And font conference! Aaah, anthropomorphization. I like Times New Roman, frankly.
The full version of the Spectacular Spider-Man theme song.
I joined Dragonadopters. This will probably end poorly. Here's my egg.
I think I put my back out trying aerobics. Ow, damn it! It hurts to bend.
Finished my exchange story. Now I have to figure out what to call it.
Paul trudged onwards through the snow, his breath pluming out and hanging in the air. It was beautiful here – miles and miles of nothing but wilderness and the occasional cabin. Deer season here had been over for a couple of weeks, and now it was too cold for any but the most hardened campers and backpackers to go out into it.
He wasn’t one of them. Paul didn’t consider himself fat, and he could hike a good ways, but he didn’t have a lot of illusions about the shape he was in. Here, where Paul was now, wasn’t more than a couple miles from the wooden playstructure that kids used in the summer, and he’d only left the woodchip/packed earth trail behind a few minutes ago. He liked this wooded parkland, and how it had a little transition between civilization and wilderness.
Yesterday there had been a good three and a half inches of snowfall, a nice fluffy kind, and it was neither warm enough for everything to get soggy nor cold enough to turn the snow into granules of gritty ice. Virgin snow, most of it, and out here there were barely any tracks.
Paul turned in place to look at his trail, a meandering line of prints. Something caught his eye, and he trudged back over to see it. He’d walked right through something without seeing it.
There’d been a line of animal tracks crossing the snow that ended abruptly, the snow around it disturbed in a kind of burst. It took him a moment to recognize it – this was where a hawk or an owl had stooped and caught some prey animal, wings disturbing the snow. There, he saw a tuft of fur and the imprints of feathers. He’d stepped right into the site of the kill. There was a spot of blood down there, compressed by the tread of his boot.
The prey had probably been carried off. Paul scanned the trees to no effect – there were cardinals off over there, and in the distance a crow was announcing itself in a series of short, sharp caws, but he didn’t see anything else. Not that he’d expected to, really. Out of curiosity, he glanced over the unlucky animal’s tracks.
At first he thought it had been a raccoon, since some of the prints looked a little like hands. But by the huge “thumbs”, it had to be a possum, and a fairly small, dim one, if it had run out into the open and been killed like that. Well, that was nature. Only the ones that were canny and fit enough would live until spring.
Paul trudged on, the incident passing out of his mind.
In the middle of a forest vaster and more primeval than any he’d seen before, Paul snuffled the air outside of his burrow. There was a bright tang of blood hanging around, and just a whiff of sweet decay with playful nutty undertones and a harsh taint of tannim. Squirrel, probably. His mouth watered, but he didn’t venture out straight away. He could smell bobcat, that intensely pungent pall like tomato plants on steroids, overlaying an oddly pleasant musk. It wasn’t all that strong, so the cat had probably come and gone. And it wouldn’t have left much of the squirrel. And he’d eaten plenty last night, when he’d stumbled on those persimmons. Still, still…
Creeping out into the air, Paul froze at the rush of movement, wings in a rapid flurry. His lips started to pull back, but he settled as the bird resolved into a blue jay, perching on the leafless bush above his burrow. He turned his head to watch the dim figure out of his left eye. The jay preened itself briskly, then opened its beak.
Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep—
The dream evaporated, and Paul hit the alarm clock clumsily, managing to get the sleep button. He almost fell out of bed doing so, it seemed like it was just a touch too far away. He lay there, muzzy, a bad taste in his mouth and a dull ache in his jaw.
He’d forgotten to turn the damn alarm off again. What good did two weeks’ vacation do if he got up this early every day?
Ah, yes. One of his teeth had fallen out last night while he was eating dinner. A premolar. It had been very odd – the root seemed to have dissolved, and it had been basically painless. Reminded him of shedding milk teeth as a kid. Some of his other teeth had been loose and wriggly when he tested them, and Paul had made a note to schedule with his dentist. ‘’After’’ break.
Running his tongue along the inside of his mouth, Paul determined that he did indeed have teeth, and no more bizarre, conspicuous gaps. But he was lying on some very small, very hard little things. He suspected that he knew what they were.
Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep—
This time, he got all the way up, staggering a bit on legs that didn’t want to support his weight, and actually turned the thing off. Paul turned back to the bed and swept his hand along where he’d been lying, collecting several of the little mystery items. They were, indeed, teeth. His teeth, too. Some of them had fillings.
