|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
Vinnie had been standing in front of the door for a couple of minutes now, trying to decide whether or not to go in. He felt silly and embarrassed to be even considering a dating service. It seemed so, well, sleazy. But this one was supposed to be different.
For the fifth time in as many minutes, he looked at the simple business card in his hand. "Special Delivery - Custom Family Arrangements." Well, the name was certainly different. Most of these places had names like "Passion Pals," or Romance Register.' Not that he'd ever been to one before, but he'd seen the ads. Half the people he knew kept trying to fix him up one way or another.
He hadn't planned to still be single at 40, it just sorta happened. A first, he just wasn't ready for a relationship. High school and college passed without any serious sweetheart, and then the Air Force sent him to a remote sight for four years. It took a while to find career field he wanted to stick with after he got out of the military, and by then, he'd gotten used to the freedom of being a bachelor.
He did date. Not often, but there was always a married friend who knew this 'perfect girl.' After a while, he got to dread dinner invitations, because invariably there would be a quiet, church-going widow or divorcee, or perhaps even an sweet, unmarried friend of the wife. They were always really nice women who seemed just as uncomfortable with the well-meant matchmaking as he was.
It's just that none of them ever really clicked. Vinnie was quiet and easy-going, but his interests didn't match up with those of most people his age. He loved computers, and cartoon shows, and video games. Disney movies were his preference over sex and violence, and he loved painting and working with modeling clay. Because he didn't drink, smoke, or use profanity, a lot of people thought he was profoundly religious. The truth was simpler, and far more boring. He didn't like the taste of alcohol, never had an interest in cigarettes, and figured that four-letter words didn't really get you anywhere.
Actually, his being here was just another 'fix-up.' Mary Norris, one of the newer programmers at the office, had pushed the card on him a few days ago. She'd taken every opportunity to work with him and had been delighted to hear about his hobbies and interests. It was flattering, if a little embarrassing to have a pretty girl ten years his junior showing so much interest, but she was way too young for him. Still, he'd been a little disappointed to discover that she was happily married.
It finally occurred to him that she just wanted to be friends, and after that, he'd opened up quite a bit more. She and her husband had him over to dinner several times, mercifully without any surprise dates. John, the husband, was a successful engineer who liked to play softball and race bicycles. He and Mary had laughed when Vinnie confessed that his lack of interest in sports was mostly due to being such a klutz as a child, but it was a warm humor that he shared with them.
In some ways, they were almost opposites. Vinnie had avoided any type of real commitment, even choosing cats over the dogs he really preferred because they were more independent. The Norris's had married while they were still in college, and desperately wanted a family. After years of trying, they'd been disappointed to find they couldn't have children of their own, but were planning to adopt soon.
Still, they seemed to be genuinely delighted to see his amateurish efforts at art, and even suffered through a few of his attempts to get them interested in computer games. And best of all, they never once tried any matchmaking.
That seeming acceptance of his bachelorhood made Mary's sudden insistence about 'Special Delivery' come as a real surprise. He'd thought they understood that he was happy enough living alone. The only reason he'd actually come was that she'd made an appointment for him, even paid for the fee. That she would do such a thing without asking him first put a real strain on his good nature, but this was obviously very important to her. Rather than stomp on good intentions, he'd managed a smile and promised to go.
Which brought him back to the door. It was still a little early for his appointment. The urge to leave was strong, but he had promised. Besides, he was a little curious. There was no phone number on the card, just the address of this nondescript building. And information didn't even have a listing for the place. Apparently, 'Special Delivery' relied on word of mouth for customers.
He took a deep breath, and finally reached for the door handle. As he did, the door swung open by itself. Startled, he looked up to see an attractive older woman smiling at him. Perhaps 50, she was dressed casually in a simple white blouse and jeans. "You must be Vincent. My name is Andrea Wamb, I own 'Special Delivery.' She offered her hand, which he shook politely. "Come in, please." He nodded and stepped inside, and blinked in surprise.
Her office looked like the large family room of a nice house. Plain, overstuffed furniture shared space with one of those giant projection televisions and a nice computer setup. The wood-paneled walls had built-in bookcases and cabinets, and there were even some toys and a crib over in one corner. The overall effect was a bewildering contrast to what he had expected that he had to stifle a laugh.
