I looked in the mirror. Something dark and broad stared back
with black and red eyes, it's nostrils flaring as a dark brown
hand touched the light brown nose gingerly. My own hand stroked
my now powder smooth face and I exposed my teeth as if on a silent
cue from my alien reflection.
I wasn't a horse morph... not exactly. My teeth were broad, hatchet-like slabs of ivory. My ears were still mounted on the sides of my head, not the top, but they were somewhat pointed things that swept back from my head like wings. I had something of a mohawk, an undeniable mane of coarse black hairs that my other hand refused to leave.
I looked down at Doug and Mike, who held me up as I felt the world crash around me. They stared up at me, a full foot taller than I had been before. "I'm Beta Ray Bill," I said, feeling my nose move in time with my thick lips. It was surprisingly easy to talk.
Beta Ray Bill was a Marvel character who had actually been noble enough to be worthy of picking up Thor's hammer. He also happened to be an alien monster and, when he became Thor in his own right, he hadn't gotten any prettier.
I didn't really look like him, either. I looked like him enough though... I was the right shape, the right size, the same dark brown, except I had a muzzle that ended in a nose and not plain old teeth. Except that I had a mane. Except I had dark red eyes. Except I had four fingers and a thumb...
... and tightly bound into my khaki pants I could feel a tube of flesh no Marvel character had ever been issued.
It was as if someone had molded my two secret desires together into one brutish form. Half horse. Half nightmarish, but noble alien. No fur, just beautiful dark skin hugging thick corded muscles and pulsing veins. I rubbed my chest, realizing my nipples were gone, and I felt a stir...
I was turning myself on and for a moment, I thought of chasing my co-workers out so I could just play with myself... but that seemed incredibly selfish and unrealistic.
I looked at my hands. Long artistic brown fingers with pink palms, each finger flexing independently and totally under my control, they were a black man's hands; not my hands. Not the hands of an alien and not the hands of my usual alter egos. These were the hands I've always wanted, if not the skin. I was fascinated with my hands, staring at edges where the pink skin meets the rich brown skin and I wondered if there was a word for the terminator line that marked the pink patch of my palm.
Leopard Spots, a voice in my head remarked.
Whatever, these were my hands. I controlled them.
I have been transformed.
By whose hand and directive, I knew not, but this certainly destroyed some precious assumptions I had about the universe at large. I closed down the panic and the fear, the way I would have when I was sick and I found that I could easily do so. That was curious, but I was grateful.
Looking in the mirror at my... not my self... my self image was that off a horse creature and that was most certainly covered in a coat of white hair with a pink nose and a pink belly... this was fantasy made flesh. I had never seen myself as this creature in the slightest, yet it was familiar...
Then the wheels began to turn, from A to B to C to D. I looked like Beta Ray Bill and carried aspects that I had respected in others where those aspects of the Marvel Superhero seemed impractical... I could feel a horse sized penis straining in my torn pants... I could feel thumbs pressing in the soles of my feet, whose heels were lifted gingerly off the ground. I could feel Michael and Doug relax their grip on me as I found my balance and the strength to stand.
A to B to C to D...
A: I could think in a linear fashion now. I was in complete control of my emotions, of my thoughts, and I felt the cold comfort of logic.
B: It was a form that did not exist in nature.
C: The form was an amalgamation of the forms I admired most.
D: The transformation had occurred while I was awake and conscious. In front of witnesses: Neal and Christy.
To E: I was not hallucinating, although the greatest comfort for me right now would be to yield to insanity and convince myself I was seeing thing.
Somehow, I had done this to myself. Or Hern had. Or the triple goddess. Or some puckish god I had never heard of, but there was no doubt there was an intent to transform me into what I considered the perfect form. Where there was intent, there was an agenda.
Something or someone with this power and an agenda had just tapped me on the shoulder. My mind sharpened considerably and I shook off my friends, glared at my new dark and lovely image.
"How much and what is this going to cost me?" I asked my reflection, with James Earl Jones' voice and a lilting accent that used to be reserved for only my most nervous moments. That, too, was part of the form it seemed, and now I was stuck with it.
I heard Neal's heavy tread just before he bounded into the bathroom. "Some doctor on the west coast just turned into a bipedal raccoon right in the middle of an eye exam," he said with an aggravated excitement. I had personally destroyed his whole worldview by becoming... This. Although I think he was just as annoyed that he had pissed his pants as he had watched the transformation. He handled it better than Christy; we had to call an ambulance for her. Once the others had gotten back from lunch, he simply had slipped into his karate outfit without comment, except to assure them I was, indeed, Bill.
I was impressed with his flexibility. Michael and Doug seemed like zombies compared to him. I think they were still waiting for me to pull off my head, laughing at their gullibility. If I had a mask this realistic, that's certainly something I would have done. Then his statement impacted on me.
Coe! A horse screamed in terror in my mind, a terror I felt only as a faint echo.
I was not the only one... Coe. I had all but ruled out randomness, now it occurred to me that all the Furries could be targets. A list in my head appeared of all the furries I knew of, but the ones I was suddenly worried about were guys on two of my mailing lists... the ones who shared their dreams of being fully or mostly animal with me.
John Night, who wanted to be a kangaroo, fully in body if not in mind. Jon Buck, who wanted to be a stag... if it was Hern behind this, how could he resist picking Jon? Cody Pony, who -- like me -- wanted to be a horse... but perhaps wanted it more... and where would his Master Brian be...? I suddenly felt very protective of Cody against all reason...
Then I pictured Ivan becoming Giles somewhere on the other side of the world and my heart stopped. What time in it is Italy? Would he be at work? Would he driving to or from work? He wanted to be a goat in body because he already felt his mind and soul was a caprine soul, if he got his desire how much of the man would be left? He would be frightened senseless, if any humanity remained in him at all!
I felt the blood drain from my face and then I suddenly cut-off that line of reasoning. I didn't have all the facts in yet and there was nothing I could do about any of it from a tiny men's room in New Jersey. "Anything else on CNN? Anyone else change?"
Mike did a double-take. "There are other people changing? How?" Mike is my immediate supervisor and a good ten years younger than me. He's a software developer and his brown hair is beginning to thin on top. He's a good guy.
"This is... I want to say impossible," Doug complained. Doug was a tall guy with a strong but stocky build. He went sailing and skiing and he looked younger and more vibrant than anyone in our office. Today was the first time I'd ever seen him less than totally confident. Of course, today was the first time I had ever seen the top of his head. I had a feeling I was going to be seeing a lot of things I'd never seen before. "You can't just change someone's body."
I nodded. "Not this quickly... not without surgery... not without pain." I held my tongue on the rest of it. Not when the new form makes so much sense... to my twisted way of thinking. I was an acknowledged pervert, but I doubt anyone suspected that becoming a dark horse-headed creature had been on my wish-list.
"No, pain?" Neal looked shock. "What did you call those sounds you made."
"Orgasm," I said absent-mindedly. Immediately, Doug and Mike like go of me as if on cue. I gave them what I hoped was a dirty look, I was back to square one when it came to facial expressions. "It was a joke. The only pain was from my clothes tightening... choking me." Although the more I touched my muzzle, the less funny the joke was becoming. I had no idea where my lip ended and my nose began.
I was frightened and it was turning me on. A part of me was relieved I could still feel the fear, even after turning it off. In fact, it seemed like two parts of me, seemed pleased for different reasons.
In fact, I hadn't really known what my ideal form was until Kodiak's posting about his new creation: a open story universe called Mind over Matter. The TF trigger there was a funky virus that infected your computer, produced a subliminal change in your mind, which opened you up to the power within you to become what you wanted to be the most. Kodiak and Wanderer had written stories where they became their furry forms with what I assumed to be thinly disguised versions of themselves.
I tried writing such a story, but each version came up short. It didn't take long to realizing that becoming a horse was ring short. I didn't want the hooves: I wanted monkey feet (they seemed so practical). I didn't want stubby hoof-like hands, I wanted to be an artist, free of arthritic joints. I didn't want to become a centaur, I love the human male body, too much.
I knew what I desired to possess, and I knew it quite well, but that was not what I wanted to become. Big women and skinny guys, neither shape was "me." What I like best about playing horse was the power; power I had to change the landscape, power I could give to anyone willing to take my reins and control me; to care for me. All that I was could not be properly be displayed in one single form... so I realized that if I was to write a Mind over Matter story, I was going to have become many.
The form that I was in now, would have pretty much been my first, most perfect form. It was very much like my self-image from when I was sick, only I had been part dragon rather than part horse. Thinking of how it would be to be like this... that felt right.
It felt right now, except that I was no longer thinking, I was being.
How very Zen of you, a quiet, paternal voice said.
Kodiak was going to have a lot of explaining to do, I think. Especially if the rest of the story I had plotted worked itself into reality. Of course, if that happened... my coworkers were going to watch me give birth to Charger and Greyflank, not to mention the darkest versions of myself like Wicked the Tiger and Gonzo Dragon and a rapist version of myself that traveled across the internet. As soon as I had that thought, I was grateful I wasn't attracted to any of my co-workers.
But even if psycho dupes of myself didn't start popping out of me, the coincidence was too great.
I put that issue aside for the moment. I'd never written the story. I'd never described this form to Kodiac. Somebody had been in my head or I'd done this to myself. I wasn't going to like either answer.
It was also obvious that my mind was affected. I had too firm a grip on myself. My thoughts were too orderly. I was not myself and I had the will power not to laugh at that.
"I need to make phone calls, get at the net." I sounded hard and cold to my ears.
Neal nodded, "The paramedics are here. Once they get Christine out of here, Phil will let you back in the office."
Mike stared at my reflection, as if that was easier for him. "Maybe you should go back with the paramedics."
"And?" I asked softly. "What are they going to do? Check my blood pressure? Turn my head and cough?"
"If anything like this is even remotely possible, Bill's going to disappear faster than a set of blueprints for a working water engine," Neal said. "If it's not possible, they could do more harm than good?"
Doug waved his hand in my general direction, "He could have a head attack."
I sighed. "I could also turn into a puddle of goo any moment now." I turned to Mike, watching him become paler yet still. It looked good on him, but I couldn't think about that right now. "Could you hook up that webcam in the break room?"
Mike nodded. "Documentation," he said and gratefully left the men's room.
Neal followed, promising to go on the web for more news, leaving Doug with me. Doug tried to smile weakly. Doug was straight, but he was also submissive in the bedroom... or at least he liked being on the bottom. I was now the living embodiment of brutal beauty and I sensed the impact wasn't lost on him completely.
"Doug," I said, hopefully. "I'm going to need pants."
Doug blinked and looked at my crotch. The button had popped off my pants and every seam on the pants was stretched tight. I could feel my feet falling asleep from the lack of blood, plus there was a thick pipe of flesh threatening to destroy whatever shred of dignity I had left. "I'm going to have to peel off these pants," I said sadly. "I don't think I'll be able to get them back on."
Doug made a silent whistling noise and then smiled. "I think you're right. You've got a spare set of pants in your car or something?"
"I've got spare sweaters at my desk." I looked at my chest, which was now perfect and broad in the mirror. I wadded up the scraps of the T-shirt I'd been wearing and tossed it into the garbage. "They won't fit, but I can make a loin cloth out of them, I suppose."
"You really should go to the hospital," Doug said quietly buy firmly.
"I..." Doug was right, I should go. The idea of trying to deal with this and filling our insurance papers seemed pointless. "Doug... what if I am not the only one who changed? What if we are all changing... and I'm just the first?"
Doug gave a half smile. "You mean, like you're contagious? I suppose it's possible. Just as possible you're an alien sleeper agent, for chrissakes, and you've forgotten your cue for taking over the world. But, whatever you are, we've got to find out if you are stable or not... the hospital's the best place for that."
"Doug," I almost snapped, I was much more aggressive and needed to reign myself in a bit. I took a second to do just that. I sighed. "Find me some pants and we'll talk about the hospital, ok?"
Doug nodded and left, leaving me to slip into one of the beige bathroom stalls.
I peeled off the pants, and they disintegrated rather expectedly. My favorite pair of Khaki pants were nothing more than scrap, yet the thickening rope of flesh that burst free more than made up for that. Not yet fully firm, I was looking at a foot of pinto-coloured flesh, easily, that hung from a dark black sheath only three inches long. I caught my breath and sat on the toilet.
There'd been one thing I'd been imagining since the day I turned 14, one thing I knew I'd never be able to do in a million years. My breath came and went in short scared draws as I considered the unthinkable. Yet, did any male ever not think of it? Had there been any male who hadn't at least tried?
