|Paradise story universe|
|Works by Jetfire on Shifti|
August 17, 2006
"I'm going to kill that Canuck," Adam grumbled to himself, kicking the sheets off again and trying to get comfortable. The chills were gone now, but the body aches were still there, as well as a slight fever making it feel too warm in the room. He stared at the clock next to his bed until his sleep addled eyes could focus, and saw it was only six in the morning. He groaned again and tossed in bed, trying to get back to sleep, thinking back to before the August Flu had laid him low.
It had all started the Sunday before. He'd logged on to IRC as usual, to find the channels already active. Jetfire and Malbi were talking about Flu's. It seemed Jetfire was wondering if anyone was feeling flu symptoms for some reason, and seemed extra eager to find out about everyone's health. Adam shook his head a bit, and got everyone into character for that night's RPG.
By the end of the evening, he was developing a headache and had to call the game off early. Strangely enough, as soon as he called the game off due to headache, Jetfire was shooting him a message:
<Narina_JF> Hey, you ok there? Coming down with the flu or something?
He seriously considered ignoring it and just crashing in bed, but they were too good of friends to not explain.
<GM'O'Doom> No, not the flu. It's just a headache is all. I was up too late all weekend, and need to get some sleep.
<Narina_JF> If you say so. If it gets worst, or you start noticing anything weird, please contact me ASAP.
The last comment was a little strange, even for Jetfire. Adam couldn't think of what Joey could do half a continent away, but he let it pass. He shut down and crashed into bed.
The next morning, the headache had grown into a full body ache with fever. When the alarm went off for work, he slapped it off and rolled right back over to sleep. His girlfriend, Candace, knocked on his door, and came in. One look was all she needed to declare him unfit for work. She ordered him to stay in bed all day, and he was too weak to disagree.
Monday and Tuesday and most of Wednesday passed in a fever addled blur, filled with strange dreams he couldn't remember.
By Wednesday evening, the worst seemed over and he was thoroughly sick of staying in bed. He hauled himself to the computer, hoping to participate in the game that night. A few minutes at the screen quickly dissuaded him of that idea as his headache roared back in force. He apologized for having to skip out, and shut down again.
A few minutes later, Candace was at his side again, checking his temperature and offering a warm drink.
"Joey left a message for you with me. Said you left too fast for him to send it direct," she said.
"He did? What does he want now?"
"A rather strange one, even for him. He said that 'Tomorrow will be important' and that 'if Adam notices anything weird tomorrow, to call him."
"Crazy Canuck... He's probably the reason why I'm sick in the first place, asking me if anyone had the flu and putting that idea in my head. I'll be fine, I think I'm almost over it. I just pushed myself too much tonight" Adam groaned, crawling back into bed, and dozed off.
He groaned again and returned to the present, staring at the clock again. He watched it tick over to 6:15 and gave up on sleep. Candace would be up and getting ready for work within the hour, but work was out of the question for him again today. He slumped into his computer chair and woke the machine up. There was an email from Joey waiting for him.
Subject: August Flu
I'm taking a risk with this, but if I'm reading the signs right I suspect I'm right. Otherwise, you'll just think I'm crazy as a loon, which isn't much different as before.
Anyways, if what I suspect is right, your flu is going to break tomorrow (Thursday), and you will start noticing some weird things. Just keep this picture handy till the end of tomorrow, and if nothing happens, you can taunt me for the rest of the year about it. If something does happen, please, call me ASAP (1.506.555.1256) and I can explain as best as I can.
Adam shook his head and wondered what his friend was talking about. 'Crazy as a loon' was certainly beginning to describe Joey's behavior.
He paged down to the attached photo. It was one Joey had shown before, of Joe sitting on a couch next to his parent's husky. It looked normal at first glance, but then his headache suddenly flared up to white hot intensity. Whimpering, he closed his eyes and waited for the pain to fade. It felt like an eternity, but eventually the pain faded away completely.
When he reopened his eyes, the picture had changed. The background, dog and couch were identical, but instead of Joey, there was now a white furred morphic goat sitting there in the same position Joe had been, horns pressing lightly into the couch's padding, thick fingers scratching the dog's ears.
"What the fuck?" Adam cried out, blinking and rubbing his eyes. The image stayed there. He tried reloading the image but found it was still the same.
"Adam? Are you up? What is it?" Candace asked, knocking on the door and peeking in.
He took a deep breath and shook his head. "I'm fine, I think. Joey's just messing with me is all. He photoshopped one of his Christmas pics and sent it to me."
Candace entered the room and looked at him, concerned. "He did? What did he do?"
Adam waved his hand to the screen. "That! Can't you see it?"
"See what? It's just Joe on the couch with Triton. What did he edit?"
