I was out of the car even before Tyler stopped moving it. The hospital doors pinged as they slid apart, and I stared around in a panic, not knowing where to go until I heard my aunt's voice call from down one of the halls.

"Ali!"

It was hard. You have no idea how hard. I turned the last corner, clinging to my aunt's arm, terrified by the complete lack of information. But nothing, and I mean nothing on God's green Earth, could have prepared me for what I saw.

My baby brother looked like Frankenstein's monster, tubes and wires going in and out of his body from every joint and limb. His skin was deathly pale, and every now and then, a tiny shudder would shoot through his body.

I don't know how I ended up on the floor. I suppose my knees may have given out, but I wasn''t really concerned about that at the time. I could feel my aunt trying to help me up, but my body just didn't want to respond.

I'm not the person to ask if you want to know how long I sat there in that hall, tears pouring freely as I tried to comprehend what I was seeing. But it certainly wasn't until much later that I heard my mother's voice calling my name.

"Allison... Ali, dear, I'm here... It's gonna be okay, Honey."

I tried for a minute, unsuccessfully, to find my voice, until I finally managed to ask the question. "Wh... What's wrong...?"

She helped me to my feet and walked me over to some chairs across from the window into Jacob's room. "The doctor's aren't sure, dear. They think it's an infection of some kind, but it's nothing they've ever seen before."

"But... But they can fix him, right?"

That's about when I looked up at my mother's face. I have not, to this day, seen anything as haunting as the hollow, dead look that shrouded my mom's face that day. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her cheeks were stained with the last few remnants of her makeup, and it was clear that she had long run out of tears to cry. "I don't know, Sweetheart... I just don't know..."

-----

Tyler let the car die and slumped in the seat. He didn't really feel much like going back in to the party anymore. Not after seeing the look on his cousin's face as she pretty much leapt from a moving car to get to her brother. His mother had told him to drop her off and go back home, but now, after watching Allison running into the emergency ward like that...

Even the house seemed to shrink in on him as he walked back through it. The sound of music blasted through the patio door, and he could see his friends through the screen, laughing and having a good time. He knew his mom didn't mind leaving them there alone, but he felt guilty that he was at home, and not where his family needed him, at least in his own mind.

The whole group of his friends were oblivious to it, though. The girls were all in the pool. splashing each other and laughing. Harm and Ryan were arguing about something over a bowl of cheese puffs, while Donnie was attempting to show a rather disinterested Nathan some new game on his eCom. Hail sat off to one side, curled up under a large towel on the hammock, sipping on a can of soda.

Tyler had to frown a little at that. Hail was never the shy one. Well, among a group of misfits, he wasn't really the shy one at least, though they all might be in some way. They had all come together through high school, and they had helped each other through many problems over the past few years. Tyler himself had been the class clown for as long as he could remember, and had been shunned by the 'cool' kids because of it.

Hail had been somewhat of a mystery for much of their childhood, always staying out of sight and out of mind, even as Tyler tried to get him to open up. And he had really stayed out of the limelight in high school. That was one of the reasons Tyler had befriended him, to try and break him out of his shell.

Harm and Mel had transferred out of their junior high and into the much larger combined high school, and had never really adjusted to the increase in numbers, tending to stay off by themselves until they had gotten lumped in with the rest of the gang.

Alexis had been his friend through most of his life, being the shy girl next door. She had been picked on for her feline appearance from an early age, and Tyler had defended her from one particularly spiteful bully one day, and in doing so they had become fast friends. She never really got over her nervousness about her appearance, though, and tended to try and fade into the background as often as she could.

Donnie was probably the oddest among them, an athletic person who had a taste for fantasy. He enjoyed exercising and playing sports, but his passion for all things video game and role-playing completely ostracized him from the rest of the jocks at school, and thus he made his way to their little group. 

