"...and so in order to arrive at the formula for the velocity
of an object when all we know about it is the equation of its
trajectory, we must use the second derivative of the equation,"
my calculus professor droned on in his slight southern accent.
I absently scratched at my upper arm as I looked over to the clock on the far wall of the classroom. 2:00. I had only been in the class for thirty minutes and I was already bored to tears. It's not that I found the material easy, not by a long shot. In fact I really should have been paying attention. I refused to buy a textbook with a hundred dollar price tag so I was relying totally on my notes.
The arm scratching abruptly stopped when I felt my arm hair suddenly get much thicker. I looked down to see thick gray... fur?!?!?... what the hell?!? I swallowed hard and started breathing even harder. I watched wide-eyed as the fur spread from under my t-shirt sleeve toward my hand, turning to bright white just above my wrist.
I could say that at that time I had a sinking feeling, but that wouldn't do it any justice whatsoever. A sinking feeling is when you're in grade school and you realize you have forgotten your homework. This was not a sinking feeling. This was a black hole opening up directly beneath me and sucking the very existence out of me. That would be an adequate description of the level of fear I was experiencing.
I suddenly remembered where I was, a crowded college classroom, and decided to get the hell out of Dodge before anyone noticed what was going on. Luckily I sat in the very back next to the door which the Prof. liked to keep open. I stuffed my notebook in my backpack and nearly tripped over a chair on my way out.
As I closed and locked the door to the men's room, I noticed my fingers were now tipped with short black claws instead of fingernails. A little part of my mind that wasn't gripped with dread was saying, "Hey cool, I wonder if that means what I think it means..." Then I fell on my butt as a sharp pain coursed from my lower back, through my legs, and to my feet where it stayed as an intense ache. I winced as I landed on something I knew hadn't been there a second ago. I wanted to see if I did indeed have a new tail, but priorities are priorities and right then my feet were hurting like hell. I thought my shoes were shrinking, but realized it was my feet that were doing the changing. I fumbled with the laces until I managed to undo the double-knot. I was met with immediate relief as I pulled off the confining footwear and socks. My feet were nearly twice as long as they had been and covered with the same fur as my arms. They looked exactly like the hind legs of a wolf, only on a somewhat larger scale. Then happened the weirdest thing I've ever been through. My head became that of a wolf's. I wish I could have seen it in the mirror, but unfortunately I was still sitting on the floor. All I can do is describe what it felt like. The worst part was the temporary deafness as my ears migrated up to the top of my skull. When they got to their destination though... I could hear everything: my own heartbeat, three separate lectures going on down the hall, water flowing through the pipes in the wall, and the bones in my head shifting around. My contacts fell out as my vision got a little blurry for a couple of seconds. During that I could see the bottom of my face pushing out in a muzzle. My eyesight returned and I could actually see better now than before with my contacts, which my optometrist assured me were good for 20/15. I used my tongue to explore my teeth as they altered shape and as new ones grew. A thousand new smells burned my nose as it finished taking form. I lost count of all the people I now knew had been in there recently. The cleaning solvents were strong before, but now they made it downright painful to breathe. Then all the transformations stopped. I had calmed down quite a bit by then and stood up on my newly digitigrade legs to assess the situation. I looked at my reflection.
A big stupid grin spread across my new lupine muzzle as I saw what I had so often dreamed of seeing. The wolf starring back at me was utterly magnificent. Black fur with a touch of gray on the top of his head and white from the sides of his muzzle down below his chin with brown and gray highlights on the top of his muzzle and around his eyes. And those eyes... piercing yellow with tendrils of brown and white running through them. I raised my hand to my face and the wolf in the mirror imitated me perfectly. My hands were shaped like the same but there were black pads on the last two joints on my fingers and thumb. There was also padding on my palm below my fingers and at the base of my thumb. White fur filled in between the pads. I stood there for several minutes getting used to my new form. I did have a long bushy tail. It had gone down a leg of my shorts and was curled out the end. Yes, I was wearing shorts in January. Well, they were those cool zip-off kind.
A sudden knock at the door brought me back to the real world.
"You gonna be in there all day?"
Oh, shit. I hadn't thought to see if I could even talk.
"Just a minute." I replied with a tiny bit of relief. My voice as a human had been pretty deep; I had sung bass in a church choir while a freshman in high school. My voice now was about the same pitch, but with a distinct growling quality. I liked it.
