The Transformation Story Archive Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...

Back Roads

by Bob Stein

Scott almost slid off the road as he came around the corner, tires screaming in protest as he powered through. This forgotten stretch of highway had become his personal racetrack, turning a long and boring business trip into a bit of fun.

He was being incredibly stupid. The Interstate would have saved him hours of travel, and his poor little Neon wasn't built for such abuse, no matter what the commercials implied. And trying to shake off the after-effects of a bad week by driving like a moronic teenager wasn't the best way to endear himself to any troopers who might be hiding in the darkness.

The thought of a ticket brought his right foot up for moment, but just a moment. The old two-lane highway was in great condition, and he hadn't seen anything but thick forest for at least 10 miles. Not surprising, since it didn't appear on any of the maps he'd brought with him. And the turnoff wasn't marked. The only reason he even knew about it was a1943 Atlas road map in the diner back in Red Hills.

The twisty, dark line had caught his eye as he looked over the framed antique. No towns, no intersections. Most of the lettering was faded, but he could make out a large grayish spot near the center labeled Fort Randolph. Probably some Word War II training camp. Whatever it had been, it was gone now, forgotten by new map makers along with the road which had led past it.

It occurred to him that the road might not go all the way through to the next town any more. What the hell. He was having fun, and if he had to turn around somewhere, he'd have more fun driving back.

Another curve was lit up by his halogen headlamps. Downshift, hug the inside edge and power through, slam into fourth and press the accelerator pedal through the floorboard. Another long straight stretch appeared, and he let the engine wind out. Topping 90, he saw the next twist approaching and started slowing down. And then a dark blur exploded from the brush.

"Shhhiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!" Scott's scream stretched out as the world went into slow motion. A magnificent buck was caught in the glare of his headlights, frozen in mid-leap. The Neon pitched forward as he slammed on brakes, but his front bumper was already scooping the big animal up. He felt the little car crumple and lurch as the windshield exploded in his face. And something hit his chest.

Silence. He shook his head, and wished he hadn't. Damn! Felt like he'd been punched in the face. In a way, he had. The deflated white sack of the airbag hung over his lap. Good thing he'd been wearing his seat belt. His right arm was oddly numb, so he had to undo the catch with his left hand. The seat belt popped loose, but he still couldn't move.

Confused, he looked down to see a tree branch growing from his shoulder. The branch led out towards the hood, where it joined to a dark shape framing a huge brown eye. The buck. His antlers had broken through the windshield, and driven through Scott's body like a multi-pointed spear.

He was going to die. It was remarkable how calmly that was accepted. The buck was twitching now, its blood pouring out to mix with his. Scott stared into that liquid eye which focused on him. They would die together.

And then the antlers pulled out of his chest. Scott gasped in agony, coughing up blood as he watched the animal writhe and twist. And then pain was forgotten as he saw the beast's antlers shrinking into its skull.

The muzzle was flattening, and a hoof thrust over the dash split and extended into a reaching hand. Scott started screaming, unable to tear his eyes away from the transformation. He was dimly aware of shouts and lights coming from the woods, but they didn't matter. All that mattered was the twisted, broken body of the young man on his hood.

The voices were all around him now, and he felt the door being yanked open. Darkness was closing in now, yet he continued to stare back at the liquid brown eyes which faded to pale blue, and then glazed over with the emptiness of death. He was still screaming when the night swallowed him up.

"Mr. McPherson?" A pleasant-sounding male voice repeated his name. Scott battled through a heaviness of thought, just barely able to open his eyes. A mistake. The bright light seared his optics, and he threw his right arm across his face to block it. "Andy, turn off the room lights. Sorry, Mr. McPherson. I thought shutting the blinds would be enough. There now. Try opening your eyes again."

The white blob faded slowly as Scott blinked to clear his vision. He was lying in a bed, with two men looking at him from the foot. A hospital room. Confused, he tried to figure out what he was doing here. He'd been driving on that back road....

Scott jerked up in the bed, eyes wide in horror. "Oh, God! I killed that kid! He jumped out in front of me, and I hit him." He shook his head. "But it wasn't a person. It was a deer. The antlers, they drove into my chest...."

For the first time, he realized that his right arm was moving freely. There was no pain of any kind. In fact, he felt better than he had in years. He pulled at the hospital gown to look at his chest, only to have the doctor grab his hand. "You're fine, Mr. McPherson. Tell us what you remember about the, uh, accident."

"I was coming up on a corner. Just before I started into the turn, I saw this blur, and then a sta..." He stopped for a moment, trying to make sense from bizarre memories. "I thought I saw a stag leap across the road right in front of me. There wasn't anything I could do. I hit him, and then my windshield exploded. I couldn't get out of the car. I was pinned by the antlers. And I looked at the deer..."

He battled rising panic. "I saw it change! Oh, Shit! It was deer, I swear to God! Then it turned into a kid. His eyes, they were brown and then they were blue, and then..." Scott started to cry. "God, he died right there. I saw him die! Just a kid, maybe 20 years old. How could he have gotten there? All I saw was a deer in the road!"

The doctor nodded to the other man, who moved to Scott's side. "Calm down, Mr. McPherson. You are going to be fine. The situation is rather, er, complicated. We're going to give you something to help you sleep for a while."

