a short story by John Kremer
He was about 60, silver-haired, dignified, well-built,
sharp-nosed, with piercing dark eyes. He wore a dark grey business suit, smartly
tailored. As for me, I was about 30 (give or take a few hundred years),
brown-haired and curly, casual, slightly scrawny, nothing special about my nose,
with laughing blue eyes. I wore blue jeans, a white shirt opened at the collar,
and sneakers—all well-worn and comfortable. He sat looking me over while I sat looking him over.
Surrounding us were seven of his bodyguards, all husky,
nervously alert, dressed in rough-cut black suits. Two were standing by his
side, two behind me, and three by the window, one of whom was peering down at
the traffic thirty stories below us. Several kept their guns out in the open,
aimed at me. The others all had at least one hand in a coat pocket, continually
fingering the guns they held inside.
I was bound to a chair, had no gun, could not reach the
phone to call for help — and they had already killed my two fellow agents. I was
alone. They had the upper hand. And I was going to win.
If there is one thing I have, it is plenty of time. So I
waited for the old man to make the first move. I would even hear him out. He was growling again.
“All right, kid, how do you do it? We know you can change
your shape at will, so don’t try anything funny. My men have orders to shoot if you make any suspicious moves.”
And, as if to add emphasis to his point, several more of
his men drew their guns out of their pockets and aimed them right at my head.
“And, kid, don’t think that they wouldn’t kill you right
off. We’d rather have you dead than give you a chance to escape — even if we
don’t find out your secret. But, now, tell us,” he smiled. “How do you do it? My
men tell me you are quite versatile. They saw you turn into a horse, a frog, and
a rabbit while chasing you down the fields.”
They missed a few. I guess I was too fast for them, or
perhaps they lost count. Or, perhaps, they did not want to tell their boss about the man I got as a rattler.
“Fortunately for us, our trap worked. How is your leg, by
the way? I hope we didn’t hurt it too much.” He laughed, and a split second later so did his men.
To tell the truth, my leg didn’t hurt at all. The moment I
slipped into the trap, I changed into a rock long enough to cut the force of the
snapping trap. Of course, I then had to wait for those confoundedly slow thugs
of his to catch up and help me out of the trap. It was the only way I could
arrange to meet their boss. And now I had met him. A trap within a trap, and he
was the true victim.
He was growling again.
“But, enough of this. Let us have it. How do you manage your
changes? What’s the trick?”
Oh, yes, the trick. Of course, they’d be looking for a
trick. So, why not give them one?
“It’s the ring I wear. I…”
But I got not further. Several of his thugs caught hold of
me then and tore the ring off my finger. I must admit that hurt some. They
played rough, these dark men.
They handed the ring over to their boss, and he inspected
it thoroughly. It was a large ruby set in a platinum band—suitably impressive,
suitably mysterious, and utterly ineffective.
“So how does it work, kid? How do you use it?”
He toyed with it, and I toyed with him.
“Well, you have to rub the ruby several times while
muttering appropriate obscenities.”
“Don’t get cute, kid. I’m not about to be toyed with.”
What he didn’t know was that it was already too late.
Besides, I had had enough of this playing. Time for some action.
So I thought flea. And the bonds fell loose about me. I was
a flea, and so were they. What he and his men hadn’t known was that my changing
held sway for about 30 feet on all sides of me. I have no control over that part
of it. Any human within that range changes in the same way I do. When they had
been chasing me in the woods, only one had gotten close enough to find out, and
he was dead. But, now, these men were caught by surprise. Their guns fell to the
flow, harmless toys, much too big for fleas to use.
Once free of my bounds, I changed into a cougar and pounced
over the desk at the boss. I had one of his legs in my teeth before he and his
men could adjust to the change. They, however, adjusted more quickly than I had
anticipated. Before I could finish with the boss, one of his men (now a cougar)
bit into my side.
Quickly I changed into a mouthless baboon, picked up that
man-baboon, and hurled him at several of his approaching friends. By then,
though, the ruckass had been heard in the next room, and several more mouthless
baboons were working to open the door from the other side.
Since the odds were already quite uneven, I changed again —
this time into a wolf. Immediately I finished off one of the other wolves,
getting him in the throat. But now there was howling at the door, and there was
a pack of angry eyes glaring at me. So again I changed.
