|Editor's Note: This is a "Winds of Change" story. If you'd like to read more stories from this story universe, click here.|
©2000 by TripTych -- all rights reserved
Twenty Years Old, and Still Human
That's what the headline on TIME® read. I sighed heavily, throwing the magazine into a nearby trash can. That was MY face on that cover. It helped confirm what I knew all along. I, Dan White, was a freak.
It was the year 2000, four years after the "Day of Change." I was seventeen at the time, but I didn't change with all the others on that fateful day. I didn't think of it too much at the time, I wasn't the only seventeen year old who was unchanged. The thing was, most people my age had some sign of change, but not me.
As the year progressed, I still didn't have any signs of change. Again, I didn't think of it too much. "Late Bloomer," the change doctor said.
"That's okay, I can live with that," I thought to myself. I can live with the taunts of my classmates in school. It wasn't really that bad at the time, I was one year away from graduating, and most of the first year students hadn't begun the change yet, either, so it wasn't like they were teasing me exclusively.
Unfortunately, when I hit my last year of high school (and the age of eighteen), they WERE teasing me exclusively. I was the only human left in the senior class. The taunts were a lot more vicious this time. They went beyond "pink boy." I found it hard to believe that people who were human themselves not even a year ago could be so cruel.
"Just grin and bear it," I told myself. It wasn't easy.
I was not well known for my patience when being bullied. Sure, I had gotten into a few fights, but I avoided them for the most part. What can you do when the people that you're fighting against have claws, teeth, and bulging muscles? Thank God I graduated that year. My mind couldn't handle another year of high school. Fortunately, they hadn't started the whole "Change Year" classes bit, so I didn't have to endure that.
When I hit 19 years of age, I decided to go to a local college. I couldn't afford to go away for school, and I didn't really want to. Besides, I doubted any other college would take me. My marks during my final year of high school were pretty poor. Having people scream insults and beating the crap out of me kinda made me lose my concentration on school. I didn't go school to learn. I went hoping I'd survive.
My parents had faked support for me to try and make me feel better. I had believed that they really did support me until one night I overheard my father talking to my mother. He was talking about how ashamed he was to have to tell his coworkers that I still hadn't changed yet. He said he was ashamed to have me for a son. With those few words, my father shot down the last remaining vestiges of my self-confidence. I retreated to my room to play video games. Games were about the only thing that let me forget my problems.
It was from that point on that my life REALLY took a downward spiral. My life before that day was what I now refer to as "the good years," compared to my life afterwards. From then on, I just kept my feelings bottled up -- my rage, my sorrow, everything. It was eating my life away.
At college, I was the only human on the whole friggin' campus. "Well, college students are more mature than high school students, at least," I thought. I THOUGHT. Actually, I'll give them some credit. They WERE more mature than the people I left behind at my high school. A lot of them just silently ignored me, and I was glad to have it that way. They were too busy talking about their future careers to care about me. Well, most of them were, anyway.
Getting beaten up was a regular thing now. I didn't even try to fight back. I had given up in that department. Every punch I landed just got them angrier. I couldn't even look towards the faculty for help. They would always believe the story of the guys who beat me up.
"Oh, he provoked me."
"He asked me to do it."
"He's a freak."
Those were the reasons given, and the faculty always bought it. I have a feeling it wouldn't have mattered what the bullies said, the faculty thought I was a freak, too. The college didn't even accept me at first, but I brought up some outdated laws on Minority Rights. Believe me, I was definitely in the minority.
It was an awful college. The lowest rated in the country. I was taking business there, but I hated it. I hated the classes. I hated the teachers. I hated the students. I hated the school. I hated everything. But most of all, I hated myself.
Why did I have to be the one who doesn't change? I always sought escape from my human form, even before the "Day of Change." I never dreamed that something like that could actually happen, and then it did. But I was left behind. Every morning, EVERY GODDAMNED MORNING, I looked for something, anything. A scale, a feather, a patch of fur -- but there never was anything.
By age twenty, I was a shell of my former self. Before the "Day of Change," I was a funny, outgoing type of guy. I wasn't the most social person, but I had a group of close friends and I was, almost always, in a good mood. Afterwards, even my friends abandoned me. I kept to myself, just hoping and praying that I could go home without some new bruises or a bloody nose, but I always did - so I stopped hoping.
I also stopped paying attention to my classes. I was far to depressed to care about Accounting, or Marketing, or whatever. Most of the time, I didn't even bother to go to class.
The Change Doctor was concerned, he confided in me that I might never change, if I hadn't by now. That was good. That was just what I needed to hear.
Soon, I began to contemplate the afterlife, and the means of getting there. What purpose did I have living? I was a twenty-year-old human, and as far as I knew, the only one. I just wanted to end it all, but that last remaining bit of optimism in me said, "Don't worry. It will happen one day." That's all I had to cling to.
On my twenty-first birthday, I was alone. My parents had stopped supporting me. "I don't want a freak in my house," my dad had said. My mother had tried to reason with him, but I could tell she was only doing it out of instinct. The fact was, she had stopped caring as well.