I licked my lips and grasped the toilet seat beneath my legs. I took a deep breath. I opened my mouth and closed my eyes as my neck bent. I curled in upon myself, feeling engorged self touch my new prehensile lips. I bent further downward, taking myself into my own mouth, a perverted Ouroboros, until my new flat brown nose touched my now ash-black balls and I needed to put my hand against the stall door to prevent myself from pitching forward off my throne.
I used my teeth and my tongue, all new and alien to me. I tried to not make noise as I discovered just how flexible my spine really was and that I still got dizzy from moving my head up and down too quickly. I was too dizzy to realize my jaw and my penis were now the exact same length.
I couldn't bring myself to come into my own mouth, so I got up before Doug came back and began doing it the old fashioned way. I came and so did the tears. I'd never had an orgasm like that, a earth-shaking, I've seen the face of god, full blown orgasm... but I'd had always imagined it would indeed feel like that.
Then the lights went out.
Stupid timing device.
I threw a roll of toilet paper across the room, where the motion sensitive light switch was mounted and the light came back with a thump. I watched, amazed at how the sheath worked, as I slipped inside myself.
With the perfect timing, Doug came in as I was stretching my naked feet.
Starvos the dog would have been proud of me. I had taken scraps from my shirt to make a rope and a ripped pants leg and made a workable loin cloth. It completed the image of uncivilized brutality that I had become so smitten with. I made a mental note to thank him for the information on his web site the next chance I got.
Doug stopped as my left and then my right foot each made a surrealistic fist. "Horse head and monkey feet?"
I shrugged and smiled up at him. I could blow myself. It's amazing how much more confident and relaxed I felt about everything after that. "Just a monkey thumb, really. The toes are long but human average. I'm betting I can still run like a man. Anyway, that's not my sweater."
Doug smiled and blushed. "The Laundromat downstairs had a few items in it's lost and found." He tossed me a big pair of faded jeans with a long bleach stain running down the left leg, as well as a few shirts. There was an XXL Deftones red t-shirt with a white mustang on the left side of the chest that looked brand new. It fit better than the jeans. Doug, who had been an engineer before he'd become a software programmer, produced a stapler and tailored the pants while I stood there, giggling.
"How's Christy?" I asked when the fit subsided. She was new to our little software department and did not know any of us really well. I'd been hoping she'd get to know the real me before I let slip any bondage bombshells. Of course, fate had a bigger surprise in store for all of us.
"She refused to go to the hospital, she wants to apologize to you, I think." Doug smiled. "Impressed me."
"Me, too." I was impressed and glad. There was a part of me that was waiting for the other shoe to fall... I was totally afraid all the cars in the world were going to turn into horses. It was hard to rule out anything so ludicrous when the very nature of reality betrays you. "Hell, even Neal pissed his pants."
Doug smiled wickedly at that. It would be a long time before anyone let Neal forget that... of course, this crisis was his immunity. Tomorrow, he might as well walk around with a bull's eye on his forehead. The dancing look in Doug's eyes told me he was looking forward to it, but he ignored my comment otherwise. "You ready to go back into the office?" he asked.
I blinked. I didn't have an issue with people seeing me like this, inhuman and rough looking. I rather liked it. I wondered if perhaps I should be hiding... if that would be the normal response. I couldn't trust my mind, I could tell it'd been subtly altered.
On the other hand, there was a good chance Doug was just projecting. I was hardly a good meter for what was normal thinking when I was normal. I'd written a few stories with transformations over the years; they'd all involved a lot more screaming than I had seen today.
"How do you know it's me?" I asked suddenly. I stared hopefully at Doug; he looked away, blushing. Damn, these red eyes were going to make things really difficult for me. I hoped whatever gods had done this to me had packed a few alternate forms within me, but I stared at Doug anyway because I just didn't have time to concentrate on even more reality bending absurdities. "I don't look anything like Bill. I just really want to know."
"If... you're not Bill," Doug said slowly, without looking up at me, "this is the greatest, most elaborate practical joke ever. And that means... Neal would have to be in on it. Now Neal is great for switching mouse or monitor cables, or for book-marking bestiality.com into my browser when I'm not looking... but, if he's... done all this... I'm going to go along with this..." Doug swallowed and looked at me. He smiled weakly. "If you are Bill... then..." His eyes were beginning to water.
I reached for him and he stepped back. We both knew what kind of dom I was; comfortable crying people was something of a turn-on for me. Doug was submissive in bed, he had told me, but not a sub. And not into guys. There was that wall still between us, I could see. That was how he knew it was me, I was suddenly sure, but I wasn't sure what that meant.
"If you are Bill..." Doug looked away and studied the floor drain for a moment. "Well, in some ways it's easier to believe that you could suddenly become some Egyptian God, then to believe that Neal suddenly developed a sense of humor... not to mention making such an elaborate plan." Doug took a deep breath and then looked at me, his own normal take team spirit returning now. "I do hope it's a practical joke, for your sake and Michele's."
Oh. My wife.
"I've been a little self-absorbed," I confessed quietly. My voice continued to lilt in the vague Australian accent I affected sometimes to keep from stammering. Try as I might to slip back to my Joisey accent, it seemed the accent I'd always dreamed of having was firmly entrenched. "She's not going to like this at all."
Doug looked pointedly at my crotch. "Well, what about...?"
Distracted, by thoughts of trying to prove who I was to Michele, I answered, "I'm hung like a horse."
Doug smiled at that. "Braggart."
It took a minute for that to register. "No... really like a horse. The crown of my dick's shaped like a mushroom, not a prow. It's mottled pink and brown and it's got a sheathe that kinda just hangs there. My balls --"
"Bill" Doug said sharply, as if suddenly nervous, "That's..."
"Too much information?"
I took a deep breathe. "OK, at least some things never change." I stood there a minute and realized that, I really hadn't been ready to go back to the office a minute ago. Even though I could feel my thoughts were more ordered and logical than ever before, I was still human. That was something of a relief. "I'm ready to go back to the office now."
Doug nodded and we walked back to the office. Doug had to unlock the door, my keys were still in my jacket. He gave me one last look and then we went into our office. We worked in a four room office over a strip mall, away from the rest of Lab-Volt. This kept every idiot with an idea for a computer game or needed to be taught each week how to set their email clients from bothering us. Of course, we also discovered that an amazing amount of Joe Q. Public would wander in off the street. Keeping the door locked was cheaper than hiring a receptionist.
More than ever, I was grateful that I only had to deal with my close friends, which they all were, and not 1000 curious co-workers. There was a short hall between Mike's office and Phil's, and then it opened into the Programmers' room. No one saw me scrape my head on door frame. The top of my head was somewhat flat, and I stroked it carefully. I seemed to have a thick, strong skull. But I wondered how it could be so flat if my mind was still human. It defied what little I did know about the brain's higher functions.
Better for the bridle, a shy voice said inside of my head. A tiny icepick pricked at my heart. That voice -- shy, a little slow... quiet... I'd always imagined that voice for Charger.
I stopped dead and stared at my arm. I waited for another change to hit me. I waited for a white coat of horse hair to cover me. I waited for Charger to subsume my mind fully and take me over. It had happened not too long ago in a very mundane sense, I'd visited a fellow fur down south for the first time. He reminded me of Giles' player, and I had promised myself I wouldn't confuse him for a guy I was attracted to slip into dominating or controlling behavior. To my ever-lasting chagrin, I had over-compensated and gone completely subby around him.
In the story for Kodiak that I'd been obsessing about for months, every persona I had within me, came out. This form appeared nowhere else, except in that story, which I hadn't written yet. Doug's casual mention to an Egyptian god that I doubted existed, not withstanding. It was logical to assume that if one thing changed, other changes would make themselves evident.
Doug looked back. I put my hand down quickly and locked the door behind me.
Amy came around the corner and hugged me. She was the boss's wife and my best bud at work. I put aside my concern over the voice in my head. I was a writer, voices in my head was nothing new. I gently hugged her back, literally not knowing my own strength and worried because of that.
Her face was full of concern. She gingerly touched my nose. I flinched and she instantly pulled her hand back. "Does that hurt?" she asked, obviously sorry she had been so forward.
My tongue and throat twitched and I needed another moment before I could answer her. I felt my jaw open eagerly for a bit that wasn't there. I made reassuring hand motions until I get myself under better control.
She gave me apples! Charger said in my head happily.
I rolled my eyes. I was used to conflicting emotions, but, I wasn't used to them talking back! Except in stories.
Just last month, Amy had bought in too many apples for Phil, her husband, to eat in one week. Phil is very finicky, so she gave me a few less than perfect apples. I felt like a wide-eyed little boy that couldn't believe his luck at having been given TWO cookies. I knew she didn't have a clue about online persona, Charger, or how he'd do anything for an apple. I just gave her a goofy smile and then ate the apples, imaging how simple lovable Charger would enjoy them. It was a silly, childlike emotion and I enjoyed it completely.
However...this is really not the time, I told myself and that seemed to work. I felt a distinct warm spot for Amy and I smiled for her, or at least that's how I tried to stretch my face. I was going to have to practice in the mirror to be sure. I shook my head because she was waiting for an answer.
She pulled me towards Phil's office, only three steps away. "Doug said you don't want to go to the hospital." I tried to resist, I simply had too many things to do. Worrying about the ambulance turning into a wagon drawn by two horses was only the least of it.
They had to be a pattern... to these changes. I already knew some furries had changed, although I suppose there COULD be other eye doctors in Seattle hoping to become raccoons, but I was willing to take that leap in logic for now. If it was all furries, that meant that Giles' player wouldn't be able to even communicate who he was to anyone, he'd be a full moose or a goat. That would mean Tadhg's player might have become a tropical carnivore in the middle of the frozen tundra of green Bay! Klix and Delphi would be dolphins miles from the sea... well, assuming Klix didn't turn into an inflatable pool toy or a feline of some type. Das_Boot... oh shit, Das' favourite form was a 40 foot macro-werewolf!
When the hell was the next full moon?
But those thoughts were chased out of my head when I saw that there were E.M.T's were in Phil's office waiting for me. They gasped louder than I did.
I looked at Amy, betrayed, and then at Phil, who had called in this morning sick. He looked like crap, but he had come in when he had heard what happened to me. I sighed and sat on Phil's comfy leather couch as he told me these nice people were here to help.
At least they weren't from the government.
Amy patted me on the shoulder as I let them give me their idea of a quick check up. I looked at her and gave her a weak smile. I can't believe how calm everyone was taking this, could it be that I don't look as inhuman as I think I do? All I know is that I would never write everyone as being so calm after someone changes! Not unless that calm was some kind of pall pressing down on all the world.
The E-em-tees had fallen back on their training, checking my eyes, asking me to respond. That kind of thing. I felt very annoyed at them, probably because I couldn't very well be annoyed at Phil and Amy. They were always so nice, it was hard to be pissed at them. I squared my shoulders and tried something stupid.
I stopped my heart.
The reaction was immediate. The good looking E.M.T. tried to push me over as he shouted about my heart stopping, while his tubby partner isn't broke-out the "paddles."
"Put those away," I growled, which caused the closer EMT to go incredibly pale and freeze in place. "I'm fine."
But I wasn't. I was rapidly getting dizzy, but I was completely satisfied now. I had more control over my body than I probably should have, but that's what I've always wanted. Once I got the shape-changing thing down, I was going to glorious! But now, I definitely needed to get my heart going again.
My heart did not start on command.
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 E.M.T. 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? Pace maker? 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 E.M.T. 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 an consistently observed but nameless dietary phenomenon. I might have started doing the same, had most of friends not been geekboys.
I looked at the E.M.T. "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 E.M.T. 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 her 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 Kroft 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 web cam 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 press 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 they 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 Cristine," 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 MacBaggage's 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 had 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 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 bluestreak, 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 fur suit 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." Hand cuffs 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 book-marked, 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 Cuppertino 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.
I'd forgotten what numbers were really like... what it felt like to hold on to them with something resembling a mental grip. It took me back to the days when numbers danced in my head with mechanical precision and quicksilver grace rather than being the insubstantial ghosts. When I was 16, I was playing with college algebra for kicks. When I was 20, I took Finite mathematics without buying the book and ignoring the homework.
But now... now I couldn't even balance my checkbook. The seizures and everything else had destroyed my conscience interface... I could still sometimes spot a wrong equation or answer, but I wouldn't be able to say why. Sometimes at night I would dream of the numbers, pure and unencumbered by the alpha-numeric proxies, of the answers they might hold for me had my genes not betrayed me.
