T H E M O R P H I S T
by Silva Noir
Chapter 11: fowl play
Two boys sidestepped down the easily shifted dirt slope. Pebbles and dust were kicked up and scattered under their feet. At the bottom, wiry furred wild rabbits perked up their ears. Still for but a moment longer, they skittered under a cluster of curling ferns when a tumbling golf ball of a rock came too close to their twitching noses.
Silently, a lone blue heron cast off, disturbed from its standing spot at the reservoir’s edge. Hours of perfect motionlessness spent with an elegant neck arched ready to strike, diligently spying for the glimmers of minnows and guppies were wasted.
Heaping piles of jagged stone, long and snaky as the Great Wall of China, kept the natural world from invading manmade pathways. The course’s sand was well grooved with tire marks and footprints or previous trailblazers. Thus, the sense of being the first explorers stumbling into their own private paradise was spoiled. Whispers of civilization filtered through the thickening foliage. However, the noise grew fainter the further along they walked.
They had ignored the squared red signs warning trespassers of a list of hefty fines for the simple act of enjoying the local scenery. No swimming was to be acceptable. No fishing was permitted. No dogs were allowed. No bicycles were tolerable. Thinking about setting foot beyond the position the sign marked was forbidden. A separate sign notified those who dared to litter. Consequences once again consisted of a fine. Caution was to be headed by all, for “police take notice”. Police were nowhere in view. ‘No swimming’, out of all the NO’s posted, was the only rule that any of the citizens obeyed.
Overhead, a plastic grocery bag’s handholds stubbornly clung to the high limbs of a maple. Wind ballooned the thin milky film, making it dance and billow as a jellyfish in the warm breeze. Neon lures flew out from various isolated nooks on the invisible nylon lines of patient fishermen. A father and son with their pit bull pup in tow meandered along the high hard-packed sandbar that split the two main large pools of the reservoir. Each were depended on for drinking water by a handful of surrounding towns. At the same time, a sharply helmeted cyclist crossed the same bar in the opposite direction. The area was large enough to fade into the horizon at all directions, with only the faintest hint of faded office buildings and the shingled roofs of houses at the edges.
“They’re not paying attention today. If there’s that many people here, its safe. When you walk over here and you’re the only one here… that’s when you’re in trouble.” Palmer gazed over the deep blue. “Anthony… he’s always here. Can’t get rid of him no matter how hard they try. I don’t know why, but for some reason… I’m the only one he trusts. That’s why he’s my best friend.” He pointed diagonally to a clearing around a lone lollypop shaped oak. It stood watch over the third , last, smallest, and most overgrown of ponds. “There. That’s where we usually meet.”
Out of nowhere, they were suddenly attacked. High-speed bullet bodied blurs flittered and chirped overhead. David ducked, avoiding being clipped by only a fraction of an inch. Swallows, dipping, flapping and tweeting plummeted towards the water. They pulled up seconds later, pincher beaks full of dragonflies and mosquitoes. Being in such hot pursuit of insects, they nearly crashed into many things, David not the least of them. He checked his hair to see that they hadn’t hit him with anything else besides their wings. Messing with his perfect hair was a sin for any man or animal
“Chitter chitter chee chirp chee,” the little navy and cream object whizzed about on swift wings. Silly twitters gave the impression it was mocking him. If that wise cracking swallow took a u-turn at any time, it was going to have to deal with a very perturbed, vain seventeen year-old. .
“So what does this Anthony look like?” He continued to ruffle his hair to make completely sure it was clean.
“Oh, he usually swims over,” Palmer took his focus away from the laughter like trilling and put it back on the mysterious stranger. “Pretty much all he wears is white. Except for his feet. Orange is on those, and a little black, but just a smidge. A short guy, really… but the tallest I’ve ever seen of his kind,” he explained how they would recognize Anthony’s approach with a knowing smile. “I should have brought some French bread or dinner rolls for him. He likes to nibble on it.”
So much for not swimming, David cancelled out his previous notion. Guess no one follows the written rules. “Sounds like one weird dude.”
“Not at all. Sit.” Palmer patted the coarse lilac surface of a relatively flat-topped boulder situated close to the oak. “If you stand gawking like that he’ll take it as a threat. He’ll want to fight.”
No chance in hell he’ll win David flicked his fingers, expecting some lunatic thug to pop up commando style from the bushes. He wouldn’t be taken by surprise again. This time, he would be ready for anything. Or so he thought.
“Hy-rogth,” Anthony greeted. The towering swan elegantly glided in to shore. Flapping his wings he stretched to show his wingspan and full length. Seeing David, he back peddled, hissed and shook his head irritably. Hissing, spiting and grunting, he made his opinion of the posh blonde known.
“Did I forget to mention? Anthony is a mute swan.” Palmer smiled wryly.
