tagNonHumanThe Pearl

The Pearl

byThistlethorn©

Edited by Wicked

This is a copyrighted work of fiction. All rights reserved.


*

The entire thing started with the pearl. It was set in a ring that I bought at a second hand store. It was a simple ring, just a band and setting for the pearl. The pearl itself was a bit large, which led me to believe it was a fake. That, and the price. But it was really nice looking, so I spent the ten bucks. I don't normally wear a lot of jewelry, especially rings. Just never struck me as a "guy thing." But I liked it, so I wore it. I was a student at that time, attending the local college. Living on a student budget, the area I was living in was less than great. Just above slum, actually. But the rent was cheap and it was on the bus line. Unfortunately, when the buses didn't run I had to walk and the quickest way I found was walking along the railroad tracks. I know that's the worst place to be walking, especially when it's late. It was the quickest way, though, and I figured that getting home faster was better.

After the bars closed one night, I was walking home. I hadn't had too much to drink, so I figured a little walk would do me good. A river runs along the tracks, and I found the sound of the river to be soothing. I liked it. I'd had fun that night, and I thought a walk was just the thing to round it out.

I'm not certain how long they followed me, probably just long enough to block any retreat. I became aware of their presence when the brick shithouse blocked my path. What little buzz I had left me as I sized him up. He was about a half foot taller that my own 5' 8." As I stepped back I heard the others behind me. It was about this time that I realized just how stupid I'd been and began to suspect just how much I would regret my stupidity.

"Hey, was' up?" It was lame, but it was all I could think of to say.

The brick shithouse merely smiled a very unpleasant smile at me. Then he pulled out a lead pipe. Some snickering from the back did nothing to improve my feeling about the situation.

"You know the drill," the guy in front of me said as he slapped the pipe into the palm of his hand. "Wallet, jewelry, and valuables. Now."

I automatically reached for my wallet when I felt the pipe slam against my midriff. I went to my knees.

"You," he said, motioning to someone behind me. "See what he was going for."

I felt hands feeling around my front and back pockets. They found my wallet and took it.

"Just his wallet."

There are times when a person should just shut up and let things happen. Unfortunately, I never think about it until it's too late. "Yeah, shit-for-brains, remember the wallet you asked for?"

At least I didn't get the lead pipe across my face, but his fist felt almost as hard. I raised my hand to wipe the blood coming from my split lip. The hand with the pearl ring on it.

He looked appraisingly at the ring and barked, "That too."

I wasn't giving him the ring. Why I should risk my life over a ten-dollar piece of junk jewelry never occurred to me. I simply decided my wallet was enough, and they weren't getting the ring, too. As I paused to determine what to do next, I got a warning jab from the pipe. Not enough to hurt, just enough to let me know he was serious.

"Ring. Now."

His vocabulary was really beginning to impress me. However, he had a way of making his point perfectly clear.

"Right, ring, now," I said reaching for my right hand with my left. I tugged, but the ring wouldn't budge. Terrific. While I didn't want to give it to him, I had visions of the guy cutting off my finger to get at the ring. "It's stuck," I explained.

"Get that ring off your finger or I'll do it for you." His tone implied that he didn't believe me, but at least he used more complex vocabulary. It also made me try harder. It wasn't coming.

Finally, I put my finger my mouth, hoping saliva would maybe loosen the ring. It seemed to be working. Gripping the ring with my teeth, I pulled my finger out of my mouth. Then completely without thinking, I used my tongue to flip the ring to the back of my mouth and swallowed hard out of reflex. For a split second I thought, what the hell am I doing? Then the pain hit, not externally but internally. It felt like I was on fire. The ring burned all the way down and continued to burn when it hit my stomach. Then I felt the lead pipe hit me again.

I fell forward in a heap. My foremost thought was to get some water. I tried to crawl to the river, but I was grabbed from behind. Brick shithouse was saying something, but I had no clue what. I felt myself pulled to my feet and held up. Three more times the lead pipe hit me in the stomach and I felt like I was going to retch, but I didn't. By that time the burning was so bad I stopped feeling anything else. The burning spread to my entire body, and along with it I began to feel pins and needles tingling everywhere. I was aware the tone of the muggers began to change but I couldn't focus on them. They suddenly let go and I fell back to the ground.

