User:Jetfire/Lifting The Veil

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Paradise story universe

Works by Jetfire on Shifti
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This is the second story about Joey's life in the Paradise setting.

Lifting the Veil

Author: Jetfire

After the Fan Faire, things settled back into my usual routine, and I was able to put thoughts of real furries out of my mind. That's the advantage of sleepy little cities; it's very easy to ignore the strangeness of the outside world if you wanted to. At least, it's easy to ignore until the strangeness sneaks up behind you with a Clue-By-Four and beans you from behind.

Anyways, life returned to normal. I woke up in the morning, got cleaned up, went to work, came home, logged into Everquest or EQII, logged onto my IRC servers, and just pretended everything was normal. Sure I would occasionally hear some discussions on Furnet that sounded TOO real to be role played. But I shoved it to the side and dismissed it. I printed out a photoalbum from the Fan Faire and glanced at it every so often, but everyone was human in there.

And then the Clue-By-Four hit me.

August 14, 2005, Fredericton

Summer illnesses SUCK. I don't know where this bug came from, but I wish it would go right back to where it came from. It's too damn hot to have a fever and headaches like this. If Adam doesn't wrap tonite's game soon, I'm going to have to crash anyways.... Oh screw it, I can't even think straight any more. Sent my apologies for leaving early, left the computer connected to get the logs and I'm outta here. Hope I can get some sleep.

August 16, 2005

Burned two sick days but I think I'm finally feeling human again. Damn what a bug that was. Fever, chills, aches, nausea, the runs. It was all I could do to keep fluids in me. If mom wasn't away taking care of Grandpa, I probably would have called her. It's almost gone now at least, down to just a nagging headache and a somewhat cooler fever. Not sure if I'll call in sick tomorrow or not yet. I probably should change the bed, but that can wait. Let everyone know I was mostly back among the land of the living and left it at that. Gonna go zonk out again.

That's funny, looks like the bull-man is back in my Fan Faire photos. Too sick to think of that now.

August 17, 2005

Wow.... I'm not sure where to begin. So much has happened that I'm not sure how to get it all out. Either this is all a weird fever dream, and I'll wake up any minute now, or it's real, and tomorrow's going to be very interesting. In any case, I'm gonna try to get this all down. It may be illegible tomorrow, but it'll be down on disk. At least it's good practice for relearning how to type. I might even be passable at work tomorrow, if I go. You never realize how useful the pinky is until it's gone. I've gotta stop getting ahead of myself like that.

Anyways, the beginning. I woke up early this morning, feeling about 75%. The chills, the fever and most of the aches had faded away. But my stomach still felt uneasy, and I had a strong ache in my temples. I showered, and tried to get ready for work, but couldn't go on. Hating to do so, I called in sick again, but felt too restless to stay in bed. I sat at my computer and rubbed my head a bit, trying to squeeze the ache out. My gaze fell onto the photo album I had left open ages ago, and my jaw dropped. It was opened to a group shot of the Dev's, but right smack in the middle of the group, slightly to the back, was the tall minotaur dressed in jeans and a fan faire t-shirt as if nothing was wrong.

I rubbed my eyes and stared again, but this time the picture stayed constant. No sign of the human Absur, just that minotaur. I switched to the computer and brought up the rest of the pictures that I had downloaded from the camera. The original file now showed Absur the bull instead of Absur the human. I flicked through the rest of the set, ignoring a stiffness in my fingers, and discovered that he had been replaced in ALL of the pictures I had of him. Not only that, but a few of the later photos clearly showed a lioness morph in the background now. When I reached the costume contest, the brown haired girl in armor, was now an armored tawny lioness, complete with tail swishing behind her. No one else had changed.

I couldn't believe it. It had to be photoshopped or something and someone had broken into my apartment, past the chain and replaced the album too. It didn't make much sense, but I couldn't think of any other ways to explain it at the time. Then I started digging deeper.

I started going through the message boards and finding other attendee's photo archives. And discovered that in each and every one of them, if there was a picture of Absur, or the brown haired girl, they were now replaced with the bull-man and lioness. Someone had even gotten a picture of the flare bartender using a handlike foot to flip a bottle behind his back. If this was a hack job, it was the most wide spread useless hack I had ever seen. And yet, there they were, plain as the nose on my face, morphic animals in the pictures and not a single comment about it.

