by Mike Brotzman

  Well, here I go, I guess. The school appointed counselor wanted me to go back to my "lair" and write about my experiences since the change. Said it would help get my true feelings out in the open or something. I don't really know about that, but it's late August and I don't really have anything better to do. I don't really know where to start, but I guess that right after the transformation is as good a place as any. It took me about a week for my mind to stop spinning and for things to become lucid again. Those first few days were like some sort of fantasy, a weird dream where everything had that glow. If there was one thing that brought me back to reality it was suddenly noticing that I had neglected to call my parents. I guess I was half expecting the school to do it for me, but after a week had gone by and I hadn't heard anything from them I just dawned on me. Later I asked around and I found that the schools privacy policy prohibits them from notifying the parents except in the case of the most extreme medical emergencies. I guess since I was able to walk and talk my condition wasn't considered extreme enough. It was that first Sunday night that night I found myself staring at my crudely built, dragon sized phone. The school hadn't even offered to foot the bill for my call. It took me some time to fish the phone card out of my wallet, but I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to read the minute numbering with my big green eyes. I dialed the number and the phone rang.

  ::RING:: x3
  Mom: Hello?
  Me: Hey Mom, it's me.
  Mom: You sound different.
  Me: Well, I...
  Mom: We were getting worried about you. Dad's been trying to call you all this week and just a few hours ago some people called here.
  Me: Um, what about?
  Mom: I couldn't really tell. They kept asking questions about you and something about a dragon. We just hung up. Maybe it has something to do with those recent transformations. Did you hear about those? We tried calling the school, but nobody was there on a Sunday.
  Me: Ok, I've sort of got some news about that. Now stay calm, everything is fine.
  Mom: Ok, you know me. I'm calm.
  Me: Last week at school, last Tuesday, I turned into a, a silver dragon.
  I always cut to the chase when there's bad news.
  Mom: You what?
  Me: I got transformed, along with all those other people. I... I'm a dragon.
  ::longish pause::
  Mom: Are you ok? Do people know where you are? Are you in any trouble?
  Me: No, I'm fine. The school is taking care of everything. I would have called sooner, but they've been keeping me really busy and I sort of assumed that, you know, someone from the school would call, but they have his privacy thing and...
  Mom: I know, I know. Don't get upset. I understand. ::deep breath:: Hold on, your father is here.
  I could hear some talking that was then followed by another longish pause. Then my dad picked up the phone.
  Dad: Ok, your mom's told me what happened and we're leaving now and we'll be up there as soon as we can.
  When trouble hits, my Dad pushes all concern aside and jumps to the most abrupt course of action.
  Me: No no, I'm fine. You're just going to fall asleep and drive off the road or something. Just come up tomorrow morning. I'm probably safer now than before, what with all the extra supervision.
  Dad: Are you sure?
  Me: Yes, please don't come up.
  Dad: What about your classes?
  Me: I'm still taking them. We'll talk tomorrow. Does mom want to talk to me any more?
  Dad: She had to sit down.
  Me: Ok well, I guess I had better go.

   I gave my dad my new phone number and hung up at my end. Something felt odd. I usually had to fight my way free of the phone and all the "caring" that usually flowed forth from it. For the message I was bringing the conversation had been eerily short. I remember turning back and attacking the mountain of school work that had piled up during my absence.
  The next morning I sat nervously in my room awaiting the arrival of my parents. Classes were not a problem, as they had not yet outfitted the classrooms with the requisite video conferencing system and I was still having to watch non-interactive tape recordings. I was busy typing out some e-mails when a knock came at the door and a sharply dressed administrator walked in. She informed me that my parents were here and asked if I was ready to meet them. It was now or never, so I gestured for them to enter. Slowly, coming from behind the door, I saw first my father and then my mom. I heard her gasp slightly as she panned her head to take me all in.
  "Hi," I said, deciding that a funny atmosphere-lightening remark would only come out lame.
  My parents were silent, but as they slowly walked alongside of me my mom reached out her hand and began running it along my scaly side. Sure, I had been nothing but poked and prodded all week, but this touch was much different, it was just dripping with love. The tough sent a tingle through me and I locked my gaze upon them. She worked her way up my neck, ruffled her hand through my tufts of black hair, wrapped her arms around my head and gave me a big hug.
  "I love you," she whispered into my ear.
  I couldn't very well hug her back so I just nuzzled against her with my nose. The hug lasted for some minutes before she turned and had to sit down. I could tell that she was somewhat in shock. It was one of those moments where something happens and you know things will never be the same again. Like that 3 AM call informing you that a loved one was in an accident. I wasn't dead and I certainly wasn't disabled, but my mom still sat there, dealing with the fact that she would never see her son again, at least not as he was.
  My dad began asking questions: How was I doing, how was school, etc. They had been prepped by the school's public relations people and had been given a tree's worth of documentation, but I guess they needed to hear it from the dragon's mouth.
  "Oh whoa," my Mom said as she combed my little tuft of hair, "your breath is foul. Have you been brushing?"
  "You're lying."
  "Oh, but these aren't the kind of teeth that brush well. Look, they're all pointy."
  "Go do it now... and use mouthwash."
  Yup, things were quickly getting back to normal. My family was pretty easy-going, and not even a massive transformation was going to send my parents over the edge. I gave them a tour of my new body and I couldn't tell if they were staring in awe or scrutinizing over what parts were out of shape, needed cleaning or could be covered by a sweater. It was my mom who noticed that I still had my birthmark, between my wing root and my shoulder blade, now represented by a noticeably larger patch of black scales. They both required proof that I was still indeed a male (probably to hold onto the possibility of grandchildren). After about an hour of mucking about I asked if maybe they wanted to go outside. I think they felt a little relieved that I wasn't intent on walling myself up like some sort of prisoner. As we walked around campus I could still fell the people staring, but for the most part they kept their distance. I felt somewhat odd walking with my parents, what with my size and all. It made feel like a little hatchling. That's not a joke. That was the actual word that went through my mind. I must be losing it. Luckily it was a sunny day. There was still snow on the ground, but I was perfectly comfortable. My mom kept asking me how I could stand it. My dad commented about how interesting my deepwater green eye colour was and kept trying to get me to go down to the track to see how fast I could run a mile. As my parents are still human, I had to be the responsible one and persuade them to come in out of the cold. This time they got a good view of how I had to climb up the side of Hall-Atwater to get into my rooftop room.
  As part of their overall plan to ward off lawsuits from the poor transformed kid's parents, the school had pulled out all the stops for the lunch. There was steak, rotisserie chicken, pork, baskets of fresh (in winter!) fruit and large amounts of good bread. I noted how alcoholic beverages were being constantly made available to my parents. Good thing they don't really drink. There was a short group presentation where various scientists and administrators went over stuff with my parents and I, and finally we got down to the most depressing task of the day. Since I really wouldn't be needing most of my human stuff, my parents thought they should take some of it home. Who we are is most readily expressed in the possessions we surround ourselves with. I was overtaken by numbness as my parents filled boxes with items I would probably never use again and clothes I would never wear again. It's the simple stuff that really gets to you. The stuff I ate with, my bicycle, my backpack that I had been lovingly patching together for the last 7 years, my cookie tin, my shoes, pens and pencils. On the flip side, my parents had brought some stuff up for me. There were some extra blankets and pillows for my rather bare foam padded 'nest', and some extra books for me to read. It was late afternoon when my parents felt it best to leave in order to beat the darkness home. I walked them out to their car where mom gave me a long kiss on my nose, dad did his best to give me a firm handshake and then they departed. As I watched them drive off I didn't feel quite so lonely anymore.
  That first month after my transformation went by like a blur. Due to the recentness and extremity of my change, every moment I wasn't working on my own class work I was being studied by a group of scientists. I never felt outcast or out of place because I was always with people and I was always doing something. Most of the people I was interacting with were students I had known from around the various NSM departments. I guess the only thing that really did stand out during that time were the dreams. I found myself much more likely to remember my dreams from the night before and the interesting thing was that in most of them, I was still human. Granted I had a few dragon dreams, but they involved nothing cliche like diving down on prey or devouring large numbers of fleeing humans. Before the Event I would, on occasion, have some sort of cool dream where I could fly or could do something else. Once I was even a Gryphon. I would have my dream and be jolted back to the harsh reality. Now, when the dreams came I was nothing more than a simple human doing simple bizarre human dream stuff. When the light and sound of morning would awaken me it would be then that I felt the wings and the tail and the cool morning breeze drafting across my scales. In a way, I had become the dream and the real me had been sent away to the depths of my subconscious. Today, the human dreams come less and less frequently. I can go whole weeks without having one. Someday, all too soon I fear, these last vestiges of what I once was will disappear too, maybe getting packed away with all my other stuff in my parents' attic.
  As time went on,I got more and more free time and I began to look for friends who would actually do stuff with me. With less interaction between me and all the science folk, and the remote location of my room, I was starting to become somewhat isolated. It becomes amazingly evident just how much time humans spend inside buildings when you are barred from entering them yourself. No more film series movies, no more guest speakers, no more browsing the stacks in the library, and no more hanging out in a friend's room watching Sci Fi on cable. However, hope was not all lost as I began to reacquaint myself with the Strategic Games Club. The SGC is a Student Live Action Role Playing group whose members are comprised of 30-year old guys from the surrounding area with almost no affiliation with the University. While this fact sent me running and screaming before, it now presented me with a core of people who would actually do stuff with me as I was. Every Thursday night they would gather to practice hitting each other with foam swords. During the cold winter months this practice would usually move indoors, but when I showed up they cheerfully donned their coats and made an exception. After making sure to cover up all my spiky bits I would spend several hours romping in a courtyard or on a field with a handful of humans charging at me with non-lethal implements. Over the first 3 weeks that I attended student attendance noticeably improved, however, on that third week there was a little incident. The incident really had nothing to do with me save for the fact that it happened in my vicinity. A student was getting up to charge at somebody and slipped and fell on some accumulated ice, hitting their head on the pavement. Help was summoned and the student was transported to a local hospital for a broken arm and a concussion. The next day I was sitting in my room when there came a knock on the door and about 4 well dressed men entered wanting to have a little 'chat'.
  The school had sent their team of high-priced lawyers by to give me some friendly advice. They explained in no uncertain terms that I had been transformed into a lawsuit magnet where anyone who tripped over my tail might try to sue me. They handed me a stack of forms and "strongly encouraged" me to make people I was around sign them. There was a unique form for almost every situation. Rides, sports, games, flights, speaking appearances, meals, hikes and walks and an umbrella form that covered everything. I could get more copies upon request. They also recommended that I purchase some good liability insurance for the times when I was not on campus. Nevertheless, it sort of put a crimp in my style having to hand out waivers before I would let my 'friends' be friendly. There were a few more inconveniences my new life would entail. The school strongly urged me to inform them when I went any distance off campus, and tell them where I was going. I also worked out with the FAA the conditions of my flight. I was free to fly anywhere I wanted, as long as I stayed under 500 feet and within a radius of 5 miles. I could fly up to 2000 feet w/o giving prior notice. It was on me to locate and keep out of restricted airspace, and for journeys over 10 miles I was to carry a wireless communications device that I was able to operate at any time. Filing flight plans was optional, but highly recommended. Considering I was dealing with a government agency, I feel I got off pretty light.
  I found myself spending a lot of time reading. This was no easy feat in itself, as how does a 30-foot monster hold and read flimsy human books? My claws could cut through 20 sheets of paper in a single pass. Had it not been for those wonderful guys down in the machine shoppe all through all of this, I surely would have been lost. Aside from what those government guys provided me, the machine shoppe guys have manufactured almost every specialty tool my new body has required. This time it was an intricate book holder and page-turner that allows me access to the great wealth of human knowledge and creativity. Sometimes it can be quite a laughable site to see me hunched over a minute 3"x7" paperback. Let me tell you, not a night goes by but I thank God for my raptor-quality vision. I could read over the shoulder of a student reading in the top floor of the campus centre. Well, maybe not, but my vision is still really good. This leads me to the mail situation. Because my new form was popularly identifiable and quite cool, I received quite a healthy volume of fan mail. This mail wasn't just from fans and well-wishers, but it also contained a fair number of job offers and commercial direct mailings. For almost the first months I was way too busy to receive mail, it was only when the little campus post office was finding themselves a tad short on storage space did they lug a couple of sacks up the my room and dump them in a corner. From what I have read, most of the letters are very nice and quite thoughtful. The only problem is that nearly everybody has seemingly forgotten that I am 30 feet long with palms the size of dinner plates, fingers the size of cucumbers and razor sharp talons that turn most paper products to confetti. Your standard sized envelope just isn't going to cut it. Think, people, think!
  At first I could trick friends into helping me with my mail. We would do a quick sort, reject the obvious junk and then go through what looked to be worthwhile. The only problem was, who wants to hang around with a famous friend just to read his celebrity mail. In light of flagging interest I tried to liven up the situation by making fun of those people who sent me gushing letters saying how they loved me or wanted to worship me or considered me some sort of omen or spiritual centre. After a short period of time I began to have some serious moral problems with mocking the people who had taken time out to say what their hearts felt in liking me. Eventually I was able to get some mail reading tools and I just bit the bullet and went about trying to read and respond to my own mail (although some of the research assistants give me a hand from time to time). E-mail was slightly different. This I was able to read much faster and most mails that deserved it got a reply. The school had set up a new account for me that attracted most of the fluff. This enabled me to actually keep my old account. Granted the volume was heavy as my e-mail was none too hard to figure out, but it was well with in my ability to handle it.
  Now I'll bet your wondering how I didn't burn out what with my school work, research, mail, e-mail, hanging out with friends, and extended reading list. Well, first of all I quickly realized that I only needed about 3-4 hours a sleep per night with a 10-hour and 7-hour stretch alternating every two weeks. I also found it very much easier to enter and absorb information. I found myself flying through my reading lists with every single word on the page standing out in my mind. I could recall offhand comments made in class when it came time to take the test. Essays would materialize out of thin air. I even started writing some new transformation fiction, even though there wasn't really a list to post it to any more. I guess there are some benefits to having a brain that's bigger than a breadbox.
  I lead a pretty quiet life when I'm on campus. The school took the unprecedented step of actually adding some adequate security to the buildings I use and live in. The doors are locked at night, they installed some CCTV and motion sensor stuff, staff is advised to look out for those who shouldn't be there and they hired some extra Public Safety guys to patrol the area. After a month had passed I could usually walk around without being hounded by a reporter or having my picture taken by a horde of people. Yes, there are always a few people hanging around for the express reason of seeing me; yes; they take a few pictures; and yes, I sometimes get media types asking me questions; but all in all it is pretty respectful. The few times when it hasn't been, Public Safety or random students passing by have come to my aid. The one thing that can get really annoying is my phone. After my move I got a brand new extension that wasn't listed anywhere. Anybody who calls the switchboard and asks for me is politely told to write a letter. The basic policy is that if anyone needs my number, I'll be the one to give it to them. On the off chance that someone unwanted does call and asks for me I make sure to tell them they have a wrong number instead of a revealing "go away." One morning I was just coming off 3 hours of sleep when my phone rings. I pick it up and there's some guy I've never heard before on the other end. I'm about to brush him off, and he says he "knows" it's me and that he has a message from one Mr. Michael Jackson.
