A "Winds of Change" Story
By Bryan Derksen
Las Vegas again. It had been months since I was last in the city, and it hadnít changed a bit in that time. For all I knew it had been pretty much like this even before the Change itself, the gaudy plumage and odd hairstyles of the people seemed to fit the place perfectly. Even so, the city had still managed to hold some surprises for me.
Brianís wedding had come as a complete shock, for starters. Iíd been to one or two weddings in the past, when I was much younger, but they were half-remembered events involving people I hardly knew. This, however... it was a very strange thing, having a friend of mine get married. I was happy for them, of course; I hadnít paid enough attention to his relationship with Kim until now, but it was obvious that they loved each other.
I didnít worry about losing Brianís friendship, as some people might when a friend becomes involved with someone like Brian had. But nonetheless it still made me feel very lonely. Brian had Kim, Jon had Maxine... who did I have? Who had I even come close to having? I had never even tried to get close to anyone like that. I had never felt the need before.
But now I was beginning to realize that perhaps the need was there after all, that perhaps I had been ignoring or rejecting it. As Brian and Kim retired for the night to the honeymoon suite of the local roadside motel where we were staying, and Jon and Maxine likewise withdrew to their room, I found myself too restless to even consider sleeping. I decided to go for a walk, perhaps even try to find someplace out here in the desert to graze a bit. Such activities had helped me think things through once before on my journeys already.
Vegas was not really a good city to be in for quiet introspection, however. Even out here away from the Strip and the flamboyant life that filled it, the loudness and brightness of the city seemed to pierce the night and pound on my brain. Itís hard to think deep thoughts in a place like that, and soon I gave up trying entirely; Iíd have to settle for just tiring myself out instead. There was a restless energy in me that demanded to be expended before I could rest, and so I continued walking.
Soon I found myself on one of the main thoroughfares through the city. I hadnít wanted to come here, but the crowd of pedestrians almost seemed to exert an innate force drawing others to it; considering the sense of loneliness underlying my current unsettled state of mind, perhaps I shouldnít have been surprised. Perhaps for once I simply needed to be around other people. But I was never much of a social animal before, and I wasnít entirely comfortable here either...
"Hey, watch it!"
I looked up from the pavement and flinched in surprise, having nearly run into someone standing by the side of the road. "Sorry, I... uh..." my words petered out. My heart started pounding, and my breath came faster. She was an ewe, mid-degree, with well-groomed blonde wool. And she was beautiful.
"Síallright, handsome," she said with a grin. "I can see that youíre distracted. Want to go somewhere and discuss it?"
For a long moment, I just stood there and stared at her stupidly. I was having trouble thinking past the pounding of my heart, the heady aroma of the people around me. "Um, excuse me?" I finally managed to gasp out between breaths.
She smiled wider, and winked. "Come now, surely you know what I mean..."
Sheís a prostitute! It suddenly hit me. I was being propositioned! Nothing like this had even remotely happened to me before, and my upper lip curled involuntarily at the thought. "No thanks, not interested," I said.
Or tried to say, at any rate. All that came out was an inarticulate bleat. My shock grew into horror as I suddenly realized what was going on here. That lip-curl I had done may have been an expression of revulsion among humans, but for a sheep it meant something entirely different... The prostitute was smiling and nodding at me. "Thought so," she said. "Got a place in mind, or should we use mine?"
"No!" I gasped, slamming through the cloud of instinct clogging my brain with all the force I had. "You misunderstand..."
My expression of shock must have looked terribly funny to outsiders when I Ďheardí the voice of my instincts scream at me like that. I didnít appreciate the humor myself, of course.
What?! How dare you tell me to...
SHUT UP! My instincts again thundered, knocking me senseless for a moment. It used that moment to press its attack. Iím sick of you getting in the way, sick of you telling me what to do and never letting me do what I want! I live here too, this is my body, not yours! My instincts tried forcing me into norm too, though I managed to regain enough composure to block that for now.
The prostituteís smile faded slightly and gained a hint of concern as she watched me fumbling with my instincts. "Hey, you goiní bestial on me? ĎCause if you are, youíve gotta sign a waiver in case you lose it. And it costs more."
