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SUNSET OF FURMANKIND

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 19
Cats & Water

 

It was three days later when Jon felt the first effects of the changes in his musculature. The housemates of the Felis Wing had gotten up that morning to discover that a light snow had fallen during the night, and although it amounted to little more than a dusting, the afternoon temperatures rose into the mid-forties by midday, melting what had fallen. The Institute was surrounded by forest woods, but a steady breeze somehow found its way through the trees into the compound, keeping wind chill factors low enough to keep most everyone indoors.

Despite the cold, Sylvia Janes had bundled up snug in warm winter clothing and proceeded to give the feline volunteers several hours of instruction on the community structure of life in a colony. It was a required subject, but one that none of them had any interest discussing while stuck inside on a cold, windy day.

Jenni seemed to be the lead in changes due to the transformation, having experienced painful spasms as her bodily tissue seemed to be doing something internally, even if her outward appearance did not appear to change much. Her eyes had changed in color and form, the irises larger with a blend of yellow and green. She complained of constant low-grade headaches and she was unable to walk well, even though her leg muscles were no longer cramping. Whenever Doctor Renwick would check in on her and ask her how she felt, she would look at him wearily and for lack of a better description, she would simply tell him that she felt old.

Despite Dante's ill-timed leap into the pit where he twisted his ankle, his legs did not start cramping up like hers until a couple of days later. He and Jenni had not spoken much since his private revelation and his irritating, carefree manner was subdued. Although they were unaware of the conversation that had transpired, Jon and Kristen both had noticed a difference in his attitude, but neither had inquired to find out if anything might have happened.

When Dante volunteered to help Kristen with kitchen cleanup after breakfast, an act that surprised the botanist, he later collapsed at her feet handing her a dried bowl to put away. Kristen tried to help him up, but spasms hit her at almost the same time and she sprawled out onto the tile floor beside him, crying out from the sudden intense pain.

Jon had come running at their calls for help and helped each of them to their rooms, but after Doctor Renwick's later brief examination with dispensed meds to help with the pain, the physician's focus turned upon the larger man.

Like Jenni before them, Kristen and Dante's eyes had changed colors, hers a soft golden hue, and his, a mixture of brown and gold, but as yet their pupils remained human. Unlike his housemates, however, Jon's eyes remained Irish green and he had yet to suffer any ill effect of the transformation. When he had a moment alone with the doctor, Jon quietly asked him if he had purposely injected him with a placebo instead of the actual formula, but Renwick seemed confused at such an accusation.

He assured Jon that modified DNA had been injected into his cerebral fluid just as had been done with the others. Why else would the fur of a mountain lion be growing from his epidermis? Even the tail nub growing out of his backside should be proof enough.

The physician theorized that the larger man's physical fitness might be playing with the timetable of the changes, which could be why he had not yet succumbed to the same afflictions of his housemates.

The hypothesis placated Jon, since he maintained his twice-daily workouts no matter the weather outside, beginning each day and ending each night with a strenuous exercise routine. The others had each joined him a few times, but none of them had his dedication to such a schedule.

Although he was in better shape than his three housemates were, time caught up with him during one such exercise routine. On the third night after Jenni's initial collapse, Jon was ending a particularly trying day with a vigorous workout in the exercise room away from the others.  All three of his companions were grumpy and irritable due to their aches and pains, with no small amount of jealousy leveled at him simply because he was not suffering as they were. No matter what he said or tried to do to help around the Wing, he was met with short tempered derision, so he finally shut himself up in the exercise room to work out his frustrations.

In Jon's case, however, the pain did not begin with his legs as had happened with the others. He had just put in a solid half hour at a steep incline on the treadmill and he was preparing to exercise his upper body with free weights. The first painful spasm put a hitch in his left side, just below his rib cage as he was picking up a ten-pound disc. He dropped the weight, narrowly missing his bare foot when a second severe cramp hit his right bicep.

The double-whammy rocked him so hard and fast that he lost his equilibrium and sat down heavily upon the seat of the bench press. He squeezed his eyelids shut and gripped his arm with the other hand until the sharp agony passed. The pain was deep within the muscle, and from the description the others had given, Jon knew that his transformations had begun with more than mere hair loss, fur growth and a tail.