Running his tongue along the inside of his mouth again, this time following the edges of the teeth rather than the gumline, Paul found it to be a much more varied journey than usual. His incisors were clustered together and more numerous, his canine teeth were quite pronounced. The lower pair were detectably curved. Past those, he had some flat triangular ones, and his molars were small. There were hard things growing at the back under his gums, in the same place where he’d used to have wisdom teeth. And it seemed like his whole jaw was narrower.
Weird. Still clumsy with sleep, Paul stumbled over to the bathroom.
Later, when he was pouring milk from a carton, Paul was hit by a wave of drowsiness, strong enough that he let the milk overflow onto the counter. He fought it back to drink the milk, put the carton back in the fridge, drop paper towels over the spill, and splash his face, but his eyes seemed to have stuck at half-mast. Why had he forgotten to put the coffee on?
Dragging himself back to bed, Paul hit the mattress and was asleep even as he pulled the covers over himself.
The night was bright with a half-moon in the sky and a million trillion stars, and loud with prey rustling about, digging under the snow, gnawing at plants. Paul swiveled his head and surveyed his domain, moving with a slow deliberation. There was a field mouse there, in the thicket, working at a grass seed, teeth clicking busily, black bulging eyes oblivious. He considered it.
No. Paul could pinpoint the precise tread of a fox, hidden from his sight, hear the nearly inaudible huff of its breath. It would quite happily make a meal of him instead of that mouse, should he get close. Yes, there was the off chance that it would be scared off, but why risk his life on a maybe? He had a decent territory, he could find prey somewhere else.
Releasing the gnarled bark, Paul spread his wings and leaped, beating them in a flurry of motion before gaining a little altitude and settling into a slow, effortlessly wavering flight, legs dangling. He was absolutely silent.
Paul woke up on his own this time, feeling stiff and slightly achy, and aware of a rather strong smell outside of the kitchen. Straight away he noticed that he was covered in feathers, but after a moment of surprise he saw that they were just stuck to his skin, and had come from that nice down pillow he’d bought for himself. He’d bitten it in his sleep. Sawed right through the casing. Well, with teeth like his…
Paul ran his tongue over his teeth again and found that his incisors had fused into big, curved points. Two on his lower jaw, one on his upper. In the bathroom mirror he found that his lips weren’t quite up to covering them, and from the front, they looked like… like a black, curved beak.
The shape of his face had changed while he slept. It was more or less heart-shaped. And his left ear had moved. It was higher on his head than his right ear, the upper edge almost level with the crown of his head. His irises had darkened and spread, so his eyes at first glance seemed all pupil. Turning his head, Paul found that his eyes didn’t want to swivel as far, but his head was all too willing to keep turning. A moment’s exploration with his hands, and he found that his face had pushed out into a narrow muzzle.
Strangely, he felt quite unconcerned and uncurious, thinking only that it was a good thing he had two weeks off and no one to come in and bother him. What could he think of that had a heart face, a beak, uneven ears, and this many teeth?
He randomly identified the smell coming from his kitchenette. It was that rotted-piss rankness of milk so spoiled it could practically move on its own. Paul had put paper towels on the spilled milk, to soak it up, but he hadn’t transferred them to the trash and gone over the spot with a wet rag. Somehow it actually didn’t smell that bad. Paul abandoned the mirror to meander into the kitchen.
He hadn’t put down nearly enough paper towel. There was still a little pool of liquid around the crumpled, soaked material. It didn’t look like it had been out for long, but by the smell it had been rotting for days. Paul leaned over it. Yep, days in high heat. Half daring himself, he licked his beak, then touched his tongue to the spoiled milk.
It… it didn’t taste that bad. Still, Paul pulled away and cleaned up the mess by hand. Even after he’d used a soapy rag, a little of the smell lingered. He noticed, while rinsing out the rag, that his nails had lengthened and blackened and gotten narrower. Except for on his pinkies, which if anything had shortened.
He’d been asleep for eight hours. It was early afternoon, and he was hungry. Paul stuck some leftover spaghetti in the microwave – it smelled heavenly – and waited, absently scratching his arms through the downy filaments growing out of them.
Huh. He hadn’t noticed those before. Something between feathers and fur, cream in color. They weren’t just on his arms, either, but down his legs, on his chest when he pulled open his collar to look, and on his face. Slowly lengthening, new filaments pushing through his skin even as he watched. He hadn’t felt them growing, but now that he knew they were there he could feel a faint stretching, tickling sensation all over his skin. Not on his hands or until about halfway up his forearm, and not on his toes, but getting thicker pretty much everywhere else. It was very soft.
