A "Winds of Change" Story
I laid in the dark staring at the ceiling. Immobile. Unmoving. If not for the slight rise and fall of my chest as I breathed, some people might have assumed that I was dead.
In a month, for all intents and purposes, I might be.
I couldn't even shudder anymore at the thought.
Something in my mind screamed about the unfairness of it all. It wasn't the fact that I was becoming a raccoon. It wasn't something that I might have wished for, but it was better than a lot of morph forms. Rather, I'd been really looking forward to my First Sign. I couldn't wait, no matter what the form. But life had played a cruel hoax on me. I might go all the way, never stopping until I was nothing more than a raccoon.
I'd read up on it. The people lost back in 1996, that is. In the years that followed it became clear that a lot of them simply shifted in those first few moments of panic as they started to Change. Many of them were eventually brought back from the brink of pure animal-hood.
Many were not. Even inducers were unable to bring them all back. These people had simply shifted to the nth degree.
As I might.
The shadows started getting longer and longer. I heard a rattling on the roof as one of my parents landed and came though the attic entrance. From the sound of the landing, I pegged it as my mother. I heard her coming down the attic stairs and pause outside my door. She knocked tentatively. "Todd? You home?"
"Yeah." I replied flatly.
She opened the door and stepped in, the light from the hall brightening up the room instantly. Thankfully, she refrained from turning on the light herself. "How are you feeling?" she asked.
I didn't respond at first. I think that she knew how I felt even without asking. "I'm fine." I finally said.
"Weren't you going to dinner with your friends tonight? To celebrate Michael's First Sign?"
I shook my head. "That's tomorrow." In theory, this was a dual celebration of sorts. Michael's First Sign had come up so quickly after mine that they'd simply decided to head downtown and grab dinner as a group. I went along with it, even though I didn't feel much like celebrating.
"Oh." She replied. I could tell she had something on her mind. "Todd, you have to tell them."
For the first time, I moved my gaze to hers. "What? That their friend is going to be a pet?" I asked without a trace of humor.
"Todd, you don't know that's going to happen." She replied. "They're your friends, they need to know."
I just shrugged. What was I supposed to tell them? How?
My mother nervously ran her talons through the feathers on her arms. "There's another reason. Your doctor called us at the store today while you were in school. He's been talking to some of the researchers who have worked with some of the others like you."
From her tone, I had a feeling that I wouldn't like was she was about to say. "What did they say?"
I think I knew the struggle going on in her mind. She needed to tell me something of importance, something that I needed to know. She also wanted to protect me, even though this was something she couldn't protect against. She took a deep breath. "He wants to have you tagged with an electronic implant."
I sat up on the bed. "What?"
"He's afraid that you might accidentally norm shift. It's happened, I guess. If you did, you might be overwhelmed by the instincts. If you ran off like that, we need a way to track you."
I felt anger boil up inside me. "Tag me? Tag me? You don't tag people! You take animals!" Suddenly, the emotions that I thought were spent welled up again. It felt like I was losing my humanity piece by piece, and this was just the next sign.
I started to cry again, my mother holding
me to her feathered body until the emotional burst was spent.
"David? It's Todd."
I could hear a bit of humor in his voice. "What? No 'Stripes'?"
I ignored that. "Can you come over here? Now?"
"Now? It's after eight o'clock. Is something wrong?" he asked.
"Yeah. Something's wrong. I need to talk to you and the rest of the guys. Right away."
I heard a very nervous chuckle from him. "Jeez, Todd. You make it sound like you're dying."
I didn't respond to that at all. I couldn't, at least not over the phone. "Please, just get over here as fast as you can. I'm calling the others."
David was now plainly worried. "I'll be right over. Bye" He said quickly and hung up.
I clicked off the cordless phone and
took a couple of deep breaths. I didn't know how I was going to get through
the night if I couldn't even do this. With a final breath, I punched in
another number. "Mr. Jacobson? Hi. This is Todd. Is Mano in?"
It was almost nine o'clock by the time they all got to my house. I stayed in my room waiting for them to arrive, and one by one they filed in. I knew I'd worried them on the phone, but I didn't know how to get them over here without doing that. My mother was right: I needed to tell them. Not only because they were my friends but because I was virtually always with at least one of them.
If I went raccoon all of a sudden, even with the implant, they'd at least know where to start looking.
As each one arrived, they'd asked me what the problem was, but so far I'd put them off until all four were here. I didn't want to have to repeat this twice. I wasn't even sure if I could do it once.