Comments jogged my memory a bit. It was a long shot, but surely someone else had noticed the strangeness of the pictures or the editing of them. I ignored the intensifying headache and the stiffness in my fingers, and started paying more attention to the boards the pictures were linked on, and various comments on the pics themselves. Two months after the Faire, they weren't getting much traffic any more, but even the old ones were curious. Most were completely innocent, no one noticed the furres. But there were a couple cryptic comments scattered here and there, that didn't make much sense, unless you could see what I was seeing. And there were holes in the conversations, like parts were edited out, as if to hide something. It wasn't much, but I picked that up as a sign that others may also be seeing what I was seeing, and clung to it like a life preserver in a sea of chaos.

I finally gave up the computer and began to pace my living room a bit, mind spinning in confusion. The aches were beginning to return in force, as if the flu had just gone for reinforcements and was back now. Either that, or I had finally fully and completely cracked and imagining all this while thrashing in a straight jacket in some padded room.

The sound of a lawnmower reminded me that there were people other than me out there. My mind cooked up the idea that everyone might be changing into animals, and I had to quickly confirm to myself that that wasn't so. A stumble to the window (my legs were hurting too much to walk any faster) showed a perfectly normal person riding the lawnmower near my apartment building. The wind also wafted up the scent of gasoline tinged cut grass which almost smelled tasty.

I slumped down into my futon next to the window and stretched my feet out. I burped to ease the pressure building in my stomach and tried to get a grip on what was happening. I was just convincing myself that it was a fever nightmare, when I put my hand to my forehead and felt somethings that should not have been there. My exploring fingers felt two pointed stubs coming out of a pair of bulges just above my eyes.

I stood up and nearly fell flat on my face. My legs refused to work like I was used to. I used the futon and the window ledge to pull myself up and mentally forced my legs to work how I was used to them working. It hurt more than I thought it would, but I managed to make it into the bathroom and look into the mirror to see a stranger's face looking back at me.

A pair of dark ringed horns were slowly growing above my eyes, curling up and over my skull. My ears were perking up as well, just behind the horns and fuzzy with white hairs. My nose was twitching upwards and swelling larger, pulling and clefting my upper lip. My five day growth beard was growing longer, and whiter. In fact, all of my hair was losing its colour, going pure white.

My mind spun in place for a long moment. Who are you supposed to call when you are changing into an animal? Who would even believe you? I finally settled on someone. It was a long shot, but I hoped the pictures weren't lying to me now. He was the only one I knew how to contact in any case. Besides which, he was on the other side of the continent from me. Plenty of time to run to the wooded park behind my apartments if the pictures were lying.

I stumbled from the bathroom back to my computer. My ankles flatly refused to touch the ground now, and my middle toes seemed to get caught on the carpet. I refused to look down to see why. I caught myself on the edge of the desk and eased into the chair. I switched to the EQ message boards, found Absur's name, and started a private message. My fingers were stiff, refusing to bend as easily as I was used to. I could see my nails were blackening, not the flat black of death, but a healthy shiny black. I was having trouble feeling the keys with the tips of my fingers, my index and middle fingers felt thicker than they should have been, while I was having a harder and harder time controlling my pinky, or even reaching keys with it. Still, I managed to type out a message that was mostly legible.

I looked at the clock on the corner of the screen and cursed. It was 1000 my time, which meant it was only 0600 for him. And those Dev's were notorious for starting their days late. It would be hours before he got into the office, by which time there might only be a confused goat staring at the screens. Still, he was my only hope. I started to click SEND when my churning mind hooked a few other things together and made me realize another difficulty. It pointed out how hard it was to make even the couple of lines I was about to send. A typed conversation via IM's would be increasingly difficult, even if I could bring myself to type in l33t. There was only one solution. I clicked back into the message body and very carefully added my phone number.

Ed Note: For completeness, I dug up the original message and am including it here:

Subject: HJerlp!!!!

Body: YTou nmeed to help me. I knmow what you are. Moo. Sometrhjing is happening tro me and I dont know whjatr to do. Call XXX.XXX.XXXX (Phone number removed for privacy)

I clicked SEND and started to wait. My nails had visibly thickened and covered over the entire tips of my fingers, except for my pinky. The littlest finger was even smaller, a joint gone already. I closed my eye and mentally started willing the changes to stop, but even with my eyes closed, I could feel my back and chest itching, hair thickening to fur. There was no stopping it.

The phone rang me out of my trance and nearly out of my chair. I knocked the mouse to clear the screen saver and saw that barely 30 minutes had gone by; a short enough time, but long enough for my chest to be covered in a thick white coat of fur. I fumbled with the phone handset and managed to pick it up before voice mail. The handset clunked against my horns before I managed to get it near my ears and relatively close to my mouth which now took up a decent part of my lower field of vision.