“Doesn’t sound mute to me.” David was surprised to see how mean spirited Anthony could be. Swans are traditionally portrayed through history, art, and film as pure and docile. He made note to himself to contact the so-called authorities on the subject to have that misconception changed immediately.
Increasingly aggressive to the stranger the animal decided to waddle on land and charge. Tufting feathers stood on end like the fur of an agitated cat. Biting with a clapping black tipped beak, Anthony caused David to stumble over a birch sapling. Helpless he slid down the sandy bank towards the brackish water. Once down the same sharp utensil meant for ripping swamp weeds from their muddy roots went to work pulling out silky bleach blonde strands from poor David’s sore head.
“Call him off! Call him off!” David cried. He did his best to protect his scalp form the oversized bird. His meaner side had the urge to transform into an alligator and snap the noodly neck like he had the ever so annoying school field geese. He didn’t dare do so with Palmer present. It was not simply a matter of avoiding people seeing the morphing process. Palmer valued the angry pond dweller. David couldn’t kill something the shy sweet kid had called his ‘best friend’ right before his eyes. Even he was not that cruel. Revenge of the birds… he bemoaned the backlash. Curse bad karma. You do one thing wrong, make one mistake …more than once… and it comes back to bite you. Literally.
“Ant…Anthony… shh.” Palmer cooed. The swan smoothed down his wings and feathers. Anthony gave a final snort to David as if to say ‘humph, you’re not worth wasting my time over’ and turned to his master. “C’mere. He’s not going to hurt you. Promise. Shhh. C’mere.” Obediently, he shuffled over. Gracious on the water as he may be, his body was clumsy and cumbersome on land. It made David wonder why he had been such a wimp as to be defeated by the overstuffed fowl. With no resistance at all, Palmer reached to scratch under the swan’s chin. “You should be nicer to him”
“Yeah, be nicer to me,” David glowered and got to his feet. He brushed off the dirt that clung to his slacks.
“I was talking to you,” Palmer pointed, accusing David of instigating the skirmish. “He used to have a mate, Lily. Reserved and slender… she was what you think of when you picture a swan. I was feeding them one day around four after school. Out of nowhere we were being shot at. Sue’s idiot drunk friends were trying out their new BB gun. They took turns. They shot at me. They didn’t care. Didn’t care at all. I yelled and threatened to call the police. They flipped me off. They took better aim. They got me in the foot… and laughed. It really hurt. I still have the scar.” He shook his head. “They laughed like it was funny. My voice isn’t the scary, I guess. But then Lilly…. she was really distressed… ” Retelling the events choked him up. “Huffing and gasping for air… it wasn’t getting through her nostrils because it was all clogged with blood. It was going right through her neck, that’s where the sound was coming from…. like those smoking cancer patients on the warning ads on TV. They shot her…and high-fived each other over it.” He closed his eyes for a moment before going on. “You killed her, I yelled. You killed her. And they said, It doesn’t even hurt them. I know it hurt me.” His hands balled into fists remembering that day.
Anthony had settled beside him, sadly looking at David with the blackest eyes. He began to regret his unspoken death threats on the creature. He had every right not to trust human beings.
Emotionally weary, Palmer continued, “I come here because it’s quiet. That’s what I like about a small town. My parents like it for the same reason. It’s not the city. The night isn’t filled with sirens and violence and all that, or endless walls of brick and cement and filth. Or at least, it’s supposed to be quiet and nice. You can sit and think, gather your thoughts. At the same time, people have a small-minded mentality from being in a small town. That word…it was on a vocab list for English class…. ummm… provincial, that’s it. They’re provincial. Or maybe its not better in the city either… I dunno. Maybe it's not better anywhere. I wish people cared. I wish they appreciated life a little more. Like you, you should… You tried to kill yourself. That’s so stupid.”
“Hey, This isn’t my fault.” David rubbed his arm where the scissor wound was vanishing far too fast for such a short time to heal.
“Sorry. But it just gets me soo mad.” Palmer stomped, upsetting Anthony who complained with a hiss. “Target practice, that’s all it was to them. Man…. And nothing was ever done about it. Nothing. I called the stupid cops and they did nothing. She died right there, in that little huddle of cat-o-nine tails.” He shifted his eyes to the other side of the pond. “Curled herself up and suffocated on her own blood. Anthony kept swimming over to her. Offered her food and she wouldn’t take it. Saddest thing…. And it’s all my fault.”
“Your fault, why?” David observed how the easily offended avian felt comforted under Palmer’s slow and gentle touch. “ It’s not your fault at all. You don’t even fight to save yourself. How could be so sadistic as to kill something you cared for and hand fed?”