Abandoning the workout, Jon forced himself to his feet and left the room while he could still walk, grabbing his previously discarded furman robe top on the way out. There was no way of knowing if the muscles in his legs would be next, so he made his way quickly to the door of the lab and pounded on it loud enough that the doctor would surely hear him from his suite of rooms behind the laboratory. Dante looked over at him from his place huddled in front of the fireplace that had only served as décor until the weather turned cold. The women were nowhere in sight, likely hidden away in their rooms.

The door opened after a few moments, but it was Marcy who peered out at him, dressed in a flannel nightgown. Her eyes were immediately drawn to his bare chest, but as soon as she looked up and saw the pain registered upon his face, she knew why he was there. She directed him inside the lab and had him lie down upon a gurney against a wall. The broad-shouldered man dropped his robe top on a counter and then lay down upon his back while the nurse examined the arm he protected against his side. He squirmed a moment, trying to find a slot in the gurney cushion for his tail nub.

“It looks like I lose the bet,” she said with a wry smile, her fingers not quite able to extend around his bicep as it gave forth another spasm.

“What?” Jon asked through gritted teeth.

“Dante started a pool on how long you would hold out before the muscle cramps got you,” Marcy explained, turning to a nearby cabinet. “I put down two dollars that it would be tomorrow.”

Jon closed his eyes and snorted, but otherwise did not reply. The nurse pulled out an amber pill bottle from a shelf and dumped out a pale green caplet onto her palm.  She put this in Jon's hand and closed his fingers over it.

“Take this for now,” she told him while removing a water bottle from a small refrigerator under the cabinet. She handed this to him and added, “It will give you some relief from the cramps for tonight, but you may need another in the morning with your breakfast.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled, washing down the pill with a small swallow of water, something not easy while lying on his back.

“Now, let me take a look at your eyes.”

Jon opened his eyelids and flinched when Marcy shined a bright penlight into them. “Right on schedule,” she said. “Your irises are now a nice golden brown.”

“Great,” he muttered.

Marcy raised an eyebrow and looked down at him. “What's the matter now?” she asked.

“I'll have a headache to look forward to when the pupils change…”

“Yes, that's true, but it doesn't usually last more than a day and it's certainly not as severe as what you have now with your muscles. This pain will be your companion for a while, I'm afraid. The soreness in your eyes will only be a mild annoyance.” The nurse put away her penlight and then tugged on his arm.

“Okay, you can get up now,” she told him. “It will take about ten minutes for the medication to filter through your system to quell the cramps, so I would recommend an end to your exercise routine for tonight.”

“I'm heading for the shower and then to bed,” Jon informed her.

“That's a good plan.  Goodnight, Jon.”

“G'night, Marcy, and thanks.”

“That's what I'm here for.”  The nurse adjusted her nightgown about her and then shut the door behind him after he had gone.  

*** 

When Jon awoke the next morning, he began his daily routine out of habit, but as he pulled his exercise shorts up to the nub of tail growing out of the base of his spine, the broad-shouldered man remembered the cramps of the night before. He sat down in the recliner in his room and leaned forward, resting his arms upon his knees. Should he go on into the exercise room to perform his habitual workout, chancing a cramp while lifting heavy weights? He had already been informed that his skeletal structure was softening and his body might be warning him not to risk a disaster; too much weight at the wrong time could cause irreparable damage or malformation.

Frowning to himself, he slid a hand across his bare knee, feeling the stiff bristles of new fur growth upon what used to be naked flesh. It caused a mild tingling sensation in his knee, but the feeling beneath his palm and fingers caused him to shiver.

Ever since the realization that the injection was real and his body was changing, Jonathan Sunset had tried not to think about the thing of which he was becoming. He must accept the changes as they occurred or he might go mad. Unfortunately, it was not so easy to keep a quiet mind every time he looked into the mirror now. His lifelong reflection no longer stared back at him with a full head of hair with morning beard stubble to be shaved away in the shower.

His face had not yet begun to change shape, but the fine layer of brown, tan and white fur grew over just about every outer surface of his body, excepting on the palms of his hands and the bottoms of his feet and over his genitals. Becoming something other than human was a realization that was difficult for his mind to wrap around, even as he tried to get used to seeing it in the mirror.