Paul was taking the plate of spaghetti out of the microwave when he felt a tightness in his underwear. The room seemed to be getting warmer with all the fluff anyway, so he took them and his shirt off. Past his navel wiry guard hairs were growing through the fluff in shades of gray and black; above his navel he seemed to be getting soft feathers.
It took a second to part the thick fur down there. … Bifurcated. That was the word. Bifurcated. Right. That was a possum thing, wasn’t it? And sort of a shark thing, but he honestly didn’t think that was what was happening here. He also seemed to be growing a tail. Things were happening faster now. The ceiling was starting to recede. That, or he was shrinking.
Funny that he was taking it all in stride. Paul knew that he should have been worried at the least, just like this probably should have hurt, but somehow it seemed like the minor annoyance of having to grab the plate and put it on the floor before the counter was too high to reach was more important.
His ribcage bowed out like the keel of a rowboat and his arms and shoulders hunched forwards before new limbs started easing out in their place. Turning his head ridiculously far, Paul had a quick glimpse of pink bumpy flesh and three stiff, nearly fused fingers before down and feathers overtook them. Some of these feathers were more substantial than the smaller ones elsewhere on his body, and he got to see their hollow quills rising and unfurling their vanes. The wings seemed quite big, very long, ending just above his hips.
Folding them, while it looked like quite a complex process, felt a lot like putting his hands and arms into a praying mantis pose, with more wrist action. Looking down his own back now, Paul saw tailfeathers and a long, tapering tail, not quite naked, but he could see the scales.
Swiveling his head back to front, he found that his breathing had changed. Now it was in, back, middle, front, middle, out. Something in and around his lungs had changed drastically while he’d been watching those wings. Posture, too – he was still standing on two legs, but not upright. Almost horizontal, like a Velociraptor, balancing his torso with his tail. The room seemed larger and much warmer now, just short of sweltering.
His arms and hands had become very slender and covered with dark gray scales, each of four fingers tipped with curved black claws. Digit placement had changed. Now he had two facing forwards, two in opposition. He made a couple of awkward fists, then cautiously explored his head and face.
Feathers made his face seem disk-shaped and hid most of his muzzle, but not his beak. His ears were ribbed and thinner and moved, twitching away from his hand, and still uneven. More feathers disguised the S-curve of his neck and the shape of his skull.
Huh. Okay, possum and some kind of bird. Predatory bird. If he could make the jump, he’d try and get up on the bathroom sink to examine his reflection, and if that wasn’t enough he could just go on Wikipedia and look up birds of prey. Manipulating a mouse and keyboard was going to take some effort, but he was sure he could do it.
Experimentally he opened his wings, crouched down, and leaped high and far, beating his wings hard and fast in two figure-eights. Too late he saw the cabinet.
Ow. Note: Inside of flat is a bad place to practice flying, he told himself, dazed by the impact. For a moment he thought he’d cracked his beak, but it was fine. Just a bit sore was all. He picked himself up and absently preened his shoulder feathers. He could feel his pulse, fast and painful. Paul shook his head in an attempt to clear it, but the dizzyingly fast arcs just made it worse. He sat down heavily, tail stretched out behind him, and caught sight of the food he’d put on the floor.
The spaghetti plate seemed about as big as a bike tire. No, wait, a little smaller than that, but not a whole lot. Paul got up, walked up to it, then reached out and tried to hook a noodle with one of the claws on his fingers, but the spaghetti was slippery, and he tried several times before getting one to stay. He brought it to his face and sniffed.
Wistful hints of flour and egg, under a luxuriously thick medley of tomato and basil and garlic and… hmm, mushroom. Tomato sauce from a jar had never smelled this good before. It was still warm from the microwave. The taste wasn’t too bad either, though the length of the noodle made it a little awkward to eat. He had to bite it into many smaller pieces. Well, no sense in leaving the plateful out to waste. Paul crouched in front of it, mantled his wings to hide the noodles and sauce, and dug in.
When he’d finished, licked the plate, and fastidiously removed all the sauce from hands, face, and chest – he’d gotten a little carried away – Paul realized that if he couldn’t reach the fridge handle or open the cupboards, he might starve. Trotting back to the refrigerator, he found that while it was well out of reach at a walking height, if he stretched all the way upright, balancing awkwardly on unbent legs and braced with his tail, he could get a grasp on the handle and enough leverage to open it.
