Werewolves Are Bunk
by Leo D. Orionis

Liquid cascading:
The shock ripples along my nerves,
The feeling pulses through my veins,
Emotion throbbing with my blood.

Liquid cascading:
My knees are turned to water,
The heat departs my limbs,
My stomach cramps painfully.

Liquid cascading:
The world spins dizzily,
All strength deserts me.
Fire tears my nose and eyes.

Liquid cascading:
My head buzzes, soundlessly.
A Presence warns of long-lost danger,
A tiger waiting now to spring.

The world fading:
What is this moment of premonition?
What means this detachment?
Why is it familiar?

Horror comes:
This is that moment of which I was warned.
Too late the memory comes faintly:
The tiger springs, and I die.


—"Seizure" from
The Collected Poems of David Mackie,
Green Sky Press, Berkeley, California, 1992 A.D.

Friday, June 16, 1995 A.D.
(a.d. 16 Kalendas Iulias, 2748 A.U.C.)
San Francisco, California

Kristen and I were packing, suitcases open on the bed, picking out what we'd need for a weekend away from home. With our schedules and the demands on our time, we're almost never free to travel at the same time, so we each had our own system: she packed her suitcase, and I packed mine. Married couples who don't learn to live and let live soon find themselves living separately. Kristen and I had been married for over twenty years.

Suddenly I stopped what I was doing. "Oh, shit!" I said, as two separate things connected in my head. I walked over to the Sky Publishing Corporation chart of the phases of the moon for 1995. Sure enough! With all our planning, I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of this before now!

"What is it?" Kristen said, coming up behind me as I stared at the poster.

"The Moon," I said numbly. "Saturday's the full moon!"

"Damn," she said softly. She put her arms around me, snuggled up against my back, and leaned her head on my right shoulder from behind. Her silky hair tickled my cheek as I put my own arms over hers and hugged them against me. I breathed in the dear scent of her as I closed my eyes.

"We'll just have to be careful," Kristen said. "If we have to, we'll leave early."

I loved her for that "we". "I'd better pack extra clothes, too," I said.

"Just in case," Kristen agreed.

 

If my mother hadn't been adopted, I might have always feared the full moon, and what it could do to me. Instead I grew up in ignorance, until I learned the hard way. I don't blame my mother. She couldn't warn me, because she didn't know herself. Her own mother, a girl from Indiana, went on a trip to California, and came back with a baby. Everyone knew what that meant; when an unmarried girl "got in trouble", she "went on a trip" until the baby was born, then the baby was raised by the closest married female relative. Abortions were illegal, back in the dark ages of the early Twentieth Century A.D., and single mothers had better be widows, with the ring and the papers to prove it.

The odd little twist in my mother's story was that the Indiana girl really hadn't been pregnant when she went to California to visit relatives. It was in California, not Indiana, that she met a man who swept her off her feet and left her "in a family way", as they said in those days. I like to think that they were both in love, and that he would have "made an honest woman of her"; but he was an Indian. Marriages between "whites" and "non-whites" weren't illegal, at least not in California or Indiana; they were just impossible. Such a couple would be shunned by "white" and "non-white" society alike, and would starve because no one would hire either one of them, for any kind of job.

So the California Indian man and the Indiana German-American girl parted. She returned home, and her married sister adopted the baby. The baby grew up, and didn't know the curse she'd inherited. As inherited traits often do, it skipped a generation, manifesting, in my mother, only as an abnormally high metabolic rate, that kept her skinny all of her life.

Mom was born in 1926, which made her 14 years old when the War began. The world had been at peace for a long time, so the Russians got to Germany and Turkey before serious resistance began. China took Japan, Korea, and southeast Asia before India and Australia could gather their forces.

By Mom's 18th birthday, the tide of war was running the other way, though there was still lots of dying to be done. By lying about her age, she'd gotten into the Army Air Corps at 16. At first she was ferrying planes to the front lines, but the brass looked at her small size (barely five feet), high intelligence, and lightning-quick reflexes, and saw her for the treasure she was. When Mom met Dad, she'd been flying fighter missions in German jets for most of a year, and was an ace twice over.

Dad was four years older than Mom, a farm boy who joined the Army and learned to fix things. He'd done and seen a lot in the course of the War. By 1944, he was a driver and mechanic for the Red Ball Express, trucking supplies from Allied harbors to the front lines in the east, dodging shells as he went, shooting back when he could.

As Mom used to tell the story, she landed one afternoon in western Poland, the last one back from her flight that day. A couple of the remaining Russian prop jobs, with more nerve than sense, had tried to take her. Even two to one, it wasn't much of a contest: two Russian peasants against Mom, two hand-built obsolete Russian crates against state-of-the-art precision German manufacturing.

So Mom climbed out of her jet, with her blood up from the fight and full of herself the way pilots are, and saw Dad standing by his truck, delivering parts to the flight line. "My oh my, gotta get me some of that," Mom said to herself, and sauntered over.

Dad was lighting a cigarette and wondering what was taking the supply officer so long with his invoice, when he heard a husky voice say, "Got a light?"

"Sure, buddy," he said, turning around and holding out his lighter. Then he did a double-take and said, "You're a girl!"

Mom grabbed his hand to hold it steady while she lit her cigarette, took a deep drag to start it, looked up at Dad, smiled, and let out a long, long stream of smoke.

Ugh. But people could still smoke, back then, and they did.

They couldn't have been more different. Dad was a Hollywood-handsome farm boy who took things easy and drank too much, while Mom was a city girl who was almost too smart to get along with anyone, and fiercely independent, even rebellious. He was tall, she was short; he was robust, she was skinny; he was conventional, she was anything but; he was almost pretty, she was plain; he was Protestant, and she was Catholic. But it was wartime, and they didn't see each other too often; and when they did, they weren't much inclined to talk. Getting pregnant would have meant Mom couldn't fly any more, so she didn't, Catholic girl or not, until the War was over. Afterwards, Mom decided she'd seen enough high-altitude near-vacuum, and peacetime regulations drove her nuts. So she retired, married Dad, and they lived at whatever Army post needed a good mechanic.

A couple of years after the War ended, the Army Air Corps became a separate service, the Air Force. Dad transferred to the new branch, and worked on planes instead of trucks. A couple of years after that, in 1950, my brother Owen was born at Castle Air Force Base, near Merced in the California central valley. Mom was 24, Dad was 28.

I was born in 1952, but Dad wasn't home for my birth. The Chinese invaded Korea again, so Dad was in Japan, keeping the U.N.'s B-56 flying wings operational so they could bomb Peking, and the roads from China to Korea, until the mandarins surrendered again.

 

Kristen hates to fly, but she was a little less worried than usual because I was with her this time. I love flying, but I was worried about the full moon coming up. Both of us were looking forward to, and at the same time dreading, our 25th high-school reunion, which was the reason for the trip in the first place. All in all, we had a fine case of jitters going as we sat in the jet at San Francisco International Airport. I'm not sure whether Kristen was holding my hand to draw comfort from me, or whether I was holding hers to draw comfort from her; but we were definitely holding hands.

Of course, we held hands more than almost any other couple I knew, anyway. We'd been close in high school, and we're closer now with all that we've been through.

"Ladies and gentlemen, señoras y señores, dominae et dominì," the captain said over the intercom. "Welcome aboard Flight 169 to Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico City, and Habaña. If you haven't done so already, please turn off your omnicoms and place them in the pouch on the back of the seat in front of you. This is to avoid any possibility of interference with the communications between the aircraft and the satellites during takeoff. Thank you."

"As if there's anyone in the world who needs to be told that," I grumbled. Then, of course, we had to watch the flight attendants showing us how to fasten a seat belt, how to put on an oxygen mask, and how to recognize an exit sign. Then they went up and down the aisles and made sure there were no idiots who thought they didn't have to fasten their seat belts, or that it was OK to cruise the net during takeoff. For once, there weren't.

Finally the attendants sat down and strapped in, the plane taxied a little way and turned right, then suddenly began racing down the runway. After far too short a time (I always felt) we made that funny little leap into the air that always seems to drop your stomach through the floor, leaving you to hope it'll catch up before you get where you're going. I had a seat by a right-side window, with Kristen on my left and another couple between us and aisle #2. I watched San Francisco, and then the whole Bay Area, drop away in the afternoon sunlight.

Above the Pacific the plane turned left and headed south, all the while climbing and climbing at that incredible angle. I'm told it's less than ten degrees, but it always feels like straight up. Of course it isn't; we were in an air-breathing jet on a short hop, not a spaceplane heading halfway around the world or out to one of the Hilton Orbitals. But it felt like straight up.

Presently, when nothing could be seen but white clouds far below and blue sky above, the plane leveled off, and the captain announced that omnicoms could now be used. Kristen and I kissed, then she got her omnicom out and went back to reading an article in the latest issue of one of her medical journals. I left my omnicom where it was, because I had far too much on my mind to write.

 

My younger brother Matt was born in 1953, when we were at March Air Force Base, near Riverside, California. Two years later, while we were still at March, I think, I had my first seizure. We were definitely in Roswell, New Mexico, when I had my second one in 1956.

These seizures weren't petit mal either, where the victim goes rigid and falls down, or just blanks out for a few moments. These were grand mal, the big bad, with falling and thrashing and heaving and grab his tongue before he bites it off or chokes to death on it. Or so I'm told; I pass out before anything happens, then wake up later tired and sore and sometimes injured. My folks wouldn't let me watch when others had seizures, for fear it would set me off. We never had blinking lights on our Christmas trees, for the same reason.

Blame the Russians for the high incidence of seizures in my generation. There's no question that some of the war gases the Russians used were nerve agents. Allied soldiers who survived the gassing were often prone to attacks the rest of their lives, and their children had a higher infant-mortality rate, and more seizure disorders, than the generations before. My dad wasn't gassed during his active duty in Europe, and my brothers suffered no seizures; but there I was.

