Chapter Four: Morphologically Speaking
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©2000 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
I did not faint again, although I wished I had and death even seemed desirable for a short while. The pain was excruciating. It was not the dull pain of a headache but the mind-numbing agony of the worst migraine imaginable and it did not just settle in one part of the body, it was everywhere at the same time. I survived by rolling onto the floor and into a fetal ball. Then I clenched every muscle I could, as tightly as I could for as long as I could. When I could finally open my eyes and drag myself up onto the couch, it was all over but the hunger.
I did not know when he returned, but Paul was back. He sat unmoving, paralyzed, with a horrible rictus of a smile stamped on his face. I could guess what he was thinking, although I hoped I was wrong. "Damn that hurt." My voice did not sound any different, but I had not noticed a difference the last time either. I guess it is true, you really cannot recognize your own voice.
Reaching for my hair, I discovered it was short again, just above my shoulders and dirty blonde instead of honey blonde. The lumps on my chest were smaller too. Further investigation was going to have to be postponed pending some serious binge eating.
I staggered to the kitchen only to find I had eaten all of Paul's food after my last transformation. Either I was going to go out to get something to eat or I was calling out for a delivery. I was so hungry I was ready to just grab my money and head out. I might have, except my new clothes no longer fit and I knew it would do me no good to be arrested for vagrancy. With a tee-shirt for a bra that was so loose and oversized my breasts were flopping about, frequently on display, and pants that were so loose I would have to constantly hold them up somehow or provide a public exhibition of another portion of my anatomy, that was a highly conceivable possibility.
Showing remarkable restraint, I called out to Paul to see if he wanted anything before ordering, but got no response. The delivery boy was going to get a good tip considering I had ordered enough pizza, wings and soda for a small platoon. There was little I could do now but wait, and I had always hated wasting my time hanging around, doing nothing. Another quick shower and my old clothes were next on the agenda for the day so I headed back through the living room and on through to Paul's bedroom. Besides, doing something, anything, might help take my mind of the intense hunger I was feeling. At one point, I remember wondering if this is what a vampire in need of blood would feel.
On the way to the bedroom, I checked on Paul, who still had not moved and still did not respond to my words or gentle shakes. I was starting to worry about him, wondering about shock, yet I would have thought his legal training would have prepared him for the unexpected and this certainly fit the bill in that area.
The comb had just touched my hair when the doorbell chimed and I called out to Paul asking him to get the door. My only answer was another chime as the delivery boy started leaning on the button. With my belly growling loudly enough to drown out some of the melody, I dropped the comb, grabbed my purse and ran for the door. Shoving a wad of money into his hands, I grabbed the food and dove in before the door had completely closed on his surprised face. I suspect I would have been just as willing to severely injure him if he had failed to hand the food over.
About half way through the third large pizza, I was sated enough to wonder why Paul had not joined me. It was an afterthought, but I was also wondering how I was able to eat as much as I had without bursting at the seams. I called out a couple of times, but Paul never answered so after I polished off the third pizza, I grabbed some wings and wandered into the living room to find him -- or at least that was my intent.
He was not in the living room, or the bedroom, or the bathroom, or even the balcony. There was no note, but when I remembered to look, his keys were missing from the bowl on the kitchen counter by the refrigerator where he usually tossed them, along with his change and his wallet. Actually, considering the condition of the kitchen after my two eating binges, it was almost surprising I had not eaten the bowl and its contents.
There had been times in the past when Paul had needed to think things through, like when he found out he was adopted or when my mother had died. In the first case, I had found him hiding in our favorite tree in a near catatonic state -- at the time, I'd just thought he was fooling around -- and had managed to break through to him by offering him my mother. That had worked and we had grown even closer, often joking about being secret brothers. In the second case, I was having my own problems and could not be much help. He had missed school for a week and his father had been on the verge of having him committed to a children's psychiatric center when he finally came round. I was so upset that I had vowed to never let someone I knew of be placed in a position of such hurt and, so far, I had kept that promise to the best of my ability.
I was betting that Paul had gone somewhere to do some serious thinking, but was unsure where as our tree had been torn down several years ago as part of a land development project. Therefore, if he was not here in his apartment, the only other place I could think of that he might have gone was to his office. A quick call there got the answering service and, like most answering services, it was not helpful. I am not sure, but I think the people that answer the phones at answering services are trained by the three monkeys.
Even if I could not find Paul to see if he needed help, I still needed to figure out what to do about my own situation. Paul's assessment of my situation was sadly on target and some fast research was essential. That left me only one viable choice. I called a cab and headed back to the base and my quarters.
The ride was not an enjoyable one. The cabbie kept staring back at me in the rear view mirror instead of at the road. There were at least three near misses as a result of his inattention and I kept checking myself to see if something was wrong with how I as dressed and feeling uncomfortable from his intense examination. It had been a while since I had taken a cab, before I got sick, but I never remembered running into any cabbies like that before and wondered if he was on drugs or something.
I probably should have explained earlier, but I am not in the military and I do not work for the military. I worked for BioLogInc, very small "n" as they preferred it written, which was a profit-making division of the state university. They paid me and they paid my research bills, including renting the space at the base. They chose the base because it was in closure mode and the space went for a pittance, not because my research was a security issue.
Back home, I left messages on Paul's answering machine at the apartment and another one with the service for his office. Then, feeling exhausted, I went to bed, even though it was only about three in the afternoon. Unsurprisingly, I slept around the clock, not waking again until a bit after nine that Sunday morning.
I ate a thankfully normal breakfast, if you consider a grown man, ah woman, eating Frosted Flakes® normal. Then, I left yet another set of messages for Paul -- I was beginning to wonder if he was intentionally avoiding me -- and did some long overdue housekeeping.
It was not that I was wasting time, or putting off the inevitable. I had at least until Monday after next to decide how to stop the human testing so that was not priority one. I find that when I do routine tasks, like vacuuming or cleaning the bathtub, I can let my mind work at its own pace on problems, wandering about unimpeded by my usual attempts to organize and channel it. In effect, I was actually developing a plan of attack for the research I would need to do to discover how I was able to change shapes and evaluate the extent to which I could do it and the housekeeping just happened to be getting done also. By the time the bathroom was clean, I had decided how to proceed with my personal testing program.
There had been multiple variables to be considered. I had needed some place secluded enough to avoid being seen, especially if I was going to be different people. It had to be near a hospital in case something went wrong. I would have much preferred to have someone I trusted, like Paul, with me, but he still had not called back. Felix and José were out of the question as it was going to be hard enough to convince them I was sane when I told them it was necessary to stop the human research studies, let alone if I told them some story about how I had become a different person a lá Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It also had to be near enough to the base that I could get there within an hour or most, assuming I still wanted time to study my new ability instead of just take a brief vacation.
When I put it all together, the obvious answer was the old family camp on the Sacajawea River at which our families, Paul's and mine, had spent summers in happier times. It was only a half hour away from the base on the other side of town, so it was less than fifteen minutes drive from the university hospital, yet the nearest neighbors were about a half-mile down the road. I almost changed my mind and began looking for another place when the memories of life in easier times, when my mother was still alive, crashed down on me, but I did not have time. This would have to be my Menlo Park.
I left a message with the lab answering machine saying I needed to get away for a few days and think about a paper I was considering. Felix and José would understand; they were part of the "publish or perish" system that exists in most colleges and research facilities. That done, I grabbed some clothes and a toothbrush. Then I was off. My only stop was the supermarket near the strip where I picked up a carload of food. I was at the cabin before I knew it.
The cabin was as I remembered it, a small three season home at best. It had framed out walls with exposed construction members rather than anything like sheetrock or plaster on the inside. All the heat was provided by a potbelly stove in the great room and, on cold nights, you opened the bedroom door and used a lot of blankets -- or froze.
It was night when I got there, and I quickly fumbled in the moonlight for the key in the fake rock by the front door. Once in, I went to turn on the main circuit breaker only to be surprised to find it on. I could have sworn I had gone through the whole place shutting everything down about two years ago when my father had died and the estate had been settled. Since then, I had not been back, instead leaving the cabin as a personal shrine to my memories; pictures, clothes, toys, sporting equipment, even a small but valuable collection of comic books, all as it had been when the estate had been settled.
Next on the agenda was to bring in the groceries and do some light cleaning, just enough to make the place minimally habitable; after all, it was to be a temporary research site, not a long-term living arrangement. I had not brought a lot of food that would need to be refrigerated because it would take so long for the old refrigerator to cool down any perishables might be spoiled first, so I was even more surprised to find it plugged in, cool, and nearly full of food. The place was also a lot cleaner than I had expected it to be. The obvious explanation was that someone had been here -- recently.
