Rush Hour
by Jon Sleeper

1997


Traffic. Miles and miles of cars. One jackknifed semi truck can cause more trouble than it should, I thought. It was about 7:50, and my companion and I had been on the road for nearly four hours already, including one hour in this traffic jam. We'd left Providence to go visit a friend in Maryland. A long drive.

"Cheer up, old boy!" my friend Rhinehold said from the passenger seat. "This won't last forever. We could always amuse ourselves with the TV and DVD player in the dash, you know..."

"Please! No more 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', Rhinee! We've seen it twice on this trip already!"

"Actually, I was thinking of putting in 'The Life of Brian'." He grinned that silly grin of his. He looked like a carp when he smiled like that. "Actually, Edward, I've also got some non Monty Python stuff in my satchel... Just let me reach in the back and get it..."

He did so, and I looked at the clock on the dash. 7:55 AM and we were still not moving. Mid June wasn't one of my favorite time of the month. It was just starting to get humid at times, enough so the van's air conditioning was on pretty much all the time. Looking outside, tempers were starting to flare, and some people even got out of their cars. I felt lucky that I owned a nice, comfy van. I pretty much lived in it. With my job I do a lot of travel, so I needed a large vehicle so when I did cross country trips I'd have lots of space. I've always been scared of flying, so this was a nice alternative that my company gave me.

I looked out the left window. There was New York City, the World Trade Centers clearly visible in the clean New Jersey air. Ever since those restrictions had become law in the early 60's, the air was the cleanest since before Industrialization. There was nothing I could do but wait, though. So while Rhinee rummaged in the back for his stuff I shut off the fuel cell, crossed my arms across my chest, and waited.

Eight in the morning. And I felt a sudden wave of odd dizziness overcome me for a moment. The world seemed to spin and I grabbed a hold of the steering wheel. When I recovered my senses, I found myself looking downward at my hands. Or were they my hands? They were rapidly turning green, my fingernails growing larger, thicker, darker. Suddenly two of my fingers fused, and what was now my middle finger increased in size, the flanking fingers grew too, but not nearly so much. My thumb stayed, but changed in the same was as my other fingers.

The greeness continued halfway up my forearm, and my skin changed even more. Creases formed, and it seemed to dry out. Scales. I started to hyperventilate.

"This isn'thappening, thisisn'thappening..." I said to myself. Even the overall size of my hand had increased. I could cover a good portion more of the steering wheel than before.

What brought me out of my stupor was Rhinehold holding a bag over my mouth to stop me. "Get a hold of yourself, old chap!" he said in his light English accent.

I awkwardly grabbed a hold of the sack with my altered hands and stopped hyperventilating. As I looked downward, over my scaly green hands, I saw his feet. Rhinehold's black, scaled, webbed, duck-like feet. "It's happening to you too?!" I asked, incredulous.

Nothing fazes Rhinehold. Well, not much, anyway. "Not just me, take a look out the windows," he said, awe in his voice.

Oddly, there was no noise. Everybody was too much in shock about what they saw about themselves. There was a man with a beak, here a woman staring at furry paws that had been her hands, there a man groping at a large, bushy tail that protruded from his shorts. I looked at my hands again, taking the bag from my face and dropping it. "What. The Hell. Is happening?" I said slowly.

"Bloody Hell if I know," Rhinee said. "All I know is that I've got duck's feet, and you have the hands of some kind of lizard."

I could hardly move. I just looked out at the vista before me like it was some kind of dream. And yet, here were my hands. Looking at them with a bit of detachment, they didn't look like they were from any lizard I knew. Most lizard have claws. My nails looked more hoof-like than anything. I especially paid attention to my huge middle finger and my seemingly out of place thumb. I even looked at them with a bit of acceptance for a moment.

Until, as if to mock me, the Universe hit me yet again. I heard cloth ripping, and the yell of my friend behind me sounded more like the honk of a goose than human. I felt something pushing against the bottom of my jeans. Pain lanced from a location that hadn't been there before. I opened the door and threw myself out, just in time, too. With a ripping noise the pain eased, and from where I was laying on the concrete I felt the tip of something touching the ground behind me. Unfamiliar sensations came from there. When it stopped, I looked behind me. A tail. A long, thick, deep, reptilian tail. It wasn't wholly green, the sides were covered with a mottling of red patches. I started to hyperventilate again.