  I had read a few of Blue Knight's prolific interviews and apparently, the arguable king of pop wants little old me (along with every other lister) to come join him on his freak farm. I was still groggy and didn't have the wherewithal to give him a piece of my mind, but I felt I managed to get my message of rejection across. I simply said, "One, I'm kinda busy with school and all here. Two, I don't listen to music. And three, he scares me. Gotta go, bye." I was too groggy to give the phone call much thought and all I felt was that I wanted to sleep in for an extra hour that morning. I'll cover my further dealings with Mr. Jackson later.
   Time marched on and I soon found myself staring at "spring" break. I say "spring" because it occurs during the 2nd and 3rd week of March and one of the more popular activities is to go skiing. The primary reason for this early date is to get students off campus for St. Patrick's Day. My initial plan was to stay on a nearly deserted campus and have my human parents come up for a couple of days. However, about a week before break I got a call from them, and they told me that my grandmother was in failing health and they wanted me to come home as they were not sure if I would get another chance to see her. They had hired a large box truck to cart me from Connecticut back to New Jersey, a distance of 350 miles. I intentionally didn't ask how much this was going to cost. I then informed the University of my revised plans, to which they didn't care too much as I was only going to be gone for about a week of the break. That Saturday, it was about 10am when the truck pulled up to the loading dock and my dad had insisted on riding along in the passenger's seat. Some people were on hand to help pile some old packing material in the back for my comfort and there was a hatch on the roof to give me some air. I gorged myself on one last school-provided meal and snaked my way into the truck so that my head was facing toward the rear. We never bothered to figure out if this was exactly legal or not. Needless to say, the next four hours were hell. The ride was bumpy, loud and full of exhaust fumes. By the time I got home my sensitive new ears were ringing and my eyes, nose and throat were on fire (no, not literally; wrong type of dragon, numbnuts!). I was barely able to finish one book, let alone the three I had brought. Lord knows what would have happened had we been pulled over.
  The back door slid open. I poured myself out of the truck and just like that, I was home. The familiar street, the familiar trees, the familiar sidewalk and the very familiar house. The very familiar house I would never be able to walk inside of again. I did a quick walk around the house, my parents pointing out what had changed in the 3 months I had been gone, which thankfully wasn't much. I was able to look through the windows into my second story bedroom by standing on my hind legs. All my stuff was still there, but it was like looking at some sort of model or museum. The fragile glass of the windowpane served as an impenetrable barrier that locked me out of a life that I was free to look at, but not to enter. My mom was kind enough to avoid commenting about the scrapes I was putting in the brick. My parents had made several trips to the local wholesale club to stock up on food, and it was piled in the garage. Seeing the sheer quantity of fuel it took to keep my body going nearly took my breath away. Again, I shuddered at the cost. I was glad I was an only child and that this money wasn't coming out of some sibling's college education. As I would see my grandmother and meet with my various uncles and cousins the next day, I didn't have anything left to do except hang out in the back yard and converse with my parents. I even gave them a little demonstration of my breath weapon by blasting a nearby rabbit and eating it with a single crunch. Hey, we all have to make sacrifices to stretch the food budget.
  It was my mom who pointed out that not only did I smell like diesel exhaust, but my scales were covered with some sort of greasy white stuff that got on her hands and smelled bad. My reply of "I know about it" did not cause her "not to worry", and within minutes the hose was being unwound. I pointed out that it was "40 freaking degrees out", but they had both been told about my extreme operating temperatures. For the next 45 minutes or so I was hosed down with icy water and scrubbed clean with wire brushes and detergent. The water was refreshingly cool, but the cleaning left me a tad stiff. I suspect the white dragon sweat serves as a lubricant for the smooth motion of my overlapping scales.
  It was at this point I noticed that there was a little problem. My house is on a corner and therefore my back yard is open to a side street. I live in a quiet neighbourhood, but people still jog and walk their dogs and stuff. Well, the sight of a huge silver dragon getting washed down was more than enough to get those passersby to take a time out and stare. Some of them ran back home to get friends and family and so shortly a crowd formed. No doubt that some of those people had also used various wireless internet devises and cell phones to alert their friends and various members of the press. Cars slowly drove by through the growing throng of people, and then they began to stop, park and unload. Police arrived to handle crowd control and I was soon having my picture taken with the mayor as he congratulated me for, um, living, I guess.
  While I wasn't really news in the Middletown area anymore, 'Dragon Returns Home To Delaware Valley' made a nice human (?) interest story on the 11 o'clock news. Even as I started to eat the people wouldn't go away. It was as if there was something hypnotizing about my massive jaws grinding up large mouthfuls of food. The one nice thing was that my eating (and answering annoying questions in between bites) was prompting some of my more local on lookers to go back to their lairs and bring back food offerings for their new neighbourhood pet. As I had been granted the gift of having almost every type of food taste delicious to my draconic palate, my opinions of their cooking were not the least bit embellished. As it got darker the police asked if there was anything they could do to help clear the people away. Personally, I felt that no matter what they did there was no way I could get a peaceful night's sleep in the back yard. After whispering my plan to my parents (and before they could find time to object) I spread my wings and using the neighbour's yard as a runway I took off into the night sky, a thunderstorm of camera flashes marking my exit. My parents told the crowd that I was going to spend the night at a pre-arranged location. The reality was that my parents had to run inside to call my uncle and inform him not to shoot any large dragons that happened to wander into his yard. My uncle lived down a private drive next to the local golf course. As I flew through the air I craned my neck back and saw a line of headlights of the people who were trying to follow me in their cars. As dark as it was I took no chances and flew as close to the treetops as I dared. My uncle's house was less than a mile away as the dragon (me!) flies, but to get there by road is quite a bit more complicated. I landed on the 16th green of the golf course, wandered through the trees and into my uncle's backyard. He had turned a light on for me and was waiting on the back porch. After a quick question and answer session (I had gotten to be a real pro at those by that point) I curled up, rested my head on my forepaws (hands?) and bunkered down for a relaxing 10 hour sleep.
  The sun was just coming up as I regained wakefulness. I snorted a sigh of relief as I looked around and saw no crowds, reporters, gawkers or photographers. My uncle lived in a somewhat wooded area and I began to get swept up in the beauty of it all. I started to zone out as I watched birds flutter around and woodland creatures gather food. I was dimly aware of something landing on my back and pecking some sort of schmutz off my scales. I sure didn't have any helper birds when I was human.
  "Why, hello Michael."
  "Ruh?" I grunted in surprise, waking up from my zone.
  I turned around and came face to face w/ my uncle. He was a retired doctor and I don't think anything really surprises him any more. He was treating my condition with the utmost normality.
  "We have some food for you in the garage, after you eat we'll meet your parents at my mom's house."
  I ravenously ate the stack of food in the garage and then stuffed the hose in my mouth and gassed up with about 20 gallons of water. After I was done my uncle placed a call to my parents telling them to expect my imminent arrival. I dragged myself over to the 16th green and, using an energy saving takeoff run, I flapped myself into the air. It was Sunday morning and very quiet. Despite the circus of the night before, I doubted that anyone bothered to look up at me snaking my way across the sky. Making sure to look out for cars, I landed in the middle of the street in front of my grandmother's house and walked up the driveway to interface with my waiting parents. After the obligatory hugs and "how was your night's" I was informed of how this was to work. I couldn't fit into the house, that was obvious, and while I could stick my head and neck through a window my parents really didn't want to scare my grandmother as it was probably past the point where my condition could be properly explained to her. I walked around to the other side of the house and, being careful not to put gouges in the brick, I brought my head up to the second story window. I poked my head in and saw my grandmother was sitting in a reclining chair, her back to me. I would stay here and talk to her outside her line of vision. My mom placed a mirror on the large bed and I could see how thin and frail my last grandparent looked. She was 96 and it was nothing that couldn't really be expected, but it still made me feel sad.
  My parents walked over to here and explained that I was here, but that I was slightly ill and they didn't want me to give her anything. Upon that cue I began to talk to her, hoping that my voice didn't sound too different. It was a mostly one-sided conversation, she was having trouble forming sentences and finding words. Still, I trudged on, telling her how good I was feeling and how well my life was going. I talked about how nice the weather was and how the flower bulbs were starting to come up. Every instinct I had was telling me that she was glad to see me and this meeting, this most likely final meeting, was giving her a sense of completion. As it finally became time to go I reached my neck forward and gave her one last kiss. She didn't squirm or freak as the big, scaled lips planted a loving kiss on her forehead. All she saw was her loving grandson.
  After the touching talk with my grandmother I followed my parents for a quick, post-service drop in at my local church. I received some inspiring words, some guarantees of love and met with some friends I knew there. It was around 1 in the afternoon when I made an exhausted, near crash landing in my back yard trying to avoid several big trees. The crowds were not as large today and the police were doing a good job keeping them off the property. Using the odd shape of my house to get a little privacy I ate a normal sized (for me) lunch and caught up with my parents on various matters. They said that they were looking into getting a new house, somewhere where I might be more comfortable and somewhere definitely more private. I was (and still am) against this plan as I, despite my current form, really love the house I grew up in and I would hate to abandon it even though I would never be able to set foot inside it again. We also went over various food and transportational issues. They wanted to plan out what I was going to do over summer break, but I managed to put the discussion off. If worse came to worst, I was sure that the school would allow me to stay on for more poking and prodding. There was one thing I was sure of though, I wanted to go back to Connecticut as soon as possible. My parents were upset that I didn't want to stay the full three days, but I cited various security and nutritional concerns. Before I retired to my Uncle's house, I hit up the local reporters who were still hanging around for interviews and managed to squeeze about $250 out of them. Later that night, a full meal combined with an overfull sleep quota was causing me some discomfort as I tried to bed down. I had nearly driven myself insane trying to get to sleep when, for some reason, I pulled the money from my leather carryall and inhaled it's thick muck. The effect was like throwing a wet blanket on a fire and within minutes my head hit the ground pillowed on a soft bed of money. These times when I find out that, gee, I really am a dragon after all, are both comforting and spooky at the same time.
  The next day was spent coughing and gagging in the back of yet another noisy box truck, my tail bent painfully back under my body. After I had un-kinked my tail and stocked up on some food I had stashed away earlier, I bid goodbye to my father and went to work reading and watching the Sunday evening Fox line up. After a late night I awoke to the feeling of someone tapping on my horn with a pen. It was one of those guys from the PR office.
  "Do you remember that little talk we gave you about interacting with the press?"
  "Would you care to explain this?"
  He held out a copy of USA Today turned to the people section where there was a copy of the interview I had given the local paper back in New Jersey.
  "What, it's just some fluff I gave to a local paper. I have pride in my hometown area. Look, I said nice things about the school."
  "Sure, this time it's fluff and nice things. The next time they are asking about how the school gets some of your 'meals' from local animal shelters."
  "They are already put to sleep."
  "You tell that to 65 million angry dog and cat owners. So from now on now more speaking to the press without a handler nearby. Are we clear?"
  "Yes, um, can I get breakfast?"
  "You were the one who said you were going to be away today. We're not exactly geared up for you. You'll just have to wait to be fed."
  Since I was on break I felt it was time I did something relaxing. Leaving my rooftop room, I walked down Church St. towards the river. I couldn't tell if most of the horn honks were positive or negative. I passed under the Rt. 9 overpass, walked down River Rd. and stood overlooking the mighty Connecticut River. The waters were high due to the recently melting snow and while the river wasn't frozen it certainly was chilly, just perfect for a silver dragon.
  Despite my shape I was quite an adept swimmer and I was able to snake my way through the water with the greatest of ease. Of course I still wasn't designed to be aquatic. My underwater eyesight was marginal at best, and the harsh liquid burned and stung my mucous membranes. There really wasn't anybody else on the water this time of year and I had the river to myself. I spent my time doing underwater summersaults in the deep channel or sinking to the bottom and pushing off, clearing the surface and thudding back down with a massive splash. A few motorboatists had approached me, most with compliments, one even asked for a random thing off the bottom (I came up with a tire). Finally, a familiar looking vessel approached. By the time I realized that I knew it as the boat stored near the loading dock, the university officials had spotted my horns poking above the water and there was no use trying to hide.
  After being yelled at for not telling them where I was going I was informed that this was not to be a two-week goof off period. I was going to be sent to a facility in nearby Meriden where more extensive medical tests could be performed. I was packed into a truck (better then the one that took me home) and was driven the 10 or so miles to the facility. My new room was in an old factory adjacent to the county hospital and the school had already moved in most of my stuff. As I had not eaten in some time, the first thing to do was a scan of my digestive tract. I was given an enema to thoroughly clean me out, and let me tell you the result couldn't have been more different than my usual bowel movements. Instead of grey clay, this stuff was squishy and gave off an acrid stench that burned the eyes and offended the nose. I was then given something that caused me to throw up. The neon yellow juices ate right through the LDPE specimen container and started to eat through the floor. I was later told that it was a mix of acid and organic compound eating enzymes. It was only some glass containers and quicklime that saved the day. I was then given a radioactive dye to drink and they took several series of X-rays of my intestinal tract. It had taken them this long just to find a way to modify the X-rays to penetrate my metallic hide. (I thought I heard someone mention that they were really a form of ground penetrating radar.) Since my high octane body had literally been robbed of all of its much needed fuel supply, I was led back into my room (about ready to pass out at that point) where a nice warm meal of 2 deer and 8 Canadian geese lay dead on a tarp waiting for me, along with a large quantity of winter vegetables and vaguely healthy beverages. As the week passed I was put through more X-rays and two sessions of a full body MRI scan. I spent 12 hours having a PET scan while the doctors tried to figure out how my brain was wired and I had several little cameras threaded down my bodies various orifices to see what I looked like from the inside. Several times I offered to give the doctors a much more personal view.
  I had to admit that the hospital life did have its advantages. The food was much better (amazing isn't it), as I was their honoured guest instead of a lazy freeloader. The staff hadn't gotten used to me like the school's grad students had, and they were a refreshing break from the status quo. They designed the various physical tests (strength, endurance, reflexes, etc) to be fun and enjoyable. Instead of staying on some ramshackle rooftop, I had a whole warehouse nearly to myself. When I asked why I was getting so much attention, they said that I was pretty special in that I was a non-Earth evolved life form. While most of the other list members were similar in that they were nothing ever seen before on this planet, they were all still basically combinations of more mundane critters. It was from us "exotics" (dragons, Alien Queens, gargoyles, etc) that science stood to gain the most. The government had fast-tracked the funding and the manpower. This served to explain the massive MRI machine that alone looked like it had cost millions. As the week wore on I was provided with rubber forms that fit over my various spikes and horns. They provided much better protection from accidental poking than had the former gaffer tape method. The nutritionists finally worked out my exact nutritional requirements (including all the various metals like silver) and even provided me with a drum of supplement tablets to be taken on a weekly basis. One drug company that had been working on a fast acting patch for skin wounds contracted with the school to use me as a guinea pig. At first I was a little pissed off that the school (and not myself) was getting paid to administer the test on me. I was then reminded that not only was I getting free room, board and education, but I would also receive a large supply of the pads for my own personal use. To my horror the test involved cutting long slits through my wing membrane and applying the patch. After giving it some thought I realized that a wing wound was an extremely likely eventuality and I had best learn how to cope with it now. Refusing all painkillers I put up with the procedures and, 48 hours later, basked in the assorted wonder as I ripped the patches off revealing a blemish free wing. My regenerative abilities never cease to amaze.
