A Whateley Academy Adventure Buffalo Gal Won't You Come Out Tonight by ElrodW Chapter 1 Wednesday, February 14, 2007 A Small Town in Eastern South Dakota I hate chores in February. I know they're a necessary evil, but February in eastern South Dakota is cold, cold, cold, which makes for miserable days. Most folks underestimate just how cold it can sometimes get. The mercury can sometimes dip below minus forty, and with the wind chill, it's brutal! The dearth of daylight hours didn't help; I got up in the dark, did chores, went to school, stayed for basketball practice, and came home in the dark for evening chores. It was a physical and mental grind, and if I hadn't been in basketball, I might have had a little free time, but like most 'jocks' in a small farming town, we jocks didn't participate in only one sport. My primary interest was football, where I'd been starting linebacker as a mere sophomore, winning the spot over Scott Hollings, a senior, and making a mortal enemy of him in the process. Basketball and track were diversions to help me keep in shape during the off-season. Besides, Julie really had a thing for jocks, and staying active in other sports was one way to ensure that I remained the focus of her attention. She was a damned good kisser, and she was curvier than a Formula One race track, which made for some interesting ... recreation. I'm Brandon Franks, or I was, and the start of my sophomore year held promise, or at least it started out that way. Five foot nine, one hundred sixty-five pounds of chiseled muscle, I was, if I do say so myself, rather good looking and had a good group of friends in school. My life, however, was about to become very different - in some ways a blessing, and in others a nightmare. A lot of guys were razzing me, because as we came off the basketball court, Julie was waiting, and she gave me a very big kiss, which promised more of the same later that evening. I could hardly wait. Shower, home, do evening chores, have dinner, and then drive back to town for a night of cuddling and kissing. Sounds like a perfect evening to me. "Hey Franks," one of the juniors called out angrily. "How do _you_ manage to date a girl like Julie?" JJ picked up the question. "Yeah. She's a junior, for God's sakes!" I just smiled and shrugged as I stripped off my practice uniform. Julie Robinson was a piece of heaven, at least in my eyes. Shoulder-length wavy dark hair, trim, athletic figure with just the right amount of curves. Gorgeous face, with soft blue eyes, very kissable lips, and not a blemish or flaw on her perfect skin that still bore the remnants of a golden summer tan. I couldn't help but smile when I thought of her. "Some guys got it, and some guys don't." I knew the looks they were giving me and the thoughts running through their minds - time to haze me for my sass. "And you can't do some of the shit you did last year, since I'm a sophomore!" I grinned. Hazing freshmen was strictly against the rules, but the team did it anyway. The freshmen got the shower-head that was stuck on cold water, which was actually among the more pleasant tricks, like alternating Icy-Hot and cold spray on the nuts. I thought mine were going to crack and fall off when they did that to me! In track, I got trussed up in athletic tape like a mummy. It sucked to be the victim of that crap, but it was kind of a tradition - as long as the guys didn't get too carried away. But now that I was a sophomore, I was immune against hazing pranks. Well, mostly so. "Man, she's hot!" Rich said appreciatively. "She's got legs that go forever, and I bet there's a nice prize when you manage to climb all the way to the top!" That comment elicited a round of cheers and guffaws. I tried to keep my cool and not blush. "A gentleman doesn't talk about what he does with a lady," I said smugly, hoping it would drop. It didn't. "Maybe, but you're no gentleman," Tom hooted. "And from what I hear, she's no lady! Unless you're talking 'lady of the evening!'" "Does she put out as much as everyone says?" another guy chimed in. For some reason, I'd been picked as the target for all the verbal jabs that day. I'd heard that line of commentary before, and I was sick of it, and more than a bit upset that they were insulting Julie. Part of me wanted to defend Julie's honor, even though I knew of at least three guys she'd screwed, and that she had a bit of a reputation of being a good lay for jocks. Despite that, she was a sweet girl, and we'd agreed when we started dating that we wouldn't go past some petting, because she was trying to get her libido in check and restore her reputation. "I'm not talking, Skelly," I said, trying to sound suave and unaffected by the barbs. "Besides, even if she _was_ like that, you wouldn't have a chance in hell if every other man's dick fell off and you were the last resort." JJ picked up on my conversation diverter. "Yeah, Skelly," he taunted, "you couldn't get laid in a whorehouse!" I left them to taunt Skelly while I prepared for my shower, not feeling too bad at turning the taunting to him, since Skelly had bullied me all through grade school and junior high until I had a growth spurt that made me taller and more muscular than he was. Oh, yeah, and I always looked like I was nicely tanned from working outside, thanks to genes from my mother's side of the family. I was one quarter Lakota, from my maternal grandmother, which gave me slightly darker skin than everyone else, so I could usually work all summer without ever getting sunburned, unlike many of my friends. Somehow, though, against all odds, my hair more reflected the Germanic origins from my father's side, even if I wasn't an ideal Nordic specimen. When I finished up, I hustled out of the locker-room and drove home. It was already dark, and since I'd showered, my hair froze before the heater in my truck warmed up the cab. We lived on a very large farm, and my younger brother Danny and I had plenty of chores to help keep the place running. We had the normal seasonal chores - in the spring, it was calving, planting the spring wheat, plowing and planting corn, cutting hay and baling it. In the summer, we cultivated the corn, moved cattle among the fields so they wouldn't over-graze one area, harvested the winter wheat, and cut hay at least twice more., and then harvested the spring wheat. Fall was the light season; we just cut hay, harvested the corn, planted the winter wheat, and moved the cattle up to close to the barn for the winter. During the winter when it could get minus forty, we had to feed the cattle, which was an all-day affair. Normal farm life; I never knew anything different. It was worse than most farms, though, because we owned a moderate-sized trucking company based on the farm, hauling grain and livestock, and even delivering miscellaneous freight from places like Sioux Falls. Dad and Uncle Roger owned and ran an implement dealership in town, providing everything from farming implements to tractors to seed grain. So life was busy. It was all the farming that helped my muscles bulk up, so I stayed in great shape. The evening was pretty normal; we had feed the cattle. My typical day started with morning chores, school, and then basketball practice or, Tuesdays and Fridays, a game. On nights without a game, we fed the cattle, and then I'd have a little time for studying or to run into town to hang with the guys. Free time was a precious commodity. "Uh, dad?" I asked at the dinner table. "Yeah?" "Can I go into town tonight?" "You want to see Julie, don't you," my kid brother teased. "Jealous that you'll never have a girlfriend as hot as her?" I shot right back. "Sure, but you've got chores before school tomorrow morning," Mom reminded me, "so not later than nine thirty." "Aw, mom! Everyone is out until the town curfew at ten thirty!" Mom gave the 'the look'. I hated 'the look'; it could make a grown man cry at fifty paces. It was, apparently, a woman's gift to get anything out of a man, that is, after the usual bribery tricks failed. And I wasn't talking bribery with money! I sighed. "Okay, nine-thirty." Let me think - it wasn't quite seven. Fifteen minutes to town, hang out in the burger joint for a while, shooting the shit with the guys and sitting off and on with Julie, then we leave for some serious making out, drop her off at nine-fifteen, and home around nine-thirty. That might be cutting it close, time-wise, but a few minutes of playing with Julie's firm, creamy breasts was worth it. In Town The burger joint was crowded, but what else was there in a town of under one thousand? I strode in comfortably, watching the people around me. Julie sprang from the booth she was sitting in with her girlfriends and wrapped her arms around me, dragging me down into a very passionate kiss right in front of everyone - not that I minded in the least bit. When that mind-blowing, fireworks-at-night kiss ended, my knees were wobbly. If she could do _that_ with just a kiss .... "I'm going to catch up with the guys for a bit. I'll see you in a few minutes, okay?" Julie was quite happy that I wasn't a pushy, clingy, insecure boyfriend. When she'd dated Scott Hollings, he was overly possessive, and he made her life miserable by always being around her, demanding that she spend time with him instead of with her friends, and generally being an insanely jealous jerk. Even though he was my rival for the starting spot on the football team, I wouldn't say anything bad about him, at least not in public. It didn't help to make enemies in school, and besides, anything I did say would get back to him eventually. That's the downside of a small town- everyone knows everyone, and secrets aren't secret for long. After I finished a bit of bull with the guys, I walked casually to the booth Julie and her friends were in and pulled up a chair at the end, sitting backwards in the chair with my legs spread around the seat back, and leaning one arm on it. "What's new?" I asked, placing my hand on Julie's. She liked affectionate touches like that, and to be honest, I really didn't mind. Hell, I'll admit it - I liked it, too. "We heard that Sara Johnson, you know, Harry's cousin over in Wessington? Well, someone said that she's a mutant! They also said that the MCO had taken her away," one of the cheerleaders reported. They huddled around and spoke in conspiratorial tones, even though everyone within five yards could hear them - easily. I grimaced. "Wow! I wonder if Harry's got the genes, too. He's kind of young, so he might manifest, too!" The area wasn't a bastion for Humanity First, but the prejudice still ran very deep. I was glad that I wasn't on the receiving end of it. Life had just gone from tough to nearly impossible for Sara and her family. "I don't know," Cheryl, one of the cheerleaders, said. "I heard she and her family had to get out of town pretty quickly." "I'm glad that kind of thing doesn't happen here! I've heard the tension around mutants can tear apart friendships and families. "I wasn't a hard-core mutant-hating bigot, unlike some people, but I wasn't sure that I liked the ideas of mutants living among us normal people. A few years back, a rager mutant had gone on a murder spree that started in Huron, ripped through a few small towns, and then hit the capital, Pierre, like a sledge-hammer on an ant-hill, before she was finally stopped by a very elite outside military force. Before her rampage was done, one hundred sixty eight people were dead, including six police officers and thirty-three national guardsmen who'd tried to stop her, and over seven hundred innocent civilians were injured, some crippled for life. Even though there were quite a few level-headed people who rightly pointed out that baselines committed horrible acts of mass murder as well, much of the state was left with an extreme case of mutant-phobia which probably spilled over into our neighboring states. The rest of the discussion focused on Sara's mutation, mostly involving wild speculation about what her mutation was. If the kids were to be believed, she was some type of laser-beam-eyed, flesh-eating, rock monster. Even I thought that was a little over the top. Some mutants seemed so normal, though. I'd heard that one of the bankers in Mitchell and a few businessmen in Sioux Falls were mutants, and then there were all the superheroes who fought not only supervillain mutants, but regular criminals as well. After a while, Julie and I made our excuses and left, but instead of going home, we went to Make-out Mountain. While it's true that there are no mountains in eastern South Dakota, the river bluffs overlooking the James River provided some spectacular vistas of the river valley, especially looking out on a serene, snow-covered valley on a moonlit night in the winter. One of the higher bluffs had gotten the nickname through repeated use for ... extra-curricular activities. The effect of the stunning view under the moon and stars was supposedly the best aphrodisiac anyone could ever ask for. I was content with some kissing and playing with Julie's stunning vistas. And I got delayed, because her bra hooks got snagged in the carpet - again. I missed curfew by ten minutes, but Mom didn't object - too much. Thursday, February 15, 2007 The Franks Family Farm I woke up early - five o'clock, got dressed, scarfed down a few eggs and some bacon, and high-tailed it to the barn, where Bessy awaited. Yes, we had a milk cow, and yes, Mom named her Bessy. While milking and gathering eggs were a royal pain, fresh milk and fresh eggs were to die for, unlike the poor substitutes that were sold in stores. While I was milking Bessy, Danny gathered the eggs from the chicken coop, a task with much dust, squawking, and flying feathers. He was starting eighth grade, and was much smaller than I was. I knew he'd rapidly tire from milking, even though he was the bulkiest, strongest kid in his class, so I took the 'hard' chore, or so he thought. In my opinion, milking was much easier than dealing with crotchety, half-sleeping hens and a very territorial rooster, in a dark, dusty chicken coop. Besides, it really built up hand-strength. Once the milking was done, I fueled up the diesel tank in Dad's pickup, and then fueled my own truck before I went in to shower so I could go to school. As a side note, I should explain that kids in South Dakota can get a driver's license at the age of fourteen, since it's a very rural state, and farm boys - and girls - are often driving tractors and trucks between