Rubbing his hand across his knee fur was not unpleasant, but just the thought of what he was doing sent a shiver of revulsion though his mind. He clenched his fist until his fingernails began to bite into his palm.

“Stop it!” he hissed to himself in the quiet of his room. He stood up quickly and shook the fingers of both hands vigorously.

He needed to take his mind off this train of thought, so he abandoned ideas of returning to the exercise room and dropped to the floor instead. Just as he had done for months in a Colorado prison, Jon fell to a series of exercises that did not require the use of weights or mechanical devices. He had to force himself not to work too energetically, to pace himself and clear his mind to focus upon what he was doing.

An hour later, Jon allowed himself to lay back flat upon the carpeted floor of his room, his ribcage barely heaving from the exertive paces he had just put himself through. He was tired, but felt wonderfully alive after such a workout. He only rested a moment before he forced himself up onto his feet, and it was only then that he realized that he was panting lightly. There was a thin coating of sweat beneath his thin fur, but the panting made him realize that soon he would use that primarily as a means to cool his body and the sweating would eventually stop.  Most animals with fur did not expel heat from their bodies with perspiration; they did it through panting, although someone like Kevin Rockwell would dissipate his body heat through his large ears once the fennec fox DNA was more strongly in place.

Forcing that realization from his mind, Jon grabbed a clean set of furman garments from the dresser and then turned out the light as he left the room. There was no need to take along a shower kit to the restroom anymore. The wall cabinet there now housed all the soaps, shampoos and conditioners for feline fur that the Felis volunteers needed. He only needed to stop by the linen closet for a fresh towel to pat himself dry afterward.

Once the volunteers began growing fur, Kristen had wondered why the restroom was not equipped with warm-air dryers for furmen, since patting down fur with a towel took a long time to get a fur coat sufficiently dry after a shower. In a facility that had housed Furs for several years, it seemed unusual that they would not be so equipped.

When asked, Doctor Renwick explained that the air intakes of the previous unit had gotten so clogged with fur that it had overheated and burned out its heating elements just before the last class had moved out of the building. However, a new warm-air dryer had already been ordered for the Felis Wing, though it had not yet been delivered. Until then, they would keep a copious supply of bath towels on hand for them.

When Jon entered the restroom, the sound of running water heralded the use of one shower, but when he rounded the corner, he saw Dante and Jenni standing on opposite sides of the central bench, each of them holding a fresh towel such as the one he carried. The younger man was holding out his arm and tracing his striped patterns with a finger.

“My tiger stripes are finally darkening,” Dante said to the nurse, “and it's about time, too.  I was worried they might have used an albino cat for my DNA mixture.”

“G'morning…” Jon said with a smile. “Did one of you leave your water running? It's probably getting as cold as this floor.”

“Good morning, Jon,” Jenni replied. “That's Kristen in there. She got in just before Dante arrived.”

Jon's eyes shifted between Kristen's stall, Jenni and Dante. He felt a sudden awkwardness, wondering which of the three of them would disrobe in front of the others first. In the time they had been at the Institute, they all seemed just to miss one another going to and from the showers, but this was the first time that all four had arrived at almost the same time.

Fidgeting to stall for time, Jon moved to the cabinet to pull out twin bottles of shampoo and conditioner for mountain lion fur, only to find that Kristen must have them in her stall.

“Y'know,” he said, turning to the sink to brush his teeth, “since we're all becoming cats, how long do you think it will be before we all detest water and have to start licking ourselves clean?”

He heard Dante laugh and he shifted his gaze in the mirror to look at the younger man.

“Didn't you know?” Dante responded with a grin. “Tigers love the water!”  When Jon did nothing more than squeeze out a bit of green gel onto his toothbrush, Dante shrugged his shoulders. Then, out of simple curiosity, he raised an arm up to his mouth and tentatively licked the black and white fur there.

“Bleph!” he exclaimed with his tongue protruding past his lips. When Jon looked at him again, Dante stood there looking uncertain, small strands of fur sticking to his tongue. “Dat fels glose, an I don' even haff a fandpapah tonn yet!”

