• Published 7th Sep 2015
  • 765 Views, 24 Comments

Chasing Shadows - DarkZonker



One minute you're driving home, the next you're entire life is flipped upside down. After he's transformed into a zebra, Samuel Hunt tries to find his place in an earth where there are no more humans, only ponies.

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The Change

Trees whipped past me as I sped down the empty highway. I gripped the steering wheel as the rumble of my Jeep’s engine moved me faster and faster. The moon had long since set and the sky just above the tree line was gaining an orange tint. I had been driving for hours and frankly, I just wanted to get back home. School was finished, I didn’t have to deal with any more terrible professors, and grad school was still far away. I could finally relax.

The rhythmic tones from my phone broke me out of my musings. Oh God, not again, I thought as I rolled my eyes. A quick look confirmed that my mom was calling. Again. What an early bird.

I lifted my foot off the gas pedal, letting the wind slow my car down to a reasonable speed. Grabbing my phone, I swiped the touchscreen with my thumb and brought it to my ear.

“Hello? Mom?” I asked, trying to sound as bored as possible.

“Sam?” I heard her voice come through, the same annoyed tone as always. “Why aren’t you back yet? It’s been five hours.”

“Got stuck in traffic. I’m still a couple hours out,” I droned. She always did this, never even giving me a chance before nagging my ears off about every little thing.

“Well, get home by sunrise. You’re late and everybody misses you,” she sniped, hanging up.

“Well, goodbye then,” I sneered at my phone, which had reverted to the navigation app I was using to get home. I checked the dashboard time, 6:13 was illuminated in blocky green letters. I'm not sure what she expected, but sunrise was definitely not possible

Wisps of fog started to roll in over the road, and thankfully I had my lights on already. Before long, I couldn’t see the ground at all. I would have stopped but I knew that there weren’t any curves in the road for a long time. Flashes of light streaked over the trees, constantly appearing and disappearing. Strange, I didn’t know that you could see a meteor shower this early, I thought as I briefly took my eyes off the road to watch.

Then, I felt something, kind of like when lightning strikes nearby. Like a shockwave but not a shockwave. It felt powerful. My body felt numb and it felt like I couldn't breathe. The corners of my vision started to blank out and go white…

---

What is being human when you get down to it. Is it the body we inhabit when we go to school, to work? Our genetic code? Is it the interactions we have between each other in our tender moments? Or is being human merely a mindset; that which we think we are when we are alone.

---

The whiteness started to fade and sound rushed back into being. Sunlight attacked my eyes, my pupils dilated painfully as I closed them. Like a miner returning from the deep, I shielded my eyes with my arm as a blurry world came back into focus.

Strangely enough, the first thing I noticed was that my legs no longer reached the pedals and I could barely even see over the dashboard. The second was that my arms were no longer “arms”. They were instead tubular limbs covered striped black and white fur. I could also see a striped muzzle poking out from my face capped with a little black nose. Outside, green cornfields that were just starting to brown stretched for miles in either direction split by the highway, a tall red barn stood alone about a mile into the fields.

I felt my Jeep start to shake and swerve over the road, knocking me out of my initial shock. I stuck my arm-legs into the steering wheel holes and held it steady until I coasted to a stop. I guess stop isn’t the best term. The car continued to idle and inch forward. I couldn’t deal with a moving car right now. I tried to shove it into park but the gear shifter wouldn’t budge and I couldn’t press the button in far enough without fingers. These… limbs did not have the same dexterity, not even close.

I switched attention to my keys which were now dangling from the ignition. I tried to turn the keys by using both my limbs but I didn’t have the leverage, my seatbelt had locked in position and was restricting me from moving forward enough. I pressed the tips of my limb into the seat belt button and felt it click. It whipped out of its release over my head and back into the car. With that done with, I was able to get back to work on turning off my car. I was still idly moving forward and with my inattention had driven into the gravel on the side, crunching all the way. By using one leg to pull and the other to push, I leveraged the keys and turned the car off. Although the engine wasn’t on anymore, the gravel shoulder was still slanted and I rolled into the stalks of corn where it finally rested.

A steady ding sounded every two seconds or so because the keys were still inside. The constant ping was digging into my head, giving me a taste of the future migraine that might come. While I did want to remove the keys, I didn’t trust my new arm things. And so, I swallowed my pride, leaned my head forward and took the keys into my mouth. The cold metal tasted coppery as I bit down. With a yank, the car keys were out and the threat of a migraine was gone. I spit the keys onto the floor, it was useless to keep them now.

I sighed in relief and rested my head against the back of my seat in silence. Now, with Problem A finished, I moved to Problem B: Why is it daytime and what am I?

I looked at my new limbs as I bent them in as many ways as possible. They were definitely able to bend in more ways than a normal arm. The restrictions of my now baggy t-shirt kept me from exploring further but I would have to deal with that later. The ends of my limbs were hard, black, and had a sort of distinct sheen to them. I brought them closer to my face and turned them around towards me. They looked like horse hooves from what I could tell. That couldn’t be right though, because not only was I smaller than a horse, I had zebra stripes. I looked down at my legs, which were zebra striped just like my arm-legs and were barely poking out of my shorts. They also ended in hooves and looked like they had the same bone structure of a dog or any other kind of four-legged animal. I chose to separate them into forelegs and hindlegs from now on for simplicity’s sake.

There was also some black hair poking out from my shorts. Just from a glance, it looked a bit like a tail, and after I yanked on it, (by pressing my new “hoof” into it and moving my butt) it was definitely a tail. Some closer inspection on my lower body confirmed that I was still a guy. Thank God that was still a constant, if it wasn’t I might have gone insane.

