"Matt... Matt..."

I woke up to a hand shaking me awake. My mom stood next to my bed. Her strained smile was a little bit better today.

"I brought you breakfast."

She held up a paper bag with a logo that said "Daisy's" on it - it was a favorite local restaurant of ours, specifically for it's breakfast. I felt a slight smile come to my face as the smells entered my nostrils.

"Is it okay if I very quickly get a drink and use the bathroom?" I asked, tentatively rubbing my dry nose.

"Of course."

I felt a bit better after using the bathroom, but not much. If anything, it made me focus more on how tired I was. I'd slept fitfully during the night, enduring half-remembered nightmares, all filled with anxiety that I'd be found out. All manifesting my spoken and unspoken fears.

But there was no time for that now. Now was the time for a cinnamon roll pancake. I hopped back on the bed, and in my quick motion, nearly forgot about that stupid thing again - my tail. I stopped just before sitting down, carefully directing it out of the way. Mom watched, trying to maintain her positive expression.

"I hate this thing," I said. "I hate to say that I'm getting a bit more used to it being there - but... gosh, it's so annoying, getting in the way like this."

Mom's smile fell. "I suppose... you'll adjust."

I set aside everything going on with me, and eagerly pulled out the plastic containers filled with my favorite menu items. Part of me felt a bit off seeing it - we normally got breakfast at Daisy's only for occasions like my birthday, or just before Christmas. Opening the containers and taking in the smell - oh gosh it was so strong! - it did lift my mood a bit.

"Thank you Mom." I was able to actually make the effort to make eye contact. Unfortunately I soured it by licking my nose right after.

"I know that this is what I'd want if I was going through this," she said, trying to regain her smile.

I began diving into the pile of hashbrowns. As always, they were their perfectly tuned buttery crispiness. I hadn't realized until that moment that I hadn't eaten any dinner last night - and I was voraciously hungry. Mom watched me silently as I ate.

"How are you feeling this morning?" she finally asked.

I swallowed. "I... " I closed my eyes, and squinted in discomfort. "I feel.... better than yesterday. But considering yesterday was probably one of the worst days of my life, anything will probably be an improvement."

"They've decided it's safe for me to be in here without a mask."

I looked up at her and somehow hadn't remembered that had been a concern. It made me uneasy - it showed that they were making this up as they went, only barely sure of what they were doing.

"So can I go home?" I asked.

She frowned and shook her head. "They - specifically Dad and his associates - want to keep you and Jackie here to monitor you."

I sighed. "Great."

"Just... just at least take comfort in the fact that if something... unexpected starts happening, that you'll be right here, ready for them to help you as fast as possible."

"All of this is unexpected," I mumbled.

"I brought you some stuff at least," she said while picking up a duffel bag from the floor. "It has several pairs of clothes, your tablet charger, some snacks..."

"Thank you Mom. It doesn't... change things... but thank you for trying to help me through it."

"I'll do what I can." Her smile quivered. "I just... I just feel so awful... watching this happen and being able to do nothing. That I can't do anything to help Lucas...."

It filled me with pain seeing her like this. It had been far worse seeing her breaking down in the car the day before, but I'd also been very broken at that moment too. Now I could see the silent struggle in her as she watched her child go through something so difficult, so alien to our idea of reality - and could do nothing. Somehow it felt worse than seeing her before, because here she was trying so hard to hold up a front of confidence - and there was so much tension there.

I set down my fork and pushed aside my food, taking a moment of pause in my thoughts.

"Mom... this... this is hard - but it... it could be worse. The pain isn't as bad - and..."

I winced.

"And at the end of the day...," I said, timidly grasping the base of my tail, "this isn't going to kill me. I feel a lot more calm today. It's... it's so weird, but I can take it."

Mom took a deep breath, all the while staring at me - staring at what was happening to me. I stood up straight on my knees, and hugged her. I didn't know what was going to happen... but if something did happen, I didn't want to waste valuable time being bitter in any way towards my family. They loved me, and it wasn't their fault that I had gotten that cancer all those years ago - and it wasn't Dad's fault that he had tried to save my life and it had such a bad side effect.

I hadn't reflected on that really since hearing this secret all for the first time - Dad had saved my life. I'd probably come across as absolutely enraged towards him. I hoped he didn't think that. It more just felt like I was angry at the unpredictable universe, and what it had done to me.

Mom let go of our embrace.

"Have... have you told Ashley?" I asked.

Mom let out a long huff. "No. We will. She just thinks you're in the hospital."

"Can you.... just make sure she understands that I'm alright?"

Mom couldn't force a smile. "Matt... you are not alright. I am proud of you for being brave, but... but you are not alright."

"There are people going through this," I said, "who are having it much worse than me. At least I know why it's happening. At least I know that Dad is working on a cure."

"You're right. It... is good to be optimistic in this... if nothing else it will help you stay calm."

