by Bill Keiffer
1 2 3
I felt a growing sense of urgency and took several slow deep
breathes to keep myself calm. No matter how real magic might be
now, I was fairly certain I was going to need a beating heart.
Even if I ended up keeping it in a jar someplace, I was going
to need a beating heart.
Then before I had time to fully regret what I had done, my mind's eye saw a white tiger paw/hand flick a toggle marked Fear. Instantly, my heart leapt and I gasped as if I had been holding my breath. I was instantly covered in sweat and I felt very, very cold. Then the fear switch was toggled off and I once again had total control over my body.
Not that I was going to use that much control again.
The paddles began to whistle that they were ready, a strident tone designed to be overheard in even the most chaotic surroundings. No one paid it much mind.
The ugly EMT looked from me to his partner and back again. Phil was frozen half way across his desk and Amy had her hands over her face. The good-looking one looked absolutely confused and betrayed. Everyone was upset, scared and confused by what had just happened.
I guess it doesn't say much about me that I felt more comfortable that way.
"What happened?" Phil said and Amy completed his thought.
"You said his heart stopped!"
I whusked, enjoying how the exhale of air flapping my lips sounded in the small office. To complete the effect, I shook the blood around in my head to get it moving again. There: all better now. Good-looking blinked and nodded as I gave a small smirk. Ugly turned off the paddles, aware that I wasn't going to need them. I could tell he didn't quite believe his partner.
Had this been the Blind Pig universe, I probably would have asked good-looking out to dinner to make it up for him. In reality, however, he had too much meat on his bones for my tastes. Close though, Very close, especially with him looking so cute and frightened. Of course, I was also very married.
Mike poked his head in just then and went wide eyed. "What's the matter?"
I turned my head towards Mike and I gave him what I hoped was a helpless look. It was really hard to know if I was pulling off the expressions that I wanted. No matter, my tone carried enough of the emotion I wanted to convey. "They are taking my blood pressure and turning my head telling me to cough..."
Mike blinked and saw Phil sit back down cautiously. A slight smile of relief formed on Phil's face, which Mike shrugged and reflected the smile back. "Oh. I hate when that happens."
"No dinner," I said and Amy finished my line for me.
"No movie," she said with a giggle, which sounded both sincere and forced at the same time. I needed new material.
"Mr. Kieffer," Good-looking said, obviously choosing his words carefully. I noted that he was on his knees in front of me. If only I wasn't in a hurry to get to my desk and start making phone calls and emails, I might have played the moment up. Instead, I looked right at him. The red eyes didn't seem to bother him too much. He was well-trained, which I admired. "Do you have a heart condition we should be aware of? Pacemaker? Prone to palpitations?"
"No," I said, softening. For a self-confessed sado-masochist, I really had a very soft heart. "I simply stopped my heart."
Well, if I had been writing this scene, there would have been a complete and total silence for a few minutes as the weight of what I had just said and the world shattering implications sunk in. Instead, Good-looking asked if I had any allergies.
Startled that he wasn't following my script, I actually began to feel less sure about what had really just happened. "No," I answered simply.
The EMT started to ask the next question when Amy put her hand on my shoulder. "What about salt? You're allergic to salt."
I smiled, although I was slightly annoyed. Phil and Amy had a chiropractor's idea about allergies. Phil got sick if he ate too much wheat and the called that an allergy. I believed he had a reaction to excessive wheat, but I hardly believed it was a histamine reaction. I suppose, though, that it was easier to make people accept an allergy over a consistently observed but nameless dietary phenomenon. I might have started doing the same, had most of my friends not been geekboys.
I looked at the EMT. "I have an-as-yet-not-fully diagnosed medical condition that randomly causes my digestive system and different glands to create the wrong compounds. A sudden increase in my intake of sodium seems to have triggered the last event." The EMT looked at me like I had two heads. I had a feeling I was going to be getting that look a lot from here on in. I sighed and went on, "All my male cousins and one of my nephews have this anomaly to one extent or another. My nephew, in fact, has it much worse than any one of us and spends half the year in Robert Woods Medical Center recovering."