The other man was holding something that looked like a miniature paint sprayer, and he pressed it against Scott's neck. There was a quick pop of compressed air. "What's that? Where am I? Oh, Doctor! You need to call my wi...." Scott blinked once as the drug shut off his brain. He was unconscious before his head hit the pillow.

Something was after him. He could hear them crashing through the brush, still far away, but getting closer. Escape. Run. Hide. He reached out with his mind, seeking help. There. He touched a creature's thoughts, and began to run. Faster and faster, jumping logs and brush at first, and then leaping as he fell to all fours. Yet the pursuers were still getting closer. Another direction. Can't run. Too many. Hide. He tried to reach out again, find something small. The trees ended suddenly, and he felt the ground become hard under his hooves. There was a flash of bright light, and then....

Scott jerked up in bed with a cry, heart pounding. The shock of pain was fresh in his mind, and he shivered for a moment. After a while, he calmed down enough to look around. This time, his memories were a little clearer. They had given him something to help him sleep. The doctor and the other man. But where the Hell was he?

A hospital room? Well, not exactly. The furniture fit, but the room itself had a drab, functional look. Bare fluorescent fixtures, no pictures on the walls, not even a closet for his things. Something was odd about the door. There was no handle! It was like he was in a .. prison?

"Oh, God." He fell back in the bed, remembering the accident. He was in jail for killing that kid. It had been an accident! Surely they knew that! But he'd been driving so fast. So stupid. His stomach knotted as fear and guilt churned. Damn that old map! And triple-damn him for playing around like that. He wondered if they'd told Jean yet. What would she think? What would she do? How many times had she fussed with him about his driving? And he'd just scoffed. He didn't drink, he knew his car inside out, and he didn't take stupid chances. He swallowed hard. Like driving like a bat outa hell down a strange, unlit road in the middle of nowhere.

He was unconsciously rubbing his shoulder again. No pain. Curious, he sat up and pulled the dull green gown off. What the...? The smooth flesh underneath was unmarked. Not even a bruise. He frowned. Somebody had shaved his chest. Why, if there was no injury? He pulled off the gown completely and stared at himself.

God, he was hallucinating again. Memories of the deer's transformation returned with crystal clarity, and his hands clutched at the sheets. Was this what they meant by going crazy? Things had been bad this week, but he sure didn't think they were enough to cause a nervous breakdown. Yet he'd seen the impossible twice now. A stag turned into a young man on his hood, and now he was looking at somebody else's body.

The smooth, muscular chest wasn't shaved. There was an almost invisible layer of fine hair that thickened only slightly under his arms. Throwing back the covers, he saw that his pubic hair was also vastly reduced, creating a pale nest around the sexual organs which, while still male, bore little resemblance to the ones he'd had for the past 40 years. The penis was longer and uncircumcised, with smooth testicles that were proportionally larger. Even his legs were missing the heavy hair he'd had since he was a teenager.

He scrambled out of bed, and twisted around to examine himself. The fine hair hurt when he pulled at it, and the unfamiliar sensations from his foreskin certainly felt real enough. At least this time it was a pleasant hallucination. He seemed to have lost about 20 years. Even the scar from that old bike accident was missing.

Desperate for some link with reality, he walked to the window and pulled up the blinds. Only to get a double dose of additional shock. First of all, the landscape on the other side of the bars was covered in snow. Snow that was about 5 months too early. The first touch of fall had been changing leaves just yesterday. Yet the branches outside were bare.

He was still trying to comprehend this foul-up in the weather when the second shock hit him. There was a face reflected in the glass, a young face as unfamiliar as the body. Not particularly handsome. The forehead was too low under short blonde hair, and the features were coarse. But the eyes. Scott began to shake again as he stared once more into those pale blue orbs. The eyes he'd seen die on the hood of his car.

"Good afternoon, Mr. McPherson." Scott looked up from the corner where he'd been huddled for the past hour. The voice was electronic, and came from somewhere above him. "I know you are under a lot of stress right now, but if..."

"Stress?!" Scott glared at the general location of the speaker. "I just woke up in the wrong body, and it's snowing outside!" Swallowing, he looked around the room, and then dropped his head back to his knees. "God, I just want to know if I'm crazy, or if this is real. And I don't know what answer I want to hear the most."

Then the Doctor cleared his throat. "You are not crazy. At least, I don't think you are. Let me assure you of a couple of things. First, you look somewhat, uh, different than you might have expected. As frightening as this must be, you are actually considerably younger than you were, and in perfect health."

"Younger?" He stared at the speaker incredulously. The reflection in the glass -had- looked like a kid, but to have someone actually say it was true.... "That's not possible. I mean, I just look younger, right?"

"No, Mr. McPherson. According to your driver's license, you were 40 years old on your last birthday. At this moment, you are physically no more than 19 or 20. Perhaps even as young as 18."

As Scott tried to take that information in, the voice continued. "As for the snow outside, well, I am afraid that you have been unconscious for some time. It is now early January. The 12th, to be exact."

