❯ Once a Boy – Chapter 1

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
The main character isn’t a canon character, but I hope you like it anyways. This also does not follow the real storyline, so I supposed that makes it AU. I don’t remember how exactly the cube works, but oh well, it’s fanfiction.
Disclaimer: I do not own the series Animorphs; that right is owned by K.A. Applegate, the author.
I wasn’t always a dog.
I used to be a boy. I was athletic, and I loved basketball, almost making the team at my school. I had messy brown hair that would get in my eyes and had a habit of blowing it out of my face in vain. My mother would always try to get me to cut it, but after the first haircut I felt awkward and looked ridiculous when I instinctively blew at my missing bangs. I rarely cut it afterwards, and then only for a small trim just above my eyes.
I wasn’t the most popular kid, but I had a lot of friends and I even had a girlfriend. She was sweet, caring and silly, but she had a sense of maturity I admired. She was beautiful, too, with long blonde hair and sky blue eyes. She was sometimes known as “Jessie’s girl”, even though my name was Thomas, because the guys wished that she wasn’t with me. I was a bit smug, but I didn’t tell her that. I’m sure she would have hit me.
Then, I found the cube.
It was after school, and I was on my way home when I spotted something strange shining in the grass. Crouching down out of curiosity, I picked up the object from the ground. Immediately, I felt a strange sensation, but I pushed it off as the effects of standing up when I was dehydrated and put it in my jacket pocket. I should have left it where it was, but I was so curious and I wanted to take it home to toy with it. I didn’t know it would ruin my life forever.
I had run up to my room with excitement and sat down on my bed before taking it out. It was smooth and cold, but it seemed to hum with energy. I stared at it in fascination, before suddenly a furry muzzle came into view and I looked at my dog, Mammoth. He was some type of Australian shepherd mix, and he actually wasn’t that big as he was barely older than a puppy, but his long brown-and-tan fur just reminded me of the extinct creatures. I scratched him behind his ear affectionately, but then he suddenly closed his eyes and laid his head on my foot. He looked like he had fallen asleep! My hand felt tingly, too, and I looked at it in wonder before a strange voice popped into my head.
Concentrate on Mammoth . . . focus on his form . . .
Wondering where it came from, I stared at my dog and found I was unable to look away. The dog had thin legs with muscles that looked strong, and his body’s structure looked sturdy. His tail was normally raised up like a cat’s, but now it was draped across the floor as he sat relaxed in front of me. His eyelids covered his warm brown eyes, and he always seemed to be smiling . . .
Suddenly, I began to feel the transformation. Although I felt no pain, I could sense my bones moving and stretching and popping in and out of places I didn’t even know existed. I could no longer sit up as I fell forward and over Mammoth, landing on the floor with a thud as my dog seemed to snap out of his trance and came over to me with a whine. I couldn’t speak, though, as my jaw was elongating and too strange for me to use properly. My legs grew shorter to fit the new length of my arms, and my fingers shriveled up to what looked like stubs.
I couldn’t figure out what was happening.
When it was finally over, my clothes and pet laying on the floor beside me, I looked up only to realize the world seemed . . . different. Instead of my normal and plain room, I seemed to be looking at a place of comfort and warmth, where things could never go wrong. My nose took in the wonderful and terrible odors of the room, and I suddenly had an urge to find the sources. I leapt onto my new four feet and started to search, using my nose to lead the way.
I felt like an animal, and yet . . . I was so happy.
Mammoth followed me, his tail wagging but his demeanor confused. I suddenly realized I could understand him now, even though he had not barked or made a single sound. When I glanced at him and tried to form words to express my own confusion, he seemed to agree with me using body language and made a pitiful whine. “You were my master,” he seemed to be saying, “but now you’re me!”
Dogs didn’t always speak to communicate, I figured out. They had special scents, expressions and gestures to convey their thoughts. They were rarely allowed to bark in the house, so this was vital to their communication with other creatures.
I walked over to the mirror I had in my room and found myself imitate his whine. He was right; I looked exactly like my dog, right down to his chocolate eyes and wet black nose! Whatever had happened had made me transform into him, and I didn’t know how to get back!
For some reason, though, the sadness didn’t weigh down too much on my mind. Instead, I seemed to be distracted by the world around me, and I turned around to look at Mammoth and asked, “What do dogs do?” When I saw his tail wag happily, I found that mine mimicked his. We shared happiness at being able to understand each other, and a sort of bond was created then that was much deeper than any human could have with their dog. It was guarded by instinct and strengthened by our previous friendship, and I found him as a brother instead of a companion.
“Come on,” he told me, “let’s go explore!”
The voice suddenly popped in again, telling me, Don’t remain like this for too long. Two hours . . . you only have two hours . . . With my new short attention span, however, the warning was pushed aside, leading to my doom.
We were able to get out of the house without any of my family noticing because my father had installed a doggie door that was big enough for Mammoth’s growing self, and in that regard me as well. We slipped out and ran around the backyard, nipping and playing and barking with joy. I hadn’t thought of my parents coming out and seeing us two, but that might have been because we were having so much fun. It was only after I heard my mother shouting to my father that I realized something bad could happen.