The woman ushered him over to a couch. "Please, sit down. Can I get you a drink?" Vinnie smiled to himself. Plying the customer with booze right off the bat? Maybe this place wasn't as different as it looked. Before he could refuse, she pointed to a refrigerator in the corner and added "I have some cold milk, and a little lemonade left.?"
Startled again, he found himself asking for the lemonade, which she served to him in a Batman glass. He sipped it cautiously as she pulled a folder from a cabinet by the television, and was pleased to find that it was fresh-squeezed. It was hard not to think he was just visiting someone's home, and despite himself, he started to relax.
The woman plopped down on the chair across from him and spread the contents of her folder on the coffee table. Then she looked at him expectantly. Vinnie blushed, feeling incredibly silly. "Uh, I'm sorry Miss Wamb. This really isn't my idea at all. A friend of mine.."
She interrupted with a raised hand and a smile. "You don't have to explain, Vincent. All of the single people I work with are referred by others. And I hope you won't be embarrassed by my saying this, but anyone who is sent to me is quite special. Your friends, Mary and John Norris, think more of you than you can begin to appreciate."
His cheeks reddened again, and he forced a grin. "Guess they don't know me very well."
She tilted her head, and then picked up one of the papers. "Oh, I don't know about that. Mary tells me you like cartoons and computer games. And that you wish you had been more athletic as a kid, and like painting and working with clay." Noting Vinnie's obvious discomfort, she put the paper down and gave him an impish grin. "She also mentioned that you hate matchmaking, and would probably rather run naked through the streets than be here."
He had started to take another swallow of lemonade, and choked on that last statement. Wamb leaped up and grabbed a towel, which she offered to Vinnie as he coughed the tart drink through his nose. Dignity shattered, he finally had to laugh, and she joined in as they cleaned up the mess together.
In a few minutes, his coat and tie were draped over the back of the couch. Between the pleasant atmosphere and his unintentional ice-breaker, he was completely at ease now. If there was any awkwardness, it was due to the completeness of the information Mary had provided on him. The woman must have memorized everything he'd ever told her about himself. Not that there was anything to be ashamed of, but to have a stranger like Wamb know so much about him was disturbing. He'd have to have a talk with Mary and John later. They meant well, but he didn't want his personal life shared like this.
At least there was little to do but verify the key points. Yes, both parents were dead. Still living alone with his 2 cats. One sister living on the other side of the country. Wamb was skilled enough at her job to keep the questions casual and conversational, so it never actually felt like the interview it was.
When she finally closed the folder, he sighed and gave her a faint smile. "So, now what? Do you need a photo or a video tape to show whoever you might try to match up with me?"
She laughed and shook her head. "Oh, no. I don't work that way at all. Far too unreliable. Besides, what a person looks like is not what's important." She leaned forward with a warm smile. "Take you, for instance. Most women wouldn't give you a second look, because all they see is an average older guy with thinning hair and a bit of a belly." He reddened a bit at this rather blunt appraisal, even though he knew it was accurate. "What can't be seen is the wonderful person you are inside. That's why you were referred to me. The Norris' saw those qualities in you that are truly worthwhile. And I heartily agree on their choice."
Vinnie didn't quite understand what she was talking about, but let it go. He gestured at the framed pictures that covered every open space on the walls. Each showed a smiling couple with at a child or infant. "If those are all former customers, it looks like you have a good success rate. But I'm a little old to be starting a family. Hope I won't bust a winning streak for you."
She grinned and shook her head. "I told you, Vincent. The physical part doesn't matter. That includes age." She clapped her hands together and stood. "But enough talk. Since you like computer games, maybe you would help me with something." She walked over to the computer and touched a switch. The system came on instantly, probably in some sort of standby mode. "Have you ever tried any of the new virtual reality devices?"
Vinnie got up eagerly. "No, they're still too expensive for my budget. But I've read a lot about them." The computer looked pretty ordinary at first, but on closer inspection, it had a very unusual high-tech look. None of the usual buttons and switches were visible, except for a standard keyboard and a cordless mouse.