I got my own apartment and went on welfare. The place was a dump, but what do you expect when you're on welfare? I still went to college, and I made the damnedest effort I could muster to pay attention to my classes. I didn't want to live my whole life, such as it was, on welfare.
A couple weeks after my birthday, I got a call from TIME® magazine. One way or another, they had gotten wind of my being twenty-one and still human. They wanted to do a story on me, as I was the oldest human on Earth. Looking back, I shouldn't have done it, but they did offer me a large sum of money, and I needed the cash badly.
The issue of TIME® with my face on it came out a couple of weeks after the interview. Now, I was recognized everywhere I went, but not exactly in the way I wanted.
The ironic part of this is that I had hoped that the story would give people insight into how much of a living hell my life was, that maybe they'd just leave me alone, or at least stop tormenting me. How wrong I was.
I got hate mail on a regular basis from people I didn't know and had never met. People hurled rotten fruit at me, my apartment was even broken into. All of this just because I was unlucky. Just because I was different. Soon, the whole city began to get a bad reputation just because they allowed me to live in it. They couldn't force me out, I had done nothing wrong, but they sure made it clear I wasn't welcome.
I was kicked out of my apartment building because I was late on rent by a day. The truth was, I paid my rent on time, they just wanted me out. I had to sell all my stuff, as I no longer had any place to put it, and I needed the money.
Grocery stores wouldn't even let me in. They said and I quote, "If we allowed you in here, nobody else would shop here again."
So, I resigned myself to living on the streets and eating out of garbage cans. What else could I do? There was pressure on the college from its backers to drop me. The students were embarrassed having me in their school. Ignoring me was the best thing they did, although it didn't happen much. I got beat up, insulted, thrown in garbage cans, etc. Let's just say it was worse than before. I managed to convince the college to let me stay until the end of the semester, as it was only a couple of weeks away. I just prayed I could hold out until then.
I managed to sneak into an all night arcade without being noticed. I really, really needed to play something, anything. Anything that could help me forget my problems for a moment. Fortunately, my favorite game, Street Fighter, was near the back, so I could play it without being noticed, at least for a little bit.
I got completely absorbed in the game, beating it several times before I got noticed and thrown out of the arcade. I didn't mind, I managed to get away from reality for a few short moments. I found an alleyway and went to sleep. Tomorrow was the last day of school, and, I decided, the last day of my suffering. I was going to end it all. There was no way I could continue living like I was -- if you could call it living.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt different, in what way, I wasn't sure. I checked myself over for any First Signs, but there still weren't any. Sighing, I started walking to school.
When I got there, I noticed people were a lot cheerier than normal (not to me, mind you). Why shouldn't they have been? This was the last day before a three month break for them. For me, it was just the last day.
After classes were over, I was walking down the hall towards the cafeteria, looking at my report card. I had failed every class. Not because I didn't pass the tests or anything, the teachers failed me simply because they couldn't stand me. I had expected as much, and shrugged as I stopped to throw the report card into a nearby trash can. It was then that a large bear morph approached me, and with a number of other large and powerful morphs, stopped me.
I had recognized this guy and his cronies, They had beaten the crap out of me a few times before. I didn't know his name, as he never volunteered the information, and everybody I asked just ignored me anyway.
"We can't let you leave without giving you a going away present..." he said, grinning and cracking his knuckles. The people behind him just laughed.
They were going to beat me up right there, right in front of the cafeteria. I decided then and there that I had had enough. "You're not backing down this time," I told myself. It was strange, but I had the feeling I was actually going to win this fight.
"We'll miss you, freak. You were real nice to beat on," He rumbled. Something inside me just snapped. It... it was one to many "freaks", one too many beatings, FOUR GODDAMNED YEARS OF HELL... I just couldn't handle it anymore.
I threw my book bag away. Then, I took off my hat and watch and threw them away too. Finally, I said "I... I... I AM NOT A FREAK!" It came out more as a thundering growl than words.
It was then that it finally hit me. I doubled over in pain. I felt hot, and loosened my shirt to reveal a thick pelt of fur underneath. I ran my hand through it, making sure it was really there. Just as I did that, I felt a sharp pain at the base of my spine as a tail exploded out of my backside, ripping through the seat of my jeans. There was barely time to turn around and look at it before I felt my face push out into a muzzle. I put my hand up to my face to feel it, when I noticed my hand had changed as well. It was covered in fur, and I only had four fingers. What caught my attention the most was the large, sharp claws on the end of my hand. My clothes started to get really tight, so I tore them off. I felt a strange sensation in my legs as they changed shape.
Quickly, I took off my shoes as they no longer fit my feet. Finally, I stood up. I was a grey wolf morph. Elation tingled throughout my whole body. I had finally changed! My joy was fleeting, however, as a new emotion took over. Anger. I looked over to the bullies, who were shocked, to say the least. This was one fight I wasn't going to lose.
