User:MatthiasRat/Made Alone

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Paradise story universe
Works by MatthiasRat on Shifti
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This is the first story of Christopher's life in the Paradise setting.

Made Alone

Author: MatthiasRat

"Have a good evening, sweetheart!"

The curly dark-haired woman waved to her husband as she hurried out the apartment door dressed in her work uniform. "I'll try," Leslie muttered. Her husband nodded, knowing how much the evening shifts irritated her. Sometimes she didn't return home until nearly four o'clock in the morning. Once she'd been even later.

That would bring her to just about the time her husband would experience an annual event that science couldn't explain.

Though to all appearances, Leslie and her husband were a happily married couple, appearances, her husband had learned, were very deceiving. Because for the last six years, Christopher Mattiaz did not see the same face in the mirror that everyone else saw when they looked at him. In fact, from year to year, he did not see the same face. Every August the 17th since 1996, at just after five in the morning, he changed. But only he could see the change.

"I hope you're feeling better soon," Leslie said before offering him a tired smile and rushing up the stairs to the ground level.

"Flu's passing already," Christopher said to her back, and it was true; his annual flu had passed him by, which it always did by this point of the evening.

With a long sigh, Christopher let his arm fall to his side and he shut the door. Their dog lifted her old head from the bean bag, curious at the sound, and then lowered it again. But Christopher, a name he had once hated but now embraced because it was unmistakably masculine, could only stare at his hands and wonder what tomorrow they would look like.

For where everyone else saw four human digits and a thumb, he saw two thick fingers ending in dark, hoof-like nails and a single thumb that could barely touch either finger. He lifted those beastly hands to his face, rubbing over the long equine snout, flaring his nostrils, and then up over his long ears, and then back down his spiky, black mane. This year it had been a donkey, and as his hands rested on the shirt that hung loosely from his shoulders, he felt the straps of his bra. Not just a donkey, but a jenny.

"Father in Heaven," he prayed fervently, "please let me be male again."

Only a few days ago, Leslie and he had celebrated their second anniversary of marriage. He'd still been a man then; well, a rat, but he'd been male at least. But on August 17th, 2000, only six days after they'd been wed, he'd changed again, a change that no one else could see, feel, or understand. And that time he'd become a female dog, and his hopes had been dashed.

Christopher slumped on the couch, the hooves that ended his legs digging into the carpet. His long rope-like tail settled behind him, still comfortable despite being pinned behind his back. He closed his eyes and just breathed, taking in the many scents of their apartment. Their dog, Crystal, was the most obvious, as well as his own pungent aroma. Then there was last night's pasta caked on the pan still needing to be washed, and the fetid miasma of the trash that needed emptying. Leslie also had a flavor, one both sweet and simple, one that he always took the time to savor. And lastly, the persistent fragrance of scented candles which he often burned to hide his musk.

His ears bent to either side, and he sighed. Though the shape of his head prevented him from looking down at his chest, he could feel the two breasts snuggled judiciously in his bra. He may have spent the last two years as female --- and two more before that --- but he didn't wear the bra because he had embraced the feminine. It was a matter of practicality, gravity, and comfort. He hoped that by tomorrow he wouldn't have to wear them anymore.

His eyes strayed to the gold ring adorning the smaller of his two fingers on what passed for his left hand. His wedding band; he had two others already made because this one didn't fit his finger in those shapes. At least, despite the bizarreness of his body, he still had Leslie; one day she might even know the truth.

The female donkey sighed and rubbed at the base of his ears with thick nails. No sense berating himself for things he couldn't change, so he may as well start collecting all his donkey things and put them in their boxes to store away. If the pattern of the last few years fit, he'd need much bigger clothes tomorrow morning.

Christopher stood up again, steady and sure on his hooves. He had twelve hours before his hour came; it would come whether he prepared or not. Hooves clopping, he walked down the narrow hall through the middle of their apartment and slipped into the computer room. He fired up his email and web browser. Maybe one of his long-standing inquiries would finally prove that he wasn't alone in being a beast.

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After an hour browsing the news, traipsing from website to website, and scanning furry forums for questions that might imply a more intimate familiarity with the difficulties being a real furry would bring, Christopher closed his browser. A few years ago, he'd been certain that there had to be other people out there like him; people changed into animal forms that only they could see. With enough care, clever questioning, and investigation, he might find some of them and at last be able to share his story.

He sighed and rubbed heavy nails into his forehead. The tough hide shifted back and forth under his touch, and his supple lips formed the prayer that had been his for the last six years: "Father in Heaven, please don't let me be alone."

But he was alone, there could be no denying it. After six years, chasing down so many false trails, why should things be any different now?

He opened his eyes and stared in surprise at his email client. There at the bottom, unread, was a message bearing an attachment, the subject reading, "My Picture. I Hope You Like It!"

His heart beat faster, and his tail flicked from side to side. He recognized the email address as his most recent possibility. They'd been corresponding now for a few months, and Christopher had dropped several hints as to his equine condition. He'd even risked sending his new friend a picture of his hoofprint in the snow. It had taken him three weeks to work up the courage to do that! He usually brushed all his hoofprints, pawprints, or any other sort of print he might leave so that nobody would see them.

How well he remembered the day last January, when Leslie saw the hoofprint. While he'd been on campus, Leslie had been out shopping and saw his name on an envelope at the photo shop. Thinking she was doing him a favor, she picked up the pictures, all of which were of him and the various signs he left with his hooves in the snow. When he'd returned home, she asked him if he'd seen the horse who'd left the prints. She couldn't see that he was a female donkey in the pictures, but she could see the hoofprints.

And that hadn't been the first time he'd learned that the delusion that everyone else had when they saw him did not extend to things he left behind. Some days it was all he could to do to focus on not leaving any visible signs --- shed fur, prints, and gouges in the floor or walls from hooves and claws were his most common worries. When the stress became too great, he just called in sick.

Christopher shifted in his seat, tail flicking against his legs. His hooves tapped a staccato on the chair legs, as he opened the email, a small flicker of hope in his heart. Words upon words filled the screen, and he scrolled it until the picture came into view.

Human. Christopher let out a bray, and closed the screen. Of course they were still human, what else would they be? He smacked the pencil holder off the computer desk and they scattered over his printer and across the floor. Hot tears steamed his eyes and cheeks; agonized, he bent over until he was nearly on all fours, his pants stretching tightly over his wide hips.

Christopher wasn't human. He wasn't even a he anymore. He ground his blunt teeth together, running his thick tongue along their backs. Long ears folded to either side, and he rubbed at his cheeks with the remnants of his hands. After a few moments, he managed to lean back against the spare bed, hooves crossed before him, knees to muzzle, and enjoyed a good long cry. He was alone, and that was that.

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It took him a while to gather the energy to move again. He made himself a hearty bowl of oatmeal --- just the oats, he didn't bother adding hot water --- and then opened the closet in the computer room. Leslie never went in there at his request, and he trusted her not to violate his privacy. Inside he saw twelve printer paper boxes stacked up to the top, and on the top shelf a stack of used journals.

He took out the top three boxes which were empty except for his feminine items, opened them up, and set the box tops behind them. Munching on his oats while he worked, Christopher carefully went through his clothes drawers and emptied out his shirts and pants, folding them as tightly as he could, and then stored them in the boxes. Some of his clothes he left out; those would be big enough if he changed according to the pattern of the last six years.

He returned to the entranceway and grabbed both sets of shoes, sandals and sneakers, and tucked them away. So odd that he didn't need to wear shoes except that if he didn't, everyone would comment on his going barefoot. But whenever he slipped shoes on, they disappeared! Christopher shook his head, took another mouthful of oats from the bowl, and resumed scouring the apartment for anything else he needed to store away for the next time he became a donkey.

The last thing Christopher put away, always the last thing, was his wedding band. Carefully, he gripped it between two hard nails and began seesawing it back and forth, sliding it up and over the knuckle. He had to angle it just right to slide it free of the hoof-like nail at the tip of his wider finger, but with only a little bit of pain, it came free. He rolled the simple golden band around in his palm for a moment and sighed. He took a small jewelry box and set it inside to keep it safe for the next few years.

"Well," he said to himself, his voice sounding rough but soft at the same time, pitched as a woman's would be, "only thing left to do is see what happens tomorrow."

