|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
Mr. Pendleton hit the tree at precisely 8:42 p.m. He had just looked at the radio when the highway lights suddenly went out and the car in front of him turned into a giant oak. There was just enough time for him to wonder what a tree was doing in the middle of the Interstate before the impact threw him against his seatbelt, and knocked him out.
He woke with water dripping on his head. Memory of the accident returned, and he bolted upright in the seat. Dizzy, he grabbed at the bent steering wheel to brace himself, only to have it crumble in his hands like sand. He was still dazed, but determined that other than a bruise or two, he seemed to be OK.
It was raining outside, apparently the source of water which dripped steadily from the headliner. The windshield was undamaged, but had turned milky white. At first he though it was just fogged, but when he tried to wipe it clear the glass fell away from its plastic liner in a fine mist of powder.
Water began to pour inside, and he looked up in confusion. This was a sedan, yet it sounded as if the rain was hitting the fabric directly. He fumbled for the seatbelt release. The buckle seemed to be stuck, but as he jerked at it the seatbelt fabric pulled apart like cotton candy. Even the upholstery underneath him seemed to be shredding, and split under his finger when he touched it.
There was a sudden pop, and the car settled heavily on the passenger side. An assortment of creaks and groans began all around him, prompting a grab for the door handle. Somehow, he wasn't surprised when the chrome lever snapped off in his hand. The driver's door shattered into dust at the first blow from his fist, and he crawled out to land face first in thick mud.
Another pop sent him scrambling further away. The cold rain had cleared the last of the dazed feeling, but there was nothing to help his confusion. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could make out thick forest in all directions. Where the hell was the highway? The trees were even lined up solidly behind the car, with no visible path for him to have come through.
Both remaining tires expired with a joint bang. It was hard to recognize the car which was settling into the mud. The impact had crushed the font end, but that didn't account for the huge patches of rust and gaping holes which covered the sheet metal. For a moment, he thought someone had played a ridiculous trick on him, substituting a wrecked junkyard hulk for his almost-new Buick. Yet even as he thought that, he knew that there had been no switch.
The paint was washing away like watercolor, and the metal underneath crusted and darkened in a firestorm of rust. This rain seemed to be some sort of powerful acid. It took a moment to register that his own clothing was disintegrating as quickly as the car. The seams of his suit coat had come apart, allowing the waterlogged wool to fall off like spongy pattern pieces. Alarmed, he looked for some cover, but could find none.
The expensive watch on his wrist was a corroded mess which broke apart and fell to the ground. He grabbed at the pieces of his pants as they tried to join the coat, and finally stood helplessly as the rest of his clothing dropped off. For some reason, the liquid which had destroyed his belongings was doing nothing to him. It looked, felt, and tasted like normal rain. Confused, tired, and cold, he finally plopped to the ground and surrendered to exhaustion.
A cold nose brushed his back, and he rolled over sleepily to face a large, grey wolf. The resulting storm of screams and mud sent the animal streaking back into the trees, and left Pendleton shivering behind a tree. He looked around, bewildered. Last night's events seemed like some sort of strange nightmare, but there was no denying the fact that he was standing in the middle of a forest, naked and covered with mud.
He shivered, more from fear than cold. The sun had warmed things up considerably, actually a lot more than he expected for this time of year. Still, he wasn't about to run around naked. For the first time, he realized that the car was missing. Had he wandered away from the crash?
No. The huge oak across the clearing still bore fresh scars, and he could see skid marks in the grass. Other than that, there didn't seem to be any sign that the Buick had ever been there. He moved closer, and saw a rectangle of soggy cloth. It took some mental juggling to recognize the old blanket he kept in the trunk. The wool was bleached completely of color, and the satin trim on the edge had vanished completely.
There were other traces visible in the grass. Near the tree, a few hoses and one or two bits of metal remained in memory of the engine, and further out he found some clumps of padding and what looked like a blank tile from a Scrabble game he'd spilled in the back seat. Another pile of cloth patches turned out to be his clothes, although even the suit panels had turned a natural off-white like the blanket. Some scraps of filmy cloth seemed to be the remains of his shirt, and even his leather shoes existed only as cut pieces of natural leather. Other than having lost the labels, elastic, and seams, his T-shirt and underpants seemed intact.
Why had only part of his clothes dissolved? The suit was wool, and the undergarments cotton. But his shirt had been cotton, too. He picked up one of the filmy sleeves. Polyester-cotton. All of the man-made fiber had been washed away, leaving just the cotton. The same thing had happened with the car. Anything man-made had disappeared. But what kind of acid could do something like that?
He must have gotten lost somehow, made a wrong turn. Maybe he fell asleep at the wheel, gone over the rail and dropped into the trees. The fact that there was no sign of any civilization, much less a busy interstate, was brushed aside in his desparation to explain away his situation. He latched onto this new theory, expanding it as he began to search for traces of evidence.
There were military bases all around the area. He could have crashed into some special weapons test zone. That thought wasn't exactly comforting, but it was easier to accept than no explanation at all. Whatever the stuff was, it didn't seem to have affected him. Actually, he felt better than normal, if a little hungry. A bit stronger perhaps, or healthier.
Still, he wasn't about to hang around here. The sooner he found a way back to the highway, or to someplace with people, the better. The road seemed to be the best choice. He couldn't have gone far. He was actually out of the clearing before he remembered his nakedness. The knowledge didn't bring embarrasement, only a realization that it might be hard to get a ride if he appeared naked by the side of the road.
It took a bit of experimentation, but he managed to rig up a crude loincloth by tearing up the blanket. After a bit more thought, he torre off some longer strips, and used them to tie the loose shoe soles to his feet like crude sandals. Feeling a lot more presentable, he set off again.
The scents and sounds of the forest were rich and varied, and he found that he could identify most of them with the mental picture of some bird or insect. That was strange, especially since he had never payed much attention to wildlife before. Some of the images stimulated the hunger in his belly, and he quickened his pace.
It was getting hot now, and his skin itched. He scratched absently, not really noticing the growth of hair which caused his discomfort. There was a rotten log ahead, and the hunger pangs brought new images to mind. Squatting down, he rolled the log over and picked up one of the grubs which scurried out of the light.
He crunched the insects in dull contentment, clawing the earth with dark, thick nails to find more. Only after the last of the bugs had either been eaten or found refuge in the thick grass did he start to think of something else. Mild confusion filled his mind. He had been looking for something. There was a brief image of wide paths traveled by monsterous creatures, but then even that faded as the hunger took hold again.
Standing, he felt the binding around his waist and feet, and snarled in annoyance. The makeshift clothing was ripped off, and tossed away. He picked some dried mud from the thick pelt on his arms, and rubbed against a tree to brush the stuff off his back. One of the shoe soles had landed nearbye. He picked it up, and sniffed at it with flared nostrils. Thick, yellow teeth chewed at the edge, and then he tossed it away in disgust. Not food. All thought centered on the never-ending hunger, and he wandered off into the trees of his home.
"What th' hell?" The animal control warden stared at the sheet-wrapped body lying in back of the truck. "I thought you said it was some kind of ape." The driver shrugged from where he was drinking coffee. "Look, it was dark out. I can't tell an ape from a monkey, 'cept this one was bigger than most. Beside, there wasn't much to identify after it jumped out in the middle of the Interstate."
The warden looked doubtful, and pulled the cloth up. His yell brought the driver at a run, and they both stared in horror at the broken body of a young man who's first glipse of a new world had also been his last.
- end -
Please address any comments or questions to Bob Stein at Posti@aol.com.
Switchback copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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