"Five months?" Scott almost whispered the words. "I've been here five months?" There was no reply. He stood up and looked around the room. "What the Hell is this place? What's going on?" A note of pleading entered his voice. "Please, I want to talk to Jean. My wife. I'm allowed one phone call, right?"

"You aren't in a jail, Mr. McPherson." There was a pause. "I'm afraid that you are the victim of some, well, unfortunate situations. Rest assured that your wife and friends are not worried about you, and that you are not in any kind of legal trouble. No charges have been filed against you for the accident. It was not your fault at all."

Looking at the blank door, Scott frowned. "If this isn't a jail, and I'm not crazy, why am I locked in here? I want to call my wife. I want to go home!"

"Like that?" The Doctor's voice seemed amused. "Tell me, Mr. McPherson. How do you think your wife would react to a strange boy young enough to be her own son claiming to be her husband?"

"But you said she knew..."

"No, Mr. McPherson. I said she wasn't worried. We created a cover story of sorts. To keep things quiet while we try to help you adjust, and perhaps find a cure."

"A cure?" Scott's eyes widened. "Have I got some sort of illness? This is all from a disease?"

"Not exactly." There was a sigh. "Look. This is very difficult to explain right now. You were supposed to be kept sedated until we could figure a better way to break all of this to you. The amount of medication required was obviously misjudged."

Scott backed up against the wall. "Please don't drug me again. I'll stay calm. Really. I mean, I'm scared shitless right now, but I haven't had a fit or anything like that."

"Yes, Mr. McPherson. You are handling this much better than anyone thought possible. I'll tell you what. If you will cooperate with us fully, and I do mean fully, I will rescind the order for sedation. However, you must understand that at the first sign of trouble, you will be drugged again. This is for your protection, not ours."

Somehow, Scott didn't quite believe that last bit, but he nodded anyway. "Whatever you say." He shivered slightly, and sat down on the bed. "Look, could I maybe get some regular clothes? And a mirror?"

There was another long pause before the voice sounded again. "We'll see what we can do about that. Would you like something to read?" He nodded silently. "Very well. I'll get some magazines for you. No TV, I'm afraid."

For the first time, Scott began to relax just a little. As he did, something seemed to open up in his mind. It was like the dream. Reaching out, touching other creatures around him. Humans at first, but then a greater variety as his awareness expanded. Rabbits, raccoons, deer. It was as if he could read their thoughts, their feelings, as if he were becoming...

The door burst open, startling him out of the strange reverie. Two large men grabbed him and pinned him against the mattress while a third used the strange injector on him again. "No! You said you wouldn't drug me! You promis-"

"Can you hear me?" The doctor's voice crackled in Scott's ears. "Mr. McPherson? Please try to wake up."

Groaning, he rubbed crusty eyelids and sat up. It took a moment to remember where he was. Except that the room wasn't the same. Larger and missing the window, this place was much more modern looking. A dropped ceiling with indirect lighting, thick carpet, and a large framed mirror set into the insulated tile wall.

Scott stared at his reflection. Half-remembered images from dreams focused into a real-life nightmare as he looked at the young man in the glass. "Wh.." He swallowed, trying to loosen up his dry throat. "Where am I?"

The silver mirror swirled suddenly, replacing his reflection with an image of the doctor. He was older than Scott had thought at first, about his age. Or the age he had been, before... Memories cleared up a bit more, and he scowled. "Why?"

"Why?" The doctor looked puzzled. "Why, what?"

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Scott looked around the room first, and then stared back at the screen. "Why did you drug me again? Why am I in a different place? Why can't I call my wife?" He paused a moment. "That's just for starters, but an answer to any of the above would be appreciated."

The doctor's smile looked a bit strained now, but he nodded. "I can understand your concern. Before I answer your questions, I'd like you to answer one for me."

Reluctantly, Scott nodded. Not that he had any choice.

"What is the last thing you remember happening? Just before we had to sedate you."

Anger flared up a bit. "Had to sedate me? I was just sitting on the God-damned bed! Why the Hell did those goons come busting in? All I was doing was sitting..."

"We both know you were doing more than that, Mr. McPherson." The doctor's interruption was firm, but not threatening. "Think back. It's been a long time, but you should..." He cleared his throat. "Let's try this again. When you were sitting on your bed, you must have experienced something. A strange feeling, or maybe some kind of confusion?"

Scott stared down at his hands. "I started daydreaming, I guess. It's really weird. The closest I could explain it would be one of those out-of-body experiences. Like they talk about on TV sometimes."

The doctor smiled. "Very good. I already knew what had happened. I just needed to see if you were being honest with me."

"Why did you sedate me, then? If all I was doing was daydreaming...?" Scott stopped talking as the doctor's face was replaced by the video image of a young man sitting on a bed. It took a moment for him to recognize the boy as himself. But something was wrong with the picture. The image began to blur slightly. Stranger still, the distortion seemed to only occur with his image. The bed and the rest of the room around him stayed clear and sharp.

He stared harder. The boy's face was suddenly darker, and his blonde hair tightened into a short Afro. Now there was a black man in his thirties sitting on the bed. Whose features melted suddenly into those of a pale young woman with long red hair. It was obvious from bulges under the hospital gown that the body had changed as well. And then the figure was male again, this time wearing the doctor's face. At least a half-dozen more faces emerged, alternately shrinking and expanding the body as they paraded by. And then the face was no longer human. Fur spread over a broadening skull as an oriental man swelled out into a huge bear. The figure began to shrink again just as the door burst open. And then the doctor's face reappeared.

