A Winds of Change Story
After all five of us had visited Todd and his family in the ICU, we were pulled away for various tests. All except Michael of course, who found himself a heated room to wait in as everyone was looked after. He was lucky that he hadnít Changed any further, or he would have had to undergo the inspection of the resident medics.
I, on the other hand, had to wait for a while in a too-cold room in a hospital gown, soaked all the way through to the skin from Davidís gag, while Dr. Chin ran himself ragged checking up on everyone else first. I wasnít in any real "danger", persay, of my Change, although there was that slim chance that I could transform the rest of the way in one big surge. I almost wanted that to happen, really. It would certainly end this waiting game that I was playing with the Universe, and maybe Todd would get a little encouragement if a friend went through the same thing that he had.
Wisely, my parents had left me alone for a while to simmer down. If there was one thing that I didnít have the stomach for it was them at this point. Every once in a while, I would wonder what they were doing at this point. It wasnít very likely that they were calmly and maturely talking their differences out somewhere, but deep down I wished they were. Maybe my dream of pulling my family back together wasnít totally dead. Then again, blindly hopeful thoughts were just that most of the time: blindly hopeful.
A half hour passed, and I was shaking like mad. It was cold in the room, and having soaked fur didnít help whatsoever. It was then that I realized that I had remained in my leonine morph since my parents had argued. I looked at myself in the mirror, and felt an odd sensation as somethingÖ not quite me stared back. I had a golden brown pelt with amber eyes, and a long, flexible tail that terminated in a puffy lock of dark brown hair at the end. I had a muzzle, albeit stout, and when I grinned it was more like a snarl, and it almost scared me for a moment. My face was framed in an incomplete mane; small fringes of long black hair covered over my constantly moving ears and ran thinly down my back and chest.
It was like looking into the future. This was going to be me sometime soon, and yet, something seemed horribly wrong. Something I couldnít quite finger.
Fingers! I examined my hands and counted hurriedly, "OnetwothreefourÖ five." All present and accounted for, although they had shortened considerably in length and had the characteristic padding of most felines on their underside and in the palms. Both hands seemed perfectly fine.
I looked back up at the mirror. So whatís wrong with this picture? I quizzed. Before I could start a thorough inspection, another shiver of cold rocked through me. The towel I had found earlier, just after David splashed me hadnít done too well, and now I was still wet at the skin under the fur. Out of impulse, I took off the gown and shook like any cat would, and surprisingly, it worked! Water seemed to fling off me easily. Unfortunately, most everything in the room was now soaked, but it was a small price to pay for comfort.
I returned to the mirror, feeling a little better, when my eyes affixed on my muzzle.
Then, I saw it. I peered closer, not really believing it, but it was there. My upper lip was creased, bent upward in a small peak with a black slit that ran up all the way to my nose. I snarled again, and noticed that the crease split apart to accommodate for a more menacing grin.
That wasnít what I concerned about. I knew now that I had a Degree Control Power, and it was now impossible for me to play my horns in morph. I couldnít make an airtight seal around the mouthpiece with this split in my upper lip.
This sucks! I thought. Maybe it wonít be there when I shift to a lesser degree. But Iíd have to wait until my Change was over with to find out. And I was already anxious at what the outcome would be.
Another hour passed before Dr. Chin was finally able to check me out. My parents came in with them, not looking at one another, but the set of my fatherís tail and my motherís wings told me that they had called a cease-fire for the time being. Dad sat in one of the chairs next to the door, making sure to thread his tail through the back, and Mom perched on the arm of the chair next to him. Dr. Chin looked positively ragged, and I wondered just what had kept him so long.
I didnít need to ask since he explained himself right off, "We had a little trouble with Jimís norm-shift, but thereís nothing to worry about."
"What happened?" I asked, intrigued. I already knew that David could shift into a dolphin as well as being a zebra, and now Jimís got something wrong with his Change too? One event a day, please, I mused silently.
"Well, it seems that he takes about a half-hour to fully norm-shift. Scared him pretty bad, but heís okay now." Dr. Chin looked me over, and possibly for the first time noticed that I was in full morphic form. "Looks like I missed out on something when I was gone, too."
I looked at my parents one at a time scoldingly, who only returned the gaze, "Yeah, something. But Iím not done yet, Iím just using my Power."
Mom and Dad shifted their expressions to ones of excitement, "Your Power?"