I started to say “Hello?” when my throat tightened strangely. Instead of the word, I let out a loud “Neeeaaaahhh!”

“Saroc?" the voice said, confused a moment before putting pieces together.

"Don't drop the phone! Just try to stay calm and everything will be fine. I need you to think carefully on what you want to say, remember how you moved your mouth and tongue to make the sounds, and it will come.” The voice on the other end of the phone was deeper than I remembered, but it was familiar. His words slowly sunk through the waves of fear in my mind and I built up the nerve to try again.

“Abb-baaaah!” I tried again unsuccessfully, and followed it up with a frustrated bleat.

He took my attempts with a surprising amount of patience and humour, which I later appreciated more than at the time. “True, music doth sooth the savage bleat, but I'm not sure Abba would qualify. Lets focus on getting your voice settled. Please, try it again.”

It took a few more times for me to relax and regain control enough to make understandable sounds, but Absur was very patient with me. He ran me through the alphabet as I gained more control over my mouth and speech, and almost started me on Do-Re-Mi before I could get out the main question on my mind.

“What's happening to me?”

The bull-man let out a long low sigh that verged on a moo, and I was sure the pictures weren't lying any more. “In a sentence? We don't know. But it's happened to all of us. All of us who Changed that is.” The capital on Changed was clear in his voice.

“We aren't sure when exactly it started, but some of us are doing estimates and number crunching based on the census we've been able to take so far and the patterns we've seen. Our best guess is it started around 20 years or so, probably with one person changing, and it seems to double every year since. Last year, we were around a hundred thousand. With you and the others changing today, we'll be a couple hundred thousand. Next year, we'll probably break half a million globally.”

My feet were still aching. I looked down and watched as my middle toes stretched, and swelled, the rest of the toes shrinking back along my foot. My mind was having a hard time keeping up throwing up too many flags and questions to keep track of to deal with what was happening to my body. I hid my changing feet under the desk and picked the latest flag. “You... you know what day it happens?”

“Yeah, every year, on the 17th of August, the next wave of Changes occurs, after a few days of flu-like symptoms. That's why I was in so early today; in case some confused Changee was looking for help. How did you know to contact me? I was watching for posts on the boards, maybe emails from coworkers since a couple have been suspiciously sick the past few days. I certainly didn't expect a message direct to me, moo'ing at me at that.” He gave another very realistic sounding moo to finish his statement.

My body was still aching painfully, and itchy all over now, but talking was certainly helping to keep my mind from spiraling away in confusion. “It was the Fan Faire of all things. That first night, outside Quark's. I don't know if it was because I was bone tired, or the flashing lights or what, but I kept seeing you as a minotaur out of the corner of my eye all night long. Drove me nuts all weekend long,” I bleated in nervous laughter and kept going in a rush, “Then later on I started seeing that lioness, and finally at the bar, there was that chimp... The trip was fantastic, but by the end of it, I was sure I was losing my marbles. In fact, I'm not all that sure I haven't lost them.” My bleating laughter started again and quickly veered towards hysterical.

Absur moved quickly to try and calm me back down. “Easy, easy, you aren't going crazy. No one is losing their marbles or anything else.” He smartly left out the 'unless we all lost them together'. Instead, he guided us back to the Fan Faire. “You must have seen Melody, from Colorado. A sweet girl, she changed just last year. And Zee is just incredible. He's one of the oldest changed I know personally. Says he changed in '97, and as you sort've saw, he's got a lot of practice and skills with all four hands.”

My feet stopped aching, but I was scared to look at them. My shorts itched like crazy, and I had to wiggle a bit in my chair as something I didn't want to think of demanded more room. “How does it work? Why did you look human every time I looked at you? Why doesn't anyone notice Zee's feet-hands?”

“Honestly? We have no clue, just like we have no clue about what is causing this change in the first place. There are lots of theories but it's all guesswork. There's a group out in Oxford, in England, poking at it, but we haven't really gotten the right experts yet. We don't even know what the right experts would be. Best we can tell, there is some sort of... I dunno, some sort of field around everyone and maybe even everything on Earth. It makes everyone see what they expect to see. So instead of seeing something right out of WoW, they see me as I used to be.”

“But the pictures! How could that change the pictures?”