Once more, Rhinee put the bag on my mouth. "You really need to stop doing that," he said in a gravelly voice.

I stared at him. Quite simply, he had the head of a Canada goose. "Your h-h-head..." I said, pointing with my middle fingers.

"I do, don't I?" He said, answering my unvoiced question. He looked in the van's side mirror. How he stayed that calm I'll never know. He traced the outline of his bill with a finger. "Imagine that..."

I was on the hot pavement, and my tail felt like it was being cooked on it. So I rolled up onto my knees, which resulted on me feeling the weight of it behind me. I froze, and as an experiment, commanded the tip to move. It did. I swung it from side to side, making my torso sway. While I was resting my hands on the concrete I noticed just how well they seemed to be made for resting on the ground. I didn't even feel the heat of the pavement under the nails.

The sounds of chaos around me drew me out of my self examination. I heard tires screeching, and cars smashing into one another. Screaming that sometimes sounded more animal than human. But not everybody was panicking. I decided the safest place was in my van, so I attempted to stand upright. It didn't work. My tail hit the concrete before I stood up too far. There'd also been changes in my pevlic area. I was no longer made for standing up straight. I had to crawl, kinda, tail held horizontal to the ground. Though my tail seemed to balance my forepart, I still had to use my hands as support. My God... I'm a quadruped! I thought.

Rhinehold opened the back doors for me. Quite some time had passed, and most of those who were in a panicked run had vanished. That left either those who were too shocked to move (like myself), or people like Rhinehold. Who were consumed with more a sense of wonder than anything else.

"You know, Edward, I don't think you're turning into a lizard," he said.

"What makes you say that?"

"That man behind you. He's turning into a lizard."

It hit again when I looked back to look at him. I felt the tickle as the scales crept up my torso along my back. It reached my neck, and then the back of my skull. Then I felt the oddest thing I've ever felt in my life. The hair there vanished. I felt the top of my skull extend into a long crest. My torso seemed to enlarge, my back arched, ripping my shirt. The crest extended until it got I couldn't tell how long. When I breathed, I could feel the air drawn up the thing, then down again, and down my throat. There seemed an odd resonant sound, even when I breathed.

"Oh, wow..." Rhinehold said. I didn't look at him. I couldn't. My eyes were closed and I was slowly turning my head from side to side, feeling the weight of the crest. "I've got to get a picture of this!"

I opened my eyes, holding my left hand up against my chest. But before I could protest he took the picture.

"What the hell am I?" I said. Looking at Rhinehold, I saw that he'd removed his shirt to reveal a much longer neck, and a very deep chest that was covered in light gray feathers. His head was wholly black, with small black eyes, except for a white patch of feathers that went from cheek to cheek under his throat. "You are definitely a Canada goose!" I said.

"I very well know what I am, my friend. But the real question is, what are you becoming?"

"A para... parasauraolophus," came a small voice from behind me. When I looked, there was a small, fully human boy of about eight years old. "My favorite dinosaur!" And he hugged my tail. It was all I could do to keep from swinging it to get him off.

His lizard-man father extracted him for me. "Sssorry about that," he said in a voice that was more of a dry hiss. "He getssss overenthussssiassstic over dinosssaruss. And all of them are his favorite."

"I noticed that," I said. I sighed. I couldn't place the lizard man's species. But looking as his tail and mine, his hands, and mine, and discounting my crest, there was no way I was becoming an everyday lizard. "Umm... you got any more info on dinosaurs with you? I'd kinda like to know."

As he walked over to his car, the final surge hit. For me, at least. Twin pains in my shoes, and my feet burst out of them. Toes fused, gaining blunt nails like my hands, ankles rising into the air. Scales spread throughout my whole body. Either the world was shrinking or I was getting bigger! My clothes finished ripping off and fell to the ground. There was a tingle between my legs, and my legs kinked a couple times. I'd been standing with my feet spread apart a bit. Now my legs were proportioned so they could go right under my body. My torso expanded, dropping my shoulders. The scales took over my arms completely. Then it reached my head.

