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Long Way Down
Steven Nye stood precariously on the edge of his balcony window, forty-three stories above the bustling crowd that had gathered on the sidewalk to witness his final moments alive. The wind whipped sharply, sending chills through his furred body and making his teeth chatter in his muzzle. An eerie whistle resounded as the gust hustled through his antlers. Sometimes the force of the gale caught him off balance and threatened to send him hurtling towards the ground, but he managed to catch himself on a support column every time. He was determined to wait until the right moment before taking the plunge.
"The world has gone mad!" he called out to the throng below, some which screamed out pleas for his life, others for his death to satisfy their own morbid pleasures. He could smell through his new nose, although faintly, some of the carnivores waiting eagerly to take advantage of the ensuing madness that was sure to erupt when he struck the ground. Steven smiled in spite of himself at the thought of half-crazy morphic predators ripping at his carcass as the police tried to restore calm. But none of those thoughts mattered to him right now. His life was ruined, as was everyone's as far as he was concerned.
It had all Changed that morning. He had woke up in bed to find himself half human, half some kind of deer, his new rack cutting deep marks in the precious mahogany of his bed's headboard. He nosed around, quickly becoming used to his sense of smell but not to the instincts that it brought with it. He was just sitting up, the shock of what had happened to him sinking in when he had felt a presence in his lap, curled up on his stomach. He quickly tossed aside the quilting, trying to keep his skittish demeanor under control, and gasped in surprise as he saw a small calico cat curled up on his abdomen, shivering madly and making piteous mewling sounds. He petted the feline gingerly, as if to make sure it was truly there, and not some conjuring of a dream.
It then occurred to Steven Nye that he didn't own a cat.
It also struck him then that this cat was wearing his wife's beauty mask around her neck, which she wore for sleeping.
"Debra?" he managed, the words not seeming to form on his lips, but from the back of his throat. The cat perked her ears and seemed to nod its head furiously in approval.
"Dear God! Debra!" Steven screamed as he dropped the cat on the bed and stood up with a start. His feet, instead of slapping the carpet and making a muffled gasp, made a rather hollow clop against the underlying stone floor. He looked down and screamed anew, which was accentuated with the cat's fearful yowl. Steven's feet were cloven hooves that he somehow managed to stay balanced on, and were connected to thin, but very muscular legs that reached up into the pant legs of his pajamas. He ran screaming out of his bedroom, the cat leaping off the bed and following him urgently. He rushed to the front door of his apartment and into the hall, not really knowing where he was going, but wanting to go anywhere to get away from the horrible visions he was experiencing.
As he exited the apartment, he was not greeted with the scene he wanted, but rather with a hallway full of panicked creatures, all seeming to be anthropromorphised humans, crosses with any and every type of vertebrate that was imaginable, and a few that were unimaginable. He noticed a grief stricken lizardman burst forth from a flat a ways down the hall, only to inadvertently slam the door on its tail. It seemed to hiss in pain, then in a rather bright flash of light, the lizardman was gone, and was replaced by a smaller, more natural version of the former creature.
Steven stood transfixed in horror as the menagerie came forth from their homes. Some stood in corners and wept, others were reveling in their transformations, and many were just like himself, frozen in time, only able to witness the scene before them as it unfolded.
There was a peculiar tingling in his hands, which Steven brought before him, He had not noticed until this point that they were still human in most respects, except that they had been covered in a golden brown, for a lack of a better term, fur. Now the fur was spreading over his fingers, the nails becoming harder and thicker, the middle two fingers seeming to fuse together to become one, his thumb shifting and riding slightly higher on his new hands, almost level with his wrist. He felt his ears lengthen and move up on his skull, then cover themselves in what he could only suppose was more of the fur that now was blanketing his entire body. He suppressed a shriek as one of the ears swiveled on its own to catch some of the moans that echoed through the hallway. He turned to see the people in the passage, some were doubled over in discomfort, clutching their stomachs. One fierce looking reptile morph bellowed as it bent over, a long scaly tail ripping its way through the fabric of its blue jeans.