farms, fields, and town much earlier in life - sometimes at the tender age of nine or ten! None of the police or state troopers pay any attention to a freckle-faced junior-high student driving a large truck full of wheat or corn to the nearest grain elevator. It was very convenient; if we took the bus, it tacked on an extra forty minutes, because the bus route wended its way all over the countryside to pick up or drop off kids. On top of that, the buses had long since left school by the time practice was over. For some reason, during the drive in to school, I felt hot and cold flashes, and my stomach churned. Was I coming down with something? Food poisoning, perhaps? They didn't reoccur, so I didn't worry about it. Instead, with my book backpack slung over one shoulder, I took my clean athletic gear into the locker room in the gym to stow until practice later in the afternoon. While walking back toward the classrooms, I felt another hot flash, and feeling dizzy, I staggered down the hall and against the wall like I was drunk. Everything went topsy-turvy. I completely lost my balance, and felt like I was ready to hurl. I had another very hot flash, and then everything went dark. I came to, lying flat on my back on the floor, with a couple of guys staring down at me. "What's wrong?" I asked, puzzled by the frightened expressions they bore. "Guys?" I was getting no reaction. "Guys?" The way they were staying at me was spooky. My best friend JJ's expression slowly changed from bewilderment to a strange mixture of fear and anger, his face a shade of red that made scarlet look like a pastel color. "Get out of here, mutant!" he screamed angrily, though his eyes reflected terror and his voice cracked with his fear. I had a momentary thought that he was going to burst some blood vessels and have a stroke. "Get out of here!" Slowly, I levered myself off the floor, watching in disbelief as the guys backed away from me. "Guys..." I pleaded. "Get out of here before we make you sorry, mutant!" JJ snarled at me, putting particular emphasis on the word mutant, as if it were the most disgusting word in the English language. Things weren't clicking. I wasn't a mutant. I couldn't be a mutant! So why was he calling me that? Stunned, I turned to other guys, and saw them flinch and step back from me. Something was going on, and I didn't like the outcome that the facts logically led to. Somehow, based on the way the guys were reacting, I'd manifested as a mutant. But that was impossible! Seeing their fear and rage, and knowing the anti-mutant sentiment in the area, I did the only thing possible when surrounded by guys who hated mutants and looked like they wanted to beat the crap out of me like I was one. I stumbled to my feet and dashed into the relative safety of the locker room. Mr. Bob, as the assistant coach preferred to be called, was straightening up a few things in the coach's cage, and when he saw me run in, he glanced up. His jaw immediately dropped, and all color drained from his face, leaving chalk-white jowls flapping in disbelief and fear. After staring a few seconds, he bolted to the door of the cage, much faster than one would believe a two-hundred seventy pound man could, and locked it from the inside. To say that I was frightened was putting it mildly. What the hell was going on? I ran into the bathroom, to look in a mirror, and damn near fainted. I looked like I always had, except that my eyes had changed. Instead of the hazel irises I'd grown up with, the color was unmistakably verdant, a lush green that was unnatural. There was no mistaking the Kelly green of my eyes now. I felt a cry choking in my throat at what I saw. I was a mutant. Eye color changes as radical as mine occurred _only_ in mutants, and my eyes displayed such a radical change, marking me forever as a mutant to anyone who'd known that I had hazel eyes. I turned and fled. At least, I tried to. I was terrified by the reaction I'd already seen, and didn't want to take any chances. I was just about at the doors to the parking lot when they burst open, and several of my schoolmates stormed into the building, led by JJ. I halted, terrified by the looks of raw hatred on some of the guys when they recognized me. "Get out of here, gene-filth!" one of them hissed angrily. "Fucking mutant! Do us all a favor and go kill yourself!" "Let's teach this filth a lesson," Scott snapped. It wasn't hard for the two of them to whip the crowd into a frenzy. I couldn't believe that my friends were reacting the way they were. Unfortunately for me, that frenzy was directed my way. I started to back up as the terrifying mob advanced, and then I turned and ran. The only direction I could go was into the auditorium next to the locker room, with an angry mob right behind me. Just as I reached the doors and pushed against the panic bar to open them, a pile-driver of a fist slammed into the side of my head. Even before I started to crumple from that blow, three more fists contacted my ribs, producing pain and a couple of loud cracks. I felt a rain of fist blows and kicks as I collapsed and my vision faded; the last thing I remember was thinking that these guys, my friends, were going to kill me. In Town I woke up, sore in every part of my body. From the pain in my groin, I knew that someone had taken special sadistic delight in kicking me multiple times in the crotch, or even stomping on my genitals. My ribs hurt, my face hurt, one arm felt like it was broken. My eyes were swollen to the point that I could hardly see out of them. For several long seconds, I stared at my surroundings, trying to make sense of where I was. I was lying in the snow somewhere, but I wasn't sure where. After looking around for a while, my mind slowly re-engaging and starting to process the data my senses were sending it, I came to the conclusion that I was between the two large dumpsters behind the gym, a low-traffic area used mainly by the janitors. I was baffled; at minus twenty degrees, I _should_ have frozen to death within an hour at most. Instead, I still felt quite warm, almost hot. I could see the light in the parking lot, which told me that it was at least late afternoon. Staring at my watch produced no results for several long moments as my eyes tried to focus and my brain struggled to process the information. Finally, the time made sense - nine thirty-five. I'd been unconscious for around fourteen hours. I tried to lever myself up, but my battered body wasn't cooperating, except to shoot tendrils of red-hot agony through my brain. I studied my surroundings a bit more before I tried anything else, because I knew that I might have only one chance to get myself out of this mess, and if I messed up and slipped, I might go unconscious again, and then I'd certainly freeze. The guys had beaten me badly, and then callously hauled me out to a relatively unused area on the school grounds to let me die. I reached up to a metal handle on the dumpster to pull myself up, and I nearly passed out in the pain that exploded from my rib cage. It hurt enough that I gasped, and was rewarded with a fresh burst of agony in my ribs. Carefully, slowly, I pulled myself up using the arm that didn't seem broken, and began to methodically take stock of the situation. At the same time, it dawned on me that I should look out for more of the crazed, mutant-hating boys. My right arm hung at an odd angle, unusable to me. My legs hurt, but I could stand on them - barely. I didn't realize that some of the flesh of my left palm had been torn off when my hand had stuck to the frozen metal. Even though it was bitterly cold, it felt like I was in an oven, sweating like the proverbial stuck hog. Leaning against the building for support, I looked nervously around me for any sign of the guys. Practice was long since over, and the only thing left in the parking lot was my truck. God, my parent must be worried about me, I thought. I reached for my cell phone to call them, and maybe ask for some help before I remembered that I always left my cell phone in my truck, so the cell-phone-Nazi administration couldn't confiscate it, like they did to the phones of so many less cautious students. My keys to my pickup were still in my pocket and my wallet was still in my back pocket. The idiots didn't even care about my money; they were in a blood rage, intent on hurting me as badly as possible before they killed me. And if they'd have taken my keys .... I stumbled across the parking lot, in the dim glow of the one working light in the entire lot. I had sudden worries that they'd done something to my truck, like slashing the tire or putting something in the fuel tank, which would leave me stranded in town in the freezing cold, and at the mercy of whatever mutant-hating person happened by. I certainly was in no shape to defend myself. It appeared, though, that they'd released enough of their anger beating me nearly to death, and were either too tired or just didn't think to mess with my truck. Driving home with a fever, a manual transmission, and a broken right arm was no easy feat, especially when my eyes were swollen half-shut and my ribs protested even the slightest movement of my body. Once I got the truck in third gear, nearly passing out from the pain, I decided that I was going to drive home that way, running stop signs if necessary. I was mortified by the thought that if I did have to shift again, I might lose consciousness and never wake up. "Oh, shit!" I exclaimed suddenly, wincing at the stabbing in my left side. "Julie!" I remembered that Julie and I were going to meet that night. Now it was too late, and through no fault of my own, she was going to think I stood her up. Or, based on the efficiency of the town's rumor-mill, she was going to get an earful about my being some kind of horrible mutant. It wasn't fair. I'd been a good kid, a good friend who never backstabbed anyone, a gentleman with Julie - mostly, and a good student. Hell, I was an outstanding student, but I played that part low-key. Why did this have to happen to me? Why did I have to be a mutant? It was nearly ten-thirty when I pulled into the farmyard, shutting off the truck as it rolled to a stop. I was too sore to do anything except nearly faint. I certainly didn't think I'd be able to open the door and get to the house. I needn't have worried. Mom and Dad ran out when they heard the rumble of the diesel engine of my truck. Dad opened the door, and stepped back in shock. Mom turned away, covering her mouth to keep from throwing up. "What ... happened?" Dad stammered. "I ... I manifested. I'm ... a mutant," I said simply, looking at him with my green eyes, barely-visible through my swollen cheeks and face. "The guys tried to kill me ... because I'm a mutant." Every word ached, because I had to breathe, which aggravated my broken ribs, and also because it was a bitter reminder of how my friends had betrayed and tried to kill me. Somehow, Dad carried me inside and up to my bedroom. I don't remember much besides being laid down gently. I must have passed out from pain again. I wasn't sure if it was due to pain, or pain killers, or just my imagination, but I had a very strange dream as I slept. A young and incredibly beautiful Native American woman leading a small white buffalo came by me. The woman, who appeared to be a couple of years older than me, was lovely in a way that was uniquely and distinctively Lakota, distinctive from European standards of beauty, but still exotic and quite compelling. The buffalo was about the size of a St. Bernard dog, which surprised me - a miniature buffalo? I didn't understand what the woman was saying, but she had a very calming presence. It seemed, from the way he looked at me, that the buffalo was sentient, too. It was very peaceful as we all sat down in a high-mountain meadow, the buffalo on my right and the woman on my left. Everything was curiously real; I remember the feeling of the cool mountain breeze on my face and the chilly water of the mountain brook, the delightfully fresh smell of the air, and intoxicatingly sweet scent of the pine trees. I wanted to ask where we were, but the woman put her fingers to my lips, indicating I should be silent. After resting for a while, she gave me a small, leather pouch. I started to open it, but she stopped me. Then her clothing transformed instantly into that of a medicine woman, and we were sitting at an evening fire in a circle of tepees. The woman opened a large pouch and took out some leaves and herbs and such, and then mixed come kind of tea from them, allowing them to soak and brew. Then she handed me the beverage. When I took it, she smiled, and sitting in the lotus position, she began to chant in a wonderfully lyrical, musical, and vaguely familiar tongue. From having been around my Lakota grandmother a lot, I thought I recognized some of the words the woman was chanting, which meant that she was Lakota. Maybe. I wasn't sure, though. When she finished, she indicated, through signs and hand gestures, that I should drink the tea she'd made. Hesitantly, I drank it. The feeling within me was warm and soothing. I was suddenly inside one of the tepees, and I slowly fell, onto a thick, warm, buffalo skin blanket that hadn't been there a moment before. Saturday February 17, 2007 the Franks Family Farm I woke with a start, and flinched at the pain in my ribs, which seemed to have lessened considerably. I also had icepacks on my forehead, chest, arms, and legs which weren't cooling me down from the sensation of being in the middle of a roaring fireplace. Easing myself out from under the ice packs and out of bed, I discovered that there was a cast on my right arm. Somehow, Mom and Dad had gotten Doc Robinson to make a house call, or they'd taken me to his clinic in the middle of the night, so my arm could be tended to. In either case, I wasn't awake, or simply didn't remember it. There was no hospital or emergency room in this dinky town; the nearest was half an hour away, which made the mystery of the cast even greater. My entire body hurt less, which is not to say that it didn't still hurt a lot, just less than when I'd been laid in my bed. I limped to the bathroom and took care of my morning business, and then stepped to the mirror to inspect the damage. Both my eyes were blackened, and it looked like one cheekbone had been broken, as was my nose. The swelling in my eyes had abated considerably, so I stare in awe at my green eyes. Upon closer and more deliberate examination, it seemed