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Best Man

 

By

 

Rodford Edmiston

 

 

        I was sitting on the couch, watching a National Geographic Special, hen Roy vaulted over the back and dropped down behind me, furry legs on either side of mine. There was plenty of room; I'm so small that to get my knees to hang comfortably over the edge I have to sit well forward. Roy wrapped his arms around my middle and began nuzzling my neck.

        "Do you know how distracting that is?" I asked, mildly annoyed but also enjoying the attention.

        "Not as distracting as this," he teased, sliding his hands up to cup my breasts.

        Well, he was right about that. I was beginning to regret my habit of wearing just a t-shirt and panties around the townhouse.

        "You are sooo sexy," he purred, his chin fur tickling my neck. "I bet you'd look good in anything."

        "Including that dress you want me to wear for Karen and Brad's wedding?" I responded, immediately guessing the intent behind his assault on my quiet afternoon.

        "Hey, you'd look hot!" Roy exclaimed, abandoning subterfuge.

        "I don't want to look hot," I muttered.

        "Not even for me?" he asked, pouting, as he began circling my nipples with his thumbs.

        "Well, for you, yeah," I said, abandoning my program and leaning back against him. "But I don't want every male in the church drooling over me."

        "Hey, if you say yes, I'll show you a new position," Roy teased.

        "You were going to do that anyway."

        "Yeah, but if you say yes, I'll do it now." He began nibbling my ear, which he knows drives me crazy. "So, E'eysha, whaddaya say? Wanna grab a little afternoon delight?"

        "Okay," I gasped, turning around in his arms and kissing him.

        Our subsequent communication was mostly non-verbal. I didn't tell him until much later that I had already decided to wear the dress, so as not to look out of place at the ceremony.


        The day of the wedding was busy for all of us who were helping with the setup and ceremony, as was expected. Roy's responsibilities required that he go over quite early, so he left just after Bent-Tail arrived at my townhouse. Bent-Tail and I were bringing the punch bowl, cups and such, plus his tux and my dress. We planned to take his car instead of mine because his was a hatchback. By folding the rear seats down we could lay our bagged outfits flat. Roy had just left, and I was making sure I had packed everything I would need to change at the church, when Bent-Tail called out from the kitchen.

        "Wasn't Roy supposed to take this spatula for the cake?"

        "Yes," I yelled back. "Don't tell me he forgot it!"

        "Okay," said Bent-Tail, as he rounded the corner into the bedroom, holding the spatula. "I won't tell you."

        "Argh!" I yelled, throwing my hands up in exasperation. It wasn't a big deal - we could bring it with us - but I knew Roy would worry himself to distraction when he discovered he had forgotten it. I thought about calling the church to leave a message... Then something occurred to me. "Maybe I can reach him with my telepathy."

        Roy was probably already in his car and driving away, but he wouldn't be too far yet, and his mind was familiar enough to me that contact was usually easy. I reached out and, sure enough, felt his mind after only a few seconds. He recognized my mental touch, even though I hadn't communicated anything yet, so I knew that I wouldn't panic him into an accident by doing so.

        You forgot the spatula, I 'pathed. We'll bring it with us.

        I felt a wordless confirmation, and a pulse of gratitude.

        "Done," I announced, breaking contact. I was feeling pretty smug about then. Who needs cell-phones? was my thought.

        "That reminds me," said Bent-Tail. "The first time you said something to me telepathically the voice I heard in my head sounded like the old, male you. Lately, though, I've noticed that your mental voice sounds like your current physical one."

        "No surprise there," I admitted, as I closed my suitcase with a bit of effort. "The voice I hear in my head sounds like the one I talk with, these days."

        We loaded the car and set off for the church.

        "I still think it's too bad you couldn't attend in your mid-form, like Karen wanted," I commented, as he drove. I looked over at him and laughed. "I'd love to see the expressions on the faces of the mundane guests."

        "Yeah, me, too," he replied, with a feral grin, "but have you ever tried to find a tux to fit a twelve-foot werewolf?"

        Bent-Tail was lucky. He had not only Changed into a character who could be human when he wanted to, but one based on him, so he could look almost the same as he had before the Change. Which was a good thing, since his other two forms were a 363 centimeter wolfman and a full wolf the size of a Shetland pony. Among the other advantages this ability to be human brought was that he could still drive a car.

        He was keeping knowledge of the fact that he was a Changeling restricted to people who could be trusted not to spread it around, which was probably a good idea considering the problems some of us were having with bigots. This was one aspect of my own Change for which I was grateful. I may have changed genders and even species, but could pass as human with little difficulty. A very short human, true, and one that looked much like a child, but still a human.

