The Transformation Story Archive With Fur and Claws...

Mute City

by Jason-Roo Tracer

I'm racing along at a full clip, and I don't even know if I'm evading or pursuing, until I smell the smoke from behind me. I look to my left, and Wan is still human, perhaps there's still a chance; I know it's too late for me already. I dart my vision forward, trying to mentally clear a path through the fog, but it's so hot now, I can't even think! I glance to my side again, and see his flesh peeling away, chunks flung into the fire, revealing the pipe-like limbs of Gear glinting orange as he runs. I curse silently at the sight, but a wave of heat assaults my eyes, and forces me to turn my gaze forward again, to the road. The asphalt takes on the glow of lava, and I push myself to go faster. Through the fog ahead, though, a sign starts to emerge, staked right in the center of the road.... I execute a perfect two-point stop, and then stare dumbly at the billboard-sized apparition, as huge, stark letters begin to form in ice. As the flames behind me finally start to incinerate my tail, I read, quietly mouthing out the chilling words as I am quickly engulfed in the pyres of hell...

Welcome to Mute City.

I wake up on my feet, next to my bed, panting. Damn. Another lightning-fast nightmare. Nothing ever happens leisurely for me anymore, dreams included, and the pace is killing me as surely as that fire would have, had it been any more than a result of my repressed imagination. I consciously relax as best I can, but it's not as easy as it used to be. My shrink, who supposedly was an expert in the field, gave me some bull about accepting the dual nature of my personality, letting the other side integrate slowly, not fighting any of it.... Lots of good that did. More nightmares, more stress, and heightened instincts, the sort I didn't really need.

Being a natural predator sucks, and I'll never get used to it. Neither of us will ever really get used to anything that's happened. Gear has actually learned to have fun with his particular demented mutation, but the best I've managed to do is roll with it and try not to let myself get weirded out. Like when I wake up from a bone-rattling nightmare only to find that I'm hungry for meat. Raw.

As I defrost yet another 'snack-sized' twelve-ounce steak, I stare at the rotating tray in the microwave, and experience a wave of vicarious nausea...

I slump to the textured metal, holding my head in an effort to make the world stop spinning. It's not the world, though, it's only the beaten-up merry-go-round behind the school, and I'm on the edge of it. Three people spin by -- no, I'm spinning by them, I must remember -- and they occasionally push on the handlebar I'm clinging to. Three kids. Focus on the numbers, not the dizziness. Three, spaced evenly. Pray they stop. Around a circle of 360 degrees, they are 120 degrees apart. Pray to whom, when none have helped before? Distance between, two-thirds pi times the radius.... Just keep thinking rationally!

The overwhelming sensation of vertigo travels down my spine with the same electricity one's foot gets if it's fallen asleep. I begin to calculate the relative centrifugal force on the vomit I'm trying my best to hold in, when I hear the blurred shouting amongst my tormentors change in tone. The pace of the hellish playground equipment diminishes, as if a miracle has accidentally landed on me. I look up, once the spin dies down enough, and I see that kid in my math class, that tall, gangly kid from some backwards country in Asia. He helps me off the ever so inaccurately named merry-go-round, and I stand there, not knowing what he did to chase off the bullies, nor what to say to thank him. Then, I realize that his English isn't that hot anyhow, and he likely wouldn't understand a word I uttered, so I just smile weakly, and he smiles back.

Then, I turn around and puke.

The light goes off in the microwave, and I pull out the dish with the barely-warmed beef. I sit down carefully at the table, and proceed to stab the steak with my fork, and saw off small chunks with my knife. It occurs to me that I could probably just do better to handle it with my bare paws, but for as long as I can, I want to remain human....

For three years, Wan and I have been eating lunch in the same place, under that grand pine tree behind the school, the one that's sort of off alone, even with the forest just a few dozen meters behind it. Back then, I was helping him learn the finer points of the English language, like historical and proper usage of the word ain't and how over-commercialism, greed, and clever computer geeks had caused the Mega-Internet to gain the colloquial abbreviation of Me-Net. Important things. Now, I think he speaks the language better than I do, so now we spend some of our time improving each other's math, some of the time just expounding upon the philosophy of life, and much of the time just sitting here, eating lunch quietly.

Right now, we're doing the latter, each wordlessly enjoying the presence of the other. Nobody at all understands the connection between us, nor anything at all about us, and today, I don't care if they ever do. My hands are shaking because I'm nervous, because there's something I want to tell him today that I couldn't even admit to myself for a long time. Damn it, now my legs are shaking too! This is the most nervous I've ever been in my life, and I feel nauseous, then... no, something's wrong, very....

