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Running
by Kim Liu
Kim Liu -- all rights reserved
 

Don outlined the play, and they all moved into position on the green field in their blue and white uniforms, getting ready to move as the numbers were called out against their opposition of monsters - distorted creatures of man and animals grouped in a wall of opposing flesh. The sun beat down from above as the play began. The two lines collided and writhed with grunts and shouts, the blue and white struggling to hold as the quarterback received the ball looking for an opening as the blue and white slowly sank under the bestial assault. Spotting a chance, he threw!

Scott saw the football coming his way as he tried to outrun the other team, leaving the rest of his teammates behind. Stretching, reaching, he caught it - except it was no longer a football, but an iron red rock. His hands started to change as he touched the rock, shrinking, becoming covered in golden fur. Stumbling as his body shrank and changed, his uniform falling off him, he struggled to hold onto the rock. He couldn't drop it, he couldn't! He shouted at his fingers to stay fingers, not to change, but only a mewing came from his throat as he watched the rest of his body change, becoming more compact, soft gold fur with black spots covering curves that weren't there before, even as his mind refused to see what was happening to his gender -

A roar came from behind him! The blue and white uniforms were coming his way, but something was wrong - "Beast!" came his father's voice from one dark helmet. "Demon!" came his mother's. The howling voices of hate from his teammates shocked him, then a second of roar came from the other team. The animalistic bodies looking even larger now as the glowing eyes looked at his furred body with lust, the two groups joining as they chased him!

He ran, faster than he ever had before, and faster, and faster, but the mob kept closing, the rock in his hands now a letter he had to deliver. Yells and jeers came from behind him, his father's loathing voice coming from a wolf-headed beast even as its claws reached out. The cold echo of Don's voice - "I don't know you, animal." - right before his fist had struck... "Come'ere, pussy, I'll take you home," sneered his mother's voice from a vulpine woman from the city's red-light area, a collar and whip in her hands...

Faster! he thought desperately, panting as the green football field gave way to fields of grain - or was it the savannah? - pushing his way through with the letter he had to get to the end zone. He heard the clock ticking away as the he spotted the goal posts, and turned that way, running, running as he tried to stay upright, his fingers shrinking into paws despite his screams - he couldn't drop it!

"Wake up!"

He couldn't stay on his two feet, falling, the football rolling away...

"Spots! Wake UP!"

The mob threw themselves on him - pawing, shaking - shaking - his father snarling triumphantly -

"WAKE UP!"

Spots shot upright in her bed so hard she nearly knocked Carrie over as the lizard-morph shook her awake. Gasping for air, her hands locked so tight on Carrie's scaled arms that the other winced. "Calm down, girl," Carrie said soothingly, the colored fringe around her reptilian head ruffling. "It's alright, just'a dream."

"Ah! Ah...! A dream!" Spots' wide open eyes clenched shut and the cheetah morph's body shuddered as she panted in her over-sized t-shirt. "Y-yes!" Her tail lashed, trapped in her sheets as Carrie pulled her close and hugged her tight. "Oh-god..." she gasped, her heart thundering in her chest. "Just a dream... yes..." She shuddered again.

"Jeezus, girl!" Carrie said, looking at her roommate with concern enough that it showed on her green-brown scaled face. She reached out and turned on old desk lamp, lighting up the small cubical/room they shared in the Zoo'm'in Being's warehouse. Carrie had been woken up when Spots had knocked their old clock radio onto the ground, otherwise the running-lizard morph might never had woken up. Spots' suffering had almost silent except for a muffled whimpering as she had writhed slowly in bed, every muscle and tendon in her body standing out even through her fur and shirt as if she someone had been electrocuting her to death. Her roommate's ears looked white under their fur, despite the heartbeat Carrie could feel. "Jeezus!" Carrie repeated, worried. "You okay, Spots? You don't look good."

After a final shudder, Spots went limp, sagging. "I don't feel so good, either," she whispered, forcing her hands to unclench from around her friend's arm. "Thanks."

"Think nothin' of it," Carrie answered, petting Spots' back. "You had me worried there - I thought you were dyin'."

A dry laugh rattled in Spots' throat and she sat up. "Not until you pay me back for those musical tickets," she rasped, her throat still feeling dry.

"Oh, like you were going to use them yourself, dear? Fooey on that!" Carrie watched the color creep back into Spots' ears and relaxed a little, the frill of skin around her head settling down. "Now tell me, what happened?"

Spots winced. "It's... an old nightmare," she said, taking a deep breath. "I hadn't had it in years." Looking down at her trembling fingers, she reassured herself that they were still fingers, not paws.