"Yeah," I frowned. "Yeah."

Part of me felt like I should be freaking out, causing a knock-on effect where I just changed faster and faster. But part of me had accepted the fact that I couldn't change this. Things were going to happen. I didn't feel frantic - but I did have a deep feeling of dread.

"Is Jackie awake?" Mom asked.

"I don't know."

"I am," a ragged voice said from behind the divider.

Mom picked up another bag from the floor and walked over to her out of my view.

"I got you some breakfast too."

"Thank you Mrs. Hewitt."

It was the extent of their interaction. Mom walked back to me.

"Just... remember," she said. "If you ever need anything, anything at all, don't worry about it, just call me. I can't get into the building at night easily, but any other time I'll try to get to you if you need something."

"What about your work?"

She made a dismissively gesture. "I'm taking built up sick days. But that's not important right now. Just... relax, and try to keep your spirits up."

"It is a well known fact," I said, "that people are really good at being ordered to relax."

Mom attempted a little chuckle, and gave me a last brief hug. "Stay strong Matt. I love you."

"I love you too Mom."

She left. I checked my watch. It was 8:15. I didn't know when Melina - or someone else - was going to come back and do more testing on us. I groaned with the realization that it was likely going to be the only thing scheduled in my life for as long as a week or more - however long it took us to get through all this.

"Why are you in such a good mood?" Jackie asked from behind the curtain, interrupting my thoughts.


"You're turning into an animal," she said. "You're acting like this is just the flu. Something not all that fun, but not serious."

"So you're upset because I'm not freaking out? Did you not hear me sobbing into my pillow last night?"

"Can you at least not be cracking jokes? I'm just trying to empty my mind, and it's being interrupted by you."

I jumped off the bed onto the floor, and slowly pulled the divider back, revealing Jackie. I only briefly caught sight of it again - her canine snout - before she averted her gaze. It was so strange. I had looked at my own in the mirror, but something about seeing it on another person... I couldn't grasp the idea that I now looked like that. Also... I seemed to notice her ears... the tops slightly sagged down.

"Would you please stop staring at me?"

"The other day you were staring at me," I smirked slightly.

"Whatever," she said with a disgusted look. "Just leave me alone."

I stood there awkwardly for a moment as she avoided my eyes. I felt an impulse come to my mind. I was not endearing myself to her, did I really want to be more stupid?

I shrugged and decided it didn't matter that much to me anymore. She already wasn't in the best mood, the worst that could happen is her telling me to go away again. I walked over to my side of the room, grabbed one of the padded chairs, and carried it over next to Jackie's bed. She looked confused as I picked up my breakfast containers and sat down by her.

She stayed silent.

"Aren't you going to eat?" I asked.

"I'm not hungry."

"Oh c'mon," I said, "are you really going to let good food like this get cold?"

She let out a barely perceptible groan, and opened her food and began to eat some bacon. I briefly smiled, then quickly hid the expression. She obviously enjoyed it. We ate silently for a few minutes.

"Do you...," I said even as I was trying to collect my thoughts, "maybe want to put on a movie or something?"


"It might help you take your mind off things -"

"I don't want to take my mind off things Matt. I am turning into a dog. I'm not going to ignore the end of the world, and live in denial like you."

I blinked in surprise. Jackie was normally not the most cheerful person - I liked more her wit, her joking around when we played games. This however was just... so depressing.

"I'm not living in denial Jackie. I know what's happening to me. I just know that worrying about the problem won't accomplish anything - in fact it'll only make me feel worse. It may even make the changes happen faster."

"Really, really bold words," she sneered, "coming from the child who would act all grumpy when we wouldn't pick the board game he wanted to play - and then would throw more micro-tantrums any time someone played the game better than him."

I felt... cold. Was that really how she saw me? Like I was a child? My lack of control in social situations really frustrated me... but was I really that bad? Did people really.... really not want me there?

I felt a stab in me as her eyes made contact with mine. Her distinctive green and blue eyes.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"I... I know that... I know that I... act dumb sometimes," I struggled to say, "but... that was... that hurt."

Her mouth opened, seemingly to fire off another quip at my expense, but she stopped herself.

"Augh... okay. I'm sorry. I just... I just have a really hard time wanting to care about people when I have a cancerous growth misshaping my nose."

"I understand," I weakly responded. I said it more to move on than anything else. I was still reeling from her blatant unfiltered thoughts.

"You know that who I am when we're playing a game is only a very small part of who I am," I said. I should've stayed silent. Instead I had to add more fuel to the fire.

"I am quite sure," Jackie flared her nostrils, "but right now I don't really care about getting closer with people, not when my own self is unraveling."

"You are being a major downer."

She set her food container and fork aside. "Well I'm sorry Matthew Hewitt, but the world is a major downer. The world already was a sucky place but now it's even worse. Are you prepared to live trapped in the body of an animal? Even if we retain our minds, even if we aren't stuck walking on four legs, we're going to be shamed by the whole world. There's going to be billions of people coming out of the woodwork, eager to be species-ist against us."