Michael was the last one here. After a quick exchange of pleasantries, he'd slumped heavily into my desk chair and turned the bright, hot halogen desk light onto his body for a little added warmth. At the moment, it was the only sign so far of his future reptilian existence.
I looked briefly at the hair on my arms, now creeping over my elbow, and felt that lump in my stomach again. Jim finally broke me out it. "Okay, we're all here. Now what's going on?"
I scanned my eyes across them, feeling my will fade out. I realized I didn't have the faintest idea how to tell them. Finally, I just dove in. "I'm in real trouble, guys. Something's wrong with my Change."
They all looked surprised and skeptical at the same time. "What do you mean, wrong?" asked Mano.
"The doctor thinks that I may not stop. I'll just keep getting more and more raccoon like until..." not wanting to say it, I just spread my arms out.
"Until you become a raccoon?" asked Mano. I nodded silently.
The reaction next wasn't all that surprising, considering my history. All four of them got thin smiles as if they'd just realized that my whole attitude for the last couple of days was a set-up. I'd pulled practical jokes before after all. "You're putting us on, right?" asked Jim.
I was thankful that I'd blow out most of my emotions earlier with my mother. None of these guys had ever seem me cry, and I wasn't about to start showing them that now. I shook my head slowly. "No. I'm not. The doctor thinks that in four or five weeks, I might be nothing more than a raccoon. At best maybe a smart raccoon, but a raccoon."
Jim's mouth hung open slightly, "Oh my God, you're serious. You're not... You're serious."
Mano was shaking his head vigorously. "Wait a minute. That doesn't happen anymore. It's just an urban legend."
I looked him in the eye. "You think that I'd call you over here like this just to repeat an urban legend? You're the brains of this outfit..." I reached over to my desk and tossed him my hand held data link. "All the information's right there. Read it." Mano looked stunned for a moment, and then turned his head to look at the plasma screen display. I could see his eyes dart back and forth as he read.
"How'd this happen?" asked Michael.
I shrugged. "I honestly don't know. The doctors don't either. It's rare." I sighed a little. "But that's not the only reason that I called you guys. I—I need to ask you guys a favor."
"Name it." Said Jim quickly. The others nodded in agreement, including Mano, who was looking shocked after just a few moments of reading.
"The reason that I haven't tired to find a Power is that I've been told not to, it might accelerate the process. But sometimes people discover powers by accident..."
"Norm shifting." Said Mano suddenly. "You can't norm shift. Or shouldn't, I should say."
I nodded. "I shouldn’t. I don't know if I can. If I do by accident, it's possible that I'll never come back."
"You want us to try and catch you if you try and run off?" asked Jim.
I nodded slowly. "I don't care if you think that you're going to hurt me. I might not remember you at all, or might even see you as a threat. So if you have to grab me by a leg and pull to keep me out of a burrow, do it. A leg is easy to fix. If you have to stomp on my tail, do it." I tried to look serious, but the absurdity of the request got the better of me. They smiled thinly, seemingly grateful for the small bit of levity.
Jim nodded around the room. "I take it you want to keep this quiet? Just between us?"
"I do, please. I don't want this to go all over school. I have to tell my teachers, since I could shift in class, and the principal, but that's it." I thought a second. "Well, you might as well tell your parents if they promise not to spread it around."
David cocked his striped head curiously. "Why do you want us to tell them?"
"Because my parents aren't telling anyone about this because they want to protect me, but I think they need to talk to someone." We fell into a long silence, unsure what to say next. They all looked nervous and a little scared.
Michael moved the lamp a little closer to him, getting more of the warmth on his face. "I guess we should postpone tomorrow night, then."
I shook my head vigorously. "No, we're not."
Michael looked a little uncomfortable. "Todd, if it's going to be hard on you..."
"We're not postponing anything until later." I interrupted. "To put it bluntly, I may not have a later. If I'm going to change all the way, if I'm not going to remember anything later, then I don't want to waste any time."
"You mean might change all the way." Said Mano, hefting the data link slightly. "According to this, you're got about a fifty-fifty chance." He was exaggerating my chances a little, but I didn't feel like correcting him.
David's ears perked up and that. "Fifty-fifty? I'll take those odds." His equine lips pulled back in a slight grin. "Jeez, Todd. You've always got to be the center of attention, don't you?"
I smiled reflexively, and it felt good. "Watch it Stripes, unless you want a raccoon to climb up your leg and bite you on the tail."
It wasn't a particularly good humor,
but it was enough. There were slightly uneasy smiles around the room as
they each absorbed this news. As for myself, I felt a little better. There
was still the real threat in my future, but I wasn't carrying the weight
alone anymore. Each of them were taking a small share.
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