Suddenly frightened, I turned and ran to the fence, ignoring their shouting as I pushed myself to squeeze between the metal bars of the gate. I had once pointed out to my parents that Mammoth could get out using this trick, but they had never been able to address it. My paws hit the asphalt and immediately experienced the agony of the hot surface, and so I ran to escape its sting only to find the same on the sidewalk. Working myself into a frenzy of panic, I continued to run, getting myself lost in a maze of houses with smells that attracted and yet repelled me. They all smelled like my family, and I couldn’t let my family catch me. They’d never know I was their Thomas and would probably send me to the pound.
After that, all I remember is stumbling in exhaustion and falling onto a soft cushion of grass. As the world began to spin, I saw ghostly figures fall upon me like vultures, and then I blacked out.
I woke up to the sounds and smells of a terrible place, and I eventually opened my eyes and sat up onto my butt as I looked around myself. A wire mesh prevented me from moving any farther than three yards, and eventually I realized where I was and panicked.
I was at the pound.
Whimpering, I laid my head back down on my paws and closed my eyes. This can’t be happening, I thought. I can’t seriously be stuck as a dog in a pound. I can’t be! My mind went to my family, my home, and my life at school-all of it was gone. I wasn’t going to be able to play basketball anymore, or talk to my girlfriend, or get into trouble with the teachers.
Wait! My head snapped up and my tail wagged at a thought. I remember that voice! It said I could change back! Focusing on the image of what I looked like as a human, I closed my eyes again and willed myself to change.
Nothing happened.
I did my best attempt to frown but could not do so. What? Why am I still a dog? I tried and tried again, but nothing changed, and I soon began to panic. Am I stuck? Will I always be a dog? Then remembering the warning I had been given by the voice, I felt my heart sink. It’s been more than two hours, I bet. I didn’t get a chance to change back, I was so frightened . . .
I’m stuck.
I stayed in that pound for what felt like weeks, but I couldn’t tell because I couldn’t see daylight from my cage. I overheard the staff and realized they were checking to see if I was vicious, so I made sure to be as submissive as possible. And being as despondent as I was, that wasn’t hard to accomplish; I didn’t have a will to live anymore, considering I no longer had a family, friends, or a girlfriend. I was a very sad looking dog, but my sorrow turned to horror when I thought of what would happen if I wasn’t adopted. I could get put down if I wasn’t careful! So I decided that, if I was going to be a sad dog, I would at least do it cutely.
And so, I succeeded eventually, with a young girl with long blonde hair and pretty blue eyes who painfully reminded me of my former girlfriend. I whimpered when she passed, and she caught sight of me and immediately gave a sympathetic “aww” before dragging her father over to look at me. After a while of discussion, my tail wagged of its own accord as the door opened and they let me out to greet the family. She seemed to be an only child, and so I paid most of my attention on her to win her over. It probably sounds underhanded, but I was desperate and was sure I could make it up for being so sneaky. Besides, every dog used this trick, so I might as well have it in my arsenal.
They took me to the house, and there I spent my first year before they moved to another house. During that year, I learned there was actually another child that came to visit-the father’s, for apparently he had been married before his current wife, and she came every summer to stay. She also visited every other Christmas, but this year was not her father’s turn so I only saw her for eight weeks. She was much smaller than her sister although only a few months younger, and she had brown hair that bobbed whenever she bounced or ran. She had bangs that reminded me of my own (or the ones I used to have) for they kept blocking her vision and made her swipe them away.
We moved annually it seemed, and I found myself waiting eagerly for the summer and every other holiday to see the younger child. The reasons may have originally been because she actually took more notice of me than my actual owner did-she fed me regularly, tried to play with me and would sit with me during thunderstorms to calm me when I was frightened. I held no grudge against the blonde, however, for the dog I had become could hold no hatred for people who housed and cared for him . . . and that may have been for the best. If I had growled or bit anyone, I would have been put down faster than I could bark, “Kibble.”
I lifted my head as the younger child walked in and quietly shut the door behind her. It had been a few years, and she was now a teenager that held quiet frustrations in her father’s house during the summer months. I quickly stood up and walked over to sit before her, and she kneeled down and embraced me tightly, her slight form shaking with silent sobs. I could smell the tears, and I gave a pity-filled whine at her distress. I had heard the yelling from here and knew of her trouble with conflicts; she wasn’t able to hold her own in a heated debate and burst into tears instead of shouting, which contradicted most selfish teenagers and my own owner herself.
“Oh, May-May . . .” She whispered my frequent nickname into my fur, and I squirmed a bit until I was able to lick her face encouragingly. She fell back to sit on her rear as she stared at me, bright brown eyes filled with sadness that mirrored my own. “I can’t deal with it anymore.”
“I know,” I told her although I knew she wouldn’t be able to understand. “You should tell your father about all that you deal with. He would be able to help you.”
