Trickster's Gold
by Doug Linger


Part 1
Change Day

My day began a bit abnormally, in that I woke up before noon. Ever since I had gotten a job as a pizza driver in October, my hours have gotten even worse than they already were. I used to stay up to about one-ish and wake around noon; now they were both shifted to about three hours later.

I looked at the clock by my bed: 7:28. Three hours sleep actually isn't bad, so long as I take a couple hours' nap a little later. It took me a few seconds to realize I was incredibly hot. Weak morning sun streamed through the windows, but Kansas is usually pretty damn hot in June. Plus, I had a loft apartment, and my bed was raised still further in a "loftlet" to be out of the way. So while it was damned uncomfortable, I didn't really think anything of it.

After tossing around for a bit, I decided there was no way I could get back to sleep. I kicked off the single cover and stood; at least, I started to. I had just gotten my legs over the side when I looked down. The world stopped.

I was hairy! God, was I hairy. I had always (well, since puberty) had hairy legs, but this was ridiculous! It was so thick it might as well have been fur. And it was red, too. My hair is dark brown.

I reached down to feel my leg, when I got the second shock: my arm was similarly clad. At this point the world started up again and I rushed down the ladder and into the bathroom. I wanted to see just how much this hair -- or fur, as I was already beginning to think of it -- covered.

Looking in the mirror, clad only in my briefs, I could see that it covered quite a lot. Everything, in fact, even Down There, when I checked. But nothing else was different. In the mirror was just me, except I was covered in fur, reddish fur with bits of gray, especially on my back. So much for my mustache, I thought incongruously. It had disappeared, perfectly camouflaged against the rest of my face.

Then came a surge of... something. My mouth and nose pushed away from my eyes with a suddenness that made me think something in my head had knocked on the inside of my skull with a hammer. I gasped in surprise, revealing teeth far different than I'd had seconds earlier. It didn't hurt, though, which was disconcerting. Something like this should hurt.

The surge was over in a second or two. After a second, I took off my underwear. I felt no need for modesty, as I lived alone, and my fur mostly hid my penis. No, check that. That surge had done more than give me a snout, it had made my fur grow by a few inches as well. My iris had become yellow and expanded to take up my entire eye, and my ears had shifted upwards and were definitely pointed.

This is cool, I thought. I'm becoming a wolf. I put aside questions such as "Why are you becoming a wolf?" and "How the hell do I get back human?" I was just going to enjoy this while it lasted. I wished I had a full-length mirror.

I stood up straighter. Could I be dreaming? Was this real? It was, in a way, a comforting thought. I've had transformation dreams before, but they were pretty rare. They were also never as vivid as this. I also rarely had dreams where I was lucid enough to ask whether I was dreaming. Generally I just think, "Whoa, this is weird. What's next?" By this strange logic I decided I was probably awake.

It was several more minutes before what I assumed was the third surge hit. I let out a yip as I shrank almost a foot from my previously 6'0" frame. It was suddenly harder to see in the mirror, due to my new height. I tried to climb onto the small counter there, which was when I discovered my legs were bending weirdly. They had become digitigrade.

The building shook and there was a loud bellowing from downstairs. I debated seeing what was going on; to do so I'd have to walk again. Then I sighed. Might as well relearn now.

I stood and made my way to the door, feeling like I was walking on tippytoes and a little shaky. Outside, the bellowing was much louder, and I could hear things being broken. The building shook a few times more as I made my way to my front balcony. It felt like that time a car had hit the building. I had to grab the railing for stability.

I peered over the side, and a few seconds later the building quaked again as a new round of crashes and thumps enused. This time I could pinpoint where they were coming from: one of the first floor apartments. Curiosity overrode caution and I made my way down the steps, wobbling all the way and clinging desperately to the railing.

I reached the bottom of the steps just as the door to the other first floor apartment opened. I glanced in that direction, then did a double-take. The woman in the doorway had a head very similar to my own, except her fur was gray to my red. Her eyes widened at the sight of me, and mine at her, although hers got enormous when she looked below my waist. I blushed as I realized I hadn't put my briefs back on, until I realized it was because of my legs, which unlike hers were digitigrade.