My affliction could have torn the family apart; instead, it united us. Dad buckled down to the job of being the best NCO he could be, skipped the bar after work, and came home to teach us chess, or baseball, or working on cars. Mom cooked, cleaned, taught us to sing, encouraged us to read and learn a musical instrument. They took turns reading us to sleep at night. Dad taught us to fish, Mom taught us to swim. Dad taught us pinochle and poker, Mom taught us to skate. Both of them taught us how to ride bikes.

All in all, my two brothers and I, and my sister when she came along, had a pretty good childhood. With family trips to the library, evenings of Monopoly or Parcheesi or cards, TV some evenings and movies some weekends, we had few dark spots other than my seizures. When my younger brother got a second-grade teacher who had it in for him, Dad told the teacher that the next time Matt came home with bruises, the teacher was going home with broken bones. When the principal wanted to spank my older brother Owen for refusing to knuckle under to his petty tyranny, Mom walked into his office and told him where he'd better shove that paddle before using it on one of her boys.

Equally important, when we began to act like we were immune to punishment after these incidents, Mom and Dad straightened us out about what they expected from us, too, most definitely. You might even say, fundamentally.

My actual memories begin with first and second grade at Pease Air Force Base near Portsmouth, New Hampshire—cold snowy winters I hated desperately, hot sweltering summers catching grasshoppers and praying mantids, the Presley twins and the Everly brothers on the radio. I had my third seizure in 1958, and limped for weeks afterwards because I wrenched my left knee badly. In 1959 I had my fourth, and I wasn't even eight years old yet.

At least I wasn't the only one in school with seizures. Others were suffering as I was; some much worse, in fact, with seizures every month. Some had seizures every week or every day, so going to public school was out of the question for them, especially if they were grand mal.

Despite the seizures my grades were good. I've always liked to read; languages and history and other cultures reinforced my science-fiction reading and vice versa.  Math to me wasn't a grind, it was learning how to do things. In first grade I went down the hall to a second-grade room at reading time, and in second grade I spent reading and math time in a third-grade class.

 

Kristen's parents met us at Lindbergh Field, the San Diego airport. Tom shook my hand while Gail hugged Kristen, then it was my turn to be fussed over. Gail is one of the few people I know who makes me feel tall.

"Ready for dinner?" Tom asked, as we packed our three suitcases into the rental car's trunk. Tom's own car was this year's model; a car dealer advertises wherever he goes.

"Ready," I agreed. "Let's go by our hotel, first, and check in. Then we're at your disposal for the evening."

"David, love, Kristen is going to ride with me to the hotel. You and Tom go ahead, and we'll follow." Gail dragged Kristen away by the arm. Kristen has Tom's height, so it made a funny picture. Tom and I grinned, and got in the car. "Which hotel?" he asked.

"The Hotel del Coronado," I said.

"Pricey," he grunted.

"Sure it is. But we can afford it, and we haven't stayed there since the honeymoon you and Gail treated us to."

The bridge out to Coronado Island, to my mind, is the most beautiful bridge on the West Coast. The Golden Gate is bigger, but the Coronado Bridge has none of the blockiness of its northern cousin. The Golden Gate looks like a working bridge; the Coronado Bridge is sculpture on an architectural scale. It looks like it's there for aesthetic reasons, and any traffic is just an added kinetic element.

"I warn you," Tom said. "Gail's going to try at least once this evening to talk you two into staying at our place this weekend."

"And stay where?" I asked him reasonably. "In Kristen's old room? We'll have a lot more space at the Del. Besides, it's so much more romantic." And we never stay at anyone else's house, especially around the full moon.

"Romantic, huh. Yeah, that might do the trick. Play that angle for all it's worth, and I might get some peace," he grinned.

 

In 1961 Dad was in Guam, but family housing there was in short supply, so the rest of us were in California, at Travis Air Force Base just outside the Bay Area, waiting to join him. I had my fifth seizure in September, and managed to break my right ankle somehow. Then in December my sister Suzanne was born. Originally Mom and Dad were going to name her Sheila, but we were actually housed in a town named Suisun, so she ended up "Suisun City Sue."

We were in Guam for 1962 and 1963, at Andersen Air Force Base. Guam is a tiny island east of the Philippines, on the edge of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place in the world. The rest of the Mariana Islands belong to Japan, but the U.S. kept Guam after the war, as a forward base against future Chinese aggression. It turned out to be a very good idea in 1952 and 1980.

Though technically a U.S. possession, Guam was an exotic experience to a family that had never been stationed outside the continental U.S., with its red volcanic soil, tropical jungle overrunning the island, shrews and geckos and coconut crabs, plantain trees in the back yard, innumerable stars in a pitch black sky undiluted by city lights, and natives who spoke a different language and ate strange food. We spent weekends at Tarague Beach walking in the white sand, collecting tropical sea shells with the animals still in them, and bobbing in the warm water inside the shelter of the coral reef around the island.

When we weren't at school, we ran around in bare feet with nothing on but shorts, and got as brown as the Guamanian kids. Between the New Hampshire winter, and Mom and Dad chain-smoking, we'd been sick a lot the previous few years. All that got burned out of us by the tropical sun. I think it was five years after we got back from Guam before I even caught a cold.

We weren't in heaven, however. In 1962 I had my sixth seizure, an especially bad one, and was in bed for a week afterward. Then in 1963, Typhoon Karen hit the island.

Understand that "typhoon" is just the Pacific version of "hurricane." Just as the east coast of North America has a regular hurricane season, so the east coast of Asia has a typhoon season every year. The reasons are the same; warm tropical water makes big storms, then the west-to-east rotation of the earth shoves the east coast of the continent into the storm. Europe and California don't have hurricanes or typhoons because they're lee coasts; typhoons in the Pacific move away from California, and hurricanes in the Atlantic move away from Africa and Europe.

So Guam got several typhoons every year, and expected them. Base housing was concrete with steel louvers over the windows, and rarely was anyone hurt, much less killed. More people died every year from finding leftover Chinese and American shells from the War, and the War had been over for sixteen years.

But Typhoon Karen was a killer. It picked up boats on the east side of the island and dropped them all over before dumping the last ones miles to the west. It ripped an old B-52 free of its tie-downs on the flight line, never to be seen again. It pulled up palm trees by the roots, and tore huge chunks of coral from under the ocean. It shattered the coral reef, and turned the steel quonset huts on the island, which had stood through one typhoon season after another ever since the War, into shrapnel.

I'm not sure how many people died. I heard two people in a car had a palm tree dropped on them, and a flying coral block acting as a wrecking ball killed three more. A native girl was said to be decapitated by a sheet of flying steel that had been part of a supply hut the week before. We cooked on our Coleman stoves until the electricity was restored, spread books and clothes out to dry because the rain had come through the steel louvers and flooded the houses a foot deep, and traded rumors with the other shocked inhabitants.

A few months after that, in October, I had my seventh seizure. I was still a bit fuzzy when we took the plane back to the States for Dad's new post at Fairchild Air Force Base, outside Spokane, Washington. The propeller-driven plane took forever to get across the Pacific, and stopped twice on the way to refuel. Nevertheless I enjoyed my second airplane trip ever.

 

Dinner was just the four of us, as Kristen's little sister was working with the Hubble Telescope on Farside, and her brother was permanent party on the L5 habitat. Even if Denise and Joe had been on Earth, Kristen was her parents' darling. It had always been so, and her career choice had only reinforced it. Being an astrophysicist on the Moon or a near-space construction engineer was all very well, but Kristen was a doctor. And not just any kind of doctor, but a brain surgeon.

Tom and Gail have old-fashioned ideas about what's fit to discuss during a meal, so they couldn't ask Kristen about her work, or even new developments in medicine. That left religion (Kristen's parents were Catholics, Kristen and I nominally so), politics (Gail and Tom were Social-Democrats, Kristen a Green, and me a Socialist), movies, sports, and books.

"Speaking of books," Tom said, "Isn't it about time your next one came out, David?"

"I've written it," I said. "In fact, I have the proofs on my omnicom right now. I'll finish them right after the reunion, then they'll want to make more changes, and back and forth a few times. Barring any sudden illness on my part or editorial irrationality on theirs, it should be available in a month or so."

Gail looked a little worried at the mention of sudden illness, thinking of seizures, but Tom just said, "In bookstores, or online?"

"Either," I assured him. "They always hold up online publication until the hardcover's in the stores." Kristen's parents were also old-fashioned about their reading; the house was full of magazines and books printed on paper, as if this were 1965 instead of 1995.

After a truly excellent dinner, for which we thanked them, and kisses all around —well, a handshake between Tom and me, I said they were old-fashioned—Kristen and I got in the rented car, told it where we wanted to go, and talked and cuddled while it whisked us off to Coronado.


She is day, and my daylight too.
Not for her hair, though golden 'tis,
Nor for her skin, though bronzed by sun:
My heart's a bird in the sky of her gaze.

Evening fallen, candlelight
Sheened through the web of her outreached hand.
Tender her voice, a soft caress
For ears that cherished every note.

Stars in the night enhaloed her,
Moonlight glistened on her lips.
Words in the darkness, unrepeated,
Gave the meaning to our days.

My day began in her ready smile,
My life renewed with every laugh.
My dreams revolved around her love,
But dreams are night, and she is day.


—"She Is Day" from
The Collected Poems of David Mackie,
Green Sky Press, Berkeley, California, 1992 A.D.

Saturday, June 17, 1995 A.D.
(a.d. 15 Kalendas Iulias, 2748 A.U.C.)
San Diego, California

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I woke up Saturday. A kind of buzzing, not a sound but a feeling, filled my head. It extended out beyond my head, in fact, about a foot. I sat up in alarm, and the room spun around me. I felt no nausea, but everything kept spinning.