  As the first week faded into the second I was put through a number of tests to see exactly what human substances/medicines I may or may not be able to handle and how they would affect my new physiology. I was given everything from morphine to cough syrup while the doctors carefully took notes. Needless to say parts of me swelled up on several occasions making my scaled body look like an overripe artichoke. It was with a heavy heart that they kicked me out of the factory adjacent to the county hospital. The only thing I had to show from it was a slew of new friend type people, some mental and physical scars, a doggie bag full of meat and a large box full of wing healing pads and a dozen tubes of silicon based scale caulk. What... you're saying I didn't mention anything about scale caulk? Well, I don't want to talk about it.
  I got back to school and the daily grind started all over again. One day fading into the next. However it was spring and the sun was beginning to show it's lovely face again. As the grass turned green I began to talk afternoon walks around campus. April was the big college tour month as all the accepted students walked around trying to decide where to go. Because my transformation had occurred after all the applications had been due there had not been a rise in the number of applying students, but the Admissions Office was reporting that the number of people requesting visits had gone up nearly 25%. On the one hand I had become a great asset to the university, and they were quite pleased that I was making myself much more visible. On the other hand the university was facing the possibility that they would have more acceptances than they could handle. This would lead to overcrowded classes, the housing of students in non-university housing and a generally shitty time for all. The university had begun to step off its high horse and with revenue beginning to come in from limited edition photographic prints of myself, they were starting to worry about the omnipresent student activist groups yelling exploitation on my behalf. It was April 2nd when I was made an official tour guide and put on the payroll. All I had to do was lounge someplace where the passing throngs could stare at me and take pictures.
  This is one of the reasons I love it here. As I human, I had a job where I was paid to watch movies. Now as a dragon, I have a job where I get paid to read books in the afternoon sun. This did bring me to an unintended problem. When I would go and find a nice place to curl up, the bright sun warming my sliver scales, the green grass comforting my smooth metallic body, I had a tendency to lose track of time. After all, dragons live for thousands of years; what's a few hours on a quiet afternoon? I would sit down at like 1 PM, intent of doing homework or reading something, and the next thing I know the sun has gone down, it's gotten cold out and some human is poking at me in an effort to explain that dinner is ready. I had the machine shop boys rig up a little watch with an attachment that slid under one of my scales. I could set the watch to heat up the attachment after a set time, fixed interval or upon a period of inactivity, thus burning me in an unprotected place and waking me from my reverie.
  Well as I just said, it had become April and you all know what that means. Baseball! One day when I was sunning myself on the hill, I noticed that a large group of uniformed humans had run out onto the big field in the middle of campus. The ballistic curves of the small white balls caught my eye and the next thing I knew I was stretched out along the third base line. Well one thing led to another and I soon found myself the school's unofficial mascot. Although I only really sat there on the sidelines, my intimidation/wonderment factor was definitely noticeable as the number of errors committed by visiting teams was way up. Despite my scary appearance I was a model fan. Ok, I might have been using my silver scales to direct large amounts of sunlight into the opposing team's faces, but I stopped when they 'nicely asked' me to. I have also been known to let out the occasional roar when our team scores or someone hits a home run. However, that story about me charging onto the field and 'scaring' the umpires so badly that they declared our team to forfeit, ran to the parking lot and sped off in a cloud of smoke is grossly exaggerated. It was a horrible call and I wasn't 'baring my teeth and drooling'. I was only voicing my opinion on how bad they were at their jobs, and some onlookers just might have thought that I looked like I was about to 'eat' them or something. I just think that they didn't want to face up to their horrible calls. Fortunately the game was against Amherst and we were down by 7 runs, so the team generally felt that my actions had salvaged the best from a bad situation. The coach even asked if I could come along on away games, but the administration said no for some reason. Jerks.
  As April headed toward May the temperatures shot up dramatically and the days got longer. Even with my new watch I would on occasion fall asleep on the hill and wake up in pitch-blackness. It was on one of these nights I woke up and upon realizing where I was, started back to my 'room'. As I walked through campus I heard the telltale sounds of a large party emanating from one of the frats. It being on my route home, I was forced to pass by and I nearly succeeded in doing so until my path was barred by one of my friends from the Society of Physics Students. I was invited to the party and was about to give a lame excuse of why I couldn't attend -- Oh gee, I'd love to but I'm 30 feet long -- when he mentioned something about finishing the still. The SPS had a long running project to build a still and make some low quality moonshine. Apparently they had continued on with this project in my absence, and it had come to fruition. I ambled over to the front door and, despite everyone's slight intoxication, they quickly made a hole for me to poke my head in. There in the middle of the room was the still and several bottles of clear liquid. In spite of the success of the process of making homemade liquor, nobody was brave enough to try it. I can't really remember exactly who came up with the idea or why on Earth I went along with it, but the next thing I knew I was chugging quart bottles full of 150 proof corn whisky. Being the absolute center of attention was far more intoxicating than any drug, and I drank and drank as the crown roared and cheered. It had also been a life long goal to re-enact that scene from Animal House. Now normally, hard liquor gives me a pounding headache after about 5 seconds, but as a dragon I felt completely fine. It didn't even burn much going down and there didn't seem to be anything unnatural to the taste. Even after the firewater ran out the crowd still was crying out for more. People started shoving bottles in my face and at one point I even chugged half a keg of Natural Light. Eventually people felt like saving a little alcohol for human consumption and went back to getting themselves drunk. This and the requests for me to see if I could "breath fire" began to pick up, so I felt that my job there was done and turned to leave the establishment. No sooner had I turned around then I quite suddenly realized that I had completely forgotten how to walk. The whole concept of synchronizing four limbs for forward locomotion had just completely gone out of my mind and the next thing I knew I was saying hi to Mr. Sidewalk. I then noticed that my night vision was all out of kilter. Everything seemed to be glowing instead of just the living creatures. Events after that sort of ran together for me. I vaguely remember having a conversation with a tree and running around campus roaring with a naked man riding on my back.
  The next thing I remember clearly it was bright light and me lying on Andrus Field.
  "Oh no," I mumbled.
  "Oh yes," came a voice from behind me.
  "What happened," I mumbled again, not looking back.
  "We made a list," said the dean of whatever.
  And what a list it was. I had tried to eat several trashcans. I had thrown up in the administrative parking lot, burning a hole straight through the asphalt. The grass was torn up everywhere with dragon tracks. There were claw marks climbing up the wall of the Alumni gym, and worst of all they accused me of 'mating' with a public safety SUV. That last was an unfounded charge which I have completely denied. Because I was too valuable an asset they couldn't really punish me in any of the standard ways, so until the end of the year I was to spend every morning working with the grounds crew from 6 to 9 am. As long as I did this they would continue to feed me. Well, what else was I supposed to do? I dug in and got my claws dirty. On the plus side, after my little binge-drinking episode wore off I found myself completely energized. Flew a 10-mile loop around the city without even breaking a pant. I'll need to ask the lab guys if they think I could possibly consume other high-energy hydrocarbons for the same effect. Fill me up with premium please. Regular gives me indigestion.
  As April ended I began to worry about just what was I doing to do over the summer. I had a whole bunch of options all with their pluses and minuses, but as it is getting early and I need to go hunt before the sun comes up I will leave that tale for another day.

<( | )>     <( | )>     <( | )>     <( | )>

  Well I was on my way out of the lab today, all hot on having a nice fly around followed by a long dip in the river. After all it's over 90 degrees out and it's like an oven in this stupid metal hide (at least thank god I'm silver). Anyway, I was on my way out when something grabbed my tail and I fall flat on my snout. I whip my head around to see the school appointed councilor standing there with a doorstop in her hand. It turns out I've been neglecting my journal responsibilities and there was to be no flying until I wrote some more. So here I am, trapped in a sweltering body on a rooftop that's just about to bake me to death. I've just about squeezed my ice gland to its limit and the pain has gotten so bad I can barely swallow. Anyway, I left off talking about my plans for this summer, but her royal majesty insisted I talk more about my human interactions since the change. It came across that when I wasn't alone in my lair reading I was getting yelled at by the school staff. She felt that was promoting an unhealthy mental picture of my life and I should try to focus on the whole thing. Well, here it goes.
  It was right after my parents came up for the first time that my dad, who is pretty smart regarding these things, hired a lawyer and set him loose to look after my interests. This entailed going through every document the school had gotten me to sign, finding what parts were obviously not in my best interest and then forcing the school to draw up new ones citing that my post-transformation mental state was in no condition to sign binding contracts. This guy was like shark on PCP. He covered everything from patenting and copyrighting my various bodily fluids, secretions, structures and DNA to how the school could use my image and exactly what control they had over me. He hashed out just what my responsibilities were and what the school had to provide for me. There was a set number of research hours per week and I was guaranteed at least one full day off. During my free time I could do what I wanted and didn't have to inform anybody about anything. Of course I wasn't there to be a jerk and it was made clear that if the school wanted anything special they should just ask and I was free to agree.
  Once the lawyer was done with the school he was running around town, a civil rights law in each fist, confronting any and every authority regarding my condition. The school had said they had handled things, but from what my lawyer told me they had barely done more than make a few phone calls. Eventually an agreement was worked out with the school regarding my body's special substances. Because you can't patent a compound or substance (only a method, process or use) I became a research partner w/ the school. They would find uses for my compounds and patent them in my name. However, if I ever sold the rights to the patent or collected royalties they would get half after expenses. If I used my patent to start my own business they would get 10% of the profits up to $10,000 per year, per patented use. Furthermore, the first $500,000 I made through university research related ventures would go to the school. It was a pretty fair deal, the school didn't free ride off of my body and I didn't free ride off of their lab space. Still, the patent process was long and it would be a while until I started to see the fruits of my sweat (and poop, and urine, and breath, and saliva, etc).
  Now there was one really nice thing the school did for me and that was to give me a TV and then outfit my lair for free cable. It was on my first Sunday, right after I called my parents, that I was sitting around watching this new TV and there came a knock at the door. I thought that it was some other school official or research person and informed the visitor that they could enter. Boy was I surprised when two of my friends, Sarah and Adam, stepped through the door. I know a lot of people, but I have very few friends and these were the first I had run into since my change. Sarah is my primary Science Fiction/Fantasy friend and she is very into mythic creatures. You know: Werewolves, vampires, unicorns... dragons. Adam, well, he's just very clean and orderly. They had been trying to see me all week and had been put off by the university's security presence. Watching the Simpsons on Sunday night had been a long-standing tradition and they felt that would put in an effort to see me. Thanks to my directive for the school to stop isolating me they had been allowed access.
  "Well you look different," said Sarah.
  "Yeah, I got my hair cut."
  "You know that I hate you. Well I always hate you, but now I really hate you."
  "It looks like you'll just have to be friends with a dragon," I replied, sticking out my tongue.
  "What, no soul-gem?" she said, tapping on my forehead.
  "Never mind."
  "Just sit down, the show is starting."
  "Um, I don't see any chairs."
  "Oh, whoops, I guess I forgot to have any put in here, and I'm sorry it's so cold in here. They said they would try to seal it up better and bring in some space heaters."
  "That's ok. I don't mind the cold, remember?" said Sarah.
  "Um, I guess you can sit on my foam there."
  She walked over and encountered an obvious difficulty.
  "Move your damn tail," said Sarah, trying to clear up a patch on the foam padding that formed my nest."
  "It moves when it wants to," I said, not being entirely non-serious.
  Sarah bent over the tried to shove my tail out of the way to which it responded by swishing quickly and sweeping her feet out from under her.
  "I told you, it has a mind of it's own."
  "Fine, be that way."
  She picked herself up and promptly sat down on my tail. Her stone cold glance dared me to move it again. Adam, not wanting to get dragon gunk on his clothes, chose to stand. My lair was quite cold that first night and the breaths of all could clearly be seen
  As the days went by Physical Plant installed a better flexible entrance to my lair that allowed me to enter, but kept the cold air and wind out. They also made some modifications that would serve to keep water from leaking in and ruining my stuff. With the added creature comforts of warmth, dryness and chairs, my lair quickly became the official location of Sci-Friday. Since my TV had a built in VCR, Sarah could tape her favourite shows twice in the same night. Ever the cautious type, she always insisted on having several backup copies of each episode made and then filed away in secret vaults located two miles underground. I am confident in saying that Farscape will always exist for future generations to enjoy. The only difference that came to Sci-Friday was that I no longer opted into the usual Chinese food pool. Aside from the fact that I simply didn't have enough cash on hand to cover a dragon sized order, it probably would have taken several days to cook and several trips to deliver. On occasion Sarah would not feel motivated enough to get out of her bed and I would be stuck alone in my fortress of solitude. One cold night in February I climbed from my lair and walked across the street to the dorm complex. She had a second floor room and it was no great effort to reach me neck up to it. I tapped on the glass with one of my claws and the curtains were drawn open. My head was reluctantly invited inside, it was a close fit, but I was allowed to watch the Friday lineup with big muzzle resting on the foot of her bed. The rest of me made itself as comfortable as it could outside the building. After Outer Limits I bid Sarah farewell and moved to extract my head. There was a crunch as one horn dug itself into the cinderblock wall and a squeal as the other ground along the window.
  S: Stop, you're breaking it.
  M: Hold on, let me try it this way.
  ::more crunching::
  S: What's wrong.
  M: I think I'm stuck.
  S: ::snort::
  M: Stop laughing and help me.
  S: I told you not to come in here.
  ::some minor thrashing, a rack of video cassettes spills over::
  S: Calm down, you're trashing my room.
  M: But if I can just...
  S: Don't move! Just stay where you are.
  M: ::let's out a little growl::
  S: Calm thyself. ::rubs M's muzzle in an effort to calm him:: Just listen to me and do exactly what I do. ::grab's a hold of M's horns and re-position's his head:: Now slowly move backward.
  M: ::moves backward::
  S: That's it, slowly now. Ok, good. Now rotate, a little more. Ok, now back, and... you're out. See how easy that is if you just stay calm? Not to mention a lot easier on my room.
  Time went on. I gave Sarah both a silver and black scale for her birthday for which she was much appreciative. It was almost spring break when I was sitting in my lair on a lazy Saturday morning eating brunch. My food usually consisted of leftovers and expireds, but on occasion I would get something fresh. Sarah was addicted to these little fried potato cubes and since I had received about 20 pounds of them (among other things) I gave her a call and she came right over.
  "So, how was your Physics test?"
  "How do you think you did."
  "I failed."
  "You always say that."
  As she finished I noticed that she was looking at my wings.
  "Do you want to touch my wings?"
  "If you wouldn't mind."
  "Go ahead."
  I was amazed she had taken this long to show interest in my new form. Since the change she had basically treated me like I was the same person I'd always been, albeit a bit larger.
  "Wow, they're warm."
  "Yeah, it's just like really thick skin."
  "What's that stuff that's always on your scales?"
  "The best analogy is dragon sweat. My scales generally grow downward from my spine and that stuff is secreted at the scale's base. The surface of the scale is somewhat porous from wear and the sweat basically works its way into the scale like car wax. Not only does it protect and waterproof, but it also acts as a lubricant that allows my scales to slide easily over each other allowing for smooth motion. I secrete it most during physical exertion and when I sleep. If you notice there are drips of it all around where I sleep."
  "So you leave a sweat puddle on your bed when you sleep. To think you've been making fun of me all this time."
  "Well I sweat for a reason."
  I scraped some off my scales and held it in front of her nose.
  "Do you smell anything?"
  "Take it and rub it between your fingers and smell it again."
  "Whew, yeah, that's your dragon smell."
  "Is it that bad?"
  "Nah, I'm used to being around horses. This is pretty tame. Why does it do that?"
