider, no skates. (No clothes even.) Me. Speed.

Hunger, cold, pain all thudded away as I hung suspended, moving the world beneath me in a blur of hard hoof clawings.

I was alive. I was free. I could fly.

I... I didn't feel the ground any more beneath my hooves. The earth glided away from me, suddenly zooming out in an impossible manner.

Did I trip, fall, and miss the Earth? Who am I, Arthur Dent?

Dream. Dear lord almighty, dream! This is my dream, a dream, the dream of life -- but what does it matter? I brayed loudly in joy and ran my legs in the air in exhiliration.

... And nearly ran into a screaming eagle. "IIIIIii! Watch it, Donkey!" It screeched.

Startled beyond my wits, I tumbled toward the ground, shout-braying in confusion and fear. That eagle - it spoke!

That ground - it's going to kill me! I mentally pushed against the ground and shot back into the air again. I stopped, hovering, and looked around for the bird. It was swinging in a lazy arc, and I watched as it flew down toward me. I angled my body up so I could reach out a foreleg to it. When it got close, however, I saw it was too big for me to support, probably. It looked to be about 4 feet tall, with a wingspan of more than 10. I brought up my foreleg, then made to follow along side the bird. He swooped by, and I moved to keep pace with him.

So. The world wasn't overrun with animals. In the beating of this guy's wings, I saw he had two talon-like arms tucked close to his body, much like his legs were. I also saw a bag around his neck -- one of those hip-sacks you see fat tourists wearing.

"So..." The brown eagle said. "I haven't heard of you before. Where're you from?"

I tried to say something but just a strange donkey sound came out. I shook my lips in annoyance from speechlessness.

The other waited for a moment, then said in confusion, "Can't you speak? Why don't you shift back from norm form?"

Shift back... ? I looked at him in confusion for a moment, then it came to me. Naturally, if I could fly through the air like magic, people could also change shape. I immedeiately closed my eyes and willed my arms and legs and body to change shape, willing just like I'd always willed my body to change from human to something else.

I opened my eyes, and lo!, I was... equine. Unconciously keeping pace with the eagle, I began to examine exactly what I'd become. My hands... they were hands again. I had two fingers and a thumb, just like the hands I used to draw my human face so long ago. For the first time in months, I spoke. "Ah, thank god."

"Hey. Buddy. You okay? Ah?"

"Oh, man, do you know how long I've been a donkey? I mean, a real donkey, not this morph?"

"Well, It can't have been more than four months. That's when the world Changed."

I chuckled. "That's how long it's been. You could say I woke up just this morning."

"Woah, woah, let me get this straight. You've been a donkey for four months?"

"Since the day of the Change." I said in a thats-the-way-it-is kind of voice. A shiver of cold shot a course of pain through me. "Say, you know a place we can stop and I can get warmed up?"

"Sure. You bet. By the way, I'm Steve. Steve the Eagle."

I looked at him, he said, "What?" And I nearly fell out of the sky laughing.

"Steve - It's me, A.j.!"

He snapped his head around to look at me. "A.j.? Jeez, everyone thought you were dead."

Shocked, I said, "What?"

Steve bobbed his eagle head in a well-ya-gotta-understand nod and said, "Well, you took off, and when searching actually began, we found a donkey that looked just like you, smacked by a Mack truck."

I didn't say anything for a while. Dead. I might as well have been dead, as far as anyone else was concerned. God, that was a stabbing thought.

Steve noticed my shock. "Say, wanna stop down at a diner or something? You look kind of shook up."

"Yeah, sure." I mumbled. Dead. My parents, my sister, my friends... all thinking I was dead.

We didn't find a diner. In stead, we zoomed in on a rest stop. Steve tapped something into his wrist computer and spoke. "Duluth, this is Gary Echo 0-4-2. I'll be dropping off your scope for a while. Rest stop."

After an incomprehensilbe staticky responce, I looked questioningly at Steve. "Red tape," He said. "One duck gets sucked into a turbine and it's lisences, radios, technical jargon."


"Tell me about it."

We landed on the concrete sidewalk along that passed for a parking lot at the rest stop. Three cars were parked in spots close to the little building that housed rest rooms, maps, and a couple pop machines.

