Time was becoming more and more foggy in my head. There was no natural light. I had no clock, watch, or tablet to keep time. Food and water came at random times, and always when we were asleep. Neither Melina or Micah showed themselves again, let alone Seth. All this compounding, I was unable to reason if we'd been here a few days, or as long as a week.
I began to question if they were drugging us, giving us some kind of sedative. I definitely felt aching all throughout my body. Perhaps it was the collars they had put on us. We'd discovered this latest humiliation after waking up at one point. Ashley tried to take it off, and I was forced to watch in horror as Ashley let out a short, yet painful scream from an electric shock. Yet another sign that Seth was in control.
I sat up from the dog bed, where I'd been sleeping. Ashley was sitting nearby, looking at a book. Her expression was emotionless, as though she were more staring at the text, examining the letters, than actually reading it.
My bodily needs came my attention. I was hungry and thirsty, and by this point, my aching hunger stopped any revulsion I had to eating the dog food. I stood up, and then promptly fell down, barely bracing myself as I hit the ground, but still smacking my snout against the carpet.
I struggled not to curse, struggled not to break my resolve with Ashley near. Somehow, I hadn't been able to balance right. I pulled my tail out from under me as I sat down, and then examined my feet.
These were not the same feet I had been walking on when they had kidnapped us.
"No... no," I said, my body feeling for a moment as though it was numb.
I looked to Ashley, who only gave a slight affirming look, then I looked back to my feet.
They had changed. They were bending, so only the padded part of the foot would touch the ground. The rest of the foot angled upward. I carefully stood up, wobbling. It put me in a permanent tip-toe position. They looked like the hind legs of a dog.
I swallowed harshly. "I... I was afraid... but I never thought they'd actually try something this... this awful."
Obviously, I'd experienced changes like this before - but that had been two months ago now. I'd struggled to believe that could be possible - but now for some reason I was having trouble believing it could go further.
Yet it was. I couldn't deny these changes were happening. I couldn't fight off the increasing fear that the changes would be taken to their ultimate result.
I clenched my fists. "They are drugging us. They're giving us some kind of messed up drug that... that is doing this. It's gotta be in the water, or in the dog food."
Ashley let out a sob. "And what do you plan on doing Matt? They've gotten us. We can't just stop eating or drinking. What if they're releasing it into the air? We're trapped, and we could be here for months before anyone tries to get us..."
I heard her mutter a few words under her breath. Unfortunately, my sharpened canine hearing caught it all.
"If anyone ever finds us."
"They... they will find us," I said, attempting to muster up confidence.
Ashley wiped her tears on her sleeve. "Will they find us Matt? Or will they find two dogs?"
I sat down next to her, and glanced down at her feet. They were also now in this new digitigrade form. Seth had reignited the virus inside of us, and found some way to make it change us even more. What if Ashley was right? What if we were completely changed before any help could arrive?
Or what if they found us a bit before then? We might look entirely like dogs, but able to speak and think normally. What if Dad couldn't find a way to reverse it? What if we were stuck in that awful in-between place... forever?
Ashley sobbed quietly.
"Ashley," I said.
She looked up at me through pools of tears.
"Do you remember in 6th grade, when we ran that 5k?"
She nodded, wheezing.
"You were going to give up."
"Yeah," she said, "and after I had bragged to all my friends that I was way more athletic than them. And... and they all raced right past me."
"But you finished the race anyway," I said.
"I walked for at least a mile of it," she lamented.
"But you ran fast at the end. You pushed yourself."
She forced a little smile. "And those guys... they kept a bad pace, using up all their energy at the start... they beat me, but they just about destroyed their muscles for days afterward."
I hugged her close.
"Seth and those working with him... I know they're going to end up like that in the end. Even if we lose the race... we can at least go out strong."
"Yeah," Ashley nodded, shuddering from her crying. That brief little spark however, seemed to be buried in an instant, as she moved to her dog bed again, falling against it with a weary look on her face.
I'm not sure if I really could take to heart what I told her. I felt very hopeless. There was no sign that the status quo was changing in our favor. But I had to help get her through this - and get myself through it as well.