Steven really couldn't tell if the jeans were blue or not; only the make of the apparel gave a clue to what it was. His vision had seemed to lose all color acuity, and everything was hazed over, like a fog had settled over the entryway. The effect, coupled with the reshaping of his skull, seemed to produce a fish-eye effect with a nearly panoramic view of his surroundings.
Steven then put his new hands to use and pulled himself back into his apartment, slamming the door to with a resounding clatter. On the far wall was the balcony, forty-three stories from the ground, the neighboring skyscraper towering across the street, filling up the view. Steven clutched the door handle tightly with his hand, and he didn't even give any notice when it crumpled in his grip. He kept staring at that balcony, with its sliding glass door closed to, shutting off the clamor and noise of the big city, sealing away the frustrations and insanities of the real world from his home.
But somewhere in that glass barrier, he knew, there was a tiny crack. Some fissure just large enough to allow a little bit of that madness into his apartment and corrupt his life. It had changed him, that crack, and everyone else in the building. Some unseen irrationality invaded his privacy and probably the world's. No one was safe, and for all he knew he wouldn't stop changing until he was a deer completely.
His wife had fallen prey to this madness. He wasn't about to let himself follow suit.
He strode purposefully to the sliding door and pulled it open. The usual din of the city sidewalk was twenty-fold more intensified with his hearing, and no doubt there were hordes of changing people amassing around, spreading with them the insanties of a Changing world.
Steven shut the door, not even noticing the calico scratching wildly and shrieking for him to stop. He placed a hoof on the edge of the balcony and got a steady footing on the stone before hoisting himself up the rest of the way. His bulky mass caught the swirling winds so prevalent in upper floors of cityscapes, and he caught himself on a nearby beam, his sense of self- preservation saving him upon impulse.
Slowly, as he stood there, a somewhat orderly gathering of creatures congregated below, turning their gaze upward at him, calling for him to reconsider. 'More madness,' he thought to himself, discounting their pleas in one fell swoop. He teetered on the edge for who knows how long. Soon, police pulled up and a bovine negotiator began to try to talk him down, his words distorted but clear as they were projected through a bullhorn. Steven couldn't see as to what species the policeman had become, but it didn't matter to him. He was only one more facet of whatever had crept over the world, and he would not be any party to it.
He mused in his mind what would happen to the crowd below when they had finished changing into their own separate creature. He grinned mischievously at the thoughts of the prey animals scampering into darkened alleyways as they were hunted down and killed by the predators. He almost wished that he could stay around to watch such chaos ensue, but neglected to. In doing so, he would condemn himself to be one of the prey, and that was something that he steadfastly decided was not to be his fate.
And now, he swayed in the breeze, the time approaching quickly as the sun grew higher in the sky. Clouds had accumulated overhead, but not the stormy, convoluted tufts that heralded the coming of rains, but the tall, wispy feathers of angel's wings. They danced lazily about the blue lagoon of air, moving along at a languid pace, only momentarily blocking the sun's rays. Steven looked away, having to tear his eyes from the serene sight, and noted that someone, crazier than the rest, had scrambled past the police line and managed to paint a makeshift bulls-eye on the pavement below. The law was already carting the perpetrator away from the scene, and Steven pitied the creature for a moment.
'All that work,' he thought, 'and now he won't know if I hit it or not.'
Then, what Steven had been waiting for finally happened. The queer prickly sensation swept over his person, and he knew that another change was upon him. He didn't fight it, nor try to watch as the feeling centered on his lower back, and a painful protrusion grew from the base of his spine. In one fluid movement, Steven Nye let go of the support beam, spread his arms wide, looked to the sun, and tottered over the edge.
At first, the sensation of falling was invigorating to him. The wind suddenly roared in his ears as it swept by, and the staccato whipping of floors passing by grew faster and faster as time crawled on. He could see people staring out their windows as he passed them, looking down at the ground, in amazement of the events that had transpired this morning. Steven swept past them so fast, however, that he had not the time to see the expressions on their faces change from wonder to terror.
