User:Eirik/Just Because You're Paranoid

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Just Because You're Paranoid

Author: Eirik

Prologue

It was the look that she gave me. The eye contact itself was odd, but the fact that it seemed to linger so long as I rode the escalator up. She had a weird smile on her face, like she saw something odd. I looked away, but could tell that her eyes followed me until I disappeared onto the second level of the store.

It happened again at the bank a little while later. The woman standing in line in front of me. She looked at me for a long time. I avoided eye contact, pretending to be engrossed in my deposit slip, but she seemed to see something. Eventually, she got out of line. Perhaps she forgot something.

The third time, I decided that it wasn't just a coincidence. It was briefer this time, but there was eye contact. She was sitting on a stool in front of one of those kiosks in the mall. I think it sold costume jewelry, but I didn't look that hard. She had been chatting with a man and eating frozen yogurt when we made eye contact. While her counterpart droned on, she seemed to look at me intently, but with a slight smile on her face. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that her head turn to follow me as I passed on the opposite side of the kiosk.

I had no doubt. I had to get back to the apartment. The disguise was probably beginning to wear off, and a few people sensitive to these things were beginning to see through it. I made no other stops. I hurriedly left the mall. I thought that a man on a bench near the entrance lingered too long on my form, but I wasn't sure. At this point, I had to assume that everyone could tell what I was.

The small apartment was only a few blocks away. I walked under the cloudy sky, shaking off the sticky humidity of this city. It wasn't all that different than my real home, but it did nothing to calm my nerves. I tried to stay out of sight until I got back to the building. I got into my apartment, locked the door, and raced for the bathroom mirror.

Now I know what they saw, the ghostly afterimage of something surrounding my body. The image of a small snout, peaked ears. There were the faint lines on my face. My true form had begun to show itself. I smiled as I realized what the lady at the bank must have seen, the dark stripe across my eyes that is so often called a bandits mask.

I sighed. There wasn't any use complaining about it, it was normal. I had taken a chance by staying out so long at a single stretch. I needed to get my rest. I had more exploring to do in the morning.

I carefully hung up my clothes and closed my eyes for a moment. I let go of all the careful concentration and felt my true form flow back. The weight off my mind felt wonderful. I stretched the familiar muscles and climbed into a pile of blankets on top of the couch. I curled my striped tail around my face and lay awake for a few moments.

I needed to work on that disguise more. I had to be able to stay human for a full day if I was to continue to gather intelligence. There wasn't much more time left: A year, perhaps two.

That could wait until tomorrow. For now, I had to get my rest.

Part One

[The Next Morning]

It took me a few minutes to realize where I was.

Even after three weeks in this city, I still kept waking up disoriented. It was becoming a ritual with me. Each morning I would open my eyes and see a room that I didn't recognize. Frantic, every sense would go on alert, my fur prickled. If anything moved, I was ready to attack.

Then, it would all come back to me in a flood of memories, The mission, as we called it. My reason for being here in this city, alone.

This morning, I got over the fright faster than normal. I leapt off the couch and wandered into kitchen. I looked around for a little while before I realized that I wasn't hungry in the slightest. My head still had a dull ache from yesterday, and food just didn't seem right. I wandered back to the living room and turned on the TV.

I think that if anyone had come in at that moment, it would have looked supremely ridiculous. Here was a full grown raccoon lying on a couch operating a remote control. I settled on an all news channel and snuggled back down.

It's the isolation that gets me. Three weeks, as the humans measure time. Three weeks without contact. Everyone I knew and loved was hundreds of miles away. I wasn't due to return to make my first report for another week. Then I was to come back for another month.

I couldn't wait. My family was still near the Palmer home. Before this month we hadn't been apart longer than a day in my entire life.

I sighed deeply. Palmer. That was a name that I hadn't thought about much lately. He was the only human aware of us. The one who spent the last years of his life teaching us some of what we needed to know. He taught me to read. He taught me to write. I was treated like one of his children, along with the dozens of others. He alone among the humans knew what we were capable of. Just how he knew is still a mystery to us.

Five years ago, we weren't like this. The animals that surrounds Palmers homestead in northern Vermont were no different than those all over the world. At some point, though, we started learning more.

It wasn't a matter of gaining intelligence, but rather learning knowledge. There is a fine difference between the two. There wasn't any among my family that didn't know what a fire was five years back. Later, though, we learned what that fire could do and how to start one.

Palmer seemed to find us out pretty quickly after that. He took it upon himself to teach us the basics. The basics of human knowledge at least. He seemed amused, and perhaps a little nervous, when he discovered that we could teach other animals the same knowledge. It wasn't long before our little group, starting with only a dozen or so animals, had increased to over a hundred.

I always felt that Palmer knew more than he let on. I don't know that anyone ever asked him if he was responsible for us, but he certainly never volunteered that information. In his last days, he said some things to me that convinced me that he, in fact, did have a hand in this. It was also something that he wasn't proud of, even if he loved us all deeply.

Palmer was a man of many contradictions.

I shook my head a bit. I looked at the clock on the VCR and cursed myself. I'd spent way to long just lying around. I needed to get back outside.

I hopped off the couch again and walked back to the bathroom. I closed my eyes a moment and concentrated. I'd done this a hundred times and it was still not second nature.

I felt my body begin to grow larger. On cue, the familiar prickling of my body reclaiming my warm pelt became nearly unbearable, even as it began to subside. There was a pressure on my face as the short muzzle that helped define what I was began to flatten. My eyes were still closed, but I knew that my skin had turned lighter. My hips and pelvis started to bend and twist into their new shape. I was suddenly on hands and knees, when moments before I had been on four feet. I felt the process slow. It was nearly done. As a final act, my tail, now naked of its fur, was pulled into the base of my spine.

I opened my eyes and saw the familiar pinkish-red hands resting on the bathroom tile. I stood slowly and surveyed my appearance in the mirror. I had this down pat. At the moment, not even the most sensitive human could tell that I was really a raccoon.

It seemed, though, that I didn't look particularly like any human racial group. I'd gathered from the questions people asked that I had features of most of them, but not enough to peg me into a category. My hair was somewhat raccoon-like, though. It was largely black with brown and gray mixed in. It helped that the name Palmer had given me, Jonathan Pike, was pretty innocuous.

I had about six hours, though, before it would be clear just what ethnic group I was.

I hurriedly cleaned myself up, got dressed and left the apartment. From now until about three this afternoon, I would just be another person walking through the city of Boston.

Today, I decided to take it easy. For the last few weeks I'd poked around all the typical locations in the city. I looked through the stores, the museums, the local business and government agencies. I had been trying to develop a feel for the human race. I largely observed other people, and tried a loose imitation of behavior. Save for that little incident at the coffee store, I'd fit in pretty well.

How was I supposed to know that you weren't supposed to eat coffee beans?

Today, though, I needed to take it easy. I headed over the park near the center of town, found an empty bench and sat down. I looked across the moderately crowded park. I had to hand it to the humans, they did know how to import a forest into the middle of all this stone and concrete. The park was a little sterile for my tastes, though. But I wasn't here to critique the park.

For the most part, I saw people that I could peg pretty quickly as tourists. They tended to be the ones holding those large mini-camcorders. In the space of five minutes, I watched people laughing, playing and shouting. Pretty much typical human behavior. Nothing of real note. I could've learned as much watching my three brothers play.

A familiar smell reached my nostrils. I was on my feet in a moment following that wonderful scent. Now, I have a pretty good opinion of humans overall, probably better than most of my peers, but there is one thing that I will thank the human race for no matter what happens in the future: hot dogs. I haven't found a food yet to equal the wonderful, warm taste of a fresh hot dog.

Granted, this is a compliment from a creature who spent the first years of his life routing though garbage cans for scraps, but I know what I like. Come to think of it, I even have fond memories of the bits I found back then.

The stand was on the edge of the park. I walked out, bought a couple and walked back into the park. I savored each bite. More than anything, this is what was going to make sure I came back at the end of the month. I was oblivious to the world until a dark shape swooped past my head.

I ducked instinctively, but I already suspected what it was. I looked up into the sky and saw the familiar form of the one Palmer had named Marcus. Humans knew him as a hawk. He was one of only three birds who were taught by Palmer. Unable to alter his form, he served as the messenger for the ones back at home.

And if he was looking for me, it could and probably did mean trouble.

I stuffed the last of my hot dog into my mouth and gave Marcus a symbol we had practiced many times. I didn't want to speak here in the park, but I could be at my apartment in fifteen minutes. I flashed him to meet me at home. He swooped low once more in acknowledgment and flew off to my apartment, with me jogging right behind.

Part 2

Marcus was waiting for me on the fire escape when I returned to the apartment. I opened a window and he flew in and landed on the back of a chair.

I started to release my concentration when I heard his voice in my head. "Don't. There isn't time"

I regained my composure, "What's going on? I'm going to be back at the homestead in a week."

Marcus shook his head, "No. You must return. Now."

"Why?"

"It was ordered. I cannot say more."

Normally, I wouldn't have questioned this. I wanted desperately to go home anyway. But I'd never liked Marcus much to begin with. I wasn't about to drop everything on his say so. "I'm not going back with you without a little more explanation. What is going on?"

Marcus just gripped the chair a little tighter, "I cannot say. You must get back. Fast."

I sat down across the room from him, "What is so important that they would call me back now?"

Marcus looked at me intently. "It's Woods. He's been hurt."

For a moment, I sat there, waiting for Marcus to say he was joking. I hoped that he would revel it to be a prank to get me moving.

But he just gripped the chair back and looked at me.

I jumped to my feet in an instant. I wasn't the only one going among the humans in the cities, even if I was the only one in Boston. There were four of us, each in a different city along the American eastern seaboard. Franklin,, the only one of the four born a cardinal, was in Washington. Terry, my sister, was exploring Providence. Woods, a close friend since my earliest days, had gone to New York.

"Where is he now?"

"He is at the homestead, you must hurry. I must leave now. I still need to locate Terry.:" With that, he flapped hard and flew out the window.

For a moment, I couldn't move. It was all that I could do to keep myself from losing my form. I needed to stay human a little while longer. I needed to use the human transportation system, I gathered my wits, checked my form in the mirror, and left for Logan Airport.

I'd never been able to hold my form for so many hours. It really is the strangest thing. It was all I could do to not think about Woods. I found that thinking about staying human kept my mind from wandering as much. I knew that it must be serious, or they wouldn't be recalling all of us.

My head jerked up as I looked around the terminal. I wondered silently if, perhaps, the humans had found out about us. Perhaps that is what happened to Woods. I began looking at every passerby, every person. That older guy in a suit, why did he seem to look at me for so long. That person sweeping the floor, wasn't he taking an awfully long time to get dust off tile?

Eventually, I calmed myself down. Marcus would surely have told me this, he would have had too. Assuming he knew. Assuming Woods had known.

Seven hours later, I found myself stepping off the airport bus in the small town of Woodfield. The street was empty. This was a town that closed down once the sun fell below the horizon, and it had done that hours ago. I kept myself human for now, at least until I got to the house.

It had only been three weeks since I left, but the house looked so different now. The day I left for Boston, it had been as close to a party as we had ever had. Brightly lit, festive and loud. Now, the lights glowed dully on the lower level. The upstairs was dark. I heard a few voices in the distance that sounded familiar, although I couldn't place them with names. Mustering my courage, I walked through the door.

If a human had walked in at that moment, it would have been a sight to behold. The living room was awash in creatures great and small. Raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, beavers, cardinals, wolves and a host of others were crowded into the living room, spilling back into the kitchen. There were at least seventy in there.

And they all fell silent as I walked in the door.

"How is Woods?"

I think that I knew the answer right away. They all looked at one another. None of them wanted to be the one to tell me. I looked at the one who I knew would eventually take on that task. Marlin had become our de facto leader when Palmer died.

His gaze and mine locked. "He's dead, Jonathan. About three hours ago."

I don't really remember the next few hours. I lost my human form almost instantly, I know that. At some point, someone filled me in on the details that they knew.

Woods had been attacked in New York. It looked like he'd been mugged. He's been stabbed twice. He'd managed to maintain enough control to get back to his apartment and contact the farm. Of all of us, Woods had been the best at holding human form, even if I could hold it longer. Seriously wounded, I doubt that I could have held together enough to maintain the fiction that I was human. Carl, the largest hawk in our party, had gone south to get him and bring him back to Vermont.

He had survived the trip, but lapsed into unconsciousness a few hours later. He had died while I was on my way home.

Losing Woods was hard. I had always thought of him like a brother. We were the same age, we were taught together. We had spent most of our lives together.

Suddenly, he was gone.

I'd lost friends before, but that had been before Palmer. It didn't hurt as much then. It was a part of our lives. I'd lost Palmer, but we had known for weeks that he was going to die. It hurt, but it wasn't a surprise.

I had wanted to see the body, but they told me they had already buried him. From what I overheard that night, it was for the best. The wounds, serious on a human, had been grisly for a raccoon.

The night was a jumble, though. I realized that Franklin was already here. Marcus was back as well, indicating that Terry was on her way back. About the time I came out of the deepest part of my funk, she walked in the door.

Her reaction was pretty close to mine.

The next day was pretty much total confusion. Woods hadn't been the first one of us to die, but he was the first to be murdered. It left only three of us capable of walking among the humans for longer than a few minutes.

But, for the first time since we lost Palmer, all of us were in one place. There was a lot of conversation about Woods, about what people remembered of him, about their feelings. For a human, it would have been hard to imagine predators broken up over the death of an animal that they would consider prey. For us, it wasn't an absurdity.

Eventually, the subject of the mission came up, and everything began to unravel.

If I'd planned this evening out, I knew who to cast as the instigator. Palmer had given him a name, but he had rejected it. He had been born a wolf and had always seemed suspicious of all of us and of Palmer. He'd been making a lot of noise since Palmer died, and even more since we decided to send spies to the cities to learn. True to form, he suddenly and loudly declared that the missions should stop.

Marlin tried to shut him down, "We need to continue. If we are ever to..."

"These stupid missions have gotten one of us killed, Marlin! Woods would still be alive now if you all hadn't insisted he go off!"

I looked squarely at him, "Woods wanted to go. He knew the risks. So do the rest of us."

"He didn't know the risks and neither do you! How would you? We were never warned about the cities. All that we learned about them we got from television and radio. You are all on missions without a plan! You are getting first hand knowledge, for what? Are we planning on taking over? Melding in? Exposing ourselves to the humans? We never really decided. You all ran off into the concert and glass tower of the cities without knowing why. Palmer taught us well, but nothing about what we were supposed to do now!" He said the last with a trace of disgust.

I felt my anger boiling over. Looking back, I realize it was the wrong time to get involved in a fight. The emotions in that room were running too high. "He couldn't teach us everything! He taught us enough to figure out the rest for ourselves."

"He didn't and you all know it. He taught us what he wanted us to know. He taught us like we were his children, children who were never going to leave home."

"That's not true..."

He looked at me with intensity, "Palmer knew he was dying. We all did. But he didn't leave us any instructions or guides. He didn't even try to bring in any other humans to help us. He taught us enough to get us into trouble, and that we have!"

"We were far enough along to learn on our own!" I yelled.

"We were not and you know it! We all suspect that Palmer created us, whatever his reasons were. I think that he expected us to disappear when he died."

The room, already silent, seemed to become deafeningly so. "You take that back.", I said coldly.

"I will not. We all know how he reacted when he discovered that we could teach others to be like us. He seemed amused, but he was worried. It was something he didn't expect. He didn't worry about telling us what to do after he left us because he thought that we would all forget. We would forget what we had become, about him, about everything. But we didn't."

I wanted to respond, but the truth was I had always suspected the same thing. It was something Palmer said a few days before he died. He was lying in his bed, so gray and ashen from his illness We were taking turns staying with him. I had lain next to him while he was asleep. He woke and noticed me, notice my expression. He had managed a small smile and said "Don't worry, Jonathan. You will all be with me when I leave."

