“Good morning Bernard! It’s me, Tasha! I’m hoping you can hear this message. I’m organising a hiking group for this afternoon. Other people from our university classes are coming too. Do you want to come? Please get back to me. Ok. Bye.”
Bernard rolls over in his bed and groans. He hates hiking! Thinking about it in a more logical way, he gets to spend quality time with his best friend.
“It’s worth it Bernard,” he mumbles to himself. “Just do it.”
Two hours later, Bernard meets up with everyone else in the hiking group at the Tropical Café. He distinguishes a noticeable edge of excitement in the air.
“Hi Tasha!” Bernard enthuses.
“Hey! Hi! How are you Bernard?” Tasha exclaims back. They have a friendly hug and chat about what they will do in the hike.
“I’m thinking of taking everyone to our favourite place. The Falls. What do you think?” Tasha ponders. “We won’t tell them where we’re going, so it can be a surprise for them!”
“That sounds great!” Bernard murmurs half-heartedly. He loves going up there, but it’s a real hike, and he’s not quite in his peak of fitness. He sighs in unwillingness and follows everyone out of the door.
As the group reaches the edge of the jungle, Bernard inhales the familiar smell of the humid air and sighs again. This used to be his favourite hobby in the world, hiking along with his companion, but ever since a fall into the ravine broke several bones in his body, he’d been reluctant to come back. What if something worse happens? He banishes the thought from his mind. “Not now, Bernard,” he emphasises. The only thing to worry about was spending some fun time with his friends.
Enthusiastic whispers were consistently breaking the peace and calm of the jungle. Bernard felt like slapping his class mates. Couldn’t they recognise the beauty of their surroundings and just be quiet? Even just for a minute? He fumed silently inside while Tasha rambled on about how great it was to be spending some free time together.
They step over twisted vines and mossy tree trunks, with Bernard grunting in exertion. How did Tasha do this every day? To her, climbing up mountains as steep as this was as simple as walking down a flat road. Bernard trips over an olive green vine, hidden in the mossy ground. He curses and sits up, brushing the decaying leaves from his sweater. A vivid flash of bright colour on his dull grey sleeve stops him in mid-sweep. A tiny electric blue spider was crawling up his sleeve, picking it’s dainty little legs over each fibre of the woollen sweater.
“Hey, buddy,” Bernard murmurs. He loved any spiders, even the deadly ones. This spider was unlike any he’d ever seen. His mind reverted back to all of the arachnid books he’d ever studied. This thrilling sky blue colour was unique and different to any species in the world. “I’ve just discovered a new species!” Bernard whispered excitedly and scooped the spider into his hands to show everyone. Every instinct inside screamed that the cobalt colour was not just for the stunning looks, but a warning to predators as being venomous. Bernard ignores the bad feeling brewing in his stomach and announced to his group that he had discovered a new species of arachnid. Everyone crowds around whispering “ooh” and “aah”. Someone gets a phone out to take a picture. Before Bernard could warn him though, he snapped the shot. A bright flash occurred. The dazed and frightened spider, as self-defence, bit the soft flesh in the inside of the thick fingers around it. Bernard yelped in pain while his friends gasped in shock. What was happening?
The inhuman shrieking breaks the tranquillity of the jungle. Birds take flight. Water buffalos bellow in fright and stomp off in a panic. Bernard drops, twitching, to the ground, groaning in agony. His neck muscles clench and unclench, and his skin starts to discolour. Several people already have their phones out, calling for help. I kneel beside him and try to calm him down, but he cringes away from me, his buddy since kindergarten. He snarls an animal’s growl and before I can say anything, his skin rips apart and bone crunches on bone. His flesh becomes soft as a pillow and takes on a furry edge. Auburn colours ripple through his body, closely followed by shiny ribbons of black. His face, splattered in pain, enlarges, the nose flattening itself to the skull. The ears travel from the edges of the feline face, to stand tall and erect on top of the head. His teeth lengthen and sharpen into huge fangs, and a lump appears in Bernard’s pants. A shockwave of muscles explode underneath the furry layers, tearing the now too small clothing from the body. A tail lashes around the rear end. Instead of Bernard, a tiger took his place, growling and lashing out with his sharp claws. People scream. For a horrible moment, a dozen teenagers are pushing past Tasha and the tiger. For a horrifying second, the tiger looks back at the receding humans, stepping towards them in a hunter’s stance.