  "Well, normally the sweat is odorless. In fact it helps to seal in my own scent. This allows me to keep from scaring away every animal within a 10-mile radius. It starts to smell when it comes in contact with most animal flesh. The sweat covers everything where the dragon sleeps, dragons sleep on their hoards, their hoards are covered with sweat, humans try to steal the hoards, they come in contact with the sweat, the sweat starts to smell, the dragon tracks down the smell and kills the humans. See, everything evolves for a reason."
  Sarah reached down and picked up her plate of potatoes.
  "Might you have any ketchup?"
  "Yeah I think I have an extra jug or two somewhere around here."
  I turned and began to rummage through a pile of boxes, looking for where my condiments were stored. As I sent boxes flying I heard Sarah's voice from behind me.
  "Hey, what's this... oh my, I know what... It looks like... I found your hoard!"
  I lifted my head up.
  ::snicker:: "You have a hoard... and I found it."
  She started to laugh. I swung my head around and found that she was standing on top of my nest, having moved the blankets and foam padding aside. I saw her start to dance up and down.
  "I found your ho-oard. I found your ho-oard."
  She bent over.
   "Let's see what you have here. Hmm, lots of cash. Wow, even some hundreds. Some CD wallets over here. Oh, cool, dragon fantasy books. Hey, I have this one."
  I felt my mind start to spin and I was absolutely overcome with a feeling of fear and paranoia. A loud "hiss" filled the room, I felt my fin stand straight up and my wings unfurled slightly and began to rustle loudly. Sarah put the book back and looked slightly scared. At that moment I became aware of my actions and pulled my neck back.
  "Oh god, I am so sorry. I didn't mean to," the feeling of fear and paranoia in no way dissipated, "hiss at you. It just came out. Could you just back away from my... hoard... you're making me feel extremely anxious."
  "I'll just put these back."
  I felt like I was going to loose control at any minute. I knew that Sarah was my friend, I completely trusted her and I knew that she wasn't going to take anything, but the core of my being was telling me that my dearest possessions were in grave danger.
  "No no, I'll do it." I said thrusting my neck forward and knocking Sarah aside.
  I began to move the padding and covers back over my hoard before I became aware of what I had done again.
  "Oh shit, I am so sorry. Again."
  "That's ok. I understand. It's your stuff and protective of it."
  "I know you wouldn't take anything, but I just can't let anybody near them. I'll try to work on it."
  "I know, I know. It's just who you are. I guess it comes with being a dragon."
  The feelings finally dissipated. However I did feel compelled to count my hoard a few extra times that night.
  She reached up and touched my sail.
  "This feels different."
  "Yeah, it's not made of skin like my wing. It's like a fingernail and it's more decorative than functional. If you look closely you'll see that it's not a continuous fin. Each quill is really two separate pieces. This makes the fin more flexible and less prone to damage as each segment can fold down. As the fins are always growing the top of the quills and the segment between break off along a pre-existing score. See the one back there? It's about to come off."
  She reached out and gently pulled off the top inch of the offending fin.
  "So they can bend over?"
  "Yeah, try it yourself."
  She bent it over and held it there.
  "Does this hurt?"
  "Nope, they are designed to be flexible."
  "Hey, are you doing anything today?"
  "Not really, what do you have in mind."
  "Meet me in front of the building in 30 minutes. I'll be right back."
  I was hanging out on the sidewalk trying to look inconspicuous when Sarah left her building wearing her riding pants, her SS style riding boots, her helmet in one hand and a saddle in the other.
  "I don't want to ask too much of you but I would really really really appreciate it if maybe we could go riding."
  I really didn't like the look of that saddle. I mean I certainly didn't want to grow up to be a pack animal. On the other hand I definitely needed to get out more and this looked like something Sarah would enjoy.
  "Let's go." Then I caught myself. "Oh wait the school requires me to make you sign one of these before you can get a ride."
  "I thought I already signed one of these in order to hang out with you."
  "This is a special one for rides."
  After she hesitantly signed the pink piece of paper (all my legal forms are colour coded, isn't that nice?) I walked with her down to the athletic fields. She slipped her heavy gear over my horns and I gladly carried it. She told me to bend down and after taping down several fin segments with gaffer tape she lifted the saddle onto my neck, right where it joins the body. She then did up the big strap that went underneath it and pulled it tight with a little "oof" sound from my end.
  "Is that too tight?"
  "A little."
  She took it down one notch. I informed her that this was not going to be an aerial ride. Aside from the fact that the school had been more than clear on that issue, I was not going to be responsible for the death of my friend after she fell 200 feet off a dragon. I bent my neck down and she hopped into the saddle, and acted a little uneasy as she had nothing to hold onto and nothing to control me by. I started to walk across the field and told Sarah that the adjacent Long Lane School (recently purchased by my University) allowed me to use their property and I suggested a route for my ride. About a minute later I felt a tapping on my neck.
  "Hey, um, could you possibly move a little faster."
  I walked faster. The tapping came back.
  "I mean, could, you, like run or something?"
  Well I had wanted to start out slow, but since she was asking for it... I took off running and I hadn't gone more than 75 feet when I felt a hard pounding on my neck accompanied by screams of "Stop!" I looked back over my neck to see Sarah flopped halfway out of the saddle, breathing heavily. She slowly let herself to the ground.
  "What on earth do you call that?"
  "Um, running?"
  "That wasn't running, that was like a full body dry heave! Who taught you how to run?"
  "Nobody, I taught myself."
  "I thought as much. How much do you 'run'?"
  "Not often, I prefer flying."
  Well it definitely shows. Go back there and run for me."
  "I need to observe you. Go now."
  I went back across the field and I ran across it. When I came back to Sarah I saw she was shaking her head.
  "That was simply awful. Ok, let's start with the basics. I'm going to teach you how to trot."
  "I'm not a horse."
  "You're a quadruped. Quadrupeds trot."
  "Hey, I can walk on two legs."
  "Good for you, now listen up. First of all, you need to do something with your wings. They are flopping all over the place and it's throwing your balance off. You need to make a conscious effort to pin them at your sides. Now go and practice it."
  I had to run back and forth across the field a few times, but I was soon able to keep my wings from thrashing about.
  "See, doesn't that feel better," Sarah remarked.
  "Yeah, sort of," I said, not wanting to admit having to be taught to run by a puny human.
  "Ok, now I'm going to teach you how to trot. Diagonal feet move together, i.e. front left and hind right, then front right and hind left. It's the human equivalent of a jog. We'll start out slowly."
  I started out at a slow walking speed, moving my diagonal legs together as Sarah ran around me pointing and yelling.
  "No no! Move those two, to-ge-ther. Yes. Like that. There you go."
  It felt very unnatural, but Sarah said it was because I had just gotten into some bad habits and I was going to need to break them. Once I gotten it down at a walking pace Sarah suggested I try trotting at a more brisk speed. No sooner had I gone 20 feet when my feet got tangled up in each other and I fell muzzle first into the mud, sliding some distance before I stopped. Sarah was overcome by laughter until I walked back and shook myself clean, splattering her with no small amount of mud. She then picked up a large fistful of the liquefied dirt, but before things had a chance to escalate I wisely backed down. Not to be deterred I tried again, and fell again. On my third try I tripped, but was able to remain upright. Finally, after some more slow speed coaching, on my fourth try I found myself leisurely trotting across the field. It was sort of like juggling. Once you work at it for about 20 minutes straight, it becomes almost natural.
  "Hey! Look at me, I'm doing it!" I yelled in triumph.
  However, also, much like juggling, this was an unstable equilibrium and my little self-glorifying announcement was all it took to tip the scales. I very quickly found my muzzle sliding through the muddy field once again. After some more practice I could competently trot if I kept my mind focused.
  "Good job, maybe I can teach you how to pace."
  "Um, how about next week," I said, spitting mud out of my maw.
  Sarah once again felt confident enough to actually sit on my neck and off we went for our little ride. Due to my incredibly long stride we rounded the property and went round for another go. It was as we were heading back on lap two that I spied a gopher like thing waddling through the field I was running in. An idea sprang into my head and I stopped short.
  "What's wrong?" Sarah asked.
  "See that gopher over there? Want me to blast it with my ice breath? It's really cool."
  "Ahhh! No! Definitely not." She started to kick at my neck with her boots.
  "Well all this running has made me hungry."
  "The school feeds you, remember? There's no need to kill innocent animals."
  "What if I demonstrated on that little tree over there?"
  "That would be acceptable."
  I trotted over to the small tree near the edge of the field and took a moment to make it look as if I was concentrating or sizing things up. As the 'suspense' was beginning to wear thin I opened my mouth wide and the tree was blasted by the now familiar cloud of fog. As the cloud faded away the tree was clearly still standing making that crystalline sound that ice cubes make when you take them out of the fridge.
  "Ooooooo, waaaaaaahow," said Sarah in an extremely sarcastic tome of voice.
  "Oh yeah, watch this."
  This move I had spent time practicing. Artfully coordinating my four legs together I quickly spun around, whipping my tail around right smack into the tree at high speed. About 10 feet of the trunk simply exploded in thousands of crystalline shards and I had about three seconds to be extremely pleased with myself before what was left of the tree (i.e. the top) fell on Sarah and me.
  "Are you ok?" I called back.
  "You idiot! Ow. A tree just fell on me, how 'ok' do you think I am!"
  I attempted to back up out of the branches.
  "Uht, ow, ouch. Stop moving! You're just making it worse. Just stop and don't move again till I say so."
  I waited as Sarah untangled herself from the branches and lowered herself off of my back and then I was able to lift what was left of the tree off of me and throw it aside. I turned to see Sarah standing there with something to say.
  "Ok, we're going to have a new arrangement for the next time we ever want to go riding. You're going to supply the body and I'm going to supply the brains. It's clear you don't have any. You should go ask the machine shop guys to make you some tack because I doubt anyone is ever going to ride you without any."
  "Um, ok. Do you want a ride back to campus?"
  "I think I'd rather walk... and at least 15 feet away from you at that."
  When I got back to my lair that night I noticed a strange sensation coming from my fore talons/paws/hands. This sensation was pain, it was most strongly present in the wrist and it got worse as the evening wore on. I hadn't noticed before, but my fore appendages are not really designed for prolonged, hi-speed, locomotion and especially not on paved surfaces. There are no shock absorbing pads, no impact resistant hooves and my wrist is dually designed for both walking and grasping, with the latter at the expense of the former. My hind feet weren't much better. On the following Sunday I was completely lair-ridden and on anti-inflammatory painkillers.
  In the end everything worked out for the best. The school paid for several pairs of padded wrist and shin supports. They looked like a carpal tunnel brace and had a padded palm for shock absorption. They also served to take the strain off my wrists, transmitting the force into the long bones of my appendages. I was also provided with a custom-made dragon saddle and some other pieces of somewhat demeaning dragon tack. Now, leatherwork is very expensive and the school didn't do this out of the goodness of their own heart. I suggested that they just get the machine shop guys to make it, but Sarah dissuaded me of this idea. In return for outside-contracted, custom leather pieces, I had to pose for a photo-session with the vaguely popular equestrian team and then allow each member to ride me in turn. The team was in a desperate effort to increase its membership and free dragon rides seemed like the way to do it. It took some effort to learn how to respond to movement commands given by some little creature riding on my back.
  The saddle was positioned just behind my shoulders and just before my wingroots. It was made as light as possible and made ample use of high strength polymer cords and webbing. There were four straps, two in front of my arms, two behind, which came down and attached to a little breastplate type of thing. The latches were designed so that, with some effort, I could remove the saddle. The rider had reins that attached to a modified bridle and hackamore, as a bit would have been unnecessary and uncomfortable. The bridle was designed only to go around the upper part of my muzzle so that it would not interfere with my talking, eating or breathing. I was a bit wary of being led around like an animal and Sarah mentioned that after a while I could just automatically respond to the commands on the reins and this would leave me free to think or admire the scenery. Of course, I was ultimately the one who was in charge and on several occasions when my rider wanted to extend the ride or pulled too hard on the reins I would stop, twist my neck around and then inform them that if they didn't stop they would be forcibly ejected and forced to walk back. This technique was remarkably effective and usually the rider wouldn't as so much touch the reins for the remainder of the journey. However, on other occasions, my 'leadership' was more than a little questionable. Once, I did in fact zone out like Sarah had suggested, but, unfortunately, so did my rider and the next thing I knew I had walked headlong into the side of a building.
  I would also like to point out that I had other friends than the few at school that I mentioned. Like most people in this hi-tech age I post to message boards, belong to e-mail lists (duh) and have about 60 people on my AIM buddy list. Most of my real life 'home' friends have a bad habit of being completely invisible from September to June, however my best friend is usually accessible. Our conversations were somewhat unremarkable, mostly going over what was "cool" and what was a "bummer" and then talking about how, where and when we should meet. My Internet friends were a different story. As you all know, people on the Internet have a tendency to, um, lie and me walking in proclaiming my dragonhood was not going to fly. Some places like my Mass Transit Message boards, I didn't bother saying anything. When I got back online I saw a few threads about how transit would/should handle transformed individuals with some reports about a centaur using the TTC up in Toronto. There was group consensus that he shouldn't try that in New York as he would find himself stabbed, shot or pushed in front of a Q train running express within about 10 seconds. It took over a month for someone to connect my e-mail address with the various news reports. There was a brief flurry of excitement as all the board members thought up all the various subway yards and rail lines I could fly them over, but as it became obvious that I wasn't really going to be going anywhere for the next few months the hype died out and things went back to normal. I did notice that my posts got a lot more respect and all those jerks that like to point out spelling mistakes vanished into the woodwork.
  The first time I logged onto AIM after my transformation I was blasted by frantic messages from my friend Britini out in Arizona. After I hadn't been on for a few days and after the reports of a silver dragon from my university she put 2 and 2 together and instantly knew what happened. She had tried to call, but my old phone was disconnected and the switchboard thought she was one of the 500 other wackos who had claimed to know me. I gave her my number and about 30 seconds later my custom dragon sized phone started ringing.
  "Mike! Mike Mike Mike! Are you really a dragon?! What's it like? Are they treating you well? Are you ok? How's flying?"
  "Ah, stop yelling. Dragons have sensitive ears."
  The conversation was brisk and lasted about 90 minutes. There was a slight hint of jealousy in her voice and I felt a little guilty as becoming a silver dragon had been her dream too (what can I say, we're a popular species). To alleviate this guilt I got the school to sell me a bunch of the glossy 2.5'x4' publicity posters they had made up at cost (You can buy them in the school store for $16.50. Collect all 10!) and I proceeded to send them out to every friend I knew the address of. Because I knew Brit a little better I got out my pliers and sent her a scale. Last I heard she had it on a necklace and was lording it over her friends to school. Some of my other online friends were a little harder to convince, but either a mailing or a quick DNS check of my IP would usually resolve things. Despite my new status I refrained from weighing in on any new online venues. My life was hectic enough as it was and the last thing I needed was a new gaggle of Internet friends to have to keep up with.
