This is a Tomorrowlands universe story; they are listed at http://www.tomorrowlands.org/story/stories.html.
© 2001, Tad "Baxil" Ramspott
It's worth remembering that dreams destroy as much as they create. BUT THE GARDEN HAS NO APPLES A TTU story - Baxil, 4-6-2001 -------------------------------------------------------------------------- His first thought was just how inconvenient it was going to be to wheel those pallets across the loading dock. What was he doing? What fool thought had possessed him? He had nearly four hours' worth of work left to do. This wasn't going to make that any simpler. Not to mention his coworkers! Cripes, the place was just going to shut down if he walked out of the bathroom like this, and he'd catch hell for weeks. Some floating dust tickled Allan's nose. With a sharp intake of breath, he sneezed, shaking his snout. Lupine spittle sprayed all over the wall underneath the sink. He brought up a paw to wipe his nose and couldn't quite reach. So Allan grabbed a paper towel with his teeth, jerked it loose from the dispenser, and managed to wedge the loose sheet in between his snout and the wall, clearing away the worst of the remaining moisture from his nose. Where was he? Ah, yes. The pallets. If he had opposable thumbs, he could just grab and drag; that's how they were designed, after all. No dice there, though. Good, solid paws on all four limbs. Plus a tail, but that didn't seem to do much except for wag, and whack against walls whenever he got too close to one. If he had more mass, he could simply push them. Oh, man, if he'd just managed to become a dragon, like that one guy on the TV! Then he'd have it made. Screw the coworkers; he could walk out from the bathroom with a smug, mythic smile on his face, field a few TV interviews, get rich for life, and go learn how to fly. This wolf thing, on the other hand, was going to take some getting used to. Allan rose to his hindpaws, leaned against the sink, and stared at the tips of his ears in the mirror -- all that he could see from this low vantage point. ... He'd never really thought of the bathroom mirrors as mounted high before. Come to think of it, Jerry had been complaining about that for months, but up until now Allan had just thought of him as that grumpy guy in the wheelchair. Pallets. Dammit. Why had he done this again? Allan thought back to that morning's discussion around the water cooler. He'd walked in on Susan and Bridgett talking. Something about dragons, about a big hoax being played on a TV station out in the Midwest. Bridgett had insisted, as he walked up, that it had to be real, that you just couldn't fake that sort of thing. "Fake what?" Allan had asked. "Some guy turned into a dragon on live TV last night!" she had said excitedly. Susan had rolled her eyes. Allan remembered bursting out into laughter. "Jeez, they must have been planning that one for weeks. It does sound like an involved stunt." Bridgett had pouted at him, then. "Well, you skeptics can laugh all you want, but the TV station's been replaying it over and over again since this morning. And they're saying other people have done it now, too." Allan had smiled at her patronizingly. "Yeah, and maybe the Browns will win the Super Bowl this year." A hearty chuckle at his own joke. "But hey. Want to lead me down to the break room TV set? This ought to be entertaining." A thought occurred to Allan as he padded in circles around the bathroom. Maybe changing to a dragon wouldn't have been such a break after all ... how the hell would he fit through the door? ... Maybe he could move them if he grabbed the pallet handles with his teeth and pulled backward? He'd seen his neighbor's German shepherd rip chew toys in half with that sort of leverage. ... Ah, yes, except for that whole "too short to reach the handle" thing. Damn those chest-high pallet handles. No wonder Jerry worked over in Accounts Receivable. It had seemed like half the office was gathered in small circles, gossiping, around the TV. Allan had pushed his way through the crowd to the set, and sat through an interminable string of commercials, listening to the snatches of conversation around him: "-- wish they could get effects that real into movies." "Yeah. Although they did pretty well in 'Dragonheart' --" "-- horoscope this morning said that life was going to seem strange --" "Janice says she's got a brother in Iowa." "Small world." "-- tell you, I feel like a dragon myself some days --" "-- Dermatrex is the cure for tough, scaly skin." Huh? No, that was the TV. "-- sign of the Apocalypse? I mean, isn't that in Revelation somewhere --" "-- doesn't prove