“That's why I said it seems to work on things too. Film, photographs, even blood tests, they all still show you as human, unless you are seen by another Change'd. Either your mind or the field helps fill in the missing pieces if you are bigger, or smaller than you were before, but at least it protects us and lets us go back to our normal lives. Oh! Don't think you can go out there naked though; clothing seems to bleed through. If you are naked, people see a naked human. If you are dressed, they see a human dressed like you were. Sometimes other elements of your form bleeds through too, but we haven't figured out the rules, or if there are rules.”

As he spoke, I could here him tapping away at a keyboard. I looked at my own hands and thought of his hands, and hoped I could regain my dexterity enough to keep typing. In the pictures his hands looked similar to what mine were becoming, and he clearly was still touch typing and working as a developer even. “Oh yeah, that reminds me, you were male before right? Is Mr. Happy still there?”

“Whaaah?” The strangeness of the question snapped my attention back to him. I dropped my free hand down and was reassured by a bulge in my shorts. “It is....”

There was more typing, like he was paging down on a document. “Good, good. That's one section we don't need to go into.” He heard me draw a breath to ask a question and cut me off. “You can read about it online. I'm sending you a list of sites that other Changed have set up to help each other out. They're a bit rough, but we refine them a bit more every year. Knowing you, I'm sure you'll have many suggestions once you settle back to normal.”

There were a few mouse clicks in the background, and more paging down. “Do you mind telling me where you are? I can check our lists and see if there's anyone near you. I know you may not want to meet a stranger just yet, but if there is someone nearby, it could be good for you later on. At least better than someone on the other side of the continent.”

I hesitated a moment before figuring I might as well go all the way. “I'm in Fredericton, it's a city in New Brunswick, East coast of Canada.”

He mumbled to himself, and I heard the tapping of keys. “New Brunswick? Lets see.... I'll be glad when we get this up on Flickr. Doesn't look like we have anyone in New Brunswick itself. It's a small place right? What's around it?”

“What's around it?... Oh! Maine, Quebec, P.E.I., err I mean Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and I guess you could say Newfoundland. Oh there are some France owned islands too, but no one pays them any attention.”

“Right, lets see. There's someone in Boston, guess that's too far. How about Montreal? Got 2 in there... one in Quebec City, one in Portland, err no wait they moved.”

“Those are all too far away to be much use to me anyways.”

“Here we go, this must've been misfiled, someone in Saint John's. That's your capital city right?”

“No, Saint John's is the capital of Newfoundland. There is a Saint John in New Brunswick, but it's not the capital”

“Right right, ok here's one, in Halifax. That close enough for you? I don't see anyone else. Our resources are rather sparse in that region it seems.”

“That's the story of these provinces. Halifax should be fine I guess. It's still four hours away, but still doable.”

“Excellent, I'll send you erm... Ok I'll send you AT's contact info, and let errm... them know there's another Changed in your region. I'd suggest you read up on that section I hinted at before you contact AT.”

While I was wondering what was so special about AT, I heard a knock a knock over the phone. Absur clicked the phone off speaker and started talking to someone I couldn't hear clearly. I began to get a sinking feeling as he spoke to me again.

“I hate to leave you like this, but something has come up. Just normal something at that, Firiona Vie has crashed and we need to look over the logs. Won't take me long to handle, but I'll need to go. Before I do, what's left?”

There was more clicking of the mouse and some mumbling I barely made out. “Told you about the field, IM'ed you the links, found AT for you... Oh yeah, can you tell what you are now? Sounded like a goat or a sheep or something earlier.”

I looked down at my chest, now covered in thick white fur, then touched my head, feeling the horns. I couldn't tell for sure, but they seemed to sweep back a bit, about half a foot long. “Goat I think.”

There was a bit more typing and mouse clicks and I realized he was probably looking up the species. “You're lucky you found me then, we'll probably have similar experiences. At least similar enough that I can give you some tips about what to expect. Now lets see...” There was creaking over the phone as he leaned back in his chair to gather his thoughts.

“First of all, your hooves. Right off the bat, you'll probably fall around a lot, unless you were a ballerina dancer before. Walking on your toes takes a bit to get used to, but you will. Not sure if it's the field or just our adaptability or what, but we don't have trouble walking after the change once we get the hang of it. Just try not to think about it too much and let it happen naturally.

“Which brings me to number two. Don't fight your instincts, especially with your tail. They may be newish to you, but they tend to know what is good and what is bad.

