by Alice “Huskyteer” Dryden
Jed opened his mouth to say that the stuff wasn’t working, but instead of words, a beam of blue-green light rolled off his tongue and splashed the living-room wall.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh man, did you see?”
“It’s good, yeah?” Humpy grinned and nodded and scratched at his neck. “I told you that guy wouldn’t rip us off. You thought I got ripped off, huh, but I knew, yeah, man, I knew all right.”
The light was flooding from Jed’s eyes too, he realized, bathing the room in a cerulean glow.
“I’ve got magic eyes,” he marveled.
Stef was making ink dots on the left knee of her jeans. Jed watched bright lines form between the penmarks in complicated, evolving patterns. Ancient alphabets, he thought. No – animals, like the constellations. Bears and lions and strange mythological beasts.
Then he saw that each dot was a world, an entire planet with seas and continents. He rested his nose on Stef’s leg to look more closely and was drawn into the fabric, his molecules diffusing through the frayed denim and spiraling down towards one of those tiny worlds.
Space and matter rushed past him as he spun. He tasted the sights, heard the sensations, smelled the sounds. Harp strings quivered around his face. He seemed to have one too many limbs. When he reached out his hand to Stef, there was a flash of jagged flame.
Bruce, his chin sunk in the collar of his polo neck, just sat, blinking occasionally. Bruce never did anything quickly. “You OK, man?”
Jed opened his eyes to find himself curled on the carpet. When he licked his lips his tongue felt huge, and rough like sandpaper.
Everything was toned blue and green. The shadows were lighter; Jed could see dust motes dancing in the corners of the room, and his eyes were drawn irresistibly to the movement.
The others, slumped motionless against the sofa, were difficult to make out. When Stef stirred, though, she seemed to snap into focus.
Jed stared at her.
“You’re an animal,” he said. “God! What are you? You’re beautiful.”
“I don’t know, Jed.” Stef held up her hand and stared at it, perplexed. “You’ll have to tell me.”
He furrowed his brow, taking in the smooth fur, the flat tail that emerged from her jeans, and the broad, smiling beak.
“You’re a platypus,” Jed gasped. “And Bruce—Bruce is a tortoise!”
Bruce looked at Jed from half-lidded eyes and shrugged.
“Me too, what about me, huh, Jed?” Humpy smiled hopefully, his dirty-blonde head on one side. “What am I?”
“A dog,” said Jed.
“Well, we all knew that,” said Stef.
Humpy the mongrel flopped down on the floor in a sulk, but he could never hold a grudge for long. “Hey Jed!” he said. “Look at yourself, man!”
Of course! Jed had changed too! He hesitated, afraid to find out what he had become, then looked down at his hands.
His huge, dark-striped hands.
He rushed to the full-length mirror in the hallway and gazed and gazed at his tiger self. He parted his lips to inspect the pointed teeth and spun round, mesmerized by his own tail. The tip was twitching now because he was excited and happy; he found that he could control it consciously if he concentrated hard. He flicked his black ears, flattened them, lifted them again.
A tuft of paler fur protruded from the top of his shirt. He touched it with the pad at the tip of his finger. So soft!
Jed was crazy to see what the rest of him looked like. He struggled to unbutton his shirt, new claws making him clumsy, then gave up and ripped it away from his chest.
The stripes! He loved the stripes. He ran his finger along one of the dark bands across his ribs until it tapered to nothing among the creamy fur of his stomach. He tried to count them, but they rippled like snakes, merging into each other.
Jed grabbed the tip of his tail and laid it across his palm. It writhed in his hand like a separate creature. Was he orange with black stripes, he wondered, or black with orange stripes? He knew tigers were orange, though to him everything was still greenish as if he were underwater.
He had to see the bottom half too. Did the stripes go all the way down? And what about—
“Hey, don’t tear up your jeans.” Stef put her short arms around his waist from behind, her hands on his hips. “Relax, man.”
Jed breathed out and felt his claws retract into their sheaths. He unbuttoned his fly and slid the jeans over his sleek flanks.
“My feet, man. Are those my feet?” He lifted first one hind paw, then the other, out of the legs of his jeans, shaking each foot before he put it down. The toes spread to bear his weight.
Jed’s gaze travelled up the patterned curve of his thighs to the bulging pocket above the swell of his testicles. He prodded it with his claw, squeezed it, stroked it.
Stef was giggling.
“That’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat, I really love your tiger feet.” The platypus did a little shuffling dance. “That’s slick, that’s slick, that’s slick, that’s slick, I really love your tiger—”
Jed kissed her. Her bill was moist and velvety in his mouth. He held it gently between his jaws, his tongue probing the toothless interior, and ran his hands down her back under her blouse. The sensation of dragging his claws through the oily fur was weirdly satisfying, like cutting velvet with scissors.