It was annoying having a medical condition that was difficult to put a label to, much less explain. There were only six or seven people who had it, most of whom got along fine without going to a hospital. "I have sensitivities," I said realizing this could be important later, if I passed out or something, "Too much sodium and I feel like I have broken glass under my skin and skull. Codeine makes me grouchy. Any antihistamine makes me a bit sleepy." Then another thought occurred to me. "Or they did. Frankly, I have no idea if my medical history is even valid any more."
Mike nodded or he might have been trying to get a kink out of his neck, I could never be sure since both movements were identical for him. He preferred to nod sideways like a girl trying to get her long hair to clear her shoulders. I was going to have to talk to him about that one of these days. Just then, however, I let him say, "Neal found a Fox station out interviewing this Sleastack. He's getting some great static screen shots. You're definitely not the only one."
Not the only one. Did that make me feel better or worse? It made me feel like I was wasting my time here, that's what it did. I didn't know anyone who wanted to be a Sid and Marty Krofft creature, but I couldn't believe these transformations were anything like random. Mine was too dead-on.
"Mr. Kieffer," Ugly said, "We'd like to bring you to the hospital, have some tests done. You might be feeling well now, but you've undergone a rather traumatic cardiac event and it would be prudent for you to be under the care and observation of a doctor."
"No," I said as warmly as I could, "Thank you, but no."
Mike got out the digital camera and took pictures of me chasing the paramedical team out politely. Amy offered to call Michele. Phil offered to drive me home. I refused each. "Michele just started her new position today, she won't be able to work... and for we know this will wear off in an hour or so." Although I doubted any such thing, whoever did this did it for more than just yucks... or certainly not for a few hours of shits and giggles.
I went back to my desk where Mike proudly presented the black and white webcam mounted on my monitor next to my Ferengi head bank. It looked like a huge box for a webcam, sorta the size of a half a carton of cigarettes. He went back to his office to knock down the firewalls at my request. I was about to stress test our web server, big time.
I stopped as I got a good look at my desk for the first time since my transformation. My desk was completely clean of papers, which was odd, and my desk itself sported a huge circular discolouration on the right side. It was a pale yellow area and, on closer inspection, it appeared that much of the pressed wood of my desk had been replaced with a dried and brittle foam. My file cabinet had been replaced with a pile of plastic file folder tags, a few metal pieces, and four European-style black plastic wheels.
My internet browser was already up and running.
Now, let me get this straight. Something powerful came by, ate 50 or so pounds of organic material about me... but not my clothing, transformed me into my dream self, and yet, my computer seemed fine. My computer needed to be rebooted if the guy in the office next door used his short wave radio. Well, whatever changed me was incredibly efficient. That ruled out anything resembling a Lord of Chaos, like Loki.
On the other hand... it had eaten my boxers. I distinctly remember putting my Curious George boxers on this morning. Yet, when I peeled of my pants... I hadn't been wearing them. Something selective and intelligent with a sick sense of humour had disrupted my life... what kind of God or demon grants your desires and eats your underwear?
I poked my finger into the yellow part of the desk and the material gave as if it was no more than a pile of potato crisps. I left a finger sized hole and I stared at it, bothered. How much control did this instigator have? How much conscious choice went into my change... and of the items around me?
I wondered if there was an implied threat in that brittleness.
I looked at my desk collection of toys. My NRFB Beta Ray Bill leaned out of the plastic shell against the wall, the cardboard backing having been dissolved. The same for my Big Head Ferengi bobber, my DC Direct Green Arrow action figure, and my precious Tzippy figure had all suffered the same fate. My collection of Ferengi toys mocked them all, having been removed from their boxes for years now.
I should be grateful that my cosmic benefactor had ignored all the Ferengi figures. With the series off the air, or close to it, it would hardly serve me well. Still, umlauts at every Star Trek convention would have been nice... and I felt myself getting a bit randy again.
This was like being 17 again!