Imperceptible time passed. I felt more of my bones shifting, changing, shortening.
All until I woke up, and was barely able to stand. My legs had become much shorter, the length of a dog's hind legs. Looking down at my paw-like hands, I knew those and my arms wouldn't last much longer.
Walking over to the food and water dishes was much harder than I would've anticipated. My body instinctively tried to crawl, but my legs no longer worked like that any more. My knees felt messed up, with everything bending in wrong directions.
After slowly walking quadruped around the room, I eventually learned how to walk in this new, degrading way. It felt extremely alien to me, and my pants restricting my movement didn't help.
Ashley laid on her belly, arms out in front of her like a dog would rest. She had her eyes open, staring blankly at me.
"How are you feeling?" I asked.
"Not in too much pain," she said. "Most... most of the skeletal changes seemed to have finished."
I looked over her, seeing what looked like a dog wearing clothes. I could glance down at my legs, but otherwise could only imagine that I looked the way she did, looking far more dog than human.
"I miss having a normal life," Ashley said.
I walked up to her, and rubbed my cheek against hers. "Me too."
"Even... even just living as a canis person," she quietly said. "Even that... if I could even have just that again..."
I sat down on my bed beside her, finding unfortunately that sitting in the same position as her was what felt comfortable.
"I'm sorry," she said, crying a few tears. "It's all I can say. I... I told you all that I hated you. I treated you... and myself like we were animals..."
I lifted my arm - now starting to turn into a foreleg - and placed it on her shoulder, trying to comfort her in anyway I could.
"I don't care anymore Matt. I don't care what I am, if I'm technically this or technically that. If we're ever able to walk on two legs again, ever able to actually live a meaningful life... I don't care if I look like a dog. I wouldn't care what I looked like... I've wasted my life, obsessing over how I looked, wallowing in self-pity at every turn... but I could actually live. I could actually go out and do things. Now... now that's all gone. I'm going to be a dog. And I'm going to forget it all."
"You don't know that," I said.
"I don't," she admitted. "This is where I normally feel the compulsion to pile on the depression, but really I just have no energy anymore. I... I'm too tired to think."
"No," I said adamantly, "keep thinking, even if it's hard. We have to hold on. We're going to make it out of this. You're going to have a long, happy life."
"Even if that happens Matt," she whimpered, "do I really deserve it? What have I done with my life? How have I made this world a more pleasant place for others to live in? I've just been... I've just been a ball of depression, darkening every room that I walk into."
It was hard to deny that. Even before she'd become canis, she'd been prone to a sullen attitude about life, that to someone who was naturally cheerful, was very uncomfortable.
"I'm not going to pretend that you haven't been like that," I said " - sometimes. It's something you've done, but that isn't who you are, Ashley."
She looked into my eyes. Her eyes were changing, looking less human, though still wet with tears.
"Then who am I exactly Matt?"
"You're an athletic, decisive girl. You understand many things logically that I do not."
"And I have no friends. You and Mom and Dad don't ever want to be around me. I've done very little to look beyond myself... meanwhile you've made this whole support group, trying to help people get through this... while I've just closed off. The only active thing I've done since all this happened was... was attacking someone. Like an animal."
"Someone," I said, "who was being super hateful."
She was quiet for a moment.
"Perhaps... perhaps not as hateful as I made him sound. He definitely was being a tool... but gosh... I just feel sick Matt. You have something to fight for. You can be somebody if we escape. I'll have... I'll have nothing."
I tried my best to hug her against me. "I'm trying to do the best I can Ashley - but I don't have much of an idea of what I want to study as a career. I have stuff I'm good at like playing guitar, but not to the point of making any money. You though... I've watched you talking with dad. You get what he's talking about in a minute way that I don't understand."
"Hmph," she snorted dismissively.
"I'm serious Ashley. I know you're going to do amazing things someday. You're way better at math than I am, way better in your understanding of science... you're going to get out of here. You're going to get to have a life - you need to get to Mars, just like you've always said."
She sighed, and rested her head on her paws. "I don't know Matt. I just don't know."
