|Works by Eirik on Shifti|
|Paradise story universe|
"You sure all this stuff is going to fit in your dorm?"
Tim glanced up at his father as he lifted a box from the overstuffed minivan, then blew his nose. "I think so. I hope so!"
Tim grabbed a lighter box and started up the stairs. The Sierra Madre hall was, of course, up on a hill from street level. More than that, he was up on the top floor of the most distant three story building. It wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't been dealing with a nasty summer cold for two days. "I guess if this is the worst thing that happens, this won't be so bad!" he told his dad.
Despite feeling sick as a dog, he was excited. This was the start of the next chapter in his life: College. He'd come to San Luis Obispo from the San Fernando Valley, which was basically a concrete jungle that made up a large chunk of LA. He was actually looking forward to the quieter life here. The town was small, the people friendly. It was almost a stereotype of the old fashioned college town.
He climbed the steps and found his way to his room. He nodded to a few others who were already moving into their own rooms. He found his, where someone had taken the time to put a hand-drawn note on the door below the room number, 34-L, "Timothy and Mitchell!". He frowned, no one called him that, but they had probably gone off his official application for housing on campus. The rest of the rooms had similar signs. He unlocked the door and found that it was empty, his roommate wasn't here yet. He claimed the bed near the window and set down the small box he had.
His father came up right behind him and set a larger one on the desk. "Here, why don't you relax and start unpacking. Your mother and I will get the rest of the stuff." His mother had almost immediately vanished when they pulled up to try and find a restroom.
Normally, Tim wouldn't let his parents do that, but he felt lousy. "Thanks," he said blowing his nose. "I'm not sure how much sleep I'm going to get this week." The school had a fairly extensive orientation week for freshman, where they randomly grouped people from various dorms into groups of about eight and had them guided by an upperclassman. It started the next day, and Tim really didn't want to miss it.
Once his father left, he opened the small box and pulled out a few things for his desk. He set out his pen cup, a small lamp and his desk calendar. He tore it off to today's date, August 14, 2005, then tossed the other pages into the wastebasket.
He managed to unpack and say goodbye to his parents. They had a long drive back down south and his father had to work the next day. "You're on your own, Tim," his mother had said with her eyes wet. "Don't do anything stupid."
He was laying on his bed when Mitchell came into the room. He weakly stood up and waved, "Hi, I'm Tim. We talked a few times on the phone. I'd shake hands but I've been sick."
Mitchell looked pretty non-plused about it. "Mitchell. No problem. We'll have time later when you're feeling better." Mitchell was already taking the traditional scruffy look of a college student to heart, dressed in a dirty t-shirt and torn jeans, it made Tim with his slightly more upscale button front shirts feel overdressed. "I'll be back!"
Mitchell left the door open, giving another person a chance to poke his head in, "Hey, I'm Nash, the R.A.," he said with a quick wave. "I heard you're sick? Need anything? I'm headed down to V.G.'s, want some juice or something?"
Tim looked at him quizzically, "V.G.'s?"
"Oh, Vista Grande, it's a small cafeteria between the residence halls. I don't know what you'd call it, ala cart?" He shrugged and smiled, "Just tell me what you want and give me your meal card. I'm already getting some for Hollows."
"Dusty Hollows. He's at the other end of the floor. He's sick, too." Tim told Nash what to get him, mostly juice and some crackers for his upset stomach, then rolled back on his bed and dozed off.
He woke up hours later. The sun was still up but it was clearly close to dusk. He looked around the room and found that it was dark, just the light slipping around the shade to light the room. He hadn't noticed Mitchell come back, but the other side of the room was completely set up. Tim blinked, he must have been really out of it to sleep through that. At least his new roommate had been nice enough to leave him alone. He could hear laughter on the other side of the door as everyone was getting to know each other.
He rolled out of bed, looking about as good as he felt, and noticed that his meal card was sitting on top of his mini-fridge next to a couple packs of Ritz crackers. He opened the door and smiled, finding three bottles of orange juice. He cracked one open and decided to check out what was going on out the door.
He opened it, and conversation suddenly stopped. "Hey guys," he said trying to be as cheerful as possible. He noticed Nash perched on the arm of the sofa and raised his juice bottle, "Thanks!"
Nash smiled. The guy seemed almost creepy-cheerful. "No problem, were we being too loud?"
Tim shook his head, "No, I've been asleep for most of the day. Still feel like crap, though." He hung in the doorway as he got the lay of the other students there. They were almost all freshman, with the exception of Nash and one other guy who was staying in the dorms a second year. Tim had no hope of getting all their names that night, but living in such tight quarters they would learn them soon enough.
"What's your major?" asked Vincent, who assured everyone that he was nineteen, but looked like a late twenties surfer stereotype.
"Biological Science," he replied. "I'm thinking about marine biology as a concentration later."
Tim stayed up for a couple hours just chatting despite his pounding headache. It was easy for him, he'd always been good at making friends and had a very open personality. In time, whatever cold he had reared back and he felt drained again. Excusing himself, he went back into the darkened room and back to bed.
Tim woke up feeling better.
It was almost eerie. He'd gone to sleep feeling like crap, but by the time the California sun was beaming though the window, he felt almost human again. He reached up to rub his eyes, but something wasn't right. Were his nails that long? And why was his nose swollen? His mouth felt strange, too.
Slowly, he opened his eyes. The room seemed oddly bright. The sun was up, but with the shade down it should have been nearly dark. He pulled the sheet down, "Holy crap!" he yelled.
He heard Mitchell startle awake from the next bed. "What?!" he yelled, sitting upright all of a sudden.
Tim panicked and covered himself from head to toe, "Nothing, sorry. I think I was having a nightmare."
Mitchell sighed, "Whatever," he started to lay back down but looked at the time. "The orientations start in a couple hours, you feeling up to going?"
Tim was breathing hard under the sheets, praying that Mitchell wouldn't see. "Uh, I'm not sure. Let me wake up first. Why don't you grab a shower before they're all taken?" Tim had remembered there were only eight showers for the forty guys on the floor. Mitchell nodded and heaved himself out of bed without a word. A few seconds later, Tim was alone.
He slowly unwrapped the sheets and took a look at what had happened. "What the hell?" he asked quietly.
His body was covered now in black fur in two tones, basically black on black. His hands were more paw-like, four fingers and a thumb each with a sharp claw on the end. He felt his face, noticing that he'd grown a muzzle overnight. If anything could take attention from all of that, it was the two sizable breasts that hung off his chest, and the distinct lack of a bulge in his shorts. "What the hell am I?"
The door suddenly flew open, "The showers were already taken, I'm going to make some coffee. You want some?"
Tim felt his heart skip a few beats, then slowly let out a breath. "What? Coffee?"
Mitchell looked annoyed, "Yes, a drink made from beans. They tried it with lentils and it didn't work out. You want some or not?"
Tim just stared. He was still topless, dressed only in boxer shorts that now hung oddly on rounded hips. There was even a tail that Tim could sense, even move with as much effort as moving an arm, but Mitchell didn't bat an eye. "Uh, no thanks."
Mitchell shrugged, "Your loss," he did a double take and turned back to Tim, "Did you dye your hair or something? I thought it was brown."
Tim slowly shook his head. His hair? "No, I've been sick and asleep. Anything else odd?" he asked, sounding perhaps a bit more annoyed than he'd intended. It was only then he noted mentally his voice didn't sound right.
Mitchell just shook his head. "Not a thing," he said turning his attention back to his coffeemaker.
Tim had a sudden need to see himself in a mirror, but the floor was slowly coming to life and the halls were crowded with people. He suddenly realized that he had to be hallucinating. Strangely, he relaxed when the thought popped into his head. He wasn't a cat woman, he was just having a stroke or something!
