A "Winds of Change" Story
Groggily, I realized something was jostling my shoulder. My eyes half open, I realized I was looking at my fathers oversized beak. I rolled over groaning. "Five more minutes, then I'll have my Fruit Loops."
He chuckled once. "Come on, Todd. You said that five minutes ago. You're going to be late for school."
Groaning again, I sat up and rubbed the bridge of my nose with my fingers. My furry nose. Slowly, I traced my face with my hand and looked at my dad. "It's getting worse, isn't it."
He sighed and patted me on the back. "Don't worry about it. Whatever happens, happens. We'll deal with it." He walked back to the door. "But get a move on, anyway."
I shook off a little more of the sleep and walked into the bathroom. I didn't recognize the face staring back at me from the mirror anymore. In the night, my muzzle had grown out and my mask had filled in. My ears had nearly lost all of their human features and were on the long migration up my skull. I slowly touched the small, black nose that had replaced my old one. It wasn't finished, I didn't have any better sense of smell, but it was progressing.
With a final shake of my head, I turned on the shower and set out to get ready for the day.
"Damn, this stupid thing!" grumbled my father as he fumbled with the receiver.
I sighed and shook my head. It seemed like nothing was going right the last couple of weeks. "Maybe the battery is dead." I suggested.
He shook his head. "No, just put in new ones. This thing isn't all that complicated." He turned it on again and got all the indications that it was working, but it wasn't getting a signal.
He sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Todd. It's broken again. Let me call Dr. Chin's office this morning and we'll get it taken care of this afternoon."
Reluctantly, I nodded. It was another pain in the ass, literally. Since a few days after I started to Change I'd been fitted with an electronic tag. It was supposed to send out an intermittent ping every three or four seconds that could be picked up by a receiver that was within a few miles under normal conditions. It was fairly small, about the size of an aspirin tablet, and was under the skin on my lower back.
Considering my situation, it was a great idea. A great idea except that the thing was defective. The doctor had already replaced the first one only a couple of days after it was implanted, and this one had the habit of cutting in and out for hours at a time.
"Whatever. I'll come by the shop after school." I said.
He shook his head. "No, just call over. If I can't get an appointment there isn't any reason why you should take the time."
I looked at the floor a moment. The unspoken understanding was that if I didn't have a lot of time, then it was pointless to waste it waiting around an auto parts store. "Okay. I'd better get going." I gave him a quick hug. "Bye."
"See you later, Todd."
I barely noticed the hoofbeats behind me until I heard the barking laugh. Startled, I stopped and turned to see Stripes trotting quickly to catch up to me. "Morning!" I yelled, smiling.
He tossed his head quickly in response and shot up right next to me, shifting back to morph. "Morning yourself." He said as he slipped his normal clothes back on. "Got a call from Mano this morning. He's not going to be in today."
I frowned. "Something wrong?"
He let off another barking laugh. "Not at the moment, but there will be when I get my hooves on him. He started to Change, and he called me to let me know."
"Really? Why'd he do that?"
His lips pulled back into a smile. "He decided to let me know that he's turning into a lion by roaring into the phone."
I sputtered and laughed. "You're kidding. A lion? He must be happy."
"Right now, sure. But when I see him next I'm going to twist his tail into a pretzel. That is, if he has one yet. I didn't ask."
Now it was all but one. Jim was the only one of the group that hadn't started to Change yet, though we still didn't know what Michael was going to be. He still didn't have a single external sign of his Change. I shook my head. "Who would have though?"
Stripes looked at me oddly, "What's that?"
I snapped myself out of my thoughts.
"Nothing. We'd better go, we're going to be late."
The morning passed without any real note. We found Jim and Michael leaning against a bike rack in front of the school when we arrived. We talked about Mano until the bell rang. My first four classes of the day, two normal and two Changeyear, all moved like molasses.
The only bright spot had been seeing Nathan Hill in my third period history class. The guy was a world class jerk and not all that removed from being a bully. He'd been out for a couple of days and the rumor mill had been churning that he'd begun his Change. He walked into class far more quietly than usual and much less confidant. He definitely had a beak and a fleshy red pouch hanging below it and going under his shirt. It was clear even before the teacher asked him to announce it to the class that he was turning into a wild turkey.
