|This story is set in the Tales From the Blind Pig universe, in which an extraterrestrial disease called Martian
Flu has unusual effects on a significant number of its victims
-- Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome, SCABS for
short. Here is an intimte, personal look at one such victim...
Go here for more information on the setting.
Some Dreams Shouldn't Come True
©2003 Kamau -- all rights reserved
Matt sighed deeply as he moved to the computer that had been adapted for his use. He opened his journal for what he feared would be the last time. The changes were complete, the physical ones anyway. From what he had already been through he felt quite sure that the internal ones would soon render him incapable of writing. No, not just writing, even thinking in a human manner.
From the beginning SCABS had affected his mental abilities. Once the disease had progressed the doctors told him, it was likely he would physically become a full animal. If this was not bad enough one had told him that three out of four who changed the way he had would mentally become animals as well. So what should he write? What should his last words as a rational, thinking human being be? He laughed but instead of laughter, a series of short, low moaning growls came forth. Violently he raised his paw with claws extended toward the screen. Catching himself at the last second he turned from the machine and let out with a full-throated roar. He could feel his anger pushing inhuman instincts to the surface, ready to lash out at anything, and he fought to force the animal back down.
Calm, he said to himself. Have to stay calm.
He stood there for a moment regaining control then turned back to his writing.
"Farewell, cruel world," Matt thought, half-joking, careful to keep his emotions in check. No... that's been used.
Besides, it wasn't entirely true. The years before he was hit with the Martian Flu had been everything he could have hoped for. He'd been a very successful consultant, had a car, a house free and clear, and was very near to attaining financial independence. Heck, he was looking at being able to kick back and take only the jobs he really wanted in just a couple of years.
That dream shattered when the damn Flu got him.
Matt was usually able to fight off any bug he caught without seeking medical help. Not this time -- so he finally went to a doctor. He clearly remembered his shock when the doctor ordered a special blood test.
"It's just a precaution," the doctor told him. "Anyone with this set of symptoms gets tested for Martian Flu."
"Martian Flu!" Matt gasped. "You think that's what I've got?"
"It's unlikely, but we have to check just the same," the doctor reassured him.
The reassurance had faded quickly when he got a call from the doctor's office asking him to come back in. Matt knew there was a problem when they wouldn't say why over the phone. His greatest fears were confirmed when the doctor told him that indeed it was the Martian Flu. The physician sent him to a specialist who ran another series of tests.
"So when do I start to change?" Matt asked the specialist.
"Maybe tomorrow, maybe never," the expert explained, leaning back in his chair. "Even after more than three decades of research, we can't accurately predict who will be affected. All I can tell you is that only about eight percent of people with Martian Flu develop SCABS."
"Look doc, I don't want to be some kind of freak," Matt began. "I don't think my clients would take kindly to having some kind of malformed half-animal designing systems for them. Hell, it'd be better to get changed completely into an animal than become some fruitcake of human and animal parts!"
"Please, Mr. Weil. Calm yourself," counseled the physician. "For roughly two-thirds of its victims, the Martian Flu is no worse than a bad cold! If you did develop SCABS, keep in mind that not every SCAB is changed into an animal. And even if you were to develop the animorph strain of SCABS, the changes could be very slight, perhaps even unnoticeable."
"So what do I do?"
"You wait and go about life as usual," the doctor said, handing him a pamphlet. "Keep track of any bodily changes as outlined in that pamphlet. If you're going to change, you should see it within a year at the outside. In fact, it's rare for anyone to develop SCABS more than six months after the initial infection. If anything seems unusual contact me and we'll take a look."
So began the most anxious twelve months of his life. He had breathed a sigh of relief as he approached the anniversary of his illness. The sigh, however, became a gasp as he looked in a restroom mirror while visiting a client. His eyes, normally steel-blue, were now an orange brown with little white showing around them. He quickly donned a pair of sunglasses and explaining to the client that there was an emergency, left the site. Matt called the doctor from his car as he raced toward the physician's office. The doctor agreed to meet with him that afternoon.
As soon as Matt entered a nurse escorted him to another waiting room. He almost panicked on entering, because the other patients were obviously SCABS victims. Each had some minor animal feature. One girl's pointed ears poked through her blond hair. Another had sunglasses on like himself and a greenish tint to his skin. A young boy with hard black nails on thick fingers and small horns sat with his mother, who kept trying to hide the horns with a baseball cap. Matt kept glancing at this young man. It wasn't until he had recorded this event in his journal that he recognized his fixation on the boy, and why: A kid goat would be easy prey for any large carnivore. Shortly Matt was brought inside.
"Please, take the sunglasses off Mr. Weil," Dr. Chapman said calmly. "There's no need to hide anything in here."
"Doc, I thought you said if I made it through a year I wouldn't change," Matt burst out as the doctor began examining his eyes. "How did this happen?"
"I said it was highly unusual for someone to change so near to the end of a year, and it is," the physician continued as he examined him. "Unfortunately, while rare, it is also not unheard of. I'm going to need to run some tests and give you a full exam."