"Come on, man. You're not the only person at this school that has to take a shit." The voice behind the door was sounding a little agitated. I could smell his agitation, too.
Thinking fast, I pulled my jacket out of my bag and put it on with the hood pulled as far over my head as I could get it. I pulled the legs to my pants out of a cargo pocket and zipped them on. My pants were sufficiently baggy to hide most of the natural bending of my legs. I looked in the mirror. If no one looked really hard they would never notice anything.
"Dammit! If you don't hurry up..."
"I'm coming out right now."
I stuffed my old shoes and socks in my pack and reached over to unlock the door. As soon as I did the guy nearly knocked me over as he burst through and ran into a stall.
I thought to look at my watch. Only 2:15.
Damn, but a lot can happen in fifteen minutes, I thought to myself.
There weren't any more class changes on this side of the school for a while, so I didn't see anyone as I walked (clicking!) down the hall and out to the parking lot.
I can always spot my car in any parking lot. Driving a bright red 1973 Volkswagen SuperBeetle will let you do that. I threw my pack in the trunk, opened the door and got in. I hit the switch that turns on my gauges and watched as the needles rose to their zero marks. Everything being in order, I turned on the key and hit the starter button. The highly modified flat four lit and settled into its lopey idle. The stock engine came rated at about 45 hp. When I got through rebuilding this one, it was pushing four times that number. In a 1500 lb. car, that translates into being able to outrun damn near everything on the street from 0-100.
I pulled the back of my pants down enough to allow my tail a little freedom. With my shorter thigh and to give my tail somewhere to go, I sat way out on the edge of the seat. I found working the pedals easier than I thought it would be. I shifted the bulletproof, close ratio, five-speed transaxle into reverse and eased out on the clutch. I'd installed a high performance clutch which didn't slip at all. It chirped the tires as I pulled out of the space and again as I started for home.
I don't have a radio in my Bug. If I wanted to I'd have to spend an ungodly amount of money in order to have enough wattage to hear it above the sound of the drive train. A two-liter type1 engine with dual two-barrel Weber carburetors, a big cam, big heads, open exhaust, and solid trans mounts is kinda loud. It was music to my ears. Wait, let me rephrase that: It used to be music to my ears. Now it was unbelievably, deafeningly loud noise.
I laid my ears back, still under my jacket hood, as I pulled out of the parking lot and onto College Drive. I made a right on East Lindsay Drive and another at Warm Springs Road. I hit the green light and turned left on the short connector to Manchester Expressway. Again the light was in my favor as I turned right and, getting a little sideways, blew through the last two lights and headed out to my house. Twenty minutes later, after embarrassing a Camaro and a 5.0 Mustang, I reined in the German beast and put it to rest behind the house. Oh, did I mention it's got a 25-hp shot of nitrous?
Buck, my big German Shepherd, was silently staring at me as I got out of the car feeling pretty good about the way things were going. The way he was looking at me just then was very troubling. My mom has told me he usually knows it's me from a mile up the road. I walked up to his pen and he laid his ears back and tucked his tail as he lowered his head to the ground, never taking his eyes off of me. The only time I had seen him do that was when a total stranger approached him. With my keen sense of smell and the obvious body language, I could tell he was exuding apprehension and uncertainty.
"What is it, Bucky?" I said in the friendliest voice I could muster.
A flicker of recognition flashed across his face and I'd swear I smelled it, too. The flicker passed and he slowly backed away and went into his doghouse and laid down.
"If my own dog doesn't recognize me, then who the hell am I?" I said to no one at all. Then I had one of those moments where you seem to question everything there is to question. It was unsetting to say the least.
I walked back up to the back porch and opened the screen door. Patch, my mom's stupid fat cat started to dart past me but skidded to a halt when he realized what I was. He hissed and puffed out his tail as he ran to the far end of the porch. I slowly unlocked the door and went inside. I stopped at the telephone desk next to the door. The light on the answering machine was blinking, so I hit the play button.
"Message one," said the synthetic voice.
-- Beep -- "Hey, this is mom. Donna called in sick so I've got to cover for her tonight. I'm the only other manager in town right now, so I've got no choice in the matter. Oh, well. Listen, I'll probably stay in town tonight with your Aunt Rose. You've got the number there, just in case. If you go anywhere, let me know. And I don't want to hear about another speeding ticket with that Bug of yours. I talked to your dad and he said..." -- Beep --
"End of message," announced the machine.