He still didn't want to test the theory, but certain biological imperatives struck and he felt the need to use the bathroom. He went to slip on a pair of Crocs, the school had advised some kind of waterproof slipper for showers to help prevent athletes foot, and got another shock. The shoe, rather than awkwardly slipping over his now paw-like foot, seemed to vanish. Well, not completely, but there was a ghostly outline of it around his foot. He couldn't feel it, either. At least until he went down to take it off. Then it popped back into reality.
Now his head, which seemed so clear a few minutes ago, was hurting again.
He slipped them on again and walked out of the room and down the hall. He was in the doorway of the large shared bathroom before he realized that he hadn't slipped on a shirt, but it was too late now. Four other guys were using the sinks, shaving or brushing their teeth. Nash was one of them and he waved a toothbrush in the mirror. "Look who's back to the land of the living!" he said brightly. "Feeling up to starting orientation today?"
Tim started hard at him, "Do I look better?" he asked.
Nash shrugged, "Sure, your color is back. But... never mind, I must be thinking of someone else."
"What?" asked Tim, hoping that the R.A. would reveal this as some kind of bizarre prank.
"I thought your hair was brown, but I guess I was wrong," he said and went back to brushing.
Tim took a moment to look at himself in the mirror. He couldn't imagine what the others were seeing, but it clearly wasn't this. Even if this was somehow some elaborate prank, and it would have to be the most elaborate prank in history, they couldn't possibly not react. He, or more accurately she, was stunning in an exotic and animalistic way. Tim had a hard time figuring out what she was exactly, the fur was black but in the bright light of the bathroom it was clear there were spots of even darker black scattered all over her body. She was also stacked, with boobs that would have drawn notice from anyone around if they could see them.
She slipped into the bathroom stall and sat down. She examined herself as much as she dared behind the locked stall door, but was confronted with the fact that she was unmistakably female. She felt her breasts and could feel through them. This wasn't a costume that someone had managed to slip her into, this was her.
Leaving the bathroom, she slipped back into her room and struggled with what to do. Something very, very strange was going on. She could still imagine it was some kind of stroke or hallucination, but this was detailed. She could feel a tail, when she reached up to touch the whiskers near her face she could feel them tingle.
Why couldn't anyone see it?
Nash popped his head into the room again. "You feeling up to orientation, or do you want me to tell your group leader that you're still sick?"
"Uh, I think I'm still a bit too drained today. I'll try and catch up with them tomorrow."
Nash nodded, "It'll just be you and Dusty then," he said. "He's still sick himself."
Tim felt his ears perk up, "Really? He was sick like me?"
Nash nodded, "Yeah, he won't even come out of his room this morning. Kyle said that he's practically hiding under his blankets." Nash just waved off and left.
Tim laid back on her own bed and pondered that. Did this happen to someone else, too? Was there another jaguar woman down the hall? She decided to wait, eating some of the crackers and orange juice rather than leaving to get something to eat. It was beginning to sound like she could walk around campus without anyone knowing, but she wasn't ready to test that yet. First she wanted to find out if Dusty was the same as her.
She waited until the floor cleared out, then opened her door and waited. If Dusty was just sick, she didn't want to bother him. But if he was like her, then she needed to find out. In the meantime, she turned on the computer and started Googling around the internet trying to find some evidence this was happening to other people. There wasn't a thing on the news sites, they were headlined with stories of a passenger plane crash in Greece, and searches that were more specific brought up either pictures of jaguars in zoos or something called furry he knew nothing about. The problem was that when she checked those sites, they were clearly people in suits or artwork. Nothing that looked like she did now.
After about an hour, she heard a door slowly open down the hall. It took a few seconds, but the faint hint of something musky tickled her nose. She heard what sounded like someone trying to sneak down the hall with tap shoes on, which was especially noticeable when they reached the tiled bathroom. There were a couple tentative steps, then a loud crash.
Tim bolted from her seat and ran to the bathroom. She stopped short. "Dusty?" she guessed.
The creature on the bathroom floor would not have been mistaken for a human, but it wasn't an animal. It was almost as much moose as man. He was tall, it was obvious even as he lay on the floor, and bulky. His face had elongated outward to about twice a normal human depth, and his head was topped with a pair of very large velvet covered antlers. He looked quickly in her direction, then a series of strange looks went across his face. He opened his mouth a couple times to say something, but closed it. He pulled his legs closer and closed his eyes, "It's all a nightmare, it's all a nightmare..." he started repeating.
Tim sighed, and sat down next to him on the floor. "Sorry, pal, unless you're dreaming me into it, it's real." He stuck out a paw, tapping him on the shoulder to get him to open his eyes. "I'm Tim Anders."
He slowly reached out his own hand, misshapen into a mix of hoof and hand, he had only two fingers and a thumb, "Dusty Hollows." He looked Tim over, "Aren't you in the wrong bathroom?"
Tim actually laughed for the first time this morning, "That's what's got you concerned?" When the moose just stared, Tim shook his head, "I'm not sure for the moment. When I went to bed last night I was a guy, I woke up this morning and I'm this..." she said indicating her body. "More than that, no one can tell."
Dusty blinked, "No one can see those?" he asked pointing at her very large breasts.
She shook her head, "I accidentally gave half the floor a topless show when I woke up and no one blinked. The only comment was that they thought I'd dyed my hair black, but no one noticed the tail, the teeth or the ears." She stood up and offered the moose a hand, "Come on, take a look at yourself in the mirror. I know that's why you're in here."
He took the hand and walked to one of the sinks. He slowly traced the outline of his antlers, which were already a foot and a half in either direction and apparently still growing. "Wow," was all he managed quietly.
Tim took a moment to really look at her own face again. She was surprised about how much humanity it retained. The pictures of jaguars she'd pulled up online often looked stoic, even angry. But her face was far more expressive, with large brown eyes. She smiled to the image in the mirror and was almost taken aback. She looked... adorable, even beautiful. She glanced sideways and noticed Dusty was looking her over as much as himself. "Eyes front, pal," she said without malice.
He turned back to the mirror with a small smile. "Sorry, but whatever did this made you pretty stunning. Or just pretty."
She gave him a sideways glance, "Look, I was a guy a few hours ago, don't get any ideas," she looked down at her chest again, "and as far as I can tell, everyone here thinks I'm one, so you'd better start thinking of me that way." Tim whipped her tail around, "I don't want to be cooped up in here all day, why don't you come with me and get some food?"
He looked shocked, "Go outside? Like this?"
Tim nodded, "Outside. I don't think anyone can see us."
He looked down at the sink, "If I had some proof of that, maybe I'd come with you."
Just then, the janitor walked in the far door of the restroom. He barely looked up at the two of them at the sinks, "Sorry, guys, I need to clean up in here. If you need to shower, I can do those last." The man didn't give a hint that there was something odd about the two of them.
Dusty just looked at Tim, then back up, "No, we're fine. We'll get out of your way."
They went back to Dustys room. The new moose was obviously not thinking, and whapped his antlers on the side of the doorframe, "Damn it!" he said loudly. "That hurt like hell."
Tim settled on his desk chair, carefully feeding her tail though the opening at the seat, and showed him what happened with shoes. "It's strange. I'm not sure what to make of that."
Dusty went to his closet to pull out some clothes, then rolled his head back in frustration. "I own t-shirts and sweatshirts," he said simply.
He grabbed one and held it over his antlers, "How am I going to put this on?"
"I don't know, wait for winter when they shed?"
"Not funny," he said grimly. "What am I going to do?"
Tim sighed and unbuttoned her shirt and handed it over, "Try that."
The moose just continued to stare at her, and it was only that moment that Tim realized she didn't have a t-shirt on underneath. She grabbed the t-shirt out of the moose's hand and slipped it on, "Grow up," she muttered.