  Additionally, I had some old high school friends going to college not far from me at Hampshire University. As their choice of school would suggest they were quite "alternative" and upon hearing of my change and receiving the posters I sent they were quite eager to get down and see me. It was a weekend in early April that my friends Matt and Jessie, accompanied by their friends Colin, Chris, Erin, Linsday, Anna, Kara and Adam took the 2-hour bus ride down from the Shire. I risked tying up downtown (if you could claim Middletown had a downtown) traffic to meet them at the bus terminal. Just like most of the humans I meet they were quickly pushed beyond the point of words and stood there, open mouthed, staring at me. They arrived on a Friday afternoon and would head back on Sunday. They would spend the intervening two nights roughing it in my lair, eating my bulk shipments of food and generally doing dragon things with me. Sort of like a mythological creature Fantasy Camp. After eating we watched the standard Friday Sci-Fi shows and then stayed up late into the night gaming (something I don't get to do here as all the students here are super serious work-a-holics) and conducting a running Q&A session. I had to admit that their questions were much better than the usual fare. They seemed quite disappointed that I was not capable of any 'magical' abilities (yet), but this in no way ruined their opinion of me. Once I was able to get everyone out of bed the next morning, I took them down to the field for dragonback rides and flight/breath weapon demonstrations. The best part was when I hocked up a glob of the purple repellant stuff onto my hand and waved it in their general vicinity. Most ran away clawing at their eyes and nose and one of the guys even passed out. Thank god they signed the releases.
  The culmination of the Saturday session was a hunting demonstration. Now I will admit that I just might have gone a little over the top here. I had stunned a deer with that purple shit (it has a thousand uses!) and brought it live to the fields where I was entertaining the group of Hampshire students. I had tied it down to the ground and instructed my friend Matt to untie it when he saw me flying overhead. I took off and when I had assumed my station I saw the deer get let free. It made a valiant effort to reach the tree line, but it was no match for my diving speed. I caught it in my talons and then, after skidding to a complete stop, I promptly bit its head off and started to feast. I heard some groans from gang of onlookers and a few people started to throw up as I scooped the extra tasty internal organs into my mouth. I have a new policy: Don't let people watch me hunt live prey.
  I will now take this time to mention one little thing about the food that I discovered about this point. As I have mentioned before the quality of what the school fed me had gone considerably down since my transformation. This is understandable as it cost a lot to keep me fueled. In addition to the live meat I caught while hunting, the school provided various previously killed sources of meat (like animals from the local animal shelter and fresh road kill), leftovers from the various campus dining facilities and food that had gone past the sell-by date which was obtained both on and off campus. Sometimes I would get some freshly cooked stuff and there were usually baskets of bulk items like fruit or vegetables on call 24/7. Beverages usually consisted of hi-energy, easy to mix, sugar water type drinks. Well, this sounds pretty good, but it was by pure chance that I stumbled upon something much more devious. Even as the food sources changed I continued to notice a constant drop in quality. Of course, most everything tasted fine to me and so I really couldn't complain, but on occasion I would get a bout of indigestion, gas, stomach cramps and once or twice, some loose stool. This problem had been getting worse with the diarrhea occurring shortly before the incident that I will soon relate. I had attributed it to the recent introduction of live meat to my diet, but one night, coming back from a trot, I stumbled upon an interesting conversation.
  I was approaching one of the loading docks when I happened to overhear two of the research staff talking about my dietary needs (there's not much these ears of mine won't intercept, tee hee) so I stopped short of rounding the corner in an effort to eavesdrop unobserved. One of them was amazed I hadn't noticed yet and to my horror I heard the other one say how surprised he was that they hadn't killed me. Noticed? Killed!? This demanded an inquiry and I stormed around the corner, snatched up the two staffers, one in each talon, sat back on my haunches and preceded to ask them "nicely" about the nature of their conversation. Apparently someone had been doing a little extra research and cutting the food budget at the same time. Instead of just feeding me leftovers and stuff that couldn't be legally sold in stores they had been preparing my meals with food that was weeks out of date, some of it obviously bad (bad smell, mold, fuzz, etc). They had been steadily upping the dosage to see just what it would take to make me sick. I guess they never counted on my having some sense of pride and not mentioning my seemingly trivial maladies, which leads me to believe that their little experiment would have resulted in me curled up in my lair yakking and squirting out the contents of my digestive system. Well of course I 'complained' the very next morning. I don't know if anybody got fired, but I do recall getting freshly cooked food for the next week or so. I also didn't have to pay for the damage I caused when 'filing' my complaint.
  By mid-April I had gotten quite competent with my new body. On the ground Sarah had taught me to trot, pace, canter and gallop (with some draconic modifications) and we were working on a new gait that would involve the use of my wings (nothing like a 5 speed gearbox). In the air I could cruise at between 40 and 50 mph and could hit 60 if I was really sprinting. I could fly for about 50 to 60 miles before having to stop and rest for about an hour or two and if I was really pushing hard I could probably fly about 80 miles, but I would have to then rest for around 5 to 6 hours. The prevailing wind conditions and the payload I was carrying would of course change these numbers some. Due to the dangers of defying gravity the machine shop guys had given me some protective gear to wear. I was mostly worried about a hard landing and impaling myself on something pointy, but on one of my weekend flights some backwoods wacko had taken a pot shot at me and put a hole clean through my wing. To protect me from both these events I was given a helmet constructed with a shell of Kevlar and high tensile aluminum and an inner layer of foam padding. It fit over my forehead and also covered the sides of my head with little slots cut in the back for my horns to fit through. There were attachment points for a pair of Lexan goggles to protect my eyes. There was also an optional piece that attached under my muzzle to prevent anything from plunging up into my brain. For my belly there is large plate of similar construction to the helmet shell. It protects the vital organs in my upper torso and attaches with straps that go across my back. It also serves as an attachment point for my saddle. For about a week or so I had been practicing flying with 200 pounds of flour sitting on my neck and after everything was to my satisfaction (and to the school's) I went and asked Sarah if she wanted a ride. Sarah had a real horse, which was kept some distance off campus, and the only way she could see him was by bumming a ride from the equestrian team car pool. Needless to say she was not able to see her trusty steed as often as she liked and I, being the kind and noble dragon, stepped in to alleviate this problem.
  "Flying? Wow, sure. Did the university say it was all right?"
  "Yeah, you just have to sign some papers and wear the requisite safety gear. I was thinking we could go see your horse or something."
  "Yeah, just give me some time to get ready."
  We set off on a Wednesday afternoon after lunch. Sarah had to sign both the yellow and green forms this time and I had to call in the flight to the FAA. Like with all my flights I strapped on my cell phone with the hands free attachment and filled up on 'sugar water' and several large servings of vegetable oil. Sarah buckled on a rappelling harness and then secured my saddle to my back. In accordance with the school's instructions, my rider would both be fastened to the saddle and then again to my neck via a high tensile nylon rope attached to a backup harness. The only way something was going to happen to my rider was if something happened to me. She climbed up on my back and settled down into the saddle. My new design was much more secure and she had no trouble keeping her balance. We decided the reins would not be needed on this trip so she just grabbed a hold of some of the handles on the saddle. I sensed a small amount of apprehension as I prepared to take off as her breathing and heart rate increased. I opted for a standing takeoff and used my powerful legs to jump up into the air while I pumped downward with my wings. The sudden acceleration forced Sarah downward onto my neck and she clung tightly to it until I had shifted out of hover and into forward flight. I felt her shift around as she went about taking in all the views. I circled once around campus without even being asked.
  The flight was only going to take about 25 minutes or so and I quickly pointed myself in the direction of the stable and began to cruise. Sarah made some observational comments, but I couldn't really respond as the saddle limited my neck's ability to crane backwards (Not that I would want to as that maneuver usually leads to unwanted turns). Sarah soon brought a small problem to my attention by pounding on the back of my neck. Since I had increased speed I had pointed my neck out straight and she was getting just a tad wind whipped. I was tempted to inform her that the saddle design allowed for the rider to sit in a more aerodynamically correct position, but as this would ruin much of the view I just put my neck back up as a windbreak. Soon I felt Sarah kicking at my side.
  "Land down there," she yelled.
  "That doesn't look like the stable."
  "I know, just land."
  I gradually descended and made a perfect landing on that looked like some sort of access road. Sarah unhooked the harness and slid off my back.
  "So, are we going to make some kind of big entrance? I'd love to see the look on everyone's face when you come in riding a dragon."
  "Um, you're not going any where near that stable."
  "Why not? It would be so cool showing up all those horse people. Besides, I want to meet the horses. They're cute."
  "That's the problem. Do you have any idea what the horses will do when they see you?"
  "Well they might be a little scared."
  "Gee, ya think?"
  "I'm sure they would like me after I showed myself to not be a threat."
  "Oh yeah, lots of horses are going to just sit there while this big scary monster looks at them. I don't think so. Just stay away, okay?"
  "It wouldn't be too bad. I'm not that scary."
  "They would freak out. Those that didn't injure themselves from bolting would probably just die of fright. Horses are deathly afraid of snakes, have you looked at yourself in a mirror lately? Promise me you'll just stay here."
  "Ok ok, I promise, but how about you just bring your horse out to me. I've always wanted to see what he looks like."
  "You've seen what he looks like. I'll take some more pictures, but no way are you going to present your giant, scary self to him. I like my horse standing, thank you very much."
  "What should I do while you're riding?"
  "I don't care. Just don't come anywhere near the barn. There are some woods around here. Why don't you get some exercise? Just meet me back here in 90 minutes."
  She walked off down the road and after standing there for a while I turned into the woods. I soon found what looked like a jeep trail and went for a short jog. Upon hearing the sound of running water I stopped short and located a small brook. Nothing could kill time like building a little dam and now I possessed the equipment to actually do a good job. I soon found myself crouching there, partly covered in mud while the water backed up, forming a large pond in the middle of the forest. Nothing beats amateur engineering. Suddenly I heard the clip clop of approaching hooves. I silently cursed to myself. That road must have been one of those cross-country horse trails Sarah had mentioned. I hunkered down behind some brambles and tried to make myself invisible. Just as I thought it was going to work I heard the horses making noise and their human riders attempting to quiet them. Out of the corner of my eye I could see my tail poking out onto the road. Stupid appendage, it's more trouble than it's worth. I tried to pull it back, but the shift caused a stick to shoot up my left nostril. My head pulled reflexively back and I found my cover completely broken. The horses began to whinny and snort and began a general movement backwards. The riders seemed to stunned for words so I mustered the most soothing voice I could.
  "Don't be afraid, I'm just out for a jog."
  The horses reared back, throwing their riders to the ground, their eyes wide with absolute terror. They took off down the trail in the direction they had come, their humans in hot pursuit.
  "Oh, shit. I'm in trouble."
  When I saw Sarah coming down the road I slinked out of the forest to greet her.
  "See? I told you the horses would freak," she said before I had a chance to open my mouth.
  "I'm really sorry. I hope I didn't get you in trouble."
  "That's ok, nothing happened."
  "Aren't you mad?"
  "Nah, it was an accident. It was an accident, right?"
  "Yes, I was just sitting there building a dam and..."
  "Alright, I believe you. Now lets get out of here. I have homework to do."
  She climbed on and strapped in and I took off. Somehow she sensed that I was feeling a little depressed and she suggested that we stop somewhere for food. Specifically McDonalds and since we were pressed for time we would use the drive through window.
  I landed in the parking lot and walked over to the little talking order box thing.
  "Hello, welcome to McDonalds. Can I... Oh My God!"
  "Would you care to take my order or do I have to make a civil rights complaint?" I snapped back.
  There was an extended period of silence while the peon got authorization from his manager, but soon the voice returned.
  "W-What w-would you w-want? Um, sir."
  "Well, the lady would like a two hamburgers meal with a coke and I would like 10 Big Macs, 10 Super Size fries and 5 double quarter ponders. I have my own drink, thank you."
  "Would you like fries with that?"
  "You mean fries with my fries?"
  "Um, well, er."
  I seemed to have blown the peon's mind so I just moved around to the pay window where Before Sarah could object I had plucked a 50 from my belt pack and paid the cashier.
  "You know I was going to pay for you," Sarah said. "After the flight you gave me it was the least I could do."
  "That's ok, I would have gone flying anyway. You're the one doing me a favour by keeping me company. Besides, I have a tendency to eat people out of house and home."
  Sarah collected the food as I waited at the window. By this time we had attracted a small crowd and I had to push my way past them to get free. My rider directed me to a small grassy hill near the McDonalds and we lay down to eat in the fading light of the afternoon. She slowly ate her burgers while I popped mine into my mouth one at a time and then followed it up by emptying the super sized fry containers onto my tongue. I may have learned to eat and enjoy raw meat, but nothing tastes quite as good as plain old McDonalds. We sat and ate and talked and generally had a good time, but I was still disturbed from the events of that afternoon. The fact that I could kill creatures merely by my presence alone was hanging a serious weight on my self-image. Even sentient beings that watched the nightly news still had their initial urge set to 'run and hide'. I looked over at Sarah and sighed. At least some creatures still felt comfortable around me. The ride back was largely uneventful. After dropping off my charge I hurried back to my lair to change. I had something to prove to myself.
  I soon soared high over the forest where I usually did my hunting. I had done this many times before, but tonight's hunt had a different goal. Sure animals and people might be scared when they first saw me, but I was confident that after just a little contact anything could become my friend. I had already done it once with that doe and birds frequently landed on me to pick off bugs and stuff from my scales. I scanned the area below me with my night vision and upon finding a largish blob of heat or life energy or whatever it was I saw, I folded my wings and dived down for the catch. Just before impact I trucked my wings in and crashed through the branches. Normally I waited for my prey to get into the open, but that night I just didn't feel like waiting. I had left the protective claw covers on so that when I grabbed the deer I wouldn't impale it. My aim was true and I soon felt a large woodland mammal struggling in my grasp. Being careful not to hurt the poor thing I uncovered its head, brought it close to mine and began to slowly stroke it with a finger while making soothing noises. I thought it might be working, but only for a second. The buck's eyes were wide with horror and I could feel its heart thumping away at an all too unnatural pace. The poor animal began to spasm before finally going limp in my grasp. I stared at it for a second, recalling the feeling as its heart just stopped dead in its chest.
  I dropped the lifeless buck and poked at it a few times with my talon. My mind was still processing the fact that Sarah was indeed correct in her assertions. Despite my best efforts I had just scared this poor animal to death. Nah, it was a fluke. I just had to be. Only monsters scared things to death, and I was most certainly not a monster. I would show her, I would show them all. I heard something move in the brush and my mind screamed out with joy that I had been granted another opportunity to prove how gentle and kind I was. I pounced without looking and came down on something warm and fuzzy. Ah ha! Success! I looked down at my new 'friend'. It was a doe, and it looked familiar, just like that doe I had befriended earlier! Thank god, I really needed a pick me up then. I moved my talons to let it up off the ground, but something was wrong. It tried to get up, but fell right back down on the ground. It tried again and again failed. Finally it just lay there, flailing its legs every so often, a bloody froth coming from its muzzle. I ran my finger along the doe's flank and could feel the broken ribs. I was too depressed and out of it to give her a quick death. I just sat there and watched her expire. I ate both of the deer I had killed that night. I felt it would be a disservice to their spirits if I allowed their deaths to serve no purpose.
  My dream was turning into a nightmare. I had always wanted to be the noble dragon, helping people out and kicking ass when necessary, but here I was, some sort of freakish monster that killed without even trying. Like Moby Dick or the Middle East. I just sat there for a while, in the middle of the dark forest, trying to come to grips with just exactly what I had become. Eventually I flew back to campus and tried to get to sleep, but sleep would not come. I kept picturing the horrified look on that buck's face right before his heart exploded or the blood on the doe's muzzle as she struggled for breath. All throughout I heard this strange whispering in the back of my mind. I couldn't understand it and I couldn't make it go away. All night it was the same thing, horrific pictures and annoying whispering. For two days I didn't get an ounce of sleep and my green eyes were clearly bloodshot. So I did what any normal person would have done in my situation: I escaped my problem through use of mind-altering drugs. I began to pay a member of the cleaning staff to do down every day to Metro Spirits and buy me several bottles of hard liquor. The voices would be vanquished, the pictures were extinguished, I would get a good night's sleep and my life could be normal once again.
