"I swear to God, if one more person asks how old I am, I'm gonna scream."
Tyler held in a snicker from across the table, and even Jessica cracked a smile. We were sitting at our own table, off to one side of the reunion party. We were on the far side from the beverage tent, and so were more or less left to our own devices. We were well into our fifth hour of festivities, and enjoying the warm July day at the park. It was good to see the family again, even if the inquiry was wearing a bit thin.
Still, it wasn't like it was just me. Jessica, three years our senior and fresh out of high school, had MORFed only three months ago. She used to be James, and had spent the final quarter of high school attempting to adjust to her new life, having thought she'd escaped the syndrome by the time it hit. She'd shifted into a female version of her former self, a tad shorter and not at all unattractive. She'd even gone to her prom, not only in a dress, but with a date.
A date who happened to be sitting with us, and who was not at all unattractive herself, either. Yes, herself. I was a little startled, at first, but hey, to each their own. They looked happy together, and that was just fine with me. Her name was Annabelle, but she told me to call her Bell. She was about the same height as I used to be, and also MORFed, though hers was an odd one. She grew an extra pair of forearms, joined at the elbows with her original ones, as well as a tail. It wasn't a cat's tail, or a fish's tail, or even a reptile's tail, like mine, but more like... Well... A monkey's, but without any fur. A little odd, but nothing earth-shattering. And the way they were cuddled up together on one corner of the bench was heartwarming to watch.
Anyways, it was a long morning, to say the least, and it wasn't looking like we'd get out of there any time before the sun was well below the horizon. So we settled in to watch the festivities from our little corner. My family is a rowdy bunch, a healthy mixture of Irish, Scottish, Nordic and German in our blood. So, as you can probably guess, they do enjoy their drink. A few friendly scuffles had already broken out, and it was only just past noon, but it was pretty standard fare for us.
I loved going to these reunions when I was young. It was so much fun, watching the adults get all rowdy, and just sitting there in the safety of Mom's lap and giggling away as my uncles and older cousins laughed and sang and drank.
Evidently, though, it wasn't Jacob's thing. My little brother, bless him, came shuffling over to our table, a tad pale and sweaty, with a slightly uncomfortable look on his face. "Ali?" He asked quietly, shifting uneasily as our eyes swung down to him. "Kin I sit with you?"
Again with the adorable blush... "Well, sure, if you want to. You don't wanna play with the other kids?"
He shook his head slowly, climbing up onto the bench and scooting up next to me. "'M not feeling good..."
"You probably had too many sweets again, didn't you?" He flushed again and looked away, forcing his way under my arm and snuggling up to me.
"Awwwww..." I heard in stereo, and my cousins both grinned at me
Our conversation became noticeably subdued as Jakey sat with us, but after an hour or so of amusing himself with my tail, he drifted off to sleep in my arms, prompting another round of giggling from Jess and Bell.
We hung out for another hour or so, and then sort of dispersed. Jess and Bell left altogether, planning to go see some movie, and Tyler went off with one of our uncles to see some new car. I was left more or less on my own with Jacob, and sitting there with him in my lap, I finally took a few minutes, the first in several days that were calm enough, and picked my way, once again, through how I felt about my MORF.
And once again I had to marvel at how lucky I was. I hadn't gotten anything too weird, like a second head or something. I was a partial hybrid, sure, but at least I didn't have any fur. I've heard the stuff is near impossible to keep clean. I wouldn't have that problem with my scales, though I did wonder if I would rust, and they in themselves weren't terribly scary. As my mother (And numerous other relatives. And the saleslady st the clothing shop. And the older gentleman who sat across the aisle from me on the plane.) had said, they looked exotic, which didn't bother me too much. And my tail. Well, that was just cool. I found out that I could still feel through it, despite it being completely covered in metal scales. And it was starting to respond to my commands, slowly and jerkily, but after two days of twitching and keeping it wrapped around my leg and out of the way, it was good to know that I would be able to let it go in a while.