I hung my head as I padded down the hall to my room. I shut the door behind me and turned around. I stood in front of the full length mirror on the back of my door.
I read somewhere that if you look hard enough at your reflection you can see past the surface and glimpse your true self. Before, I had sat in front of that same mirror and tried seeing past the human to see what was beneath. Now, with renewed confidence and no small measure of relief, I knew that I no longer had to try to catch a fleeting vision of my true self. I was looking directly at it. And it was smiling.
8O8 --- 8O8 --- 8O8 --- 8O8 --- 8O8 --- 8O8
As I laid in bed watching the first rays of light peek through
the blinds, I replayed the events of yesterday. It had started
like any other day. I had got up, ate breakfast, went to class...
but I came home an anthropomorphic wolf. I hadn't planned on ending
up looking like a werewolf, yet here I was. It seemed like I was
watching it happen to someone else, like at any moment I'd blink
and realize it had all been just another story written by some
great author. I closed my eyes and grinned as I felt my tail wagging
under the sheet.
Can't stay here forever, might as well get up and face the world, I thought.
I threw the bedclothes off, hopped out of bed, and pulled on an old pair of shorts with a strategically cut hole. I've always been what you could call a morning person. I've never needed caffeine to get going. Even on weekends I'm wide open by eight o'clock. That morning I was positively wired. And giddy, and excited, and scared, and anxious, and nervous as hell at the same time.
I went out to the backyard to 'mark the old territory'. So far I hadn't had to go to the bathroom indoors, but I figured it would probably involve serious leaning over or being restricted to a urinal. After all, it's not like you can exactly aim a furry sheath like a human penis. I didn't have to worry about being seen, especially this early. My nearest neighbor is a half a mile away through the woods. Living out in the country can have its advantages. My dog, Buck, still didn't know what to make of me, but I was sure I could convince him I was still me.
I went back inside and hopped on the web to see what was going on. I hadn't cleaned out my mailbox on Yahoo in a couple of days, but to say that I was shocked to see I had over five hundred unread messages would be an understatement. I opened a bunch of them, but ninety-nine percent turned out to be "Hey, I turned into (blank)!" From the few messages I had read, the transformees had taken a wide variety of shapes, including quite a few mythological forms. I declined to add to the pandemonium. I was surprised the server was still functioning with this level of traffic. I signed off and went to the kitchen to take care of breakfast.
Last night I had decided to cook myself a steak, as a sort of personal celebration. I've always liked my steak rare, and I only left last night's on the grill for a few minutes, but it tasted like burnt charcoal. For breakfast that morning I had decided to fix steak and eggs using the smaller portion of the T-bone I halved and cooked last night. I took the piece of cow out of the refrigerator and placed it in the hot frying pan on the stove. The smell was absolutely mouthwatering. On a whim I quickly picked it back up and gave it a lick. Before I knew what I was doing, I was tearing off chunks of raw beef and swallowing them whole. I stopped for a second, shrugged my shoulders and finished it off.
I forgot about the eggs and began cleaning up. The dishes done, I turned on the TV to see if there was anything in the news about what had happened. Living way out in the boonies can have some disadvantages, too. My viewing selection was limited to five local channels and a sixth if the weather was just right. I turned to the ABC affiliate and my jaw hit the floor.
Next to the talking head was a still picture of me driving through the parking lot of the college in my 'arrest me' red VW, with a clearly non-human muzzle protruding from the hood of my jacket. I noticed the text under the graphic read 'local werewolf'.
"Oh, my god," I quietly said. Everyone who knew me knew that car. They also knew that absolutely no one else ever drove that car.
I slowly became aware of the commentary. "Yes, that's right, Dee. I'm sure you've all heard by now of the phenomenal events that took place yesterday. And if you haven't, at two p.m. yesterday, hundreds of people all over the world unexplainably transformed into various forms. We have reports of among other things, a centaur, several werewolves, and possibly a dragon or two. Well, it seems we have one of those transformed individuals here in Columbus. We're not sure exactly who this person is at this time, but we do have someone who saw him yesterday about the time the event occurred."
They cut to a taped interview of the guy that pushed pass me in the bathroom yesterday. I could have sworn he didn't notice anything.