My throat closed and my eyes grew moist. I'd counted to million at the age of ten, for the pure joy of it, writing numbers down before bedtime, to start them up again in the morning. 356. 19,011. 41,345. 100,000. 120,453. 132,000. 150,567. 170,000. 197,648 was the number when my step-father ripped the phone out of the wall in a drunken rage. 197, 900 was the number when he slapped her. 198,000 was the number when I wished he would die. 198,000 was the number when my mother apologized to him.
Three days later, I skipped ahead to 300,000 and pretended I had counted too loud to hear any of it at all.
398,000 and I had cried, into my pillow protected by an abstract world of numbers in a silent house waiting for the yelling that would tell me it was safe to sleep. My teddy bear, inanimate and numb, caught my tears in the dark. 398,000 and I knew envy for the first time in my life. I envied the bear it's unknowing acceptance of his fate. And mine.
I gasped slightly and looked away from my friends. I stared at the monochromatic image of the odd horse's head, as tears fell from its eyes. Still my throat closed and I had to force air into my lungs to breathe. I couldn't breathe. I tried to control myself, but suddenly I was weak and all the voices in my head were silent in the face of those numbers. 412,078 and I almost lost count watching Happy Days. 523,987 and I am rescuing my teddy bear from the garbage. 609,000 and snow falls a foot deep, turning the landscape of my yard into numbingly cold void of white brillance.
I started gasping repeatedly and then I feel a loss so profound, only Debbie's death surpasses it. I'd never finished counting to a million. I thought I did, but I hadn't. I simply had convinced myself that I had. And whoever had done this to me had given me the one thing I had imagined as having someday, once again, if I were ever to be whole again.
This I could not deny... not without ripping my own heart out. I could deny the horse head, the sex, and even the health I could feel beneath this ebony skin, these are all things I had imagined as having. Hoped to have, if given the choice. Things that would be "nice" to have. But the numbers were something I prayed for, no matter the cost to me.
I cried then. I'd been crying, I suppose, for several minutes, but I finally gave into it and let loose with great racking sobs. I'd sold out the universe, but I didn't know how. And, with all the answers the numbers had promised me as a child, they were remarkably numb on this one sticking point:
What was I going to do, now?
First off, an internal voice growled softly, you're going to stop wasting energy feeling sorry for yourself.
I cried for a second longer before I felt my head pulled up so sharply, so forcefully... I had to swallow convulsively. I was almost as if I could feel the bit bite into the corners of my lips, pushing cruelly into my jaws. Instantly, I was alert and aware that Mike and Neal had left me alone and that there was no one here but myself.
The sensation of the bit vanished the next second.
As long as you're thinking about yourself, the annoyed voice said, Think about staying free.
The Stand, the softer, fatherly voice said.
Horse Thieves, Charger said a bit worried, pacing in the back of my mind. No safe words, no safe signal... they think they know best.
"We're from the government and we're here to help." I said aloud, just under my breath. This wasn't Stephen King's The Stand, but the paramedics would contact somebody sooner or later, if only to improve their skills for the next time someone turns into a horse-man. But I didn't want to run. I didn't believe the FBI would swoop down on me like I was Hannibal Lector. That would be so... wrong.
In my skull, I heard a rumble like distant thunder... Fight them. Fight the Good Fight.
It rocked me to the core of my being. I clutched for a sword that was not there. A sword that had never been there. I sucked in copper flavoured air as I felt the enemy sneaking up on me and stood my ground, arm raised.
NO! No! No! The growling voice said, Don't listen to him. Relax. Relax!
Red haze had somehow clouded my vision, and I felt incredibly stupid... but still... oh... my heart was pounding in my rib cage. Had I really been concerned that I had too much self control only minutes before?
I closed my eyes and centered myself, slowly my heart rate carefully. I still seemed to have control over my body, but it was becoming painfully obvious that the emulations could reach out and flip a few of my buttons if they had to. They were me, after all. In the story I had intended to write for Kodiak's story universe, most of the emulations existed outside of the base Bill Kieffer, a few only existed until their deeds were done, and one existed as a shadow in the back of all "our" minds. The climax of the story would have been after all the emulations merged, one would hold out and refuse: Wicked, the evil tiger morph from Metamor Keep.
But, in this story, he turns out to be the hero and all the emulations come to the fore and take solid shape including the one true Bill Kieffer... a ten year old boy full of wonder and acceptance for the new millenia. It would have been an incredibly uplifting story, not my usual fare, I think... but I was hung up on trying to describe the ultimate expression of myself in physical form.
That was my form now, but the voices in my head, the emulations couldn't seem to manifest themselves in the physical universe. Perhaps that would be something I could learn.
Or perhaps it was something I had to earn.
Don't go there, the growl said firmly.
In my mind's eye the growling voice grew a face, white tiger and man melded together. He stepped from the shadows of my mind. Wicked.
I hate that name, the tiger morph said in my head. You used to know me by another name.
I felt eyebrows I no longer had furrow into my forehead. Wicker? And the tiger morph laughed at that.
You used to call me C.C., the cat said, almost sounding betrayed. I was your invisible playmate, I walked with you in the woods and the swamps. I was the cat you could never have and before I was C.C., I was Casper Cat. Before that I was a Casper the Ghost.
I recalled those moments as he spoke of them. He'd been my friend, the only male I could trust. The boy my mother had baby sat, Johnny, had been a snob. He wasn't a really bad sort, but he didn't get any of my jokes. None of them. I remember now, yes, I agreed. Yes, you were.
Now, look over there at that horizon. And he pointed to a distant mountain so huge, so huge the base was obscured by blue clouds and sky, seemingly floating over the tree line, like Mount Fuji. I nodded and he said nothing. Then I knew what I was looking at, the source of the distant thunder that had put me in battle mode.
That's Gonzo, the tiger said needlessly.
It was a dragon so huge, so large that the weather patterns tripped over themselves to avoid him. He was a mountain of rage and hatred, too huge to fly but ready to raze the world once the furnaces within him were fully stoked.
That had been me, at one time.
I had always been an emotional child, and while I didn't exactly have a happy childhood, I had always enjoyed a thick sense of wonder and whimsy. Like an old comforter, it provided a warm insulation between myself and the cruel world.
Yet, in total contrast, I had always admired Spock. The logical and unemotional Vulcan was my hero. When my emotions began dropping from me like autumn leaves, I was actually quite logically pleased. When I was 19, I was perfect by my own measure, and freed of my emotions I began untying the knots of morality that had bound me down to Earth. I saw for the first time, truly, how pathetic the human race was and I saw then that my whole life I had avoided violence thinking it wrong in and of itself.
Yet, I had wanted to fight the good fight... I wanted to really live... but smothered in my own numbness I had to build myself a tower to see above the fog of it all. Then the tower was built into a fortress, from which I would ride out from to battle injustice. Then the fortress became a castle, where I fought to defend its walls against all reason, simply to feel the thrill of battle, to feel anything. I became one with the castle, becoming a mountain sized dragon in time while going through the motions of a mundane life.
It was all just a flowery way saying I chased all my friends from my life. I had but one true friend left by the time I was 30 and it took his death to make me realize I had buried myself under that mountain. I wasn't a furry then, but looking back now, that is how I see myself then.
I owed that dragon a lot, but, honestly, I had hoped never to "see" him again.
I opened my eyes and stared at the remains of the missing wooden file cabinet... the half wooden, half yellow glue residue shell of my paper free desk... truly seeing the implication of it all before me.
In the story I had never written, but seemed to be living, 100 characters and incarnations of aspects of my personality escaped from my head. I had never even really cared where the mass came from, the rules of the Mind Over Matter Universe gave me a dodge around that. But here...
If Gonzo got out of my head... his near murderous rage, held in check only by his sado-masochistic desire to frustrate himself, would be the least of my problems. I sincerely doubted a creature that large could exist in reality without crushing itself, anyway. In fact, that's exactly what happened to him from an emotional point of view. To me, I should say.
No, the real problem would be the organic mass.
How many metric tons were there in a dragon the size of Mount Fuji?
How many people were there in a metric ton of organic matter?
I cut the thought off as soon as I felt the numbers begin to crunch. I really did NOT want to know this.
In the story I had toyed with, obsessed on, and never had gotten around to writing, the thinly disguised version of myself deconstructed himself in what I hoped wouldn't be a heavy handed remake of Pandora's Box. The MoM Bill existed in a pseudo-science fantasy world, where disaster is deserted by the simple application of childlike hope and wonder at the urging of the least likeliest of heroes, one of my darker characters.
I existed in no such universe and even the voices inside my head could not deny reality for long.
I forced myself to sit down. I was hearing voices inside of my head; it seemed natural and as long as I was girding myself to face reality; I was really going to have to be careful not to listen to them. They would want to get out: I know I would. They will want to control me: I know I would if I was them.
And, short of considering them as psychic invaders from the Eighth Dimension, these emulations were obviously me or an aspect of me. I literally could no longer trust myself.
Doug came into my room with my sneakers, each with cotton socks stuffed in them. I tried to smile, to achieve some normalcy. He smiled back, so I must have been a bit successful. "Thanks, Doug. I guess I left them in the bathroom, huh?"
He nodded and put the sneakers on the desk. "I also found this in the sink," he said as he held out a small silver chain, a bit tarnished. The chain had snapped, but the silver charm was still on it. It, too, was tarnished, looking a bit like Africa, but it was really a woman's head and it was one half of a set of charms. Its twin was a man's head and my wife was wearing it on the other side of the county right now. The two charms fit together to form a heart.
My wife had gotten the charms when I was at my sickest, when I had chased her away. It symbolized how much she had put up with and how much I owed her. She had been with me when I changed for mild to wild to cold to violent to the older, but wiser, bruised writer that I am.
That I had been, that is.
Damn it, another change for her to deal with... this one being a bit more... radical than most. I took the chain from Doug, feeling more moisture behind my eyes. I wasn't the man I used to be, that was for sure. On the other hand, I'd be able to balance the checkbook for her. I smiled softly at that, knowing that would be the last thing on her mind once she saw me, knowing that she would probably appreciate that most of all given time.
Provided that the Zoo Crew in my head didn't drive me crazy. Provided that I didn't give birth to Gonzo. Provided that Michele found the strength to stay with me, too, this wasn't the same as when I had been sick.
Or... was it?
Doug sat down at John's computer, and I realized that they were taking shifts watching me. It was nice that they were concerned for me. I liked the attention and I didn't want to be alone. If I was left alone, I was afraid the next person would see me as monster and then I'd never be Bill Kieffer again to anyone.
I looked at the webcam's recording and I tried to see my face the way Michele would see me. I thought I was kind of a handsome devil, but I was a bit biased. Already, the horse looking back looked to me like me. I had the same tiny scar over my left eye that I had gotten from my Dad giving me a hug, forgetting that he a cigarette in his hand. My eyes, other than being slightly further apart and blood red. Did she like my eyes? I didn't know.
I hoped she hadn't like my ears... they were gone, who knew where. I didn't like my new ears, but it could have been worse; in some circles I am known as a Ferengi. For some reason, I touched my left ear gently on the edge and felt an electric thrill tighten my pants. All thoughts about Michele fled my brain as my body went full vulgar bliss. Spreading my lips in toothy equine grin, I stroked my crotch in time with the stroking of my ear before I remembered that Doug was sitting right behind me.
I quickly grabbed my mouse and tried to think about a naked F. Lee Bailey.
OK... I am going to be in trouble. Putting on the T-shirt hadn't elicited that kind of response. I gently touched my ear again and nothing happened. Great, variable g-spots. I don't recall ever wanting THAT or even writing about that. On the other hand, I have imagined Berserker rages so maybe I was getting off lucky.
A pun. If this was all some kind of set up for a pun, I was going to kill the god who had done this to me.
All four lines were busy on the phone. There were only 6 of us in the office, which meant everyone but me and Doug was on the phone. If I had Spider-Sense™, it would be tingling now. I got up and went into the programmer's room, where Mike and Neal were on the phones, with Mike at Christine's desk. Mike seemed to forget what he was saying when he saw me, but Neal continued to talk. I liked that about him. Neither of them seemed to be talking to the press or the cops, so I just nodded my horse's head as casually as possible and went over to Phil's office.
Amy was sitting on Phil's long leather couch. She looked like she'd been crying. Even though I'd been crying myself not too long ago, I couldn't fathom why she'd be crying. Phil was talking on two different lines, I saw, but they both went mute when I poked my head in. Trying to keep my voice as mild and as level as possible, I said, "I have to call Michele."
Phil looked flustered for a split second. He was probably speaking to Lab-Volt's vice-president of engineering on one line and some ass from marketing on the other line... lines of communication in this company often had to manhandled with a crowbar of titles and politicking that Phil fought tirelessly against. Yet, at the same time, he knew I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't important.
