When I was young, I often had abnormal anger impulses and trouble controlling my emotions. I was put through counseling a countless number of times. Doctors practically shoved pills down my throat, thinking it would make my issues vanish. Most of them thought my problems stemmed from my mother, who had gone missing when I was young, and then there's my father, who became a drunk and began to waste away. As a kid, I never had many friends, as the only friend I had was Kai. He lived across the street from me since he moved from California when we were five. I spent most of my time at his house, and his parents usually didn't notice or care if I was around. We usually played videogames together or listened to music, which I enjoyed because I never really cared for girly things, like nail polish or dolls. Sometimes I would get mad at him if I lost, but he was patient and never once yelled at me. I also tended to be extremely over-protective. When Kai's first girlfriend broke up with him freshman year, I nearly knocked the daylights out of her. School suspension for that, inevitably. Most people thought I was weird...a freak. They couldn't understand why a cool guy like Kai would associate with me. I never realized how different from others I really was.
When my sixteenth birthday rolled around, Kai did his best to make it special.
"Hey there, birthday girl! I tried making you a cake and everything…the whole birthday bit, you know. But I uhh…” Kai’s voice trailed off when I first entered his house.
“Burnt it?” I said, grinning.
“Yeah. You know I burn anything. Even water.”
“But I got you a present!” he smiled, trying to make up for his failed baking attempt.
He handed me a small box. I opened it to find a necklace, with a rope chain that had a pale blue stone that hung at the bottom. Several intricate designs had been carved into the stone.
“Aw, thanks Kai! I love it!” I exclaimed as I tied the necklace around my neck.
His gift had turned my day around. I’d woken up feeling like crap. I’d had frequent body pains lately and they kept getting worse. Kai thought that maybe they were just growing pains, but I’d already gone through my growth spurt a couple years back. Advil wasn’t cutting it. It felt as if I was being punched repeatedly.
I suddenly became extremely queasy.
“Do you mind if I step outside for a moment? I feel a little sick.”
“Sure, no problem.”
I retreated outside. I was craving it, even if it was only for a few minutes. It was weird; if I stayed inside for too long I’d go insane. Sometimes I just needed some fresh air. I was immune to shivering and sweating; I never did either. It was below twenty degrees outside, but I didn’t notice. All I felt was the crisp air whipping gently across my hair and face, cooling me down, as the pains began to hurt less. All of a sudden, the pains rapidly grew worse than they originally were and I began vomiting.
Everything went black.
When I opened my eyes, I was lying in a dark, empty room. The lighting was very low, but I could see normally. My vision was noticeably sharper. I felt strange; different. My hand flew up on instinct to wipe away the sweat that lined my forehead. Sweat? I never sweat. I looked down at my hand and immediately knew something was wrong. It looked deformed, inhuman. It had become an orange paw, with black stripes here and there, and long, pointy claws.
“What?!” I spoke in a panic, but it came out as a muffled “Mrreow.”
Kai entered the room. He tried to look calm, but I could see the panic and pure terror flickering in his amber-colored eyes. He didn’t say a word, just came up to me, approaching me slowly with caution in his steps. He reached his hand out and grasped the necklace he had given me for my birthday, the one with the blue stone.
I nodded. His eyebrows scrunched, a look of complete confusion enveloping his face.
Everything went black again.
When I woke up, I was human again. Thank God it was only a dream.
“You woke up? Oh, good. I was getting worried. What happened back there?” Kai said.
“I was feeling lightheaded and passed out. I must be getting sick or someth-”
Before I could finish, he cut me off. “I’m talking about the whole kitty-cat business.”
Guess it wasn’t a dream after all. I looked down at myself. I wasn't wearing the hoodie and jeans I'd put on before, I was wearing a tee shirt and sweatpants of Kai's. My clothes must've bursted during all of this.
“I honestly have no idea what happened. I think…I need to sleep more. I obviously have some freak disease and if I sleep, it will go away.” I reassured him with an uneasy smile, even though I knew it must have been a lot more than that.
I turned swiftly and headed for the door,
"Where are you going?" Kai asked.
"Home. I'll be back soon. For now, please just give me time. I need to figure out what the hell is going on and straighten myself out." I spoke.
His brow furrowed, but he still gave me sharp nod.
I turned around once more.
I shrugged and walked out the door.
I returned to my own home, sneaking past my father, who drank himself silly and passed out on the couch. When I got into my room, I found a boy who looked about seventeen surveying my room. He had longish black hair and intense pale blue eyes so light that they almost looked grey.
“Who are you and what the hell are you doing in my room?!” I demanded.
"You have lots of..things in your room." he commented.
"Excuse me? Who gave you the right to look through people's things?"
“Never mind that. I’m Deion. Now before you flip out and attack me, let me explain why I'm here. I know about you being a shapeshifter; I’m one too. I’ve come here to tell you everything.” he said.
“Yeah. You’ve never heard of them in stories or anything? They’re people who have the ability to change into animals. Which animal you turn into depends on your blood.”
“My blood? You mean my mother…” I paused for a moment.
