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|Paradise story universe|
At the beginning, my story isn't all that different than yours. I had a pretty normal life, wife and two kids, a career that wasn't going to make me a millionaire but comfortable. Mortgage, debts and bills. Then, on an August morning in 2006, I woke up feeling so hot that I felt like I was wrapped in five quilts. It didn't long for me to realize that things suddenly had changed...
I heard the noise before my wife. It didn't sound right, like someone creeping around the downstairs. The dogs aren't barking.' I noted absently, 'Probably one of the kids.
That's when I heard it, a small crash like someone had knocked over something on the counter, followed by a muffled, "Crap!"
At that, my eyes were suddenly wide open. This wasn't one of the kids, someone was in the house.
I slowly rose from the bed, trying not to make a sound. The mattress springs groaned under my weight as I got up. At this point, I didn't care that no one else could see what had happened to me, I knew I was heavier than I had been, bigger. I slowly let my weight settle on my paws and walked to the door, then tried to get down the stairs. I could hear a couple of them creak loudly as I stepped down, and silently cursed myself. Whoever was in the house almost had to know I was awake.
I tried to round the corner at the bottom of the stairs quietly, but out of the corner of my eye I spotted the glint of steel as the crowbar swung toward my head. There was no time to react and I felt the solid connection of steel and skull.
The crowbar bounced off, clattering loudly to the floor.
Instinct kicked in and my arm shot out, slamming into his forearm. I heard a distinct SNAP as one of his bones broke. Before he had time to recover, I swiped across his chest with an open palm, tearing though his clothes and digging into the flesh on his chest. I felt his ribs against my claws as the flesh was shredded. I swiped one last time, this time across his neck. A spurt of blood shot out across the room as I severed his carotid artery, splattering against the fur on my chest and neck.
I reached back to strike him again, but managed to stop, my breathing heavy. The intruder slumped to the floor hard. I stared at my hands, the white fur stained red with blood seemed visible even in the darkness. I looked down into the mans eyes, which had gone wide with terror even as his life flowed out over my living room rug. "What the hell are you?" he gasped, then fell silent.
"We found your dogs," the officer said as he walked up. "Looks like he drugged them with something."
I nodded, only half hearing him. I leaned forward on the porch swing, still looking at the blood that soaked my fur. What had I done? I looked up at the police and EMT cars that surrounded my house, lights ablaze. I wondered if I could claim insanity. Clearly, I had to be insane. I looked up at the officer, "When you look at me," I asked, "What do you see?"
The man blinked, but put a reassuring hand on my shoulder. He even gripped the fur there, but if he noticed his face didn't betray it, "I don't see a killer, Dr. Clay. He had a crowbar, a big one. I'm just surprised you got the best of him." He looked again, "Did you know you were bleeding?" he asked as he looked at my scalp over my left eye, "looks like he got you with a glancing blow. We'd better get this looked at." If he'd been in the room, I thought, he'd know it was a bit more than glancing.
I nodded and allowed myself to be led to the ambulance. It wasn't really the answer I had wanted, but it was yet another person who didn't see me as I was now.
Since August 17th, 2006, I'd been as much a polar bear as a man.
I couldn't understand my wife's reaction: I was six inches taller, almost 75 pounds heavier and covered completely in white fur. When I looked in the mirror, I could see a bipedal polar bear. There wasn't a trace of the man I used to be. But my wife and kids saw nothing wrong with anything. I seriously doubted my sanity.
I called in sick for the first few days.
I was sweltering, too. The Pacific Northwest rarely got that hot, even in the depths of summer, but once the mercury tipped over 70 degrees I felt like I was strapped to a post in Death Valley. Doing a little reading, I found it was a bit better than a normal bear, but that didn't help much. I was drinking ice water like crazy to try and cool off. That wasn't by itself proof anything had changed, I could still be nuts. It took two days for me to come up with a way to test things for sure. My hands, almost twice the size they had been before, had nasty, sharp claws. I found an old sheet and raked my claws though it, coming up with four thick, even, wide tears in the cloth. I left it for my wife to find.
That my wife managed to see. "Bryce?" she asked, "What happened to this sheet?"
There were little things like that over the next few days. My wife found clumps of fur in the drain, then dismissed it as fake fur off one of the kids toys. My toddler son marveled at a large paw print I left in the dirt when I went to take out the trash, but thankfully he was too young to tell anyone. The kicker for me was when one of the bulbs in the kitchen burned out, and I managed to change it without thinking about it. It wasn't until I was done that I realized I always needed a stepstool for that before. The family had been milling around the kitchen while I did that, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
Even if I still thought I was crazy, I decided to venture out into public. I barely fit into my old clothes, but for some reason people didn't seem to notice. I walked into my office and my assistant greeted me brightly, "You feeling better, Doctor Clay?"