They opted V.G.'s today. It was closer than the all-you-can-eat cafeteria and likely to be less crowded. They tried to walk normally down the concrete path, but Dusty had to keep ducking his head down. "I think I'm about two feet taller, if you include the antlers," he said. They passed several students along the way, but no one gave them a second glance.
It wasn't until they got to V.G.'s that they hit the first roadblock. One of the cashiers noticed them come in and waved a hand. "Sorry, you need shoes to come in here!"
They both looked down, and neither had bothered. "Uh..." stammered Tim.
Dusty took her by the shoulder and pulled her out, twisting his head to avoid the door frame. "OK, we'll be right back."
They went back to their dorm, slipped on the ghostly shoes and walked back. Even though Tim could feel the texture of the ground below her paws, the lady at the counter simply noticed that they had shoes and let them through.
They split up. Breakfast service was over, but they were set up for lunch. Tim grabbed a double burger and Dusty attacked the salad bar. They found a table near the window and started eating. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Dusty stopped and set down his fork, "What now?"
Tim licked a bit of grease off her lower lip, "Now? I have no idea. I guess we can't be the only ones, but we can only see each other."
"We need to find someone else. There has to be someone else."
Tim shrugged, "I don't know, does there have to be? We might be it. And who knows, maybe we change back tomorrow."
"You think so?"
She smiled, "We changed into these forms, why can't we change back?" she asked. She finished off the burger, which was sitting surprisingly well in her stomach. Tim had never been that into eating meat, but this body craved it. "Look, we've got all day. Why don't we try and figure out if we've got something in common, something that maybe caused this?"
They went back to Tim's room and talked for hours. As far as they could tell, neither of them had really much in common in their backgrounds. Tim had grown up in LA, while Dusty had been raised in Maine until he was ten, when his parents moved to Lake Tahoe. They had some similar interests, both were studying science, though Dusty was going to major in physics.
After a few hours of this, Tim started to stretch out her back as much as possible. "My back is starting to kill me," she muttered.
"You should probably look into a bra or something," suggested Dusty.
She gave him a dirty look. "This can't be permanent, so I'm not going to waste money like that. Besides, how am I going to go bra shopping? They'd see me as a guy trying on that stuff!"
He shrugged, "I don't know." He smiled, "You know, this is the longest I've spent with a woman since I broke up with my last girlfriend."
She narrowed her eyes and growled at him, "Look, Bullwinkle, lay off. I'm a guy, remember?"
"Remember?" he scoffed gently. "Tim, you looked like this when I met you, I have no idea what you looked like or sounded like as a guy!"
That stopped her short. "Wait, do I sound like a girl, too?" She'd noticed a different lilt in her voice, but had written it off to paranoia, or even different hearing.
He nodded, "Absolutely. Very nice voice, too." He cleared his throat, "I think mine is a couple octaves deeper, too. Thankfully, I'm not a singer."
No one had commented on his voice this morning, and she wondered just how far this disguise she had went. She reached over and picked up her cell phone. She fumbled a bit with the claws, but soon dialed her parents number. "Mom?" she asked.
"How's it going? You feeling okay?"
"Sure," she said. "I'm feeling fine. My voice is a little off, though." Tim threw it out there, almost hoping she'd notice.
"You sound fine to me," she said. "Are you doing orientation today?"
"No, I skipped it, I wasn't feeling up to it. Anything going on down there, anything fun? Strange?"
Her mother was a little confused, "No, should there be?"
"No, I guess not," she said with a sigh. "Look, mom, I need to go, I've got a friend here." They said their goodbyes and hung up. "She didn't hear anything different."
The moose shook his head, "My brother called me this morning, he didn't either."
She looked at her clawed hands and sighed, "What the hell is going on?"
The two of them settled into a routine fairly quickly. Tim traded many of his button front shirts over to Dusty. They were short on his rather large frame, but people around them seemed to just look at it as not tucked in. Despite the heat of the California summer, Tim took to wearing loose sweatshirts for the first few days. It was a bit too warm, but at least it hid her breasts. She tucked her tail down a pant leg, which wasn't all that comfortable, but at least it was out of the way. She would have to figure out how to put her tail though the waistband without people seeing a hole there.
Tim and Dusty both found their orientation groups the next day and got caught up. They'd missed the campus tour, but Cal Poly wasn't that large. It wasn't long before Tim had a good idea where he needed to go for classes the following week. She spent the rest of the week in close quarters with this group, and even made some friends, but not a one gave a hint that they saw her for what she was.
She did find herself strangely reluctant to socialize. She was having a good time, but felt a strange sense of relief when the groups got smaller or when she walked home. It took her a few days to realize that it might be part of the animal instinct. Jaguars were solitary creatures, after all. Maybe she'd picked up some of their mental conditioning.
She'd lost track of Dusty in that time, but he was never that far from her mind. He was the only one in the world, as far as she knew, that was going through this. Once the week of orientation ended, they were almost joined at the hip. The two of them would sneak off to one room or the other to do internet searches, trying to figure out if this was common or not. They just didn't know what to look for.
The next oddity was getting their IDs. They both held off on it, not sure what the camera would pick up, but eventually they had no choice. The two of them went to a temporary stand in the student union and waited in line. Tim was tense, not sure what to tell the guy when the digital picture showed a black jaguar woman rather than a college guy. She sat down and he snapped the digital picture. She cringed when the screen behind the photographer showed her exactly as she was, and she glanced over at Dusty who looked ready to bolt.
The tech didn't blink. He turned around, cropped the photo, and an ID card printer spit out her new ID. She looked the photo and could see her new self, but apparently it looked like her old self to everyone else. Dusty had the same experience, but one of his antlers brushed a light stand and toppled it over. He apologized, but the photographer didn't even seem to notice what had knocked it over. His picture, with antlers mostly cropped out, looked normal to this guy as well.
Classes started the following Monday. Tim and Dusty had no classes this quarter that overlapped, but they were in the same buildings for the most part. They'd both resolved to keep as low a profile as possible, sitting toward the back of the classrooms and lecture halls. After a few classes, Dusty was already looking tired. "It's fine in classes that have wide rows," he explained, "But lecture halls have been a real bear. I'm tall enough that my antlers go over the heads of anyone next to me, but if I start to lower my head I whack them."
Tim got concerned her friend might give himself away because of that, but she waved it off. "So far, no one has looked twice at me. I'm just keeping my head up, taking notes on a clipboard instead of on a desk. I should ask my parents for a laptop, that would work better."
The only other thing that got Dusty noticed was the curious habit that he had of turning his head sideways walking through doors. It wasn't long before everyone noticed it. Thankfully, people wrote it off to it being a strange quirk and ignored it.
Tim was walking down the path behind the cafeteria heading for her first class of the day. The small access road, designed for deliveries to the student union but usually devoid of cars, was packed with students heading here and there. Tim felt her hackles go up. She'd always been at home in a crowd, but this many people were getting on her nerves.
She was so distracted that she didn't hear the voice at first. "Miss! Miss!" Someone was trying to get someone else's attention.
Tim ignored it, since it was clearly not meant for her, and turned and jogged up a few stairs to get to the center of the old science complex. She had a lecture in one of the larger classes...
A hand grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her around, "Miss! Please!" Without thinking, she lashed out with her free hand and caught the guy across the arm. She felt the claw catch his jacket, but otherwise it didn't do anything worse than a small tear. "What the hell?" he exclaimed.
She suddenly realized that he was looking for her, because he could see her. At least, if the fact that his head looked like some kind of seal with a beard was any indication. "Jesus!" she examined. She noticed people looking at them, and grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him off the path to an empty bench behind some bushes. "You're one of us!" she said in a hush.