At the time, I had thought that he was talking of us gathering at his side in death. I thought that it was something that comforted him. Over the years, though, I had begun to suspect that he had meant the same as my unnamed rival believed.

He took my silence as agreement. "It's time to end this charade. Now. There is no reason to stay together anymore. Palmer is dead and all we do by staying here is honor the memory of a short sighted, lonely man who has already turned to dust."

Marlin quietly spoke up, "We can't do that. We are on the brink of something great."

"How do you know?"

Marlin paused, "I just know it. Something is about to happen. Something."

I looked at Marlin suspiciously. It wasn't like him to be so vague, or to act on a feeling like this. Of all of us, he was the most grounded, the most logical.

It also meant that the others would put more stock into his feelings.

The unnamed one looked around the room. "There are many of us who are tired of waiting. It has been many years since we came from the woods, and we have seen little to recommend this life. We are animals to the humans, and we will always be. It's time to go our separate ways."

"And give up all we've worked for?"

"We've worked for nothing. We have nothing to show for it except a body. It's over."

Marlin paused again, so long that everyone was staring at him. "It's not over, my old friend. Many here will follow you out if you leave, I know. There is nothing to stop you from leaving. I will also not stop you from returning if you so desire. But something is going to happen soon that will change all that. We are on the verge of a breakthrough. Do not stop us now."

The instigator looked around the room. Marlin was trusted. I could see in everyone's eyes the look of hope mixed with exhaustion. They were all tired of hiding in the shadows of man, a race of intelligence unable to shine. If nothing was going to happen, though, they wanted to return to their old lives. The lives they abandoned when they came to this home.

Marlin stood a little taller, and spoke with a voice of quiet pleading. "Please, everyone. Just wait until winter."

The wolf leapt up off the floor and headed for the door, stopping in the entryway. "I'll give you until winter for your 'something' to happen,"

I suddenly realized that we didn't have the one or two years to come up with results. We had four months, maybe five. Emotions ran through me again in cycles. It had been a very long day and night. I felt cold, tired, hungry. I felt like the weight of the world, our little corner of it anyway, had been placed on my shoulders.

But, I saw Marlin beaming. He really did know something was coming, and it would happen by the time the first snow fell.

Part 3

I didn't sleep at all well that night. I had gotten too used to stretching out on my own blankets in my tiny apartment. Now, I was back at Palmers home, surrounded by friends and family.

Except for Woods.

When I woke up the next morning, I once again felt like I was in danger. The same feeling of unfamiliarity, the same feeling of wrongness that had made each of my mornings a fright for the last three weeks permeated.

Even after I was awake and aware, I still couldn't settle myself down. The wolf was right: We never fully understood the risks. I never even considered the possibility that something could happen to one of us. Now, it was all I could think about.

I couldn't stop thinking that there was something more to his death than a simple act of violence. Had Woods stayed out too long? He knew better, but did he do the same think that I nearly did two days ago when my disguise began to fall apart?

Two days ago. The same day that Woods was stabbed. That was an odd coincidence. Too odd. I knew I had to talk to Terry and Franklin before they left for their respective cities. But first I had something I needed to do.

They had chosen a good place. The same one that I would have, in fact. The low hill overlooked the stream, high enough to stay above the spring floods. Isolated enough so that humans would never stumble on in. I found the freshly disturbed earth. The low stone. I felt the cool morning breeze run through my fur. I stared at the patch of earth for a very long time, alone.

A quiet voice disturbed me. "I thought that I would find you here."

I didn't turn, didn't even get startled. I knew the voice and had sensed her coming. It was Terry. "I didn't have a chance to say good-bye."

I smelled her familiar scent and felt her warmth near me, but never turned to look at her. "The last time I saw him was at the airport almost a month ago. We were planning on meeting back here in five days." I stopped and finally turned to look at my sister. "He got here a little early, though."

Terry led me away from the grave. I knew she had already been there, her scent was mixed with the dozens of others around the hill. "I won't tell you to move on, Jonathan. It's not that easy. But we still have a job to do."

I looked at her, "He was right, you know."

She stopped and gave me a hard look. "Who?"

"The instigator last night. The wolf. We didn't know what to expect. We were left here alone."

She looked upset by what I said. I could tell that she was reigning in her anger. "Woods is dead. We have to live with it. Don't dishonor what he did, and what we are trying to do, by giving up now."

I looked at her, but said nothing.

"Marlin wants to see us. He's waiting."

I gave up. I didn't feel like getting into an argument. The one last night took enough out of me. I followed her to Marlin.

He was sitting on a fallen log near the back of the house. I recognized Franklin perched nearby. He was hard to miss. A cardinal tends to stand out against a dull background. Terry jumped up onto the log, and I followed.

Marlin looked at me. "You went to see him?" It was a statement more than a question. All I did was nod. He mimicked my movement and looked at all of us. "What happened to all of you two days ago?"

That snapped me back a bit. Maybe Marlin really did know something. Franklin was the first to speak. "My disguise began to fade. I was alone at the time, but clearly saw the outline of my head appear in a mirror."

I chimed in. "I began loosing my form as well. I thought that it was just the natural result of being in it for so long. I was in public. People saw, at least a few." Marlin grimaced at that, but said nothing.

Terry looked confused. "I wasn't in human form at the time. I'd planned on going out that night and was saving my strength for that. Did this happen to you both at the same time."

Franklin and I looked at each other. We didn't have to ask. "It must have happened to Woods." I looked over at Marlin, "You knew this last night, didn't you?"

He nodded grimly. "I suspected it."

"Why?"

"Two days ago, I happened to be practicing my human form. You know that I'm not able to hold it well at all yet and even the slightest distraction tends to cause me to loose it. Well, two days ago, only an hour or so before Woods called the farm, I happened to be in my form when something disturbed me."

"Like what?"

He shook his head, "Specifically, I don't know. It was like a ripple though me, though. It broke my concentration utterly. Whatever force it is that maintains us seemed to undergo a disturbance. A big one."

I thought for a moment, "So, the reason that Franklin and I lost our disguises, even slightly, was due to this? And maybe Woods too?"

He nodded, "I was told that shortly before he went unconscious, he kept saying he was sorry. He felt that he had endangered all of us for some reason. What other reason could there be? He lost his form enough to allow someone to get scared about what they saw."

Franklin spoke up, "So? There was a ripple. Why does that convince you that something big is about to happen?"

"Have you ever wondered why I became the leader after Palmer died?" asked Marlin. None of us really knew. "I was the closest to Palmer, and perhaps for that reason, the most sensitive to whatever force he used. Most of you suspect Palmer created us. I'm sure of it. When Palmer died, there was a ripple, a big one. I think that you all felt it, but none of you were human at the time. I'm sure that you were all too broken up to notice. But I did. It was a black feeling, one that I hoped to never feel again."

He paused. I could tell that something was bothering him. I got closer and gripped laid a claw on his back. "You felt it again when Woods died, didn't you?"

He nodded. "Not as strong, but it was there. When someone so attuned to the forces around us dies, it seems to effect those that can feel it. You are all instilled with it, even if you can't feel it strongly. And so are others."

"Others?"

"The ripple two days ago wasn't the same. When Palmer died, it was a powerful wave of blackness that went through me. When Woods died, it was the same feeling, but not as powerful. But two days ago, I felt joy. It was incredible. There was a feeling of hopefulness, of triumph."

He stopped again and looked around at us, "There is a new force out there, and it is powerful."

Part 4

I went back to Boston later that day.

Terry didn't want me to go, at least not yet. She knew that I was taking Woods death hard, but I had to leave. I'd never been in the state of Vermont without Woods. His memories were everywhere. Boston didn't hold these memories.

Marlin never did get any more specific about what had happened or what was coming. He said he didn't know. I think that he knew more than he was telling, but honestly didn't hold back anything of real use. At least, I hoped so.

It had been agreed that I would just do what I had been doing: observing. I was supposed to keep my eye out for anything odd, pay attention to my impulses. Then again, I'd been doing that all along.

It was late afternoon before I made a decision about where I was going to go today. I had a lot on my mind and didn't want to do anything that was going to be too taxing, so it was back to Boston Common.

I took a seat on a bench near the old cemetery at far north corner of the park. It wasn't an intentional decision. I'd been there almost fifteen minutes before I realized it. I decided to stay and keep watching the people, but my eyes kept drifting back to the cemetery. My mind kept wandering back to Woods. My heart kept wandering back to Palmer.

I suddenly realized that I didn't want to do this anymore.

The wolf was right, we were still animals. Despite our disguise, out apparent mastery of human speech and though, we were all animals. I didn't belong in this city any more that a person belonged in a raccoon den. I sat for a few more minutes, mulling this all over in my head, and decided to go back to Vermont. Tonight.

As I stood, a sudden movement caught my eye. I looked to the left and saw nothing at first. Then I noticed a small branch on a bush moving ever so slightly in the still afternoon air. In my mind, I knew that this was just some resident of the park, a pigeon or squirrel that happened to move at that moment. But something seemed to draw me closer. Something made me investigate.

I walked slowly over to the bush and peered inside. Nothing, just like I expected. I was all set to leave when something tapped lightly on my shoulder. "Excuse me."

I nearly jumped out of my skin! I was so wound up that I turned violently towards the sound of the voice. I came face to face with a young woman who looked suddenly frightened.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. Are you looking for something?"

I paused for a moment. There was something about this woman that was familiar, but I couldn't but my finger on it. She looked average, humans would probably call her pretty (thought I don't have any attraction for human females). She also looked a bit disheveled, but not dirty. More like she didn't bother to groom herself this morning before leaving the house.

I guess that I lingered on these thought for too long, because she looked a little embarrassed and asked, "Are you okay? You do speak English?"

I nodded, "Uh, yea. You just scared me a bit. I wasn't expecting...uh...uh" I stammered.

She smiled again, "Sorry about that. I just saw you over here and thought that you may have needed some help." Now she paused, "By the way, have we met before?"

So, I was familiar to her as well. I thought it would be wise to play dumb for a bit. "I don't think so. I'm sure I would remember, I never forget a face."

"Are you sure? Have you lived in Boston long?"

My warning bells went off. She seemed too interested in me all of a sudden., My fears that we had been discovered, that the person who stabbed Woods had picked him out specifically, seemed justified. At least in my own mind. I needed, or at least wanted, to make an exit. "Uh, I'm sorry...uh.."

"Carrie."

"Hi, I'm Jonathan. Anyway, I'm sorry Carrie, but I really have to be getting home. I'm leaving on a...business trip in a few hours."

"Really? Well, where do you live?"

"Over by the Harvard Bridge, Boston side.", I lied.

She smiled, "Really? Me too. How about if you walk me home? It's getting a little late to be out alone."

I glanced at the sky and determined that there were about two hours of good daylight left. I knew that she just wanted to walk home with me, but I still couldn't figure out why. After all, if she was some sort of spy or assassin, she could have done a lot to me standing in this park. Sure, it was crowded, but the route to my fictitious address was lined with shops and cafes, with even more people. I decided to give in. If nothing else, I might figure out where I knew her from. "Uh, sure. Where do you live?"

"My place is over on Beacon street, over by the highway bridge."

I nodded, I knew the area. "Okay, lets go."

We started to walk out of the park in silence. Then she asked again, "Are you sure we don't know each other? I swear we've met before."

"No, I don't think so. I haven't been around that long." That much was certainly true. "I've only been in Boston a couple weeks. I've been to the Common a lot, maybe you saw me around."

She shook her head, "I don't come to the Common much. Certainly not until the last few days." She looked a little disturbed, like she had said too much. I thought about pressing the issue, but as we exited the park I caught the scent of my major human vice: hot dogs. We were only a couple steps from the street when I suddenly stopped, my mouth watering, and said, "Hold on a minute."

The next few seconds seemed to suddenly stretch into eternity. She turned to look at me, but kept walking straight. She never saw the white and red taxi coming. She caught the front fender and lights in the stomach. She was tossed backward into me even as I heard the cab scream to a stop.

Time suddenly restarted as I rolled her still body off mine. I looked her over quickly and realized that she wasn't dead, her chest was moving slightly. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked right at me. "Jonathan, please help me."

"Someone will get an ambulance."

"No! You can't take me to a hospital. Don't let them. I'll be okay if I can get alone. Please help me."

My mind was spinning. By all rights, I should have let the Boston EMS take care of her. She wasn't obviously hurt, but just by running my hand over her torso I could feel a couple of broken ribs. She could even be bleeding inside.

But somehow, I knew that she was right. There was something that she couldn't show the authorities. There was something about her that also made me want to help.

"Pal, is she okay?"

I looked up to see the taxi driver, his face ashen. I glanced around to see a gathering crowd. I needed to get her out of here fast. Someone had almost certainly called an ambulance. "Yea, she's okay. Don't worry, I'm a doctor." I lied.

I'm not a good liar, but the driver was panicked enough to buy it. I knew that Carrie wouldn't be able to walk on her own, though her legs weren't broken or anything. She was simply in too much pain.

I knew what I had to do, and I knew that I was taking a tremendous risk. I had only done it three times in my life, to Palmer in his last days. It was a hidden talent that only Palmer knew about. It takes a lot out of me to do it, though. I could take away the pain.

It wasn't healing. If I could have done that, Palmer would likely have been alive today. All I could do was dull the pain for a short time, a few hours at most. I was afraid to do it here, in front of a crowd. I'd never done it in human form before, and I was afraid to hold the concentration that long.

But I had to do it, so I laid my hands on her and tried to look like I was feeling for broken bones. I leaned close to her and said, "Carrie, don't worry. Just follow my lead." She nodded.

I bent my head down so the onlookers wouldn't see my closed eyes. I concentrated hard on my form and on her pain. I kept it up for as long as I could before I felt my form start to slip. I slowly picked my hands off her body and refocused on myself. Only then did I open my eyes.

Carrie was looking up at me in amazement. "How do you feel, dear?", I asked.

She seemed stunned, but remembered to follow along, "Fine. I was just a little stunned."

I gingerly helped her to her feet. She was unsteady, but gripped me hard for balance. She looked at the taxi driver. "I'm sorry to do that, sir. It was entirely my fault. I don't see any reason to call the police."

The driver looked confused and delighted at the same time. He had probably thought that he was going to be sued up on side and down the other. "Uh, sure. I guess you're right. Do you want my license number or anything?"

"No, that's okay. I need to be going home now. John, if you please?"

We walked away from the crowd of onlookers and down Newberry street. I glanced back a couple times to see that most of the people had dispersed, but a few were still hanging around and looking after us. I guessed that there were a few sensitives in the crowed who had seen my form slip ever so slightly. They were probably still trying to figure out just what they saw.

I leaned over to Carrie and whispered, "We need to get you to a hospital. You are really hurt."

She looked at me, "But I feel fine."

I nodded, "I know, but you aren't. I have a...special talent. I can make you feel better, but the injury is still there. I know you have a couple broken ribs. Let me take you somewhere."

I knew what her answer would be, "No, I can't go to a hospital. I can't go home, either. Please, take me to your place. I'll be fine."

I sighed. I didn't see what choice I had. I had taken responsibility for her the moment the cab hit her. "Okay, but we're going the wrong way. I live over by Chinatown."

"I thought you said that you lived by the Harvard Bridge."

"I lied."

She smiled, "So did I."

Part 5

It would have been fastest for Carrie and I to walk back through Boston Common, but looking back over my shoulder I could see that a police cruiser had just pulled up to where the accident had happened. I knew that we just didn't have time to deal with the police.

So, we walked down Newberry street for a moment. Neither of us said anything. I was still trying to sort out what was happening, and I think she was trying to decide if she could trust me.

I had decided to take the Boston subway system, the "T", back to my apartment. I was practically above the Chinatown station, and it was short trip by train. "Let's head over to Copley Station." She just nodded.

She had a couple of tokens in her pocket, and in just a few moments were sitting on the train. As we sat, I noticed she winced. "Are you feeling all right, Carrie?"

She shook her head, "No. I think that whatever you did is wearing off." She paused and shifted in her seat. "Just what did you do?"

