A Minor Disappointment
by Oren the Otter (Eric Vary)

1999


They say everyone remembers exactly where they were when they change happened. Well, I don't know about others, but I certainly can. I was at the grocery store, picking up a few things I would need for the dinner that night. I was going to make my meaty, spicy, greasy, oh-so-good karan-ta', and I would need some ice cream to take the sting out of my mouth when I finished eating.

I was directly in front of the deli, on my way to the frozen foods when the first wave hit. Almost everyone will tell you that they sprouted fur that first time. Not so with me. The first thing to happen to me was the loss of several feet of height. This was accompanied by the bursting of my shoes as huge webbed flippers made themselves apparent.

I looked around at the other people as they changed. Their reactions were understandably varied. There was confusion, shock, panic, fascination, wonder... As for me, I was ecstatic. Of course, No one knew then, just as no one knows now, what caused the change, but I knew what was happening to me. I was going to be an otter.

Most people would have laughed, but I'm one of those rare cases who, even before the change, longed to be some kind of fur- bearing animal. No one quite knows the reason, but I did. I wanted to be an otter, and that day, I could see that my wish was coming true.

I grabbed my ice cream and went to the cashier, calm and composed. The cashier, on the other hand, was hooting softly as she ran her hands over her beak. To her credit, she was composed enough to check me out, and I hurried on my way in hopes of being home before the final stages of transformation occurred.

Barely had I gotten out the door when the second wave hit. This time, I changed far more completely. I watched in wonder as my arms grew... feathers? That wasn't right! I was turning into a bird. Why? I was supposed to be an otter! I reached up to feel my face, and my fingertips touched a hardened bill which was even now assuming it's flattened shape. My heart racing, I whirled to look at my reflection in the store window. I was becoming a duck! The walk home was now a run.

Now, maybe I was being foolish. I mean, lots of people turned into creatures they'd rather not be. However, I didn't want a soul to see me as a duck. I ran home as fast as my feet would carry me.

I'd only gotten a couple of blocks when the last wave hit. My run was turned into a tumble as my own clothes entangled me. Doing a quick survey of body parts, I found that I had become an ordinary duck, save for four small fingers on the underside of my wings.

"No." I quacked. "No! I'm not supposed to be this! I'm supposed to be an otter! An otter!" I screamed to the sky.

There was no hope of going home, now. Even if I could carry my groceries and my clothes, there was no way of getting my apartment key into the doorknob.

For hours, I sat on the edge of my favorite pond, scared to death of the humiliation I would face if anyone saw me as a duck. Eventually, though, I realized I had to go home. I'd need to ask someone to let me in. Since I couldn't dial the phone to call my parents, that left only one other person with a spare key.

I rapped on his front door with my tiny wing-fist. "Pastor Jewel?" I called. "Jewel, are you home? I need your help!"

I knew that everyone had changed, but it still shocked me when a stuthiomimus answered the door. "Eric?" asked the dinosaur. "Is that you?"

"Pastor?"

"It's me. Come on in."

Bizarre, isn't it?" I quipped as I waddled in.

"It sure is. I'm still not sure I believe it."

"Better believe it. It's happened to everybody, it seems."

"No, not everybody. April turned into a half-cat, and Jesse into a deer, but young Joseph isn't any different at all."

"Oh?"

"And I've heard of some people even developing super-powers."

"Wow."

As if on cue, Jesse, more deer than human, burst into the room. "Hey, Dad!" he said. "Watch what I can do!" He closed his eyes for a second, and immediately, I could see what was on the other side of him. It was as if someone had painted his fur to match the scenery. It was the ultimate camouflage.

"How did you do that, Son?" asked Jewel.

"Well, it's kind of like... I get this picture in my mind of me putting on an invisible coat. Hey, who's this?"

"I'm Eric." I said.

"Eric? Hey! How ya doin'? I figured you would have turned into an otter."

When he said that, I began to cry aloud. If you've never heard a duck cry, it's so stupid that it's hilarious. Of course, that embarrassed me, and the humiliation just made me cry louder.

"Aw, I'm sorry, Eric! I didn't mean anything by it!"

Pastor Jewel picked me up in his big, reptilian hands and stroked my back. "Eric," he said. "Would you like to spend the night here? As small as you are, it might be difficult to get around your own apartment.

"Okay." I quacked between sobs.

The Harmon family have always been gracious hosts. They made me so comfortable that I almost forgot about being a duck.