Still, I would catch flack from some people by virtue of the fact that I was even a partial hybrid. But that, too, could have been much worse. If we were in the States, I would have had to deal with it almost every day, what with the prevalence of anti-MORFS groups in the country. Canadians, already used to accepting other cultures and beliefs, have adapted very well to the syndrome, and have a far lower rate of anti-MORFS related activity. At least, less overt activity, anyway.
I wondered how my friends back home would react. I had my fair share of MORFed friends, so I knew there wouldn't be many problems, and they'd all adjust eventually...
I would be fine, of course. Changing into a half-metal lizard girl was it's own set of problems, but I'd never not been able to adapt to anything life had thrown at me. Yes, fifteen is still young, but I'd handled my fair share of crap in that time. Like the whole thing with my father...
Any of you with younger siblings might wonder why I get along so well with mine. My father is the reason. He left us when Jacob was three years old, run off with some friend of his or something. Mom was left in tears, and I was left to take care of Jakey. It's a long story, but it doesn't bear repeating. Too many bad memories...
But sitting there with my baby brother all curled up in my arms is one of the most comfortable, relaxing memories I have of... Well... Before...
But all that comes later.
Thankfully, the whole event was catered, so we didn't have to stay afterwards and clean up. Mom was a little concerned about Jacob, but he slept quietly through the whole trip back to the house, so she put him to bed without much comment. Tyler and I stayed up late playing video games, and I was starting to finally get the hang of it by the time we shut down. All in all, there was no indication that anything else was going to happen out of the ordinary.
The next day came around, and Jacob seemed to be feeling better, only a little headache remaining after a full night's rest. I spent most of the morning sunbathing next to the pool, only to be told that I was scheduled for a post-MORFS checkup with my aunt's doctor later that afternoon.
It was a pretty gruelling checkup, too. I got all of my annuals, and some specialized hormone tests, and everything checked out normal for that, so they sent me to the MORFS specialists. First up came the physical change specialist, a tall, rail-thin black man with a slight lisp, who told me some surprising things about my scales.
"Well now... That's interesting..." He muttered to himself, looking from a bone scan to a metallurgy report and back. "Interesting indeed..."
"How's that?" I managed to, somehow, keep the irritation out of my tone. He blinked and looked at me, as if noticing my presence for the first time.
"Well, as far as physical enhancements go, the only super-human, if you'll pardon the term, trait I could find was a light tightening of the inner workings of your ears. Without going too in-depth, it's a change that is consistent among other cases as 'perfect pitch'. You'll have an excellent ear for music, young lady." He chuckled a little at his own lame joke before continuing. "But the really interesting thing is these scales of yours, and your skeleton in general."
I felt my gut do a little wobble. "What does my skin have to do with my bones?"
He shook his head. "Actually, most of them aren't scales at all. Not in the traditional sense, anyway." He held up the bone scan which showed my skeleton from numerous angles. My eyes were immediately drawn to what he was talking about.
Most of my 'scales', the ones on my limbs, chin and spine, at least, were actually spikes, connected directly to my bones.
"Your entire skeleton has MORFed into some kind of organo-metallic compound that we are entirely unable to identify." He remarked with no small amount of excitement in his voice. "It appears to have a very high energy threshold, and, if our projections are correct, your skeleton will both take in and loose heat at an extremely slow rate, meaning your core body temperature should be extremely stable, even in extreme climates."
"Well then how did they stick up? They look like they're attached there pretty firmly..."
He nodded again. "I suppose that may have something to do with this possible elemental power you mentioned. You're most likely a metal elemental, if your account and these scans are any indication."
Metal, huh? Cool
"Also, as you can see, these much smaller ones here and here," He indicated my jawline and tail, respectively. "Are true scales. These ones on your chin, save the larger one on the tip, appear to move through a muscle contraction that happens involuntarily when you experience a surge of adrenalin."
He suddenly spun towards me and lashed out with his hand, the swing just barely missing my nose. I jerked in surprise, and was once again rewarded with a slight increase in heart rate, and the sound of my spines ripping through the paper gown I was wearing.