  Well it looks like you finally got me to spill out something important. Yeah, once you get involved with the councilors and therapists it's only a matter of time before they have you spilling your deepest and darkest secrets from when you were five. Now if you will please excuse me I find this topic very trying and I will need to take some time to unwind before I can write more.

<( | )>     <( | )>     <( | )>     <( | )>

  See what happens when you come out and confront your problems. The school councilor says your making progress and then sends you back to your lair to write some more. I was really looking forward to getting out today. Oh well, what's time to a dragon. I guess it's time for me to get back on track. Now where was I? Oh, yes. It was May and I needed to figure out what to do with my summer vacation. Not only that I was running out of money. I was making a fair amount doing my various jobs and selling myself for various interviews and I had even sold a few scales online. However, the quantity of snack food I consumed took a lot off the top. Even so I had accumulated a decent amount in my hoard, but then again, three bottles of hard liquor a day was starting to take it's toll on my savings and things could only get worse as my university jobs stood to end with the school year. The more I drank the more the voice would come, which would force me to drink more. I don't know how I thought I could handle it myself, but the thought of being locked away in some cage for insane dragons, unable to fly, scared me into silence.
  I began to look into the many job offers I had received. Most of the offers were out of the question as they involved me having to move, expend a lot of time or perform illegal acts. There were some easy ones that quickly caught my eye. A well-known company was putting together a Changeling trading card set. Not like game cards or anything, but the type of cards one might find as part of the merchandising campaign for a majour motion picture. They were trying to get all the Changelings on board and the card would feature a romanticized picture on the front and some facts and biographical info on the reverse. I was paid $750 in cash and I took them out to the abandoned quarry for the shoot. Hmm, I really seem to spend a lot of time out there. I really should find out who owns the place.
  It was during reading period that I accepted the offer from that popular computer game company to star in their upcoming Changelings game. They used some laser thing to make a 3D model directly from my body and I then spent the rest of the day hooked up with sensors as they captured my motion. The game looks really cool and I can't wait to play it. The premise is that a bunch of the Changelings become part of an elite government anti-bad guy team. They have recruited myself, that shapeshifter Quentin, one of the wolf morph guys and the queen Alien. I think there might be a few others included as Easter eggs. Each character has a different game environment and set of missions and controls suited to their form. It's going to be really big. I was paid about $4000 for the capture and they were going to work out the licensing with my lawyer. I think I'll get royalties to the tune of 10 cents per game or something like that and maybe a profit cut. Anyway, $4000 would buy a lot of alcohol and food, but not enough for a dragon for three long summer months.
  I had talked with my parents and we came to the conclusion that it would probably be best if I stayed up at school. I would try to come down and visit a few times, but they just didn't have the facilities to deal with me. I breezed through my finals and found out that the school was paying for my parents to come up and spend time with me during Senior Week. Senior Week is the week before graduation where the Seniors get drunk off their ass and the alumni return to remember the olden days (usually by getting drunk off of their ass as well). During this time it is the job of University Relations to get large cash donations from the intoxicated reunion goers. I soon found myself drafted by University Relations so I guess this would be my job as well. I was informed to make myself 'available' as much as possible and to try to 'accommodate' the wishes of the Alumni and their families. Those indicated as VIP's were to have no 'accommodation' spared and were eligible to have rides, talks, pets and scales on demand. Everyday at 2 I was to report to the athletic field to 'thank' those few very 'generous' alums with a flight around the campus. The whole thing seemed hectic, but I was given plenty of good food and there was still much free time to spend with my parents (although they politely refused to let me take them flying). All the activity and the loving support of my parents caused my mental troubles to melt away and I didn't take a drink all week. Well, I didn't 'need' to take a drink all week. All drinking that was done was solely for the benefit of the alums.
  It was really nice to have my parents up. It was just like old times. They didn't treat me like I was different. I was just plain old Michael to them. Sure people try to treat me the 'same', but they always forget the little things, the small avoidances, the wide eyes, the increased heart rate and always having me as the center of attention. One of the things I hated the most about my new form was the absolute inability to blend in. No matter how well people knew me or how quiet I was acting, the eyes would always drift in my direction. My parents and I went for walks and they eventually did consent to ground rides. I showed them all the places I had been flying and swimming and hunting. I even helped them carve out and carry some decorative stones for the garden back home. We talked about all kinds of things. I was still opposed to them getting a new house and, despite their assurances, I promised to start bringing in more money on my own. They then reminded me that they didn't have to pay tuition any more and since they really didn't have anything better to spend the money on they might as well spend it on me. I suggested they look into some way that I might come home via train, as my little stint in the truck was pure hell. I also showed them my plan for getting home under my own power. Using my many maps, I had plotted out a route that consisted of 50-60 mile hops between various public lands and parks. I would fly a leg and then take a time out at a park or forest. While there I could go and buy food and if permission had been received, maybe a little hunting. I had several routes. The direct route went through New York City. A slightly less direct, but less public panic-causing route took me down long island and the indirect route took me across the Hudson at Peekskill. For that entire week I had that warm, glowey feeling and each night as I went to sleep I would curl up, snuggle in the bedding and bask in the feeling of my smooth wings and scales rubbing against each other.
  Alas, the week ended far to quickly and I was back on my own. It was summer now and absolutely nobody was around. The research session didn't even start until the 10th of June and the campus was a ghost town with most of the faculty off on vacation. Meal service was cut back to 3 times a week and it was mostly bulk, semi-perishable goods like fruit, vegetables, sugar syrup stuff and various bricks of food that looked like they just came out of a civil defense bunker. Hunting was getting harder as I had already killed off most of the stupid deer and the only ones that were left had been getting wise to my tactics. I soon found myself having to range over several thousand acres worth of forest south of town. Luckily the State came to my rescue and allowed me to hunt in the nearby Wadsworth State Park. This was one of those locations where there was a big deer problem, but human activity precluded hunting with projectile weapons. I was able to fly in and hunt early in the morning with little risk to the humans who typically used the park. Even so, to avoid any protests the state didn't really publicize my intervention and just quietly closed the park from 1 to 5 AM. The voices came back and because there was nobody else around to distract me, they were louder than before. I sort of felt there was really only one voice, but it just talked to me in different ways. In any event, I didn't try very hard to listen to it. My first move was to the bottle of firewater tucked secretly in my belly pack. Days began to take on a routine in which I would drink myself to sleep, wake up all pumped and full of alcohol fueled energy, fly around at top speed to burn off this energy and then cap it all off with a nice relaxing hunt to restore my biological reserves.
  Getting back on track, I needed money and I needed something to do with my free time. I was going to have to resign myself to the fact that I was going to have to prostitute myself in public spectacles on varying degrees. Before school had ended I had been sorting through my job offers looking for just the right events to attend. One activity I was definitely not going to participate in was the strange Changeling gathering one Michael Jackson was putting together out at his Never say Never Land ranch. I had been getting several mailings a week from him. Some were plain text, some were flashy brochures, some came disguised as more innocent mail and some came with money and gift certificates, promising much, much more if I would only come out. Jackson's letters were always deserving of a special fate, be it ingestion, combustion, evisceration, mastication or the ever popular crystallization followed by a quick fragmentation. Please note that I would always keep the gifts. I was not so stupid as to let my principles get in the way of rationality, plus the fruit baskets were tasty.
  Finally, right before finals came the most obnoxious attempt of them all. I don't know how he got access to me (probably a large 'donation'), but one morning this fast talking combination PR rep/salesman barges into my lair and begins to bombard me with false compassion. How are you feeling, how is the food, I represent someone who really cares about you and your well being, blah blah blah. Then, of course came the sales pitch. All I had to do to be all safe and comfortable and loved and taken care of was to climb into the back of that tractor trailer and I would be whisked directly, non-stop to Never say Never Again land.
  On the promise of several hundred pounds of beef, the salesman was able to lure me outside to 'view' my rapid transport vehicle. Thank god he didn't see the 50 or so odd liquor bottles I was sleeping on top of. He probably would have gotten the school to sign me over into his custody to be taken care of by the 'finest doctors money can buy'. The trailer was plain on the outside, but on the inside it made a limousine looked like an AMC Pacer. Everything was plush with velvet and satin and the end closest the cab was covered by a huge flat screen HDTV. There were racks full of food and the suspension was fully air cushioned. I was sorely tempted, but only for about 2.81 seconds. I asked if I could get in and see how it felt. The salesman was more than happy to say yes. I asked them to close the door so that I could judge how confining it was. Again, he was happy to do as I said. A few minutes later I opened the door and flowed out. I thanked him for his time and expressed my regret that I would not be able to take him up on his offer. After all, I had finals to complete. I gathered up my free meat and left. I should really send old Michael a thank you note. That was the nicest portable outhouse I have ever been allowed to shit in.
  Out of all the job offers I received, one caught my attention and it would be with that job that I decided to start my summer employment. A local group of Pagans had sent me a little letter offering me a relatively small amount of money to attend one of their pre-solstice activities. I seriously doubt that they ever expected me to attend, but their offer was just the thing to appeal to my greedy, 'get money' side and my nice, 'help people' side.
  I called up the person who sent me the letter and she gave me directions to the location of the meeting. It was only about 15 miles outside of town and I could easily get there by flying. I am not a Pagan, but I have no problem with them and I have a thing for cool ceremonies in that I can really get into them and them come away with some sort of 'experience'. It was a Saturday morning about a week or so after graduation what I geared up and took off. I didn't have anything to contribute to what they were going to do except myself and I hoped this job didn't need any prior experience, figurines or exotic crystals. I found where my destination and landed in a field that appeared to be part some a small farm. A few people quickly walked out and introduced themselves. Something told me that more than one of them looked familiar, possibly one of the people wandering campus to get a glimpse of me. However, I did not recognize any of them as one of the many people who approached me for a conversation. After my landing there was the customary period of 'show and tell' where the slowly growing group walked around touching my body and asking me questions. However, there was a tangible sense of reverence. They kept referring to me as Lord Dragon and other equivalent names and I could tell that they meant it. I wasn't just cool or remarkable or extraordinary, but I was something that bordered on holy. I began to feel more uncomfortable than if they had been a group of rude, gawking tourists. After everyone had arrived they began the events. I could do little more but stand there as I had very little clue what they were doing. The ceremony was very interesting and highly enjoyable, but it was marred by that ever-present sense of uncomfortability. These people were paying good money for me to just show up and sit there with the occasional 'walk here' or 'move this way'. Glancing towards the parking area made me feel even worse as I noticed the array of '80s economy cars parked there. It looked as if they could barely afford incense let alone a defective performing dragon. Just when this couldn't get any worse they brought out a cow.
  "Lord Dragon, we humbly offer this sacrifice to you."
  Before I could think about objecting they had slit the animal's throat and began collecting the blood in a large bowel. This was bad. Then then handed me the bowl and expected me to drink it. This was worse. Over the next several minutes I was fed a multi-course, all beef 'lunch'. If I had refused I probably would have ruined their experience and after all I was used to devouring recently killed animals. However, I was not used to being fed in this manner and it was more than a little upsetting. Following the gathering I was thoroughly thanked and the organizer handed me the small bundle of cash for my payment. Normally I would have felt bad making these people have to unceremoniously hand over cash to a revered being, but by that point I really didn't care. The voices were louder that night and it took about half of what I earned just to quiet them enough for me to sleep. Looking back on it, those Pagans could have probably done something to solve my little 'problem', but I just never thought to ask. Oh well, with life comes experience.
  After that episode I decided to shoot for something a little more mainstream. When I got an offer from the Bi-Yearly New Haven Sci Fi Convention I quickly jumped at the chance. It was going to be a pretty big event featuring some of the actors from one of the less popular Star Trek series (Voyager I think). The promoter was going to give me $2000 just to show up and another $1500 if I could make a well-timed entrance. I explained that with my cell phone I could be instructed to land anywhere at any time he wanted.
  There would also be various fund raising activities inside the arena. Get up close and touch the dragon, $10. Autographed picture of the dragon, an extra $15. Have your picture taken with the dragon, an extra $25. Want that autographed, add $10. $100 would buy you 30 minutes in a private room with me and 4 others (well, $100 was the starting bid as there were only 4 groups scheduled). Also, I would be auctioning off 5 of my scales, 2 black, 3 silver. After some hissing and growling on my part I was promised half of the profits from these 'extras' and 90% of the selling price of my scales. I was also promised a lunch that was to be at least 60% fresh processed meat. For my entrance I was expected to roar and shatter a few objects with my ice breath.
  This didn't really sound like a big deal, but, well, I hate to admit it, but, I really didn't know how to roar. In fact, I really couldn't make any dragon sounds. Yes I could hiss and growl, but I really couldn't reproduce those sounds on demand. I don't really like to draw attention to myself so I had made an effort not to do anything like roar or snarl loudly. For the week before the event I had to fly off to my usual stomping ground (the quarry) to practice said roaring. Usually when I try to do some sort of vocal trick I start off sounding stupid, then get self-conscious and then I just make things worse (this is why I can't do a British accent any more). However, this time I was doing it for $1500 and if that isn't a motivator I don't know what is. Well I finally got a convincing roar down (at least the off-roaders who use the quarry area stopped laughing at me) and early on the day of the convention I strapped on my flying gear, called the FAA and took to the air. I flew to a state park just north of New Haven. Since my entrance was going to require perfect timing I needed to rest to allow myself a little time to loiter off station. About 30 minutes before my ETA I took to the air again and flew toward downtown New Haven. I circled just out of sight of the arena's parking lot and when the promoter guy called me I embarked upon my final approach. Well, the landing went perfectly. I touched down and roared. The crowd promptly roared back. I took off my flying gear while the announcer pumped up the crowd. When ready, I used my breath on a big pile of watermelons and then again on some sort of 15-foot-tall construct made to look like a Kingon warrior. The construct performed as designed and shattered into a million pieces upon contact with my spinning tail. After my big entrance the announcer guy made sure to indicate that I would be inside and posing for pictures.
  I entered through the large doors normally reserved for monster trucks and took my place near various raised platforms and walkways what would allow people to get close and pose with me. The promoters had made sure to lay down a comfortable bed of foam padding. My talons still hurt from having to sign the 1000 promotional photos and I was tempted to ask for a dry ice pack. My first order of business was to chow down on some food to recharge my system from its long flight.
  After that the people started to file by and I found it very hard to get used to the near constant rub of humans hands on my scales and wings. Fortunately the mind numbing tedium of the photo sessions helped serve as an anesthetic. Some human schlub would walk up, make the most stupid comments that I had already heard about 500 times, put a stupid grin on his simian face and have his picture taken with the dragon. Then there was the people who had to give me 'bunny ears'. Wake up people. I already have horns. You just paid $35 for a picture you just ruined. After about the 50th time I swear I was going to eat next fucking human who wanted to be Mr. Funny. The day droned on. My scales were auctioned off and I endured the 2 hours trapped with chattering humans who seemed obsessed with what I could 'feel', what flying was like and what was it like to transform (nobody seems to believe that I passed out). Finally my stint at the Con ended and I was free to go home. Security had sealed off an area in the lot where I could unwind a bit and get my flight gear back on. My brain felt like pudding and I realized why all the newer Star Trek actors sucked. This lifestyle was akin to an extended stint in purgatory and was probably assigned to actors as a Guild mandated punishment.