that there was a very slight glow radiating from my eyes. Experimentally, I flipped off the light and was confronted by eyes that had the soft, warm green glow that reminded me of an electroluminescent nightlight. Startled, I fumbled at the light switch until I managed to click it back on. It seemed that there was also something different about my eye shape, but I couldn't put my finger on what it was. I wasn't sure if I was seeing things due to my head being battered, or if my hair seemed a little bit longer, and darker closer to my scalp. The bathroom scale told me that I'd lost almost ten pounds. Given what had happened, and not eating most of yesterday because I was unconscious and being very feverish, that didn't seem unreasonable. . The reason I was paying so close attention to my body is that I could mutate into damned near anything, and I'd heard tales of mutants turning into things like small faeries or dogs or demons or such. That thought scared me more than a little; I didn't want to be anything weird or gross. So far, I was still human, and that was something to be glad of. I splashed some cold water on my face, finished my normal morning ritual, even though it was made considerably more difficult because one arm was confined in a cast, and then hobbled back to my bed. Fortunately, I used an electric razor, or I wouldn't have been able to shave. It slowly dawned on me that it hadn't taken me very long to shave, almost like there was less stubble. Mom heard me, and rushed up the stairs. "Brandon? Are you okay?" She felt my forehead. "Your fever isn't too bad today." To be honest, I thought I felt more than a bit warm. Quite hot, in fact. "Fever? Is that why I feel so hot and sweaty?" Mom nodded. "Doc Robinson didn't know anything, but I found information on-line about mutations that sounds like you went through what's called a burnout." "Burnout? What's that?" I felt a stab of fear; the term sounded ominous. "Your mutant powers overloaded for some reason, and caused ... problems in your body," Mom said carefully. "When we took you to the clinic, you broke their thermometer. You were in an ice bath for nearly four hours before Doc got your body temperature down to one hundred three." I almost fell over in shock. "Down to ...?" A prolonged fever of one hundred four could cause brain damage. Her statement implied that my temperature had been significantly higher. "Is it my ... mutation?" I asked, frightened at the changes my body seemed to be undergoing. My voice squeaked a little. They must have hit me in the throat a few times, because my voice was a little off, and my throat was quite sore. Mom led me into the bedroom and helped me sit on the bed. "A lot of the swelling went down over the last day and a half, too," she observed. "Day ... and a half?" I stammered. Had I been unconscious that long? Mom must have read my thoughts. "You were out all yesterday. It's Saturday." I gaped at that news; I'd lost a day of my life. Almost two counting Thursday when I was nearly killed. "Do you feel like breakfast? Can you come downstairs, or would you like me to bring something up?" "Breakfast sounds good," I said, still squawking. I rubbed my throat. "My throat hurts." "Then don't talk too much," Mom said. "Do you need anything else?" "No, I'm okay, I think." I held up the arm with the cast. "How'd I get this?" Mom smiled. "We took you to Doc Robinson's clinic." She shook her head. "I could tell that he'd already heard the gossip around town, but he still patched up your arm. Based on his reaction and some of the things he was saying, though, I don't think he likes mutants, " "Like me?" Mom nodded somberly. "Like you. A couple of times, your eyes popped open, and he saw them. When he was walking out to his car, your father heard him muttering about damned mutants." "Does anything look ... different?" I asked. Something didn't seem quite right. Mom studied my face for a bit. "Your eye shape seems to be a little different." She looked some more. "And you need a haircut." "What's happening to me?" I asked as panic gripped my throat. "Am I going to turn into some kind of monster, like a lot of mutants do?" Mom shook her head, sighing. "I don't know. From what I've read, you could change into anything as a result of your mutation. Whatever happens, though, you're still our son, and we'll always love you." I hadn't hear the last part after Mom affirmed what I feared. "Shit. That's just fucking great! I'll probably turn into some kind of monster!" I muttered in disgust. "Brandon! Watch your language!" "Sorry, mom. It's just ... this is all kind of ...." "Weird? Unexpected? Scary?" I nodded. "Yeah. And since the town has probably all heard about it ...." I winced, thinking of the reaction my friends had had, and the thumping they'd given me. Mom gulped nervously; I could tell, from her reaction, that she and Dad had probably discussed that very thing this morning or late last night. She patted my good arm, and then went back to the kitchen. I could smell the heavenly aroma of bacon cooking. I knew she'd make me the usual breakfast - a half-dozen slices of bacon, three or four scrambled eggs, and a few slices of toast with jam, which was my all-time favorite, especially mom's home-made chokecherry jelly! I was somewhat sore and incredibly fatigued, which I figured was from my body trying to heal all the physical insults which had been heaped on it Thursday. I took a nap as soon as I was done with breakfast and another after lunch. I got up for dinner, again, and afterwards, had Mom help me get ready for my shower. I chased her out, though; even though she'd given birth to me, and changed my diapers for years, the thought of her seeing me nude, now that I was well into puberty, was too humiliating. When I finished, I fought the towel to dry off, which was difficult considering one arm was immobilized in a sling. After screaming in frustration for the third time, Mom came into the bathroom. I turned quickly, hiding my privates from view and feeling my cheeks flush with embarrassment. She laughed. "I won't look. And it sounded like you need some help." I couldn't argue with Mom's logic, but it was still somewhat embarrassing. Once I was dried, she left the bathroom so I could get dressed. I decided to pull on the shorts I normally wore to sleep, since I was still tired. It sucked not having energy to do anything that I wanted to do. Once I had my shorts on, I carried my T-shirt out to the hall, where Mom was waiting, so she could help me put it on. I really, really hoped I didn't have the cast for long, because I hated feeling so helpless. I decided to go straight to bed, where I could read or watch my television if I wasn't sleepy. It was difficult falling asleep, based on all the things that still hurt, and the cast on my arm. Once I did, though, I found myself sitting in a high-mountain meadow again. "Greetings, Wihakayda," I heard behind me. I spun, and saw the white buffalo. It's hard to take a buffalo as intimidating when he's the size of a Great Dane. "Why do you call me Wihakayda?" I asked. "My name is Brandon." "You are Wihakayda," the buffalo replied. He turned to the beautiful woman who walked up beside him, and said something in a language I didn't understand. From listening to my Grandmother Little Doe, however, I was certain that it was the Lakota language. The woman turned to me, pointed, and said, "Wihakayda." The woman turned away, and the buffalo turned with her, glancing over his shoulder at me. "Come," he directed. We walked through the meadow to a path, which started climbing. "Where are we going?" I asked the buffalo. He just turned and looked at me, smiling. A buffalo smiling is another one of those oddities that people don't think about, and is weird when you actually see it. We continued, stopping every so often to drink from a stream, and the woman found some wild berries for us to eat. The red juice stained the fur of the buffalo, which made him look like he was wearing lipstick. That caused me to laugh aloud, which seemed to greatly annoy the buffalo. Eventually, we arrived at the top of a mountain, and I gasped. I could see far in all directions, and it was breathtaking. I felt we were near the clouds, as they scooted across the sky close over our heads. "Where is this?" I asked, almost in awe. "We are at the top of Paha Sapa," the buffalo said, "the sacred mountains of the Lakota." I stood, turning slowly, taking in the magnificent vistas. The woman stepped to my side, which I barely realized until she put her arm around my waist. She spoke in Lakota, but I didn't understand what she was saying. "You belong here," the buffalo said. "This is the top of Paha Sapa, and Wihakayda belongs here. _You_ belong here. You belong to the land, to all sacred places." It confused me that the buffalo said I belong there. I didn't understand, and I really didn't like that he had called me Wihakayda again. It sounded ... girly. After that, the buffalo took me around the Black Hills, to sites that were of importance to the Lakota culture. We'd been out west many times, so I knew them, but not like the buffalo was showing me. Whereas before I'd seen trees on mountains, now it seemed as if the trees were alive, and populated with creatures of all kinds - squirrels, rabbits, coyotes, birds, and even an eagle. My senses were much more discerning, more alive. We didn't talk; he wanted me to listen and feel to the natural world. Monday, February 19 I woke from a very peaceful but troubling dream, feeling sticky and sweaty but well rested for a change, and quite confused as to the meaning of the nocturnal vision. My ribs, which had been shattered to the point of causing extreme agony with the slightest of body motions, didn't hurt very much at all, but until I got out of bed and started moving around, I wouldn't know for sure if I really was as healed as I initially felt. When I managed to struggle to my feet, overcoming some pain and weakness, I noticed that there was no more pain, except for something that felt like indigestion and intestinal pressure. I could live with that, if it was the only thing that hurt. I went to the bathroom to look at myself more closely. I had absolutely no stubble, which really surprised me; I'd been shaving for over a year and normally had serious facial hair o prune every morning. "Well," I talked to my image in the mirror as if it were another person, "your morning routine just got easier." I stepped on the scale, and was scared to see that I'd lost another ten pounds, or almost twenty pounds since I'd mutated. I _was_ changing, but into what, I didn't know. I stepped back to the mirror and scrutinized my face and body. My face looked thinner and less oblong, and I couldn't tell if my cheeks were a little more prominent, or if they were still swollen from the beat-down. I could tell now that my hair was longer, about halfway to my shoulders, and the new hair was darker than the tips; if I cut my hair to its normal length, I would be a light brunette instead of sandy-blonde. My skin definitely looked a shade darker, more tanned. What really worried me was that my arms and chest were a little smaller. Those glorious, well-toned, hard-earned muscles that girls loved to look at and rub their hands over, and which gave me one of the best physiques at school, were not as prominent. And further, my chest seemed a bit puffy. Well, not my whole chest. Just two points on my chest, the same two spots that I'd enjoyed playing with on Julie's chest. The thought of what that meant scared the holy living crap out of me. When I looked again, I couldn't help wondering if I was shorter. That couldn't be! I ran back to my room and got a book to use as a square, and measured my height. My eyes nearly bugged out; I was at least an inch shorter, which would have normally been impossible. I _was_ mutating, there was no question about that. I'd been secretly hoping to become something of a superman, but that wasn't happening. What made me scream, though, was when I dropped my shorts and discovered that 'little Brandon' looked smaller than just two days prior. While I wasn't hung like a horse or a porn star, I had a respectable piece of equipment in my drawers, or rather, I used to have. Now it looked like a limp party balloon after most of the air had seeped out, and his sidekicks looked -more like grapes than plums. When I held it to relieve myself, I frowned, because I couldn't really feel it when I held the shaft. After I wiped it off, I experimentally touched the tip, and my eyes nearly popped out, because it felt like every nerve in the length had migrated to the tip, making it hyper-sensitive. Coupled with the small bumps on my chest, the changes to my junk seemed to confirm the truly horrible thought that I was losing my manhood as I continue to mutate. When I looked at my watch, I was stunned to see that it was already Monday! That meant I'd slept all through Sunday! No wonder I'd lost weight and looked thinner - I had missed three full meals! I stumbled downstairs, and Mom rushed to hug me. "How are you feeling?" she asked, sounding quite concerned. I shook my head. "I don't know," I answered. "Still tired and a little sore." "We were worried about you," Mom said, clutching me tightly. "You slept all day yesterday again, with a pretty high fever. I found more information on-line about burnout, so we kept lots of icepacks on you, and that helped control your temperature." She felt my forehead. "At least it feels like the fever has broken. I called school and told the principal that you're ill." I spent most of the day resting in bed, except when I went downstairs to watch television, which was a complete waste of time. I hated daytime shows, and after twenty minutes of channel-surfing among the inanity that was talk shows and soap operas, I put in my favorite movie, 'Kelly's Heroes', which was a great guy's movie. I was so fatigued that I only halfway watched the movie, drifting off to nap frequently, and rising from the sofa only to go to the bathroom, which was itself a disastrous experience every time because it reminded me that my little friend and his buddies were shrinking. Even though the evidence said otherwise, I forced myself to ignore the changes there, and to lie to myself that my mutation wasn't doing what I was afraid it truly was doing. I wanted to call or text my friends, but I no longer had friends. No-one had called or texted me since I'd manifested; word must have