Ignoring the shout, I kept walking for my class.
"Hey, mutt! I'm talkin' ta you!"
Keeping my eyes straight ahead, I kept walking, reminding myself I had to get to class on time.
Then the book hit the back of my head.
Wincing at the pain, I bent down and picked it up. Then I turned around and raised it over my head.
"Did anyone lose this?"
The crowd was silent, except for a giggle at the back. I shrugged, put the book in my bag, and went on my way.
Ah, high school.
As soon as my English class was over, I dropped the book off at the office.
"I still don't get why you didn't just haul off and hit him."
I looked over at Jackie, one of my very few friends at Cherry High. His dad and he moved here a few years ago. While his father takes all the stories about Barken seriously, I've always been glad that Jackie doesn't. Mind you, he doesn't really believe I'm a dog, either. But it's a fair trade.
"I mean, you could've. Really."
"Hey, I know", I said. "But I've had to go through this before. If I start hitting him, then he ambushes me later. If I even say anything, I wind up on the receiving end of an entire gang." I shook my head. "No thanks."
Jackie smirked. "Hey, between the two of us, we could tear 'em apart."
I smirked right back at him. My usual shape is built like an old 1920's ad. Sloping shoulders, and everything else is a straight line. Throw in the glasses, and it's little short of a miracle I don't get called 'Urkel'. Well, any more than I do.
Jackie, on the other hand, is a pretty big guy. Problem is, most of that size is fat. I'm never quite sure what he weighs at any one time ... but he started the year at 350 to my 175. And we've both grown since then.
"Sorry", I tell him. "I'm not getting you involved in this. You're too good a friend."
I don't know what he was going to say next, because right then was when we were pushed from behind ... hard! As Jackie rebounded from the school door, I turned, taking the impact against the tiled wall with my back.
"Oops", said a nasty voice I knew all too well. "Looks like the poor puppy tripped. You need some help, puppy?"
Brad. Great. Just what I needed. "No, thanks. I'm fine."
"Well, that's too bad", he said as he pushed his face up into mine. "Looks like we'll be getting to know each other even better, then."
Without blinking or cringing from the violation of my personal boundaries, I nodded, making him back out a few inches. "Of course. That's the way it always is."
With that, I turned and left, Jackie following behind me with occasional nervous glances behind him. "Why'd you turn your back on him?"
I grunted. "Only way. If I did anything else, he'd just get some friends and come after me. This way, we only have to deal with him." I smiled grimly. "Looking like this has some advantages. I've had plenty of practice with bullies."
The next day was actually rather uneventful. School went well, my usual high grades coming back. Then I went over to Jackie's house, where we played computer adventure games for a while.
Apparently too long a while. By the time I left, it was already pitch black outside. Making my way to the bus stop, I settled in to wait.
Then, behind me, I heard a voice.
As I ran back, I could see that Brad and two other guys had him spread-eagled on the ground and were kicking him in the stomach ... as well as other, more tender places. They turned as I walked up.
"Well, well", Brad sneered. "Looks like we get a puppy to play with. C'mere, puppy."
"Let. Him. Go.", I growled at him.
"Yeah? And what makes you think I will?"
That tore it.
I started to growl, making him back up even as white fur started to blossom on my cheeks. My clothes began to bind me as I stretched and grew, my muscles growing to a size that matched my new form. My muzzle pushed forward with an odd twisting sensation, a snarl already upon it. I knew from other shifts that my ears would already be swivelling at the top of my head, flattening against my skull. I clenched my hands into claws as fur and nails grew in, and watched the ground recede slightly as I grew taller.
Everyone stared in awe as I snarled at Brad. Even, I noticed sadly, Jackie. With a final kick at my friend, Brad took off running, his friends scattering to their own ways home.
I didn't care. I leapt, landing atop Brad with a single pounce. Then, lifting him high by the collar of his jacket, I started to speak ...
Suddenly, I felt a warm trickle down my stomach, followed by a shooting pain as I shifted my grip on Brad. Looking down as my grip loosened slightly, I saw a switchblade sticking out of my chest.
Gritting my teeth against the pain, I lifted Brad high again and winced as his hand slipped from the knife's handle. "That. Was. Not. Very. Nice. Brad.", I growled between tight lips, my voice deeper now. "I Don't Like You. Period." The pain doubled as I took in another breath, and my muscles tensed as I desperately tried to keep from screaming. At the end of my arm, Brad whimpered as my paw tightened around his wrist, my claws beginning to dig into his skin. "Leave. My. Friend. A-Lone."
With that, I dropped him, sending him sprawling in the dirt. As I continued to growl at him, he scrambled to his feet and ran off.