Amy touched my forearm lightly and gently steered me out of her husband's office. "You can use my cell phone." Her eyes were bright and moist and I could smell them. Salt. Salt. Salt. I suddenly had the insane urge to lick them from her face. I hated salt, and it wasn't good for me, anyway. I stared at her and her tears as she fumbled with her backpack sized pocketbook at her desk. I wanted to taste the salt and discover if her tears would burn my tongue.
Amy held her phone out to me and then blushed when she saw me staring at her tears. She wiped a sleeve across her face and smiled unevenly. I returned my version of the same, in sympathy, and took her cell phone gently from her tiny pink hands. I didn't understand why she was crying, but I had other things to worry about. "It'll be ok, Amy." I said. She sniffled and threw herself into my chest.
I looked from Mike to Neal to Doug, who was staring from the doorway. All wore the faces of mourners at a funeral where the guest of honor was arriving late. I hugged Amy while wondering what was going on here. It was like being surrounded by pod people.
The tiny StarTac felt even more ridiculous in my hand then ever before. I hate phones and I really hated the really tiny ones. Maybe it's because I'd never broken myself of the habit of nodding to what was being said on the other end. Maybe it's because I always really had to concentrate to follow verbal innuendoes, not to mention out and out facts without getting them mixed up. Maybe it's because I could be distracted by something shiny (I was constantly being teased by the local group of furs that I should have been a ferret and not a horse).
Still, it was good to be able to dial Michele's work number without looking it up. While the phone rang at the other end I added all the digits together: 41. With the area code added: 53. I tapped in her extension and added them together in my head: 23. Adding those digits together got me 117. While the phone rang, I also brought the cell phone as close to mouth as possible while still being able to hear it. Amy helpfully zoomed up the volume, but I still felt ludicrious holding the phone halfway between my ear and my mouth. No wonder the TBP Greyflank had tossed his cell phone into his beer.
I felt pretty brave when Michele answered her line. I could hear her just fine. The office was as quiet as a crypt.
"Hey Babe," I said, trying to get Greyflank's voice to come out of my mouth. Stubborn horse! I was mostly stuck with the deep and rich tones and accent that I loved, but I think I pulled it off rather well considering I wasn't quite myself. "Listen, I have to go to Robert Woods tonight."
"Freddy, again?" she said. "No, Freddy's... elsewhere, isn't he?"
Freddy's behavior problems had gotten him put in the system. Neither she nor I really wanted to try to fill our office mates on all that. I nodded and then whusked with annoyance, realizing that some stupid habits even a cosmic event couldn't shake. Michele blessed my sneeze on the other end and I smirked. It was a distinctly odd feeling with these lips. "He is, yes. This is for me."
"What?" Her voice took on an edge of panic. There was only one reason I would drive to New Brunswick besides seeing Freddy, and that was my becoming sick again. I had avoided going up there for the mild sodium poisoning, but that wasn't exactly life threatening. "What's happened?"
I sighed, resisting the almost overwhelming urge to tell her I was just a little hoarse. "I... can't say."
There was silence on the other end. I waited until she realized that I wasn't alone and that I didn't want to mention anything my officemates could hear. I could always tell her they were hanging on my every word later. Amy looked up at me, almost as if she was ready to take the phone and try to explain what was going on. I shook my head. I was serious about Michele starting a new position. "Are you ok?" Michele said, as she came to the conclusion that if it was very serious, I would never bother calling.
"I'm just going to get some tests done," I sighed, disliking even the very thought of the tests I had taken there. I briefly I wondered if there were spinal tap scars on my back. Michele always claimed she couldn't see them, but I didn't quite believe her. Anything that hurt that much had damn well better left scars. "Nothing to worry about, just that salt thing, probably."
I looked at Amy and the tear flowing down her cheek as my wife seemed to sigh with relief. She'd been after me to get some tests at Robert Wood Medical Center. They never billed me, instead they gave me a full battery of tests. They even had my "genetic fingerprint" on file there like I was some sort of rapist; I had aberrant genes; I was a walking miscarriage; a freak of nature before any of this happened. It was the last place I wanted to go, but it seemed the logical thing to do.
Michele and I said our good byes and then I made one more call to Marilynn, my therapist. I recalled her number, too, although it had been over two years since I called her. I smiled, realizing that the digits of the first three numbers added up to the same as the last four and the total was 22. Adding the area code made it 34 and then the machine picked it up. Of course, she'd have more than 20 minutes left with her last patient for the day, it really made things easier.
"Marilynn, this is Bill Kieffer," I began, "And I need a really big favour. If you go on your computer and... " Damn, she was an AOL user and over 50. To me that meant using words like URL and stuff would probably needlessly confuse her. "Call up the news. You'll notice some weird news reports. They aren't fake. I'm going to send you some pictures in an e-mail and I really, really need you to believe what you are going to see. I need you to help prepare Michele for this. I have to go to the hospital and get some tests."
I hung up, grateful to have dodged the question of insurance. I had no clue if she was covered in my insurance for this. I really didn't care.
I handed Amy her phone back. I tried to smile bravely. "I'm going to go to Robert Wood Medical center up in New Brunswick. They have all my medical folders there so..."
"Would you like one of us to drive you?" Amy volunteered.
"Naw, I'm just going to head up Rt. 18 and I'll be there in an hour. I need some alone time, any way." I went back to my desk and sent off the email the pictures to Marilynn, her email address also coming back to me easily.
I told Mike he might want to reload my computer's OS... in fact, he might want to back up everything the had off site as quickly as possible. He looked startled, "In case the FBI comes by and gets a little... grabby." He nodded sadly, but I get the sense he didn't quite take me seriously.
I waved to everyone and told Phil that I was taking the rest of the day off. He seemed to think I should have come to that conclusion an hour ago. I hugged Amy, whose eyes were still leaking mysteriously, and pecked her softly on the check. My reward for that bit of boldness was the special saltiness of a tear and it was heavenly.
I suddenly craved more salt and it was a battle not to lick more off of her face. I pulled myself away and then went downstairs, got into my car and drove right onto the Garden State Parkway by way of the commuter parking lot.
I could have gotten onto Route 18 from 138, but I could save 15 minutes by avoiding it's meandering along Route 35. And I enjoyed cheating the state out 25 cents just then.
There were so many things to think about, but I could not get over the taste of Amy's tear in my mouth. It was like manna from heaven. I knew the taste for saltiness, yet, I was knocked over by the absolute difference in the way it tasted to me now. Not sweet, but... it reminded me of candy somehow. I was vaguely aware that I was distracting myself from the bigger picture, but, on the other hoof, the doctors at Robert Wood might ask.
When I got to the park where the parkway divides, I automatically looked to me left to head for the express side of the GSP. I knocked my sensitive nose into the window. It didn't exactly see stars, but I huffed angrily any way... which fogged up the window dangerously.
I panicked for a moment and then I realized I needed to be way over on the right to get to Rt. 18. I slipped into an E-Z Pass toll both, paid the toll electronically, and then pulled ahead, easing through to the far right lane as I sped up. The next exit was the one I wanted.
I worried, with the paranoid writer's ease, that I could be tracked via the E-Z Pass, but the voice of reason told me that I had made it clear to everyone that I was heading to Robert Woods in New Brunswick. I even told them the route I was going to take. If the government wants me, they'll just meet me there. It'll be more cost effective and there's a FBI HQ in Newark, twenty minutes or so east, so they won't waste time tracking me. Going to Robert Woods was the logical thing to do.
It was odd that it didn't occur to me to be nervous that there would be Federal Agents waiting for me, but I soon found myself obsessing over the taste in my mouth, instead.
Then I passed my exit.
Now, I've done this a 1,000 times before. I had always been prone to going on "auto-pilot," especially if I was working a story out in my head. Today, I was stuck inside one of my stories for all intents and purposes, so I should have not been too surprised. Yet, I was startled... I saw the exit roll up. I knew it was important for some reason and then it was gone. Exit 105.
My mind had seemed so sharp and focused since the transformation, instead I seemed to be thinking about everything but what I should be thinking about. By mile marker 106, I knew there was something wrong. There was something wrong and I couldn't put my finger on it.
It had something to do with Amy's tears. It had something to do with Jeff, too. And Cody Pony. And... I should have called Delphi for some reason, too, and it has something to do with that. I began to tremble like I was sitting in ice water, but I hadn't a clue what was going on. I felt like I forgot something... important.
Pull over, the fatherly voice advised and I frowned. Pulling over on the parkway was likely to attract attention, 100 good Samaritans whizzing by at 70 mph grabbing their cells phones to advise the authority about some poor stranded soul.
Then I felt the invisible reigns being tugged to the right, but I stubbornly held my course. I was safe here, in motion, with the herd of cars pacing me. As long as I was in motion I was one of them and they just can't get us all.
Damn it, Charger, the growling tiger roared up from the dark side of my mind. I'm herding cats back here! Pull over, NOW!
The shock of being called Charger was enough to make me obey. I was being bad, but I didn't know why. I pulled over, following every rule that I knew. I used my blinkers, I looked in the mirror, I slowed gently and braked to the stop. I behaved the way I was supposed to, but I'd been bad somehow... I knew that, I felt it, but I didn't know how. I knew I couldn't trust myself anymore, that much I was sure of.
There was something wrong with me.
I put on my flashers, put the car in Park, and closed my eyes.
I tried to think about all these things and I couldn't add them together in my head. I realized that I should know why Amy was crying, but I just... didn't. I should have understood why everyone was standing about me like extras at a funeral. I couldn't understand why I thought seeing me like this might ruin Jeff's business meeting, yet, at the same time, I think I understood it then.
The greatest super power, I once told Bluenight, the patient and calm voice of my inner horse morph said, was the ability to relate to people on multiple levels.
I told him that, I agreed internally, stressing the pronoun.
Are you still me? Greyflank asked, importantly. Because that is the power I have, that I earned. You do not.
I opened my eyes at this. "I earned it, I'm the one who went to hell and back to find my place in the world. I'm the one who..." and I suddenly couldn't remember what I was going to say. My own churlish voice had distracted me from what I was going to say. I actually felt churlish at myself over this.
If you earned it, why don't you know why Amy was crying?
I couldn't answer that. It was illogical to be even asking myself a question like this... I just didn't have the knowledge.
You do, the growling voice insisted. You closed yourself off from it because you refused to trust us.
He trusted me! Charger said proudly and I could feel Wicked glaring at the pony.
"I can't trust ANY of you!..." I whispered, feeling hollow inside and not understanding why. "I didn't even realize I let you drive."
I'm a very good driver, Charger stated, unaware of his Rain Man imitation.
I heard the tiger sigh. Tell, him Grey. Tell him why Amy was crying.
Amy was crying because she thinks you're very sick, Bill. She thinks you are going to die. Her body betrayed her years ago; gave her the cancer. She fought hard, very hard to get back to normal. She sees your Transformation as a cancer and she is reliving her pain now. She is crying for you. Praying for you, too. Most of all, she worries about your soul.
My jaw dropped. The ring of truth came from what Greyflank said, and it sent ripples through-out my mind. How could I have been so blind? And the others, didn't know what to say to me. They thought they might never see me again, at least not the overweight white guy they had gotten used to. They saw me type with these new fingers without looking at the keyboard and they wondered how much of me was left in the horse's head.
Heck, I was beginning to wonder how much of me was still in the horses head.
Jeff was likely calling back right at this moment to see what kind of game I was playing, hoping that it would be a game. I felt incredibly hollow. I had asked him to... no, I had told him to save the transformed. What the hell was I thinking? His character and my character on Furry Muck were involved, but that was little more than a game. A very special social game, but still...
He loves me, Greyflank said without any trace of irony. He has a kennel, that means acreage. He can keep some of us there, hidden.
"His character loves you!" But I couldn't even believe I was saying it aloud. Jeff is real. Tadhg isn't. He's just text on a screen. "Jeff doesn't feel that way about me."
I felt Greyflank smile in my head and I knew his eyes sparkled, even if I couldn't picture him. Tadhg's a part of him, maybe even the best part of his player, he said warmly.
I rubbed my forehead and tried to make sense of it all. "You're confusing reality and fantasy," I said softly.
This is all just text on a computer screen to me, Bill.
I could feel Wicked glaring at Greyflank from across my brain. Charger seemed to content to nibble on things in the back of my brain.
As for me, I felt decidedly odd. I obviously had Bluenight on my mind. I had thought up a dozen ways my character could disarm that argument with the Blind Pig universe, but of course, the writer of the universe would know I was wrong. Then it occurred to me that Greyflank would be easier to convince than BlueNight. "Morph me, then."