"You've said that if you are able to escape here, able to get cured - or at least go back to being canis, that you would be more grateful, more happy."
"Yeah. For a little while. I know that I would wear down. Become self conscious about... just everything again. I don't know if I can be like you - if I could find some canis guy attractive. And I'm not sure if all this praise your putting on me that I'll do great things and all that - unless I'm fully cured, if I'm canis, there'll be so many doors closed to me from prejudice. I just don't know. I feel like... like it's all pointless."
I attempted to shrug, but my altered body probably made it look awkward.
"Then give it a point. Decide what you want to make your goal in life - or even just your goal each day."
"That would be a great thing to say," she said, "several weeks ago, when I could actually do something about my life. Not now, when I... when I'm just stuck here... when my humanity is being taken away from me for good."
"Don't give up," I said. "I know that Mom and Dad are trying to get us home."
She took a deep breath. "I'm going to hope that you're right about that. And hope that you're right about me too."
Another sleep. More changes, with my arms now completely forelegs - though my hands were not yet fully paws.. To my disgust, I realized that they had removed our clothes somehow while we slept - we were definitely being drugged. It only added to the humiliation. We were covered with enough fur as to not feel indecent, but looking at each other felt very awkward. It felt so... animalistic.
"Thas as aff -"
My throat felt very strange as I spoke.
"At's startingg," Ashley said with a weary look. "We wonn be able taa talk mach longger."
I winced, trying to keep tears from gushing out. It was not going to be too long now. I was going to become an animal. My mind would probably retreat soon. Perhaps my thoughts would be dulled until I hadn't realized what I'd lost.
I could give up. Not yet. There was one last thing that I felt I could do in our captivity.
I walked over to the books, and took the pencil that we had discovered in one of them - a small treasure that we'd briefly used to play little games and draw some things. But now it might just help us fight back one last time.
My fingers were receding into much more of a real paw, but with effort, I wrote down a message to Ashley, and then in my deteriorating voice, asked her to come over to read it.
Talking was becoming difficult, and even if we could still talk better, I was certain there were cameras in here. I needed to do what I could to protect against that.
Ashley read my message, the handwriting jagged from my failing fine motor ability, but still hopefully readable.
Writing this so the cameras don't see. I don't know how long our minds will last. If we are able to think for a bit longer, play dumb. Start giving into canine impulses, make it look like you've forgotten you were human.
If we're lucky, it might lead them to let their guard down. Finish the race strong.
Ashley closed the book, and shed a few tears. She licked my face. I wasn't sure if she was following my direction to give into instinct - or if she just didn't care any anymore about being perceived as weird.
"I donn't knaw haw mach langer we can spake," I said, coughing briefly. Talking hurt my throat.
"But," I said, trying to focus on enunciating the words, "if this... is the last thang I say to you... I lave you Ashley."
"I lave you Matt."
I licked her back, and she licked me. We went back to sleeping again, side by side against each other.
Later, I woke up briefly, and tried to speak. All that came out were indiscernible canine-like sounds. Ashley raised her head. I noticed the structure of her skull looked more canine-like than when we'd last been awake. A few tears formed in her eyes.
I looked around the room. My vision seemed more muted, becoming more canine. It wouldn't be too much longer.
I sat there on the dog bed next to my sister.
And I just... thought. I thought about life - life before all of this had happened. What I had wanted my life to be in the past. I thought about my family, my friends, my hobbies...
And I just thought about being human - or even canis. I thought about how I could stand on a mountain top, looking out at the horizon, and think about infinity, to reflect on the universe around me.
I thought about how it had felt to love Jackie, for how short a time it had lasted.
There I just laid with my eyes closed, thinking, contemplating what could be the end of sentience. It wasn't too much longer now. The end of experiencing the world. The end of self-awareness. I had no idea what life as a dog might be like, but I knew that it would never have the fulfillment as a sentient life for me.
I was going to forget it all. Forget those I loved. Those I hated. All my stresses and responsibilities in life, all my dreams and joys... they would all be gone.
After all my fighting, I was finally facing what was essentially the end of my life. What a sad, pathetic end it was.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
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