"I don't want to explain here. Are you sure you don't want to go to a hospital?"

"For the last time, no. I'll be okay."

I let the matter drop, for now. I didn't want to get into an argument on a crowded subway. I especially didn't want her to run away from me at a stop somewhere. There was still something about her that I knew was important.

My mind was so occupied that I almost missed it when the muffled voice of the engineer came over the speaker. It sounded something vaguely like "Chinatown". I stood and helped Carrie to her feet. She was getting weaker, and paler, by the minute.

We were at my apartment in only a couple minutes, but by the time that we were there, my handiwork had pretty much worn off. I carried her up the stairs and laid her on the couch. She made herself comfortable while I grabbed a cheap folding chair from the kitchen.

I had to get answers from her, and fast. I decided to cut to the heart of the matter. "I have to ask you, why don't you want to go to the hospital?"

She adjusted herself on the couch again, "Because I killed my roommate."

That was a shocker! I started to reply, but found myself starring at this young woman with my mouth open. Somewhere, I found my voice, "What are you talking about? What did you do?"

Tears started to roll down her cheek, as much as from her pain as the memory. "A couple nights ago, we were arguing. Christie had decided not to pay me back some money she owed me. She tried to weasel out of it by saying she thought it was a gift. I just started getting madder and madder as we kept yelling back and forth. She walked into the kitchen to get some ice and I followed her. She said something and I just exploded and started yelling... and... and..."

"What? What happened?"

"She wasn't there anymore."

I looked at her. From my experience watching TV, I expected to hear about a gun or a knife. "What do you mean?"

"I don't know! One second, she was standing there looking at me, and the next, she was gone. Vanished."

I thought for a second. I thought I knew what had happened. "Did you look for her?"

She shook her head, "No! I got really scared and ran out of the apartment. I haven't been back since. Two nights ago."

I didn't like the sound of that, but I had to check it out. "Carrie, listen to me. I don't think that you killed her, but I need to go over and look. Do you have the keys to your apartment?"

She nodded and fished them out of her pocket. "The gold one is for the outside door and the silver unlocks the door to the apartment."

"Did you lock it when you left?"

"Locks automatically."

I nodded. "Okay, where is it?"

"Over by Symphony Hall, 1456 Boylston. Apartment 36."

I jotted this all down on the pack of a slip of newspaper and stuffed it in my pocket. "Okay. Listen to me. This is up to you, but please call a hospital. You are really hurt bad."

"I can't. I'm afraid."

I thought about calling them myself, but time was short. Instead, I walked to the phone hanging on the kitchen wall and dialed the familiar Vermont number. An answering machine picked up, and I heard Palmers voice. "Hi, this is Frank Palmer. I'm not in right now, but leave a message and I'll try to get back to you."

After the tone, I started speaking fast. "This is Jonathan in Boston. I think something is going on here, something big. I need some help, and as fast as you can muster it. That means you, Marlin. I'll leave the back window open."

I didn't wait for someone to pick up. It was a standard rule of thumb that we wouldn't have a two way conversation. Usually, there wasn't anyone around who could answer the phone as a human, and whatever it was that let us communicate with each other as animals didn't translate over the phone.

I opened the back window removed the screen. Then I walked back to the front room. "Okay, I've got some friends coming, but I doubt they'll be here before I get back. At least , I hope not. I have a great deal to explain to you, but I need to get Christie first."

"I told you that I"

"I still don't think that you killed her. But I need to look around to be sure."

I didn't wait for her to respond. I left my apartment and walked back down to the "T". My mind was still reeling a little from this rather strange few hours, and I could feel my concentration starting to slip a bit. I was just too tiered to do anything about it. I just had to hold on for a little while longer.

I took the subway to Symphony Hall and ran up to street level. I crossed the street and started jogging down looking at the numbers. After a few minutes, I located the building. I didn't bother to ring the outside bell, but rather let myself in. I walked up two flights and found #36.

I knocked lightly. "Christie? Are you in there? I'm a friend."

No response.

I slipped the key into the lock and slowly opened it. The door opened into a comfortably furnished living room. There were some papers and dishes strewn about, but it looked more like a mess than a fight. I closed the door and called out again, "Christie?"

Again, nothing.

I spotted a purse lying on an overstuffed chair near the door and picked it up. I found the walled and opened it. I was then starring into the face of Christine Danube Lewis, at least according to her Massachusetts drivers license. Assuming that this information was all accurate, she was a short blond on the thin side with a goofy look on her face.

I dropped the wallet and peered into the kitchen. I saw that the freezer door was still open. There was water all over the floor and melted ice cream had dried to the front of the refrigerator in sticky brown rivers. But, thankfully, I didn't see a body on the floor.

I looked into the bathroom and the shared back bedroom, but still didn't see her. I checked under the bed, in the closets. All the while calling her name. Somehow, I didn't expect it to be that easy.

I decided that I needed to take a chance, potentially a big one. I kicked off my shoes and unbuttoned my shirt. Human senses were good for some things, but sometimes you need to send in a raccoon.

I let the concentration go and felt my true form returning. The familiar feeling of light pain actually felt good. As the change got about halfway finished, I felt dizzy. By the time the dizziness cleared and I opened my eyes, the room had seemingly grown a hundredfold.

I tentatively sniffed the air, and caught the scent that I was looking for. It wasn't so much that I knew what it smelled like, but more that it was completely out of place. I traced it back into the bedroom and behind a dresser which had been pushed into a far corner. I knew that I had found Carries lost roommate.

Shivering in the dark corner, clutching a small stuffed bear, was a black and brown weasel..

Up to this point, I'd been guessing, but now I was sure. Whatever Carrie wasn't telling me, she had power. A lot of it and it wasn't controlled. In a fit of anger about her roommate trying to weasel out of a debt, she'd turned her into one. In her panic, she simply hadn't noticed the tiny animal on the floor, only that Christie had vanished.

I approached her slowly. I didn't think that she realized I was there, or didn't care. I was only a couple feet away when I quietly asked, "Christie?"

She looked up slowly for the first time, and a look of panic ran through her eyes. Suddenly, she tried to run up the side of the wall, but simply couldn't get a grip on the smooth plaster. I ran over and gripped her with my own claws, wedging her between the wall and the bookcase. "Christie, wait! I'm not going to hurt you! I'm here to help!"

The more I said, the more panicked she became. She seemed to find her teeth for the first time and she started trying to bite my paw. Then it hit me: She didn't understand. I had been so used to being able to communicate with the animals on the farm that I forgot she wasn't created the same way. We were all understood each other because that's how it worked, but we still sounded like normal animals. All the poor girl heard was the loud chittering of a raccoon three times her size.

I stopped saying anything and simply tried to hold her still. After a few minutes, she started getting tired and more resigned to the fact that she wasn't getting away. As her resistance decreased, I tried to think of some way to get her to realize that I wasn't trying to hurt her.

I started nuzzling her chest and neck with my nose. After a moment, she calmed down and seemed to realize that I wasn't trying to kill her. I gently released my grip and motioned for her to come with me. I walked out from behind the dresser. Thankfully, she followed.

I stopped and turned, motioning again for her to stop and wait. She did. I took a few more steps and started to concentrate. It was hard this time, harder that I had ever felt it. The activity of the last few hours had taken a lot out of me. I needed to rest, get something to eat and drink. But first, I needed to get Christie and Carrie back together.

So, I concentrated harder. I felt the fur which had so wonderfully grown only a few minutes ago begin to painfully retract. My bones and muscles ached with the change. I didn't want to go through again. When my muzzle retracted, it felt like I was repeatedly being struck in the face with a fist. As my tail did the same, I felt like someone was jamming a rod into my spine.

It took longer than normal, and I was drenched in sweat, but I was human again. For how long, I couldn't say. I doubted I had more than an hour. I was glad to see that Christie was still sitting on the floor, but her eyes had gotten wider.

I slumped down to the floor and she approached my cautiously. I smiled at her as I held my hand out for her, "Come on, Christie, if I wanted to hurt you, I could have done it a minute ago. Now, I need to fill you in, and fast."

She crawled onto my hand and I raised her up. She was still shivering from fright. I guessed she'd been doing that for the last two days. "To start with, can you understand what I'm saying?"

The weasel moved her body up and down. I took that as agreement.

"Okay, good. Now, I have to tell you, Carrie didn't do this to you on purpose."

She just looked away.

"Look, I don't care what you think. She didn't. She think that you're dead."

Christie looked back at me.

"Yea. She's upset, real upset. So upset that she's refusing to go to the hospital."

She looked confused. Then I realized I hadn't filled her in on everything. "Carrie was hit by a car this afternoon. She's hurt, but not so bad that she couldn't get to my place. I know she's got broken ribs. I think it worse than that. I need to get you to her to prove that you're alive so she'll go."

For a moment, Christie looked like she was going to bolt. She was still so mad at her roommate that she didn't want to help her. Maybe she was afraid of her. So, I gambled on a lie. At least I hoped it was a lie. "I don't care what you think of her, but Carrie is the only one that can change you back."

Christie went a little limp, then looked at me accusingly. "Yea, that's right. In a way, I'm like her. But there is a difference. I wasn't born human. I was born a raccoon. I can only change myself. Carrie is the only one that I know of that can help you. The only other person that I know of who might have is dead."

I set her down on the bed and looked around the room quickly. My eyes fell onto a canvas shopping bag. I dumped out the junk inside and bright it back to Christie. "All right, get in here. I'll take you back to my place." She paused, but got in. I could see that she was still shivering.

I closed up the apartment tight and walked downstairs. I glanced at my face in a hall mirror. I could start to see my human face fade, although slowly. I didn't have much time. I got outside and decided to just take a taxi. A yellow station wagon pulled up and I jumped in.

"Chinatown station. Please hurry."

Part 6

It was nearly fifteen minutes before the driver managed to fight his way through downtown traffic and get us to the Chinatown "T" stop. For most of the trip, I had rested one hand inside the canvas bag on my lap. The young woman trapped in a weasel's body curled around it and held on.

I think she was afraid I might leave her in the taxi.

As the driver pulled in front of the station, he turned in his seat, "That'll be fifteen fif..." He stopped suddenly and stared at me open mouthed. I was able to catch a glimpse of myself in a reflection off the window glass. My disguise wasn't just breaking down, but I was slowly changing back. My muzzle ever so slightly protruded from my face. If this guy was at all sensitive, he was probably seeing me with a raccoons head.

I pretended not to be concerned. "What?"

The guy turned around. "Nothing, just get... get... get out of the cab. Now."

It was the first thing to go right for me in a couple days.

I jumped from the cab clutching the canvas bag and ran into my building. I was up the stairs and through the door before anyone else managed to get a look at me.

"Carrie, are you okay?", I called out.

There was a weak reply from the couch. "No. Not really." She shifted to look at me. Her face had gone completely pale and was drenched in sweat. She looked at me and weakly said, "What's happening to your face?"

"Carrie, there isn't time to explain everything. First of all, Christie isn't dead. You have a powerful ability, one that isn't under control. You changed her into this." I lifted the weasel from the bag. Christie jumped off my hand and onto the arm of the sofa at Carries feet.

"I did that? How?"

"I don't know, but you are the only one that I know of that can fix it, and you are getting worse. You were hurt a lot more than you thought when that taxi hit you."

She looked back at me. "Did I do that to you?"

I shook my head, "No, I'm not human. I was born and will probably die a raccoon. I'm human because only for a few hours at a time, and only with a lot of concentration. I'm getting too tired to maintain this form much longer."

"If I'm so powerful, why can't I heal myself?", she asked. She was still afraid to go to a hospital.

"I don't know! I don't know enough about humans with this power. You may not even be able to anything to yourself. The man that made me this way couldn't heal himself. I'm calling an ambulance, but you'll have to deal with them. I can't stay like this any longer."

She finally nodded. I raced to the phone, dialed 911, and handed her the receiver. She took it as my human form simply fell apart in front of her eyes.

She was so stunned looking at me she almost didn't respond to the dispatcher. "Uh, yes. I'm hurt. I was hit by a car today, and I really hurt myself. No, I'm at my friends apartment. He's...not home. My symptoms? I can't move very well. I'm weak. I think I might have some broken ribs. I feel so tired. A lot of pain."

On that last one, she looked down at me. She knew that I could help her with that. But I didn't think I was able. It was worth a try, though. I climbed up onto the couch and concentrated as hard as I could.

Then I collapsed exhausted and panting on the floor. I just didn't have it in me.

She stayed on the line with the dispatcher until we heard sirens outside the building. For a moment, I was worried that they wouldn't be able to get in, but apparently they found the owner who lived downstairs.

Christie had spent all this time just looking at her friend. I knew that she was worried, but I had a hard time telling what she was more concerned about, her form or her friend. In the end, I decided, it didn't matter. She was likely to get all or nothing.

As I heard heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, I chittered loudly for Christie to get off the sofa and follow me. We both climbed into a closet and hid under some boxes. I managed to get into a position that I could see partly into the room.

The paramedics came through the door and rushed immediately to Carrie. They started pulling equipment out there cases. It took only a moment for one to say, "Internal bleeding, definitely."

"Miss, we need to take you to the hospital. Is there anyone we should notify?"

Carrie seemed to look around the room a little frantic. I'm not sure she noticed Christie and I going into hiding. "My parents, but they're on vacation...I think. There isn't anyone else."

The paramedic nodded and said, "Okay, we'll get that information from you as we head to the hospital. Let me help you only this stretcher."

The two men gingerly helped her off the sofa and only a large, stiff stretcher. They easily lifted her up as two men in fire department gear entered. "Can you guys grab out equipment? We need to get her to the Medical Center in a hurry."

Medical Center. They probably meant the New England Medical Center. It wasn't that far away. I needed to know that if I wanted to find out about her condition later.

The firemen gathered up the strewn equipment and left, locking the door behind them. I waited a few more minutes before we ventured out from hiding. I looked around the apartment and back at the weasel following me. I needed to be able to talk to her.

I was toying with the idea of trying to write messages back and forth, something I thought Christie could do, when a shadow fell quickly over the room and a mass flew in through the window. A flash of brown seemed to drop from the ceiling and expertly onto the overstuffed chair near the front window.

It was obvious that Marlin was here. It was also obvious that someone else had a hidden talent that he wasn't talking much about, of course Marcus didn't say much and never had. Marcus may be the fastest bird among us, but even he couldn't get from Vermont to Boston in a couple hours. I guessed that he cheated a little.

But that wasn't all that important. Marlin regained his composure and looked at me. "What is going on that is so important? Why didn't you just come up to Vermont?"

I looked at him and back at Christie, who had backed away from the newly arrived hawk and raccoon. "I want you to meet a new friend of mine. Her name is Christie and she's a weasel. Only she isn't a weasel by choice, she was born human. A friend accidentally changed her into a weasel in a fit of anger, then panicked. I met her in the park shortly before she was hit by a car. She's pretty close to death at the hospital right now, she's stuck as a weasel, and I don't have a clue what the hell is going on!"

Marlin stared at me for a minute and looked up at Marcus. Marcus just shrugged his wings a bit. Marlin then looked over at the weasel. "Is all this true, young lady?"

I sighed, "She can't understand you. Whatever created her isn't the same. She can understand human speech, though."

Marlin sat up in the chair for a few more moments. "Jonathan, you always were the biggest aggravation. Do you know when this all happened?"

"Carrie, the girl in the hospital, told me three nights ago."

"That fits. She was the one that caused the ripple."

"You mean, she's like Palmer?"

"In a way. Palmer never told any of us what he did to cause us. He never even confirmed that it was him. But it was. Now, I think I know. This ability in humans, to alter the world around them, is already there. It manifests itself when the person is emotional. Carrie, you say her name is, was angry. Palmer was lonely."

"What? What do you mean?"

"Think about it. Did he ever talk about his family? No, we were his family in the end. He rarely left his homestead, even before we came along. I'm older than you, and I remember knowing he was always around. Even when he was dying, he didn't contact anyone. Do you realized that he's been dead two years, and not a single person has tried to contact him? No phone calls, no one has stopped by. Even the mail that he gets is all business related. Perhaps is was a fit of depression, but he created a family out of what was around him."