"David? Are you all right?" Kristen's voice seemed to come from half a mile away, though she was in bed beside me. I didn't answer at once. It was hard to do so, because I wasn't really there; I wasn't operating in the present tense at all. Where people in a normal state of mind are observing what goes on around them, and reacting to that, I was in a detached state where I watched myself acting and reacting. I don't know how to explain it any better than that, and God knows I've tried often enough. A friend of mine on drugs once said that he was in the world, but not of it. I could agree with that, though I don't know what it conveys of what I was feeling.

I dragged myself away from watching the dust motes in the shaft of sunlight coming in a window and considered my wife's question. Was I all right? It helped that I had been here before, and recognized the situation. After a few hundred years (actually, only a little longer than a normal person would take) I managed to say, "I've got an aura, love."

While I flexed my hand and watched the knuckles move under the skin, Kristen came around to my side of the bed and knelt down beside it. Intellectually, I knew that I was worrying her, and that I should try to act as normally as possible. But the thought had no force; it was hard to attach any importance to anything. It crossed my mind how unfair it was that most people had to take drugs to enter a state like this. My aura swelled and receded, swelled and receded. Kristen's voice drew my wandering attention.

"David? David, how bad is it? Does it feel like a seizure's coming?" Kristen the doctor was asking the necessary questions, while Kristen the wife looked at me with worried eyes. I listened to the buzzing. After a few mountain ranges had formed and eroded away, I remembered to reply, "It's pretty strong, but not getting worse."

"Can you stand up?"

I felt the buzzing bloom and subside, bloom and subside, like a slow-motion picture of a bud unfolding, turned into a sound effect. "I can try." I made the effort. "Whoops! Dizzy," I muttered. Kristen was there to help me balance. I got lost in the blue of her eyes for geological time. "You're so beautiful," I said.

"I love you, too," she said with glistening eyes. She held up pants and shirt. I blinked in slow surprise; where had they come from? "Come on, put these on, and let's get some breakfast in you."

Halfway through bacon and eggs, toast, hash browns, and a big glass of orange juice, I reconnected with human time scales. I looked around me, aware all at once that I was seeing each moment as it came, as a person immersed in the moment, instead of watching each one go by without me. For a moment, as always, I regretted the loss of that strange perspective. Then I leaned across the patio table and kissed Kristen. "I'm back," I said.

She kissed me back hard. "Good! Still dizzy?"

"No, just a little shaky. And the aura's faded to a whisper, too. I think all this protein is helping. Give me a quiet day and more sleep, and we can still make the reunion tonight."

"Are you sure? We don't have to go."

"Hey, I'm sure. I want to strut into the school tonight with you on my arm, so all the football heroes can wonder how I got so lucky."

"Let them wonder," Kristen smiled. "None of the women will be wondering, and I may have to rescue you from Christine Delacruz or Robin MacBride."

I love my wife, no matter how silly she gets trying to convince me I'm handsome.

 

Spokane was a little town in eastern Washington, far from the booming aeronautics and astronautics industries in Seattle and other coastal cities. Because of that, Dad's Air Force paycheck went farther than anywhere else we'd been. Instead of living on post at Fairchild Air Force Base, he bought a two-lot property in town with a two-story house on one of the lots. This gave each of us kids his or her own bedroom, for the first time ever, and a huge yard that was all ours. By the time Joe Kennedy ran for re-election on the Social-Democrat ticket, and won, we were all settled in.

Of course, since it was our house, and off-post, we couldn't expect base housing to come around and fix things, nor ask a landlord to do so. We all put in time mowing the lawn, weeding Mom's flower beds, and painting the outside from the scaffolding Dad build out of pipes and boards. We grumbled, but Dad told us it built character, and kept us at it.

Funny how every time we built character, he saved money hiring gardeners and painters.

In Spokane we attended Catholic school for the first time, one of the opportunities of living in the civilian world. I became an altar boy, and thought about becoming a priest, but Catholic priests had to be celibate in those days, and I was starting to notice girls (I was 11). Mom had always been my favorite person, but I had dreams at night about one of the girls at school.

My big brother Owen started piano lessons in Spokane, I took up the violin, and Matt started learning the clarinet. Mom played the accordion, and we all sang, so we were a pretty musical bunch. We all got pets, too. We'd always had a dog or cat or both, but in Spokane we had a family dog, I had a cat and a guinea pig, Owen had a cage of finches, and Matt had a guinea pig. I think there was a rabbit in there, too, but it was too long ago for me to be sure.

It was a happy time. It wasn't California ("California, Here I Come" was the family theme song), and it got really cold in the winter, and snowed. But nothing kept us down for long — not Owen falling off the roof while painting, and breaking his arm; not Matt getting pneumonia and spending a week in the hospital; and not my eighth seizure, in 1965.

The real importance of 1965 was that Dad had joined the Army in 1940, on his 18th birthday. When you added his Army enlistment, his Army Air Corps enlistment, and his Air Force enlistment, you had 25 years of continuous service. Five more years wouldn't add much to his retirement check, and Dad was itching to try something different; he was 43 in 1965. (Mom was 39, Owen was 15 and in the 9th grade, I was 13 and in the 7th grade, Matt was in 6th grade and 12 years old, Suzanne was 4.)  "If we move now," Dad said to Mom, "Owen can go to High School in California."

So Dad retired from the Air Force with an impressive ceremony and a nice monthly check, and we sold the house and land for a huge chunk of money. Then we packed all our goods into a moving truck, and headed south with Dad driving the truck and Mom driving the family car. Boeing in Seattle was one of the biggest names in aeronautics, but Convair in San Diego was just as big in missiles and rockets.

 

"My god, what have they done to the place?"

When Kristen and I went to Adlai Stevenson High School, the architecture had been standard Southern California High School. It had been built like a mock hacienda, complete with red tiles on the roof. Two stories tall, the main building was square, with a central courtyard much beloved of yearbook club photographs, and a bell tower.

A few years after we graduated, an engineering survey was taken of San Diego city schools to see how earthquake-resistant they were. Stevenson flunked. Classes were held in temporary "bungalows" and the new gym, the only permanent structure that passed muster, while a new main building went up. Saturday evening, before the reunion banquet and dance, we were given a tour. It was great, but I missed the brick building I'd studied in.

Dinner was fun. I never thought I was especially handsome, certainly not compared with the pictures of my Dad in his twenties, but I "cleaned up nice" when I wore a suit and tie, and the clunky black-framed Air Force glasses were gone forever, thanks to modern gene therapy. At 43 I looked little different from 18, except I'd filled out from 110 to 160 pounds, and had a decent beard. Kristen at 43 was, if possible, even more lovely than she'd been in high school, a stunning vision in a gown that matched her blue eyes and complemented her pale gold hair.

I had only to look about me to see how fortunate I was. After only 25 years, an awful lot of my classmates had deteriorated badly, with early grey hair, wrinkles, flab or even outright fat. The jocks who'd bullied me so badly in junior high school, before I went into the Honors Program in high school and shared no more classes with them, were in the worst shape of all.

Sitting down to dinner, the food was really good! It must have been catered. The banquet was in the "new" cafeteria, but if cafeteria food was like this now, today's high-school students would roll, not walk, to class.

After the banquet the party moved to the gym for talking and dancing. Now I'm a nerd, and when I dance, it looks like I'm having another seizure. I do much better with dances with prescribed steps, like the Renaissance dances I learned from the SCA in college. But I'll dance on social occasions, "only please, darling, let me digest a bit first, OK?"

So we circulated, together at first, until Kristen ran into her friend Mary Doull. Mary promptly pulled out baby pictures. That whole topic gives me hives; I never wanted kids in the first place, and I'm not about to risk passing on my curse. So I made my excuses and fled the scene, leaving them to catch up.

Presently I met Steve Brand. Steve was a tall, good-looking, popular blond guy in high school, class president at least one year, and one of the fourteen people in our class of 625 who got a higher final GPA than I did. He did it by getting A's in gym as well as academic subjects, which made me jealous as hell.

Steve was much as he'd been, a little flabby and overweight, hair receding a little in front, but the same nice guy he'd always been. He and Norma were divorced, but Steve was making more money in a month than I did in a year, by selling equipment to asteroid miners and the companies building the Childe starship in orbit. You had better believe I wanted details of all that for future stories! We exchanged net addresses and promised to stay in touch.

Then Rex Odom and Mark Nabor joined us, and I was gratified when they said they had some of my books, too. We got to talking about science fiction and fantasy. I mostly write the former, but some of my most popular books are set in Avalon, among elves. Not realizing it was a sore point with me, Rex asked me why I hadn't written any werewolf stories.

"Werewolves are bunk," I said. "Look, Rex, it made a certain social sense to write about monsters way back when—Frankenstein, Mr. Hyde—and the wolf is a European figure of terror back to the Brothers Grimm and beyond."

"But I prefer science fiction to fantasy. If you're talking magic, a man can turn into anything: a dragon, a seal, a whale, a winged horse. But if we're talking science, surely a man won't turn into a wolf. Wolves, bears, tigers are all Carnivora, a completely different order from the Primates. Surely if a man changed, he'd be most likely to change into the animals most closely related to him."

"Chimps?" said Steve.

"Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, men," I said, nodding. "All the surviving African apes are closely related. The genetic difference between any two species of that group is between one and two percent."

"So forget werewolves and think wereapes," Mark Nabor said. Mark had been notable for his involvement in choir, acting, and barbershop-quartet singing, and for his long, flowing, shiny blond hair. Now his hair was clipped very short. The neatly-trimmed goatee and mustache framing his mouth may have been grown the month after graduation, for all I knew, but it looked strange to me.