I had just turned back to face the apartment where the bellowing was coming from when the large front window exploded outwards. It was immediately followed by what appeared to be a rhinoceros, which ran through the parking lot and out to the street.

"Jesus!" I cried. Then I paused. My voice had changed, coming from deeper in my throat and sounding a little rough.

I gave another look at the other wolf, who was looking at the shattered window in shock, and started back upstairs. I idly wondered what might have happened if the apartment had been higher up. Rhino pizza, was the only thing I could think of.

Judging by the woman, I'm not the only one changing, and judging by that guy, we weren't all becoming wolves. That person, whoever he was, had become rhino. All the way rhino. It was scary to think about.

That brought it all to me in a rush. If this wasn't a dream, then something weird was going on. Hello, the clue phone just got answered... I walked back inside, somewhat more steadily this time. Practice makes perfect, I guess. I made it to my favorite chair without falling. I hoped it was pretty much over. After all, I was some kind of red wolf, now, almost entirely (Is that a real species or just a description? I wondered. I'll have to look it up. Later.). I didn't want to go all the way, quadrupedal and all; I rather liked thought. I sat down as best I could with my new legs and turned on the TV, vowing to look at myself again in the mirror later as well.

Most of the stations were blank, or static. One was showing reruns of the Honeymooners, which I've never liked. Why couldn't that one have been static? TNC was still on, with the anchor looking decidedly elk-like, complete with antlers. This abolished any remaining thoughts that I might be dreaming; my dreams were absolutely never this consistent. The announcer was saying, "...y calm. Reports are just coming in from New York and Washington describing a similar change occurring there." There was a national map overlaid above his shoulder, with pinpoints on Chicago, LA, and, of course, Atlanta. New York City and Washington DC added two new lights to the map.

The reporter continued reporting as best he could as I pondered. So. Whatever this was was national, probably continental. Global? If not the Americas will be quarantined for sure.

A word from the TV caught my attention, and I pushed my thoughts away to watch. The announcer was saying, "...extinct species. Confirmed are Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, and Dimetrodon. We will be keeping you updated on reappearances of dead species, along with the rest of this crisis."

Dinosaurs! And velociraptors at that! Dammit, why couldn't I be a velociraptor? It was my favorite animal, ever since I first saw pictures. Oh, well, I sighed. This isn't bad either, I guess. But still..._ I turned the sound down on the TV and sat down to think.

I decided that if it was happening in my apartment building, and it was happening in major cities in the US, then it's a good bet that it would be happening across town. I went to the phone and immediately put it down again. The phones here were dead, probably overloaded. So I got my keys and went outside. Figuring out how to drive with these legs was... interesting. My legs bent in different ways now, and kept hitting the steering wheel. I adjusted my seat and posture for five minutes before I felt confident I could do it.

The traffic was, unsurprisingly, light. I only saw four cars running besides mine, and Lawrence is usually a pretty busy town, even at 8 AM, having a university and all. There were a lot that had obviously recently been in motion parked along the roadsides, and quite a few were parked none too gently (Ie they crashed.). Depending on their state of mind, their drivers were either having panic attacks of various sorts (One woman-turned-dog wouldn't stop screaming; I could hear her for four blocks coming and going, through the car. Another person had bloody gashes on his feline muzzle, and was being restrained from continuing to take off his face by, of all things, two mice.), or looking at themselves, each other, me. Twice on my way across town animals that didn't belong in Kansas ran across the street in front of me; one a camel and the other a zebra. I admit I drove slow and rubbernecked at the zoo the town had become. I saw lions, tigers, bears (oh, my), more wolves, cats, dogs, birds of many a feather, and a single dino-morph. It was a stegasaurus, and I almost crashed when I saw him.

I avoided campus itself. It would be a zoo there in more than one sense, and traffic was controlled during the day anyway.

Only about fifteen minutes after the latest surge I pulled into Leo's driveway. About then I realized that despite what had happened in the encounter downstairs I had totally forgotten to put my briefs back on. I debated going back. It's ingrained very early that you don't walk around without clothing, and it's difficult to resist. But if dogs don't need clothes, why should I, now? Besides, I hated the idea of going back and wasting all that time.

