It was a week before they arrived in Barken, TX. For Jason Kubelik, returning to Barken, the small laid back village that had only three years ago changed his life completely, was almost like coming come to a family that missed him dearly. What had struck him was that many of the townsfolk that he had met when he came here the first time still remembered him by name, and were glad to see him again. Many even would ask him how his friends that had come here with him were doing, especially Rev. Brandemas who had suffered a gunshot wound and had to be sent to Houston paramedics after complications set in.
Jason also felt as if something force inside him was strengthened by his very presence in Barken, and it intensified with each step upon the dry earth he took. He could almost feel his tail jump out from his pants as he walked, but kept it in check, as the scientists did not know of the towns rather interesting habit of turning its residents into dogs. Of course they wanted a rather secluded spot well away from the town, and that they would get, hopefully it would be far enough away so that the Barken spirit as he likened it would not grace them with its presence. The last thing he needed was a few of the scientists to freak out because they turned into dogs. He had seen one person do that, and it was quite sufficient for his taste.
Jason had kept up his newfound ability over the years, honing it, refining it, until he could control almost any aspect of the change at will. If he wanted a dog's sense of smell, he could conjure that up real easily. If it got cold during the winter, he could grow a fur coat suited to Alaskan weather in a hurry, which saved him a bundle on heating bills. When he was alone in his house, left to him by his parents when they and his younger brothers and sisters had moved to South Dakota, he often was a mixed morph, tail, fur, head, but not much else, as he really enjoyed being that way. However, this last year it had become extremely hard for him to reach that state, let alone become a complete Husky, and it had been several weeks since he had changed at all. Now he could feel it trying to burst forth from him in jubilant exultation, but he was forced to restrain it, for present company's sake.
As for Dr. Swett and the other scientists, they were simply glad to finally have arrived. Dr. Nelson, a bulky imposing man stayed with the mobile laboratory, which looked rather much like a mobile home, and indeed it would be that for the scientists, while the others followed Jason into Barken, seeking the highest official in the town of Barken, Sheriff Pierre Davis.
Dr. Swett stopped Jason just before they entered the police station, "Why are we entering here?" Dr. Swett nodded toward the place, his eyes full of suspicion.
Jason turned a bit, "Well, Sheriff Davis pretty much runs this town, and I figure he's the one to show us where we can and can't do our experiment."
"Why should he help us?" Swett asked.
"I called him already, and I told him what you all need. He liked your idea, and he offered to help you all in anyway he can."
Dr. Swett grimaced, still sceptical, but he let Jason proceed. The inside of the police station was much nicer to be in. The air-conditioned interior and the placid walls which gave way to a large foyer, with a desk at one end, behind which sat a pretty, young secretary who was busy typing. Jason stepped up to the desk, while the other six milled about behind him.
"Good afternoon, Jenny," Jason said, tapping ever so slightly on her desk.
Jenny glanced up at him, stopped her typing, smiled, and then said, "It's nice to see you again, Jason. Sheriff Davis is talking with the deputy at the moment. I'll let him know that you all have arrived though."
"Thanks. I'd appreciate it if you would." Jason smiled back at her, just being friendly, and then stepped back, giving her proper space to work in. Jason found himself doing that more often than not, giving way to other's space, and he found that part of himself quite an interesting quirk. He had been able to prevent himself from marking his territory back inside his house, but outside it was fair game. As a human, he still found the habits a bit odd, but something he lived with.
Jenny pushed a button on her phone and said, "Sheriff Davis, the science team from LeMark has arrived, and are waiting out here."
They then could all here a gruff voice over the speaker phone call back, "Tell them to come on in."
"Yes, sir," Jenny nodded. After pushing the button again, she looked back up at Jason and told him, "You can go in now, he's in his office."
"Thanks, you have a good day." Jason smiled, and then lead the way back into Sheriff Davis's office. It was rather inexpensively furnished, but in its own way it was rather lavish. Plush for certain, as all the chairs were cushioned, and they each looked as if they had been reupholstered just recently. His wall was lined with photographs, most of them of his family, several different dogs, and others of him with his officers. Davis himself sat behind the large desk centred in his room. Atop the desk sat a computer terminal, it looked to be an older model, and strewn across the front of the table were topographical maps, all bearing the USGS logo. Sitting off to one side was another man, who carefully watched the seven enter, smiling at each of them, but his hand not too far from his weapon.
"Please sit down each of you." Davis motioned them towards the seats that were infront of his desk. Jason and Dr. Swett took the two closest to the desk, while the other five sat down wherever was available. "I understand you want an area of at least a mile radius to experiment on."
"That is correct," Dr. Swett nodded.