spread through the town like wildfire, and nobody wanted to be seen or heard talking to the mutant. I understood why, even though the knowledge didn't help the hurt that I felt. That thought was very depressing, almost overwhelmingly so, and very, very frightening. I curled up on the sofa, fighting back tears stinging my eyes. I had nothing. I'd lost my friends, my sports activities, and I was losing my body as I changed into God-knows-what. What was worse was that my friends and neighbors were so frightened of mutants that they'd tried to kill me out of abject fear. There weren't a lot of people in my entire home state who didn't want me dead. Mom woke me up for dinner and guided me to the restroom. My cheeks were tear-streaked from the crying I'd been doing even while I napped. She was gentle in wiping my face, providing the first reassuring thing I'd encountered all day. I might be changing, but at least my family was staying close and supportive. I felt warm when she hugged me closely, but I had to break her embrace and chase her out of the bathroom when I realized that my bladder was full. Mom and Dad tried to be cheery and conversant through dinner, but I didn't feel much like talking, since I didn't have much positive to talk about. Mom knew I felt depressed, since she made Danny do the dishes while I went back to lie on the sofa. Dad sat in his chair and read the newspaper, glancing occasionally my way but not quite sure what to say. By eight-thirty or nine, I decided to drag myself upstairs to bed, because I had nothing better to do. It was only as I lay on my pillow that I realized I hadn't spent any time at all with my 'hobbies'; I hadn't done anything with my books, and I hadn't done anything to work on Grandpa's car. That was yet another depressing thought as I drifted to sleep. I could smell the smoke of a nearby fire, and as I looked around, I was taken aback when my gaze was drawn to a black sky lit with the twinkling of stars and the hazy belt of the Milky Way. There were no lights around or overhead, so the sky was wonderfully clear and the stars sharp. I stared for a long while, enchanted by the spectacular vista. "I always like looking at the stars," a voice said beside me, startling me. When my heart restarted, I stared disapprovingly at the massive white buffalo standing beside me. There was enough light from the moon and stars to show him as a grayish shadow against the dark earth. "You startled me." "Yes, I know. But you shouldn't have been startled." "How could I _not_ be startled when you sneak up on me?" The buffalo smiled. "When you are in touch with the spirits of the earth and wind, you will no longer be startled or surprised." I frowned. "You talk of things that are impossible, don't you?" "No. You will learn. It is the way things must be." "Why?" "Because you are Wihakayda. You are part of Ptesanwi." "What? I'm Brandon, not Wikayla,, or whatever you called me." "Are you certain?" the buffalo asked. I could tell he was smiling wryly as he looked up and down my body. "And your name is Wihakayda." My eyes followed his, and they widened in surprise. I was dressed in buckskin leather, and I could see my long, black hair moving around my shoulders as I moved my head. There was something different about my body shape as well; my arms and legs were more slender, and my hands finer, and my chest puffed out a little. "What are you doing to me?" "I am doing nothing. You are becoming what you must be." "What am I supposed to be?" "Wihakayda." The buffalo turned away from me. "Come." "Huh? Where are we going?" I asked as I fell in step beside the buffalo. The buffalo paused and stared at me. "You ask too many questions." He turned back, and he grew to be a full-sized bison. "In time, you will learn patience, Wihakayda. Come," he repeated as he walked slowly and steadily in the direction he'd started. Not knowing what else to do, I continued with him. I could feel the earth beneath my moccasins in a way that I never had when wearing tennis shoes, probably not like I'd felt since I ran around barefoot as a little kid. We walked up a hill, him silent and refusing to answer any more of my questions. At the top of the hill, we paused to look down into a small valley which looked like it had a river running through it. Beside a copse of trees was a collection of tepees, visible as dark triangular silhouettes against a deep blue-violet sky, many with a slight flickering orange tint as the fire cast its illumination around the camp. We walked between two tepees into the center of the village. What surprised me was that no-one was around, except for one figure seated at the fire with her back to me. I knew her, just from her outline and hair. The buffalo shrank to Great Dane-sized again, and nudge me to the fire, where I sat on a log beside the woman, and the buffalo sat on the opposite side of me. The woman spoke, sounding very sexy and seductive in her lyrical tongue. The buffalo interpreted. "You have much to learn, Wihakayda," he said. "But Wakan Tanka says that you are learning quickly." "Huh?" She spoke more, smiling at me. I wasn't paying attention to her words; as a typical American teenager, I was looking at her. She was incredibly pretty, possibly more-so since her features were highlighted with the orange-red flickering of the fire. She had the typically high cheeks of a Native American woman, and her lips were sensuous without being ridiculous. Under her buckskin dress, she had the right curves in the right places, and her hair was braided on both sides, accentuating her long, silky, dark tresses. I was noticing these details a lot more than my previous dream, which surprised me. I figured it was because my body was less sore, but whatever it was, I couldn't help but think of how beautiful the woman would look nude, especially on a bed with me. "She says that you must learn to be Ptesanwi," the buffalo said, "but you stopped to look at the stars, to discover what was around you. That is a good sign that you are learning to pay attention to your surroundings. You will learn quickly." The buffalo smiled. "And you should not look at Wakan Tanka with such feelings in your head. You will understand soon." The beautiful woman lifted a leather bag, extracted a few small pouches and a bowl, and began to mix some herbs in the deep bowl. Next, she added some water from a gourd, and set the bowl aside for the herbs to steep into a tea. Tuesday, February 20, 2007 I started the morning as I had the previous mornings - feeling warm and sweaty, but not as much so. When I got up, I went to the bathroom with a sense of dread and fear, not knowing what I would discover had happened to me during the night. Even though my bladder felt like it would burst, I started by brushing my teeth to delay using the toilet as long as possible, since I feared the changes below my waist the most. As I looked, still enchanted by my green eyes, I noticed that the roots of my hair were still darker, now medium brunette, and longer by probably an inch and a half, much longer than I liked to wear it. I wasn't sure about my face, but it seemed thinner, and my cheeks seemed more pronounced, possibly with higher cheekbones? In the mirror, I could also see my bare chest and arms, which were far less muscular than they had been just days before. The only things that seemed to be larger were the small bulges on my chest under my swollen, puffier nipples. Sighing, I backed up against the door jamb and took a rough mark of my height. About an inch lower than yesterday's mark. And the scale told me that I'd lost yet another eight pounds. There was one final task, and I dreaded it, but my bladder wouldn't let me escape it. At the toilet, I easily dropped my shorts, because my waist was thinner with my height and weight loss. I closed my eyes for a minute to steel myself for the bad news, and then looked and reached down to take aim at the toilet. Mom dashed up the stairs when she heard me scream. She stopped in the bathroom door, gawking at me. "Mom? What's happening to me?" "I ... I don't know," Mom answered truthfully. She put her hand on my forehead. "At least your fever hasn't come back." Mom simply nodded, alternating her gaze between what was left of my 'package', the growing bulges on my chest, and my visibly reduced muscles. "Everything I read about mutations said that your change might take years. But maybe your body is just reacting to getting beat up so badly, or to your burnout," she offered, but there was no genuine hope in her words; they were merely to placate and calm me, because she was as confused as I was. "According to a few sources I found on-line, your burnout might have been triggered by some mutant powers having to work so hard after your ... injuries." "What does that mean?" I asked, getting more nervous as Mom tried to explain what she knew. "Since you were so badly injured, your body had to use some kind of healing powers, and your burnout may have accelerated your mutation, which means that instead of taking months or years, you may be changing much faster." "Into ... what?" I cried, frantic. "From what I see, it looks like I'm turning into a ..." I couldn't finish the statement. "It looks like you're turning into a girl," Mom confirmed my fears, wrapping me in an awkward hug. "Everything will be okay, dear. I chatted on-line with an expert who knows quite a bit about mutations. He was surprised at the speed of your changes. When I described your rapid recovery from your injuries, he said that explains it - when a new mutant has to use his or her powers so quickly after the onset of their manifesting, it can sometimes speed up their physical changes. He also confirmed that you really did have a mild burnout, which is another thing that can accelerate your rate of change. Based on what he said, we'll keep watching your temperature for a few days, but you should be okay," she said comfortingly. "Now finish up here, get your clothes on, and get back in bed to rest. I'll be up with breakfast in a few minutes." Without anything else to do, I followed Mom's suggestion. One big problem was that my boxer shorts were too large in the waist now, confirming that I was losing muscle mass and muscular definition, except in two embarrassing places. When I got back in bed, I noticed that I had a text message from Julie. I didn't know what to think, so I opened it and read. ~JJ said you manifested and are a mutant. He said your eyes were green and there was a green glow around your whole body for a couple of minutes.~ I sighed. ~Yes. Before school Thursday.~ I'd wondered how they'd known if the only thing I had seen were my green eyes. At least I knew the answer to _that_ mystery, not that it helped. ~Is that why you couldn't pick me up?~ ~You know I wouldn't stand you up. I got beat up pretty badly. I didn't get home until after ten~ ~Ten? You had the day to get ready~ The tone of her words indicated clearly that she was miffed. ~At night. After almost killing me with a beat-down, the guys left me out in the snow by the dumpsters to freeze to death. That's why you didn't see me at school Thursday, Friday, or this weekend~ ~That's horrible!~ ~Broken ribs, broken arm, broken cheekbone, black eyes, and that's just the start~ I waited for a reply for quite a while. Julie was usually very prompt with responses in her texting conversations. Finally, as Mom brought up my breakfast, my phone beeped. ~Daddy says I can't talk to you or text or see you anymore because you're a mutant. I'm so sorry~ I suspected that Julie was actually crying. She always told me that I was the first guy who treated her as a friend, and didn't look at her as just another notch in the belt. She was enamored with how I considered her feelings and desires and wishes first, before my own. After our second date, she was rubbing my crotch and making suggestions, but I told her that even though she was super-sexy and hot, I wanted to be friends first, and if we ever got to that, it would be more special for both of us. She cried her eyes out; happy tears, she assured me, because I wanted to be her friend first. None of her previous boyfriends wanted anything but bragging rights for nailing the hottest cheerleader in school. I really think that she loved me a bit. Her forced rejection of me, even though it was her parents' doing, depressed me seriously. I felt like there was no-one, except for Mom, that I could talk to, at least until Dad and Danny came in from morning chores. I felt alone, since Mom was busy in the kitchen, and I had no desire to help her, or to sit in the kitchen talking while she worked. It just seemed too girly. Frustrated beyond belief, and about to cry like a little girl, I bundled up in ill-fitting winter clothes and stomped out to the shop to ensure I didn't make an emotional scene in front of Mom. I had an ulterior motive; the cast was driving me crazy, and I was certain, from how my ribs and other body parts felt, that my arm had undergone the same healing. I _needed _ to get the cast off; I'd take my chances with a partially-healed arm if I could get relief from the torment of the itching. A warm breeze wafted over me from inside the heated shop, refreshing me from the brisk wind and subzero temperatures. Nobody was in the shop at the time, so I wandered over to the last bay and looked longingly at my project car, my grandpa's 1957 Chevy two-door station wagon. It wasn't the cherished Nomad version, but the lesser-known Model 150. It still rocked. I had a Muncie four-speed transmission in parts, and a high-performance small-block engine, also in parts, so I could restore and hop-up the car. When I was six, Grandpa had given it to me when he could no longer drive, because he knew that I'd been doing mechanical things like disassembling and reassembling Dad's mower, appliances, leaf blower, and even Mom's grandfather clock. It was a lot of fun to work with machinery of all types, and soon, Dad had me working on tractors and other farm machinery with him, both on the farm and in the store. Last year, he'd put me in charge of overhauling two of the big rigs. I earned a little, learned a lot, and had a ball. What really bothered me was that I didn't know when, or if, I'd get a chance to work on the car again, and that depressed me. I'd intended to fix it up as a tribute to my late grandfather. I sat down in a chair, sitting still and just looking at the car, watching, in my mind's eye, my dream of a souped-up car fading. After