I shook my head again and turned the browser to my email clients. First thing I needed to do was check in on Jeff. His text pager was book marked and I sent 911: Call me now! and my phone number. The last time I had sent him such a message, I was certain his girlfriend was going to make "final arrangements" for both of them. Thankfully, I had been very wrong about that. It had been a rather ugly few days full of a lot of bad feelings, but she ended up with a fur I respected, even if I didn't know him too well. Jeff had been too busy to talk to me then; hopefully he could now.
Of course, there was a chance he wouldn't be in any shape to talk to me. I felt both hope and dread at that thought. He had two major fur forms, a fox-like alien and a bipedal Fossa, which was something between a lemur and a ocelot, far as I can tell. The Fossa was small and lithe and named Tadhg. I'd been playing at sex with him online for awhile now and I felt very close to him. I felt like I owned him, in a way. If Jeff was transformed...
Suddenly, an image of Jeff's body sparkling as mine had while at work at some UNIX terminal hit me. Jeff -- who was proud and so formal in public at times that most people wondered just how big that stick up his ass was, but he was too big for anyone to come right out and ask him -- would have shrunk, slimming down to... if he became Tadhg body and soul... I... I...
Oh. No wonder I had felt such concern for Cody Pony! I'd been trying not to think about Jeff being turned into a frightened twink of a fur hiding under his desk... no, a desk... he was a consultant... if he had become Tadhg, he would... need me.
You substituted Cody Pony for Tadhg, the fatherly voice inside my head said, so you could cope. You still don't know what's going on, yet. Be logical, it urged. You can fall apart later.
I surrendered to the advice and decided to wait for Jeff to call.
Unless it was completely random, in which case there would only be the appearance of a pattern, I had to find the common denominators between me and the other transformed. I hit my Greyflank@yahoo account and checked messages. From the Unifursal mailing lists, those begging for more of my special cookies now were joined by a few furs making Pithy comments about the some spate of "furry pranks." The digest of the local Fur club had nothing in it whatsoever about the sightings.
It was 3:30, 90 minutes after I had changed. I sighed gratefully, taken it as a sign that not every furry was transformed. I sent an email to both groups and asked them to check on every fur they knew. If there's no answer via email or phone, visit! I attached one of Mike's pictures of the new me and sent it off with the header "I'M NOT HORSING AROUND." Hopefully, we could save a few of the transformed...
Of course, none of it would matter if it was totally random, but checking on each other would give everyone something to do... make them feel apart of something bigger... I sensed there was a potential for a lot of misplaced jealousy and fear in all of this... no matter which way this went.
Mike came back and told me to reboot my machine. Hopefully, it would recognize the camera and the software. Mike stared at me and I blushed, wanting to stare back and push him away, but that would be really unfair to him. "You're really in the dark about this," he said when the computer indicated it was safe for me to turn it off, "aren't you?"
I nodded. Of course, I was somewhat comfortable operating under ignorance, that was how I operated as a technical writer who thought an IP address was the location of an outhouse. "Where's Christine?" I asked, suddenly aware that I hadn't passed her.
"John drove her home," Mike said and I nodded knowingly. Of course, there was nothing to know. Christine was tight with her boyfriend and John... well, John lived with his mother and was fascinated by little pewter figures. Of course, that didn't really prove anything.
As my screen booted up again, I looked to the broad window that overlooked the parking lot of Colfax Plaza. The shades were drawn, letting in just enough light to know it was still overcast outside. "Mike," I said carefully, "could you look out the window and tell me how many cars there are in the parking lot?"
Mike raised his eye brow dubiously, but assuming I was somehow too weak from my ordeal to get off my ass he complied. He pushed the hanging pieces of vinyl aside and then looked up and down the parking lot. Then he looked silently to the left and sorta stared that way, his jaw going slightly slack, his lips moving as if trying to form words.
"There are cars out there, right?" Even with my fear pushed deep down with me, I could almost hear the panic in my own voice. "Right?"
Mike looked back at me like my mom might have if I asked her for a cookie before supper time. "I'm counting."
I exhaled. "But there are cars out there, right? No horses running wild or anything?"
Mike blinked at that. He blinked twice for effect. "No," he said, almost with a laugh. "Should there be?"
