A Whateley Academy Story
Thursday, January 4th 2007.
'We're almost there'. That thought kept running through my mind. It alternated with 'How cold it is.' I know it's thirty degrees but it feels to me like it must be below zero out there. We are almost to Whateley Academy. A school the doctor told us about for special people. At first, I thought the doctor was trying to get my parents to commit me to some nut house or nursing home someplace. But he explained.
It started the day after I complained to Mom that my chest hurt. She asked me about it and I told her my nipples had been hurting for a few days. Mom smiled and said that I was probably starting puberty and that we should go see the doctor about it. School hadn't started yet so I wouldn't miss any school. While we waited to see the doctor, Mom began talking about taking me shopping afterwards for my first bra.
We finally got in to see the doctor. They weighed me before we were lead into an examination room. While we waited in the examination room a nurse came in and took my temperature and blood pressure. I asked Mom if they were doing this all for puberty and she told me, "No, they do it for everyone to keep the person's records current and it will help them see if anything is wrong." I hadn't been sick much when I was younger. When I was, Mom would care for me at home.
Finally, the doctor came in. He pulled out his ear thingy and looked in mine, and then he put on his heart listener. He pressed it to my chest and told me to breathe; he listened to my back, too. He asked what seemed to be the problem and Mom said "Puberty." He made some notes, said that my heart sounded a bit odd and that he wanted to get an EKG, and then do a pelvic exam on me.
The nurse came in and led me to another room where I was told to take off my shirt and lay down on the table. She stuck pieces of special tape on me and connected wires to it. After a couple of minutes the nurse took off the wires and started taking off the tape. When she pulled the one off my chest, I felt a little pull. It was more than when Mom or I would take off a band-aid, but it didn't hurt. The nurse stepped back from me with her eyes big as cake plates. She left me in the room alone. I looked down at where she had pulled the tape. My skin was pale. I touched it and it felt different. It wasn't like last summer when I had a real bad sunburn and pulled lots of dead skin off. This skin was both rough and slick.
A minute or two later the doctor came in and looked at me, then told the nurse to get some blood samples for testing. She came back with a tray with tubes and needles and stuff. She had me put my shirt back on then asked for my arm. She wrapped a stretchy thing around my arm then asked me to read a sign on the wall because she'd forgotten her glasses. I felt a stick but kept reading. I was good at reading my teacher said I was the best in my class. When she was done, she told me "Thank you" and asked me to hold a cotton ball on my arm for a while.
A bit later, she came back and led me where the doctor was explaining something to Mom about me. I didn't understand it. I did understand he wanted us to come back in two days. We never did go buy me a bra.
Mom kept me inside the next two days. It was nice out and I wanted to go play in the sprinkler, but she wouldn't let me. Then we went back to see the doctor. This time we didn't go in an examination room. We went in his office. After a couple of minutes he came in with a sour look on his face.
"Well, after going over your daughter's test results, I can say she appears to be going through a physical change brought on by the onset of puberty. If she's a mutant, I can't say. I won't order the test to make certain." He said.
"Why? Why won't you order the test?" my Mom asked.
"For your own safety, and that of your child."
"What? What do you mean?"
"We are in the deep south, Madam. There are groups here who will persecute anyone and the families of anyone who doesn't fit their idea of what's right.",
"You mean the 'klan' don't you?" she asked.
"I'm talking about a splinter group who calls themselves 'Humanity First.'"
"What should we do?" Mom asked.
"Do you have any relatives who live in another part of the country? If you do, I suggest you go pay them a visit. If you tell me where you're going, I can recommend a doctor to see there."
We said good-bye to the doctor and went home.
That night, Dad and Mom talked for a while after I'd been put to bed. I could hear 'em in the dining room talking. The next day Mom said we were going to visit her mother. I always liked Grandma Gorlenko, so I was happy. It was a long trip, though. Grandma Gorlenko lived in Pennsylvania. Dad couldn't get out of work so me an Mom went by train.
We left that Monday. After a night on the train we were got off in Huntingdon. We got a cab and rode the short trip to Grandma's in Marklesburg.
Grandma's place was neat! It had all this old stuff in it. Mom said I could go play, as long as I stayed on the property. That was neat, too, since Grandma had a lot of land. You could fit the whole block I live on back home on her in her yard. Mom told me it use to be a farm, but Grandma lets other people farm most of the land now, and she just lives there. She still had some chickens and geese. I got to feed 'em.
The only bad thing about being there was Grandma used to be a teacher. Since I was missing school she called my school and found out what I was suppose to learn and started teaching me. Most of it was easy for me because Grandma's a good teacher. I would spend the morning till lunch working on school stuff, then I had the rest of the day to play. Grandma said it was because I was so smart.
This went on for almost a week. During this time, I continued to peel. More and more pale skin was showing. It was still under my clothes, so I didn't say anything to worry Mom.
Then one Monday morning, while we ate breakfast Mom said we were going to see a new doctor today, one our old doctor referred us to, so we drove into Pittsburgh. It was fun seeing all the different things on the way. We got there and waited. It had been a long drive and I was getting hungry.
Finally, we got called into see her, Dr. Harm, oooh'd, and ahhh'd, and clicked her tongue. Mom was worried when she saw how big the spot had gotten. The doctor said it didn't seem to be doing me any real harm, but she would like to know what was happening, just as much as Mom and I. She ordered more tests and had a scraping taken of my regular skin and the strange skin.
After that, I expected to hear her say, "Come back in two weeks for the test results."
I was wrong. "We should have the results back in half an hour," she told us.
"Usually we have to wait days for test results, and you're saying that short?" Mom asked.
"There are two reasons the wait is this short. One, we have the lab here in the hospital. And two, I put a rush on the tests. Now I would like to talk to Alberta." the doctor said.
"Have you hurt anywhere else or felt anything strange since that first time you told your Mom about your chest?"
"Before all this started, did you find anything strange or different around your home?"
"Mrs. Shepard, does either side of your family have any history of mutation or magic use?" the doctor asked.
"Not to my knowledge, no."
"Well, if you'll excuse me I do have a few other patients to see. We can meet again when the test results are in."
Mom sighed and we decided to see about getting something to eat. It turned out there was a cafeteria in the basement, so we went down and had lunch. When we finished we came back up to the doctor's office and a nurse called us into the doctor's private office again.
"We have the results back, like I promised," she said with a smile. "Mrs. Shepard there's no really easy way to say this ..."
"My daughter has some terrible form of skin cancer and it's eating her alive. That's it, isn't it?" Mom interrupted.
"No, you daughter is not dying. Let's get that set straight right now."
Mom sighed a bit and settled back in the chair.
"She is changing, though." The doctor said.
"Changing how?" Mom asked as she moved on to the front edge of the chair again.
"The two DNA samples we took and compared. It's very interesting. They both share enough genetic markers that you can clearly see they are from the same person. The sample we took from the odd patch on her chest also shared enough markers that it could be from a descendant of a snake. There is also a marked shift downward in her bodily temperature. These tests, along with the notes from your last doctor, lead me to believe your daughter is a mutant. Or that she was unknowingly exposed to some magical item or magical effect. There are recorded cases of spontaneous mutation. These are actually traceable if researched deep enough to the combination of previous minor unnoticed and largely benign mutation common to every person on earth. Sometimes the cosmic dice land just the right way and a new one is created."
"So my baby is turning into a snake of some sort?" Mom asked.
"There's no telling right now how far the change may go. It may only change her skin and body temperature. Or it may go further," the doctor explained. "I would like to see her again in three months. That is, if everything continues like it is now. She definitely has 'GSD'."
"What is 'GSD'?" Mom asked.
"I'm sorry; I've only seen a couple of cases. But I talk about it a lot. 'GSD' is Gross Structural Dystrophy. You, Alberta, have what we would classify as a minor case of it. It's something seen in Supers. That's heroes and villains. On the same coin, there are a lot of people with GSD that have normal jobs. They are just a bit more specialized. See you in three months," she said with a smile.
So we drove back to grandma's house, getting home in time for dinner. I was tired after that long day so I went to bed after eating.
We fell back into a routine at Grandma's. We got up in the morning; I went out and fed the chickens then came back in for breakfast. We'd eat breakfast together. Then Mom would go look for work. Grandma and I would clean up the breakfast dishes, then she would call school and we would study.
Eventually this changed, when Mom found work and Dad moved up with us. Dad started helping the other farmers work Grandma's farm. He said once he learned enough he'd take over working it.
During all this time I kept peeling. My front had completely changed to the tough skin from my neck to my groin. The little hair I had down there fell out when I peeled down there.
One night I hurt a lot, I tossed and turned all night, I couldn't stay asleep, my mouth hurt the most. Eventually I slept, but it seemed like only a few minutes later the sun was shining in my window. I crawled out of bed and went to the bathroom. I could hear Grandma in the kitchen. I got out my toothbrush, put tooth paste on it I closed my eyes to give em more time to adjust to waking up and opened my mouth to start brushing. Suddenly the tooth paste smell was overpowering.