“Now eating. Generally, our systems seem to have a bit more flexibility than normal animals. It may not taste particularly good, but many of us hoof-types can handle some meats without too much hassle, and carnivores like the cats can handle some plants. Best thing to do is to trust your nose. For the most part it can tell you what's fine for you to eat and what to avoid. That said, don't ALWAYS trust your nose. I know from personal experience, some stuff seems perfectly fine according to the nostrils, but they taste nasty, give you horrible gas, or just don't taste good coming back up. And yes, we have to eat most of our food twice, especially if you're experimenting in the forest or something. We're ruminants so we need to have two goes at most of our meals. Just eat when you get hungry and let your body handle the rest. The first few times it feels weird to bring it up, but it'll be second nature soon enough. Get used to people thinking you are chewing gum all the time."

"And once you have an account set up, check out the hoofer's boards. Lots of pointers about what's tasty and what to avoid, and some tips to make the cud tastier and stuff. Like carrying a bottle of hot sauce with you and take a quick shot with your cud for an extra kick.”

The line went silent for a moment, then the chair creaked again and his tone shifted. “Sorry for the huge data dump there; it's a lot to take in and I know there are things I've forgotten, and things you probably don't even remember me saying now. It's a huge shock and such, but as long as you try not to let it freak you out too much, you'll be fine. Just remember, thousands of us have been through this already, and we're getting through it fine. You even saw three of us 'in the wild' so to speak, so you can see we're still working completely normally, and you will be soon too.”

Over the phone line, I could hear the sounds of him gathering things up and preparing to leave. There was a knock at his door and he bellowed “One more minute!”

“I need to go. If you want, I'll give you another call tonight to make sure you're doing OK. OK?”

I hated the idea of being left alone like this, but I couldn't keep him on the line any longer. “I... I think I'll be fine. But a check up call would be good. Remember I'm four hours ahead of you. Maybe around six your time?”

“Six is fine. Take it easy Saroc.”

“Call me Joey,” I laughed nervously at that. “Guess I'm lucky I didn't become a kangaroo with a name like that.”

He chuckled as well. “Sure Joey, I'm Aidan. I'll call you in a few hours.”

The line went dead and my fears came back. I twitched my ears and listened to the mower and the children outside, unaware of how the world was changing around them. Unaware even of a secret world hidden by an unknown force that veiled them from sight. My mind started to think about what Aidan's story implied.

The normal world being veiled from the stranger elements of the real world was surprisingly similar to an RPG setting I played with a group every week. I even had a werewolf character in that setting who hadn't realized he was a werewolf until his veil had been lifted. Now, in real life, I saw there was a real veil in the world, hiding the strange. I briefly wondered if any of my other friends had changed before me and how I could find out without making them think I was crazy. None of my closest friends had acted suspiciously that I could remember, but I wasn't looking for the signs then either.

From the corner of my eye, I scanned over my bookshelves, and realized how common the invisible theme was in recent literature and films. My mind began to draw parallels to what happened to me with the Wizards of Hogwarts, the Young Wizardry wizards, the vampire societies in the Underworld series and the Blade series, and even to the SG program in Stargate. I wondered how many Changed were involved with those series and movies and shows, then wondered if maybe it was the Field itself subtly influencing us to prepare for a Changed world. And what sort of field could do everything Absur had described to me? Then I realized that while the thoughts were comforting, I was just delaying the inevitable.

I was different now, and it was time to face that fact.

I started by taking stock of my hands. My nails had blackened and thickened greatly over the tips of my fingers, looking and feeling more like hooves than nails or claws. My index and middle fingers had also swollen a bit, enough to feel different and longer, with a rough bit of fleshy padding between them. My ring finger had shrunk down almost to the size my pinky had been, and the pinky itself was shrunk down to its last joint on the side of my hand, like a dewclaw I realized. I still had a thumb, but it was the most normal looking of my fingers. It had a thicker nail, but not as hooflike as my other fingers were. My palms were dark, hairless, and very rough, almost like sand paper. I bent my fingers as much as I could and experimented trying to slide my palm across the smooth desk and discovered my palm barely slid.

Starting at the back of my hands and moving all over my body, was a coating of straight fur. As I rubbed it, I found there was a thinner layer of fur underneath the coarser outer fur. It reminded me of something, but I couldn't place it at the time. Later, I realized it reminded me a lot like the fur of my parent's husky; a double layer of fur well suited for colder climates, but currently in its thinner 'summer' mode.

My mind started spinning again, and I had to change mental topics to anything else. Carefully, I went back to the computers and put my fingers over the keys. Typing was going to be a challenge. I never realized how often I used my pinky until it was missing. And my fingers were just big enough to mash more than one key if I wasn't extra careful. Not to mention, my nails; hoof tips didn't give much in the way of tactile sensation. It didn't take long before the left side of the space bar and the '8'-keys on my laptop keyboard were 'murdered by hoof'. I switched to my other computer, with it's more durable keyboard, before I did more damage to my poor laptop.

