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Sound of Mind
It never gets easier. It should, I think. The more times you try it, the longer you live, the easier these attempts at friendship ought to become. But I am as shy now, in college, as I ever was in my teens. I plan as carefully and come away as disappointed when I fail.
In terms of romance, I feel as much the bumbler I was at thirteen. I may be able to write plays, to design sets, to create the very world in which actors move. But for now my world revolves around one approach, one line... Sure, we theatre people are outgoing. But the hesitation increases with degree of caring. And while I may sit down to write a play the moment inspiration strikes, when approaching a human I circle, test, shy away, return. Once words are spoken, they can never be retracted.
I look at my hands, idle in my lap, and sigh.
The theatre office is empty save for myself. It's ridiculously early for anyone to be hanging around here, but I was restless at home. Couldn't sleep. Can you believe it? Kent Dryer couldn't sleep.
The office is cluttered, too cluttered for thinking. The random spacing of the furniture and various scripts, books and pieces of outerwear scattered about is distracting. Normally, I only spend time here when it's full of people, when there is a conversation to hold my attention.
I rise to my feet and move soundlessly out of the office. Thinking about my purpose.
When I see him today, what do I say? Is there an excuse to get him alone? He's been out of the hospital two days. I forget whether I was open to company when I was first released. After a bad bout with Flu at thirteen, a boy bounces back pretty quickly.
On the other hand, if I approach when he is vulnerable, weak... Not quite back on his feet...
I know which part of Kent Dryer is beginning to engineer this.
The black box, a cube theatre smelling of many-times-walked-upon latex paint, is empty. I'm so early that even Shadow has not arrived. The black room seems tired. I can't think here, either. It is a nighttime place to me.
Out the back corner of the black box. Into the plastic-smelling hall, near the stairs down to the costume shop. My nose is working full-tilt. I let the instinct take over. The theatre department has been the only place for me, ever since I came to this university. Inhibitions are not necessarily required for those of us who dwell within the Performing Arts buildings.
I reach into a slacks pocket for my scene shop keys, but as I begin to apply one to the small hallway-access door I see that the bolt has already been undone. Someone else here with set work? I doubt it. Even the regular Tech people won't be in until eight.
I slip my tall frame easily, silently into the cavernous shop. Tentatively sniff the still air near the door.
My senses are at their height, as they often are when I am emotionally stressed-- for better or for worse. My ears would catch any sound now, but the enormous sawdusty cement-walled place is deathly quiet. I realize that if I turn on a light I will be able to use my eyes, as well.
The wolf within me is sending inexplicable messages of nearby prey.
Funny, isn't it. I often see it in terms of a graphic novel. A comic book. Whatever. Told in white squares patched over striking drawings of heroes with solid white teeth.
"Young Kent Dryer, walking home from school, is the unwitting victim of a seepage of radiation from the nearby plant..."
Sure, make a disease into an enviable state of super-prowess. What do we give up? Our normalcy. Any prowess we may have had that is compromised by the alter-ego of the virus. Looks good on paper. "Young Kent Dryer is found unconscious, in a coma from which he will not awake for a long time..." Young Kent Dryer is found unconscious, laid low on the sidewalk by the sudden onset of Martian Flu.
The light flickers, buzzes and becomes stable. The one switch I have thrown illuminates a shadowed patch of cement floor. Pine set pieces in various stages of metamorphosis lean on the wall and on each other. Amber eyes reconcile the sights with the smells that enter attentive nostrils.
My heightened senses were attributed to fever, my remarkable new voice to the change all boys go through. The silver-grey grizzling suffused my blond hair so gradually that the only comment was,"You know, your mother's hair went darker, too."
"Mild-mannered Kent Dryer," the intense handwriting announces, "Mysteriously transformed by the radiation, finds himself the bearer of remarkable powers."
I slink further into the shop, puzzling over my wolf-insistence that there is-- there! A smell... A person-- no, a ... wildebeest.
Can't be. I won't believe my luck could be that good. Another whiff. It is. It's Gabriel. Approach him now! Sings the friendly she-wolf.
He may not want me, though.
The she-wolf decides to approach diffidently.
I have to laugh, inwardly, when I think of it. Thoughts in bubbles. Voices in jagged rectangles. In the graphic novels, I would be Kent Dryer, alias Kana, the swift and graceful creature of the forest. His only weakness being that he has no idea when she may appear...
How do I show someone my true identity? Yes, the tall, slight man before you is the real me. But although I have gone into full morph only three times, the silvery she-wolf is very much a part of the mind behind the man. Unable to control the frequency of her appearance, how can I now be honest with Gabriel? I cannot demonstrate. It's hard to explain to someone who might not accept-- to someone I very much want to accept me.
I'd like to say, never mind what anyone else thinks, but it hurt when my parents "suggested" Hayden Heath. Not that I would give it up for the world, now. But besides the fact of the brochure's specific welcoming of those with SCABS, it seemed to me a bit too convenient that I came to college in Minnesota while my family resides in California. And it was their idea.
