I felt like a caged animal. Ironic, for someone who could morph as many different animals, it was in my human body that I felt trapped.
I have a unique perspective among the Animorphs. As far as I know, none of the others identify as Therian, though Cassie probably comes close. As if I needed to add another layer to the complication that is my life, therianthropy definitely adds that layer. It’s something I can’t talk to anyone about. The only person who might understand me is Tobias, who now feels much more at home in his hawk body than he ever did as a human – but I wouldn’t dare bring up the subject. For thirteen years, we’ve fought side by side, and none of them have an inkling that at my core, my soul itself, isn’t human.
I take it back, though. I have talked to Cassie about it before. She does understand, or at least, she pretends to. And being as understanding as Cassie IS, it wouldn’t surprise me if she pretended to understand, in order to help my own sanity. But it was in situations like this that I felt it the worst. To make matters worse, the creature that lurked in my core, in my soul, isn’t an animal that I can acquire and morph. It’s not a form I can take and, for less than two hours at a time, be the real me. Why? Is it some exotic species we don’t have at the Gardens? No… It’s very local to Southern California. In fact, it’s one of the most common creatures in history.
It’s also extinct.
My soul-self is a dire wolf. No, not the World Of Warcraft mount, the actual animal. Larger than the modern grey wolf, living in bigger packs, hunting large animals and sometimes scavenging or stealing other predator’s kills… That’s what I am. The me that makes me ME, is an extinct creature. The closest modern animal as far as behavior is concerned, however, I did acquire. The spotted hyena that’s my battle morph was partially chosen for it’s behavioral similarities to the dire wolf. I have to be careful in some fights, though. When I get too lost in the instincts of the hyena, I find myself regressing to dire wolf… and I get thrown off because my back legs are shorter than I think they should be, and my tail doesn’t counterbalance at all. Once that caused me to nearly get gutted on a Hork-Bajir blade. Thankfully I’ve managed to avoid it happening again since then, but on days like this, when I’m nervous and edgy, I want nothing more than to release the beast in my soul and run.
Today, though, I can’t run. I’m part of the show.
The park where we’d arranged to meet the Chapmans was absolutely huge. Nestled in the foothills of the mountains, most people paid between three and five dollars just to park there. Normally we’d have just flown in, but we couldn’t do that and bring an unconscious, non-Animorph in, so we took a risk. Of all of us, I was the only one we were certain did not have any Yeerks in my house. Everyone else had family members that would leave and go to do things – it seemed perfectly natural, of course, but it was often enough that we couldn’t be sure an hour stop-over in the Yeerk Pool wasn’t part of someone’s itnerary. As a result, it was my family’s car that I took that day. I stopped by the forest outside Cassie’s farm long enough to get Melissa loaded into the car, then drove to the park.
I hated having to scrounge through the seats for the three dollars I needed to park. I should’ve thought of that earlier, and I cursed myself under my breath. Melissa looked like she was asleep in my passenger seat, thankfully. She was dressed and looked perfectly normal. We didn’t have to worry about any sort of Yeerk surveillance, since the Chapmans couldn’t even TELL the Yeerks that they were meeting us. Still, being there in my own car made me nervous. I would’ve much rather have flown, but I didn’t really hav a choice.
I finally found three dollars worth of loose change, got the car’s parking pass, and pulled into the parking lot. I took the winding roads around behind the horse stables, where no one else was parked. And I waited.
And here is where we started. I was ten minutes early to meet everyone else, and we knew it. We’d allowed extra time since our Honda doesn’t like hills, and there was a major hill we had to drive up in order to get to the park. I got out of the car and leaned against it. For a moment, I wished I smoked, so I wouldn’t look quite so out of place just standing there against the side of the car. I scanned the sky for Tobias. Of all my friends, he would be the easiest to spot, his red tail catching the sunlight and almost seeming to call to me. I’d noticed red-tails long before I became an Animorph. So of course, when we first were given the ability to morph, Tobias and I had acquired the same hawk at Cassie’s barn, at the same time.
Ironic that Tobias was the one who became trapped and not me. It would be hard for me to pick if I’d rather be trapped as a hawk or as a dire wolf. As I couldn’t acquire the dire wolf, the hawk would’ve had to do. But unlike Tobias, I don’t know if I’d have been able to maintain my sanity if I had been trapped as a hawk. I probably would’ve lost it to the hawk instincts a lot sooner than he did, and I wouldn’t have come back from it. To be a hawk… to be free… no war. No family. No friends. It was sorely tempting sometimes.
Then I would remember why I was fighting. sI have a family that loves me. I have people who count on me. I have people I want to save. And I have my friends, the Animorphs. I’m a wolf? I have my pack. And I would give my life for any one of them.