I closed my mouth, opened my eyes and smelled the brush. It didn't smell any different. So I tried again this time I was going to watch for when the smell got strong. I opened my mouth and I had fangs! They were in place of my vampire teeth. They were long, narrow and sharp! I found that out when I tried to finger one. Then I noticed my tongue. It was forked, just like a snake's. I could still taste stuff with it, but if I stuck my tongue out like a snake would, then pulled it back in, suddenly everything smelled a lot sharper.
I had to tell Grandma about this and later Mom and Dad. I finished brushing my teeth carefully. I kept wanting to explore my new teeth with my tongue, the way I did the hole that was left when I lost my baby teeth. I finished brushing, rinsed out my mouth and yawned one more time. I was startled when I saw and felt my jaw resting on my chest. It was like my lower lip had rolled back under my jaw and this new jaw dropped down to my chest. The new jaw was covered in the same pale skin that covered the rest of my front, except for my neck and shoulders now. I tilted my head down and my jaw snapped back in place.
'They are going to freak out,' I thought to myself.
It started with the chickens. Before today they would rush in after I threw down their feed to start eating it. Today they didn't start eating until I had gone back inside. I decided to get it over with and show Grandma. "Grandma?" I asked.
"Yes Dear, what is it?" she asked.
"I think I had a major change lasst night."
"Really, Honey? Tell me about it," she prompted.
"I didn't sleep well. I hurt a lot around my mouth and neck. When I got up to brussh my teeth, I found thessse," I said and opened my mouth revealing the changes.
"Oh my!" she said, then "Close your mouth honey it's disturbing to see it open that far. It looks like I may have to take you to see your doctor next. It doesn't hurt to do that dear?"
"I'm a little sssore from last night but opening my mouth that far doesssn't hurt. Gee, I have a lisssp now. Isss it becassse of my tongue?" I asked.
"No, Honey, I imagine it's because of your new teeth. You may get a better at talking once you get used to them. You really are my little Garafena now," she said.
"Garafena? What'ssss that?"
"Part of a story my mother use to tell me about. Garafena was a magical snake. She would to tell me of the treasure that Garafena use to guard on Booyan Island. She would also call out to Garafena not to bite me when I went out to play," Grandma explained.
I ran into a problem with breakfast. Biting; you'd think with a set of teeth like these I could eat like crazy. Nope turns out the teeth were made for biting and hanging on. It took some experimenting but I figured out that I could feed myself sort of normally. I just couldn't hold the spoon to the side. I had to hold it like someone was about to give me a spoon full of medicine. This method would let me get the food in, and the spoon out, then I could chew.
We continued with our own morning routine. Grandma gave me some assignments to do then asked me questions them after I had finished. The lisp was distracting, and periodically I would stick my tongue out to sniff the air. The sudden influx of smells would distract me as I tried to catalog all these different smells.
It had been getting warmer over the last couple of weeks. Grandma said it was an "Indian summer." I decided to get my swimsuit out and lay out in the sun. I changed and told grandma what I was going to be doing, went out, laid out my towel, rubbed on some suntan lotion and hoped maybe I could get that pale skin to match the rest.
The sun felt good. I checked my watch and lay down on my back. I was filled with the warmth of the sun. After what felt like the right length of time I checked my watch to be sure and rolled over. It felt so good. I made a mistake any sun bather makes at least a few times. I fell asleep in the sun. I was roused by my stomach growling its hunger. I looked at my watch and prepared for the worst. I had been asleep under the hot sun for two hours. As I got up and gathered the towel, I felt a tightness across the shoulders that told me I had gotten too much sun.
A couple of summers ago, I had spent a hot day swimming. I was out in the sun too long that time, too. I peeled, but I got water blisters on my shoulders, too. I hoped I didn't end up with more of them. I had nearly been in tears when someone accidentally popped one on my shoulder by putting their hand on it.
I told Grandma what happened and she put lotion on my back in hopes of minimizing the effects of the burn. She told me we'd see about it in the morning.
Dinner that night was a bit crazy. Right before it, after Dad had gotten in from the fields and Mom was back from work. Grandma set us down in the living room and started the conversation. "You three have some talking to do. I need to go keep dinner from burning. Don't take too long, though. I'll call you when it's ready."
"Mom, Dad, I didn't sssleep ssso well lasst night," I began.
"Honey, why are you lisping? You didn't break a tooth did you?"
"No, Mom, it happened again. I had another change. Let me ssshow you." I slowly opened my mouth.
"Honey, are those fangs? Oh my god! Your tongue!"
"There'sss a bit more, Mom but I'll just tell you sssince even I find it grosssss. I can open my mouth really wide now. Grandma sssaid it was like a sssnake'sss jaw now."
"That's it, young lady! We are going to that doctor and see if there is anything they can do to reverse this change." Mom was almost yelling.
"Grandma called the doctor. The earliessst we can get in to sssee her is two daysss from now. Ssshe ssssure took thissss better than you did, Mom."
Dad was just quiet as he sat there staring. "Dad? Are you ok?" I asked.
"I guess I am, Bree Honey Up until now, what's been happening to you hadn't really hit me. It was sort of like 'Oh, my daughter has a skin disorder.' I see now that it's a lot more than that. It's going to take me a bit to get use to it. But understand, I do love you."
"I love you too, Dad." Dad always called me Bree since my middle name was Brianna.
My prediction that I had gotten to much sun proved to be true. The next morning I got up and I felt like I was wearing another shirt under my sleep shirt. I took off my sleep shirt, grabbed a hand mirror and then looked at my back in the mirror on the door. My back was all grayish. I knew then that the burn had been bad. I called down to Grandma, "Grandma, I burned my back real bad yesssterday, can you help me put lotion on it?"
"I'll be right up Bree." Grandma answered.
A few minutes later she arrived. "Let's fix you up in the bathroom."
We moved to the bathroom.
"Do you think you can get your arms over your head to help me get your shirt off?" she asked.
"I don't know, maybe ..."
I tried to lift my arms but it hurt too much when I got them to shoulder height. So I faced her and bent over.
"Pull it off, Grandma, this is the best I can do,"
She stepped up, started gathering my sleep shirt, and carefully lifted it off.
"Oh my, you certainly did burn, dear."
"I feel like I'm still wearing my shirt, Grandma."
"I can see why. It looks like you burned a layer of skin. You're white from your neck to your underwear."
"Can you peel it? We can't get any lotion where it will do any good with it there," I asked.
"I can try Dear, but let me know if it hurts in anyway," she said.
I heard a rustle, then, "Oh, my. Did you sleep like you did when your mouth changed last night?"
"No I slept like I had burned my back Grandma. I was boiling in my own skin. Why do you ask?"
"You have scales now."
"Oh, Wow! Can I see?" I tried to turn around and look at my own back.
"Stop chasing the tail you don't have. I'll get you a mirror," Grandma laughed as she pulled out a hand mirror and stood away from the door mirror.
My skin was still red from the burn, but you could clearly see little scales spread across my back and under my arms. They covered everywhere on my back that I had been burned. Looking closely, they resembled fingernails. They were all rather small. It was like they were just growing in. In my twisting to examine myself, I still felt the tight skin feeling of a sun burn.
"While this is neat, I know you want to get back to breakfast, so let's get the lotion on me," I said. With her help, I was coated in lotion in a few minutes.
"Mercy sakes girl, you are putting out almost enough heat to cook on. That is a bad burn. We may be doing this again tomorrow before going to the doctor," Grandma said.
"Oh, joy!" I groaned as we went down to eat. Once again I had to be careful of my fangs. Eating is going to become an exercise in concentration. I found it really hurt to catch a spoon on my fangs. Depending on what I eat, I may end up having to tilt the handle up almost to my nose when it's in my mouth to empty the spoon and get it out. If it's something dry, I might be able to get way with rotating the spoon so it dumps to one side.
The rest of the day was just plain uncomfortable, between not wanting to move because of the sun burn, and the scales that kept catching on my blouse and underwear. After a while I changed to a halter top. I was somewhat better off after that.
The next morning I peeled off another layer of dead skin and the scales looked just a little larger. I'm not sure, but I thought they might be spreading around to my front.
Grandma spread lotion on me again, I got dressed, and we ate breakfast and drove to see the doctor again.
Dr. Harm seemed a bit wiped out when we got to see her. "So you say you had a change since we last saw each other?" she prompted.
"Yesss, doctor. I've had a couple of changesss, actually."
"I can hear you have a lisp now. But I hardly think it warranted a visit."
"The lisssp is a ssside effect of the change. Prepare yourssself, Doctor. The change is rather disssturbing." I opened my mouth as wide as I could.
"Oh my GOD!" she screamed and I closed my mouth.
