This second piece was requested about a month after the first story. It was actually a continuation of the idea we tossed around in consultation; I think it turned out very well.
The bright lights of the Greenland Park Mall didn’t help Mike’s headache one bit. This wasn’t exactly what he had in mind for a post-party Sunday afternoon, but there wasn’t terribly much he could do to change what had happened. His pledge brother was in trouble, and it was up to him to fix what had happened.
Anyone walking by would have thought it funny, seeing this college boy stumbling through the mall, eyes half-open, a picture of a gigantic plush rabbit between his fingers. The guy smelled like talcum and sunshine, leftovers from where Josh had hugged all over him in his plushie-fed affection frenzy. “Let’s cuddle!” Josh had said, arms bunched up into his chest like little bunny paws, flashing Mark these big, beady plushie eyes that were so cute they melted hearts to mush.
Too bad Mark had a headache. And a hangover. He left the Polariod for his friend, locked the door, and took off for the mall and the GNC where his friend had picked up the bunny-making concoction. It was a slick, glossy-black storefront, with sharp-angled letters on the sign and sharp-toned dance mixes pounding from inside the store. “The new you,” a soap-sign on the window said, “inside and out.” A real hipster’s paradise, Mark thought.
He just wanted to sleep off the booze and put this whole unbelievable mess behind him. But pledge-brothers were pledge-brothers, whether one was a affection-crazed plush rabbit or no, and with that thought he stepped into the snazzy GNC.
Almost immediately, a salesman pounced on him. The man wore tight black slacks, black sweater, black beret, and a nametag that said “body shaper Tobias.” In his hand he carried a roll of measuring tape and a picture book with “The New You” printed on the front. Mark stood impatiently as this hipster ran the measuring tape over him, measuring every angle, every distance, every cranny.
“Welcome, stranger!” he said in a lispy alto voice. “I’m Tobias. What’s your name?”
“Mark,” he offered in a flat voice.
“What can we do for you? Muscle mass? Complexion cures? Skin tone tamper?”
Mark looked at the man cock-eyed.
“Oh, you don’t know, do you? That’s just fabulous. We can set up our consultation software to look at your options. Man, woman, animal... even a mix!” he chuckled. “Oh, you’re just going to be so much _fun!_”
“I’m not here for any of that.”
“Please, just give us a chance, okay?” He looked to the picture in Mark’s hand. “I see you’ve been referred to us by some of our earlier work. Isn’t he _darling?_ Oh! We could do the same for you: a little black fur, some nice pointy ears, a bushy tail... you’d make such a _cute_ little skunk! We’ve got a special on the form---“
“No,” Mark snapped. He rubbed his temples as the salesman quieted down; something about his tone was rubbing him just the wrong way. “I just need to see a manager.”
“About my friend here.” He flashed the picture to the salesman’s face.
“Such a beautiful rabbit,” Tobias cooed. “Is there something more we can do for him? We’ve got a _wonderful_ deal going on ear extensions – the girls love that!”
Mark choked back a swear. “Yes, there is one thing. Make him normal again.”
The uppity beatnik’s energy deflated like a balloon. “You’ll have to talk to the man in the back office,” he told Mark, and then he led the man behind the counter and into a hidden door.
“Customer to see you,” Tobias said, and then he turned to the man behind him. “Sir, this is Jereth. I’m sure he can take care of your problem.”
“And one more thing.”
“If you’re still interested in that skunk plush look, talk to me. We can make it happen for cheap.”
The man behind the desk, a middle-aged, portly chunk of a guy with salt-and-pepper hair, looked at the hipster with a cross eye. “That will be enough for now,” he told the boy, and without another word Tobias scuttled back out into the storefront. Then, once things were settled, Jereth pointed to the empty chair. “Have a seat, sir” he said in a gentle, cordial voice.
Mark did so. The place looked more like a broom closet than an office; there was barely room for a desk and two chairs, and that was only because the safe was jammed up under the desk where legs should have gone. White latex paint covered every wall, except for a corkboard with work shifts and employee information. On his desk, little more than an Easter basket filled with eggs and a couple of yellowed sheets of paper.