When your reality is subject to change at the whim of a whimsical god or demon there is justifiable reason for being careful about what you say aloud. Perhaps even think. I shrugged. "I just wanted to make sure I wasn't in a story I had written." I had never written a story set in the Passing Fad Universe where all the cars turned into horses, but Mike didn't need to know that.
His face fell a little. "This is a bit weird, isn't?" Then he smiled somewhat uncomfortably, "But if this was one of your stories, we'd all be having sex, wouldn't we?"
"If he wants to bring in Willis' lap dancers, I wouldn't mind," Neal said taking the seat at John's desk. "There's a talking bear in California... they have a tape of him on a tech support call for MacBabbage when suddenly he's growling... they have him treed..."
I was angry at the amused tone in Neal's voice, but I knew his amusement was reserved for the common man... or Tiger Food as he called them. I signed into my computer and then I had a weird thought. "What's the State Animal of Washington?" I asked for either of them to field.
"Salmon?" Mike offered after a moment, but I heard Neal punching away at John's keyboard so I just chuckled without thinking about it much. I had once proposed a comic book series where one student from each school became a super-heroic version of its mascot. Take that idea and expand it... The State animal of New Jersey was the Horse. The State Animal of California was the Bear... one of the things the Yiff-Beast of Sacramento and I had in common, I thought randomly. If the eye doctor wasn't Coe, another furry writer...
"Goldfinch," Neal said. "Or Dragonfly... take your pick."
I nodded and called up my Internet Explorer. "So much for that idea," I grumbled. I noticed Mike looking at me. "I'm still in the dark," I confessed and he smiled lightly.
"I was just thinking too bad that Willis wasn't here for this."
I had to chuckle at that. Willis had quit a few months ago. If he'd been any more fervent about alien abductions, he'd have worn tin foil in his hat. Mike began walking me through getting the old web cam hooked into gozer.com as Neal thought up some really neat and cruel things I could do to Willis. I WAS curious myself, I had to admit, how he might react to my showing up on his door step to eat his brain.
Once the web cam was working -- black and white, but it worked -- I copied the URL and turned IE to my Yahoo account for Grey Van Maulkin, the account I had all my mail-list digests sent to. Once or twice a day, I got a digest from TSA-Talk with 15 to 25 postings in each. Every other day I got a digest from Furry-Lit with only one or two postings in it.
Internet Explorer seemed to struggle with my Yahoo mailbox and then there was a message that I had 25 new messages. That was odd, I thought fleeting, I hadn't written anything lately... then I clicked and Yahoo seemed to struggle again. "Is the net slow from your computer, Neal?"
"Yeah, the Andover Internet Traffic report says the whole country is sucking up bandwidth... everyone is either streaming the wolf... I'm sorry, they say now that that was a werewolf in California they were reporting about and not a bear... or the interview with the lizard boy..."
But I wasn't listening any more. My monitor was showing 25 digests... 20 from TSA and five from the furry literture list. "Neal," I said simply, "What's the name of the lizard doing the Fox interview?"
"He's calling himself Luke... no last name."
Luke Allen was Bluenight, who just so happened to be a Furry who wanted to be a not furry lizard... Coe was an eye doctor who admired raccoons... I liked horses... in fact, I'd even gone so far as to engage in pony play a half dozen times, with me standing in for the pony. Three transformed people... who all happened to be regular posters to the TSA-Talk list...
My stomach dropped and I looked at Mike. "...light breaks..." I said quietly. All the locations seemed to fit, from what I could recall. I picked up the phone and started dialing Jeff's cell number from memory while my other hand navigated to my iWon.com mail box to snag Charles Mattias' home phone number, the only other TSA subscriber I had ever met in person.
I stopped in surprise at what I was doing... I was dialing a number I had used three times while touch typing the URL for my iWon.com email's folder: TSA. This was beyond my normal abilities and it was quite disturbing seeing my hands act almost as if of their own accord, especially since they did not look like my hands in the first place. I almost didn't hear Mike ask what I meant about light breaking.