I listened, but didn't really know if to believe him or not. I thought there was a great deal more too it than Marlin had worked out. We were, after all, able to teach other animals.

"What does all this mean to us?"

"It could mean that Carrie is our new guide. She is the only one with the power right now that we know of."

"But are there more like her, like Palmer?"

"I think so. We all know about sensitives. There are people who simply can sense this power and who are able to see through our human forms, at least to some degree. These people might just have this power without knowing it. Perhaps some form of magic is coming to this human world."

Marcus spoke for the first time, "No. Sensitives are not those with power."

We both looked at Marcus. He didn't usually get involved. "How do you know?" I asked.

He looked at me intently. When a hawk looks at you intently, you pay attention. "Palmer told me."

Marlin and I both looked at him with astonishment. "What?! You never told us??"

"Palmer didn't want me too."

Marlin looked up at him with exasperation. "Well, I think it's time you told us!"

Marcus simply flew off the chair and across the room. He landed on another across the room from us. "I cannot. I gave my word to Palmer. I think I can tell you this much: Palmer knew more about this than you realize, Marlin. The sensitives are not a concern or a benefit. They simply are. There are more with the power, but they hide it. Some are afraid, some not."

"Why?"

Marcus shrugged. "I don't know. Palmer died."

I moved my jaw in exasperation. Of all the people that Palmer could have chosen, he had to pick Marcus. The one of us who would have followed him to the grave had he asked. Apparently, in a way, Marcus did.

Marcus spoke again. "Palmer said one more thing. There was big shift coming. That's what he called it. A big shift."

Marlin and I looked at each other. We knew that it would be hopeless to get more information out of Marcus, no matter how much he knew. "What do we do now?" I asked.

"Well, it would seem that there is only one person that can help us out right now, and she is in a hospital. It looks like we need to talk to her, more than ever. We also have to help out that poor girl." He motioned over to the confused weasel in the middle of the room. For the last fifteen minutes, all she'd heard was the chittering of a pair of raccoons and the quiet calls of a hawk.

I jumped up on the couch. "Marlin, I don't know how rested you are, but I need to get some sleep. Please, I think that Christie is still able to read and I know you can write better than me. Try and talk to her, calm her down and explain the situation. I only had a few moments to talk to her before I started losing my form."

Marlin nodded and jumped off the chair. I watched through partly open eyelids as he approached her slowly. By the time they were next to each other, I was asleep.

Part 7

I knew it was a dream early on. I didn't know that it was a nightmare.

It was easy to figure out it was all a dream. Woods was alive and well. No trace of injury. Perhaps it was a memory. If it was, it was before Palmer. A time I hadn't thought much about. It was dusk, rapidly turning to night, and we were doing what we always did then, playing.

In the sky, one second so clear, a line of clouds began to approach. They were like nothing I'd ever seen. As far as the eye could see in both directions and coming straight at us. I remember looking at Woods, who looked unconcerned.

I looked back at the clouds. They seemed to be approaching faster. Then they were over us.

And I heard my friend scream.

I looked at Woods, no longer a raccoon but now a man. He crouched on the ground, a knife in his back. I tried to pull it out, but it wouldn't come. Woods said nothing as he died.

His form shifted back, and I turned away.

But when I turned, I saw Carrie. I'd known her only a few hours, and she was suddenly my responsibility. I saw her lying on the street, suddenly my couch, in pain. She reached out to me, begging for release. She turned and seemed to be begging another for forgiveness. The scene went abruptly black.

I found myself awake again.

I looked around the room. Christie, still a weasel, was sleeping on a chair. But Marlin and Marcus were both awake. Neither looked like they'd been awake long.

Marlin looked at me and up and Marcus, "Did you two feel anything?"

My heart started to beat faster. The last time I'd seen that look in Marlins eyes was two days ago, when he described the feeling that he had when Palmer and Woods had died. "Was that what you felt when they died?"

"Yes. I think you need to get some information. Fast."

I nodded. I shifted human and looked around for the phone book. I found the number for the Medical Center and called. As it rang, I suddenly realized I didn't know Carries last name. A person picked up, "Medical Center. Can I help you?"

"Uh, yes. I need to check the condition of a friend that was brought in yesterday evening. A young woman named Carrie."

I heard the woman typing on a computer keyboard, "I have one Carrie that was checked in yesterday, brought in by ambulance. Is her last name Farmer?"

"Uh, yea, that's her. Can you tell me what her condition is."

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. "Sir, I don't have updated information here. Would you mind waiting while I transfer you to the Intensive Care Ward?"

"Sure.", I was suddenly listing to music. I looked down at Marlin. "Did Christie ever tell you her roommates last name?"

He looked at me a little odd, "You don't know?"

"Look, it never came up. Did she or not?" I didn't want to wake her if possible. She might need her sleep.

"Yea, she said it was Farmer."

I nodded. As I did, there was a slight click and a loud voice came on, "Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm trying to get the condition on Carrie Farmer."

There was another long pause on the line. "May I ask who this is?"

"I'm a friend of hers. I just found out that she was taken in yesterday."

"Sir, I'm afraid that she didn't make it. She died in surgery from massive internal..."

I didn't wait for her to finish, but rather hung up the phone. I looked over at Christie. I didn't know what was going to happen to her. I looked down at Marlin. "She's gone."

It was strange. I didn't really know Carrie. I'd only talked with her for a few minutes. I knew nothing about her. Yet I felt horrible about this. The one person that I thought could help us was gone.

Christie abruptly woke up. She looked at the three of us. Then she looked again. I could see her start to shiver again. She jumped off the chair and ran to a pad of paper on the floor. There was scrawling all over it already. She frantically ripped the top sheet off and used the tip of a pencil to write, 'what happened?'

I knelt down to the floor and touched her lightly. I didn't know how she would react to this. "Carrie's dead."

She seemed confused rather than panicked. She looked at Marlin who nodded. Then she looked back at me shook her head no. She wrote, 'Not dead! I know.'

"I just talked with the hospital. She died a little while ago. Marlin, Marcus and I all felt it."

She shook her head again, more violently this time. 'I feel her! Now! She's not dead."

I looked at Marlin. "Do you have any idea what she's talking about?"

Christie started writing again, 'I can feel her. I didn't realize it before, but she and I are linked by what she did. I didn't realize it until last night but I felt it when she was hit. I could sense the pain she was in last night. I still can."

I looked at Marlin, who shrugged. Then I turned and looked at Marcus. "Palmer told you there were more, right? They were in hiding, right?"

"Yes, he said that. He knew of them, but didn't know them."

"Palmer said a shift was coming, right?"

"Yes. He didn't have time to say what it was."

I looked back at Marlin. "Or he didn't know."

"What do you mean?"

"Think about it. Palmer knew of a society of people like him or at least an loosely organized group. Maybe he was even part of it, once. Maybe exiled, maybe he left on his own. These were people that didn't want to be found, for whatever reason. Maybe, now, they are scared of something."

Christie wrote, 'Carrie?'

I nodded. "Carrie was scared to go to the hospital. She said it was because she thought she killed you. I thought it was because she thought the police were looking for her."

Marlin interjected, "So do you think that she lied to you?"

I thought about it. "No, not completely. I think that she really thought she'd made Christie vanish from existence. She was too scared not too. But I think that she knew that there was something about her that would show up at the hospital. Something she was afraid to let them know. Maybe she knew that she potentially had power, and got scared when it manifested itself."

"Then why did she agree to go to the hospital in the end?"

"Fear? She thought she was really going to die. Maybe she contacted someone while I was gone to cover her secret if she did go."

Christie began writing again, 'So where is she now, then?'

"You would be the best weasel, er, sorry, person to answer that. Can you sense what direction she's in?"

She looked at me for a moment and closed her eyes. Slowly, she gravitated toward the front windows for the apartment. She climbed to the sill and looked out.

I followed her and she swept her claw in a general manner as if to say "out there".

But "out there" was looking south. The hospital was west.

I looked back at Marlin. "I think that we'd better get Terry and Franklin to Boston in a hurry. Something is definitely going on."

Part 8

"Did Terry and Franklin stay at the homestead?"

Marlin though for a moment. "Franklin was leaving for Washington again this morning, though he might have stayed because of your message. Terry was going to stay a while. She was still shook over Woods."

"I'll give them a"

There was a knock on the door. Someone had managed to get into the building without ringing the bell. I was already human, but it would be tough to explain a raccoon, a hawk and a weasel in a city apartment.

"Hide!" I hissed. By the time I said it, Marcus was already headed out the window and Marlin was dragging Christie into the kitchen. I grabbed some shorts and put them on, "Who is it?"

"Detective Foreman of the Boston Police. Can I speak to you a minute?"

I looked into the kitchen, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary. "Okay, give me a minute." I slipped some more clothes on and opened the door.

Detective Foreman took the open door as an invitation to enter. He was wearing a cheap brown sport coat and looked like he'd been on the job too long in general. "Good morning. Is your name Jonathan?"

I nodded, "Yes. What can I do for you?"

"I'm investigating the death of a young woman, named Carrie Farmer."

My heart skipped a bit. "I didn't know her that well. I don't know what I can tell you."

He leaned against a wall, "She was transported by ambulance from this apartment last evening with severe trauma. Paramedics say that she was alone. The 911 tape indicates that you weren't here. I need to ask you how she got here?"

My mind was racing. I could start telling a lie, claim that I didn't know, but I figured that, for the most part, the truth was a pretty good start. "I only met her yesterday, over in Boston Common. She was hit by a cab while I walked her home."

He nodded, "We figured she was part of that accident. Are you the doctor that helped her out?"

Doctor? I thought, then I remembered. I'd told some of the witnesses I was a doctor. "Uh, no. Where do you get that idea?"

"Oh, something one of the witnesses said. You fit the description of the man she left the scene with."

I nodded, "We did. She said she wasn't hurt, so we didn't think we needed to stick around."

"You know that it's against the law to leave the scene of an accident?"

"No, I'm sorry. Like I said, she claimed she wasn't hurt."

He nodded and jotted something on his pad, "Okay. You came back here. Did you leave right away?"

"Pretty much. I needed to take care of some errands. She said she was still shook up from the accident and wanted to lie down, so I let her."

"I see. And when she wasn't here when you came back, you did what?"

I thought quickly, "Nothing. I figured that she left on her own. I didn't even know her last name."

"Did you call the hospital this morning? Someone claiming to be a friend called a short time ago."

"No. Why would I? I thought she left on her own."

The detective seemed to let his eyes wander around the room. His eyes fell on the chair Marcus had been perched on. He walked over, bent down, and picked up a large brown feather. "Where did this come from?"

"I... uh... picked that up when I was in Vermont last month. It must have blown off the coffee table."

The detective nodded and handed the feather too me. "I think that I have all the information that I need. If you don't mind me saying so, you don't seem all that surprised that she's dead."

"I guess it just hasn't hit me yet. I didn't know her that well.", I said quietly.

"By the way, you wouldn't happen to know the whereabouts of Farmers roommate, Christine Lewis?"

I tried to look surprised by the question, but I don't think that I succeeded. "No, not at all. I didn't even know she had a roommate."

The detective nodded and opened the front door. "Okay, that's everything I need for now. I might be back to ask some more questions, though. Here's my card if you think of anything to tell me." He handed me the little white card and walked out the door.

No sooner had I closed the door than Christie was right behind me. She was motioning me to get over to the couch. I walked over and sat down while she scribbled frantically on the pad.

That was no cop'

I looked at her. I was beginning to wonder if she was convinced that everything was a conspiracy. "Relax. Of course he was a cop. Here's his card." I said as I dropped the card on the table.

She looked at it but shook her head again and wrote, Didn't have a badge. Didn't ask your last name. Carrie dies after leaving this apartment and he doesn't even seem all that concerned that you apparently did nothing.'

"Christie, maybe he just didn't think to. Maybe they already think that it was an accident and just want to close the file."

How did he know that you called the hospital? You did that five minutes ago.'

I was stumped on that last one. She was right. The detective seemed to know that I had contacted them. By the time I called, he would have had to be almost right outside the building.

She wrote again, They are on to us or at least you.'

I started for the phone. I needed to call Franklin and Terry and get them down here. But Christie stopped me. They can trace your calls from here! Don't call!' she wrote.

I looked at her and over at Marlin, who had been sitting quietly off to the side all this time. I looked back at Christie, "Can they figure out everyone I called in the past?"

She nodded.

I looked back at Marlin. "They know about the homestead, or at least will soon enough."

"We have to get out of this place." Marlin said, "Even if you're both wrong, and they don't know about us yet, they may start asking you more questions. We can't afford for the police to start getting curious. We need a place to hide out for a while, until Terry and Franklin get here at least."

I thought for a moment. My human form was useless in this city now. Marlin could shift, but for only a couple minutes at best. We needed a place near the city that we could hide out.

Christine came up with the answer, fens'

The Boston Fens. Basically a marsh in the middle of the city near the baseball stadium. It was largely overgrown and wild. Easy for us to hide for a while, but still surrounded by the city.

"Okay, we'll go to the fens. I'll stay human until we get to the area. It'll be tough for us to get all the way across the city otherwise. You two can come in a bag with me."

They both nodded.

"What about Marcus?", asked Marlin.

I looked around. Marcus hadn't returned yet. He should have been able to see the detective leave the building. I walked to the window and looked out. At first, I was worried when I didn't see him. A moment later, he swung into view, still circling high over the city.

"He's still out there. We'll have to hope he sees us leave. Can't risk leaving him a note."

"He can't read anyway." said Marlin.

With all haste, I grabbed the canvas bag I'd brought Christie here with. I dropped some paper and a couple pens into the bag, a map of the city and what cash I had followed, of course, by Marlin and Christine. It was a tight fit for them, but they got comfortable and stayed still.

I looked around the apartment once more. I doubted that I would ever see it again. It wasn't much, but it had been home for a few weeks. Now I needed to leave it. I walked out and locked the door behind me.

I started to walk into the subway station downstairs when I realized that Marcus would never be able to figure out where we were if I did that. I needed to walk in the relative open so he could at least track us to the area.

I took a look around me every so often to see if I could spot a tail, but didn't. Whether they were simply too good at it, or alternatively I was too bad at spotting it, I couldn't know. I checked the sky now and then to be sure that Marcus could still see us.

We were about a mile from the fens, walking in front of the towering Prudential Building, when I heard a sound like distant thunder. Everyone on the street seemed to look in the direction of the sound. It came from the downtown area, but it was hard to tell exactly where.

But I had a sinking feeling that it wasn't a good sign.

I sped up my pace.

It was only a few minutes before we were at the edge of the fen. I walked on the path until I was deep into the park and, when I was sure I was alone, ducked into some heavy bushes. I set the canvas bag down and my two compatriots spilled out onto the ground.

Marlin stretched himself out fully, "Jonathan, that's the last time that I'm doing that. I had a pen sticking me in the tail for the last six blocks and you kept knocking me in the head with your knee."

Christie seemed equally pleased with her trip.

"Fine, fine." I said. I made a quick check again that no one was around and then shifted raccoon again. The three of us gathered up the small items I had brought and my clothes and hid them near the base of a tree. By the time we were done, Marcus had perched above us.

""How did you know to leave?", he asked.

"Christie realized that guy wasn't a detective."

"Nothing else?"

"No, why?"

"The apartment building is gone. It exploded."

Part 9

We spent the rest of that day hunkered down in Boston Fens.

Marcus flew over the site where my apartment building once stood and reported back to us. The building and several on either side were either leveled or destroyed by something apparently centered in the Chinatown "T" station. From what he described, every police unit, fire truck and ambulance in the city were clustered into a three block radius around it.

It was possible that it was some sort of accident or unrelated terrorist attack, but that would have been one coincidence too many.

It was clear to me, to all of us, that we had stumbled onto something, something that someone wanted to keep quiet. People who were willing to do anything to maintain their secret. Anything, including putting hundreds of bystanders into the line of fire.