        Bent-Tail had actually known Karen before he knew Roy or me. In fact, it was Bent-Tail who had introduced Roy - then Sheila Brown - to Karen when he found out that the young art student was looking for a place to stay. It was because of this early association that he felt comfortable attending the wedding in his human form. He had a previous connection as his human self, in addition to the more recent one as Bent-Tail.

        Karen was pretty unflappable. That was why she had let Sheila continue rooming with her even after the Change turned Sheila into Roy, a character Sheila had created to use in furry art fanzines. The arrangement between Karen and Roy may or may not have changed its nature to include sex. Neither of them had volunteered this information and I hadn't felt comfortable asking. I suspected not; they were good friends but I just couldn't see them as lovers. The personalities just didn't match for that function.

        That Sheila had taken on the particular form she had was surprising to no-one who knew her. In fact, the surprise was that Karen hadn't Changed, herself. She just hadn't been thinking about any characters at the critical moment. She was philosophical about it, but I could tell that she regretted missing the opportunity. I could understand why; her favorite character was a beautiful unicorn mare, who could assume human form.

        Now, a bit over four months after the Change, Karen was getting married and moving in with her new husband. This meant a lot of rearranging among those who knew her. For instance, Roy was happy for her, but out a place to stay. So I told him he could move in with me. This was not a major change in our lives, since by this time Roy was spending as much time at my townhouse as at the apartment he shared with Karen. When most people heard this particular bit of news they smiled (or leered) knowingly. I blushed and made a lame comment about being a sucker for stray puppies. I don't think I fooled anyone.

        At the church things were already buzzing. I was an usher, as was Bent-Tail. Roy was Best Wolf (it said so in the program). Karen's cousin Debbie, who had Changed into a pony-sized centauress, was the Maid of Honor. There were also several other Changelings present, nearly all of them friends of Karen, and therefore known to me. There were, however, three obvious Changelings from the groom's acquaintances and family who were new to me: a rough-hewn male barbarian (even though in contemporary dress his occupation was obvious), a lanky female troll and an alien of some sort who was only vaguely humanoid.

        My first task was to help organize the reception area, making sure there were tables for the gifts, seats and tables for the guests and refreshments ready to serve after the service. That done I had to hurry and get dressed.

        I confess that I was feeling a bit jittery and also a bit aroused by the idea of changing clothes in a room with eighteen other women, some of them young and attractive. In the rush and confusion, however, it turned out that what I mostly felt was worry about whether I had everything on right. Maybe I was getting used to being female. Or maybe I was just so nervous about wearing a fancy dress in public that I simply didn't notice. The other women were also busy, not paying me any special notice. I began to wonder if it just hadn't occurred to them that they were sharing a dressing room with a former male. That idea was quickly dispelled, however.

        "Uh, do you need any help with your makeup or clothes, E'eysha?" asked Cindy, one of Brad's cousins. "Or is it Ed?"

        "Either will do," I replied amiably, as I touched up my nail polish. "I'm keeping my former name for legal reasons, but E'eysha is fine. And, no, thanks, I've pretty much got this part down pat."

        She smiled, nodded and went back to her own preparations. I wasn't just being macho, either. Makeup I didn't need much of, having designed E'eysha as a natural beauty. What little I did need I had already mastered the application of.

        Over and above my decorative concerns, I had been worried about two aspects of the same anxiety: that I wouldn't fit in. Fortunately, we were all too busy to engage in "girl talk" and I was actually overshadowed by some of the other Changelings in the group. The one making the biggest impression (pun deliberate) was Debbie, the centauress. She actually wasn't all that large for an equine, and stood only about as tall as she had as a human. But something the size of a pony is very out of place in a small room full of women hurrying to dress.

        In spite of the crowd we managed to get ready in time, and I quickly made my way to my post before the first of the guests entered the sanctuary. I found it fun watching the reactions when people saw the more obvious Changelings. The only down side was being treated like a little girl by some of them. This was irritating, especially since the situation did not lend itself to correcting their mistake. Finally the last of the guests was seated, and the ushers took their own places. I was glad to sit down; I had worn a pretty high pair of heels in an effort to look taller.

        It was a nice ceremony, and I have to admit that there were tears in my eyes by the end. Of course, I had been known to sniffle at weddings while still a man, too, so that wasn't strange for me. Guess I'm just sentimental. After the usual rounds of ritual (no, I didn't catch the bouquet; I made sure of that) the bride and groom began opening their gifts. Mine was an oil painting of the couple, as their favorite RPG characters. I was rather pleased at the reaction this got, at least from those who recognized the significance. That done, we settled down to the refreshments.

        I'm not sure when I spotted him. Despite being unusually tall, broad-shouldered and deep-chested he blended in with the crowd until he wanted to be noticed. He wasn't really dressed for a wedding, but in that he wasn't alone among this crowd. Neither was his behavior out of place, at first. I did find myself vaguely wondering why Karen didn't protest when the stranger copped a feel while kissing the bride. Even odder than that, Brad didn't object, either. And neither did anyone else, even when the newcomer went around the room, repeating the procedure with every attractive female. Including me.