I stopped and looked at her, but there wasn't a glimmer of shock or surprise in her eyes, "Sure, though I'm feeling a little pale," I added. "I need to take care of something, do we have some time?"
She glanced at the schedule, "We're pretty busy because you haven't been here, but the first patient isn't here yet. I think you've got about twenty minutes."
I nodded and walked into my office, confirming in the mirror that I still looked like I thought: Wide, white muzzle, black nose, razor sharp teeth, rounded ears.... I was still a bear.
Before the rest of the staff got in, I slipped into the lab, the claws on my feet tapping against the linoleum. I realized after a second that I was actually leaving small gouges in it. I mentally noted I'd have to take the tips off. As fast as I could, I drew blood and packed it off for testing. Then, after a bit of thought, I clipped off some hair and did the same. The hairs fell into the small packet were translucent, not white, when they fell away from me. It was startling before I realized that was normal, at least for a polar bear. After a minute, I did it again and sealed it up, intending to send it to a vet.
I suddenly realized I was going to have a real problem, gloves. I suspected that even if people still saw me as human, they’d wonder why it was that latex gloves kept tearing as I tried to put them on. I hunted through the supply cabinet and located a box of XXL size that had been ordered by mistake a few years back and almost forgotten. They fit, barely and with effort to get over the claws. I stashed them in my office and made a note to order more.
A couple days passed, but no one noticed a damned thing. Even stranger, no one noticed I wasn't wearing shoes. I had tried to find something that could cover my feet, but it just wasn't happening. I realized one day that I was leaving visible bear tracks in the dirt, but still people thought I was wearing shoes.
The blood samples came back normal, matching up pretty closely with my older results, though with higher cholesterol. Since that morning I’d had an incredible craving for fat. The hair was interesting. Even if I could see that it was not normal human hair, both labs came back with a normal analysis, normal human hair. At the end of that, I still wasn't sure what the hell was going on.
The weeks passed into months, and I slipped into a bizarre routine, hiding the few visible signs that I was different. There were some things I couldn't hide. I was drinking cold drinks and eating ice like crazy. I wasn't sure what would happen if people noticed the difference, what might happen to me, my practice, my family.
As the snow started to fall that December, I felt myself slowly starting to go stir crazy. I couldn't tell a soul what was happening to me. Who would believe it if they couldn't see it with their own eyes? I knew that eventually something had to give. If something didn't happen by the end of the year, I was going to get psychiatric help, since what I was going though could not be normal.
At least the weather had cooled enough for me to feel normal. As I went to bed that fateful night, all I wanted was someone to see me the way I was now, not as I had been.
Be careful what you wish for, and all that.
"Dr. Clay, do want some coffee?" asked the detective.
I shook my head. I hadn't had much hot to drink since I changed over. "Water would be fine, if I can." The detective nodded and disappeared for a few minutes. I pondered if I needed a lawyer at this point. The simple fact was, I had killed a man. My white fur was still stained with his blood. A stray thought passed through my head as I wondered how you were supposed to get that out of fur?
He came back in and handed me a bottle of water, then sat down. "We need to ask you some questions about what happened."
We went over the events of the night, what woke me from a sound sleep and why I went downstairs. He asked why I didn't call the police before going down, and I couldn't answer that. Until he asked, the thought never occurred to me.
"Do I need a lawyer?" I asked.
The detective paused. "I don't think so, but I'll admit this just doesn't seem normal." He handed me a sheet of paper, "This is the preliminary coroners report. The autopsy isn't nearly done, but these are his first impressions." I looked it over while he spoke, "Off the top, the intruder, we still don't know his name, had a busted arm, deep lacerations across the chest and half his neck was cut open." The detective looked sympathetic, "Frankly, the guy looks like he was mauled by an animal. He drugged your dogs, and they weren't big enough to do this anyway. What the hell did you do to him? Do you own a pit-bull or something?"
I opened my mouth to speak, then found that I couldn't. What was I going to tell him that wouldn't make it worse. "I don't remember what happened," I lied. "All I remember is the ." crowbar coming down."
The detective shook his head, "I'm still not sure you need one, Dr. Clay, but get a lawyer, for your own good."
"All I did was hit him," I said as I took a long drink for the bottle of water.