"But wouldn't a weregorilla or a werechimp look pretty much like a werewolf to a frightened villager?" Mark asked. "After all, when you've seen one man-sized hairy monster, you've seen them all."

"They might look the same in the moonlight," I said, "but would they act the same? Gorillas are vegetarians, and pretty shy. If someone in your village turns into a manwolf and starts killing people and livestock, you're going to catch him and kill him. Pretty soon everyone with those genes has been wiped out. But if someone turns into a gorilla and peacefully chews up his own garden, what are the odds the neighbors will even know? A curse like that could linger on for uncounted generations."

"Babe alert!" Rex said in a low voice. "Take a long look at what's coming this way."

Steve whistled. "Now I remember why going to school in the Sixties was so great!"

"Quick," Mark said. "What's her name? I can't place it, and I don't want to look like a complete idiot."

"That's Kristen Collier," Steve said. "She was in several of the same civics clubs that I was. She lived up in the rich part of town, and wanted to become a doctor."

"She did become a doctor," I confirmed as Kristen came up. "Darling, you remember Steve and Rex and Mark, don't you?"

"Hello," she smiled. "Will you guys excuse us for a little while? I'd love to catch up with you later, but David hasn't danced with me yet tonight."

The expression on my friends' faces was priceless. I'm afraid that I was feeling very smug as I walked with Kristen towards the dancing.

"What?" Kristen said; she knows me.

"Ah, love, you should have seen the sharks circling. As soon as they saw you were coming our way, the little wheels started going around. They thought they were going to have a chance at the prettiest woman here, and then you just scooped me up and walked off."

"Men! Didn't you guys even talk about your wives?"

 

The first house my family rented in San Diego was in the area called Linda Vista. It was cheap. Mom and Dad grew up during the Depression, and weren't going to spend a lot on rent until Dad had a job we could count on. The 1965-1966 school year was the only one when Owen, Matt, and I were all in junior high school at the same time. Montgomery Junior High had Owen in its senior class that year, I was a sophomore, and Matt was a freshman. Suzanne was 5, and not in school yet.

With his experience and performance reviews from the Air Force, Dad got a job at Convair, and was soon as comfortable with missiles and booster rockets as he'd been with planes. Things were more expensive in San Diego than Spokane, but no worse than they would have been in Seattle. We bought a house in East San Diego, on 42nd Street just south of El Cajon Boulevard. That changed what school districts we were in. In the 1966-1967 school year, Owen was a freshman (10th grade) at Adlai Stevenson High School, Matt was a sophomore (8th grade) at Woodrow Wilson Junior High, and I was a senior (9th grade) at Wilson.

That was a big year for me. I made a lot of new friends, some of whom I'd be seeing in high school. I made enemies, too. The San Diego Unified School District had an advanced students program for high school, but that was next year. My teachers recommended me for it, and I easily passed the tests for it, but in the meantime, every time I raised my hand in class, got an A on my homework, or otherwise did my job as a student, I earned more hate from the average and below-average students who hated school. A gang of them began laying for me after school, hitting me from behind during lunch hours, opening my briefcase when they passed me in the hall so that everything fell out, et endless cetera. They only did these things when no adult was around, and my avoiding them only made them "braver." I was afraid, not of them, but of my own temper. I inherited the Mackie temper at its worst, and I was afraid I'd kill someone if I ever let go.

Near the end of the school year, after taking more crap than any kid my age should ever have to take, frustrated and angry that no person in authority would do anything, I lost control. During gym the gang surrounded me and started whipping me with their wet towels. I turned on the nearest one, a kid named Higgins, and punched him just as hard as I could. I did my level best to smash his face in for real.

The coach showed up as we were going at it, and sent us both to the principal's office, ignoring all that had gone before. I hadn't been in the principal's office, in trouble, since first grade. He kept us waiting, and a funny thing happened.

I was sucking on a knuckle, where the skin had been torn on one of Higgins' teeth (I have the scar to this day), when Higgins started talking to me as if we were friends! He said he'd thought I was a sissy because I'd tried to avoid him and the others, and stay out of fights, but when I hit him the first time, the punch was so hard he almost blacked out. He actually apologized for picking on me, and said he'd never do it again, and we shook hands.

The principal, useless as always, suspended us both for a day. My grades were so good, and Higgins' so bad, that this made no difference except we got a day off school. But the rest of the school year, though the rest of the gang still gave me trouble, Higgins didn't.

But the most important thing that happened to me that year—indeed, one of the most important things that ever happened to me—came out of nowhere. My class was "voting" one day on a set of categories for the yearbook: Best Smile, Prettiest Eyes, Most Winning Personality, etc. I was ignoring the whole thing, reading the instructions that came with my slide rule on some of the more rarely used scales, I think. Then someone asked me if I would vote for Mary Doull for Prettiest Hair. I looked up and was blinded by a pair of blue eyes.

"Your name is Mary?" I think I said.

"No, I'm Kristen. Kristen Collier. But don't you think Mary Doull has the prettiest hair of any senior girl?"

No, I said to myself, looking at Kristen's. I had no idea who Mary Doull was. "All right," I said out loud, and reached for the form I'd been ignoring. I'd planned to turn it in blank, and didn't even know what the categories were. "I'm David Mackie," I told her.

"I know," she said.

15-year-old kids didn't go on dates in 1967. But Kristen was weak on math. So for the rest of that year, and all through high school, we'd meet in the library before or after classes and I'd help her with her homework. I was also answering questions from others and helping anyone else who asked, but the reason I was sitting there to be asked was the hope of seeing Kristen. Looking back, I think a couple of girls had crushes on me and were asking for help they didn't really need. But from the moment I first saw her, Kristen was the center of my world. Even when I had a bad seizure in 1967, my ninth, my only concern was whether Kristen would think I was a freak or a cripple.

Instead I found my school books next to my bed one of the times I woke up, short notes from my teachers, and a get-well card signed by the members of the Science Club. Kristen had gone around to my classes and collected it all. No one had ever done that for me before, not even my Mom.

 

Traditionally everyone hates high school except the jocks and the cheerleaders. Well, I was neither of those, and I despised "pep rallies" and "school spirit" events. But I loved high school.

I treated high school as if I were already in college. I was in the honors program, and I had two goals: to take the toughest courses I could, and to get straight A's. Except for gym, I succeeded. In my three years at Stevenson I took second-year, third-year, and fourth-year Latin, and conversational modern Latin. I took every science course they offered and all the math courses. Any empty spaces got filled with history classes and art classes, in that order.

I had no more trouble with bullies. All my classes were in the advanced track; I never saw them, and they never saw me. I suppose they were still there, but you couldn't prove it by me.

In classes I acted as a teacher's aide, my specialty being to see when a teacher's answer didn't fit a student's questions, and explaining what the student was asking so that the teacher could answer to the point. Before and after school I was answering questions and helping people with their homework in the library.

I attended every meeting of the Latin, Science, and Chess clubs, entered the Science Fair every year, and wrote my first poems and short stories good enough not to throw away immediately. In the summer of 1968 I attended a special class held by the San Diego Aerospace Museum every year, and met other kids in the advanced program from all over the city. We formed a club and met once a month for a couple of years after that. Two of the guys built their own computer, a home-made scaled-down mainframe. It was the first computer I ever saw that someone built themselves, the first one I ever saw that didn't need an air-conditioned room to run, and the first I ever saw that was American rather than German.

In 1967 new drugs began to come out for controlling seizures, and I started taking Dilantin (phenytoin) three times a day, instead of phenobarbitol. On Christmas Day 1969 it had been over two years since my last seizure, and I dared to hope there would be no more.

Kristen and I started dating. We weren't "going steady" by any means; I was too shy, or to call its by its right name, too damned scared of how strongly I felt about her. Also, there were lots of other guys hanging around her all the time, who were a lot more confident about asking her out. One in particular, John Madking, made me crazy jealous.

Still, Kristen and I went to the movies a few times, dropped off and picked up either by her mother or by mine; high-school students didn't have cars of their own, the gasoline burners of the day were expensive.  We exchanged Valentine and Christmas gifts, and we even kissed, very tentatively, a few times. The future looked bright.

 

The 1968-1969 school year was memorable because it was the only year all three Mackie boys were in high school at the same time: Owen a senior, me in 11th grade, Matt in 10th (Suzanne was in third grade). When the next year began, Matt was in 11th grade, I was a senior, and Owen had decided to follow in Dad's footsteps; he'd joined the Air Force. The first moon landing was in 1969; when the U.N. began building a permanent base, Owen wanted to be part of the U.S. detachment.

My senior year was a more intense version of the previous two. I had two college classes, physics and calculus, taught by teachers from San Diego City College. I had letters and brochures from colleges all over the planet, but the real question was, did I want to go to CalTech or M.I.T.? Kristen and I danced around each other, then John Madking cut in; he and Kristen started going steady, which would have driven me nuts if I'd allowed myself to think about it. Astrophysics, computers (the integrated circuit chip was announced in 1967), and genetics were all looking interesting enough to make a career of; and I was scribbling verse and stories every free moment.

In February students from all over San Diego picked countries to represent in an annual role-playing exercise called the Model U.N., held at San Diego State on Valentines Day. The delegation from Chad that year was me, my brother Matt, Kristen and a couple of other girls from the Stevenson Science Club, and Rick, Bill, and Mark from our aerospace club.

For some reason I got really excited about the whole thing. Role-playing was a new thing, and I'd never been much interested in politics. But I was too keyed up to sleep the night before, and skipped breakfast because anticipation had my stomach in knots. Then I had a very successful morning, using oratory powers I'd never been aware of to break up resistance and get bills passed. So I was riding high. At lunch time, instead of eating, I was catching up on things with the rest of my delegation, and talking with other delegates from other countries.