Nate was always hiding from the spotlight because of his self-described 'rediculous rabbit MORF', and Ryan was trying to muscle in on his class clown title, while Nikki... Well, none of them really knew how to quantify her. She seemed to have just decided to ostracize herself, for whatever reason. She alone chose to run with them.

So they all took pleasure in each other's company, and enjoyed a sort of safety in numbers. But to see Hail sitting off on his own... It didn't fit. Something wasn't right. 

Hail looked up at him well before he arrived. "Hey." He said quietly, his strangely deep voice seeming at odds with his soft features. "How's your cousin?"

Tyler sighed, slumping down into the hammock next to his friend, earning a small, high-pitched "Eep!" of surprise, again at odds, but this time with his 'normal' voice. "I don't know... He must be pretty sick, and she's really protective of him..."

"She seems nice..." Hail said awkwardly, fiddling with his can.  

"Yeah..." Tyler sighed, staring up into the clear sky. They sat there for a while, not saying much of anything, just basking in the warm sun. Tyler broke the silence. "So how about you? How are you coping?"

He shrugged oddly, looking away. "I really don't know... I've only been like this for, like, a day..."

"Yeah... I guess it's something that'll take a little time for you to get used to ..." Tyler gave a small chuckle. "Hell, it took me a while to get used to my changes, and I didn't get it nearly as bad as you did..."

"Yeah... but at least you got something cool. I wish i could be invisible." Hail took another sip of his drink before he noticed a pained look on Tyler's face. "What?" He asked, and Tyler looked away in embarrassment.

"Being invisible isn't all it's cracked up to be, Hail..." He said somberly. "It's one thing to not be noticed by choice, but it only makes it hurt more when you're not noticed by accident..."

"Better invisible than a pink haired freak..." Hail muttered bitterly, his voice slipping up into a higher register in his distaste.

"Actually, I've been meaning to ask you about that... There have been a couple of times where your voice has changed. Gotten higher, you know? Are you doing that?"

Hail fidgeted in the hammock. "I, uh... I'm a sound elemental... So... Yeah."

Tyler sighed. "I wish you wouldn't."

Blink. "What? Why?"

"I've heard stories about people who tried to hide their changes... Fictional or otherwise, it never turns out well..." He stood up, causing the hammock to swing suddenly. "Just... Don't be afraid to be the new you..." He mentally flicked on his invisibillity and left, his outer clothes appearing as he sloughed them off and dove into the pool, leaving Hail to his thoughts.

-----

Allison blinked the sleep out of her eyes as she slowly became aware of the room around her. Sterile whites and pastel blues gleamed from the walls, and it took her a few seconds to process where she was. The tiny hand that laid in hers gave a second strong twitch, and her attention instantly swung back to her little brother's face. Jacob smiled weakly as their eyes met.

"G'morn'n, Ali..." He whispered weakly.

"Morning, Jakey..." She replied, fighting hard against the tears that were threatening to spill. "How are you feeling?"

"Not too good..." He managed to whisper before dissolving into a coughing fit. One of the monitors connected to him gave off a warning beep, and his sister half-stood in panic. A nurse rushed into the room almost immediately, a concerned expression on her face. The woman bustled about amongst the many monitors, scribbling on her clipboard and never once looking down at the poor patient as his little body trembled in pain from his own coughing.

"Shhh... Try to relax..." Allison whispered, fighting the urge to smack the nurse with her tail. "You'll be okay... I'm here..." His little hand closed around hers, and she smiled forcibly. Another alarm started to blare suddenly. Jacob gave a low moan, his hands clutching at the sides of his head.

"Oh, God...!" Allison panicked, running out into the hall. "Somebody help!" The doctor was already on his way into the room, surrounded by a multitude of nurses and specialists. The door slid shut with a mechanical hiss, sealing the room shut. "Hey! Let me in, damnit! That's my little brother in there!" 

The intercom next to the door clicked on. "I'm sorry, miss, but we need you to remain outside while we try to stabillize-"

"I don't care!" She screamed, pounding on the door. "Let me in!"