The lawyer rolled his eyes, and not for the first time, "Bryce, you did a great deal more than just hit him. He was sliced open across the chest so deep that his bones were exposed. You didn't do that with your fist or nails."
I glanced down at my hands, at the nearly inch long black claws that jutted out from my fingers, and nodded in agreement. "I know, it's not possible."
The lawyer leaned heavily back in his chair, "Look, the good thing here is that this guy, Chris Mandrake, was in the wrong. He was in your house with a crowbar and a bag of your belongings covered in his fingerprints. Hell, he nearly clubbed you with the thing. The good news is that they probably won't prosecute, but they like to have things answered. You might still be civilly libel if the family decides to file wrongful death. If you used a weapon, no one will think worse of it. In fact, if you admit it even now, it might make things easier. I mean, you'd have had to use a rake to get damage like this, but..." his voice trailed off as the phone rang.
"This is Paul... oh, hi Marcy.... What? You're kidding? Hold on, I'll be right out." he sent the phone down and stood up. "Give me a minute."
I sat in silence and stewed. I knew that he had other clients, but I didn't appreciate him running out like that. It was then that I heard the raised voices in the hall. "Damn it, your honor, this is completely inappropriate and you know it!"
Another voice filtered down the hall, "I know, and I suspect your client won't mind." There was a short pause, "If it makes you feel better, I'll recuse myself if anything of this case comes before me."
Paul popped back into the door, looking flushed and more than a little angry. "Bryce, there's a Judge Wilhelm Pickford who wants to speak with you. I can't advise this, since you're still under investigation..."
I didn't hear anything else he said. Standing behind him in the doorway was a six foot tall bighorn sheep wearing a suit.
"It's fine, Paul. He's a friend," I said with a bit of hope in my voice. "Leave us alone." Paul stopped, looked back and fourth between us, then stepped out.
The judge sat down in Paul's chair and looked at me, a slight grin on his snout. "I imagine that you've got more than a few questions for me."
I sat there, my mouth agape, then realized that tears were streaming down my face, "I'm not crazy, am I?" I asked quietly when I found my voice.
He shook his head, "Worldwide, there are about half a million of us, and the number doubles every year." He shook his head, "We've got a lot to talk about, but I think we'd better get you out of trouble first."
I'm not sure I want to know what Judge Pickford did.
The following day, the police turned up my "weapon", a garden tool that was found under the sofa, covered in Mandrakes blood. They had already decided on the story before I knew about it, that I'd picked up the tool on my way downstairs and used it after being attacked. In the shock of the realization that I killed him I had blocked it out. I had the distinct impression that no one in the police or prosecutors office really wanted to do anything about me, and seized on this as a reason to drop the case.
There had been some grumblings that got back to me later that the family had wanted to file a civil suit, but it never happened. It wasn't likely to work out well for them anyway, given the circumstances, but I wondered for years after if Pickford had a hand, or hoof, in that as well.
For me, it still didn't change the fact that I'd killed a man with what amounted to my bare hands.
A day or so later, I found myself in Judge Pickford’s office. "When Mandrake was dying, I think that he saw what I am," I said quietly.
The judge nodded. "We've been hearing a bit about that. Someone came up with a term for it a few years back, a Reality Distortion Field. Unchanged people just don't see what we are. It extends out to photos, x-rays and the like." He pointed at me, "Even those hair samples you sent out a couple months back. The problem is that it breaks down from time to time, and we're still not sure why. For some reason, as he was dying, he saw through it." He sighed, "It's happened before, but usually only for a few seconds, not enough to cause problems. But as there become more of us, we need to be ready."
"You keep saying 'we'," I noted, "What do you mean."
The bighorn sheep smiled and opened his desk. "Next month there is a medical conference in Washington, D.C." He tossed a plane ticket and a packet onto the desk, "You're going. When you get there, you'll be invited to a private meeting that you have to attend."
I looked at the tickets on the desk, "I'm assuming that I don't have much of a choice."
Pickford looked passive, though it was hard to tell, "You have a choice, Doctor. We don't work that way." He leaned back in his chair, "Lets be frank, though. You really caused us some trouble. You know you're the first one of us to kill someone?" The information wasn't all that welcome. "We had to get people into the process somehow to make sure that this didn't go too far. If you'd ended up on trial, a big public trial, then your face would have been on the news. Frankly, we're not sure yet what will happen if everyone has that much exposure to us."
"What does this have to do with Washington?" I asked.
He smiled again, "You'll meet the 'we' there."
