Shave and a Haircut - Part 1
By Veronica Haylee McKenzie
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is (or at least was) Ronald McKenzie. I used to be a happy, carefree teenager. Until THAT day -- the day my life changed forever…
I can remember the details of my change as if it had occurred only yesterday. Mom had complained, yet again, about my scraggly beard and my unkempt mop of hair. For an empath, she has very little sympathy when it comes to appearance, especially mine. Dad, in the husky grizzled voice I’ve come to know and love, playfully pawed her as he reached for another forkful of his eucalyptus salad.
“Leave the boy alone, Emma,” he said. “Just be glad he’s managed to avoid his fate for this long…”
“George!” Mom shushed. “You know we don’t discuss ‘The Change’ at the table. And yes, dear, I’m glad he hasn’t had to endure the torture and ridicule that some have faced. Just look at what Cindy and Joe went through when April and Ralph MORF’d.”
Yeah! I thought. Who could ever forget our neighbors: “Toad Boy” and “Gorilla Girl”? Or at least that’s the NICEST thing they were called before they were driven out of town. I miss Ralph. He was the best catcher on the team. Too bad he really catches flies now…
Just as I was reliving those memories, though, Mom snapped me out of my daydream, ‘Here’s $20. I want you to get a haircut TODAY, young man, and you’d better shave, as well. When I come home tonight, I expect you to look like a decent person. NO MORE PEACH FUZZ. ARE WE CLEAR?’
DAMN!!! I hate it when she uses that tone of thought projection.
“And she says I’m a BEAR in the morning,” said Dad, half-laughing at his own joke. “Get your books, son, and I’ll take you to school. The drive'll do us both some good. We’ll talk in the car, and maybe work out some things.”
“Whatever!” I sneered, knowing where THIS was going. Every time Dad offered to drive, I knew a lecture was coming, and I’d end up giving in. When both parents are empaths, and they tag-team you, sometimes you just can’t win… “I just wish you understood, Dad. Things are different than when YOU were a teen. Not only do I have to fit in with my peers, but I also have to worry about waking up a goddamn freak. You know my birthday’s next week. I’ll be 14. That’s when Ralph and April ‘changed’. What if I end up like them? I just started Kawari Middle school, and I don’t fit in as it is… If I MORF, I’ll never fit in. I might as well be dead… And now, Mom wants me to get rid of what little masculinity I have. Look at me, Dad… Look at your SON… I look like a pre-pubescent GIRL… I’m always being picked on and made fun of…”
“I know, Son,” Dad said, just a little too condescending. “Being a teen is rough. But you’ll get through it. We all do. Now get your books together and I’ll meet you in the car. We can talk there…”
The ride to school, as usual, was fairly uneventful. The skyways, normally jammed with traffic to the inner city, were refreshingly light this morning, and Dad made good time, arriving early. Classes don't usually open until 8:00 AM, and as we had arrived about 20 minutes earlier than usual, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of actually having to carry on a conversation! (Not one of my fortes, mind you...)
I sat in the van, idly daydreaming, trying my best to think of something semi-intelligent to say. We idly chit-chatted about the weather, local sports, things two men do to pass the time. I was only half-heartedly listening, still upset about Mom wanting me to shave, thus robbing me of my only (and first) link to my budding masculinity.
Fitting in at high school was rough, but when you're 14, 5'2", 145 pounds, and still haven't had your voice change, it's downright hellish! I was the smallest boy in my freshman class, and the coke-bottled glasses, stringy hair, and pocket protectors (Dad's idea, NOT MINE!) didn't help my self-image one iota.
Dad, sensing my lack of attention, snarled under his breath. "You know, Son, you could really get along better with Mom. She just has your best interest at heart. I know its rough being a teen, asserting your independence, finding your place and all, but she does really care. Just try to remember the trim, OK?"
"Come on, Dad!" I huffed in sheer exasperation. "You know how long it took me to grow what little bit of stubble I have. If I shave and get my hair cut the way Mom wants, I'll look like I should be back in Shojo Wakai. It's hard enough to fit in as it is. I'm not exactly 'Mr. Popularity', you know. I just wish she'd cut me a little slack now and then, instead of attacking me right off in the morning."