Not quite true, Christopher reminded himself. He still had to store away his current set of clothes, but that could wait until after he'd walked the dog one last time. Returning to his closet, he stared at the nine other boxes, especially those marked with a "Year 3". If he changed the way he expected, he'd need them in the morning.

As he reached into the closet to drag them out, his eyes spied the journals sitting on the top shelf. He nickered to himself and grabbed them instead. On the cusp of such an auspicious anniversary, he did enjoy remembering where he'd once been.

The journals were nothing more than the standard composition books with black and white cover. He'd started keeping them his freshmen year in college, and he had tabbed moments that were especially important to him. The first tab marked his first date with Leslie. The second his first change.

Christopher took the journals to the spare bed and sat atop it, tail between his legs, hooves digging at the coverlet. He set the first journal aside and opened the next to the second tab. He trembled, ears folding down at the sight of his horrible scrawling. He flipped back a page, staring at his last human entry.

Aug 16, 1996

Well, the headache is finally going away. Been sick as a dog the last two days; figures it would happen right before I come back to Bridgewater. Band practice starts tomorrow, and I'd hate to miss it. <p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">My folks moved Barry and I into our new dorm room today. It's a corner room, so we have windows on two sides. That'll be nice in the winter when they turn the boiler on. Maybe this year I won't roast all winter long if we can get a breeze going. Barry and I each have our sides of the room, and it should be just enough for both of us. This is the first time either of us haven't had a private room in years, so it should be interesting. <p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I am looking forward to this year. I have a good number of Math classes, but I'm also going to be taking a number of History and Music classes. I finished all my Science and English classes at least. And then there's Old Testament; oh boy, I know that one's going to be interesting. I hear the professor is one of those guys who doesn't think anybody who wrote the Bible actually wrote the Bible. Talk about headache inducing! <p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I think Barry is really going to like it here at Bridgewater. Nice small school, small town, lovely countryside. Heck, even the scent of cow and chickens is kind of nice. Weird how I realize how much I miss it when I get back here. My brother says he wants to major in Physics and Chemistry. Yikes, he'll be busy! <p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Leslie won't be in town until next week, which sucks, but I can be waiting with flowers for her or something. Yeah, I think I'll do that. <p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I really hope Band plays some good pieces this year. If we have to play another one of those Circus Marches I'm going to puke! I guess I shouldn't complain; Doc is the man! <p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Well, I'm still feeling kind of bleah, so I think I'll head to bed early tonight. Nothing is open on campus right now, so no point worrying about email or anything like that. Father, please bless this school year and help us both do well! </div> Christopher sighed and tried to imagine what he'd been thinking on that last day of his human life. After six years of hiding, surreptitiously buying clothes in all different sizes, sewing tail holes into his pants and underwear, and ever looking for signs that there might be other animal-men, he didn't really know how to think like a normal person. What he saw on the following page of the journal was more real than a human life.

Aug 17, 1996

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I cannot even begin to describe this day. I can barely even write it with these hands... paws? What's happened to me? And why can't Barry see it? He just looked at me like I was an idiot when I tried to show him. He kept thinking I was trying to play a joke on him. I've got a tail and he thinks this is a joke!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Okay, this is too crazy, I have to try to write this down as best I can. I'm sitting here on a toilet because I don't want to bother Barry with any of this. Yeah, sitting on a toilet and trying to keep my tail from getting wet. My tail! My TAIL!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">So I wake up a little before 5 in the morning. Odd, but I went to bed early last night, I don't think much of it. I sneak out in my sandals and bathrobe to get a shower and shave. Nobody else in the hall but my brother and me, so may as well. I'm showering, and then I feel really odd all over, like I'm cramping in every muscle. Next thing I know I'm scratching myself with claws! I'm looking at my hands, and instead of nails, I have short, hooked, black claws! First I think, I'm turning into a werewolf or something. Then I see my finger tips swelling and darkening, huge calluses like dogs and wolves have on their feet.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Yeah, I'm just going crazy, right? But when the heck have I ever been able to imagine anything this vivid? I don't even dream in color! I can't even really see in color at the moment, at least not much. This has to be real, I keep telling myself. It's just real. I'm transforming. I'm changing.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">So I get out of the shower, scared crazy. I look at my face in the mirror, and my nose is black, broad and leathery, and my teeth are getting sharper. I've got these black hairs growing all over my upper arms, sides and along my face, with rust colored fur growing over my hands, lower arms, neck, chest, and around my snout. Yes, my snout! I have a snout! I just watched it grow out of my face, like toothpaste squeezed out of a tube.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I didn't even notice that I'd grown a tail and I was standing on my toes. Just watching my face change was so captivating... like I was melting away and an animal was taking my place. My eyes... that was the most horrid thing... watching my blue eyes darken, the iris spreading until the whites were gone. All I saw was an animal's eye, dark brown, the only hint of intelligence was me looking out of them.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">That's when I noticed that the throbbing sensation was gone. I look over myself, still dripping wet from the shower. I have a sudden urge to shake my body, and before I can stop myself, I do it! Just like a dog! That's when it hits me, I'm a dog! I'm a freaking dog! Okay, a dog that walks on two legs, can still talk and think and brush his own teeth, let alone handle a pencil - dang my fingers are cramped from all this writing!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Okay, my fingers are feeling better. I've stretched them out some, and gave them a few minutes break. Barry came in asking me if I'd fallen in. Haha. Why can't he see this? His brother has just been turned into a Rottweiler and nothing's wrong?

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">So after I've given the bathroom my personal shake, Barry comes in and tells me to put my robe on. I yell at him, growl even, trying to ask him what's happened. Tell him I'm turning into a freaking dog. He calls me crazy. I say, `Oh yeah, here, grab my tail'. He humors me, but he cannot feel it. I feel him put his hand on it, but he just doesn't feel it. So I let it drop, tell him that I must be really tired, apologize, and tell him to apologize to Doc for me, because I'm not going to make practice today.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Even if nobody else can see what's happened, I'm glad I didn't go. I spent most of today exploring my body, trying to figure out how it works, how to use the bathroom again, and even what breed I've become. I'm now a five and a half foot tall Rottweiler with opposable thumbs. My fingers are a little bit shorter, but I think I'll be able to handle the Tympani mallets okay. Not sure what I'm going to do with my tail. It's about two feet long, and there's no way I'm stuffing it down my pants.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">My feet look like normal dog paws, just the four toes and no heel. They're bigger though. Shoes are weird. I can put them on, even though they don't fit at all, and they just disappear. And when I try to take them off, they come back. I don't get it.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I can hear a lot better. I played some of my tapes to calm my nerves, and had to turn the stereo way down to keep from hurting my ears. My ears flop down on either side of my boxy head. It's kind of cute, for a dog. I have a huge tongue, and I've been panting half the day whether I wanted to or not. I can smell a ton better, and dang do Barry's feet stink. Going to have to get some foot powder for him or something.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I'm going to have to go to band practice tomorrow. If Barry can't see that I'm a big Rottweiler, then maybe nobody can. Besides, maybe this happened to some others too. Sure, I spent all day just trying to master holding a pencil again, but at least I can write. If I wake up tomorrow and I'm still a Rottweiler, well, I guess it would be interesting to live like this for a while.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">What am I going to do about Leslie? I can't tell her! If Barry thought I was nuts, what's my girlfriend going to think? `All that roleplaying has finally gotten to you, hasn't it?'. Maybe I should just get her flowers. She does love dogs. Maybe this is a plus! Heh!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Okay, my paw is cramping again. And this bathroom is starting to really stink. I'm going to try to get some sleep and see what happens tomorrow, Rottweiler or not.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">God, I don't know why this happened to me. Please guide me and help me understand what Your plan is for me! Amen.

A slight smile creased Christopher's snout. That had been a wild first day. He'd been male that first change. Only two weeks later he had been with Leslie and they took pictures together. He hoped that he'd see himself as a man, but he'd still been a Rottweiler. Oddly though, he'd come to like the way he looked. So he scarfed down milkbones when no one was looking, so what? After a bit of adjustment, and adjusting his pants and underwear with holes for his tail, he'd grown comfortable with and even enjoyed being a Rottweiler.

And the foot powder had worked wonders on Barry's stink.

Just the memory of that brought a bray to Christopher's throat. The first year hadn't been bad at all. His handwriting improved dramatically in a matter of weeks, and he even felt more assertive than he had before. Being a Rottweiler just made him feel tough. And he certainly had more muscles than he used to! If he could go back to being that, he'd bark to the Hallelujah Chorus.