“But I can’t tell him.” As always, she eerily managed to respond to what I said without even knowing it. “It would break his heart . . . and after all that he’s done, how hard he’s worked to make this last . . . I wouldn’t want to ruin it for him.” Wiping away her tears and my slobber, she managed a bittersweet smile that broke my heart. She was always sacrificing her own needs for her family’s, and it was always unnoticed by the world-except for me. The dog. It was embarrassing and shameful, even though I was more intelligent than normal dogs, because someone else should have already addressed it.
Then again, she was always good at hiding things from others.
They probably didn’t even know she had retreated to her stepsister’s room-said blonde was out with her friends and boyfriend and probably wouldn’t be back for a while. I knew that she was rarely noticed during her stay, and that was probably because she tended to keep to herself. She wasn’t the most outgoing person in the world, and that was the result of her appearance; she had short brown hair and wore glasses, and she wasn’t exactly the most, shall we say, “beautiful” girl on the block. Her sister beat her by far in almost every aspect, and it wasn’t a soft blow to her self-esteem. Still, she came to me, and I tried to cheer her up as best as I could.
It was the least I could do for the girl who kept my world together, when she was here. I mean, I might as well have owed my life to her; every bowl of food I got during the summer, every cool pool that was filled for me, was most likely given by her hand. If she didn’t do it directly, she helped or reminded in some way that I existed. Most of the time I just inhabited the blonde’s room and waited to be let out to do my business and get fresh air. It was a secluded existence that had its consequences . . .
Such as the crazy emotions I felt around the brunette.
No, I didn’t feel them-the dog, Mammoth, felt them. I was sure of it. And yet, because of my superior intellect, I couldn’t help twisting every emotion or instinct I felt, and I couldn’t help but wonder . . . was it me? My tail wagged uncontrollably at the sight of her entering the room, and even when my owner was here it was her I ran to when the thunderstorms drew near. Whenever her stepsister beat me with a sock or shirt for refusing to lie down, she was there to comfort me, love me, care for me. It was a shame that I only saw her eight weeks out of however many there were in a year, and I felt a great sorrow whenever she was driven to the airport to go back to her mother’s house after the summer.
Was that the same . . . as love, though?
I’m not sure. I’ve been a canine too long to remember much of my human life-for all I know, I could have been a dog for much longer, or even forever, and just be a smart dog with dreams of being a human. I can’t be sure anymore, and so I hold on tightly to those human emotions I seem to feel for her, because it’s the only thing that still ties me to being a true person.
I was startled out of my contemplation as she stood up and walked over to her suitcase. Apparently, she had spilled something on her clothes and that was what caused her to receive the yelling, and so she grabbed a new outfit and began to change. I used to have a habit of turning away when she did so, out of respect for her privacy, but that faded with time and I no longer saw any need to considering she turned her back to me anyways. Still, remnants of the young teenager I once was remained, and I couldn’t help but wonder if any of my friends would have switched places with me to get this chance. Wasn’t that what guys were after? Girls, money and fame? I couldn’t remember, it’d been too long. The latter two meant nothing to a dog, and the former was . . . well, to say the least, I tried to ignore it to the best of my ability.
I perked up at her call, watching as she slowly looked over her shoulder at me. It was funny that she considered me human enough to be shy when dressing, and yet dog enough to share every dark secret she could ever have. I was thankful, though, because it helped me keep a grip on my last shred of humanity.
“If I could take you away from her, from this place . . . would you come with me?”
At first, I thought she was joking, because she couldn’t possibly take me on the plane with her. But then, I remembered the mood she was in and knew that she was contemplating the option of taking me home with her in a couple of weeks. I knew it would never happen, considering how possessive-and yet neglecting-my owner was, but she was still thinking about it. That thought touched me, the inner part of me that was still somehow Thomas even after all of these years, and hope began to grow in me again. It was a pitiful one . . . but it was there.
When she noticed me bob my head in response, she laughed to herself and mumbled, “I still can’t believe I talk to you like you can understand me . . .” She then sighed and turned around once fully clothed, stroking my head softly, lovingly. “And yet, I always think that you talk back in your own little way.” Her eyes watched my own, and I yearned to talk out to her, to make her understand what I said.
“I do,” I told her, not caring if she could understand or not. “I do, I do, I do! Oh, how I wish I could tell you all that I know! How cruel my owner is while you’re gone, how lonely I get in this room, my past life, everything!” I was sure that, if dogs were able to shed tears, I would have soaked my furry cheeks completely. “I want to tell you that I’m Thomas! Thomas! My name is Thomas!”
A voice called for her, and she sighed and stood up, staring at the ground dejectedly. “It’s Dad,” she told me, although I already knew that, and she walked over to the door and slipped outside, shutting it behind her without making a sound. That was how she came and went in my life-a gentle and fragile leaf that was whisked away by another breeze the instant it touched the ground. One day, though, the wind would be rough, and she would crumple, gone forever. Oh, how I dread that day!
I lied back down and put my head on my paws, giving a low whine. “No . . . I’m not Thomas. Not anymore.” Closing my eyes, the haunting reminder of the warning I had heard once rang in my head, chanting the two hours I had before I was stuck as a dog forever. “Now I’m May . . . I’m May. Always May now.
“Always and forever.”