I had just shut off the motor when the last surge hit me. I dropped my keys as my hands changed, and when I looked at them I found I'd lost a finger on each hand and gained short black claws. I released another yipping bark as my rear became very uncomfortable. I knew immediately that I had a tail, and it was jammed against the car seat. I gave silent thanks that I hadn't been wearing any clothing.

Before I could look at it, though, before I could even shift to a more comfortable position, the world attacked me. I could smell so much! I smelled the seats, some of the garbage in the car, the car exhaust (despite the fact that the doors and windows were closed), and myself -- a musky, spicy scent. I could hear incredibly too. I could hear sounds through the car window clearer than I'd ever imagined. Most of the noise, I noticed, was exclamations of fear, joy, disgust, and other emotions as people Changed.

The strangest thing was my eyes. I had always thought wolves had bad eyesight, relying on their eyes and ears, but I could see just as well as I could as a human. Colors were muted a bit, looking like someone had done one of those shifts on TV from black and white to color and had only gone halfway, but apparently I hadn't gone colorblind.

I got out and took a good long look at my tail, and the rest of myself. My fur had grown and was now perhaps six inches long. It was mostly a deep red-brown, lightening to tan on my chest and stomach. There were some dark gray patches as well, especially on my back, which made me look something in coloration between a fox and a wolf. My tail was entirely red except the tip, which was gray, and was busy making interesting motions even as I tried to stop it.

I took a look in the tiny side mirror, which confirmed everything I'd already seen. It also showed that my brow had flattened quite a lot. I grabbed my keys off the floor, then realized I had no pockets to drop them into. "Damn."

I went to the front door and listened. I could hear movement and talking within, but it was too muffled to understand. I think Leo and Michelle, Leo's roommate and kinda-fianc�e, were in a back room.

A gray squirrel answered the door a crack when I knocked. She was almost as complete as I was. "Yes?" she asked warily. We were eye to eye now, whereas before I was a head taller than her.

"Michelle?" she nodded. "I'm Doug."

Her eyes widened, and she opened the door. "Wow. I should've known; coyote matches your personality far too well. Come on in. Things are a little hectic right now."

"I can guess. What did Leo turn into? A lion, perhaps?"

"A lab rat," came a voice from the kitchen. Leo stepped out into the foyer.

Leo wasn't as far gone as myself or Michelle by a long shot. He had white fur, and a tail, but other than a snout and larger ears the rest of his body had been relatively spared. Surprisingly, he had retained his height. He'd always needed to duck in doorways, but if I shrank to become more wolflike, surely he'd have shrunk to be more ratlike. But he hadn't, and the result was...

"Pinky! Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" We all laughed.

"I think so, Brain, but this time you wear the trousers. Burlap chafes me so," he replied in a pretty bad imitation. It's amazing what a sense of humor can bring you through.

"Speaking of which..." Michelle said.

"Heh. Yeah. I guess I was a closet nudist." I turned to Michelle. She was clad in shorts and shirt, with her enormous tail stuffed through one leg hole. "And I'm a wolf, not a coyote."

"I don't think so. You're small, you're mostly red..."

"Maybe I'm immature."

"Then nothing changed," Leo said with a smile, showing some interesting teeth.

"I'm a Toys R Us kid and Peter Pan mixed into one: I refuse to grow up." I smiled back, which made Leo's grin falter a bit. "Wanna go on campus?"

"Hey, yeah," said Michelle. "Now we don't need to go to Topeka for the zoo." We laughed again, mine having a barking quality to it that I'd have to get used to. "It would probably be best if Leo drives. He's the most human of us."

"Fine with me, but do you have somewhere I can put these?" I indicated my keys. "I seem to have mislaid my pockets." Michelle reached over and put them on a nearby table without moving from where she was standing. "That works."

We go into Leo's car, with me in the back as usual. But as soon as Michelle sat in the passenger seat it was apparent that this wouldn't work. Her tail was too big. Michelle and I switched seats, and we were off.

Even though only a short time had passed, there were more cars running now. Most of them were heading to KU. The traffic around campus, always bad during the day, must not even be moving. We were barely halfway there before we decided to hoof it. Since none of us had hooves, we just walked.

"You think Tony went on campus, or did he stay at his post?" I asked as we walked. Tony worked on the school networks at West Campus.

"You think he'd miss this?" Leo replied.

