A "Winds of Change" Story
If anyone had told me three weeks ago that I'd find myself in Canada, I wouldn't have believed them.
Then again, if anyone had told me six months ago that I'd be a walking, talking eagle, I'd probably have thought they were nuts. I guess life gets strange sometimes. Perhaps surreal is a better word.
Most of us were relaxing in the living room of the Derksen home. Bryan was still upstairs talking to his father. I sighed when I thought about that. Bryan had changed a lot in the last few days, really more than any of the rest of us. It wasn't so obvious then, but when we'd first met he was still carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. It was only when he started to relieve some of that stress that I noticed the difference. He obviously still had a lot to work through, but he was well on that road to recovery.
Jon was partly reclined on the sofa. Even exhausted, he was still obviously ecstatic with his return to deer form. Oddly, I felt a little saddened by his return. I didn't have that many pre-Change friends who'd ended up as birds, and none that made it into another bird of prey. Really, since then I'd only met Kim. It'd been nice to think that I'd have another who was an eagle.
True, Jon was fairly sure that he could switch back to that form, but he hadn't yet. We first wanted to find Maxine. We needed to figure out what she had done, and if nothing else, warn her before she accidentally did it again.
Jack flipped through the Edmonton phonebook. "There are fifteen people listed here as "Lamark", and a few others under different spellings, but none named Maxine. Do you have any idea when she last lived here?"
Jon shook his head. "No, Grace didn't seem to know. Then again, she didn't seem to know what the pointed end of a pencil was for. I don't even know her parents names."
"Well," I said, "We can just try calling the ones in the book. One of them might be her family."
Jon nodded and picked up the phone. "Okay, what's the first number?"
While they went through the list, I went to the designated guest room and looked for my bag. Before we'd left Springfield, the doctor who treated Kim had given us the name of a doctor they knew here in Edmonton. He was a former MD that had actually gone back to school when he retired for a vets license, finding it far less stressful. He was one of the few people who could be considered an expert anymore. Right now, he was treating patients and doing research at the vet center at the University of Alberta here in town. They'd promised to forward her file to him. We hoped to bring her in to see him tomorrow. We wanted to be sure that the break in her wing was healing properly.
I hadn't told anyone yet, but I could already see something was happening to her. Bryan had quietly pulled me aside to warn me to watch for the mental changes the day that it happened, and Jack had been keeping a mental eye on her. But the changes had been subtle. She was still Kim in that form, but she had slowly started to do small things that worried me. She seemed a little more aggressive than she had been before and a couple of times she momentarily seemed not to understand what I was saying to her.
More than that, I think Kim was getting worried herself. It's not like she didn't know the risks when she started doing this, but she'd now been in her norm form for almost a week. The combination of the frustration of not being able to talk and the encroaching instincts were beginning to build in her.
I found the number and went back into the living room. Jon was just hanging up the phone in frustration. "That numbers disconnected." He muttered.
"No luck?", I asked.
He shook his head and picked up the receiver. "No. About half of the numbers are disconnected. A lot of people have been shuffling around since the Change, I guess. The other ones haven't heard of her." He started punching in another number.
I shook my head. This was going to be tougher than we though. I reached out to Kim and started scratching her on the chin. "You doing okay?" she just turned her head a bit and nodded slightly. Then, she moved her leg onto my hand and climbed up to my shoulder.
Jon set the phone on the receiver. "They've never heard of her, either. Is that the last one, Jack?"
He nodded. "That's it. I guess we'll have to go about this differently."
"How? Search the city from top to bottom looking for her?", I asked.
Jack looked at me seriously, "I think so. Look, she was a caribou of some type, right?"
Jon nodded, "A Perry Caribou, yeah."
"Well, we know that she came into the city pretty fast. Even if she has family here, she must have been seen by someone when she went out for food or something. We'll have to ask around. Someone must have seen her."
Jon yawned, "Well, we can't do it tonight. We need to ask Bryan where to get started, anyway. How long has he been talking to his dad?"