"I think you remember what happened next."

"That's... impossible." Scott was panting from sudden fear, verging on panic. "It's a trick. A lie. I've seen stuff like that on TV shows!" Yet even as he tried to deny what had been shown to him, he was staring at the equally impossible reflection of his own transformed body. White-knuckled hands gripped the bedding as he stared down at himself. "What the Hell am I?"

After a moment, the doctor shook his head. "Let's try answering some of the easy questions first, OK? Your first question was about why we drugged you. I think that's obvious, now. As for why you were moved? The old facility was too much of a security risk, as you unfortunately discovered. Plus, we were able to give you, uh, nicer quarters. Custom-built for you, as a matter of fact."

Something bothered Scott about the answers, but he didn't think the man was lying. Then he remembered the third question. "What about my wife? She isn't going to sit still for more than a few days, I don't care what kind of cover story you came up with. Please. let me talk to her."

The doctor frowned, and absently chewed his lower lip. "I'm sorry, Mr. McPherson. That just isn't possible right now. Trust me."

Anger started to build again. "Trust you?" Scott stood and approached the screen. "Trust you!? Either I've been kidnapped, or I'm being held without any charges by someone who talks to me through a TV set. You won't let me call my wife, or anyone else for that matter. And you've turned me into some kind of freak!" He screamed that last, pounding his fist against the startled image of the doctor's face.

As he stood glaring at the screen, a soft hiss came from the ceiling. It was a familiar sound like when he lit the grille for a cookout. Gas! "No!" He threw himself to the floor, dragging a pillow off the bed to cover his nose and mouth. "Not again!"

The doctor shook his head. "Don't be afraid, Mr. McPherson. It is a harmless sleeping agent."

As Scott lay on the floor, he felt a pulsing in his head. No, it wasn't really a physical sensation. More like his mind reaching out, probing. Like the daydream, only more focused. Something prevented his consciousness from leaving the room as it had before. A force which yielded slightly. He pressed harder, not even sure how or why. The barrier stretched, and then pushed him back as gas dulled his thoughts. Then the tendrils of thought drew back into his head, leaving a ghostly trace of hope which followed him into sleep.

=don't move=

Scott's eyes popped open, and he turned his head slightly trying to find the source of the voice.

=too late. too late. they know you are awake now=

Sitting up abruptly, he scanned the room. Other than himself, it was empty. He was sure that it hadn't come fro a speaker. It had been too sharp, too clear. Almost as if it was...

=must try later - when they think you are sleeping=

As if the voice was inside his head. The mirror shimmered just as he was about to speak, and he clamped his mouth shut. Whatever was going on, he knew better than to trust anyone here.

There was a woman looking back at him this time. Perhaps mid-thirties, pleasant-looking, with brown hair in a strange upswept style. She was obviously looking frantically for something on another screen, a forced calm barely covering her nervousness.

"Hello, Mr., uh, McPherson." She frowned and did something that made her image blur and refocus. After repeating the action twice more, her eyes widened a bit, and she looked embarrassed. "Oh! I'm sorry. Your monitor hasn't been updated. No wonder it's a flat image."

Scott stared at her, not understanding what she was talking about. He hadn't really had a chance to think about it before, but this mirror/TV thing they used was really advanced. He'd seen some of the flat-screen TVs before, but nothing with the clarity this one had. And none of them became a mirror when they weren't in use.

He glanced around the room. It appeared to be the same one he'd woken in last time. Completely featureless. No window, not even a visible door. Just the bed and the mirror. Sighing he looked back at the woman and gave a half-hearted smile. "Well, at least you are prettier than the Doctor. What's your name?" When she remained silent, he raised an eyebrow. "Don't any of you people have names?"

The woman looked away from the screen for a moment, and then smiled back at him. "My name is Jane P... er, just call me Jane."

"You Jane. Me Tarzan!" Scott's attempt at humor only made her look more confused.

"According to the database, your first name is Scott! Is Tarzan your middle name?"

He rolled his eyes. "It's a joke, Jane. You know, Tarzan and Jane from the old movies?" Still no sign of recognition. "Never mind. It's not important." He sighed. "I suppose it's a waste of time to ask to make a phone call?"

Her brow wrinkled again, but then her face brightened. "Oh, an outside communication!" She looked off to the side again. "I'm sorry, Mr. McPherson, but you aren't allowed. Perhaps when the examination team comes in..."

"Examination Team?" He clenched his fists. "I've been here at least four or five months. Just what the Hell do they still need to examine?"

She stared at him a moment, and then looked off to the side again. Her mouth moved, but no sound came from the monitor. Apparently, she had hit some sort of mute button. She kept looking back towards him, obviously having some sort of argument. After a few minutes, she turned back to him and the sound came on.

"I'm sorry, Mr. McPherson. I don't have the authority to release any information to you." All I can say is that they want to run some tests with you awake."