        "Why, hello, there, little lady," he said, in a rounded, baritone voice and with a dazzling smile.

        I actually giggled like a school girl, not even thinking to correct him.

        "Oh, that's E'eysha," said Brad. "She's a lot older than she looks, so you can go ahead."

        It didn't seem strange that Brad was telling this man to take liberties with me. Neither did I find anything wrong with the fact that he squeezed my breast during our kiss. In fact, I felt a bit disappointed when he didn't go farther.

        He talked a lot, after he got started, but I can't remember much of what he said. I do remember the people there hanging on his every word. All he had to do was suggest that he might like some punch, and several people - men and women - would fight to get a cup to him first. A number of people were hurt in such scuffles, some of them when Debbie stepped on their feet, but even the injured ones kept on trying to please him.

        It was Roy who brought me to my senses. Rather, it was the way he distracted the stranger that did it. There's no telling how far things might have gone if Roy hadn't started forcing himself onto the intruder after only a few minutes. My lover was being alternately solicitous and coy, one moment trying to help the man in any little way he could and the next shyly pressing himself against the oddly charismatic stranger and fluttering his eyelashes. The guy apparently had never tried his ability on a gay or bisexual male before and was quite disturbed by Roy's reaction. Especially since Roy's erection was producing a quite obvious bulge in his pants. It wasn't that having a husky canine morph (again, pun intended) practically drooling over him distracted the stranger and broke his concentration. Rather, seeing Roy's actions and the stranger's reactions worked as a reality check for me.

        I knew that something was wrong, but not exactly what. I did know that it had something to do with the stranger. So, as much as I wanted to be close to him, I forced myself away. I went into the kitchen at the back of the reception area, unnoticed by the members of the wedding party because they had their attention on the stranger, and unnoticed by the stranger because he was distracted by Roy. There in the kitchen I found Bent-Tail.

        "Good," he said, nodding at me, looking grim. "I was beginning to think that I was the only one who could resist him."

        I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the stranger's charisma. Whatever he was doing, it was partly telepathic; once I consciously raised my mental barriers my thoughts cleared somewhat. That, plus being away from him, allowed me to think. I looked up at Bent-Tail.

        "How can you...?"

        "I ain't tameable," he replied, baring his teeth in an expression that was not a grin.

        I glanced back into the room. The stranger now had several of the women taking turns removing portions of their clothing, while everyone else cheered them on. Roy was collecting the discarded items and distributing them to the men in the group.

        "We've got to stop this," I whispered. I jerked my eyes back to Bent-Tail. Even during that short look at the stranger, with his attention elsewhere, I had felt his power again.

        "I'll change. You bring him in here. I'll try to scare him off. Once he leaves we can call the police."

        Though what the police could do against someone who immediately made you love him I didn't know.

        While Bent-Tail changed into something more formidable, I nerved myself and went back into the reception hall. I was lucky; the stranger was mingling, working the crowd, looking bored. Perhaps he had done this before, and grown tired of it. Which meant I had to get him into the kitchen and away from the others before he came up with something more harmful. I took his arm, pressing my body against his, breathlessly eager.

        "You've got to come see this!" I said quietly but firmly, smiling like a little girl eager to please an adult man she has a crush on. It wasn't hard to behave like that; his influence was that strong.

        I was terrified he wouldn't want to come. By focusing hard on what I was doing I kept his power from overcoming me, but I didn't know how long I could manage that. To my relief, he went along after only a moment's hesitation, smiling and shaking his head. I was a bit surprised, but I guess he just couldn't believe that anyone could want to do anything bad to him. That attitude was understandable; I couldn't have done what I did if I hadn't forced myself not to think about what waited in the kitchen.

        He was looking at me as he stepped through the door, probably down my cleavage, and didn't notice anything amiss until I released his arm and stepped back. Then he realized that there was something dark grey in front of and above him. The stranger turned and looked up. And up. And up. As I said before, he was a big man. The top of his head was barely above Bent-Tail's waist. The werewolf leaned over, until he was almost nose-to-nose with the party crasher.

        "Don't like what yer doin'," the werewolf growled. "Cut it out... or I cut you out."

        There was a frozen moment. Then the stranger turned and ran screaming from the kitchen.

        "Do you think maybe I over-did it?" Bent-Tail asked.

        "There's a monster in the kitchen!" the stranger yelled. "Kill it!"

        Bent-Tail and I locked eyes for a moment. Then he sighed and, as the sounds of an enraged mob quickly built, turned into a wolf and ran out the back door.