I found Absur's message to me, and a short list of sites. His message indicated how most of them had a private area for registered Changed accounts hidden behind their normal looking front pages. There were instructions for how to get to the private areas, what to do to 'prove' you are Changed to gain access (usually a rec from a previously Changed member) and a brief summary of what the site was about.

I picked one he indicated would be a good starter site, and got a 'Bandwidth Exceeded' message. I bleated in annoyance and started picking around the rest of the sites. Judging by the speed they were loading, they too seemed to be under a lot of strain today. Other than an occasional picture of a Changed, there was nothing in the public areas to indicate these sights were special. I began to carefully fill in the forms to set up accounts. I had to chuckle at one of the site's verification method. It asked what you saw in a picture of a cute looking black mare morph. From what Aidan said, to everyone else she'd be just a normal human, but the Changed would see her real form.

I was on the third registration form when my stomachs reminded me that they were ready to get to work. And to do that, I had to finish my self exam.

I finished the form off, and gripped the edge of the desk. I took a deep breath to mentally brace myself, pushed back, and bleated as my feet exploded in pain. I had been so busy trying to ignore my lower body, that I hadn't paid attention to where my legs were. Out of habit I had hooked them behind the wheels of the chair, and nearly ran them over with my shove off. It felt like I had banged the top of my foot and stubbed most of my toes at the same time.

Wincing a bit, I started to untangle my feet. My legs jerked and twitched the chair while I tried to sort out what was where. When I finally got them cleared, I pushed back again and took a look at what was causing me so much trouble. I still had thighs, though they were a bit shorter than before, forcing me to sit more towards the front half of the seat. My shins similarly seemed shorter, but I wasn't positive of it.

The biggest difference was at my ankle and feet. I no longer had a heel I could see; it was buried in the same double layer of fur that covered my legs like it covered my arms and chest. My foot itself was rounder and more suitable to hold me up like a lower leg. Two of my toes had swollen longer and larger, their nails swollen into a dark cloven hoof. Two other toes had thick nails as well, but had shrunk and reoriented behind my foot, as dewclaws. Of the last little piggy, I was forced to conclude he had finally gone all the way home, since there was no sign of him on either foot. I carefully leaned forward and reached down to rub the hooves. I felt how between and behind the actual hooves was a thick pad of skin, as rough, if not rougher than my palms.

Thinking that wasn't so bad, now that I finally saw them. I sat up, and reached back for the last, and newest element of my body. My probing fingers slid through the fur on my lower back until it reached a sudden bend. Probing around the area with a finger, I felt it twitch and waggle a bit; my tail, stubby though it was, was definitely there.

I could have pushed and pulled myself to the kitchen while still sitting in my chair, but that would not have done me any good. I couldn't live my life in the chair, at least not while I was in a fourth floor walk-up. It was time to relearn how to walk.

Later, I would read how most Changed, for whatever reasons, kept active while their bodies changed, which seemed to help them handle it easier. I wish Absur had mentioned that to me. I had sat in a chair during the entire change process, trying not to think of it, while he told me what I was being drafted into. So by the time I started moving again, I had to learn everything at once.

Anyways, I tried to keep Absur's suggestion to trust my body as I prepared to stand. I gripped the edge of the computer desk, took a deep breath and pulled myself out of the chair. Thirty years worth of instincts and habits fought against hours-old Alien Space Bat-supplied instincts, and neither side won. With a bleat of terror, my legs collapsed out from under me, sending me crashing me against the desk. I heard a scary clink moments before my nose slammed into the desk and saw stars. I let go and slipped back down to the floor dazed.

The stars cleared quickly, and from the floor I began to take note of what had happened. The keyboard tray lay across my lower legs, having been pulled out of its rails on my way down. The keyboard and trackball lay nearby, the trackball's ball nowhere in immediate sight. My monitor was tilted at a different angle than before, and there was a scratch in the plastic around the glass. I added the scene together and concluded on the way down, I had bumped the monitor, horns scratching the frame and clinking against the glass.

The end of my nose felt wet and I could smell something I couldn't quite place. When I touched it with the back of my hand, I saw red spots on my fur; I had given myself a nose bleed.

The lesson was learned. Don't try to do too much at once, and don't practice near expensive equipment. My bloody nose stopped quickly enough, though my furry forearm ended up a shade of red. I hoped that blood would wash out of fur.