For the first time since meeting the Judge, I finally spotted a few others like myself. At the airport, I spied a raccoon reading a newspaper waiting for a flight, his tail carefully curled up in his lap. In baggage claim in Washington D.C., I spotted more than one in various spots, a mouse, a beaver, a goat, but never had the chance to exchange words.
When I checked into the hotel I got a message to meet the following day in one of the larger suites. I spent the next morning in lectures, it's what these conferences are for after all, while I killed time. I was getting seated in my third lecture when I spotted him. Like me, he towered over those right around him, but no one seemed to pay him a seconds attention. He'd chosen a seat off the side so that no one behind him would have their view blocked, and wonder why they couldn't see. His head was covered in a mop of dark brown hair and a couple of dull horns protruded from his skull. I realized before I saw his face that he was the spitting image of a Midwestern buffalo.
I coughed loudly. Even if he was several rows ahead, something about the sound seemed to catch his attention and he turned slowly. I saw his eyes go wide, if only for a second, and he caught sight of me, then he turned back to the lecture. After it was over, we fought through the crowd toward each other. I stuck out a large paw to meet his outstretched hoof-like hand, "I'm Bryce Clay."
He seemed relieved, "Kyle Bristol." He looked around surreptitiously, "You know, you're only about the fifth one of us I've seen?"
We talked for a few minutes, mostly about the challenges of keeping our unusual sizes secret, before we both realized we had the same meeting to attend. We headed for the elevator bank and I caught sight of the "weight limit" sign on the elevator panel. "Good thing we're alone," I said wryly.
The room we were headed into was guarded, though oddly by two normal humans in dark suits. I'd somehow expected a couple large predators. They noted us coming up the hallway, "Dr. Bristol? Dr. Clay?" asked one. When we nodded they opened the door and let us through.
Seated in the suit were four men in suits, each one a different animal type. "Doctors, please come in and sit," said a badger dressed in a dark blue suit, "I'm Congressman Phillip Sandrick." He motioned off to his left to a chestnut horse dressed in gray, "This is Assistant Commissioner Winthrop Fitzgerald of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police," he moved on the a black goat, "This is Colonel Alex Sholl, US Army, currently stationed at the Pentagon, and last," he said motioning toward a brown rabbit, "Alan Saylor from United Press International."
We exchanged pleasantries and sat down. I looked at the rabbit, "Are you doing some kind of story?" I asked bluntly.
He shook his head, "At the moment, there aren't that many who would believe it," he said in a crisp British accent. "I'll write one someday. For now, my job is to try and kill stories about us. You’ve already given me a bit of a challenge."
"I don't recognize you, Congressman," said Dr. Baylor.
"No reason you would. I represent a district in South Carolina and since this has happened I’ve tried to keep a low profile." He motioned around the room, "I'll get right to the point. The world is going to change, utterly, in the next 15 years. We think in that time, we'll all be like this," he said pulled quickly on one of his ears.
The buffalo and I exchanged looks, "How can you be sure? What's causing it?"
The congressman shrugged, "Sure? We can't be. It’s possible that this will never happen again, but it has been, like clockwork. We have no idea what's causing it. Every year, though, the number of transformee's seems to double."
Colonel Sholl spoke up, "We've estimated that there were about a quarter million worldwide before August. We're only just now getting a handle on estimates now, but we're pretty sure it's doubled."
Fitzgerald stood and went to the wet bar, pouring himself a whiskey, "We have contacts all over the world, mostly low to mid level government, media and industry types. They're doing their best to count them, but it's slow going. It would help if we had a few higher level folks, but so far," he gestured around the room, "You’re looking at the highest ranked members of the US and Canadian government with fur."
Sandrick nodded, "No Senators, no members of the Canadian Parliament to date. In fact, no world leaders at all." He paused, "No religious leaders that we know of, either."
Fitzgerald took a few sips, "For the most part, when we change nothing really happens." He looked pointedly at me, "Even that rather ugly business you were involved in was self defense." He took another good drink, then set the glass down, "We're trying to make sure that the we're ready when things come to a head."
"At some point," interjected Colonel Sholl, "There are going to be too many of us. The reality distortion field won't protect us from discovery, and may fail utterly before everyone is changed. We are trying to be as ready as possible for that day, research what's happening, as well as keep things quiet until then. We're trying to prepare government agencies, quietly, as well as various industries. It's tough for now, but as more change then we'll be able to do more." He chuckled, "We even got a man into the White House. He's there to monitor the President every August in the even he changes over."
"You really have no idea what the cause could be?" asked Dr. Bristol.
