Bridge on the Paulins Kill
by Mike Brotzman
©2001 Mike Brotzman -- all rights reserved
It all started when a Princeton classical studies major and her engineer friend, teamed up with a computer science major to break into the Mythology department. The classical studies major, Lauren, swiped the AAA master key while helping her professor with research and gave it to Ted, the engineer, to be copied in the machine shop. While helping out in the server room, Justin quietly accessed the security panel and made a few minor modifications. Later that night, they accessed the Mythology building through a steam tunnel and used the AAA master key to open up a storage room. In a far corner of the room, under some tapestries and a plaster minotaur head, was a wooden crate, about the size of a steamer trunk.
Lauren, Ted and Justin had all been good friends and when Justin had found some old inventory records that were being given the heave-ho due to mold, the trio was presented with an adventure that they just couldn't turn down. The piled-on crap was moved aside and the crate was dragged out of the storeroom. Judging by the amount of dust and grime that collected on the crate. Lauren estimated that it hadn't been touched in over 65 years. Working carefully to leave no trace of their salvage operation, the three quickly moved the heavy crate into the steam tunnel and out to Ted's waiting car. Soon the crate was sitting in the kitchen of their off-campus apartment. Using a pry-bar Ted popped open the top and looked inside. "Whoa," was the best description he could muster.
Inside were 10 leather books and about 20 ceramic Mason style jars filled with various substances. They had recovered Mythology department storage Lot 1351A, placed in storage June 14, 1937 by a one Julius Fieldsteel, Professor of Mythology, moved to long term storage September 17, 1942 upon his death. The description read:
"Resources dealing with Traditional Medieval Magic Crafts. Discovered intact near Verdun, France during Maginot Line construction. For more information consult file MY-102-1351."
Instead of skiing up in Vermont or having fun in the sun down in Mexico, Lauren, Ted and Justin spent their winter break learning the ancient arts. The books were in surprisingly good condition for something having been written in 16th century England by person or persons unknown. How the set had gotten to France nobody knew, but Lauren suspected that it had been stolen, hidden and then forgotten about, possibly due to the death of the thief.
Ted crafted a story about the set of 10 books and 23 jars being the medieval equivalent to a top-secret technology that had been caught up a in something like a 1500s version of a James Bond-style international spy thriller. Meanwhile, Justin just continued to pore over the old, leather bound archives, one by one.
The three quickly set up a system. Ted would try to discover how and why this magic worked (presuming it did of course); Justin would learn the "language" and how to actually use it; and Lauren would translate anything in the books they couldn't read.
Just before classes were about to begin the three gathered and went over everything they had found. Ted explained how this magic appeared to be a complex energy manipulation system capable of drawing in energy from the environment and using it to perform different tasks. The component elements were something akin to hardware and the rune patterns and incantations were akin to software.
Then, Justin explained how there were instructions for gathering, storing and distributing energy; receiving input from the mind or a physical object; a number of commands involving conversion; transformation and storage of both inputs and energy; all the basic logical operations (AND, OR, NOT, etc.); and several forms of output. He went on to say that although magic was low level in operation, it had some very high-level instructions. "For example, let's say I wanted to create a coffee mug out of thin air. There are instructions that can read the design out of my mind or even off of a picture of the object. Its like when I draw something the concept of what I drew is left on the paper also. I don't need to draw the entire mug for the concept of the mug to be interpreted by the spell. It's very clever."
It was time to move on the Phase II and they agreed that each Friday afternoon they would conduct a magical experiment. So for the next month, they all met in one of the intro Physics labs, Justin armed with a spell; Lauren, the camera; and Ted with all the scientific instruments. Their first spell made a piece of paper completely invulnerable. Drawing energy from the air, the inscribed piece of paper was as strong as an I-beam; razor thin; could not be torn, pierced or folded; and was completely resistant to flame.