Now, I'm flat on the ground, spasmodically writhing, my vision flickering in and out like bad music video effects from the turn of the century. For a second, I see everything in ultra color, and Wan stands over me, bright yellow skin and blue hair and burning red shirt. Then, without a word, he runs off. Any other soul would have abandoned me there, because even I know what's happening to me now. But I know Wan went to get help, and that he'll be right back.

I make the barest pretense of chewing my food, only because of human habit. As I cut off another piece, I stare out the window, to the gently lightening sky, the hues of dawn. In the distance, the clouds are the color of the blood on my plate, and getting brighter every minute. I wish Gear were awake right now to see this with me....

Through my window, I watch Wan run up the sidewalk to my house, shadowed in the orange tones of sunset. Every day without fail, for two weeks, he's headed to my place as fast as humanly possible after school, and his week-end job. Each day, I've heard the depressed excuses of my mother, and I've seen him walk away slowly, slumped, almost child-like in his pure disappointment after a day of hope. Today, I know my horrible changes have finally ceased, and I vow to keep him from being turned away again.

The door opens, and he asks yet again, and my mother's answer is the same, but this time I'm standing behind her, and she doesn't even realize it until I growl. I fight hard to keep my composure, to keep the balance between the old human self and the new animal, especially as she backs away with mortal fear on her face. I turn to Wan, who is standing in the doorway. His eyes scan my new eight-foot frame, and I can see the physical effects of horror. He is frozen for a moment, as confused by his instinct to run as I am by mine... but again, he doesn't abandon me. He fights the shock of seeing me again for the very first time, and stumbles in to embrace me, and then we are both crying.

Next, we are both in my room, sitting on my bed, and he is hardly speaking. At his request, I'm explaining everything to him, the entire process of painfully shifting into a hideously different form, the demoralizing effects of satisfying the cravings of a predator, the way my thoughts always have violent, brutal overtones.... I'm actually trying to drive him away, I realize, to make him want to find something better for himself than me. But through it all, he stays. After that, we sit quietly, and for the first time since I started to metamorphose, I am calm.

I poke at the last remaining bits of steak on my plate, as I sit thinking. I've made up dozens of pseudo-Latin names for my new species, but none of them sound horrible enough. At any rate, the theories of the predecessor to the modern kangaroo were true. It was conjectured, with the backing of some slight evidence, that there was once a carnivorous kangaroo, a hunter, a killer. I chuckle at the thought. I'm bigger than any kangaroo or normal human, for certain, and there's no doubting that I'm deadly enough. Gear once joked that I was the mammalian equivalent of a Tyrannosaurus rex, but with a worse temper. Just thinking about my temper gets my blood pumping a bit faster. I tend to over-react to the smallest stimuli....

As I face the monitor, hunched over, I growl commands at it. The screen fills with more irrelevant articles and undesired Me-Net advertisements. I've been squeezed into this workstation in the school library for nearly an hour and a half, pointlessly searching for more information about what I am. Thousands of pages about the bizarre metamorphic plague that got me, and hundreds about every marsupial alive on this warped planet, but not a word about anything that even remotely resembles me. A couple weeks ago, I'd have simply kept going, thinking I wasn't saying the right parameters, but now I'm furious, wanting to attack something just to vent my irritation.

A sudden noise from behind causes me to spin around, claws at the ready. When I remember that it's only a bell for the end of study hall, I yank off the earphones and set them on the shelf. I sigh a logout command, and the monitor blinks off. I open the door and uncramp myself from the cubicle, stretching out, then unconsciously scanning the room. People, places, distances, and dangers. I don't even think about it, but I always know exactly where everyone is, and how much of a threat they are. Or how much of a meal.

Predatory instincts turn to confused hormonal ones as I see Wan pass in the hallway. I smile, and carefully make my way through the library. Time for another lunch, and I'm certain he's had a better day than me.

Beef blood is salty. Back before the change, I remember being harassed by a guy who looked mildly like a werewolf. He bared his teeth at me and asked if the blood of a fag was sweeter. I asked him if he'd ever bit his tongue. He wasn't the type to appreciate well-crafted triple entendres. I found out that my blood is salty too. I pause in chewing my steak to look at a photo of my old self, to relive some of that fear.

I break into a full stride, something I've not done for a long while. By leaping the fences in between houses, I cut my time to four minutes to get to his house. All the while, his shaken words on the 'phone echo in my mind, and then the gasping for air, the unheard pleas for anyone to help him -- no, not just anyone, ME.