He actually looked even more happy, if that was possible, "Us? There's more of you?" He closed his eyes and seemed like he was doing some kind of happy dance on the bench. "I've been going nuts looking for someone else!" He extended a hand, which had a strange, flattened quality to it, "I'm Trinidad Weathers, sea lion."
Tim took the hand and shook it, "Tim Anders, jaguar, and everyone around you sees me as a guy."
He looked confused, the whiskers on his face twitching, "A guy? Were you...?" he left the question unspoken.
"Yeah, I changed in August. Woke up like this," she glanced around to make sure no one was within easy earshot, "gender change and all."
He absorbed that pretty easily. "I've been like this since last August," he said breathlessly. "August of 2004. I haven't seen anyone else!" He shook his head, "I'd decided I was nuts. I've even been in therapy because of my 'sea lion' delusion." He paused and smiled, "Who else?"
"A floor mate of mine, Dusty. He's a moose."
Trinidad laughed, sounding like a bark more than anything else, "You're kidding! I saw him, I think, last week!" He related that he'd been on the top floor of the library and spotted what he thought was a deer from a great distance away. He'd mentioned it to someone sitting near him, but no one else saw it. "I'll bet it was him, but it was pretty far across the campus."
"He does kind of stick out, he's about two feet taller with those things than he was."
Trinidad started bouncing up and down on the bench. Tim couldn't be sure if this was normal behavior or something to do with being half sea lion. He started to lean over for a hug, obviously taken with the moment of realizing he wasn't alone, but Tim stuck a hand up and opened his claws, "Remember. Dude. Not dudette."
"Sorry," he said, but the tone of his voice was still happy. "I can't believe it. We need to get together, you and your friend." She found out that he lived in the dorms as well, but in Whitney hall. These were older dorms, smaller, and generally reserved for upperclassmen nearly on the other side of campus. Trinidad was a sophomore. They agreed to meet after classes at his dorm. "My roommate is on a trip with a professor, getting samples for a study. They won't be back for a couple days."
They reluctantly parted company, having found others it was hard to let it go, but she called Dusty before she got to class. He was just as excited at the prospect of meeting another one like them.
It wasn't until she sat down that she suddenly realized what Trinidad had said. He'd been a sea lion for over a year, and not changed back. She looked down at her body and sighed, "Crap."
"I keep telling you, this guy is a bit off his rocker," Tim said as they walked along the path behind the dorms. "I thought he was going to explode from excitement."
Dusty scoffed, "You said he'd been changed over a year? I'm not sure I'd have kept up my routine. Hell, I haven't even been all that sure I wasn't going to wake up some morning changed completely into a moose!"
Tim let that thought percolate in her head. "We'd have a hard time getting a full grown moose out of the dorms," she said quietly. "Well, without a chainsaw..."
He punched her lightly in the shoulder, but laughed. "Laugh it up, kitty. I'm sure Mitchell would just love waking up and finding an apex predator snoozing across the room." He ducked under a low hanging branch, "So this guys a sea lion? I wonder what the pattern is?"
Tim shrugged, "Damned if I know. We're all mammals, and from the Americas, two north one south. You did live in Maine, that's moose country."
"You spend a lot of time in Brazil?" he asked looking down on her.
"True. I didn't' get enough out of Trinidad. We'll find out shortly."
They reached the room, 103, and tapped on door. It flew open almost instantly. "Tim!" yelled the sea lion and he made for another hug.
She stuck a clawed hand up again, "Dude."
He backed off and turned his attention to the moose, "I imagine you're Dusty!" he said extending a hand. "Come in, come in!"
The room was bigger than theirs, with both beds sitting up on lofts. He offered them both some chairs while he leapt up on the bed, "I'm not even sure where to start!" he said with a wide smile and a bit of a bark at the end of his sentence. "I've really dreamed of this, meeting others like me. I just wasn't expecting them to be something besides a sea lion!"
Trinidad, it turned out, had originally been from Bermuda, but his family had emigrated when he was a teenager. "This change did something to my accent, though," he lamented. "Everyone else hears it, but for some reason it doesn't come out to my ears."
"I kind of notice it," admitted Tim, "but only now that you mention it."
"I heard it the whole time," said Dusty, "but my ears are bigger. It is faint."
Trinidad started kicking his feet back and forth, and only then did Tim notice their size, "It looks like you're wearing flippers."
He nodded, "It's hard getting around places, I try to avoid big crowds. It's odd, but when first changed I started to put on a shoe, force of habit, and it..."
"Faded into a ghost?" finished Dusty. "Yeah, we've seen it. I had to leave myself a note to put them on with my wallet and keys."
They talked for some time before heading over to the main cafeteria for dinner. It was fish night, which delighted Trinidad. Then again, most things delighted him. Dusty made a sizable dent in the salad bar while Tim loaded up on fish. She'd found that eating wasn't a problem, she could pretty much stomach anything, but she craved meat. She didn't eat all that much more now than before, her body was about the same size, but it was stockier. She had been putting on weight. She mentioned this to Trinidad, when his eyes seemed to light up even more. "Lets all go to the beach!" he said a bit too loudly. "You can work off some of that swimming!"
Tim looked around quickly, but no one really paid attention. The noise inside the dining hall was too loud for the Bermudian sea lion to make much of a dent. "I'm not going to the beach," hissed Tim. When Trinidad looked confused, she rolled her eyes, "I can't exactly put on a bathing suit without attracting attention, either from you two or from the rest of the beach."
He wouldn't let the matter drop. "Pish posh," he said grinning. "Just wear whatever you brought with you when you moved in. I won't mind, I'm sure Dusty won't."
Dusty looked at him, his own eyes a bit narrow. "Trinidad..." he said dangerously.
Tim was getting a bit upset at the pressure, but she also had to spend some time out of the dorm. Neither she or Dusty had been off campus since orientation week, almost two months before. She didn't mind the prospect of swimming, and her new animal instincts didn't twitch at the thought. "Let me think about it, okay?" she finally relented.
After dinner, they walked quietly back to Trinidad's room. Tim finally relented in private. "Okay, lets hit the beach this Saturday. I'll figure out what to wear."
Before she could stop him, Trinidad threw his arms around her in an almost enveloping hug. "Thank you!" he said. "I've been wanting to get out for so long with friends, but was so afraid!"
She could hear Dusty grumble beside her, but she resigned herself to the hug. It seemed he needed more than she disliked it. "Okay, I'll let you hug in private, but get the flipper off my ass."
"What was that about?"
Dusty didn't look at her, just kept his eyes on the darkening path, "What?"
"I thought you were going to slug him when he hugged me," she said.
Dusty shrugged, "You kept telling him not to, and he kept not listening. I was going to protect you."
She sighed, "Dusty, I'm not actually a woman, you know. I can take care of myself." She held up her claws, "These aren't decorations."
He didn't acknowledge it, but kept walking. After a few more steps, "You having trouble with Mitchell? Hiding this stuff?"
She nodded, "A little. I've already shredded a couple of sheets and he noticed, but didn't say anything. I had to grab a lint brush to keep the shed fur to a dull roar. He is wondering how I've been using a fingernail to open chip bags. I need to be more careful." She paused, "I'm always worried he's going to find my pads."
"Your... oh," he said quietly. "How are you getting them?" he asked before he could stop himself.
"Internet," was her only reply. A steely look from her stopped any further questions on that.
Dusty sighed, "Kyle almost caught me with a shirt hanging off my antlers. I was able to cover fast enough, but he's also wondering about the snags in the carpet." He pointed at his hooves, "The tips keep catching."
Tim knew what he was getting at, and it wasn't the first time they'd talked about it. They both wanted to have a place they could relax and not be covering up this stuff. She hadn't been so sure it was a good idea, since she was a she. Then again, she still held out hope that this would all end at some point. "You want to switch roommates?"