That was the reason that I was standing there, feeling like an idiot, scanning the sky for a brown and rust-red feathered missile that would be my friend Tobias signaling me. A few moments later, I spotted him in the distance. I wasn’t sure it was him at first, but then he broke into a stoop, arrested it about half a mile above the ground, and rocked from side to side in a wing-wave.
<Hey. You’re early.>
I gave an almost imperceptable nod. I knew I was early… The Honda had been having a good day.
I nodded again, pretending to scratch my ear.
<Ok. Cassie’ll be there in a minute. They’re still tacking her up over there.>
I didn’t respond to that, and instead walked around the car and opened the door, unbuckling Melissa’s limp form from the passenger seat. Tobias was watching from above. If anyone approached, he’d let me know. By the time I had her where we could easily get her out of the car, I heard the clip-clop of horse hooves behind me.
I turned my head and smiled. Rachel was riding a large brown horse with a white star on her forehead. “Hey, Rachel. Cassie.” The horse snorted and tossed her head, making Rachel glare at her as she dismounted. I looked at Rachel and winced… she wasn’t speaking to me. We had to work together for this, and she wasn’t speaking to me. This was going to be fun. End sarcasm.
Cassie stood completely still while Rachel and I carefully got Melissa out of the car and onto the saddle that I knew Jake and Marco had to have stolen from the nearby stables, and Rachel and I together walked with the horse and her unconsious passenger into the woods. A normal horse wouldn’t have pushed through underbrush like that without spooking, but this was a horse with Cassie’s mind, and she knew what we had to do.
I glanced at Rachel, Cassie’s massive horse body between us, but she was looking ahead of us, stony-faced. What could I say? I couldn’t tell her it was going to be okay. That we were doing this at all was beyond wrong. We were willingly giving this girl over to being a Controller. The reasons didn’t matter when, ultimately, the result was just that – Melissa would be infested, one way or another. And I still felt that this was all my fault.
We wound through the woods on a path that Cassie seemed to know, getting far away from the stables and any way of being traced back to my car. It felt like we were walking forever, but I knew that was just the silence. Maybe Cassie or Tobias were talking to Rachel. If they were, it was private thought-speak that I was excluded from. They were probably all mad at me… I wish I could say that I didn’t care. I was relieved when we reached a small clearing and moved off to morph and wait for the Chapmans. We’d given them detailed instructions of where exactly in the park they should meet us, and the time wasn’t for another twenty minutes or so, but we needed to be prepared.
I found a spot and shed my outer clothing, stuffing them into a hollow log we’d used before when needing to morph in and around this park. I found Jake’s and Marco’s clothes already there – they must have already been ready. Once I was ready, I closed my eyes and focused on the hyena who’s DNA I’d carried within me for thirteen years. I didn’t even know if the animal I’d originally acquired was still alive. Wow, that was a depressing thought… I quickly put it out of my mind and focused on the morph. Thankfully, I’d done this morph so many times that it was kind of going on it’s own.
I watched almost absently as the skin of my forearms and hands turned dark brown and the short fur that covers the hyena seemed to start at my fingers and toes and spread over my body, fading to a lighter tan with dark brown spots above my elbows and ankles. I felt an itching sensation as my spine lengthened into the short tail that barely did anything at all, and I felt the still odd sensation of my ears sliding up the sides of my head and growing. About this time I fell forward and landed on the calloused pawpads that now covered my palms as my legs changed shape to match the legs of a hyena. The bones of my body were contorting, my internal organs were rearranging. I should’ve been in horrible pain, but I didn’t feel a thing, thanks to the Andalite’s morphing technology.
I felt my face push out into a short muzzle, and the hyena’s hearing came on suddenly. The eyesight wasn’t much better than my own, but the hearing! I’ve been a wolf. I’ve been other creatures with hearing better than humans, but every time, it shocked me. The quiet woods were suddenly alive with sound. I heard a woodpecker in the distance. I heard the breathing of large animals coming from around me. I smelled what I recognized as tiger, wolf, bear, chipmunk… many other creatures that had obviously passed by at some point. I closed my eyes for a long moment as the morph completed and breathed in deeply. Being out in the woods, surrounded by nature, even though we were prepared for a possible fight…. it was relaxing. I allowed it to take my mind away from the turmoil, worrying about Rachel being angry with me. Worrying about what would happen to Melissa… I let it all melt away for a moment. For a few seconds, I was blissfully calm. Of course, then, it had to be shattered.
<Guys?> Tobias’ voice broke through my mental vacation. <They’re walking up.>
And just as quickly as that, I was all business. The Chapmans were coming.
It was showtime.