"I can see it's a nightmare, golden girl. I asked you what happened."

The gold and black furred hands clenched again and Spots' throat seized up, teeth baring slightly. Her tail lashed around furiously under the tangled sheets and her ears went back.

Carrie blinked and moved away along on the third-hand bunk bed Spots used. "Spots? Speak to me - you still in there?"

"Y-yes. It's just... not easy to talk about." Again, Spots forced her hands open, forced herself to smooth down her bristling fur, still her tail. She looked up at her friend's face, seeing the concern in the otherwise impassive reptile eyes. "I'm sorry, it's just... it's about when - when the virus hit me."

"Oh. I see." Carrie sat back, shifting around to try to get comfortable with her thicker lizard tail, and ended up half-curled, half-slouched on the end of the bed. She wore an extra-large black "Phantom of the Opera" t-shirt, compared to Spots' white one, with the faded logo of some football team on it. Spots never talked about her past before the virus. Well, neither did Webmaster, or Ito, or a lot of the people Carrie knew. Carrie stretched out her digitigrade legs and looked at their green-brown scaled length, terminating in her talons. "Don't really want to talk about it, huh?"

The cheetah's blue eyes looked away as she winced. "No..."

Carrie wished she could purse her lips - as if she had any. "You know a drunk driver hit my daddy's car?"

Spots sat up straight, shocked. "What?! When did this happen?"

"Long time ago, dearie. Daddy had gone in to pay for gas at the station, an this drunk bastard drives up and forgets to put on his brakes." Carrie studied the claws on one hand idly. "Pretty lucky to live, I was, or so they said, after the gas pump exploded. Lost my legs, left hand, third degree burns all over - Oh, I could go on and on, really." She shook her head.

"Goddamn," Spots murmured, looking at her friend, her own momentarily nightmare forgotten. "When did this happen to you?"

"'bout when I was five, just a little thing," Carrie answered matter-of-factly. "Stuck in a hospital bed after that - parents visited every day. Daddy ran a shoe fix-it and dry cleaning place, and when the money from the drunk's insurance ran out, it got harder and harder to support the bills from the hospital.

"Then the change happened." A grin crept into Carrie's voice, even if her face had problems showing it. "Oh lordy, that itched! I mean, I wanted a power sander and steel wool on my skin! I could see all the old scars drying up, flaking off, and there were scales, scales! underneath 'em! I woulda screamed if I could've, but then I saw my legs - they were getting longer! And if I was gettin' a tail with them, I didn't mind. Shocked me silly, it did, and I fainted." Her red edged frill of skin around her head flicked as she remembered. "Woke up looking like this, but smaller, of course, this was a while back. I was scared, really scared, but I could walk again. I wasn't human, but I wasn't this burned up little girl any more.

"Oh, the doctors yelled, the nurses screamed, and my mama fainted, caused a lot of commotion, but then there was a lot of commotion running around back then. Daddy asked me if I was all right, and I told him, "Look, daddy, I can walk!" He just smiled and gave me a hug and took me home that day. A preacher came by one time and told him that I'd been possessed by the devil. Daddy told him that if the preacher needed his shoes soled daddy would take'em off by putting his knuckles through his mouth and pulling the shoes off through where the sun don't reach. Didn't have any problems with him after that.

"Still had problems getting work, though. These claws aren't much good for handling clothes to be cleaned or shoes to be fixed, and I'd missed too much school and couldn't go back like this. Started doing deliveries for my dad by foot because I could run well, then we started looking at bicycles. Couldn't find anything in that town for me, but someone pointed us at Bob'n'Bill's store over here in this city, and that's how I met you folks here two years ago, and I knew what I wanted to do, then. My parents were a bit freaked by Webster, but they realized there wasn't anything more wrong with him than me, and they know there's nothing wrong with me!

"So here I am, earning my own way, and proud to be here," Carrie finished. "It's not like it's easy to pick up dates like this, and I don't really like the other lizard-types, if I must confess, but I'm not stuck in some bed, slowly rotting away." Her head frill twitched and she cocked her head at Spots with concern. "I know I'm lucky my family stayed by me, I know many folks had worse luck, and from how you've not talked about yours, I'd say your one of them."

Spots winced and curled her tail around uncomfortably. "You could say that," she said finally, drawing her knees up against her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "Only a couple other people really know what happened to me back then." Her whiskers twitched and she stared at her fur-covered but human-like toes. "It was like a dream back then, in high-school," she started, haltingly. "My grades were good, if not the best, no social problems, just started dating... then the virus struck me." She took a deep breath.