anything. For all we know, it's still a hoax." The news announcer had come on, looking properly serious. The room had suddenly hushed. There was a knock at the bathroom door. Allan stifled a yelp of surprise and ran behind the toilet. Whoever was at the door rattled the locked knob, muttered something, and walked away. Allan breathed a sigh of relief -- or the wolf equivalent, anyway -- and walked over to the sink again. No luck on looking at himself in the mirror. He reflected ... He remembered the way his heart leapt the first time he saw the video clip. The bleeped-out ejaculation of the cameraman. The reporter bravely ignoring it, pushing through another half-sentence, then turning around and losing his composure. The sheer beauty of that creature of legend. The casual thumbs-up that the distant, blurry form seemed to give the camera, then the way its muscles tensed as it leapt into the air, wings spread. The car crash in the background as some passerby took just a little bit too long to gawk. Everyone in the room had laughed at it; it was the tension breaker that made the rest of the clip just surreal enough to appreciate. The speculation. And, Allan had been surprised to find, the secret hope that had leapt to life in his breast despite all of his earlier skepticism. That dragon -- was it really? Maybe you could edit it into the picture, but you couldn't fake the cameraman's shock, or the reporter's surprise, or the car crash -- had shaken him. Allan had felt years of cynicism melt away. There was something new in the world again, something the newsmen couldn't properly wrap up in a soundbite for him! Something beyond this dead-end job managing inventory in a suburban business park! Something real! ... Well, no. Technically, it was just something strange. He had wanted it to be real. That had made him suspicious. But now, here he was, padding around on four legs in the loading dock's men's restroom. Thinking about pallets. Allan shook his head, feeling the strange added inertia from his six-inch snout. What was he thinking? Screw the pallets. He had some sick days saved up. Darren and Eric could cover for him this afternoon. It would do those slackers some good. Now he just had to figure out how to get out of the bathroom. Of course, the discussion had started right back up as soon as the clip ended. The news announcer had said something about further reports trickling in from eight other states, and had made promises of a second video clip at noon, but the office gossip had been far more immediate and interesting. Bridgett, as usual, was right in the middle of it all. "I don't think this is the last we'll hear of it," she had insisted, just loud enough to challenge every other conversation in the room. "There's going to be more. I think this will happen to a lot of people. Maybe even people here." "Come on, Bridgett," Allan had responded in the sudden silence. "It was a good joke. They'll get some mileage out of it yet. But that's all it is." Bridgett had turned to him, staring into his eyes. He had felt suddenly uncomfortable. In hindsight, Allan knew that he hadn't really believed what he'd said. He wondered why the compulsion to turn loose his inner skeptic had been so strong. "It's no joke, Al," she'd said. "I got a call from my sister in Florida half an hour ago. There was another one. No TV camera or anything, but she'd been driving to the mall for some shopping, and he changed right on the corner, three cars ahead of her." "Isn't that the sister who saw a UFO circle the airport last year?" he had retorted, but his inner skeptic was already on the defensive. Allan tried to grab the doorknob; it slipped through his paws. This wasn't going to be easy. "The news is saying that people were just kinda changing. Like all they had to do was think about it. It just seems too easy, Al. That's why we're going to see a lot more of this." "Then why don't you change yourself?" some wag had asked her, saving Allan the trouble. "Into what?" Bridgett had said, with a toss of her head and a laugh. "I'm no dragon. I'm just me. I don't even know what I'd be if I wanted to be something else." Allan had thought of his childhood fantasies of running on four legs across the fields behind his parents' house. The times he'd looked up at the full moon and crowed out a young child's mock-howl. His envy of the golden retriever that had once slept at the foot of his bed. He had tried to push those thoughts back into the deep, dark morass of ancient memory. "But I bet Al here could," Bridgett had said. "What?" he had belatedly replied, blushing a burning red. Allan couldn't