I nodded and shifted back to my partially Changed self, but this time, like last time, I had something added and I noticed it right off.
I was still sitting on my tail.
I looked behind me and moved it out from under where I was sitting, my eyes widening as I did so, "Whoa! That wasnít their earlier!"
Dr. Chin approached, flipping open a file and making a note. His wings fluttered in obvious thought as he said, "How long have you been using that Power?"
I shrugged, "I donít know, an hour and a half, maybe two?"
He nodded and penned another note into his file, and then flipped a page, "Well, it think we can rule out the ĎBig Surgeí theory we had earlier. Seems that youíre having shorter and smaller Surges."
My mother chimed in, "So whatís happening? Is his Power causing it?"
Dr. Chin shook his head, "I doubt it, although I wouldnít put anything past the Change."
My father explained what happened to Mom as Dr. Chin looked me over, continuing my examination. After he finished, he gave me a clean bill of health, but warned against me getting too angry after he heard what had happened in the ER with Todd and my parents. What with the Change going on, my instincts might kick in full force while I was angry, and that "would not be a good thing" as Dr. Chin had said. Mom and Dad took his advice to heart, but I had other plans.
Ever since that morning, when I had heard what had happened at school at Dr. Chinís office, I had been formulating ways of retribution for Nate. I had thought of everything from drenching his lunch in cayenne pepper, to just plain beating the snot out of him. And as much as I loathe to admit it, the latter did seem to have its perks. I wondered how Nate would like the role reversal; me grabbing him by the neck and lifting him off the ground, just like he did Todd. Bullies were always wimps underneath.
And nobody, but nobody messes with my friends.
Dr. Chin did his necessary poking and prodding, making notes every now and then and having me demonstrate my Power, which was a lot easier to control when tempers werenít flared. He declared it as a Degree Control Power, which I already knew so it was for the benefit of my parents. Other than that, I was given a clean bill of health, except for a few scratches on my hands from treading through the forest in full leonine form during the search for Todd.
As Dad and I prepared to take Michael home, I hugged Mom and thanked her for coming and helping out.
She wrapped her wings about me and cooed, "It was the least I could do, Daniel."
"Mano, Mom." I corrected. She smiled and nodded, accepting.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment as no one said a word, and finally I spoke up to my mother, "I... I guess Iíll see you later, then."
She nodded sadly, and pulled me down to meet me at eye level. I was a few inches taller, so I crouched down. She spoke softly, "I love you, Mano, no matter what, you know that?"
Dad put a paw on my shoulder and gripped it a bit, his way of saying that we had to go. I bit my lip and responded with a nod, "Yeah, I know." I kissed her on the beak and sighed, turning away and walking out of the hospital, into the rain, and towards the car.
The drive home was spent in relative silence. I sat in the front seat, my fur dry except the tears that I hid. We dropped Michael off at his house, and then turned the corner as we sped off to our own home. I looked up from my vigil out the window as the neighborhood passed by, looked to my father, and opened my mouth.
But I still couldnít speak to him.
School was a blur for the rest of the week. Michael seemed to be overly melancholy, what with being grounded and having two days of detention on Wednesday and Thursday. I suspect the rain didnít help either; it hadnít stopped raining for more than a few hours since Todd lost it with Nate. I caught up with Michael one day after his detention, and I offered him a ride home.
Michael gratefully declined, "Thanks, Mano. But Iíll just take my bike."
I walked over to where his bike was chained up, and he undid the lock and took it out of the rack. "Kinda sucks being grounded, doesnít it?"
Michael situated the bike and prepared to hop on it. He sighed with monotony, "Yeah."
"Listen," I broke in before he could sit down, "I know that youíve been thinking about getting back at Nate and Glenn for what they did."
He smiled, "Youíre telepathic, too?"
I grinned and shook my head, "No, but I think weíre all putting together ideas for our revenge. Have anything in mind?"
Micheal shook his head, "Honestly, I havenít really been thinking about it that much. Iím more peeved at my parents and worried about Todd to care about Nate and that toady of his." With that, he sat on his bike seat, which promptly pitched forward, the bolt connecting it to the frame loosened, and slid Michael off and onto the crossbar that boys bike frames are infamous for. He landed hard, legs splayed, but just clenched his teeth in pain.
"Mike!" I said, forgetting how much he hated that name, "You okay?"
He nodded, "It didnít catch me. That damn bastard undid the seat!"