We've already tried that and it didn't work.
I nodded. The first time I felt Charger within me, I expected my body to change. I almost felt it. But nothing. "Welcome to reality where you get one body and that's it."
Current events not withstanding, Wicked growled with a touch of irony.
"Current events not withstanding," I agreed.
Prepare for scheduled maintenance, the tiger morph said as I felt yet another switch in the back of my mind get thrown. Panic rushed through my body as if some invisible damn had burst. A river of fear swept me up as if my mind was nothing. I felt the eyes of a thousand people watching me, all laughing at my pitiful struggle to stay above water. I knew none of this was real, I refused to let it be. I could see the dashboard of my grand am, I could feel the seat belt pressing against my chest as I threshed about certain the car was going to turn into a horse any second. I refused to take part in such a ludicrous transformation!
This is not real, I told myself, but I could almost see Wicked smirking. The fear was real, it was too much for me and I simply refused to sit here and take it.
Then I got the car door open.
And, suddenly, it was all gone. The fear, the helplessness, and the panic.
I was just a guy from New Jersey with a horse's head, who needed some air. I didn't think it was prudent to step out where the motorists could see me and panic. I didn't find that thought as insulting as I might have. Why?
That's because I'm suppressing your emotions. The tiger snapped at me. That's also why your Rico Suave dom there thinks this is just a game. We're skipping the stages of grief until you're safe. That was a taste of denial, by the way.
"THAT did not feel like denial," I whispered and wiped my eyes.
You mean the urge to get out of the car and throw yourself into traffic because you were overwhelmed didn't feel like denial to you?
"Oh," I said to myself and even Greyflank stayed silent on this point. "Not exactly a carrot on a stick, is it?"
Wicked made a rude noise and used my hand to start the ignition. I was too weak to argue, and it was fascinating watching my body move on its own in any case. Remember what denying your emotions got you before, he said, referring to the living mountain within my mind.
And then we were... I was driving again, filled with an odd kind of nervous serenity. I recognized it as the feeling the feeling I got when I committed myself to something that I knew was going to be rough, like the first time I allowed a faceless... and the thought just fell away. It was normal for my memory to desert me like that, but I had a sense that reference was very important.
Then I felt Charger lean against me within my head, and I almost saw him in the car with me. In fact, for a moment there seemed to be a giant, laid back horse morph in the seat next to me and a draft horse laying it's head across my shoulder from the back seat as it watched the cars go by. Both horses were incredible happy to be on the parkway, pacing the herd. And then they were gone, except the gentle attention-getting pressure on my mind of the one Charger emulation.
If I hadn't believe in magic, hadn't prayed and expected it to feel something like this, I might very well have gone mad right then and there. "Charger?" I asked the gentle pressure within my mind and smelled sandalwood and hay. Sweet manure suddenly spiced the air and the smell of oiled leather brushed against the insides of my skull. I smiled.
How could I not smile? Magic was real. All my hopes and dreams were light years closer to becoming reality. For the first time since I was a little boy, I actually felt like the universe loved me even as it confounded me. I was like a child... a child of the universe... and sweet innocent Charger was not just a part of me, but I felt I could give birth to him.
You needed to learn to trust, Charger said. You gave yourself over to the man... knowing he would hurt you... break you. You forced yourself to trust... to have hope... Do you remember that, now?
I felt my eyes begin to tear, but I still had a smile. I nodded, although the pony knew what I knew. How could it not?
You forced yourself... then you allowed yourself... so that I could be born.
I nodded again. No one I knew understood what it was like to put yourself some completely in someone's hands with only your trust to keep you warm and safe. No one I knew understood that this was not a sexual thing. I only wanted to be treated like a horse and it was very erotic, but it wasn't sexual. Not for me. Not for Charger.
You have to trust us now, Charger said. Trust us, so we can be born.
I sniffled and nodded. I could deny them existence, but that would be denying myself. I felt myself choking up a bit. I was finally going to get to have children... and if that meant tearing hell a new asshole then that was what I was going to have to do.
I had no idea where I was going, but I felt like I had a destination in mind... it just wasn't my mind, not anymore.
I turned on the radio and heard a bit of Rush. WRAT's Rockin' Robin came on and announced the last nine songs and preempted her joke of the day with an announcement of a werewolf sighting. This caught my attention, and suddenly there was a laser like focusing of all the voices in my head... TURN THAT UP!!!
My hand snapped out and obeyed. Rockin' Robin sounded almost like she was giggling. "Now, apparently, I thought the this was all just a joke... we've reports of Centaur running along the shore of the Niagara river up in Canada... in Virginia, there's reports of the FBI emptying an office building because someone found a pony in the elevator dressed in a business suit... there's this bear running around in Cupertino... now, I'm laughing my ass off here because I'm waiting for the report on flying pigs, y'know? But just now my Mother called... all weirded out because she had a car accident trying to avoid... would you believe a two story tall centaur dressed up like a skunk?" I heard a pencil tap and papers ruffle in the background. "Anyway, my mother and, like, 11 other people are being hosed down with tomato juice to get rid of the stench, according to her... sounds like one of Steve Hook's parties."
I heard an exasperated snort. "Now, I don't know who's behind all this, who got my mother in on it, or even who just called here actin' hysterical because their friend, Angus, turned into an otter and they had a video tape of it. Angus, if you really turned into an otter: run! You've still got a brain bigger than your friend's... I mean... this is radio, fer'chrissakes!" Another snort and the sound of papers being thrown across the room. "Anyway, I give up, I surrender. You win. Until that phone call I actually was starting to believe people were changing into things."
I lowered the volume back down to background noise. Is there anyone on the list named Angus? I don't think there's any macro skunktaurs. Maybe I am wrong about it being the list. Maybe Charles was just out teaching a class... but then... there were over 600 subscribers... assuming only half of them are in the states that's still 6 people per state. Adjust for population density and...suddenly I knew where I was going.
Millions of people from miles and miles around spent more than a third of their lives there. Perhaps even Chris O'kane, who live in Long Island... or was it Staten Island? Damn, why was my memory so shaky? I'd thought this was the perfect body, no defects. Worry about it later. Odds were there would be listers in NYC... and unlike other parts of the country, there would be no place for a deer morph to hide. In fact, I think only Charles would be able to survive transformed in New York.
I had to be in New York.
I had to save... them... whoever they are.
I have to save them. Collect Merit badges. Gain Points. Use my power to earn more power.
Get the power I need to release everyone but the sleeping dragon... and when we split, each will take a piece of the mountain with us... tearing him to shreds with our births.
And it would be alright in the end. Because I will have saved them all. I will become a hero and no one will care who I have to kill in the end. Certainly not when the victim was a creature of my own imagining. I will be legion, everything for everyone... just like in the story I wanted to write.
I felt a little spacey. The way I had waiting for the doctor to come out and put my tongue back together. Not quite dead. I wondered if I was finally in shock. I felt like I was going into shock; the steering wheel seemed a million miles away...
Miles away... mile marker 114.1 114.2 1145...llhb llh> llh8... that's not right... I have to pull over before I pass out...
You're NOT going into shock, someone in my head chided. The cat-thing. We're multi-tasking. Now, settle down...
Then I discovered that as easily as they could slide into my body and take control, I could slip into their mindsets and see things from their eyes. Charger welcomed me inside of him although I felt petulant and frightened and overwhelmed. He hummed as he pulled the cart forward while his rider wore spurs that jingle-jangled-jingled as we rode riding merrily along... I had one last thought of my own before succumbing to his lullaby, and that was that the spurs sounded suspiciously like my power steering belt squealing under the hood... and he laughed and we both felt silly and I was Charger looking out through Bill's eyes.
I was Charger.
I was a horse.
And I wasn't Charger. Charger was a pony boy.
And that wasn't Charger. Charger was the horse sized humanoid sitting impossibly next to Charger.
Charger was within Charger and next to Charger, variants within a theme. The teamsters. The loners. The broken. The Vacation Persona from TigerMuck... the Shetland pony... even a little colt suckling at a mare...
...and that was ok with Charger. He accepted his lot with the noble grace that was the equine hallmark, a grace that I would never know as my own. He plowed tirelessly in this mental house of mirrors and filled the air with the sweet scent of upturned loam and horse sweat. He was all function, requardless of the form. He existed as a labour of love that I couldn't share with the ones I loved, but that was all right.
He didn't toil for them. He toiled for me.
Suddenly, I snapped back into myself as I got onto the Turnpike.
I had zoned.
I felt my wits were sharper than before I had pulled over. I felt the sharpest that I ever had in my life, and I tried to control my trembling... I didn't want to have an accident this far north. My chances of vanishing into woods was severely reduced up here, after all.
Still, I was steady and rested, as if I had slept... which I guess I had.
I would have thanked Charger, but he needed no thanking.
I found myself with the vague thoughts of a plan. I had plastic bags and general crap in the trunk from the drama club, including a folded cardboard box. I was sure I had a horse blanket in there from an aborted spontaneous picnic last summer... I had seen a homeless person become invisible in Manhattan by dressing a certain way back in the 80's. I had a feeling I could do the same even in the incredibly PC 90's.
I could park in Jersey City and take Path to Manhattan, the same way I do to get to CBGB's. The Village Voice offices weren't too far away from that, I remembered vaguely. There would be someone there, I hoped. At this rate I would not get there until 6:30. That would be too late.
Rapid T. Rabbit was in Queens... if he could meet me in Manhattan with his fur suit... I had used a fur-suit to hide a TF in one of my stories... no, wait, I was going to but I never got around to it. Funny sense of deja vu.
I just didn't have his phone number. And Rapid's bunny outfit wouldn't fit me, anyway. And I didn't have my cell phone, either.
Have I already considered Rapid and then discarded the idea? I must have, for I had the same sensation of Deja vu when thinking of Greg and Lloyd at Troma and when I thought of Ken and Mercy, comic book friends who I had known for years, but hadn't known they were furry fans. I didn't have time for this.
The Ferry crossed the Hudson every 15 minutes, took only 15 minutes, and their parking lot was a flat five dollars. I was working on limited funds here and the boat ride would cost about $9 or $10. Not so good and they wouldn't exactly be used to the homeless there. They might even try to stop me.
Still... there was an abandoned train tunnel under the bedrock of Weehawken. I could park... no, let's be honest... abandon the car in or near the tunnel. In the shadow of the cliff, I would be safe from prying eyes and I would be able to defend myself from any attacker.
"There's nothing inherently wrong with violence," I said to myself as if expecting an argument. None was apparently forthcoming. Which was good because I actually found myself spoiling for a fight. I could release some of the pent up emotion that the pussy was whining about.
I pulled into the rest stop to piss, and I had to stop myself from parking near the plaza. I had to be a bit more discreet than that. I pulled around back where several of the truckers had pulled over to nap for an hour or two rather than deal with rush hour. I carefully squeezed between two trucks that looked nicely inanimate and scraped my car's nose up the curb as I climbed up the embankment. I made a left and I then was invisible between the trucks and the vine covered fencing that kept the locals mostly from wandering out onto the Turnpike.
I unzipped and let it all out to hang in the wind. The sun was close to setting, but I had enough light. I really could look at it all day, the pink and brown mottling looked almost reptilian to me, except that it was irregular. It was hard to just empty my bladder and not do anything else. Fully extended, but not erect, it pulled painfully on the sheathe as it's own weight pulled it down. I would just have to get used to that mixed blessing, I suppose.
I looked both ways for anyone watching and I'm afraid I was disappointed that no one had been. I rummaged through my trunk and found some plastic bags, a thing of thick rubber bands, some cookies I had promised to mail friends, but had forgotten, a folded cardboard box, and my black oilskin duster, or a dry-as-a-bone. The horse blanket wasn't there.
I threw the things I would need into the passenger seat and wondered if I could pull off the effect with just bags on my feet and a box on my head. It just didn't seem to... appeal to my artistic vision. I shrugged off my favourite jacket (it had patches of the JLA on it) and saw how thick and dark my upper arm was. Yeah... no matter how black I was, the arm was always going to look way too healthy for a hobo.
Score one for artistic vision.
I looked about, hoping that I would find a ratty old blanket from some quickie some trucker had with a lot lizard. Nothing. Then I noticed my license plate. ACQUIRE.
I nodded and stepped out from behind the row of sleeping trucks. I saw what I needed instantly, a fat man goose waddling quickly towards the men's room, his truck idling and parked awkwardly.