Dr. Harm was trying to climb the bookcase behind her desk. "Calm down Doctor. I'm ssstill me. What'ssss going on with me? There'sss more I can ssshow you, but nothing as crazy asss my mouth right now."
She stopped trying to climb the bookcase. It appeared she felt safe with the desk between us for right now.
"I'm sorry Alberta. I didn't mean to frighten you. I screamed because I am afraid of snakes. I know you're human, but what you just did was a scene out of one of my nightmares. A nice girl opens her mouth to say 'ahh" and I'm faced with a snake mouth that lunges and bites," the doctor explained. "Now, what else did you want to show me?"
I carefully removed my blouse revealing my back.
"You got sun burned? Hardly worth calling me on," she said.
"Look clossser, Doctor," I urged. In the mirror I saw her lean forward and I felt her hand on my back.
"Those are scales! May I look at your front again Alberta?" she asked.
I dropped my hands and she examined the different skin on my chest and stomach. She examined the areas where the two types of skin met very closely. I started giggling because her breath, and touching my sides tickled. Soon we were all giggling and I was jumping away every time she started to reach for me and that would set us off again. Eventually we all calmed down enough for her to order an MRI and CT scan.
An hour later, the scans were completed, and we found ourselves in a conference room this time. It had the light boxes that doctors use to look at x-rays and stuff. Dr. Harm had another person in a lab coat with her. She began with introductions.
"Mrs. Gorlenko, Alberta, this is Dr. Mumford. I brought him in to consult on your case and felt you should be here for it. What have you determined Doctor?"
"First, let me say 'hello' to the both of you. Let me also say this is an interesting case. GSD usually falls into four categories. Those categories are: Mild: These are changes that are easily hidden or internal changes in the subject. Then there's moderate: This class of changes is almost all external, or has an external effect. Right now, you are a moderate case. You have fangs, a forked tongue, reptilian scent receptors as secondary to your own nose and your skin is changing. The moderate category is a bit harder to hide. It can be done, but the person can stand out. I.E. wearing a hood and long sleeves on a warm day is one example.
Next is the severe category of change. This consists of major deviations from human norm. Such things as wings, additional limbs, antennae, and the change from an indo-skeletal system to an exo-skeletal one are consistent. That's changing to be like a bug, and having your skeleton on the outside of the muscle, rather than the muscle outside. Then there's the extreme category. GSD cases that progress this far often time defy medical explanation. More often than not, the person dies, because we are unable to determine what steps to take to accomplish something as simple as feeding them, or figuring out how they breathe."
Grandma and I were holding tight to each others hands. It was a race to see who would cut the circulation off first.
"Now that you've scared them spitless, what say we get to what we've found?" Dr. Harm prompted.
"Oh, sorry, I get into lecture mode and forget myself sometimes. As I said, right now you are in the moderate categorization of GSD. After your last exam, Dr. Harm called me in to review your test. Together 'we,' and after your visit today, you're included in that 'we', have confirmed you are indeed a 'special person' and you do indeed have GSD at the very least. I use the term 'special person' rather than 'mutant', because of the debates that rage on mutation. Anyway, between the completion of the human genome project and advances in computing power we have been able to turn all this confusion of information into something you can understand. We have extrapolated a visual representation of your future physical shape."
"We're still scared, doctors," Grandma said. "We are waiting for you to drop the other shoe."
"Remember, this is just an extrapolation. There are things that can't be factored into the program." he pushed a button, a projector turned on, and a wall became the screen. I appeared on the screen as I was before the first doctor visit. I was standing naked. A line of text with months, days, and years appeared in one corner. The timer rolled forward to 27 days. Then my body changed to what it was now. I looked rather eerie or just sick. My double didn't have my sun burn, but I could see as she rotated, that she had scales on her back.
"Let me pause here for a moment and show you where you are now. I'm sure there's been a lot of vague references and long words thrown at you. This will show you. As you can see you have started growing scales." As Dr. Mumford pressed a button, the screen stopped rotating and zoomed in on my face. She pressed another button and the mouth opened, revealing the fangs and tongue. "This, you're familiar with. There's more here you just haven't discovered yet." The screen split, showing a skeleton with fangs and the mouth open like the computer me. A red dot appeared on the screen and I saw Dr. Mumford holding a laser pointer.
"If you will note here and here ..." she pointed to my upper and lower jaw. "Your pallet has developed a cleft. More than that, so has your lower jaw. A bit clearer description would be to say that your mouth is becoming more like that of a snake. In other words, your upper and lower jaws have separated from your skull. This explains why you are able to open your mouth so wide now. Let's continue," the screen advanced thirty days."
There was no visible change. The screen zoomed in on the mouth again. The computer me opened her mouth to reveal a slight change in her mouth. "You will note it is approximately a month after your last change. This is a guess on our part but most cases of mutation are triggered by the onset of puberty so we adjusted the sequence to approximate a woman's cycle. We know you're not menstruating yet, but the clock is apparently ticking. We also did it in these steps, since if we stopped the playback for each and every change, we'd be here till next week or longer.
"To continue, this is the point we believe your venom will have come in. I suggest you be on your guard. From a quick dental examination, and the inclusion of venom, it appears you will be able to spit or spray contact venom of unknown lethality. You may even be able to control its potency."
The screen advanced another thirty days. As the counter clicked down, the scales finished covering the body. The lighter color skin stretched up from the chest and onto the face. I wasn't sure, but her breasts looked like they had grown just a bit. Then her hair fell out, revealing scales on the back of the head coming forward up and over ending at the eyebrows.
"No!" I cried, "I don't want to loosssse my hair!"
Dr. Harm tried to console me, "Listen, Alberta, now that we know it's going to happen, we can plan for it before it happens. We have the option of converting the hair you have into a wig. It will be like you never lost it."
"To continue," Dr. Mumford said, "Also around this time you will experience changes in your eyes. You eyes may change to be closer to a snake's as well. Such things as a second eyelid and an increase in the range of light you can see, down into the infra-red spectrum. Now I want to prepare you. There's no easy way to do it."
The display moved forward again. The girl on the screen's scales and skin became darker. Then I noticed her private area seemed to be more pronounced.
"This is where GSD classification changes. From moderate to severe. Closer examination of the data shows that the change seems to be progressing from the head down. At this point, the sternum has disconnected from the rib cage. The Lumbar vertebrae have started growing ribs. The pelvis has opened and the genitals, along with the bowels begins to reposition themselves" Dr. Mumford explained.
A lot of this confused me, but I held my questions. Perhaps I would understand later in the display. The time display continued to move forward. As I sat there trying to hold back sobs, soon the screen showed my legs grown together almost down to my knees. My two potty parts now faced front, located in a slight "V".
"At this point the body replumbing is complete," Dr. Mumford continued, "the fusing of the legs is the outward indication of an interior change. The spine is growing." The image turned into a skeleton showing what looked like a backbone growing down from rear between my hips.
"The coccyx has reverted from its fused state, and new vertebrae are growing, along with ribs. There is marked degeneration in the density of the pelvis, along with the femurs. The bones in the hands may also be affected but since the fingers, except for the thumb may have fused at this point, it is believed impact will be minimal."
The display continued to roll forward. The fusing the legs crept down past the knees. "We believe at this point that the pelvis is more vestigial. Similar to the shoulder blades, it's there, but more to provide an indication of shape, rather than support anything. The dietary needs may shift to a more snake-like digestive system.
"One good thing is unlike a snake, the internal organs will not follow a snake's system, wherein cases of two like organs, one becomes vestigial and the other has to handle all bodily needs. The body will be slightly ectothermic and subject to the effects of external temperature.
"Last at this point bipedal locomotion will become problematic."
'I'm going to lose the ability to walk? Gee, why don't I just kill myself now and avoid the rush?' I thought.
The next roll forward showed the legs completely gone, just one long body, except for the arms.
"With the absorption of the legs, locomotion will either be by wheelchair or more snake-like. It should be pointed out that the body at this point is some fifteen feet long. The tail will have a prehensile tip estimated to be some two to three feet in length. Growth from here on will be more snake-like with the commencement of shedding of the skin."
The animation started changing again as the clock moved forward. "As the body continues to lengthen, the few remaining adult female human traits will finish their hormonal driven change. That's the long way of saying the breasts will finish growing. The downside is, from here on out. It's more growth of tail, and the arms will be absorbed into the body. The end result will be a human looking head and chest on a snake's body. The appearance of shoulders and hips are from bone structure not altered by the change."
I was fighting to stay calm enough to ask a few questions broken by sobs, "H h how ... long will thisss transssformassshun take?"
"Hmm? How long? Well, that's hard to set hard numbers to ...." Dr. Mumford said.
"HOW LONG?" I demanded. Grandma was trying to calm me down
"Well, ummm," began Dr. Harm, "in a juvenile female puberty can take as long as four years to complete or as little as one year. Judging by the changes we've seen so far. I would lean towards the shorter time."
