11/05/2016 by paulinebsc
The sun was lowering itself in a blaze of glory, turning the lone acacia tree into a silhouette. Sure, it was a popular image of Africa, but then Jay had never been on that continent, so ‘The Lion King’ image was all that he knew about the jungles. He was running like a lion towards the sunset. No, he was a lion. He could see his claws poking through the hair on his paws and feel power surging through him from muscles that men don’t have. As dreams go it was pretty spectacular.
Jay woke on the floor of his bedroom. At some time during the dream he must have fallen from the bed. He yawned in a massive growl of contentment and frisked his tail idly.
‘What the …?’ he tried to ask himself, but all that emerged was another, quieter growl. He didn’t feel asleep any longer but he must be. His massive body took up most of the room, and he spared a glance at the mirror. Yep, he was a lion. He yawned again, revealing huge canines. As dreams go, this was a doozy, it felt so real. His bedroom looked the same as it had before he fell asleep, clothes all over the floor, a pile of small change on the dresser, his leather biker jacket on the chair, yet it felt wrong. The room was very bright, and he was seeing things in more detail than usual. The studs on his jacket seemed to glow with light, he could smell the remains of the pasta sauce he had eaten last night and from outside could hear a snail slithering on the concrete. Looking through the window he could see a fly outside, could hear its wings beating, and was aware of its eyes although from this distance he shouldn’t have been able to see more than a speck. Was he going out of his mind? Was this still a dream? He spread out on the carpet to ponder this, catching a whiff of coffee he had spilled a week before. The movement felt natural as he sank into a sphinx-like pose. The lion’s whiskers tickled, and he felt his skin absorbing them before he became aware that he was human, naked on his floor.
He couldn’t go to work if he might change into a lion at any minute, but he wasn’t going to give that much detail to his boss.
‘John, I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well today, I won’t be able to make it in.’
That covered it, just about.
After phoning work, Jay made himself a cup of coffee and worried. It must have been a dream but it felt so real. After two bowls of cereal, he felt he had enough strength to confront his fears, and went to make his bed. There was no sign of his nocturnal adventures until he found the boxers which he had worn to bed. They were torn, ripped to shreds. As if a lion had emerged from them and then got angry. Even the elastic was torn.
He was beginning to believe that the latter part of his ‘dream’ was true. Not the bit about being in Africa, but the lion in his bedroom. What should he do about it? See a doctor? He shook his head at the thought. They’d send him straight to the funny farm, whether it was true or not.
Searching on-line for ‘Lion, shifting, man’ brought him a lot of fiction (and bizarrely an article on bus engines) but nothing about what was happening to him. By lunchtime he felt guilty for not going in to work, and was trying to convince himself that he had imagined the whole thing. He spent the time researching various types of big cats. He had dreamed about a lion, but on looking at various types of cat he decided if it happened again that he would rather be a ‘black panther’ or dark leopard. One of those wouldn’t take up all the bedroom. He scoffed at himself, by now more than half convinced the lion had not been real.
Jay slumped on the sofa watching some afternoon game show, but decided it wasn’t worth trying to work out the rules. He heard a scurrying noise behind the sofa and pulled it away, fearfully, expecting to find a mouse or something larger but could see nothing until things suddenly came into bright focus, as they had in the morning and he saw a spider. Not a big, hairy, tarantula wanna-be but a tiny money spider. He felt a weird sensation, as if something was trying to burst through his cheeks. It was happening again, but this time he was ready and stripped off his clothes. Jay concentrated on envisioning the black panther he had seen on-line. There was a very brief moment of time in which he felt himself change then the mirror showed fur that was dark enough to be called black. The cat paced angrily. Jay knew that it wanted to run, explore the interesting smells coming in from the garden and eat some meat. No way was that going to happen. He was glad that he had closed the door, the panther was staying in here, where both he and the neighbourhood were safe.
Now he knew the truth. It hadn’t been a dream, but what had it been? What was it? How often was it going to happen?
He was buttoning up his shirt when Charlene phoned.
‘Hi Jay, we’re having a meal at the Red Lion after work today. Fancy joining us?’
‘Sorry love, I’ve been off work sick today. I don’t feel too bad now, but I don’t want to risk being seen.’
‘Okay, if you’re sure. Was it the fluey thing that’s going around?’
‘No, something different. I’ll tell you later.’
‘Okay. See you soon.’
Charlene and Jay had been dating for a while, without being too serious. He didn’t know whether to tell her about what had happened or not. He would have to warn her before taking her to bed.
