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She was free.  Free as a bird, spinning happily along the hillside, her dress whirling about her, all her cares and worries gone.  She was human again, human for good, and the whole horrible nightmare of being a monster was gone, a wisp of a memory.  He raced across the hillside and swept her up in his arms, and she swooned.  She was human again, finally.

Caitlyn frowned.  That girl was also a badly-acted character in a sappy movie on a TV set that couldn’t even be heard over the din of the bar.  Stupid Hollywood.  What did they know about dealing with this?  And then, as suddenly as she had appeared, the irritating girl vanished into the unreality that had spawned her as the bartender continued flipping through channels.

Reality was less enjoyable.  Caitlyn had already turned down at least three guys who’d tried to pick her up, each with successively worse pick-up lines.  “Win any races lately?” had to have been the worst of the lot, at least for tonight, and the bartender had barely stifled a laugh when she’d pounded a fist over the head it came from.

Kat had been dancing at the time.  Actually, she was still dancing even now.  The girl was an accident waiting to happen — waiting?  Hah.  That boat had sailed ages ago, and had probably docked in every major world port by now.  Kat was a walking disaster area covered in black fur, but she was a pretty walking disaster area covered in black fur, and guys all-too-readily forgave her klutziness and cluelessness the moment they saw her face.  Caitlyn was pretty sure a few guys even liked her for that klutziness and cluelessness.

Kat walked over, surrounded by a pair of what Caitlyn presumed were men.  One was at least recognizable, in Caitlyn’s mind a bit like a cross between cheetah and a lion, while the other could only be described as a tree.  Not a walking, talking, tree-like man:  A tree.  Caitlyn looked down, and couldn’t for the life of her figure out how he moved or where his roots went as they seemed to disappear in the floor.  His leaves were orangey-red, and he seemed to have left a trail of them behind him where he’d been — well, for lack of a better term, dancing.

“Hiya, Caity!” shouted Kat cheerfully.  “This is Alberto,” she added, pointing at the tall, muscular, feline man on her right, “and this is Bob.  He’s a tree.”

“I can see that,” said Caitlyn.

“What?  You have to speak up!” shouted Kat, still dancing slightly.

“Nevermind,” said Caitlyn.

“What?”

“Can we go home now?” shouted Caitlyn.

“What, why?  Aren’t you having fun?”

“No.  Can we go home now?” blared Caitlyn as the music suddenly stopped.  She paused as a few of the other patrons stared at her.  The silence was broken as the DJ announced in a loud blaring monotone whose words were mostly garbled by the microphone that he was going on break, and that they shouldn’t go anywhere because he’d be back in fifteen minutes.

“So anyway,” said Kat, “what’s the matter?  There are tons of hot guys here.”

“And a tree,” said Caitlyn.

“Bob’s cool!” said Kat.  “He spends all day in Central Park.  His job is to ask the other trees how they’re doing and if they need anything.  He saved the Park Service like fifty grand last year in like plant food and stuff.”

“Right.  Hi, Bob,” said Caitlyn.

One of the tree’s branches waved at her, and then the tree turned around — although she wasn’t sure it had been facing toward her to begin with — and wandered off to the far side of the room where it struck up a conversation with a woman who appeared to have been partially turned into a bee.

“So, anyway, can we go?” asked Caitlyn.

“What?  No way!  You promised me three hours.”

“I didn’t promise three hours,” said Caitlyn.  “You told me I was going to be out for three hours, and then you stole my keys on the subway.”

“I didn’t steal them,” said Kat.  “I just borrowed them.  You can have them back in...  an hour and forty-five minutes.”

Caitlyn’s eyes rolled.  They’d only been here an hour and fifteen?  It felt like she ought to have grandchildren by now.

She blinked.  Grandchildren?  In this body?  She had no intention of ever sticking some poor kid with half a horse for life, much less a grandkid.  With any luck, she would die miserable, lonely, and childless, and her genes, her lousy rotten stinking genes, wouldn’t get passed on to some poor —

“Hey, so I’m gonna go get a table with Alberto.  You wanna come?” asked Kat.