Scott folded his arms across his chest. "Well, they can rot in Hell. Until I get a damned good explanation of what is going on, AND get a chance to at least call my wife and let her know I'm OK, I won't cooperate."

The woman pressed her lips together, and the screen went mute as she talked to the off-screen person again.

=a chance=

The voice in his head was hopeful. Not that Scott considered that much of an improvement. Bad enough he was locked up somewhere, and stuck in some strange kid's body. Now he was hearing voices. "Who are you?"

He was addressing the voice, but Jane responded. "I'm one of the, uh, researchers assigned to your case."

=do not speak to me. think your questions=

Oh, great. He had a voice with an attitude. OK. He could play the game. =who are you=

=one you have met before=

Scott felt a cold chill. =the boy. The one I killed=

=yes, the boy. no, not killed. neither of us=

"Mr. McPherson?" Jane interrupted his inner conversation. "What are you doing?"

It was tempting to tell her that he was talking to himself, but he decided not to mention anything about his new 'friend.' "Just thinking." He glared at her. "Is that against the rules, too?"

She looked a little flustered. "I'm sorry. But if you start to, well, change, I have orders to knock you out again."

He glanced up at the ceiling, remembering the gas. Then he sighed and nodded his head. "I understand. Not like I have any idea how that happened, anyway." He managed a smile again. "But thank you for being honest with me. I think it's the first time since I woke up here."

=they must open the door to examine you=

Open a door? There was an easier way than that. It was obvious that there were no provisions for a toilet in the room. "Um, Jane? I need to go to the bathroom."

She raised an eyebrow. "And who was just talking about honesty? No, Mr. McPherson. You don't need to use the bathroom."

Surprised, he stood up and glared at the screen. "And just how the Hell would you know that, Miss? Is there some sort of sensor stuck up my ass?" The screen remained silent. Actually, he -should- need to use the bathroom. He had no memory of eliminating anything since he got here. Come to think of it....

He looked around the room again. No signs of intravenous tubes, or food trays. He hadn't eaten anything since he got here, either. And that was impossible. According to the Doctor, he'd been here at least 4 months. A glance down confirmed that there was no noticeable difference in his body. And he didn't feel hungry or thirsty.

=food is not required=

Not required? Given the situation, Scott found the statement easy to accept. After all, he'd already gotten used to being 20 years young and talking to mirrors.

=we must leave here. soon=

Scott felt the strange expansion of awareness again, tendrils of his consciousness stretching out to press against the unseen barrier. Remembering the gas, he started to panic. =No! I don't want to get knocked out again!=

=focus on your reflection. be the boy. stay the boy until...=

"Mr. McPherson!" Jane's voice had an edge to it, and he saw fear in her eyes. "I don't want to have to sedate you. Please, stay with me. If you will cooperate with the team, maybe we can arrange for you to get a message to your wife." The screen went mute again as the person off-screen started arguing with her again. It was obvious from her expression and animated gestures that she was angry.

As Scott watched the screen, the tendrils from his mind began to group, forming a single probe. The barrier stretched like a balloon, thinning and weakening. And then the probe was through.

A rush of images and sensations filled his mind, and he saw his hands start to wrinkle and spot. Concentrating, he focused on the memory of the boy, ignoring the information which poured in through the tendril. His hands returned to normal. Still involved in the argument, Jane didn't seem to have noticed the flicker of transformation.

Emotions and images blurred in an overflow, and then began to focus. The probe thinned as the amount of information dropped. And then the voice returned.

=if you wish to escape, you must allow us to take control=

Scott was suddenly afraid of this mysterious presence in his mind. =take control? give you my body? what if you don't give it back?=

=It is -our- body, not just yours. but you are dominant. it is why we ask=

Torn by fear and confusion, Scott automatically started to push the intruder away.

=do you wish to stay here forever? there is no ti-=

The voice stopped suddenly as a part of the wall next to the mirror slid open. Scott could still feel the tendril's connection, and a powerful sense of urgency from something inside his mind. He was afraid of the presence, but more afraid of being locked up as a lab specimen. When he saw that the first person entering was a guard holding some sort of strange weapon, he retreated mentally into the back of his thoughts.

Awareness flickered, and the room expanded incredibly around him. The guard's eyes widened and he shouted something as the weapon flashed with a burst of blue-white light. Somehow, the shot missed, and Scott was suddenly moving through the air with incredible speed. Flying. From the size, he was some sort of insect.

An alarm started to shriek as he shot past three other figures, and entered a long, glass-walled hallway. People were scrambling on the other sides of the walls, obviously watching for someone or something. Doors were sliding shut ahead, and he just made it through before they sealed with a hiss behind him.

Scott wanted to stop and see what this place was, but he continued on a path which followed the tendril of awareness. Veering up, he passed through a gap between the ceiling tile and a light fixture, and flew through the dark crawl space above. The tendril led him around a maze of wires, ducts, and firewalls. Then up again, this time through a forgotten vent which emptied into the outside air. They had escaped.

Scott was thankful that he was a somewhat detached passenger aboard this organic stunt plane. He might lack a physical stomach, but he was mentally puking his guts out. Either insects were the ultimate roller-coasters, or this mysterious presence was a rotten pilot.