quite suppress a huffing laugh at the memory as he tried vainly to wrestle the knob into the grip of his teeth. He gave that up when he slipped and whacked his nose painfully into the door. The nervous laughter had, incongruously enough, helped. It had reminded him of how patently ludicrous the whole situation was. He had felt the blood drain back away from his cheeks as he watched Bridgett turn and catch the attention of the other coworkers. She was speaking, not to him, but to the audience. She was in her element. "What the news says, is it looks like it's just thinking. Al does a lot of thinking. I betcha he could think himself into a dragon if he tried." Allan had glanced around the room. Some of them were looking at him expectantly. Some of them ... wait a minute ... were taking her seriously? "That's completely absurd!" he'd protested. He had felt his face flush red again. She had noticed right away. That mischevious twinkle had appeared in her eye. Oh, Bridgett was enjoying this. "Then it doesn't hurt to give it a try, now, does it?" "I can't believe you're saying this," Allan had heard himself say. "This is nuts. This is ridiculous." And inside, he had been thinking: What if I can think myself into a wolf? "Then humor me. Prove me wrong. Try it," she'd said jokingly. "No," he'd said, in front of half the office. And then he'd let the thought gnaw at him over lunch. And then he'd wandered into the bathroom and closed his eyes. And now he was trying to unlock the bathroom door without opposable thumbs. Sweet mother of Mary. How was he going to explain this to the coworkers? Could he even? Allan tried experimentally to clear his throat, and made a soft wheezing noise. He tried to say "Hello," and it came out "yap-whine." He snapped his mouth shut with a click of teeth, and hoped that nobody had heard him. That couldn't be a good sign. No talking? He liked conversation. Maybe this wolf thing wasn't quite all it was cracked up to be. On the other hand, there were those huge fields across the railroad tracks. But then, there was the bathroom door ... I don't believe this, Allan thought to himself. His heart stretched with yearning; his eyes roamed across the perverse slab of wood barring his way. I'm a wolf. A beautiful, graceful wolf. Locked in the shitty bathroom of a shitty warehouse in a shitty suburban town. He glanced at the silent, implacable door handle. To hell with this, he thought desperately. I don't need this. I have a life to live. The hand of gravity gently tugged at Allan's pelt. Suddenly, the fur felt stifling, and a heavy weight around his shoulders. The quadrupedal stance felt awkward. The tile floor pressed uncomfortably against his bare paws. He had thought himself into a wolf. Could he think himself back into a human ...? Of course he could. That's what he'd been in the first place, wasn't it? He'd closed his eyes. This was all some particularly vivid daydream. All he had to do was wake up and get back to his job. And yet ... And yet what? What the hell was he going to do as a wolf? Stupid pet tricks on Letterman for the rest of his life? Run out to the wilderness and freeze to death yapping at the moon? And yet ... Allan didn't let himself finish the thought. There were pallets to move, after all. He took one last look at his snout, crossing his eyes slightly to focus on his wet black nose, and closed his eyes. Several days later, Allan saw some wolves on the news. He'd kept the TV on while trying to sort through his credit card bills. Another two months of this dirty, brutal job and he'd be out of debt ... unless the car broke down again. Unless the landlord raised the rent. Two of the wolves changed back into humans and talked at the camera. Allan found himself wondering how they managed to shapeshift back into human form fully clothed, and gave himself quite a fright when he realized that it hadn't crossed his mind in the slightest, earlier. Boy, that could have been embarrassing. Ah, shit. The damn Visa people were charging him a late fee. He was going to have to start Christmas shopping again ... thank God that he only had a few people to buy expensive gifts for. The reporter asked one of the wolves about her plans for the future. Allan stopped what he was doing and watched intently. "I'm going to take it one day at a time," she said. "I'm going to enjoy this new blessing." Allan grabbed his checkbook with a snort. His pen stopped in mid-flourish when he briefly wondered about the date of the next full moon ... and then he smiled, shook his head, and reached for the roll of stamps.
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