The rabbit spoke up in a distinct British accent, "Not a clue. I've talked with a couple of research scientists at Oxford working on the problem." He smiled at the gasp from the congressman, "Don't worry, they changed two years ago. They don't see any sign of a virus or anything biological. Pattern isn’t right for that, anyway."
The colonel interjected, "We've been trying to locate perhaps a nanotech device, we're using terrorism as a cover, but nothing. We're at square one." He shook his head, "We’ve even considered an extraterrestrial origin for this, but haven’t seen any evidence of it. If that’s what’s going on, we may not know until they choose to tell us."
"What do you want us to do? We're both just small town doctors," I asked.
The congressman stood and beckoned everyone to follow, "We have a long night to talk about this, why don't we just sit down and eat," he winked at me slyly, "Some of us are probably more cranky than others when hungry." I felt the skin under my fur turn red, but resigned myself to it. I was likely to hear a lot of bear jokes for a long time.
We went to the next room where we found several plates of food. One platter of rare, fatty meat caused my stomach to rumble. The scent was... intoxicating in a way. I put two large slabs of it on my plate, much to the crinkled nose of Dr. Bristol. "How can you eat that stuff?" he asked, "It smells terrible."
I smiled, then stopped when sight of my teeth caused him to take a half step back, "Smells fine to me."
I sat down and started eating, but it wasn't until I'd finished half the plate before I stopped and realized that everyone was staring at me. I looked back and tried to think of some etiquette rule I'd broken. I wasn't eating like an animal, after all, I was using a knife and fork. "What's wrong?"
"Do you know what you're eating, Dr. Clay," asked Fitzgerald. When I shook my head, he leaned back, "I brought this special here for you. Had to use a diplomatic pouch to get it through customs. It's harp seal."
My stomach turned at that when I realized it. "Were you testing me? To see how much of an animal I was?" I asked with a slight grumble in my voice.
Everyone at the table tensed up. The guards were outside, and everyone at the table knew I could hurt them badly if I wanted. "Not a test," said Sandrick quickly. "A demonstration." He set his folk and knife down. "When you killed that man, did you punch him to death?"
Bristol looked shocked and stood up, "What's going on?" he asked almost panicked. "What do you mean he's killed someone?"
Sholl jumped into it, "Relax. There was a bugler in his house a couple months back. He killed him after getting hit in the heat with a crowbar. You’d probably have gored the guy." Bristol took a moment to catch his breath, then sat down.
I finally spoke, "I didn't punch him, I smacked him."
"You mauled him," stated Sandrick bluntly. "Like a bear."
"Like a bear," I repeated quietly.
"It's not that you're going to go on the ice next week and start hunting your own seals," noted Fitzgerald. "But we all pick up a little instinct from this change. That's something we need to document, measure, and prepare for."
The Congressman spoke, "We need you two to join with us, help us with research and help us get the medical community ready. We also need you to help with cover stories in your home areas." He reached into his pocket and tossed over a medical alert bracelet.
I looked at it, "Sleeping Sickness, Ivory Coast Variant?" I looked at him, "what's that supposed to mean?"
"We're hoping to use it as a trigger in hospitals in the US and Canada for the next few years. We're hoping to get as many furs as possible to wear them, and if they need medical attention we can get someone like you to help with the cover. Remember, the doctors and nurses won't see things like tails or claws. What happens when they cut into a phantom tail, or open up a cows stomach and find four of them?" He paused, "We don't know, and for now, we don't want to know."
After that conference, my life changed.
I had a distinct influx of patients that traveled from all over the Puget Sound to see me. I realized quickly that my name was getting around. It wasn't unusual to have several different furs in the room at the same time. It got so bad, at times, that my staff started acting funny about it when the room was full. It was the Distortion Field breaking down. Eventually, I had to reluctantly use the 'Sleeping Sickness' device to keep the waiting area from getting too full.
In fact, I became known as a local expert on the condition, fully backed up with special credentials from the CDC in Atlanta. I spent more time at the hospital, called in for emergency cases where I had to dance around the fact that the ER techs couldn't see the broken antlers or sprained tail.
As the weather warmed and we went from spring to summer I allowed myself to start to wonder what the world was going to be like come August. I knew there was a small chance that things could change again for me then, some changed again and again. I looked myself over, the heavy white fur, the heavy layers of fat that no one but myself could see. Changing to some other mammal wouldn't really be that bad, I though. I'd be more comfortable in the summer, warm enough in the winter.
Despite it all, I hoped I wouldn't change again.