They turned steel slabs into mud. They made things disappear by having the object block its perception in the observer's mind. They were even able to turn a pile of grass clippings into a rabbit. The latter was somewhat difficult in that they needed to prime the animal's brain with spark of something that would give it life. Since a rabbit is mostly hard-wired, they were able to finally create something that wasn't just a breathing shell, but more complex creatures were clearly out of the question. It was about this time when classes started catching up with all of them and the experiments were called off. Justin, however, continued to spend all his free time poring over the books.
In the week before spring break, Justin gathered Ted and Lauren in the common area of the apartment in order to show them a little presentation he had prepared.
"Hey Justin, we love all the work you do, but I mean it's just us. Did you really need to use PowerPoint?" asked Lauren.
"I'm just trying to be professional."
"How long did all that take you?" questioned Ted.
"Just last night, but enough chitchat, I need to show you this." Justin took out some notes and cleared his throat.
"During the month since out last experiments I have continued to study the books and I have developed an ambitious plan of action. Combining the ancient arts with modern object-oriented programming techniques, I have created a tool that is capable of feats far too complex for even the original creators. Trying to make a single spell that can do something like raise the dead or turn a Geo into a BMW is incredibly complicated, and due to the sheer quantity of things that need to happen and must be kept track of, it makes these kinds of spells nearly impossible. However, my technique uses man-made structures to spread out the spell and divide it into manageable chunks. It basically involves making a magic machine to do a certain task again and again."
Justin turned from pointing at his PowerPoint flowcharts and looked at Ted. "Do you have the results from those tests I wanted you to run?"
"I was wondering why you wanted me to do those. Yes, I found that I could combine any one of the component elements with a latex based paint up to about a point of one gram per gallon and still retain 100% effectiveness."
"Excellent," hissed Justin. "You see, by mixing up the components into paint we can then apply large patterns to large structures and work with magic on a large scale. For example," more slides cycled by, "imagine a tunnel where you drive in one end and by the time you get to the other your car is whatever model you want it to be. Or maybe an elevator that lets you select your age. Or," another slide popped up, "how about a bridge that when walked across would transform the person into whatever form they wanted."
"Why on earth would anybody want to turn into a horse?" Said Lauren, pointing at the slide.
"That's a very good question. I did a little research on the Internet and I found that there are a lot of people who would pay shitloads of money to be transformed into various animals." The slide changed to show a mob of people all holding fistfuls of bills.
"Don't forget they can also choose to stay human and just change their body. This would most sought after by fat people..." ::slide changes:: "Ugly people..." ::slide changes:: "Losers..." ::slide changes:: "Old people..." ::slide changes:: "Sick people..." ::slide changes:: "Criminals..." ::slide changes:: "And celebrities." ::slide changes:: "And do you know what this would mean for us? Yes, Ted."
"Goodbye student loan payments!"
"Exactly. I have done some further research and I have located a suitable structure some 30 miles north of here."
The slide changed again to show a magnificent concrete arch bridge spanning a wooded creek some 70 feet below.
"This is the Paulins Kill Viaduct. It was a railroad bridge constructed in 1910 near Blairstown, New Jersey. As you can see it is of a concrete arch design with a flat upper deck above, connected via vertical concrete pillars to the concrete arch below. Each of the support piers is hollow from where the arch intersects to the roadbed and can act as a resonance chamber for the various energies. All parts of the arch are completely accessible via a central gantry, and will serve as the base for the structure of the spell. Over spring break we can drive up, construct the pattern, test it, then deactivate it until we can get some clients. Once the paint is applied the pattern will remain intact as long as it isn't physically damaged, so we don't have to worry about graffiti kids ruining our work. The bridge has several manholes along its length that allow access to the archway. This will allow people to choose from several in-between states if they do not want a full transformation. I have the design for the spell all ready. It basically downgrades your existence from human to animal while a subroutine keeps your mind intact. Walking the bridge in reverse will upgrade you back to human. I found that using the natural existence levels was a lot easier than trying to explicitly spell out a transformation. So there you have it, are you guys with me?"
"If this works, we could make billions!" exclaimed Lauren.
"You're damn right we're with you!" said Ted.