No sleep, no breakfast, no lunch. I became aware that I was having trouble understanding what this other student was saying. I asked him to repeat. "Oh," I said, and started to reply. Wait, what had I been saying? Then I got really dizzy, so I leaned against a table. I asked him again what he'd said —and then I was gone.

The next thing I remember, I was sitting in a hospital emergency room, with my mom and a cop. Mom kept glaring at the cop. She asked me how I felt. "Thirsty," I said muzzily, and she gave me water in a paper cup. "My elbow hurts," I complained. Then I was gone again.

The next time I was aware, I was lying on the couch in the living room, covered with a blanket. Mom came in and said, "Are you awake?"

"I'm awake," I said. "What happened?"

"You had a seizure," Mom said. "The people at State called an ambulance, but before it got there, a cop showed up, decided you were having an LSD flashback, and tried to hold you down."

"LSD?" I said. "I don't do drugs!"

"That's what everyone told him," Mom said, "but he knew better, even when the ambulance got there. How's your shoulder?"

I shifted, and winced. "Hurts," I admitted.

"He dislocated it," Mom said. "Instead of holding your head and keeping you from swallowing your tongue, he tried to pin you down. Between the two of you, you popped it right out of the joint."

"God," I said. "How long has it been?"

"A few days," Mom said. "You have a visitor, if you feel well enough to see her."

Her? "Sure," I said.

Mom kissed me on the forehead and left the room. Kristen came in, walked around a couple of my sister's Barbie dolls on the floor, and came over to the couch. "Hi," she said.

"Hi," I said. "Sorry about the stink. My folks just won't quit smoking." The air in our house was always blue with smoke.

"What can you do?" she said, shrugging.

"Have a seat," I said. I scrooched over against the back of the couch so there was room in front. She smiled, and sat, a bit gingerly; between the couch being in the living-room smoke all the time, and my own sick body, it was pretty ripe in those parts. But she did sit, and then she picked up my hand and held it while we talked a little bit. I'd lost Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday completely, and it was after school hours on Wednesday. She passed on good wishes from classmates and teachers, talked about a movie she'd seen; just small talk, but very precious to me. When she got up to leave, I said, "Kristen."

"Yes," she said, looking down at me.

"I love you," I told her.

"I know," she said, and left.

Because of the shoulder dislocation during my tenth seizure, I was excused from gym the rest of the year. I had to wear my left arm in a sling until the end of March. The doctors warned that the shoulder might end up weak, with a tendency to dislocate easily. Just the opposite happened; it healed tighter than it had been originally, and I never regained the full range of motion I'd had with it.


My master rode to battle today
Against his foe, a brutal man
Whose bitter jeers at my master's worth
And louder scoffs at my master's honor
Will need much blood to wash away.
So mounted he his coal-black steed,
Then sheathed his sword hard by his hand;
Last took from me, his page, his shield.

My master's shield is sturdy oak,
Its rand is sheathed in forgéd iron.
With iron too its front is faced.
Few the men could lift it even,
Fewer still could bear it briskly.
Sure as the helm that wards his wits,
Sure as the mail that bars his body,
My master's shield has long him served.

There by the oak the lightning blasted
They traded dints the long day through,
Sword strokes given, mace blows taken,
No lesser men would live to rue.
My master's foe is a hardy man,
As marked for might as feared for fury.
The light gave out before their strength,
And both withdrew to wait the morning.

When from my master's hand I took
His battered shield, I shouted loud.
Plain in the dents upon its face
I saw the visage of his foe.
Each thund'rous stroke a mark had made,
Each mighty smash had hammered hollows;
And these chance marks and hollows show
The scowling mask of my lord's cruel foe!

"Make it ready," he bid me then,
"Tomorrow will see this matter done."
So do I work till late at night,
Pounding his shield smooth again.
After the clash I will look once more,
And need no words to know the end:
If I have no face to hammer out,
His foe is dead beyond a doubt.


—"The Shield" from
The Collected Poems of David Mackie,
Green Sky Press, Berkeley, California, 1992 A.D.

Sunday, June 18, 1995 A.D.
(a.d. 14 Kalendas Iulias, 2748 A.U.C.)
San Diego, California

The morning after our high-school reunion, Kristen and I awoke in our tower room in the beautiful and elegant (and pricey!) Hotel Del Coronado, and just stayed in bed for a while, free for once from her medical routine and my deadlines. Presently we had need of the toilet and the shower, then I ordered breakfast while my dear brushed out her hair.

As we ate we scrolled through the San Diego newsmags on our omnicoms. Nothing really commanded our attention. Comic-Con wasn't for a month yet, and we'd both been to the Zoo and all the museums many times.

So we put the room-service cart in the foyer, locked the room with my omnicom, and made sure that the copy of the software on Kristen's was also functional. Then we had a nice walk along the beach. Sailboats, harbor-excursion boats, and a big grey mountain of Navy steel drifted on the water, with the city for a backdrop. A gentle breeze off the ocean was letting sea gulls hover in place, while a couple of pelicans sat on some disused pilings, looking alien and ungainly, no doubt thinking deep gronky thoughts.

We talked about nothing of any great importance, except for the smiles that went with the words. I held her hand for a while, then let go of it so that I could put my arm around her shoulder. In this fashion we returned to our room, where housekeeping had done its work, and returned to bed for a little while. Afterwards, as Kristen dozed a bit and I admired the sweet curve of her bare back, for some reason I remembered that the movies, in the old days, signalled that a couple had just had sex by showing them smoking in bed.

Ugh.

 

The first Surgeon General's report on smoking and lung cancer came out in 1964. Reports confirming the first and adding evidence for other diseases caused by smoking followed in 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968. In 1968 Congress noted that people were still smoking, though the number of smokers had fallen from an estimated 55% of the population to 42%. Furthermore, the tobacco companies were still denying the medical evidence, and advertising more than ever.

Accordingly, Congress began holding hearings on the tobacco problem. The Social-Democrats, the Socialists, the brand-new Green Party, and most of the independents wanted to fund a federal anti-smoking campaign, to be paid for by increased cigarette taxes and fines on the tobacco industry. But they couldn't agree on how much to spend, how harshly to treat the tobacco barons, and whether to outlaw smoking entirely. This enabled the Republicans, with the help of the Libertarians, to prevent anything from being done at all.

Just about everyone was disgusted at this outcome, but someone, never identified, decided to do something about it. We didn't have anywhere near a complete human genome in 1968, but apparently we had enough to create the world's first artificial disease.

Everyone carries the cold germ all the time. The genetically-altered rhinovirus later dubbed the Green Cold (because of a Republican charge that the Green Party was behind it) appeared in late April of 1970. Hundreds of millions of people died around the world; most smokers, but also most people with weak lungs or chronic respiratory conditions. The survivors were genetically altered by the disease so that nicotine (and heroin, which activates the same pattern of brain receptors) was no longer addictive and gave no pleasure.

The whole world was in shock. Advanced countries like the U.S. and most of Europe had taken up smoking in a big way during the War, and since then Russia, China, and the freed countries of Asia had followed suit, to be "modern" and "Western." Then, from 1964 to 1970 the tobacco companies had aggressively promoted smoking everywhere to make up for the domestic sales lost to the Surgeon General's annual reports.

1970 was like one of those mass extinctions you find in the fossil record. Families were wiped out, the entertainment industry and the military in particular perished wholesale, governments fell, towns were depopulated. The effect of losing so many presidents, kings, governors, congressmen, members of parliaments, TV and movie actors, and popular singers of every kind, was far out of proportion to the actual numbers—and the numbers were horrific. The population of the world was 3.7 billion in 1970. The 600 million people who died was 16 percent of that, about one person in every six. One out of every six people you'd ever heard of, one out of every six people you knew, one out of every six people you were related to…

By June, around the time of my high-school graduation, the Green Cold had run its course. But I didn't go to my graduation, or my senior prom. Although I didn't smoke myself— very few teenagers did!—I had grown up with two parents who smoked constantly. They were chain smokers, a term which meant each cigarette was lit from the butt of the one before. Every breath we drew in, at home, was full of tobacco smoke.

Most of the family took ill, but I was in an oxygen tent in a military hospital throughout May and June. Never mind missing my graduation and prom; it was touch and go whether I would live.

My Mom died on May 10, 1970, and Dad died on June 3. They were 44 and 48, respectively. Kristen came to their funeral and held my hand through it.

 

My parents' death was the end of our family. Owen was in the Air Force, and I went to San Diego State to save money and get well, with the vague idea of going to CalTech later on (it never happened). Matt and Suzanne were too young to live without some kind of parent, so Dad's family whisked them off to central California and began trying to make them Republicans and Protestants, despite promising otherwise.

I tried to stay in touch with my family, but we were becoming strangers to each other. Owen was busy with his duties at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, and never wrote or called. When he did call we ended up arguing. His way of dealing with our folks' deaths was to throw away his Catholic upbringing and become a "born-again" Protestant, a "Jesus freak" in the language of the times. I'd always been as good a student of theology as of everything else; but how do you reason with someone who's decided his gut feelings trump centuries of learning and study and doctrine?

My little brother Matt was also slipping away. He'd been accepted into the family of Dad's big sister, but Aunt Helen seemed to expect him to be her younger brother instead of her nephew. Maybe it was a reaction to the death of her husband, but she scolded him whenever he displayed "Papist" or "Socialist" ideas. Matt didn't write or call often, but when he did, he seemed to be blaming me for his situation.

Telephone calls to destinations more than a certain number of miles away were called "long distance" and cost a lot per minute. I wrote letters to my brothers (on actual paper, using a "typewriter", a mechanical keyboard with no memory) and to Suzanne, but budgeted my telephone money to call my 9-year-old sister. She was desperately unhappy—heartbroken about Mom and Dad, missing her big brothers terribly, homesick for San Diego, and mad and hurt about the way her foster family was trying to change her religion and her politics, such as they were at that age. Owen got leave for Christmas and visited Suzanne and Matt, but it wasn't a success. He argued religion with his brother and sister, and religion and politics with the foster families.