It didnít take a rocket scientist to know who he was talking about. Sure, there were other bullies in the school, but none of them had the motive for something like this. No one, of course, except Nathan Hill. Michael had spilled the beans about him, and they had exchanged words earlier in the Nurseís office, so he was the only suspect left. After I helped him tighten the bolt with a wrench he kept in a small carry-bag strapped to the bike, I stormed back to my car and sped off, infuriated.
Nate and Glenn were suspended for four days. Tuesday, when they returned, they would get one rude awakening. To hell with the planning.
Sunday I went to the bandís practice, making sure to drive carefully in the pouring rain. Today would be a little less hectic than practices used to be. Before David moved the band practice from Saturday to Sunday, I would have to leave band practice and go straight home to change into my marching band uniform and head out to the football game with Michael. I played the clarinet during football season, and was first chair in the section.
Concert season, however, was my favorite. Many of the reed players in our school band also knew how to play strings like the violin and cello, and they switched over to them during the footballís off-season. We were the only school in a three-county area to have a nearly full orchestra, and we were good.
In fact, I stuck by my reeds until recently, when a friend convinced me to pick up a violin and give it a try. I did, and took lessons on the side. Since I knew that Stripesí band was going to be short two members, I decided to bring along the used violin and show them what I knew, which was very, very little.
I walked into the garage, staying out of my full morph so I could play my horns. Jim and David were there, and the playing area felt eerily empty with two unoccupied chairs. Jim hadnít progressed in his Change much, save for a few extra feathers spreading down his back. He wore a shirt to cover them up, but scratched at them every now and then and gave a look of defeat every time he did.
David was in zebra form, which I expected a bit. The blue jay looked nice too and I wouldnít have minded that, but if I saw that damn dolphin one more time Iíd chain him up and stick him under a sun lamp for a few minutes. Or something equally as cruel.
Stripes looked at me and sighed, "Michaelís still grounded, so he couldnít make it." He looked deeply saddened, like Michaelís absence wasnít the only thing on his mind.
I nodded, "I figured that." I set down the saxes and violin case, and took my seat. Jim started playing "Linus and Lucy" out of boredom, and it lifted my spirits a bit. So much, in fact, that I neglected the horns for the time being and brought out the violin and bow.
Jim stopped and gave me surprised look, and I swore the feathers on his back perked up when he did so, "Whereíd that come from?"
I smiled, "Oh, I just play around on it and not much more. I know my scales and ĎMary Had a Little Lambí but thatís about it." I looked around the room, expecting someone to ask me to play, but no one did.
It was then I noticed that David hadnít brought his guitar in with him. "Whereís your guitar, Stripes?"
He held up his hands, and realized that he had two fewer fingers than before, "Canít play it anymore."
I blinked and looked at Jim, who nodded assent. Well, damn. There goes the neighborhood. I thought.
However, I said, "Well... Hmm." Which equated to pretty much nothing.
"David and I were just talking about that," Jim said, picking up the bassline to "Linus and Lucy" again with his unchanged hands, "Whatís going to happen to the band when weíre done Changing? Most avians lose a finger, too."
I thought for a moment. Good question. "I donít know. I could always learn the guitar. And there are those specially made instruments for fewer-than-five fingered morphs out there."
They both nodded, and David spoke, "Yeah, but I canít really play anything other than the guitar. And what about a lead singer?"
"Pffft, sure." I said, "Those equine lips of yours are perfect for the reeds, and thereís always the drums."
"Michaelís on the drums," Jim said, still playing his keyboard quietly.
I shrugged, "If heís got enough digits, he can play something else." Everyone laughed at that, but the validity of the statement sank in after a while, and the amusement waned.
I tried to pep everyone up, "Címon, guys! Weíll make it work out! We donít really need a singer, and we can adapt to whatever becomes of us." What I said next surprised everyone, including me, "We here to make music and to have fun."
But it worked, and everyone was smiles again. Stripes seemed to look at my violin that I was still holding, and said inquisitively, "So, you can play that thing?"
"Barely," I said truthfully, "I know the notes, and a simple song or two, but thatís all."
Jim picked up his song again, and Stripes sort of smiled that infectious equine grin, "Tell ya what. Iíll teach you how to play the guitar, if you teach me those horns of yours. Iím sure that I could get my parents to chip in for an eight-keyed sax for Christmas."