More people. There was, from what I could tell, a family in the processs of going to the rest stop building. The kids were hopping around, all bundled up for winter and bursting at the seams with childhood energy. The mother was a barely changed mouse morph. She had light summer clothes on and had the expression of every mother run ragged on a trip. The father was a good merger of human and raccoon in blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a summer jacket. He was leading a little girl that babbled to him in baby talk.

I ducked my head and grinned. Furries. All adults were furries. There was something a little off. Something about the van that seemed strange. I put off the thought when I heard a distant part of my mind whisper, "Dude. You're naked." So was Steve. While I walked, I rubbed my stubbly chin absently, considering my feelings on that.

I'd once done a paper on the idea of the naked furry. From childhood we are bombarded by the cartoon images of partially and wholly unclothed anthropomorphic animals. This is acceptable in society. They're just cartoons. However, nakedness in reality is a differnent matter -- a no-no -- a forbidden thing. When some people enter puberty and sexuality, and sometimes before that, a few people lock onto the unspoken acceptability of nakedness through animals and cartoons -- all things furry. Some people see the cartoon, the furry, as a sexual creature because of its unspoken ability to be naked in public.

But I didn't feel naked. I rubbed my neck and shoulder, then my back. Winter fur coat.

"Whatcha thinkin about?" Said Steve.

Raising my eyebrows, I murmured, "I don't have any clothes on, but I don't feel naked." I looked at Steve.

He pointed an amused talon at me. "Don't look at me like that. Just think of me as Chewie. The only stitch of clothing he had was his badalier."

I shook my head and said, "It's not like that at all. I was just wondering if there were a lot of people... you know, going around without clothes."

Steve cocked his head in thought for a moment and said, "There aren't that many in Duluth, especially this time of year. However, there are a lot of people that have just thrown the whole nudity taboo out the window."

I looked down at nothing and smiled to myself. I could just hear what Kyle would say about that: "That's disgusting!" I looked up at Steve. "So you don't find anything..."

"Well, yeah, if you can see it. There are people whose stuff is naturally hidden, and those whose stuff isn't." He rolled his eyes and patted my arm once. "One of the female professors turned into a low degree domestic cat. She went around naked for the week before school started -- I saw her once. You could see her nipples."

I just raised my eyebrow.

"The old farts that run UMD shut that little thing down. Everybody but birds are required to have at least minimal clothing now, with special exceptions of course."

"Huh." I grunted.

We got to the building and entered. First bit of civilization since I left it 3 months ago. Steve's talon pushed open the door made by human hands and we stepped into the processed human environment.

I immediately stopped and gagged. "Kooh! That's what it was."

My avian friend turned back to me questioningly. "The smells." I turned away from Steve, as if he were the source of the unexpected rush of chemical stink. "I'm okay, I'm okay. It just surprised me."

"Don' worry about it. Lots of people get that now. Most get used to it."

I shook my head and said, "And the others?"


"Right." Just then, my hungry stomach roared around a little. "Phoo. We shoulda found someplace to eat. I'm starving."

"Eehh.. that's okay. I'll getcha something."

Sufficiently recovered, we contiuned into the building. bathrooms, god. gonna have to avoid those! Steve fished out some money from his pack, mumbled something about highway robbery, stuck the money into the machines and got us pops and grub.

"Y'know, Steve, I don't think I want my flying ability broadcast just yet."

Steve's claw tinked on the can as he brought it up to his beak. He'd put a special spout on it so he could drink easier. "Why not?" He said, then swallowed some Sprite.

I leaned back on the wooden bench and shifted my butt. "Well, for one thing, I don't want to do all that crap about registering myself as a flight-enabled being or anything. For another, I'd like having a secret."

Steve's inexpressive face turned toward me. He did a quick shrug and looked away, saying "Okay." He then looked back to me. "But how did I find you then?"

I pointed to his head and said, "Those eagle eyes of yours. You spotted me, swooped down and snapped me out of it. You're a hero!" I laughed.

"Great." Steve said, rolling his eyes.

In the sudden silence that cropped up just then, I thought back on my childhood fascination with the sky.

Minnesota is flat. I grew up in Minnesota, and the biggest hills I ever experienced was the tiny slopes that naturally sloped into the Blue Earth river, which surrounded my hometown city of Blue Earth.

