".... at this time, but to reiterate, here's what we know at this moment: An artificial virus, begun as a cancer treatment seventeen years ago, is now causing drastic changes in patients around the world. Experts say that the virus is not contagious through air, but is through bodily fluids. Many countries are enacting quarantine measures as the crisis unfolds. Earlier this morning, the president..."
I was awoken by the sound of a news report. In the haze of waking up, it took me a moment to realize what it was talking about, but then it became clear - the news had finally broken. The world knew what was happening.
At the same time I made this realization, another one hit me. The divider was opened, and I saw Jackie sitting on the front of her bed, the sound of the news coming from her tablet, sitting beside her. What was more surprising to me though, was that she was playing Stardew Valley. I watched, perplexed for a moment, when Jackie turned to me.
"Oh, you're awake. Look! I got a cute little duck! He even floats in the pond!"
I stared, dumbfounded for a moment. I looked down at myself as I realized more things had changed. More fur was growing on my body. I got off the bed, and discovered that the soles of my feet felt different. Lifting up a foot, I saw that they were also growing paw pads.
"Your mom got us some food," Jackie said, pointing to a bag next to my bed.
I went into the bathroom, and found an unpleasant sight in the mirror. My ears had flopped down completely. They'd grown larger, were covered in a light layer of fur, and had traveled further up my head. Most noticeable however, was the light golden fuzz all over my face. Fur was now growing all over me. There was not really much skin left on me that wasn't free of at least a few golden hairs.
I let out a long sigh. Being exposed to the strange sight for so long had worn off some of the horror I'd felt when I'd first watched it happen. Now it was just a silent, constant feeling of anxiety, watching as my body became less and less recognizable. Something that I hadn't expected when this started was just... how... unthreatening these changes looked.
I had seen horror movies before, where someone had turned into a horrifying monster. Accidentally watching a few before I was old enough had likely been the reason why I couldn't stand horror movies today, even as a senior in high school. In all these stories it had been so clearly awful and repulsive. Even in tamer things, like the old Disney movie Princess and the Frog, it was shown to be undesirable - being a slimy frog didn't seem particularly enjoyable.
But this was not like that. For all of Jackie's cries to the contrary, it did not look monstrous. It looked very uncanny, and unfamiliar, but not repulsive exactly. My brain couldn't compute what it thought of my reflection. People of course, aren't programmed to feel threatened by seeing their own face. At the same time, most humans thought that dogs and other pets looked cute, or at least not a danger to them.
But these two things were now clashing in the mirror. My mind reeled, trying to make sense that my familiar face staring back at me, was also not my face at the same time - but also had the features one might see on a friendly dog.
I reached up, and timidly touched the bottom of one of my floppy ears. Like with my tail, I could feel through it. I tugged on it slightly. From where they were now sticking out of my hair higher up on my head, my ears sagged down all the way past eye level. I let go of the ear I was pulling on, and it bounced back up a bit.
No, these changes didn't look scary or gross. If anything, the large floppy ears actually looked a bit goofy. I shook my head a bit, and they flung around. I found myself actually chuckling. It all just looked... silly. I stuck a finger under one of my ears, lifting it up. Thankfully, it seemed that now that they hung down, they slightly muffled my enhanced hearing.
When I let the ear drop back down, a thought came to my mind. I concentrated on the new feeling of my transformed ears. And just like I had thought, I could move them somewhat.
I let them drop. I hadn't expected it to startle me like that, but it did. There were people who could make their ears wiggle and stuff like that - but I had never had any such skill. This was far more pronounced than that. My ability to move them felt limited, but it was still much like my tail - a foreign feeling of being able to move something that I couldn't before.
I slowly raised my ears up again, so that they were both tensed up off of my head. I let them drop back down. Freaky.
I had no idea how I was going to get used to the new furry triangle shaped things on the side of my head - but I felt certain something else was going to distract me from them before long. I examined the paw pads on my feet. I hadn't really noticed them until now, but they were getting closer to having fully formed, now firmly separate from the rest of the sole of my feet. My feet were also growing fur everywhere.