He picked up the next journal in the series and opened it to the tab. He flipped back one page and read the previous entry.

Aug 16, 1997

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Well, tomorrow is my one year anniversary of becoming a Rottweiler. All in all, I'd say I'm glad it happened. Sure, nobody else can tell, and I haven't seen anybody else who's changed like me, but it's definitely given me a new perspective on things. I've learned to sew for one. And I loved the expression on Nate's face when I caught that frisbee with my teeth last month!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Of course, I have to keep some things hidden. It looks odd to see dog tracks in the snow, and Barry almost found my claw trimming kit that one time. And definitely keep clear of shag carpets! Oh, the worst is closing the door on my tail. That was so embarrassing to yipe, and then not be able to tell anyone why.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Oh, and when that... that... Beth conspired to vote me out of the officers of the Sci-Fi club. I just couldn't stop barking and snapping at her! I thought for sure people would figure it out then. I helped found that club here at Bridgewater, and she has to stage a coup just to get me?! I wanted to bite her so bad.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">But that's past. I'm back at Bridgewater for another week of band practice before my senior year starts. Had another cold yesterday and today, but I guess its fitting to celebrate one year as a Rottweiler. I'm posting a picture of Leslie and me here; I think things are really looking up for us. Once I graduate and start my Master's degree, I think I'll propose to her. Maybe we'll have some puppies! Hehehe.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Father in Heaven, I still don't know why I became a Rottweiler, but thank You for helping me make the best of this!

Christopher stared at the picture taped to the bottom of the page. There he was, dark boxy face with mahogany eyebrows and neck fur, one arm draped around Leslie's shoulders, his fingers spread, showing off his claws and paw pads. You could even see the end of his tail as it curled around his hip. He had a goofy grin, the end of his pink tongue sticking out between his teeth. His dark eyes were warm and happy.

If only he'd stayed that way.

Christopher set the journal aside and climbed to his hooves. He couldn't bear to look at the next page just yet. He'd take his dog for a walk first. Striding back into his living room, he grabbed his keys, shook them meaningfully, and Crystal got to her paws and followed his swishing tail out the door.

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Crystal was an old dog, nearly thirteen. And while Christopher hoped she had a few more years to her, she had slowed down considerably. When he'd moved to Blacksburg back in 98, she'd still been able to play chase with tennis balls for as long as he felt like throwing it. Now, she sauntered along at a leisurely pace, a contented old matron enjoying the survey of her domain.

Her lugubrious pace gave Christopher the time he needed to calm himself. One drawback of being female was his tendency to begin crying for no reason he could name. When Leslie was with him he could keep the tears at bay. But sometimes, when he was all alone in their apartment, the tears came.

By the time he returned to his apartment, he felt better. He should. Tomorrow he'd change again, and there was an even shot of him being male again. In fact, if the odds were fifty-fifty, he had a better than even shot. He'd spent four of the last six years with breasts. Surely whatever caused his annual metamorphosis wouldn't make him female again. The odds of him being female five years out of seven were 21 in 128, so he had less than a 17% chance of being female again.

Then again, if it was an even fifty-fifty, he really still had a fifty percent chance of being a woman.

Christopher snorted in disgust and shut the door. Crystal climbed up in her bean bag, contented for now. He stomped back to the computer room, and stared at the array of boxes laying there. The journal sat open to his second change. He sighed and took it in his two-fingered hands and read.

Aug 17, 1997

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">This is not good. Somehow I've managed to get through today, but I'm about ready to scream. And of course nobody noticed a thing, not even these things on my chest! Barry looked straight at them and didn't even blink!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Slow down. I made it through the day, made it through band practice, and everything is fine.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">No, everything is not fine! I wake up this morning, early again, and as I'm brushing my fangs, I feel a throbbing all over. I think, "Am I becoming human again?" Not even close!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">My nose spreads and widens, ears stretching upwards, my black fur lightening to a grey, and shortening to a mere stubble. My fangs disappear and are replaced with ugly flat teeth. My paws... my poor paws, the fingers fuse until I've only got two left, and my claws become these blunt hoof-like things, black and hard. Next thing I know, I'm standing on hooves — hooves!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">But then I see the worst of it all. Breasts! That's right, I've got a pair right there on my chest. And I've got nothing between my legs now. My hips are wide like a woman's too. Not only did I turn into a donkey, but I turned into a female donkey! Why? Why? How am I supposed to be a girl?

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">And now I'm crying. I can't stop. I can't.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I liked being a Rottweiler! Why can't I go back to being that? Father, please help me. I don't know what to do. How can I be with Leslie when I'm a girl too? Father, I need your help. Comfort me please. All I want to do is cry.

"And here I am a jenny again," Christopher said, running one of his hoof-like nails up across his bodice. "But hopefully..."

His ears lifted when the phone started to ring. Curious, he closed the journals and returned to the living room. A smile crossed his equine lips when he read the name on the caller ID. He picked up the handset, which had been the largest one he could find to accommodate the increased distance from his mouth to his ears. "Good evening, this is the Mattiaz residence. We're not home right now, but if you leave a message, and we deem you important enough, we might get around to getting back to you."

"Hello Chris," the ever cheery voice of Trevor replied. "I hope I am important enough!"

"Yeah, I guess you are. So you made it in okay?"

"My trip was very uneventful." Trevor chuckled lightly while he spoke. It didn't matter what he was saying, or how he really felt, there was always a laugh beneath his words. "I'm still putting all my things away, but 1600J is filled again with furs."

"Good," Christopher said, and meant it. Since he had become what folks like Trevor wished they could be, it seemed the best place to make friends, even if they were still truly human. The Furry Club of VT had started a couple years ago now, and Christopher had been one of its founding members. As had Trevor and his roommates in Foxridge 1600J. "What's the plan for this weekend?"

"Tonight, get things put away. I'd invite you over but Rob's feeling sick and doesn't want to give it to anybody else."

Christopher could imagine Rob moaning and complaining about being sick and how he shouldn't even be around anyone, all the while walking about and doing all the work around their apartment. "Except for all of you because he won't go to bed?"

"Exactly!" Trevor chuckled. "Well, how are you and Leslie?"

Christopher twirled the phone cord around one finger and his ears folded back. "Leslie's working tonight, and tomorrow night! All you undergraduates returning to campus and ordering pizza; it's driving her crazy!"

"But she does such a good job!" Trevor protested. "I order from her pizza place all the time."

"So she tells me," Christopher replied, a braying laugh escaping his throat. "I'm doing fine. I work tomorrow morning at Target. Oh, did I tell you I'm working there now."

"No, you hadn't. Hey, we're hoping to have all the furs over at our place tomorrow night. I know Leslie won't make it, but you are more than welcome to drop by around six o'clock. And you can bring Crystal too."

"Thank you, Trevor, I'll do that. I'll give you a call if I have to bail for some reason." Like changing into a creature for which none of his clothes fit.

"Well then, we shall see you tomorrow. Good night!"

"Good night!" Christopher hung up the phone and disentangled his finger from the phone cord. That was good news at least. Rob and Nick had stayed over the summer, but both of them had taken summer jobs and they'd barely been able to get together. It would be nice to hang with the furs again.

But if only they just knew how furry he really was. He touched his breasts and grimaced. Well, maybe he didn't really want them knowing.

With a sigh, he trotted back into the computer room to finish reviewing his journals.

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The clock read nine-thirty-five when Christopher set the journals aside. As always, he felt quite tired at this early hour. He'd be up before 5 AM tomorrow, regardless of whether he wanted to be or not. It was time to finish putting a close on his second year as a donkey.

Christopher climbed off the bed and stacked two of the boxes back in the closet. The third he left sitting on the bed next to the journals. He walked into the bedroom, his hooves making only a muffled thump on the carpet. After turning down his bed, he looked at the full body mirror. Before him stood a reasonably attractive jenny whose weary brown eyes drooped.

When he could, he liked to take one last moment to look at himself, even if he wasn't truly a he. And then there were two more things he needed to do before his time as a donkey was complete. He needed to store the clothes he was wearing in the final box, and he had to write in his current journal.