But I didn't live in the city all my life. I got moved out to the country (thanks to my mom) and got intimate with flatness. My new home was on what passed for a hill in the area (barely 20 feet above the surrounding area, and a very gentle slope at that) and from my front porch you could see the lights of the city, over 7 miles away.

At one piont during the multiple moves after the divorce, my mom (and consequently every other two weeks, I) lived near an overpass. It was about 25 feet above the longest highway in America, I-90. Unlike my first country house, the overpass didn't have a grove of trees to block 360 degree vision. You could not only see for over 5 miles from that overpass, you could see in all directions for over 5 miles. The squat town of Guckeen, Blue Earth, my house, and the bustling I-90, lifeblood for Blue Earth's businesses, were all there, all under me.

I remember many a summer day when I biked up on top of the overpass just for the view. That overpass was a concrete hill that pushed me into nature's womb.

I went to Chicago once on a trip funded by my high paid uncle Bruce. It was there that I got an inkling of the idea of "big sky country", because it was obvious that any big city wasn't "big sky country." And Nowhere, Minnesota was. The difference? Not much, unless you take the time to notice it. In both places, you could see the sun set, but in Blue Earth, you could see it as it set into the horizon. Every time, a virtual panorama of colors - vibrant, almost gaudy blazing purple and pink fire.

Not that I ever sat out on the porch just to see the sun set. You live next to the Mona Lisa, and you get to feel like it's just wallpaper. Toward the end of my stay in my hometown, I began watching the sky. I began appreciating the splendor of nature's biggest, wildest changing mosaic: the clouds and the sky. More than once I'd tell my friends: "You know, the biggest thing I'm going to miss when I move to California? The clouds of Minnesota."

But when you can fly, anywere can become Big Sky Country.

For the hundredth time that day, he clenched his fists in denial. If he were normal, they would have been bloody and broken, cut up from all the mirrors he'd broken today. But they weren't normal. They were the clawed paws of an animal.

He'd come back from oblivion just a few days ago. Stuck in the form and mind of a bear in a special shelter for months. Then just like that, he came to his senses. He managed to shift enough back so he could speak to the people at the shelter, ask them to let him out.

Unfortunately, they did let him out. They let him out, sent him home. That's when he got first hand evidence that the universe may have changed, but the Machine still rolls on.

His house was under eviction notice. Apparently, the rest of his family -- his mother and sister -- also went mindless. Nobody could pay the rent, so they were out on the street.

Not for long, though. He went down to the landlord, nearly ate the literal weasel, and got an extension. So, he went out job searching. Unfortunately, the change made a lot of people like him -- big, strong, and low in the fine manipulations department. He wasn't needed for his new strength, or for his extensive education as a legal assistant. His new paws just wouldn't type like they used to. So, he was left to sit and rot in the house. Alone.

Alone -- with the pictures.

Early that day, a picture on a table cought his eye. It was of him and his dad. As he sighed, he reached over and picked it up... And broke through the glass and picture with his claws, destroying the picture.

That hurt. The ragged shards of the paper picture sliced through his huge inhuman bear heart. Goddamned Kodiak, he was now. Biggest freaking land mammal in North America. He spent the rest of the day destroying all the pictures of the humans, the mocking faces of previous times that could never be again. He opened his cavernous mouth and roared, "Oaaaaar!"

At that moment, in horrible pain and maddening loss, frustrated to no end that he'd bellerd just like a bear, he began thrashing around. All around him, his house flew to pieces at the red energy streaks that flew off his claws and cut through the air and walls. Eventually, he calmed down enough to just cry in pain.

When he came to himself again, he looked around him, and suddenly knew what he had done. That knowledge of his home, his only home left, with all its memories and life all its own, gone. That everything that he'd loved as a human was gone. Exactly how the change affected his body. Ripping, tearing apart everything normal, everything human, everything...



"AAAA-hoo!" I bray-yelled. "This is great, Steve!"

Steve had found me about 90 miles away from Duluth, and even though I didn't want my flying ability broadcast, I did want to eventually get back to Duluth, so Steve suggested something. Flying low enough to stay out of the radio tower's radar. And that in and of itself was a rush. Scant feet below me whipped clawed naked limbs of trees and all around me the awesome spread-out landscape slowly inched by in the majestic way it does from the air.