I glanced at my watch. "Three hours." I sighed. "He must be telling him everything. I almost feel sorry for him."
Jon looked at me oddly, "Why? Because of what he's been through?"
I shook my head, "Partly, but not totally. I mean, he'll never really be able to be completely honest with people. His Power is really disturbing, when you think about it."
Jack laughed, "Brian, do you plan on telling everyone you know that you're a polymorph?"
I tilted my head curiously, "I guess not, why?"
"Don't you think that it would make people uncomfortable never being sure if the bird morph they are looking at is you or not?" he asked pointedly.
I thought a second and nodded. "I guess you're right."
Jack shrugged, "There's nothing written that Bryan has to tell people. He's pretty much under control now. Give him a couple weeks and it won't even be an issue."
Bryan came downstairs a little later with his father. They settled onto the sofa and we all talked for a while. Eventually, the subject of Maxine, and how we were going to locate her, came up.
Bryan considered a little. "I suppose there are a couple of places that we can try asking around, malls and shopping areas and such. I guess we can get started in the morning."
I reached up and stroked Kim under her good wing. "Actually, do you guys mind if I take Kim to see that Dr. Moorhead first thing in the morning? She needs to get checked."
The three of them looked at each other a second and nodded. Bryan said, "Sure, I'll take you over to the university in the morning. Shouldn't take all that long."
Jack looked at Kim, "Do you want me to come along?" She seemed to consider for a second, then Jack nodded. "Okay, it's your choice." He glanced at me, "She's a little worried about this, Brian. She's tempted to just shift back to morph."
I looked at her seriously. "It's your choice, Kim. Just hold off at least until morning. Maybe you can get back pretty soon." She reluctantly nodded in agreement.
Jack finally stood from the sofa and stretched. "I don't know about any of you, but I'm ready to hit the sack. I need to get my sleep or I'll be cranky in the morning."
"I guess that means you don't sleep much, eh?" asked Bryan through a grin.
Jack just rolled his eyes and went into the guest room.
Bryan and I rigged up a perch across a couple of chairs in the kitchen with a heavy broom handle. He'd offered us to just perch on the back of some of the chairs in the house, but I flexed my talons at him and smiled, "We're likely to gouge the finish right off. This'll be fine." I leaned over and Kim stepped off my shoulder onto the perch. Then I shifted and Bryan gave me a hand up.
"Good night. See you in the morning." He clicked off the light and Kim and I snuggled next to each other.
Just a few seconds later, I heard the front door open and a new voice, muffled a bit by the walls of the house. "Bryan? Oh wow, I'm glad to see you!"
"Collin! I'm glad to see you. I've got a lot to tell you. Let's go upstairs, though. I've got friends stashed all over the house." I heard footsteps on the stairs, a door closed, and I fell asleep.
I opened my eyes slowly as I pulled my head out from under my wing. If nothing else, the ability for me to sleep like this was the worth having the ability to shift. I'd never slept better than I had been over the last week.
I found myself looking into the bright eyes of a low-average degree canine of some sort. I guessed that this was Bryan's brother. He hadn't said much about him, but he had described what he had become.
For his part, he grinned nervously. "Oh, I'm sorry. Did I wake you up?"
I yawned and shook my head.
"Well, I'm Bryan's brother, Collin. I'm sorry, he told me who you all were last night, but I can't remember which one of you had the broken wing."
I moved a few steps from the still sleeping Kim and jumped off the perch onto the floor, shifting to morph as I hit the carpet. He didn't seem phased at all by my shift. Since the Change, after all, it was a part of our lives. I stuck out a talon, "I'm Brian, that's Kim." I said quietly.
He took my hand easily. In the back of my mind, I remembered that Bryan had said that his brother was pretty shy around strangers, but he seemed pretty much at ease.
I couldn't help but wonder if that was partly Bryan's doing...
Bryan, Kim and I left the house a little after nine. Jon and Jack were still asleep, and there wasn't much reason to wake them. For his part, Jon was looking very comfortable under that tree in the backyard. We probably would be back before noon, anyway.