"Here we are at the Columbus State University with Darrell Smith who reportedly had a close encounter of the strange kind. Darrell?"
"Yeah, I had to use the restroom real bad but when I got there, the door was locked. I knocked and I asked if anyone was in there. Whoever it was said they'd be right out, but, you know, when you gotta go you gotta go. Finally he opened the door and I ran to the stall. It didn't hit me until I was, um, through with business that whoever that had been sure didn't look right. In fact, he looked a lot like a dog or a wolf or something."
"Thank you, Darrell. While I don't know anything for sure, I do know that this reporter is stocking up on silver bullets. Back to you Chuck."
I got a sick feeling in my stomach as I turned off the TV. I really, really, really wished he hadn't added that last part. I had a lot of faith in the human spirit and all that, but there are some hardcore rednecks in this area (smack in the middle of the Bible belt) with a reputation for extreme intolerance and well stocked gunracks. As far as I knew, there were only a very small handful of openly homosexual people around here, because of the constant bigotry and threat of violence.
I went over to the phone with the intent to call the station to set up an interview or something. I figured the best move I could make would be to get it out as quickly as possible. Let as many people as possible know what I was and what I wasn't. I was inches from picking up the phone when it rang. Startled, I answered. It was my best friend, Brian.
"Hey, can I speak with Thomas?"
"What's up Brian?"
"Man, you sound like you've got a cold or something. That why you skipped out of political science yesterday?"
"Um, not really. Look, are you working today?"
"No, I'm actually off until Friday. I was planning on coming over there and working on my bug."
Back in high school I used to give Brian and his little brother a ride to school, and I sort of 'infected' him with the 'bug'. He bought a 1964 VW, and was restoring it at my house because I had all the needed equipment.
"Yeah. Why don't you come over here in a few minutes, but, uh, there's something I need to tell you first."
"Did you see the news this morning?"
"Well, what about last night?"
"Oh, yeah, I was going to ask you about that. Weird shit, huh?"
"Well, yeah. It is pretty weird. I know firsthand."
Silence. "What do you mean?"
"Brian, I look like a werewolf."
More silence. "You're lying."
"You'll see when you get here."
"Whatever. I'll be over there in a minute. Bye"
I hit the talk button.
"That wasn't so hard," I said to myself.
I knew it was only fair I tell my parents what was going on next. I called my mom's cell phone.
"Mom, it's me."
"Oh, hey. What's up?"
"Um, you heard about what happened yesterday, right?"
"Yeah, that's all everybody is talking about. I still don't see how something like that could just happen."
"Me neither. Um, mom, I've got something to tell you. You didn't happen to see the news this morning, did you?"
"No. Why? What is it, are you alright?"
I took a deep breath. "Mom, as of yesterday at two o'clock I look like a werewolf."
I held my breath for her response.
"I understand. It fits. I don't know why, but whenever I see a picture of a wolf I think of you."
My jaw hit the floor for the second time that day. I had prepared myself for everything but acceptance. I was speechless.
"Honey, are you still there?"
"Huh, oh, yeah mom, I'm here. It's just that I had no idea you felt that way. You're coming home after work at five, right?"
"Of course, but I'll probably try to get off work sooner. I can't wait to see what you look like."
"Alright. See you then. Hey, do you think you can tell dad?"
"He should be coming up there this afternoon, to work on the boat. You can tell him then. Bye."
Next I dialed the number to the TV station; they flash it all the time to get people to call in news, and boy did I have some.
"Hello, this is WTVM, how may I help you?"
"Um, I'm sure you've had a hundred people call you about this, but I'm the guy in that red VW." Click.
"Sonofabitch," I growled at the phone. I tried again.
"Hello, this is WTVM, how may I help you?"
"I need to speak with the manager."
"Hold on a minute," the receptionist said in a very irritated tone.
After 137 seconds: "This is Ron Adams."
"Look, I know you probably won't believe me, but I'm the guy you want to talk to about the wolfman."
"Now, why would that be?"
"Look, son. I've had about enough of these jokes. If you're lying, I can have you prosecuted. I've answered at least fifty calls since the five o'clock news yesterday, all saying they were the werewolf. We've sent the van out ten times and all of them were no-shows."
"I'm not asking you to send anybody. I'll come down there."
He sighed. "Well, at least you offered to come to us. Be here at eleven so we can get it on the air at twelve."
"I'll be there."
"I sure hope you are who you say you are."
"Don't worry about that, Mr. Adams. Goodbye."
I had just hung up the phone when I heard a car, specifically a '93 Mustang, park in the driveway. I peeked out the blinds and saw that it was indeed Brian. He got out of his car and started walking toward the front door. I took one last look at myself in the mirror by the door and waited for him to come in.
"Hey, Thomas, you here?" Brian said as he stopped at the door.
"Yeah, come on in," I replied.
The glass storm-door swung open. "So what's this crap you're saying about a wolf --" That's when he turned and saw me standing there. "Holyshitdamnwhatthefuck!!!!!" Brian exclaimed as he tried to backpedal through the wall.
"Calm down! It's me!" I tried to reassure him. I don't know if I meant to, but my request carried an unusual amount of authority. He started breathing again and took a good long look at me.
He reached out and touched my arm. "How?" he asked.
"Beats the hell out of me." Just then the incredibly strong smell of tanned cowhide assaulted my sensitive nostrils. "Think you could take that jacket off? It smells like boiled cow."
"No way, dude. It's freezing in here!"
"Oh, yeah. Sorry about that. I had to open a few windows last night. Kept getting hot for some reason." I said with a smirk. At least I hope it looked like a smirk and not a snarl.
"Right. So, have you told anybody else?" he asked putting his hands in the pockets of his black leather coat.
"Just mom, you, and I'm supposed to go give an interview at channel 9 in a few minutes. Want to come with?"
"Sure, sounds fun."
"Hey, uh, you don't mind if we take your ride, do you?"
"What's the single most recognizable vehicle in Columbus?" I asked as we started moving toward the couch.
"That Hummer the Carmike Cinema guy drives, but I get your point. When did you say you had to be at channel 9?"
I looked at my wrist out of habit, but my watch was still on my dresser so I checked the VCR. I was pleasantly surprised that I could in fact read the small digits from across the room. "We've got about an hour," I said turning back toward him. I saw him shrink back just a little and caught a whiff of something strange. The smell made the image of a recurring nightmare I had as a child come to mind, only it was as if someone else was waking up from it and not me. I tentatively made the connection. "Brian, I don't scare you, do I?"
"No, of course not," he answered, sounding like he was trying to convince himself.
"Tell me the truth. I think I can smell it."
"Really? Ok, yeah. You're scaring the piss out of me. Happy?"
"No. Look, I don't want to go around spooking folks, but at least now I know what it smells like. Would you quit looking at me like a deer caught in the headlights? You don't have to worry, I'm still the same guy I was yesterday and will be tomorrow."
"I know, I know. It's just that. this," he motioned at me with his hands, "is gonna take some getting used to."
"You want to know what I think?" I asked.
"Not really, but I have a feeling you're gonna tell me anyway."
"Give it three days and nobody will think much about the whole situation. Me included."
"What makes you so sure of that?" he asked as we both sat on the sofa.
"It's like someone with a weird haircut. The first time you see it you really notice it. Then after a while it's just part of the scenery. I heard somewhere that you could park an Abrams tank in a parking lot, and after a few days people accept it being there and think it's odd if it isn't."
"Where do you find this stuff?" Brian asked, smiling for the first time since he saw the new me.
"Way too much free time, and unlimited monthly Internet access. Why don't you turn on the TV?"
"Where's the remote?"
"It's broke. I'll turn it on." I got up from the couch, nearly fell on my nose due to my digitigrade legs, and hit the power button.
The TV was still tuned to Channel 9, but by now Good Morning America had come on. After a few minutes of weather, both national and local courtesy of the hometown flunkies, they cut to a tape of an interview with an anthropomorphic lizard. His name seemed familiar, but it took a second for it to register.
I pointed to the screen and exclaimed, "That's one of the guys from that story list I told you about!"
"That's great. What does it mean, though?" my friend asked.
With fake irritation I said, "So far the only people who have changed are subscribed to that list. Geez, don't you watch the news?"
ABC had devoted the whole show to the subject of the transformations. Brian and I watched as several scientists and other 'experts' were brought in to offer an explanation for the events. The best they could do that made any semblance of sense to me was something about the quantum uncertainty principle; if something isn't impossible, it can and will happen. By then it was time to go to the TV station, so I turned off the television and we went outside to Brian's Mustang. As he opened the driver's door, he noticed I was still only wearing shorts.