Between cringing at swoops and dives, he managed to get a look at the surrounding area. Wherever he'd been taken, it was a long way from the heavy forest where he'd wrecked a few days... months ago. It was warm out, and from the plants he could see, it had to be late spring or early summer. How long had he been kept unconscious?

The ride smoothed out as they began descending towards what looked like a junkyard. Scott's first reaction was a desire to land somewhere they could find a phone, but then he realized that he would probably be naked when he became human again. A suspicion which proved correct. It was like looking through a zoom lens as he grew. The process was fascinating and terrifying at the same time. When it was done, his legs collapsed out from under him and he plopped down on his backside.

Apparently, he was in control again. Taking a deep, shuddery breath, he hugged his knees and tried to calm himself. The escape had happened so fast that he hadn't really been able to grasp what was going on. Now it all hit him at once. He had not quite believed the video of his changes. Even the physical proof of this younger body had been attributed to hallucination or insanity. But now there was no denying what happened. He'd changed into an insect and flown out a hole in the roof. Now he was stark naked, in the middle of a junkyard. No clothes, no money, he didn't even know where he was. Things couldn't get any worse.

There was a low growl from behind, and he turned slowly to see a massive black and brown mutt snarling at him. His stomach knotted, and he fell back against a rusted sedan with his arms over his face. At the same time, he felt a familiar expansion of thought as a tendril of consciousness reached out to the animal. Scott braced himself, expecting to become a dog. Instead, the big mutt shook its head, and then turned and trotted off.

=it will not bother us again=

Scott had almost forgotten his mental passenger. Or passengers. =what did you do?=

=nothing harmful. the animal now sees us as part of its normal world.=

At least he didn't have to worry about getting his throat ripped out. Now he could worry about getting arrested for running around naked.

=that is not a problem. there are no others here. this place is closed for the day.=

Scott frowned and looked up at the sun. Couldn't be later than mid-afternoon. So today was either a holiday or a Sunday. Hey! Wait a minute... =how do you know the yard is closed?=

=the animal has lived here all of its life and knows the schedule and layout. the information came from its mind=

Oh. So his passenger was a mind-reader, too. At least that wasn't surprising. Scott forced himself to concentrate on practical issues. Clothing, for one. And finding a way to get in touch with Jane, second. Whatever cover story they had concocted, he knew his wife well enough to know she was probably screaming to the authorities. Once he called...

Scott spun and crouched down to look at himself in a side-view mirror. What was that the Doctor had said? About her reaction to some strange kid calling and claiming to be her husband? He traced the smooth contours of the incredibly young face with equally unfamiliar fingers. There was no hint of his old face in the reflection. And he hadn't really thought about it before, but his voice was different too. Not just younger. It had a more nasal sound, and a higher pitch.

Closing his eyes, Scott forced back rising panic. He couldn't deal with the larger issue of what had happened to him right yet. Better to concentrate on those things he could do something about. Like clothing.

Despite the inner voice's assurances, Scott was careful to stay hidden as much as possible as he crept through the junkyard. He couldn't help noticing the large number of late-model cars stacked on top of each other. He didn't recognize a lot of the styles. Maybe he had been moved to Europe or Australia. Foreign cars were pretty different looking. Even so, he was surprised by the amount of rust and deterioration on even the cars he did recognize. One Neon like his had holes completely rusted through the roof and corners.

He finally reached the battered trailer which served as an office. The owner must have had a lot of faith in his watchdog, for the door wasn't even locked. Of course, maybe he wasn't all that worried about thieves because there wasn't anything to steal. The office was a wreck, with filthy rags, rusty car parts, and tools strewn all over the floor. There were two computers on the desk. One was a battered old relic, but the other was pretty fancy. It looked like it had a laptop-style flat monitor in a one-piece stand with a few buttons on the base.

No phone though. He looked all over, even pulling open some of the desk drawers. That didn't make sense. How could you run a business without a phone? After a bit, he went back to the computers. The older machine looked like it had been pieced together from junk. A plastic badge at the corner proclaimed it to be a Pentium 986. Obviously somebody's idea of a joke.

That left the fancy machine. No keyboard or mouse was connected to it. He pressed the button that had the most fingerprints around it.

"State number, please."

Scott jerked his hand away. A light began to flash by the button he had pressed.

"State number, please."

The damned machine was talking to him! Dragging the office chair up, he sat down and stared at the blank screen. "Uh, Area Code 757, 555-6200?"

"One moment, please." The screen came on suddenly, and he recoiled from the image of a frightened young man. It was him. A small caption underneath read 'PREVIEW'. There was a click. "Not a working number. Do you wish directory assistance?"

Scott blinked, and then nodded. "Uh, yes."

"Please state Personal Code for data search."

Personal code? Thinking fast, Scott dredged up Jean's Social Security Number and recited it to the screen. There was another click, and then the image of him was replaced by that of a girl in her mid-teens who smiled at him. "Hi! Can I help you?"

It had to be a wrong number. Still, he might as well check to make sure. "I'm calling Jean McPherson?"

"McPherson?" The girl frowned a moment, and then brightened. "Oh, sure! You want Mom! Can I tell her who's viz-ing?"

He stared at the girl for a moment. Mom? Almost in a daze, he cleared his throat. "Tell her it's Scott. Scott McPherson."