My neck stretched out incredibly. If possible, the crest got even longer. A web of skin connecting the base of my neck with the top of the crest grew in. Then my teeth fused, and pushed out of my mouth. Lips grew numb, and adhered against the protruding mass. My nostrils were forced against my growing muzzle. My vision was split by it. The discomfort of my insides sliding around made be bellow. A sound that hasn't been heard in millions of years. I really am a dinosaur! I thought. And in that moment, there was a sense of completion to my life. I opened my eyes.

The world seemed... smaller. "Anybody have a tape measure?" I asked. I was at least as long as my van, that much I could tell. I towered over my goosey friend.

He'd finished his change about the same time I did, and was probably a little more changed into a goose than I was into a dinosaur, looking basically like a giant bird, though with my current size he seemed about the right size for a goose. And he didn't look half bad. He had hands on the end of his wings, too. And he could even fold his arm against his back like wings. "You know, old chap, I think I could almost get used to this..." He was looking at something. A flock of real geese was flying overhead.

As for me, I didn't know what to do next. All I really wanted to see was a mirror, though. Then I saw someone standing on top of a car. He looked like a canine of some sort. "Attention please!" he began in a voice that I'm sure was heard in New York City. "I realize that this might seem a bit odd..." he paused. "Anyway, what I'm asking is for anyone who's become something large to come help move this semi truck! That way we can at least get things moving. I'm sure we all want to get home about now."

"Sure! On the way!" I bellowed enthusiastically, the sound was magnified in my crest and the volume was incredible. Those that weren't staring at themselves were staring at me. I didn't immediately notice the lizard-man finishing with his tape measure. "So? What's the verdict?"

"You're jussst under twenty feet long," he said, forked tongue lashing out of his mouth. "My ssson'sss book sssaysss normally you'd be thirty three feet long. Sssso I guesss you're ssssomewhere in between like the rest of usssss..."

That was helpful. I decided to test and see if I could at least get inside my van. I had to scrunch a little, and my tail stuck about five feet out the back, but it worked. Though the suspension groaned. If not for the fact that the guy in the car behind us had panicked and backed up I wouldn't have been able to get into my van.

"Second call!" The canine said.

Walking was a trip. I was definitely a quadruped, but my hands retained most of their grasping ability. I didn't even feel the heat of the concrete under my thickly skinned feet and hands. It just seemed so... natural. Like I was supposed to be this way. I eventually came upon the semi truck, and to my surprise, another dinosaur. A Tyrannosaurus Rex. Out of some instinct, I guess, I stopped and bellowed warningly.

"Ow!" came a female voice from the T-Rex's mouth. "That hurts! I'm not going to eat you, if that's what you're scared of."

"Sorry, I don't know what came over me..." I said sheepishly. Others had shown up. An elephant, a hippo, a rhinoceros. "So, what do we do first?"

"The trailer is empty," the hippo said. The truck was jammed across every lane. "And we've unhitched it from the cab. Two of us will roll the cab out of the way while the others get the trailer off the road."

"How do you know so much about this? And where are the police anyway?"

"They all panicked and ran off. As for me, this is my truck. So be careful, okay dino brain?"

"You don't have to be insulting," I grumbled, opting to help with the cab.

In short order it was moved off the freeway. I stayed a moment to talk a bit with T-Rex morph (I guess was the word), and we exchanged phone numbers. "I really hate to say this," she said before we separated, "but you look absolutely delicious."

"Ummm... whatever," I replied in my new resonant voice. I left rather hurriedly at that point.

It took a while for traffic to clear. A lot of cars had been abandoned. I was in the far right lane, and before I could move out I had to reconfigure my front end. There was no way Rhinehold could sit in the seat and drive (he spent a lot of time gazing at the sky anyway), so I unceremoniously ripped out the driver's seat and found that I could use one large hand to work the pedals, while the other did the steering wheel.

The motor groaned a bit, but we finally got moving again. My tail sticking out the back like I thought it would. "So, do you want to go home, or try to visit Greg? I wonder what he is..."

"I guess we'll find out," Rhinehold honked, "because I feel like doing some travelling..."

It was a long drive. But then, I didn't really care beyond how small my van was. I wonder if I can get a bigger van...



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