Immediately, I began to crawl towards the river, still desperately wanting something to drink. Moving proved very difficult. The burning tingling pulled at my body, especially my neck and trunk. As I crawled it felt like the dimensions of my body were changing, that there was continually more of it. I tried to get my arms underneath me and push up. While I was briefly successful, my arms trembled, then collapsed under what felt like increasing weight. As I lay there a moment, panting with the pain, I started itching. It was light at first, easy to ignore with the amount of pain I felt. But as it spread across my body, it got harder to ignore. I tried to reach around to scratch, but I couldn't get my body to move right.

I continued to make my way to the river, determined to at least try to cool the fire that raged within me, and the itching eased up as my skin felt like it was hardening. After an indeterminate amount of time, I reached the edge of the river. My face fell into the water and I drank. It wasn't the cleanest water in the world, but I didn't care. It was wet and cold and felt wonderful. Finally, the pain began to subside and I could think again. The first thing I realized, or more correctly remembered, was that at this point of the river there was about a five foot drop from the edge of the ground to the water. My head was in the water, but my body was still up on the bank. I jerked my head up and got the shock of my life.

My head shot way into the air, still without moving my body. I realized I had a snout covered with scales. I cocked my head, trying to get a better look at it, but couldn't quite focus. Looking down, I completely forgot the snout.

My neck was now about six feet long and serpentine. Twisting my head around I could see iridescent blue scales down the back of my neck, along with a silvery mane. Down the front of my neck, the scales were long and covered the width of the underside. Moving my neck I found it to be supple and sinuous.

Turning my neck around, I looked at the rest of my body. It sprawled out behind me an additional 12 feet or so, though I couldn't tell for sure. My back was covered with scales, the same as my neck, and the mane continued down my back. The snake-like qualities didn't apply to just my neck. My body was huge, but it was about the same circumference around for most of the length. The only un-snake like things I could see were that I still had arms and legs, sort of. But I had no idea how anything might work.

OK, get a grip, I thought. A grip on what I didn't know. Things had just radically changed, and I had no clue how or why. One thing at a time, I advised myself. First I pulled my arms underneath me and pushed up. About a quarter of my body length rose. Good, now the back. I did the same thing with my legs; the back length of my body and part of the tail left the ground. Part of the middle still dragged a little on the ground and so did the tail. Hell with it, let it drag, I thought.

OK, now what? I thought for a moment, then pushed up with my arms and arched my back so that I was sitting up. My tail automatically looped around in front to compensate for the shift in balance. I eyed it dubiously, but left it where it lay. I examined my arms. They were scaled the same as the top of my body all the way around and were much thicker. I could see the muscles ripple underneath the scales. I still had recognizable hands with opposable thumbs, but now they ended in enormous claws, and instead of five fingers, there were now four. The elbow was still in the same place and moved the same way. However, there were thick tufts of silvery white fur similar to the mane sprouting from the joint. Located directly behind the shoulders where branch-like growths, almost like antlers. They lay against the body but would be useless for self-defense. There was too much space between the tines to afford much protection for the sides. Something for later, I decided.

Looking underneath me it was much the same as the underside of the neck, the long pearly scales covering my chest and stomach. Running my hands over them, they felt smooth to the touch, as opposed to the rougher scales on my back and sides. My body was also sinuous and flexible; I could turn completely around from my midsection easily. I could also flex it up or down. I began to realized how not to drag my midsection.

My tail was coiled around my legs, blocking them from view. As I slowly uncoiled it, I realized part of my body was easing forward to compensate for the moving tail. I froze, uncertain, and everything stopped moving. When I continued to uncoil the tail, I felt the muscles around the abdomen area move in response. Apparently, when one part of the body moved, another part automatically moved in sequence to keep balance. That was handy, even if I found it unnerving. When I completely unwound my tail, it was about the same length as my head and body. Like the neck and body, it was supple and completely controllable. As far as I could tell, it was prehensile. I dropped forward landing easily on my arms and examined my legs. They were almost exactly like my arms except they were slightly thicker and bigger, and also sported the curious antler growths. The legs were attached on either side of the body. I couldn't quite tell were the body ended and the tail began. It was as thick as the body and appeared to be an extension of it. It didn't start to taper until near the end, where a thick, long tuft of hair ran down the last quarter of it. My arms and legs divided my body neatly into thirds so that my neck, body, and tail were equal lengths.