After an hour in the office and more blood being drawn, Matt was told to return home. He was to take it easy for a couple of days and wait for the test results. To his great relief, the examination had revealed no other physical changes to his body.
Matt rearranged his schedule, working mostly from home and farming out any necessary on-site work that needed to be done. The more Matt thought about his future the more panicked he became. He didn't want to be like the SCABS victims he had seen on TV or heard about -- bits and pieces of animals grafted onto human frames, or worse. Finally the call came with the test results. They did little more than confirm what he already knew. His body was exhibiting signs of genetic change.
"So how bad is it?" Matt asked anxiously. "What am I changing into? How long do I have?"
"Try to stay calm, Mr. Weil," replied the physician on the other end. "SCABS is a very unpredictable disease. I can't tell you right now what, if anything, you are changing into. Your eyes have certainly become more animal-like, but for the moment, you have no other outward signs of change."
"You've got to have some idea of what's happening to me!" Matt answered, suppressing the fear in his voice as best he could.
"I'm afraid the best I can do is to tell you the outcome of others who have experienced a late onset like yourself," the voice on the other end explained. "In most of those cases, the symptoms are very minor. Slight external change, limited usually to a single area such as eyes, ears or nose. These usually end within a few weeks of their appearance. I can't guarantee anything but I would not be surprised to see any changes end within two months."
"That sounds a lot like what you said about my getting SCABS," Matt snapped back.
"I agree. Still, all we have to work on is statistical analysis," replied a voice barely hiding the doctor's regret. "This disease is so alien and unique to each victim that a medical prediction is impossible."
"So I wait," Matt said, feeling his anger rise.
"Yes. It is best to maintain as normal a life as you can," instructed the doctor. "Continue to monitor your body each day. We'll schedule you for weekly visits and offer you what assistance we can."
"Thank you doctor," he answered out of politeness while trying to resign himself to his future.
For Matt it was like all time had stopped. The days crawled by and he frequently checked himself in the mirror. He managed to make a couple of visits to clients but mostly worked out of his office. As the second and then third week passed he saw very little change in his form. His eyes were somewhat larger and orange in color. His hair seemed a bit coarser and there was a slight shift in his ears. With his hair concealing his ears he needed only a pair of dark glasses to hide his condition. Both had been overnight changes that he reported immediately to the doctor.
His weekly visits to the doctor had revealed nothing new or alarming. They had even spoken about his being fitted for contact lens that would allow him to be free of the sunglasses. He had started to count himself lucky that he was among those who changed only in the slightest of ways... and then his luck changed.
Feeling more confident that he had beaten the disease, he began to go out more. In recent days he had developed a sizable appetite and desire for meat. One day he visited a restaurant whose specialty was an eighteen-ounce steak. While he waited to be served, he could hardly suppress the desire to grab one of the steaks being brought to other tables. Once served Matt had consumed the entire portion of meat before the waiter had time to see if it was done to his liking. He had always been a fast eater when by himself, but this was well beyond anything he had ever done before. Matt thought it would be worth mentioning to the doctor at his next appointment.
A few days later as he was awakened by his alarm he reached behind his head to stretch and felt several sharp needles jab into his head. He snapped his hand down in front of him and saw that his fingers were swollen, with a slit-like opening at the tip of each one. Matt turned and flexed his hands, examining the changes, when suddenly a claw extended from each of the slits on his fingertips. In shock and disbelief he stared at his new appendages. Cautiously he moved his hands, attempting to master the trick of extending and withdrawing his claws. As he shifted his position to sit more on the edge of the bed he felt a sharp discomfort at the base of his spine. He jumped to his feet and ripped his shorts off to see the cause, but was unable to do so. He moved to the full-length mirror and gasped as he saw the stub of a tail, several inches long, protruding from between his buttocks.
Matt now began a full examination of himself. He discovered much more than the simple addition of claws and a small tail. Like his hands, his feet now had claws. Looking at his soles, he could see a thick dark pad forming on their front. Much of his body was covered in fine hair, almost like peach fuzz. As he looked at himself in the mirror he saw that his hair was now longer, its stiffness causing it to stand out from the sides of his head before falling toward his shoulders. His nose also seemed different though he could not as yet put a finger on how.
Immediately he called the doctor's office. They scheduled him to come in for an exam later that morning. By that time, only a few hours after Matt had discovered his new claws, his tail had grown another two inches by Matt's estimate. His body hair was becoming thick enough to be called 'fur'. His nose was now notably larger and he could no longer comfortably wear his shoes. The doctor told him that his disease had shifted into a rapid onset variant and had him admitted to the SCABS ward immediately. He underwent a series of tests and it was determined that he would have to be placed on IV supplements so his body would have enough calories to keep pace with the demands being placed on it as he changed.
The next few days were pure torture for him. The pain of the change was beyond anything Matt had ever imagined possible. It began with his hands and feet as they stretched and fattened. What had been the balls of his feet were now the bottom of a massive paw, with his toes having become much larger in size. His heel was now a considerable distance behind this paw, and moving further by the hour. His hands were likewise transforming, with his fingers being swallowed up into a pair of massive forepaws and his thumb being drawn backward up his arm. At times he thought he could actually see his body move as it changed.
The slightest movement of any limb was accompanied by waves of pain from deep within it. He thought he could feel each bone, ligament and muscle as it changed shape and grew. He was alternately burning up with fever or freezing with cold. The medical staff became greatly concerned, for if he continued to change at this rate his body would collapse before the changes were complete. The thought of dying as some malformed combination of man and beast terrified Matt even more than the change itself. There was one slim chance to prevent this: A new experimental drug that slowed cell division might buy Matt some time. It had never been used in a SCABS victim so there were no guarantees. Without a second's hesitation, he agreed to this and the medicine was administered through his IV.
To the relief of all concerned, the changes slowed. However, 'slow' was a relative term for what was happening. Each day there were visible changes to his body and the measurements that the staff took only confirmed this. His body was now covered with a tawny fur, and his arms and legs were now completely animal-like almost to the shoulder and hip. The doctors now could tell that he would be a member of the Panthera genus, but they were not sure if it would be P. leo or P. tigris. Matt mused as to how ironic this was, for in his earlier days he had often enjoyed watching the big cats at the zoo or on the various televised wildlife shows. He recalled having, on occasion, dreams of being part of a pride and roaming the African plains.
During one of the rare moments when the pain allowed him to sleep, he was jolted awake, gasping for breath. Within seconds the nurses were working over him and called for assistance. He blacked out believing this was how it would all end. When he awoke however, he found himself strapped onto a table face down, with his arms and legs supported off to the side. Dr. Chapman came forward and explained that changes in his jaw had caused one of his human teeth to come free and lodge in his throat. Not an uncommon event as a patient's muzzle grew in. This table would prevent that from happening again and also allow his body greater freedom to change. The doctor added one last thing.
"Looking at your rate of change, and comparing it with others, we believe your body will change completely into that of a lion," the doctor explained. "The comparison also suggests a high likelihood that you may no longer have human reasoning. Rational thought will be beyond your ability."
"I'll just be an animal then?" Matt said in his new deeper voice. "I won't be human?"
The doctor nodded slowly. Closing his chart he turned to his patient and asked one more question.
"Should this happen, I need to know what you would like us to do with you."
The thought of this was crushing to Matt. To become an animal in bodily form was bad enough, but to cease being human -- to no longer be capable of reason -- was beyond anything he could accept.
"Our post-SCABS placement program offers three alternatives for large carnivores," the doctor continued. "You can be placed in a zoo, a wildlife sanctuary, or be released into a specially prepared area, which in your case would be in Africa."
"Wait a minute," Matt insisted with a low growl. "Just because I've changed in a short period of time doesn't mean I'll lose my mind."
"No, Mr. Weil, that is by no means certain," the doctor said. "But it is not uncommon in cases of late-onset SCABS. The odds are worse for animorphs whose change was as rapid as yours, and worst of all for those who, like you, have manifested mental abnormalities consistent with animalistic thought patterns."
"In the earliest stages you began gorging yourself on meat," the physician began, as a nurse handed him another folder. "You expressed feelings of ownership over your food. In the waiting room you frequently were attracted to prey species morphs who were there. In your early hospitalization you marked a corner of the room."
He's right. I... marked... the room, Matt admitted to himself.
While the doctor continued to read off examples from his notes in the folder, Matt reflected on that incident. He remembered all too vividly the day he had raised his tail and marked the corner of his room. That area of his body was still basically human, so he could not truly mark in a leonine fashion. Nevertheless he'd made a mess before he realized what he was doing.
"And might I point out to you your current reaction to this request?" Matt heard the doctor ask, bringing him back to the present. Indeed his ears were fully back, his teeth bared, his claws extended and his tail twitching, as if he were a lioness ready to pounce on her prey. Matt relaxed, and with a deep sigh made the only choice he could.
"Yes, I guess you're right. I think... a sanctuary is where I've seen lions most contented. If I have to be put somewhere that's where I'd want to go."
"Thank you Mr. Weil," the doctor said, recording the choice. "I'm sorry we had to be so direct, but time is running out. I would have been failing in my duty as a doctor if I had waited longer."
"What do you mean?"
"Once your physical changes are complete, the alteration of your mental processes could be even more rapid," the physician explained. "I did some calculations based on cases similar to yours where mental change occurred. Once a patient had completed his physical change, he seldom lasted more than eight days before he also mentally changed. None lasted more than two weeks before no human brain activity was present. If I were to make a guess I would say you have perhaps three weeks from completing your physical transformation."
"So in little more than a month I could be nothing but a lion," Matt said with some difficulty.
"That's a worst-case scenario, but... yes," affirmed the doctor. "However, there's always hope. I never cease to be amazed by this disease. You could be one of the ones who beat it."
Matt nodded, opting not to fight to force human speech from his small muzzle any more. He had never felt so defeated in his life. Still he didn't give up. He resolved to fight to the very last blink of human reasoning.