Deciding to make my next attempt near a softer target, I twisted around on the chair mat, and dragged myself onto the carpet next to the futon. I faced it, gripped its frame, and tried to stand again. It took a few more attempts, but I was soon holding the top of the futon in a death grip, and standing on two quivering hooves. My hooved toes spread a bit to take my weight, and I began to feel the threads of the carpet with what seemed like, and probably used to be, the balls of my feet.

The first actual step nearly sent me back to the floor. Slowing myself down, I tried a few more times, with similar near collapses. Even imagining I was walking on my toes didn't work; my main mind was telling my body to move in ways it no longer could, and the new wiring couldn't dominate. I had to get my main mind out of the way. I scanned around my room for ideas, and settled on my bookshelves. I began to read the spines and recall their plots, as if I was picking out something to read, and as an afterthought, tried to take a step. It was extremely shaky, but it worked. Keeping my hand on at least one solid piece of furniture and my mind on book plots, I stepped slowly towards the kitchen, gaining confidence with each step.

I stopped at the kitchen doorway and stared down. The linoleum wasn't neither waxed, nor wet, but it was a much smoother surface than the carpet, and I wasn't sure how I'd handle it. Still, what little food I had was in there, so I had to brave it one way or another. I lifted my hoof, set it on the smooth floor and started putting weight down on it. I had a momentary scare as my hooves slid a bit, then split, but then my hoof pads touched the floor and I stuck fast. I moved my other foot in and checked my footing, finding it as solid in there as I was on the carpet, if not more solid. I began to giggle-bleat to myself as another piece fell into place in my mind. Slippery surfaces would not be a problem for me again; I was as sure footed as any other mountain goat. Well any other mountain goat walking on two feet.

I walked over to the fridge and opened the door. Cold air wafted over me, feeling surprisingly nice. I began to take a look at what I had and dismayed a bit. A week's illness plus a bachelor lifestyle equaled sparse pickings in the fridge. I grabbed a cup of yogurt, an apple and a can of pop, all of which I usually had for my lunches, and closed the door. I leaned against the sink and crunched through the apple, thinking and watching the normal world going by outside. It began to sink in that I would never be part of that particular world again. It sent a shiver of fear down my spine, soon replaced with a bit of excitement. If this field worked as well as Absur said, there were interesting times ahead.

I opened the can of pop, toasted the world and sipped the can carefully. I grimaced and spit the bubbly liquid into the sink. It tasted fine, almost like I remembered, but the sizzle was too much for me to handle. I swapped the can for a glass of water and finished my makeshift meal.

Surprisingly, some degree of normality did start to return after I ate. Part of it was numbness from information overload, but the majority of it was excitement about learning what others had learned about this Change. I wasn't ready to test the distortion field outside yet, not until I knew more about what others had done and how it worked. I returned to the computers and settled down for the rest of the day and evening.

I logged on to IRC to let my friends know I was still mostly alive. I tried to think of a way to subtly ask if anyone else was Changed, but drew a blank. Some groups I could probably have come straight out and asked without them thinking I was too crazy, but I decided to stay discrete for now. I begged out of the role playing game for the night (somewhat ironically, it was that werewolf game I mentioned earlier I was skipping) to spend time going through the sites Aidan sent me.

The newbie site was back online by then, and I was able to start seeing what other Changed were like. The Reality Distortion Field Guide was informative, but confusing. Clothing and footwear were visible to others, but footwear somehow phased out so you left animal tracks. Even most sounds either got ignored, or translated somehow so hoof clops didn't get traced to you. People watching you saw a human acting like a human, even if you were typing short a finger or two. No one knew how it worked, but it worked, and let them... us, function in society without being dissected in secret government labs.

When I came across the more extreme examples of Changed, my muzzle dropped and I couldn't believe what I read. I reread it a few times, and suddenly Aidan's hesitation over my local contact was clear. I used what lists were available to check around, and confirmed that AT was the closest known Changed to me. I considered not getting in touch with him(her?), then berated myself for hesitating. Gender-Bending wasn't contagious, and a somewhat local Changed would help. I sent him-her a message.

Aidan called me later than expected, but I barely noticed the time. We started with a check on how I was doing, and quickly moved on to other things. I told him more about my limited viewings back at the Fan Faire, and he shared some stories of some incidents he'd been through since he changed. We've been talking all night long, while I've been writing this up. Even if this isn't a fever dream, and I wake up tomorrow as a mountain billy morph still, I think I'll be able to handle leaving my apartment and going to work. But if I don't wrap this up soon, I won't get any sleep at all. I finally got Aidan off the line and will be crashing as soon as I save this.