Webbed fingers closed around his balls and began to palpate them. Jed felt a shiver start in his loins and work its way down to his tiger toes. He lashed his tail from side to side and rubbed his neck against Stef’s.
That’s neat. That’s neat. Oh yeah, that’s neat all right…
Humpy galloped along the hallway and pulled them both into a hot, smelly hug.
“This is so, it’s so, wow! I love you guys. I love you so much,” he panted. “So much! Yeah!”
Jed was filled with love for them all. Stef and Humpy and Bruce, his friends, his fellow-beasts. Linking arms with the dog and the platypus, he charged back to the living-room across undulating green carpet.
The four of them fell to the floor, where Bruce rocked helplessly on his back.
“Hey, tortoise can’t get up!” Stef pointed out.
Bruce waved his arms and legs feebly, his shell skittering on the floor, until they took pity on him and rolled him over.
They pulled off their clothes and lay entwined, exploring their animal bodies and each other’s. They touched, stroked, licked, smelled, rubbed and nuzzled until their scents mingled. Jed opened his lips to moan with pleasure, and learned he could purr.
“Put your mouth here and do that,” Stef invited. “No—here.”
Bruce’s dry, pointed lips mumbled at Jed’s neck. The tortoise reached his hand out to Stef’s, and their claws locked together.
Cold blood and hot. Mammal, reptile and something in between. Cat and dog. Carnivore and herbivore. Yin and Yang!
“Can you lick your own balls?”
“No, man. You’ll have to do it for me.”
Minutes passed—or years, or nanoseconds; maybe aeons. Jed realised he was ravenous. He bounced to his feet with his new, feline grace and stalked into the kitchen.
He wanted to pick up everything in the fridge and smell it. His upper lip wrinkled as he held a chocolate pudding to his nose. Bland. He tried a pack of bacon.
Oh my God, yes. The sheer…baconiness of it! The baconity, man! He gulped a slice raw, dispatching it in two quick snaps, and was halfway through the pack when the others came in to see what he was doing.
“Food! Yessss! Food is the best, man, it’s, I love food, food is just so, so, what are you eating? Can I have?”
Jed threw a slice of bacon at Humpy just to shut him up.
“This tomato,” Bruce said, “is the most delicious tomato since the universe began. It is, like, the Platonic ideal of a tomato.” His tongue, startlingly pink and smooth against his wrinkled lips, poked out to lick a dribble of juice from his chin.
Stef, digging tuna chunks out of a can with her fingers, just grunted.
“I’m still hungry,” whined Humpy. “I wanna go out to eat.”
“We cannot go out to eat, my friend, for we are animals. We will cause widespread panic and alarm,” said Bruce.
Jed looked out at the green-lit street, at the people. He saw that they were aliens to him now, doughy hairless pupae. He was filled with compassion for them in their pale, pasty blobbiness. He would share his tiger presence with them.
“No, let’s go,” he said. “It’ll be cool. You’ll see.”
Stef picked up her blouse.
“What you doing?”
“Getting dressed. We’re going out.”
“We don’t need clothes! We’re animals!”
The other three took up Jed’s chant and they thundered down the stairs in a conga line.
“We don’t need clothes! We’re animals!”
They burst out onto the street. Jed could feel every grain of the asphalt under his pads, track every ant that scurried by. He and his friends were so bright, so vivid—they lit up the world. The poor, sad, pulpy people turned their heads and stared. Of course they did—how could they smell with such silly formless noses? How could they bear to walk around out here with only thin, pinkish skin between them and the world?
“We’re animals!” yodeled Humpy. “We—are—animals!
Jed grinned a tiger grin and waved his massive hand.
The police car pulled up next to them before the end of the block.
Bruce tried to pull his head and limbs into his shell, but the bigger cop handcuffed him. His partner eyeballed Humpy, who held his gaze for all of a second before looking away and dropping his ears. His tail curled under him, covering up his sudden shame.
“Would you kids mind explaining why you’re out here without any clothes on?” asked the big guy, with infinite patience.
“We don’t need clothes! We’re animals!” Jed could have snapped the guy’s head off with one bite, but somehow the way the cop glared at him made him timid.
“Sure, sure. You’d better come down to the station and sleep it off.” The policeman threw a blanket around Stef’s shoulders and bundled the four of them into the back of his car.
Jed raged all the way to the police station and roared his way into the cell. The others were calmer. Humpy stretched out on one of the bunks and fell asleep, while Bruce tucked himself into a corner and might have been sleeping or just thinking.
“Be cool, Jed,” Stef advised.
But Jed could not be cool. The Man was oppressing the animals…man! He paced up and down and he raged at the retreating backs of their captors, who took no notice of his roars.
“‘We don’t need clothes! We’re animals!’ Sheesh!” snorted the big cop. “You want to go for coffee, Dupree?”
As they walked away from the cells, he settled his cap more firmly between his horns with his polished hooves, while his partner wagged his tail.