“It’s a nice place you have here,” Mark said, not knowing exactly what to say. It was better than sitting in silence and thinking about his headache.
“Yes, it’s a decent little business.” The old man smiled and shook his customer’s hand. “You’ll have to excuse Tobias for being a little pushy; it’s not every day that someone like you comes into our store. Usually I tell the employees to talk in circles when they push product.”
“And I’m different because...?”
He looked down at the photo. “You know what’s happening. Usually we leave our product’s success secret out of common conversation. Once you know what we’re about we usually lighten up about the secrecy thing. Besides,” he added with a wink, “with products this good we get a lot of repeat customers.”
“Because your products alter their minds to think it’s wonderful.”
“That too.” He chuckled. “But your bunny friend is having a blast, yes?”
“I think he’d be happier as a human again.”
Jereth sighed big and leaned back in his chair. “Me too. He’s just a college kid! Life’s laid out before him, and all he can think about is being someone else. Poor fool. I made the potion just for him; fluffy coat, cute ears, big bunny face, and happy-sappy demeanor. Perfect for the ladies.”
Mark shook his head. “You didn’t _tell_ him what he was getting into.”
“Sure.” He leaned over the desk and suddenly Mark could smell the garlic on his breath. “Look, here’s the deal. Your friend came in here wanting to be in with the ladies. He wanted instant results. He wanted, we delivered. That’s what we do here. So he was stupid enough not to realize there was a price to pay. Not my fault.”
Jereth shrugged his bony shoulders. “Yeah, I’m a little mean. It’s in my nature. “
“Not to mention illegal,” Mark spoke in a low, controlled tone. “Do you know what the Better Business Bureau would do with a place like this? Even better, how about the FDA? Or the FBI? I’m sure they’d get a kick out of your meanness.”
“Oh, dear.” The old man rubbed his bare chin and contemplated a plain corner. “That won’t do. No, not at all. I’m sure they’d have a heyday with a poor little mage like myself----“
Just then, the door swung open. Tobias poked in with his hipster head and a small spritzer bottle in one hand. “Should I?” he asked.
“Knock yourself out.”
“Fabulous!” Mark felt two cold mists fall onto his neck. Before he could whip around to stop the spray the hip boy was gone. Tiny prickles shot up and down his neck where the cold liquid had settled into his skin. His hand went to wipe away the liquid only to find a palm-sized patch of peach fuzz growing there. After a second’s time the fuzz became a fine, soft-textured fur.
Mark’s heart skipped a beat. When it came back online it spread a warmth throughout his body. It was a thousand candy-filled, caring, compassionate Christmas mornings. He smiled and giggled, despite being scared out of his mind.
“I always say that it’s best to experience the GNC difference firsthand,” the manager said with a grin. “Have you ever been turned into a bunny? It’s quite the experience – wait until the ears start to grow in. Oh! what a wonderful feeling! Yes, you agree. You’re smiling. Feels good, hmm?” He paused to let Mark giggle a cute little giggle before pointing to the bunny-to-be’s paws. “Oh, and please do check the fur color on your paw – some of the elixir rubbed off into your palm. I want to make sure it’s an okay color for you.”
He looked down to see a puffy bean of a paw, complete with marble nubs of toes and a puffy pad on his palm. Rosy pink fur crawled its way up his arm. He felt so cute he could just strangle himself, if only he could distract his body from being the cute little rabbit he was becoming.
He tried to groan, but all that came out was a little-girl sigh.
“I thought pink fur for you. You stepped in the door and started talking and immediately I knew what you’d go for. Yes, definitely pink fur. Girly-cutsey contrasts well with your big-man attitude.”
Mark wanted to throttle the man across the way from him, but he was shrinking into his chair so fast that he couldn’t reach the man anymore. Besides, how was he supposed to get the man’s throat with two bunny paws?