"Well, I have selected maps of the surrounding region that might prove useful for your purposes." Davis laid his hands on the maps, but not giving them over yet, he then shook his head, "I'm sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Pierre Davis, the Sheriff of Barken. My good friend over there is Bill Budd, my chief deputy. And you are?"
"I'm Dr. Richard Swett." He shook his hand.
"Olympia Sparks." The sole female became quite perky as she shook his hand.
The others, Dr. Schwarz, Karpan, Obermeyer, and Mullins, all greeted Davis as well.
Dr. Swett then continued. "Thank you very much for the maps. I see you use USGS, that is very helpful, they are the best."
"Well, when you're out there in the desert, you need the best," Davis told him.
"Anyway," Swett continued, "We need to be sufficiently away from town so as not to have anybody simply casually disturbing our experiments. Also, we want to find the driest and most lifeless section near here, as you must understand our original intentions were to go to the Veldt and the Sahara; LeMark couldn't afford to send us there, so instead we came here."
Davis nodded, then with a rather dry expression added, "I'll issue a statement that nobody is to come near your territory, once you have selected it that is."
"What all are you all doing anyway?" Bill Budd asked, gaining everybody's attention.
"We're trying to develop a method that will reverse the effects of desertification," Dr. Swett told him. "It works in the laboratory, but that is a very different thing from real life."
"Well you've come to the right place then." Bill smiled amiably, trying to dissolve the steel jaws of firm dissatisfaction that were written all over Swett's face.
"Well, give us some time to mull over these maps, and we'll be back to you tomorrow with our decision." Dr. Swett put a hand on the maps, getting halfway up from his seat.
Davis took his hands off them, and pushed them ever so slightly into Swett's waiting arms. "Don't ruin those maps now, they're fine quality."
"I'll see to it that they are well taken care of." Dr. Swett picked them up in his arms, standing up; the other five scientists stood with him. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
"Until tomorrow." Davis nodded, leaning back in his chair.
Swett turned to face Jason who had not moved since entering the room, "Are you coming, Mr. Kubelik?"
Jason looked up and smiled, "Nah, I'm going to say hi to some friends here first, then I'll head back to the lab. It's your project after all, not mine."
"All right, then." Swett faced Davis once more and added, "Thank you for the use of your maps."
"No problem." With that the six scientists left Jason with the two police officers. Once they heard the six exit the police station, Davis leaned forward, and so did Bill and Jason, "Is Swett always so uptight?"
Jason chortled under his breath, "Well, he seems to be driven to finish this work, to get a Nobel prize or something. I try to ignore his hard headedness, after all, I'm getting paid for it."
Davis nodded, and Bill chuckled, "Seems to me he would get a Nobel prize if his experiment works."
"Well, I hope it does," Jason told them. "I hope things are going well for you in Barken." "Things have been running smoothly since you were last here," Davis said. "There have been a few minor incidents, the usual Cherry ruffians coming in here to raise Hell every now and then, but other than that, not much. What made this team decide to come here anyway, you didn't have anything to do with it I suppose."
Jason smiled sheepishly, "I suggested to come here. I don't really know why, but I guess I've been itching to come back here ever since I left. Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of my decision. Having our scientist pals turn into dogs while they're experimenting would just be a bit difficult to explain. I probably shouldn't have recommended we come here, but there's not much we can do now."
"No there really isn't, except to make sure that if the inevitable does happen, that we make sure it remains a secret from as many of the others as possible. I don't need scientists crawling around this place, inviting federal investigators in here to examine the.. unexplained phenomenon." David let the euphemism roll off his tongue with a bit of distaste.
Jason then begins to rise form his seat, "I promised a friend I'd stop by to see him, so I'd better be on my way."
Davis nods, and he bid him farewell. Jason smiled towards the both of them, and Bill smiled and saluted back, while Davis began to engross himself in another task. Jason walked down the street, taking in the afternoon air, and feeling the very essence of Barken flow over him. It was a wonderful feeling. He was very careful where he set his foot down though, after all Barken was a city of dogs and men.
Returning to the lab, the six scientists found a quite disturbed Dr. Nelson. "What's the problem, Hank?" Dr. Sparks asked him as she saw his look of frustration on his brow.
"We have no test tubes," Dr. Nelson replied in a very angry voice.
"You're kidding?" Sparks said in disbelief.
"No, I looked in every drawer in this place, and we have absolutely no test tubes. How are we going to get anything done without test tubes?"
"We're going to have to buy some then, from the extra funds that Mr. Rehberger so generously gave us." Swett added a bit of acid in his voice. "I doubt we'll be able to purchase any hear, so somebody is going to have to go to Houston."