a while, the itching under my cast was too annoying to ignore. I grabbed a long, thin screwdriver and slid it under the cast to scratch, which was easy because I'd lost muscles from when the cast was originally put on. It gave me a little relief, but no sooner was the screwdriver removed than the itch came back with a vengeance. I shook my head in frustration, and then walked to the long, three-bay-wide tool bench. Just about anything necessary for working on cars, trucks, or tractors was there, as well as tools for household work, so it wasn't difficult to find tin snips and a nipper. Awkwardly, since it was my right arm in the cast and I was inconveniently right-handed, I carefully slid the tip of the tin snips under the cast, and then tried to squeeze the handles together with my one good hand. It worked, but barely, and I got a slice into the plaster and bandage sheath wrapping my arm. I repeated the action - slide, squeeze - until I couldn't get the tin snips any further into the cast. I started over, a couple of inches away from the first cut, until I had two parallel cuts. Then I took the nippers and began to nibble away at the plaster between the two slits. Once that was done, I picked up the tin snips and repeated the whole process. It was slow; I'd already spent nearly a half-hour cutting a couple of inches into the cast. At this rate, I'd be done sometime around midnight - tomorrow. I had a bunch of power tools, but there was no way I was going to use them on myself because I hated pain and blood, especially when it was mine. Then I had an inspiration. The Dremel tool had a saw blade, and if I slid in a metal back shield, then I could cut easily through the plaster cast without cutting into my arm. It had to be easier than what I was doing. A few minutes to prepare the Dremel, and then to find a piece of eighth-inch steel about an inch and a half wide, and I was ready. The flat steel slid in, and then I turned on the Dremel. It didn't work well left-handed, but I wasn't going to be stymied. I put the Dremel into the shop vise, turned it on, and then guided my arm against the saw blade rather than doing it the other way. Progress was swift; again, I cut out two slits and then notched out the gap. This time, though, I could get two and a half to three inches each time I went through the process, since I could slit most of the way across and then easily snap the piece of plaster out. In another fifteen minutes, the cast was off. I move my arm experimentally, and was happy to find that there was no pain, and I seemed to have my full range of motion and the same strength as my left arm. I went back inside, feeling a little better physically, even if emotionally I still felt like crap. Mom looked up from the stove, and she dropped the ladle she was holding as her eyes nearly bugged out. "Brandon, what did you do?" "My cast was itching too much, so I cut it off." "But ... you can't do that! Doctor Robinson said you'd have the cast on for several _weeks_!" Mom protested. I shrugged, flexing my arm and causing her to nearly faint. "My ribs were healed in a little over a day, so I figured my arm would be, too." "Do you know what kind of chance you were taking, even if you are healing faster?" Mom was apoplectic. I just shrugged. "It's better than going crazy from the itching." "Well," Mom finally conceded from how I was moving that it must have healed, "you be careful with that arm. If it starts to hurt again, I'll have to take you back to Doc Robinson, and _you_ can explain why your cast is off!" "Sure," I answered. I sprawled out on the sofa to watch Gettysburg, an excellent film about the epic Civil War battle. It was a good movie, and long enough to keep me distracted from my other problems. The movie was so long that I didn't finish it by dinner time, so I paused it and went to eat with my family, the only ones in the world, I imagined, who weren't running in terror from me, or trying to kill me. After dinner, Dad, Danny, and I watched the rest of the movie. It was distracting, but I noticed Dad and Danny looking at me with a curious expression from time to time, and our usual movie banter was subdued or missing. They were as worried about my mutation as I was, and didn't know what to say for fear of upsetting me. I know they meant well, but it didn't help my mood. Finally, before the movie was over, I went upstairs to get ready for bed. I was still tired, but I couldn't stand sitting around in the awkward silence and tap-dancing around my mutation. I sat beside the fire, on a log, next to the gorgeous medicine woman. She was mixing up the 'tea' that she'd been giving me, and chanting in her language, which I didn't understand, so I sat silently and watched her, drinking in the sights, sounds, and smells of where we were. The tepee circle was part ways up a hill, overlooking a valley with a river running through it. Trees lined the river, marking its path clearly through the prairie. Under the full moon, I could see for miles, even though it was dim. Off in the distance, I heard something howl. Was that a wolf? I thought so, although it might have been a coyote. I couldn't tell, since I wasn't any kind of an animal expert, at least not wild animals. I was pretty good with farm animals, but that did little good out here. The woman stood up and reached down, taking my arms and pulling me to my feet. She backed away a step, and then looked up and down my body, a smile growing on her face as she did so. "Wihakayda," she said with a pleasant smile. I looked down, and felt only a mild bit of concern, even though I knew, mentally, that what I saw should have left me screaming and having a panic attack. I was wearing buckskin, but it wasn't a shirt and pants. Instead, it was a dress, much like the woman wore. In front of the dress, on my chest, I could see moderately-sized breasts, and as I looked down, moderately-long braids danced into my peripheral vision. I could see that my waist was smaller, and my stomach was flat instead of having six-pack abs. My hips were wider than my waist. Lower than that, I wore small moccasins, which exactly matched what the woman wore. Curious, I lifted my hand in front of my face, and in the orange glow of the fire, I could see that my hand was delicate and fine, feminine instead of masculine, just like the woman's. I looked up at the woman. "What's happening to me?" I asked, surprising myself by not making an angry demand. Was there something in the tea she gave me that made me calm? "You're turning me into you!" "Wihakayda," the woman said again, pointing to me. She then pointed to both of us and said, "Ptesanwi." "Yes, I know you think I'm Wihakayda," I said in frustration, "and for some reason, you think that we're Petsenwi or something." I shook my head. "I'm not! I'm just Brandon Franks, a normal guy." I heard something moving toward the fire, and I spun to see what was coming my way. I was relieved to see that it was the white buffalo. "Tell her that I'm not Wikayda, or whatever she calls me!" The buffalo smiled. "You _look_ like Wihakayda and you sound like Wihakayda, so you must _be_ Wihakayda." "But ... Wihakayda is a girl, and I don't want to be a girl!" "You don't have a choice," the buffalo answered. "The, what do you say, mutation? Your mutation is turning you into this, and you are destined to be Wihakayda, and join Wakan Tanka to be Ptesanwi." Then the buffalo did something completely unexpected. In a deep, gravelly voice, he added, "It is your destiny." It took me a few seconds to regain my composure after the buffalo spoke in a very authentic Darth Vader voice. "Is she giving me something in the tea that makes me a girl?" "No. The medicine she gives you is to keep you calm and help you heal, so you don't harm yourself while you become Wihakayda." "Like Prozac?" "I don't know what Prozac is," the buffalo answered with a confused expression. He turned to the medicine woman and spoke to her, probably telling her what I'd said. She laughed heartily with the buffalo. The buffalo turned back to me after the woman spoke more. "You are an avatar, a host for a spirit. You are imprinted with the form that matches the spirits you will carry." I frowned. "So, I'm going to end up looking like her, because you two think that I'm going to carry her spirit?" I shook my head. "You have to stop this, because I don't _want_ to carry her spirit!" "You are an avatar. You have no choice. You don't select the spirits you carry; the spirits select you." "Why me?" I whined. "I wasn't even a girl!" "You are of the People. Wakan Tanka can't join someone who is not of the People." Great. My grandmother had given me enough genes to condemn me to carry a Native American spirit, and that spirit was changing me into a girl. As if my life hadn't been complicated enough.... Wednesday, February 21, 2007 The morning's ablutions revealed that I'd lost more muscle, leaving my arm and legs thinner, and my chest smaller in circumference. By now, I was certain that with my height loss, my entire body was getting smaller. I guessed that I'd lost another inch, and the scale said seven more pounds were also gone. My skin looked softer, with not even the slightest hint of facial hair, but it was also a little darker. My hair was about two and a half inches longer, and very brunette at the roots. The little bumps on my chest were a little bigger. And then I found the worst news - my little Brandon probably hadn't been this small since I was in diapers, and his two buddies seemed to be no bigger than raisins. What was worse, though, was that it looked like there were folds of skin appearing beneath 'little Brandon'. I was certain, from the dream, what was happening to me, and while I hated the thought, there was nothing I could do about it. I was mutating into a girl, and if my dream was to be believed, I would end up looking like Wakan Tanka. That would explain the nearly constant internal discomfort I'd felt; the first day or so, I'd figured it was indigestion. After that, I was getting the feeling that it was because my internal organs were being rearranged. I knew that I should have been panicking, or distraught, but strangely, I didn't feel anything but resignation. Mom must have heard me stirring, so she came up and set a tray on my lap, and I inhaled the delightful aromas that emanated from the plate. I could get used to breakfast in bed, but if the cost was what I feared, it wasn't worth it - not that I had a choice. I shoved a piece of bacon in my mouth, savoring its flavors, knowing that Dad and I had cured the bacon ourselves, as we had with the hams, too. A spoonful of eggs followed - somehow, Mom got flavors out of eggs that no-one else could, probably not even master chefs - and then a bit of toast. The chokecherry jelly was amazing, and breakfast like this made me feel all warm and cared-for and safe. To keep myself from getting bored, and thus depressed, I decided to crack open my math book and study. Yes, math book. More specifically, college-level Abstract Algebra. My older cousin Larry, who was seven years older than me, was a grad student in Math at the South Dakota School of Mines. Knowing my love of math and seemingly instinctive skills in the subject, he sent me his old books or books from his roommates and friends. By the time I finished fifth grade, I was done with Algebra and learning Trigonometry on my own. I taught myself calculus by the end of my seventh-grade year, and differential equations by the time I started as a freshman. Now I was working on more advanced classes - pretty much whatever Larry had taken and no longer needed the books for. High school math was boring, but the school had long since decided to let me do independent study in whatever math subject I wanted to learn. Math had always been extremely easy and intuitive for me; it seemed natural, and I loved it. Besides, it was fun pointing out where the book or the teacher was wrong. So sue me - I'm a nerd, with an IQ measured a ways north of 180, but I'm an undercover nerd. Being the class brain in small-town South Dakota is a good way to completely ruin one's social life. The one person I could be open with was Julie; I spent time a lot of time helping her, between kissing sessions, that is. After a couple of hours of self-study, I decided to stretch my legs. I felt a lot better than I had earlier in the day, and all external evidence of my beating was pretty much gone. I made a trip to the bathroom, and then pulled on my sweats, wincing at how poorly they fit me now. Sighing at what was happening to me, and over which I had no control, I trudged down the steps to the living room. No sooner had I sat on the couch than my phone beeped. ~Daddy will kill me if he finds out, but I still want to be your friend and talk and text if we can. ~ A smile creased my lips, the first one in days. ~I'd like that~ ~Gotta run. Bye~ ~Erase your text messages so you don't get in trouble~ ~Thanks for the tip~ I felt a little relieved from the text conversation, even if was only a few short messages. At least Julie wasn't treating me like I had the plague, even if she had to do it on the sly. Having one friend was better than having none, although my current status as a mutant turning into a girl made it unlikely that I'd have any chance to enjoy make-out sessions with her again. I ate some lunch, and then, to keep from getting cabin fever, decided to walk out to the shop. I couldn't help but wonder what else I'd lost or couldn't do any longer, and was afraid of not being able to do some of the things I'd done before my ongoing mutation. I had to get back to normal, routine things, things that I loved, or I was going to go crazy questioning what I could and couldn't do. I sighed heavily, and then forced myself to start working on the transmission. I should have been excited at starting to reassemble it after the gasket and bearing kit came, but I just couldn't get myself into the mood required for the task. I don't know if it was anxiety due to the changes my mutation was bringing, or fear that, in a short time, I'd be much weaker, and unable to do later activities associated with the engine and transmission rebuild. Could I continue and finish this project? It wasn't that I didn't know what I was doing; even after I'd changed some, I still looked at the transmission parts and just intuitively _knew_ how they all went together, even without having to look at a shop manual. I'd always had that kind of insight, but it seemed