"No. Hey!" Michelle exclaimed. "You think he became a Jayhawk?" The Jayhawk is KU's mascot and Tony had something of a fascination with it. He usually wore red jeans (no one knows where he finds them) and a blue shirt to work, with yellow shoes -- the color pattern of the Jayhawk. He even went so far as to make up a spandex outfit similarly colored so he could be "SuperJay" and would wear it to parties and certain other occasions. It was possibly the weirdest Renaissance Faire costume ever.

"I doubt it. The Jayhawk doesn't exist," I said.

"If the Change could bring out extinct species, why not mythical ones?" she countered. I promised to look out for centaurs and griffins. And Jayhawks.

It was about twenty minutes since we parked when we got onto campus. The traffic up here (KU is on top of Mount Oread, although it's more like Mound Oread.) was indeed at a standstill. There were too many people milling in the street. I could tell that some people were trying to find their friends in this mess, though how they'd recognize them if they saw them was beyond me.

Jayhawk Boulevard, the main road through campus, was filling up fast. I hadn't been a student here when KU won the NCAA tournament in '88, but this might top all the stories of what happened afterwards. The variety of what people had become was astounding. Besides the types I had seen on my drive across town, there were antelopes, gophers, pigs, cows, horses, even more birds, pumas, rabbits, and I even saw two crocodiles. Or maybe they were alligators. The number of scents that attacked my new nose was incredible. I wasn't alone in being naked, but I was in a definite minority. Most of the morphs were wearing clothing, or trying to. Some of the herbivores, mostly the small ones like rabbits and mice, were trying to give me a wide berth, but with all these people it was difficult. I ignored them; I was here to peoplewatch, not eat. Then I had a start when I realized that I had, however briefly, had such an idea.

Suddenly the crowd near us gave a collective gasp. I'd been hearing them all over the place, but this was close. "What's going on over there? I can't see," I shouted to Leo. Damn my new height!

Leo was looking at the area with his mouth open. "That...cow." He pointed, but I was too short now and didn't see anything. "She turned into a cow."

"And you're a rat," I pointed out.

"Nono. She turned all the way cow."

Michelle and I looked worriedly at each other. Was the Change still going on? Would we all become animals? The crowd from that area gasped again, and I strained my new ears to single out conversation from people there from the general noise. It was hard, but I figured out that she was back to normal, if this was normal. I could hear questions like, "What was it like?" and "How'd you do that?" from everyone over there.

"Well, it wasn't permanent, anyway," I said, more to myself than to my companions.

We wandered around for half an hour, and eventually wound up at the natural sciences building. By wordless yet mutual consent we entered. The foyer, which opened into a large room with life-sized dioramas of different natures scenes, was almost as packed as the street was. It was fifteen minutes before we were in front of the northern exhibit, which had a wolf in it.

Michelle was looking from me to the wolf and back. "I really don't think you're a wolf, Doug."

I reluctantly agreed. I moved away to find a closer match. Two exhibits later one was found, a very close likeness: Canis latrans, "barking dog": the coyote.

"Told you you were a coyote," Michelle said triumphantly.

"I guess all those Road Runner cartoons got to you," Leo smirked. Or tried to, with his snout.

"Yeh yeh. A zoologist I'm not. Let's go see the other animals."

We made sure to see the squirrels (there weren't any mice or rats) but with that done we just wandered around. The only place that wasn't crowded was the area devoted to the Native Americans. No one was much interested in them at a time like this. Well, one person was, or the lion-morph was just trying to rest, like us. He entered a little after we did.

"Hi," he said. He was really excited. I could tell by his scent even if it hadn't been so obvious by sight. Then a dam seemed to burst. "This is something, ain't it? The ultimate way to get in touch with nature! Don't you think this is cool?" We all had to admit it was, with Leo a little reluctant. I think he wished he had changed into something more powerful. The guy just kept talking about how great this was. Then he asked, "Hey, can any of you do this?" and transformed all the way to a lion.

Michelle screamed, and Leo looked ready to bolt, but it was a cull-de-sack and the lion was between us and the exit. I, meanwhile, had laid my ears back and snarled at the lion. Not the brightest thing, a medium sized dog taking on a lion, but I just did it anyway. I had to protect my... pack? I shook my head. No. Friends. The lion paused a moment, then once again it was a lion-morph instead of a lion. "Sorry. Did I scare you?"