Classes ended and the three friends piled into Ted's Ford Bronco II for the short trip upstate. It was near enough that they could go back home daily if they wanted, but they did bring camping supplies in case they felt like seeking shelter in one of the bridge's massive hollow support pylons. The bridge was far enough out there so that people rarely came by. The only people who used the abandoned bridge were dirt bikers and off-roaders.
They arrived on Monday and it took them all week to get things ready. Ted had to first apply Justin's 2D spell design to the 3D structure of the bridge, then Justin had to work the bridge from one end to the other marking out his rune design in white primer. He then used another spell that could follow the design made by the primer and simulate its effects. Surprisingly, Justin had gotten it right on his first try. Next Lauren bought and mixed various colors of Latex paint with the different components needed and together, all three of them painted the bridge in an elaborate design of red, blue, yellow, green and black. To the untrained eye it just looked like inspired graffiti.
It was early Monday morning again when they were finally ready to test things out. Justin completed the final few brush strokes that made the spell active and then tested the pattern to make sure it was working correctly. The transformation would start as soon as one thought of a form and crossed the plane that denoted the bridge span. Entering the bridge in the middle would not trigger anything. The spell was designed to read the form from the mind of any being that crossed the plane, as long as they maintained a physical connection with the bridge surface. This would let you wear shoes or even drive across in a van, but it would preclude a bird from getting transformed by flying across. He then popped through the first manhole and joined his friends on top of the bridge.
"Ok, it's my design so I'll go first."
"No way Justin," said Lauren. "If something goes wrong, there will be nobody here with the skills to bring you back. Ted should go."
"What? Me? Um, I don't really want to."
"Just do it you big wuss," prodded Lauren.
"Ok, fine. What do I have to do?"
"You picture an animal in your head and cross that expansion joint there. You then walk all the way to the other side of the bridge. If you feel that something is going wrong just walk back and the process will reverse. Now I designed the spell so that you will be capable of human speech as long as you have a mouth and lungs, but it might not be that intelligible so I left two little flags over there. If everything is OK grab the white flag in your mouth and wave it around. If something has gone wrong, like you're in pain or you find you have the mind of a 5-year-old wave the black flag and then quickly cross back. If something really goes wrong you'll either be dead or running off wild into the woods."
"Well I'm comforted."
"I recommend you choose a white tailed deer as they are pretty common around these parts. You might want to take off your clothes here, as they won't be much use to you on the other side. I brought a robe you can discard it when you feel the time is appropriate. Oh, one last thing."
Justin put a large loop of yellow Caution tape around Ted's neck. "That's so we can ID you if something goes wrong."
"Oh, at least we're being safety conscious," quipped Ted. "So I just think of a white tailed deer and cross the line."
"Bingo, just make sure it's male. You don't want any surprises." Lauren started to snicker.
"What's the difference?"
"Males have the big horns dumb ass, but simply specifying male in your thought should do the trick."
Ted faced away from us and took off his clothes, shivering in the cool March air. He then donned the loose bathrobe and some comfortable slippers to avoid hurting his feet on the coarse gravel of the roadbed. He walked to the line, paused for a moment then stepped across. After about 50 feet he turned and yelled back. "Wow, watch it go. I'm really changing here."
"Don't be a jerk, just keep walking!" Justin called back and he picked up his pair of binoculars to keep track of Ted's progress.
As Ted neared the first he was about to lose his faith when an odd sensation on his skin caused him took down and see that his whole body was being covered with a fine fur. "We have fur!" he shouted back. As he walked on the fur grew thicker and he saw his fingers start to merge into cloven hooves. His growing unbalance told him his feet were doing the same and a pressure in his skull told him that he would soon be sporting a fine rack. By the second manhole he felt a sharp pain in his ass as his tail poked through. He stopped and walked backwards a few feet. The tail reentered his rear as quickly as it had emerged. Well, at least it's reversible, thought Ted.