I became an elephant, and suddenly it was as if we had had
a population explosion. And, indeed, we did. Several of the men-elephants were
forced out of the plate glass windows by the pressure, thus falling to the
streets thirty floors below, experiencing the last twenty-seven floors as men
doomed to die.
Two more down. But, unfortunately, the pressure had gone
both ways, knocking out the walls which had been separating us from those
elephants in the outer office. I had finished off three of them, but now a dozen
more came bulling in from the outer office. Since I was again at a disadvantage,
I took flight.
I became a crow, headed for the smashed window, and flew
across the open sky towards the buildings across the street. A flock of crows
pursued me. A number of them, however, were too slow, and I outdistanced them,
and several more screaming men fell to the streets below.
I headed for the top of a building several blocks down the
street. Just before landing, I changed into a cat — and several more cats qua
crows qua men fell screaming for their lives. The others hung precariously on
the edge twenty feet away. All except one.
She was a terrified cat, female, probably the receptionist
from the outer office. She spat at me, her eyes but a few paces from mine. She
leapt at me and almost scratched out one of my eyes, tearing some tuffs of fur
from my neck instead. I didn’t wait for her to strike again. I turned and
scurried away, took a corner at the far end, ran along the side of the building,
leapt over the next edge, and fell.
There was a ledge about two stories down, so I waited until
I landed to change. This time I became a pig. Immediately I heard the squeals of
other pigs as they fell one upon the other onto the ledge. Several were squashed
under the mass of quivering flesh. Others slipped off the pile and rolled over
the edge. Still others recovered, grouped together, and came charging towards
Again I leapt out into the open air, took flight as an
eagle, and dived for the street below. A half dozen eagles raced after me. They
were gaining on me, but as I landed I changed once more — this time into a dog.
Several of the dogs whimpered as they fell, but all of them
came after me as I dashed across the street, weaving in between the traffic.
Once on the other side, I changed into a table and sat there listening as
several other tables were ground to sawdust beneath the wheels of the oncoming
traffic. Note to self: Tables don’t steer very well.
I held this pose for but a moment, long enough to ensure
that none of my pursuers could have survived. I then changed again — this time
into my normal self — and, as the traffic came to a stop, turned to see the
bloody remains of four men and one woman. A movement in the middle of the street
caught my eye. I looked up to see a well-built silver-haired man charging
towards me, his cold dark eyes holding me in check.
I shivered but recovered in time to change into a parking
meter. His momentum caused him to topple over with a clanging crash. I took
advantage of his fall by changing into a horse and galloping down the alley. He
recovered quickly and followed me down the alley, neighing loudly as he did.
At the end of the alley I took a left turn, changing into a
souped-up ’64 Corvette as I did. The neighing stopped, only to be replaced by a
blaring horn as another ’64 Corvette came squealing out of the alley and around
the corner. I poured on the gas, laid a little rubber, and shot around another
corner. I raced down that street, charging through several intersections, just
barely making a yellow light on the last one. Still I could feel the other
Corvette hanging on my tail.
I hit the next intersection doing 45, took a swerving right
down a one-way street, went up to 50, made the next two intersections with time
to spare, only to miss — by inches — a semi backing out of the next alley. The
other Corvette did not miss. I came to a screeching stop just on the other side
of the next intersection.
Changing again into my human self, I turned around and ran
down the street. I arrived in time to see a silvered-grey head come to a rolling
stop near the left rear tires of the semi. The eyes were still cold and dark,
but had already begun to mist over.
The old man was dead, having died without so much as a
whimper. The others had died screaming. Over twenty dead — and for what purpose?
Who was better for all of that? No one, not even the dead.
Was the world any better for all of that? No, it reeked of blood. Was I any
better for all of that? No, I too reeked of blood and death. My side ached where
I had been bitten, and my neck burned where I had been scratched.
This was not the life for me. No more. I was tired of
trying to better humankind. Was the only good man to be a dead man? At that
rate, paradise would be a graveyard. It was all wrong.
Humankind would have to grow up on its own, make its own
mistakes, earn its own glory. As for me, I was going to retire.
I turned away from the crowd that had gathered at the
accident. Turned, and gave a slight wave.
I walked down the street a little further and turned right,
strolling into an alley away from the crowd. I phoned the Agency and told them I
quit. I had had enough. I hung up before they could protest. I left the alley.
Out flew a crimson bird, on fire.