"I'll do it." Dr. Schwarz volunteered. "I know my way around there the best anyhow, I did grow up there after all."
"Fine." Swett nodded, "Take one of the trucks, and head to Houston. We'll begin scouting out these surrounding areas indicated on the maps. Just come straightaway back here, don't worry about searching out the land yourself, we'll take are of that ourselves. Just get us enough test tubes so that we can actually run these tests."
"I'll be back as soon as I can." Dr. Schwarz then climbed into one of the company trucks that they had been lent, and started down the road towards the highway.
"As for the rest of us, let's get cracking, the sooner we can start, the sooner we get results." Swett began passing out the maps.
Jason came to a house with a false brick facade. He recognized the place, how could he not? He looked to see if the window had been fixed, as he knew it would. It was, and in fact the whole place looked much nicer than he remembered it. Walking up to the front steps he knocked on the door. A few moments later, a young adolescent opened up the door, and looked up at him. He was almost a teenager by his looks, but still pretty short. He called out, "Greg, your friend is here!"
Jason watched as out from a room in the basement, bounded Greg, looking quite cheerful and excited. "Hey, Jason! Glad to see ya! Thanks Curtis."
"No problem.", Curtis then walked back upstairs, without another word to either of them.
"Good to see you too, Greg." Jason shook his hand firmly, and then was led into the house, down into the basement. "How's life been treating you?"
"Pretty good, I'm earning my keep here with the Barclay's till we can afford a place of our own," Greg told him.
"How is Mary by the way?", Jason asked him. "I received the wedding invitations you sent out over a year ago... sorry I couldn't make it, but I haven't heard much from you since."
"She's still working at the book store, but she's now the manager down there, so she pretty much works from opening hours to closing hours. She'll be back in another couple of hours though." Greg grinned, sitting down in his chair in front of his desk. Jason sat down in the only other chair in the room. It wasn't a small room, but the Queen size bed took up most of one wall, and the dual dresser and desks also took up some space.
"That's good to hear," Jason said, then he innocently asked, "So, do you change much?"
Greg nodded, "Pretty often. It was hard getting used to it at first, I admit."
"No, really?" Jason remarked sarcastically with a crazy grin on his face.
"Look, Jase, I got over that problem three years ago. It took me some time to come to terms with what God wanted for me, and since then, it has paid off. I have no reservations about it anymore. If you want we can romp some together about town later if you wish, I'll just leave Mary a note in case she gets back before we do."
"That sounds like fun," Jason smiled. "How're things going for the gang, you all still hanging together?", Greg asked.
"Well, Nathan still lives on the farm with his parents, so I see him a lot, and John is around somewhere, he's got an apartment in Harrisonburg, but I don't see him much. Allison moved back to Kansas about six months ago; she writes pretty regularly, but I haven't seen her. Emily is off at college up in Canada at the moment, but she'll be graduating in a year or two, I can't remember exactly when. Rev. Brandems, well, he's now a father."
"A father?" Greg asked, very interested. "What's the kid's name?"
Jason smiled a bit, "Actually, they had quadruplets."
"Four?!" Greg looked completely stunned.
"Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it?" Jason nodded knowingly at him.
Greg laughed, "Yeah, it does. So you want to head out for a walk?"
"Okay." Jason smiled, a wagging tail almost ready to jump out of his pants.
"Go change in the bathroom." Greg pointed to the slightly ajar door to the side of the bed. Jason strode in their, a ebullient feeling surging through him. Leaving the door open just a crack, so he could get out, he began to take off his clothes, and pile them up on the sink. He then thought of himself as the Husky, as suddenly he felt the fur explode over him, as if it had been piling up behind a dam that Jason had just opened. Jason was surprised at how quick the change came now that he was back in Barken, but he didn't mind at all.
Jason pushed the door open with his nose, and he saw that Greg had already changed as well. Jason looked him up and down for a moment, he was a Shnauzer, barely half the size of Jason, but quite frisky and full of energy. He bounded up the stairs and out the dog door, which was sufficiently big enough for Jason to get through, a fact he was quite thankful for. Then they were off down the street, Jason easily outdistancing Greg, having to stop frequently to let him catch up.
It wasn't until after night fell that the two returned to the house, both winded, tongues lolling out of their mouths, Jason shedding like mad again. They immediately noticed Mary sitting on the porch steps of their home, it looked like she had been crying. Greg nuzzled her, while Jason watched, both of them quite concerned. Mary looked down, and saw Greg. She then burst out into tears again, gripping Greg about the neck with both arms, squeezing tightly, sobbing.
"Curtis is dead! Somebody shot Curtis!"