"Like so." He said, as if nothing had happened. He paused and noted the irritation that had finally leaked onto my face, and laughed uneasily. "Err, yes... Sorry about that... I get carried away sometimes..."
"I couldn't tell..."
"Yes... Well... The last thing of any great note is your ribcage, here." He pointed at it, and I instantly saw what he was referring to.
"I have no ribs?!"
"Well, it seems like that may be the case." He said, one hand going to his chin. "You haven't mentioned any loss of flexibility, however that may be again due to your elemental affinity. It looks remarkably like a plate mail breastplate, doesn't it?"
"I guess so..."
After that, there were no more surprises. The screener confirmed the diagnosis of my element, and noted some sort of pheromonal control that she couldn't identify, before sending me off to finish my paperwork. Which was taxing in it's own way, I suppose. It certainly drained whatever energy was left in me. I barely made it into my room before passing out from exhaustion.
The next morning was supposed to be the morning we left for home, but Jacob was feeling sick again, and Aunt Helen insisted that we stay another week or so, and wait for him to get better before taking our flight out.
"I just know that flying now will make him feel sicker. And besides, it'll be nice to have you all here for a little longer.
So we did.
But this meant that we would be in the house for rather more events than we were expected. In fact, Tyler told me that he was having some kind of pool party with his friends the next day. I was a bit apprehensive about meeting new people my age. It put me on edge, for some reason.
I spent the rest of the afternoon outside, sitting next to the pool, and playing with a metal hairpin. It was kinda cool, watching the little thing morph and shift into any shape I could think of. Jacob shuffled out in his jammies about mid-afternoon, and he was amazed, albeit subdued by his headache. He was holding his favorite toy dinosaur at the time, and I remembered that the thing had a thin metal frame on the inside to help it maintain it's shape. What followed was one of the most fun afternoons in my life, watching Jacob chase the little toy dinosaur all over the yard and into the house.
Mom scolded me for letting him get so worked up, but he thanked me while I tucked him in for the night. "Will you make Rex run again tomorrow?" He asked, and I could hardly refuse.
"Sure, Jakey. Any time..."
Jessica woke me up late the next day, poking her head into the room to tell me that the house would be more or less empty for the whole day. "I'm going out with Bell, and Mom and Dad are taking your mum and brother to the hospital to get him checked out."
"What?" He hadn't seemed too bad the day before. "Is he okay?"
She fidgeted a little. "Well, his headache's gotten a bit worse, and Mom says she noticed his eyes twitching, so they decided to be safe and get him checked out."
The wind completely left my sails, even as the words left her mouth. "Hey, come on." She said, crossing over and sitting next to me on the bed. "He'll be alright. It's probably just the flu, or some such stupid little thing."
"I hope so..." I tried to sound encouraged, but I guess I failed, because she suddenly hugged me.
"Don't worry, Ali. He'll get better. Our doctor is very thorough."
She spent a half hour comforting me before she was pulled away by her slightly distracted girlfriend, and I was left to my own devices. Tyler got home at around noon with a truckload of groceries from Costco, which I helped him unload and pack away. And then, his friends started arriving.
The first pair arrived about an hour later, just in time to miss us finishing the last of the setup. They were twins, Harmon and Melody (Or Harm and Mel, they said they would answer to either). Apparently their parents thought it was amusing. They were about the same height as me, with strikingly deep blue eyes. She had long, straight blond hair, while his was cut short, not quite a buzz-cut, but close. Neither of them had MORFed, and they were of average build. If it hadn't been for the fact that they were twins, and looked so much alike, you would never have been able to pick them out of a crowd.
Next came Alexis, a short redheaded girl who had been born a partial cat hybrid. The tell-tale pointed ears and furred tail were there, and she also had long, thin whiskers poking out from just under a slightly more feline than human nose. She was very quiet, and if you weren't paying attention, you could easily forget she was there, only to turn around and see her bright grey eyes smiling at you when you did.