Steve probably didn't hear me - he was at a much higher altitude, looking just like a normal bird up there. I laughed and did a cartwheel over the whizzing ground. Then, I just sat back and began enjoying it.

My power was... interesting. While I was flying, I kind of felt weightless, so I could really fly in any position. (visions of Powdered Toast Man danced through my head) There also seemed to be some sort of light shield that kept most of the wind away. So, I really was sitting back and enjoying it, as if I were sitting in an invisible plane.

Eventually Steve swooped down next to me and flew closer. I made as if to roll down an invisible window. "Would you happen to have any Gray Poupon?" I asked.

He laughed. "We're closing in on Duluth. Time to touch down, dude."

I sighed and we landed in the middle of the wilderness. I shook hands with Steve, he laughed a little (he laughs at the drop of a hat), and I smiled.

"I'll go in and tell them you're coming. You'll be able to find your way around just fine, right?"

I nodded and said, "You bet. Thanks for everything, Steve."

Smiling, he said, "Buh bye." And took off.

For a few seconds, I just glanced around at the trees, the snow, and the dead undergrowth. Back on the ground. In preparation to walk, I stamped my feet in the snow a couple times. I was still hungry. Glancing at the path before me, the direction of Duluth I carefully took notice of, I resigned myself to it and got going.

That didn't stop me from grabbing whatever was edible around me and munching on it. Running on empty sucks.

No Fear. Pain is Gain.

Concepts I never really embraced. In gym during high school, I saw a banner in the wrestling room that said, "Pain goes away. Pride doesn't." In Duluth, during my brief stint at learning Karate I visited Phase One, the local fitness center. While resting after an exercise, I read a poster on a wall there depicting actual and perceived exertion. The sign said that when it feels you've reached your limit in exhaustion, you actually have some reserves.

I may have been fitter than I had been since I was 5, but I reached my "perceived" limit about 10 miles ago. Talk about your running on empty. No food in the tummy, little energy left in the limbs, cold as ever.

I was beginning to think I was lost again, dammit. How "close" do Duluth was I? "Oh, by the way, Steve, how far is it from here to actual civilization?" "Another fifty miles." "Thanks."

Wish I'd said that. Woulda smacked Steve in the beak.

Sure, I'd hit farms and fences and roads and fences and abandoned farm steads and fences and fences... Mumble grumble smuggle friggle fences. Of course, it took me a while to figure out I could fly-hop over them. I can be smart, but I can also be pretty stupid. Each fence I met reminded me of that.

Just when I was going to take a quick fly up to survey the area, I met a hill. That could indicate Duluth area. The further I walked the more I was convinced I had arrived. Sudden street signs and rows of houses revealed where I was, and so I began to navigate my way to the campus.

Clip clop clip clop. Nice, hard ground for a change. No uncertainties here -- just flat, grippable hard ground.

vvvVVMMMmm! A red arc of energy suddenly flew across my path, angled so it gradually buried itself in the street off to my left. It blasted the street where it sank in, flinging tar shrapnel everywhere and carving a deep gouge in the pavement.

Down the street toward the source of the arc was the biggest animal I'd seen outside a cage. It was a bear, on its hind legs waving its arms around, sending off more red energy flashes.

All the weariness and fatigue forgotten, I immediately ran back so a house was between me and it. My heart was beating in my tired furred chest. What do I do? I went up to the corner of the house and looked around. The bear seemed to be gone, though I could still hear it smashing something somewhere. I stepped away from the house and looked down the street.

A low degree squirrel morph in a bathrobe was shivering, hiding behind a house. He looked up at me, then back to the empty point in space he'd been focusing on earlier. I hesitated for a moment, thinking to comfort him, then against it -- got to find out what that bear was doing -- then back to the squirrel. He might know something.

"Are you okay?" I asked intensely.

Slightly startled, he looked up at me again and said, "Uh... Uh, yeah." He then seemed to realize something, and he broke down crying.

Walking over to him, I said, "You don't sound too okay. What happened?"

"That bear! He just came along and began blasting apart my house!"

Even I could tell that. I frowned a little and then said, "Right. I'll..." I was about to say, "I'll see what I can do about that bear," but I stopped myself. What could I do about it? Fly around its head and bug it?