That night, as the Harmon family lay asleep, I listened to the radio for company. Every sixty minutes, a news announcer would relate further tales of the change. It seemed that quite a few people had powers like Jesse's. I wondered if I might have one. I pictured myself putting on a coat as he had done. No good. I tried other images. In my mind I opened doors, twisted knobs, punched buttons... nothing had any effect.

With a sigh, I turned the radio off and tried to sleep. I let my mind wander... wander to the change that should have been. I imagined myself turning into an otter.

But it was not to be, and I let out a sad quack. "Wut."

"Wut?" I opened my eyes and looked down at myself. My feathers were gone, having been replaced by brown fur. I gazed at my paws. They were paws! I chirped in delight. I'd discovered my Power, and it was exactly what I wanted!

Naturally, I just had to experiment. I pictured myself turning back into a duck. A second later, I was a green and brown mallard. The transformation went so quickly... I wondered what would happen if I stopped halfway. As if in answer, my whole body went "SNAP!" Just looking across the room told me that I was now bigger than I had been in either my duck or otter forms. I was standing on all fours, and yet I could feel an extra pair of arms... Rising up to stand on two legs, I went to the bathroom to get a look at what I had become.

The mirror showed a rather handsome creature indeed. From the waist down, I possessed the legs and tail of an otter. My arms were almost human, though my hands had the definite appearance of duck feet. On my back was a large, powerful set of wings. That explained the sensation of having four arms. My head was the head of a duck, except for the little round ears and the intelligent, mammalian eyes.

It seemed that I had combined the features of my duck form, my otter form, and just a touch of the human form I used to have, to become a sort of a lutrine gryphon. "I'm a 'lutragryph'." I decided aloud.

I was too happy to sleep now. I immediately went for a walk and paraded around the sleeping town of Ogallala as a prancing lutragryph. For two hours I walked about, smiling as big as my beak would get.

Then suddenly, my body snapped again. With the suddenness of changing channels on a TV, I was a duck again. Suddenly small and frightened, I ran back to the Harmons' house.

I spent the next day in my own home. I still couldn't bear to let anyone see me. There were many phone calls. Friends and family rang me up, all wanting to know what I was, now. I told them that I had become an otter. It was true, in a way. After experimenting, I found that change into an otter to any degree I wished, including the gryph form. I could stay that way for up to two hours before reverting to a duck. Transforming back into an otter right away was possible, but not desirable. The sooner I shifted again, the more I felt like I wanted to die. My shifting power would need to rest for about three hours before I could use it again comfortably.

It was the second day after the change that I returned to work. I went in my otter form, naturally. I figured I could go for about an hour, excuse myself to the bathroom for a moment, and then shift and re-shift. I'd be wasted by the end of the day, but at least I wouldn't have anyone knowing the embarrassing truth: that I was a duck.

I hadn't anticipated being so busy.

Everyone and their kin was out buying things. Sewing kits for making tailholes... dog biscuits for their teenage kids... clothing in new sizes... I found myself placed on a stool in front of a cash register, checking customers out left and right. After an hour, I began to get impatient. I just couldn't get away. After another half hour, I was getting frightened. With ten minutes to go, I was on the verge of panic, yet I could not get away from the customers.

Gradually, I began to lose control of my form. My lips were getting hard. Feathers were sprouting beneath my fur.

I lost it at that point. Leaving a poor old lady in the middle of signing her check, I bolted out the door in terror at the very thought of anyone seeing me as a fowl.

With a "SNAP!", I was once again a bird.

I ran to my favorite spot by the fishing pond where I sat and cried for a long, long time. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't live my life in the awful, stupid body.

I think it was divine intervention that I looked to the sky at that moment of deepest despair. There happened to be a single bird flying overhead.

I thought about that for a moment. "Birds fly." I said aloud. "I'm a bird. Can I fly? It sure would be a shame to give up on life before I even found out whether I can fly.

Rising up to stand on my webbed duck feet, I began to flap my wings. I pitched forward into the water, but I kept flapping. Soon, I was skimming over the water, and then I was running on it! My powerful wings carried me up, up! Into the air!

I used to imagine being an eagle or a hawk, flying high above the world. I never thought it would be much fun, knowing for certain that it would of necessity be tiring. But as a duck, I had stamina for ten eagles! I soared above the town, taking in the glorious view, and never once feeling like it ever had to end. The sensation of freedom was overwhelming... intoxicating, even! It was glorious!

For hours and hours I flew, reveling in the sheer wonder of riding the air. I only came down again because the sky was turning deep indigo, and I was unsure of flying at night.

As I waddled back to my apartment, my heart was full of joy.

I decided I could live with being a duck.



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