She opened a drawer under the unit and pulled out a visor and a lightweight jumpsuit that had gloves and boots attached. "You'll have to take off your shoes, but think you'll enjoy this." He took the garment, surprised both by the lack of any wires or obvious electronics, and the light weight. It fit perfectly, and he was hardly aware of anything but the visor. With it in place, he couldn't see anything, and the built-in ear plugs muffled sound. Then she must have connected the setup, for he was suddenly in a blank room.
Even though the room was featureless, the graphics creating it were very good. Wamb's voice echoed eerily around him, somewhat distorted by the headphones. "This is a new game interface I have been working on. It allows players to design their own characters before they start." There was a pause, and then she patted his shoulder. "Look at the wall across from you, and picture yourself."
He complied, and watched in fascination as a humanoid shape rapidly formed. When it was done, his mouth fell open. It was him, complete to the clothes he was wearing! "How did you do that? It's me!"
There was amusement in her voice. "This system takes a picture with a special camera, and then creates a three-dimensional image. Now, change something. All you have to do is think about what you want. I wanted to keep it really easy, so that kids could use it."
Puzzled, he focused on the clothing. His shirt and slacks darkened and blurred, reforming into his favorite Taz T-shirt and a pair of jeans. "That's fantastic! How does it work?"
She laughed. "I'm afraid I can't tell you quite yet. But don't stop there. You can change anything you want. And when you're happy with the way you look, tell me, and I'll start you in the game."
Vinnie stared at his image, not sure where to start. As he pondered his choices, the computer character got a bit trimmer, and its hair filled out. The effect was startling, both because of the realism, and the fact that he'd been thinking about both changes. The machine really did pick up thoughts.
Fascinated, he made himself swell up into a parody of a body builder, but trimmed back down to a trim, older jock. Another effort stripped about 10 years from the image, and he grinned as he repeated the action. Whatever software she was using was incredibly sophisticated. The computer image was exactly how he had looked when he was 20. Well, almost. The face was perfect, but the body was leaner and more muscular than his had ever been, reflecting his first modifications. Even his clothing had changed to fit.
He wondered just how much the program would do, and found out when the image shrank slightly and the T-shirt was pushed out by firm, nicely-proportioned breasts. It was something of a shock to see himself as a girl. The character looked a lot like his sister had at that age. He almost kept the gender change, but didn't feel comfortable with a female character. The male form returned just a quickly, and he almost laughed at the obvious bulge which formed under the jeans. Something of an overreaction, but he didn't change the it back. Still, this was one feature that might be inappropriate for kids.
Out of curiosity, he changed coloring a couple of times. Again, the program proved to be amazingly capable. The computer image actually let him alter race, showing him as an Asian, a black youth, and some kind of American Indian before he returned to variations of Caucasians. Red hair and blue eyes were interesting, especially when he noticed the character's skin had become pale and freckled. The difference they made was incredible. Up to now, the image had looked like him, albeit a much younger him. He thickened and lengthened the hair, and sculpted the chin a bit better. As a final touch, he made the nose a touch smaller, and straighten his teeth.
"How do you like it?" Wamb's voice startled him. He'd forgotten she was beside him, and wondered how long he'd been playing with the program.
"Sorry. I got carried away, I guess. This is fantastic!" He started to lift the visor, but she pulled his hand away from it.
"Wait until we save the character. Are you happy with the design? Once you close the program, the changes are locked in." He grinned at the copper-haired hunk in front of him, and nodded. "All right, then. This will just take a moment." He felt a couple of drops of liquid on his head, and heard the woman mumble something he couldn't quite understand. Before he could ask her to repeat herself, a sudden shock knocked him to the floor!
More startled than hurt, he jerked off the visor as he scrambled up, and tugged at the zipper of the jumpsuit. "There's some kind of electrical short in this stuff!" She seemed unconcerned, grinning at him as he pulled the front open to climb out of it and froze.
The shirt underneath was his, but not the one he'd been wearing. The Warner Brother's Tazmanian Devil grinned back at him from the T-shirt he'd dressed the computer character in. Bewildered, he pulled the jumpsuit off and looked down.