"SSSSo a year from now I'll be an armlesssss, leglesssss, bald ssssnake freak?" I asked.
"There may be some good in all this," said Dr. Mumford
"Like what?" I cried.
"That model was just genetic. But observation of other GSD cases has shown that just like a disabled person, other senses increase, or new powers awaken. You may end up just as active and able after the change, as you are now. As I said, it is just a genetic model. Outside factors have not been included in the model," she consoled.
I just broke down and bawled into Grandma's shoulder.
"Excuse me, Dr. Mumford, but what are your credentials that support Dr. Harm's need for you to consult on my granddaughter's case? You and your computer model paint a bleak future for her. How do you know this will happen?" Grandma grilled Dr. Mumford.
"Well, actually, I was brought in for my knowledge of snakes. I'm a veterinarian."
"What!?! You do this to her and you're not even a doctor for people?" Grandma was almost yelling.
"The computer model was mine, Mrs. Gorlenko," Dr. Harm apologized, "I brought Dr. Mumford in to help with the genetic analysis."
"I not only a veterinarian Mrs. Gorlenko. It's my second doctorate. I started specializing in GSD cases that involved expressions of animalistic traits so learning about animal physiology was a must."
"I would like to recommend a school for you," Dr. Mumford interjected.
"What? Some freak show where she takes classes between crowds coming into gawk at her? Thanks, but no thank you. I'll continue to home school her," Grandma said.
"This school isn't like that. It was founded by heroes and mutant heroes for the future heroes, so they would have a place to learn to use their powers. That is, if you develop any. If you don't, the school is probably one of the best places in the country to help you adjust," Dr. Mumford countered. "At least take this pamphlet and think about it."
Grandma ended up leading me back to the car. We drove home in silence. Well, at least I did. Grandma did start trying to get me to talk about it, but, I was not in a talking mood.
I stayed in my funk for the next three days, saying only enough to complete my school work and to let everyone know I hadn't turned into a mime.
On the third day, I left the house for a walk, wandering out of the house and down to the barn. The barn wasn't one of the old style ones with a hay loft on top and animal pens below. It was a metal building with a partially filled in ceiling, so there were place to store stuff. I liked it in there, because it was just me, the farm equipment, and Buttons, our barn cat. I climbed up to one of the storage areas and giggled as the Buttons figured out a route up there to get petted. Once he got up there for his reward, I spent a while petting him. He was happy and so was I for those few minutes.
Then I heard footsteps below. Buttons and I stuck our heads over the edge of the rafters to see Dad & Mom.
"Honey, I don't know if we are going to make it," said Dad.
"Are the crops failing?" Mom asked.
"No, they are fine; it's just that we got a late start. The price of corn is going down as everyone else sells their harvest. I'm just worried that by the time it's ready to sell, the price will be so low we won't be able to pay all our bills."
"We still have my salary. Maybe we can talk to them and pay off some, then the rest over time."
"What about Garafena?" Grandma asked as she walked up.
"Your job has a health plan, right?"
"Yes, but her problems are a bit beyond their coverage. If she needs anything really special, we may be in trouble." Mom answered.
Dad told her, "If it comes to that, I can cash in my insurance policy to cover it"
"Well there's no reason to let Garafena know about any of this. She has enough to worry about without piling worry about the farm on top of it all," Grandma warned. "On a different note, do you have any idea how smart she is? She is doing school work that is two to three grades above her age level."
Both my parents agreed to that as they all left.
I lay in the loft for some time after that, thinking about what they had said. We could lose the farm.
I was laying there lost in thought when a head butt from Buttons let me know someone had other, higher, priorities for me. I went back to petting the cat.
'I can't let them see how sad I am. They have enough problems of their own without my death adding to it. I'll just try and keep quite about anything minor that happens to me. Then they won't have to worry about me too.'
I said good-bye to Buttons and made my way back to the house as Grandma came out.
"Garafena, honey, I was just about to call you in for lunch. Where were you?" she asked.
"I wasss out, Grandma."
"Well it's time for dinner. Go get washed up!"
I did just that.
At dinner I decided to talk about my oncoming change. "Mom, Dad, I've decided to let my hair grow out," I began with.
"Why on earth, Honey? The doctors said that it's going to fall out soon," said Grandma.
"That'sss exactly why, Grandma. If I let it grow out until just before the ssstage that I'm sssuppose to lossse it, and cut it all off before then, I will be able to make a wig using my own hair. Or at least ssstart one."
"That's a good reason, Honey but I don't think it's going to grow fast enough for the extra growing time to make a difference. But I do agree with the idea. I'll even talk with Barb at the salon in town about getting some hair your color. Or see if she can recommend a good wig store."
My parents looked at me like I had grown scales. At least I hadn't yet anyway.
"Well, ummm ... That's a good idea, Dear. We hadn't really thought that far ahead."
Mom and Dad still looked stunned. I settled in to trying to eat around my fangs and not make a mess.
The rest of dinner went by quietly after my announcement. I knew I might have just made them realize that my care was still going to put a drain on them. They had been so worried about just losing the farm, that they'd forgotten about me. While it hurt me inside, I could understand how it could happen.
The next three weeks went by almost normally. Grandma kept teaching me, Mom worked in town, and Dad worked the farm. My speech got better as I grew accustom to my new mouth. Occasionally I would catch them talking about the money problems we were facing. It was a normal situation for a farming family.
Then I woke up with a sore mouth again. "Oh bother, what has happened now?" I asked myself.
I went into the bathroom and rubbed my body down fiercely with a towel to get rid of the skin I had shed over night. The patches of skin were bigger now, with my torso almost covered in scales. It felt neat to touch them, but still very strange. I finished my business in the bathroom with a shower to get rid of any skin I'd missed with the dry towel earlier.
My arrival downstairs was greeted with the smell of breakfast. I headed for the kitchen with a loud "Good morning," to proceed me.
In the kitchen Grandma put my plate in front of me and kissed my forehead.
"Good morning, Garafena. How are you this morning?"
"I am pretty ssure I had another ssurge last night, Grandma." I said around bites of food.
"Did you shed more than usual this morning?".
"Well, my mouth hurt a lot this morning. Like it did the last time it changed. When's my next appointment for the doctors?" I asked.
"Seems the doctors have your timing down. It's tomorrow. Works out well, too. We need to do some shopping."
The next day we once again took the long drive to the doctor's office. And I was run through the scanners. We waited a while then we were asked in to the doctor's office. Both Dr. Harm and Dr. Mumford were waiting for me.
"Well, what's the bad news this time?" I asked.
"You seem to be adjusting to your new mouth structure," Dr. Harm said. "But that's good news. Also good news, at least to Dr. Mumford and I, is that you do seem to be following the model we created last time. Your venom sacks have grown in."
"Have you ever watched the animal, science, or public broadcasting channel and seen them get venom from a snake, Alberta?" Dr. Mumford asked.
"I have. You want to milk me, don't you?" I asked
"Yes, we'd like to get a sample of your venom if possible, so we can make anti-venom, just in case. And examining your venom will let us determine what kind of snake you'll be closest to."
"Ok, I'll do it, but no one but me is going to force my fangs into a funnel covered by a rubber glove."
"Actually, we were going to ask to use two test tubes, so we can sample each fang individually. Since you're not a wild animal, we don't have to worry about you biting us accidentally." Dr Mumford grinned, "Besides, we were planning on having you do it."
"Ha, ha, very funny, Doc. Where are the vials?"
He handed me one,, "Here you go."
I started to bring it to my mouth twice and stopped each time. "Can I get a mirror? I don't particularly want to stick myself, either."
Dr. Harm led me across the hall to an examination room with a sink and mirror. Looking in the mirror, I carefully lined up the vials on my fangs and slid them up to the gum-line. I had this urge to bite down hard when the vials settled. I pushed against my hands holding the vials. I counted about ten beats of my heart then pulled the vials off.
"Is that enough? It seemed like I pumped a lot.
"You did, at a rough guess you about 6 milliliters of venom. We'll get this tested right quick and let you know what we find out," Dr. Harm replied.
I told them about my idea to cut my hair down before the next surge, so that I would have something to start a wig from.
Dr. Harm said, "It's a good idea, Bree, but a wig usually takes more hair than is on a single human head. Going with a human hair wig will be expensive. We'll see how much hair you manage to save before the next surge."
Shortly after that one of the technicians came in very excited and gave some papers to Dr. Mumford and Dr. Harm. After some mumbling they turned to Grandma and I. "Alberta, Mrs. Gorlenko, seems we have some interesting results from the venom test. It seems young lady, that you are the most poisonous young lady in the United States, if not the world.
"Oh lovely, I can kill someone."
"Actually several large animals at once, judging by the strength of the venom." Dr. Mumford commented.
"I didn't need to hear this."