“She lost control. My parents overlook this entire project, and they had to have her taken away. We’re genetically modified, and if we aren’t careful, we can lose our grip on things. Your mother killed a group of teenagers, not realizing what she was doing, the cat taking over.”
“You're either a deranged psycho, or I've gone crazy and you're a hallucination, or I'm asleep and having a terrible nightmare that I will wake from shortly."
“None of the above, I'm afraid. I wish I could say it were one of those things...but it isn't."
He stuck his hand into the messenger bag that hung on his shoulder and pulled out a book.
“Here,” he said, handing it to me. “It has everything you need to know. But before I go, I need to tell you about the decision you have to make.”
“You must choose to leave, and come with me and my family or stay here and risk the lives of the ones you care about. Be grateful you even have a choice. If it were up to my mother, you'd be dragged out of here and into their custody. My father re-thought it and realized that we should leave the choice up to you.”
My hand flew up to the sky blue stone that hung around my neck. Kai. I imagined myself pouncing on him in cat form, tearing him to shreds, killing him, losing control. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did that.
On the other hand, I couldn't just abandon him. He was my best friend. He was the only thing is the world that I gave a damn about. I could probably control this whole transformation thing if I tried hard enough...right?
"I'm staying here." the words left my mouth.
"Miranda, that really isn't a good idea. Its very dangero-"
"I don't care," I cut him off, "I'll be fine. If I learn how to control this, there will be no problem at all. You can't just show up here and pull me away from my life. I'm not going anywhere, and nothing you do or say can change my mind."
"You can't control it. You never will be able to. Its in your blood." he replied.
For some reason, his words felt like a slap in the face. Realization hit. I became frustrated because he was right.
"Leave." I spat.
"You heard me."
"This is incredibly stupid and selfish on your behalf, you know."
He shook his head in disapproval, then walked back to the open window and hopped out. My bedroom was ground level, so he wouldn't have gotten hurt. Not that I would've cared if he did. I slammed the window shut after him and locked it tightly.
I collapsed onto my bed, replaying the day's events in my mind. How had this all happened in just one day? Or had it been more than one day? How long was I a cat for? Or..tiger, rather. I'd have to ask Kai. Kai...what was I to do about him? Would he even talk to me after finding out that I was a freakish superhuman?
Thinking about this made my brain hurt, so I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep. After lying there for hours, I eventually dozed off. I didn't sleep well. I kept waking up nearly every hour, and I was hot. My skin felt like it could've been over a hundred degrees, and I couldn't stop the sweat pouring from my body.
I threw the blankets off. At 4 AM, my body began to hurt again.
"Okay, so clearly I'm not going to be able to get any sleep tonight." I mentally concluded.
I sat up and reached for my iPod, jamming the headphones into my ears, drowning out the world with my music. The pains intensified. I lost control of my body, my arms and legs flailing about, my skin rippling and becoming striped, my clothing threatening to burst at any given moment. I didn't black out this time, so I could see what was happening to me. The iPod slipped from my grasp and hit the ground, clanking against the wood floor. After a few seconds of my limbs going crazy, my body returned to normal.
Did I just transform halfway?
I looked down at myself. Everything looked normal. I was a human. I took a deep breath and lied back down. I was shaking.
I must have fallen asleep because when my eyes opened, it was bright outside again. The sweat had caused my hair to stick to my face, and I had no doubt that I was a mess. I wasn't shocked when I looked into the full-length body mirror hanging on my door and found that I was right.
That was when I remembered. The book. The one Deion had given me. Where'd I put it? I searched for it all about the room, until I found it on the floor, where I must've dropped it. Or thrown it there out of annoyance. Close enough.
I picked it up and began flipping frantically through the pages, as if I'd forgotten how to read. I sighed at my patheticness and turned back to the first page.
"A Guide to Shapeshifting for the Genetically-modified, by Tyrus Blackwood." it read.
I read a bit, but it didn't include anything I hadn't already known. It said that we were part of an experiment, that our genes had been messed with, and that we had no control over ourselves whatsoever. I tossed the book aside and moved on.
I opened my bedroom door and peeked out, cautiously, wondering where my father was. Not a sound could be heard in the house, so I assumed he was still asleep. I tip-toed across the hall and into the bathroom. Piece by piece, I peeled my clothes off and hopped into the shower. The cold water felt refreshing across my skin. I'd always loved cold showers.
After I'd finished cleaning myself up, getting dressed, and brushing my hair, I crept to the front door, in hopes of visiting Kai.
The wooden floor made a creaking noise. Which meant I basically just screwed myself.
My father's eyes opened abruptly.
"Where do you think you're going?" he practically growled.
"Umm..I'm going to the uhh...the grocery store. Yes, I'm going to get some milk." I lied.
"Bullshit you're going to the grocery store."
"You're going to see that little boyfriend of yours, aren't ya'?"
"Kai isn't my boyfriend, Dad."
"Get me Advil."
He was probably hung-over, which meant I could easily escape without him putting up a fight. I smiled and followed his order.
He took the Advil and then spoke once more.
I fled across the street to Kai's house and barged in without knocking. Kai's mother was in the kitchen, stirring a pot of something.
"Miranda? What is it?"