After about twelve floors, the reality of what he had just done struck Steven Nye. The pavement below was rushing upwards to meet him, his ears were painfully plastered behind his head, his antlers tugged at the wind so hard that he thought it would tear his head clean from his shoulders. He spread himself out as far as he could manage, trying to make his pajamas catch the air, to slow his descent in the tiniest amount, but that was to no avail. Towards, inevitably towards, the ground sped to greet his muzzle, the sadistic bulls-eye on the concrete growing ever larger in his hazed vision, opening itself to Steven. Calling to him. Beckoning him.
And here, Steven did what any sane man would do in such a situation; where Death was imminent and unfaltering. As he approached the final floors on the way down, he screamed, the terror welling bursting forth drowning out the rush of wind and the horrified shrieks of those watching from below. He covered his head with his arms and shut his eyes, trying to push against the progressing earth with his mind, the only weapon that he had left.
There was a sudden jerk, as if some tripwire had caught him, and then the slow resuming of the fall, but at a much more controlled rate. The wind stopped, his screaming ceased, and the only thing that reached his ears was the steady sound of horns from some far off avenue and the fascinated gasps from the crowd. Steven opened his eyes and saw that he was about three floors up, the bulls-eye rather large on the pavement and growing larger still, but very slowly. He kept pushing against the ground with his thoughts, and Steven felt like he weighed less than a feather. He grew closer to the earth still, his plunge becoming slower and slower, until no more than a few seconds after the initial tug, he was hovering over the sidewalk, the tip of his muzzle no more than four inches from the dead center of the painted target.
Steven floated there for a second in perfect silence, not able to rationalize what he had done, or even if he had done it. He inhaled and smelt the coarse texture of the concrete, the varying odors of astonishment and fear from the crowd, the scent of the still-drying paint. He held out a hand and touched the sidewalk, then let go of the ground with his thoughts and landed at last on the pavement with a soft, gentle thud. Shakily, he stood on his own too feet, astounded that he could do so still. He reeled slightly, the nausea of the plummet overtaking him, and he reached out for something to steady himself. A six-foot cardinal took him under the shoulder and led him to a seat outside the foyer of the apartment building.
Suddenly, the crowd started applauding Steven, as if the entire leap was some facade for their entertainment, as if he had planned to stop himself all along. But, there was no laughter, no cheers or calls for an encore. Just the solemn faces of those who had become something that could express feelings with looks, and the cold, expressionless features of those who hadn't. All clapping for Steven.
The cardinal looked at Steven closely, her uniform torn by the strains of the Change. Two holes were crudely ripped in the back of her uniform to accommodate for the pair of wings that had grown from her shoulders. A similar hole was made when her tail feathers exploded from her spine. The effect of seeing a bright red bird in a dark blue uniform was rather comical, although Steven didn't feel like laughing right now.
The policebird shook her head in amazement, then said quietly, "Incredible."
"My wife," Steven said, not acknowledging the officer's statement, "She's still in our apartment. She's a cat, a real cat." The applause swelled when the throng heard him speak, but the police were already breaking up the crowd.
The officer nodded and understood, "She might be stuck for a while. A lot of people are."
"You- You mean we're not changing all the way?" Steven said, the world beginning to come back into focus. He propped himself against one arm of the seat and let himself get a grip on reality again.
The bird morph nodded her scarlet head, "Not most. A few are, but some of them are just trapped by their minds. We're working on it. What room is yours?"
"4345," Steven replied, letting everything that the officer had told him sink in. "She a calico. Debra."
The cop nodded and headed for the door, but turned before entering and said, "You're a very lucky man, mister. Not even religion can save you like that."
Steven looked up at the sky, taking care not to catch his antlers in the hedge that lined the small plaza that led into the apartment complex. It was all he could do to watch the angel's feathers float by.
Long Way Down copyright 1998 by Trey McElveen.
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