"Don't worry, Alberta, we are using that sample to make anti-venom for your bite. We'll analyze it and send some out to your farm. You are a human being in control of yourself. I really don't expect you to bite someone," Dr. Harm told me.
"I'm glad you have that trust in my granddaughter, Doctor. Will there be anything else?" Grandma asked.
"Well, as much as we'd like to recommend removal of the venom sacks, Dr. Mumford and I agree that there is a high probability that they would just grow back during one of her future change cycles. The venom sacks are basically evolved salivary glands. And the normal human mouth has three pairs of them. We would like to take a swabbing of Bree's mouth to check if this transformation has caused them to produce venom as well." Dr. Harm held out a swab.
I took the swab and wiped my mouth with it making sure I got it wet.
"Is that it?" I asked.
"Yes, and remember if anything unexpected happens. it's okay to come back before the next surge," Dr. Harm said as she guided us out.
On the way back to the farm we decided to stop in Huntingdon for lunch. We pulled into a little diner named "Dee's". Once inside, I told grandma I was going to the bathroom before we ate. As I approached the bathroom doors, I noticed a farm hand looking at me I didn't think much of it and entered the bathroom.
John Miller was at Dee's waiting on lunch like every other day when he saw her come into the diner. She was beautiful and young, just like he liked them. She'd be even better once she was broken in. It wouldn't take much slapping around to get her broke in then the real fun could begin. He'd take her off to the old Millers farmstead. The land got bought out by that big co-op when the farm folded, but the house and barn were still there. Then he could have fun. No one would hear the scream or crying out there.
John was broken out of his revelry by his dream girl coming back out of the bathroom. She was looking for the old lady she came in with. Then she stuck her forked tongue out a good six inches, pulled it back in, and headed for where Dee had set the old lady.
'That lousy stinking bitch is a mutant. I was planning on having fun with a mutant? I can't make a scene here; Dee would hamstring me if I did. I got to tell Archie about this. He'll know where we can find this mutant slut. Then the boys and I can remove the stain from the country.'
He ate his lunch in silence, never letting his eyes drift off the table they were sitting at. When they got up to leave, he moved over to the window and wrote down the license plate of their car.
Later that day John Miller entered the sheriff's office looking around.
"What do you want, John? Are you making sure there's room for you to sleep off your drunk tonight?" the sheriff asked.
"Anyone else here, Archie?" John had a gleam in his eye.
"No, we're all set for you tonight," Archie answered
"Will you cut that out! I've got a live one. A mutant bitch is living near here!"
"Now calm down, John. When did you see it? Were you sober?"
"At Dee's today, getting my lunch."
"The mutant was getting your lunch? You've not stepped up from booze to drugs, have you John?"
"I have a license plate of the car the little mutant was riding in," John handed over the napkin with a license number scrawled across it.
"Ok I'll run this and check this out for myself. If there's something to it, I'll call a meeting of the club and we'll do something about it. But not before then. Do you understand me John? Not before then! You do something harebrained, I'll throw you in jail just like last time. One of these times the DA is going to decide to throw the book at you, and I'll let him."
"I mean it, John. This is liable to take a few days to check out.
The next few days Archie was busy with police work, a couple of family disputes to resolve. He got back to the office late and finally settled in to check that license plate. A few keystrokes later he had the results. 'Old Grace Gorlinko. Nice old bird. I've not been out there since her husband died. I'll have to go pay a visit out there and see what I can find out. I can dust off the looking for stolen livestock line.'
It was a short drive down to Marklesburg, on the edge of his jurisdiction. He visited several of the farms along the state route that the Gorlinko farm was on. He hadn't been out this way since Grace's husband had passed, so there was a lot of catching up to do with the various farmers about things in the area. He learned that Grace's daughter had come back to the farm with her family to help Grace run it.
Eventually Archie arrived at the Gorlinko farm. As he pulled up, Grace came out on the front porch.
"I am not dead yet, Archie. You can just get back in your police car and head back to town," Grace said.
"Come on, Grace, I have to do my job. And today I'm investigating some livestock disappearances," Archie said.
"I don't have any livestock other than one cow, fifteen chickens and a rooster."
"Now you expect me to believe that? I have to check, and you know it."
"Oh, alright. Get it over with and be on your way!"
As they walked around the back of the farm house Archie continued, "Looks like you're working the farm again. Did you hire someone to work it for you?"
"No, my daughter and husband came back to help me. It's tight, but we are squeaking by," she said. "Angela is working in town, and Oscar works the farm. I teach their daughter."
As they talked, they continued to walk around the area close to the farmhouse. They reached the barn and Archie dutifully counted the chickens and rooster, then checked the brand on the cow. He noticed a barn cat hopping from one bale of hay to another. It was going someplace.
Up in the darkened rafters of the barn he thought he a human shadow. Then the shadow changed and a wet tongue caught the light for a second. 'I'll be damned that sicko John might be right.'
"Who wass that Grandma?" I asked as I entered the kitchen.
"It was just the sheriff. He came out to check on a missing livestock report. He needed to check to see if we were hiding any of the missing stock."
"That's silly, Grandma, everyone around us only grows corn. And we only have a little livestock."
"To a farmer, Honey, every bit of property is precious, and needed to make ends meet."
"Ok, Grandma, but it still seems strange to me."
A week later the group had their meeting.
"Let's get this started, guys," Archie said. "Welcome to this meeting of the Loyal Brotherhood of Humanity First. I'd like to welcome our new members, and begin the meeting by going over old business. Lyle, what do you have to report?"
A sun bronzed farmer spoke up, "Seems like that mutant detector I was tracking down was a bust. They were doing some testing of it up in New Hampshire, and it reported that a train was full of mutants. There can't be that many in a single area. So I'm on the lookout for another one."
"Jack, have you heard anything?"
A blonde haired tan man spoke up. "Well, tracking the super heroes through the news isn't working out too well. I've been plotting the locations reports where the news come from, and most of the reports are in the big cities. Anything that happens further out, in most cases the time from the incident to the arrival of the hero can be accounted for in travel time. We have yet to figure out if any mutant heroes live out in the rural areas where we can get at them unprotected."
John broke in, "Enough of this old unchanging garbage. Let's get to the new business!"
"Alright, alright, keep your pants on John!" Archie told him. "Any change in the status of any of our current projects?"
Archie surveyed the shaking heads, "Ok, so noted. On to new business."
John burst out, "I found us a stinking mutant!"
The room was filled with questions from everyone.
"Settle down and I'll tell you all about it," Archie said.
After they had settled down, "About a week ago John came to me with a license plate number and a story of seeing a girl with a forked tongue at Dee's Diner. I took the number and made John promise not to do anything until I called this meeting, which is why he's about to bust a gut. Anyway, I checked it out, and it is possible that we do have a mutant living at a farm in the area."
The room erupted with shouts of "Let's go kill it!" and "Action at last!"
"Now calm down the lot of you! There's more to this and I'm setting some ground rules. First, the mutant girl is on a FARM in the area. When we go in, I don't want any reckless destruction of property. This girl and her family moved in to help a struggling farm in the area. You all know how tough it is to make a go of it farming. Second, no guns, because shooting wildly can damage property and leave evidence that I will have to account for in any police reports. When we go, we are going with the goal of scaring the mutant out of this county."
"Why, when killing it would work just as well?" a member asked.
"Because, even if it's a mutant, a death still causes questions to be asked; and before you suggest just killing everyone at the farm, ask yourself these questions, 'What if the mutant is related to me? Would I be able to kill a relative? What would the rest of my family think?'"
"If you can answer them with a clear conscience and no hurt feelings from anyone, we might go ahead and kill the mutant. But otherwise, we'll just scare it into leaving. If I catch any of you packing a gun, I'll arrest you on the spot. Have I made myself clear?"
Grumbled positive answers made it clear he had made his point. John was grumbling the loudest. He would bear some watching.
"Ok we believe the mutant is the granddaughter of Grace Gorlinko."
"I was helping Shepard plant the fields over there," one man said.
"I helped him fix his tractor," said another.
"Hard to believe," said yet another.
"Ok let's go. We'll sneak up on the farm and set up the 'H' in the front yard, then light it and make our demands," Archie said.
A small convoy of trucks drove over to the Gorlinko's farm. Stopping short of the farm the men in the trucks unloaded, sneaked up to the property, set up and ignited the H.
I was helping grandma with the dishes after dinner when we heard the "whoomp" of something bursting into flame, followed by a voice. "We know there is a mutant living in this house. Get it out."
"Oh my god! There's a burning H on the front lawn," Mom said as she peeked out the window.
After Dad peeked out he looked at Grandma, "Ok, where are Michael's old guns?"
"I got rid of them after he died. I didn't want them in the house."
"Great! We are nearly defenseless and men are outside demanding my daughter. I won't let it happen."
I peeked out and saw the men in masks and the burning H. I got scared really fast. I decided to go hide.
I went back through the kitchen and out the back door, heading for my hidey hole in the rafters of the barn.