"Just try, alright? That's all I'm asking. You know," Dad said in a rather bemused tone, "she does really care. She only wants what's best for you, and so do I. We both love you a lot."
With that, the AM bell rang, signaling another day at Stalag 13. "Ok, already," I harrumphed, deflated. "I'll get my stupid hair cut, but PLEASE! No more mushy stuff. Geesh, I'll be 14 soon!"
"Sorry," was Dad's weak reply. "See you tonight at supper. Don't forget!"
With that, I grabbed my books and slammed the door. I had taken all I could stand, and now things were just getting on my nerves.
“Good-bye, Dad!” I yelled as the custom van pulled away. (Hey! It isn’t easy to find a vehicle when your father is a 7’3”, 560 pound panda.)
Just then Amy walked by, idly chatting with the new girl, Sanura. Funny thing, though, I don’t remember seeing her in class before. I wish I had someone like that to talk to. Maybe if I could MORF, someone would see me as something other than a scrawny, buck-toothed, bespectacled geek, I thought.
I guess I started feeling funny right before homeroom began. All my senses seemed to heighten, but I just shrugged it off as Monday morning stress. The teacher called roll and made announcements, but I never pay attention to that stuff. My first period was English, which I usually sleep through, anyway. (Hey, I live in America, after all. They install the language chips after birth here.) Two boring classes later, it was time for the morning assembly at the slop trough, AKA Lunch. Tough choices today – yellow slime, green ooze, or putrid purple glop. First rule: NEVER EAT THE GREEN STUFF, and since the PURPLE GLOP was STILL MOVING, I decided on the YELLOW SLIME. It was about that time that Sparky belched, and thankfully, the flames set off the fire alarm. Nothing like torching the cafeteria to liven up an otherwise dreary day…
With all the excitement, I decided I’d exit quietly and take a little “field trip”. A pocket full of quarters, an empty arcade, and two hours to kill… Sounded like a plan to me… If I’d only known…
I decided to play VR Assault. I typically don’t do the action, ‘shoot anything that moves’ kind of games, but everything just kind of pissed me off today, and I needed to work off my pent up aggression. That’s when I met him… Josh was the local champ, and everyone knew his rep... If the game had been out longer than a week, Josh had mastered it. “You’re new here, huh kid?” he said.
“Yea, I guess,” I managed to stammer. “I don’t usually come here, but I just needed to work off some steam. Frankly, I don’t know what in hell I’m doing, but I just felt like shooting stuff and watching it blow all to hell…”
“I know the feeling,” he smiled. “Mind if I join? I can give you some tips…”
“Sure,” I said. “Free country. I’m Ron, by the way…”
“Josh. I think I can help. Got parents myself… Nag all the time”
We logged into two-player mode, and Josh began to give me the 30-second tour. We had just cleared the first wave, and I was doing quite well I thought, when I first noticed the change. The screen blanked, and I jerked the helmet off in disgust as my body began to retch uncontrollably. I saw a shocked look on Josh’s face as I began to shake violently. I must have lost consciousness, because when I came to, He was standing over me, propping my head in his lap. “Someone find a damn manager or medic!” he screamed. “Now!”
Next thing I remember, I was in my bedroom, and it was dark outside. I had no clue as to how I got there, or what had transpired. Dad was standing off to one side, chatting with a handsome guy about sports. Oh my God! Did I just say that? What’s wrong with me???
“You’re finally awake,” Josh noticed. “Glad you’re ok. You had me worried…”
Mom was hovering above me, trying to force an energy pack into the IV. Doc Adams told me to relax, and clued me in to what was happening: MORFS, Stage 1.
I couldn’t get over how dark everything was. I could dimly make out Mom’s silhouette, and could hear Dad’s soft growls as he slept, but the sense of color was beginning to elude me. Every muscle in my body ached, and my skin crawled with the new sensations. My insides felt like they were outside, and the constant hum in my head was deafening. All I wanted to do was sleep, but the distorted images of my dreams disturbed me to the point of semi-wakefulness.
