A "Winds of Change" Story
By Jon Sleeper
The mall had been an educational experience yesterday. Finally my animal side had come into the fold. I now felt whole. I had felt that way physically before, but not mentally. No longer would the "Voice" bother me, because it is more a part of me than it had been. But my worries had not stopped.
When I woke up this morning my antlers were itching like hell. And when I scratched them the velvet came off in sheets. Which only made them itch more. While harvesting my plants in the greenhouse space I felt an overwhelming urge to rub them against my dwarf fruit and nut trees, and almost did before I realized that doing so would damage them. The book had said that bucks do that when the velvet starts to come off. The Voice may be part of me now, but I still have to think to stop myself from doing things I don't want to do.
I rode my scooter to work that morning, and managed to get the mail up in a respectable about of time. I was still a little clumsy though. These "hoof hands" (the common term) are just as dexterous as my old ones, but they're oddly shaped and so even after a couple of months I still have problems. No really bad surprises like the day before came in, though it was fun to guess who was who among those who had been regular customers before. The UPS guy who normally makes deliveries to the store and pickups in the afternoon had a fortuitous Change into bull-morph (a Minotaur, I guess). UPS had taken on as many of those like him because of how strong they were, and many telekinetics as well. There had been some grumbling of "discrimination" in some jobs, but what could be done? Some morphs just aren't suited to some jobs, though there are always exceptions.
Surprisingly, business was up from Before the Change. Before, we'd normally do about 25 UPS per day, now it'd gone up to 75. The four of us were run ragged by all the people coming in. I loved every minute of it. The scents were astounding, and I had the best ears and nose of the four of us. What it gave me was the ability to sense a customer's mood, and practically anticipate their needs before they even knew what they wanted. Don had to ask me to quit it because I started to scare the customers, "It's too eerie, Jon," he'd said. Is it my fault whitetails are such sensitive animals? I guess it is, in a way.
Christi blanched when strip after strip of velvet came off, often leaving bloody streaks on my antlers (giving them a stained and slightly dirty look that I liked). With the velvet off they felt smooth and the tips of the tines sharp. They also tingled oddly, I wondered what effect this shedding was having on my Power. I might find out this afternoon on duty, I thought.
I also had to chew cud most of the time no matter what I was doing, I almost spit it out in front of a customer who was also a ruminant. Bad form between ruminants. "Chew it, don't spew it" was the new cliché. That day I asked Don to order a new name tag that said "Buck" instead of "Jon". I was almost preferring that name to my real one.
I had a couple hours between work and duty, and I ended up getting home just in front of the special delivery man bringing in the live steelhead trout for Brian. The guy was a pelican, which seemed sort of appropriate somehow. (he did NOT, however, carry them in his throat pouch.) I'd prepared one of my duckweed tanks for their arrival, and had a mini-ecosystem going by the time he'd arrived. So the trout would be nice and live until tomorrow when Brian said he'd arrive.
I'd noticed throughout the day the deer behaviors I normally did unconsciously. Licking the end of my rough nose in enhance it's sensitivity, for example. Maybe I was noticing these things because of yesterday. I don't know. I'd stop working if I heard anything out of the ordinary, which is useful on duty. Somehow I just know if such and such a sound might be dangerous to my person, so I don't jump at everything. But my nose is the most important thing on my face. I can't stress that enough. Something might sound amiss, but if it smells that way too then and only then will my "run for cover" instinct take hold. Which since the incident yesterday is not so strong, I only got the feeling twice when predator customers in a bad mood came in. It still took a LOT of concentration to resist it I hoped I would not react that way to Brian…
With the steelhead doing well, I got my email. I'd been having some email problems lately, and it took a full five minutes to download about 300 TSA posts from my problem period. Damn it. I hate computers sometimes.
As I got ready for duty I put on my nifty stretch belt. It's made out of a kind of elastic material that keeps a comfortable tightness so it does not slip, and is made to change size for shapeshifters like myself. I always wear it. In it I keep my wallet, police ID, area scanner that would only go off if I could reach the trouble (amazingly, it's programmed with my physical abilities, and able to factor in the terrain so it only goes off if there is a chance I can reach it), and it's got several large pockets on the back for carrying things like the book I'd bought. Made by a local company that is doing very well.
One of the things I did before I logged off was peck out a complaint letter to that perfume company. I'd spoken to the manager of Macy's, and they'd taken it off the shelves immediately. Good, because there had been a couple laws broken there. I'd have arrested those responsible for putting it on the shelves gladly. I'm still not sure if I'm able to resist that scent, though. In fact when I went back later that day to say "Hi" to that cute doe I almost lost control again, but kept it to asking her out for dinner at my place tomorrow night. I really don't know if that's a good decision or not; it might be a residual effect from that perfume, and she might react badly to Brian (I'd forgotten that he was supposed to be there, too). But her name is Grace (Boy is she. Graceful, that is.). What will happen I really don't know…
Duty turned out to be a strange thing. My temper was wearing thin, and little things seemed to bother me. A sign of the rut, I thought. I'm going to have to keep a leash on my instincts.
It was good to see Mike again, his mouth hung open in a lupine grin when we shook uh… hands. "I see you're losing that velvet. You look great!"
"Thanks," I replied. Well, I did look kind of majestic. Since they were now quite hard, I rode with Mike in the cruiser in a special lowered seat. My antlers peaked at over a foot above my head, and spread just over two feet wide. I filled him on some of the stuff that he'd not been told at briefing. My arrest record, for instance. (Not too bad, really. I tended towards putting myself into dangerous situations, but that was only when I'd felt I'd had to balance my "other side".)