Sighing, I clumsily coiled up my body and laid down. I tried without much success to put things in some rational perspective. Problem was, nothing rational was going on here. Somehow, after getting mugged, I turned into a giant snake with legs. I spent some time trying to convince myself that this was really just a bad dream. That I was passed out drunk or drugged somewhere and this was not happening. It didn't wash. It was all just too damn real.

All right, not a dream. I reviewed what happened in my mind again, looking for what caused this crazy event. I couldn't think of anything out of the ordinary in the bar. The mugging, though not an everyday experience, was still fairly commonplace. Guys jump out, beat you up, steal your stuff. My mugging followed the same procedure. Guys jumped out, hit me, took my wallet, wanted my ring....

The ring! The pain started when I swallowed the ring, and that's when things went seriously weird. Well, I had a starting point. But how could a junk store ring effect this kind of change? I thought back to what I could remember about the ring. There was the band and setting, both of which were fairly plain and basic. Then there was the pearl, which was fake.

As I began to thing about the pearl, I became aware of its presence, a gentle warmth in my stomach. It had been there all along, I just hadn't noticed. When I concentrated on it, I felt it respond. Apparently, the pearl was.... whatever the hell it was. Logically, if the pearl did this, then removing it should undo it. I focused on willing the pearl out of me and I felt it move in response. Then I felt its warm pressure in my hand. I looked at my hand and still found a claw. I gazed at the pearl. It was much larger now than it had been in the ring. It also glowed with a light all its own. I placed it carefully on the ground. I was still a snake. I got up and moved away, but nothing changed. I waited. Still no change. Finally, the night faded back to gray, and in the predawn light I was still a snake. I moved back over to the pearl and picked it up. Sighing, I closed my claws around it and felt it re-enter my body. It was mine now, a complete part of me.

I tried to figure out my next move. I hadn't thought about magic much before in my life, not really. I didn't read a lot of fairy tales as a kid, and I didn't get into fantasy as an adult. Now I was so far into the Twilight Zone I was waiting for Rod Serling to step out. He didn't. And on top of everything else, I was hungry.

Well, I couldn't stay here. Eventually, somebody would come this way, and while I wasn't sure what would happen I didn't want to gamble and find out. I walked over toward the river. When I wasn't thinking about moving, I moved fluidly. I was over the embankment and in the river in no time. The river wasn't very deep at this point, maybe four feet, but I sank in as best I could. Hunger was beginning to gnaw fiercely at me. I knew I had to find something to eat. Unfortunately, my foraging skills consisted of either going down to the nearest fast food place or microwavable meals. Neither one seemed much of an option.

As I half-swam, half-waded around in the water, I noticed movement in some bushes on the bank. No sooner had I decided to check it out than I was over at the bank and pinning something with my claw. As I pulled it out from the cover I saw that it was a cat, a big fluffy calico. At first it hissed and tried to bite me, but when it saw me its eyes glazed and it just stared. I looked the cat over, not really wanting to eat it. However, I didn't see much choice.

"Sorry, kitty, but I've got to eat." As I lifted the cat towards my mouth, I noticed a tag on a collar that had been covered by its fur. I eased one of my claws under the tag and angled it so I could read.

"Hi my name is Patches. If lost please return to 452 Mayfield Ave." I had visions of some child looking for their pet cat and not finding it. Now, for all I knew, nobody would care or miss the cat. The cat seemed well fed and cared for, though, and I couldn't shake the image. So I set the cat back on the bank.

"Well, Patches, looks like you lucked out. God, I'm a wuss."