I sat silently, contemplating her words. She was right - unless there was a full cure and it came soon, things were going to be very, very hard.

"Well that's in the future. This is now. I already dealt with so much crap yesterday and that amount of emotional intensity is exhausting. There's not anything I can do right now, so might as well just... I don't know. Take it as it comes -"

"Stop that."

"Stop what?"

"This. Stop making me feel guilty for being upset."

"I'm not trying to guilt you," I said. "I just... I don't know. We're going through so much, and I just... I want to cheer you up maybe."

She sat there silently, and returned to her food, taking a bite of some of her own cinnamon swirl pancake.

"I'm sorry. I hate myself. I hate that my outside is changing to be what the inside is."

"It's alright," I said. "Don't hate yourself. I'm not... I'm not mad at you. We're both going through something we never would've imagined a week ago."

"It doesn't change the fact that I'm a sucky, selfish person."

"I don't think you suck or that you're selfish. I think that you're more than that - that you are very smart, you can be very funny when competing in a game, you're a cute girl -"

Crap. She gave me a slightly dumbfounded look. I had overplayed my hand.

"And even when you are um," I tried to recover, "talking to people and... well..."

"Are abrasive?" She interjected. "Apathetic?"

"When you are... bold... at least we can trust you to be honest."

She swallowed a mouthful of food. I realized that she had been scarfing that food down. She had been hungry. Maybe she wasn't always honest.

"I guess," she said.

"Thank you for... um, pointing out what was... going on with my nose on Monday by the way. If I hadn't hidden it with the mask, it probably would've gone noticed by a bunch of people as it changed... and could've been really embarrassing."

She sat silently there. Her expression seemed a bit more relaxed, more neutral at least.

"You're welcome."

"I'm sorry for being a jerk sometimes."

"It's okay. You're alright. You at least have the courage to face this. You at least are trying to adjust."

"I'm not sure I'd say I'm 'adjusting.' I'm coping if anything. I just know that it won't make the situation any better to sink into depression."

She was quiet. I couldn't read her face.

"Tell your mom thanks for bringing the food. It was good. Can you close the divider? I just want to be alone for a bit."

"Okay," I stood up. "Just... I know that I'm a terrible talker... and listener. But if you... if you want to talk, I'm here."

"Well," she said, maybe the slightest hint of a smile coming to her face, "I'm probably an even worse talker and listener."

"Maybe we can balance each other out?" I laughed half-heartedly.

"Maybe." It was a statement made with little emotion.

I pulled my chair and the TV cart out of the way, and pulled the divider closed, latching it. I wasn't sure what to make of that conversation. It left me with a lot of conflicting feelings. Part of me had not been very willing to internalize that girls were real people who had imperfections, when so many of them seemed to stand mountains taller than me -

But Jackie was obviously not perfect. Whether she was a more together person than me was up for debate, but it comforted me in a strange way to know that I wasn't struggling to an abnormal degree, at least compared to some other people in this world.

My energy drained somewhat from the conversation, I returned to my food. It had grown cold. I pushed back the urge to get frustrated. I had chosen to let myself get distracted by Jackie - and trying to comfort a friend meant more than any food - even if that food was from Daisy's.

The food however, still tasted just as good. I let myself relax, and didn't resist the enhanced smell my canine snout provided. In fact, I fully utilized it to absorb as much of the pleasant aromas as I could. It was a smell intrinsically linked in my mind to my birthday and to Christmas. Adding onto that the knowledge that maybe I had talked to someone and actually made them feel better - it made me feel somewhat content for the first time since I had changed.

I paused.

I had been wagging my tail.

It had happened barely without me noticing it. I nervously willed it to move, going through the same routine that Melina had forced me through the night before. It felt good.

Despite being in a state of shock at that fact, I continued to wag my tail. It hit my brain in the same ways panting had always done for me. It was a comforting reflex... only this felt more pronounced. As I continued it, it began feeling natural.

"Oh no..." I whispered to myself. "I may have started another unfortunate habit."

The part I just couldn't wrap my head around was that it didn't feel strange to me. Well, it did feel strange of course, but also didn't feel wrong, if that made any sense. I had kept it strictly controlled, even cramped up in my shorts. But now it felt free.

I heard footsteps in the hallway outside, and quickly stopped my strange behavior. I couldn't resist letting a small smile creep up as Melina entered the room. This was hard, and super bizarre... but maybe not all of it was going to be quite as bad as I'd envisioned it. Maybe... maybe having a tail... maybe having such a strong sense of smell... maybe it might actually be... nice.

"How are you doing today Matt?"

"Getting through," I said neutrally.

But of course, I wasn't going to tell any of them that.


A note from RockyTheDogBoy

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About the author


Bio: A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer

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