Tales from the Road
A "Winds of Change" Story
"Jon, you've been fiddling with that thing for three days. Why can't you figure it out?"
I think that most people would have withered under the glare that he gave me, but I still don't think that it matches the image I see in the mirror every morning. He hit the power button the flight computer and dropped it on the picnic table with a clatter. "I don't know! Who designed this thing? None of the menus make sense. I can't even find the flight plan functions!"
In all fairness, I had a full months head start on figuring it out, but it wasn't all *that* hard. "Jon, you're just going to have to keep working at it. Who knows how long you'll need it."
He sighed and nodded. "I know, I know. It's just a real pain." He sighed again. "I think I need to clear my head a minute. I'll be right back." With that, he hopped into the air, flapped a few times and started circling upward.
We were in a campground some miles to the south of San Francisco Bay. We had sorta stopped for lunch, but in reality we were all waiting for Kim to finish an errand. Her camera had malfunctioned the day before and she had flown into the city to exchange it at a local affiliate station. We could have driven in, but it was a lot easier to bypass the city traffic and just let her fly. I had wanted to fly with her, but she had assured me that it wasn't a big deal, and would take her no time at all. So, the rest of us were content to wait in the picnic area for her.
Bryan picked up Jon's computer and experimentally turned it on. "This thing as complicated as he says it is?"
I perched on the picnic table bench across from him and Jack and shook my head. "No, not really. I'm not sure that Jon is all that happy about this little turn of events, and I think that he's just taking it out on this computer."
Bryan was looking at the notepad sized computer some more. "He seemed happy enough to change forms at the time. You certainly do."
I grinned as best I could, and shifted to a gyr falcon morph. "What makes you say that? But really, it's a lot different for me. I just do other versions of what I already am. I've gotten used to the way people react to me, but Jon hasn't. I doubt that anyone was scared of him before a few days ago, and now...Well, remember that girl down in San Luis Obispo?"
Jack and Bryan both nodded. It had been at the end of our first day out, and we'd stopped back in the town that I'd only just graduated from to stay the night. I'd taken everyone to a small bar and grill I knew in the downtown area. It had been a long day, and we were all just tired.
Jon started to yawn just as the waitress, who I was fairly sure was a Hi-Degree kangaroo rat, walked up behind him. "Ready to ord..." Her voice came to a squeaking halt as Jon jerked his head around, beak wide open. The poor girl took a huge step back and dropped her order pad on the floor. The next thing we knew, she was racing into the kitchen.
Jon had just looked at the rest of us completely confused and asked, "What?"
Days later, and two or three similar incidents, it seemed to be weighing on Jon a bit.
Bryan handed the flight computer to me. "Here, I can't figure out how to turn this thing off. Anyway, have you talked to Jon about this stuff?"
"I've tried, but he keeps changing the subject. For all his eagerness a few days ago, I think that he is really missing his old deer self." I sighed, then an idea came to me. "Bryan, could you..."
He cut me off, "Brian, please, I think I know what you're going to ask, and I'm not going to do it." He paused, "At least, not intentionally."
I nodded, and silently cursed myself for bringing it up. I knew how he felt about his power, and I knew that if he had too, he'd use it. But this wasn't an emergency. "Sorry."
"Don't worry about it. I just don't want to start playing with anyone's mind like that. Look, if I convinced him that he was comfortable as an eagle, maybe he wouldn't want to change back, assuming Maxine can do that for him. Then who would be making the choice?"
I nodded, "You're right, I'm sorry."
Jack stood up and stretched. "Why don't you talk to Jon, and don't let him change the subject. You and Kim are the experts here, and I think that he needs some pointers."
I nodded as we heard something above us. We all looked up and saw Kim was back. I shifted back to my bald eagle form and waved to her as she circled down. Jon must have seen her coming as well, and he glided over to her, taking the small camera from her talons. She quickly landed on my arm, then leapt off and shifted to morph.
We hugged as Jon landed nearby holding her replacement camera. "How was the city?" I asked.
"Same as always, I guess. San Francisco has always been a rather odd place, you know." She paused and yawned, tilting her head down se her beak didn't look as open as it was. "But I guess I'm more tired that I thought. I just haven't been sleeping well lately." She looked at me with a slight grin.
I knew what she was talking about, but I didn't want to talk about it. She and I had been getting up earlier than the others the last few days and taking advantage of the time to fly. I was still a little shaky flying in full norm shape, and she was showing me the ropes. I hadn't mentioned it to Jon, though, because I was using it as a time to be alone with her. I was not only afraid that he'd be mad that we were doing this without telling him, but that he'd also want to come along.
Jack turned toward the truck and snickered quietly. I sighed at that. I had a feeling that he knew about the morning flights, but at least he wasn't talking.