One of the other things I did when duty was pick up a large perching block that a falcon-morph officer friend of mine used to sleep on. I started to seriously think about a car again, or perhaps one of those convertible trucks. I just needed something to carry stuff around in. But unless I had enough money to pay for it in full, when MiraCosta restarted in the spring I could not afford the payments. I'd been drafted for six months of police duty which would end in January, and I made just enough from my other job to live well at my apartment. Perhaps Brian could give me a hand… er, talon at finding a car. I have a feeling he'd be good to bring along to auto dealerships…
Duty was nice and uneventful, pack-gang activity was down because of our vigilance, but I'd heard of some nasty things up in Malibu up north. Not to mention the horror stories that were filtering out of India, who'd closed it's borders for some reason.
That was one of the things foremost on my mind as I galloped to Palomar Airport, the one landmark I knew Brian could recognize from the air no matter where he was. I went up the stairs to the Runway Café where I'd be to watch the skies and wait for him. Today was Saturday, so I did not have work or duty (then again, if my scanner went off…). I sat in a chair and waited, patiently smelling the air.
I don't know how long I sat there before I noticed the weight on my right antler, I'd zoned out somehow while chewing and did not even notice the scent, either. Unusual for me. Brian must have hit a headwind, because he was at least an hour overdue. The tips of my antlers are just visible in my normal peripheral vision. When I looked up I saw a pair of bird feet between the two upper tines. "Do you mind?" I said. "I'm NOT a landing platform." I heard a flapping of wings, and the sound of a shapeshift beside me.
"Sorry. I just could not resist that," said a high female voice. With my wide vision I did not even have to move my head to see she was a sparrow-morph. "Who're you waiting for?" she asked.
"A friend of mine flying down from San Luis Obispo," I replied. "He's an eagle." I added as an afterthought.
"Then he'll be very good at distance flying. Wish I was, but these short wings are only good for short stretches." she sighed, a strange sight through a beak. "Well, I wish I could stay and talk, but I've gotta get to work. Restraunt opens in five minutes, by the way." I'd gotten here early enough to be there before it opened. I'm so cautious sometimes about being late it kills me.
The regulars had started to arrive. Bird morphs, lots of them. I felt like I was in an aviary, and really stood out like a sore thumb (and I had the reddish hair to match). There were other mammals like myself there, like a bat. Big hang out for bird morphs, I should have known, I thought. I had not had breakfast yet, so took a seat inside and ordered something I had not had in a long time. Pancakes and maple syrup; and I asked for a perch block for Brian should he arrive while I was eating.
The sore thumb feeling grew and grew. Many non-birds around me were what could be termed "Birdophiles", those that wished that they'd become one. I overheard many a conversation, for instance: "What do you mean you're afraid of flying?" I think that's pretty much self explanatory. I sat people watching for quite some time, and started to get bored. So I decided to turn on the "Listen" function on my scanner, putting the earphone in my big right ear. But that quickly turned boring, it was a quiet day. The only excitement was when someone had to call a monkey-morph to get a cat-morph out of a tree. At least I was getting no calls, that kind of excitement I could do without.
I started jumping out of my seat, tail flicking in hope whenever I heard the scrape of talons on the landing platform on the roof, and was disappointed every time. I saw birds I could not even put a name to. It finally got so uncomfortable in there that I left.
The restraunt is on the upper level of a two story building, below is a pilot supply store. Unfortunately most people can not fly their aircraft, the seating problem that is still a problem, especially where the FAA is concerned. Rebuilt seats are just as good as the old ones. I decided to do some police things while at the airport, so went up to the two portables that serve as terminals for American Eagle and United Express commuter turboprops that go to LAX. I flashed my ID to the goat behind the counter and asked if there's been anything out of the ordinary lately. "Well, other than all these birdy folks coming around nothing really. But we've reduced to just one flight in and out a day. You realize almost a quarter of our business literally flew out the window?" He seemed a little distressed about that.
"Don't worry. I don't think most will be trying to fly 3000 miles cross country. Speed means everything." Especially where the new hypersonic jets were concerned, though they had to detour around Indian airspace. While I looked around the place, checking security precautions, I noticed him looking at an advert for some velociraptor-morph up in Malibu who does photo portraits. Guy named David Smith. Now, I can't really place the feeling, but when I read his name and what he did, I felt as if I knew him somehow. And knew that in whatever he was doing, and I knew it was big, that he would succeed. But that feeling was too strange so I quickly put it out of my mind.
I rambled around the environs of the airport for quite a while, form-shifting so it'd be easier to trot from place to place, making sure my camera was secured to my stretch belt. I was going to take a picture of him coming in for a landing.
I went up into the tower to keep company with the air traffic controllers. One of them was a golden eagle ("Sharpeyes" was his nickname), and his vision was a HUGE asset in a small airport like this. I could see one of the 3D radar screens peppered with transponder traces from the many b-morphs. I sat there, absently flicking my tail for about an hour until noon. (I noticed incidentally just how fluffy that thing was. It was rather soft, too. Perhaps I'm starting to put on my winter coat?).
In the tower I managed to get some information that he'd run into some kind of delay in Santa Barbara. Sharpeyes has a 'net link and it's incredible what you can access with it. Something about a broken belly-pack strap? I went back to the restraunt and had a big "Herbivore Special" for lunch, found a comfy spot on the grass under a tree near the restraunt, shifted forms and chewed while scanning the sky (I also munched on the grass around me a bit. It was rather overgrown.)
Waiting can be fun if you know how to pass the time. Unfortunately I don't know how to do that. So I hoped that I'd be in a good mood once he arrived. But knowing the time of year…
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