Jenni laughed aloud at his predicament and turned away from him as he wiped his tongue onto his towel. Her laughter drew Jon's attention just as she peeled off her furman top and then stepped out of the furman shorts and panties. Standing bare before her male housemates, she picked up her shampoo and conditioner bottles from the bench. Then, without a backward glance, she walked to an unoccupied shower stall, hung her towel on the hook beside the curtain and then disappeared inside.

Dante gulped and darted quickly into another shower stall, taking off his furman garments only after he was safe behind the curtain. Jon watched his hand reappear with the clothes and towel a moment later to drape across his stall's hook.

Snorting at the younger man's sudden embarrassment over a little exposed flesh, Jon smiled inwardly and finished brushing his teeth.  Moments later, he disrobed and entered the remaining stall, silently wondering what he was going to do for shampoo. With a body now covered in fur, it would take longer to wash using just a bar of soap, and even that would leave his fur feeling gummy.

“Kristen,” he called above the noise of three running showers, “please drop off our shampoo and conditioner at my stall when you're done.”

“Which one are you in?” the botanist called back.

“Closest shower to the sinks.”

“Okay, I will!”

“Thanks!”

When Kristen finished rinsing off moments later, she peeked out through her shower curtain to make sure no one else was waiting outside. Satisfied that her housemates were busy within their own stalls, she pulled her towel from the hook outside and tried to dry off quickly.

It only took her a moment before she realized in disbelief that the towel she had snared on her way to the showers was nothing more than a dish towel. Grumbling to herself, she patted down her fur as much as she could with the small bit of cloth and then peeked out of the curtain again. 

Feeling as if she were about to run a gauntlet, Kristen bit her bottom lip and stepped out of her stall. She pulled her shorts and robe from the hook, but her fur was still too wet to put them on. She held the small towel in front of her and then set two bottles on the floor at the first shower.

“Here's the shampoo and conditioner, Jon,” she called out in a voice she hoped would reach the large man, but without alerting the others that she was out there. She was almost afraid that Jon would open the curtain to grab the bottles, but she was able to breathe freely when only his hand appeared below the curtain and picked up each bottle one at a time.

“Thanks!” he called back out to her.

Knowing the dish towel could not possibly cover even a part of her plump body, Kristen was struck with sudden inspiration. She grabbed Jon's towel off the hook, mindful not to knock his robe and shorts onto the wet floor, and quickly moved to the bench seat. Once she was dried and clothed again, she would get another towel from the linen closet and bring it back to his shower hook.

Some plans don't always pan out, for just as she reached the bench, a hard cramp hit her left foot.  She jerked the foot up off the floor in sudden pain and surprise, and promptly lost her balance on the wet tile. Her right foot slipped out from under her, and with a loud yelp she fell backward, tapping the back of her head on the floor.

At the sound of her yelp, Dante stuck his head out of his stall, but when he saw her sprawled out on the floor, he dashed out to help her. He knelt down beside her legs, grabbing her wrist in one hand and placing the other behind her neck to cradle her head.

Kristen's eyes were unfocused for a moment, but after blinking several times in rapid succession, she suddenly saw a familiar white face framed in dark stripes. “D-Dante?” she asked hoarsely.

Dante nodded and helped her sit up beside the bench. “That's right,” he said in concern. “It's me. I think you must have slipped on the wet floor.”

Kristen put her head in her hands for a moment. “My foot cramped up,” she mumbled, gathering her thoughts, “and then I slipped. I think my head bounced off the floor twice.”

Her male housemate got up on his knees to examine the back of her head, and it was at that moment when Kristen got a good look at the man's nakedness right in front of her.  Her breath caught in her throat, stifling the shriek of indignation that threatened to burst forth, but then she received a second shock when she realized that she was sitting on the floor beneath him in an identical state of undress.

She reached out to push him away, but her hands would have gone where she did not wish to touch him, so instead she turned over quickly and lay face down upon the floor to hide away as much of herself from him as she could. She wanted to scream out at the little lecher, but then she felt the warm cloth of a large towel draped over her.

Kristen chanced a look up at him, but it was a concerned expression that looked back at her. He did not appear lecherous or even interested in her naked exposure, just worried.