As he stared at his long snout and ears, Christopher undid the button on the front of his shorts and the one on the back for his tail, then slid them down his long legs. He lifted first one hoof, then the other, and finally kicked the shorts into one corner with a flick of a hoof. His legs appeared too spindly to support his weight, but he'd never had any trouble with them. The hooves, dark, but now crossed with lines from stress, had been kept in good shape over the year by his judicious care. The last thing he'd needed was a split hoof.

He then pulled his t-shirt over his head. He hated the way it rubbed his mane backwards, but he'd grown used to that. Compared to seeing in the mirror a female donkey wearing only a bra and panties and knowing that it was him, rubbing his mane the wrong way felt wonderful.

Christopher undid the bra and tossed it in the pile with his shirt and shorts. He then slid the panties off and put them in the same place. His long tail flicked from side to side as he regarded the body he'd lived his last year in. Freed from the bra, his breasts sagged a little; apart from the fur and darkened nipple, they looked much the same as a human's. What was between his legs was... not much. He only thought about that when his body forced him to.

He closed his eyes and sat down on the edge of his bed, taking long deep breaths. When he opened them again, the world hadn't changed. He snorted, irritated with giving into the emotional roller coaster his female wiring provided. He grabbed his journal, pencil, and opened it to the first blank page. He rolled the pencil between his two fingers until it settled against the root of one of his thick nails and began to write.

Aug 16, 2002

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Six years. For six years I have been changing from one thing to the next. At first, I didn't want to become human again, because then I would no longer be special. But now, I would take that as long as it meant I'd be male again.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">It is not that I have anything against women. Not at all! I understand their problems more acutely now than I ever wanted to. And it is not that there aren't some advantages to being female and furry. For instance, I don't have to perform gymnastics to use the toilet. Nor is it the clothes, as bras and panties don't really bother me at all anymore; they are comfortable and feel as natural as anything can in this beastly shape.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">What upset me is that I cannot be with Leslie. I know she loves me deeply, because we've been married for just over two years, but have we done much together? And can we while I remain female? I don't like to think of myself as a she, but I am a she, at least for now. Tomorrow that could change.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I hope it changes.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">So, anyway, my second year as a donkey female has come to an end. Only a few significant items to note. While my PhD advisor is pleased with my work and thinks there is an outside chance I'll graduate by the end of 03, I let becoming female interfere with my Teaching Assistant duties, and now the Virginia Tech Math Department has decided it will no longer support me. So I managed to land a job at Target of all places. Thankfully they haven't asked me to work in women's clothing yet. I've already caught myself pondering what I'd look like in some of those skimpy outfits; I don't need any more temptation!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I'm grateful for the furry club here, even if they can't see what I am. At least when we roleplay, I can describe what I'm actually feeling and everybody just thinks I'm a good gamer. Really makes me glad I decided to stay at Virginia Tech instead of go to Waterloo two years ago. As much as my furry body would prefer the colder clime, I would never have met the friends I have now.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">But still. Six years and a different body each year, though I've twice been a Rottweiler and now twice been a donkey. I wish I'd been a male Rottweiler last year. That first year... that was the best year I think. I was glad that I was male two years ago when I was a rat, but still, I lost a foot in height, and driving became outright insane!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">I don't think there's any point in beating myself up. I'm adapting to each change, and I'm doing my best to live and keep this hidden. Not much more I can do really. I'm alone in the world, made alone by these changes that nobody else can see.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Father in Heaven, help me to change those things that I can, and accept those things that I cannot, and the wisdom to tell the difference. Amen.

Christopher set the journal on his night stand, stretched his fingers to work out the cramp that had settled there, and then went to clean up his clothes. He carefully folded each before storing them in the box. With a sigh he shoved the box into the closet. He left the boxes with his year three clothes on the top of the pile, just in case he changed according to pattern. He then closed the closet and turned the light off in the computer room.

"Come on, Crystal," he called to his dog as he turned the lights out in the living room. The old dog climbed out of her bean bag and followed the donkey into the bedroom. He picked her up, careful not to bruise her with his hoof-like nails, and set her on the end of the bed. Christopher climbed in and drew the covers up over his breasts and laid on his back. He turned the light out, even as his dog settled just beneath his hooves.

His ears folded against the pillow and he let his breath out slowly. It was time to sleep. He would find out soon enough what his body had in store for him next year.

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Though he hadn't set the alarm, his body rose from troubled dreams a few minutes to five. One moment he slept, and then next his eyes popped open, long ears turned to catch the sound of Leslie snoring softly next to him, and the faint whimpering of Crystal as she dreamt of chasing rodents. It was time for his annual Change.

Christopher slipped his legs out from under the covers, making sure his hooves didn't clack together. First one then the other he planted on the carpet to steady himself. Then, he rolled over with one hand pressing on the side table to ease himself off the mattress. Leslie didn't stir; she'd probably only come to bed an hour or so ago, but he didn't want to risk waking her, especially when she was groggy. One time when she'd been so sleepy, she'd seen him for what he really was. Christopher shook at the memory; but in the end Leslie had just thought it a dream.

He walked to the bedroom door and with slow precision turned the knob, stepped out into the hall, and closed it behind him. He always made sure the hinges were greased, and this year had been no different. He gave the same care to the bathroom door, making sure to step on the small rug to keep his hooves silent.

Once safe inside, Christopher turned the light on and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He spread his supple lips wide and gnashed his flat teeth together. Those would be gone in a few moments, and he'd be glad of it. He always thought equine teeth were ugly, and two years as a donkey had not changed his mind.

Christopher glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that he had another few minutes before his change would begin. It always happened at 5:10, the very same time he'd been born. He sat on the toilet and relieved himself, ropy tail pressed back into the lid. One thing was for sure; Leslie never had to complain about the seat being left up.

When he climbed to his hooves, he felt disoriented, and had to grip the edge of the sink to keep his balance. A pressure began to build inside him, like a swell of gas filling a balloon. Christopher stared into the mirror, even as every nerve of his body cried out for relief.

And then it began. His face widened, swelling to either side, even as his nostrils shrank, and his muzzle shortened, pulled back towards his cheeks. The long ears dwindled and rounded; his fingers quivered as each one split in two, the blunt nails lengthening and narrowing into sharp claws. His rope-like tail shrank into his body like a spaghetti noddled being slurped up. His chest and body expanded, rounding out, his belly acquiring a significant paunch. His legs thickened, his ankle swelling and settling on the ground as his hooves shrank, toes and claws emerging beside it. His eyes warmed into a chocolate brown, pupils swelling into a more human circle.

And all around him, the world shrank as his body pushed upwards as well as outwards. Inch by inch he climbed higher, until his hands --- now paws --- only just touched the edge of the sink. He shifted his weight around, muscles developing to accommodate his increased girth. And then his body subsided, his change complete. Where once had stood a donkey now was a six and a half foot tall brown bear.

Christopher opened his jaws, admiring the sharper teeth and long fangs. He rubbed his tongue across them, glad that he'd be able to enjoy meat again. He sniffed, the scent of donkey already being replaced by his new ursine fragrance. He stretched his toes, careful on the rug lest his claws tear the threads. It felt so good having toes again.

But one thing hadn't changed. There in the middle of chest hung a pair of breasts, covered more thickly in fur, but still the incontrovertible sign of femininity. Christopher sighed. Another year as a woman.

Christopher fixed his gaze one last time in the mirror. In a growling whisper he said, "My name is Christopher Mattiaz. Only I can see that I am a woman. Inside I remain a man. I will be a man again. I will enjoy being a bear this year. God has made me this way for a reason, and I will trust Him in all things." With one long claw he made the sign of the cross, adding, "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."

He left the bathroom for the computer room. Opening his private closet, he pulled down the four boxes marked "Year 3", and opened them up. Inside he found all the clothes that fit him while a bear. This included the over-sized bras and panties that he'd ordered from that woman's catalog. He grunted under his breath as he realized that he could probably size a woman's body better than his wife could.

Leslie would leave for work before his shift at Target ended, so he would put all his clothes out after he returned. But he'd need a few things before then. From one box he pulled out a matching bra and panties set and pulled them on. He preferred wearing colors that blended with his fur, especially when he had a lot of it. Nobody had ever noticed that he had on a bra, but why take chances?

The bra pulled his breasts closer to his chest to give it a more masculine outline, but not so tight as to make them uncomfortable. As for the panties, they were his only set without a hole for his tail. As a bear, his tail was so short that he found keeping it stuffed in his trousers brought no discomfort. He probably could have worn boxers, but while female, wearing anything else brought a strange sense of vulnerability.