I trotted quickly across the parking lot, my new feet hardly complaining in my sneakers, although they did feel a bit tighter. I didn't have time to worry if I was still slowly changing. It would hardly ruin the plan and I was at the truck before I could listen to my own thoughts whine.
This is wrong, I told myself, but I didn't listen. The passenger side door was unlocked and the sticker on the door said, "No Fat Chicks." Since I was a lean, mean equine machine and not a fat chick, I figured it was ok. I reached in and quickly stuck my hand in behind the passenger seat. I got a slightly stained teamster sweater. Local 169.
Coolies. I can use that.
I reached in again and hit pay dirt, a tattered stadium blanket for the New Jersey Knights. Sheesh. How old was this thing? I slammed the door and ran back to the trucks where my car was hidden. I leapt as I realized the blanket had my face on it... how perfect!
I was so giddy, I almost didn't notice the length of my leap. Twenty feet, if it was a yard.
That was Olympic level jumping. I leapt again and thumped onto the top of the Arrow trailer a little painfully. I laughed and then leapt off and landed next to my car. I looked around and again there were no witnesses to by actions.
If I was writing this scene, I probably would have interrupted some rape or something. Surprise myself by how strong I was and then got up in some race for a MacGuffin that may or may not be the key to my transformation. Ok, I'll be the first to admit that I'd watched too much television growing up.
I climbed back in my car and drive up straight along the hill and flinging my car directly into the on-ramp in my getaway. I felt alive and happy, I had a plan and I had something to do.
I had always wanted a Teamster sweater since becoming a horse.
Since realizing I was a horse, I mean. I tried to remember why I thought I had been a horse, but since I had turned into a horse headed guy, I guess it didn't really matter: I'd been proven right. That was the important thing. Being right.
I laughed as I merged back into the truck-bus lane traffic. I'd gotten away with stealing some stuff looking like this. I could do this. I could live like this. I had no doubt as a freak I'd get more respect as I ever did as a plain old white kid from the Jersey Shore. Even if I had to freaking live out of dumpsters for the rest of my life I would survive.
I turned the visors down and put them against the windows to limit the curious cars passing me. Because every glance to see what was in the left lane caused the windows to fog up, I couldn't very well change lanes too often. I tried to stay in the right lane, but traffic became thicker as rush hour began to get underway. I was going north so it wasn't that bad, but traffic was getting thicker. I got frustrated with only going 60 and so I zipped into the fast lane, ignoring the honks behind me.
None of these idiots really had to be on the freaking road right now, while I had to be. I hated them all, I realized. All the normal people. All the little people and their little lives. I was leaving it all behind me, I knew and I just didn't care. No one had asked me if I wanted this. I'd been given a dubious gift, but I was marked by the gods. I wasn't going to allow myself to become some sin-eater or some twisted scapegoat for the world. No, the world was going to be my whipping boy.
I found myself building up quite a bit of rage as the miles ticked by. It felt comfortable and I thought maybe I could harness that rage for more magic, if I could but trip on the secret of triggering and focussing the energies. It felt like home, this rage.
I looked about the interior of the car I was driving. Something about it seemed wrong. Not familiar. I couldn't remember where I had gotten it. The plastic around the ignition was broken, cracked. Had I stolen it, too? I didn't think so, but I maybe I had just "borrowed" it.
The trunk had my stuff in it. Damn this memory of mine.
Maybe my blood sugar was getting low.
My hand went to my secret stash of Cliff Bars in the center console. It wasn't unusual for me to "forget" to eat. I fumbled and pulled out... an empty wrapper. And then another. And another. Only they weren't really empty, they were full of air. Unopened and full of air.
I was still changing, gaining mass. I looked at my arm... it was ripped. Bulging black muscles marbled with raised veins and almost hairless skin. I was huge! I met my own shocking red eyes in the rear view mirror and saw the most handsome devil in the world looking back. "Are you still with me? Why are you making me a horse. Make me something people will respect. Make me a dragon, give me wings and fire breathe. Let me cleave a path through the world for you. Let me be your sword."
But the devil stayed silent.
I drove on confused and angry. I wanted to hurt people.
No, you are willing to hurt people if you have to.
Yes, I was willing to hurt people. There's nothing inherently wrong with violence it is a normal human response. I knew deep down I didn't want to have to hurt someone if I didn't have to, but pain was a good teacher.
You have to be better than normal people.
I am better than normal people. I'll prove it to them if I have to level Manhattan.
You have nothing to prove.
If they want proof, I'll do it.
You will live as if you are the example everyone will look to.
I... will be famous, a hero. Everyone will look up to me.
We just want you to be the man you are meant to be.
I got my temper back under control, and took a deep breathe. I couldn't gather 600 people together; not by myself. I had to be a leader and I had to do the right thing 24/7, even if I didn't like it. The herd would only be safe in one place, and I had a feeling none of us would have any magic powers until we were close to each other. In proximity, we could probably feed off of each other.
And then we can start culling the other herd, if we have to.
I was so caught up in this, I almost didn't see my exit for the ferry. I tried to get over and I couldn't make it. I was furious for a moment and considered backing up on the shoulder, but then I just whusked and gunned the car forward. Life was too short and a hero on a quest had to be adaptable. The Lincoln Tunnel was only a mile or so away.
Just prior to the approach, the local streets had begun to rise above the highway. Dirty brown and gray bricks and rocks kept me safe from milling foot traffic. That was the one problem I was going to have in Manhattan... people may not look up in New York, they may not even make eye contact unless their life depended on it, but they did look at the cars, wondering what idiot would bring a car onto their island.
I, of course, had been a cab driver and was therefor supremely qualified to drive in Manhattan, but they wouldn't know that. One glance and they would see something that should have been hitched to a hansom cab. That would merit more than a glance from all but the most jaded New Yorker. If I mere presence did start the sheep rioting, I'd be trapped in my car.
I think even Thor would be worn down eventually.
Assuming there were riots already, of course.
I cursed myself and snapped on 1010 news radio. The am station came in nice and clear, reporting that the FBI has classified the apparent transformation of a grown man into a pony in a Virginia office building as a prank gone awry, while at the same time Center for Disease Control announced that they are currently examining the so-called iWerewolf. Compared to Rockin' Robin's voice and demeaner, Cash Tilton's delivery was as placid and as factual as Ben Stein. I suspected he could be attacked by a jabberwocky and he'd hardly emote.
I wondered how much it would actually take to make him cry like a baby.
I put that on my to-do list just as I cleared the cliffside for the long casual loop into the tunnel. I could have glanced to the left to see if New York City was still there, but the visor blocked my view. It didn't matter. Traffic reports told the tale of an average exodus nightmare. Going into Manhattan wouldn't be so bad, but as I approached the Village Voice offices -- and the Hudson Tunnel, coincidentally -- traffic would be terrible. I could abandon the car, get another, but I was going to have enough bad press.
I had to be on my best behavior because... that was the plan.
I did have a plan.
I just seemed to have forgotten it at that moment.
I jogged over to the far right toll booth. E-Z Pass? Whatever, it appeared free and I really had bigger things to worry about than a possible fine. I was in the tunnel and committed, the plan becoming more vague and indistinct with each second.
I wished Michele was here to tell me what I was supposed to do. I didn't want to ruin everything. I suddenly felt extremely guilty that she really didn't even know where I was.
I swallowed and tried to collect myself. I had a plan, I just had to stay calm. It had something to do with Stephen King. Firestarter. Yes... the pyro-kinetic little girl exposes the government's secrets by visiting the most honest, outspoken, independent paper on the North-eastern Seaboard: Rolling Stone magazine. I was aiming for the Village Voice because I knew where it was.
Not a bad plan, really. I sighed and settled into the familiar routine of driving. I liked the way the Grand Am handled and next to my old Cavalier, it was the best car I had ever owned. I wished I hadn't missed my exit; it'd be far safer in the Journal Square parking garage than in Manhattan. Still, I had to be flexible if I wanted to survive, and it was admittedly easier on my cash flow this way.
I listened to the radio fade as the tunnel went deeper. For a moment, I had only static as company. I thought of my poor wife, probably calling Robert Woods at this moment to see if I got there safely. I wondered if she'd think to call Amy and ask her what happened. She didn't like me being a pony-boy, I doubted very much she was going to like me looking like one any better.
I hope she understood why I had to tell my story to the world before I told her.
The radio came back just before I saw the exit. The FBI and the CDC was forming a joint task force. They had announced a press conference for 6:00, but they were willing to tell the press this much so far. There appeared to be no pathogen, there was no plague and no reason to panic. Bush announced that any and all of the transformed people would be protected by the full force of his office, that they were still just as human as anyone struck down with AIDs, crippled, or with reduced mental facilities. He pronounced facilities correctly, but I found myself wondering if he was President yet.
How had I missed that? Oh, yeah. That was this past weekend. I sighed. Well, I had said his being elected was the sign of the end times and the recent visit of my Father-and-Brother-in-law had been the second. I smiled as I turned left.
Anyway, I had no doubt he saw us the same way he saw AIDs patients, the disabled, or the mentally retarded. The question was, how far different did he see all those groups he'd lumped us with?
As far as signs of the end times go, turning into Clay Potter was hardly the worst thing that could have happened. I could have turned into Michele's mother. Now, that would have been bad. Or a corpse.
The first red light wasn't far off. Already traffic into the tunnel was backed up and it was flirting with "blocking the box." There were normal people sitting next to me, facing the other way. It was only a matter of time before someone looked. A short matter of time as they wondered what was on my face and then a slightly longer amount of time to marvel at what a realistic mask I was wearing.
I leaned back and turned between the seats as I saw the driver in front of me glance into her rear view mirror. O.k., I had forgotten about that. I grabbed my black leather hat off the back seat and wondered if I could hide my muzzle with it. Michele, at least would be pleased I was using it for something other than an umbrella. Actually, I loved the hat, but it didn't go with my JLA jacket. It was wonderfully crumpled from the heat of the car and was tight on my head, so it would not blow off as easily now. I was about to try it on when I saw the car next to me move.
I faced forward and pulled up to the next light, where I wanted to take a right. I needed to go downtown and while there was a more direct route, I was suddenly nervous about walking into the Village Voice after hours.
And there was something else I hadn't want to admit.
I was in Manhattan.
Manhattan: Traditional home for almost every Marvel superhero.
Manhattan: The city Batman's Gotham was modeled after.
Manhattan: The city that aspires to be Superman's Metropolis.
This was where I would go if I suddenly found myself turned into Superman. Even a Superman who found himself trapped in Wonder Woman's costume.
If Steve Zink, a fellow comic book fan on the list and very much into turning heroes into busty heroines, had been transformed, he'd be heading here. Heroes always gathered in Manhattan: it was a cosmic rule. If he could fly, bend steel in his hands, and could see what was in my pants with his x-ray vision, there was still hope for us.
Provided he hadn't become a sex-starved bimbo, of course.
But best not to think that way, for now.
I came to another red light. I covered my face with the black duster that had somehow gotten into the front seat. Let the pedestrians think whatever they want, but I didn't want to force my hand. I wished my cell phone was still activated; I could have called a dozen different people on the way up here instead of working on some half-baked plan.
You're going to look damn good in that now that your skin's nice and dark.
I looked at the duster... yeah, I thought to myself, I was going to look damn good in this. Plus I was now tall enough to wear it and take a flight of steps without tripping. My gut wasn't going to stick out either. I only foresaw one problem.
My arms were now about as thick as my legs used to be. There were not going to fit comfortably in the sleeves.
I chewed on the seam at the 48th and 10th. I chewed on the seam on the light at 48th and 9th and then I just ripped the damn sleeves off. I was barely surprised, although the fabric was as strong as a boat tarp and extremely well made.
My self-confidence was rising again. Once the novelty of being a freak was over, I suspected these mood swings would cease. I'd been calm among friends, after all.
I turned right onto Broadway and headed downtown... the traffic was thick here as people headed for the Lincoln tunnel. Very stop and go, no one looked into me, and the only one that had seen me in all my horse faced glory was the Cabriolet in front of me. I waved and she glanced only occasionally over the next few blocks. I loved New Yorkers.
Soon I stopped at a light the VW had run. I had just been wondering if the Village Voice really was the best venue for me, and thought maybe I should head to Black Rock, instead. No, CBS was in the other direction, as was FOX. I didn't know where ABC was, except on Ave. of the Americas. I didn't know where NBC was, but I did know where Letterman and Ricki Lake taped. Letterman was in the other direction and I just wasn't sure if Ricki was still in business.