We pulled onto the campus of the University of Alberta a little while later. Bryan seemed a little nervous as we drove onto the campus. I asked him about it.
"Bad memories." He said simply.
The campus seemed a little quiet, it probably hadn't opened up for fall yet, or not many students were here. I pondered a moment. "Are you planning on coming back here this year?"
He singled a turn onto a side road and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, "I don't know. I always planned on it, but I think I've got something more important to finish first."
"Morrisville?" I asked simply.
He nodded. "I think I have to go back there. I'm not sure if I can help, but I have to try. In a twisted way, I feel responsible."
"You didn't do anything to them, Bryan. You know that." I said.
He nodded, "I know, but I'm the one who can help clean up the mess. There were still people I couldn't convince to come out of norm when I left. I think they may never, now."
I tapped my talon on the seat I was laying over. "Have you thought about asking Maxine?"
He turned he head to me suddenly. "You mean, have her force them out of norm? She might be able to do that. That might be what they need."
I nodded, "Did wonders for me when I lost it."
He pulled into a parking space near a large building on the edge of campus. "Well, we're here. If this note is right, Dr. Moorhead is set up in one of the vet clinics in that building." He said, pointing.
We piled out of the car and made our way into the building. It was still very early, and only a few other people were in the waiting room. I walked up to the cardinal receptionist. "Hi, we're here to see Dr. Moorhead. We have an appointment."
She nodded, and I could see the smile on the edges of her beak. "I can already tell you that Dr. Moorhead will be happy to see you. Com'on back."
I cocked my head curiously, but followed her with Kim on my shoulder. We entered the exam room and found a very high degree raccoon morph. Frankly, if it wasn't for the fact that he was four and a half feet tall, I couldn't see any difference at all. I found myself grinning slightly. As happy as I was with what I'd become, there was a part of me that still regretted having not become a raccoon in the Change.
Then again, the wings made up for it.
The doctor grinned and walked over with his paw outstretched. "Oh, you must be Mr. Coe and Miss Moss! Excellent! My colleagues in Springfield already called me about you. I've already got a copy of the records. Can you just go ahead and set yourself up on the exam bench, Miss Moss?"
I set her down on the bench and Moorhead smiled at me, "I hope you don't mind, Mr. Coe, but I have a little request to make of you." He pulled out a camera. "We have something of a running game going on in this facility since the Change, something of a bingo game. We get points for all the different species that we examine, as long as we get a picture of them in our office. Do you mind?"
I grinned, "I guess that's harmless enough. What kind of points do you get?"
He readied his camera, "One point for a prey species, two for predator, five bonus for extinct. The only stipulation is that they have to be different. I don't get points if I get another bald eagle tomorrow." He took the picture, "Thanks. I... uh... Dr. Freedman told me that you could turn into a Gyr falcon as well. Do you?"
I laughed, and Kim was looking on in mild amusement, "How much film do you have in the camera?"
"Then I think you'll be happy with this..."
It took about five minutes to run through fifteen morphs. Moorhead was grinning as much as his muzzle would allow. Done with that, he set about examining Kim's wing.
He unwrapped the wing and started gently feeling along the point of the break according to the x-rays from Dr. Freedman. "It seems to be healing well. Rather quickly, in fact. The break was either very clean and easily set or you may have a bit of a latent Power."
Kim twisted her head oddly at that. I hadn't thought about it, but she didn't seem to posses any Power other than her ability to shift. She looked at the doctor and seemed to shrug slightly with her wings.
The raccoon doctor wrote a couple of things on his pad. "Okay, we'll take a look at a new X-ray, but I'm sure it's still to early for you to shift back if you couldn't just a few days ago. I'll be able to tell you a little more clearly once I've had a chance to look at it."
He picked Kim up and carried her into the X-ray room. Bryan was waiting just outside the door. "Everything okay?"