Without breaking my pace, I leap up to his apartment building, and then over the porch and through the metal door, warping it in a way that would have impressed me had the situation not been so grave. I find Wan's apartment and, without thinking, splinter the door with one solid side kick. There he is, on his favorite old ratty couch, looking like someone has vacuumed out everything inside him except his bones.

I crouch down beside him as close as I can, without touching him, afraid to cause any more pain. His eyes, glassed over, slowly focus on me. I don't say a single word, but nevertheless, the gentlest indication of a smile flashes over his features, just before his face twists into a soundless scream. The last of his flesh falls away, crackling like soft chalk. All that remains is the vaguest approximation of a human skeleton, all cold and blackened iron.... I roar with rage, and then slump to the floor, crying, not moving for a long while.

I stare at the photos for a while, at the immortalized reflections of what we once were. For most people who have changed, the mere sight of their former visage will trigger incredible regret, even though they did nothing wrong to lose their humanity. I admit, I'm one of those people. The difference is, for me the thoughts always turn to Gear, to imagine what he must be feeling.

Despite the legal documentation, I'm having a hell of a time convincing the people at the DMV that I'm still legally me, and Gear -- well, that's just my nickname for him, now -- is who the paperwork says he is. They look at me incredulously, and then back to him with amazement, as he stares at a mirror, slowly changing his own metal face, trying to decide on what he wants to look like for his new driver's license. Finally, they photograph him, and we all laugh at his final decision. I just hope he doesn't get pulled over.

As we leave the building, he briefly admires his handiwork, having successfully emulated the classic happy-face button with his own head. He then switches back to his default surreal, skull-like construction. As always, he puts on one personality for the rest of the world, and only I see his true self. I put an arm around his bony iron frame, and in a very human expression, he simply hangs his head.

The vidphone rings. Blasted telemarketers. They never show me their faces, and I sure as hell show them mine. I want them to know just how many teeth are helping me enunciate my desires to remain off their calling lists. It's never the same person twice, but it's always the same firm, the same one that tried to give me a hard-sell for a magazine 'devoted to men's lifestyles.' That was when I started audibly snarling at them when they would ask questions. I'm not a man anymore... and what good is this terror-inspiring form if I can't abuse the privilege?

First we had a hell of a time getting into the restaurant, and now we're getting hard looks from the table next to us. Even the waiter pauses when he arrives, and I don't blame him. Anybody who sees me seems to relive thousands of past lives' memories of the most fearsome natural predators... and anybody who sees Gear gets visions of thousands of future terrors. Even in his classy, highly polished form tonight, he is a little fearsome to look at. Then again, neither of us is asking for anyone else to approve.

Oddly, it was his idea to have a 'romantic, candlelight dinner.' Not that he eats, but he just enjoys the atmosphere, and it's his way of making certain I get out of the house once in a while. I admit that it's fun to get dressed up fancy, myself in a specially tailored suit, and him in his favorite geometric look, like an abstract stick figure with ball-joints and ridged pipes. And then, when we get to talking over dinner, with the combination of my gruff voice and his strange metallic intonations... okay, so we pride ourselves on being weird, sometimes. What else have we got left to show the world?

I raise my wine glass, smiling as best I can without appearing too malevolent. I propose a toast to Mutation City, and he chuckles. For a couple hours, every so often, we forget the pains of our disease. So I'm a bad-tempered and occasionally blood-thirsty kangaroo from hell. So he's an inorganimorph who tends to resemble an endoskeleton from any number of cheesy science fiction movies. By God, we're still human for what matters. I hope.

I idly trace patterns on the table with a claw. My peaceful, relaxed moment is broken by the sound of a newspaper smacking the porch. Another little reminder package of the subtle depravity of their world. Briefly, I consider sacking the paperboy, but then I just shake my head and stare out the window. Out there, in the tangerine tones of dawn, everyone is starting to do their usual thing again. Re-building walls that fall over, passing around long-forgotten money, revving their engines on terminally cluttered roads, and never pondering just where it is they live, ignoring the pestilence of altered form that surrounds them. They must think it's all normal. I don't know why I still get the newspaper anyhow. I thought I cancelled it.

There are others -- but even many of the changed avoid us, Gear and myself. Perhaps they can see the same sights. My blood is on fire, now, with the burning of the predator's heart.... Gear, despite his collected, even demeanor, struggles every minute to hang onto ever-crumbling pieces of humanity. I see the sign ahead, and I know it's gonna be a silent, cold winter, again.

Welcome to Mute City.

Mute City copyright 2000 by Jason-Roo Tracer.

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