He stared at her a long moment, after double checking that the goat was in plain sight on the screen. "You're in cahoots with him right? It's some prank you two cooked up last night?"
She moved in and felt his forehead. "What prank? We didn't arrange anything. Maybe you should lay back down. I'll call you in sick again."
"The GOAT! Can't you see the goat in the picture?" he shouted, slapping her hand away. "I know a goat isn't normal for him, but still, It's! Right! There!" He stabbed the goat's chest, rocking the monitor a bit.
Candace looked even more concerned and tugged his arm. "Come on Adam, I really think you should go back to bed. You've been burning up all week, and now you're seeing things. There isn't a goat there, it's just Joey."
He frowned and resisted at first, staring at the screen. Finally he gave a long sigh and let her pull him up and guide him back to bed. "Just try to get some more sleep, and if you're still seeing things, we can make a doctor's appointment for you for tomorrow," she explained, tucking him in. She flicked the monitor off and gave him another long look. He stared back, watching her slowly close the door.
He laid in the bed, listening as she prepared for work. She peeked in briefly before she left, but neither said a word. Finally, he heard the doors close and the car start up. Once he was positive she was gone, he got up again and turned the monitor back on. The goat man was still in the picture. He leaned close to the screen, practically pressing his nose to the glass, trying to find the signs of editing he was sure existed, but it all looked real, complete down to how the dog fur overlapped the thick fingers where the goat scratched the dog.
He sat back and rubbed his temples. He felt warm, but his headache was gone and he certainly didn't feel sick any more. In fact, his head felt clearer than it had been in a long long time. He saw Joey's phone number again, but decided to check something else first.
He logged on to IRC, and was surprised, but relieved to find Jetfire was in channel.
<^Chuckles> Hey Joey, you there? I need to talk to you about that fake pic you sent me.
There was a long pause before the terse response appeared.
<Jetfire> It's not fake. Call me and I'll explain.
<^Chuckles> WTF are you talking about? Of course it's fake! Photoshopped or something. Or a damn good goat costume. It's not nice to play tricks on a sick man. Especially a sick GM.
<Jetfire> Damn it Adam! it's not edited and it's not a costume. Just pick up the damn phone and call me.
He stared at the message a long moment, confused and just a little freaked out. He and Joe had been good friends for years, and in all the time he had known the Canuck, he could could count the number of times Joe cursed in channel on one, maybe at most two hands. The tone of the message was extreme for Joe.
Joe seemed to realize that too. His apology quickly followed.
<Jetfire> I'm sorry for the attitude. It's been a long morning so far. But trust me, it is NOT photoshopped and it is NOT a costume. If you need more proof, check these out.
A stream of web addresses, mostly pointing to pictures scrolled onto his screen. Curiously, he started clicking links.
The first few he recognized as old Fan Faire photos Joey had linked ages ago. The old non-goat Joey was even in a couple of them, but the main theme was definitely the minotaur that now dominated the pictures.
Another set was from last Christmas, pictures of Joe and his parents, all vaguely familiar to Adam, except for the goat opening presents where Joe had been.
Yet another link lead to an official looking site of the Mounties, linking to a biography of some higher up. Only instead of a human in the photo, a chestnut horse morph stood there, dressed in the red serge uniform of the police force.
The final link was a youtube link to a newscast about a professor looking for a mutant goat in some park. To Adam's surprise, the last part of the interview had the reporter interviewing said-mutant goat as if it was just a human. A tag under the image identified the goat as Joey. He rewound the video and watched it again, realization slowly sinking in that the movements were too natural, too fluid to be computer made or a costume.
Numbly, he picked up the phone and dialed the number. It rang a long time before it was picked up.
"Joey speaking," A gruff, stressed out voice answered.
"Joey? It's Adam. What the hell sort of trick are you pulling?"
The voice seemed to perk up a bit, but was still distracted by something else. "Adam? It's about damn time! Believe me, it's no trick. Actually I guess you could say it's the end of a long trick. Just a second." The voice became muffled, as it was directed to something, or someone else. "AT is there now? Good, I've got someone else to help, but she... yes SHE can help you out through this. I'll keep this line open too for you if you want. Don't worry, we're all here for you."
Adam scratched his side and frowned; all this wasn't like Joey at all.
"You still there Adam? Sorry, I'm so distracted but a lot is going on this morning. Never rains but it pours and all that," Joey said, returning to the line.
"Yeah I'm here. What the hell is going on?"
"Are you sitting? Well guess it doesn't matter. You know Karl's game, the Veil? Well, it's all real, more or less."
"Yeah right, a secret world of elves and gnomes and werewolves and vampires. Try the other one, Joe."