Next he took out his bottle of old spice. The fragrance sometimes irritated his superior nose, but he hated being asked about the peculiar odor that lingered about him. He dabbed a bit on his thick paw pad and smacked it around his neck all the while wrinkling his nose.

Christopher put the bottle back, and then gingerly took out the jewel case which held his ursine-sized wedding band. He smiled as he beheld the simple gold ring, carefully sliding it free between two claws. The luster had not diminished since he'd bought it in the store, but now would be the first time he'd try it on. He'd had to guess at its size, and he hoped he'd guessed right!

He spread the fingers on his left hand wide, took a deep breath, and slid the ring over his claw. He managed to get it past the top knuckle without any trouble, but the bottom knuckle proved too big. With a growl, he pushed and pushed, but it wouldn't slide. The fur was too thick and kept catching beneath the ring. Furious, he stomped into the bathroom, grabbed his razor blade --- which he rarely used --- and shaved the fur from his finger. He rumbled in approval when the ring slid on this time. He'd have to take it to the jeweler and get it resized soon.

A creaking sounded from the bedroom. Christopher felt his heart tighten. He'd forgotten himself in his anger and had made too much noise! Was Leslie awake? What would she think if she saw him wearing a bra and panties with shaved bear fur in the sink?

Quickly, he scooped the bear fur into his paw and stuffed it in the trash, burying it beneath a small pile of toilet paper. He shoved his razor back into the cupboard and as daintily as possible stepped into the computer room and closed the door behind him. A muffled grunt came from the bedroom, but he didn't hear Leslie stir again. He sighed.

Now that his ring was on, it was time to find clothes for work. Target required him to wear khakis and a red shirt. He tried to keep his clothes as generic as possible so neither Leslie nor anyone else would remark on them, so he should have something suitable. After rifling through his clothes, he found a pair of khakis, but the only red shirt he had was a lumberjack red-black flannel. It would have to do; he'd buy a pair of red v-necks when he got to work.

Dressed, Christopher replaced the boxes and then went down to the kitchen to see if there was anything edible in the refrigerator. He grunted unhappily when he saw the numerous breads, fruits, and vegetables, but very few fresh meats. There goes the grocery bill, he mused. He still grabbed a pair of apples and gobbled them down, core and all.

He shut the fridge and returned to the computer room. He'd stop at Hardee's on the way to work and pick something up to eat. That meant he had another two hours before he needed to head to work. He turned on his computer and sat down. The seat creaked from his extra bulk, but he made sure not to lean back --- he'd already broken one chair that way! There was so much to remember after changing; he could only hope he remembered it all before anything bad happened.

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Leslie was still asleep by the time Christopher left their apartment. His pads told him about all the little pebbles strewn on the asphalt. And his body complained about the flannel. Summers in Blacksburg were never hot, but as a brown bear, seventy degrees was too hot for him. He fumbled with his keys, still getting used to fine manipulation with these long claws. Once his car door was open, he pushed the driver seat all the way back and squeezed inside. His head still hit the roof of his Saturn, but at least his belly didn't press into the steering wheel.

He didn't dare buy a larger car though. If he became a rat next year, he'd need to shove the seat all the way forward just so his legs would reach!

Still, he grumbled about being cramped as he pulled out of the Chasewood parking lot and turned left on University City Blvd. The road twisted and turned steadily to the left until it passed the Kroger's and Volume Two Bookstore. Just before the corner with Prices Fork Rd, he turned right onto a side road past the bank and into the Hardee's parking lot. With a hefty grunt, he extricated himself from the car and sauntered inside.

The scent of grease and several other things he didn't want to name struck him like a hammer to the stomach. His black nose wrinkled and snorted, but he made himself walk in. A bored looking student tried to smile when she saw him come in. "Welcome to Hardee's! May I take your order?"

He didn't need to look at the menu. "Three Frisco Sandwiches, and two sausage biscuits."

Her eyes lifted in surprise, and she laughed a bit as she typed it in. "Will you have anything to drink with that?"

"Four orange juices. And yes, I'll have an order of hash browns." He'd have ordered more, but he figured he was about to consume enough grease to kill his rat form on sight. Did the cholesterol leave his arteries when he changed, or did it stay the same size? He had no idea, and wasn't about to go to a doctor to find out.

The cashier rung up his total, and he paid in cash. Yeah, the grocery bill was going to suck.

A couple with two kids came in while he waited for his order. A young boy of about five stared up at him with wide-eyes, and said, "You're fat!"

Oh great, Christopher thought. Just how much will people think I weigh? The last time he was a bear, his mother had commented on his tummy, but nobody else had. Was it worse this time?

The boy's mother apologized, staring at his breasts the whole time. He shook his head and said it was fine, then grabbed his order and found a shady spot near a vent to sit. The cool air felt wonderful, and he started to relax. One by one he unwrapped his sandwiches and scarfed them down in as many bites as he could manage and still satisfy his ravening hunger. Between them he popped hash browns and downed in a single swallow one of the small cans of orange juice. Within a few minutes, the entire order had disappeared in his gullet.

He licked his muzzle clean, wiped it off with the napkins, and threw the trash away. The poor family had stared at him the whole time, the parents trying their best not to. If they only knew!

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The Target was new to the area, built in the Spradlin Farms shopping area of Christiansburg back in 2000. The year before it had been a pasture for cows, but their scent was long gone. From the Hardee's, Christopher turned onto 460 East and was there in only ten minutes. Though he'd only started work at Target a couple months ago, he knew the routine well enough now. After parking in the team member section at the far end of the lot, he sauntered up to the side entrance where the other members of the morning crew waited to be let in.

"Hey Chris," Billy said and waved. He leaned against the brick wall, glasses hanging low on his nose. He pointed at Christopher's waist. "What have you been eating lately? It looks like you've gained twenty pounds since I saw you last week!"

He rumbled and patted his belly. It jiggled a little. When he'd been human, he'd been as skinny as a rail. To be fat now was a definite change. "I don't know, maybe a hormone change or something. I just started getting this gut."

Billy chuckled and gave him a thumbs up. "Looks good on you for some reason. You'll probably have to change that shirt though. Alex is a stickler for bright red." Alex was the store team leader, and was notoriously picky about every detail of his store.

Christopher nodded and shrugged, "My others won't fit over this. Going to pick up some new ones." He looked past Billy at the rest of the team. Apart from Billy, who worked hardlines with him, there were three girls who were also new hires talking amongst themselves. Even as they spoke, another pair of cars pulled into the lot.

"There's Alex now," Billy said, pointing. Christopher turned and watched as the now familiar silver Chevy truck pulled into the lot. Alex had a cheerful expression, round face and body that reminded you more of the Pillsbury Dough Boy, but you still didn't argue with him.

Alex waved a set of keys and everyone stepped out of the way. He took one look at Christopher and said, "You need to get a lighter shirt."

"I'm going to buy some first thing, all my others didn't fit anymore."

Alex nodded and unlocked the door. They followed him in, and one by one clocked in. The morning huddle brought all the sales floor and morning cashiers together in the front of the store. Alex read last night's sales, their goals for the day, and handed out assignments. Then they did their morning stretches. Christopher had been able to reach his hooves the last time he'd been at a huddle, but now he couldn't get past his knees.

When huddle was over, Alex gave him a meaningful look, and Christopher headed into softlines, where they sold all their clothes. Already several guests were browsing the tables, while a few Virginia Tech students vainly searched for Hokie merchandise.

Christopher had to walk the entire breadth of the store to reach the paltry men's section. The women's section surrounded him on both sides, and his eyes stole back and forth between the many outfits, some modest, others revealing, to the nightwear that looked temptingly cozy. He may feel like a woman, but nobody else could see it!

When he reached the men's tables, he carefully rifled through the largest sizes they had and held them up to see if they would fit. It took him five minutes, but he found two good red shirts with collars wide enough that he could get his massive head through. He folded them again, cleaned up the tables, and took them to the registers. Now he just had to figure out where he was going to change!

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Mornings at Target were always more interesting than evenings. Though Saturdays were always busier with guest service, Christopher and Billy spent most of their time building end-caps and setting out new merchandise. Classes didn't officially start for another week, but there were a good number of parents coming in to buy supplies for their college students. The real crunch would come next weekend, which was why they were building the end-caps now.