The slender, muscular form was familiar, as was the prominent bulge under the fly of his jeans. A lock of bright red hair flopped in his face, and he brushed it aside automatically with a pale, freckled hand. Gasping, he felt the smooth contours of his cheeks, and looked up at Wamb with growing panic.
"You're not going crazy, Vincent." She took one of his hands and led him to a full-length mirror which he hadn't noticed before. The computer character stared back at him with bright blue eyes that were wide in shock. The woman gripped his hand firmly, and turned him to face her. "This is real. All of it." She grabbed a handful of his shoulder-length hair and gave it a painful tug.
Vinnie felt faint, overcome by events, and had to be helped over to a chair. He dropped his head between his knees, aware of the heavy mass of red locks which tumbled down with it. A shiver went through him, and he had to swallow hard to clear his throat before he could speak. "But how? If I'm really changed, how did you do it?"
"Magic." She smiled at his sudden look of disbelief. "Would you have an easier time believing it if I spouted some techno-babble about genetics? Magic is a much older science, and though it is rarely used these days, it is far more powerful than any of the others."
He blinked. "A science? I don't understand. Why did you use the computer?"
Wamb sat on the arm of his chair. "Everything in the universe exists according to a pattern. Molecules, cells, people, planets? They are all made up of countless parts which combine according to a specific equation. Magic is simply a way to change some of the numbers in that equation, which results in a different total."
Vinnie got even paler, if that was possible. "You... you can change whole planets?"
She laughed at that. "Goodness, no! It takes a computer to do all of the math involved for even a simple spell. My equipment is considerably advanced, but the most it could possibly handle is a complete makeover of one person. Your transformation has gone much easier because it was voluntary, rather than imposed."
He looked over at the visor and suit which still lay on the floor. This can't be happening! It's impossible!"
Wamb's hand stroked his back. "Nothing is impossible, Vincent. Especially when people care about you. John and Mary want you to have a wonderful life. All of the special things about you are the same. The only difference is that you got to choose how you look. Most people dream about doing that, but only a handful ever get the chance."
He sat up slowly and stared at his slender hands. "I'm really younger?" The woman smiled and nodded. "And all this is permanent?" Another nod. He stared down at himself, still trying to grasp it all. "They knew you would do this? John and Mary?"
Wamb picked his folder off of the table, and flipped it open. "Most of my clients set some kind of specifications when they contract my services. Your friends requested that you have total control over your appearance. It doesn't matter to them what you look like as long as you were happy." She smiled. "I must say that you made good use of your artistic skills. You are a rather stunning fellow."
There was a kind of crazy thrill about all this, despite his fear. Standing up, he made his way back to the mirror. The reflection was not so much of a shock this time. Somehow, having seen his old form change in the computer simulation made accepting the reality easier. And it was a nice reflection. He flexed his arms slightly, marveling at the smooth muscles and hairless skin. Pulling off the T-shirt revealed an equally smooth, taut stomach and a well-defined chest. And if anything, he looked even younger than he really had at 20.
There were a thousand questions in his mind, but one seemed more pressing than the others. "What am I going to do now? No one I know would recognize me, and if I tried to explain what happened, they'd think I was crazy!" He looked at the teenager in the glass and shook his head. With the initial shock fading, he started thinking of more practical problems. "I barely look old enough to drive! And I won't be able to use any of my identification. How am I supposed to live?"
"All that is being taken care of." Wamb looked thoughtful. "The question now is what you really want to do with your new life. Become an artist? Maybe design those computer games you like so much? Or perhaps something you hadn't considered before now. With that body, you'll make an outstanding athlete."
Vincent shifted uncomfortably and pulled absently at loose jeans. "I never had any training in painting or sculpture, and I don't know anything about sports. Maybe I could take some classes in art or computer sciences, but for professional sports you really have to start when you're a kid."
"So you'd like to be an athlete?" She picked up a pencil and started marking in his folder. "Any particular sports?"
He shook his head, not understanding her persistence. "I don't know. Tennis? Maybe swimming or biking? What difference does it make? I can't compete in anything. Don't you understand? You've stolen my identity from me!" His voice cracked, making his frustrated shout sound like a childish whine.