As Mark writhed and giggled his way to a new body, Mark pulled out a mirror. Suddenly the college kid was faced with a chimera of disgustingly cute proportions, human skin waned to the oncoming tide of pink fur, covered in the flowing cotton cloth that was his shirt just a minute ago. As he watched himself changing, Jereth added: “Please don’t worry if your conscience isn’t interested in it. Hell, don’t worry if you hate it! We can fix that easy.
“You don’t realize who you’re dealing with.” He continued. “In a minute you’re not going to care about getting Josh back, or being normal, or anything about your past. You’ll just want to be hugged and snuggled and loved all over. Howzabout that? I’m sure you’d report me to the BBB if you were a happy, carefree little girl bunny plushie, eh? Would you talk to the FBI if your only want was to snuggle up to Josh, your favorite boy plushie bunny?”
The rabbit shook her head, despite himself. But he did manage to get his mouth working enough to say something. “I’m tired, hung over, and just plain not happy. I try to do a good deed for a friend in need and this is what happens? What a sucker I am. I don’t want to do this, don’t want your retribution... I don’t want anything to do with it!”
Jereth sat back heavy in his seat. The bottom dropped out of Mark’s mind, and suddenly he was happy and warm and fuzzy and wanting a hug just like any plushie would.
“Oh, damn it. I can’t stand watching someone like you go to waste.” Jereth brushed the dust off his hands and suddenly Mark’s skin was smooth again. He sat, naked, in the office chair, fully human. His mind snapped back into place and jostled his body in doing so.
“What was that all about?” Mark asked, but Jereth wasn’t paying attention. His head hung low, cradled in his two hands.
“I remember being like you,” he said into his palms. “I managed this shop when I came out of college. Same thing, day in, day out. I burned my best years away – I went to work and went home. I never did anything interesting or different—man! What a fool I was!
“I picked up magecraft a few years ago. A friend of mine knew the craft, and he gave me some pointers. I lost my fun, but here I had a chance to give you young’uns a little pep.” He paused. “A little zip? A little surprise? What do you kids call it now, anyhow?”
“Surprise will do fine.”
“You kids want to change who you are. You’re sitting on something wonderful and all you want is some change!” He heaved a sigh. “I wanted to be amazing as a twentysomething. Look where I ended up; a manager of some little shop in the mall! Some adventurous life _that_ netted for me! At least I can make it fun for others sometimes.”
“But you’re just trying to get even with the world,” Mark countered. He bent down to collect his clothes and throw them back on – the room was surprisingly cold without fur or clothing to cover him. “Look, just help me save my friend and we’ll call it even stevens. You can figure out your little mid-life crisis on your own.”
He thought about it for a moment before nodding and pulling out a portfolio. “Sure, Sure. So we get rid of your friend’s bunny body. No problem. I’ve got a great deal going on skunk bodies – it’s all the rage down in California circles right now. I can give him a form-for-form exchange...”
“I think he’d be best as a human.”
“Sorry, no can do.” He looked around sheepishly. “See, when he came in wanting instant results I had Tobias give him the instant package. It’s a bit strong.”
“He’ll never be fully human again. I know, it’s a bit rough, but them’s the breaks. I wasn’t exactly thinking for his safety when he came in. Such a demanding, spoiled little brat of a man! The way he talks you’d think the world owed him something!”
Mike cracked a smile. “You get used to it.”
“Whatever.” Jereth handed his customer a small plastic egg. “Here’s a potion solvent. (Like the eggs? I got ‘em at Wal-Mart on sale.) Pour it on your friend and he’ll get his normal mind and humanoid body back. You’ll have to deal with the fur, ears, and tail – that’s not my problem.”
The situation called for sarcasm, sure, but Mark knew better than to cheese off a mage that could turn him into a harmless little animal at will. “You’re too kind,” he said after a moment’s pause, and he said it as politely as possible.