A few minutes later, the next guest arrived, and he was quite the sight. His name was Donald, but he was introduced as Donnie to me. He was black, and very well-built, extremely athletic. He towered over us all by at least a half a foot, and had the biggest smile I've seen on a person in my life.
Another few minutes later the next of Tyler’s friends showed up. His name was Nathan and at first glance he looked really tall, but that was before I realized that he had a set of rabbit ears standing up out of his dirty brown hair. He followed Tyler out back to the pool and I stifled a laugh at the sight of his little cotton tail sticking out the back of his shorts.
Two more guests showed up shortly after Nathan. They were holding hands when I opened the door so I assumed they were a couple. The boy was a fox hybrid. He had royal blue hair, the pointed fox ears poking through his hair were the same blue color except for the white tips and had a bushy blue fox tail also with a white tip. The girl with him had purple hair but from the roots showing I assumed that the color wasn’t natural. Other than the dyed hair she looked pretty normal. Tyler came through from the back yard and introduced them as to me as Ryan and Nikki.
The 'party' was in full swing soon after that, though Tyler was a little confused. Apparently one of his friends was missing, and he was usually very punctual. I stayed in the house, well away from the festivities, for the first half hour or so. I really felt a little outcast from the group, what with looking six years older than everyone else in the gang, not to mention the whole 'out-of-town-cousin' dynamic. I told him to go out back, and promised to send his friend along when he got there.
But after about a half hour, I happened to glance out the front window and saw someone milling about on the front porch, which was a little odd, given that she wasn't knocking, just kind of... Well, pacing I guess would be a good word. She was, however, dressed for a pool party, the strings from her bikini top poked up through the back of her tee-shirt collar, and the matching board shorts and sandals...
The girl was... Well, I suppose exotic-looking is a good enough term to use. (Why not? I'd heard it enough in the past few days...) She was rather petite, a bit curvy, and could be described as 'cute' in anybody's figuring of the word. But what tipped her over the edge into 'exotic' (alongside me, which made me feel a little better about my own change) was her hair. Her eyelashes were long and thick, but their stiff black was made all the more painfully evident by the rest of the hair on her head. It was an incredible array of various shades of pink, from the palest pastel to a striking nearly-neon. She had it done up in a high tail, and it shimmered in the slight breeze that wafted across the front lawn.
I opened the door , and she let out a tiny "Eep!" of surprise, flushing bright crimson immediately after. "Can I help you?" I asked, a little confused. Tyler said Hailey, but he definitely said he... Right?
"Err... I... Is Tyler..." She stuttered for an instant, then seemed to shake herself. "Is Tyler around?" Her voice suddenly dropped nearly a full octave, almost deep enough to be considered a boy's, and I blinked in surprise.
"Uh... Yes..." I admit, I didn't exactly know what to say. "Are you Hailey?"
She winced visibly. "Call me Hail, please..."
I stared at her. "Err... I was under the impression that-"
"MORFS." She cut me off, now sounding slightly irritated.
"Ah... Right... Well, they're all waiting in the backyard for you, so feel free to go join them." I told her. She stared at me for a minute, shifting uneasily on her feet. She looked like she wanted to say something, but couldn't find the words. Truth be told, it was actually kind of cute, watching her get all flustered. Something to do with the pink, I guess. "Let me guess. They don't know about your change yet?"
She shook her head, and I forced down a sigh. "Alright, I'll go talk to Ty... You just go sit down in the front room." I turned on my heel and left, a little put off by having to do her hard work for her, but more than willing to help.
That's just the way I am.
"Ty?" I called from the kitchen door. He looked up from the bowl of nachos he was scarfing and raised his eyebrows in question. "Could you come here for a second?"
He flickered into view directly in front of me a minute later, with a mouth full of chips and a big grin on his face. "Waschup?"
"Charming..." I remarked, trying to fight the surprise and avoid ripping any more clothes with my scales. At least he had the good graces to blush. "It's about your friend, Hail..."