"I'll go get some help." I finally said. I started around the house and heard the police sirens coming. Help was on the way. I jogged up to the path of the bear and looked down it.

There he was. And there they were. Cops with guns. My heart sank as one sweep of that thing's energy claw took out two officers and their car. Two people just died in front of me.

The last officer (a high degree dog morph) had rolled clear and was shooting it. The thwipping darts did nothing to the bear. They hit some sort of invisible shield around him, making red ripples in its surface. The bear turned on the dog and roared.

He was going to kill again. Kill someone right in front of me, and not with that energy bolt but with his bare claws and fangs. Just then I decided I wasn't going to stand for it.

I was going to see just how fast I could fly.

My hooves left the ground and I was flying straight for the two of them as fast as my will would let me go. Before I knew it, I was 20 feet away and time seemed to slow down. And got a lot darker, for some reason. In the sudden twilight, I could see the bear's arm slowly moving down at the canine. My own movement seemed sluggish somehow, but I flew right up to the dog and proceeded to grab him in preparation to fly off. However, it seemed as if inertia was hiked up a couple notches. My grip on his shirt was moving him, but it felt more like I was moving a sack of dough through mud. Startled, I realized that, at my speeds, his neck might be broken at the sudden snap in my hauling him out of the way of "harm". So, I stopped and carefully grabbed hold of him again. Come to think of it, I kind of felt like dough moving through mud.

That massive paw was slow, but it was still moving. I had to push the top part of the guy out of the way before his lower parts to completely save him. While the bear's arm was slowly breaking apart pavement, I realized the two of us were out of danger for the instant.

And time resumed. The dog I was moving suddenly sprang 5 feet in the direction I was moving him and stumbled over the ground as if a high school bully had shoved him. Light was back to its normal levels again and the bear's eyes locked with mine. I gave him the exact same stare back. I'd started this fight, and I wasn't about to back away from it. Damn my aching limbs and fatigue.

The bear growled and slashed the air between us, sending a red arc of energy right at me. That time slow/world dark thing happened again. Just long enough for me to use all my reflexes to fly above the arc, allowing the arch to shoot off behind me into the pavement. Chunks of pavement pelted me in the back, and I felt each one.

Looks like I don't have any sort of shield like Smoky here, I thought.

I zipped up and behind the massive creature and tried to smack him from behind with my fist. My hand hit boiling electric fire. I cried out in pain, flying back into the air. I barely turned around in time to see another evil red arc flying right for my head!

My time-slowing power must have been stretched to its limit or something. It didn't kick in until the bolt was scant feet away from me. Even then, I had to strain to get my head far enough out of the way so the bolt would only nick the tip of my mussel.

"Aaaagh!" I bellowed, blood flying from the nice gash opened up in my nose. Gods the pain was incredible! I spun around and flew for cover.

Ow ow ow ow ow. That really hurt! I touched my nose with my hoof-fingers and came away with pain and blood. Then, I heard that bear rumbling around out there, coming for me. I turned toward the sound.

No Fear. I couldn't hurt him, but he as hell sure could hurt me. Time for a different approach.

I shot out from behind the house and an arc tore up pavement next to me. "Stop!" I yelled in the most authoritative voice I could make. "Look at what you're --"

Then I dodged some claws backed up by 400 pounds of bear, and realized that my time-slowing power only worked for just long enough to get me out of harm's way, and only if I watched the blow coming at me.

"Look at what you're doing. This is madness! Stop it!" I was crazily reminded of the Tick saying something similar when someone was beating the crap out of him: "Quit it!"

Having shot up into the air to avoid the last blow, I steadied myself and looked down at the bear. He was throwing another red arc. At the exact moment the arc was leaving the bear's claws, I saw a puff of smoke and a heard a crack as the dog shot at the bear. A close dodge later, and I looked down. The bear turned around and I saw a tranq dart sticking out of its back. The dog got past the shield!

My joy was short lived. The tranquilizer wasn't working instantly. The huge muscled creature lumbered toward the injured dog. A pang of guilt rattled around in me. I probably broke something when I got him out of the way of the bear's claw that first time.

All that went through my mind as I flew down to him, grabbed him up, and flew down the street a ways. "How long until that dart takes effect?"

"I don't know. He's so big."

