User:Robotech Master/Immunization Camp

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Immunization Camp

Author: Chris Meadows

Author's Comments

Inspired by the "Transformation Camp" story challenge on the TSA-Talk mailing list.

Alex's mother cried as she let him out of the car at the campground. That wasn't like her, and it made the brown-haired twelve-year-old uncomfortable. "Mom, it's just an overnight camp. I'll be fine."

"I know. It's just—it feels like the last time I'll ever see you." She smiled. "My big boy. Make me proud."

"Uh, yeah." After finally finishing his goodbyes, Alex shouldered his duffel bag and looked around. The small campground had a dozen tents set up in two rows, each tent large enough to hold several kids in sleeping bags. Counselors in white shirts and blue scarves were helping finish setup and directing newcomers, and a lot of kids with duffel bags or knapsacks were milling around waiting for their assignments.

Finally Alex was directed to one of the tents. He found two other kids already there. "Uh, hi," he said. "My name is Alex."

A tall, black boy nodded to him. "I'm Farley."

"I'm Edward," said a blonde-haired boy sitting on a rolled-up sleeping bag.

As they waited to be called for camp activities, the three got to know each other. Farley was from a nearby trail-ride stable. "Sometimes I think my Mom doesn't know what to do with me." He chuckled. "I'm always underfoot. I really want to help with the stable. Mom just said maybe when I get bigger."

"I wish my brother Jacob could have come," Edward said. "He'd have loved this. But he's blind, and Mom has to take care of him. We can't afford a seeing-eye dog. I wish we could. I like dogs."

"I like animals, too," Alex said. "Mom wanted to have a cat, but I'm allergic to them so we couldn't." And that wasn't the only reason. Times were tight right now because of the bad economy, and they were having trouble making ends meet as it was. Lots of macaroni and cheese. It had surprised Alex that she was willing to send him to this overnight immunization camp. But on the other hand, immunization was important.

A counselor stuck his head in the tent. "Come on out, everyone! Orientation is starting!" Alex, Farley, and Edward went out to join all the other kids.

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The day passed quickly, as fun times always do. Alex made a lot of new friends and did a lot of fun things. Hiking, canoeing, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a campfire…

But finally it was time for their immunization shots. They lined up in front of their tent, and a doctor in a white uniform came by with a spray syringe and a case of vials for it. The funny thing was, the vials were color-coded, and they didn't all get the same one. The doctor checked their names on a list, and picked a different vial for each. The injection didn't hurt as bad as a needle, but it left a freezing cold spot on Alex's arm.

"It's probably by blood type or something," Farley guessed, rubbing his own arm as the doctor moved on to the next tent.

"Guess so," Alex said. Then he yawned, feeling really tired all of a sudden, and slightly itchy. "Gonn' go to bed now, I guess."

"Me too," said Edward, echoing Alex's yawn. Not too much later, they had crawled into their sleeping bags and fallen into a deep sleep.

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Alex woke the next morning feeling strange. The first thing he noticed was that he wasn't in the sleeping bag anymore; he seemed to be curled up on something soft, like a pillow. He blinked his eyes open and looked down at his paws—which was when he got his next surprise. His paws? Turning his head to stare back at his body, he discovered that it was now that of an orange tabby housecat. He wasn't in the sleeping bag anymore because he was lying on a pillow inside a closed pet taxi.

"What's happened to me!" Alex tried to say, but it only came out as a pitiful "Mew!" Then he became aware of other mews, and barks, and whines, and assorted animal sounds all around him. It sounded like a barnyard. It smelled like one, too—his nose was filled with an assortment of strong, musky odors that he had never noticed before.

Putting his eye to one of the air slots, Alex was able to see another pet carrier in the tent, sitting on Edward's sleeping bag. It had a German Shepherd dog in it who looked at least as confused as Alex did.

Out the front of the pet carrier, Alex could see a horse tied to a fencepost just outside of the tent. Farley's knapsack was strapped to a saddle on its back. The animal was rolling its eye until the whites showed, and making panicky whickering noises. A woman was holding it by the bridle, and was stroking its neck and murmuring in its ear. "Don't you see, this is what you wanted—to help out with the stable. You're going to be very helpful, too—you know how badly we needed another horse…"

Another woman came into the tent, and knelt in front of the dog's pet taxi. "Hi, Edward. I know you're a little confused right now, but it's time to come home. Jacob is going to be so happy we were able to get him a seeing-eye dog after all…" She grabbed the handle and started to wheel the carrier out.

And then another woman came into the tent. "Mom!" Alex said—or tried to say, but again it just came out as "Mew!" Without a word, Alex's mother picked up the pet taxi in which he rested, and carried it out to their car. It was so much bigger now! She wedged the pet taxi in between the rear and front seats, and started the car. She drove home in silence, ignoring Alex's plaintive mews, then carried the pet taxi up to the apartment. At last, she opened the cage, took Alex into her lap, and started to stroke him.

"I'm sorry, Alex," Mom said as she petted him. "But I just couldn't afford food for two people anymore—and I so missed having a cat. It's much cheaper to buy cat food for you. I got you a pet bed, and a litter box, and some squeaky toys, and some catnip…and maybe if everything goes all right I can have you changed back next year."

And then Alex started to realize that he didn't mind being a cat so much. He wouldn't have to go to school anymore, and Mom still loved him…maybe she could even get another cat for him to play with. And he had told Mom just the other day that he would do anything he could to help make ends meet…

Alex closed his eyes and began to purr. All things considered, he was glad he had gone to the transformation camp.