  "Um, excuse me, Mr. Brotzman sir."
  A meek little voice came from behind me and I turned to see some young adult standing there, obviously some fan who managed to slip through security. I did not have the time or the patience for this.
  "Go away."
  "Oh, I'm sorry, I see that you're busy and I don't mean to bother you."
  The kid was way too late on that score.
  "I just wanted to thank you for all the joy and hope you have put back into my life."
  Hmm, what was this now?
  "Every time I see you living the impossible dream and being so free and happy it encourages me to strive for the same. Your example has changed my life."
  I didn't know what to say. Was this kid for real? Did I deserve this praise? Why did his words make me feel so good? I decided to take him at his word and my expression softened and I thanked him for his remarks. He tried to leave at that point, honestly not wanting to bother me any more, but I was far from bothered. I bade him to stay and we spent a few minutes talking. This person was so unlike most of the others I had met. He wasn't a boot licking fan or some camera-toting tourist. He seemed to care about me for what I was inside and what I represented to him. His words had had the reverse effect of giving me hope. As barricade after barricade had flown up in my face, hope was something I had in an ever short supply. However, this young man's words had inspired me and restored my faith in my life. I definitely owed him something.
  His name was Edward, he was 18 and he was about to be taken for a ride on the back of a dragon. This little guy was going to be the envy of the entire convention. I didn't have my saddle so I just put him in the harness and lashed him to my back, right between my wings. I stepped out into full view and as cameras flashed and video cameras recorded I spread my giant wings and with three great flaps pushed my way into the sky. We floated through blue sky of that warm summer evening. I had to give him credit, instead of chattering away like some bird on speed, he remained quiet, allowing his movement and breathing to speak for him. As I soared higher we both became one being, engulfed in the majesty of flight. The feeling rivaled that of when I was with my parents. It was just pure bliss that caused all my troubles to fade away and the voices to cease their endless chatter. After what seemed like an eternity the young man signaled the place where he was to land.
  I planned to touch down upon a gravel parking lot near some recreational lake. As I circled around for a landing Edward gave me a big hug around my neck.
  "Thank you."
  This was it! This was my purpose. Sharing the joy and freedom that I had found with others. It was just so perfect. Landing suddenly became the farthest thing from my mind. With renewed strength I flapped up higher and higher. Screw the FAA, I wasn't going to let this ride end on a whimper. When I began to find myself short of breath at felt I had gone far enough. Executing a perfect wingover I went from a full climb to a plummeting free fall.
  "Here we go!" I yelled back to Edward.
  "Wheeeeeee!" he screamed.
  I tucked my wings back and streaked through the sky. I had only done what I was about to do one time before, but I was confident that nothing would do wrong. As the ground raced up at me something in my brain clicked and I unfolded my wings into the air. The strain was enormous and my muscles screamed in protect, but my wings held. My descent leveled off, but I didn't stop there. Angling my great silver membranes I cut into the wind and shot up and over into a perfect loop. I leveled off and starting laughing in big dragon guffaws.
  "Hey Eddie, how'd you like that!?"
  I began to circle the parking lot again and swooped in for a barely controlled landing. My flying muscles were on fire and I was panting heavily, but it was the best I had felt in ages.
  "Oh man, wasn't that exciting?"
  There was no answer.
  "Hey, Edward, you there? Eddie?"
  I undid the straps that help him to my back, but instead of climbing down, I felt the mass slide off and impact with a plop. I twisted my neck around to see Eddie lying face down in the gravel.
  I flipped him over with my talon. There was a smile on his face, but his body was limp like month old lettuce. I put my ear in front of his mouth and listened for a breath. Finding none I began to panic.
  "Ohmygod Ohmygod Ohmygod."
  What was wrong with this kid? I mean he looked ok when we started. Not knowing what else to do I fell back on my CPR training. I was a couple seconds into it when I heard his ribs cracking.
  "Shit shit shit. Ohmygod Ohmygod Ohmygod."
  There just had to be something I could do. I was a fucking dragon. I had to have some sort of power. I could bring him back. I just knew I could. I grabbed him in my talons and held on tight, trying with all my strength to will him back to life. It started as a whisper and then progressed until the voices sounded like they were talking right into my ear. For a second I listened, but they said nothing. It was just gibberish.
  "Not now!" I shouted back. "This is not the time for stupid hallucinations. Leave me alone! Go!"
  The voice left and I felt a cool liquid on my hand and saw that instead of holding a living breathing human all I had was a corpse, leaking fluid from several claw marks. Yet again I had failed. Yet again I had only managed to destroy. I dropped what had been Eddie as if it were a hot brick and curled up into a little quivering ball.
  I had killed him.
  I had killed him.
  Oh my god. What was I going to do? They were going to cage me or shoot me or throw me in jail. I was a murderer. No! It was worse. I was a monster. There was no denying it anymore. First it was just property, then that doe and now a human... Edward. Everywhere I went I destroyed. Everything I touched I destroyed. I didn't feel much like living let alone getting up. I heard the crunch of tires as several vehicles pulled up. Maybe they would just put me out of my misery and shoot me here. I didn't even bother to look up and just waited for the bullet to crash through my skull.
  "Mr. Brotzman, are you alright?"
  "Stay away from me! I killed him."
  "What are you talking about," said the man, "you knew this might happen before the flight."
  "I don't know what you think I am, but I don't plan to go around killing people, it just happens. Just leave me alone."
  "But you knew about Edward's condition before you agreed to take him flying."
  "I took him flying because I liked him. He made me feel better about myself and I just wanted to return the favour. Fat lot of good that did him."
  "You mean nobody told you?"
  "They told me I was a monster all the time. I just didn't listen."
  There was a short pause.
  "Oh shit. There must have been a screw up somewhere. Oh boy, this went really wrong. You see Edward wasn't just some kid. He had a terminal genetic condition and the Make a Wish Foundation had arranged with the convention promoter for Edward to get a flying ride on your back. We knew that the shock might kill him, but it was all he wanted to do in what little time he had left."
  "I killed him." I stated again.
  The man started to say something, but stopped and walked over to a group of people who were just getting out of a van. Their generally sad faced were replaced by shock and horror as the man related the situation to them. An older woman left the group and walked over to me.
  "Hello, um, Mr. Brotzman. I am Eddie's mother. It's okay, you don't have to feel bad about this. He could have gone at any moment; I honestly think he was hanging on by sheer willpower alone, just so he could be with you. You made it so that his last moments on Earth were filled with joy instead of pain from a terrible illness. I just wanted to..."
  Whatever the mother said next was lost as the voices came roaring back into my head, louder than ever. I grabbed my head again and fell screaming to the ground.
  "Shut up! Shut up! All of you just shut up!"
  The mother backed away and everyone else dropped what they were doing and stared at me. I started beating the side of my head into the ground.
  "Shut, up. Shut, up."
  The voices didn't go away. In fact, they got louder. With a final roar I leapt into the air. I didn't care how tired my wings were as I just wanted to get as far from that place and that corpse as I could. I flew on in a blind haze. The next thing I knew I was standing at the entrance of my lair. I looked down at me bed, ripped it apart and grabbed all the cash I could fit in my talon. I then picked up a large net and jumped down to ground level. Now, until this point I had that friends physical plant guy pick up all my alcohol, but I just didn't care any more. I walked downtown and into the parking lot where the multiplex was located. I then went and thrust me head through the doors of Metro Spirits, throwing a large ball of loose cash at the attendant.
  "I want as much as that will buy. The strongest and cheapest stuff you have," I glanced toward the Everclear and the cheap Vodka. "Give me a nice selection and I want it now."
  I growled that last part and it seemed to really motivate the attendant. Summoning help from the stock room they proceeded to fill my net with enough rotgut booze to kill an entire fraternity. Using the last of my strength I flew back to my rooftop lair and dove into my bundle.
  "Let's see you try to talk to me now."
  I sat there and drank until I passed out.
  I woke up and it was still dark out. As always the previous night's alcohol was fueling an early morning energy rush and I felt like I was going to explode. As soon as I cleared the sleep from my eyes I felt the whispering start up again. I reached for the bottle and shut it up. I had to get out of here. In a few hours my door was going to open and a bunch of men in white lab coats were going to either cart me off to some zoo or some loony bin. Without thinking I grabbed my liquid hoard and took off into the early morning. With all the energy I had to burn I just jetted. I didn't even know where I was going. I just sort of picked a direction and went. I stayed low to avoid detection or tracking and every so often I would take a drink to keep the voices at bay. By the time the sun came up I was far away and quite a bit drunk. I don't remember the much about that day, or the next, or the next, or the next. In fact I don't remember anything for about the next week and a half. The next thing I knew I was lying in a forest, my mouth was burned by vomit, I was surrounded by empty liquor bottles and the voice was whispering non-stop in my head. This whole time was sort of fuzzy for me. My day consisted of waking up and then huddling in a ball for several hours, beating on my head and moaning in an effort to drown out the voices. The voices were so bad that I couldn't concentrate on anything else. Hunting was out of the question so when I got desperate enough I would just eat bark or saplings. Needless to say it really didn't work and I got thinner and thinner. Of course one doesn't need much muscle tone to spend all day in a quivering ball. Some of my scales started to fall out and due to the lack of metals in my diet they didn't usually grow back. If they did they were deformed or discolored.
  As the weeks wore on I continued to live my pitiful existence. When I wasn't hiding from human discovery I was trying to deal with those voices only I could hear. There was no maybe about it, I was slowly going mad and in all honesty my load had become more than just a few bricks short. In addition to the voices I started seeing things. I think this was because of the prolonged malnutrition more than any "real" mental problem. Finally one day I just snapped and I went on a full-scale tantrum. I roared and rampaged through the forest ripping out shrubs and pushing over trees.
  I even tried to freeze things, but my breath weapon had dried up some time ago. My rampage took me to the edge of a small ridgeline that overlooked the rest of the forest I was in. For some reason the view made me remember my wings and I decided to take my fury to the sky. Roaring loudly in defiance of the voices, I charged headlong at the drop off. I leapt into the air and roared a challenge to the clouds. However my wings had become far to weak and frail to support what remained of my bulk and I watched with a strange detachment as I plummeted to the forest canopy below. I crashed through the branches and felt some sharp stabbing pains in my wings. A fraction of a second later I felt myself impact with the forest floor and everything went black.

<( | )>     <( | )>     <( | )>     <( | )>

  It's strange. I can remember the blackness, the complete blackness. Granted I was unconscious, but you don't usually remember being so. Then, just like some creation myth, the blackness was eaten away by a whiteness of equal (opposite?) intensity. As my mind untangled itself from the fog that covered it like a thick wool blanket, I felt around mentally and was shocked when I couldn't feel my body. I was just a hovering awareness floating in a sea of white. I was just about to panic when the signals abruptly changed and just like that, I had a body again. So now I was a hovering body in a sea of whiteness. I blinked my eyes and rubbed my face with my hands in an effort to dispel the grogginess. It took a second for that to register. I had hands! I snapped wide awake and began to look around. I had legs, human legs! With shoes... and socks... and I was standing on something. I was still surrounded by whiteness, but now I was definitely standing on something and in a human body! All the parts of my body that I could see were covered in frail pink flesh, not hard scales. I was wearing clothes again. Actual clothes! Jeans, t-shirt, sweat shirt, everything I had been wearing when I had changed. I was admiring my new old body when the whiteness dimmed slightly and I looked up to see another figure coming into focus, an unmistakably draconic figure.
  The dragon walked to within about 20 feet of me, stopped and then began to stare at me, tilting its head every so often. It was a silver dragon and it looked vaguely like my dragon self, but there were some noticeable differences.
  "Who are you? Where am I?" I sputtered in an all too terrified voice.
  The strange dragon tilted its head at me again.
  "Am I... am I... dead?"
  The dragon tilted its head back and said something. At least I thought it said something, for the words were completely unintelligible. It sounded just like the voices in my head, the voices that had driven me to the point of madness. I started to back away. The dragon took a big step forward and said something else, louder and more urgent. I took another step back.
  "Please, just tell me who you are."
  The dragon began to hiss the growl again, but stopped short. It reached out a talon and picked me up from the nothingness I was standing on. I was far too scared and confused to do anything. With its thumb it twisted my head first one way and then the other. Finally, sitting back on its haunches, the dragon reached out with its other talon, positioning its thumb and foreclaw on either side of my head. Then, without warning, the creature drove the two claws into my ears and the world went on mute as I heard and felt the black claws destroy my hearing organs. I could feel their sharp points grinding against my skull as a warm liquid ran down my cheek. Then, as suddenly as it began, the claws were withdrawn and my hearing magically returned. I could see blood on them and I reached my still free hands up and felt the side of my head. It was perfectly intact. I felt some dried blood on the side of my face, but there was none on the ground and none on my shirt.
  "Can you understand me now?" the dragon clicked. "Was I successful at correcting the defect in your hearing?"
  I hung there for a second with my mouth agape. The only thing I could think to do was repeat my initial question.
  "Where am I? Who are you?"
  The dragon blinked and then tilted it's head again.
  "I cannot understand a word that you speak. I fear that your voice has somehow been damaged as well. I will try to correct that."
  Without saying anything further, the dragon again reached out a claw and quite casually slit my throat. This time the blood rushed out and I felt the sharp appendage literally rearranging things inside my neck. I tried to breathe and all that came out was a bloody froth. Before I could start to thrash around in panic the dragon removed his claw and all feeling of violation ceased. I wiped the blood from my mouth and looked down at my still unstained clothing. I repeated my question for a third time.
  "Who are you? Where am I?"
  I didn't even realize I wasn't speaking English any more.
  "Me?" the dragon looked quite surprised. "Why, I am you. Which is odd because quite incidentally, you are me."
  "Am... I dead?"
  "Oh I most certainly hope not, for if you are dead than I would be dead as well and I would find that most unappealing."
  "Then where am I? Why did you bring me here?
  "You are where you always have been."
  The dragon tapped on my forehead with his talon.
  "I brought you here because you would not come on your own. I brought you here because I wanted to talk to you."
  "Talk to me about what?"
  "I want to ask you why to continually try to silence me with that foul liquid you drink. I want to ask you why you are always so sad. I want to ask you why you never come to talk to me and most of all I wanted to see what I look like."
  "Wait, just exactly who are you?"
  The dragon was looking more hurt by the second.
  "I am your first and last friend. I am all that you know at the moment of your hatching. I am the silent voice inside you that speaks the loudest. I am everything your species is and was and I am their gift to you. Can you truly deny knowing me?"
  He started to talk around me.
  "Ah, but how can I lay blame. I am almost as ignorant of you as you are of I. I have never seen a dragon shaped thus. You are quite small and I can see no scales or claws. There are no wings upon your back. How ever do you fly?"
  "This isn't my true form," I snapped back, "my real body looks much like yours."
  "Your true form is not defined by the area your body takes up in the physical world. We now stand within our mind, and what form is truer than the ones we give ourselves?"
  I looked down at myself. He was right; I was no dragon. I might look like a dragon, but deep down I was just a pathetic little human who went and got himself a new body to play with. No wonder my life had fallen apart. A loud hiss caused my thoughts to come back into the waking world.
  "How dare you insult yourself so! You are not weak, you are not pathetic."
  At that point I realized that he was telling the truth when he said he was a part of me as he seemed to share in my thoughts.