        I huddled against the counter as the guests charged past, hoping that they wouldn't mistake me for a monster. Once they were gone, I began considering my options. This was actually a good turn. Bent-Tail was safe; they were more likely to hurt themselves or each other than him. In wolf form Bent-Tail was faster than anyone but Debbie, and he could go through holes she couldn't. And the guests were now away from the stranger. Maybe now was a good time to phone the police.

        When I peeked around the corner, however, I saw that not all of the others were gone. The stranger was sitting down, looking pale and shaken. With him were Karen and Wendy, the latter a fox 'morph. They were being very comforting to him. I had a bad feeling, which was confirmed when he pulled Wendy to him, sliding his hand under her blouse. He seemed to have settled on a method to calm himself, one that involved taking advantage of two friends of mine.

        At this distance I could contemplate stopping him, something unthinkable closer. I certainly didn't want to get any nearer, or I might join his harem. However, I had no weapons except my body... and my mind.

        I thought briefly of getting a knife from the kitchen, but even with E'eysha's enhanced coordination and her fictional ability with throwing knives that wasn't really practical. As reluctant as I was to do so, I would have to attack him telepathically.

        This was something I had practiced, as part of the self-defense training with Bent-Tail. I hadn't used it for real, but my werewolf teacher had done a good job. Or so I hoped.

        "Don't use it unless you have to," he had said, repeatedly and in several variations, just as he had in regard to physical attacks. "If you have to, then do it. A half-hearted defense can be worse than capitulation."

        In the stories I had written, E'eysha had been able to kill with her mind, but only with several shots. I took a couple of deep breaths, gathering and centering, then shoved at him.

        The charismatic stranger yelled and jerked in his chair, grabbing his head with both hands, dumping the startled Wendy on the floor. The effect wasn't nearly as great as I had expected, and I nearly froze in panic. Again, though, my training came through. I quickly steadied myself and hit him again, harder, actually grunting with the effort. There was no direct physical effect from this type of attack, but his reflexive efforts to get away from the cause of his pain threw him onto the floor.

        He was still conscious, still moving, but obviously hurt. I wondered whether to zap him again, try to go for a domination while he was stunned, or just wait and see what would happen. Then he turned and looked towards the kitchen. And pointed at me. And started to say something.

        The third attack put him out, and nearly me. I clutched at the door jamb, taking deep breaths until my vision cleared. By this time Karen and Wendy were starting to recover from his influence, shaking their heads and looking as dazed as I felt. I wanted to just curl up and not do anything for a while, but I knew that the stranger might recover while I did so.

        I walked into the room, comforting the two women, helping them to get their clothes back on, trying to explain what had happened.

        "I remember... sort of," said Karen. "It seems like a dream. Not real."

        She looked down at him, and I noticed that Wendy was, as well. I knew what they were feeling. The realization of what had happened to them hadn't hit yet; they were still numb. However, they were beginning to remember what they had done - and almost done. Worse, even though he was unconscious, the charismatic power of our uninvited guest was still working on a low level, and we all still felt like doing whatever would make him happy. I wanted to cradle his head in my lap, and tearfully apologize for what I had done. Instead I reinforced my mind block, and sat in the chair he had just vacated.

        I spent a few moments gathering my strength. The interloper had not so far shown signs of waking, so I felt I had time for that, anyway. Then, I cautiously lowered my barriers and entered his mind.

        It was a shocking place, full of lust and anxiety and anger. His name was Jimmy Claiborn, and he was much younger than he looked, about seventeen instead of thirty. He had become his fantasy, a man whom everyone admired and loved. A man who instantly made friends, and for whom anyone would do anything. It was a powerful ability, combining telepathic influence, pheromones and a number of other subtle cues that humans use to influence others. Which may have been why I was a bit less affected, since I'm not really human any more.

        Cautiously, I experimented with adjusting his mind. I was working blind, here, having never done anything like this before. Basically, I wanted to shut down his abilities. I located the volume where his telepathic influence originated and envisioned a solid barrier around it. Then I installed a compulsion to act more like his old self, so that the kinesthetic and vocal cues were less effective. He still had his pheromones; that was part of the autonomic and hormonal systems and I didn't know how to affect those except in major, and probably lethal, ways. For now, the rest would have to do.

        I sighed and leaned back, hands on my throbbing temples. I noticed that Bent-Tail had come in while I was busy.

        "The others okay?"

        "Yeah," he said, grinning. "I led them a couple times around the building and wore them out. The exercise seemed to speed their recovery."

        "I think I've got him toned down enough that he won't be able to directly control us," I said, cautiously. "I can probably do more later."

        "We better call Adam, just in case," said Bent-Tail. "Right after we call the police."

End

        This work is Copyright 1998 by Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at: stickmaker@usa.net. Please contact the author for permission before reposting or reprinting. Thank you.