"Tell me about it."

For the next five minutes, we stayed just ahead of him, dodging in and out between houses. Eventually, the bear slowed down, stopped, lay down, and went to sleep.

As gawkers gathered, I helped the hound cop over to the huge slumbering furry mass. I gingerly lowered him to the ground, then, exhausted, I joined him on the pavement. He pulled a radio off his belt and spoke into it, informing the station of the situation. I looked at him. He put it away and said, "The paramedics are coming." He looked over at me and said seriously, "You saved my life. More than once."

I nodded and looked at the bear. "Yup." I didn't know how I felt about that. Never saved anyone's life before. Never fought a big honkin' bear guy before and lived, either.

"Name's Harry." The cop said, offering his hand.

"A.j. Pearson." I shook.

Just then two birds and two bird morphs flew down from the sky and landed nearby. The the birds - a swallow and blue jay - flashed, and were replaced with low and middle degree bird morphs. They seemed excited about the fight but didn't get a chance to say anything. The other two were cameraman and reporter, who stuck a microphone right up to my face and asked, "Sir - that was amazing! How did you capture this beast?"

I kinda smiled and said, "Ah, it wasn't me. Harry here shot him with the tranquilizer dart. I just distracted him for a little while."

The bird (she? he? Pat eat yer heart out) pressed again. "That was amazing how you dodged those bolts. How did you do it? Do you have a special power?"

Maybe I could keep one thing secret... "Just speed and luck, I guess."

Harry, ignoring the reporters, waved over the other two bird morphs. Harry was getting them to check on the path of destruction to see if immediate help was needed. I half listened to him as the reporters proceeded to ask more questions - who I was, what I was doing here, did I know the bear, etc. I answered truthfully except for attributing luck to those dodges and escapes.

A bird flew back, morphed and shakily said, "Harry -- there's a kid on the third story of half a building and he's really scared."

I turned away in the middle of a question. "Where is it?"

"I'll show you."

Harry, wincing, cautioned, "Be careful, Pearson."

As we took off, I heard the reporters turn to Harry. A short trip later, and I saw a crying child sitting down on the 3rd story of half a building. I flew right up to him, and he looked at me. He stopped crying for a moment, then started up again as I tried picking him up. He was struggling to crawl away but I gently took him in my arms and backed out of the exposed half room.

When I landed on the ground, the swallow perched on my shoulder and sang a twirping phrase. I laughed a little. A little. After helping stop that thing, I now was in its path of devastation. Right in its heart of destruction and death. Holding that crying young human child in my bristly furred arms, I saw some destroyed flesh on the ground that could have been the household pet or one of the kid's parents. Looking away from the smoking meat, I could tell that similar situations were all along this swath that the bear took out of Duluth.

"Go see if I can help anywhere else." I said to the bird, nauseous at the stink of death that was creeping into my nostrils. I had the feeling it was going to be a long day.

Goldfine, my old apartment building. Ah, the memories. The smells, the noise, the fruit flies... and that was just my apartment.


"Jeez, Steve, what else did you forget to tell me?" I was in Harry's car, looking out the passenger window. I was breathing in a heck of a lot of dog scent, plus various new smells I was too tired to try to categorize.

Harry leaned back in his seat, and was probably glad for his tailhole. I know I was. "You want to crash at my place?"

I shook my head and looked at him. "I guess. I could go down to the campus and look to see if any of my buddies are still here, but I'm too tired."

He yipped a laugh at the windshield as he casually levered the gear into drive. "I hear ya. Right after the Change things were really nuts."

Goldfine, or what was left of it (what did do that?) moved by me, dead and opened up like some huge gutted brontosaurus. In these crazy times, that scene is actually doable. I saw some sort of dino morph among the police men. A variant of Stegosaurus, I think -- she had spikes in stead of arrowhead plates. Kind of low degree, so that her brests were still barely recognizable under the layer of scales.

I just sighed and leaned back for the ride to Harry's and looked forward into thought. Really big things must have happened. But why didn't Steve tell me about Goldfine? My smegging computer could be destroyed. My drawings could be ruined.

That's awfully selfish, Pearson. I thought to myself. What about...

"Oh, my god." I groaned. I hadn't given one thought to my parents other than to berate them for shipping me off into No-wheresville and breaking up. Mom, Mrs. Worry herself must be crushed. Me. Dead.