I laughed inside at that. Bet you donít understand your ewes talking about waivers and payment, eh sheep? I demanded half-hysterically. Or even consent, for that matter?
Consent doesnít matter, my instincts responded scornfully. Iím Dominant.
That one simple statement was enough to make me rally my strength and start forcing the animal in my mind back into its corner. "Iím not interested," I managed to hiss between clenched teeth, and then turned away from the ewe and started walking stiffly away. I heard an amused snort behind me, but forced myself to ignore it. I was far too horrified with what my instincts had just said to worry about something as small as public humiliation.
Why not? the voice in my head finally demanded, once it had expended the strength of its frustrated desires against my shaken willpower. You wanted to. We both wanted to!
I resisted the urge to simply smash my instincts in anger; I didnít have the strength for it, and it might even get control again if I failed. Instead, I tried to explain. Do you remember Horace? The sheep who shot at us?
Of course, my instincts responded with a mental sneer. Shrivel-horned challenger...
Shooting guns at people is illegal, I interrupted. Thatís why he was put in prison by the other humans. Locked in a room, with no freedom at all.
Whatís your point?
My point is that what you were trying to force me to do was illegal too! You wanted to rape her!
I could have, my instincts retorted. I could have made her want me to. I could have made her not want to tell anyone. But I could tell that it sounded a little uncertain of itself now, whereas before it had been totally confident. My talk of prison had apparently meant something to it, so I pushed my advantage a little further.
We could have been caught, and then weíd have no mates at all.
I couldnít reach Home from prison... the voice in my head mused, and I knew Iíd won this particular argument. Barely.
Yes. We couldnít get to Morrisville from there.
My instincts seemed to consider for a moment, and then finally I felt them stop pressuring my desires quite so strongly and retreat back into their lair in my hindbrain. I sighed in immense relief, the pounding of my heart fading back to tolerable levels.
Now I had even more important things to think about. What I had long worried about was plainly starting to come to pass; I was entering the rut myself. It was making my instincts stronger, perhaps eventually too strong to resist, and they had some rather disagreeable ideas about how to use my Power. I had to do something about my lack of control soon, or I was going to hurt someone for sure.
It was going to be a long night.
The next morning brought even more of a sense of deja vu, as I woke groggily from a far too short and restless sleep and stumbled through my morning routine. Iíd been almost this tired the first time Iíd left Vegas. Fortunately the others didnít ask me about the reason for my extreme fatigue, and I returned the favor by not asking how their nights had gone. I just wanted to get back on the road again, there were a few issues I still had to work out in my mind before we reached Morrisville.
Fortunately Jon was in better shape than I was, and he took the first shift driving while I rested up and did some serious thinking. As we passed the spot where Iíd lost my car in the ditch the first time Iíd come this way, I broke my silence long enough to thank him.
Other than that, the trip was spent in near-total quiet. The others all seemed to sense the gravity of the thoughts I was thinking, I made a mental note to thank them later as well for respecting that. If I had the opportunity.
We rode into Morrisville.
The town seemed unchanged at first glance, but it was easy enough to spot the effects my absence had had on the people; despite the almost deserted streets, there was a powerful tension in the air. People watched from windows as we drove past, glaring with inscrutable expressions. As we approached the mayorís house, the threatening atmosphere only got worse. "Friendly place," Jon muttered under his breath.
"I told you something was wrong here," I muttered back. "Donít worry, Iíll fix it. But donít unpack your bags when we get to my house just yet."
Dr. Samuel was waiting by the side of the road when we arrived at the house, looking very nervous. "Ah, Bryan, glad to see you back, yes." he spoke quickly. "Thereís lots I want to talk to you about. How was your trip? Can I get you anything?"
I got out of the car, and motioned for the others to start getting out as well. "Hi, doctor. I have lots to talk about too... but not here. For now, letís just go inside." Dr. Samuel nodded quickly, and grabbed some of the bags that were being unloaded. "These are my friends, Jon and Brian and Maxine and Kim." I introduced. "Everyone, this is Dr. Samuel."
Dr. Samuel nodded again, and then turned and headed back inside before there was a chance to say anything else. I hurried after him, leaving the others behind to pick up the rest of their bags and follow. There was muttering among them, but I didnít have time to pay attention.
"Whatís going on here?" I demanded as soon as I was inside with Samuel.
"The herd structure has become unstable," Samuel spoke rapidly.
"You still fill the top position, whether you wanted it or not. But Reimer ensured nobody here would have the will to challenge him. Thereís no way to replace you when you go. I felt it myself."
I sighed. After all the work Iíd done trying to make these people human again... "I donít know what to say. Will my return stabilize the situation?"
"I donít know," Samuel said hollowly. "I donít know what is best."
Take your position back, my instincts suggested firmly. Itís where we belong, where we need to be now. There are lots and lots of ewes here, all ours. Weíre dominant.
I set my jaw, feeling almost at peace as I finally developed certainty about my path. I knew what I had to do about all this, there was only one real way now. I have to face a rival first, I told my instincts. You wonít try to distract me before then?
I felt a burst of surprise and then delight from my inner voice. Iíll help you face him! My instincts had a limited attention span; already all its thoughts of mating were gone, to my relief, replaced with gung-ho anger.
Just stay out of my way for now. Iíll need you later. To Dr. Samuel, I said "I need to check on Reimer. Right now. Call sheriff Logan, have him meet us there."
Dr. Samuel frowned, puzzled. But he didnít question, and after only a momentís hesitation he picked up the phone. I headed back outside, running into the others just as they were coming in the door. "I have to go somewhere with Dr. Samuel. Iíll be back shortly, make yourselves at home while Iím gone. But donít unpack just yet."
"Bryan? Are you sure youíre okay?" Brian asked, vocalizing the deep concern evident on everyoneís faces. I tried to smile reassuringly. "I will be." It was hard to keep my emotions buried, so I turned away quickly and walked back down to the car. Dr. Samuel followed shortly afterward, and we drove up the road to the top of a nearby wooded hill.
Reimer had a small, simple headstone. It listed only his name, and the years of his birth and death; his entire life, reduced to just that single pair of numbers. The people of the town itself were already monument enough to his accomplishments.
"Do you want to exhume him?" Dr. Samuel asked at last, interrupting my heavy silence as I stood looking down at the grave.
I shook my head. The grave was covered by a large slab of cement, as if the people of Morrisville had wanted to make sure that Reimer stayed down there. "No, let him stay buried. I was at the funeral, I saw him lowered into the ground. I donít need confirmation that heís dead."
"Then why are we here?"
Yes, where is the rival? We defeated Reimer already...
I looked up at Dr. Samuel and sheriff Logan. "Itís as near as I can get. Sheriff, give me your gun."
Sheriff Logan blinked. "What for?"
"Give it to me." Logan complied. "Thank you. Now, Sheriff, Dr. Samuel... please leave. Go back to the town. I have something I need to work out one-on-one."
The sheriff was still feeling the aftereffects of the dose of Power Iíd used on him, and turned away immediately without question. Dr. Samuel hesitated, and I glared at him. "Please. I donít want to force you."
Samuel nodded slowly, and then turned to follow the sheriff. I looked back at the grave, and waited several minutes for them to get well out of earshot.
I hadnít ever handled a gun before, but I knew a little bit about their operation and safety precautions. Always assume a gun is loaded, leave the safety on, and never point it at anything that youíre not willing to destroy. Carefully, keeping the gun pointed harmlessly at the ground, I clicked off the safety. Then, still moving slowly and carefully, I turned it around and stuck the barrel into my mouth.
!? my instincts exclaimed, shocked and confused beyond even the concept-words it normally communicated in.
Listen carefully, sheep, I thought back. This is a very significant moment in both of our lives. I have come to an absolute decision; your morality is incompatible with my own. It is Reimerís brand of morality. You are the rival I was talking about; I will not allow you to use my Power for your own ends any more. Iíll kill you if thatís what it takes to stop you.
Youíll kill us both! My instincts objected angrily. Are you mad? We are the same person!
We used to be. But Jonís thought patterns split us, let me finally see what I had become without even noticing. I want to live, but I swear Iíll kill myself before I let you take charge again. Iíve killed myself once before, remember. I can do it again. A tear trickled from the corner of my eye as I ground the gun barrel painfully into the roof of my mouth to emphasize the point. I didnít want to die. I had friends and family that would be hurt by my suicide, even moreso if it was unexplained. I wished I could have at least left a note, but I couldnít have risked letting my instincts realize what my intellect was planning. If I had given my instincts a chance to fight for control I could have hurt a lot of people a lot worse than my unexplained suicide would.
The voice of my instinct was silent for a while, still grappling with confusion as it tried to figure out what was going on. I almost pitied it; this wasnít the sort of dominance battle that rams normally had to deal with in the wild, it didnít have a clue what the proper response was. Finally it spoke up, with a cautious but indignant question. You donít want to mate at all? it asked incredulously.
I actually let out a muffled laugh at that, though remaining careful not to jostle my grip on the trigger. You missed the point entirely, sheep. Itís your methods and morality at issue here. I wonít use my Power for winning fights and getting laid!
Damn you for getting in my way all the time! my instincts exploded angrily. Why not? I use my horns to win fights and get laid! I use my muscles and reflexes and hooves! What makes the Power any different?
My instinctís reply was a burst of frustration and angry incomprehension. Your thoughts are meaningless to me, rival! I refuse to yield to your dominance!
I pulled the trigger, wincing in anticipation of the loud noise it would produce...
Nothing happened. I shuddered and yanked the gun out of my mouth, gasping for breath. Upon examining it more closely I realized that I hadnít taken the safety off when I flicked the switch, but rather I had put it on. I would have to talk to Logan about leaving the safety off like he had, it was very bad procedure... taking the safety off for real this time, I put the gun back into my mouth. It was difficult, I was panting so heavily from the stress that my tongue kept shoving the muzzle out. But despite that close call, my resolve was still firm enough to force it home.
I hesitated, hearing for the first time a hint of fear in my instinctís voice. Yes?
You are mad. But that gives you a strength I cannot counter. I... I never understood the concept of death like that before...
Do you want to yield?
Do you want to live?
Then weíd better come to a compromise with each other.
My instincts slowly nodded in my mind, making an effort to grasp the foreign concept. What are your demands?
Control of my Power. I canít trust you with it. It must be held entirely within the domain of intellect, not instinct.
I wonít yield myself, my instincts warned. I still want what I want.
Granted. As much as I deny it sometimes, you are a part of me. But your drives must be tempered with my reason; we arenít just an ordinary sheep, you know.
Youíll keep us out of prison, my instincts interpreted. Okay. That sounds fair. Now put down the gun... please.
Breathing a huge sigh of relief, I pulled the gun from my muzzle and clicked the safety back on. I tried to spit out the taste of the gun oil. "I need a drink" I muttered, the first words Iíd said verbally since sending Dr. Samuel and Logan away. It almost made me laugh again. But before I could allow myself that emotional release, I had something important to do.
I turned inward to my instincts again, and took hold of my Power. My instincts released it to my will without resistance, and then for the first time I found that I could sense it. Somehow, internally, I could feel it as intimately as any other part of my body. And then I realized that my power was already currently active, pouring almost all of its energy into something that I hadnít been consciously aware of until now. "What the...?! What have you been doing with this? Thereís enough force being expended here to... to..."
To control a thousand people. To keep an entire town in thrall. I looked down at Reimerís tombstone in disgust. "Thatís what you did!" I understood it all now; moments before heíd died, Reimer had yielded dominance to me. Heíd realized he was defeated, and perhaps out of sheer instinct had yielded dominance to his challenger in an attempt to save his own life. He had passed the reins of Morrisville to me, and my own instincts had willingly taken them. My hands literally shaking in rage, I raised the gun and pointed it at Reimerís grave.
Then, a moment later, I sighed and let the gun drop. He hadnít forced me to turn into a copy of him, he had merely given me the means. And for a while, I had let my instincts rule them just as he had. But now Iíd taken back control. And despite all that I had done and all that I could do, I wasnít Reimer.
Carefully, almost gently, I withdrew the tendrils of my control from the town and released my grip on the people of Morrisville. I felt the enormous drain that for the past few months had been on both my power and my conscience cease. The sensation was indescribable.
I was finally free.
Eventually, of course, a sensation of such intensity must slowly fade back into the background again. I savored it for as many minutes as I could, and then once it was gone I calmly turned from Reimerís grave and walked back down the hill. I never once looked back.
As soon as I got within line of sight of the town again I saw that my release of control had had an obvious and immediate effect on the people; they were already trickling out of the buildings and milling around nervously in small groups. I passed Logan on the way down and tried to return his gun, but if anything he was even more strongly affected than the rest; he took one look at me, and backed away jumpily. I wondered what everyone was thinking, how much of the truth they really understood now. Morrisville might be about to get a little chaotic, now that the only centralized control of its people was gone.
I would use my full Power for self defence if need arose, could probably even calm a riot town-wide if one should develop. But I didnít want to have to do that, I had done more than enough harm to these people already. It was time for me to leave. Breaking into a somewhat more hurried trot, I soon reached the house where our caravan was waiting. Maxine was just coming out of her room, already carrying her bags to the car. I was momentarily baffled; how had she known?
She noticed me arrive as she opened the back of the car and was loading the bags inside. "Oh. Hi, Bryan. Dr. Samuelís inside, he wants to see you." She seemed a bit miffed about having to get back on the road again so soon, but I ignored that as another sudden sense of realization washed over me. "Two in as many hours!" I muttered to myself in astonishment. I was getting good at realizing stuff now that my instincts were out of the way. Thanking her, I hurried past the car and into Jon and Maxineís room.
Dr. Samuel was sitting on the edge of the couch, looking a bit dazed. Jon sat in a chair nearby. He glanced up at me as I entered, long before Dr. Samuel noticed my presence. "Bryan? What happened to everyone?"
"What did Samuel tell you?"
"Just that we should get ready to leave town immediately. He warned us that a riot might be about to happen, and from the looks of things he might be right."
I nodded brusquely. "Trust his insight. Get the cars started and everyone inside; Iíll be along in a few minutes." Jon complied without further question; the confidence in my voice carried as much weight with him as all the Power at my disposal. As soon as he was gone, I walked over to Dr. Samuel and knelt down to look into his eyes. He looked back, and I saw a clear look of recognition in his eyes. "How long have you known?" I asked gently.
"Always," he mumbled. "Could be a power, or just mental discipline; Iíve always known what was happening here. I just couldnít fight it directly. I knew... all the sheep you Ďcuredí and sent home, they all had bigger horns than you. Rivals. No one else ever left."
I nodded, wincing as I recognized how right he was; Iíd been eliminating competition without even realizing what I was doing, and then telling the others to remain here Ďwhere it was safeí and Ďwhere I could help them recoverí. "You saw more clearly than I did, doctor. Iím sorry..."
Samuel shook his head. "I know what you went up there to do. Why you wanted the gun. When the control vanished, I feared..." Dr. Samuel choked off for a moment, in the grip of emotion he wasnít equipped to deal with right now.
I gripped his shoulder. "I faced it down once and for all. Iím alright now."
Dr. Samuel smiled tiredly, and nodded. "Good. Then so are we. Weíll have to find a new balance..."
"But youíll find it for yourselves this time," I agreed. "I understand."
Dr. Samuel sighed, and lay back on the couch. "Good," he repeated. "And youíll find your own." He closed his eyes, and soon had fallen asleep; keeping his true thoughts and understanding hidden away for the past few months, safe from both Reimerís power and my own, must have been an awful strain. He was exhausted. But mind was already starting recover, I could feel it. Heíd be feeling much better when he woke up, finally free of me like the rest of Mosrrisville.
Even so it was still several minutes before I finally got up and left his side, walking slowly to the car. The others didnít ask questions as we pulled out onto main street and headed back down the road, the milling crowd of confused sheep filling the street parting before us under my gentle mental pressure; they left me to my thoughts as I watched the town recede behind us. I couldnít remember the last time Iíd left a place with the knowledge that I would never return to it again...
Morrisville faded behind me, and I finally turned in my seat and looked through the front window for a while. Still the others left me to my thoughts, for which I was grateful. Then I picked up the car phone, dialled, and waited for the connection. "Hello, Fox? Itís me. I accept your offer, Iíll meet you in Carlsbad in a few days... yeah, Iím done here."
I hung up, and we drove on.
Copyright 1998, Bryan Derksen
Go Back to Loose Threads
Go Forward to Always
Go back to Index Page