I was on a barge on the Nile, being lazily fanned by a bronze Adonis. Another servant sat on a stool nearby, feeding me grapes, dates and olives. The sun was scorching, and the desert winds stirring up the dunes as wispy dust devils formed in the distance. I was clad in the raiment of a Goddess - long golden hoops dangled from my ears, golden, jewel-encrusted chokers around my neck, my long, raven hair swaying in the breeze.
It appeared to be late spring. Fields were in full blossom, and it had the makings of a good harvest year. Isis and Osiris were smiling upon us for our faithfulness, I thought.
I looked up to see my Greek lover, tall and handsome. “Marc Antony,” I cooed. “Pray tell. How are things in Rome???”
Suddenly, I felt a prick on the nape of my neck, as if I'd been stabbed. The burning sensations overwhelmed me as the venom began coursing in my veins. My head split open in pain, and everything went black.
"I'm not a witch!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. "My Lord provides the visions, and I tell what He provides. The French will come, and war will ensue."
As the flames leapt higher, I struggled in vain to free myself from the bonds that encompassed me. The stench of charred flesh and burning hair filled my nostrils as I was once again engulfed in the inky mire...
I'm eleven now, and huddled in a dingy attic in an Amsterdam flat. Mama says I must be brave, that help will come if I watch and pray. The Germans led more to the slaughterhouse today, and every day SS troops draw nearer. I must be strong, but I don't know how much longer I can escape the Gestapo. I hear a knock at the door, followed by swearing in both Dutch and German. I heard a loud "Heil Hitler” as the door crashed in and storm troopers invaded my sanctuary. The last thing I remember is being dragged to the oxen cart, hands and feet bound together... Blackness once again...
Finally, somehow, I managed to drift off to dreamless slumber, because the next thing I remembered, it was Friday morning. My mouth is a bale of cotton, dry as the Sahara. “How long?” my eyes questioned.
Mom said I’d been asleep battling my MORFS for 3 days now! For some reason, however, she seemed to be smiling at me, quite bemused. As she read my expression (and probably my thoughts, too), she simply said that MORFS had done a nice job controlling my “peach fuzz”, and she wouldn’t complain about it again…
** Mom isn’t going to complain again? ** -- my last thought before the nightmares began again…
It’s 1997. Sirens are blaring and guns are blasting. Kuwait is aflame as Saddam’s troops storm the capital. Men in funny green suits with red and white stripes are firing tanks and missiles in a desert. An odd green cloud wafts over the noon sky, chilling everyone to the bone. The ‘soldiers’ are faltering as the cloud spreads out and the sun disappears in the eerie neon haze. Anguished screams ensue, and everything goes black…
I woke up in a cold sweat, completely hysterical. I’d only been asleep for about 10 minutes, but it seemed like I’d slept for days. Mom was once again by my side, doting over me as only a mother can do. I wondered, ‘Should I tell her the sights I’ve seen? -- Wait a minute… Why doesn’t she already know??? She sees everything,’ I thought. ‘What’s HAPPENING??!!’
“Mom,” I said, -- shocked to hear my new MORF’d voice, somewhat higher in pitch than my usual baritone – “I had a dream…”
As she turned, I saw, to my horror, an unfamiliar face. Nothing around me seemed the same. ‘I’m in a bedroom, but it isn’t mine. I glance at the calendar on the wall – October 29, 1984. I’m 63 years in the past!!!’
October 29th, 1984. 6:30 AM
“Want to talk about it, Honey?” my ‘mother’ questioned lovingly. “We’ve got a few minutes before school.”
“No, that’s OK,” I lied. Until I found out who this woman was, and just what in the Nine Hells I was doing here, I wasn’t about to reveal any information to anyone.
“OK, then, we’ll talk later. Hurry and wash up, Amber, before we’re both late for our first day of school. It wouldn’t do for the principal and her daughter to be late, now would it?”
“OK, so she’s principal, and my name’s Amber… Now what?” I thought, as I got out of bed and saw myself in the full length mirror on the bedroom door. An unfamiliar, yet strikingly beautiful brunette stared back at me, dumbfounded.