Days continued to drift by and with each day, more of his body changed. His chest had become large and rounder, his mane had grown in completely and his shoulders and hips had painfully adjusted into a new position. As he looked over his body now there were only minor differences between him and a lion. Matt only saw them because he knew where to look, but even these last, lingering vestiges of his humanity were quickly disappearing now.
The pain in his body was now greatly reduced, with only an occasional burning or stabbing pain as one part or another of his internal structure completed its change. His head was another matter however. His teeth had fallen out some time back as he developed a small muzzle. Other than this modest extension of his face, thus far his head had remained largely unchanged. Now he felt both pressure from without, and a pushing forward from within. A lion's skull, he knew, would be much flatter and longer then his human one was. He could feel something pressing forward around his jaw and just below his eyes. It was as if someone had placed a hydraulic cylinder inside his head and was slowly pushing it out, increasing the length of his head.
Sleep was now impossible as there was a constant popping of bone and a huge toothache that engulfed the entire front of his head. The only relief from this pain was when it became so great that he blacked out. Each day he could see a little more of his future muzzle push its way outward, its large flat nose and muscular sides beginning to restrict his downward vision more and more. Then came the final days of transformation, his true teething. If this was what a baby went through, it was well they did so while they were too young to remember. His large mouth was now attacked by an army of tiny razors, each cutting a minute amount of gum at any given time. He could taste blood, and his massive tongue told him that large hard teeth were making their appearance. Mercifully this pain would cause him to pass out or become so exhausted from it that he could no longer stay awake.
Then it was done. He woke one afternoon to the smallest degree of pain he had experienced for perhaps two months. His tongue could feel his four large canine teeth to the front of his mouth, and four pairs of massive teeth to the sides and back. Within minutes of his becoming aware of his new enamel tools, he gave himself an unexpected demonstration of their ability as his teeth found the side of his misguided tongue. The resulting snarl brought staff running from all over.
Now that Matt was awake and his physical change complete, the medical staff set about running a series of tests on him. His body was examined, poked and prodded. He was given a series of commands to follow and questions that could be answered with simple yes/no gestures. They recorded his brain waves with a modified EEG to use as a baseline for future observations. Finally Dr. Chapman appeared with a couple of large orderlies and spoke to him.
"Your physical change is complete and you should soon be free of any residual pain," he began. "We are going to move you to a holding room, to allow you to get some solid food and for observation. Your EEG looked very good. If you can maintain your intellect for two weeks, we should be able to release you to the custody of a keeper until we can locate you."
'Keeper'? 'Locate'? Matt thought as the restraints were released and he was allowed to move freely for the first time in weeks. He makes it sound like I'm a stray dog that someone will have to adopt.
As his feet touched the floor for the first time, he realized why the orderlies were standing by. He had never stood on his new legs before and he stumbled and fell like a young cub. The two men helped him onto a flatbed cart and proceeded to roll him down the hall, into an elevator and then into a room somewhere on the lower levels of the hospital. Stumbling from the cart, Matt stood unsteadily in the room that was to be his new home. The men left and he heard the sound of a lock being engaged in the door.
The room was not overly large but was clean and well lit with a large tinted window on one side. Just below the window was a pair of bowls that appeared to be attached to a base that slid through a door in the wall. Across the room he saw a box that he guessed was to be his bathroom facilities for now. There was also a mat off to one corner. Matt made his way slowly to the padded corner with small stumbling steps. He never dreamed that walking could be such a task. He rolled onto his side and reflected on what now lay ahead. Somewhere within the midst of his musings, he drifted off to sleep.
It was the sound of something sliding on the floor that brought him out of his dreams. He could smell something that sent a strange new feeling pulsing through his body. Without a thought he rolled to his feet and stood up. Looking across the room he could see water in one of the dishes and something solid in the other. Immediately he started off at a trot toward the dishes. He had not gone more than six feet before he lost his footing and crashed to the floor. Scrambling to pick himself up, he again started off for the food, only to fall again. This time as he picked himself up, he got control of his body and slowly approached the dishes.
He plunged his muzzle into the food, grasping a mouthful of what resembled hamburger. There was hardly a movement of his jaws as he pushed it to the back of his mouth and swallowed. In less than five minutes, his tongue was rasping the sides of the dish wishing there was more. He now turned his attention to the water, realizing how thirsty he was after devouring some fifteen pounds of meat. He plunged his muzzle into the bowl only to come up coughing and gagging. After catching his breath he began again, slowly lowering his head to the water. His attempt to drink this time resulted in water being splashed on the floor and some ridiculous noise. Matt soon realized he could not sip the water as he intended, and would be forced to drink like any cat -- lapping up water with his tongue. He began to slowly lower his tongue into the bowl and raise the clinging water into his mouth. No matter how easy it may have sounded or appeared, Matt quickly learned that it took a great deal of skill and timing. As he stared into the now empty bowl, he realized that at least half of the water it had contained was on the floor. The bowls were withdrawn into the wall and moments later they returned, but only the water bowl had been refilled. Matt started to drink again, being more careful this time. Thus over the next couple of days he learned how to feed himself in his new form.
On the second day one of the staff came into the room and attached a device to the wall near the window. The flat computer screen was familiar to Matt but the rest of the device was not.