"Yes," we all answered in unison and in identical tones.

"Sorry," he said again, looking embarrassed. Then he was back to his old perky self. Obviously he was a person who liked what had happened, and nothing could spoil his day. "So what school you guys in?"

"We don't go to KU," said Leo. Michelle nodded.

"Graduated," I added. "But it was geology."

"Oh. I was in engineering. But I think I'm gonna transfer to biology."

"Somehow I think there are going to be a lot of people trying to become biologists," Michelle chuckled. "Um, can I ask you, how did you do that?"

The lion-morph looked at the small crowd. A few people had run in by now, attracted by her scream. They were looking at the lion now, interested in hearing this, too. "Just think of a barrier made of Jell-O in your head, and push through it. When you want to come back, do the same thing. But--"

One idiot, an antelope, had unfortunately already followed his advice. He gave a frightened look around, then leapt over the crowd to the exit. The ceiling was high, but he still scraped it up pretty bad with his antlers. I couldn't see what happened to him next, but I heard his hooves running down the halls, a few startled yells, and then lots of yells as he reached the crowded main all.

"--But instincts are a bit harder to control in that shape," our instructor finished weakly.

We managed to break away and leave the Natural Sciences building. From the front steps it looked like Jayhawk Boulevard was filled sidewalk to sidewalk with people. People could still move, though; everyone had enough sense not to make it that bad. What had started out as peoplewatching people had become a giant party. Four kegs (within sight) were being rapidly depleted, and a conga line was winding its way around everyone. A band had managed to clear a space for themselves in the Student Union plaza next door and was doing sound checks.

A local news crew had arrived and was doing random interviews. Either the TV station was up again or this was taped for later. Or both, of course. As we made our way over to the plaza the newsperson and cameraguy -- a robin and a bird I didn't recognize, respectively, both of medium degree -- made their way to us.

"Hi, there," the robin called to me when she go close enough. I continued walking, but didn't turn her away. "I'm Kelly Walters, KSMO 62. May I interview you?"

I stopped. "Uh, me?" I was kinda nervous; I'd never been interviewed before. "Why?"

"Well, there is the Change, of course. But I picked you out because you're the first person I've seen naked."

Well, we are near the edge of campus here. But what a reason for an interview! "Uh, sure, I guess. Is this live?"

"No, 'fraid not. Our station's back on but we're not up to showing live stuff yet. We must be showing reruns. It'll probably be on tonight though, if you make the edit. Now, let's see..." With no clothing to clip the mike to she just clipped it to my fur and smoothed it down so it was hidden. Her hands felt good along my pelt, and I realized why dogs and cats like to be petted. It was almost sexual.

"Good. Now, who do I introduce you as, or do you not want to be named?"

I had a sudden impulse. "Trickster." I never did like my name too much. She looked at me oddly but didn't ask again.

"Ok," she said to the camerabird, who looked ready if a little uncomfortable. The camera was made for more human shoulders then he (She? I couln't tell, even by scent. Too many other people around.) now had. I gave a last, nervous look at Leo and Michelle, who were watching interestedly, along with a dozen other people. Then the red light on the camera went on.

"I'm Kelly Walters, reporting from KU campus in Lawrence. I'm here with Trickster." She turned from the camera to me. "I assume Trickster isn't your real name, is it?"

"It's not the one my parents gave me, sure. But its not as major a change as, well, everything else today. Why can't it be my real name, now?"

"You plan on changing your name legally then?"

"Probably." I was still nervous at being on camera, but by concentrating on Ms. Walters I could keep it from being too bad.

"Why aren't you wearing any clothes?" she abruptly changed the subject.

I'm sure I looked embarrassed. My ears and tail mere moving in a way that I knew meant just that. "Well, uh, frankly I was kinda eager to see some friends of mine about the Change," I indicated my companions, "and just forgot to get dressed. When I realized it, I figured I kinda wasn't breaking any laws, since I was covered anyway." I pulled a little too hard on my fur as an illustration; it hurt. There was some laughter from the watchers.

I was asked, "So you'll never wear clothes again?"

"Oh, I don't know. I do need pockets or something for my keys and wallet. But it'll probably be rather minimalist."