Billy had been Christopher's mentor earlier in the summer, and they'd hit it off almost immediately. Billy's wicked sense of humor and his frank appraisal of their managers kept Christopher's spirits up as he dealt with having to adjust to retail work. Now that Christopher faced another year as a woman, he was very grateful to be paired with a friend.

Becoming a bear did make his job easier. He had no trouble carrying the metal shelves back and forth, and he even surprised Billy and several guests with how high he could reach. They wanted the item on the top shelf? Not a problem anymore! After the third time showing off Billy warned him that if Alex saw him stretching on his tip toes like that he might not have a job anymore. Christopher wisely retrieved a ladder the next time.

As he worked the hardlines side of the store, he walked on tiles the whole day long. They were smooth and cool on his foot pads, but he heard a clicking with his claws everywhere he went. He would have to get his claw trimming kit out when he got home. He'd bought it back when he'd first changed, sized for the largest of dogs. It worked pretty well on his bear claws too, given that he was nowhere near the size of a real brown bear.

As the day wore on, more and more guests came in, and he and Billy were sent to different sections of the store to handle restocking returned items or items left lying around, as well as helping the many guests. Several of them decided to be quite rude to him, either by their dismissive attitude or their impatience. Christopher found himself growling under his breath at quite a few of them. When things were too bad, he slipped into the electronics stock room to cool off --- figuratively as well as literally because it was at least twenty degrees colder in there!

But his shift finally came to an end, and after extricating himself from one last guest's persistent and fruitless questioning, he grabbed his shirts, clocked out, and left the store. The day had grown hot, and he loosened his collar, tongue hanging out his muzzle as he made his way to his car. He tossed the shirts in the trunk and squeezed back into his seat. As soon as the engine was running, he cranked the AC all the way up.

As expected, Leslie had already left for work when he got home. Crystal trotted over to greet him, licking his snout with her fast tongue. Petting gently, he licked her face once, and rumbled in amusement at her confused snuffling.

There was still an hour-and-a-half before he needed to be over at the furry apartment, so he had no need to rush. Methodically, he emptied the four boxes with his bear clothes and stored them in all his dresser drawers. He put the rest of his shoes in the closet, and organized his feminine products in the last remaining box for when he'd need them. He removed his claw trimming kit and winnowed all twenty claws at least a half-inch. Lastly, he took out his Polaroid camera, stripped, and proceeded to take a few photos of himself for his journal. These he stored back in the boxes to be sorted another night.

He fed Crystal, checked his email, changed into more comfortable and lighter clothes, and then sat down on his couch. His paws crept up to his breasts and he sighed. He'd almost made it through one day; now he just had to get through another 364 before he could hope to be a man again. Christopher sobbed quietly and covered his face with his thick paws.

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When six o'clock rolled around, Christopher collected his dog and left the apartment. He cradled Crystal in one arm, and she looked curiously about as he walked to the car. Gently, he set her on the passenger seat, and then squeezed back into the Saturn. "Time to go see the furs," he told her. She glanced at him, then curled up in the seat and closed her eyes.

After climbing into his seat, he patted his distended belly with one paw and had to resist the grin that came to him. As a bear, he knew he should have a good store of fat for the winter. Last time he was a bear he remembered finding it hard to get up in the mornings once winter set in. That and he hadn't eaten too much. Maybe the grocery bills would even out after all.

He backed the car out of the parking lot, and headed to Prices Fork Rd. He turned toward 460, but continued along the overpass. And immediately his nose wrinkled from most frequent fragrance that graced the highway. He was convinced that Blacksburg had more skunks per acre than it did blades of grass. Almost every day one or two would be killed on Route 460, and the stink would permeate everything.

He continued snuffling, trying to rid himself of that odor, all the way to the left turn onto Heather Dr. From there, he headed straight into the Foxridge apartment complex. Foxridge was by the far the most popular amongst students. The amenities were too numerous to name, and the BT had several stops along the main road; at any one of them, a bus would stop every fifteen minutes during the school year. While not as convenient as living on campus, the rooms were much bigger, which for many students was all the convincing they needed.

Christopher parked outside building 1600, still rubbing his snout to get rid of the skunk scent. He climbed out of the car, his rump squeezing tight in the doorway as he turned to pick up Crystal. With a grunt, he pushed back, claws digging into the asphalt. He shook from side to side to right his fur, and then closed the car door. All the while, Crystal hung contentedly beneath one arm.

He set her down, and she followed along dutifully, sniffing at the grass and the sidewalk. He climbed one set of stairs, and then knocked lightly with the side of one paw on the door marked with a "J". Beyond he could hear the sound of a video game and several familiar voices.

"Hey Chris!" Nick said as he opened the door. His eyes stared unseeing at Christopher's breasts, and he held out his arms for a hug. The bruin hugged the short, blond-haired college student, but very gently. "Looks like you've put on some weight this summer. What have you been eating?"

"Just preparing for winter hibernation," he replied, and Nick laughed. He stepped out of the way, and Christopher and Crystal followed him into the main room. Old and cheap couches lined two walls, the discount drapes were lowered on the third, and the sweet scent of meat drew his nose towards the kitchen. Sitting on one of the couches in front of the TV were Trevor and their fourth roommate Brett.

Trevor turned, his chubby face breaking into a grin, "Oh hey, Chris!" He narrowed his eyes, looked down at his paunch, and then to Christopher's. "Have you been stealing my fat?"

"Wouldn't dream of it," Christopher replied. Ah, how he wished he could see what they thought he looked like! "Hey Brett, good to see you made it back from wherever you went this summer."

The tall, skinny man chuckled and smiled, his greasy hair falling into his face. "Oh hey, Chris! Africa... we... we went to Africa this summer."

"Yes, we all wish our parents had as much money as yours," Trevor said with a chuckle.

"What?" Brett asked defensively, stuttering as he talked. "I don't know... what did you do this summer?"

"I think we were all working, Brett," Nick replied. "It's what normal people do."

Brett pouted and held up one of the game controllers. "Hey, Chris. Would you like to play?"

Christopher shook his head, idly watching Crystal sniff around the floor. He could smell a thousand unpleasant odors coming from the discolored carpet, and he didn't want to know what any of them were. Irritatingly enough, he could still smell that skunk from the highway! "I'll just watch, thanks. Where's Cindy and Van? Patrick? And Audrey?"

"Cindy and Van will be arriving later," Trevor replied in that cheery level voice he'd perfected working at an amusement park. "Audrey is still in Vermont with her family, and I haven't heard from Patrick, so he's probably still in New Jersey."

The bruin nodded and closed the door with a shove. "I take it Rob is still feeling sick?" He gestured to the closed door at the end of the hall.

"He said he was better this morning," Nick replied, even as he returned to the couch and snagged a third controller. "But I think he said his fever came back around noon."

"Ah," Christopher eased himself down in the empty chair, which protested at his three-hundred pounds.

As his three friends played their game, Christopher studied each of them, wondering what they would look like if they were furry like him. Brett's furry form was that of a cougar, which was ironic because Christopher couldn't think of anybody who had less of a hunting instinct than Brett. Trevor's personality fit his namesake better, even if his metabolism didn't; he was a husky, and his bubbly personality reminded Christopher of a dog from time to time. Nick... well, Nick he wasn't sure of. He didn't seem to have a furry form, he was always just Nick.

And then Rob the dolphin, which was even more ironic since he didn't like swimming.

But even as they enjoyed the fighting game, Christopher could still smell the skunk. It drove his nose crazy. He turned his head from side to side and sniffed at his shoulders and breasts, wondering if perhaps the scent hadn't clung to him. No, it didn't seem to be there. So where was it coming from?

His nose slipped between his breasts and prodded his tummy, and immediately another urge came to him. He looked at the others and asked, "So who's cooking the steaks?"

Trevor mashed buttons on his controller and replied, "Rob usually cooks those things, but since he's not feeling well, I was going to give it a try."

"Oh no you don't," Christopher said, a warning tone in his voice. "I remember what happened the last time you cooked. I'll tend to them." He stood up, and lumbered into the kitchen.

"No, it's okay, I can do it, I'm better!" Trevor protested. He even followed the bruin into the kitchen and saw him pulling on an apron.

But Christopher waved his paws at him, "Shoo! I can cook better than you anyway. Go play your game." Trevor started to turn around when Christopher thought of a use for him. "Wait, find out how everyone wants their steaks cooked. And that includes Rob too."