“You have time to primp later, sleepyhead!” ‘Mom’ shooed. “Now wash up, get dressed, and let’s go, already! We’re running late, so we’ll just have to pick up breakfast at McD’s on the way. Oh, and don’t forget, you’re spending Halloween with your father. He’ll pick you up at 3:15 sharp. Try not to be late this time. You know how busy he is…”
October 29th, 1984. 7:15 AM
I never knew that something so disgusting could taste so good, but my first ‘sausage biscuit’ wasn’t half-bad. ‘Mom’ had ordered, so I didn’t have much choice. That thing looked like a squished hockey puck between two bricks. Now, on to school…
As we arrived at the school, I daintily brushed the crumbs off the lap of my skirt as ‘Mom’ parked the car in her spot. I noted the plate: “Reserved for Kimberly Darting, Principal”. ‘So I’m Amber Darting… why does that name sound so familiar?’
The school was nothing like the hellholes I remember. No gates or fences, no hidden cameras buzzing, no freaks (well at least no MORF’d ones…). In fact, it looked fairly tame to me.
“I’ve already enrolled you, and your father’s got your transcripts. He may have been a low-life... Sorry, honey,” said ‘Mom’, venomous sarcasm dripping like poison from a cobra’s fangs, “but he did at least take care of that before he ran off…”
‘Recent, bitter divorcee… explains why this is my first day’ I thought, taking mental notes.
“Let’s get you to class, Hon. Your homeroom starts in 10 minutes, and I have to make the morning announcements. Call me tonight, OK? And be good with your father. OH, and DON’T go anywhere with Stacy, even if she begs you. I don’t see what your father sees in that brainless tart, but…”
I let ‘Mom’s’ comments fade as I ran up the steps. I hope ‘Dad’ is a little less venomous…
October 29th, 1984. 7:30 AM.
“Good morning, class. Let’s all welcome our newest student, Ms. Amber Darting. You may take the seat next to Carl.”
‘Carl’ stood at that cue and actually pulled out my chair for me! No one had ever done THAT before. “It’s nice to meet you,” he said, with an impish grin. It’s about that time my world went dark… again.
We have just been informed that a 747 has crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Black smoke is billowing out from the tower now and WHAT THE HELL??? ANOTHER PLANE’S HEADED FOR THE SOUTH TOWER… IT’S CHAOS HERE… I CAN’T BELIEVE WHAT I’M SEEING… IT’S JUST TOO HORRIBLE…
The scenes unfolded before me in all their grizzled horror. People were running, screaming in terror. Buildings were aflame. Shock and nausea overwhelmed me at the sickening sight. I can still recall the announcer’s chilling words: We will never forget the day America was attacked from within. We will find these terrorists. We will win. We are strong. We are AMERICANS…
Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States…
“Ron… RON??? Wake up!!!” I heard somewhere through the fog. “Listen to the sound of my voice. Come back to us, Honey. Follow me. Concentrate.”
I awoke to find myself back in familiar surroundings, not more than a few seconds after I had ‘left’. Mom said later that there had been a bright, bluish-white light and then I’d vanished. The room had gone completely dark, and then I had reappeared in the same way, with a set of paisley suspenders in my arms…
“M-m-m-mom. Mom. MOM!” I yelled with a start, lurching bolt upright and reaching for her with every fiber of my being.
“I’m here, Honey. It’s alright. You’re alright. You’re back. You’re home…” Mom soothed. I looked around, surprised to be in my own room, clinging to Mom for dear life.
“H-h-h-hello, I guess??” I stammered. “What happened?”
“That’s what we were hoping you could tell us, son, err Miss…” said the good doctor.
"Miss???!!!" I stammered, still shocked by my new voice. *WFT! I'm a damned girl now? I HATE MORFS!!!*
"What happened to me?" I shrieked. "And what day is it, anyways? Shit! my head hurts! and turn down those damned lights!"
Notes: 'Shojo wakai' = 'young maiden', 'wakari' = 'changes'
The entire MORFS Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/Encyclopedia.html