A "Winds of Change" Story
"Jim!" I jumped in my chair, my attention finally snapped back to the outside world. Mrs. Durhst had obviously called my name several times before getting through.
"Uh, yeah?" I asked. The class tittered.
"Your test?" She prompted, holding it up in her flipper-like wing.
"Oh, yeah!" I hurriedly got up and went to retrieve it. Then I retreated to my desk at the back of the room, glancing quickly to Michael as I went. He grinned good naturedly and shrugged, so I grinned back. Then I sat down again and returned to my thoughts, absently scratching my wrist while I stared into space.
Everything was changing. I had known it was coming, of course; I'd known since before we'd moved here. I should have been prepared when my friends finally started turning into animals. But I wasn't. I had somehow thought that at long last I'd found stability, a place that wouldn't suddenly be pulled out from under my feet one day. My family had a steady income, a house to live in, there weren't any riots or fires any more.
But it was all unstable; everyone Changed. I had tried to savor my last years as a human, with my human friends, but somehow it didn't feel like it had been enough. I wanted everything to stay exactly as it was, dammit! I didn't care if I never got out of high school, if everything would just stay the way it was...
I flinched again as the end-of-period bell rang, and then I began reluctantly stuffing books into my backpack while the rest of class else began shuffling out into the packed hallway. They, of course had been watching the clock, eagerly waiting for the end of Math. I'd been busy with other things.
Michael came over to my desk just as I finished packing my stuff and got up to head out. "Are you okay?" He asked with a hint of real concern.
I shrugged nonchalantly. "Yeah, I'm still just a little shaken by Todd's Change, that's all."
Michael nodded. "Yeah, he seemed pretty shaken by it too. So, what'd you get on the test?"
"Test? Oh, the test!" I started rummaging around in my backpack for it; I'd put it away without looking.
Michael sighed, a sound halfway between exasperation and laughter. "And I thought you loved math," he mused. "Come on, don't tell me Todd shook you up that much. Raccoon's not bad."
I shrugged again. "It's not just Todd, it's this whole thing, you know?"
Michael nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean. My mom's making me go to a change doctor already, after school today. I think she'd see a First Sign if I coughed."
I nervously tried to scratch an itch that was crawling down the small of my back. I'd cried wolf a couple of times already myself, and I tried hard to remind myself that the itch was probably psychosomatic; when my First Sign finally came, it would be obviously visible just like my friends' signs were.
Michael and I quickly showed each other our tests, and then Michael hurried out into the hall to get to his next class while I repacked my bag again. I was the last student in the room; for some reason everyone was always eager to get out of math class. I didn't see the hurry myself, I liked it just fine.
"Jim, I wonder if I could talk to you for a minute?" I looked up, startled by Mrs. Durhst's address.
"Um, sure," I stammered, and grabbed my bag before I was finished securing it. My binder fell out, nearly bursting and spreading its contents across the floor. "Darn! Uh, sorry..." I bent to pick it back up.
Mrs. Durhst sighed and got up, waddling over to my desk. "Jim, are you feeling okay?"
I nodded vigorously. "Yes, I'm fine. Why?"
"You just seemed a little distracted today, more so than usual. I just want to make sure nothing's wrong."
"Nothing you could do, believe me. Not unless you can stop the Change."
Mrs. Durhst smiled understandingly, though it was a little hard to tell though her high-D beak. "Have you started yourself, then?"
I shook my head. "No. But everyone else seems to be."
She patted me reassuringly on my arm. "It's normal to be worried about what you'll become, but do try to relax. Eventually you'll get used to it, whatever it is. Even being a penguin isn't so bad after a while, once you learn its advantages and adapt."
I sighed. She didn't understand, but I didn't want to explain my feelings any further; I feigned grudging agreement and finally headed out of the room towards my next class.
David had been a great singer. Zebra might have certain advantages over regular humans, but it had taken that one away from him. I almost laughed bitterly out loud as I pictured myself asking the Change doctor "will I be able to play piano again?" So many forms had reduced manual dexterity; clumsy hooves and claws, fingers that were fewer or stubbier or even fused into flippers like Mrs. Durhst's were...
If only I had just known from the start
what I would become, whatever that might be, I think I could have lived
with it. I could have chosen not to take up music, or get involved in track
and field, or any of the other things that were now part of my life. But
it was too late to change my interests and loves, and I was running out
After school I jogged the entire way home. I might not be able to run for much longer, the highest-degree aquatics couldn't even walk, and there were so many miles that I hadn't yet covered... I arrived drenched in sweat and breathing hard, and headed straight for the garage where I kept my synthesizer set up. I didn't pause to catch my breath as I flicked on the amplifier and focused the SoundBeams™ on myself, aimed to avoid waking dad, and as soon as the system was ready I began to play.
It was the theme from "Blind Pig 4", a piece full of powerful notes that were blasted straight from the gut. I wasn't playing very skillfully at first, still recovering from the run, but boy did I play with feeling. Soon the sea of sound had washed some of the urgency from my soul, and I began relaxing into a more mellow, rolling movement from later in the same movie. I felt buoyed, and slowly brought the tone of the music sweeping back upward again. Time for the big, uplifting crescendo to swell in the heart...
I fumbled, hitting a sour chord, and yanked my hands away from the keyboard with a cry of dismay and alarm. Staring down at my clenched fists, I drew a shaky breath and tried to stay calm. Not paws; I wasn't Changing yet. I let the breath out. I still had a little time left to get it right. Flexing my fingers and wiping my sweaty palms on my pants, reset the computerized accompaniment and carefully placed my hands back on the keys.
"Jim!" I jumped in my chair, my attention suddenly snapped back to the outside world by the call of my mom's voice coming from the interior door. She'd obviously called my name several times before getting through, perhaps that was what had disrupted my playing.
"Did you do today's chores yet?"
I sighed and let my hands drop from
the keyboard. The question was rhetorical since I obviously hadn't, and
mom didn't like me practicing before I did them. "No, mom. Sorry. I'll
get right on them." I picked up my bag and trudged inside, a little dejected.
Mom's muzzle twitched as I passed, and I realized I must stink after all
that running. I really should take a shower too; dad was sensitive to such
things, and besides that I was all itchy from dried sweat. For the moment
at least, the music would have to wait.
By suppertime (which was breakfast to dad), I had managed to put most of my depression out of my mind. We sat around the table chatting like a nice normal family, about nice normal topics. I think my parents knew how much the Change disturbed me, and had respectfully avoided talking about my friends since David had shown his first sign. I wasn't sure how I felt about that silence, but fortunately silence was easy to ignore; we usually just filled it up with random smalltalk.
Today, the smalltalk crashed to a sudden halt when my mom said conversationally "You know, I had a vision today."
Dad and I quickly glanced at each other during the ensuing pause. Mom did apparently have some sort of weak extrasensory perception, but it was very erratic and its nature inconclusive; more often than not her "visions" were nothing more than ordinary dreams. But despite her poor test results mom was convinced that her visions were strong and accurate. She used her own astrological techniques to confirm them.
It was a difficult thing, to grow up suspecting your own mother was a little bit nutty. I was glad it only came up once in a while.
"What was it about?" Dad asked reluctantly. Better to get it over with, I guess.
"It was a little strange. Jim was singing to a huge dark invisible demon, trying to get into its lair. You don't know any demons, do you dear?"
I shook my head. "Just a zebra and a raccoon," I muttered.
Mom smiled. "Well, that's okay. It's a vision of the future; I'm sure you'll meet one somewhere."
Dad soon managed to redirect the conversation
back to more mundane topics, but for the most part the rest of the meal
passed in awkward silence.
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