By the third hole Ted had a small set of antlers and his fingers were pretty much unusable. He discarded the robe and saw that his penis was halfway encased in a furry sheath. He fell over and lost his slippers when his knees reshaped themselves, but he was able to right himself and by the fourth manhole he resembled the perfect anthropomorphic buck. His hands now fully hooves, he fell forward and began walking on all fours. As he passed the fifth manhole his hips and torso began to reshape themselves, soon followed by his legs and arms. As he passed the sixth he heard his spine crack as his neck lengthened and he found it hard to hold up his antler-crowned head. Finally he stepped over the line and the transformation was complete.
Ted paused for a moment to take in all the rich smells of his new environment. He hadn't even noticed how bad his eyesight had gotten due to the bombardment of information from his nose and ears. As he mumbled his disbelief to himself he realized he could still talk and so he yelled out, "It works! I can't believe it. It works!" Of course his voice was quite gravelly and sounded more like honking than talking. Remembering the flag he picked it up in his new muzzle and shook his head about in an effort to wave it.
"Ok, come on back!" He could clearly hear Justin despite the fact that he was several hundred feet away. Ted would have enjoyed some more time to explore, but he would get that opportunity soon enough. As he got to the second line he took no chances and through about his old body even though the change was supposed to be automatic. The transformation was exactly the same, just in reverse. Walking on all fours slowly became harder, he put on his slippers and walked on, his muzzle retracting, antlers shrinking, eyesight improving, smells fading. His sheath's disappearance left him waving in the breeze and he quickly recovered his robe. Finally Ted crossed the start line and he was Ted again.
Of course there was much shouting and hugging when Ted arrived. Aside from "did it hurt" and "was it cool" there was no need to ask Ted any questions because it was easier to just see for themselves. Justin checked the pattern again and along with Lauren he stripped down and put on a bathrobe. They listened for the telltale sound of dirt bikes and upon hearing none they all set out.
To make sure they wouldn't be spotted they all decided to pick smaller animals. Ted chose a rabbit, Justin a raccoon and Lauren a squirrel. All went well and by the halfway point they all resembled your typical furry morph, still fully robed and slippered. Then the big changes kicked in. By the fourth manhole they had lost half their height and by the fifth they had discarded their human clothes. Finally they stepped off the bridge as authentic woodland creatures.
"This is so cool," chattered Lauren in her squeaky new voice.
"Let's run around and find something to eat. The spell should have programmed in instincts and I want to make sure."
For the next half hour or so they ran around the west end of the bridge ensconced by plants they would have stepped over in their human bodies. Suddenly Lauren cried out, "Shhhh, everybody be quiet, look over here."
Walking down the old railroad grade was a real white tailed buck. It looked over at the squirrel that had made the human sounds, but finding nothing wrong it continued to walk along grazing.
"Why isn't it running away?" asked Lauren.
"We're just a squirrel, a rabbit and a raccoon, what would it have to fear."
The buck kept walking and crossed onto the bridge. "Um, Justin," asked Ted, "is it ok for the deer to cross the bridge?"
"Well it should be, I mean it wasn't transformed before and it probably isn't thinking of a new form."
"What did you set the defaults to?"
"The defaults? Um, what do you mean?"
"What happens if an animal crosses the bridge."
"Nothing, I think."
"If something were to happen what would happen."
"Well if it did somehow trigger the spell, walking east would upgrade the deer to a higher form of life."
"And what would that be."
"Well in the absence of a command it might pick a random life form that was appropriate to the environment."
"What is a higher life form that is appropriate to this environment?"
"A human I guess, but that's absurd. That deer isn't going to turn into a human."
"Oh my god! Look!" cried Lauren.
Something had spooked the deer out on the bridge and it began the run. Suddenly it lost it's footing and hit the ground. A few minutes later the deer, much calmer now, began to slowly crawl towards to east end of the bridge. Its skin was definitely taking on a pinkish hue.
"That can't be good for us," chirped Lauren.
"That can't be good for anybody," replied Ted.
"Come on, we have to stop it!" Yelled Justin.