"What is it?"

"I haven't called my parents yet, Harry. They still think I'm dead. I can't remember anything!" I draped my head backwards over the seat head coushing and moaned.

Slightly surprised, Harry replied, "You didn't tell me that. Where are your parents?"

"Blue Earth. Southern Minnesota, smack dab in the center, Nine miles north of Iowa." I sighed. "Six hours away."

Harry raised his canine eyebrows. "By car."

I laughed. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow. If I can move."

You could say I was a morning person. That is, I can get up and be ready to be in class in about 30 minutes, tops. Most of my friends take an hour or two to get ready. The reason is, me and sleep never got along well all while I was growing up. When we moved out in the country, I couldn't sleep well because it was too quiet. In town, we lived on a road that lead to the industrial complex of Blue Earth. Even in our little town, the road we lived on had traffic on it night and day. All the time.

So, I had to have noise when I slept. Be it a fan running in the room or just static from my old broken radio - any droning noise would lull me to sleep. Of course, I also had to wear a bandana over my eyes to shut out the light but that's another story.

First night sleeping in my new body. My new morph body that is. Harry's couch was all seven heavens rolled into one. I slept like a baby donkey.

Of course, I called my parents and sister before I went to bed. If I didn't have an already exhausting day, those phone calls would have done it for me. Much crying and I love you's were exchanged, once everything was explained. I told them I'd be flying down tomorrow. I said that I wanted them all to meet me in Hamilton's, a local restaurant at 5 o'clock PM, tomorrow. For such a momentous occasion as my coming back from the dead, I was going to play no favorites.

So, when I got up, I got up. I got into a sitting position on the couch and drank in the stink of a golden retriever/lab mix confined in an apartment. Harry didn't have a girlfriend, so his apartment was messy. Last night it hit me pretty hard when I first walked in, but I seemed to be numbing slightly. I checked the clock in Harry's VCR. It was 10:20. I didn't know how fast I could fly, so I thought a bit, then decided to see how long it took me to fly to the Twin Cities. By that comparison, I'll hang out in a mall or something there until...

Waitamintue. I didn't have flight papers. Or a comptuer. Or anything that Steve had. I flopped back on the couch to groan, but winced in pain. Gotta get used to that tail.

I got up and went into the kitchen area. There, I began searching for a phonebook. Under messy dishes, behind what might have been the trash, in drawers, in cupboards, in the fridge...

Grunting once in impatience, I clomped into the living room and looked for the phone there. Phonebook near phone, probably.

Bingo. Beep-boop-boo-peep. ... "Steve? Yeah, what do you have to go through to get your flight papers. Yeah? Yeah? Hmm. Say, could you loan me the money to get one of those? You know I'm good for it. ... All right. That's okay. I understand. No, you're right. Dead men don't have money. By the way, Steve. What happened to Goldfine?"

There was a pause. Then, Steve went into the story.

It was Haakenson. They said that he was pretty dissatisfied with his new body. Steve told me, "He went kinda nuts..."

Yeah. Haakenson was his music. Summer before this one, he'd decided to go work at the Green Giant in Blue Earth. He had heard of the Giant from Paul. Long hours, crappy job, big money. One day a week off. You eat, you sleep, and you work. For a summer. I was home for the summer working, too, but I found myself an equally horrendous job at a nearby PVC pipe factory. During the summer, he called me twice when he'd go up to Mankato (the biggest town within 50 miles) to buy music equipment.

Over the course of the summer, he bought an amp, speakers (good ones with a lifetime warranty), a mixer, and a Proetus 2 synthesizer. He was always working a new piece of music and was getting pretty good. Haakenson needed to use two things to make his music: his computer, and his keyboard.

The paws of a wooly mammoth didn't quite articulate the same music he used to.

I said to Steve, "I can sympathize with that. I almost lost my ability to draw." Man, that hit me hard. I was pretty frickin' lucky, comparativley.

So, two days after the Change, and Haak went nuts. He destroyed Goldfine and a bunch of other buildings as he started off for the wilderness. He killed Paul.

Dead. Kinda like I was, dead. If I was only here, I could have done something to stop it. Somehow...