much sharper now. I could visualize the mechanical workings, and even understand the stress points in the mechanisms. I started assembling the gears, bearings, and sliders onto the tailshaft. It was precise work, but not physically demanding. That would come later when I had to mate the transmission to the engine. I was trying valiantly to face my fear that, now that I was pretty certain I was turning into a girl, I wasn't going to be able to continue the project. I wasn't raised with the thought of mechanics being men's work; and it wasn't that some jobs I'd done working on the trucks required significant muscle that apparently I was losing; I could make up for that with lifts and hoists. The depressing thought was that even if I finished the car, I wouldn't dare drive it anywhere for fear of my former friends and neighbors. After fiddling around for a couple of hours and completing assembly of the tailshaft and the input shaft, including pressing some bearings into place on the arbor press, I called it a day and went back inside. Mom fussed at me for getting a little grease on my sweats, but since I tried to keep all the parts spotlessly clean, the grease smudge wasn't bigger than a dime. She must have felt that it was her job, as a mother, to fuss at us about any dirt, no matter how insignificant. I wasn't listening to her, because something suddenly occurred to me. While I was working on the transmission, the larger parts, like the tailshaft, seemed lighter than they should have, even though I'd lost a lot of muscle mass. Was that another weird effect of my mutation? After dinner, I went upstairs and lay on my bed, suddenly feeling tired again, and promptly fell asleep. The woman sitting by the fire spoke a few words that I understood. She pointed to the white buffalo and said 'Tatanka'. I'd heard that - it's the Lakota word for buffalo, I remembered. Then she pointed at me and said 'Wihakayda'. I frowned, but she just smiled. Then I looked down, and saw that I was wearing a girl's buckskin dress again, with a girl's moccasins, and my hair was draped over my shoulder in a long braided pony-tail. She pointed at me again and said 'Wihakayda'. She hugged me, surprising me, and holding us together, said 'Ptesanwi', while pointing and touching both of us. I wondered what she meant by that - was I Wihakayda to her, and did she think we were Ptesanwi together? It wasn't exactly a comforting thought. She took me out of the village to a hill, and we sat down, just watching the world around us. I felt curiously alive in the outdoors, surrounded by the living world. My senses seemed sharper, more attuned to natural sounds and sights. Thursday, February 22, 2007 I woke up in a cold sweat. If the dream meant anything, then I was in trouble. I stumbled to the bathroom, and after peeing, during which time I found my little friend was much smaller, I examined myself more closely. Little Brandon was tiny, and his pair of friends had all but disappeared. Beneath and around what was left of my penis, folds of skin were forming. I dreaded to explore them, because I now _knew_ that eventually, I'd have all girl parts. My breasts, for they couldn't be called anything _but_ breasts, were quite a bit larger than they had been the day before, at least from my perspective. I still felt the pressure and discomfort internally, which could mean only one thing - I was developing the internal organs to match what my external sexual characteristics were becoming. In short, I was becoming a girl, inside and out. I looked in the mirror again. The roots of my hair were definitely darker, nearly black, and the strands were longer - hanging a bit past my shoulders. It looked a bit odd, from very dark at the roots to my normal light brown at the tips. My eyes were almost almond-shaped common to Native Americans, with their strange green color. At that point, I did what any other red-blooded American boy would do. I screamed. Mom dashed back up the stairs, and again stood in the doorway, staring at me. "You've ... you've changed some more," she stammered. She was gawking at my genitals, and, given my state of mind, I didn't really give a damn. "I think this pretty much confirms that you're turning into a girl, and from the looks of it, you're showing a lot more of our Lakota heritage." I wasn't feeling particularly happy about what had transpired over the past day and a half, so my reply to my mother was less than respectful. "No shit?" "Brandon!" she chided, causing my cheeks to flush at how I'd spoken in front of her. Even though I could swear up a storm in front of my friends, around family, I was always very courteous and _never_ swore. Not even a damn. Mom sighed. "You said that last time you checked, you'd lost height and weight? Let's measure you again." I stepped on the scale. Five days ago, I was a buff one hundred sixty-five pounds of athletic muscle. Now, I was one-thirty-five at most, and my muscles were fading fast. I knew the profile my belly, arms, and legs were taking; I'd seen pictures of nude girls many times, a lot more than Mom or Dad knew. That thought made me nearly faint - again. Mom measured my height. I'd shrunk from five foot nine to five foot seven, a loss of two inches. Mom sighed. "You're definitely developing breasts. Your genitalia look more like a girl's than a boys. Your body overall has a much more feminine appearance than a masculine one, especially since your hair is getting longer. The short answer is, yeah, you're becoming a girl - and from what I see, a rather attractive Native American girl at that." "How do we fix it? I don't want to be a girl!" I was crying, which was completely out of character for me. Mom corralled me into a big hug and held me tight, letting me cry like a little baby. After a bit, I was exhausted from my emotional outburst, and I let Mom guide me back to bed. She tucked me in, something she hadn't done in years, and that made me feel like everything was going to be okay - somehow. After a short nap, I decided that I really needed Mom's company. "Mom? I've had a couple of weird dreams." I called out to Mom as I got downstairs. "In one of them, I was ... a Lakota girl - like I am now. And I think that, except for the green eyes, I look like the woman I keep seeing in my dreams." Mom's eyes widened. "Interesting." She thought for a moment. "Maybe we should get your Grandma Little Doe on the phone. She was always good at interpreting dreams." "Am I going crazy because of this?" I dreaded her answer, but I _had_ to ask. Mom kissed me on the forehead. "I don't think so, sweetie," she said. She hadn't called me sweetie in a very long time, either. It was both reassuring and foreboding. After we had some breakfast, Mom and I called Grandma Little Doe. She was proud of her heritage, and was an accomplished dream guide. From what she'd told me, she was the closest thing to a shaman in her tribe without actually being one. As a dream-guide, she didn't actually interact with a person through their dreams like the true dream-walkers did, but helped people gain an understanding of the dreams. After Mom and Grandma exchanged pleasantries, Mom handed me the phone. "Hi, Grandma," I said nervously. "Your mother says that you are changing, and having dreams." "Yeah. I'm pretty sure I'm changing into a girl, and Mom thinks I'll end up a Lakota girl." Grandma laughed. "If you have to change into a girl, you couldn't have picked better than Lakota." I snorted derisively at that notion, and then hoped that Grandma wasn't going to take offense. "Every night since my mutation, I've had dreams that I don't understand." "Tell me." It was less a request than a command; when Grandma Little Doe asked for something to be done, she expected results immediately. "I keep dreaming of being in the outdoors, like in a mountain meadow, or sitting by a stream or atop a mountain. Sometimes, I'm moving through the forests, and sometimes I'm just sitting in a tepee village. I always see a white buffalo, who speaks to me." I heard Grandma gasp at that. "The white buffalo is very sacred to the People." She spoke the word 'People' in a slightly odd, heavily emphasized way, indicating that, to her, the People were the Native Americans, and more specifically, Lakota. "The coming of the white buffalo is a sign of the return of the White Buffalo Calf Woman to the People." "And there was a woman with me. She was young, and very pretty." "One of the People?" Grandma asked. To her thinking, if you weren't Lakota, you weren't one of the People. "Yes. And ...," I hesitated, because it was embarrassing, "in the last dream, I was a girl - the girl I'm turning into." "Did the woman speak to you?" she asked "She said only three words I understood. She pointed at the white buffalo and said Tatanka, which I remember means buffalo. She kept calling me Wihakayda and pointing at me, like she thought it was my name. And then she held me and pointed to both of us and said Ptesanwi." Grandma's gasp was audible, before I heard her phone clatter to the floor. "Grandma?" I asked urgently. "Are you okay? Grandma?" I hoped she hadn't fallen and injured herself or something like that. "I'm okay, child," she answered when she picked up the phone, but she sounded rattled. "What does it mean?" "Ptesanwi means 'white buffalo calf woman'. It is a name of a very sacred woman who saved the People and brought prosperity and happiness. It is sometimes said that she and the buffalo spirit are one." "You never told me about the white buffalo calf woman," I told Grandma. She laughed. "You must have been too young to remember. Ask your mother; she knows that I once told you the legends of Ptesanwi." "Can ... can you please tell me the story again?" Grandma sighed. "Long ago, the People had forgotten how to communicate with the Creator, so he sent the White Buffalo Calf Woman, Ptesanwi, with a sacred bundle to teach us how to pray with the sacred pipe. She gave the People seven sacred ceremonies to ensure peace and harmony. When she left, she told the People that there were four ages, and at the end of every age, she would look back upon the People, and would return at the end of the fourth age to restore harmony and spirituality to a troubled land. She walked away, sat down, and rose as a black buffalo. A little further, she lay down and arose as a yellow buffalo. Then she lay down and rose as a red buffalo. A final time, she lay and rose as a white buffalo calf, to signal the end of the ages and her return." The story did sound a little familiar; Grandma must have told me more than once, but I just didn't remember the details. "And the four colors of the buffalo?" "The colors of the buffalo represent the four colors of man - white, yellow, red, and black. These colors also represent the four directions of north, east, south, and west." I felt a chill. "What did she mean when she called me Wihakayda? What is that?" Grandma chuckled. "She calls you 'little one'." "In the dreams, she gave me a drink from herbs and stuff, and after she chanted a bit, she had me drink." "How did you feel after you woke up?" "I felt much calmer than I expected. What does it all mean?" I was full of questions about the dream. "Patience, young child," Grandma said, and I knew she was smiling at my intense curiosity. "Did the woman have a name?" "She calls herself 'Wakan Tanka," I replied. There was another very long pause. "Wakan Tanka means 'keeper of great magic', the 'Great Spirit'. Sometimes, when the white buffalo calf woman appears among the People, she calls herself that." She paused, taking a deep breath, and I could practically hear the gears turning in her mind. "Since she visited you in several dreams, I think she is with you." "What do you mean, with me? Am I ... possessed or something?" Again, the smile heard over the phone. "No, Wihakayda. It means that you and she touch, which makes you very, very special. Together, you are Ptesanwi. The white Tatanka probably also touches you, since he is the companion to Ptesanwi." The tingling coursing up and down my spine intensified. Did Grandma Little Doe believe that I was the embodiment of the return of the white buffalo calf woman to fulfill an ancient prophecy? "That's just fu ... flipping great! Not only do I become a mutant _and_ changing into a girl, but I got the crap beat out of me, and now I'm possessed by some medicine woman's spirit! I don't feel very special at all." "Nevertheless, you are special." "And why aren't I freaking out? I should be freaking out that I'm turning into a girl, shouldn't I?" "Were you calm after your dreams?" "Uh, yeah, I guess, after she gave me the drink." "Wakan Tanka prepared you medicine to help you heal, in body and mind." "That was just a dream. And is she drugging me so I don't freak out?" "As it is in the dream world, so can it be in this world." Grandma paused again. "Did she tell you what was in the drink?" "She mentioned some herbs and stuff. She told me to gather my own supply of medicine plants, and told me how to make the drink, but I don't think I can get everything she said." "Do you remember?" I nodded automatically, even though Grandma couldn't see me. "I remember the list. For some reason, it seems easier to remember things now." "E-mail it to me. I probably have most, if not all, of what you need." With that, I handed the phone back to Mom, who was happy to spend time talking with her mother. After quickly e-mailing the list of herbs and plants to Grandma, I went back upstairs to work on math, but I had barely opened my book when my cell phone beeped. ~Do you know what's happening to you?~ Julie texted me. Bless her for trying to stay in contact and give me some sense of normalcy. ~I'm changing~ ~How?~ ~It's embarrassing~ ~You can trust me~ I hesitated a long time. Did I really want it to get out that I was turning into a girl? ~Mom and I are pretty sure that I'm turning into a Native American girl~ There was a long silence; I'm sure she was either screaming or laughing. ~Seriously?~ I sighed, and then took a selfie, which I attached to a message. ~See for yourself~ ~Wow! You're gorgeous! That's some change~ ~Tell me about it. I'm kind of freaked about it~ ~Except for the green eyes, you could pass as a baseline, though. A pretty baseline~ ~After I get used to dresses and underwear and hair and makeup? Bleh~ ~LOL. We girls adjust. Is there a cure for it?