“Nah, you kids have fun,” said Caitlyn dryly.  It didn’t matter.  She had a spare set of keys hidden, and if Kat was gonna spend the entire night out with yet another nameless Mister-tall-dark-and-fuzzy, that was her choice.  The sooner Kat got lost, the sooner Caitlyn could go home, grab that carton of slightly-freezer-burned chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, put the Neverending Story into the DVD player, curl up on the couch as best she could, and drown in somebody else’s crazy fantasies for awhile.

Kat wandered off with the the cheetah-lion man, and Caitlyn turned back to the bar.  Her drink of choice tonight was, in fact, pink lemonade.  Actually, it was always pink lemonade  The bartender here had gotten to know her a little in the last couple of months that Kat had dragged her here, and there was always a pink lemonade ready for her, with a little umbrella and swizzle stick that made it look like a much harder drink than it actually was.  And she usually didn’t even drink it until she left:  It was mainly just to ward off guys who wanted to buy her drinks as a pick-up line.

“You gonna drink that?” asked a man next to her.

“Eventually,” she answered, and turned her head a little to glance at him.  He was — well, near as she could tell, he looked human.

“You don’t have to be human in here,” she said.  “Nobody else is.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said.  “Best Change club in the city.”

She waited.

“So, you gonna change, or what?” she grumped.

“Can’t.”

“You can’t change back?”

“I’m human.”

She eyed him quizzically.  “Then what’re you doing here?”

“Enjoying,” he said, smiling right into her eyes.  He had a strong jawline, and wavy hair, and the way his eyes shimmered — no, she was not going to be attracted to him, no matter how good-looking he was.

“Very funny,” she said, ripping her eyes away and turning back to her drink.  “That your best pick-up line?”

“Oh, I have plenty more.  Which I’d use if I were trying to pick you up.  Which I’m not.  Just friendly conversation, y’see?  Beats trying to watch that TV over there.”

Caitlyn nodded.

“So what’s the deal?” she asked.  “You got some kind of weird Change fetish or something?”

“No, I just come for the drinks,” he said.

She glanced at his glass.  Water.  No ice.

“You’re very strange.  And — I’m very going home,” she added, as Kat walked out the front door with the cheetah-lion man, oblivious to anyone else.  “Pleased to meet you, goodbye.”

“Where’s home?” the man beside her asked.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she said.  She downed her drink and started to back away from the bar.

“Actually, I would,” he said, his hand suddenly landing — gently — on hers.  A tingle ran up her arm and her hand nearly jerked free of its own accord.  He looked up at her with those dark, shining brown eyes, and she stopped moving.  He wasn’t attractive.  He wasn’t.  He was — just a guy.  With wavy hair.  And besides, she was ugly.  Which meant that those gorgeous deep eyes couldn’t possibly be looking at her like that.

“Hah, uh, I...  uh...  the east side.  96th.  I mean 97th.  I mean — but — it’s just an apartment.  The Pembroke Apartments.  But I’ve only lived there a few years.  I’m actually from out on Long Island.  Why do you want to kn — ”

“She brought you here, right?  I’ve seen you two before.  That girl’s something else.  She loves it, you hate it, you two’re a great match-up.  You’re an indoorsy kinda person, and she drags you here ‘for your own good,’ right?  You don’t fit these clubs any more than I do, but I don’t do the home alone thing as well as you do.  I hate the clubs, but I’m a people person, y’see?  So how about next Friday, I pick you up, she sees you go out, and we can separate at Central Park?  You get your night back, I get something to do with a Friday night, and she’s happy you’re ‘doing something with your time.’  It’s probably a quick jog back for you once she’s gone.”

Caitlyn bit her lip.  She didn’t want to give him credit for a good idea, but —

“O — okay.  That’s — that’s not a bad idea.”

“It’s settled then.  Friday night at seven, it’s a not-a-date.  I’m Wils, by the way.”

“‘Wills?’  Not ‘Will?’”