"Miss, security has been called to remove you if you continue to di-"

"Let them try!" The door gave a sudden screech as her open palm slapped against it and stuck. She blinked as she felt an alien pressure on her hand somewhere, and jerked her hand back in a shower of sudden sparks and the angry screech of metal on metal. The claw-scales in her palm glittered in the flourescent lighting of the hospital hallway. Three half-foot long rents had appeared in the door's surface, and a startled eye blinked at her through them.

'Duh... Metal elemental...' She shook the confusion out of her head and focused, trying to feel the metal of the doorway like she had the thin frame in her brother's toy. Being a lot thicker, the door was much easier for what she had begun calling her internal metal detector to lock onto. The claw marks shimmered as they sealed themselves, before the whole surface wavered, a hole neatly opened itself in the middle of the door, allowing her to step through. One of the larger male doctors tried to grab he as she passed, only to end up with a handful of shoulder spike. 

Tears were already streaming down her face as she took her brother's shaking hand in hers. "Shhh... I'm here, little brother..."

"A-ali...?"

"It's okay... You'll be okay..." She kept repeating, oblivious of the activity around her. The medical team seemed to have decided it was a better idea to leave her there than try and remove her from the room.

It seemed like an instant, but she was later told that she sat there for five minutes before the heart monitor started blaring warnings out. The room faded to black as she blacked out.

-----

Allison groaned as she sat up. Momentary vertigo made her blink several times before the room returned to focus. A big blob of green in her lap turned into Jacob's favorite toy dinosaur, and her heart gave a leap. 'If he doesn't have it...' 

She looked at the sound of someone sighing. Bloodshot red eyes looked up at her from across the room. Her mother sagged visibly in the stiff visitor's chair, evidence of long spent tears on her cheeks. Her breath caught in her throat as she remembered the last time she'd seen that look, when her father had left...

'Oh no...'

"Momma..." She managed to whisper. "Where's Jacob?"

Her voice was worn and tired, and there was a distinct tone of defeat in it. "They took him... To an operating room... The doctor says it was some kind of bacterial infection that spread from his lungs to his heart and into his brain... They said it was mutating too fast to treat properly... They tried their best..."

"No..."

Somehow, her mother crossed the room and gathered her up in her arms.  "They... They couldn't... Save him... He's gone..."

And they cried. 

----- 

Black. Dark, depressing, matte black.

Ali's tail twitched absently as she stared at the casket that laid in the ground before her. The preacher was long gone, and most of her family was gone as well. But she was still there, standing alone on the hill, one hand holding onto her other elbow, the small dinosaur toy hugged to her chest in place of the boy it belonged to.

Her eyes were dry. The tears were long since spent. A ghost of a breeze sent a shiver down her spine, and her grip tightened on the toy. She could almost feel the few people left, standing on the road behind her, and she knew she would have to go soon. But...

"Hey... Little brother..." It was hardly a whisper, but it still caught in her throat. "I miss you already... I miss your smile... And your laugh... And that little pouty look..."

Her voice hitched involuntarily, and she felt another shiver. "I promise to look after Rex... I know you would want him to stay with you... But he's all I have left... Of you..."

She fell silent for a moment before continuing. "Auntie says we're gonna move in with her... She doesn't want us to be all alone... So I'll come by and visit every week..."

She stepped forward, the first time she'd moved in over two hours. Her muscles screamed at her, but she ignored it. A few more steps, and she knelt down next to the headstone. "I love you, little brother... So much that it hurts... And I'm gonna miss you every day... But... But I hope I'll see you again... Some day..."

She barely felt her cousin's jacket as he draped it over her shoulders. She didn't hear the small murmur of condolance from his friend. She couldn't feel the ground beneath her feet.

She slipped out of the black dress some time later, and slid slowly into her bed, curling up around the little dinosaur toy as she waited for the inky black of sleep to claim her...

To Be Continued .

 

The entire MORFS  Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/

 



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