She gave him a funny look, and then vanished from the screen. As he waited, Scott nervously drummed his fingers on the stained blotter-style desktop calendar. From the scribbled notes in the day blocks, this was probably Sunday the 21st. Some papers were covering the top of the calendar, obscuring the month. He pushed them aside just as an old woman came on screen. "Who are you?"

He stared back for a moment, unable to answer. Despite the wrinkles and gray hair, there was no mistaking his wife's face or voice. "Jean?" His voice broke, and tears began to stream down his face. "Oh, God, Jean, what happened? It's me! Scott!"

Jean's eyes widened, and then narrowed as her voice got tight. "Scott McPherson was killed in an accident almost 20 years ago. He was my first husband. Are you claiming to be some long-lost bastard son?"

Scott's mouth fell open, and he looked down at the calendar as he fumbled to turn the strange phone off. It was June, 2015.

Now he knew why Jean hadn't tried to find him. That bastard Doctor had told her he was dead. Scott sank back in the chair, feeling a new wave of despair wash over him. He wondered if they'd substituted the kid's body for his, maybe burning the body and car to prevent identification.

=the body buried was yours. we share the boy's body=

Scott sat up abruptly. =share the boy's body? that's impossible! he was dead! =

=we cannot be killed. your organic form had been damaged too badly to repair without more time. We drew you in with us=

Suddenly dizzy, Scott gripped the edge of the desk for support. =this isn't my body? I died in the accident?=

=your body ceased function. we brought your essence, the memories and thoughts which were Scott McPherson, into ourselves=

He fought back growing terror. This wasn't his body at all. He was a passenger. With what? After a moment, he composed himself enough to think clearly. =who are you? or what?=

=we are a single consciousness made up of two individual beings. the physical form we share belonged to Zack Vaughan. he was part of your military force, something called a 'private.' his superiors tricked him into an experiment with a captured life form from another world. That alien is the second part of our consciousness=

Scott closed his eyes, not wanting to believe any of this. =you're an alien? and you stole this kid's body?=

=you do not understand. the alien was simply an explorer from a race very different from your own. In its world, physical form was used only when needed, organic hosts were grown, or borrowed. the alien found this world by accident when it tried a different vector of travel, and was shot down and captured. it had no point of reference for contacting other life forms on this world until Zack was told to pick the alien up. when that happened, the alien was able to flow into him and tried to make contact. instead of simply communicating with Zack, the alien merged with him and we were formed=

He shivered involuntarily. =what happened to Zack? why is he merged, when I am separate? and how did the Doctor know it was me inside here?=

=everything that was Zack is in us. as is everything that was the alien. however, the human was very young., even for a human. his limited life experience was but a fraction of the alien's centuries of existence. although his 'self' was equal, his essence was diluted in the merging. nothing like that had been intended. it was an error on the part of the alien.=

Scott tried to comprehend what was being said, but fear was getting in the way. =diluted? like watering booze? it sounds like his memories and thoughts got lost. and that's dead, at least in my opinion=

=what was it like to be two years old, Scott? do you remember?=

He snorted. =of course not! what has that got to do with anything?=

=that year of being two is part of you, isn't it? just because you don't remember much about it doesn't make it any less a part of you or your life. the important thing is not the memories. it is the awareness, the sense of self. And Zack's awareness is here. Part of us. it cannot be explained. you must be shown.=

A tendril of awareness shot out towards the junkyard, and Scott stiffened as he felt it touch the dog. What the Hell was going on? There was a sensation of pressure, and then he was nosing his penis out of its sheath to lick it. Startled, he jerked his head away, and then wasn't quite sure what was wrong. It was obvious that he was a dog now, just like the one outside. He blinked and looked around at the junked cars. But he was outside. If he had changed into a dog, shouldn't he still be in the office? No. He was supposed to stay here and guard against intruders.

Sitting up, he scratched absently behind one ear, digging toenails into thick fur. It was a nice day out, at least. He wondered how many summer days he had missed lying in Government hospitals. Twenty year's worth. Now Jean was an old woman who thought he was dead. And he was a dog. The thought was so natural he didn't even ponder it.

Standing, he shook the dust out of his coat and trotted over to a battered blue Jeep. Cocking his legs, he marked the metal relic. And was suddenly sitting in the office again.

"Wha..?!" He jumped up and looked at himself. Still human. And the door was shut. How had he gotten back in here?