He might have some trouble getting food out, but he wasn’t about to starve, he determined, blinking at the bulb and the cold air. The chill felt good against the uncomfortable heat of the room, but it dissipated too quickly. Paul swung the fridge door closed. Now what? He felt sluggish, and not just because of the meal. His head was still pounding.
Well, he could go boot up his computer and tell people, see if they believed him. Right now that didn’t interest him too much. It sounded like too much work. Or he could get out of the flat and test his wings. Now there was an attractive idea! It wasn’t night yet, but at this time of year, sunset was only a few hours away.
Trotting towards the door, he was distracted by the faint clicking of claws on the floor and finally got around to looking at his feet. He was walking on his toes and the balls of his feet – digigrade, yeah, that was what it was called. They looked like possum feet, mostly – four clawed toes, one that was much larger, clawless, and opposable. He had no trouble standing on them, balancing like a dinosaur.
He could, by stretching up, reach the doorknob, but the angle was all wrong, he couldn’t touch it with his palm or turn it. And there was still the deadbolt above it. Damn!
There was something he could do about that… what was it, though? He still felt funny after smacking into that cabinet. Simple, maybe. Had he knocked himself stupid? Or was it because he’d turned into a possum-bird thing? His head felt pretty big, but it had to have shrunk with him. Was it brain size that made the difference, or… connections, whatever that meant? Argh. Anyway, that would probably explain why he hadn’t freaked out, although he knew he should have gone hysterical, logically.
Logic had nothing to do with this. Knocked simple or not, Paul knew that. Right now, the issue was getting out. He could search the flat, find something heavy, and fling it through the window. No. No, his insurance wouldn’t cover that. What if – oh, a chair!
He’d left a cheap wooden chair not too far from the door. The seat was at eye-height when he was standing level. Pushing it was a challenge. The thing was huge and heavy. But his feet had good traction on the floor, and if he braced with his shoulder and really leaned into it, he could get it to move a few steps before the strain got to him and he had to rest.
After a few of these, Paul made the mistake of checking his progress. This was disheartening. He might be able to push the chair a few steps at a time, but those steps weren’t all that big. And it was hot in here. He was starting to pant in rapid bursts, tongue out. Several times, it occurred to him to stop. He kept at it.
Eventually he did reach the door and climb up on the seat of the chair. The deadbolt was reluctant to move and he had some trouble gripping the doorknob hard enough; still, he got that done. More trouble was opening the door. He pulled at it, and it moved, it opened wide enough to let in a stream of blissfully cold air, but then it stuck.
He pulled it again. Stuck. Something was keeping it from opening. One more time.
Paul sighed. Of course it was stuck, he was pulling it inwards, and the chair was in the way. He hopped off, half-spreading his wings, and shoved the chair clear.
Putting his head through the opening, he blinked repeatedly at the brightness. The sun was getting low in the sky, and the light was reflected by the fresh snow. Snowplows hadn’t yet gotten around to clearing the nearest street, but enough cars had passed over it that the street was half cleared. His footprints from yesterday were vague, shallow dips; enough snow had fallen to fill them in. There was a little movement, cars on a more distant road, but everyone here was either elsewhere or staying inside.
He pushed the door a little farther and walked out onto the welcome mat. The breeze, carrying loose particles of snow, stripped away all that heat that had clung to him inside. It felt good. Paul closed his eyes on that feeling.
Now… He could follow that first impulse and try out his wings, head back into the parkland. Try living out there. The thought wasn’t unattractive.
But he wasn’t really cut out for living in the wild, was he? He wasn’t even sure what he ate, besides spaghetti. Learning that, and how to fly, and all the things he’d need to know in the middle of winter, he’d give up and come back before he starved or was eaten. And when he did come back, either he’d have left the door open and wasted money on the heater, or the door would be closed and he wouldn’t be able to reach the handle.
There was the soft crunching of footfalls and the sound of someone breathing, but they seemed pretty far away.
Nah, he’d never really been all that interested in living wild. The thing to do was tell someone he trusted about this before he tried anything rash. All right.
He opened his eyes and immediately spotted a kid across the street, bundled up against the cold, breath steaming. The kid had so many layers that he honestly couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl. On impulse he opened his wings and waved them.
Even from this distance, he saw the kid’s mouth drop open. Pleased with himself, Paul went back inside. First things first: turn down the thermostat.