“I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t hurt anyone, not even someone I hated in the depths of my soul. I loathe and despise violence. It doesn’t solve anything. I guess I’m like an… an empath… or whatever they call it. You know, someone who feels other’s pain? I look at people and animals and can imagine… no, I can feel, what they’re feeling. That’s why I wouldn’t hurt anyone, because I would feel it back. I don’t just feel pain either, other emotions too. Its like emotions are contagious. When the swans were out on the water I could picture and experience… swan-ness. All I have to do is put my mind to it. I think anyone could do it, if they took the time to try. Instead of just going around like they do now, thinking they’re the only people who matter. They don’t care who they hurt.” He hunched his shoulders mourning the loss all over again. “Swans mate for life you know. They find one true love and that’s it, forever. 'Till the end, 'till her very last breath, her last waking moment he was there… and he’s still here. The rains flooded the Res. Her grave is at the bottom somewhere. Such beautiful things… such pure love… and those morons, those insensitive bastards…they ruin it… they ruin everything.” He was crying now, making only small efforts to hide it. He dabbed away tears with his long sleeves and avoided making eye contact with David.
David, meanwhile, was genuinely moved by the sorrowful tale. Deeply regretting the animals he had slain in earlier weeks, he considered confessing to the sin. He thought better of it, however, knowing how upset the good-natured Palmer was at the moment. For an instant he mulled over turning himself into what would appear like a large swan sculpture. But that was far too showy and silly for his tastes. True, he could become anything, not just animals, if he chose so, but he never really had unless forced to by a situation. He liked still resembling some sort of living thing, whether it was akin to something real or not. Little was attractive about being an inanimate object. He wanted to be sure the form could move about, that it had already been tested by nature. But just what form could he use to put someone in a good mood? What was cheerful? What could spread joy?
Not wanting to explain he backed up five lengthy steps uphill. Crunching his heel into the rocky soil for a good grip, he launched himself forward. Long legs made for a wide strides and a good head start. “Bonzaii!” he shouted, ludicrously, mid-air. Landing on the boulder sunk in the middle of the end bowl of the plant-congested waters took little effort on his part. Spindly as he may be, David had enough exorcise while transformed to give him enough speed, strength, and agility not expected from such a pale spectacled boy. Rubber soles of leather shoes gave him no traction for the landing. He wobbled a bit on the lip of the rock. Since this was a show to start with, he decided to play it up. To be flip he flapped his arms and leaned dangerously backward as if it were not his intention to fall at all. Tipping over the sound of the other’s shock briefly reached him before he hit the water’s surface. Or, to be more accurate, it hit him. It felt like a great cold slap on his back.
Fingers pumped out Xilvrin in the onset of panic, melding together into two curved triangles. These would serve as thin rutters, a mitt for each hand. Strands of silver raced and wrapped themselves around his descending body. He left little room between himself and the shell. Threads became ribbons and ribbons became sheets. Cocooned in Xilvrin he was unaware of the any other creatures’ presence. An unlucky green-black bulbous bullfrog didn’t kick out of the way in time. It was caught in the churning metal with no chance of escape. Wrapped and squeezed from life it made a last ditch effort to squirm free from the sticky substance. None of the on-looking fish headed its croaks for mercy. More horrendous was as the sludge was taking shape, the soft tissue of the slimy frog was ripped apart, compacted, and absorbed. The amphibian’s spongy makeup was its death warrant.
Bolts of strange energy struck David. Electricity of the heart and muscles of the fist sized lillypad hopper ran back through the cords jacked into tubes under his fingernails that kept the armor flowing and extended all through his system. Vaguely he senses he had accidentally squished something small. Worrying that the blood sickness would be repeated he twisted the still ill defined cylindrical creature he’s become to see. Murky depths of the pond bottom prevented this, too chocked with sloth like waving chains of feathery lime colored weeds and cloudy silt and dead leaves that blocked the sun to get an exact view. What he could tell was that there were no impairments incurred to his own body. Changeling procedures did not slow, but rather, hastened. The unfortunate frog’s death had been as good as a caffeine kick to send him on his way. He wasn’t sure whether to be glad or troubled by this new discovery.
Bubbles streamed from his nose and mouth as he ran out of the last of the air he’s gulped before taking the plunge. Scarves of chrome covered his head and he relaxed. He knew he technically didn’t need air to breathe once fully armored. Xilvrin would absorb anything it needed as far as that went. Air didn’t seem to be the only thing it would absorb, he thought morbidly to the athletes’ blood and whatever had been caught up in him today. Tendencies to make chambers for breathing were more out of comfort’s sake.
Spending too long in a morph freaked him out. This was usually not a problem. Dropping energy levels meant that he couldn’t sustain the chemical flesh for much more time. Not even the best sportsman could play his game without breaking to rest and refuel. Otherwise he would have become carried away with one form or another long ago. He would have gained it personality and ceased to be human at all. Deep down he still wished to live amongst and be part of everyday society.