Marcus spent about an hour doing a high level overlook of the Fen, looking for anyone out of place. When he didn't see anything odd, we sent him off to Vermont to get Terry and Franklin. We needed people we could trust, and we also needed to warn them to clear out of Palmers home. I had a sinking feeling that it was the next potential target.

In the meantime, we simply stayed out of site and tried to make the best of it. None of us had eaten since the previous morning, and with all the excitement we hadn't realized how hungry we all were. Christie, it turned out, couldn't even remember the last time she'd eaten. Other than some water Marlin gave her after I went to sleep, she hadn't eaten since she was changed. Marlin and I could probably begged food from some of the people eating in the park or stolen from the line of victory gardens along Boylston, but we decided not too. Too much danger of getting seen. Raccoons may not be unheard of in the Fen, but we still didn't know who to trust.

We did managed to find a small birds nest in a nearby tree. Thankfully, the bird was a little too slow, and there were five small eggs in it. Not a bad haul. Sometimes, nothing is really as good as eating in the wild. Except for hot dogs, of course.

Since carrying the food down was a bit of a problem, Christine and Marlin followed me up to the nest where the bird carcass and eggs were. I watched her pretty closely. She did eat two of the eggs, with a little prodding, but never touched the bird.

Frankly, she worried me. This was a tough situation for all of us, but hardest on her. Marlin and I could easily stay in the Fen indefinitely, we could operate and survive on our own without much problem. We'd been animals a long time before we met Palmer, and some things are simply never forgotten. We still had the instincts as well as the willingness to do anything to survive.

But Christie was different. She's been an weasel for only a couple days, an animal she almost certainly hadn't ever given much thought too. Even if she had been given the instincts she needed, there was a lot of stuff learned when we were young she didn't know. She was certainly still as intelligent as she ever was, but she couldn't communicate. If she was stuck as a weasel, I didn't even know how to teach her. At the moment, she was the only weasel that could be considered part of our little brood.

What scared me the most is what might happen if we were ever separated. >From what I know of humans, I doubt that she would survive on her own in the wild. She was having a hard enough time eating the eggs. I shuddered to think what might happen if she ever tried to hunt. I know that her reflexes were faster than mine at the moment and that in a one on one fight, she might even be able to take me down, but she was squeamish.

And squeamish hunters get themselves killed.

We finished eating and climbed down to get a drink from the shallow pond. It wasn't all that tasty, but it was wet. After that, we went back into the tree that had become our home base.

At the moment, we were stuck. Marcus was to return with Terry this evening after dark. We decided that it was too great a risk for him to be circling the city in daytime. Franklin, who was naturally a cardinal, would come to the city as a human and carry in any supplies. With any luck, we would be able to get somewhat out of hiding by tomorrow evening.

Christie spent much of the day seemingly lost in though. A few times, I saw her close her eyes and start to slowly move in one direction or the other. She was still able to track Carrie to some degree, but only as reliably as a compass. It became more clear that she still had a great deal to learn about her new, hopefully temporary, form: twice I had to stop her from walking off a branch into open air.

>From what she could determine, Carrie was either in about the same location or, at worst, was being moved in one direction. It was the first thing approaching good news that we'd had in a while. At least we might not have no find a moving target.

A little while later, I was keeping watch when Christie climbed over to me. She handed me a small slip of paper that she'd written on. 'Can you contact my family? I want them to know I'm alive.'

I didn't have to think long about that one. I knew that her family was probably going nuts. She was missing and her roommate suddenly turns up dead, at least as far as the world was concerned. But whoever we were up against knew that Christie was involved somehow. They might assume that she was alive and knew something. In fact, if they had Carrie they knew everything they needed. It wasn't a great leap to assume that her family was being watched.

I shook my head no, and for a moment I thought she was going to try and fight me over it. Whether because she couldn't simply yell at me or she knew what my objections would be I didn't know. Instead, she curled her sinewy body next to mine and looked away. I knew she was homesick and still confused.

So was I.

Marlin came off a higher branch, "Jonathan, I think that you'd better get some sleep. When Terry gets here, things will start moving pretty fast."

I laughed at that, "What, have things been moving a little slow for you?"

I don't think he saw the humor, "Look, don't. Just don't. I'm getting too old for all this. I need to spend some time alone with Christie. I don't know if it's possible, but I want to try and get her to communicate a little better. At the least, we need a way to get her to understand simple commands or warnings or whatever."

"Can't you just do what we've done teaching other animals? We're usually able to talk with each other within, what, a couple days."

He shrugged, "I don't know. I'm not sure I want to try it. She's not a normal animal. I don't know how doing that might effect her chances of becoming human again. We should be able to work out something a little more basic. After all, we used to communicate a lot without much vocabulary."

"Yea, but that was a long time ago."

He chuckled, "And the last time you hunted was when?"

He had a point. I hadn't caught my own food in almost a year. One of the advantages of being able to shift human is the supermarket. The old instincts came back pretty fast. "Okay, do whatever. She'll need to be able to tell us enough to find Carrie at least."

All this time, Christie was still curled up next to me, and had no idea what we were talking about. I think that she knew we were talking about her, though. It seemed to make her nervous. I've noticed that about humans, they tend to get nervous when they think others are talking about them behind there back. Marlin eventually motioned her to come with him, and they jumped to the next tree over.

I resumed my watch. I wasn't all that tired. Boredom usually makes me drowsy, though. This was the first bit of boredom that I'd had in days, since just before Woods died. The Fen seemed a little less busy than usual, though it was never as crowded at the Common. I suspected that the explosion downtown had made people scared to go out.

I was still hopeful that it was all a coincidence, but I didn't hold my breath.

After staring at the nearly empty park for an hour, and hearing the quiet tutoring session going on in the next tree, I began to drift off.

I was dreaming again. But whose dream? This wasn't anyplace I recognized. I knew it wasn't Boston, but I was definitely near the edge of some major city park.

Then I saw Woods again. I guessed I was in New York.

I wanted to close my eyes and wake up. I didn't want a repeat of the same dream I had this morning. I couldn't take having to see him die every morning.

But I knew that he wasn't going to die here, at least not now. I don't know why or how I knew that.

Woods looked like I'd always remembered him, but he said nothing. He motioned for me to follow him though the trees. I followed him.

I thought that I lost him for a while, but he was never that far ahead. He stopped at the edge of a large public area. There were benches, playground equipment, vendor carts and other human conveniences scattered all over the place. I hadn't realized until now that the season had changed as well, there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.

I looked at Woods. What was he trying to show me?

Woods looked a little exasperated and waved his paw around the courtyard again and pointed to the sky. I looked. There was nothing particular odd about the scene. Then I looked up at the sun, high in the sky. Then it hit me.

There were no people here. There were no tracks in the fresh snow. I listened intently, but couldn't hear even the sounds of the nearby city. No planes or helicopters flew overhead. Save for the slight rustle of a icy breeze through the trees, there was total silence.

I looked at Woods again, who was now just looking at me. It was a look of sadness. He slowly pointed at me.

Then he vanished into the trees. He didn't run away. One moment he was there, the next he was gone.

I felt something on top of my head, and suddenly leapt around angrily to attack before I realized that I was awake again. It was only Christie, who seemed stunned by my attack.

I calmed myself down and tried to communicate my apology. She laughed a little and said, "Don't worry about it. I could tell you were having a bad dream. Marcus and your sister are here."

Part 10

Christine just stood there in front of me with a goofy grin on her face.

"We understand each other now.", I said, "What did Marlin do?"

Her expression didn't change, "Don't know and don't care. Imp sick of trying to write messages down. You know your penmanship absolutely stinks?"

I took a playful swipe at her, which she avoided, "I don't do much writing."

She climbed up to the next branch and looked down, "Com'on, Johnny. I wasn't kidding when I said your sister and Marcus were here."

She was up the tree and over to the next one almost in an instant. She was really beginning to get the hang of that body. It was clear that she was better built for speed than I was.

My sister was waiting near the top of the tree. Marcus and Marlin were quietly talking nearby. "Are you okay, Jonathan?"

"Yea, but a little shook. This is all getting weird."

"We were all worried about you. We heard about the explosion in Boston before Marcus made it back. Franklin thought that you were near that station."

"We were. What did you hear?"

"Not much. The news already said that it was an explosive device of some type, but nobody can agree on what kind. All that they know for sure is that it was big."

Christie asked, "Was it in the street or the subway?"

"The subway, why?"

She whistled, or at least as close as a weasel can whistle, "That's a big one. I don't know how much you people... animals... whatever follow the news, but there are bombings all over the world. If you want to do a lot of damage to an area, you put the bomb in a truck or something and wipe out the street. Underground, the walls of the station should have absorbed much of the blast."

"Not in this case." Terry said. "It sounds like the bomb was absolutely huge. It was on an inbound train which was just pulling into the station. The news said that the force of the blast was so great that it destroyed the stations in either direction away from Chinatown."

A piece fell into place. "Christie, how familiar are you with the "T" system?"

"As good as any resident. Why?"

"What stop is before Chinatown on the inbound orange line?"

"New England Medical Center, Why?", she suddenly realized what she was saying, "The hospital! It's right above that station!"

I nodded, "Maybe we weren't the target. Maybe Carrie was. Could they have missed?"

Terry stopped us, "Wait a minute. Whoever these people are, they managed to get a massive bomb onto a subway train full of people without raising an alarm, and you want to believe that they

  • missed*. That's stretching it a little, isn't it?"

I had to agree, we were grasping at straws. This was a complete mess. We needed one piece of key information. "This hinges on one thing, I think. Wherever Carrie is, is she being held against her will, or is she in hiding?"

Christie looked at me, "Johnny, we both saw her before she left for the hospital. She could barely move much less escape."

I heard the flutter of feathers and Marcus was off again. Marlin crawled down the tree to the rest of us. "Marcus is completely exhausted, but he's going to fly into the suburbs of the city before settling in for the night. Terry, he wanted me to tell you to lay off the quail eggs or he's not flying you down again."

Terry huffed, "Like he should talk. But that does remind me, do you guys have any food around?" She looked at out blank faces before rolling her eyes, "Two grown raccoons and a weasel and no one thought to catch any food?"

"You missed a good sparrow earlier today.", I said.

"Excuse me.", said Christie quietly. She ran out of sight around the trunk of the tree.

Terry looked at me and asked, "So, she was human?"

"Yea. How much did Marcus get a chance to tell you?"

"Enough. Enough to worry me. Are you sure she's not a natural weasel, just faking it?"

I considered that for a moment. It hadn't occurred to me before, but I supposed it was possible. Then I remembered her reaction when I found her. I remembered the abject terror in her eyes. "No, I don't think so. She's human, and she's completely stuck."

Terry nodded, "I'll go talk with her a little while. We need her at her best if she's the only one that can help. We need to wait for Franklin, anyway."

"When is he arriving?", asked Marlin.

"He was going to try and get into the city tomorrow morning. We decided to get a hotel room to act as a base. He'll get one out of the city center, though." She started to walk in the direction of Christie.

"Hey, what about dinner?", I called after her.

She paused and turned around, "Why don't you two get it? You're rested."

Marlin and I looked at each other for a moment, then I just tilted my head down the trunk of the tree, "After you."

Marlin climbed down. We both reached the bottom and decided to head closer to the water.

As we skulked closer to the ponds edge, I whispered, "Marlin, I thought that you weren't going to teach her the way the rest of us were. You seemed so worried about doing that."

Marlin seemed a little nervous, "I didn't mean too. I mean, well, it kind of just happened."

I stopped when I heard a rustle in a nearby bush. I sniffed the air a bit. A mouse. No, two. There was a slight breeze blowing from the direction of the sound, so they didn't smell us. I looked over at Marlin and saw he was looking in the same direction I was.

In unspoken agreement, we slowly started to circle the pair of mice. We still couldn't see them, but as we got closer their scent was powerful. A few moments later, I slowly poked my muzzle through the reeds. The two mice were chewing on an old, discarded apple core.

Marlin and I looked at each other again, and in one smooth motion we were each on our prey. I dug my teeth into the tiny creatures neck and felt the warm metallic taste of it's blood trickle over my tongue. The Mouse twitched a few times, and I felt my fur get soaked in the sticky red fluid.

As we took dinner back to the our companions, I asked Marlin, "What did you mean that it just happened?"

He looked at me, suddenly nervous again. "I don't know. I was trying to get her to understand some simple voice commands. You know, clicks, screeches, that kind of stuff. Suddenly she looked at me and asked what the hell I was trying to do. I think that it was as big a surprise for her as me."

I sagged, "I wonder what this means for her? Do you think she's stuck?"

Marlin started back toward the tree, "Jonathan, that's not a question to ask me, and not one to bring up again with her. She seems brave, but she is scared out of her mind. I want her scared. If she starts thinking that she's comfortable as a weasel, she's libel to get us all killed when, and not if, she makes a mistake. Besides, she's human. If for some reason she gets comfortable, we may not be able to get her to go back."

I started climbing up the trunk with dinner hanging from my mouth and couldn't respond. I doubted that she would want to stay a weasel given the choice, but thought it best not to bother talking about it. We were already on such thin ice with all our speculation that I didn't want to add another.

Terry and Christie were talking when we arrived. Terry looked up and grinned, "Oh, good! Caught something!"

Christie looked at me, a dead mouse hanging from my mouth and me covered in its blood, and started retching. Her small body convulsed rapidly, her tail flicking. I dropped the mouse and race to her, but Terry was already holding onto her, preventing her from falling.

I grabbed Christie and held onto her. Terry let go and took a few steps back as Marlin came into sight.

"Christie, calm down! Calm down!", I said quietly, but firmly.

I had her cradled on her back, and she was still convulsing. I didn't know what to make of it. It was clear that she wasn't listening to me. Or perhaps couldn't hear me. I kept her body close to mine until she finally stopped, almost five minutes later.

She weakly looked up at me and asked, "What happened?"

"I was going to ask you the same thing. You were convulsing like crazy."

She closed her eyes. "Oh God, don't tell me that followed me. Nothing is going right this week!", she sobbed.

I was confused, "What are you talking about?"

"I'm epileptic. I've taken medication for years to prevent it. I haven't had an attack for almost ten. Stress brings it on. I guess seeing you with that mouse tipped the scale."

I didn't have a clue what being epileptic meant, and the last thing we needed right now was another thing we didn't know about. "What is epileptic?"

She looked at me a little confused, then smiled weakly, "Oh, it's nothing. Sometimes called a brain storm. All the little neurons in my brain start shooting like crazy. I lose all control for a little while. It's not contagious, and I never had many attacks. I'm just under a little more stress than usual."

Marlin stepped forward, "You said you had medication. Where is it?"

"I assume still at my apartment in the medicine cabinet. I didn't think to take it with me when Johnny here took me away."

"Should we go get it for you?" asked Terry.

"No." she replied firmly, "I couldn't take those pills now. They're measured for me as an adult human. I'd be way overdosed if I took them now. I'll be fine."

I decided to let the matter drop for now, "Are you up for some dinner?"

She looked over at the dead mouse Marlin had laid out in the crook of a pair of nearby branches and closed her eyes. "I take it your other friend will be here tomorrow, and he can be human?"

I nodded.

"Great. When he gets here, tell him there's a McDonalds down the street by Fenway. I'll take an Egg McMuffin, large coffee and a raspberry Danish, cheese if they don't have that. I'll be asleep til then." She withdrew from my grasp and found a niche in the tree trunk. She curled up and went to sleep.

Terry, Marlin and I just looked at each other, shrugged, and dug into dinner.

Part 11

I woke up the next morning feeling a mild pecking between my ears.

I took a swipe and opened my eyes, only to be assaulted by a color way to bright for this time of the morning. Franklin had obviously made it to town.

"Okay, pal, Imp awake." I stretched and looked around. Marlin and Terry were still asleep, curled next to each other in a crook of a branch. Christie was likewise still asleep in her own little niche, undoubtedly waiting for her breakfast order.

I looked back at Franklin, "Did you have to wake me up? I have had a rough week."