Jeff's cell phone rung distantly as I stared at my screen. "I think I know... who's been targeted." The other end picked up and I could hear road traffic behind Jeff as he answered with the same tone of voice he would have used if the President of the United States was calling. I relaxed so much my bladder almost emptied right there. "Jeff!" I said, annoyed that my voice was so deep and accented, but knowing there was little I could do about it.
My mouth was no where near the receiver. I flipped the phone to the speaker phone setting, not caring what Mike or Neal made out of our conversation. I looked like a chess piece so it would only be just a little bit more weirdness for them to digest. Amy could always explain it to them at later. "Can't hear you..." Jeff was saying. "I got your page, what's wrong?"
"Have you heard about the lizard boy on TV? Or about any of the other transformations?"
I heard a squeal of tires and then a thunk as the phone hit the floor. I also heard Jeff cursing a blue streak, so I knew he was all right. After a moment, "Some goofball just ran across the interstate, I'm sorry."
Taking a stab, I asked, "He wasn't in a fursuit or a costume, was he?"
There was a chuckle at the other end. "I couldn't tell. We're getting a bit of fog here. Almost hit him..." Then there was a sigh, "Sure was a big fellah, a-yah. Never mind that, tho. What's wrong?"
"Jeff," I paused here, waiting for some advice from the Peanut Gallery inside of my head. "This is going to sound odd unless you've been listening to the news."
"Sorry," he said and he did really sound sorry about it. "I had my head and shoulders deep inside a Cray all day. Now, I have to meet a new client and schmooze a bit. Just tell me, I won't judge you or jump to any conclusions? Are you in trouble?"
"Of a sort," I said and tried to think of the words.
Neal got the ball rolling, "He's turned into fucking Black Beauty over here!" I glared at him and he sorta held his hands up in something resembling an apology, but only if you were being generous. "I am just a little freaked out still. Sorry."
"I'm on a speakerphone?" Jeff sounded a little cross and a little curious. He was a very private person, I knew, and I knew he could bruise easily if I was too gruff with him. Having a personal, possibly intimate conversation broadcast to strangers was probably how his nightmares started.
"I can't use the phone right." I said quickly. "Like in the Blind Pig story."
There was silence at the other end, then: "Something happened to you, something on the news, and you can't use the phone. I don't like to guess, Bill. Are you in handcuffs or something?"
I sighed and smiled, uncomfortable with using a speaker phone for this. "Nothing that pleasant, I'm afraid." Handcuffs do nothing for me, but it was one of my better lines, and I said it without thinking much. "How close are you to a place you can pull over and look at the Internet on your lap top?" Jeff, I was sure, could turn two sticks and a bear skin into an internet browser if he was in a halfway decent cell. That's why companies in Wisconsin paid him the big bucks.
"Actually, I just pulled into the parking lot where I'm meeting my client. The problem is, I'll have to hang up to browse the net." He sounded a bit annoyed, but equally concerned.
Part of me wanted to wait until he was safe and at home... but I was feeling very selfish and needy. I needed to hear from someone who was so much smarter than me and Jeff was my pet genius, at least within the fantasy world of cyberspace. I had no claim over him in Real Life... but I had to risk upsetting his meeting with his client... I gave him the URL for the web cam and hung up with him.
I started dialing Charles' number while my other hand typed out the URL for the TF-Ring's message board. For a moment I flashed on the Tommyknockers by Stephen King. These things were all bookmarked, there was no reason to go thru the trouble of touch-typing the URL ... except that it was no trouble at all.
"Who's being targetted?" Mike seemed excited. I had used the present tense, implying that there might be more transformations coming. For all I knew, that was correct. For all I knew, I had fallen in the men's room this morning and this was all a dream. For all I knew, I only thought I was Bill Kieffer and I was an alien sleeper agent.
For all I knew, I knew nothing.
"There's a list of people," I said when Charles phone gave me the busy signal. I had an image of a tiny rat lifting the handset of the phone's cradle to call for help. Yesterday, I might have found that mildly erotic, but now I cut the visualization off quickly. Just because I didn't change into Charger when Amy got my inner pony all riled, didn't mean I wouldn't... couldn't... have other surprises. I sighed and hung up, looking at Mike earnestly. "The list is made up of people who like stories about being turned into things... like werewolves."