He spent the evening experimenting. He found he could control when his changes happened, but struggled to get back into human form once the cat was in control of his body. He was reluctant to let it out into the neighbourhood at least until he could get it to some place where it wouldn’t be seen. A black panther roaming around Southampton would be sure to attract attention unless he could ensure it stayed hidden, well hidden.
By the end of the week, he had reached a truce with ‘Cat.’ He let it out in his flat during the evening, but kept it indoors. In return Cat left him alone when he was working. At the weekend he drove his motorbike into the country and let the cat roam in woods or the New Forest. He had managed to keep Charlene away, but he wasn’t sure how long she would stand for that, and he couldn’t blame her. Somehow he was going to have to work up the nerve to tell her what had happened, before she saw it for herself.
The week after found him making excuses not to see Charlene, and she wasn’t happy about it. Friday she turned up on his doorstep looking angry.
‘Who is she?’
‘Who’s who?’ Jay blustered.
‘Who else are you seeing? Is it Jackie? Tracey? Somebody not in our group? Did you really think you could fool me?’
‘There’s nobody, I promise. I’m just having personal issues at the moment.’ Jay sighed in relief, now he understood her anger.
‘Such as?’ her eyes were narrowed in suspicion.
‘Come in and I’ll tell you about it. I don’t want anyone to overhear.’
They both knew that Mrs. Leggett down the hall would have heard Charlene’s angry voice and that her ears were by now flapping in search of gossip.
‘A cat? You turn into a cat? Of all the possible reasons you could come up with for not sleeping with me that’s the best you can manage?’
It had not gone as well as Jay hoped. He didn’t think Mrs. Leggett could have avoided hearing Charlene’s protest. He closed the door behind her fleeing figure and sank onto the couch, his head in his hands. The cat took over and snarled at the despair Jay felt.
Over the next few months Jay became almost a hermit, leaving his flat only to go to work, the manual work he expended in gardening parks across the city helped him keep the cat at bay. Like most council employees he was aware that his job was precarious. Councils were constantly being told by governments to keep costs down, and keeping the parks looking nice was going to have to be a lower priority than housing people or caring for children.
He was busy tending his window boxes when his phone rang.
‘Yeah?’ Jay drew it into a drawl. The voice had an Asian accent, which usually meant telemarketing, but on the other hand it sounded nervous.
‘I overheard Charlene talking about you turning into a cat. Is that true?’
‘Who wants to know?’ Jay’s suspicions were aroused.
‘Sorry, I’m Asit Lari, her boss. I’ve heard about another man who can shift. He becomes a bird. I’m wondering about setting up a rescue team. Can we meet up, the three of us?’
Still suspicious, Jay tried not to sound too eager.
‘I guess I could, when and where?’
Jay wasn’t sure what to expect. When he enquired at the restaurant bar a waiter led him to a private room at the rear of the restaurant. It was plainly usually a function room, but only one table in there was laid up for dinner. Asit was sat behind it. When the waiter introduced them he held out a hand to Jay but didn’t get up. It was only then that Jay noticed the wheelchair.
‘I booked this room because I don’t want our conversation being overheard.’
‘Yeah, I don’t want word about this getting out.’
‘Not yet, at any rate.’
Jay wasn’t sure how to take this, but he was saved from having to answer as another man was led to the table.
‘This must be Logan now.’
Logan was tall and thin, skeletal almost. Looking at him Jay wondered how those thin legs held up the rest of his body. He looked as suspiciously uncomfortable as Jay felt.
They later found out that Asit worked selling jewellery, but at the time the two men were only aware of how persuasive he could be.
‘If there are two of you, there are probably more animal shifters trying to hide what they are. What I want to do is set up an emergency search team. You two can work together as a team, Logan here can search from above. You, Jay, can use cat senses to smell out people who are lost. Together you could save lives.’
Asit was boyishly enthusiastic, in spite of looking as if he was in his fifties.
‘I’m trained as a doctor, although I’m not employed at the moment,’ Logan said.
Asit’s enthusiasm was close to hitting the roof.
‘That is even more help.’
‘I thought they were desperate for doctors?’ Jay commented, puzzled.
‘They are. At least ones who can talk to people, which isn’t in my skill set,’ Logan grinned. ‘I got sacked for telling somebody they were malingering. I just didn’t know he was a close friend of my boss.’
Aist had recently arranged to take an early retirement and was looking for something new to engage his interest. Now he had found it.
‘How does “International Shifters Rescue” sound to you boys?’
By the end of the evening the younger men had pledged themselves to help Asit, whose infectious enthusiasm was irresistible.
Find out more about ‘International Shifters Rescue’ and the adventures of Jay, Logan, Asit and others in my new book: