It was in this charged atmosphere that Caitlyn Camberley got her first job after college. Shed hoped to take a job as a secretary for only a few weeks while continuing her search for a good job in illustration, but the economy was sagging, tensions were high, and, to her chagrin, only a few weeks soon went from only a few months to well, it pays the rent. Temporary can become permanent temporary all too easily.
When she got the job, shed never met another Changed person up close, and felt a little nervous around them. The strange goat woman what had she called herself, a sat a satyr? who worked in Accounts Payable scared her a little, even if they were in the same secretaries pool and the woman seemed friendly enough when they interacted. But her nerves didnt have to worry much about the Changed, because she rarely ever saw them, and they were easy to avoid. She had her life, they had theirs, and as long as the two didnt cross in any important way, she was okay with it. It wasnt that she was prejudiced she liked to think of herself as somewhat progressive but the thought of being near somebody with claws and fangs, well, the airlines were right in keeping the werewolves off their planes, werent they? It was a safety thing, and nothing more.
Martin agreed. Shed met him shortly after college, and he seemed like a decent-enough guy, clean-cut, attractive, a reasonably hard worker even if he was a little aimless and goalless at times. Hed met her at a speed-dating event that her old roommate Melissa had taken her to, and theyd hit it off, not in a big way, but well enough that they were still together after a year. They were each others respective arm candy, and even if the relationship wasnt likely to go anywhere long-term, a weak relationship was better than no relationship. Martin was a bit ambivalent about the Change, and usually didnt care much about any political subject that didnt directly affect him. The whole thing with the werewolves and airplanes, or the mermaids being required to have ground-floor apartments in case they flooded, well, that was all just common sense, wasnt it?
On a pretty, warm spring afternoon in mid-April three years after the Change, Caitlyn was walking from work back to her apartment, and reflecting on her day. Shed gotten up the gumption to beg her boss for a fifty-cent raise, and to her surprise, hed accepted it, saying that she was one of the fastest typists hed ever seen, a dedicated worker, and a valuable member of his staff. Shed celebrated with lunch at a nice Italian restaurant, and an attractive man had sidled over from the bar and bought her dessert. And now she was headed home, across Central Park, for a relaxing evening of drawing and sketching to the happy sounds of old Star Trek reruns on TV.
She couldnt remember afterwards what the kid looked like, but from out of nowhere, a kite had whirled out of the sky and slammed into her head, knocking her to the ground. It had left a bruise, but thankfully no gash, and the kites owner had apologized profusely, saying something about wind gusts, and had run off before she had a chance to come to her senses. She had stumbled home, closed the door, and spent the rest of the evening just laying miserably on the couch, downing Tylenol like candy, letting her movie player run Star Trek on endless loop. She didnt remember dozing off.
She awakened a little after six in the morning as she felt her body uncontrollably sliding off the couch. And this was how Caitlyn first learned of her own Change: Being awakened by striking the floor with a sickening thud while Spock boomed, Fascinating, Captain.
She never did watch Star Trek again.
* * *
Its a strange thing to wake up one day and realize that your reality has changed in its entirety. Caitlyns first reaction was that her legs had just fallen asleep, but upon realizing that shed suddenly joined the ranks of the oddities and weirdos of the world, shed let out a piercing scream that could be heard a mile away.
The Change had its own bizarre rules, and one of those rules was that any creature resulting from it was still fully-functional no matter how odd it might look or how improbable its design might be. The laws of science were generally asked to politely look the other way around anything that had been Changed, which explained why there could be a five-mile-diameter chunk of Iowa floating three thousand feet in the air, or why merfolk were able to breathe underwater despite lacking anything even remotely resembling gills, or why Caitlyn was able to immediately stand up, brush herself off, walk down the hallway, and take a look at herself in the mirror, despite having suddenly grown twice as many legs.
She saw, of course, the same thing shed see in the mirror every day afterward: A pretty brown-haired, brown-eyed twenty-something girl glued at the waist to a random lump of fur-covered body parts that strongly resembled a small brown horse. Her first reaction was to try to detach herself from the horse by pushing on it with her hands, and when that failed, she punched it hard, and ended up doing little more than giving her new body a few bruises. The profanities that escaped her lips that morning were easily the least lady-like things shed ever say in her life.
She regained her composure, and formed a simple plan to deal with it. So she spent the rest of the morning in front of the mirror, carefully and analytically studying every square inch of her new body, figuring out where all the muscles and bones were with her hands. She learned first-hand how insensitive hooves really were, at first hitting hers with her fist, and then actually pounding on them with a hammer until her knees got tired of being struck. She examined her hindquarters, and discovered that a horses tail has more substance to it than just hair. She also learned that she was, in fact, anatomically-correct, although she had little intention of ever using any of those body parts if she could avoid them. And then she learned that she couldnt avoid their needs any more than she could avoid any previous calls of nature, and she learned that human-sized bathroom appliances were really not designed for use by a horse.
While she was cleaning the bathroom, Martin dropped by to see what she was doing that day. And within ten minutes, Martin had walked back out, and she never saw him again. He wouldnt be the first to avoid her: Friends have a way of showing their true colors during adversity, and several of hers disappeared all too quickly over the next few days.
Happily, she was able to keep her job: Her boss had worked with Changed people before, and, if anything, in his opinion, they tended to be significantly more productive than regular humans. It wasnt until some years later that Caitlyn learned his wife had six arms.
The worst day of her life ended with her crawling into bed and having the beds legs crash out from underneath her just as she settled down to relax. As she lay on her crumpled bed trying to fall asleep, only two thoughts circled endlessly through her mind: First, that she was permanently stuck like this, and second, that she would never, ever, ever accept it.