Thinking human, all three of the little woodland creatures began to sprint back across the bridge. The deer had reached the anthropomorphic stage, but instead of a human shaped deer, it was a deer shaped human. The rough surface was slowing it down due to the fact that it now had human hands and feet, but the deer probably had a higher discomfort threshold and it was soon standing on two legs. As they tried to run, the real humans suddenly fell over as they outgrew their four legged forms and as they struggled to put on their slippers the deer (now a well built human male) reached the far side of the bridge. The well-designed spell was even good enough to provide the new human with the basic information, thought patterns and problem solving skills to survive in its new form. Feeling self-consciousness for the first time the former deer looked around for something to fix the problem.
"Ted, I think it's stealing your clothes," said Justin.
Ted completely forgot about his bath rode and started to sprint after the deer who was absconding with his attire. "You put that down! Those are not yours! Bad deer!"
Ted was oblivious to the fact that his fur was melting away leaving him completely naked because he was focused on the deer as it systematically went through the pockets on its new clothes. Despite Ted's screams of "No!", the deer pulled out Ted's wallet, casually removed the money, tossed the rest aside and turned to leave, its new human life awaiting.
Ted crossed the line and ran past the deer, baring his path. "You can't ::pant:: leave ::pant:: that stuff is mine ::pant:: m-i-n-e ::pant::." Ted point to himself.
The deer was silent, unsure of what to do, but then a plan formed in his new mind and it (well "he") knew what to do. The ex-deer held up its new 5-fingered hand. Ted focused on the hand wondering if the creature was attempting to communicate. Ted saw the hand clench into a fist and then the fist slam into his gut, knocking the wind out of him. He was then violently thrown aside as the deer walked past him, down the embankment and towards town.
"Ted, are you OK?" asked the new fully human Justin.
"That fucking deer stole all my cash."
"I told you to leave your wallet in the car. That's what you get. Here put this on and go get another change of clothes from the car." Justin handed Ted his forgotten bathrobe. "I am going to go below and see if I can alter the spell to prevent this from happening again."
After he got his stuff on Justin disappeared down onto the archway.
Ted and Lauren walked to where the car had been hidden to get Ted's change of clothes and also to get lunch. The day's events had made everyone hungry for human food and once they had everything Ted and Lauren began the tough climb back up the hill to the top of the railroad fill.
"What do you think is going to happen to that deer, human, whatever?" Lauren asked Ted.
"I have no clue, I just hope it doesn't lead anyone else back here. I'm sure what we're doing is probably illegal."
"Well I doubt that anyone would believe it, even given that it knows English. I'll bet it's wandering around out there in our human world all scared and alone."
"Yeah, with my money," mumbled Ted.
"What did you say?"
As they got up to where the east end of the bridge was anchored into the hill they spotted Justin on the arch chipping at something and cursing to himself.
"What's wrong?" asked Ted.
"I can't seem to be able to deactivate the spell. I've shipped away the paint, but the pattern is remaining intact somehow. It's like it has seeped into the concrete somehow."
"Can't you just alter the spell as is?"
"No, I have to break the pattern to affect any changes. The only thing I could possibly so is design a completely new spell to cancel the effects of the old and then redo them the right way. I could design it with some non-concrete pattern breakers, but this is going to take days if not weeks. In the meanwhile we could have a lot of naked humans wandering around these parts."
"That's not all we could have wandering around these parts," cried Lauren again, "I think I hear a truck coming down the right of way."
Ted and Lauren began to clamber up the cinder-slag that made up the final bit of the embankment, their feet and hands constantly losing traction and sending an avalanche of grit down behind them. About five feet from the top they saw the off-road pickup truck bounce by and by the time that Lauren and Ted reached the top it was clear that no amount of arm waving or yelling was going to stop the truck. Justin poked his head out of the first manhole having taken the inside track. "Don't panic yet, maybe nothing will happen. How often does one think about a particular animal over the course of a day?"
"Won't not thinking just cause the spell to go into default settings just like it did with the deer?"
To answer their question the truck started to swerve violently and finally upon leaving the bridge it ran off the roadbed and down the embankment, getting wedged in some trees.
"That can't be good for us," exclaimed Ted.
"That can't be good for anybody," replied Lauren.
"Shut up, we have to help them!" Yelled Justin.
"How? If we cross the bridge we'll be transformed into animals," said Lauren.