Franklin bowed slightly, his closest approximation of a nod in his natural form of a cardinal, "Yes, I needed to tell you something. Palmers home is gone."

I just stared at him open mouthed, "When? How?"

"Last night, after Terry left with Marcus. The rest of us cleared out everything we could from the house and hid it in the woods. Just as I was about to leave, the house caught fire and burned to the ground."

Now there was definitely no doubt. At the least, our adversaries were on to me, possibly Marcus and Christie. Just how much they knew was still in doubt.

Franklin looked around the tree, "Who's the weasel?"

"Marcus didn't tell you?"

"No time. All I know is that you picked up a weasel friend named Christie, who I suppose that it. I know little else."

I quickly explained the events of the last several days. Franklin, to his credit, picked up on everything quickly. By the time I was done, Marlin and Terry were coming awake, and I saw Christie walking over.

"I take it you're Franklin?", she asked. "Good to meet you. You wouldn't happen to have any food around?"

Franklin looked at her and back at me a little shocked. "Don't worry, Franklin, she's not going to eat you. She's had a hard time stomaching the idea of hunting. She wanted to get some human food later."

"Sooner, if possible." She added.

Marlin and Terry joined the little group. Franklin leapt to a slightly higher branch. He filled in the other three on the events in Vermont. Neither Terry or Marlin seemed all that surprised, but they were disturbed.

Once that was over, Franklin said, "Okay, I managed to get a hotel room in a small place just down the street. It's not far. We can use that as a home base for a while. I've brought clothes for all three of you.", he indicated the three raccoons, "and other supplies we'll need. I've also rented a car to get us around town easier."

"How'd you get a car?" I asked.

"One of the things I did in Washington was learn to drive. I felt that it might be handy someday. Anyway, follow me back across the fen and we'll work out the rest in the room."

"Wait, we've got some stuff here to take with us. A bag with some supplies.", said Marlin.

Franklin raised his wings slightly in a shrug, "Take it then, but don't try it as human. I think that you can drag it through the bushes without being seen."

Terry and I ended up swapping the chore of dragging the small bag. Franklin leapt from one tree to the next, waited for us to catch up, and then jumped to the next one. It was a bit of a chore to follow him. Christie, for one, seemed to be having a good time. Her body was definitely built for fast movements, and she wove her way through the underbrush like a pro. Being about three times larger than her, we just plowed through.

We got to a back alley, and Franklin landed on a fire escape about four doors down. Undoubtedly it was the hotel. We looked around carefully, saw no one, and made a run for it. We got to the building, and Franklin glided into an open second floor window. A few moments later, his familiar red haired human alter ego popped it's head out the window and beckoned us up.

I decided to discuss with Franklin the problems that raccoons have crawling up brick walls later when we had the time, but we had more important matters to discuss.

First of all, Christie made one good point: We all stank to high heaven. Even in the wild, animals typically bath a little bit, and none of the four of us had for days. Before we got started, we decided to clean ourselves off while Franklin ran to the store to get some food for all of us.

Terry and I both decided to bath as human. In the past, we'd found that it was easier since the facilities were built for humans, and it was far easier to get dried off without all the extra fur. Marlin, who wasn't able to hold a human form long, and obviously Christie elected to get cleaned up in the sink.

Christie bathed in the sink while I took my shower. I stepped out to see her reclining in the hot water with her eyes closed. "Johnny, darling, would you mind turning on the hot water a little? It's cooling off.", she said.

I smiled as I stepped over, "You're supposed to get cleaned up, not relax. Besides, Marlin still need to get in here."

She opened her eyes and gave me a dirty look, "Oh, all right Johnny."

I started toweling off, "Why do you keep calling me Johnny?" I asked, "You've been doing it since you started talking."

She looked at me a little confused, "Isn't you name Jonathan?"

I nodded.

She waited for a moment, "You don't know that Johnny is another way to say it? Sort of like Christie is a short form of Christine?"

"Oh, I see. Whatever. I was just curious."

See rolled her eyes a little and went back to preening her fur. I finished getting dry, picked her up to her protests and carried her into the bedroom. Marlin and Terry walked in behind us.

I dropped her on the bed as she tried to lightly bite me, "Will you warn me next time you do that? That's the second time you've manhandled me since we met!"

I mumbled my apologies and shifted back into my raccoon form. "I'll never get used to watching that" she muttered.

I heard a key in the lock. I tensed, ready to hide if a stranger entered. It turned out to be Franklin with a couple bags of groceries. He didn't say anything as he entered, Franklin never said much. He simply dumped the contents of the bags out, revealing a couple packages of hot dogs, some mixed nuts and a few packages of donuts, Franklin knew what I liked

I eagerly tore into the hot dogs and started eating. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I saw the food. Christie was nibbling on some of the nuts and looked at me eat. "You're going to eat cold hot dogs for breakfast?"

I stopped, "I could go catch a warm pigeon."

Now she stopped. "I'm not all that hungry anymore."

Franklin didn't pay us all that much attention. He'd shifted back into a cardinal and was nibbling some sunflower seeds he had bought.

Terry and Marlin came out of the bathroom soon enough and dug into the food themselves.

Between bites, Terry asked, "Okay, what do we do now?"

Franklin asked, "I would guess that Christie needs to help us locate Carrie first off. Is Marcus still around?"

Marlin shook his head, "No, we decided that it would be to conspicuous since there aren't that many birds of prey in this city. He'll link up with us tonight. Christie, how good an idea on where Carrie is can you get?"

Christie closed her eyes again and slowly started to walk across the bed. She took about four steps when she abruptly opened her eyes. "Whoa! That was intense! I think I saw her!"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Just what it sounds like! For a second, I thought I saw her! This was a lot more powerful that yesterday."

Marlin scowled, "That's odd. I wonder why that is?"

Christie looked at him, "Maybe my seizure yesterday did something."

Marlin nodded, "Or the seizure came about because of an increase in your ability. Hard to say now. Anyway, what did you see?"

She shuddered a moment. I could tell that she didn't want to remember. "She was so pale, lying on a bed in a dark room. I...I can't think of anything else." She pointed in a generally western direction, "But she was in that direction."

"Okay," I said, "here's what we'll do. Franklin, Christie and I will go with you in the rental car. We'll try to pinpoint exactly where Carrie is. Terry and Marlin, why don't you try and figure out all the information that you can about what is going on in this city."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, none of us has been following the news much. We have no idea if, for example, the police really have any idea that Christie is missing, that Carrie is alive and that I wasn't in that apartment. We need to figure out what kind of information is out there. We also need to get an idea as to whether or not I can shift human in this town. If the police have been tipped off by our adversaries, then I might be a wanted man."

"Or raccoon.", added Marlin.

"Wait a minute," said Christie, "be careful about what you ask. You can bet the Feds are looking into that bombing on the "T". It's also safe to assume that if you call and ask about specific people, who may not have had their names released to the media yet, that you'll be next on the hit list."

Terry nodded, "Don't worry, we have other ways of getting information. After all, who worries about a raccoon listening to a conversation?"

Terry shifted human and put on the clothes that Franklin had brought. Marlin climbed into the satchel that they had been packed in and they left. A few minutes later, Christie and I were in the bottom of a canvas bag being carried to a small Ford rental car. Franklin dropped us on the floor and shut the door.

As we crawled out, I looked at Christie, "Now I know why you and Marlin were so cranky when we got to the Fens yesterday. That is a very shabby way to travel!"

She snuffed once, but said nothing else. Instead, she climbed into Franklin's lap to look out the front of the car. "Okay, Frankie, I'll guide you from here. Just pull into traffic, head down Boylston toward that big tall building that says "Prudential" on the top. Make a right on Massachusetts, and that should help narrow down the search area."

Franklin looked down at the weasel in his lap, "Frankie?"

I laughed from my position on the floor, "Just listen to her. She's a little strange, even for a human."

Franklin sighed heavily and pulled the small Ford into traffic.

Part 12

There is something about being in a city, any city, that makes a person just willing to accept anything. A guy walking down the street shouting obscenities? Saw it last week. Group of drunk college kids throwing up in an alley? Threes a bigger group in the park doing the same thing.

Guy driving through the city with a weasel on his dashboard? So? There was guy with a polar bear in his trunk last week.

I guess, in a way, we really don't stand out all that much.

Franklin guided the small Ford around the thick morning traffic. I could tell that he was having problems navigating the city. Driving in Boston is a little like living in the woods: long periods of boredom followed by moments of stark terror. We would sit at a traffic light for five minutes, move fifty feet and wait another five only to be barely missed by a bus, a taxi or a speeding ambulance.

After a little while, Christie looked around and pointed down a long avenue. "Okay, make a right here on Massachusetts. That should take us in the general direction I'm feeling."

Franklin nodded and slammed on the brakes to avoid a couple college students who had just stepped into the intersection against the light. As they passed, he eased the car to the right and started down.

I stayed hidden on the floor of the passenger side. Christie was already drawing a little attention to the car, and I didn't want to add to that. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see much. I could make out the tops of some of the taller buildings, but that's about it.

Christie suddenly started and jumped around. "Turn left! Turn left!"

Franklin looked frantic for a moment, "Here?? There isn't a street."

She turned and gave him a dirty look. "After the row of buildings." She looked down at me, "Are all you guys this bright?"

I smiled, "Actually, Franklin is one of the smarter ones."

She looked upward. "I'm doomed. I'm going to be a weasel for the rest of my life"

Franklin, wisely, didn't get involved. He just eased the car to the left and waited for the light to change.

A few moments later we were driving down a less crowded side street. The street started to move back toward the center of town and Christie suddenly shouted, "No! Turn right!"

This time, Franklin wordlessly moved the car to the right. A police siren cut thorough the morning silence and we all tensed up. Franklin slowed the car and waited. The cruiser passed us without slowing.

Christie looked at the two of us still cowering a little, "Look guys, there are always sirens in a city. They aren't all looking for you two."

"They might be looking for me."

"Yea, some of them might, but I doubt the police department has an APB out for a light furred raccoon."

She had a point. "Okay, which way now?"

She closed here eyes a moment, "Keep going straight for now, but I think that it's a little off the to left. We're getting close though."

Franklin eased the car down the street a little more. We passed one cross street, then another. "Okay, turn left just up here."

Suddenly, I felt like I could feel something. Maybe it was just the tension in the air. We all knew, after all, that we were close to whatever it was that she was feeling, but we didn't know how close. I realized after a few moments that I hadn't even been breathing, and had to keep telling myself to move the air in and out of my lungs.

Christie suddenly leapt to her paws and pointed to a four story brick apartment building, one of more than a dozen lining the street. "In there! She's in there!"

Christie then got an odd look on her face, "Oh my God! Get out of here!"

Franklin looked stunned for a moment, and Christie turned to him, "Don't just sit there! Get us out of here!! Now!"

I heard the sound of screeching tires and Franklin foot slammed hard on the gas pedal. I suddenly rolled from my position under the dash into the base of the seat as the car sped forward. There was a dull thud and gasp as Christie slid off the dash and landed on the automatic transmission stick.

She rolled to the floor next to me. I moved over to her and held her as the car shook and slid across the road. Finally, the car started to slow. Franklin looked down, "We're back on the main road. I'll pull over as soon as I can. How is she?"

For a split second, I was afraid that she was dead. She didn't move at all. But I could tell that she was breathing. I looked her over, but couldn't see any obvious signs of injury. There was a slight marring of her fur on her head were I could see that she had hit it when she fell, but little more injury than that. "She's out, but it doesn't look bad. Maybe we should head back to the hotel for now and see if Marlin and Terry are back."

"Do you think that she saw something in the building? She seemed scared of something."

"I don't know. Hopefully, she'll be able to tell us when she wakes up."

I held onto her the entire drive back, and she had me steadily more worried. It was like she was completely asleep, but there wasn't much of an injury. I'd seen other animals unconscious from injury before, but never one that lasted this long.

I pulled her back into the bag and Franklin carried us up to the hotel room. Terry and Marlin weren't back yet, so we waited. We laid her out on the bed and I held onto her.

It was hard to explain, but I really felt responsible for all this. I knew that some of this couldn't be my fault, but somehow I still blamed myself. Slowly, I was assuming responsibility for Christie, even if there wasn't anything that I could do for her. The best that I could do was to keep her comfortable, but little else.

About two hours later, Terry walked in to the room still in human form, without Marlin. She'd left him in the Fen to meet up with Marcus. She looked at Christie and at me, "What happened?"

"I don't know, really. She identified the building that she's been drawn too, but she suddenly got scared. She yelled for Franklin to drive away fast, and when he did she fell and hit her head. She's been out since then."

Terry came over and ran her human hands over the tiny weasels body. "She doesn't look hurt, though."

I nodded, "I know. Something else happened, but I just don't know what it is."

"Well, I guess I might as well tell you what's going on. You are being looked for. Officially, the police are looking for you because you are missing. The landlord survived the blast and was sure that you were home when it hit, but since you're body hasn't been found, they are getting suspicion."

"What do you mean, officially?"

"Well, that's just it. There were a few detectives who seemed more interested in finding you than other missing people. When I was down there, they were talking about as many as thirty people still not accounted for. Your name kept popping up, though."

"Damn. Anything else?"

"Christie is definitely officially missing, as of this morning. Her family called the police last night when they discovered she hadn't been to work in three days, and they couldn't find her. I didn't hear that they had connected her and Carrie, but I'm certain that they will if they haven't already."

"What about Carrie? Any official word from the hospital?"

"Franklin got in and looked around. Apparently, she was at the Medical Center, and her official records indicate that she did die. But Franklin couldn't find her body in the morgue, or any mention of it being transported out of the hospital in her records."

"Damn, this is getting stranger and stranger. I'm wanted, Carrie is dead but not dead and missing, Christie is missing but not missing or human, and everything that we know is getting mixed up. What the hell else can go wrong?"

Franklin looked up from the chair he'd been sitting in, still in his human form, and frowned. "Jonathan, you've been around Christie a lot the last few days?"

I looked at him a moment, "That's right, why?"

"Well, maybe my recollections are wrong, but did she have a striped tail?"

I looked at him oddly a moment and then down at Christie. Her tail, which I'd though was solid brown on top and white on the bottom, looked more like my tail. I looked up at Terry who simply shrugged her shoulders, but looked worried.

I released Christie from my grip and suddenly realized that she was changing. Her sinewy weasel body was slowly getting larger, her ears getting far taller, and her head wider and more oval in shape. Without regaining consciousness, she took on the form of an adult female raccoon.

The three of us just looked at each other for a long time. Finally, Franklin said, "I guess that answers your question, Jonathan. There is something else that can go wrong."

She started to stir a little, and I jumped over to her. Her eyes slowly fluttered open and she looked into mine. "Oh, hi Johnny."

"Christie, do you feel okay?"

"Sure, why wouldn't I?"

"Well, you took a fall"

"I don't remember that."

I paused, not sure how she would take her second change in just a couple days. "Christie, you're a raccoon now."

She looked at me a little blankly and then around to the other two in the room, "Yea" she said slowly, "and you're point is?"

She seemed to be taking this strangely. "Christie, you changed into a raccoon a minute ago."

"What are you talking about?", she asked. "I've been a raccoon all my life."

I looked up at Terry and Franklin who were looking back at me with the same confused stares as Marcus flew in the window with Marlin in his talons. Marlin dropped to the bed and Marcus landed on the back of a chair. He looked around the room a moment and saw Christie in her new raccoon form. "What's going on?"

Franklin was the first to break the silence. "Apparently, more than we know"

Part 13

We spent about four hours talking to Christie. We asked her dozens of questions about anything and everything that we could think of.

In the end, we discovered that whatever had happened, it was even stranger than we thought. Christie had largely retained her memory. She still remembered everything about her life. It was just that she had somehow edited in that she was always a raccoon. It made perfect sense to her. When pressed about how impossible it all was, she seemed to just give up in exasperation. She refused to go into details when it was outright impossible for her not to have been human. Instead, she just said, "You don't understand."