“Are you okay?” he asked, unmindful of his own nakedness, making sure the towel gave her plenty of coverage.

Kristen clutched the towel around her as she struggled to sit up again. He helped her with a hand upon her elbow, but when she got another look at him, she closed her eyes.

“I think I'll be okay,” she said with a difficult swallow. “Would… would you cover yourself… please?”

“Yes, of course,” he replied. “Sorry…”

She listened to his steps upon the wet tile as he went to retrieve his own towel, and then back again to her side. She opened one eye to make sure he was decent, but when she saw a towel wrapped around his waist, she looked up at him with an embarrassed smile.

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

“Here, let's get you up onto the bench.” Pulling her arm around his shoulders, Dante knelt down and then helped her up to her feet. He was not a strong guy and Kristen's weight almost caused him to lose his own balance on the wet floor, but together they managed to get up to the wooden seat.  As soon as he was sure she was stable upon the bench, he stood beside her and examined the back of her head closely to make sure she was okay.

“I don't see any cuts beneath your fur,” he said, “but I'm sure you'll have a bruise where you bumped the floor.”

Kristen closed her eyes momentarily, but when she opened them again, both Jon and Jenni were watching them. Jon was still partially hidden behind the shower curtain, but Jenni stood outside of her stall, quietly wrapping a towel around her waist.

“What happened?” she asked imploringly, unconcerned that she was topless in front of her housemates.

Kristen looked down at her hands, clearly embarrassed. “My foot cramped up and I slipped on the wet tile,” she explained again demurely. “I hit my head on the floor.”

“Are you sure you aren't hurt?” Dante asked, sitting on the bench beside her. “I can see you to the Infirmary.”

Kristen gave him a gentle smile, but shook her head. “I think I'll be all right for now, but thank you for helping me. I could have been hurt a lot worse, but I'm glad to know you would have been there for me.”

Dante ducked his head, uncharacteristically embarrassed by her praise. “You're welcome,” he muttered, getting to his feet. “I'm glad you're okay.”  Before she could say anything more, he made his way back into his shower stall to dry off and gather up his things.

Both women were suddenly aware that when he passed her, Dante did not even seem to notice Jenni's bare chest. When Jenni looked back at Jon, he merely raised an eyebrow at her, not even trying to hide the fact that he had openly ogled her. The nurse merely grinned back at him until Kristen cleared her throat.

“Uhm… would you mind putting those away?” the botanist asked plaintively.

Jenni laughed aloud, keeping her new feline eyes upon the other man. She opened the towel fully in front of him so she could readjust it up higher across her chest, but then she tucked the ends together so it would stay in place.

Jon swallowed with sudden difficulty and then retreated into his shower stall; the sound of water resumed immediately, just as Dante emerged from his stall dressed in damp furman garments. He gave Kristen a brief nod before he turned and left the restroom. 

“Can I help you with anything?” Jenni asked, her mischievous manner evaporating now that both males were out of sight.

“I'll be okay,” Kristen assured her, “but I still need to dry off and Jon might finish his shower at any moment.  Besides, I took his towel…”

Jenni tilted her head in amusement. “You took his towel? Why, you're just as sly as Dante.”

Kristen shook her head quickly, but immediately regretted it when the back of her head began to throb. “No,” she countered, “that wasn't it at all. I grabbed a dish towel from the linen closet by mistake and didn't realize it until I got out of the shower. I thought I could dry off and then get him another before he knew I'd taken his.”

The sound of water ceased and then Jon's hand emerged from the curtain, grasping around for his towel. “Dante gave your towel to Kristen,” Jenni told him before he got the rest of his hanging clothes wet. “I'll get you another.”

“Ah, okay,” said Jon's voice. “Thanks.”

Jenni gave Kristen a wink and then left the restroom. After a moment, Jon asked in a quiet tone without looking out, “Are you sure you don't want to have the doctor look at you? A hard bump on the head can cause later problems.”

“Thank you, Jon, but I'm all right now. I'm more embarrassed than anything else.”

“Here you are,” Jenni said merrily, reappearing through the door. The man's hand emerged again and she draped the towel over his arm. He pulled it back inside and began to pat down his fur from head to foot.