"Could you please step over here for a minute?" asked the technician. "I need to calibrate the input. It will track your eyes, allowing you to enter commands and text."
Matt got up and stretched, giving a large yawn as he did so. The technician watched him closely and placed his hand on a long stick, resembling a cattle prod, which hung from his belt. Matt moved slowly to the device and looked at the tech, waiting for instructions. The man released his grip on the stick and walked over to the device. He flipped a switch and then told Matt what to do.
"I need you to stand just a little closer," he said and Matt stepped forward.
"That's good, there. Can you read the letters at the top of the screen?"
Matt nodded and the technician continued.
"Look at the 'one' and blink. Good. Now look at the 'Z' and blink."
The technician continued to calibrate the device, then instructed Matt on using it. While it was time-consuming, it did allow him to type messages and store what he wrote. Later the doctor came by and ran some more tests, including a new brain wave scan. Once he was finished, he asked Matt to use the new device to record his experiences from the onset of the disease until now, from his point of view.
"This will help us to document what has happened to you," the doctor explained. "It will also give us additional information on your mental capacity. If your ability to reason starts to slip it will most likely show up in your writing."
Matt agreed and the doctor left without another word.
This became the pattern for his day. A morning exam, writing in his journal, sleep until the evening, then gorge himself on whatever was placed in his food bowl. Still being a workaholic by nature, he had caught up to the present day in his journal before the end of the week. However he noted that he was sleeping a lot more than ever before and had a strong desire to mark the room. It was only the earlier incident that allowed him to resist.
Then as the second week began, he realized that his mind was succumbing to the disease as well. For some reason he got angry and clawed at the feeding dishes, nearly ripping them off their base. He had growled at the staff as they came in to do the usual tests and he had begun pacing a great deal. He was also having difficulty concentrating on writing. Then the most serious incident happened: He was actually poised to attack one of the medical staff as they came in, forcing them to sedate him so they could complete the exam.
Suddenly realizing his daydreaming had brought him back to the present, Matt stared at the screen, trying to compose his thoughts. So what should he write, now that it was a matter of days, maybe even just hours, before the man he was ceased to exist? He began to write with great care, but with each character the meaning seemed to be slipping away. At first it was unnoticeable but soon Matt realized that his words were losing all connectedness. He couldn't find the words anymore.
No! I've got to hang on! he growled in anger.
His eyes wandered over the letters, searching for something he couldn't name. He wanted something, but what? Words, he needed to find the right words. Words? No, not words. There was something he had to find, but he couldn't find it here.
He sniffed the device all over but couldn't find anything. He walked around the enclosure but it was not there. He needed to find whatever he was looking for but where was it? He tried to recall what he had lost. Was it food? Prey? A rival? A rival! Had another one come and taken it from him? He sniffed everywhere in his cage, stopping at each corner to leave his own mark. No one would dare come now, not knowing he was here waiting for them. Where was his prize? Where was it hidden?
The bowls! he thought, rushing toward the place where they usually were, but they had been drawn back into the wall behind a small door. He clawed at the edges of the door, but his claw could not find enough purchase to drag the bowl back. He roared in frustration and stared into the window. There -- there was his enemy!
The lion threw himself at the reflection in the glass, bouncing off. The recoil threw him nearly halfway across the room. He spun around and glared at the reflection. His muzzle pulled into a snarl and his teeth bared at the invader. His opponent was strong but so was he. He would prevail. Then he felt a sudden prick in his left hip. Growling and spinning around, he tried to see where it had come from but saw nothing. He felt something in his hindquarters and spun around looking for it. He saw an orange object flopping just to the side of his tail. He spun to grasp it but stumbled. He tried to stand but his legs were limp. All he could do was flop over on his other side. He tried again but even raising his head took great effort and some unseen weight pulled it back to the ground.
The door opened and in came a couple of large orderlies along with one of the usual technicians and their equipment. They approached the lion and lifted him onto the mat in the corner. He was examined head to tail, blood was taken and electrodes were placed on his head just as they had been over the past few days to monitor his brain waves. After several minutes one of the orderlies asked the technician at the display.
"Nothing human," the technician replied.
"All right, Sean," replied the other orderly who held the tranquilizer gun. "Let's put the bars over that window and get out of here. In two days we should be rid of this one. All the doc's got to do is approve the report."
"Dr. Chapman will need three negative scans to do that," the technician objected, removing the wires and gently stroking the lion's head.
"That's why I said two days," the stern orderly replied. "This is the first. Two more and we can box up Simba here and ship him off."
"You make it sound like he's just some wild animal you want to get rid of," the technician said, rolling his equipment toward the door.
"He is. You just proved that," the man said sharply. "If I had my way we'd ship all of them off to the farm, and dangerous ones like this would be put down, not pampered for the rest of their lives. Now let's move it."
"Tom, why do you even work here?" the technician asked, rolling the EEG out of the room. "I don't think I've ever heard you speak kindly about a patient in the end stages of this disease."
"Because someone has to protect you from them. Especially when they go totally animal," the orderly replied, slamming the door and bolting it.