"Ok we'll wait for a response," Archie said. "Be careful though, they might try something."
"I'm going to watch the back so they don't try to sneak away," John told him as he moved away.
"You're not going to drive us out!" was shouted from the farm house.
"We don't want you to leave, just the mutant!" Archie yelled back.
As John circled the house he spotted the girl running from the house to the barn. "Ah ha! Trying to run huh? Well you're gonna pay," John said to himself as he rushed to catch up to the girl.
I had just reached the barn and was starting to climb the hay bails when an arm wrapped around my middle and pulled me off. It squeezed so hard the air in my lungs whooshed out in a grunt.
As we stepped back from the hay bales gravity forced me to slide down and the arm up to across my chest. Who ever it was, was trying to get their other hand over my mouth and prevent me from screaming. I did the only thing I could do. I bit into the arm across my chest. With a yell the man let go of me, throwing me into one of the central posts of the barn. The world went dark.
John was shocked. 'The bitch bit me. I'll make her pay for that.' He reared back to hit her, but as he got ready to swing his bitten arm, it fell limply to his side.
"What's going on?" he asked. He took a step back intending to call the others, nearly lost his balance, and ended up leaning on a barn post. The light caught his hand on the post. He saw the blood vessels in that hand turning dark and beginning to swell. Breathing became difficult. Stars formed in his vision as everything became blurry. He heard that bat from the cartoon say "Whoops, gravity works," as he fell to the ground. He willed his arms to move, tried to call out again, but his body refused. Everything went dark.
Archie was worried; it had been a good twenty minutes since they had made their first threat and gotten the defiant response. If they were armed, they would have reacted by now. Every minute the group waited was more time for the Gorlinkos to find weapons. "Ok, get ready, men. We're going in,"
"Where's John? After all his complaining, you know he'd want to be here," asked someone.
"Crap, okay hold up. Mark, swing around back and look for John. If you find him, bring him back. If you don't, get back here. You have five minutes."
Mark moved off around the house. Two minutes later he was back.
"I found him. He's dead. Looks like a snake bite. I never heard of anyone dying that quick from a snake bite before," said Mark.
About then a cry went up from in the house, "Where's Bree? Where's my daughter?"
"This has gone to hell. Leave the H, head out. The police may be here any minute," Archie ordered.
I woke up to Buttons standing on my chest and sniffing my nose. Seeing my eyes open, he head butted me to say hello. It was still dark. My head hurt and I smelled smoke. I remembered the burning H and then looked at the house and saw it was okay. I decided it was safer in the house and started back. As I approached the house, I heard Momma calling for me, then Dad and Grandma joined in. I slipped in the back door and answered, calling out, "I'm in here." I was greeted by the thunder of running feet, followed by a crushing hug that would have put a boa constrictor to shame.
"Oh, Honey! We thought they had gotten you! Where were you? Why didn't you answer when we were calling you?" Momma asked rapid-fire through the hug.
When I could breathe again, I answered, "When those men showed up I got scared and ran. I hid in the barn, but one of the bad men saw me. He grabbed me and knocked the air out of me. He was trying to cover my mouth to stop me from screaming. Uh .. I'm sorry ... I think I might have bit him, because he threw me down. I hit my head and Buttons woke me back up just a bit ago."
"We're just glad you're okay dear," Momma said as we heard the police show up.
After all the police were done taking pictures of the H, and they found the body in the barn, the questions began. I must have told what happened to me eight times. I overheard Mom and Dad complaining that I should be in bed at this late hour, but the men kept saying they had to make sure I wasn't lying. Then someone closed the door and I couldn't hear anything.
It seemed like a few minutes later a couple of policemen came and led me to another room. It was bright. I almost had to squint it was so bright. There was a big glass window that was dark. They told me to sit down in the metal chair and I did. They left me alone.
After a while I got up to look around. A voice said, "Sit down in the chair." I went back to the chair and sat down uncomfortably. Again some time passed. I was getting tired. I was about to go to sleep sitting in that chair when a buzzer went off. It scared me and I was awake for a while after that. This happed three more times while I was in that room. If I got up to walk around and stay awake I was told to sit down. if I started to fall asleep, they buzzed me.
Then they started asking questions. "Are there any others?" the voice asked.
"Others?" I asked sleepily.
"Like you ..." the voice prompted.
"Buttons." I answered
"Buttons? What buttons?"
"Your cat is like you?"
"Yep, he likes me a lot. He woke me up."
"Did he make you like you are?"
"He woke me up when I was asleep in the barn. So sleepy ..."
Agent Jones was nervous. He'd never had to report to the Boss before.
"Well?" the Boss asked.
"She knows nothing. We got copies of her doctor's records. She's suffering from GSD but what caused its onset is unclear. When her changes started, her family fled their home in the southern states out of fear of attack by the Klan and Humanity First. They seem to be more reactionary in the south," Jones explained
"I know all that. Didn't you learn anything from her?" the boss asked grumpily
"We questioned her for sixteen hours straight. We finally had to stop when even the horn wouldn't rouse her."
"Let her go, but I want her watched closely. She may lead us to others."
I woke up seeing dots; the hundreds of dots in the ceiling of most hospitals. I heard a noise and looked over to see Dr. Mumford entering the room.
"Hello, Alberta, it's nice to see I've not lost my knack for arriving when a patient wakes up," he said
"Are you sure you don't just make enough noise outside to wake them up?" I asked.
"... I don't think I'll answer that one," he said with a grin. "You had us scared there for a bit."
Worried, I asked, "What do you mean? What happened?"
He scratched the back of his head. "Well, it seems you had another surge."
"What happened this time? I don't feel any different," I asked.
"On the scale of your surges, this one was minor. Your eyes have changed."
"Really? What do they look like? Can I look in a mirror?" I asked suddenly excited.
"In a bit I'll let you look. It's a bit shocking, so I wanted to run some tests first. When you really look at me, what do you see?"
I looked at him closely. I could see a bit of waviness rising off him. I told him so.
"Hmm, have you ever looked down a long road on a sunny day?" he asked.
"SSSure, Doctor. Lotss of timesss back home," I said, lisping a little since I was getting worried.
"Do you remember the wavy look to the road in the distance and the watery look to the road?"
"Yes, what I'm seeing is kind of like that."
"I'm going to turn off the light. Tell me what you see then," he explained walking over to the light for the room.
As the room went dark I could see! There was a glow coming from the heater vent, there was some glow still coming from the lights, and Dr. Mumford was bright and glowing like a candle.
"The lights are still glowing. I can see a glow from the heater vent. The room looks like it's lit by candle light and you're glowing Dr. Mumford," I said as I looked around.
"I'm not glowing, I assure you, and the room is pitch black to me. I'm pretty sure you're seeing heat. I'm going to turn the lights back on. It might get bright for you," he said.
The lights came on and everything went slightly blurry for a moment. It felt like I closed my eyes though.
"Aha! That' makes sense. I think your eyes have completed their changes. You just saw your inner eye lids close. They are called nictitating membranes."
"What are nica ...nica. What are those?" I asked.
"They are something that humans evolved out of. Look close at my eye," he pointed to his left eye. "See the pink part next to my nose? That's all that's left of the human nictitating membrane. It's a third eyelid. Lots of creatures have them to protect from debris, prey, or dry air. Reptiles, birds, sharks and some mammals evolved this extra eyelid to do just that."
"So I have third eyelids now? Why?" I asked
"From looking at your previous surges, I'd say it's to help you hunt for food."
"I don't hunt for food. We get ours food at the grocery store."
"It might be sort of like a leftover from evolution, Alberta. Babies in human mommies have tails while they grow inside. Eventually it gets absorbed into the body before the baby is born, but it's still there. I could show you a picture."
"You keep saying 'human' Doctor. Am I not 'human' anymore?" I sniffed, fighting back tears.
"Alberta, of course you're human, just different. I just don't know how to explain the changes going on with you unless I compare you to a normal, non-changing, person. And you have to admit saying 'normal, non-changing, mommies' is a bit of a mouthful to say multiple times in a sentence," he said with a smile
"Have you figured out what is causing me to change like this?"
"There are a lot of possibilities Alberta. Some we know about, but can't easily test for; like magic. It could be a spontaneous change as well. But without some of your DNA from before you started changing, we can't narrow it down."
"Can I see myself in a mirror now?" I asked hopefully.
"Sure, you've been a patient, patient. I'll get you a mirror and let your parents come in too."
A few minutes later Dr. Mumford returned with Mom, Dad and Grandma. After I got hugs from them, I smiled and held out my hand for the mirror.
When the doctor handed it over, I got to look at my new eyes. They looked like they didn't belong on my face. It was like I was part of some sci-fi movie. They looked ... "Cool!" I said as I looked in the mirror.
Mom reached up to comfort me by running her hand through my hair. Normally I like it. This time though, I felt a draft. Mom looked a little shocked and as she pulled her hand back, it was covered in my hair. I reached up with my other hand and brushed my hair. It continued to fall away.