"Just picture yourself when you cross the line and you'll change into yourself."
Making extra sure that they were thinking about their own bodies the three students ran across the bridge as fast as they could to see what awaited them in the pickup. "Hey Justin?" Ted panted as they ran. "Why were you such an idiot to let this happen?"
"Well I assumed that by not defining any particular action it would just result in no action."
"See what happens when you assume."
When they arrived at the scene they saw that the truck was not badly damaged, but the engine was still running and one of the rear wheels was throwing up a shower of dirt. Justin ran to the driver's side window to turn off the ignition when something bit his hand. Recoiling in shock he saw the front seat now occupied by a large turkey vulture and a small black crow.
"What is happening to me," spoke the vulture in a raspy voice.
"Um, let me just turn off the engine first." The bird nodded its ugly bald head and Justin grabbed the keys and shut everything down. He then unfastened the seat belt that was pinning the large bird to the seat while Lauren did the same with the crow and then helped untangle it from the pile of human clothes. Once everybody was out of the vehicle the crow spoke up in its squawky little voice.
"You did this didn't you! You fucking turned us into birds! What kind of sick bastards are you? Unless you turn us back right now I'm going to fly off and make sure they throw your sick asses in jail for a million years."
"Please calm down," Justin implored.
"Calm down!?" rasped the vulture. "You stole our bodies and now you want us to calm down?"
Justin was getting sick of this. "Listen, if you two don't shut up right now we'll just leave and you'll be stuck like this forever. If you just chill out everything will back to normal in five minutes."
The two birds stopped talking.
"Good, all you have to do is walk, not fly, back over to the east end of the bridge and you'll be human again. I'm really sorry about this, its just a little science experiment that got out of hand. To make it up you two can feel free to transform into whatever you want for the rest of the day."
Lauren jabbed Justin in the back.
"But! You have to promise not to tell anyone about this. Ok?"
The two birds nodded sheepishly.
"Ok then, follow me."
Suddenly the air was filled with the sound approaching dirt bikes.
"Shit," cursed Justin then turning to the birds, "scratch that, hide, nobody can see you like this."
The two birds flapped under the car as two young men on dirt bikes pulled up and surveyed the accident seen.
"Do you people need any help?"
"Um no," stammered Justin, "we have a... um a... a winch and we can get ourselves out. Thanks for offering though."
"Ok," said the second biker, "good to see you're alright. Be more careful in the future and I hope your day gets better. Bye."
"Justin! The bridge!" screamed Ted.
"Wait! Wait! Maybe we do need some help after all."
But the roar of the bike engines had muffled out any hope of communication and the two bikers roared off towards the east end.
"Justin?" asked Lauren. "What happens to humans who cross from west to east?"
"I think we're about to find out," he said as they all stood on the roadbed watching the bikers cross.
"You three kids are real fuck ups," chided the crow.
Watching through the binoculars Justin saw the bikers' padded outfits turn into shreds as their bodies grew, their skin replaced by a scaly hide. They lost control when the emergence of horns caused their helmets to split open and one biker was thrown about 20 feet when his bike hit a small tree. Remarkably he stood up and Justin could make out the beginning of wings on his backside. His friend was still on the ground, looking at his new talons when fear gripped them both and they took off running. Unfortunately it was in the wrong direction.
Justin, Ted and Lauren were walking the two, now rapidly humanizing birds, back across the bridge towards the two, 30-foot long dragons that were busy inspecting each other's body.
"That can't be good for us," exclaimed Ted.
"That can't be good for anybody," replied Lauren.
"They seem to be enjoying it!" noted Justin.
The green and black-scaled dragon on the right was doing a little dance and the black and red-scaled dragon on the left was whooping and trying to get a hi-five.
Justin walked up to the two fearsome beasts and after the red and black one had given him a friendly sniff he spoke up.
"Hey, I'm really, really sorry about all of this. I can have you back to normal in like five minutes."
"Sorry?" replied the first dragon. "What do you have to be sorry about?"
The second dragon broke in, "Yeah, this is great! Why on earth would we want to go back to being plain old human? Just look at these awesome wings!" The green and black dragon spread his powerful wings.