Kristen got up to her feet slowly and found that she could stand up. She cast an eye towards Jon's shower stall while repositioning her towel about her.  She was still wet and needed to be dried off, but she would have patience and wait for the man to leave the room. For the moment, she moved to the large mirror over the sinks and studied her reflection while Jenni disappeared into a toilet stall.

A moment later, Jon emerged from his shower, looking around until he saw Kristen. She looked up at him in the mirror and he gave her a quiet wave before turning to go. She watched him leave and then waited another moment before she was certain he had gone.

The botanist heaved an audible sigh and then pulled off her damp towel to begin patting down her fur. When Jenni rejoined her a few moments later, Kristen did not seem to mind as Jenni shed her own towel to pat herself down. Both females worked quietly, and soon both were dry enough.

Jenni looked over at the other woman, but Kristen had her attention upon her reflection once again. “Drying off takes longer with fur than it did with just a head full of hair,” she remarked conversationally.

“True, but there's no time spent curling and styling it anymore,” the botanist replied with a small smile.  “I miss my long hair, but I think I'm finally getting used to seeing myself like this.” She stood up straight, studying her fur patterns from different angles, seemingly fascinated by her new look.  No longer just peach fuzz, her pelt of cream and brown colors was slowly getting thicker and more distinct.

“My head may be covered in fur and spotted in patterns, but I still think I look bald,” the nurse mused, turning her head from side to side.  “I suppose it will look better when my head is shaped more like a leopard's than a human's. When I examine myself in the mirror, it almost looks like I've indulged in body painting!”

Kristen chuckled and turned around so she could see her backside in the mirror. Jenni glanced at her again. “Have you lost weight?” she asked.

Kristen looked at her and suddenly felt exposed, both of them standing nude in front of the mirror. With their fur colors and patterns covering up their pink skin, it had not really felt like she was totally naked.  Clearing her throat, she returned to the bench to pick up her shorts.

She had only gone three steps when her housemate's words registered. She stopped and looked back at Jenni.  “What did you say?” she asked.

“Have you been losing weight?” Jenni repeated. “You're looking a little slimmer.”

Kristen dropped her head as she slipped into her shorts, hiding the sudden moisture in her eyes. “I – I didn't think anyone else had noticed,” she replied quietly. “I've gone down a size, but I've not changed out my shorts and robes yet.”

“Perhaps you should,” Jenni told her, moving toward her own garments. She picked up her shorts and slid into them. “I think the guys would notice if you did.”

Kristen belted the furman robe around her middle and then tied the sash into a feminine bow, saying nothing, but her expression looked thoughtful.

“Have you made changes to your diet?” Jenni asked, picking up her robe top.

The botanist pursed her lips for a moment in thought. “Not really, although I think I might be eating a little more meat than I used to,” she remarked.

“That could be part of the transformation. We are turning into predators.”

Kristen looked over at her and suddenly smiled. “That could be,” she replied, “and since I've never seen a fat mountain lion, perhaps I'm starting to slim down to match my new feline profile.”

Jenni chuckled at the sudden excitement in the plump little woman's eyes.

Both women now dressed, they gathered up their damp towels and walked toward the restroom door. After several steps, Kristen looked over at her companion, the previous cramp in her foot forgotten.

“Speaking of changes, have you noticed a change in Dante's behavior lately?” she asked, idly rubbing the sore spot on the back of her head.

Jenni fought the urge to raise an eyebrow, choosing instead to maintain a neutral expression on her face.  “I hadn't noticed,” she lied. “How do you mean?”

“Well, he seemed genuinely concerned when I fell, and even though we were both naked, he didn't leer at us once, and neither did he make any of his usual suggestive remarks.” Kristen shut off the light as they left the room and looked over at the nurse. “He knew I was naked, because he gave me a towel to cover up with, but I don't think he even looked at me from the neck down. Do you think he might be learning some manners with his transformation?”

Jenni merely shrugged her shoulders, but did not offer an explanation. She and Dante had not spent much time together since she had learned of his deception. Unless Dante chose to tell the others himself, she did not feel it was up to her to divulge his real background.

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.