We started to pile into the back. Kim volunteered to go into norm for a while, since she wanted to sleep anyway. She shifted and jumped to my shoulder. I grinned a little. "Want to sleep up there?" She nodded. A shrugged and climbed in, laying on my stomach. As Jon climbed in next to me, Kim moved from my shoulder to the center of my back between my wings and settled in. Jon just looked at us with a bit of a grin on the sides of his beak.
A few minutes later, we were back on the road to Canada, and Kim was asleep on my back. Jon was looking at the passing scenery out the window, and I noticed our two resident ungulates seemed to be having a silent chat.
I tapped Jon on the shoulder. "Want a hand with that computer again, Jon?"
He turned back to me, "Uh, sure. I guess."
We started fiddling with the thing, and Jon was beginning to get the hang of it. The interface was actually rather easy to use, once you understood it. It just took a little while to figure out *which* touch sensitive buttons to touch.
After an hour or so, I started getting thirsty and reached for the cooler. "Anyone want a soda?"
I passed one each to the front seat residents, then looked at Jon who was still intent on the computer. "Jon?"
He looked up from the flight restriction information he was looking over. "Uh, yeah." I handed him the bottle. "Is the bottle opener in there somewhere?"
I grinned. "Today's first lesson on the advantage of being a bird." I stuck the bottle in my beak and tugged, the cap came right off. I spit the twisted metal bottle cap out.
He shook his head in amusement, but still tried to repeat what I had done. After a couple false starts, he got the cap off. "Heh, I guess that's one advantage." He said as he started to pour the drink in his beak.
Just then, Jack ran over a pothole in the road, and the bottle slipped in his talon. He spilled the sticky soda down the side of this mouth, matting down feathers on his chin and chest. "Jeez! Hand me something to wipe this off!"
I handed him a towel and he tried to blot the soda from his feathers. I shook my head. "That's not going to do it, Jon. We'll need to stop at a mall or something to get some feather soaps."
He sighed a little, "Who knew that being a bird was such a pain."
"It's not any worse than being any other morph, really. Didn't you need to get your antlers checked as a deer? Your hooves? Well, it's not much different this way."
He nodded, but didn't look convinced. "I know, but it's still a pain. I can't sleep without perching or nesting, I can't taste my food and I can't even drink without spilling it all over myself."
I laughed a little. "At least you're dark brown. The soda won't show. But how many times did you get the chance to fly as a deer?"
He nodded. "That reminds me, Brian. When are you and Kim going to show me how to do a dive?"
"As soon as I figure it out. I've done it a few times as a bald eagle, but it's hard. Bald eagles aren't divers like you are. I'm practicing. But, not to change the subject, but you're going to have to get used to this. Can I give you some advice?"
Jon sighed and nodded.
"Good. First, don't smile."
"Don't smile. Bird of prey morphs are fairly rare. We're going through some isolated areas and I'm sure we're going to meet people who have never met one. When we smile, we look like we're planning on dismembering something. As a side note, don't yawn."
He laughed at the last part, "I don't have to hear that twice."
"Good. Now, try avoiding looking straight people when you walk down the street. Look around people or something. I've found that people got nervous around me when I did it."
He nodded. "Good point. This is all going to have to take time to get used to."
I thought a second. "Jon, you told me a few days ago that you could feel that I was a predator, through smell?"
"Yeah, there is something about you that screams predator, even when I couldn't see you."
"Well, you are going to have to get used to it. People are going to be nervous around you, and you're going to need to learn to recognize that. Become an expert on body language."
Jon started to fiddle with his computer again. "I guess it's not all fun and games, is it?"
"Life rarely... aack." I grunted quietly in surprise.
Jon looked at me, startled. "What's wrong?"
I looked back at Kim, who was still asleep on my back. "She must be dreaming. She just flexed her talons into my back."
"Does it hurt?"
I flexed my talons at him, "Uh, yes. It does. I don't want to wake her, though." I moved a wing slightly so she could settle in a little deeper, which she did even in her sleep. I was still reeling a little about my feelings for her. At first, I was afraid that it was something totally instinctual, that I'd felt attraction just because she was just like me.
Over the last few days, though, I'd discovered that the feelings were real, human and deep. I'd only known her a week or so, and already I couldn't imagine life without her.
The car slowed and bumped, which brought me back to the present. I glanced out the window to see that Jack was pulling into a rest stop. He pulled into a space as he looked back. "Just a quick stop to use the facilities. Anyone getting out?" Kim woke and looked at Jack sourly, his eyes got a little wider. "Jeez, Kim, I hope that you don't use that kind of language on the air. Remind me not to wake you up again."
The rest of us laughed, but Kim still looked like she wanted to sleep. Bryan, Jack and Jon all got out, leaving the two of us alone in the back of the car. I looked up at her. "Why don't we get a little air? It'll make you feel better."