The bullies quickly snapped out of their shock after I kicked their leader in the face. I was moving so fast, I could hardly be seen. A few more stiff kicks, and the guy went down without hitting me once. The other four of them rushed me at once. Every attack they made, I blocked and responded with one of my own. How was I doing this? I didn't know how to fight, at least before this I didn't. It all seemed so natural... like I had been practicing some martial art my whole life. Finally, the five of them got up, and I stood in front of them. Every emotion I had repressed, all the rage, the anger, the pain and sorrow all came boiling towards the surface -- and everything went black.
When I came to, the cafeteria was missing. There was a large hole and a lot of scorched earth where the cafeteria used to be. The bullies were nowhere to be seen. Some people behind me were huddled up together, staring at me and crying. They smelled terrified. As I approached them, I noticed that they were badly burned.
"What... what happened?" I asked.
"You... y-you... killed them!" one of the people, a doe morph, answered.
"What do you mean, I killed them? I was unconscious!"
"No you weren't, after you changed and beat up those guys, you released a HUGE fireball! It incinerated them and the entire cafeteria!" She trembled.
It hit me like a bullet train. Had I really killed all those people? No, I couldn't have. I may have been angry, but I wasn't a killer. I couldn't have done it... could I? Everything went black again as I passed out.
When I came to, this time, I was in a hospital bed. I groaned, and sat up. "How did I get here?" I wondered.
Laying back down, I realized exactly what had transpired. After years of suffering, I finally changed! I grinned at that, not an easy feat with a wolf's muzzle, and at the fact that nobody would pick on me anymore.
The grin quickly changed to sadness when I realized what I had done. I had killed everyone in my whole cafeteria. Grief overcame me as the reality came to hit me in the face yet again. I buzzed the nurse, to let her know I was awake.
"Oh good, you're finally awake. I'll go get the doctor," the nurse said and left.
The doctor finally came in, with a couple of police officers. "How do you feel?" he asked.
"Confused. Where am I? How long have I been out?"
"At the Regional Hospital. You've been out for 2 hours. These men here would like to ask you a few questions," he pointed to the two officers standing behind him.
One of the officers, a German Shepard morph -- how appropriate -- stepped up to the bed. "Mr. White, what do you remember about the last three hours?"
"Not much. Some guys were gonna beat me up at school, when I finally changed. I blacked out after that. I woke up some time after that, and people said I incinerated the cafeteria and everyone in it. That's the last thing I remember."
The other officer, a bald eagle morph, stepped forward. "Mr. White, we have several eye witnesses that saw you incinerate your school's cafeteria and all three hundred seventy three people that were in it, along with the five people who were threatening to beat you. You are responsible for the death of three hundred seventy eight people, and the injury of one hundred three additional people. Do you have a statement at this time?"
"I... uh..." I stammered, not really knowing what to say. I killed three hundred seventy eight people? That couldn't be. It just couldn't. Standing up, I got sick. I stumbled to the bathroom, but didn't make it. After vomiting, I passed out once again. The next time I woke up, I was in a jail cell.
It took them two months just to select the jury, and it was all people from outside of town. The whole town was against me, naturally. They had hated me before, and now I killed 378 of its residents. They brought in the eyewitnesses that had seen me "fireball" the cafeteria, they brought in character witnesses to destroy me. Nobody came to my defense, not even my parents. I had no friends in this town.
One thing they couldn't get around, however, was the fact that I was not conscious when I did it. And, thanks to telepaths and empaths, they knew I was telling the truth. I had told the court that I wouldn't have ever done anything like that if I could've helped it. The city and I may have been enemies, but murder was something I couldn't do, no matter what the circumstance. Again, they couldn't disprove me on that.
When it came time for sentencing, it was surprisingly light considering the magnitude of the crime. They just couldn't prove that I meant to hurt anyone, and I was provoked by those bullies, which may have made me lose control. I was put on probation for two years, and banned from the city for the rest of my life. That was fine with me. This city, this hell on earth, was the last place I wanted to be. I wanted to put my entire life up to this point behind me. I got out of there, and never returned.
"Pyro, you ready?"
"Yeah, just gimme a second," I called back, tightening up my headband.
Pyro is the name I go by now. It's fitting. You should see what I can do with fire.
The old me, Dan White, is dead. I faked my own death so that I could start anew. I dyed my fur white from its original gray. I "borrowed" a name, a trick I picked up on the streets, and had it officially changed to Pyro. My life truly began at that point.
I try not to think about that cafeteria incident too much. It brings me too much grief. I decided to make a living using my fighting and pyrokinetic abilities. I found a job in construction in a nearby city where a co-worker encouraged me to try out for Fierce Battle, a weekly program that pits people against each other. It wasn't ever a fight to the death, you just tried to knock the other guy out.
"Pyro, you're on in 15 seconds!" The stage manager shouted.
"I'll be there. Don't worry," I replied as I tightened the strap around my red karate gi. I kinda half modeled myself after a character in my favorite video game, Street Fighter®.
I stepped through the curtain and the crowd erupted. Here, at Fierce Battle, I was loved. They didn't know Dan White. They only knew Pyro. I slapped hands with as many fans as I could on my way down to the ring. I had finally triumphed. Life is good.