There was nothing I could do. My health was still shaky; on too many mornings it felt like I was all broken up inside. Health aside, my Mom had always been my best friend. I'd hear something or see something I wanted to share with her, remember all over again that I couldn't, and there was that broken feeling again.

Kristen lost none of her immediate family, but no one was entirely unaffected. John Madking, who lost both parents, turned on her savagely when she tried to help. So, on the days I felt able to climb out of bed and attend my meager selection of classes (I was only taking Differential Equations, Introduction to Computers, Creative Writing, and Archery that semester) Kristen and I would sit in the cafeteria or one of the lounges and talk, or just walk around the campus holding hands. We weren't dating, but we were a comfort to each other.

 

"Everyone will be so sorry they missed you!" Mistress Anna said. "If only your reunion had been any weekend this month but this one, or June Crown had been in Calafia this year!"

Mistress Anna was a 16-year-old redhead with a full complement of freckles, and just a little baby fat. The green gown she wore suited her. The medallions around her neck were the Order of the Laurel, for mastery of the arts, and the Order of the Golden Trident, the Calafian service award. She was making me feel old, because she was the daughter of two people I'd never heard of, who'd both joined the Barony since my day.

"Don't distress yourself, my lady," I said. "My lady wife and I didn't expect any kind of tourney; we were just driving by and saw the tents. I'm one of the guests of honor at Comic-Con this year, so I'll see all my old friends then."

"And make new ones," Kristen smiled.

"My lords and ladies!" cried the herald on the field. He wore the green cape with crossed gold trumpets of a Herald over his medieval costume, rather than the baldric of a Cornet or the tabard of a Pursuivant, and carried a green staff with gold bands. "Alfgar the Wombat challenges Alois of the Murky Wood, because the sky is blue!"

"Alfgar the wombat?" said Kristen, shaking her head.

Indeed the sky was a shining perfect blue. May and June were usually overcast in San Diego, a condition called "May Gray" and "June Gloom". But today had been stolen from July. The beaming sun shone unopposed over Morley Field, reflecting off the eight or ten medieval tents that had drawn us to the fighting practice.

 

By the second semester of my freshman year of college I was beginning to feel and act like my old self. My health was back, my depression no longer crippling, and my course load was back to my high-school standards. My National Merit scholarship, my share of my folks' money, and the settlement from the City for my dislocated shoulder, didn't make me rich. But I didn't need to get a job; I could study full time. That was rich enough for me.

In February 1971, about a week before my birthday, and almost exactly a year since my last seizure, I left Montezuma Hall with the idea of catching Kristen as she got out of her chemistry class and asking her to lunch.

There were lots of open lawn areas at San Diego State in those days, before they filled them all with buildings. One such separated the Campus Center from the Bookstore, and the brand-new Library from the Math building. As I came down the steps of the Campus Center, I saw half a dozen student-aged people setting up a white tent, under the direction of an older man in a wheelchair.

The Medieval Recreation Society had been founded in 1957 and died away by 1965 or so. Another group of people started the Society for Creative Anachronism, independently, in 1967, and a lot of the old MRS gang joined up. By 1971 there were groups in New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Phoenix besides the original Bay-Area groups, but southern California was just getting the notion. I took a flyer from one of the girls in costume who were handing them out, and sat down on the grass to see what would happen.

A student in a green plaid kilt, with a prominent mustache on a merry face, told the assembled onlookers that this was a demonstration of the art of fighting with sword and shield by the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group that recreated the Middle Ages. What followed looked very real. It was evidently not choreographed, anyway. One man in a suit of mail and black plate fought another whose mail was covered by a green tabard with an oak leaf on it. Then another mailed figure fought a fourth with bronze Greek armor over red skirt and shirt, a bronze helmet with a horsehair plume on top, a big bronze shield with a black serpent on it, and a long red cape. Then the first guy, in the black armor, fought the Greek. Then the guy in the plain mail fought the guy with the oak leaf. Then they had a four-way fight, with the combatants advancing from the four corners to the center of the field, every man for himself.

The ladies and the man in the wheelchair watched the whole thing from the tent, while the Irishman in the kilt announced each fight. Then some trouble-maker decided things were going too smoothly.

We were halfway through the noon hour, and the edges of the lawn were packed solid with people sitting and standing to watch the fighting. Suddenly, in a pause between fights, a voice challenged the master of ceremonies: "Why aren't you fighting?"

It was a reasonable question, from one perspective. There were only four men fighting, and we'd been through every combination of two at a time. On the other hand, someone had to announce things, and the Irishman was good at it. But the only other man there who wasn't fighting was in a wheelchair.

Neal, the Irishman, could have said he was needed to announce the fights; that he chose not to fight; that he had a cold; or even, that no one had to fight just because he was a man. At this point women weren't allowed to fight in the SCA, but men had never been required to.

Instead, after peering fruitlessly in the direction of the voice (he was nearsighted, and not wearing his glasses), Neal got on his high horse. "I don't have to answer that question!" he snapped, and turned his back with a flourish of his kilt.

The trouble-maker, a short, skinny student with glasses and a scruffy beard, wasn't having any of that. He began chanting "Coward! Coward! Coward!" and the crowd followed his lead. Within moments the whole perimeter of the field was calling "Coward! Coward! Coward!" in unison. Flushed red, the Irishman turned and snarled, "I'll fight any one of you!"

That stopped some of the chanting, and started some laughter. The trouble-maker sat mute. I was debating saying to him, "Well? What are you waiting for?" when something else happened.

In one corner of the crowd, on my right beyond the rabble rouser, another student was sitting, enjoying the show hugely. As he leaned forward, laughing and holding his stomach, some others behind him were whispering back and forth, pointing to him, and nodding. Three or four pairs of hands suddenly shoved him forward. He rolled over onto the field, saw where he was, and leapt to his feet, proclaiming, "I accept the challenge!"

So the fighters lent him one of their rattan tourney swords, one of their round shields, and a helmet made from a freon can, a helmet being the only armor required in those days. One of the ladies announced that Neal Guildenthistle challenged Carillo the Freak, the name that the newcomer, drama student Rene Carillo, chose for the occasion.

Then Rene swarmed all over Neal, and in short order beat him. "That was pretty good," one of the other fighters said. "Want to go again?"

"Oh yeah!" said Rene. "Wow! Who do I fight?"

"Him," said Curtis, pointing.

Presently, then, it was announced that Lysander of Sparta challenged Carillo the Freak. Lysander stood there in his beautiful suit of Greek armor, crouched behind his big round shield, his short sword with the padded tip at the ready. Carillo charged, swinging wildly.

Wham! The short sword slammed into the freon-can helmet. As Carillo fell, the lightning-quick Spartan hit him twice more. And then once more, on top of the helmet, when it looked like he might be getting up.

Mistress Anna clapped her hands. "Three times on the way down, and once when they bounce!" she quoted.

"Right," I said. "That's where that custom comes from. Does Calafia still follow it?"

"Oh yes," said Sir Thomas. He was the son of the original Baron of Calafia, the man in the wheelchair in my story. Gene therapy had repaired Mezentius' spine, enabling him to stand, then walk, then lead a full active life: Count Sir Mezentius had trained his son to fight.

"One thing I wonder, though," Sir Thomas said. "Who was the trouble-maker?"

"I can't answer that without asking his permission," I said. "You know him, though. He became a fighter himself, and I know he's been King at least once."

 

I was never more than a marginal member of the SCA, or the SGU (The Society of the Golden Unicorn) which later replaced it. For one thing, my seizure at the Model U.N. had given me a distaste for role-playing. For another, Kristen didn't see much point in it. Kristen and I were also very busy, her with her pre-med classes and student government, me with my usual heavy load of science and math classes. I was trying to decide what my field would be by the total immersion method: take courses in everything, and see what was most interesting.

But I did pick an SCA name, David Scholarius, though I never made up a persona to go with it, and I did go to an occasional tournament, learn some SCA dances, and add recorder playing to my musical repertoire. I made some good friends, too: Forrest Lowe and his brother Tony; David Samson; and the Suominens, who'd been in MRS. Tina and Maddy Suominen were the only women I ever met who were as beautiful as Kristen, and Tina's ten-year-old daughter, Aino, looked like she might be another when she grew up.

My friendship with the Calafian crowd led one of them, David Samson, to ask if I wanted to split the space rent on the trailer he lived in, just off campus. He was between roommates, and his budget was hurting. I jumped at the chance. Half of Dave's trailer was actually less space than my dorm room, but it wasn't lonely. Dave Samson and Forrest Lowe felt like long-lost older brothers, and I was missing my family.

Moving into Dave's trailer was a key part of me becoming a writer, rather than a physicist, an astronomer, a geneticist, or a computer programmer. Dave had books in his trailer that I'd never read. My four years of classical Latin had me well up on classical history, but Dave had books on late Roman history, Arthurian Britain, and the Byzantine Empire. He introduced me to the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer, and the works of C. S. Forester. He showed me the bound collections of Analog in the campus library. I'd read Galaxy, Fantastic, Amazing, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for years. Astounding, later renamed Analog, had eluded me. It was incredible how much good science fiction I'd been missing, and how much of what I'd read in books had originally appeared in Astounding.

You could say I became a writer in my sleep. All the poetry and fiction I'd written over the years, then shoved into boxes or threw away, had prepared me. Now my sleeping mind combined my years of Latin, fiction and non-fiction about the historical Arthur, Mallory's Morte D'Arthur, modern historical fiction set in the Middle Ages, Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword, the SCA, me and Kristen, my parents' deaths…

I began having serial dreams about Arthur being taken from Britain to Avalon after the last battle with Mordred, and recruited to lead the fight against the pagan elves who were out to exterminate the civilized ones. The dreams began each night where they'd left off the night before, and they were in Latin, as Dave could testify because I was talking in my sleep. Out of those dreams came Arthur's Vow, In the Mountain's Shadow, The Tulànus, Battle of the Kings, and The Road of Wolves, which made my name as a writer.