Gabriel. He's behind the curtain in the dark wings of the mainstage, where the scene shop and the performance space connect. He seems to have sensed the one light flickering on. Now he waits, alert, perhaps a bit-- frightened.
He's on the defensive, but he's alone! Approach him now.
I make a slow, direct line for the curtain.
"Kent Dryer possesses the super-senses of his wolf cousins."
I remember the first of the three times.
It didn't hurt, really. Maybe it did. But I was so amazed at what was happening that all sensation was greeted with pubescent curiosity.
I was alone, playing music, my earphones on, and by the time they no longer fit I was completely rearranged. Soft and muscular at the same time. Gangly with my adolescent age but... feminine. And I changed back, just like that. I have no idea what triggers it.
My mother found hairs in the carpet near my stereo and guessed the truth.
Suddenly I was a freak in my own house, a teenage boy perfectly normal to outsiders but whose hair and eye color were abhorrent to his own parents.
I guess I wasn't completely normal, either. The sight of a young man out on the street howling to the neighborhood dogs was not exactly accepted in our town. So I quit that. Easy. I felt smothered, but at least I could still sing.
That's something that won't get into the graphic novels: Young Kent Dryer pounding joyfully on the steering wheel of his car, belting out 'eighties tunes at the top of his lungs, giving in to the delicious desire to sing. 'Eighties tunes, of course. Those long-drawn-out notes with lyrics so easily followed.
DOOOON'T forget me when I'm gone....
Go with what works, I guess. It was perfectly normal for an enthusiastic boy my age to _sing_, as long as he did it in _human_. Oh I FINALLY DECIDED my FUTURE LIES beyond the Yellow Brick ROOOOAAAAAD!
Gabriel is silent behind the curtain and as I draw nearer to my prey I suddenly realize the significance of his fight with SCABS.
Feminine. Masculine. He told Feech, back in the hospital the night we found him in the black box. "One good thing could have come out of this disease..."
And so he fought it, fighting the end. The inevitability of his man's body, be it wildebeest, human or human-wildebeest.
I remember what it felt like. The she-wolf taking the boy. And I... liked it. A surprise to me at the time. But Gabe was older when he went down, and his war with the virus was a deliberate one. One which he lost. But perhaps he's ready... Ready to consider...
The approach never gets any easier.
The she-wolf within me balks as I enter the wing of the mainstage and draw aside the curtain. She reminds me that Gabriel is as tall as me since his change, that he may be a formidable opponent should he reject my company.
Yet he is alone, I am alone, neither of us surrounded by other theatre friends. The time has to be now.
I step beyond the curtain. Gabriel is seated on a pine step, some piece left here from the last show. He looks up with those serious grey eyes and the corner of his lip twitches in a barely perceptible welcoming smile. "Oh, s'you."
I steel myself for the first line of the upcoming pursuit.
And speak. "Hello, Gabe. Mind if I sit down?"
He moves over and motions to the space left on the step beside him. As soon as he's not looking I draw in a deep whiff of the scent of his blue-grey hide. "So, Gabriel," I say, "What are you here so early for?"
"Couldn't sleep. _Blue Window_ auditions tonight."
His voice has changed, is the characteristic organ-like grunting of the maned creature he has become. I find it an attractive complement to the high, smooth voices of so many of the people in the department.
"You're Griever, easily," I tell him. I feel and hear the slight vibrato in my voice. Easy, I tell myself. Stay stoic and calm. It's just a conversation.
"I don't know," Gabe says listlessly. "My voice... and I'm so tired. Before-- well, you know-- that night-- I would have said I had the part of Griever in the bag. But now..."
"You're different. All actors are striving for difference. From themselves, from others. Go in there to get the part. You will. Remember the faculty knows you."
He smells relaxed, but sad. I allow myself to adopt a more vulnerable position, facing him, making no attempt to keep my face above his eye level.
He gazes around morosely as he speaks. "I know they know me, Kent. But when they see how different--"
He actually smiles. His dark lips upturn in a charming line on the large head. "Yeah, yeah. I know. Different."
He continues. "By the way, what are you doing here? I thought you only arose before noon if your house was on fire."
I can't keep my eyes on his. At the same time, something rash and giddy within me is saying, what are you waiting for... I speak in a growling tone that I know he is going to notice right away. I can't help it. "Oh, nothing much, Gabriel. I hope I'm not interrupting your audition prep. Just thought since you happened to be here too I'd sit down for a minute."
"Kent, you okay? I don't mean to be pushy, but do you have SCABS? Because I noticed just now a little change to your voice..."
I turn to him. "Actually, yes, I do have SCABS. I'm all right for now, though. It's just my wolf's voice you heard."
I can't believe we're talking about this. I feel as though I'm running on a hunt, the wind sucked into joyous lungs. DOOOON'T FORGET ME! Gabriel has made absolutely no move to avoid my company.
"Oh, okay. Just checking. I _thought_ there was something a bit predatory about you."
"Yes, well, um, there might be kind of another reason for that..."
What the hell.
I kiss him.
To my immense surprise, Gabriel turns a gentle face to me and licks my cheek.
The prey has turned on the predator.
The she-wolf luxuriates in the success of the hunt.