"Don't get excited, we all knew this was coming. Maybe, not as soon as this, but we knew it would happen soon," Dr. Mumford said.
"Drat! It's not long enough. We can't make a wig out of this," I groaned at the growing pile of hair arrayed around me.
"No, we can't, but we do have pictures of you and how you use to wear your hair. We can get wigs made to match it. Or how would you like to try living with a different color hair? The money you'll be earning from your venom will let you buy a few wigs."
"Just what do you mean Dr.?" Grandma was quick to ask.
"Well you remember how we told you how poisonous Alberta is? One of the technicians dropped a little in with some other snake venom to see how they would react. They, both her venom and the snake venom disappeared. We tried Alberta's venom with every type of venom we had in stock. In each case, when we tried to combine it with the other venom, they completely canceled out. Not only is she highly poisonous, her venom is also the universal antivenin to every other kind of snake venom. It's just as well, too. We haven't been able to thin down her venom enough so that we can try to make an antivenin for it."
"And this means?" Grandma prompted.
"It means that she can't cure her own bites. And that her venom is highly valuable as antivenom."
"Just how highly valuable?" Dad asked.
"Well, the rarest antivenom out right now runs three hundred dollars a vial. A vial contains approximately twenty-seven milliliters of anti-venom. We aren't sure just how little of Alberta's venom it takes to neutralize another snake's bite, but even if it took the same amount, at that price she'd be earning close to eight thousand for each milking session. Potentially she could make almost three million in a year before taxes," Dr. Mumford explained.
"Three million ..." Dad mumbled.
"I told you she was blessed," Grandma said.
"You have saved the farm dear," Mom said hugging me.
"Does that mean I can get a wig?" I asked.
Everyone laughed. I didn't think it was a funny question.
Once everyone had calmed down again, Dr. Mumford got serious again. "Alberta, Mr. and Mrs. Shepard, Mrs. Gorlenko, it's decision time again. The attack on your house shows that hiding is not going to work as protection for Alberta. She needs to be someplace that she can be protected and her health watched over."
"Where could we find a place like that?" Grandma asked.
"I was approached after she was returned by the MCO. By a recruiter for a school; he presented quite an argument for the school. A portion of the student body are GSD affected people, too. They have a very well equipped infirmary. Some alumni of the school that still live on the grounds because of special needs. I think it's ideal for her, since she will be safe there."
"You just want to take me away from my family!" I cried.
"Not intentionally, Alberta. The school is a boarding school. You'll be able to come home for holidays, and your family can visit."
"He's right dear. We want you to be safe. If more of those people come to the farm, we don't want them finding you. If we make it clear you're not there, perhaps in a while they will forget about you," Grandma said.
"Well, OK. I don't like it though."
"Besides, you'll get to meet so many more interesting people!" Momma said.
My hair had completely fallen out by the end of the week. We spent December getting me ready to go to Whateley. I got a lot of presents for school. Mom got Dad a new tractor and everyone seemed happier. After the holidays, we packed the last of my stuff going with me, and got on the train. It was only a two day ride to Dunwich, but we had to lay over outside of Boston. And that brings us back to when I started writing this diary.
After a while, we finally arrived at the station in Dunwich. It was a very old looking station, green roof, built of brick surrounded by wooden platforms. I kept expecting a steam engine to pull up on the other track.
As we got off the train Dad spotted a man with a sign that said Shepard on it, and went over to talk to him. They came back together. "He's here to drive us to the school," Dad said.
So we gathered up my stuff and loaded up the van. The driver being there let us get out of the cold quickly.
Our arrival at the school was eerie, to say the least. As we drove through the gates of the school, I could almost swear the gargoyles were watching us. After a bit of winding through the trees, they thinned out to reveal the campus of Whateley private school. It looked like all the old college campuses I'd seen in movies with vine covered brick buildings. Then my eyes were drawn to the big dome that seemed attached to the building we were headed for. It looked out of place with all these old buildings.
We pulled into a circle in front of the building with the dome. Again there was the hustle to get out of the cold.
As we entered we were greeted with, "Hi, welcome to Whateley. You must be the Shepards. I'm Elaine. How can I be of assistance to you?"
"We'd like to get our daughter registered and warmed up," Dad said.
"Yes, of course, you can settle your daughter over there," she said pointing. "There's a very nice heater vent there. She'll be toasty in no time."
"You sit here by the heater and we'll work on the admission forms, Dear," Mom said before she moved over to the secretary's desk.
I slipped my shoes off to warm up my feet more and put my feet right on top of the heater vent. I started to hear voices arguing. It was Mrs. Carson and Ms Hartford.
"Just where did you plan to place this child?" Mrs. Carson asked.
"Hawthorne, it's where we place all the children who pose a danger to the student body," Ms Hartford replied.
"Explain to me why."
"It says right here in the preliminary medical reports that she has venom and fangs. According to what I've been able to pry out of the MCO, she may have already killed one man. She's a threat and should be controlled."
"She's a child who has gone through a change. Still is and will be for some time from what I read in the medical file. She may end up in Hawthorne eventually, when or if she needs assistance with just living. We get so few slow changing cases of GSD. For as long as we can, we're going to see to it that she lives as normal a student life as we can provide here at Whateley," Mrs. Carson said.
"No she's not going! You can give her a UV tag to warn the other students off toying with her, but she is going to Whitman. I'll call the housemother and have her send over an escort."
I heard some steps, then a tall blonde woman with her hair in a bun stepped out of a door marked Headmistress Carson. Her look just screamed teacher. "How is the enrolment paperwork coming?" she asked my parents and the secretary.
"Oh, I have a question," Momma said, "Will be able to visit Bree here at the school?"
"Generally, familial visits during the school year are frowned on. There are days the campus is open, such as parents days, the job fair and, such," the woman said.
"Oh," Momma said as she kind of slumped. I knew she had just realized that she was letting me go for the first time.
"Relax, Momma. It's January, think of it as sending me off to a long session at camp," I smiled attempting to console her as I slipped my shoes back on."
"Another thing I'm worried about," Momma perked up a bit. "It sounds strange, but my daughter needs to be milked of her venom each day."
"Momma! I can do it myself. You've seen me do it," I scolded.
"I know, Dear it's the handling after that I'm worried about. It's both dangerous and highly valuable with its double traits."
"Is this something that wasn't in the student file we received?" the headmistress asked.
"We recently discovered that her venom has two traits. Not only is it a highly venomous bite by itself; but if it comes in contact with another venom, both venoms are completely neutralized," Momma explained.
"Really now?" She studied me like she was seeing me from a new point of view.
I was startled by the ding of an elevator. I looked around in time to see an athletic black girl with braided hair step out. She looked around and approached us. "Good day, I'm Daphne Bosworth and I'm here to give the new student the tour and help get her situated in Whitman Cottage."
"She's not going to Whitman, she's going to Hawthorne where her needs can be addressed," the headmistress said.
"I beg your pardon, Whitman cottage was called to send a guide," Daphne apologized.
The elevator dinged again and a man stepped out wearing a well made pinstriped suit.
"Hello, my name is Louis. I was asked to guide you," he said with a smile.
"With whom is she supposed to go?" asked Momma.
"Go with Louis. Your rooms will be in Hawthorne," she said.
I turned to go with him and Momma turned to the headmistress and said, "Thank you Headmistress. Will we be able to see her again before we leave?"
Another voice from the doorway answered, "Yes, you will when she gets back from Whitman with Daphne. Isn't that correct Ms. Hartford?"
With a slight sag, she answered, "Yes, Headmistress Carson."
Daphne fell in with Louis and I as we headed for the elevator.
As the doors closed, I heard, "What's going on here?" from Momma and "My assistant overstepped her authority," from Headmistress Carson.
Once inside I asked, "What was that all about?"
"It seems that Ms. Hartford tried to spirit away a golden goose," Louise said.
"What's going on Foob?" Daphne asked.
"Perhaps some introductions are in order. Stunner, meet Alberta Brianna Shepard, age 14, known to her friends and family as Bree. Her grandmother calls her Garafena," he began.
"How??" I blurted.
"It's not nice to interrupt, Bree," he scolded, "But you're entitled to some answers as well. I peeked. I am what is called a package deal psychic. That's telepathy, telekinesis, clairvoyance, clairaudience and so on."
"You read my mind?" I asked flabbergasted.
"I may be thought of as a busybody, but even I have some ethics. No, I looked at the application your parents were filling out," he said with a smile.
"Bree, you know Miss Bosworth's full name, what you don't know is her code name. It's 'Stunner' just like my code name is 'Fubar.' Any questions so far?"
"I can see why Daphne has her code name," I said, looking her up and down. "I can't figure out why you have yours, or what it means."
The elevator doors opened to reveal a tunnel and a waiting golf cart. We got on and started off.