In response, she jumped off my back and shuffled a little away before she shifted back to morph. "Brian, I'm too tired to fly. Don't let me stop you, though."
I nodded. "Thanks. I need to stretch these things a little. Tell the others that I'll be back in a couple minutes."
I slid out the back and thought a second. I wanted to try something a little different. I shifted to a norm Peregrine, a form that I'd been having some fun with, and took off. The one thing that I'd noticed about some of the other birds I could do was that they were all very different animals. My bald eagle norm was a rather slow, sedate hunter that tended to strafe the water really rather slowly. This falcon, though, was a fast and deadly animal who was a great deal more maneuverable.
I quickly gained altitude and looked around at the scenery. It was really not a terribly forested area, dominated more by hills and grassy areas. I could see the edge of the some of the Great Basin deserts off in the not so distant distance. In another direction was San Francisco bay. I took a few deep breaths, drinking in the cool air from this height.
Then I caught a motion on the ground. If I was human, I would have grinned. I'd wanted to try a little diving and hunting in this form, and it looked like I was going to get the chance. A brown jack rabbit was on the ground, moving slowly across a meadow.
I instinctively moved into the right position and went into a power dive. There isn't a feeling like it in the world. I doubted that I hit the 200mph level that I'd read about, but I must have been close. The wind rushed over my feathers as I got closer and closer to my target.
At the last second, as I flared out my wings and tail to slow and capture the rabbit, it shifted to morph. Startled, and still moving at high speed, I tried to change course, but instead clipped a wing on the rabbits suddenly more human head, lost it and tumbled into the tall grass.
I lay there on my back, panting slightly and a little stunned. I was thanking God for my shield when I heard the whoop of delight from above me. "Raymond! I got one!" I heard the rustle of grass as the rabbit started looking for me, and another person I couldn't see came running.
"Where is it?"
"It crashed in the grass out here. I think it was some kind of falcon. Help me find it and we'll see if any of the feathers are still any good."
My head seemed a great deal more clear all of a sudden. I realized quickly that, whoever these two were, they were definitely throwbacks. There simply weren't that many poachers anymore, particularly since nowadays nobody could tell if the animal was a ranger in norm shape. I knew that certain feathers were considered valuable, but there were certainly easier, more legal, ways to get them. I didn't know if it was legal to hunt falcons in California, but I did know that baiting techniques like these two were using *were*.
I was still laying on my back when the other guy, a low-D beaver, found me. He grinned and yelled, "Here it is!" as he reached a hand down to me.
Sometimes, I wish I had a camera. The look on his face as I shifted to bald eagle norm and gripped my own sharp talons around the base of his neck would really have been a keeper. His rabbity friend, who apparently didn't notice this change of events because of the tall grass, got close enough for me to put him in a similar situation.
Still gripping them tightly, I pulled myself up to my feet and *glared* at both of them. "That *wasn't* smart, my friends. I would *love* to hear you two explain what in *hell* you are doing, but I don't have the time. Suffice it to say that I'm going to be reporting this as soon as I get to a phone. You're just lucky I don't give into my *instincts* right here and now." I focused my glare on the rabbit. "*Got it?*".
He sagged in my grasp as he passed out from fear. I turned my attention to the beaver. "How about you?"
He tried to stammer out something, but all that he could managed was a gurgle. Releasing my grip on his unconscious friend, I reached into this ones coat pocket and pulled out his wallet. I flipped it open and looked. The picture on his license didn't look anything like this guy, obviously a license older than the Change. But, I did have a name to report, now. "Thanks, Mr. Matthews." I said as I dropped it to the ground, "Someone will be in touch."
I released my grip in him and quickly took off. I glanced down to see the beaver scrambling to run as fast as he could for the trees, leaving his friend and wallet behind. A laugh from higher up caught my attention, and I looked up to see both Kim and Jon.
"What are you two doing here?"
"We got worried when you didn't come back. It's been almost half an hour."
I slapped a hand to my forehead. "I'm sorry, I just caught up in this. I sometimes lose time when I fly. Besides, I had to take care of something down there."
Jon laughed again. "We know, we saw it. At least, Kim saw a falcon diving over here and thought it was you. We saw you crash, and were on our way to help you when you stood up. Since you seemed to have it well in talon, we just circled. Kim's got it all on tape."
I had noticed the small camera in her talons. She'd spent hours figuring out how to operate that thing in norm shape, and so far seemed to be doing well with it. "We should give a copy of that to the police."
Kim nodded, and Jon tapped his flight computer. "Already contacted the Forest Service. Looks like this computer isn't completely and totally confusing after all." He said with a grin. "Let's head back to the truck and fill in Bryan and Jack. I'm sure their beginning to wonder where all three of us went too."
Copyright 1997, Brian Eirik Coe
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