“Mom was Belgian,” he said.  “A ‘W,’ an ‘I,’ only one ‘L,’ and an ‘S.’  I’d tell you my last name, but you’d never even hope to spell it.  I was in high school before I got it right the first time.”

“Yeah, uh, don’t bother then.”

“So, anyway, Friday at seven?” he asked, his hand still resting gently on hers.

“Uh...  sure.  Friday at seven.”

She blinked a few times, realized she was staring at him, yanked her hand free, turned, and darted away.  Slamming full-speed into the glass exit door, she turned toward him and smiled stupidly, opened it, and ran out at a faster gallop she’d ever imagined existed.
This is part 2. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here. The introduction and author's notes are here.

Again, please be kind with your comments. And if you like it, or have questions or comments or any opinions at all, please say something; I'm a lot more insecure than I seem sometimes, and the comments are the only thing keeping me going on this.
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:iconpolinh:
polinh Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2013
Another bad pickup line:Can I ride you?LOL
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:iconautoman217:
Automan217 Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
And thus ends another episode of "America's Changed Bachelorettes" XD
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:iconsnore23:
snore23 Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2013
Hmmm. Very nice. I wonder though, is that bar using bullet-proof glass in its frame? A centaur at full tilt would smash through ordinary glass. Just my opinion though. Very nice chapter though. Characters are very real and completely believable. Great Job!
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think she was at a fast walking pace at the time, not even a trot. She didn't have enough momentum to do anything other than look really, really stupid.
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:iconsnore23:
snore23 Featured By Owner Mar 26, 2013
Ah. Just curious. Thanks! Can't wait to read more.
Reply
:iconcatgoyle:
Catgoyle Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2010
Mmm... good one! A guy who's perhaps actually trying to help her out with her friend issues.

The 13th paragraph down, you use 'blaring' twice. It works very well for the speaker system, but looks odd when paired with what Caitlyn's saying. Words that are used all the time (said, was, the, and... really common things) don't catch the eye so.
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2010  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Yah, it probably needs to be fixed. I've caught a few other errors in rereading this over the last few months, and if I ever were to dare publishing it in print (hah!), I'd probably want to fix those. But overall, the story's pretty clean; I tried hard to catch as many mistakes as I could before it "went to print."
Reply
:iconcatgoyle:
Catgoyle Featured By Owner Feb 2, 2010
I did spot other errors throughout the work, but... you didn't ask for another editor, so most of them I didn't comment on. (smiles)
Reply
:iconsolarune:
Solarune Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2009   Writer
- “and this is Bob.  He’s a tree.”
LOL! The parts with Bob in them had me cracking up. xD Nice second part. I, too, am somewhat suspicious of Wils... and poor Caitlyn. Nice job writing the enthusiastic-friend-drags-not-so-enthusiastic-friend-out-to-a-bar-syndrome. :P
I liked the first paragraph, too. Thought it was a dream at first.
Reply
:icondahnza:
Dahnza Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
I liked the start a lot :P Especially the pick up line hahaha
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:iconmonkeysundles:
MonkeysUndles Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009  Student Writer
*chuckle*
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:iconmadjackaldelta:
MadJackalDelta Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009  Student Writer
I'm really enjoying this, even though I never usually read stuff of this genre. You've really got talent; you ever thought about becoming an author?
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
While I occasionally enjoy writing, my day job pays quite well, and in all honesty, I'm better at it than I am at writing. But from time to time I may dabble in fiction, and while this is the first full novel I've dared show the public, it may not be my last.
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:iconmadjackaldelta:
MadJackalDelta Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2009  Student Writer
Well, maybe not become a novelist, then, but I'd sure love to see this published. Awesome stuff.
Reply
:iconmagicaljoey:
MagicalJoey Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009   Writer
I really like this story. I don't normally read prose, but his has hooked me in right from the beginning.
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm glad you're enjoying it!
Reply
:iconehryn:
Ehryn Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
I'm so glad you got a DD for the first part, or I might never have found this gem :D

*skips off to read part three*
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much! I don't know if it's a "gem," but I sure hope it's at least a tolerably interesting read!
Reply
:iconehryn:
Ehryn Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
It is :) And you don't do yourself enough credit >.>
Reply
:iconcalyptra:
Calyptra Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009  Hobbyist Writer
favourited!
Need I say more? :D
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2009  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad you're enjoying it!
Reply
:iconcursedarchangels:
CursedArchangels Featured By Owner Nov 11, 2009
So far, so good.
Reply
:iconuncle-ben:
Uncle-Ben Featured By Owner May 9, 2009
Urgggg!