  "You and me, we are the same. If you are weak then I am weak as well. Do I look weak to you?"
  The dragon ended his last in a snarl as he thrust his muzzle to within inches of my face. However, instead cowering in fear I became enraged. Every injustice and hardship I had faced over the past six months rushed up to lend strength to my words.
  "I don't want your pep-talk! What, you've brought me here to make me strong? You're going to make me a better dragon? I haven't killed enough people? I haven't stolen enough gold? I don't care how strong you say I am. All I really am is a monster, a freak. An instrument of death that lives to rend, rip, claw, kill, scare and frighten. You know, I thought this was something I would want, but it's become hell. It's become pure hell. I'm locked out everything I held dear in life and I don't think I can stand another day of it, let alone the next several millennia of my 'glorious' existence."
  The dragon just stood there in shock. Large tears welled up in his green eyes and rolled down his muzzle. His legs began to tremble and he fell to his knees as if someone had just struck him a mighty blow, all the while emitting a pitiful wail. After a few moments of sobbing the dragon looked back at me.
  "Why.." its voice started as a whisper, "Why do you continue to say such things about yourself... about me... about, us. I just wanted to talk to you. I would never try to get you to change who we are. I would never try to bring you pain. The merest thought that I might have done so brings me the greatest agony."
  I instantly began to feel bad about what I had said and I think the dragon sensed this as he rose himself up from the whiteness that formed the ground.
  "You are not a creature of death, but a creature of life! Your claws defend life from evil. Your scales protect life from harm. Your breath cleanses life of the foul stench of corruption. Your wings... your wings are for you, to live life in complete and total freedom."
  The dragon paused for a second and smiled.
  "As for the gold, well, that is just pretty."
  Still smiling the dragon reached out his neck and gave me a friendly nuzzle. I was the one who was crying now.
  "What about that kid, Edward. I killed him. You can't deny that."
  "Of course I can deny you killed the youth -- particularly because you didn't! If only you had listened to me. What greater honor is there than to die whilst riding atop a dragon? That young man was caught by death's icy grasp and you freed him. You freed him from his sickness and allowed him to live again. Probably more life than he had experienced in all his prior years as a human. He departed this world with a smile on his face instead of alone in some hospital bed."
  "I couldn't even save him. What kind of dragon am I? What kind of creature that is made of life can't even restore it to others."
  "All your worries will be answered if you would just talk to me."
  "But every day I get up I am faced with that," I pointed to his horns, "and these," I rubbed the scales on his face, "and those," I pointed to his clawed talons. "How can I not see these things? How can I ignore the fear in someone's eyes when I try to talk to them? The fear in a deer's eyes just before I rip her throat out? How can I ignore the fact that I am left outside while the others scurry around inside talking about me in hushed tones?"
  "You do because you are a dragon."
  "But I'm not. I'm just some human kid who happened to be on the wrong mailing list at the wrong time."
  There was a longish pause while the dragon seemed to contemplate something. I wondered why I couldn't hear his thoughts.
  "Then I think we have discovered the problem."
  The dragon walked around me again, sniffing some parts, prodding others with an inquisitive claw.
  "It is your form."
  "My form?"
  "It is this strange form of yours. That is causing the problem. If nothing is done it will tear you apart. You mind will shatter like an old pot and we shall both be unmade. There is only one thing I know to do."
  The dragon bent his head close and touched his forehead to mine. After a second he broke the link and whispered something in my ear.
  "Forgive me."
  Quick as a snake the neck reared back, the jaws sprang open and once again I found myself bathed in darkness. The jaws snapped shut around my thighs, razor sharp teeth piercing flesh and shattering bone. It was then I began to scream. I felt myself plucked off the ground, the teeth released for a moment, but it was only so the dragon could position me better in his maw. I began to flail as teeth tore my thighs apart and my scream turned into a blood filled gurgle as my crushed ribs punctured my lungs. The dragon started to shake his head back and forth. I felt a crack in my neck and my whole body went numb, numb that is except for the pain. It was at that moment I became aware of a completely different sensation altogether. While one part of me felt it was being chewed apart, another part was chewing on something of it's own and was excited by the thrill of the kill. I don't know how I remained conscious, but I could feel my joints giving out and my body parts beginning to flop loose. Just when I think things couldn't get any worse I felt a massive tearing. My head had been torn from my body and as my life faded I was dimly aware of being massaged down a long, warm and slippery passage.
  Flash! I was back. I opened my eyes and I was once again standing in the vast whiteness of... wherever. For the second time that day my body felt different and the sensory input from two extra membraned appendages strongly hinted that I was a dragon again. A long silver muzzle caught my eyes' attention and they followed it down, past the snout to a blue jean covered leg and a brown hiking boot covered foot that was sticking out at an odd angle.
  I started to lose it. My limp jaw began to flop open and the entire leg plopped out onto the whiteness, body not included.
  I was quivering all over as it was the only movement I could manage. A wave of nausea swept over me and I bent my neck in preparation to hork my guts out. Suddenly a pair of strong talons grasped my head and held it level. It was the other dragon.
  "No! You need to do this. Finish the job."
  I could only sit there and shake. My stomach heaved. The dragon tightened his grip.
  "Finish it! Now! It is the only way."
  His grip softened and he began to stroke my neck.
  "Know that I would never harm you and do this for us. Please."
  The nausea subsided and I began to chew again. The meat in my mouth was raw and the taste was strangely exhilarating, but I still shuddered every time my tongue encountered a scrap of clothing, my clothing. After the meat had been sufficiently masticated I closed my eyes and swallowed. I felt the tears begin to flow as the lump traveled down my throat.
  "You forgot a piece," the dragon said.
  I looked down at the leg and, after some hesitation, picked it up in my mouth. I took my time to savour both the taste and the last vestige of my humanity. As I felt that final chunk travel down to be digested the other dragon patted me on the back.
  "Now, this body is more what I expected."
  For the first time since my change I felt complete and total contentment. All of my human based concerns and fears were resting in the acid of my gut. I turned to the other dragon.
  "Thank you," was all that I could manage.
  "There is no need for thanks; this is what I am here for. Any time you need anything, any time you feel bad, any time you need someone to talk to you, just come down here and see me. You know how."
  "No I don't, you never told me."
  "I am a part of you. I do not need to 'tell' you anything. You will find that there are many things you now know. I would talk longer, but you need to return to the world of the waking. Just never forget who you are and what you are," he put his talon on my forehead, "in body," he moved to his own head, "in spirit," he then locked horns with me and brought both our heads together, "and in mind. And for now I bid you farewell."
  The whiteness faded to black and then black faded back to colour. It was the colour of a forest. I was laying in a small pool of my own blood, surrounded by shattered tree limbs and in quite a bit of pain, the real, physical kind of pain that doesn't just suddenly go away the in next instant. There was some movement and I could vaguely perceive some sort of small animal poking around and sniffing at the blood. I slowly lifted my head up. The little critter made a run for it. Was I depressed? Did I feel rejected? Did I feel like a monster? Nope, the first thing that popped into my mind was laughter. That silly little critter thought I was going to eat him. Stupid thing. Hmmmmm, actually that wasn't such a bad idea. I tried to stand to go after him, but I was so weak I could barely move. I was definitely going to have to solve this problem. Fortunately I didn't seem to be encumbered by those human emotions such as panic, hopelessness and depression. I was going to get out of this or I would die trying, there was nothing more to it. I gritted my teeth against the pain and began crawling out of the forest. I found I was able to put my slow painful crawl on autopilot and think about other things. First of all I realized that my thoughts were still not in English. As far as I could tell I now knew how to speak Dragon, and somehow it had become my default language. However I did sing a few English songs I knew just to make sure I could call a cab or order pizza when I got out of the forest. I took this language switch and the very sudden change in attitude to be two key signs that I didn't have a human mind any more. It looks like my little friend had used some abstract symbolism to re-install my operating system.
  Ok, I have to take a time out here. This is exactly why I resent having to write this stupid journal. I know you just want to help me, but the truth is that you can't help me, even if you wanted to. You've spent years and years learning how to fix broken human minds, but guess what, my mind ain't human. It's like trying to run PC software on a Mac. You might even be doing me harm. Ever think of that? I think that right now the most qualified person to deal with my mind is me and currently I feel perfectly fine. Well I'd feel more fine if I was out flying, sunning myself or casually observing humans as they go about their daily tasks. If I did need any help my spirit would be more than able to provide it. Yeah, I am aware of how that sounds, but lately the opinions of little ape creatures really don't go as far with me as they used to.
  Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, crawling through the forest all bloody and broken. I finally reached a road where I was soon able to flag down a passing vehicle (I guess lying across a road counts as flagging). The wheels were put in motion and I was rushed via flatbed truck to a local hospital where my wounds were staunched and my stomach was filled. Two weeks later I was back at school recovering from the last of my injuries. Everyone was of course frantic. My parents were called, etc, etc, but I just couldn't see what the ruckus was about. I will be the first to admit that I have changed since my ordeal. All those fears and worries I had once had, those 'human' worries and fears have just melted away. I don't care that some animals might fear me. I don't care that I can't fit in buildings and that I can't participate in 'human' society. Those are trivial worries. I can see so far past them, into the long run. There is so much I have to do with my life that I can't take time out to worry. I have so many places to fly, so many things to learn, so many books to read and so many different animals to eat.
  I remember it was just after I got back. Most people had blamed my breakdown on the death of poor Eddie riding on my back. There were no cages or restraints or even medication, as the doctors how not yet mapped out my neurochemistry. When I came out of the woods I just said that it had been a long brewing problem what with the alcohol and all and the Eddie incident had just broken me. I had simply run away and spent some time in the woods to work it all out of my system. I apologized for my not telling anyone, but I maintained that I couldn't, as it would have interfered with my 'recovery'. Yes it was a flimsy story and it all fell apart after most of humans who worked with me noticed a definite change in my personality and after they discovered my other 'secret'. One night in the hospital I felt the need to talk with someone and so I did what came naturally. I slowed my breathing and focused, opening my mind to the spirit within. After a few minutes there was a blur in my vision and I came to see another silver dragon sitting in the room next to me. Granted I could have held an entirely mental conversation, but I was curious to try it the conventional way. We talked about several things; my life, my recovery, when I would get to fly again. I noticed that I seemed to do most of the talking, and my spirit would just say something completely appropriate at the end of the conversation segment. The last topic involved Eddie's death. Yes, I knew what had really happened, but I still couldn't help feeling just a little bit responsible. I was cursing the event staff for forgetting to tell me when my spirit spoke up.
  "They did tell you."
  "Three days prior."
  "Why didn't I remember?"
  "I don't think you were in a condition to remember much of anything."
  "You mean I was..."
  "Yes, quite in fact."
  That made me feel really bad. My weaknesses were directly responsible for the boy's death.
  "I thought you were supposed to make me feel better."
  "No, I am here to guide you and provide you with the truth. To pander to your emotions and to give you a false sense of well being would do you no good. Given this, let me tell you again that you are not responsible for Eddie's death and yours was the most honourable action that could have been taken. That poor human's days were numbered and his dying wish was to be with you. How do you think it would have made him feel if you had pulled back on your flying just to cater to his needs."
  "He would have felt betrayed."
  "He would have spent his final moments on Earth filled with pain. Instead, you filled him with the greatest happiness. That is the truth."
  With those words my spirit faded and disappeared leaving me staring at a blank wall. Needless to say the doctors had installed a video camera in the room to monitor my condition and they had recorded 2 hours of me having an in depth conversation with a potted fern. Faster than I could blink there were all these psychiatrists and psychologists running around, all saying how I've gone insane with little voices in my head. I tried to explain to them what had happened, but oh no, I was most certainly going insane. Yeah well, what suddenly makes them experts on dragons? Then it got worse when the magnitude of my drinking problem came to light when they the worker guy who bought my booze for me. They wanted to put me on powerful medication. They wanted to enroll me in 12 step programmes. They demanded non-stop interviews and round the clock observation. What they would simply not do was listen to my assertions that I was perfectly fucking fine. They would not believe that I could have actually cured my drinking problem on my own. Oh that's just not possible, you need professional help. Well maybe humans can't cure a mental problem by themselves, but that's probably because they have weak fucking minds that have a tissue paper grasp on sanity. I am a dra-gun, not some fucking ape. I can do nothing but stare at a dot on a wall for a year and then get up and deliver an award winning speech at an Ivy League institution. If my mind were a automobile's transmission it could do duty on a rental van and emerge unscathed. Stop trying to change me, leave me alone and just go away and write some research papers somewhere. That's all that you seem to be good for anyway.
  Alright, alright, it takes a big dragon to admit when he's wrong. Yeah you guys do help me out from time to time. Like that time I got caught up contemplating that big oak tree next to Shanklin Hall. If one of you hadn't talked some sense into me I'd probably still be sitting out there. I still maintain that it did not feel like four days. I have noted a tendency to put things off for, you know, the next year or decade or so. I keep forgetting how quickly the human world moves. Jeez, just imagine all the reading I'd have to catch up on. Or then there was that time when that guy in the pickup knocked over that REU student in the crosswalk and I wanted to pull him out and stomp him flat into the asphalt. You guys did make it clear to me that I was not the embodiment of Justice on Earth.
  In case you were wondering the old Michael did not die and was not replaced by some new draconic entity. I basically feel like I am the same person. I generally talk and act the same way, but I just had a few attitudes and emotions flip flopped. I remember everything from my old life and how it felt to be human. I even still have dreams where I am human and I sometimes wake up having forgotten my new form. I guess I consider myself a dragon who spent 20 of his most formative years training as a human. Everything that made me me happened during those years, and none of that has gone away. The event I just described with my spirit and the death of my old self was just the final act of a change that happened almost exactly 8 months ago. It wasn't the death of me, but merely the death of my humanity.
  Hoo boy, now I've gone and said it. That's worth about 10 PhD topics right there.
  Also for the record I really don't think in English anymore. Well sometimes I do, but it is clearly the subordinate language. I don't have a name for what I think in, but I guess I'll just call it Dragon. It has its own alphabet, and if you're interested I wrote it on the back cover of this notebook. Each character represents a specific draconic sound, the total set of which consists of grunts, clicks, growls, snarls, whistles and some of the more common mammalian sounds. I successfully taught the physical plant guy who was re-doing my wiring to adequately reproduce all of the sounds so it is possible for humans to speak Dragon, albeit with an accent. You don't even need to have your tongues removed, which I heard can be extremely painful, although the guy did start to complain about a sore throat. My draconic vocabulary is quite extensive, but I have had a problem with making up new words. I'm not really good with languages and I would hate for Dragon to go the way of Europe and Asia with stuff like "Gr'nack hoorush cellular phone." That's just unprofessional and it sounds like Americanized trash. I am going to have to work with some real linguists regarding this issue, as I am not able to just make up words. If anyone reading this would care to learn Dragon I am working on setting up a class. Give me some time to hash out the price schedule.
  Well I guess that's it. Classes start on Tuesday so I guess my summer vacation has come to an end. Yeah it's been a wild 8 months since the change, but I have seemed to come through it all right. As far as I can tell I have gotten over the hump and it's downhill all the way from here. Ah, nothing beats the life of a dragon. No cares, no worries (all cares and worries being quickly squashed or eaten), just a long life in which I can lay back and collect stuff. Stuff's nice. I like stuff. You can never have too much. Anyway, before I have to get back to studying humans (you thought it was the other way round didn't you, mu ha ha ha) I think I'll spend a satisfying night sleeping on the field, under the stars.