As I focused on the fur, I also started thinking about how hot it felt. Not unbearably hot or anything, but just barely starting to feel uncomfortable. I lifted up my shirt and ran my hand across the larger growths of fur on my torso. I was starting to feel a bit gross having not showered in a day or two, and that made me rather unenthusiastic about showering with all this fur. No wonder dogs didn't usually like baths.
I forced myself away from the mirror, used the bathroom, and came back out into the room. I watched Jackie as she explored a cave in the game, attacking some monsters and mining rocks.
"What are you up to?" I asked.
"I'm trying to get a bunch of money," she said, "so that I can buy a bunch of pizzas to give to this guy named Shane."
I let out a little laugh. "Seems like you've gotten into this."
"Well I can't just leave Shane alone," she said, "he's drinking a lot and he needs help. He's kind of standoffish from everyone else and he needs a friend."
Watching the TV, I noticed something conspicuous.
"Did you make my character a girl?"
She shook her head - which caused her own big ears to flop around, prompting a small grunt of frustration.
"No," she said, "I did that... multiplayer... whatever thing. It asked me to build a little cabin on the farm. I've been planting a bunch of stuff."
I watched as she ran back to the farm, the whole time telling me all these things about the different people in the town. When she got back to the farm, she showed me with pride all the new fields she had planted, along with some nicely laid out paths and flowerbeds.
I had the biggest smile on my face. She was... happy. Happier than I'd ever seen her.
"The farm looks really great Jackie," I smiled. "Looks way better than anything I could've done with it."
Her smile grew broader - but then vanished. Jackie was wagging her tail.
"No...," she said with an unsteady voice. "I couldn't have been... been just doing..."
I jumped off my bed and went over to her. "Just relax. It's not a big deal. It feels good to wag it, and that's okay."
I made a show of panting and wagging my tail. A thought crossed my mind. I was no longer saying that it wanted to wag, but that I wanted to wag it. It briefly chilled me. I could no longer deny it as a foreign parasite acting against my will. It was part of my body now. And unfortunately, I had not only accepted it, but allowed myself to enjoy it.
Jackie glanced back at her tail, golden and fluffy like mine, and she cautiously wagged it back and forth. For some reason, the sheepish look on her face brought me out of my own funk, and led me to laughing.
"Don't you dare laugh at me Matt," she scowled back.
"I'm sorry," I grinned, "but you just look so cute..."
Now it was my turn to feel sheepish.
Jackie's cheeks flushed beneath her own growing fur.
"Th - thank you."
There was silence between us for a moment. I swallowed nervously.
"Are you feeling better than you were last night?" I asked.
She didn't say anything for a moment. She glanced at the game, then down at her body. I realized that she was forming pads on her hands as well.
"Yes," she said. "I'm... I'm feeling a lot better."
She stayed quiet.
I picked up the Switch's spare controller, and soon was into the game myself. I hopped onto my bed - making sure to grab my tail first, and immediately in the game began running in circles around Jackie's character.
She laughed, and then pretended to hit me on the head with her farming tools. She directed me to start watering the fields with her. It was a slow process, but a satisfying one.
"I like this game," she said after a while. "It's just... cheerful. The music is so upbeat, everyone in town is just... nice to you. I haven't played a game in a while, but I've never played something like this."
I had a slight smile, as I thought to myself that maybe she liked the people in the game because she couldn't argue with them. The thought grew a bit melancholy. Any time that someone complimented Jackie, she tried her hardest to refuse it. In this game however, she couldn't tell an NPC that she really wasn't that nice, or good at farming. The characters only had so much programming - not like more modern characters in games that could actually have conversations with you. Perhaps this really was a good game for Jackie to play.
"I noticed you were listening to the news," I brought up a bit later. We were now harvesting a field of cauliflower.
"Yeah. They... they all know now."
"There... there wasn't anything about -"
"Us? No. Thankfully the people here were right. Generation was mentioned, but in a list of places that worked on this. At least we've avoided this."
I ran my paw-like hand through my hair. "Gosh... all our friends probably know about this now, don't they?"
Jackie sighed. "Yep."