It was April when I moved into Dave's trailer, and the Arthur dreams were still filling my nights in June, when I learned that I wasn't an epileptic, after all.

 

On the evening of the day after Kristen and I attended our high-school reunion, my family had a reunion of its own. I hadn't seen much of them since our parents died. Owen had come up one summer when he had leave, and Matt had stopped by one evening when he and his first wife were visiting his foster-family. Suzanne's husband Paul was a tenured professor of political science, so they took us out to dinner, or vice versa, whenever a conference or symposium brought them to our neck of the woods.

But the whole family hadn't been in the same place, at the same time, since 1970. So when Suzanne learned that I'd be in San Diego for my high-school reunion on the same weekend that Paul was speaking at the San Diego Grand, she'd reserved a room at a fancy restaurant she liked in La Jolla, and got everyone to agree to come.

It was a disaster.

I'd been dreading the Stevenson reunion; after all, I hadn't seen any of my classmates since graduation, and who knew how they'd changed? But everyone had been glad to see me, and many of them said nice things about my writing. The family thing seemed nothing to worry about. They were my brothers, weren't they? And I'd seen them a few times over the years.

I can't give you a blow-by-blow. If I could, you'd skip over it, because it'd be unbearable. I wasn't taking notes anyway. By the time I realized this wasn't the simple family dinner I'd expected, the inquisition was well under way. On one side was me, and Kristen because she was my wife. On the other side was Owen and his new wife Pattie, and Matt and his fiancée Mindi, soon to be his second wife. Suzanne and Paul they were leaving alone, until Suzanne asked what was going on. Then she joined me as a defendant.

I swear I have no idea what brought it all on. I wasn't impressed by Pattie or Mindi, who seemed very small-minded and conventional, and very Protestant and right-wing. But I'm sure I was polite to them, even when they kept squelching or deriding any subject I tried to talk about. Kristen, and for that matter Suzanne, would've let me know if I hadn't been.

Maybe the problem was the money. All four of us kids had received an equal share of Mom and Dad's insurance money, social-security money, and Dad's Air-Force and Convair pensions. But Owen and Matt had wanted me to split the police-department settlement with them, that I got because the cop held me down and dislocated my shoulder, and then interfered with proper medical treatment for my seizure. Their foster-folks had argued, in court, that since the money was paid to Mom and Dad, rather than to me, it should have been split four ways. The judge had agreed with my lawyer that the harm had been done to me alone, so the money was mine alone, even if my parents had been holding it for me as a minor.

I thought Owen and Matt had gotten over that a long time ago. I guess not. Or maybe they were showing off, in a weird sort of way, to their new wife and wife-to-be: "Look, I can stand up to anybody, even my brother the science-fiction writer."

I just don't know. I remember when the three of us were a united band against the world, however much we squabbled among ourselves; and anyone who even looked mean at Suzanne had better run for cover, because her brothers would make him sorry. But somehow time and separation had turned them into this middle-aged Air Force E-9, and this balding manager for a chain of hardware stores in the Western U.S., who were shouting at me.

"Look, guys," I tried again. I pushed my half-eaten meal away from me; my stomach was in knots. "What's the problem here?"

Gabble gabble gabble gabble.

"What? I'm sorry, I can't—" I shook my head. "What did you say?"

Gibber gibber gibber gibber.

Through the rising dizziness and the shrinking edges of my vision came recognition. It had been a long time since I'd been surprised like this.

"Kristen," I said desperately.

"—hear me? David! Can you hear me?"

I straightened up. I'd been bent over with stomach cramps, I realized. Somehow we were outside in the parking lot, standing by our rented car. No one else was there. I had no idea how we'd gotten there, or how much time had passed.

"Hotel," I gasped, as I half-fell, half-crawled into the car. I could feel the change coming on, a sensation like rings of water pulsing down through my body. "Quick, before—"

"Shh," Kristen said. More time had passed me by. The windows were opaque and the car was driving itself. She pulled me off the back seat onto the floor, and held my head. "It's all right, I've got you," said my love.

And then I was gone again.

 

I woke up in our hotel bed, with Kristen sitting at the bed side. I ached from head to foot, I was so exhausted I didn't want to move, and so hungry I could eat two horses.

"How do you feel, honey?" Kristen asked me.

"Strange," I replied, my voice an octave higher than usual. Strange was an understatement. My kinesthetic sense, the sense that tells us where our limbs are even when our eyes are closed, was going crazy. I knew it would fade in time, but when I wake up after the change it's the first thing I notice. My new breasts felt like two water balloons sitting on my chest. My penis was gone; actually, it had changed into a clitoris and was still there, surrounded by folds of skin, but it felt completely different. My skin felt different, too, because the writer's paunch had been redistributed all over my body to provide the layer of fat under the skin that makes a woman look and feel the way she does.

My other senses were also sharpened, and this would last until I changed back. My hearing was better, my taste more sensitive, and my sense of smell was telling me I badly needed a bath. "Help me up, darling, I stink."

"Well, of course you do," said my doctor wife. "Besides all the sweat of the change, your body has flushed itself of testosterone, and replaced it with female hormones. Whoops, look out." My hips were wider, and my center of balance different; I'd almost fallen down.

Having your lover wash you is one of the best kinds of sex there is, especially when you're so weak you can't wash yourself. I watched the shower spray wash the hairs of my male beard and mustache down the drain. Right now I felt like a male stuck in a female body, but I knew that would pass. Give me a few weeks as a female, and my self-image and viewpoint would change. Even now I looked fully female, except that my hair hadn't grown longer. But who says women have to have long hair? I even had ovaries (that's what my testicles become), but they had no eggs in them. So I was fully female, but barren. No loss, as far as I was concerned.

Speaking of things going down the drain, "I hope you remembered to bring tampons, love." The fact that I was always having my period when I changed was the reason I called my transformation, with double meaning, my Curse.

As for sex, as a male I'm only interested in females. But females, I find (and many full-time females have agreed with this), are less interested in bodies than in personalities. As a female, I love whom I loved as a male, and it doesn't distress me. Kristen loves me, not just my male body, and so I am content. What could have been a great tragedy isn't even an issue.


We are signals in the spectrum,
We are waves upon the sea:
The signal flies, the waters flow,
But the pattern in them is me.
The hand that holds my hand today
Is not the flesh it was before.
The lips that kiss are different flesh,
But still the lips that I adore.

Behind those eyes that smile at me
Resides a boundless mystery:
How do you know that you love me,
And how do you share my history?
When my mind is seizured free,
And I drift in a selfless now,
My hand still loves to hold your hand,
Though joy remembers not who, nor how.

Male or female, young or old,
I do not know, nor know to care,
But hold you in unmemoried bliss;
Of you, though not of self, aware.
Unremembered my meeting you,
Unforeseen my losing you:
That is love in its purest form,
Perfected through and through.

Ákařa dances in the Nameless Land,
Where no man goes, and no voice speaks.
What stars shine down upon that land,
What suns gleam from its peaks?
Where is the gate to take me there,
How and when must I strive?
Whose are the feet that made the path—
And what will I say when I arrive?

One step forward, a hundred steps back,
Every day we lose it all.
The daily things we never write down
Tomorrow cannot recall.
So write, my soul, the lines of fire
That cry out in the nights!
Unexpressed is unremembered:
Unknown love no one requites.


—"Selfless" from
The Collected Poems of David Mackie,
Green Sky Press, Berkeley, California, 1992 A.D.

Monday, June 19, 1995 A.D.
(a.d. 13 Kalendas Iulias, 2748 A.U.C.)
San Diego, California

Dawn is my favorite time of day, perhaps because I see it so rarely. I love the cool blues as the sun arises, and the way they change, moment by moment, from east to west. I love the wind of dawn that kisses my cheek at that instant when the east is fully daylit, and the west is fully dark. Clouds above the mountains herald the sun in brillant white, with none of the gaudy pinks of the blowsy sunset. Clouds above the sea are unlit fortresses, defending the stars with their blackness.

Kristen and I sat in the terminal and waited for our flight. I hadn't changed back yet, and probably wouldn't for at least a week. The two women, one tall with long blonde hair, one short with short brown hair, who sat holding hands, attracted some curious looks; but no one said anything. San Diego isn't homophobic the way it was in 1970; we've made a lot of progress in twenty-five years.

No one was sitting nearby. "Rats," I said to Kristen. "I missed another chance to propose."

She smiled, and squeezed my hand. "Yes," she said softly.

 

The first time I changed was a complete surprise. Thanks to the circumstances of my mother's birth, I had no idea such a thing could happen, let alone that it could happen to me. On top of that, I hadn't even been expecting a seizure. I went to bed, in the trailer that Dave Samson and I shared, without an aura.

The room was dark when I woke up, though the heat argued it was late in the day. "Unggh," I said, and sat up. I felt very strange.

"It's alive!" Dave said from the hall door. "And how are we feeling?"

"Like I've slept for a year," I grumbled. "Phew! And I smell like it, too!"

"I hung a bathrobe on the bathroom door," Dave said. "I'll be in the living room."

That puzzled me, since a towel around the waist had been enough before. But I needed a shower in the worst way, and my bladder was full. I grabbed a towel out of the towel drawer of my captain's bed and walked to the bathroom in my underwear. The order of rooms in the trailer, from back to front, was: my bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the living room, which was also Dave's bedroom. There were sliding wooden doors between my room and the bathroom, and between the bathroom and the kitchen area; Dave had shut them both.

But I needed to piss too much to stop and wonder at my roommate's odd behavior. I peeled my underpants off my body and dropped them in a corner with a sodden plap. "Gah, what a stench," I muttered, and stepped up to the toilet.

I'm sure my shriek was heard all over the trailer court.

 

"How do you feel?" Kristen asked, sitting on the couch next to me, and holding my hands. "Do you feel different? I mean, you look a little different, but not too much."

We were in the front room of the trailer. Dave had called Kristen for me while I cleaned up and put on clean clothes, then he fled the scene. Truth to tell, I was glad to see him go, for a while. The way he was acting made me feel even more like a freak.

"Odd, but natural," I said. I didn't let go of her hands. "At first I felt like a man who'd been shoved into a woman's body, but I'm adjusting. I don't feel sick, or deformed, or mutilated. I guess, given enough time, it'll feel right to be female, like it felt right to be male."

"The hormones rule," Kristen said.

"Yes," I said. "Everything smells different. Is that female, or just me changing?"

"How would I know?" she said reasonably. "Different how?"

"Stronger," I said. "But things that haven't changed don't smell the same." I leaned over and sniffed her neck. "Hmmm… You smell different, for one thing."

"David!" Kristen half-shrieked, half-laughed, freeing one of her hands to push me back. "You can't just go around smelling people!"

"OK," I said. "But I wanted to see… Ever since you got here today, there's been this scent… I wanted to see if it were you; and it is."

"What kind of scent?" Kristen said.

"Oh, I don't know," I said. "How do you describe a smell? Kind of like bread baking; kind of like vanilla; kind of like a rose; none of those, but like all of those."

"I'm not wearing any perfume!" Kristen protested.

"I know," I said.

"And it's not just smell," I went on. "My glasses aren't right, either. I'm still astigmatic, but the nearsightedness in one eye, and the farsightedness in the other, have corrected themselves. I actually see a lot better without my glasses now."

"Why did the one fix itself, and not the other?" Kristen wondered.

"I don't know," I told her.

"What are you going to do?" Kristen asked.

I shrugged. "What can I do? Adjust, and see what happens. Thank God it's summer and I don't have classes. If I change back, OK. If I don't, eventually I'll have to change my name… and other things. For starters, can I ask a huge, huge favor?"

"Probably," Kristen said cautiously. "What?"

"I seem to be having my period," I mumbled. "Would you show me how to use a tampon?"

A month passed. Kristen showed me what it was like to be female, and gave me the courage to go out in public. It was a lot easier to go to Mission Valley, whether to buy underwear or just to have lunch, with my girlfriend along—and you can read that "girlfriend" in either sense of the word. Kristen isn't a lesbian, but my own preferences hadn't changed. Are you a lesbian if you're born and raised a heterosexual male, then your body changes to female and you're still only interested in women?

I was still living in the trailer with David, and he was being a perfect gentleman. Only, it felt odd that he should be a gentleman towards me. We talked about it a few times. I told him that if I were interested in guys, he'd be first on my list—but I wasn't. Kristen was still my whole world.

A second month went by, and I cried a lot at night. It would be an exaggeration to say I considered suicide, but I did wonder, on the odd days as it were, if I could live my whole life this way. (On the even days it seemed almost as if I'd been female forever.)

By the third month my hair had grown out to a short bob, my skin was fully padded with a female layer of fat, and my breasts felt natural. They weren't very big, but it no longer felt like someone had superglued two water balloons to my chest.

"You're shaking!" Kristen said, putting her arms around me in the food court. "What is it? What happened?"

"S-S-Some guy," I said, full of rage and hysteria.

"What?"

"H-He asked me for a date!" I said.

"What did you say?" Kristen asked.

"I didn't say anything! I was too busy trying to decide whether I should hit him or not!"

"Well, girlfriend," Kristen said, "I guess you'd better hurry up and pick a new name."

Maybe it was coincidence that I had a seizure that evening, my twelfth, or maybe it was the stress of the last few months. Maybe it was just time for me to change back. Dave and I were in the living room of the trailer. He was making mail, bending the rings around each other with a pair of pliers in each hand, and I was scribbling in a notebook, working on what would become the first draft of Arthur's Vow. We were talking about this and that (it didn't interfere with the kind of writing I was doing), and as always there was a record on the stereo, either Kismet or the original Borodin music.

"Dave," I said suddenly, "turn up the music, it's fading."

Gibber gibber gabble?

"Oh," I said, trying to get up. My knees had turned to water.

"I think…" I said, standing up, and then I fell. The last thing I saw was Dave dropping the mail on the floor and coming over to me.

 

I woke up tired and sore from the usual violent exercise of a seizure, and of course sweaty. I took inventory. I didn't seem to have broken or banged anything—Oh my God! I was a man again! My penis was back, and my boobs were gone.

"You're awake," Kristen said, and turned on the light. The sight of her in the dim overhead was like the sun rising after a storm.

"Every time I need you, there you are," I said.

"Where else would I be?" she said, sitting down on a chair next to the bed.

"I couldn't have gotten through the summer without you," I said, taking her hand.

"Oh, so now you don't need me anymore?"

"I'll always need you," I said. "Excuse me for saying this on my back, but — Kristen, will you marry me?"

She looked down at our hands. "You haven't said you love me, David."

"I've loved you since the moment I first saw you, back in junior high," I said. "I loved you as a boy, I loved you as a woman, and I'll love you forever, sick or well, man or woman, rich or poor."

"Well, then," she said, and leaned over and kissed me.

"So, will you marry me?" I asked again, when my mouth was free.

Still holding me, she put her forehead against mine. "I will," she said, her hair flowing around us both.

 

Since that summer, I've had few actual seizures, but I've been threatened with one every full moon. When the aura does evolve into a seizure, I change, not into a wolf or an ape, but a woman. It sometimes takes the whole month to change back, so it's a good thing that I'm a writer, and don't have to go to a job every day. The one mercy is, if I do change one month, I don't change again the next.

So far, anyway.

Some research (for a story, I told everyone) led to the identity of my mother's Indian father, now dead alas, and the reputation of his people as outsiders feared by the other local Indians as witches and skin-changers. So perhaps it's no wonder that I have seizures when my brothers don't, and even though Dad wasn't gassed by the Russians. If the seizures and the sex change are a legacy from my mother's father's people, it makes sense that I'd be the one affected. I was always the person in my family most like my mother, in height and metabolism, in being free of all the allergies my father and brothers had, and in temperament and character.

I'm my mother's son, God help me. And my mother's daughter, too—part of the time.

"Here's something interesting," Kristen said, looking up from her omnicom—a doctor has to read constantly to stay current. "Some geneticists have completed the human genome."

"What? I thought that was done already. Ten years ago, wasn't it?"

"Yes and no," Kristen said. "Despite all the lessons to the contrary, male doctors keep leaving women out of their studies. Now some women have added both of the female X chromosomes to the genome."

"And?" I said, hearing more to come.

"It seems there's more variation in the X chromosomes than all the rest of the genome," Kristen said. "What genes are present, where they're located, whether one or both or neither of the pairs are expressed which a man doesn't have on his little twisted Y chromosome—women differ more from men, and more from each other, than men do among themselves."

"I guess men and women really are different," I said from my female body. "How much?"

"Between one and two percent," Kristen said.

I had to laugh. "Christ!" I said. "I was telling Steve just Saturday, at the reunion! That's how much men and chimps and bonobos and gorillas differ!"

"So when a woman says to a man, 'You big ape!'," Kristen began.

I laughed with her, and then they called our flight.

 

As we walked out to the waiting plane, I was struck by a sense of time, of like and unlike, of how much things had changed, and yet how much they were the same. Twenty-five years ago, Michigan State University had offered me a place in their student body, as an Astrophysics major. In February of 1970, less than two weeks before the Model U.N. session at San Diego State, and the seizure and dislocated shoulder that I suffered there, I flew to East Lansing for orientation, at their invitation and at their expense.

It was the first plane trip I ever took without my family, the first time I flew on a commercial aircraft, and the first flight I had on a jet. I took in all the new experiences: the airport, the plane, traveling as an independent adult—and the whole time, I wished that Kristen were with me to share it all.

A bus from the university picked me up at the airport, and several other prospective freshmen, and drove us to the campus, pointing out the site of the future observatory on the way. Then there was a welcoming speech, a tour of campus, a banquet, and a dance. I thought about how cold it was, and how flat and drab, and wished Kristen were there to bring the California sun to the Michigan winter.

That night, in the dorm room at MSU, I dreamed it together. The flight from San Diego, all the new experiences, sleeping in a strange bed, and missing Kristen gave birth to a dream, where the plane was a living creature, with a mind of its own. I woke up, and wrote a poem, "Morning Flight."

Now, twenty-five years later, I was leaving San Diego again, from the same airport, but a new terminal, in a new jet. This time my darling was with me, but it was the same time of morning, with the same fog, and the same dew on everything. Then, as now, the plane was speaking to me. "Myself they filled with themselves," it said, as that other plane had said. In the past, in the poem, and in the present, the fog began to lift, very slowly. "They are aboard, with their pitiful bags," the plane commented, echoing the dream. Or was this the dream?

We took our seats. The engines started. The beast rolled down the runway, picking up speed, the wind of its passage whipping rivers of dew past the windows. I squeezed Kristen's hand. She turned her head and smiled sweetly at me, and squeezed back. The roar of the engines was a shout of joy, as we leapt into the sky.

Again I race the beacon lights.
Fueled, my silver skin gleaming with morning dew,
Like a toy the Earth I cast away.
"Werewolves Are Bunk" is faintly autobiographical. All the names have been changed to protect the innocent, and obviously the history and the technology in the story isn't that of our Earth. An earlier version of "Bunk" was previously published on the first version of my web site. This version is copyright © 1992, 2005, and 2018. All rights reserved.