Frankly, though, we didn't know enough about Christie to be sure of anything. So much had been happening that wed never sat down and talked about the details of her life. We were assuming that she was telling us the truth, not only as far as she knew it, but as close to reality as she could get.

One other odd detail came out. She was convinced that we were mates. Now, don't get me wrong, she was certainly my type now. She had become a very beautiful raccoon. Under different circumstances, I might have even pursued a relationship with her. But this was just too weird.

She also had absolutely no memories of anything after we got into the rental car this morning. "That's not all that strange", Marlin had said, "She did take a blow to the head."

Eventually, we did convince her that something was in fact wrong. She knew that she wasn't a raccoon by birth, but her attitude about it was along the lines of "Yea, okay. Whatever you say."

After four hours of talking, though, she was exhausted. She decided to get some sleep and we all agreed. She made herself comfortable and in moments was breathing regular and soft.

The five of us looked at each other for a little while. "What the hell is going on?", I muttered.

Marlin shrugged. "Whatever it is, this is getting strange, and it all ties in with that house you found. I think we need to go there and take a look."

I wanted to protest, but knew that he was right. Carrie was possibly in that house, and whatever changed Christie was there as well. We needed to figure out who or what this all related too, and I had the strong feeling that we needed to do it fast.

Franklin hopped over to the windowsill and looked out. "Whatever we do, I think that its going to have to be you three tree dwellers. Marcus and I cant fly in this."

I looked out the window and saw the fat drops of rain falling in the darkening sky. A small storm had moved in over the area.

Marlin nodded, "That's not a problem. Were rather built for breaking and entering. Franklin, can you hold human form long enough to drive us to that place in the rental car?"

He nodded, "I think so."

"Great. Well go with you. Marcus, you stay here and keep an eye on Christie."

I suddenly felt a little uneasy, "Marlin, shouldn't we take her along? She's the only one that has ever seen this place, even if only in her head, plus, if we do find something, we might be able to change her back."

Marlin shook his head, "No, Jonathan. We don't know what is going on yet. We do know that whatever it is effected her when it didn't effect you or Franklin. I don't want to take the risk of her being changed again."

I was about to protest when Terry stopped me, "Besides, she's exhausted and completely inexperienced, even if she thinks that she is. Its safer to leave her here for the time being."

I relented. They were right, of course. I looked over to the sleeping form of Christie on the bed. She looked so calm and peaceful. Nothing like my first sight of her, scared and huddled in a body she didn't want. I looked over to Marcus. "You keep an eye on her."

Marcus merely nodded. I still didn't like him all that much, he was simply too quite for me, but I knew him well enough to trust him with my own life. I knew that I wouldn't have left Christie here alone with him otherwise.

Franklin had parked the Ford behind the building, and Marlin, Terry and I climbed out the window into the rain. I looked back for a moment to see him shift human and begin to throw on some clothes. I crawled down the wall and joined my sister and friend underneath the car and we waited. Franklin came out a minute later, opened the passenger door, and we all climbed in.

As we turned down Boylston Street, Franklin turned the heater on. The three of us huddled under the floor vent and dried off a little. "Whets the plan, Marlin?", asked Terry.

Marlin looked at her a little confused. "Plan? What makes you think that I have a plan? I've never done anything like this before."

I laughed a little, and they looked at me. "The plan, Marlin, is the same one that we had before we ever met Palmer. Know what you want, get in anyway that you can, stay out of sight when possible, and go through the room like you own it when its not. Simple."

Terry and Franklin laughed, but Marlin didn't. I don't think that he liked the joke much.

We felt the car make several turns and eventually Franklin pulled over to the side. "Were here. The building is numbered 934, its on the right side of the street." He reached over and popped open the door. "Do you want me to wait?"

"No.", I said, "The longer you hold that form, the more danger you are in of being discovered. Besides, if you cant fly in this heavy rain well enough to help us if we get in trouble. Go back to the hotel and wait."

He nodded. "If the rain lets up, either Marcus or I will come back."

I nodded and jumped out to the wet ground. Marlin and Terry were under a small planter out of the rain, and I joined them. We watched as Franklin drove off. "Okay. The building is about five doors down from here." I looked around. "There is a fire escape next door, and all these buildings are build right next to each other. Terry, Marlin, why don't you try to get in through the roof, and Ill try to get through the front."

Terry shook her head. "I don't like the idea of splitting up, Jonathan. Why don't we all go in together?"

"Its pretty likely that there is a trap in here of some type. It might get one of us, or even two of us, but if were apart it might not get us all. It will also leave at least one to help let the others out."

Marlin looked worried, "Jonathan, are you planning on getting captured or something? If there's a trap, after all, it seems more likely that its at the opening to the building than on the roof."

I shook my head, "Imp not planning on it on getting captured." The I added with a smile, "But if it happens, avenge me."

Terry rolled her eyes. "Com'on Marlin, he's in his martyr mode. Well see you inside. Should we have a rendezvous point?"

I smiled and shook my head, "If I knew enough to pick a rendezvous point, I wouldn't be so worried. Well find each other. But, if we don't find each other inside, lets meet here at dawn."

We all took off into the driving rain. I paused long enough to watch them climb up a small tree and jump to the fire escape nearby. I raced for the front of the building, keeping out of sight.

I got to the front of the building in just a moment. It was a completely normal building. A normal looking brick building. Inside, perhaps, was a young woman who knew a lot of answers we wanted. There were answers about who we were, who Palmer was, and what was going on.

There was a small window to a lower basement behind a nearby bush. I tried it, but found it locked. Not seeing any other way in at the moment, I picket up a small rock and broke the dirty glass. It fell in with a small tinkle. I broke away the shattered glass, and climbed into the blackened basement.

Part 14

I climbed down something covered in heavy canvas. I think it was some old furniture, but I didn't check. I paused at the bottom on the cold concrete floor and shook the water out of my fur. I took a slow look around the room as my eyes gradually adjusted to the nearly lightless room.

It wasn't much, just a dark basement. There were some boxes piled in one corner. Over by an ancient water heater was a stack of old tools. Old planks and appliances were piled against another wall. I sniffed the air a little. I could tell that no one had been in here for a while. The air was thick with the smell of damp paper, old wood and the residue of natural gas from the water heater.

But I didn't smell people.

The stairs leading up were off to one side, and looked very rickety. I heard the planks shift slightly under me as I crawled up. I took each one like it was ready to collapse. I didn't want to make a sound.

I got to the head of the stairs. I found an old, closed door. I stopped and looked around. I'd need to shift human to get through. I didn't like that idea. It took time to shift, and time to shift back. I got my nose right up to the door jamb and sniffed. The faint smell of food was pretty strong. Probably a kitchen.

I didn't see any light spilling through, so I decided to take the chance. I closed my eyes and concentrated for a moment. I felt myself begin to grow larger. Usually, the slight pain that I felt when I changed was normal. I even rather liked it. But not now. It was a distraction.

A few moments later, I was standing, naked, at the top of the stairs. I slowly reached out and touched the doorknob as if it were a live electrical wire.

Nothing.

I lightly gripped my hand around the knob and turned it. It was unlocked. I opened it only enough to keep it from latching and peered through. It was a kitchen, an old one. I could tell that it had been used sometime recently, perhaps as recently as today. It was empty at the moment.

I slipped in and closed the door behind me. Standing in that darkened doorway, I let loose my concentration and fell back to all fours. I let myself breath for a few moments and gathered up my thoughts again.

That's when I smelled something familiar. It wasn't coming from somewhere so much as it filled the space. I took a deeper breath. Then I knew.

Carrie.

If she wasn't here now, she certainly had been. I looked around the room again and then crawled along the wall to the opening. I slowly stuck my head around and saw a hallway. This one was dimly lit from a light down the hall.

I crawled along the hall some more. I passed a small door that I assumed was a closet and crawled under a small end table that filled in the space between the lit doorway and the hall wall.

For a moment, I simply let my senses try and tell me what was in the room. There was a lot of something in the air, something that I couldn't identify. It had the effect of masking out a lot of the smells in the room. But I was able to smell Carrie again, as well as two or three other people strongly. Though that didn't necessarily mean any of them were there.

I could here, though. There was at least one person in there. I could hear quiet, regular breathing. Someone asleep?

I took a deep breath and peered my head around the corner. It was a huge room, at least in height. Apparently, this was once the common landing of an old four story apartment building. Now, it was a living room with the flights of stairs above. The stairs circled above the room to a large skylight at the top.

The living room looked normal enough. A couple couches, chairs, a TV. It had two doors, both open. One apparently into a closet, the other into some sort of front room, itself dark.

But it was the form on the couch that caught my eye. It was Carrie.

She was asleep. She also looked like a mess. Her hair was badly tangled and messed up. Her face was a little grimy and her exposed skin glistened with old sweat. She was still clothed in a pale blue hospital gown and was laying on her back.

I scurried across the room and hid beside the couch. Then I stopped.

Now what?

I didn't have a clue. Should I call someone? Who? If Terry was right, then the cops were infiltrated by whoever it was who had done this in the first place. Probably the hospital too.

For that matter, did these people want Carrie dead? Apparently not. After all, they could have killed her any time. Maybe I wasn't rescuing her from anything. But then again, I had to know for sure.

I crawled up the side of the couch and crept down next to her. I placed a paw on her cheek. It was warm, but not hot. She didn't stir, though. She was probably in a very deep sleep. I thought about trying to wake her, but I realized that she would likely be too tired to recognize me for who I was, even if I shifted human. I didn't need her to wake screaming.

I looked up to the top of the stairs. I hoped that Terry and Marlin got down this way soon, I had no idea what to do. My mind was racing, and getting nowhere.

That's when I heard the voice. It came from the darkened front room. He had been watching me for some period of time. Perhaps he had known I was here from the moment I entered.

"Well, you're not the girl from this afternoon. In fact, I can't get a good handle on just what or who you are. Except that you're not leaving here until I find out."

Part 15

I looked at the man for a long time. He simply stared back. I don't think either one of us knew exactly what to do.

He looked normal. That is, there wasn't anything of real note about him. He was simply a man. An older man, but not old. His nose was perhaps a little larger than most, his eyes a little deeper set, but nothing that would give him a second look on the street.

But even I could tell that he was virtually crackling with power.

The man made the first move. He walked into the room and slowly took a seat. I stayed my ground, only turning my head to keep in direct eye contact.

"Well, am I going to have to wring your neck, or are you going to tell me who you are?"

I thought for a minute. I didn't want to shift human. Chances were that he knew my human form, but perhaps not my normal raccoon form. There was still a chance that he didn't even know that I could shift at all. "I suppose you're just going to have to wring my neck."

He smiled. "I like you. I still don't know who you are. No one has ever managed to confound me so badly."

I climbed slowly to the top edge of the couch, "I suppose that I should be pleased. Frankly, I could care less."

The man's smile disappeared. "What are you? You're not one of us, are you? You never were."

My mind raced. Should I try and bluff? Would he believe me? Well, what could it hurt? "I was. If you can't tell who, then you're not as strong as you once were."

That seemed to give him pause. He looked at me a little more intensely. "You are familiar. But why do you hide? Why stay in a form like that?"

"You should know. Form matters very little. All I want are some answers."

He leaned forward. "You lie, my friend. It doesn't take any power to tell that you came here after her. What does she mean to you?"

"I could ask you the same thing. In fact, I think I will."

He smiled, "She's a loose cannon. She knew that she was a potential, and she didn't guard against it. Now, though her carelessness, she let at least two people know. She risked everything."

"So, you grabbed her."

"I want to know what she means to you. I want to know now."

I wondered how far I could take this before he realized just how in the dark I was. "I'm helping a friend. He means something to me, not her."

His eyebrows went up. "Ah, we must have a mutual acquaintance then. At least, I've been wanting to make his. We are speaking of our mysterious friend Jonathan, correct?"

I shrugged, "That much should be apparent."

"You're friend is very interesting. You know that he doesn't seem to exist? At least, not much further back than last year? I've checked."

I smiled, "I guess you didn't check hard enough. I know that he's been around longer."

He leaned back and touched his fingertips together. I almost laughed. It looked like a scene out of a movie. "I very much want to meet Jonathan. Where is he?"

"I'll suppose that I could tell you, but I want to know one thing first. Why is this one man so important to you that you were willing to kill all those people on that subway train?"

His face became hard, "Because he knows. You should know that. No one can know. It isn't time. Anyone who knows is a loose cannon and must be dealt with. The best way to disguise a murder is to make it look like something else. These days, a terrorist bomb on the subway isn't all that farfetched."

I nodded a little. At least I knew now that the medical center hadn't been the target, as we had originally suspected. "If you are so powerful, then why did you allow him to survive?"

"I didn't allow him to survive. My people made a mistake. They followed a man away from the building instead of staying to make sure that your friend was still inside."

Another piece fell into place, at least in a way. The man who had pretended to be a detective, the one that Christie had pegged as a fraud. The one that we had raced out of the apartment because of. He wasn't a part of this. At least, not on this side. I decided to take another leap, more and more aware that I was getting on thinner and thinner ice. "So, your opposition is growing, or at least becoming more effective."

He didn't seemed phased, but he did act a little stung. "A few malcontents, nothing more. They don't have the power to do anything of any real importance." He eyed me with a little more suspicion, "But I think that I'm beginning to get a more familiar picture of you. We have met before, haven't we? You and I, we have a history together. Why don't you simply come out and tell me what it is?"

He had inched forward in his chair, and I could tell that he was getting ready to try something. I was rapidly running out of options. Up to now, I had been able to maintain his curiosity long enough to keep me alive. I didn't want to start giving out real truth, yet.

Then his eyes suddenly got wide. "My God. You! I know you, now! I thought you were dead. We all felt you die. How'd you pull that off, Palmer?"

Damn. Whatever Palmer had done to make me what I was apparently must have left some sort of trace. My mind started to race. I didn't even know how to masquerade as Palmer, and I didn't think that I could pull it off.

But, as it turned out, I didn't have too. A voice, vaguely familiar but strangely different, came from the high up. "Oh, Van Cott! I'd have thought you better than that!"

Both the man, apparently named Van Cott, and I looked to the skylight four stories above. At first, we didn't see anything. Then a form familiar to me circled down the narrow stairway. Silhouetted against the skylight was the familiar body of Marcus.

But that wasn't his voice.

Marcus landed on the top of a coat rack. "You should be able to recognize the difference between a raccoon and your blood brother."

Part 16

Van Cott looked at the red tailed hawk perched on the coat rack, then back to me. Then back to the hawk and me again.

At least, I think he was doing that. I was busy looking back and forth between the hawk that I'd always known as Marcus and the man I now knew to be Van Cott.

Van Cott and I both finally settled our eyes back on the hawk, who had been staring at Van Cott the entire time. "Palmer? Is that you? How can both of you be Palmer?"

The hawk spoke in an unfamiliar voice, "Come now, Van Cott. I've always suspected you were a little dense. Don't go and prove it to me now."

Van Cott looked more intently at the hawk, I could practically see the wheels turning in his head. "It *is* you. How?"

"You didn't think that I was going to let your underlings kill me, did you?"

Van Cott looked shocked, "How could you say that?"

Palmer laughed, "Oh, come on. Don't play stupid with me, I'm much better at it. I was in the Body long enough to know that no one leaves voluntarily. At least, none that did lived more than a couple years."

"You did."

"Did you ever wonder, my brother, how that is? Or, perhaps, are you more curious as to what happened to your followers? The ones that you sent to kill me."

The man sagged a little. "We never intended to kill you, and you know it. We don't work that way."

Palmer's voice became cold. "Tell that to the people on that subway train. Last time I looked, they were pretty dead."

Van Cott opened his mouth to answer and closed it, he seemed to be thinking, "It's not the same. They are just animals. We... you and I... we're different. We always were."

"Different? How? We have an ability, one that we could have used to do something a little more productive than set up secret organizations."

"When we take over..."

"Oh, shut up, Van Cott. I listened to that drivel for too long before I realized what a crock it was. Why rule the world? Because you can? Big deal. You can't."