I waited until he was out of sight to whimper. The pain was getting worse, the trickle still flowing through my fur. I knew I wasn't supposed to pull out a knife ... it said not to in my First Aid class. But I knew I couldn't stand the pain. And if I tried to shift with it in me, I'd just make things worse.
"J ... J-Josh?"
I turned, wincing all the way as I strained to keep inbetweening. It was Jackie. Still on the ground, he was looking up at me. With fear in his eyes.
"C-call ... Mother. Please.", I managed to get out before the pain increased again. With a whine, I dropped to my knees. "Please. Need. Help. Please, J-Jackie ... " I whined again as my change of position shook the knife.
As I watched Jackie lumber off in the direction of his house, I only prayed he was calling Barken. To try and occupy my mind, I started reciting the Lord's Prayer. It calmed me down a little, anyway. I could feel my grip on my inbetween form starting to loosen as my body demanded I take one form or the other. With an effort, I pushed away the demand and concentrated on keeping the form I was in. All the while, I felt the warm, steady trickle that I knew was my blood flowing sluggishly down my side.
I looked up at the sound of heavy footsteps. Jackie. "She said they'd be right out", he said, stopping five feet away. "Is ... is there anything I can do?"
"T-tawww ... " I tried again. "Ttalk ... to me. Ree." I could tell from my changing speech that I was starting to slip.
"Fff ... fpleazh ... tchawwk ... t'meee ... " My brief speech ended on a whine. I swallowed thickly and tried to start the conversation I hoped would keep me conscious ... and in one form .. until Mother got there. "Zh .. zhyoo ... 'kay?"
"I-I'm fine", he stammered, fear growing in his eyes. I wondered idly if it was fear of me or fear for me.
"Ghuh.", I rasped, my lips thickening as my body strained for full dog. Inside my head, my pounding pulse was making matters worse ... but if it stopped ...
I slowly, reluctantly put my right paw on the ground, knowing it'd take a lot more effort to pick it back up. I could feel my ankles starting to edge their way up my legs as I kneeled there, my control slipping away like sand through an hourglass.
"What's happening?", Jackie asked me. He must've seen something starting to shift.
" 'M ... zhanzhin'. Ran' ... row roh ... "
His eyes wide, Jackie finally asked a question I'd been waiting for since he heard about Barken. "Uh ... what kind of dog are you?"
"Rrrrr ... " I shut off the growl and tried again, forcing myself to say the words. "Grrrehaytt ... Ppiiirrrrrneezh."
I nodded as another spasm of pain made me hold my breath.
" 'M ... zhgare ... "
I tried again as my world started developing a black border. " 'M ... zhgared."
Finally, Jackie put an arm around me and held me as I whimpered in pain. "Shh ... shh ... " he said. "It's gonna be all right."
Just then, the car pulled up, with ... Mother ... and ... Doc ... Doctor ... Shishido. Before Jackie could even call to them ... D-doctor ... Sh .. sh ... Shishido ... was ... kneeling ... be ... side ... me ...
So ... tired ...
"Don't go to sleep on me, Josh. Don't you dare go to sleep yet. You hear me?"
I nodded weakly as I fought to keep my inbetween shape inbetween.
"Okay. Now I'm going to pull out the knife and try to close the wound enough for us to get back to Barken. It's going to hurt, though. Think you can take it?"
I risked another nod, closing my eyes ... to help ... my ... my ... conc .. concen ... tration.
I let out a whine as a sharp pain dug into me, my head snapping into a more canine position as I leaned forward. My right paw was actually holding me up now, and starting to lose fingers. Through the pain, I could feel the doctor's fingers pressing something against my side.
"Okay, Josh, okay. You can let go now."
With a gasp of relief, I relaxed, my body gratefully slipping into the familiar lines of my breed.
And I blacked out.
When I came to again, I could tell I was at the vet's. The holding cage, with its soft bed, was a sight for sore eyes ... and sides. Doctor Shishido was there, too.
"Ah, you're awake. I'm happy to report the operation was a success, and you should be back to normal in ... oh, about a month." My wagging tail was stilled by his next words, though. "However, you won't be able to get back to human for a while. Not until I take the stitches out, anyway." At my whimper, he reached through the mesh and scratched me between the ears. "I know. But we've already made arrangements to get your schoolwork, so you won't fall behind. Oh, and we got a call from that friend of yours." He smiled at the obviously eager expression on my face. "He's glad you're all right, and says he'd visit if his father'd let him. But, since he can't, he's sending you a box of dog biscuits. Just as a get-well present."
I smiled a big doggy grin. I like dog biscuits. I like Jackie, too. And the box'd have his scent.
All in all, not a bad way for things to turn out.