I smiled, not in the least bit wary of the little prank war that Stripes and I had going, "Youíre on. Who knows? Maybe Iíll be able to sing, too!"
The rest of the practice was spent playing whatever popped into our heads, but I couldnít help thinking that this would be the last good practice that we would have for a while.
Monday came with the liberation of Michael from his parental imprisonment. All of us, sans Todd, met outside school before the bell rang to start classes for the day. It was still raining, and we cluttered under the awning that covered the sidewalk that led into the main entrance of the school. No one wanted to enter before it was absolutely necessary.
Everyone, including myself, was in noticeably better spirits than we had been in the last few days. I noticed as Michael joined our group that he was looking a bit peakish.
I inquired if he was sick, and he stunned everyone when he said, "I ate a bug yesterday."
"What?" was the choral reply.
"I was so bored last night that I decided to norm-shift while my parents were out shopping."
"Well?" Stripes said with unfeigned enthusiasm, "What are you gonna be?"
"A chameleon," Michael said without hesitation.
"Cool!" I said, cutting Michael off, "Can you change color?"
Michael faltered, "I, um... I dunno. I couldnít see color very well. I just norm-shifted to see if I could, and then I couldnít see almost. It was like I was seeing two images at once."
"Independent eyesight," Jim said, checking his watch, "Iíll bet that was confusing."
Michael nodded, "Youíd win that bet. Strange thing was that the instinct part of it was missing almost entirely, that is until a roach crawled in front of me..."
Stripes put up a hoof just as the bell rang, "Whoa! Spare us the details!" Michael grinned, and we all parted ways towards our respective classes.
Since I was a grade higher than the rest of my friends, I had most of my classes apart from everyone else. First period was my Predator-Prey Relationships class, part of my Change Year schedule. Mrs. Toll, a Hiddie otter morph went over that finer points of herds and packs, and showed the parallels and differences in between them. Normally, I would pass such a boring topic by doing Pre-Calc or something non-Change related, but for some odd reason I was kept at rapt attention by the lesson. It must have been that I was Changing into a rather social, if not the most social of mammals, with the exception of humans and some chimps. But humans didnít really exist anymore, so that didnít count.
The rest of the periods went by without incident, and finally lunch came. Again, my schedule was so different from the rest of the groupís that I missed them by a full period. Still, I had a regular clique that sat at my table, and most of the talk was directed at me.
Allyson Carlisle, a fully Changed middie panthress, asked me before I even sat my tray down, "So howís Todd doing?"
I shrugged, "His surgery was on Thursday. He should be up and about before the dance rolls around."
David DeMaree, Dem to his friends, was next to sit down. He hadnít really Changed much yet, save for a light covering of fur. The doctors said that he was going to be a lowddie black bear, but one could never be too sure. He brushed out his black trenchcoat and set it on the back of the chair and sat down. He pulled out his pocket PC and started typing on it.
"Whatícha typing, Dem?" I said, leaning over to get a better look.
"Oh, just the next Communique. Itís a review of the latest Alien movie." David was a movie buff, and he sent out a weekly e-mail newsletter, dubbed Communique, to a select few of his friends and others. He had a sharp wit, albeit a bit surreal at times, but his newsletter was always hilarious.
"Really? The one with Sigourney Weaverís god-child or something like that?" I said, still trying to get a better look.
He nodded, "Something like that, yes. You see, in this one, sheís cloned, again, but this time they stick an embryo in her in another futile attempt to stop the Aliens from killing everyone aboard another derelict spaceship. They think that if she canít stop them, a super-charged son will. It all ends up another gory Ďrun-as-fast-as-we-can-to-the-escape-pod-at-the-other-end-of-the-shipí and only heís left."
"Just like the other six ones?"
"Yes. I give it four out of four."
"You always do," Allyson said.
"Hey, itís a good premise," Dem defended sarcastically. I smirked and finished off my lunch, and just about as I was standing up to leave, Allyson asked the question that I dreaded most.
"So, who are you taking to the Halloween Dance?"
I grimaced and groaned audibly, frozen in mid-stride. I knew she was boring into me with her eyes, prettily looking at me with that black pelt like she always did, taunting me with her expression.
I hated that, and she already knew the answer.
"Someone else," I said grinning, "Besides, if I took you out, weíd ruin this friendship that we have going.
She smiled, "Ah, cool. I wouldnít have gone out with you anyway, for the same reason, of course."
"Sure it is. And stop looking at me like that. I hate it when you do that."
"I knew that. Why do you think I keep doing it? Now get outta here," she mused. I grumbled again, this time lightly and with a smile. I tossed away everything left over on my plate, and headed for my next class.
The bell rang, signaling the end of school for another Monday. I packed up my books and folders, taking note that I had Pre-Calc homework and a report due in a couple of weeks in AP English. I hefted the backpack onto my shoulder and headed out the door. I walked down the hallway, needing to go to my locker to grab the notebook that held some of my English notes. As I passed another hallway, I glanced down it, out of impulse. It was nearly empty; the students already having left the rooms and headed towards the exits.
I did a double take, however, as it did have one lone occupant.
Nathan Hill, probably to catch up on all the homework that he had missed since being suspended. His crony wasnít anywhere to be seen.
Such an opportunity could not go unexploited.
With a hot rush of anger, all my hostilities over the last few days culminated in a nearly instantaneous shift from my partially Changed teen into my full morph. I charged down the hall, my paws nearly silent against the tile flooring. He was caught off guard, his eyes wide as I slammed into him, snatching him off his feet and ramming him headlong into the bank of lockers against the wall. He made a quite audible gobble and tried to shout for help, which I quickly quelled by pressing my forearm into his throat. I fended off most of the blows he threw at me, and finally the lack of air was enough for him to quiet down and stop swinging.
"What the fuck is wrong with you?" he croaked.
"I could as you the same goddamn question. Where do you get off fucking with me and my friends?" I finished with a low growl, "I donít like that."
Nate seemed to smile, "I take it Michael liked my little surprise, then. I bet he was talking an octave higher for an hour."
I absolutely roared and spun around, taking Nate with me. He flew through the air and I smashed him into the set of lockers directly behind me. There was a quiet snap and Nate let loose an agonized yell.
Jesus, I thought, his bones must already be hollow from the Change. Heís so damn light!
-Good.- A surprising voice said from inside my head. ĖMuch easier to kill that way.-
The bad thing about that thought was that I actually agreed with it.
"Think youíre pretty funny, donít you?" I said in a low growl, my lips curled up in a sneer. "You think itís funny to damn near kill one of my friends, donít you? What if I beat that little shit that hangs out with you into senselessness, howíd you like that?"
I let off his throat a bit to allow him to respond. Quite calmly, he said through a clenched beak, "Do you think I give a flying fuck about that walking coonskin cap you call a friend?"
I started choking him in earnest this time, and quite suddenly, I felt an intense pressure on my mind. Rational thoughts were suddenly replaced by instinct, and I screamed to myself INDUCER!!
My grip on sanity was weakening when I suddenly realized what a complete idiot this jerk was. Did he even notice what I was going to shift into? If he wants a three hundred pound lion pissed off at him, then so be it.
I let down my mental defenses, and let him Induce the shift. As soon as I had changed, he fell to the floor, panting and clutching at his throat trying to get as much air into his system as possible. I stood, watching him and growling angrily at my quarry, already wounded and easy prey for the taking. He took one glance at me and absolutely screamed in horror, which I added to my roar of infuriation. Like greased lightning, he stood and bolted down the hallway, faster than I had seen anything run. I quickly took off after my prey, stumbling slightly as my claws failed to get a stable grip on the tile.
The hunt was on.
He ran down the main corridor, blazing by frightened students and faculty that I shrugged off. He was screaming something that sounded strangely familiar, but I couldnít make the sounds out. He passed by the office, where I saw what looked like a six-foot hedgehog burst out of the door then charge back in before we passed.
Nate dodged a couple more students carefully, but made a fatal mistake as he looked back to check where I was. He tripped awkwardly over a bookbag that someone had dropped in the confusion and sprawled along the floor. I snarled and leapt at him, paws wide and claws out.
There was something like an explosion, and then a searing pain in my left flank that twisted me in mid-air and sent me clambering along the floor.
And then, I realized something for the first time since I was Induced into my norm.
I had been shot.
I twisted around, and saw a small, feathered dart sticking painfully in my leg. Suddenly, my vision blurred, and the room pivoted queasily. I saw that six-foot hedgehog again, only this time he was holding a rifle. He started towards where Nate and I lay with a look of absolute ferocity in his expression. I saw Nate huddled on the floor, nursing his shoulder.
Thankfully, whatever sedative I had
been hit with took effect right then, and I faded into slumber.
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