Trevor nodded and returned to the living room to ask. Though Christopher hadn't even seen the steaks that lay marinating in the fridge, their juicy aroma filled the air. Much more appealing than that skunk stink. With ginger paws, he lifted out the platter of steaks and set it on the counter. Their stove had a grill, which would be perfect. He turned it on, listening as both Brett and Nick asked for their steaks to be cooked medium well.

While Christopher pulled out a tub of butter and an onion, Trevor returned and said, "Both Nick and Brett want their steaks medium well, and I'd like mine medium rare. I'm going to go see what Rob wants."

"Thank you, Trevor." Christopher took a chopping knife and proceeded to dice the onion. He spreads the bits of onion onto the steaks, and then scooped a wad of butter into a frying pan. Time to see if they had any zucchini. He rifled through their fridge and found both a zucchini and a squash. Even better!

He listened to Trevor calling out to Rob, but the would-be dolphin didn't reply until Trevor asked him a third time. Christopher, who'd begun humming a tune to himself as he cooked, blinked when he heard an unfamiliar voice asking for a very rare steak. That wasn't Rob's voice. It sounded too guttural, beastly.

Like his own.

Heart trembling, an ancient hope flickering inside of him like a candle almost out of wax, he turned and nearly grabbed Trevor's shirt with his claws. "When did you say Rob became sick?"

Trevor eeked in surprise, but managed to reply, "He started feeling sick on Thursday. Oh, he wants his steak cooked very rare."

"Thursday was two days ago." The 15th; the same day he always became sick. "And you say he felt better this morning."

"Nick did, I wasn't awake yet."

"And now he won't come out of his room?"

Trevor nodded. "Are you okay, Chris?"

"I might be. Here," he pulled the apron off. Good grief, how much of a momma bear had he been acting anyway? "I'm going to go see if Rob's okay. He sounded funny to me."

Trevor stood there as the bear squeezed down the narrow hall. "He sounded okay to me."

Christopher sniffed at Rob's door and was rewarded with the pungent aroma of skunk. Maybe it hadn't been the roadkill after all? Could he really dare to hope after all these years? He knocked, "Hey, Rob. You in there?"

"Who's that?" the same odd voice replied. It did sound a little like Rob, but there was a clumsiness with his tongue, and a definite churr underlying the words.

"It's me, Christopher," he replied. Could Rob hear his real voice? "Can I come in?"

"No! I'm sick, I don't want you to get infected."

As if that would stop Rob from interacting; it never had before. There had to be something more. "I may already be infected," Christopher replied. He tried the handle, but the door was locked. "Come on, Rob, open up." He heard Trevor walk up behind him, a curious expresison on his face. Christopher growled under his breath and waved one paw at his friend. "Shoo! I'll take care of this. Go cook dinner."

Trevor chuckled and shook his head. "Okay, I will cook dinner. What were you doing with the skillet? You have a mound of butter sitting there, but I don't think that's where you want to make the steaks."

Christopher growled louder, exasperated. "Chop up zucchini and squash. Fry them up. They blend well with steak. And yes, you have both in the vegetable drawer in the bottom."

From his bedroom, Rob yelled, "The zucchini is green and the squash is yellow!"

"I know what colors they are," Trevor muttered to himself, but he did finally leave.

Christopher turned back to Rob's door and gently knocked. "Rob, I really need to see you."

"I'm sick, Chris! Just go away."

"You were sick last night, but you didn't lock yourself in your room. What's different now?" Christopher's heart beat faster. If he wanted to make Rob open up, he'd have to risk sounding like an idiot. "Do you have unusual hair growth?"

He could hear Rob moving around, as well as his cursing about some "damn thing". Please, he prayed, let him be like me. The skunk scent, the sickness, the odd voice, all of it pointed toward Rob being changed like him, but it didn't prove it.

Finally, after Rob had stepped around to the other side of the door, he asked, "What would you know about unusual hair growth?"

That faint cinder of hope sparked to full flame. Christopher could barely hold back his excitement. He wanted to rip the door off its hinges and hug his friend tight. But if he was now a skunk, seeing a huge female bear destroy his bedroom door might make him spray. The dead skunks on Route 460 were bad enough, no need to make it worse.

He stared at the door from top to bottom. He wiggled his toes by the jamb and grinned. "Rob, I'm going to slide my fingers under the door. I'll let you decide whether to open the door or not once you've seen them." He didn't wait for a response. Bending over until he was on his knees, his tail pressing painfully into the back of his shorts, he slid the claws and as much of his finger tips as he could between the door and the carpet. Paw pads up, he wiggled those claws in the air on Rob's side.

"Holy shit!" Rob said in a startled whisper. "Okay, hang on. I need to get something on."

Christopher covered his snout with his other paw to keep in his shout of joy. Rob had seen his claws! He'd actually seen what Christopher really looked like! He climbed back to his feet, dancing a little as he grinned and rumbled. In the bedroom he heard Rob cursing about something not going in right.

"Chris?" Trevor called from the kitchen doorway. "How do I know when the zucchini is done?"

"It will be soft and darker. Just figure it out, and turn down the heat if you aren't sure. Now shoo! Rob and I have to talk!" He glared with his fangs, and though Trevor couldn't see them, he seemed to get the message.

When he turned around again, he heard the lock click. "Okay," Rob called, voice retreating within the room. "The door's open."

Christopher put one paw on the handle, took a deep breath, said a quick prayer, then opened the door and stepped inside. The first thing he noticed was that the skunk scent had grown stronger. The second was that Rob's room was a complete mess. His unmade bed was strewn with dirty clothes, book, and papers. Next to the bed, his computer desk suffered from similar clutter, this time adding empty soda cans and a dirty plate with the faint aroma of pizza. His closet doors hung open, and from them cascaded boxes of games, radio and computer equipment, as well as several different types of cables. The nearby bookshelf was somewhat organized with books on programming, networks, gaming, and math, but he still spotted an empty can wedged in there. And Rob's floor was covered in all that and more, with only a few empty spots so that the doors would open easily.

Standing next to the bed in pajama bottoms worn backwards was a six foot tall skunk.

"Holy..." the skunk breathed, eyes widening as he stared at the bruin that had just stepped into his room. "Chris... you're a bear!"

Christopher pushed the door shut and cried for joy. "You're a skunk! Oh thank you, Lord! I'm not alone anymore!" His eyes brimmed with tears.

"What are you talking about?" Rob demanded, his black and white stripped tail flicking back and forth, the fur frazzled as if he'd been electrocuted. "And are those breasts? Holy shit, you're female!"

Christopher put one claw to his muzzle and shushed him. "Keep it down. Nobody but you and I can see this. Yes, I have breasts. I had them last year too, but you couldn't see them. Oh this is wonderful! Do you have any idea how long I've waited to see somebody else like me?"

"No, and why the heck are we furry? And why am I a skunk and you a bear? What's going on?"

"I don't know. I've been furry for six years now, and I still have no idea why. Nobody else can tell. They still see me as human and male, although apparently with this change I've put on weight."

"And height!" Rob narrowed his dark eyes. "Wait... this change? Six years!"

"Calm down," he said, holding out his paws. "I've been changing between different furry species for the last six years, and each year I've changed on August 17, today. And more often than not, I've been female. It's played havoc with Leslie. She doesn't have a clue, and I'm trying to keep it that way. And you'll need to as well. Nobody can see you're a skunk but me. And nobody will believe you if you tell them. You have to learn how to hide this like I have."

"Look at my tail!" He gestured to the appendage that curled up around his back, nearly as large as he was. "There's no way I can hide this!"

"Nobody can see it."

"I can't even put pants on," Rob gestured at his backwards pajamas.

"I'll teach you to sew tail holes into your pants." Christopher turned his head to one side and sniffed at the air. "Smell that." Rob lifted his snout and sniffed. "I think Trevor's burning the steaks. I'll go stop him."

Rob shook his head. "Don't leave me like this. I don't even know what to do! You've been like this for six years, Chris; you need to help me."

"I will. Trust me though, nobody else can see you. You could go out there right now, and they probably wouldn't be able to tell you had those on backwards."

"I'm not going out like this!" Rob insisted, arms crossed and tail flitting from side to side. "Won't people notice I have a hole in my pants?"

