Morphing for Millions
by Paul Carmichael
©2000 Paul Carmichael -- all rights reserved
Joel Cunningham glanced at his cards, then at the TV screen. "Do we have to watch this?" he demanded tapping his foot on the floor. "Can't concentrate on the game over all that noise."
"And now, it's time to play, Morphing for Millions, the show where the more outrageous your transformation, the more money you can win. Our contestants are already by their booths ready to change, and here's the star of the show, Winc Dimmartin."
The studio audience went wild with applause, as the tall human ran onto the stage and gave them his trademarked shuffle step.
"What's the matter with you?" Charlie Gordon asked reached for the peanuts. "You got something against the show, human?"
Joel looked up at the centaur. "What are you, some sort of equine bigot now? Come on, Charlie. That guy's annoying as hell; the music is worse; and those have got to be the dumbest questions ever asked on a game show."
"Then why haven't you been on the show?" Jerry, the leopard morph grumbled. "I'll open," he said and flicked out a chip with his claws.
"I never win those things," Joel said. "They'd ask the guy in front of me who the first president of the US was, and me they'd ask to explain the third law of Thermonuclear Fusion."
"Our first contestant tonight is Ms. Julie Sommers, a first year medical student at Columbia University. How are you today, Ms. Sommars?"
"Fine, Winc, just fine."
"And you've picked out your morph? I see you've chosen a wide boothx. Let me guess, a winged horse?"
"No, Winc. I want to be something much more ethereal than that. You'll see if I win."
"What makes you want to give up a promising career as a doctor to morph with us today?"
"The money, Winc. With the money I can win here I won't need to work to support myself."
"Okay, but remember our panel of experts makes the final decision, and their choice is final."
"See what I mean?" Joel asked the others. "There's a pretty girl, ready to give up everything including hands, I bet, to be some sort of horse. We need doctors, not dog food."
"I'll bet she'll be a pretty filly," Charlie said.
"Oh, put your tail down. You wouldn't stand a chance with her," Joel said. "I'm in," he said and tossed a few chips on the pot. "Are we gonna play poker or watch that stupid show?"
"Our second contestant tonight is Ralph Avery. Ralph is a web page designer and self-proclaimed computer geek," Winc said about the thin, pasty-faced man wearing an Ivy League sweatshirt. "I bet you've got a lot of interesting ideas from the internet, Ralph. Think your chances are good?"
"I know they are, Winc. I can't wait to get my turn in the booth."
"He's going to win," Joel said. "The fat guy looks clueless, and you know the girl isn't going to come up with anything original."
"Think you can do better?" Jerry growled with a shake of his whiskers.
"Nope. I like being me. Two arms, two legs and boring but still me. What makes you want to change?"
"I dreamed about it since I was a colt boy," Charlie said. "Always wanted to be a horse, and when this came up I galloped for the chance."
"Our third and final contestant tonight is Vernon Goforth. Mr. Goforth is a shoe salesman for a national chain and ready for anything, right Vern?"
The fat man grimaced, and nodded his head. "My name is Vernon, Mr. Dimmartin, not Vern, and I too would like a chance for the money."
"You got it. Now, as you folks at home know, the game is played as each player answers questions and collects points. Three correct answers and or thirty points will give them a chance in the morphing booth. The booth has been programmed to morph our contestants into the shape they have chosen before the show. If a contestant misses a question, or get less than ten points, then that person will visit the Random Booth, programmed to morph you into anything at all selected at random from a wide pool of non-lethal or non-dangerous animals.
"Our panel of experts, previous grand winners of the show, will determine the winner based on originality and outrageousness. Tonight's winner will received five hundred thousand dollars, and will be eligible to return tomorrow for the second round. Second and third place contestants will keep their chosen morphs, of course, and be transported home at our expense.
"So, before we begin, we take a moment to hear from our sponsors."
"Now can we turn this off?" Joel asked.
"Are you nuts? I want to see what the girl chooses," Charlie said.
"It's his bet," Jerry commented.
"There," Charlie said and threw down his cards. "I'm out."
"Easy there, big fella," Joel said. "Got any more hay for the horsey?"
"I ought to step on you for that. Hand me a beer, will you?"
"Not me," Joel said. "I know how your species reacts to alcohol."
"Here," Jerry said and passed over a cold one. "No more species talk, okay?"
"What's the matter, can't take the cat jokes?" Joel asked.
"When Charlie and I drop you in my litter box, you won't be laughing about cats any more. Guaranteed."
Joel reached for a beer. "Come on, you don't really use a litter box, do you? Do you?"
"Wouldn't want to spoil the surprise," Jerry said.
"Hush, the show's coming back on."
"We're back and on with the show. Julie, you drew the high card backstage, so it's your turn. "What number one pop song is closely associated with cats."
"That would be 'Memory', Winc."
"Correct for thirty points. Go on into the booth."
"Hey, how come she only got one question?" Joel demanded. "Bet he asks the guys three."
"Come on, baby. Go for it," Charlie said with his tail swishing hard enough to knock cards and chips from the table.
Julie closed the door of the booth as music played louder and louder. Red and blue lights flashed from the roof of the enclosure making the scene surreal. Julie hunched forward as her shoulders and arms stretched into longer shapes. She threw her neck back as her head exploded into an equine shape. Her body filled out, slowly, while her hands and feet turned into hooves. Her clothes vanished but the girl was too far gone to care. As she shook off her new body and adjusted to a four footed position, Julie's horn grew in on the center of her forehead. It gleamed with a bright silver radiance as pure white hair covered her skin from nose to tail.