"No I said 'More or Less', remember?. As far as we can tell, no gnomes or elves or vampires, and the wolves are not were. But there are furres, many many furres, growing in numbers every year. By the end of today, probably half a million of us."
"A half million real life furres, and no one notices? No one notices the horse on the police force, or the vixen working the blackjack tables or whatever else they do."
"Actually AT is a dog, not a vixen. But yeah they aren't noticed. It's the Veil... well we call it the Reality Distortion Field, or RDF."
Joey took a deep breath to try and gather his thoughts. "Just like the Veil, when people are Fielded, they only see what they want to see; what they expect to see. If you had visited those sites yesterday, you would have just seen regular old humans there, just like everyone else sees. It's why no one reacts to us."
"Right, and today, that 'Field' just decided to fail for me?"
The voice on the other end of the line was strained, and becoming higher pitched. "Actually, yes, today the Field decided to fail on you. Every year today, the next wave happens, preceded by a flu. That's why I was watching you guys so closely for signs. When the 17th of August comes around, if you were sick, the Field is gone and you start changing."
"Whoa whoa whoa! Changes? What changes?"
"You don't think we were furres before the Field faded, do you?"
With those ominous words, Adam looked down at himself,. He felt like he was the coyote in the old cartoons, looking down and realizing the cliff ended twenty feet ago. Lifting his arm where he had been scratching an itch on his side, he noticed his pajama top was shredded, revealing a thickening pelt of brown fur. The back of the scratching hand had a similar pelt of brown fur, going down to fingers tipped in dark sharp claws.
Joe waited a long moment before speaking again. "I take it from your silence that you are changing? Can you tell what you are yet? It's unlikely, but did you get panda?"
Adam flexed his fingers a bit and watched the fur spread up his arm slowly. "No... not panda... I'm not sure, it may be bear though, a brown bear maybe."
"A bear? Well at least your diet won't need to change much. OK quick advice time, stay on your feet and walk around as much as possible. It helps your body adjust to the changes. Don't worry if anyone sees you, they're just going to see you like you were before. Maybe some slight differences, but nothing major. Don't forget to get dressed, people do see clothes. And you can't see them but going bare pawed is noticeable. Put your shoes on and the RDF somehow handles them. GOD DAMN IT!"
Adam heard pounding on the keyboard on the other end of the phone and a snarl of frustration. He waited a moment, hearing heavy breathing on the line before Joey spoke again. "Sorry, I've got a small emergency here. I need to go. I've sent you an info packet I got when I first changed. When you get a chance look it over, and if you have any questions, you know where I'm at."
The phone line abruptly went dead. On IRC, he watched Jetfire's nick change to JF_AFK without any further comments from Joey, and he heard a ding of a new email arriving. He ignored the email and shoved himself back from the desk. His hands seemed to echo the confusion he was feeling. One hand was still completely human, other than the darkening nails. The other was a full large brown furred bear paw, complete with claws that scratched the top of the desk as he pushed back.
He stood up and looked around the room a bit, the collar of his top beginning to itch. He could practically feel the fur crawling over his body. With an annoyed growl, he pulled the top open and wiggled out of it. He discovered, the fur had spread about halfway across his chest now, moving sideways. He could also feel it moving unseen down his leg.
"OK, let's see what he got me into," Adam growled to himself, limping to the bedroom door and out to the bathroom. It wasn't hard to walk, but his foot seemed to change more every time he put it down. By the time he reached the bathroom, he felt and heard the clicking sounds of claws on the floor.
He looked at himself in the mirror over the sink. It looked like someone had chopped the head and side off a bear and stuck his own head and arm on in their places. As he watched, almost as if it had been waiting for it, the fur circled around his neck began to spread up under his chin and over the back of his head, engulfing his hair. His mouth began to ache and stretch forward, forming into a muzzle, turning his nose up in the process. The fur covered the broad muzzle and cheeks and kept going up. His ears twitched and tugged a bit, reshaping into rounded forms covered in the same brown fur. The fur spread constantly upwards, past his eyes, over his forehead, until only a bear head stared back at him in the mirror.
"Wow," he mumbled to himself, reaching his unchanged hand up and rubbing the fur on his face. He opened his mouth wide, and saw the row of teeth similar yet different from what he had had before. He reached in and touched, then tried to wiggle a canine, finding it firmly in his jaw. When he lowered his hand, the back of it was coated with brown fur coming down from his arm.
Another call of nature asserted itself, and he took the few steps over to the toilet. He shoved his pajama bottoms down and was relieved that while he was fuzzier down below, it didn't look all that much different. He flushed the toilet and turned to the bathtub, lifting his changed leg onto the edge to look at it closer.