Where I went now could possibly affect me for the rest of my life. I had to get my face on the air. I was a damn handsome devil now and certainly a friendlier face than some lizard. Besides, if Bluenight started talking about how the universe is a story god is writing, we, the transformed, were screwed. I was the best choice for spokesperson: I was well rounded and I knew people in the business. I was still basically human and now the ultimate minority.
Not a lot of white guys turned black, although I guess we could have done it anytime we really wanted to. I was the reverse Michael Jackson. "Ebony and Ivory, sitting together in perfect harmony..." I sang before realizing that I was perfectly in pitch. That I was singing.
My jaw dropped as the light turned green. I couldn't sing... I could not even speak intelligibly without effort. Not a great effort, but it was an effort all the same.
This was very, very cool.
I idled into the intersection but the sidewalk was bubbling over with girls. I crept up to them and saw there were wooden horses and NYPD corralling a crowd of milling people, almost all of them females. The average girl was 15 or 16.
They weren't protesting. In fact, they seemed rather happy and excited, they all looked up expectantly, looking up because they had seen others look up. I stopped and looked up, wondering if I'd see Spiderman or a Pegasus... one of the subscribers. It had to be something special because, quite frankly, New Yorkers never look up, not even bubbly Tiger Beat New Yorkers.
My eyes went wide as I put the car into park. I put on the flashers and grabbed at my hat and sleeveless duster.
"The plan," I said, "is that there is no plan."
I stepped out of the car, watching the litter that passed as carpeting in my fade from view. I was still changing, still gathering mass. The vanishing items were all organic and I belatedly realized that my car's tires could have vanished out from under me at any time during the trip. A part of me probably knew that was a possiblity the whole time; that might explain my worries about the Passing fad universe.
I had to trust whatever was changing me; it was being way too selective for me to think it really wanted to hurt anyone. It only seemed interested in making sure I got what I wanted, I just hoped it understood that there was a limit to what I wanted.
I had to trust my mystery sponsor, because I simply had no other choice.
I put on my hat and look at the crowd on the sidewalk. Most of them looked back and the silence was spreading outwardly from those girls closest to me. A heavy set cop looked at me and his jaw dropped about two inches, but his arm waved maniacally that I should move on. Obviously, a trained observer like a cop couldn't deny his eyes, but I could tell he was trying very hard to deny me. A part of him was probably thinking that if I would only move on, I would be someone else's dilemma and that part was falling back on his training.
Sheep, a voice said in the back of my head, but I didn't recognize the voice at first. Ah, it was the same voice I used in paintball to order the opposing team not to fire at the man with the big stick. I was the man without the stick and it was the first time I had gone a paintball game without getting shot.
"Officer," I called out with the assurance of command I did not feel. "I need you to move those sawhorses around this vehicle, now please!" That made all the cops on crowd control look at me, not to mention the passer-bys. "Officier! I need to keep people away from this car!"
Girls began to back away from the car and immediately two younger cops were talking into their shoulder mounted radios. I nodded towards them, and started pointing fingers at the two cops closest to the fat cop. The plan was there is no plan. "Officiers, please, I've no idea how much longer before IT starts turning other people into horses! Get that car quarantined! NOW!"
"Get that car out of here!" The first officier shouted out me, but a younger and smarter cop snagged his shoulder as tubby stepped off the sidewalk towards me, "Is there something in the car that causes the transformations?"
I wasn't expecting a question. Real people are so damn complicated. I held my palms out before him and I gestured up to my face, I rolled my eyes and hoped these guys had friends in the mounted divisions. What could I say? I could lie, but it would come back to haunt me.
I didn't have to worry about lying, it turns out, as my sponsor decided to make his presence felt.
My rear passenger wheel exploded, sending rubber bullets bouncing off the street and the fat cop. I fell back against a black Outback that had been moving by at five miles an hour and the cops crouched down, shielding their faces. We were more startled than hurt, but the girls screamed in terror..
Then before we could catch our breathes, the front passenger exploded, this time and one of the saw horses fell over as the girls waiting to put their requests on MTV were suddenly stampeding. Suddenly, things happened quickly after that.
The fat cop upholstered his weapon and fired at my car.
Hearing gunfire, a second officer, apparently partially blinded by burnt rubber in his eyes, discharged his weapon into my car's grill.
I regained my balance and felt myself grow an inch taller, just as my windshield became marbled with crystalline stripes.
Four shots were fired in my general direction before it occurred to me to leap out of the way. I leapt straight up, about 16 feet straight into the air, landing behind the sawhorses on the sidewalk with my hand clutching my hat.
Three cops continued to pump lead into my poor car as a cop came running up to me and grabbed me about the shoulder. I forgot for the moment that I was strong enough to bench press him, and ran with him rather than allow myself to be dragged across the sidewalk.
16 shots fired in the space of 15 seconds as I am pushed against the wall behind a wall of blue. The car fought back, bouncing bullets off it's engine and the rims of the exploded tires. I heard cop curse cop, as one of the cops shielding me, took a stray bullet in his thigh.
A thin cloud of smoke rose off the sidewalk as cop disarmed cop.
My bladder felt particularly thrilled as the patrolmen peeled themselves off of me. The no plan thing was going to be the death of me, I decided. At least this time I wasn't trapped in the cargo hull of a People Express shuttle with my shorts soiled and my ears bleeding.
The city was quiet for a second, and then the sirens began to sound.
It was 6pm and I think it was safe to say I had made the news.
Step One, I thought inanely and turned my mind around inside my own head.
And then I was standing in front of the younger and smarter cop, with my palms up and open. I was leaning against the wall I had slammed into after my leap and I was crying.
The sirens were gone and the officers were beginning to approach my car casual, but cautious. I gasped as he touched my shoulder, but he squeezed it reassuringly all the same. "We're calling in the bomb squad and closing off the street. Don't worry."
I looked at my car. There was four perfectly good tires on the car. The windshield was clear, if not clean. There was no slowly expanding cloud of smoke. No smell of sulfur. The tires had never exploded, weapons had not been fired. The cops were calmly closing off Broadway without a care to the traffic disruption.
I started sobbing uncontrollably and nodded speechless as suddenly a glove of black hairs sprouted on my wrists and my forearm. The young cop's eyes went wide as my fetters sprouted into existence. Our eyes locked and I was in love before I even realized what had happened.
Reality had been edited before my eyes and I was the only one who knew it. I took the cops hand and put it on my nose. I didn't want to be a man anymore. He looked confused as I stroked his hand across my pretty new nose, trying to show him with I needed. Gingerly, he began to comply. "Someone's fucked you up badly, didn't they?"
I could only nod and hope he would take good care of me.
He turned his head at someone's call. It was one of the fat white cops that all tended to blend together in my head as the same big, blue man. He stopped stroking my nose but he didn't blush. "You have the keys, Chief?"
I fished the keys out of my pocket and handed them to him. He nodded thanks and he trotted away, leaving me to watch his ass as he went, I noticed he held onto his radio as he ran, but not his gun or nightstick and that struck me as odd.
Then I laughed. The cop stuck me as odd. Heh.
I looked at my wrists, actually. The black gloves of hair had finished growing in, leaving me with naked fingers. I touched my eyebrows and discovered they were naked, too. I felt a movement under my chin and discovered I had gotten something of my goatee back.
I looked at my car and the officers inspecting it.
It hadn't attacked them. They hadn't fired upon it. Did my sponsor actually rewrite the recent past, or did I somehow get shunted into another universe? I know I didn't just imagine shots being fired.
The same way you aren't just imagining the tug of the halter every once in awhile?
I frowned. I had no idea what he was talking about.
I wiped the last of Charger's tears from my face and stood up unsteadily on my feet. My legs hurt. My hands hurt from slamming into the building. I watched the cops open my trunk. I wondered what they would make of my red Razor scooter. Or the metal saw horse I kept in there. Thankfully, none of my other bondage toys were in there.
I looked down on the ground and found that I could aim my ears to pick-up the cops talking. They were confused and upset that this had happened on their watch, but also archly pragmatic about it. I couldn't make out what they were saying exactly, but they all agreed something had thrown me over the car... nobody could jump that high. They had all also seen me grow fetters and a goatee after being attacked like that.
They saw me as the victim and that bothered me, although I knew that's how they were going to see us. That's how they needed to see us. That's how I needed them to see us, but pride is an odd thing.
If my sponsor could change me, why not my immediate past? Had I written myself into a corner by trying to order the cops around? How many "get out of Jail free" cards did I get? Was I supposed to push the limits of reality? Or do I make my sponsor annoyed by forcing him to step in?
I had no answers.
Hmmm, this must be why Denny wants Batman to avoid all the cosmic events. It's hard to deduce things when the world starts changing its own rules. Well, logic and I have got along fine without each other, so...
STEP TWO. The street is barricaded.
Step 2. How long does it take to snag a camera man and run down a flight of steps?
"Depends on how hungry they are." I answered and turned as a steel door burst open from the sidewalk not two feet from me. A camera came first, a body mounted steady-camera, jogging up the stairs. He stepped four feet forward and froze, confident in the invisibility afforded by his camera. Then a skinny kid in pimples and gender-free clothing jumped out and hauled up a woman who could have passed for Downtown Judy Brown, but was too young. The two both stared up at me as they ascended. They hadn't expected to be this close to me and I could see they were wondering if this was their lucky break or the epitaph their parents would clip out of the New York Times.
Ah, the real door must be covered in blue.
I gave them the Vulcan hand salute as I noticed the camera had no transmitter. It was strictly tape.
No, dammit, it's got to be live.
The intern closed the steel door before I could jump down into it and he stood on it. Afraid of being followed, was he? Well, these guys were hungry enough. I put on my best face, although I had no idea what they were going to make of it.
"Did you know the Snickers candy bar was named after a horse?" I said, quite clearly and their eyes went wide. "I mention this as I am quite clearly chocolate covered, packed with nuts and have a gooey center."
Amazing how good the Australia accent makes everything sound, isn't it?
I frowned as several expressions ran across the girl's face. Damn me and my need to make people feel uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," I said softly, "but, well... I'm not exactly myself today."
She smiled, professionally. "I can see that." She hadn't expected me to say anything, to be able to even speak. Did I look so inhuman? Didn't matter. "When did this happen to you?"
"At 2, today. I was working..."
"Where was this?"
I glared at her? She wasn't a professional, I suddenly realized. I was about to say more when I heard the good looking cop shout, "HEY!"
He was striding towards me and the camera crew. Oddly, I felt like I had betrayed him, seeing his jaw thrust forward and his lower lip almost pouting. Charger wanted to cry and get on his knees, but I shoved him out of the way. It was me the cop was interested in anyway. "Get back behind the line! We've got a potential bomb threat."
"There is no bomb," I said, knowing I had wanted them all to think of something along the lines. But my mind was clear now and I could think again. "It was a thing, an entity in my car."
The cop stopped and I watched the gears turn in his head. He'd heard it all before; aliens; black ops, demons and he'd trained himself to try to hear the reality within the twisted version being spewed. But, before, those stories had come from junkies, the mentally reduced, and possibly a few soused relatives.
Now, of course, he was hearing it from the horse's mouth.
"Look, it's either another Lister or random chaos ghoul, but it got into my car and it forced me here." The cop blinked. "It told me to do things, like I was compelled... look, I know it sounds odds, but considered what happened. I got turned into a horse, there's a two story tall skunk running up and down the freeway in California, and right now, there's a four foot tall fox morph hiding in a book store somewhere wondering what drugs his friends slipped into his latte."
The cop sighed and looked around, the cop then shooed the three back behind the rapidly filling barricades. "What's a Lister?" he asked, meeting my eye.
I touched my chest. "I'm a Lister. I'm on The Transformation List. That's how it picked its victims... I think. Everyone on the list has been transformed... or will be before long."
He called into his dispatcher, struggling with himself. "We may have a suspect in the transformational attacks." He looked about as uncomfortable as a swimsuit salesman selling a two piece bikini to his grandmother. He looked at me, his head tilted sideways. "You're feeling better?"
I nodded. "Now that it's gone, yes." Charger wanted to kick and bite me when the cop glared at us. Any other day of the week and he would have assumed I was lying or crazy. I was taking him into uncharted territory and cops really hated that; it went against their training. But the simple truth was, I didn't know that I was lying. For sure.
If there had been an invisible creature in the car with me, messing with my head, how would even truly know it? I probably wouldn't, would I? And if I choose to believe the unlikely? Well, I was turning into a horse slowly but surely. My definition of the unlikely was going to need to be rewritten.
He nodded back and then shook his head. "Suspect... has fled scene and no longer appears to be in the immediate area." Then he looked at me, again. "Please tell me, you've never be diagnosed with any mental defects."