~ ~No. It's permanent~ ~At least it's nothing gross like a slime monster~ ~Some consolation. I don't want to be a girl~ ~I know. I'll help you any way I can. Even if you're not my boyfriend, you're still my best friend~ I got choked up on that message. For her to say that meant everything to a kid who thought he'd lost every friend he had. ~Thx. That means a lot to me~ ~And I won't be jealous that you're cuter than me - LOL~ ~Gee, thanks.~ ~Gotta go. Mom's coming. Bye~ Okay, I admit that at this point, whatever Wakan Tanka had given me the night before must have worn off, because I started screaming to high heaven, throwing things in my room, and bawling face-down on the bed about how unfair life was, and how I hated turning into a girl. After a good cry, I fell asleep again. Wakan Tanka said nothing, pointing instead to Tatanka, the white buffalo. The buffalo nuzzled me affectionately, licking my hand like a little puppy, and I could feel its contentment. "We are one spirit, Wihakayda," he said. Whoa - a white buffalo acting like a puppy? As if this all wasn't weird enough. "As are you and Wakan Tanka." Wait a sec - I've got two freeloading passengers in my head now? A white buffalo and a medicine woman spirit that can't speak English? "Why do you keep calling me Wihakayda?" I asked the buffalo. "Because you are Wihakayda. I am the white Tatanka, and you will be joined with my spirit. Together, you and Wakan Tanka are Ptesanwi." I glanced at the medicine woman, and she nodded. "Wihakayda," she confirmed, pointing to me, and the, pointing to both of us, she said "Ptesanwi." It was the one recurrent theme of my dreams - that somehow, this dream woman thought that she and I together were some white buffalo calf woman, Ptesanwi. I awoke to the sound of the kitchen door slamming. Dad was home, and from the way he entered the house, he wasn't in a good mood. I wasn't sure it was a good time to spring _my_ surprise on him after whatever had happened. Instead, I pulled on a pair of baggy sweats and crept downstairs, staying in the living room where I could hear the discussion. "Intolerant bastards!" I heard Dad cuss. For him to be swearing, it must have been extreme. "Someone threw a brick through the front window." "Vandalism?" Mom asked hopefully. "Nope. They were brazen enough to put the Humanity First logo on the brick, just to make sure I got the message." "What are you going to do?" "I notified the sheriff, but you know RL. He's as anti-mutant as anyone, and he won't investigate much before he drops it." "Well, we had some surprises around here, too." "Oh? Good surprises?" "Depends on how you interpret it. You've either been in the fields or at the dealership, so you haven't seen Brandon the past couple of days. He's probably almost finished changing." Dad sighed so heavily that I could hear it in the living room. "Into what?" He knew the score with mutants, and he knew that I'd change into something. "Into a Lakota girl," Mom said. I'm sure she was looking at Dad without batting an eye. Dad sighed again. "Are you sure?" I think he was relieved that I at least looked human. We all knew that some mutants were quite strange in appearance. Gross Structural Dystrophy, I think they called it. At least I didn't have that, or so it seemed. I strode quickly into the kitchen. "I'm sure." It was going to take some time to get used to the new sound that echoed in my ears whenever I spoke. Well, that and the female plumbing. And my breasts. And female underwear. And new requirements for hair care. And dresses and ... shudder ... bikinis. I guess I had to get used to an entirely different life. That thought was suddenly depressing. Dad's jaw dropped as he looked at me. "Completely?" I just nodded, feeling my cheeks burn again, although, with my darker complexion, the degree of embarrassment wasn't quite as obvious as it would have been only a few days earlier. "Okay," Dad said cautiously, drawing out the word into a complete sentence, "now what?" "I don't know," I said, feeling helpless. Danny continued to gawk at me, wide-eyed. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed softly. "Maybe we should eat first," Mom suggested. "Then we can think about what we're going to do." She paused and pointed at the counter, which had a lot of small bags of herbs on it. "Grandma Little Doe stopped by. It turns out that she had everything you said you need. Given how upset you are about the changes, maybe you should make some of that tea to have with dinner?" I sighed, and then nodded. While she set the table and finished cooking, I heated some water in the microwave, and then followed the instructions I'd gotten from the medicine spirit woman. I had to admit that when I took a few sips of tea, I felt much calmer. At dinner, Danny kept gawking at me like I was an alien. Or worse. I'd seen him stare like that at Heather Newbury, who was one of the hot cheerleaders. The only thing he wasn't doing was drooling on the table at the sight of me, barely. "What are you looking at, runt?" I said angrily. Danny reacted like I'd stung him. "I, uh, er ...." Mom put her hand on my arm in a reassuring way. "Honey, maybe you shouldn't call him runt anymore. He's as tall as you are now." I wanted to cry. I was sitting on a rock, overlooking a rugged, mountainous valley with numerous bare rocky pillars thrusting toward the crystal blue sky. I recognized the place from a vacation our family had taken years ago - the Needles in the Black Hills. The breeze was cool, and smelled of pine. It was peaceful to sit here; I don't know how long I was alone. "Greetings, Wihakayda," a familiar voice came from behind me. I turned, startled, and saw the white buffalo Tatanka moving with a deceptive grace across the meadow toward my perch, with Wakan Tanka walking silently beside him. "What do you want now?" I sounded a bit testier than I had wanted. Wakan Tanka spoke to the buffalo in Lakota, which added to my frustration. I had a passenger in my head that I couldn't understand, and another which was so absurd as to be ludicrous. The buffalo listened, and then turned back toward me. "Why does our presence disturb you so?" he asked. "Moments ago, you were at peace, surrounded by the beauty of the earth and its creatures. You were feeling as one with creation. But now you are not." "Wouldn't you be upset if this was happening to you?" I snapped at them. Wakan Tanka didn't need to understand my words to read my sentiments. She just smiled and sat down beside me, with Tatanka lying on the other side. A few moments later, she handed me a cup made from a gourd, inside of which was the herbal drink she'd been giving me, at least that's what it smelled like. I took it and sipped it until it was gone. "You need to restore yourself to peace," Tatanka admonished gently. "Feel the cool, refreshing breeze. Hear the sounds of the wind in the trees, and the calls of the birds. See the majesty of Paha Sapa stretched out before you. Be still, and learn what nature is trying to teach you. I felt myself relaxing under his almost hypnotic voice. The vista was gorgeous, and it was a beautiful summer day. I could see a hawk circling over the valley below, gliding silently and majestically on the currents of air surrounding him. After a long period of silence, Tatanka asked me, "What do you see, Wihakayda?" Somehow, I had to break him of the habit of calling me Wihakayda. I drew a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I see the hawk circling, like it's looking for something." "You see Ceda, the hawk-spirit. He makes you look at all around him, not just at him. How does he move? You need to see the rivers in the winds on which he soars, and by seeing the rivers, you will know where he will go." "He is so ... graceful in flight." "He doesn't flap about wildly," Tatanka explained. "Ceda flows with the rivers in the sky, not fighting them, but using them to his own ends. If he fought the rivers, he would fail. Why does Ceda circle as he does?" "I ... I don't know." "You need to see what he is seeing, the object of his focus." "His prey?" "Yes, Wihakayda. He has his focus on his prey, but not just his prey. He needs to see the rivers in the sky, to know how to use them to catch his prey. He needs to see what is around his intended prey, whether there is an easy escape for the prey to foil him, or not. He needs to see if there is danger if he were to swoop down." "You're saying that he needs to see the big picture?" I asked. Tatanka nodded. "You learn quickly, Wihakayda. Each animal spirit has something to teach you. With Ceda, it is to focus on your goal, but not to lose sight of all around you. It is to flow with your environment, using it to your advantage, rather than to fight it wildly, as you go about your tasks." "Are you saying - that I shouldn't fight what's happening to me, but flow with it and use it to my advantage?" Tatanka translated, and Wakan Tanka smiled. "You learn very quickly, Wihakayda," Tatanka replied to me. "I ... I don't _want_ to learn quickly! I want my life - and my body -back!" Neither of them replied to me, gazing instead at Ceda circling so majestically on the winds. "Will I ... meet the animal spirits?" I asked after a few moments. "Patience. Another time, Wihakayda, when you are ready. For now, it is enough to observe a spirit to see if there is something it can teach you. Only after you have observed it and understand _what_ it does will you be ready to meet it to learn how it accomplishes that which it does." Friday, February 24, 2007 I woke up late, since I had nothing to do, and for the first time, I didn't feel hot or sweaty. Hopefully, the burnout or changes or whatever were over. I did my morning ablutions, and then, for some reason, called Mom to come upstairs. If I had a female body, then I better start getting used to it. Maybe it was the herbal tea from my dream that was affecting me, but I was far from hysterical about the changes, even though I knew that I should be extremely agitated that I was becoming a girl. As far as Mom and I could tell, my changes were mostly complete, or at least they seemed to be. I was five-foot seven, one hundred thirty pounds, and probably the most exotically gorgeous girl I'd ever seen, apart from the woman in my dreams. Strangely, I didn't look like the kind of beauties I used to see at school, like Julie, with their European features and my own European sensibilities about what made a woman beautiful. Instead, I was gorgeous in an exotic way because I was distinctly Lakota, and looked foreign and exotic, but still, with my eyes, approachable and compelling. Mom confirmed with a quick but detailed inspection that I was now fully female, with no trace that I'd ever had a little friend or his two sidekicks. That meant that I had a vagina, which meant that I could be on the receiving end of sex! Emotionally, I knew _that_ was never going to happen, and I knew that at some point I'd be upset about the change in genitals and capabilities, but at that moment, it was another intellectual data point. Since I had no more internal pressure or distress, I assumed that my internal organs had finished rearranging as well, which meant that I had ovaries, fallopian tubes, a uterus, and a vagina. For once, having paid attention in biology was worth something. I was humiliated that Mom checked me the way she did, but she reminded me that it could be worse, that it could be Doc Robinson examining me. I blushed, realizing that she was right. I had breasts - large B-cups, if the measurements meant anything. Fortunately, I was nearly Mom's size, so with a little adjusting of straps and using a different hook, she got me fit - sort of - into a bra and panties. Danny had chosen the better part of valor and stayed away from me, even though I knew he was curious about my mutation and change into a girl. I saw him peeking through the open door at me a couple of times, but he said nothing and ran away quickly. At least he hadn't seen me trying on Mom's underwear - I hoped I started crying again, realizing that I'd lost damned near everything. All I had left was math. No football, no friends, except maybe Julie, no male body. It was bad enough living on a farm, because I was isolated from the other kids, especially in the winter, but during certain seasons, our family was isolated from one another, with field work and chores and such. Add to that the fact that I was turning into a girl, which made Dad and Danny avoid me when they weren't at school or working, and I was damned lonely. I never liked being socially alone; I'd had a horrible experience with it once many years ago. We'd moved when I was in grade school, and I was the 'new kid' for over a year, and had felt like a total outcast. It had taken a long time for me to feel like I fit in. Now I was cut off from my friends because I was a mutant. It was rather devastating, reminiscent of that awful year of feeling completely alone, and I collapsed on the bed for a good emotional venting. After breakfast, I forced myself to go to the shop and work on the transmission. It wasn't fun, but it was distracting. By lunchtime, I'd nearly finished assembling the input and output shaft gears, and was getting ready to start putting pieces and sub-assemblies back into the transmission case. I sighed; I still could work on cars, at least so far. It wasn't as much fun as hanging with my friends had been, but it was rewarding, in a way. Maybe that was something I hadn't lost - yet. My cell phone beeped again. ~What are you doing?~ ~Moping and feeling sorry for myself~ ~Want to go to a movie or something to take your mind off things?~ I paused, wondering if she knew what she was asking. ~Uh, I'm not a guy anymore~ ~Not like that! Just two friends~ I figured she was blushing. ~I'm not sure~ ~Would it be better to see a movie, or sit around and pout?~ ~Do you know what's playing?~ ~There's Amazing Grace~ ~Yuck! What about Ghost Rider?~ ~Eew! I think a comedy called Music and Lyrics is still in the theater. Have you seen it?~ I didn't need that reminder. ~No. That's what I was going to take you to last Friday~ ~Let's go then~ ~Okay. Where should I meet you?~ ~By the old honey factory. Half an hour?