The leg was muscular, a bit longer than what would normally be on a bear, but otherwise very bear like as far as he knew. His foot looked completely like a bear paw. When he flexed his toes, he winced, feeling and hearing his claws scratch against the enamel on the tub. He set his foot back on the floor and discovered his other leg had fully changed. He twisted in the bathroom, inspecting his body, and found himself completely changed, complete down to the stubby tail.
His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten seriously in days. He pulled his bottoms back up finding them extra tight now on his body, and padded slowly to the kitchen, hoping his pants wouldn't rip.
In the kitchen, he inhaled deeply and almost stumbled backwards at the wall of scents that reached him. Scented dish soap mixed with the catfood mixed with miscellaneous smells from the garbage joined with the strong scents of cooling coffee and cold cuts from the sandwich Candace had made to take in for lunch. He gripped the door jamb tightly, claws digging into the drywall easily, and took a moment to classify and sort out the scents. Two scents dominated his desires at the moment; the coffee and the cold cuts.
He stepped further into the kitchen and jabbed at the button to turn the heater back on in the coffee machine. To his annoyance, the plastic cracked under his claw. He crouched lower and examined the switch, making sure the damage was superficial, then left the pot to warm up..
As he opened the fridge, another wall of scents hit him, but it didn't take long to fixate on the ones he most wanted. He pulled out the packets of meat and felt the urge to gulp them down right there. He growled to himself and forced his arm back down.
"I may be a bear now, but I'm still civilized," he growled to himself, reaching back into the fridge to grab a bottle of mustard. He carried the food to the counter, grabbing a bag of bread in passing. His claws easily cut into the plastic bread bag, letting him pull out a couple of slices. He spread a thick layer of mustard and then emptied all of the meat packets on the forming sandwich. Another dollop of mustard topped off the pile before he covered it with a second slice of bread.
Despite his grumbling stomach, he put the sandwich on a plate and filled a mug with the last of the coffee from the machine. He then carried both to the living room.
"Surely if something like this is happening to me, it'll have hit the news," he mused to himself, putting his lunch on the coffee table and grabbing the remote. He slumped into the couch and tried to ignore the groans it made under his weight. Taking the sandwich in his other hand, and remembering the coffeemaker, he lightly touched the remote buttons with a claw tip and began channel surfing.
An empty coffee mug, and a dirty plate later, he was forced to conclude two things. First, morning TV sucked. And second, if there was a pandemic of people changing into Furres, it wasn't hitting the news. Sure, now that he knew what to look for, or was un-Fielded as Joey had described it, he could see the furres almost everywhere; in the audience at the Price is Right, outside the studios of one of the morning shows, even in the audience on Oprah of all places. But there were no "Breaking News" interruptions screaming about how "People are changing into Furres! More News at noon!"
Grumbling in confusion, he turned off the TV and cleaned up his meal. He returned to the computer, and saw that Joey was still apparently away. Tapping the keyboard carefully at first, but with increasing confidence, he began to dig into the message links Joey had sent.
Hours later, and with a head pounding from information overload, he heard a car pull into their driveway.
"Adam! I'm home! I brought some chicken home for dinner," Candace shouted, slamming the door behind her. Adam sniffed the air and the mouth watering scent of fried chicken wafted to him. He hurriedly began shrinking and closing down windows, listening to her move around the kitchen.
He moved his mouse pad over the claw marks in his computer desk and looked around frantically for any other signs of his changed nature. He spied the torn pajama top and stooped down to grab it just as she knocked on his open door.
"Hey dear, feeling better?" she asked, staring straight at him.
He stared back, not believing she wasn't reacting to the big bear morph in the room. "I'm... much better now. One Hundred Percent even."
"Good good. We need you at work. The trays are really beginning to back up."
"Did you uhm... notice anything weird today? While you were out and about?"
"Not really. They let Crazy Eddie's out again, and he's back on the corner of Columbus, going on about the 'Invasion of the Furry People', but otherwise, it was a regular day."
Adam glanced at himself and made a mental note to avoid Eddie's corner. Candace went on without noticing. "How about you? Still seeing visions?"
"No... Not any more. Turns out Joe sent me one of those stupid animated GIF pics and it caught me off guard is all. Nothing weird at all around here."
"Good, good." She stepped in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, then backed out. "Mmm you need a shave," she said rubbing her lips. "Now put a shirt on and come get some dinner."
Adam stared at her retreating back, rubbing his cheek a moment. She had stared right at him, even touched him, and had not noticed anything amiss. His stomach rumbled again, and he grabbed a shirt, pulling it over his head and stretching it over his chest. Joey would have a lot of explaining to do, but first, there was food to eat....
"Adam! What happened to the kitchen wall?" Candace shouted.
... and drywall to repair.