Although it has seemed like ages, only three minutes had gone by. Somersaulting he righted himself underwater. It took him another two to understand the exact capabilities of the creature. Beating the tail up and down he was able to sail quickly through the fresh water. Fins steadied him, keeping him from spinning out of control. Out of all the animals he had ever stolen the bodies of, this one was indeed the fastest. The guided missile that was he reached the other end of a shallow canal before he recalled exactly why he’d taken up the form in the first place. Racing back to the boulder he’d started from he poked his bottlenose up and out. There was his friend, frantically hunting for any signs of his body and calling his name, believing he had drowned. Palmer was too involved in his search to notice the great silver dolphin behind him. Gathering up a mouthful of water made sure the other had his back turned. He spit it out, reveling in the others revulsion as he was soaked by the fishy squirt gun, then sunk beneath the surface.
“David…David, if that’s you it’s not funny…” Palmer wrung out his shirttail looking for the prankster.
“Hehehehehe” David giggled now at the other side. This time he turned himself on a headstand and slapped his tail fluke as hard as he could against the water. The subsequent splash soaked the Latino to the bone.
Palmer stood up on the slippery rock, irritation rising. Drops of pond water dripped off his now flattened dark brown spiked hair. “All right…. jokes over… come out now…”
The dolphin was having too much fun to stop. Never being allowed to play with other children when he was young, playing around like this injected pure elation into him. He continued to spray the shivering skinny boy with more cold water from wherever he was not facing. When he couldn’t get any wetter, the dolphin ceased its harassment. “Got you,” David laughed fully. He’d said it before he had time to think.
“What the…” The scrawny youth backed away and lost his footing. The brunt of his fall was cushioned by the apologizing porpoise. “You can…and you’re…. and here… and this isn’t the ocean” he sputtered out.
“Don’t tell anyone. If word gets around, it’ll be a witch hunt for me.”
“David… that’s David’s voice!” Palmer cried. “You ate David!”
“Yes I ate him and stole his soul”. He couldn’t roll the fixed slits that served for eyes, but if he could have, he would have. “Fillet of soul. Had it sautéed with a glaze of lemon and butter. It was delicious.” While he was absorbed in sarcasm, he added “This IS David. Neat magic trick, don’t you think?”
“Magic…” Palmer’s hand caressed the sleek surface finish of the dolphins skin. “I’m not just imagining this, you’re real?”
“No, this is a dream. You’ll wake up from it snug in your bed.” David was exasperated. “Yes, I’m real.”
“Wow… what else can you do?”
“What do you mean what else? Isn’t this enough! If you had any idea the kind of problems and power that goes into this you’d… you’re laughing at me, aren’t you?” The dolphin whirled back and tilted its head to the side at the giggling swimmer.
“Well, I’ve never seen a ticked off robot dolphin before. Its kind of funny.” Palmer scrambled back onto the rock.
“I’m not a robot,” David griped. Clamping his mouth on the others sneaker, he tugged him back beneath the water. He didn’t like to be made fun of. Cruelly, he enjoyed watching the other flounder and squirm as he kept him from any chance of getting dry. The dolphin’s eternal festive grimace added a level of eeriness to his needless anger.
“You…you were the lion weren’t you?” Palmer pulled himself onto the lowest branch of a dead tree. “That other one …was a decoy? If you killed the other one… David, I’ll never forgive you.” He decreed honestly.
“I didn’t do it.” The dolphin teasingly butted his nose against the dangling feet. “I mean… I was the one that kicked the crap out of those guys who were beating on you, but I didn’t kill any real lions. I didn’t kill them either. You have to believe me. And you can’t tell anyone. You can’t. You have to promise me.”
“I promise. Just please... don’t ever do something like that again. Please? If you can turn yourself into animals, can’t you… save people? Like superheroes?” His voice cracked with concern and fear.
“Everyone keeps saying that. And I was trying to… but its not that simple.” He arched his back as to offer to give Palmer a lift back to land. “Its never simple. Besides, even if I did, think anyone would actually appreciate it? Do you honestly think they deserve to be saved?”
“That’s not for me to judge…” Palmer grabbed a hold of his dorsal fin.
Back on shore, curiosity took hold of the boy in black.
Endless questions met David’s ears after he shook off the coating like a dog would shake itself off after a bath, but he didn't feel like answering any of them. How did you get this way? I don't know. Why are you this way? I don’t know. How long have you been this way? As long as I can remember. Where did you learn to do this? I figured it out myself. Have you ever tried to become famous? No. Why not? I’m… my mother is afraid of what would happen to us if that happened. Can anyone else in your family do this? No, they're perfectly normal. Is there anyone else anywhere who can do what you do? Not that I know of. I think I'm the only one...the only one in the world like me. And I don't even know what I am or why. He closed his eyes, warming himself in the sun. He counted clouds to fall asleep in the soft grass. Crickets’ chirping symphony served as his lullaby.
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