“No Bernard!” Tasha screams. The tiger-no, Bernard, glances back at Tasha before dropping back to the ground, going through the whole process again. This time, he changed into a different animal; a crocodile. He didn’t stop. He shifted again. And again. It was impossible to see what he was. It was just a flurry of movement and colours. Tasha’s logical mind said to leave him, alone and in agony, on the ground. She did just so. Shaking in terror and shock, she sprinted away from the struggling figure that was once fully human, leaving him by himself.
Pain… Tasha… Where are you going? It hurts… Help…
After what seems like several lifetimes, the pain stops. My body stops jerking around of its own accord. I sit up and survey my surroundings. Decaying leaves around me have been upturned and disrupted. I realise I am still not myself though. My four pale gold legs mottled with black spots stretch and flex, the claws extending to their full size. I gaze around at the blue and green world. The afternoon sky and emerald trees are the easiest to see. Everything else is shades of purple or grey. A dull-coloured parrot bursts out from the thick patchwork of branches and vines overhead. My instincts tell me to slink down into a hunter’s stance, ready to capture the prey. My human portion of my mind thinks about sprinting, to stretch my cheetah muscles and pound the ground to dust in search of Tasha. I do just so. Flying through the underbrush on my nimble, slender paws, I feel like I’m flying. I growl in amusement. Too soon, my weakened eyesight spots the tall buildings of Sinit Mountain. My logical mind despairs. How am I to conspicuously get to Tasha’s house? A cheetah running down the street was the exact contrary to what I wanted. The disease thought differently. A flash of pain runs through my bones, shuffling and remoulding themselves. I open my eyes again. I am now at a lower eye level. I stretch my wings and fluff up my feathers. Of course! A hawk! My vision of colour has returned and my eyesight is exceptional compared to my former human eyesight. I screech a harsh call in delight. Flapping my wings in a natural-feeling way, I take off in a flurry of feathers. The humid warm air blows over my slender brown figure, streaked through occasionally with a vivid red feather. I am over the tallest bank buildings and in above the suburbs in no time, and to my greatest disappointment, I have to descend. Tasha’s house is just ahead, and I circle the house at a reasonable height, looking for an open window. Tasha’s bedroom window is open. Bracing myself, I dive down, narrowing my body into a spear. I rocket through, closely missing the window pane, and land on her bed. Tasha is studying at her wooden desk, wiping away tears and shuddering. She hasn’t heard the bird’s flapping entrance, so I softly squawk at her. She turns around in a start, shock painting her face.
“Bernard?” Tasha softly whispers. Bernard squawks again, louder, before transforming back to human. All his clothes return to his body as he changed. “Oh Bernard!” Tasha cries, throwing herself on him.
“Oh Tasha! That spider is wonderful! It causes the body to shape shift. It feels incredible being a cheetah, running through the forest, and a hawk, soaring above the buildings! You have to try it!” Bernard exclaims.
“Sorry Bernard, but I don’t think I should try it. I’d love to, but shouldn’t we quarantine you? So the disease doesn’t spread across the world?” Tasha asked worriedly. Bernard wasn’t listening. He was already thinking how great it would be infecting the rest of the world, changing human’s lives for the better. Tasha repeated her sentence.
“Wha-No! The world should be able to change their physical forms! It would change scientific ways and thoughts about animals! Just imagine, Tasha!” Tasha couldn’t imagine.
“Bernard, you are delusional. That spider bite really affected the way you think. Come on, I’m calling an ambulance, to cure you.”
“Don’t you dare,” Bernard hissed, shrinking into the form of a black snake. The fangs came down. Tasha cringed, but continued dialling on her mobile.
“Yeah? Triple zero? Hi, it’s Tasha Hahn here…” She broke off as Bernard glided towards her, an evil look in his beady little eye. He slithered right up to her shaky form, coiling himself around her leg.
“This will only hurt a little,” the snake whispered and slid his fangs into the soft skin of Tasha’s ankle.
The disease spreads…
Please comment and suggest any improvements. Thank you fellow readers!