by Thomas 'Woulfe' Willetts
"You're coming with us," his companion explained as I was escorted
out to the waiting Humvee.
"No shit," was my reply. While climbing into the back of the truck, I slipped on the bumper and banged my shin hard on a sharp edge. It was cut, deep. I gritted my teeth from the pain and made it the rest of the way up and sat on the fender. Both of the soldiers noticed that my leg had suddenly taken on a reddish tint.
"Dammit. Hey, don't get that blood on anything! We're gonna have to go for decontamination after this," he said, turning to his partner who had retrieved a first aid kit from the cab. He threw it in saying, "Clean as much of that up as you can. Let's get going already!"
They got in and we started driving.
Twenty minutes later the humvee lurched to a stop next to the emergency room of Martin Army Hospital on Fort Benning. The back door was swung open and I was escorted inside. I thought it was extremely odd that the ER in the hospital on one of the biggest military installations in the country should be totally deserted in the middle of the day.
The two soldiers led me to a room in the intensive care unit. When they left, shutting the door behind them, my ears popped. This was obviously a sealed room. As I yawned to unpop my ears a middle aged man wearing a lab coat walked up to the glass door. I snapped my jaws shut and fixed him with a steely gaze.
"My name is Doctor Moorland and I'm with the CDC. I'm truly sorry to kidnap you like this. But when we found out you were going to be at the TV station, well, we thought that would be the safest place to pick you up."
He was outside of the room so I couldn't smell him. It had not even been twenty four hours, and scent was already becoming a vital part of how I 'saw' other people. I felt like I was talking to a TV screen and not a person standing two feet away. "Couldn't you figure out where I live from my vehicle registration or my insurance or something? Hell, I bet it wouldn't take five minutes to find somebody on campus that knows me by my car."
"As a matter of fact a team should be arriving at your house," the doctor looked at his watch, "right about now."
"I had better not find anything missing when I get home," I said, a growl starting to find it's way into my voice.
"Oh, don't worry. The team is just going to retrieve your clothes, bedsheets, towels, toiletries, and generally decontaminate the place. As far as why we didn't get you earlier, well, there are only so many teams we can deploy at a moments notice. To tell you the truth we just got here an hour and a half ago. I've been up all night examining your fellow Changelings."
I didn't like this guy. If only my room hadn't been airtight I might have been able to tell if he was being truthful or not by his scent.
"Where did you get that word 'Changeling' from?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow, or rather the black tuft of fur just above my eye.
"That's what the media is starting to call you," Dr. Moorland said with a smile that sent chills from the tip of my tail to the top of my scalp. "But enough of that. Right now we're going to find out what you're made of."
What?!?!? I staggered backward, falling over a chair. I couldn't believe it! Was he actually saying what I thought he was?
"Oh, stop being so dramatic. I didn't mean we're actually going to dissect you. Just a series of physical examinations. After we determine whether or not you carry any diseases, viruses or other contagion, you will be kept under observation at a secure facility. Oh, I didn't know you were injured," he said, noticing the bandage on my leg. "When did that happen?"
"As I was entering the limo you so graciously provided," I answered, untangling myself from the folding metal chair. After extrication, "What do you mean, 'secure facility'?"
"The CDC has a monitoring facility at its headquarters in Atlanta. You'll be moved there as soon as we've completed the preliminary examinations and deemed you fit to travel."
"How long will that be? What about my family? Do I get to see them?"
"Yes, you will be allowed visitors shortly." He glanced at his wrist watch. "But first we're going to give you a physical. I'll be back in a few minutes." He took one last look at me and walked back down the hall.
I was left alone with my thoughts. Usually not something I recommend, especially at that particular time.
Where the hell does this guy get off sending me to some prison?
Who the hell is he anyway?
I wonder if any of the others are going through this same thing.
What if I am contagious? I might have infected half the southeast by now.
I wonder if this will be anything like that movie Outbreak.
If they think I might be contagious, why did they let me do that stupid interview?
God, I'm thirsty.
Totally disillusioned, I sat on the end of the bed and waited for the doctor to return. I didn't have to wait long.
Dr. Moorland and a small group of what I assumed were his assistants came back dressed in isolation suits. They each had their own air supply and were totally sealed off from the outside world. The doctor opened my door, again causing my ears to pop, and boldly stepped inside.
"Mr. Willetts," he began. His voice was muffled by the multiple layers of plastic. He was holding a clipboard and looked at it as he spoke. "I'm going to say a few words. You say the first thing that pops into your mind."
"This must be the psychological part of the test. Ok, go ahead. Glad I studied," I added dryly. He wrote something on the clipboard and said, "Red."
"Blue." He looked at me for a second then wrote some more.
"Cloth," I answered quickly.
He paused and looked up from the clipboard.
After a second or two of eye contact he said, "Wolf."
"Pack," I said returning his gaze, my face expressionless, just as it had been since he left the first time.
"Pack," He repeated.
"Family," I answered before he could finish saying 'pack'.
This time I paused. "Me."
He stared at me for a few more seconds, seemed to make his mind up about something, then wrote several things on his clipboard. He turned and motioned for me to follow him. On the way down the hall I stopped at a water fountain to get a drink but when I pressed the 'press' pad, no water came out. I quizzically looked at the doctor.
"If you're thirsty I can give you some water in the exam room. We're going to keep track of everything you eat and drink for the next few days."
I was lead to the aforementioned examination room and told to strip. Kicking off my shorts I thought, Gee, that was easy. Even though I was standing in front of several people without a stitch of clothing, I didn't feel the least bit naked or exposed.
"First," said Dr. Moorland, "I'll be taking a blood sample. If I may see your arm?" I held it up and he took out a needle and syringe. He stopped just as he was about to insert the needle into my bicep. "I don't have to worry about you biting me, do I?" I looked for humor in his face, but found none.
"Only if you keep asking stupid questions like that," I answered flatly.
I watched as he drew out a syringe full of dark crimson liquid. Some people get squeamish around needles. Not me. Call me weird, but I want to watch what's going on, especially if someone is going to stick something in me. After the third needle full I said, "You are going to leave me some, right?"
"We have to have enough for analysis. There. That's the last one." An assistant took the samples and walked out of the room. "Now I'm going to take a look at that leg." He knelt down and untaped my makeshift bandage, yanking out quite a bit a fur. He took a cotton swab from one of his helpers, wiped it across the wound, and gave it back. "It doesn't appear to have any infection. What did you clean it with?"
"Do you really want to know?" If he didn't already think something was off with me, this would probably convince him.
"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know."
I sighed. "My tongue."
"Interesting," he said slowly. "I've read that canine saliva has some antiseptic properties, but regardless, I'm going to dress this right." He and one of the other examiners shaved the area around my cut, cleaned it with alcohol, sealed it up with butterfly bandages, and finally wrapped it with gauze and tape. Satisfied with his work, Dr. Moorland performed a brief physical, recording weight, height, blood pressure, and heart rate, both resting and after running for several minutes on a treadmill.
"It seems you're in extraordinary health Mr. Willetts," he said after writing his last observations on his clipboard. "Now you're going back to your room to wait until we get ready to move you to Atlanta."
Who the hell does he think he is giving me orders like that? If he thinks he's dominant over me he's got a fight coming. I thought, but in feelings, not words. In an instant my mindset had changed from docile and cooperative to challenging, bordering on violent. I could start to feel the adrenaline flowing, prepping the fight or flight response. The doctor must have seen me tense up. He took a step back and started to smell fearful. He looked over to one of the others in the room and nodded toward several syringes laid out on a tray. They were marked 'tranquilizer'.
The recognition of that word snapped me out of whatever dominance-asserting state of mind I had been in. In another instant I was visibly shaken by what I was about to do. "I'm sorry," I said holding the side of my head with my hand. "I don't know what that was. Yeah, I do know what it was. I think I took your, uh, suggestion as a challenge. Must be instincts. I've got a grip on them now. I'm going to my room. How does that sound?" I asked, pulling my shorts back on.
"I think that would be the best thing to do now. I think we all could use a little rest," Dr. Moorland said, relieved.
In less than a minute I was sitting back on the bed looking at the cell phone he left for me to use at my discretion. Who should I call first? My mom was still at work, so was dad. Brian had a cell phone but turned it on about as often as he read his e-mail; never. The point was moot because in a few minutes the doctor was back at the door asking very cordially if I would like to accompany him to my waiting transportation. I said, "Sure," and slipped the phone into a pocket. I was led out of the room and to a waiting van parked idling where the Hummer had dropped me off. The doctors weren't wearing any protective gear, and I asked them about this.
"As far as we can determine, you are completely disease-free. There hasn't been any case of any Changelings actually being contagious, but we wanted to be sure."
"So you wore those bunny suits, and yet you waited for me to finish that interview, possibly exposing a lot of people to whatever it was I might have been carrying?"
"The TV station had already run a spot saying you would be on for the noon broadcast. There is a lot of conspiracy talk going around as a result of this event. We didn't want to add to the rumors by disappearing you before you could make an appearance on the air," he explained matter-of-factly. Something about his explanation just didn't sit right with me. Why take that kind of chance just to keep a few paranoids from crying 'foul'?
I reluctantly climbed in the van and took a seat in the back. There was something about this whole thing that just didn't smell right.