At this point, I had a really unpleasant thought; someone could be using the place right now. "Has someone been sleeping in your bed, little bear?" Even if I changed "bear" to "bare" the thought was not funny, especially when I remembered what happened to Goldilocks in the original Grimm tale. Suddenly, coming here did not seem like such a good idea.
I think it is safe to say that so far I had consistently minimized the impact of my change of gender on my life. Some clothes, the monthly purchase of sanitary care products, and slightly longer hair had been the extent of the accommodation, and even the choice had been to allow it to grow rather than enter that bastion of femininity, the beauty parlor. If it was not absolutely necessary to survive, I had ignored it. Thus, I used no makeup, did not date guys (or gals for that matter), and I had no sex, at least not with a partner. But now, a concept totally foreign to me for my entire life had forced itself to the fore: Rape. I could be raped.
Before you ask, yes I did live elbow to elbow with several thousand horny eighteen-year-olds, at the peak of their sexual arousal, on that military base. But believe it or not, a military base is actually one of the safest places imaginable for a female, especially a female who appears to have rank by virtue of being in charge of a major research operation. The manual says you don't mess with your own and there were ten youngsters who believed the credo and would be glad to help correct a straying mate should it be necessary for every one who might consider straying.
The thought of rape was a wonderful motivator. Food forgotten, I crept back into the great room, flicking off the kitchen lights on the way. Hugging the wall, I slid towards the front door and the baseball bat that was a permanent fixture behind it. It was surprising how much safer I felt with my fingers curled tightly around its stock.
Bat poised in the air before me, I turned off the rest of the lights and waited for my vision to adjust to the low level of light provided by the moon's wan glow. While I waited, I considered my choices and again the decision was simple, if surprising, once I had clarified the problem. I was leaving. The risk of rape overrode my need for answers.
I suppose this was an inevitable choice at the time, but in hindsight -- you know, where you check back to confirm you have made an ass of yourself -- it seems strange. I think the problem was my denial of my new gender. Women who grow up as females are forced to adjust. They learn to recognize that rape is always a possibility, but they learn, of necessity, to accept the risks, adjust their behavior to realistically minimize the risks, and move on with their lives. Additionally, and also of necessity, they are intimately aware of the risks of pregnancy associated with rape. They learn to cope. I had not. Until that moment, I had still been operating from my years of male experience. Rape was bad, but it was something that happened to others.
Back to the wall, and still tightly gripping the bat with my right hand, I slid my other hand to the doorknob. Once I had a firm grip, I prepared to bolt out to the car. A deep breath, then another, and I was off.
The door slammed open and then shut behind me from the force with which I yanked it open as I rushed through it. In an instant, I was down the steps and at the car. The bat went flying toward the passenger seat, finally coming to rest on the floor. I threw myself in after it, scrabbling to the far side of the car to lock those doors and then back to lock the driver's side doors. Forgetting my seatbelt, I dug into my pockets for the car keys -- and stopped short. They were still in my purse on the kitchen counter.
Once again, the reflexes of a lifetime had betrayed me. I made a promise to myself then and there to explore and acclimate myself to every aspect of femininity as soon as possible -- assuming there was an "as soon as possible" and assuming I was, for some reason, unable to reclaim my original gender.
Do you notice how, even now, I was still denying some of the realities of my gender? One of the possible outcomes of rape is murder. As a man, I trusted my physical strength and size to permit me to handle dangerous situations with the impunity of the immortal we all think we are. As a woman, I was not as strong as I had been as a man, or for that matter, as most men. Of course, I had acknowledged it in terms of cursing a difficult to open jar, but not in terms of being generally weaker than a man. Certainly, I had not acknowledged it in terms of a man being a serious threat to my life.
Now, however, I was in a very exposed position with little more than some safety glass and a baseball bat between me and a potential rapist. The situation was untenable. I had to do something. I was going to run into the cabin, grab my keys and run back to the car. Then I could get the heck out of here like I had originally planned. Another couple of deep breaths, my hand poised on the door handle, adrenaline surging thorough my body, and I was ready to go.
"TAP! TAP!" The sound was like twin rifle shots in the confined silence of the car and I jumped, my head bolting towards the front passenger side window and the source of the sound. I saw a face, a male face -- and screamed in terror.