"Normally, we don't get to use the carts down here, but I had to get here quick, so I asked for the cart. Your luggage may be at Whitman shortly. No telling if Ms. Hartford had time to route it to Hawthorne or not. It's an easy fix if she did."
"What is Hawthorne?" I asked.
"So many questions! Was I ever this bad, Daphne?"
She held up her hand and answered her own question. "Oh never mind I was here before you. To get back to your earlier question, my code name comes from my physical condition and an acronym. To date I'm the most severely changed sufferer of GSD. While there are many useable words for the first letter of my code name, the more polite is 'Fouled Up Beyond All Repair.' A term usually used for a very broken piece of machinery. If you ever get detention I'll arrange for you to drop by my place for a visit."
"Here we are supposed to be giving a tour, and we are failing in our job, Daphne," Louse started again. "The Whateley School is, as you saw driving in, located in a valley. The campus proper is the group of buildings you arrived at. Lying out from them are the cottages. They are the student housing. There are seven of them, named after famous authors."
"You mean like Anne McCaffery? I love her Pern novels," I asked.
"No, these buildings were named a bit before her time. They are Dickinson, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Poe, Twain, and Whitman. Dickinson and Emerson are Girls only and Boys only respectively. The same goes for Whitman and Twain, except that the boys and girls living there find it a bit harder to pass as a normal human."
"You mean they have GSD too?" I asked.
"Good answer. Yes, they do, but in most of their cases the change was enough to require special steps to be taken so they don't draw attention in a crowd. Melville is a coed cottage and bigger than the rest, at least as far as how many students it houses. For overall size, Hawthorne has had so many subterranean additions that it's probably the biggest 'building' on campus. But, I'm bragging. We're here to show you Whitman."
"What are these tunnels for? You don't find tunnels like these on normal school grounds." I asked.
"True, but as you know, we aren't a normal school. It's the result of one change feeding another. Way back when old man Whateley was running the school they heated each building independently. With the development of steam heat and the need for a central services plant, tunnels were put in to run the piping. Then the original school folded and there were any number of attempts to convert the grounds from a school to other uses. Some of the service tunnels were expanded, and some were sealed off. Eventually the board of trustees bought the school, improved it some, and opened for business some years back. Over the years the tunnels have been expanded even further."
"But, why?" I asked
"Bree, I'll let you in on a secret."
"Really? What is it?"
He theatrically looked up and down the tunnel to see if anyone was looking. "Whateley is a 'super' school."
"I don't know about that. My grandma's been a pretty good teacher. She could open her own school." I said.
"No, Bree. The graduates of this school ... at least some of them ... go on to become heroes or villains."
"Yeah sure, and I'm going to be a seven foot tall, gorgeous elf," I said in disbelief.
"Please don't! We already have one," Louis said deadpan.
"Really? You're kidding. Who'd have thought it?"
"Yes we really do have an elf at the school."
"Heroes, I'm going to school with future heroes of the world," I said.
Louis turned to Daphne and said, "If I didn't know what's happening to her, I figure she'd join the ..."
"Cape Squad," they finished together.
"What's the 'Cape Squad'?" I asked
"Our own little superhero R.O.T.C.," Louis said.
We came to an intersection of tunnels and turned down one of the side tunnels. We passed a couple of men dressed for work.
"Hi Stan, Morey," Louse gave a wave, which they returned.
Shortly we ended up in a parking area with plug-ins for the carts. "And here we are," Louse said as he got out, "I fear if I'm to continue, I need to make a change."
He shimmered for a moment and when it cleared, there was a young girl standing there.
"Are you a shape changer too?" I asked.
"No, I simply project what I wish for people to see and they do. More, Jedi mind tricks," he answered with a smile. Daphne just shook her head As we stepped into an elevator and went up to the main floor.
"Mrs. Hollingberry, it's Daphne and I bring the new student," she called out.
"Just a minute, let me take the kettle off. I can't make a proper cup of tea if I scald the leaves now," a very British voice answered. In a moment an average height woman with auburn hair draped loosely about her shoulders stepped into view. She was dressed in a white blouse with ruffled cuffs and a high collar also ruffled; below she wore a tweed skirt with stockings. Closing the collar was a cameo with two faces looking both directions. I almost didn't think they were faces.
"Sir," she said pointing at Louis and then the door, "I'll thank you to remove yourself from this cottage. It is for females only."
"Still can't fool you Mrs. Hollingberry," Louse said as he shimmer changed back to his self, "I'll see you around the school, Bree." And he vanished.
"I swear, that man is old enough to know better, even though he carries on like a child at times," Mrs. Hollingberry said with a hint of concern after he left. "Now, you were going to make the introductions before that young man forced me to make a scene. Please continue Daphne."
"This is Alberta Shepard, fresh from the farm," Daphne introduced me.
"A pleasure dear," she said as she leaned forward to greet me. "Ah, I see now what the meaning was behind some of the comments in your preliminary medical records."
"You've seen my medical records?" I asked surprised.
"Yes, a least as much as was needed to determine if any minor special living arrangements would be needed for you to live here comfortably," Mrs. Hollingberry explained. "Follow me, please."
She led us down a set of stairs and down a hall as she continued, "Since you're a late arrival you missed out on any of the above ground rooms. So you're going to be down here."
"Isn't it going to be a bit dark?" I asked sadly.
Mrs. Hollingberry turned and opened a door. The room was well lit and on the outside wall was a window!
"How can I have a window when we're below ground?" I asked
"It's a purely non-functional," she said. "Remember where you are Alberta. At Whateley there are lots of gifted students. This is rather simple though. It's a camera and screen. You're looking at a television view of the outside."
"Sadly you can't watch regular television on it," Daphne grumbled.
"And have all you children become anti-social couch potatoes? I'd rather have you fighting over it in the common room, thank you very much. There is one, sometime, advantage to arriving late for the school year. You have a room to yourself, unless someone else shows up even later than you," Mrs. Hollingberry told me as she walked around the room, tweaking one thing or another. "I've also read about the surges that you have when you change. For this reason I've connected an intercom box next to your bed. If something happens, call me. If it's really bad, just hit the buzzer button. I'll be right down."
"You've been very helpful, Mrs. Hollingberry. I'm grateful to you," I said. "What should I do with the venom from my milkings?"
"Right here. Dear," she said, opening a small refrigerator. I have someone from security scheduled to pick it up after classes each day." With that said, Mrs. Hollingberry left.
As the door closed Daphne asked, "Milkings?"
"Not only am I getting scaly and have weird eyes, I have fangs and venom sacks," I explained, feeling oddly proud.
"Oh, I didn't know you had venom. There are a few other students who have sacks. Diamondback is one of them. Have they figured out your anti-venom yet?"
"Well you better put it in your fridge. You don't want it going bad," she warned.
"Oh, I can make more."
"We don't have a lab set up for making anti-venom. It takes livestock and time."
"Remember what you heard when we left Mrs. Hartford? My venom has two traits. It's both venom and anti-venom," I explained.
"Doesn't that just make it cancel itself out?" she asked.
"The doctors haven't figure out why it doesn't do that with one bite. It seems to take two."
"Cool! It will help around the school for the venomous students," Daphne said. "Now that you've seen your room, let me show you around the rest of the cottage."
She proceeded to show me the main floor of the cottage, including the elevator hidden in a closet for the mobility impaired students. We rounded a corner coming to the first floor common room to find a catgirl talking to a girl with bighorn sheep horns coming out of her head.
She was very aristocratic in the way she stood there. Her round blue eyes were focused on the other girl. Her shoulder-length straight white hair was worn in a simple style that showed off how luxurious it was. Her skin was pale, and what fur I could see was white with purple streaks on her ears and tail. She was built like an Amazon. Her tail was brush-like and curved slightly out from under the dress she wore.
"My parent's felt it was time to increase my scholastic allowance since I'm taking up magic. I'll be receiving two hundred thousand this year. About half of it I'll be investing in my portfolio until it's needed," she said.
I decided to be friendly, "Hi, I'm Bree. I just arrived at the school."
The catgirl turned, looking at me down her nose. I swear I saw her fur bristle.
"My name is Tabatha Ericka Bolton, of the Boston Boltons."
"Nice to meet you," I held out my hand, "I'm paying my own way here."
"So you're performing a job after classes?"
"No, it only takes me a few minutes to milk my venom and store it."
"So you're earning money by selling your venom?"
"Yes, it's more of a safety measure, though. I earn enough to pay for school and save the farm."
"Just how much do you get for your venom?"
"About eight thousand a session, it's bound to change value as more people learn about it."
"Bu ... bu .... What?!? How?!?" she sputtered.
"My venom is also universal anti-venom," I explained
"I don't believe it!"
"I'm just stating what I know to be true. You are free to believe or not believe all you want."
I looked at Daphne who led the way. "Uh, Bree?"
"How do you feel about loans?"