The new unicorn stood still in the booth for a second, then reared up, panicked by the enclosed space. Her horn glowed brighter and the creature vanished.
"Oh, too bad, but leaving the stage automatically disqualifies the contestant. Better luck next time," Winc said as music played a sad farewell. "That's it folks, to win this round make sure you pick a form that is interested in money. No dragons, please."
"Aww, and I wanted to be a dragon," Joel said.
"Stuff it," Charlie said. "Be a pal and help me find that unicorn, will you?"
"We're back and it's Ralph's turn. Ralph, are you ready?"
"Yes, I am Winc," the man said.
"Okay, here goes. Which famous pop idol was assassinated right here in New York City in 1980?"
"That would be John Lennon, Winc."
"Correct, for thirty points. Go on into the booth."
The same red and blue lights flashed as Ralph took a few deep breaths and started to change. In seconds, his body dwindled to a third of its size. His arms stretched out, while his legs shrank. His shoes split open to reveal large, three toed feet as feathers sprouted across his chest. Soon enough a large beak replaced his nose and mouth. Ralph's feathers turned red and gold, then fiery as he settled into the shape of a Phoenix. The bird squawked a few times, then started flapping about the booth madly as fire covered its body burning it to ashes.
The pile of ashes blew away in the booth to show a large egg.
"Oh, too bad, Ralph, but eggs and hatchlings are considered minors and not eligible to win," Winc said as the same sad music played. Looks like it's all on you Vern. Choose any morph that shows some originality and can understand money and the prize is yours after these messages."
"This is unreal," Joel said. "I bet this is rigged or something."
"Are you calling us cheats?" Jerry growled with the fur on his back beginning to rise.
"Not you, but the show. This is getting to be as bad as Springer. That fat guy isn't going to win either."
"Oh, yeah," Jerry said. "I bet he does. I bet he wins big."
"Oh, right," Joel said. "That guy is as dumb as they get. What's he gonna turn into? A pig with wings?"
"Just watch," Charlie said. "I was there, and you'd be surprised what people really want. I'd never give up my centaur self now, and maybe this guy will be a horse, or a..."
"We're back," Winc announced. "Okay, Vern, no use beating about the bush, here goes..."
"My name is Vernon," the man said. "I hate being called Vern."
"Oh, sorry, Vern. Won't happen again. Okay, who was the first president of the United States?"
"Who?" Vernon said. "Why did I get the hard one? You gave those guys the easy question and saved the tough history question for me."
"Time's running out, Vern."
"Let see, first president makes him number one, right. George Washington."
"You got it," Winc said with genuine surprise in his voice. "Correct for thirty points. Go on into the booth, Vern, and let's see what you came up with."
Vernon struggled into the booth and slammed the door behind him. As the red and blue lights began to flash he ripped off his clothes.
"Oh, man, put them back on," Joel said. "Little kids might be watching."
Vernon's body began to expand at an alarming rate. Soon he stood well over seven feet, and it looked as if he might keep going. Grey fur with black tips sprouted in waves over his body, and his face shot out into a huge, lupine muzzle. Vernon growled and displayed teeth as long as knives. Gradually, as his hands turned into paws, and his claws grew out, Vernon began pressing on the sides of the booth.
The booth shattered leaving Winc on stage with the massive wolf man. Vernon stepped forward through the glass. "I hate being called 'Vern'."
"Hey, I need some help here!" Winc called out. "I thought that this thing was programmed not to do anything dangerous."
"Dangerous?" Vernon growled. He leaped across the stage and picked up the MC in one hand. "I'm not dangerous. It's just good old, fat old Vern." With his free hand, he dug his claws into the man's chest and ripped. "My name is Vernon," he shouted and dropped the man on the floor. With two swipes of his paws, Vernon seperated Winc's head from his neck, and his upper body from his legs.
"Okay," Vern said. "Where's my money?"
"Oh, that was way cool," Joel said, and grabbed the last beer. "Man, that Winc creep really deserved that too. I didn't know you could choose a werewolf. I'm getting on that show, man."
Vernon tore huge chunks of flesh from Winc's chest and gobbled them down. "Where's my money?"
"Now that's what I call entertainment," Charlie said. "After all the 'jokes' about 'horse apples' he made at my expense when I was on, I wanted to stomp him myself."
The announcer intoned, "We're sorry, Vernon, but the rules do state that dangerous morphs that eat the MC are disqualified from winning."
"You think you're safe in that booth?" Vernon growled. "Do you?"
"On second thought, the judges unanimously award you the $500,000.00 prize. Just go into that booth over there and wait. Yes, that one."
"Okay, but this had better be quick," Vernon said as he closed the door behind him. Instantly red and blue lights began to flash through the booth. Vernon screamed his rage, and grabbed for the door, but too late to stop the next transformation. He hunched over and reached for the floor with his paws. Seconds later he stood completely four footed as a natural wolf.
"The judges have awarded the prize money to the 'Save the Wolf Foundation'. That's it for tonight, and tune in tomorrow when you too could Morph for Millions."
"With a new host," Jerry commented and laughed. He picked up the remote and switched off the TV. "Okay, so Joel, what are you going to be?"
"A dragon, man. If that guy can be a werewolf, I'm going to be a dragon, and they won't get me into that Random Booth."
"Sure, they won't," Jerry said. "Say, Joel, who was the fifth President?"
"Come on, that's easy. Abraham Lincoln."
Charlie laughed, and flicked his tail. "You'll fit right in, Joel. You will really -- fit right in. Whose deal was it?"