"You think they'll go for it? I've already overheard Kyle telling people I stink, I think he'll go for it."
"Mitchell probably won't care that much. I'll talk to Nash and see what he says."
"You think he'll approve it?"
Tim chuckled, "The guy has seen me topless, he'll go for it."
When they got back to the dorms, there was a minor drama going on. Nash was posting notes around the floor. He spotted Tim and Dusty coming up the stairs. "Hey, guys. Do either if you have a dog?"
They both blinked, "Dog?" asked Dusty. "Where would we hide a dog?"
Nash just sighed and handed them the flyer. "The janitor has been complaining that there's dog hair in the showers, and he's seen some muddy paw prints."
Tim did her best not to react, "Paw prints? Who would have a dog here?"
Nash shook his head, "I think it's one of the frats or something. No one's here during the day so they could sneak in and wash a dog."
They took the flyer, but also asked him about switching roommates. "It's not a problem if your roommates don't mind. They both have to approve it."
They both went to talk with their respective roommates. Mitchell was only concerned that it was about him, but Tim made it clear it wasn't. "Dusty and I are just really good friends."
Kyle, for his part, was down the hall with a hastily packed suitcase. "If you want to live with the king of body odor, be my guest. How quick can I move in?"
They enlisted the help of the floor, moving Tim in with Dusty and Kyle into Mitchell’s room. That night, once the door closed, a lot of stress seemed to roll off them. "I'm not sure I realized how tense I've been," said Dusty. "No place where we can relax. Talk about this stuff without interruption."
Tim smiled and stretched out luxuriously on her sheets. "Yeah, this is the life. And even better, if I need one, I have an easy late night snack in the next bed!"
Dusty turned to glare at her, "Thanks, the stress is back now."
She rolled to her side and closed her eyes, "Glad to help."
Saturday morning, they were both up early preparing for the beach.
Trinidad had a car, so they just needed to get together their stuff. Dusty was still able to fit in his trunks, though the short tail of his created a bit of a problem with the waistband. "I wish I could get some stuff with tail holes," he muttered.
Tim scoffed, "And have everyone asking what those are for?"
He ignored the comment and turned to his feline friend. "What are you going to wear? Bikini? One piece?"
Tim rolled her eyes, "Yeah, I'm going for the Swimsuit edition." She pulled a normal pair of men's trunks out, "I'm going to go topless, I guess." When Dusty gave her the look, she waved him off, "Yeah, and you and Trinidad are going to get a thrill. No one else there is going to notice. Remember, one of the guys?"
They packed up their stuff and went to meet Trinidad.
The first problem of the day was Trinidad's car. "How am I going to fit in this thing?" asked Dusty. None of them had considered the fact that Dusty had over three feet width of antlers right now. Trinidad had an older Taurus wagon without a sunroof.
They tried a few ideas, but eventually settled on just hiding him in the cargo area, covering him with a blanket. "We'll need to figure this out later," lamented Dusty. "How the hell am I going to get around?"
"Convertible," suggested Tim.
Dusty sighed, "Yeah, probably. Going to suck in the rain."
They made their way out to Pismo Beach. Trinidad assured them that, while it would be crowded later, it would be fine as a morning swim spot. He passed by the more populated areas and eventually found a nearly isolated beach, covered in sand dunes. "I've been coming out here," he explained. "You get some dune buggies through here, but not much. The beach itself is too hard to get to for most."
It was a bit of a hike from the car, but the place was nearly deserted. They set up their towels and stripped to their swim trunks. Trinidad was wearing a no-imagination Speedo in a color that almost made him look nude. "It's by necessity," he explained. "I tried wearing regular trunks, but I lost two pair the first couple times I went out." He struck a comical pose, "I may be clumsy on land, but I can swim like the wind!"
His eyes boggled as Tim stripped off her shirt, revealing nothing. She glared at him, "One of the guys, remember."
The three of them spent the next few hours in the water. Trinidad just about never got out of it. Like he had said, he was a bit ungainly on land, but in the water he looked almost like a real sea lion. Dusty didn't do much swimming, though he certainly could. The heavy rack of antlers made it tough for him once his hooves lost touch with the shore. Tim, though, took to the water really well, feeling the cooling effect of the sea water almost immediately.
Tim couldn't help but notice that the two guys stayed pretty close to her. She hoped it was for the sparkling conversation, but realized that it was more likely for the wet kitten look she was sporting. Whenever she could, she kept herself underwater up to her chin. It was after she got out that she caught Dusty taking a long look at her body. "Dusty, I kind of expect that from Trinidad, but you know better," she fumed.
Dusty averted his eyes, and was quiet for the rest of the trip.
Once they got back to their room and got cleaned up, she sat down with him. "What are we doing?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" he said, suddenly interested in a textbook.
"You and me. We're friends? Are we... are you expecting more? Are you forgetting I'm a guy?"
Dusty sighed and looked away, "No, I'm not. Remember, I never knew you as a guy. First time I saw you was after you changed." He sighed again and rubbed his antlers. "Look, I'm not sure if this is me, or if this is this body. I've been reading up on moose. As these things grow I'm going to get a lot of hormones pumped through me."
Tim shook his head, "Yeah, but you're not an animal. And who knows how long this will last? Maybe it'll wear off before we get into fall."
Dusty grunted, "Yeah, talk to the sea lion that's been that way for a year and a half."
Tim resisted the urge to sit next to him, "Look, I'm not worried. I can defend myself." She moved her jaws, "I've been doing some reading, I can probably bust your leg with these."
He chuckled. "I see your point." He looked crossly at Tim, "But face it, guy or not, you're fantastic eye candy."
"Careful," she warned, but in a playful way. "I'm not that kind of girl."
Fall in California is much like summer, it's still hot.
"Tim, I need some help with this," groaned Dusty.
Tim knew what it was, they'd been aware it was coming. Dusty's antlers had stopped growing and the velvet was beginning to shrink and crack. In the wild, moose rub these things on every tree they can find. That wasn't possible here. "I guess Nash would notice if you started rubbing on the walls."
With great care, Tim used her claws to cut though some of it and pull it off. Most of it came off with ease, but some was still stuck were the antlers were a bit soft. Dusty grunted and groaned thought the entire process. When it was done, he was breathing hard, but his antlers were nice and hard. "Thanks."
She shrugged, "You'd do the same for me."
He chuckled, "Yeah, I'd be glad to brush out your back fur or something." He rocked his head back and forth, "Good lord, it's got to be three and a half feet across."
"And you're a foot and half taller, too. You don't seem to have a neck, either. Well, I guess you actually have too much of one."
He moved his head. It wasn't all that different than it had been a few moment before, but he seemed happier with them. "This is going to be a pain for the rest of my life."
Tim slapped his antler, "Don't talk like that. I'll bet this is all temporary. I mean, there are three of us in the world. How permanent could this be?"
Time passed quickly. Neither was sure how Dusty made it though the fall. He never tried anything serious, but Tim knew he was struggling with his instincts. His body needed to mate, and she was close by. He'd certainly been more open about his attraction to her, but Tim was having none of that. At one point, his advances became more open, but she shot him down. "You're not getting to first base, pal." After a few more attempts, Tim came close to moving out, but stuck by her friend. Tim was more afraid that Dusty might lose it if she took off.
Trinidad was still a bit of a problem. The sea lion could not get it through his head that the black jaguar he knew was a guy underneath. He'd even tried giving her gifts on a couple occasions, which she never accepted. The most obvious attempt had been on one of their swimming trips when he'd swam straight up, his nose parting her breasts, and kissed her on the muzzle before swimming off. He was hurt, both emotionally and from the claw mark across his chest, but over time he relented.