I slunk back down the embankment into the river. My first challenge as a mighty hunter failed miserably. I pressed forward for a deeper section of the river as dawn started to break. I reached a deeper section where I could completely submerge by the time the sun was rising. With just the tip of my snout above the water so that I could breathe, I watched the sunrise. While I was enraptured with the break of day, I felt something brush against me. Again almost without thinking, my head darted towards the feeling and I grabbed something in my mouth. I lifted my head from the water and found I had caught a fish. I looked at it for a moment, then bit into it, chewed and swallowed. It went down well, and I was surprised how good a raw fish tasted. I rather quickly downed the rest of it.

The fish was good, but it wasn't enough. I was still hungry. So I took a deep breath and set out to find more. The main problem was, when I tried to catch them, I missed. Obviously, I had a lot more to learn about my new body. Since I caught the first without thinking, I went on autopilot. However, I had scared most of the fish off in my previous frenzied attempts. I was still on autopilot when I realized I was eating rocks.

I stopped myself mid-chew. I could feel several large pieces of rock in my mouth, and was fairly sure I had already swallowed several others. I slowly swallowed what was in my mouth. They didn't taste as good as the fish, but they went down as easily and felt strangely satisfying. Right, I ate fish and rocks.

On the one hand, I was finally beginning to freak. On the other though, this all made perfect sense. And the other hand was dominant. I was no longer hungry, so I decided that now was the time to try to integrate rationality with instinct. Or at very least, introduce the two. I settled back into the river with my snout propped up out of the water. Then I closed my eyes to see what I could learn.

I couldn't say exactly how long I was asleep. It seemed to be late afternoon. First thing I realized was that my head had slipped off the rock and fallen completely into the water.

In a panic I broke the surface, and found my self snout-to-face with a man in a canoe. He backstroked furiously and started to scream. Suddenly, I knew what to do. I locked eyes with him and gazed calmly. Like the cat, he went glassy-eyed. Then I swam out of his way and settled myself. After a moment, he came back to himself and looked around. He looked directly at me, then through me. He seemed a bit confused, then shrugged it off and went on his way.

While I was asleep, I made some realizations. There were certain things I could do instinctively, the hypnotism and disappearing act included. I also found that my diet gave "omnivore" all new meaning. I could eat just about anything organic, as well as stone and earth. There were other things, just outside my mental reach, that weren't instinctual, but I couldn't access them. It was frustrating, but there was little I could do. And I was hungry again.

This was basically how I spent my days. I would hunt for fish or forage, and when I wasn't doing that I was resting or trying to access the other information. I also found, after several accidental dunkings, that I could breathe above and below water. After about a week of this self-exploration, I met Dakota.

Late into the night, I heard the sounds of a struggle on the back, roughly around where I had been attacked. I eased up to the bank to see what was going on. A man was in the process of pinning a woman to the ground, straddling her. She struggled against him, but he outweighed her. When he produced a knife, she abruptly stopped struggling. Her shouts softened to whimpers as he prepared to cut her clothes off. A low growl started in my throat before I even realized it.

"Leave her alone!" I howled as I lunged up the bank. My voice rang out like thunder, and quite frankly even scared me a little.

As the attacker rolled off the woman, recognition dawned in his eyes. I remembered him also: brick shithouse from a week previous. What did this guy do, attack someone once a week at the river? Along with the recognition, I saw anger. Like this guy had some right to be angry with me. He pulled the woman over on top of him and put the knife to her throat.

"All right, you bastard, I don't know what you are, or what happened, but I will kill this bitch."

I really didn't like this guy. The young woman looked at me as though she wasn't sure which was worse, her attacker or I. Given that I was a big snake, I couldn't exactly blame her. A rapist she knows, me she has no idea about.

I eased my head about, looked straight at her and said, "Don't worry. I won't let anything happen to you." Almost instantly my head shot forward and I had his knife hand, as well as his whole arm, in my mouth. One sharp pull and the arm detached from his body at the shoulder amidst a spray of blood. With a fluid movement I tossed the limb, knife and all, to back of my throat and swallowed. I hadn't actually planned on the last part, but momentum carried me. That was one of the big problems trying to integrate instinct with reason. One tended to do things the other wouldn't, like eat somebody's arm. I was going to have to watch that.

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