"Aren't you cold?" he asked.
I shook my head 'no' and then added, "Hold on a second." Out of curiosity I padded over to the oak tree next to my house and checked the outdoor thermometer nailed to it. I walked back and got in the car and we started for town.
As he turned out of my driveway he asked, "So, how cold is it?"
I played DJ with his CD-player, putting in a mp3 disk I had burned for him a while back. He glanced over to see which CD I was putting in. Through the speakers, Warren Zevon started in on his rousing ballad of English lycanthropy. Needless to say I sang along, howls included. Much eye-rolling and head shaking ensued from the driver's seat. We both had a good laugh.
Half an hour later, Brian looked at me and I looked back at him as we turned into the station's driveway. We both noticed the olive-drab Humvee sitting in the parking lot. We also noticed the pair of soldiers conspicuously guarding the entrance to the building. One of them spoke into a walkie-talkie as Brian pulled into a parking space and shut off the engine.
Brian quietly spoke to me over the roof of his car, "I have a very bad feeling about this."
"Me, too." Then, after a pause, "Let's just go in so I can do that interview. It's really important that I do this. Come on."
"Um.. You can do it if you want. I'll come back and pick you up in about an hour."
"Whatever, chicken-shit. Just don't be too late."
"Alright. See ya in a little while." With that he got back in and drove off, most likely toward the mall.
I walked past the two soldiers without incident and were greeted by the front desk receptionist as though nothing was out of the ordinary. She pointed us toward the station manager's office and said Mr. Adams was expecting me.
I knocked on the door. "Come in," was the reply from the other side. I slowly opened the door and stepped in the office.
"Jesus Christ," Mr. Adams breathed as his jaw went slack.
I offered my hand for him to shake and said, "Mr. Adams, my name is Thomas Willetts, I'm 19, a student at CSU, and a humanoid wolf."
He looked at my hand as if I were offering him a wet skunk sandwich.
"You'll forgive me if I don't shake hands. The CDC still hasn't completely ruled out whatever this is being contagious."
"Right. So, how do you want to do this interview thing?" I asked.
"I was hoping you could answer that. The story broke yesterday, so the only real effects will be local. I think it would be a good idea for you to just get on camera and tell your story. The interviewer can ask you things like 'How do feel about the changes?', or 'How should people react to you?', 'Do you feel you're not a danger, do people have any reason to think you're no longer a productive member of society?', that sort of thing.
"We've still got an hour or so before we need to put something on tape, so we've got plenty of time to do this however you want. Oh, by the way, thanks for coming to WTVM with your story."
"No problem. I think Luke Allen took care of the societal issues yesterday on his interview, so we should probably focus on how I relate to the immediate area."
"Absolutely. Sit down, please," he said, motioning at one of the pair of leather chairs in front of his desk.
"Thanks for the offer, but the backs of these chairs are solid; no holes," I said, turning slightly to show Mr. Adams my tail.
"Oh, wow," he said staring at it for a few seconds. He realized what he was doing and went back to looking me in the eye.
"I'm sorry, it's just that... this is so incredible. I can't imagine how... well, what do you think caused it?"
"To be honest, I have no idea whatsoever. Your guess is as good as mine."
We talked for a few more minutes, then went to the area of the studio set up for the interview. As per Mr. Adams' request, my chair was replaced with one that would allow me to comfortably sit with my tail though the backrest. Maria Richards, the anchor doing the interview, sat down and it appeared they were ready to start.
"Hi Thomas, I'm Maria and today we're going to put your story on TV," she explained with a stoic, professional air. She was nervous as hell, but doing a good job of covering it up. Oddly enough, I seemed to be solid as a rock. Under the previous, pre-transformation, circumstances I would have been shaking like a leaf.
"We've met before, at Northside Animal Hospital. You petted my German Shepherd, Buuuu --" The air currents in the room shifted and I very nearly gagged on her perfume. She noticed and tried to apologize.
"No, no it's ok, just give me a minute. I'll be fine," I coughed out. I closed my eyes and tried to concentrate on some other smell. I picked out the scent of pine coming from the janitor closet and pictured pine trees and sunlight through the branches with squirrels and bunny rabbits running around. I opened my eyes quickly. I'd better watch it or my mouth will start watering, I thought to myself with a chuckle. "Ok, let's do this."