Time drifted by and the lion's body slowly began to respond once again. At first his legs kicked uselessly in the air. Then he righted himself and stood wobbly on the mat. He carefully moved forward in more of a stagger then a walk. A scent drew his attention to below the window where he saw fresh food and water waiting for him. He moved to the bowl and devoured the contents in huge gulps. He looked at the window that was now covered with bars. He could no longer see his rival in the window and so returned to his mat to sleep the day away.
As he awoke and went to use the litter box, he again saw his rival behind the bars. He lunged at the lion, hoping to get his paw between the bars, but could not. He then crouched beneath the window in hopes of taking him by surprise but realized his rival must have fled, for he could not detect the scent of another lion.
The next day he was again darted and the same tests run, though he understood little of what they were saying. On the third day he was awakened by the now familiar sharp prick of the dart. He leapt to his feet so violently that he actually dislodged it and it flew across the room. He knew where the men would come from and launched himself at the door, scratching and clawing at its smooth surface. With each blow his body became less responsive to his commands until it collapsed directly in front of the door.
The door opened a couple of inches but then stopped, blocked by the massive weight of the lion. The door was closed and reopened several times in an attempt to gain enough space for someone to squeeze in without success.
"Let me in there," boomed a voice from outside.
An arm reached around the door holding one of the sticks that the staff who came into the room always seemed to carry. The lion watched, unable to move, as the stick was lowered to his shoulder. When it touched him, his entire shoulder burst into searing pain, his body jumping in response.
"Push while I hit him again," he heard as the tormenting stick struck his side sending its electric torture through him. In spasms his entire body jerked about while the stick was held in contact with him. With each convulsion of his body the door moved slightly until one man squeezed through.
Lying on the floor Matt felt completely helpless. It was blind rage that had made him leap at the door. Just like when he had lashed out in rage due to the frustration he felt at not being able to complete his journal.
Damn it what are they afraid of? he pondered. I wasn't going to hurt them so why keep hitting me with that tranquilizer dart?
The door pushed against his body then was slammed into it. He wanted to move but couldn't. The door was violently slammed into him once again and his anger flared.
Someone's going to pay for this! he screamed in his mind.
Before him all he could see was the chamber floor and the window in the distance. He was vaguely aware that his eyesight was not normal. It was like looking out of a bus windshield when you're sitting several rows back. He could see out but his vision was tunneled. He also felt like he was sliding further back in the bus. Becoming more distant from the driver.
There was a sudden pain that ran all through his body. He could feel his muscles tense and tremble. His body jerked about and then the pain stopped.
What the hell are they doing? I'm going to rip somebody a new asshole when this is over! he growled in his anger.
The pain struck again, sending his body into spasms as the door slammed into his body one final time. The pain left only to reappear moments later with the same results.
I'll rip his throat out! Matt roared within himself.
"Tom, that's enough!" the young med tech screamed as the stick was applied again. "You don't need to hurt him more."
"Hey, I didn't have it cranked up to lethal. Besides, it got you in, didn't it?" the voice of the stick-wielding orderly said. "Now let's get this over with."
"You could have killed him holding a control stick on him like that," replied the technician as he gently rolled the lion over, allowing the others to enter with his equipment. The cat's body still twitched from the massive shocks he had just received as the technician applied the electrodes and began taking the readings.
Rolling his eyes, the lion could now see the face of his tormentor. The man who had struck him was still holding the stick and looked angrily at him. He kept glancing impatiently at the technician who tried to comfort the lion while doing the test.
"Sean, will you hurry up?" the man growled at the technician. "We've only got a couple of hours to get him on the truck if he's going today."
"Look, I'm not sure we can even call this test valid the way you shocked him," the younger man replied. "The only thing I can tell you from these readings is that he's just gone through a hell of a lot of pain."
"What have you got?" the orderly asked.
"Damn it Tom, give me a minute!" the tech shouted back. "I've got to wait for the readings to settle down."
The EEG showed the brain still reacting to the painful stimulus the lion had just been subjected to. He gently stroked the lion's leg trying to soothe and comfort him. He looked over at the screen and saw that the readings were beginning to stabilize. He still doubted he could call these readings valid after the trauma the animal had experienced. He could talk to the doctor about that later however.
"Well, are there any human brain waves or not?" Tom growled at the technician.
"None that I can see, but I still can't tell for sure," the technician said with sadness in his voice. "I've got to make a printout for Dr. Chapman to examine before he'll sign off though."
"Well, do it," he replied.
Flipping a couple of switches a long sheet of paper rolled out of the machine for several seconds. Taking the sheet Sean made a couple of notes on it, folded it and placed it on his clipboard.
"I'm sorry," the young man said softly as he removed the wires from the lion's head. "At least you'll lead a long, happy life at the park."
He stood up and rolled his equipment to the door while Tom picked up the dart that had been thrown clear. Before leaving he leaned over the big cat and smiled.