Through it all, Tim got more and more worried. She had two suitors, and it didn't bother her as much as it should. She wished she could talk to someone about all this, but after months of searching, they hadn't definitively found anyone else like them.
They'd all seen flashes, mostly in TV crowd shots, but nothing that they could lay a paw, hoof or flipper on.
The first quarter ended at Christmas break and the three of the reluctantly parted company. The new year was coming. Who knew what it would bring?
Christmas break for her had been a strange experience, if only for the lack of anything happening. The family didn't notice a thing. She kept in close touch with both Dusty and Trinidad, but the report back from both was the same, no immediate family changed. Dusty thought there might have been an aunt that had changed, but he never got the chance to find out for sure. She lived out of state, and while she had planned on visiting for the holidays earlier in the year, she had cancelled a few months before.
Returning to campus, the three picked up about where they left off, except that Dusty had shed his antlers. "First one broke off the day after Christmas," he explained. "I walked around lopsided for a few days and the other snapped. Now I can walk through doors again," he'd said with a grin.
Her first class of the new year was one she hadn't really looked forward to, a class on economics. It was a requirement for nearly every major on campus, so the halls were large and crowded. As per her usual tact, she stayed to the back, near the door. The lighting in this hall was odd, she was under an overhang that held the A/V equipment, so she was in a deep shadow. Most of the other students avoided this because of the bad light, but she had no problem at all. She tensed as the room filled. The more crowded the room the stronger the instinct was to take off running. Being near the door helped. She didn't know anyone here, at least that should could see in the room of over 150. Finally, the professor walked through a back door, and Tim's jaw hit the floor.
She looked like a llama with out of control hair growth.
"I'm Dr. Ela Dean," she announced to the class, her eyes slowly scanning the large number of students. She initially passed over Tim, who was sitting in a shadow, but her eyes darted back and got wide, if only for a moment. She recovered so fast it wasn't likely anyone else saw. "I'll be lecturing you today on the basics of economics. I know most of you don't want to be here..."
The lecture passed without being notable. Tim just kept staring at her, and she in turn kept looking up to the top row. As class came to an end, she stood behind the podium, "If anyone has any questions, I've got a few minutes after class," she said looking pointedly at Tim, "Otherwise, we'll meet in two days. Have chapter 1, 2 and 3 read by then!"
Tim waited until the room emptied. A couple of students stayed to ask questions, but soon even they were gone. Tim just stared from her seat.
"You know, its a little disturbing for you to sit so quietly up there. You may or may not realize it but your eyes are glowing a bit in the dark. Do you want to talk about something?" she asked from the podium.
Tim walked down the steps to her, "I'm sorry, I think I was a little lost for a moment."
She smiled, "You're a jaguar or panther?"
"Jaguar, Dr. Dean."
"In another time and place, you'd probably be thinking of lunch," she said with a smile. "I'm an alpaca. And call me Ela in private. I think we'll be close."
"Tim. Tim Anders."
"Is that short for something?" she asked.
He frowned, "Timothy."
Her eyes opened a bit. "You switched gender, too?" she asked.
"Yeah, just this last August."
She shook her head, "I've been told about that, but never met one in person. How are you handling it? Getting any help from the others?"
Tim felt her heart skip once, then twice. "Others?"
She stared at her, "You don't know about the network?" When she stayed silent, she looked up and cursed something in Portuguese. "I told them we need better ways of finding new changes." She looked back at Tim. "Any others like you?"
"My roommate, he's a moose, and another one who changed into a sea lion in 2004."
A couple of people walked in through the door, getting ready for the next class. "Let's head back to my office. I have a great deal to tell you about."
Tim followed her back to the office, calling Dusty first on her cell. "Where are you?"
"I'm at the library," he said. "What's up?"
"Get over to the business building, faculty office..." she looked at the door as they entered, "244. Call Trinidad.. Never mind, I think he's got class right now. Just get over here." She hung up the phone and took a seat. "How long for you?" she asked.
The professor sat down and thought, "2002, back when I was teaching in Madison. Scared the hell out of me," she added with a toothy grin. "I got lucky, though. I ventured out and stumbled across a visiting family from Chicago. They were touring the campus and the father was changed. He filled me in, got me linked up with others. You've been isolated since August?"
"Not really, I've got Dusty and Trinidad. But we were thinking that this was all there was."
They heard clopping down the hall, getting closer and looked toward the door when a large, dark shape loomed up in the glass. "Tim?"
"Come in, come in!" said Ela. Dusty grinned when he saw her. "I had a feeling it was something like this." He stuck out a hoof, "Dusty Hollows."
Introductions aside, Ela dove into the topic of the Changed like a professor might. She filled in the huge gaps that both Tim and Dusty had. This had been happening for year, at least though the early 1990's and possibly earlier. The numbers went up like clockwork every year, The doubled with great regularity. If the pattern held, everyone would be furry by 2020. "It's hasn't been easy to figure this out. It's not like we can take a census, randomly call people and ask if you've got a tail," she said with a smirk. She also let them know that there were others in the area, but the population was pretty thin in the county. "There are ten we know of in about a 50 mile radius, including us and your sea lion friend."
"Do people change back?" Tim asked.
Ela regarded the jaguar carefully before she answered. "Back to a human male? No. The animal thing is permanent. But some people change again their second year."
"Into what?" asked Dusty.
She shrugged, "It's just as random the second time as the first. I know a couple people that changed like that. Gender is rare, we think it's as low at 1% or less."
"So, next August I might turn into a male deer? Or dog?"
She sighed, "Or a female bear. Most likely, you'll stay the way you are."
Tim didn't like the way the conversation was going, "What about if I don't change this year? What about the next one?"
Ela carefully leaned forward and stole a glance at Dusty, who tensed. "If you don't change this year, from what I know, you probably won't change again."
Tim looked at the two of them, and could smell the tension in the air. She closed her eyes and relaxed herself. They were both clearly worried she'd go off her rocker, but she settled down. All things considered, the news could have been worse. "Okay, don't worry. If I have to Change again this year, then I just will."
Dusty and Ela exchanged looks, but let it drop. August was still months away, there was time to get Tim ready for the possibly she would be like this for good.
"I've got a class in half hour, let me just fill you in on the RDF and we'll meet later."
She sighed, "Forgot, you guys don't know what's going on. Not sure who started calling it that, but it fits. Reality Distortion Field. I've heard it called a few other things, the veil, the curtain. What have you. It's why people don't run screaming from us." She gave them a quick primer, but most of it was obvious things they had already figured out. What they didn't know what that it was possible for it to fail. "It's happened, rarely, but it has. Usually only for a few moments. Most humans will rationalize what they see and forget it. Be careful, though. We aren't ready to be known to the world around us, and we don't know what it takes to completely collapse the field, or even if it can be."
Dusty thought, "So if I had gone headfirst into a wall when I had my antlers and left an impression, anyone who saw that might have seen me for what I was?"
Ela nodded, "For a moment, yes... wait, did that happen?"
Tim looked at her friend, "Yeah, did that happen?"
He looked sheepish, "I tripped at home during Christmas break and took out a section of wall. My younger sister saw me do it, and she didn't look at me the same the rest of the trip."
Ela rubbed her temples with her hoofed fingertips, "Probably no harm done. Even if she told people what she saw no one will believe her until they change themselves."
Since she was about to be late for class, they exchanged information, including links and passwords to some private web sites for the Changed. "We have some public ones out there, but they've been piggybacked on the furry subculture so the signal to noise ratio is pretty high. These are completely private. Do not let normals see these. Don't put them on shared computers, and don't access them from campus terminals. Got it?"