I saw the guy that does the counting down thing with his fingers come up next to the camera. He did his job and we were taping.
Maria began, "I'm here with Thomas Willetts, one of the six hundred or so individuals who went to sleep yesterday something other than what they woke up as. Thomas, how do you feel about becoming a werewolf?"
"First, I'd like to say that I'm not a werewolf in the sense that during the full moon I turn into a big ugly green monster and bust through walls and kill people. I suppose you could call me a werewolf in the sense that the word means man-wolf in German, so yeah, you could say I'm part human, part wolf. But none of this full moon stuff, alright?"
"Superstitions die hard. A lot of people think you and all the others who changed should be locked up away from the rest of society. What do you have to say to those people?"
"I'd say they were the ones who need to be put away. If there's one thing modern society does not need, it's a bunch of racist bigots. We may not look the same on the outside, but every one of us who changed is still an individual that deserves your respect. If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?"
"And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? I believe that's rest of that quote, is it not, Mr. Willetts?"
"Ok, you got me there. I wanted to stay on the lighter side if this, but, yes, if provoked I will act in pure self defense."
"But you clearly possess deadly weapons in the form of those large, sharp teeth and," she looked at my hands to confirm her suspicion, "a set of claws. There's no way you could call it a fair fight."
"Teeth and claws don't kill people. People kill people. Look, I've never been in a fight in my life and there's nothing I'd like more than to keep it that way."
"Moving on, how do you feel you and your fellow transformees will fit into society now?"
"Well, speaking personally, I still plan on finishing college, though I haven't decided on a specific major yet. Maybe Environmental Science? I'd also like to add if there are any colleges out there that need a wolf mascot, just let me know. As far as the others are concerned, I have no doubt they will continue to find ways of being productive members of society. I also want to say I'm not trying to be a spokesman or anything; I hate to put words in other people's mouths."
"Changing the subject a little here, would you have a problem with having medical tests performed on you?"
"I suppose it would depend on why the tests were being performed. If they were just trying to figure out if whatever caused this thing to happen could affect other people, and so long as the tests weren't too invasive, then no, I would have no
objections. I think I'm due for a physical anyway. Though I don't who would be more interested in the results, the doctors or me." Good, I thought with a small smile being careful not to show teeth, keep it light; keep a sense of humor about it.
"I'm sure you've told your family about what has happened to you. What do they think about it?"
"Actually, I've only told my mother. She seemed very understanding, though. I don't think anybody besides my best friend and my mother know for sure. I guess I've been avoiding it. Well, no time like the present, right?" I turned to face the camera.
"O.K. family, you know who you are. It's me Thomas. This is what I wanted. It's alright; I'm happy. I've been handed something I've wished for for a long time. I only hope you can understand this. I love you all." Finished with my rant, I turned back to face my interviewer.
After few seconds of silence, she said, "You say this is something you've wished for. Would you care to elaborate on that?"
"I was worried you were going to ask me that." I paused for a moment to gather my thoughts. "The older and more mature I become, the more dissatisfied I am with the world and the general human condition. I used to think this was the best we could manage. About a year ago I started to think of how it might be better. I came to the conclusion that six billion people all have their own ideas of how to improve their own lives, so I should think of a way to make my own life better and let everyone else worry about themselves. After all, I wouldn't want someone trying to shove their ideas down my throat with the pretense of trying to change my life for my own good. Anyway, I'm not going to say I sat down one day and thought this up all by myself. I found a community of people on the Internet who seemed to think that being a furry, that's a human with animal characteristics, was the way to go. That just clicked with me. I mean, wouldn't it be great to have the senses of a wolf with the intellect of a man. Sort of a 'best of both worlds' thing. Of course I would have preferred it if everyone would have changed, but I suppose you can't have everything you wish for."
"You certainly can't. Although I must say I am intrigued as to how it must feel."
"The actual process wasn't that fun, but I wouldn't trade what I am now for anything."
"Again, I'm Maria Richards here with Thomas Willetts, a humanoid wolf. Thank you Thomas for sharing your thoughts with us today."
The red light on the camera went out and that was that. Then Mr. Adams walked through a door, followed by the two soldiers who were previously at the front entrance. He came over to me and said, "I'm sorry. I had no choice."
One of the soldiers stepped around him and roughly pulled me up from the chair.
"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.
[more to come]