"You know what, big guy? I've got a little surprise for you. You're not going to any plush wildlife sanctuary," the orderly said quietly. "A buddy of mine changed the paperwork. You're going to a hunting preserve that pays big bucks for fresh meat. Once there, someone's going to have a little fun hunting you down and put an end to your miserable SCAB life. You're going to look very impressive on someone's wall as a trophy."
Trophy? No! You'll be the trophy when I taste your blood, growled Matt in uncontrollable anger. I'll crush your puny throat in one bite. I'll rip your guts out with my hind claws as you still have life left in you.
No! Matt thought, rejecting the rage. I won't have a chance. I'll be tranquilized again.
I'll find them! raged the lion, pushing all reason aside. Where are they? I want them now!
The door closed and the room filled with silence. He heard the door in the next room open and the voice of the doctor and technician come from beyond the glass window. If he hadn't had the lion's keen ears he never would have been able to hear any of what was being said.
His body was still a strange mix of limpness and pain from the maltreatment he had received. He managed to move a forepaw slightly but without any meaningful purpose. Within the room he heard the doctor comment on the results of the test. He asked the technician again to confirm that there had been no human mental activity detected in any of the three tests. The technician replied that the results had all been negative but impressed on the doctor that he was not certain that this last test should be counted. There was a pause and from some comments the technician made he must have been pointing out something on the printout. Finally the doctor replied.
"Sean, I know how you hate this type of thing but it's the nature of the disease. Pain or not, there's not the slightest indication of human brain activity."
Matt held his breath as he waited for the next words.
"Matthew Weil no longer exists," Dr. Chapman said flatly. "Only a cape lion that bears his patient number. We've no choice but to ship him to the wildlife sanctuary."
They can't do that! If they do that I'll die! Matt screamed, realizing this was exactly what the orderly wanted. I'll just end up as a stuffed trophy on some rich hunter's wall!
I will not allow it! the enraged beast roared back. I will fight. I will crush the life out of them.
You can't, Matt countered. I'll be helpless, unable to move. They'll have guns.
They are no match for me! roared the big cat. They have no teeth, no claws that can harm me.
I don't want to die! cried Matt, trying to force the lion's rage to submit to human intelligence. I won't let it happen!
His view of the room was changing. With a flash of insight as sharp as the control stick, Matt realized he was thinking in a rational manner again. The fear of death was overcoming the blind rage he had lost himself in. But what was different now? How was he doing it?
As he asked the question he could feel his lion instincts reasserting their influence. He had to get control. He had to be the one in the front, at the wheel, in the driver's seat.
Think! Matt ordered himself. Plan out your moves. How can I show them I'm still human?
Matt was once again asserting control, however the lion was still there. More than anything it wanted a chance to attack the man who had tormented him. The rage was pure, savage and primal. He would sink his claws into his chest and twist that small weak body under him so as to crush his throat between his jaws.
No, that's not the way, Matt thought, I need to see Dr. Chapman. Make him understand what happened and what that orderly had planned.
The lion knew that there were humans behind the glass and rose to his feet, slowly making his way toward the barred window. He would attack; he would find a way through those bars. Matt fought the urge and the lion hesitated for an instant then moved on. He fought to gain control of his body, this lion form that imprisoned his human mind. With each new effort to control himself, the pain grew. He could feel rage but he knew he had to remain calm and focused in order to prevent an attack. He willed that the lion should lay down, and briefly succeeded in getting his body onto the floor.
Suddenly his sensitive ears picked up a fragment of conversation from within the observation room. The orderly was now present as well as the doctor and technician. The discussion had now become an intense disagreement.
"I'm sorry but Tom's right. The tests leave us no choice," said the doctor arguing with the technician. "He is not human. Only the lion remains."
No, I am human! I'm not an animal! Matt screamed in his mind.
He could feel the rage and the conflict within himself rise to an unbelievable level. The conflict between the human and lion sides of his mentality became total war. It was like a boiler about to explode. The pain was like that of searing flames within him.
No! Human, I am human! he screamed and the lion roared.
Attack, drive them out, vanquish the rival!
The lion's desires thundered within his mind. Matt could feel his teeth were bared and closed his eyes tightly.
I have to get control! Show them I'm still me! I'm here! Inside this body!
The struggle now began to manifest itself in the movement of his body. He thrashed about on the floor as if he were a rag doll being shaken by some unseen dog. He rolled about, slamming into first one wall then another. For a moment he stood, then tumbled into the wall just below the window with a resounding thud. Hearing the impact the three men sprang to the window. Before them was the lion, his forepaws flaying about and thumping against the floor. He snarled as his head shook violently.
"He's going into seizures!" Sean gasped. "Damn it, Tom, I knew those shocks had hurt him."
"I'll tranq him again," Tom said, slipping another round into the gun.
"No, it's too soon," Dr. Chapman ordered. "We could do more harm than good."
Matt's mind boiled with wave after wave of pain. The sound of his hand, not a paw, slapping the floor suddenly broke through the flames that were engulfing his mind. Opening his eyes he forced himself to raise his forepaws before his face. What he saw was not a paw but a hand with a lion's claws extending from the fingers. Although still covered with fur, his appendage more resembled a hand than a paw. He looked to his feet but only those of a lion greeted him and he could see his tail lying across them as well. He rolled to his back and slammed his head into the floor as he arched back in pain. Then he caught his reflection in the observation window.