I pulled out my tablet, and found a slew of messages. On various social media sites random people I barely knew from school had messaged me asking me if I was "one of them." I ignored all these, focusing on my texts, which were from people I actually knew.
I felt a queasiness wash over me as I looked at them. Douglas had texted me several messages - but he had been checking in with me the past few days. I had refused to send him pictures. What caused me discomfort however, were the messages from my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, cousins...
I had been mercifully sheltered from becoming a freakshow paraded around to the world, but the pain of this horrible transformation being revealed to my extended family... gosh that still hurt. The texts were all of the same nature - "I heard what happened to you, and we hope you get through it" - well intentioned, but it still felt very embarrassing.
They all knew what had happened to me. It was true - even in the best case scenario, people would look at us differently from here on out. Even if people were comfortable with being around me, I would always be the dog boy.
As I went through my texts, I noticed that Ashley had texted me.
Hey Matt. Mom and Dad... they showed me the pictures of you. I refused to believe them at first. I didn't know why they'd make up such a weird lie, but I couldn't believe it. But I know it's real now... and gosh I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. I hope that they figure something out, but this is just the weirdest thing I've ever seen.
I texted her back.
It's okay. I'm not in too much pain - but just know that it's as weird for me as it is for you. I don't know when I'll be able to go home, but I hope that you won't be too freaked out.
"C'mon," Jackie snapped her fingers, "I'm out here harvesting these potatoes all on my own."
"Sorry," I said, "my sister texted me."
"The past week... it's felt like we're in a dream. Like it isn't even real. What day is it?"
"Friday. Gosh. But yeah, it feels like we're just in some alternate dimension, and it feels even weirder on top of all of this that we're going to have to go back into the outside world."
"Oh I'm not going to go outside," Jackie said. "I'm going to stay in my room for the next twenty years."
"That... does not sound like a realistic plan."
"Maybe not. But there's a quarantine mandate anyway."
"Ugh. It's been so boring being stuck in here. I want to just go outside and go sledding or something, I dunno."
"I'll have to look up the details," Jackie said. "At the very least we aren't going to school for a bit longer."
"Perhaps that part... perhaps that's for the best."
"I don't ever want to go back to school," Jackie said in a somber, non-joking tone. "I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'll figure something out. Some kind of online stuff. I just... I just don't want to be around people."
I huffed out an exhale. "I need to be around people," I said. "I know that's weird considering how bad I am at social skills, but I feel drained if I'm spending too much time alone."
Jackie didn't say anything for a moment. We gone into the town, and she was talking to an NPC. For her it wasn't some trivial means to an end, but she actually wanted to learn about the characters.
"I feel like... maybe I am the same way," Jackie said. "I don't consider myself an extrovert, I don't just want to jump into a party... but I... ugh... Being real, I know that I can't just hide myself in my room forever."
"If it helps," I said, "when they let everyone go back to school, I'll stick with you. We can be the weird dog people together. If anyone makes fun of you, I'll give em' a punch to the face."
Jackie set down her controller. "Matthew Hewitt, that is the biggest lie I've ever heard."
My ears perked up.
"You couldn't give someone a meaningful punch to the face if they grabbed your wrist and did the punching themselves."
Despite the degrading remark, I couldn't resist letting out a laugh.
"Maybe not," I said. "I'll poke them in the eyes then, like an old cartoon."
Jackie laughed. Gosh... it felt so good to see her laugh.
"Whatever happens," I said, smiling, "the two of us - and the people like us... we've gotta stick together."
Jackie smiled. I thought that maybe I caught a glimmer of wetness in her eyes.
"Thanks Matt. You.... you're a good guy."
I smiled. "And you're a good girl Jackie."
She glanced to me with an awkward smile and a raised eyebrow.
"Oh gosh," I laughed, "I... swear I didn't mean to say - "
"Too late," she grinned, "but it's okay, I am a good doggie."
We laughed, and Jackie freely wagged her tail. I wagged mine.
Even if the world rejected us... maybe we could refuse to let them rule our lives - and we could laugh back in their faces.
A golden retriever that knows how to use a computer
Check out my discord server, a place for canine furries and others to chat!