=you were merged with the dog. only for a short time. if you had remained there the merger would have become permanent=

Scott walked to the window. He could see the big mutt sniffing around some old cars. =but I didn't feel the dog's mind at all.=

=because you both shared the same mind. did you lick your genitals? feel the need to mark your territory with urine? or was it the dog who thought of your wife, and missed summer days?=

Staring at the dog, Scott felt a little of his fear drain away. =is that what it is like? being the same, but with new thoughts that still seem like your own?=

=in a way. however, your merger was not quite complete. if a true merger occurred, you would have to either allow the animal consciousness dominance, or relearn how to use an alien body because your human experience would have diluted the dog's instincts too much. that is why we jumped in front of your vehicle. unable to move the human body, we escaped by drawing the animal essences into ourselves just long enough to use the forms. the deer was in control, not us.=

Realization slowly dawned on him. =you need me to move the body! that's how the Doctor knew it was me. if you take charge, or if you merge my mind with yours, you can't even walk, can you?=

=yes. but that is no longer a problem.=

Scott felt a chill. =not a problem? what are you going to do? Stick me in the dog for real, and leave me?=

=if you like being the dog, that is what we will do. however, we would like you to merge with us, to bring your experience back with us.=

Gripping the window sill tightly, he tried to imagine himself happily chewing on old tires and wearing a collar. =you said you needed me to move! if my mind was absorbed, we'd be stuck lying in this old shack.=

=we do not need to leave. this building. but you must choose soon. you can be the dog, or one of many other life forms around us. you can be Zack as he was before. or you can come with us.=

Scott struggled to comprehend what was being said. =come with you? Come where?=

=we contacted our world when we escaped. the link is almost here. the link that will take us home.=

He concentrated, broadcasting as hard as he could to the entity. =they found us! we have to get away!=

There was a sudden flurry of activity in his mind, tendrils of awareness shooting out in all directions in a scatter shot. Children, animals, normal people going about every day life, birds.. and soldiers. Many soldiers. Scott felt a familiar pressure in his mind, and then stiffened as he was suddenly kneeling outside the junkyard fence.

A heavy mask was strapped to his face, and the plastic lens was fogged with moisture from his breathing. As much as he hated the damned thing, it a few minutes it would be all that separated him from instant death. He stared nervously at the dog. It looked almost like it was sleeping. The monster shouldn't even notice. Too bad about the mutt, but it would have been killed by the gas anyway. He gripped the rifle tighter, feeling disgust. Bastard scientists should have killed the freak alien years ago.

And then Scott was back in the office, white-faced and shaken. He had actually been the soldier, felt the hate and disgust. At least with the dog, there had been some semblance of his own thoughts. But this. He had totally succumbed to the soldier's mindset, as if he had been born that man.

=you were in his body.= There was a touch of sadness to the entity's presence. =the resident soul is dominant until a full merger occurs. that is why you acted like the dog. with the animal, your vastly greater life experience would put you in control when your essences merged. however, if you truly merged with another human, you would most likely become that person. Scott McPherson would cease to exist, except perhaps as new interests and perhaps some dreams.=

Scott looked around the office, desperate for some escape. =Can we get out? become an insect, or something small, like before?=

=it is too late. already the small things around us die of the poison. and the tendril is here. We must leave this world. will you come with us?=

He fell back into the corner, terrified of the approach of invisible death, yet equally frightened by the thought of merging. =if you leave me in this body, they will know you're gone, won't they? I'll just surrender!=

=they will know only after a few days. when your dead body begins to decompose. the gas they used in the room was not sleeping gas. it was the same poison which is outside.=

"No!" Scott spoke the word, but the entity picked up the thought.

=this body cannot die while we are within it. but it takes all of our strength to keep the body intact. that is how they kept us contained so long.=

There was a flicker of activity within his mind, and the entity's communication carried a sense of urgency. =The gas is almost here. you must decide. to stay in this body is death. with us, there is a chance.=

"I can't!" Scott stared at the door, eyes wide. =I don't want to lose what I am. that is worse than death."

=then we must leave you. perhaps it is better that you know, so you will understand later."

He felt two tendrils reaching out, one towards the ceiling, and another stretching off behind him. Taking a deep breath, he ran for the door. If he raised his hands and ran through the poison without breathing, perhaps he could convince them the alien was gone.

He wasted some of that precious air shouting to the unseen enemy outside the junkyard. "The alien is gone! It's just me now!" Then he stumbled forward, running awkwardly with his hands lifted over his head. Still nude, there was no question of him hiding a weapon. They had to see, to know that he was...

A huge fist knocked him backwards into the dirt, and he was just barely able to lift his head high enough to see the gaping hole blown through his body. Already dying, he began to convulse as the gas hastened his end. He screamed as his mind exploded outward, and then there was only blackness.


It had been strange waking up in darkness. The terrible force within his head had become chaotic jumbling of thoughts, leaving him so confused that he really hadn't noticed the firm pressure around his body. Only after his head was squeezed out into the dim light did he understand.

The alien had chosen for him, an alternative that did not involve death or loss of self. Perhaps not the choice he would have made, but after a few weeks, one that he found satisfactory. Already, this body was so comfortable to him that memories of his human form seemed strange.

After all of his fears of losing self in the merger with the alien, his current situation was ironic. Terrified by the confusion and strange sensations to which he had woken, he'd latched on to the resident consciousness and allowed its instincts to provide reference and guidance for this new life. In doing that, he had given up dominance forever.

And discovered that it didn't matter. Life was the same in any form, and he sometimes regretted not joining with the alien. But that refusal had been one of the back roads which had led to this destination, this new understanding of existance and self.

The thoughts in his head and reasons for his actions were most often those normal to his body, yet he could still wonder, still remember. So on clear nights like this, with his belly full of the female's rich milk, he could guide his gangly mule's legs away from the herd just far enough to be able to lift his head and look up at the stars.

the end

Back Roads copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.

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