I nodded, "Looks like it. He just wants a new x-ray for comparison. Shouldn't be all that long."
True to his word, Moorhead was back a few minutes later with her. "Give us ten minutes to develop them and you'll be good to go."
We moved back out into the waiting room. Bryan and I were chatting a bit about nothing when the door opened. Neither of us paid it much attention, but Kim did. She called out excitedly as whoever it was passed through the door. Bryan and I both looked, and it took a few seconds for what we saw to register.
I suppose that it could just have been another, similar degree caribou, but there was no doubt when we saw her reaction to us. She seemed to stumble a step before she caught herself.
"Maxine?" I asked quietly.
She took a couple of tentative steps over. "Brian? Kim? Bryan? What are you doing here? Kim, why are you..." her voice trailed off as she brought a hand to her mouth, "Oh, no! I didn't do that, did I?"
She seemed shaky on her feet as Bryan and I gently helped her into a chair. "No, this wasn't your fault, Maxine. But we did come up here to find you. It's about Jon" I quickly filled her in on the details of the last week or so.
She seemed to take it in stride, but was still nervous about something. "I... I... don't know what to say. I didn't know I could do something that lasted like that. I guess I'd better talk to Jon." She rubbed her palms on her legs nervously.
Curiosity got the best of me. "Maxine, why did you run away like that? All the way here? Was it... was it because of what happened to me?"
She considered a minute. "Partly, I guess." she said sullenly. "When it happened... God, I was afraid that it was happening again, only this time it was my fault." She sighed heavily and continued, "My brother was one of the people lost during the Change." She said simply. "This is the first time I've come to see him."
Bryan inclined his head nervously, "Here? They're keeping him here?"
She nodded, "They're working on a way to bring them back, but who knows? They told me that he didn't seem to remember being human anymore, though. I guess that I just decided that meant he was dead. Even when I discovered my Power, I didn't think that it might work on him."
She looked at me seriously, "But when you fell into the same situation, I realized that it might work. At least, I had to try. I only got into town last night."
Dr. Moorhead chose that moment to come to the front room. He briefly filled us in on Kim's condition. In his opinion, her wing still needed at least a week to heal before she could risk a shift back. Kim seemed resigned to that, but not happy.
After he left, Maxine went to the front desk and got someone to take her to her brother. Before she left, though, she turned to the three of us. "Would you mind coming with me? I think that it'll help."
All three of us agreed, but Bryan seemed a bit hesitant. I didn't know exactly what he was going through, or what demon he had to overcome in order to force himself to come with us. I imagined that it was like a man who used to be afraid of snakes visiting the reptile house at the zoo.
The nurse led us across a small courtyard and into a large barn-like facility. From the outside it was completely mundane. Even a brief look around the inside didn't seem to be all that strange. But quickly you could see that this wasn't any ordinary barn.
The first animal that we saw was some type of antelope eating calmly out of a bin. There were cages along one wall that held a number of smaller animals, ranging from exotic lizards to large rats. The pens held the larger animals: a few buffalo, a couple of horses, some sheep as well as a smattering of exotics. Each one in it's own pen in this large facility.
While the conditions weren't decrepit, it all somehow reminded me of the way that the mentally ill used to be warehoused, where they could be quietly forgotten. It sent a shudder up my spine.
We came to the next to the last pen. The animal in it was laying against the back side in a shadow, and we couldn't see it until we were almost on top of it. Maxine leaned in against the fence and quietly said, "Hi Tim. It's Maxine." Then she started crying.
I glanced at Bryan to see how he was doing with this, and realized that he was suddenly not doing well. I swear that his face looked whiter somehow. He backed a couple steps away from the pen and seemed to be trying to get a grip on his own emotions.
I stepped over to him, "Bryan, what's wrong?"
In a voice too quiet for Maxine to hear, he said, "Maxine's brother's a bull."
I nodded, not getting his point.
He took in a deep breath, "He's the one I saw lose it the morning of the Change..."
Copyright 1997, Brian Eirik Coe
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