They parted company after exchanging information. Dusty had a spring in his step, finding out that they were part of a far larger group was a great relief. Tim, on the other hand, walked back quietly. The meeting had given her a great deal to consider.
They piled out of the car and walked up the steps. Ela had called them about a meeting of the local furs that she set up after meeting them. Trinidad was, of course, very excited. "There are more of us? Thousands more?" he'd said while doing a different happy dance. It was like giving good news to Snoopy.
Tim had been quiet the last few days as she'd gone though the private websites for the Changed. She'd gone straight to some of the forums for people in her position, but hadn't spent that much time there. She wasn't ready to accept this. There was still August coming up. She was sure that she wouldn't have to deal with the female thing after that. She did hope to retain the jaguar thing, though. She looked enough to find out that the question on if the Change could be controlled was not a new one, but no one had an answer for that. For the moment, she didn't post anything.
One thing that did bother her was when she stumbled on the naming convention that had popped up for those with gender changes. Since other furs would see her as a woman, to help remind them that they needed to act like she was a man, they were advising everyone to use first and last initials. "Screw that," she'd muttered.
Dusty looked up from the textbook he was reading, "What?" She explained what she'd read. "What's wrong with that? Makes sense, really."
She glared at him, "My initials are T and A."
"What's wrong... oh." He slowly grinned, "I can see why that would be a problem for you. What about your middle name? What is it?"
"So it's either T and A or TB. Those really aren't the best choices, are they?" Dusty admitted, though partly he was withering under her steely glare.
"No. No it's not."
When they got to the meeting, she'd resolved to just go by "T". They knocked on the door and a rather large raccoon answered. "Welcome, welcome!" he said cheerfully. "Always glad to have newcomers!" He led them into the front room where a few others were already gathered. "I'm Jason," he said. "This is Rupert," he said indicating a chipmunk, "Lisa," he said pointing at a goat, "And you already know Ela."
"I'm Dusty," he said with a small wave. "This is Trinidad and T."
"Tea'?" asked Lisa? "With an accent?"
Tim could feel her skin blush under the fur, "No, T.A. I just didn't want to use my initials."
Lisa's eyes went wide, and she glanced at Ela. "You didn't tell us..."
She waved her off, "It wasn't my place to tell you." She stood and helped get them chairs, "I'm glad that you could join us. I think this is all we have tonight, the others had other meetings. The main reason we're here is because we wanted to get these three up to speed on what's going on."
One thing that Tim noted pretty fast was that this was not a group she'd likely associate with outside these meetings. The raccoon was a long haul truck driver who wasn't home much, the chipmunk managed a clothing store in town, while Lisa was a stay at home mother. All were older than Tim by at least a decade. The meeting did give them some good information, some other more informal sources of information, too.
At one point, Tim had gone to the kitchen for a drink and Lisa had followed. "When you're ready, I can help you with being a woman. Rupert can let us in the shop after hours to get you sized up."
Tim had turned quickly, perhaps a little too fast, "I'm not going to stay like this. I'm sure I'll Change again next time." Tim calmed down when she saw Lisa's eyes go wide. "Sorry, I'm a little on edge. I thought finding everyone would be a help, but I'm getting more freaked out about this." She managed a thin smile, "Besides, I'm not sure anyone seeing me in a frilly bra would know what to think."
Lisa recovered nicely, perhaps realizing that she'd overstepped. "No problem. But you should at least look into a sports bra or something you can hide under your shirt. It'll make things more comfortable in the long run."
They left the kitchen and found Trinidad regaling the gathering with tales of him swimming. Whatever force was controlling this definitely picked well for him. "I'm not even sure how deep I managed," he was saying, "but I'm thinking at least 100 feet."
The meeting was winding down when Ela remembered something and started pulling bracelets out of her bag. "These are for all of us," she said. "It's a new thing coming from up high. There are more and more of us in the medical community, and we have a woman at the CDC." Tim caught the bracelet and looked at it. It had his name engraved and a warning below it, "Sleeping Sickness, Ivory Coast Variant. Contact CDC immediately on hospital admission," then gave a phone number.
"What is this?" asked Rupert.
"We've heard about a few medical disasters with some of us, since doctors and nurses can't see us. We're really worried mostly about those of us like Dusty, since those antlers could bring the Field down for an ER team if he's in an accident. But it applies to use all." She sighed, "Hopefully, we'll eventually have enough doctors or nurses on staff to cover things in house. For now, just avoid getting hurt."
Tim clipped the bracelet on around her wrist and looked at it. The silver actually looked rather nice against the black fur.
As the meeting broke up, Trinidad went around the room, boisterously shaking hands of the men and hugging the women. Tim was talking to Jason when the sea lion snuck up and gave the most exaggerated hug to her. Tim accepted it, but did growl. "Flipper. Off. Ass."
The school year wound down a few months later. As it came time to leave the dorms, Tim and Dusty decided to look off campus for an apartment rather than risk another year in such close quarters. They eventually found one, though they somewhat reluctantly asked Trinidad to join them. They liked the guy, but weren't sure they could deal with him 24/7. But the place was nice, had three bedrooms and a good sized pool.
Tim was still struggling with her Change, now closing in on that magic one year mark. The truth was that she was scared. She had spent more time with Dusty in the last year than almost anyone outside her immediate family. She knew, had known, that he had feelings for her that went beyond friendship. She was sure he was hoping for a Change on her part.
What Tim hoped for was him meeting another Changed after August, someone who had always been a woman.
Trinidad, it turned out, wasn't always so boisterous. He was always cheerful, but at home he wasn't as "on" as he was with them outside the house. He did still have the annoying habit of sneaking up on Tim and giving hugs and kisses. Eventually, she sat him down, "What are you doing? You think I'm going to start going out with you or something?"
He'd found the conversation more hilarious than chastising. "I'm sorry, I'm living with a pretty girl and I can't help it," he said with a wink. "But don't worry, you're not my type. Or the type I'm looking for."
Against her better judgment, she cocked her head and asked, "What are you looking for?"
He smiled, "Another sea lion, a seal, an otter. Someone that can share my love of the sea." He waved at her like he was dismissing her, "You're just not my type."
Tim wasn't sure if she was relieved or hurt.
As the calendar ticked deeper into August, Tim was more and more on edge. She knew she was going to change, because she had too. Dusty had taken some time to read up on it himself, since he realized late that it was possible he could change into a she himself. As he did, he came to realize that Tim was deluding herself. There was a chance she'd change, but it wasn't a sure thing by any means. For that matter, she might change into simply another she.
When they all got to mid-August without getting sick, Dusty and Trinidad started to worry. They tried to hide it from their feline companion, but she could sense the tension. She kept rationalizing to the end. "Maybe the day isn't the same every year? Maybe it's later this time."
One morning she slowly roused from a sound sleep by a gentle knocking on the door. "Tim? Can I come in?" asked Dusty.
She slowly opened her eyes, "Sure, what's going on?"
He came in, his face grim, and sat down on the bed next to her. Though the doorway she could see Trinidad waiting, his face actually looking grim for the first time since she’d known him. "I was just online, on the private sites. It happened this morning."
Tim let that sink in. She knew she hadn't changed, she didn't have to look herself over. "You sure?"
Dusty nodded, "I'm seeing stuff from the east coast, mostly. People are already awake. Looks like a big year."
She sat up on her bed and let out a long, slow breath. Tears started to well up in her eyes, and for the first time in a year she allowed herself to realize that her old life was gone. She sobbed quietly, held tight by Dusty, through the morning.
She holed herself up in her room for the rest of the day, letting only Dusty come in to give her some food. She sobbed into her pillow until the fur on her face felt soaked. Other than once to use the bathroom, she didn't leave her room the rest of the day.