I wrote down today's date while reading the message headers on the TF-Ring board. A few were noticing the news reports about the iWerewolf, as one sage dubbed the wolf-guy out in Cupertino and Bluenight's appearance on Fox hadn't gone unnoticed. Jaggs hadn't posted. Jaggs was one of my favourite people on the TF-Ring. He also would have been in high school about now... I wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. Whatever mad god picked me wouldn't hesitate to bestow this gift on a mere boy.
After all, what's age and time to a god?
I finished writing several slips of paper and I was a bit surprised to see what I had done. I typed in the URL for my webcam as a message and then held the date up to the camera. After counting to ten, I held up a piece of paper that said, "Hi Jeff."
Then I held up three pieces of paper one at a time: "Find the Subscribers." "Save them." "Protect the herd." Counting ten seconds for each. The webcam was refreshing every five seconds on the web site, at least if I had the HTML right. It would really suck if Jeff or anyone had to refresh their browsers manually.
I called up the webcam controls and I set it to record the next 30 second as a .MOV. I looked at the black and white image, the dark grey of my skin looking unreal against the lighter background of the vertical drapes. The programmers tended to avoid fluorescent-lighting like the plague. I turned my 25 watt desk lamp onto myself and watched the web cam lag as it attempted to auto-adjust. Funny, how old fashioned the camera seemed while I owned socks older than it, likely. An artifact from pre-Transformed Earth.
I smiled at the thought and the horse headed creature smiled with light grey gums and ivory white teeth five seconds behind me. I didn't like my new smile much, but I could stare at the sculpted lines of my new face for hours. My eyes were forward looking and dark, the black and white image downplaying their shocking beauty. Now, here was a face no one was liable to forget. My nostrils flexed as my mood wavered beneath the horse flesh and I watched the delayed image of my electronic mirror study something just below my hairless chin.
Looking straight ahead, my muzzle seemed to point downward at a stately 45 degrees. Leveling out my muzzle meant looking up at the same angle. Looking straight up, I felt incredibly vulnerable, although they might have been from feeling my ears touch my shoulders. I looked back down, staring into the camera, staring at Jeff and who knew how many out there. Pity my ears didn't move... no prosthetic that I knew of could emulate all the moves of a horse's ear could. But then, there were other things...
I opened my mouth and showed them my tongue. It was huge and, as with the ears, you needed a pretty decent CGI to create something this organic. Mike and Neal were watching me with an odd look. I think, as with Doug, they were still waiting for me to take off my mask on some level. I held the last scrap of paper up for the world to see, hopefully it would convince somebody that I was me, Greyflank.
"Eat More Nutella." And then I turned to Mike and Neal. They looked at me... I knew that expression from my Grandfather in the hospital... they were trying to accept my death, to be brave for me... and all the other familiar internal struggles of deathbed spectators. I don't recall ever considering that as a reaction to a transformation before. Live and learn, eh?
I smiled, feeling the smile come up from the back of my head from that source of the fatherly voice. "Don't worry," the voice said with my mouth, "You're not on the list."
It was my old human voice... the voice I held as my own just hours before. I wasn't surprised; for as long as I could recall I'd said things without thinking. What surprised me was that I'd been hearing that voice as being fatherly within my own head.
"What happens with the full moon?" Mike said, a strange look on his face.
I shrugged, but at the same time I found myself wondering when the next full moon was. As a Celtic Animist, I really tried to keep up with the lunar calendar, but I was afraid it really was beyond me. I had no real time sense. I knew, for example that tomorrow night was a New Moon but I was just incapable of figuring out February 8th. as the next...
The next Full Moon would be Feb. 8, 2001.
I sat perfectly still. My checking balance should be... $56.45, if all the checks came in. My car's next oil change... should have taken place 300 miles ago. It was 17.6 miles to work, via the Parkway. Figures, solid and sure, zipped into my head, presented themselves politely and distinctly and filed themselves away where I could access them at my leisure. My phone number. My fax number. My cell phone number.
It was rather frightening, in its own way.
1 2 3