"Yeah, and get a load of this fire breath." The red and black dragon then pointed his head at a nearby bush and set it ablaze with a ball of flame.
"Yeah, but you kind of stand out. You wouldn't want to get in any trouble."
"Feh," said the green and black dragon. "I think we've got that covered." With that the large beast began to shrink, scales turned to flesh and wings to back. When all was finished a normal human stood before Justin. He was even wearing clothes. The second dragon also donned a human guise and they took their bikes from Ted and Lauren who had been thoughtful enough to pick them up.
"Well, bye! This is quite a thing you found here. We'll be sure to tell all of our friends."
"Yeah, you do that," mumbled Justin.
Meanwhile the two former birds quickly said goodbye and ran, stark naked, back to their truck, careful this time not to trigger a transformation.
"I think we'd better cut our losses and get the fuck out of here," said Lauren. "Something's going to hit the fan any second and I would prefer it not to be us."
"I'm going to go warm up the car," said Ted.
Just them they hear a rustling from the bushes. "Great, now what's going to go wrong," muttered Justin.
To everyone's surprise the deer-turned-human stepped out with two 60-pound bags of cow feed across his back. He walked up to Ted, patted him on the shoulder and thrust $7.37 in change into his hands. Then, whistling softly it started to walk back across the bridge, changing as it went.
"Damnit! I had $80 in my wallet."
A month later Ted was watching CNN in the common room of their small off campus apartment.
"So, what is the current estimate?" asked Lauren.
"Around 250,000 people," said Ted pointing to the file footage of hordes of people streaming across the old railway viaduct turning into all sorts of mythic creatures. Although phoenices, griffins and unicorns were all present, dragon was by far the most popular choice.
"How on earth did the government shut that thing down anyway? I though there was some big band of dragons calling themselves 'The Guardians of the Bridge' or something silly like that."
"Yeah, they wanted to preserve the bridge for 'The People', but they failed to notice that many of 'the people' transforming were undercover cops, government agents and Army Special Forces. Then of course the Army just sent in the attack helicopters. Those 'Guardians' folded up like they were portable once the choppers showed. Now they've sealed off everything within 20 miles of that bridge. It gives me the willies when I think about what the government is going to use it for."
Ted walked to the window and looked out at the two New Jersey Guardsmen on the street corner. One was sipping some Starbucks coffee and the other was trying to put his rifle back together. "Man, I really want to get out and fly."
"We'd all like to get out and fly," said Justin, entering the room. "But we're all grounded at least until martial law is lifted. In the meanwhile I have been working on the spell design for our second attempt. I even have some suitable locations out in Pennsylvania."
"What are you, nuts!" yelled Lauren.
"Don't get your scales in a twist Lauren. First of all they have no idea who we are or who did the first bridge, all the stuff is at a self-storage over in Pennington protected by several spells and this whole incident basically gave us millions in free publicity. Now people know that it works, so they'll be more apt to buy our product. My next design will have many more safety features, plus it will weed out undercover police and erase people's memory as to the location of our next 'machine'."
A chopper thundered over the apartment. "We'll think about it," said Ted.
"Aren't you forgetting something Ted?" Justin walked around, picked up Ted's emerald green tail and handed it to him. "It's not like we really have a pressing time constraint any more so we can just wait 'til the heat's off. By the way, would you consider not wearing that thing around the house? It's freaking me out."
"I like my tail," hissed Ted, letting it drop to the ground and swishing it back and forth.
"Well one day you might find it caught in something painful."
"I'm just saying is all."
Everyone was silent as images continued to flicker on the TV.
Lauren broke the silence. "My friend on the net said that they are shipping in troops from all over the country. I think they're transforming the whole of the Armed Forces."
"That'll probably solve their recruitment problems," noted Ted. "Join the Army, become a dragon, live forever. Enlist today."
"Anyway," said Lauren, "this'll play hell with international politics, not to mention the world food supply."
"Oh no," complained Justin, "not this argument again. God I hope they lift that curfew soon."