When she wouldn't come out the next morning, Dusty made a couple of calls. Inside an hour, there was a knock on the door. "Tim? Let me come in," she hear Ela speaking. "I'm here with Lisa." When the jaguar didn't respond, they let themselves in. "What's wrong?" she asked.
Tim sat up, her eyes narrow, "What's wrong? Look at me! This wasn't supposed to happen like this!" She tore though her t-shirt and revealed her bare chest, "I was supposed to be a guy again!"
Lisa carefully sat down next to her, with Ela on the other side. "Tim, we'll get you through this. It's not the end of the world."
Tim didn't know how to respond to that. Truth was, she couldn’t' decide if the fact she didn't change again scared her more than the slow acceptance she'd been developing. "I need more time," she said finally.
Ela got up from the bed and threw open Tim's closet. "Look, get dressed and get out of this place. Go with Dusty downtown and have breakfast. The fact is, nothing really changed for you, at least not since last year." She sighed as she tossed her a unisex polo shirt and jeans. "This is who you are now, and who you have been for the last year." She shook her head. "We've got a lot of other Changed right now, a lot that are just waking up with antlers, tails and fur. We're going to be finding them for days, weeks. Maybe months. We don't have time to get you through this today. If this keeps happening, though, at some point more people are going to see you as a woman than a man, and we don't know when that day is coming."
Tim took the offered clothes and got dressed. "Fine, will it make you happy if I buy a bra or something?"
Lisa perked up at that, but a look from Ela closed her down. "Only if you want too. Just don't wallow in it."
Lisa and Ela left a little while later. Dusty offered to stay, but Tim shooed him away. "I'm fine," she assured him. "I'll be fine." She ignored the advice to get out of the house. Maybe the next day.
Once everyone had left, she curled up on her bed again and wanted to forget everything. Her brain had been assaulted by so many changes over the last year that she was ready to fall apart already, but she'd held out until now because she'd been so sure she'd be male again today.
After a few hours, she decided she really wanted to forget. She knew that Trinidad kept a stash of hard liquor somewhere in his room. The sea lion wasn't a drinker, at least she'd never smelled it on him, but he did like a taste now and then. She ransacked his desk until she found a bottle of rum, took it to the kitchen and started pouring.
Tim had never been a drinker, either. Even unchanged she'd have gotten drunk fast, but now inside an hour she felt her head swimming. It wasn't long before Dusty came back and sniffed the air. "Tim? What's going on?"
Drunkenly, the jaguar stumbled off the couch and into his arms. "Don't get mad at me, dear," she chuckled. "Dear. It's funny because you're a moose."
Dusty held her up. "How much did you have?" he asked, worried.
"I just needed to forget, but I don't think it worked." She looked down and poked herself in the breast. "Nope, still remember these!"
The moose led her to the sofa and sat her down. "Why don't you relax and sleep it off," he suggested as he took the bottle and sealed it up. "You'll feel better in the morning."
She smiled and winked at him with half lidded eyes. "No, I'll have a raging hangover tomorrow. Right now, I feel great!" She eyed her roommate. "You know, have I ever told you that you're handsome as hell?"
Dusty sighed. "No, and I'm not."
She laughed and stood up. "Are you kidding? You're gorgeous." She reached up and rubbed his velvet covered antlers gently. "I can't wait to see this again. You have no idea how noble you look once the velvet comes off."
"Okay, we're going to put you to bed to sleep this off."
"Oh! Can you sleep with me?" she asked. She shimmed out of her shirt before he could stop her. "I mean, the universe wants me to be a woman, why not be all woman?"
He shook his head. "Because you're drunk and scared," he said simply. She responded by trying to yank his shirt off, popping several of the buttons off. He held her arms back, then bodily lifted her off the floor. "You're going to rest now, and we'll not speak of this again." He carried her protesting to her bed. Despite everything, she calmed the moment her head hit the pillow and was asleep a short time later.
Dusty left the room, closed the door and closed his eyes. He sniffed her scent off his arms, then went into the living room to clean up.
The next morning, he was watching TV and eating breakfast when she stepped out of her room. He turned slightly to look at her. "Morning."
She sat down next to him silently, the conflict she was feeling obvious on her face. Finally, she leaned over and gave him a small peck on the muzzle. "Thank you."
He looked at her with concern. "Nothing happened."
"I know. Thank you." She leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.
It took a few weeks for her to come out of her funk. The other changed in the area were a big help. She was able to throw herself into helping a few others get oriented. There were still no other transgender folks around this area, but the last day had nearly doubled the Changed population in the county. Even more help, a nurse at one of the local hospitals had changed to a gazelle, so she was able to watch for them coming in for treatment.
It was only then that she started to hear about how extensive the numbers were getting. She feared it wouldn't be long before her secret was out to everyone.
It was sometime in late September when things began to click for her. She would still have to act like a man in public, but she needed to start thinking like a woman, or at least getting the basics down. There was one key thing she needed to do, though. She told no one about her thinking, most of all Dusty. No one except Ela at first.
She decided her coming out was going to be the one day she could dress in public without turning too many heads, Halloween.
Tim called Ela once she had made her choice and convinced her to set up a Halloween party for the Changed in the area. She had resisted a bit, until she told her what she was planning. They kept it from Dusty, wanting to surprise him, and from Trinidad since it would probably kill him. For his part, Dusty sensed something was up, but couldn't figure it out. He had a late class that day, which Tim already knew, but agreed to meet her and the others at Ela's house for the party.
Tim showed up a couple of hours early, meeting Lisa and a young vixen that had just changed this year, Sheila. "Lisa enlisted my help," she explained, "I own a costume jewelry kiosk at the mall." She looked over the black jaguar as she stripped off her men's clothing. "Damn, are you sure you were a guy?"
Lisa tensed when she said it, but Tim laughed it off. "Yeah, just a couple years ago." She eyed the clothes laid out on the bed. "I think I'm ready."
Dusty showed up with Trinidad in tow. He was disappointed there weren't any aquatics this year in the area, but he was holding out hope for the next year.
The moose ducked his head through the door and wandered in. Most of the people were in costumes that went with their new forms. He spotted a cowboy horse, a skunk in a hazmat suit, and most exotically a zebra wearing a prison jumpsuit.
Ela spotted him coming in and turned down the music. "I know that this gathering is a good excuse to get to know some new faces, literally. But we wanted to reintroduce an old one."
On cue, Tim started coming down the stairs and all eyes trained on her. She was dressed in a stark white dress reminiscent of Marylyn Monroe. Tim couldn't pull off the white skin but her bust was pushed up about as far as it would go and she had a hemline that left nothing to the imagination. The girls had spent a couple of hours on her fur, which she'd badly neglected over the last year. Now, it virtually shimmered in the dim light. Covered in silver jewelry, from earrings to rings, she was like something out of a 1940's Hollywood premier. She only lacked shoes, since they simply faded out when she tried to put on the heels. No one in the room would really see them, anyway.
She felt momentarily self conscious, but that passed the moment her eyes locked on Dusty. The feelings that she had for him had been welling up a long time, and he clearly loved her. He had done his best to hide it, but he'd confided as much to Trinidad after her drunken binge. Confiding anything to the sea lion was a mistake. Most of the furs in the room knew what was happening the moment she appeared. The moose and jaguar had been a hot topic of conversation, something that was unlikely to change now.
Tim sauntered up to her friend and threw her arms around his broad shoulders as best she could, "Dusty, you've been a wonderful friend, and I know in some ways the last year and a half have been as hard on you as on me. This is what I am now, this is what I'm going to be. I love you."
There was silence in the room as everyone watched the moose. The wheels in his mind were turning hard. Despite their growing closeness since August, this was about the last thing he expected. "You do?" was all he could manage in a hushed voice.
Tim just pulled him closer in a long, deep kiss.