I shrugged, "I'm a long term depressive." I smiled. "I'm not manic and I'm not unstable. Or at least no more than can be expected considering I was white this morning."
The officer looked at me again, as if for the first time. I have no idea went through his mind. In my mind, I distinctly heard Charger kicking his stall walls. The poor thing really hated me at the moment. The cop sighed, again. "Subject appears inhumanly strong like he's strung out on PCP. Subject is described as invisible." The poor guy looked like he'd been kicked.
The cops in the street looked at him, their walkies repeating what he had just told dispatch. The fat cop who'd been routing around in my trunk, dropped the can of Delacre cookies and stormed over to us. "What the fuck are you doing?" he yelled.
There was a bit of yelling back and forth but I glanced back at the MTV camera crew and waved. They were still filming and... suddenly... my mind...
like a deck of cards
That story I never wrote that got me into this mess? There was 100's of Bill Kieffers. Some were Chargers, some were Greyflanks, some were characters I had written that I was surprised to find more than a bit of myself. And then to give myself some distance between MoM Bill and the real Bill, I invented a few. Some included just to add a variety of forms, like Java Claudette, my sexy Star Fleet assassin that I had played in email games for over two years, or Raff the Ferengi, who was one of my more popular LARP characters.
All my selves turned and I was unable to move as they sorted something that I had just seen but didn't register in my conscious mind. Lucky me, I had many, many more ids than were probably healthy and they caught what I had fumbled.
Time froze as Raff the Ferengi saw a glitter of gold falling to the ground and he cried, MINE!
Claudette, who was really good at spotting erroneous data and behavior, was annoyed that someone wasn't paying attention to her. She was a bit of a slut.
The Twilight Plains Drifter watched from a distance as the skinny young cipher bent down to reach for something off the ground.
Wicked watched as the human went a hundred miles away without going anywhere. He was vulnerable, the tiger knew, and he drooled. The production assistant was fresh meat and Wicker was going to pounce and leap.
Charger felt bad for the poor boy. Girl?
And then suddenly, I was back in my own head as the young production assistant tried to keep an oversized ring on her... his? finger. I had to talk to that person, I knew. I just didn't know why.
Then the fat cop was asking for my license and I pulled out a wad of two dollar bills from my back pocket. I didn't even blink as I realized that my sponsor had eaten my wallet but not my money. I just found the plastic sleeve that held my driver's license, voter card, ATM card, and five almost useless credit cards.
My photo raised the cops eye brows and he made a big deal about holding up to my face. I folded my arms across my chest and posed, letting Charger pick the pose. I was vulnerable and I figured I might as well let it show. "It's an improvement," the cop said harshly.
"Sal!" The cute cop said in a warning voice, but I just shrugged. Frankly, I agreed with the fat cop. I had never liked my face and I was certain I wasn't the only fur that felt that way. I'm sure a few TSA listers would like my new body as much as I did.
"Look," the fat cop pushed my license back into my chest, "accidentally" shoving me. "Take ya' fuckin' cock an' bull story an' get dat fuckin' car of yaws da fuck out of here. Ya want ta file a complaint against dis invisible man of yaws for car jacking, ya do it in da morning."
"Sal!" The cute cop actually stepped between us and I could see the fat cop was actually just starting to work up a good head of steam. "He's a victim."
"They're all fuckin' vics! I ain't gonna sit still for dis kinda shit on my watch. I ain't gonna sit thru the fuckin' F-B-paininmyass-I telling me how to look for a fuckin' invincible man, ya stoopid ass pansy."
"Hey!" the cute cop roared back in the face of the fat cop. Something told me they had been partners too long. Do traffic cops get partners?
The fat cop worked his jaw for a second and shifted his weight from one foot to another and then back again. He looked like he wanted to take back what he said, but wasn't willing to lose face in front of the public. "Ya like da horse headed freak so much, keep him here for da FBI, why don'cha?"
The cute cop blanched as the fat cop glared at me. I looked at the sidewalk. I had been so close... one flight up, was the voice of the youth of America. If Pauly Shore could find fans while on MTV, I was sure I could, too.
"Move the car, Mr. Kieffer," the cute cop said to me. "Park the car and come back here. We'll straighten it all out then. Can you do that?"
His eyes were looking into mine, sadly. His eyes were saying good-bye.
I nodded and just barely kept Charger from hugging him. Luckily, Charger understood it would ruin the whole handsome young authority figure thing the kid had going for him. Where the hell was Greyflank to control the pony boy, anyway?
I was about to rush off and then I noticed the PA staring at me. I looked back at the cute cop and read his name badge for the first time. "Officer Madison... is it ok to ask a friend to drive me?"
He glanced at the film crew and I knew I was pushing my luck, but he nodded.
I ran over to the MTV team and I could see another film crew running up the street. Several flashes went off from tourists getting a free freak show. The woman reporter would have stepped back if the crowd hadn't been pressing against her. Then, almost belatedly, the crowd did fall back. There was some nervous giggling as some New Yorkers barely kept themselves from running.
Weird how mobs work, isn't it?
I looked right at the skinny PA. "You want to come with me and show me where I can park?"
His... her? jaw dropped. The news reporter tried to ask me something, but I shooed her away. "Come on, we're not getting younger are we?"
The PA blinked and, with moist eyes, nodded yes.
I yanked the kid over the wooded saw horse, noting that I almost lost her... his... Nikes. I dragged the kid to my car and the cops let me through. I turned right and looked at my passenger. My passenger looked at me.
Had I been going any faster, the car would have come to a screeching halt. As it was, we bounced to a stop as my foot slipped off the brake, onto the gas peddle, and then back onto the brake. I think a part of me wanted to speed up just to have the dynamic sound of screeching brakes in there.
I looked at my passenger looking back at me hopefully. "Bob?" S/he said with eyes wide, worried but hopeful. "You're Bob Stein, aren't you?"
I looked around me quickly, but my head moved slowly. I was in New York. Just off of Times Square by the look of it. There was something covering my face, I can see it blocking my view of my gut... I'm in New York, with my pony boy leather mask on with a strange teen. I tried desperately to recall what I was doing here, but all I grasped was mental air. My jaw dropped and it felt wrong.
My whole mouth felt wrong.
"You're Posti," my passenger said trying to work this out, "Or you know Posti."
I touched my swollen face as I looked into the mirror. My own face stared back at me, but the whole shape of my face felt wrong. I broke out in a cold sweat and hoped I hadn't tried any drugs recently. Someone answered my passenger and I was surprised to realize it was me.
"Posti's my father," I said with understated awe, which confused me. That was a line for Clay for a story I hadn't written yet for the Metamor Keep story I had on the back burner. Poppy reveals to Clay his father is actually the-thought-to-be-dead Prime Minister and not Henrik Potter. To me, it was a secret dream... I had spent many years hoping someone would tell me the skirt-chasing satyr, William Kieffer, was not my father. The story had stalled simply because I wanted that moment of relieved awe to last forever. I had practiced that line a 1000 times, enjoying Clay's relief vicariously.
I could see her confused... his confused... who the hell was this?
HERD, Charger said with surprising force.
Pack, Flock, family, Wicked supplied.
Zie is one of us, Greyflank looked up from his tasks. Zie is on the list.
"The list...?" I said under my breathe. "You're on the TSA List?"
The eyes of my passenger went wide. "I just lurk..." Hir hand went to hir chest and hir eyes bulged. "I haven't checked my hot mail account in months."
"Wow," I said, trying to figure out why my mouth felt so wrong. My lips felt thick as I talked. I knew there was something wrong with my face, but I... just couldn't put my finger on it. "You're lucky you weren't unsubscribed." The software Dragon used to spit out the TSA postings was notoriously trigger happy.
"LUCKY?" The passenger nearly screamed. "I'd forgotten all about the list until... I saw Bluenight on TV! I was so happy the email I used was untraceable... I..." Hir hands had strayed to hir crotch and hir jaw opened and hir lips trembled silently.
I double parked the car and touched hir shapeless sweatshirt, gently pressing down until a shape revealed itself. Tiny breasts, but she was just a child. She would get younger or older, but all I cared about was the now. The wolf-rider now. Her breath started. She needed comforting. I could comfort her. In a bit. But first she had to accept what she was. What I wanted her to be.
She struggled and I shushed her. "You've become a Herm, haven't you?"
"Yes, I...think so..."
I moved my hand down her flat stomach to her crotch. "Everything's more sensitive...? More urgent...?" I could feel a tiny tube of flesh that bulged at the base into a split. Not a Doug Wheeler fan, apparently.
"I... who are you?"
"I'm Grey Van Maulkin."
Her eyes met mine and pleaded silently as I moved across the front seat to pull myself on top of her. Faces from the street began to press against the windows of my Ford Escort, watching, to witness the start of a new breed of man. Her acne cleared as I watched, smothering her with my mass. Squirming, squirming to escape. Squirming to undress. Squirming delightfully, fearfully, fully enjoying the now, the moment fully.
Her lips parted. "I'm Jerry Willoughby. We can park here."
Suddenly, the car bumped up a curb and I was driving the Grand Am through the tight white ramp of the parking garage Jerry had pointed me to. The world had changed again. I was on my own side of the car. The revision quickly overwrote hir memories, but I was again spared. I took Grey by his scruff and shoved him firmly into the back of my mind.
I didn't have time for games. I had one Lister, but that wasn't enough. Even if I found one Lister a day, I was looking at two years of work. The longer I let the emulations distract me, the harder it would be to find the poor Listers trapped in purely animal bodies. How many Listers did I need before my powers would start kicking in? For those trapped as animals, I needed telepathy... or something. Or shape-shifting.
I had to collect them all.
Yes, that sounded right.
Well, it sounded familiar, at least.
I found a parking space easily enough. It was time for people to go home, after all.
I could make some of them come to me. There would be those willing to fight. They would even be those like me, compelled to fight. "When did you notice the change, Jerry?"
Jerry snorted. "I'm pre-operative... a transie... taking hormone pills..." She/he waved his/her hand nonchalantly. "I just thought they were beginning to work, or a new side effect. Until my wedding ring fell off, that is."
I raised my eyebrows. Jerry was married and about to have a sex change. Was about to. In either case, I suspected there was heck of a story there. Jerry misread my expression, understandable since I looked more like a horse with wings glued onto my head than a man. "The hormones make your joints swell."
"How long have you been a P.A. for Mtv?"
Jerry corrected me, distracted by his changing body, "I'm not a PA, I'm a producer."
I smiled. "You look awfully young to be a producer."
"Everyone says that," Jerry said as zie looked at me. His/her eyes wide, staring at every inch of my face using the excuse of carrying on a conversation with me to look at my handsome new face. "I'm 37."
"Not anymore," I said.
She/he grabbed the rear view mirror and twisted it quickly and cruelly. Thank god it wasn't so cold that it was ready to snap off. She/he stared agape at the reflection there. She'd lost another year since getting into my car. I had no idea if she'd ever get to control her chrono-sliding, but she definitely has the woman's mirror twist and torque action down like she'd been born to it. "16, 17 maybe."
She/he nodded numbly. "My wife is going to kill me."
"We've got bigger problems. There's over 600 people out there... some of which are going to be cute little things like you. Some of which will be monsters like me."
We both got out of the car. "You're not a monster," the producer said.
"You don't know me," I said sadly. "That's ok, there's all sorts of monsters out there... now."
She/he shrugged. "I lived in New York all my life. Monsters, I can live with."
I walked to the edge of the parking garage where we can see a bit of Tenth Ave. and the twilight skyline. The Indigo curtain that hugged the east side set the street lights a flicker. Like dominoes, circuits tripped and fell, preceding the darkness in a vane attempt. The clouds transformed into swirls as the gods stirred a pot they had left on the back burner for a thousand years.
I called Jerry over and pointed up to the sky as the clouds spread their wings, filling the sky with cold orange fire. "The sky is thick with dragons."
Jerry looked for them, I'll give hir that. "There are no dragons."
I smiled, gently. "People say the sun wasn't out today. But the truth of the matter is, the sun was there... we just couldn't see it." I turned to the puzzled producer. "The sky is thick with dragons and I bet dollars to donuts that the demographics of those who want to believe that line up quite nicely with your target audience, white Males 16 to 25. Our existence is going to make quite a splash in the status quo and you're going to want to ride the wave."
Jerry looked up at the night sky. "The sky is full of dragons," the producer said rolling the phrase across her tongue.
"The sky is thick with dragons, Jerry. You can get industrial strength umbrellas or you can fly with them."
Jerry looked at me, and I could see the savvy producer behind the young eyes. He knew a pitch when he heard one. "What do you have in mind?"