The beast lying on the floor was not totally lion, but some hybrid of man and beast. Its fur-covered hands and forearms were large, bearing a greater resemblance to those of a human than lion. The chest was round and lion-like, but descended into a more human-sized abdomen and waist set upon a lion's hips. The pain in his hands, arms and stomach made him nearly unable to stand, but Matt fought to rise to his feet. His hind paws felt like burning needles were being pushed into them and he tumbled to the floor again. Pushing himself to his hands and hind paws, he assumed a four-legged posture and then sat down. Slowly he rose on his hind limbs and again the pain flared to new and greater proportions, sending him crashing to the ground. Once more he repeated the process but now he demanded his body obey. He burned, he ached, his mind was flooded with an intensity of pain that should have made it impossible to even think, but Matt forced himself to do just that. The knowledge that failure meant death gave him the strength to push on.
Raising his head to the window once again, he saw only a lion's face meeting his stare from between the bars. The pain reasserted itself but Matt fought it back. He was human. He would stand like a human. He walked to the window with very deliberate movements. Each step felt like he was walking on red-hot coals. After a half dozen steps he stood facing the glass. He forced his mouth to form the words his mind had kept repeating.
I am a human being. I am not a beast.
The deep rumbling sounds that came forth from his mouth could never be mistaken for human speech -- but neither were they the unintelligent groans of a non-sentient creature. Matt leaned against the bars protecting the window and tried to force his new mouth into some shape that would pronounce the words properly. His next attempt was louder but still far from understandable.
"I've never heard a lion make a sound like that before," Dr. Chapman remarked, carefully examining the lion's face.
Sean suddenly caught sight of Matt's altered hands. "Look at his paws. He's morphing!"
"He's trying to break through the glass," Tom said, opening a gun port in the wall. "I've got to put him down."
"No!" the physician said firmly. "We're in no danger. Let's see what he does."
I've got to make them understand, Matt kept thinking. I have to prove to them somehow that there is a human inside this lion's body.
The pain was making even the most rudimentary reasoning process nearly impossible. He grasped the bars tightly with his hands and struggled to remain standing. He summoned his last bit of strength and spoke:
"Hum-mon. Hi om hum-mon!"
His strength gone, he collapsed onto the floor, the pain now forcing consciousness itself from his mind.
"That wasn't a growl!" the doctor exclaimed. "He's trying to speak!"
"Doc, look! He's hurt!" Sean said, pointing to the lion's head. A small pool of blood was forming on the floor near the lion's mouth.
"Sean, get a couple more orderlies and let's get him out of there," Dr. Chapman said, heading for the door. "Tom I want you to stay..."
Tom was nowhere to be seen. Sometime after Matt had spoken he must have slipped out. The doctor didn't have time to worry about that now. His first priority was to get Matt to a treatment room.
Some untold time later Matt opened his eyes. He was lying in one of the hospital rooms with the doctor and young technician standing near him.
"That was quite a demonstration you put on," Dr. Chapman commented, looking at the chart in front of him. "I believe you have set a record for how far a person's mentality can regress and come back to being human in a single day. I think we'll also have to reevaluate some of our standard procedures for rapid onset cases. Who knows what would have happened if we had shipped you to the sanctuary? No one might have discovered that you were still human! According to this chart, all the tests had showed your brain waves were non-sentient until just a few minutes ago. How do you feel?"
"Tired," Matt tried to say but the mumble of his own voice was echoed by a flat electronic voice that spoke the word he had tried to say.
"We've placed a voder on you so we can understand what you are saying until you learn to speak again," the doctor explained. "If our experience with felines holds true, you should be able to talk after you've gone through some speech therapy. We'll also connect you with a good counselor so you can learn how to control and perhaps improve your voluntary body change."
"Change?" Matt murmured, the voder not carrying the weariness in its translation.
"Yes, you seem to be able to change your paws into hands," continued the doctor, closing the chart. "We'll deal with that later. Right now you'd best rest. I'll have someone get back to you in a day or two to set up your rehabilitation schedule."
Dr. Chapman left the room. Matt lay quietly on the bed, still trying to comprehend all that had happened. He raised his hand to scratch his nose but saw only a paw and this caused him a moment of panic.
"Don't worry," Sean said. "They changed back after you passed out. I'd guess you have to exert some level of concentration to hold them in a human form. It's not all that unusual."
Matt looked at his paw and tried to get it to change. It remained a paw and he was too tired to try again.
"Don't fight it now," the young man continued, seeing the paw drop to Matt's side. "It always takes some time to master a new body. We've got some good people to help you through that. Right now what you need to do is rest. I'll complete this scan and leave you alone in just a minute."
Matt closed his eyes and listened to the soft hum and clicks of the machine running by him. He mused to himself about what the technician had said. Perhaps he could master this new form and return to some kind of meaningful life. Before he could even complete the next thought the great fatigue of his body blackened his mind, and he fell quietly into the first peaceful sleep he had had in months.