August 18, 2005

OK, there were a few things that people neglected about the RDF and how it works. Like how sometimes it doesn't cover hair colour and facial hair. That was an unexpected surprise.

I woke up feeling fine, and even thinking everything had been a dream, until I lifted my head and gave my neck a bad wrench. I twisted around a bit and finally managed to pull my horns loose from where they'd gotten jammed in the gaps between the boards of my bed's headboard. I tried not to take it as a bad sign, but just a reminder of how different I was now.

Cleaning up was different, to say the least. I had read some tips from other hoofers, but I didn't have enough towels, nor hair dryers nor time to handle a full shower. I made due as best I could, got dressed, nearly tearing my shirt on my horns in the process, and finished the rest of my morning routine. The RDF, whatever it really is, worked just as Aidan promised it would. As soon as I slipped my hoof in the heel of the shoe and tied it up, the shoe disappeared. I couldn't feel it on my hoofs at all, not even as an extra little weight. Yet when I reached for the ghost shoelaces and tugged the air, the shoe snapped back into reality. I repeated the process a few times just to confirm it, then left them on.

I tucked my earphones under my horns and over my ears, grabbed my backpack and trotted out of the apartment, to meet my first challenge.

I think I mentioned before that I live on the fourth floor of a walk up. Which means a stairwell with about forty switchbacked steps to the door outside. I stood at the top of the stairwell and looked down nervously. The heights didn't bother me as much as the fact that I hadn't handled steps before. I gripped the railing and hummed along with the song on the radio to distract my mind, and trotted down. My balance didn't falter at all the entire way down.

I used my momentum down the stairs to push through the door and out into the sunny parking lot. I trotted across the pavement to the bus stop, tugging the headphones off one ear to listen to the sound of my hooves and to listen in case there were any shocked gasps or screams or anything else. I looked around, certain someone must be able to hear it, but the few workers I saw, and other people getting ready for work didn't give me a second glance. The Mighty Mountain Billy Morph walked out in public and no one so much as blinked. I did glance down a few times, expecting to see hoof tracks, but the pavement was too dry and clean to leave them.

As I got on the bus and flashed my pass, I had my first real scare. I didn't know many people in the apartments around me, so them not recognizing me was one thing. But the bus drivers have been picking me up at this stop all year and they knew me by sight. So when the driver did a double take as I climbed aboard, I froze.

“Something wrong?” I asked nervously, gripping the railing and ready to bolt.

She smiled at me and shook her head. “Nah not at all. What happened to you? Did you lose a bet or something?”

I finished climbing on board and sat sideways on a bench seat near the driver. “What do you mean?”

She put the bus in motion and called back, “The bleached hair and the beard. It's a new look for you. I barely recognized you.”

I reached up and rubbed the beard under my muzzle, then rubbed my horns. “Errm yeah, something like that,” I confirmed, surprised that that had bled through. I wracked my mind for an explanation that would explain something I couldn't clearly see myself, and decided the lost bet worked well enough. A beard in 5 days was harder to explain, but hopefully I could wave it off.

Work isn't far from where I live. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that I lived at the top of the valley, and work was at the bottom, I would probably walk it. Now that I think of it, maybe I will start walking it it. Going down the hill in the bus did seem to trigger some latent desires...

Anyways, I got off at my stop and crossed the gravel parking lot to the employee entrance. I clanged my hooves on the metal pad just inside to knock the dust off, changed my shoes and went back to my cubicle. With the high heels others wear around the office, my least concern was the sound of hooves on tiles.

My appearance did cause a bit of a stir, but the lost bet story worked well. It was a simple story and I tried not to elaborate too much so I could keep it straight. I was glad I had phoned in some of my sick days, so people had heard I was sick and not just read it, otherwise they may have thought I was faking illness to hide my 'lost bet' status. I adjusted my chair, caught up with work email, and settled back into my job, checking on some of the Changed sites in my spare time.

Anyways, work happened, some shopping happened (grocery stores can STINK at times, did you know that?), and I admit, I had more than a little bit of fun being different yet not seeming different, under everyone's noses. I may not have asked to become this; it may not even be permanent. But, by Jove, I'll be damned if I'm not gonna enjoy myself a bit while I can, and maybe help more people cope and have fun with it too.

Preceded by:
Holes in the Veil
The Veil (A Paradise Series)
(First: Holes in the Veil)
Succeeded by:
Poking the Veil