"You never noticed the holes I had in mind these last two years. As long as you're wearing your clothes, nobody can tell anything. I've been wearing a bra for two years now, but you haven't seen it have you?"

Rob laughed, "A bra? Oh shit, yeah, you are wearing one aren't you. Dang, how did you end up female?"

Christopher grunted. "Rob, I really need to go stop Trevor. Look, I'll bring you your dinner. I can take some of your pants back to my place and adjust them, but for a comfortable fit, I'm going to have to take some measurements."

"Measurements?" Rob stared at him, eyes slowly coming to understanding. "Woah, you may be a girl now, but I'm not posing nude for you!"

"Not so loud!" Christopher snapped. "I don't need you to take your pants off, just touch your tail. Turn around and I can be done in a couple seconds. Then I can save our steaks."

Rob grunted, but did so. Christopher got down on his knees, apprehensive about being so close to Rob's new biological weapon. With extreme care, he wrapped one digit around the root of Rob's long tail. He tapped where his claw met his skin, making a mental note, then put his claw at the top of Rob's tail, and measured the distance to his waistline. He gave Rob's leg a soft pat with his paw pads and stood back up. "Thanks for not spraying me. Pick out two pairs of pants. After I eat, I'll go home and resize them for you."

"And then what?"

Christopher put one paw on the door knob, looked over his shoulder and grinned. "Then we talk. And plan." He opened the door and roared, "Trevor! Turn down the grill! You're burning the steaks!"

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Although cooked more thoroughly than his ursine body preferred, the steaks proved to be delicious and with the fried zucchini and squash, made a satisfying dinner. Brett kept asking him how Rob was doing, to which Christopher replied that he was feeling better, but still not one hundred percent.

By the time he'd finished his meal, Cindy and Van had shown up. They'd been together for as long as he'd known them, but no word on when Van would pop the question. Cindy was short, with bright blond hair, and a relaxing demeanor. When she saw Christopher, she asked rather diplomatically what Leslie had been feeding him lately. The black-haired and pony-tailed Van bluntly said he looked fat.

When he checked on Rob, the skunk-man handed him a bag with two pairs of pants. Rob then promptly went back to hiding behind his computer. Christopher excused himself, saying he had to run a short errand, and asked Trevor and the rest to keep an eye on Crystal for him while he was gone. Trever was busy putting the Lord of the Rings movie on the DVD player, but assured him his dog would be fine.

It had been a while since Christopher had to sew a new tail hole. As soon as he returned to his apartment, he pulled out his sewing kit and set to work. He growled a little tune to himself, claws deftly pinning needles in the denim, marking out the area he'd measured. With a single cut down the middle of the rear, and two shorter cuts on either side, he fashioned a hole, and also hemmed the fabric in to prevent it from tearing.

He then cut the fabric at the top of the pants, and took one of the many button patches he'd bought over the years. He sewed on metal buttons that looked similar to the ones in front, and then tested the seams. Rob would have to practice buttoning his tail in, but it hadn't taken Christopher long to learn. Once satisfied that everything was in place, he sewed it all together with the sewing machine, pulled on the threads, and then folded both pairs of pants up and stuffed them back in their bag.

When he returned to 1600J, Aragorn was battling Nazgul on Weathertop. "Hey again, Chris!" Brett called from where he sat squished between Trevor and Nick on the couch. The bruin waved to them and scanned the room. He found his dog laying on somebody's pillow contentedly sleeping. "I'm going to check on Rob again. Got some stuff for him." He watched Aragorn throw the flambeaux into the head of the Nazgul. The piercing shriek hurt his ears. "Dang, that's a great movie."

He found Rob sitting behind his computer, long tail curling over the back of his chair. Rob was chattering angrily to himself. "I never knew having claws was this bad. I've destroyed two keys already!"

"Try claws like these," Christopher said, showing off his huge bear claws. "Buy a grooming kit for dogs. I'm serious. The claw trimmers work wonderfully. I used my mine before coming over here. Here's your pants." He tossed the bag.

Rob caught it and pulled out a pair. He turned it around, examined the tail hole, and fiddled with the button. "And nobody else can see this?"

"When you're wearing it. That's just one of the many things you're going to have to learn. You have to do your own laundry, and you have to keep it hidden away. You really need to learn how to clean up after yourself."

"I know," Rob admitted with a wave of one paw. He tossed the bag and the pants on the bed behind him. The pants slid off the covers and onto the floor in a heap. "I'll try to straighten this place out next week."

Christopher growled lightly. "I'm not kidding. Nobody may be able to see you're a skunk, but you are going to start leaving hairs everywhere. And they will certainly be able to smell you. I suggest burning incense candles, or buying potpourri. What do your feet look like?"

"They didn't change much, just gained some claws and fur on the top." Rob leaned back in his chair, and then winced when he sat on his tail. "This thing is irritating me already. I guess it could be worse."

"You are still male, be grateful for that." A wicked grin crossed Christopher's muzzle. "Get used to performing gymnastics on the toilet. One of the very few advantages to being female is that I only have to sit down."

Rob laughed. "Already figured that one out. So anyway, we're both furry now. Yay. What do we do?"

Christopher nodded thoughtfully. "Well, first this week I help you adjust. Classes don't start for a week, so I can come over a few days and help you get this place in order. You can come over to my place too and I'll show you what I've done to hide this from Leslie. Sadly, our schedules have us home together only twice in the next week. Bleah."

"Oh, that sucks." Rob rubbed his paws together. "Then what? I don't want to just hide out for the rest of my life."

"Me either. For six years I've wondered if I was alone. Well, now we know there are at least two of us. There has to be more people changed like us. Once you're settled into being a skunk, I say we try to find them. And then maybe we can learn why the heck this is happening to us."

Rob nodded, grinning from ear to ear. "Sounds like a plan!" He held up his paw, and the two furs high-fived. Rob winced and shook his paw back and forth, "Damn, that hurt!"


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Rob and Christopher joined the rest of their friends only a little later. They watched the rest of the movie, and then played more games together, before winding the evening down catching up on what everyone did that summer. By the time Christopher left for home, it was well past midnight.

After making Crystal take a short walk to tend to her business, the big bear slid into his bed. Leslie wouldn't be home for another few hours. He wished she was there. He wanted nothing more than to hold her tight. Finally, he had some reason to hope again.

Quickly, before his weariness could convince him to just sleep, he grabbed his journal and began to write on the first empty page:

Aug 17, 2002

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Today has been the best day of my life (other than my wedding day). It didn't start out so good, as I've become a bear again and I'm still female. That means by the time I change again I'll have been female for three straight years. I'm still not happy about that, but I think for the first time I can live with it.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Finally, after six long years, I'm not alone! I'm not alone!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Robert Hallman, one of my friends from the furry club, turned into a skunk today. He was a little freaked out, but I managed to calm him down and help him understand that he wasn't going to be captured by secret government agents for gruesome tests the moment he went outside. Once he realized nobody ran screaming, he settled down. I felt like a mother proud of her cub; gah, dang female wiring!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">He's going to have a dickens of a time with that tail of his though. He'll have to sit forward everywhere now, sort of the way I did when I was a rat.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">He's lucky that he's still male. But I was male too on my first change --- still wish I could be a male Rottweiler again. And he also hasn't changed in height or weight like I have. I really don't want to know what my Mom's going to say when she sees me, probably berate me for getting fat and not exercising. Sorry Mom, I've turned into a bear and can't help it!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Ah, I don't really care! I'm not alone! I'm glad it was Rob. He's always been a good friend. Now we have something else in common. I've already planned out four days this week when we're going to get together. I swear we'll just use three to clean up his pigsty! I leave a few papers on my coffee table and I think my place is a mess!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">But now that I know there is at least one person out there like me, there must be more. I don't know how long it will take to find them, but this time, we will succeed, darn it!

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">But the more I think about, the more I realize that I'm happy again to be furry. For the first time since that first year, I truly feel special. And darn it, I like seeing fur, claws, a snout, and even this hefty paunch.

<p style="text-indent: 2em; line-height:1.2;">Father in Heaven, thank you for finally bringing my solitude to an end. Help Rob with his adjustments, and help the both of us find the others changed like us. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

Christopher the female bear set the journal on his nightstand and turned out the light. He shoved the covers off his frame, laying on his back, paws resting on his chest just beneath his breasts. With a smile on his snout, the big bruin fell into a deep and contented sleep.