"I don't remember much. It started off just like a bad case of the flu, then the delirium started. I faded in and out of consciousness. I caught glimpses of my family's faces, watching over me, their expressions changing from concern, to dismay, to disgust." Her hands clenched again as she fought to keep her voice steady. "I woke up in the basement, chained to the wall with a dog collar and leash. I was gagged. It was very dark," she added, voice low and intense, blue eyes fixed on the far wall.

"Good lord," Carrie whispered. "Your parents... they did that to you?"

Spots nodded, a quick jerk of her head. "They were ashamed of what had happened. They told people I'd died from the virus - filed a death certificate." She made a bitter smile. "They killed me, you might say. As far as they were concerned, their only son was dead."

"Waitaminutewaitaminute! Their son?" Carrie stared at her roommate in shock. "I... maybe I should lie down," she muttered. "I've seen you dress when you thought I was sleeping... oh lordy..."

Spots' smile became more bitter. "I couldn't see myself in the dark - I couldn't see what had happened, but I could feel it. In the dark. What had changed. All of it." Her eyes closed and she tried not to twitch. "I was still weak from the virus, and my coordination was shot. I wasn't as strong as I used to be - hell, I'd lost nearly a hundred pounds - and in the dark, frightened and sick, it took me what felt like hours to get the gag off, and try to shout for help. I hadn't realized who had restrained me then...

"My parents came downstairs... with a bowl of cat food," Spots said, tears trickling down the black stripes of fur on her face. "They told me their son was dead, murdered by this animal I was, that as soon as they could, they were going to sell me to a zoo or circus... though they were no where near as... succinct about telling me that, and they repeated it each time they came down. They had sealed up all the windows so no one might see their shame. When I finally managed to escape, I tried to reach my old best friend, Don, for help." She choked for a moment. "He told me Scott was dead, and that I was a lying animal, beat me black and blue, and tossed me back into the street."

"What - what did you do?" Carrie whispered, shocked almost into silence.

Spots shrugged a little in her t-shirt, arms still around her knees. "I ran. Ran ran ran." She shook her head, trying to stop the tears. "I kept running for a long time, eating what I could find... the norms despised me, and the other SCABs... wanted me." The cheetah morph rocked back and forth slowly. "I kept going. Found myself in the city. Met Webmaster and Frank. They helped me to stop running away. We survived together, the three of us, often on pigeons, until with help from other people, we started Zoo'm'in Beings a few years ago." Spots' body tensed more from the effort she made to relax than her stress as she tried to get control of herself again. "I haven't had that nightmare in years, not since then," she murmured, mostly to herself. "I wonder what caused it tonight."

Carrie blinked at her roommate a couple of times. "I sort of see why you never talked much about it," she said weakly.

"Yes." Spots rubbed at her muzzle, where the tears were drying and matting the fur. "I thought I'd put it all past me, but I guess it will always be there." She sighed and shook her head. "Thanks for listening, Carrie."

"Hey, no problem, gi-," Carries stumbled over her words. "I guess I shouldn't call you girl, should I?"

Spots shrugged. "Why not?" She slid off the edge of the bed with the grace often attributed to felines and stood up to stretch. "I'm not a guy anymore, trust me. There's no going back, only forward." Spots looked back at Carrie. "You know, I received a letter from PlayMale magazine last week with an invitation?"

"You're kidding!" Carrie sat up straighter and blinked.

"Not that I'm interested, but... I know I'm attractive." Spots sat back down on her bed. "I'd have to be blind not to, and I do try to keep in shape." She raised up an hand and looked at it, flexing her fingers. "I'm still confused about what my, hmm, sexual orientation is after all these years, but then again, I think most people are, anyways."

Carrie nodded. "It's hard to think of you as -"

"Don't. I'm Spots now."

Carrie looked at her roommate, who looked back calmly. "You got it, girl," Carrie said finally, standing back up and walking back to her own oval-shaped sleeping couch. "I suppose this is why you didn't want to do that double date last month?"

Spots nodded, and picked up the clock radio she had knocked off in her troubled sleep. "Yes." She smiled wryly. "I still don't know if I'm up to that, or if I want to, but I still don't know if I don't, either - I'll have to make up my mind sometime."

"If you want, I'll help if I can, Spots," Carrie said, curling up on her bed, resting her lizard snout on her tail tip, but watching her roommate with care.

"Thanks, Carrie, and thanks for listening to me... don't worry about those tickets anymore, okay?"

"What tickets, dear?"

Spots rolled her eyes and turned off the lights. "One of these days, Carrie..." She yawned and settled back in her own bed. "Should get to sleep now, business is doing well.

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