"He's upstairs in his room. Did you need something?"
"I need to speak to him."
"You can just head on up then."
"Thanks, Mrs. Riverton."
She dismissed me with a wave of the hand, and I raced up the stairs, feeling a strong need for Kai,afraid he'd push me away, afraid he would no longer speak to me.
"Kai?" I called.
I lightly rapped my knuckles on his bedroom door and he opened it, wearing nothing but boxers and his hair unbrushed.
"Shit, Miranda. Why come now? I was sleeping. And I look like crap." he spoke.
I reached out and tousled his hair, making it even sloppier than it had been.
"All better," I laughed.
He shook his head but had a smirk on his face.
"Gimme a sec' to throw something on, alright?"
I stood there for about five minutes when Kai opened the door again.
"Come in," he shifted so that I could fit through the doorway.
He followed me inside and shut the door behind me.
"So, about yesterday..." he began.
"I'll just explain it. Apparently, I'm a shapeshifter, and I can turn into a tiger. My genes have been screwed with by some mad scientists, so now I'm stuck with this freak disease for life. Some guy, Deion, stopped by my house yesterday to explain this to me. Then, he asked me to leave with him but I refused. And that's...just about it, really." I said.
He let in sink in for a moment.
"To be honest, I would think you were a delusional nutjob if I hadn't seen this happen myself." he chuckled.
"Gee thanks, Kai." I muttered with a laugh.
"I'm not going to lie though, it was scary. At first, I was afraid you were going to die or something. I was panicking."he spoke.
"YOU were panicking?! How do you think I felt?"
He walked over to his TV set, picked up an Xbox controller, and tossed it to me.
"You know what might make you feel better, Miranda? If I kick your ass in Halo." he grinned.
He beat me. For what was probably the 30,000th time now. I became frustrated, as I always did when I didn't succeed at something.
"Miranda? I'm sorry...we can play again, and I'll go easy this time."
It all happened so suddenly. The massive amount of sweating, the flailing of my limbs, the loss of control. I attempted to make a run for the door, but I became stuck. My body wouldn't listen to me. My eyes closed, and when I opened them, I was hungry. So hungry. I looked up at Kai. I no longer saw him as my best friend, but as prey. I was the tiger, and he was a hopeless gazelle.
I pounced, knocking him over.
My paw swiped across his face, my claws out, trying to rip up my prey.
In a matter of seconds, I transformed back. I was human again, back in my small body, lying on top of Kai. And to add to all the craziness, I was naked.
"Kai, I...holy shit." I spoke.
I got off of him to examine the damage I had done. From beside his right eyebrow to just underneath his cheekbone was a gash. A stream of blood was flowing down the side of his face. Blood leaked through his shirt as well, so I clearly had hurt his stomach too.
"I'm so sorry! I didn't mean-"
"Its okay. I'm okay."
Footsteps. I had to find something to cover up with, and quickly. I threw open Kai's drawers and found a sweatshirt that I threw over my head. When Kai's mother opened the door, I was still pulling the sweatpants on. Of course, conclusions would be jumped to.
"Crap," I muttered.
Kai's mother rushed in, seeming to not even acknowledge the fact that I was putting my pants back on.
"What happened?!" her words escaped her lips in a frenzy.
She almost ran beside her son, concern written on her face.
My stomach flipped. Was Kai going to rat me out? No, of course not.
"See, funny story, Mom. Me, being the klutz I am, tripped over the foot of my bed and crashed into the tv set." he laughed.
Leave it to Kai to still have a sense of humor in a situation like this.
Kai's mom whipped out her phone and dialed 911.
The smell of blood hit my nose and caused my mouth to water. I began sweating heavily again.
"I have to go." I spoke, then ran as fast as possible from the room and from Kai.
I sprinted into the woods outside, running as far as I could before transforming again.
That was when I knew I couldn't live there anymore. I couldn't be Kai's friend. As soon as I realized that those moments with Kai were probably the last I'd ever have with him, my yellowy-orange cat eyes filled with tears. I could never go near him again. It was too much of a risk. I'd gotten lucky enough, not killing him this time.
I transformed back, and lied on the cold earth of the woods for a bit. I was naked, yet again. I'd already lost, what, three outfits from transforming? Maybe even four? I'd lost count.
The crunching of leaves made me jump.
"Who's there?" my voice quivered.
"Relax, its just me."
Great. Him of all people would approach while I was dealing with some serious emotional trauma.
He tossed an extra large sweatshirt towards me, and I quickly yanked it over my head.
"Get out of here, you sick pervert."
"Calm down. I'm not here to see you naked, though I wouldn't complain if you-"
"Oh, just shut up. You're disgusting."
"If you're going to say 'I told you so', just go ahead and get it over with." I avoided looking him in the eye.
"I'm not. But I knew something would happen at some point, so I stuck around. What exactly did happen? Did you reveal your identity to anyone?" he asked.
Something in my gut told me to lie.
"No. I almost revealed it to my father, but I ran out just in time." I replied.
"And have you come to your senses?" he asked.
I thought for a moment.
"Yes," I spoke, "I'm coming with you."