I listened to Steve's voice for any sign of deception, of joking. Finding none, I had to look away to the window, the pain in me growing. "God. Paul."

That hit me hard. I used to be roommates with him. He pissed me off so much, toward the end I snapped. I hacked my frustrations onto the computer. The little piece of prose I came up with I called "Freak." In it I described my absolute hate forh him at that moment, how I wished with all my heart he was dead. Then, I went against that and decied for something worse: I wished he would be alive, but paralyzed and in horrible pain, and that he would hear them about to take him off life support, then decide against it at the last instant. He'd be stuck there, wallowing in freakish misery for ever, staring at one thing, in horrible serium pain.

I never really liked Paul, but I did respect him. I didn't know exactly what I felt about him actually being dead.

Bryan Haakenson continued through Duluth, destroying buildings left and right. People died because of his frenzy. The cops came in to stop him. That's when they discovered that he was invulnerablue. To just about everything. They threw bullets, grenades, and a weapons nut was called in with a bazooka.

This, of course, made him even madder. He stopped going for the wilderness and began following the cops everywhere they went, wrecking Duluth at the same time. Eventually, the police retreated and regrouped. After wearing himself out, Bryan stomped off into the wilderness.

Days later, they managed to secure a person who could dampen other people's powers. They stuck her on an armed helicopter that was flown in, tracked Bryan down, and blew him up.

Haakenson, dead, too. I said goodbye to Steve, hung up the phone, and cried. After coming back from the dead, I've found some of my best friends dead, too.

Steve stopped by, concerned for me. He offered to give me his flight stuff on loan, and I refused. Harry heard the story from Steve and said that I could borrow the money for the stuff from him. So, I thanked Harry, had Steve bring me out to the Miller Hill Mall to buy it all.

I still felt numb inside. I joked a little with Steve, and that helped me get away from the pain. He told me what Jason Stoeke turned into.

"He's a Thylodon."

I whipped my head around at him. "A what?"

Shrugging, Steve said, "It's an obscure prehistoric cat thing or marsupial whatever. He looks like a bad ass with a kind of chipmunk head."

That made my head spin. What an image. A new restaurant named McRoughage made me laugh. Steve asked why, and I explained that it was the name of a fictional fast food restaurant in a comic book strip called --

"Kevin and Kell." He said to my surprise.

"What? You know about it?"

Nodding, he said, "Yeah. After you... After everyone thought you were dead, I looked at your web site and followed it. They're planning on making it into a sit com."

I doubled over in laughter at that one, braying and hee-hawing loudly in the mall.

"People are staring, A.j."

Wiping tears from my eyes, I stood up and said, "Ahh, that felt good. You're an okay guy, Steve."

"I didn't do anything, man."

After lunch at McRoughage, we went to Babbage's and picked up the stuff. By the time he tought me the basics of flight protocol, it was about 2 in the afternoon.

"I'd better get going. Well, see ya in a bit."

Steve showed me out to the front of the mall and said smiling, "Get going, you crazy winkie."

Smiling and waving back, I radioed in, and shot off into the air.


Homeless. She'd been wandering the streets of Duluth for over 3 months now, a bum living off other people. But there was someone she recognized, but she couldn't remember from where. A name came to her.

Pearson. Pearson, and with him, Steve Baumgartner.

She mumbled angirly to herself, "How am I supposed to know them?" But the feeling wouldn't go away. She shuffled into the mall, ignoring the growing urgency. Something horrible was going to happen. And both of them needed to know.

"Steve, A.j., Steve, A.j.. Go away," she whisepered fiercely in the mall. It grew so that she couldn't ignore it. Loathing the act of talking to another person, Jenny turned around and heasitantly walked back to the doors.

Then, they both were gone. She sighed in releif at the release her feelings gave her.

But the feelings weren't gone. They were still there. But the time was not yet. Soon, soon, she would feel the compulsion to get involved again, to care. She knew it was going to happen, and loathed every part of it. She wanted nothing more than to forget all she knew, all she felt. To forget the past.

This time, however, she somehow knew that this time, she could not ignore it.

Shrugging off the enormity of the future, she waddled furthur into the mall. She could ignore it for as long as she could, though. They didn't really need her until later.

Of course, by ignoring the call, she was leaving them to go through hell, but she didn't care.

Better them than me.

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