I like him. He seems perfect for her. I'd love to see them get together and rub Kat's face in it.

But I agree with Kent above. This went too easily, too well. Something's wrong with their relationship.
Reply
:iconeldestmuse:
eldestmuse Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2008
I can't help feel like it's a little bit insulting showing up to a change bar where people who might want to be human again, to rub their faces in the fact that you're human.

Obviously something is strange about this guy, though, so we'll see...

...maybe he's a recruiter. :ninja:
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Keep reading... you'll learn a lot more about him in later parts ;)
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:iconericnthered123:
ericnthered123 Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2008
Nice chapter! Great job with the stranger part.
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:icondeadlyvampireunicorn:
DeadlyVampireUnicorn Featured By Owner May 26, 2008
CUUUUUTTTTEEEE!
Reply
:icondefultion:
defultion Featured By Owner Feb 12, 2008
I don't normally comment but i have to say i am REALLY into your type of drawing and writing, really up my street dude.
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad you like it!
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:iconcornishcentaur:
cornishcentaur Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2007
i like it, its refreshing to see someone as a centaur who didnt want it for once.
naturally im hoping she starts to enjoy herself at some point!
Reply
:iconrogue7:
Rogue7 Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2007
Hmmm interesting, me thinks that he may be human, he might have something up his sleeve.

Great job, this pretend date sounds like it will develop into something more ;)
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:iconbetherfly:
betherfly Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
Hehe! Well first I have to tell you that out of all the art that appeared on my f-list page, I went straight for your story first - and I'm usually dragging my feet when it comes to reading the poetry and stories that usually get put up here. There's definitely something addicting and fantastic about your story! I love the unusual Changes you choose to describe, I've never actually pictured a part-bumblebee creature before but now it's stuck in my head. *grins* Can't wait to read the next part!
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
*laugh* And here I thought that was just a side comment! I generally try to pack what I can into a story sentence, not in density of words, but in density of concepts: If written right, every other sentence should suggest a new possibility that the reader hasn't even dreamed of. Of course, that's a lofty goal, and I'm not sure I meet it very often, but it's at least what I shoot for :)

*is feeling very flattered right now and hopes the rest of the story will be worthy of such accolades*
Reply
:iconartificer-urza:
Artificer-Urza Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007
Ah, character development. What turns me off of many stories of this kind are that other writers focus on... other aspects of the story. I like this, it seems more real, despite the unreality of it. Looking forward to more.
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Glad you liked it! I try to keep the characters believable when possible; goodness only knows if I'm succeeding ^^;
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:iconkenthayle:
Kenthayle Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007
Hmmm ... methinks there is something suspicious of this strange person ...

Can'yt wait to see what happens next ;)
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:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Really? How do you figure?
Reply
:iconkenthayle:
Kenthayle Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007
I'm not sure ... his suavity makes me go all shifty-eyed about him. Can't explain why.
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Funny, and here I thought I was doing a pretty good job of channeling an even mix of Hugh Grant and Hugh Jackman ;)
Reply
:iconkenthayle:
Kenthayle Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007
Hmmm, maybe it's just me then. I know if a guy came up and talked to me like that, I'd be like, "Are you a spy?! You're totally a spy, aren't you? WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU WANT?!?!"

Maybe I'm not the best example.
Reply
:iconphantom-inker:
phantom-inker Featured By Owner Oct 11, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
*shrug* I'm pretty sure he's not a spy. Chainsaw-wielding psychopathic world-renowned landscape-painter circus clown maybe, but probably not a spy.
Reply
:iconkenthayle:
Kenthayle Featured By Owner Oct 12, 2007
Oh, well, that's not creepy at all ;)
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