"We have the Power. We have people in high places."

"So? How many of us are there? Not nearly enough to rule."

Van Cott gave the hawk a cold, hard, look. "There were more of us once. Before you left."

"You're speaking about the rest of the Body? Perhaps the Security Arm?"

Van Cott took a step foreword, "You know that I am. By any standards, you've committed mass murder."

That seemed to give Palmer pause. "Mass murder? Surely you jest."

"I felt them all die. Every one. You should have submitted to them, Palmer. You left knowing what we'd do. Instead, you killed them. All of them."

For the first time since he landed, Palmer looked over at me, and then back at Van Cott. "You're serious. You really don't know. You should have at least suspected"

"Suspected what? What do you mean? What should I know?"

Palmer looked over to me, "Jonathan, I know you're tired, but can you shift human for a moment? It's important."

I looked around for a moment, still petrified. I hadn't wanted to reveal my human form, but how could I refuse Palmer? I nodded and leapt off the back of the sofa to the floor. I closed my eyes and concentrated. Moments later, I was human again. I looked up at Van Cott.

He looked like he was seeing a ghost. "Lawrence?"

Confused, I looked at him and back at Palmer. "It's not Lawrence, Van Cott. At least not anymore. As far as he knows, he never was."

A look crossed Van Cott's face and he turned his head back to Palmer. "You did this?"

"They did it to themselves. It's the fate that you planned for me, is it not?"

Van Cott looked at me again, and back at Palmer. "George? Margaret? Anthony? All the others?"

"Chipmunk, sparrow and raccoon. The others are a host of other native Vermont wildlife. You should really come up and see them sometime."

Van Cott did something that surprised me. He started to cry. "My son?"

"You should never have sent him. Not when the others didn't return."

"What is he? You owe me that much."

Palmer paused for a long time. "A cardinal."

Through tears, "You bastard. How could you do that to him? You practically helped raise him."

"I did it for the same reason that I'm putting a stop to this tonight. No one has the right to so much power."

"You've revealed too much, my old friend. I know what you did, at least enough to counter it. You can't change me."

Palmer spread his wings out as wide as they would go. "I'm not here to change you, my brother. I'm here to kill you."

Part 17

Have you ever been standing outside under a warm sun as a storm approached? Smelled the warm dust and moisture in the air as you watched lightning dancing in the distance, knowing that it would be on you soon?

Have you ever smelled the electricity in the air?

Man and bird stared at each other. They had both apparently forgotten about their audience, but why would they be concerned about a confused raccoon and an unconscious young woman?

I could feel the storm approaching, and was vaguely aware that it was already in the room. It looked like these two were already at war.

I realized then that I was still in my human form. I frankly didn't know what was going on, or what was about to happen, but I knew that it would be better to be away from here when it happened. Far away. Preferably out of the city limits.

I stood and moved over to Carrie. She was still unconscious, but alive. I gathered her up in my arms and made for the front door, expecting Van Cott at least to try and stop me. He never moved.

With one hand, I reached down and touched to door handle. I felt a light vibration, not much, but just a little. I took one look back at Palmer. I thought that I could see the slight glow of blue electricity in his wingtips. Then I threw open the door and ran as fast as I could, holding Carrie.

The street was almost deserted, it being late and still damp outside. That was good for me. I still didn't have any clothes. But at this point, I didn't care much about attracting attention.

I actively avoided thinking about what had been reveled. I once thought that I knew what I was. Now I wasn't sure. Was I born man or animal?

Was I a man dreaming I was a raccoon dreaming I was a man?

I pushed the thought out of my mind. I suddenly realized I didn't know where exactly I was. I'd stayed hidden each time we'd driven here. I looked up and searched the skyline for a landmark. In the dark gloom of night, I could make out the brightly lit Prudential Tower. I was near the Back Bay.

I ran in the direction of the tower. I knew that there would be people around, but it wasn't far from areas that I might be able to hide, including back in the Fen.

Then I came to two realizations: Carrie was simply too heavy to carry much further, and I'd left Marlin and Terry in the apartment. I had no way to know if they were all right, or even if they knew what was happening.

I noticed an older woman at the top of a stoop, apparently returning from the store. I ran up to her. "Please, help me!"

She turned and her jaw dropped. "What on?"

"Please, we need help! We were" I struggled for a lie, since I didn't believe the truth myself, "being held hostage up the street! We just escaped! Please help us!"

The woman looked around quickly and pushed the door open. "Get in! Hurry!"

I pushed past her and into the first floor landing of the building. The woman came in behind me and unlocked her apartment door. "Is she all right? What did they do to her?"

"I don't know."

I brought her in and laid her out on the couch. The woman came from behind me and tossed a blanket over me. I hadn't realized until then how cold I was. She did the same for Carrie.

The woman reached for the phone, "We need to call the police and an ambulance."

I was searching for another lie, one that would get her to stop calling, when something else helped me out. She put the receiver to her ear and frowned, pushing on the cradle a few times. "The phone is dead."

I heard a slight rattle. I looked up at the small curio shelf above the sofa, lined with glass angle figurines. They were trembling. I looked around the room. Everything was shaking a little, steadily. The old woman noticed it too.

She turned her head to me, her eyes wide, even as we both heard the shatter of distant glass. I took another look around the room, and remembered the vibration I'd felt.

"Get down!"

We had no sooner lain on the floor when the front windows shattered. I heard the popping of the curio figures and the deafening sounds from the kitchen. I heard screams from the other units in the building, and from across the street. The room was bathed in flashing lights, then abrupt darkness, as the light bulbs shattered.

The vibration continued to get worse.

I heard the old woman cry out as she lost consciousness, and started to pray that I would too. The vibration became louder and harder. I felt every bone in my body reverberating.

I lost my concentration, and my raccoon form flowed back.

Still, I was paralyzed.

Then, more suddenly than it started, it was over. I lay on the floor breathing heavily for a moment. I tried to shift human again, but found that I couldn't. I was just too disoriented.

I crawled out from under the blanket and found myself looking around a devastated apartment. There was enough light in the room from the half moon outside for me to see how badly the place looked.

I heard a moan from above me, and saw Carrie awakening. I climbed up to her and lightly scratched at her head. Her eyes suddenly popped open. "What... What happened?" She looked at me, "Jonathan? You... what happened? Why are you still... you", she stammered like that for a moment before she just shook her head. "Never mind. Where am I?"

When she said that, I suddenly remembered the old woman. I jumped off the couch and raced to her. Carrie groped a little behind me. "What is it? Can't you talk anymore?"

I stopped, "I'm sorry, Carrie. I'm a little dazed. There's an old woman down here who might be hurt."

Carrie crouched beside me and looked at the woman. The woman started to come around. "She's okay. I'll move her to the couch and then we'd better get out of here."

We stayed with the woman until she was a little better. Outside, we heard the sirens of dozens of police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles. Carrie wrapped herself in an old blanket, with me hidden inside, and we walked out.

I had wanted to go back in the direction of the apartment. Terry and Marlin were still missing. So was Palmer and Van Cott, for that matter. I didn't know who had won that little confrontation. But, the area was crawling with people now. If any of them were still alive, they knew about the hotel near the Fen.

Walking back, we discovered just how much damage had been caused. Glass lay in shards everywhere. Even the headlights of most of the cars, the ones made of glass rather than plastic, were gone. The nearby Prudential Tower, which had been a beacon to me earlier, was dark. Every window and light shattered. We would learn later that it was more bizarre than we thought. Every single piece of glass within 2 miles of the apartment building had shattered. Window panes, bullet-proof, glass figurines, everything.

The apartment at the center had been pulverized. All that was left was a pile of dust. The buildings on either side, though, survived with only broken glass.

We returned to the hotel. Carrie was tired by the time we got there. I found Franklin perched on the back a chair, watching the TV, probably one of the few in the area still functioning. Christie was awake and jumped up when Carrie walked into the room.

"Carrie! You're all right!", she yelled as she leapt off the bed and straight at her friend. Carrie, of course, was forced to drop me on the floor.

Carrie looked at the raccoon in her arms. "Christie? Is that really you? Oh God, I'm sorry."

"What? Are you going to tell me that you don't remember me being a raccoon either?"

Franklin glided down to the floor next to me. "What happened? Where are Terry and Marlin? Where's Marcus?"

I looked at my old friend. He was the only cardinal in our little group that I knew of. Palmer had told Van Cott...

"I don't know. Marcus... I think that Marcus is dead. Maybe Terry and Marlin."

"What happened?"

What was I supposed to tell him? The truth? Did I even know it? I tried to tell myself that Palmer had just been lying to Van Cott, trying to throw him off balance. But too many pieces fit. But if Palmer was Marcus, then why didn't he just tell us that? Why the charade?

Was Marcus the one lying? Was Palmer really dead?

I looked at my old friend as he waited for an answer. "I'm not even sure where to begin. I'm just not sure."

I saw a movement out the window, and a moment later, a large red tail hawk flew through carrying a single raccoon. The raccoon, covered in dust and only barely moving, was dropped to the bed as the hawk, never making an attempt to stop its forward momentum, slammed into the wall.

Part 18

We all sat stunned for a moment. The thud against the wall as the hawk everyone else here knew as Marcus slammed into the wall had been a bit of a shock.

I thought that he was dead.

Carrie went to him and looked him over while I jumped onto the bed to see the dust covered raccoon. It took me only a moment to realize that it was Terry. She was covered in red dust which was matted down in her fur from water and blood. She was alive, though.

Carrie gently picked up the hawk and set him on the bed. One wing was obviously broken, twisted in such a way that I doubted that it could ever be fixed. His head was covered in plaster from the impact, and his beak looked crooked. His feathers looked singed and his were talons covered in blood. But we could see his chest rise and fall ever so slightly. He was certainly alive, but almost as certainly about to die.

I looked up at Carrie. "Can you get some water and towels? Let's try and clean them up a little." She nodded and stepped into the bathroom. She came out a moment later with a small ice bucket full of water and some washcloths.

Franklin shifted human and started to clean off the bird he knew as Marcus. I helped Carrie with Terry. As we cleaned the dust and blood off, it became clear that Terry wasn't badly hurt. Most of the blood had flowed from small cuts that had already sealed themselves. She was breathing easily, steadily.

I looked at the hawk. Marcus or Palmer? Somehow, I hoped for the latter. It would make life so much easier to take if it was all a lie. I knew better, though. I was sure that it was Palmer. I looked around to the faces in the room. What do I tell them? Do I tell them that we all had lives that were taken away? That we were given a second chance? Or, perhaps we were punished for something?

That Palmer was not the God that we thought he was?

Terry started to thrash around, like she was having a nightmare. She twisted around and tried to slash at the bed. I moved and put a paw on her only to have her suddenly turn toward me. Then her eyes popped open.

For a moment, I saw a look of abject terror in her eyes.

Then the look cleared and was replaced by one of deep sadness. She gripped me hard and whispered, "Marlin's dead."

I let her keep her grasp around me, "How?"

"We... we were in the building, on the top floor. We heard voices, yours and someone else, on the bottom. Then Marcus flew in. I'm not sure how he got in. That skylight was closed."

She noticed the hawk on the bed for the first time. "Is he?"

I shook my head slightly. "No, but he won't make it. What happened to Marlin?"

She turned back to me. "Marcus told us to get out of the building before he flew down the stairwell. We waited a few minutes, not sure what to do. Then we heard some commotion downstairs, and the building began to shake. We ran to get out, when the place began to fall apart around us. Marlin pushed me out the back window as... as..." She shuddered, "The building just disintegrated to dust. I looked back to see Marlin"

She started to vomit as the memory surfaced. As she finished, Carrie picked her up and took her into the bathroom to clean her off, with Christie trailing behind. Franklin looked at me again. "What was Marcus doing down there?"

The hawk suddenly began shifting around on the bed. Franklin put a hand lightly on him to keep him from falling off. On of the hawks eyes opened and looked at me. "Jonathan. I must talk to you." He looked pointedly at Franklin, "Alone."

Franklin started to protest, then thought better of it. He shifted back to his cardinal form and hopped across the carpeted floor to the bathroom. He told Carrie to shut the door.

As it closed, Palmer looked at me. "Did you tell them?"

I shrugged, "Tell them what? I don't know what's going on."

"You can guess, I'm sure. And for the most part, you would be right."

"So we... we were all once people."

Palmer shook his head. "Not all of you. The ones that you taught, the animals that you brought into the fold, as it were, were always animals. But, yes, many of you were born human. Powerful humans."

"But I remember"

"It was all part of the plan, at least, your plan.", he wheezed a little, "When I left the Body, I knew that they would do something like this. They don't have much originality. You see, our Power is an odd thing. When Woods died, you felt it, didn't you?"

I thought back to that day, it hadn't been so long ago, really. Only a week, perhaps more, since he was killed. It was already feeling like a year. I nodded.

"Woods was once one of you. Some of you, the ones who were most powerful, retained some vestige of your power, even changed. In death, that power is released. Normally, it's nothing to be concerned about. A natural death causes very little ripple. An unnatural death causes a bigger one. When one with a Power is killed with a Power.... what happened tonight occurs."

Palmer shook his head a bit. He was still lucid, but he was physically fading. "They couldn't just kill me. I was too powerful for that. Changing, though, isn't like that. If they caught me off guard, they could have made me an animal, changed my memories and blocked me from ever remembering. I would die naturally, an animal in the woods."

"But we.... they didn't get the jump on you." I asked, hesitant.

"No. None of you ever really knew the true extent of my Power. Van Cott sent one or two at a time to take me out. He became obsessed. Last, he sent his own son. It was then that I realized that I had to kill Van Cott. Any man that would send his son, alone, on a hopeless mission with no purpose was too dangerous to have around. I had always suspected he was a little bent, and then I knew."

Palmer lay still for a few moments, catching his breath. I got closer. "What happened to Marcus?"

Palmer sighed, "Marcus was an old friend, one that knew what kind of trouble I was really in. Despite everything, it was only a matter of time before they got to me. He volunteered to become to hawk you knew as Marcus, as a way for him to escape a disease that was slowly killing him, and to give me a place to hide."

"You were inside Marcus all this time? Why didn't you just become an animal yourself?"

"I could have, but it wouldn't have fooled anyone sensitive to it for long, least of all the people searching for me. I had to be buried deeper, so deep that Marcus never noticed my presence until Woods died, when I came to the surface. By that time, I felt enough time had passed that I could get rid of Van Cott once and for all. While he was busy trying to figure out who you were, with the help of some old friends, I was getting ready to get rid of him"

He started gasping for air, and he stopped talking. I placed a claw lightly on his chest, "What can I do?"

"Nothing. My fight with Van Cott nearly killed me. My mind is slowly falling apart" He looked at me with one last look of intensity. "It's up to you, Jonathan. You can tell the others what you know, but it won't help. The memories are gone. Unfortunately, the same goes for your friend Christie. It was my interference that preserved what mind she has, but she'll never be fully human again."

He gasped once more. "Your future is yours, Jonathan. Do with it what you want."

I felt a wave of revulsion over me as Palmer died, once and for all.

Epilogue

It's been three months since Palmer died, and I still haven't told them all. I'm not sure how to tell them, or what it will change.

Terry knows, so does Christie and Carrie, but none of the others. I'd kept it from Franklin. I didn't know how he would take Van Cott being his father.

We had buried Marcus next to Woods. I think that Palmer would have liked that.

After a few days, we discovered that Christie had the power to shift herself human for a few hours at a time, much like I did. She contacted her family, but never told them anything about what happened. She and Carrie explained their disappearance by saying that they had left town for a few days and forgotten to tell anyone. Christie was able to remain human long enough to stay in Boston.

She still thought that we were mates, and over the last few weeks, I've become attracted to her myself. I'm not sure if it's something that Palmer did, but I'm slowly coming around to it anyway. Terry and I live back in Boston now ourselves.

For now, the rest of the animals that we knew are scattered. It's winter, and some are hibernating, some migrating. They are animals now, after all. We made a pack to meet again, come spring.

I think, then, I may tell them all the truth.