The woman put down his folder and walked slowly towards him. Tears were starting to blur his vision, and she reached out to gently stroke one of his cheeks. "It's all right, Vincent. I told you everything has already been taken care of. Do you want to keep your name? Or is there another name you'd like better?"
He was getting angry now, thinking of the problems he faced. "So what if I make up a new name? I can't go back to college, or even join the military without all the right records. Michael Brian Sayre will be just as useless as Vincent Edward Sayre!" He turned away from her and started for the chair, only to trip and fall as his pants fell down around his ankles.
Vinnie scrambled up, kicking his clothes the rest of the way off in the process. Modesty was the furthest thing from his mind as he looked down, and then stumbled back to the mirror. The slender, pale boy staring back at him was no more than 15, with softer features that were almost feminine. "It hasn't stopped!" His voice cracked again, staying in the higher range this time, and he actually saw another year or two melt from his face and body.
Wamb put her arm around his shoulders and drew him close. She was actually taller now, and he had to look up at her face. "Michael Brian? That's a lovely combination. But it won't be Michael Brian Sayre." There was a knock on the door, and she looked over at a clock. "Oh, that must be them now." She smiled. "You're going to be Michael Brian Norris."
He stared in disbelief until she actually let his friends in. They both seemed surprised when they saw him, but at Wamb's nod of confirmation, rushed over. "Oh Vincent! You're beautiful!" Mary knelt and hugged him. John was more awkward, managing a weak grin when he saw the still-impressive sexual equipment. "Looks like you'll be pretty popular when you grow up."
Vincent looked down automatically, only to see his manhood dwindle as he slipped to the wrong side of puberty. The change seemed to be speeding up now, and he felt tears start to flow again. "I'm scared. Really scared. When is it going to stop?"
This time both of the Norris's hugged him, and he realized they were crying as well. "It's going to be fine. You'll have a wonderful life with us. You're our special delivery, our beautiful baby boy."
"Call him Michael Brian. That's what he wants." Wamb had moved to stand over them. "And he'd like to be an athlete, maybe a tennis star or a great swimmer."
Mary looked into his eyes. "Anything you want in the world, Michael Brian." She wiped away his tears and hugged him again. "You were too good to waste. Don't you understand? You were alone, and you never had the chance to do the things you really wanted to. We looked for more than two years for the right person. As soon as I met you I knew you were the one."
"We waited for months to make sure you didn't have any real ties." John had a look of pleading on his face. "And we almost told you, hoping you would want to be young again."
"Am I going to still be me?" He swallowed hard, seeing Mary's face inch a bit higher as his clock ticked backwards. "Inside, I mean? My..." He struggled for words. "My conshushnes." The little boy in the mirror was missing front teeth now, and talking was getting harder.
"Of course you'll still be you." Wamb made a gesture to John, who leaned over and picked him off the floor. It was strange being easily hefted by a man who used to be his size. "There'd be no point in any of this if Vincent Sayre was lost in the process. You won't remember this life, but you'll still have that core which is what makes you who you are."
John turned sideways, letting Vinnie see the six year-old in his arms. "I'll make sure you learn everything you want, at least until you make a choice. Not just the sports stuff, but art and computers, and anything else you want to try."
Mary reached for him now, and hugged him close as he dwindled again. He pushed away from her and turned to face the mirror. "Wanna watch!" The couple knelt beside him, their hands resting lightly on his shoulders. Vinnie was surprised to find that he wasn't afraid any more. The loss of his memories bothered him, but as he watched the child become a toddler, the prospect was no longer scary.
Without tearing his eyes away from the dwindling reflection, he reached up with his tiny hands and touched both John and Mary's fingers. "Thank you." They squeezed his shoulder, but let him watch until his legs grew to weak to stand on. John picked him up again, making sure he could see himself . The change was slowing now, but there was little time left to strip away. Weeks were fading, then days.
And then it was done. The one year-old gurgled and flailed his arms, and then peed all over John's shirt. The man looked down and grinned. "I guess I'll never know if that was just an accident, or if you didn't want to leave without making a special delivery of his own." And Michael Brian smiled.
- end -
Special Delivery copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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