”Tell him to look on the bright side. He’ll always be able to use that “rabbits multiply” pickup line on the ladies. And he’s now a party animal!” He chuckled. “I know, that’s lame. It’s the best I can do.”
“I’ll figure out something.”
“At least his life’ll be interesting. Make sure he knows that.”
The words were like a universal cue. Jereth rose. Mark rose and zipped his fly – the last thing to go on his body. They shook hands over the desk and said their thank-yous, as people tend to do after a business transaction. Then, without a word said, Mark turned and walked out into the store proper.
Tobias turned to look to the door, saw Mark standing there, and nearly dropped his thermos of coffee. “I thought you’d be a bunny!”
Mark shrugged. “We negotiated a deal. No harm done.”
“Too bad. You would have made a fabulous bunny, I think. You should take home a sample of the potion; it wouldn’t be permanent like your friend’s, I promise!”
“That’s okay. Really. I’m fine.”
“Oh.” Mark started to walk out of the store, pink-colored egg in one hand. Before he could completely get out of the store, Tobias yelled after him: “You sure we can’t help you with anything today? We’ve got six-hour shakes on sale – all species. Put a little spice into your life – howzabout it?”
Suddenly Mark’s mind filled with warm memories of pink fur and ears. A quick pivot later and he was hopping back to the counter, a big grin on his blushing face. “Now that you mention it, I’ll take a few things – you know, a basic collection. A little variety never hurt nobody.”
* * *
Sigma Omega was quiet when he came back home. Most the guys were downstairs watching a movie, probably – that’s the big activity on a Sunday. It gave Mark time enough to slip inside with his little plastic sack and sneak up to Josh room. Best not to draw any attention, he thought to himself.
Inside the room, he was assaulted by a cheery giggle and a big hug. “Hello Mark!” Josh said in a squeaky, nasal voice that sat somewhere between little girl and tiny boy. “I’m so glad to see you again!”
Mark just shook his head and cracked the plastic egg over the rabbit’s head. Almost immediately the little plush started growing, popping stitches and stretching fur fabric all over. The skin seemed to fill out from below the seams, covering his body in soft white flesh before the gray fur started to floof over his body. As he grew, his little rabbit face widened and stretched, until he had the face of a human and the muzzle of a rabbit. He smiled, and two long teeth hung over his lower lip. He leaned his head forward and two long ears flopped over his face; after a few moments he was able to push them back just by thinking about it.
After a few stumbles, Josh managed to pull himself up on two feet. He stood on two springs of feet: long, thin feet that sprawled out at tiny little nubs of toes. His legs made him look like a real rabbit strung up on lines and made to walk normal; the legs stuck out in front of him like two long, overfilled balloons.
The rabbit-man took a moment to collect his bearings. At the time he just stood, staring at his friend eye to eye, human but not human at all. When he spoke it was in the deep, booming voice that Mark had known and loved so well. “What in the hell?” he asked, and Josh was as back to normal as he could be.
“You asked for it,” Mark replied. “It’s the best I could do on short notice – at least you’re talking and thinking clearly again. Better than that love-and-care bull honkey you were spouting a few minutes ago.” Josh nodded to this, paused to think about that moment, and was suddenly rocked with a big shudder.
He looked down at his rabbit body with a stare of disbelief. “How do I explain this off?”
“That’s your problem. You were the idiot that went and got yourself into this mess---“ Mark wanted to say more, but the frown lines cutting deep into his rabbit friend’s face were too much to bear. “Hey, look on the bright side. You’re cute and cuddly and exactly what the women love. You’re a party animal.”
“Great one,” he said with a sigh.
”I know. Learned it while I was out running errands.”
“But I’m still this anthropomorphic freak of nature.”
“Cheer up! Think of it as an adventure.” Suddenly Mark was struck
with a fun little spark of an impulse. Out of his bag he pulled a small vial
marked “Bunny bimbo” and popped the cork. He toasted his friend
and knocked back the little bottle “Let’s just try not to worry
about it, okay? I’m sure things will work out fine in the end.”