I managed to stifle the laugh that threatened to come up, but only barely.
Lunch rolled around and I joined the my friends at the table that had become ours over the last few weeks. The chatter was mostly about Mano, of course. We thought that it was pretty clear that Stripes was going to have to get a clamp down on his instincts, but he laughed it off.
"Haven't you ever seen those nature films of zebras and lions?" he asked. "Sometimes they drink from the same watering pools. The zebra's can sense when the lions are in the mood to attack."
Jim grinned, "Yeah, but what happens the next time you and he get into an argument?"
Before Stripes could respond, Michael blurted, "Zebra steaks?"
Stripes just rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the encouragement. Leave it to you to be the cruel one."
"Hey, can I help it? I'm cold-blooded after all." He smiled.
We chuckled at that and the conversation continued to drift from topic to topic until we heard the first bell for the end of lunch. We all split up at that point. Usually I had a class this period with Mano, but with him out for the day I ended walking alone to class. I got lost in my thoughts for a few moments, thoughts about some of the absurdness that were likely to arise between Stripes and Mano. I was so out of it that I didn't see Nathan until I almost walked into him.
Unfortunately, he saw me. He grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and twisted my head to meet his face. "What'd you find so funny this morning, huh?" he growled. "Were you laughing at me? Huh? Huh?" I tried to answer, but the way that he was holding my neck made it hard to respond. That, and he twisted harder if he heard more than a gurgle coming out of my throat.
Another voice, one that I knew to be Nathan's sidekick Glenn, piped up. "How 'bout we make the little rodent run?" The strange thought occurred that Glenn was one to talk. He was nearly done with his own change into a low degree house mouse.
I started to struggle to get away. It had only been a few seconds, but I started getting desperate. With my finished claws, I started try to swipe at Nathan, but he was holding me too far away and the light jacket he was wearing absorbed most of my attempted blows. The more desperate I got, the more I started feeling a pressure on my mind. An instinctive pressure.
I started clawing and biting, but Nathan held firm, sneering and laughing. The more I struggled, the more desperate I got. That's when I heard Glenn laugh and say, "He's shifting! Alright! Let's skin 'em!"
The part of my mind that wasn't raccoon screamed out at that, but even without the pressure on my throat I couldn't speak human words anymore as my body started getting smaller. I felt my clothing growing slack and falling to the pavement even as I tried to claw and bite my way out of Nathan's grasp.
The last thing that I could understand being said before those parts of my mind were shunted away was a curse shouted from Glenn. Suddenly, in my field of vision was a rearing black and white beast. In surprise, Nathan let go and shielded his head with his arms letting me fall to the ground.
I wasted no time. My brain screaming RUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUNRUN, I was already scrambling when my body his the pavement. From behind me, I heard a shout, "Todd!"
Something about the shout was familiar, but I was too scared to think it out. I raced across the grassy area and toward the chain link fence. Somehow, I knew that there were several large holes under it, and that was my way to safety.
The black and white form raced up along side me and seemed intent on attacking, so I turned away only to find another, two legged form running to catch me there. I turned again, this time virtually under the legs of the four legged animal. I heard a surprised snort as it tumbled to avoid stepping on me.
I managed to get to the fence and slip halfway under it before something grabbed my tail. "Todd! Snap out of it! It's Michael!" I heard, but the words meant virtually nothing to me. I twisted back and managed to sink my teeth into his forearm. Probably more in surprise than anything, he let go for a split second. Long enough for me to tear off into the underbrush and vanish.
I didn't stop running for a long time. The voice in my brain kept shouting that I was in danger, kept shouting that I needed to run. So I did. I ran through backyards and across streets until I had left the oddity of all that behind for the quiet of a large, natural wooded area.
I didn't stop moving until I found myself at the edge of a pond, simply too tired to run anymore. By that time, the daylight was already dropping rapidly from dark clouds. I lapped a few sips of water and ambled around in the dimming daylight until I found an old, hollow stump. It didn't have any recent scents on it, so I crawled into the cramped space and curled up only moments before the rain began to fall.
Exhausted, I fell asleep.
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