"Is he here? Did he call?" Ty frowned at me. "I haven't heard from him in a week or so, actually..."
I sighed. This wouldn't go over well. "He's here, Ty, but he's had MORFS. He's... Probably changed a lot from the guy you knew."
"What do you mean? I already know he had MORFS."
"Just... Keep an open mind, and... Well... You know what happened to Jessica?"
His eyes widened. "Really?" I nodded. "Wow... Poor guy... " He paused for a second, thinking. "Alright. Give me a minute to talk to the guys, and then you can send... Her, I guess... Outside..."
When I returned to the living room, though, she was sitting there on the couch, red-faced and upset. "Hey, are you okay? I just talked to Tyler, and-"
"Yeah. I heard." Her voice slipped back to it's normal alto, apparently due to her... Was it anger? Irritation, maybe?
"Yeah. I'm going. Thanks for nothing." She was gone in a huff before I could even manage a "Huh?"
I followed her out after taking a minute to compose myself, still slightly confused and a little hurt by her words. But again, the whole group reacted. There was a general gasp, and a single, low chuckle, which barely registered to me, but Hail instantly turned toward the culprit. "You think this is funny, Donald?"
He nodded. "A little, maybe. It's certainly ironic, though." The large boy said calmly. "So much for all the 'big man on campus' talk, eh?"
She started to get even redder, and I was stumped as to why. I've never seen someone react to a simple little joke like that, even if it was made in slightly poor taste. "You're such an ass!" She almost yelled, and turned away from him.
"What is your big problem?" The words left my mouth before I could stop them. Great... Here I go again, meddling in someone elses life...
Ugh. Don't ask.
She rounded on me. "My problem is that you made a huge assumption about my changes, lady, and now I have to correct your blunder, and it's making me mad." She turned away from me too, and by then I was completely lost.
"Hailey... Please calm down... I'm sure she didn't mean anything by it..." It was Alexis, and it seemed to work. Naturally, the shy one is the one who manages to diffuse the situation... Life mimics art, and all that...
The pink-haired girl took a deep breath, trying to collect herself. "I... I'm still.... A guy."
Insert awkward silence here.
She blushed. "You know... Where it counts..."
Insert second awkward silence here. Until finally...
"Kinky." Nikki spoke up, and the tension was immediately broken. Most of the group had a good laugh, and Hail was assaulted from all sides with everything from hugs, to questions.
I excused myself from the festivities, going back to my room to change into my own bikini. I might as well get some sunbathing done myself, not being one to waste a perfectly good opportunity.
I stayed mostly away from the group, still feeling awkward about what had happened. It was mostly my fault, after all. I guess I didn't really want to become a part of the group, either. I knew we were going to be leaving to go home soon, anyways... Call it abandonment issues if you really want to...
It must have been two hours later when a shadow passed over my face, breaking the long, monotonous tanning session and making me sit up. It was... Him? (It gets easier to use that particular pronoun the more you get to know Hail... But more on that later...)
He was a little flushed, and his hair was dripping down his back, out of it's tail. "I... Uh... I wanted to apologise... For the way I reacted..." He was getting a little fidgety, and I admit, I kind of enjoyed it. "I'm still adjusting... To the new me..."
"I hadn't guessed..." It wasn't intended to come out so scathingly, but it did.
I couldn't resist. "You know, you're kinda cute when you get flustered." Teasing apparently only made him more flustered, and I had to let out a smile. "Sorry for messing up your grand entrance."
He shrugged, fighting the blood out of his cheeks. "So... Err... I'm Hail." He offered his hand, and I couldn't refuse it.
"Nice to meet-"
"Ali!" Tyler's voice interrupted me as he ran out of the house, looking a little panicked with the phone clutched in one hand. "Get some clothes on, I gotta get you to the hospital."
My heart nearly stopped in my chest. "What?"
"There's something really wrong with Jacob."
To Be Continued .
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/