Ms. Walters went on to ask how I was feeling about the Change ("I rather like it."), what it felt like being a coyote now ("Weird, but natural. I'm sure you know what I mean."), and what I thought happened to cause this ("Don't ask me, I don't know. I doubt anyone does.").

The interview ended, and the reporters walked away, looking for someone else to put on disk. My friends and I walked over to listen to the band, which had started to play. I was surprised when I saw a group of four humans walking around, gawking at everyone else. They were young, but there wasn't a trace of fur or feathers on them. Apparently not everyone Changed; after a few more such sightings I realized that they were all prebubescents. Hmmm.

We continued to peoplewatch as we listened to the band. The variety of creatures still amazed me. Some casual conversation with friendly people (Most of which were carnivores, I noticed; prey animals still generally avoided close contact.) told me of some other Powers that they had seen. They told me of a force field that saved a cow as she jumped out a fourth story window in panic, and of a raccoon speeding away from an out-of-control car far too fast to be normal.

One drunk rat of higher degree than Leo confirmed that some people went all the way to an animal and lost their minds. He had been in a music store when that had happened to a coyote -- he had actually tried to eat a rabbit morph. The rat was well on his way to getting drunk. I sympathized; I wanted to too, and I hadn't even seen it.

As I sat and watched and listened I made in my mind a sort of scale for the Changed. It went from 0 to 11, with 0 being totally human and 11 being totally animal. People in morph form then range from 1 to 10. Leo would probably be a 4. Michelle would be around an 8 or maybe 9, and I would be a 9 or even 10. All I needed was a twist in the pelvis and a slight change to my hands and I'd be an 11, which was scary once I'd thought about it. I'd come this close!

One thing I noticed fairly early was that everyone here was handling the Change rather well. Surely a few people went insane, and many more would simply be in shock. It wasn't until that evening that I realized people who were like that would hardly be in the mood to join the enormous party.

We left around 4. None of us were very used to partying, and we wanted to get out of the noise. All our ears hurt. The crowd was a little thinner by then, and after only two blocks there was only the occasional person or group walking around. The police hadn't bothered to do anything on the Hill, but had put up roadblocks and detours to keep someone from going up there and getting stuck. Once out of the blocked-off area, traffic was almost normal.

We reached the car, talking about the day. I was in a good mood, and after a moment of thought urged them to take the car without me. I had decided to walk. Michelle and Leo made sure I meant it; they knew I was never athletic or fitness-oriented before. Once they were, they drove off.

I walked down Ohio St. and turned right on 13th. I felt like running, but the blocks were too small. I'd barely get started before I'd have to stop or get run over.

After a mile or so the blocks became much longer, and I opened up. I ran at a comfortable jog for a while, relaxing. If running feels this good, I should do it more often. Why didn't I do this before the Change?

Because it didn't feel like this before, stupid, was my mental reply to myself.

I started hearing a commotion from several blocks ahead. I slowed down to a walk. I eventually turned down a small back street, almost an alley, to investigate. (I may live in Kansas, but I'm from New Jersey, which is just a suburb of New York City in my opinion. New Yorkers run towards gunshots, not away.) Only a couple dozen feet away six people of various species were trying to calm down a buck, 11th degree. Apparently the instincts were too strong, which wasn't helped by how five out of the six surrounding it were carnivores.

Suddenly it stopped trying to run and stood stock still. Then two red beams erupted from its eyes and hit two different people, one beam from each eye. They both went flying backwards, one hitting a wall with an audible snap. The rest of the group, including myself, looked on in shock. Must be one of those Powers. Wish someone'd told me about this one. While they were standing around the buck blasted two more, who also went flying. The other two turned to run. The buck let them go.

Then it looked at me. Uh oh. I had been engrossed in the show, like it was a movie. But if it was, it was interactive. As I turned to run it hit me with both eye beams.

"AAAAaaaaaooooooooo!!" I howled. I was burning! It felt like my whole body was on fire, and I dimly realized that despite the fact that I was not touching the ground I was moving very fast.

I landed in the street. I hurt all over, and newly broken bones from the landing didn't help. I heard a screech of tires and looked up in time to see a car desperately trying to stop in time. I could tell it wouldn't.

I should have taken another route... I thought...

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