~ ~K. See you in a bit~ I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something seemed odd in the text conversation, but I didn't want to dwell on it. I wanted a distraction from the changes that had so quickly overtaken and disrupted my life. Well, it wasn't a date where we could kiss and snuggle, but it was something semi-normal, and it would take my mind off of my changes. But then I thought about something else - my distinctive eyes, and that would tip off everyone. Sunglasses? That would work I supposed. It wasn't dark until later this time of year anyway, so I could get away with it. "Where are you going?" Mom demanded as I scampered through the kitchen. I hated to admit it, but I was wearing a pair of her jeans and one of her T-shirts, since none of my clothes fit me anymore. "Julie and I are going to a movie. Music and Lyrics. It's a comedy." She scowled. "I don't think that's a good idea," she said hesitantly. "You know what happened last Thursday." "I'll hide my eyes behind sunglasses, and the rest of me looks like a normal girl," I said confidently. In retrospect, I should have listened to my mother, but I was a cocky teenager (okay, not so 'cocky' anymore!) and I needed something normal. "Are you sure?" "Mom, I'm going to go crazy if I just sit around here and think about things. This'll at least get my mind off my mutation and my changes." I had one problem; Mom's jeans didn't have a back pocket, and I needed someplace to put money and my drivers' license. For now, I figured, I could slip them into my front pocket. I shuddered to think that I might have to start carrying a purse - like a real girl. I pulled up to the old honey factory on the edge of town. The street wasn't well-used, and there were a lot of trees, so it wouldn't be a big deal for Julie to hide her car there while we went to the movie. Besides, in a small town like this, nobody bothered with vandalism or such. People still left their keys in their car while getting mail or shopping, and a lot of folks didn't lock their doors at night. It was safe - or so I thought. Something didn't quite feel right when I pulled up to the old factory. Call it a premonition or a sixth sense, but I had a really bad feeling. Julie was _never_ late. As I waited, I left my truck running out of habit, which was both good and bad. The diesel engine made a lot of noise, even idling, and it masked out other sounds. On the other hand, it would be quicker to start moving if there was trouble. And trouble came. One minute, I was waiting for Julie, and the next, a car came racing into the parking lot, skidded in front of me, and stopped. I recognized Scott, who'd taken great delight in beating the crap out of me the week before. I shoved the truck into reverse as my finger reached for the door-lock button, just in time to see another car skid to a halt behind me, followed almost instantly by two more penning me in on either side, trapping me completely. Because of my slightly smaller size and different seat position, my reflexes and sense of position were off just enough that I missed the door lock button, and I was suddenly too busy to try again. I saw the rage on the faces of the guys and girls getting out of the vehicles, and I knew I was in deep shit. I had only one out - put the truck in low range and push the car from in front of me, then go off-road to get away from the goons. Before I could shift, though, my door was yanked open and I was pulled bodily from my truck. A fist slammed into my face - again. "So this is Brandon, huh? Looks like a gene-freak queer if you ask me!" Jerry leered. "Why don't you die and keep your kind out of our town?" I felt a rabbit-punch to my kidneys, which hurt like hell. "For a gene freak, you have to admit Brandon is kind of cute, though," a girl named Shelly sneered. She was Scott's girlfriend, and shared his vile temper. "According to Julie, she's a complete girl now!" one of the guys sneered. "And pretty damned good looking, too - for a mutant." A couple of faces changed from rage to an unsettling leering, and I started to feel very nervous. Even as more slaps, scratches, and punches battered my body, I felt hands groping at me, on my chest and in my crotch. My jacket was ripped from by body, and rough hands pawed at my breasts, while other fists continued to beat on my already-battered body. Under the brutal physical assault, everything went mercifully dark. I opened my eyes, fighting pain as I did so, and saw Tatanka and Wakan Tanka standing over me, looking down, tears in their eyes. Wakan Tanka held a small wooden bowl, and as I watched, she dipped her fingers in the bowl and painted some of the gooey reddish-brown concoction onto my forehead and cheeks. She dipped her fingers again and painted on my wrists, ignoring my whimpers of pain as she touched me. She continued, painting my legs, and then I could feel her wet fingers tracing some intricate design over my heart. I tried to lift my head to see what she was doing, but I hurt too much. I could hear her chanting some more, and then she began to sprinkle my body with the liquid. As each droplet hit me, I felt a brief surge, like mild sparks of static electricity, and then a distinct soothing feeling radiated from each droplet like a wave from a stone in a pond, lessening the intense pain. As the ripples spread from all the droplets, pain was slowly being erased from my body. I lay back on the soft buffalo-hide blanket, letting my eyes drift shut. Friday, February 24, very late at night the Doctor's Clinic I slowly woke, hurting in nearly every inch of my body. My legs and left arm were in casts, and I felt like every rib had been broken. My head hurt like hell, too. I was lying in a bed in a room that seemed to be a hospital room, but I knew from past experience that it was Doc's clinic. An IV line snaked from a pouch held on a stand, down to the bedside, and up to my good arm, where a needle nestled beneath a bandage. I could only see out of one eye; I guessed that my other eye was bandaged. Even taking a breath caused excruciating pain in my ribs. I heard voices at a distance; Dad's booming voice was unmistakable, and from his tone, he was beyond furious. Occasionally, I could hear Mom's voice, too, and Doc Robinson's. Mom must have glanced my way, or I had unknowingly moaned in pain when I woke up, because she was suddenly in my field of view. "Oh, honey!" she cried. Her cheeks were tear-streaked and her eyes were red and puffy. "You scared us!" Scared you? That was good - I'd been terrified when they started to batter me. "What ...?" I started to ask, but even a simple word caused pain because my whole face was sore. "Shhh," Mom cooed. "Don't talk. In the background, I heard Dad yelling at Doc Robertson. "What the hell do you mean, no evidence? What more evidence do you need? They beat her to within an inch of her life! If we hadn't been tipped off and followed, they _would_ have killed her. And then there's ...." He stopped abruptly when he glanced nervously at me and saw that I was awake. "I'm sorry, but I don't have the kits. As to the assault, that's going to be a mutant's word against the kids who all attest that they were elsewhere." "And I suppose my son just slashed the tires on his truck by himself? What for?" "If you're not happy with the way things are going, perhaps you should call the MCO," Doc said, with more than a hint of smugness in his voice. "I'm going to take my son and get out of this place! You're supposed to care for all people first, not act like an accomplice to brutal crimes!" From the tone, I suspected that Dad was about ready to flatten Doc's nose, and other body parts. "She's in no shape to be moved," Doc protested strongly. "Why? So you can leave the back door open, so they can come in and finish the job? Is that your game? Get rid of the evidence?" I'd never heard Dad so angry. "I'm taking Brandon with me, and if you try to stop me, I _will_ make you regret it. I can't trust you any more than we can trust the rest of the bigots in this town!" With that, Dad stomped noisily to me bedside, where he looked down at me. Without a word, he took off the bandage and eased the IV needle from my arm. Then, carefully, he picked me up. I could see him wince at my every gasp and moan of discomfort. Cradling me as gently as he could and trying to minimize any further pain, he walked toward the door. "I can't be held medically responsible for any further damage she sustains," Doc Robinson protested, mostly in an effort to cover his own ass. "Like you've been much help anyway," Dad sneered. "Except for showing your disdain for my son, despite your Hippocratic Oath, you fucking hypocrite!" Whoa! I'd _never_ heard Dad swear like that before. He was really pissed! He paused and looked over his shoulder. "And you can rest assured that I _will_ file a formal complaint with the state licensing board. And since my friend Senator Johnson chairs the subcommittee that oversees state regulations of medicine, it _will_ get some attention." He turned and stormed out of the clinic. I knew that Dad didn't make idle threats. I remember little of the ride home, as the pain made me bounce in and out of consciousness with even the slightest bump in the road. When I was awake, I made a game out of trying to identify body parts that _didn't_ hurt. It was a very short list. I don't remember getting home. Instead, I drifted into a dream again. I was once again at the tepee circle, at the fire. "Why am I here again?" I asked. Wakan Tanka just looked up at me from preparing her medicinal drink. "Rest," she said in accented English. I was lying on my side, on a plush buffalo-skin blanket, and I was stunned. "You speak English!" I exclaimed, and as a reward for my outburst, I received another major spasm of pain coursing through my entire body. "No. I taught her the word so she could tell you what you needed to do," Tatanka explained as he gazed sadly at me. If I looked half as bad as I felt, I must have looked awful. She finished preparing the tonic for me, and then did her chanting, but this time, she gestured that I should follow her position. Painfully, I did so, and then she chanted her song-like incantation, pausing so I could try to follow along. As soon as I consumed the drink she'd prepared for me, Tatanka sat down beside me, nuzzled me a bit in his friendly way, and then he spoke. "You are in great danger, Wihakayda," he said. I frowned; that was an understatement. "Why don't you help protect me if you're part of me?" I demanded angrily. I looked at the buffalo, which shook his head sadly, and when I glanced, Wakan Tanka was doing the same. "You have not accepted us," Tatanka said, his voice sad. "Until you accept us a part of you, we cannot directly help you." "Accept you? You're in my head, dammit! What more do you need?" "We are only guests," Tatanka replied. "If you accept us, we will become part of you." I frowned. "So this is some kind of Star Trek, Vulcan mind-meld thing? Or are you going to possess me or something like that?" I glared at Wakan Tanka, who shook her head and smiled and looked at Tatanka. "We will be part of you. You will be part of us. It is symbiosis. We are here as guides, to give you our powers, and to give you advice and knowledge. Such is the way of the spirits. You are in control, not us." I was puzzled. "How could you have helped me?" Tatanka sighed. The image of a buffalo sighing is hard to believe, but he did. "Until you accept me, I cannot appear in the same world as you. If you had accepted me, you could have called upon me, and my physical form would have come to defend you." I thought for a moment, and then I stared at Wakan Tanka. "And what about you? Where do you fit into this picture?" Wakan Tanka puzzled for a moment, and then began to speak Lakota to me. I frowned; I understood nothing she was saying. However, Tatanka interceded. "She says that Ptesanwi will be part of you, and Wakan Tanka will speak to you and teach you. You will learn to use her magic. You will learn her gift of healing." It sounded too good to be true. "What does this cost me? My soul?" Tatanka laughed. "We are not demons. We ask no payment except that you help the People as much as you are able. This is a terrible time for the People, as you know." I thought a moment, taking a deep breath and feeling the stabbing pain of several broken ribs. "What does it take for me to accept you?" I asked, more to gain further information than to invite them. Tatanka translated for Wakan Tanka again, and Wakan Tanka replied in Lakota to Tatanka, who nodded. "All you need to do is ask." It sounded so simple; I ask, and they become part of me to help me. If the night was any hint of what life would be like from now on, I'd need all the help I could get. "What would you have done to help me?" I asked, seeking more clarification, and perhaps stalling. I wasn't certain if inviting spirits to live rent-free in my head was a good idea "Wakan Tanka will teach you magic, so you will be able to ghost-walk or to create a shield which would have prevented them from seeing your or even hitting you. She will also teach you to heal, both yourself and others, and many other spells known to Ptesanwi. And when you call, I can appear in your world, as large or small as you need. I can interact with living beings," he added. "A buffalo has a way of causing those who would do you harm to change their minds. If not simple fear, a horn in their side or a hoof on their chest should convince them. " My eyes widened. "You mean, like you can manifest?" Tatanka nodded. "My spirit shape can appear in the world if we join you. And you will learn to call other animal spirits to appear in your world." I couldn't see a downside. If Wakan Tanka could teach me healing and other magic, and Tatanka could manifest to defend me, I might be in good shape. I certainly couldn't be in worse shape than I already was. "I ask you to join me, then." Both of them beamed with joy. "You will not be sorry, Wihakayda," Wakan Tanka spoke. "You ... you speak English! You've been fooling with me!" Wakan Tanka grinned. "No. I speak only Lakota. Now that we are joined, you understand the language of the People, Wihakayda. It is part of my magic and of being joined to Ptesanwi's spirit." She rubbed my cheeks soothingly and tenderly. "Speak with your grandmother Little Doe. You will speak and understand the language of the People, and you will surprise her greatly. It will be very amusing." She chuckled, knowing that it would be a good joke on my grandmother. I couldn't help but think that Wakan Tanka was perhaps a little bit of prankster. For some reason, I felt peace descend over me, and I lay back on the buffalo robe which had appeared. As I drifted off, I wondered if I'd be able to control my dreams like Wakan Tanka did. "Wihakayda," I said to myself softly. "Wihakayda. That sounds nice."