Outside my window was an ocean of cornfields on both sides, the highway separating the two sides like Moses parting the Red Sea. The Sun beat down on it all from the highest point in the sky. I knew that before I changed it was only around 6:15, and it is really hard to lose hours with no recollection of what happened. I hadn’t taken any drugs, I wasn’t black-out drunk, none of it made sense.

I needed to get out of the car. I hooked a hoof behind the door handle and pulled while I pushed on the door with my other foreleg. The door popped open and a rush of heat and humidity hit me like a wall. The air smelled like old manure and stagnant water. I scooted to the edge of my seat so I was dangling over the ground. While the usually high distance from the ground to my car seat was something I did everyday, it looked so much farther now. I steeled my nerves and pushed off onto the graveley shoulder. I fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes, the gravel crunching as I landed. Tiny rocks dug through my clothes and into my elbows and belly. While I pushed myself up, I noticed that I could feel most of the rocks on my hooves, though they did feel fairly numb. I would’ve never figured that there would still be nerve endings in them. On one hand, horseshoes sounded like a good idea; on the other, driving nails into all of my feet was not on my agenda.

I turned to my car and measured myself. On all fours, I was only a little bit taller than the headlights. That meant my height had been halved. I sighed, one more thing to chalk up on the cons list.

I saw the broken remnants of a liquor bottle a few feet further up the road. I thanked chance, because falling on that would have been awful. I realized that standing on all fours felt natural, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that. I walked forwards on shaky limbs and from an outside perspective, I must have looked like a newborn deer who just took its first step. It didn't help that my T-shirt bunched up around my forelegs. With every movement, I had to remind myself which leg to use. Front left, back right, front right, back left, so on and so forth. Or as that one Santa Claus holiday special reminded me, Put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out that door! Soon enough, with that song playing on loop in my head, walking was starting to feel more natural and I was moving like a professional.

I needed to see myself in a mirror. I walked back to my car and kicked myself up onto my hind legs. On them, I was able to tell that I could reach just over the window. I balanced for a bit then fell forward onto the door, closing it. I cursed silently at myself for that blunder and shuffled sideways to the side mirror. Using one hoof, I moved it around until I could see myself, but a stranger looked back.

Three things came to my attention: One, I had huge seafoam green eyes, like half of my face could be considered eyes. Two, I had a black capped muzzle (which I could already see but it was still shocking to confirm) that was filled with flat grinding teeth. Three, I had animal ears, the pointed ones like a horse’s that were constantly flicking around at all the cricket and bird sounds around me. What was disturbing was that I didn’t notice them moving. It was a totally involuntary action. After that sunk in, I noticed my black and white hair, which stuck up in a short, rough mohawk. I angled my neck and saw the mohawk run all the way to my shoulders, or whatever the zebra analog was.

Now it was just ridiculous. Or the ridiculousness of the situation was finally sinking in. I was some dwarf zebra, who had changed from a person not twenty minutes ago. All in all, it was the craziest thing I had ever seen or heard of and my uncle was a conspiracy nut. Lizard men ain’t got nothin’ on me.

I needed help and I wasn’t going to get any standing around. I walked to the front of the Jeep and tried to pull myself up onto the hood. Unfortunately, hooves can’t find purchase well on a smooth flat surface. So I hopped onto the, thankfully, large bumper and kicked myself forward, which sent me face first into the bug splattered windshield. I shuddered as I wiped bug guts out of my face and hair. Thanks to the rails on the roof I was able to pull myself up, allowing me to see over the stalks of corn for miles. It seemed like I could see farther and with more clarity than when I was human. At least there was something good about being whatever I was. I couldn’t see a farm house anywhere, and the highway was also devoid of human presence. I cleared my throat, making myself as sure as possible that I wouldn’t hurt myself.

“HELLO? IS ANYBODY OUT THERE?” I screamed as loud as I could. My throat felt hoarse as the only sounds that returned were cricket chirps and bird songs. I waited a few minutes longer before starting up again.

“I NEED HELP!”

“HELLO? ANYONE?”

“IS ANYONE THERE?”

Between each call I waited a few minutes to recover, I wouldn’t be able to keep it up much longer. In the distance, I saw a dark speck shoot out of the cornfields and right into the sky. Against the blue sky and sparse clouds, I could only tell that dark, it had wings, and it was bigger than a bird. It steadily grew larger and larger until I realized that it was headed straight at me very very fast.

A spark of fear caught in my heart. What if it was dangerous? I couldn’t defend myself like I was now, I could hardly perform simple tasks like climbing.

I could see the vague outline of it at this point. It was a dark gray all around and smallish wings that didn’t look right. At the speed it was going, it was starting to look menacing. I took a step back, then another, and another trying to create more distance between me and it until I reached the end of the roof. It was almost on top me when I closed my eyes and took one last step onto nothing. My other hind leg followed, along with the rest of my body as I tumbled off my car. Before the back of my head connected with the pavement, I saw a grey limb reach out for me.

---

Jess looked down at the zebra on the ground with a mix of guilt and shame. She didn’t mean to scare him off his car and knock him out. In hindsight, she should have said something but she didn’t want to get bugs in her mouth while she was flying. She jumped off the guy’s car and at the last second flapped her bat wings giving her enough lift to touch down softly. She put the backpack full of corn gently onto the ground then walked over and put her much larger, fuzzier ears on his chest. The steady Ba-bump of his heart signified that he was still alive and well, if not worse for the wear. She stepped back and took in his form.

The black t-shirt he wore looked like it hadn’t undergone any body adjustments, same with his shorts. He had some muscle built up, a good amount too, which was good. He wasn’t big, but he was lean. Tall too, if the length of his legs were anything to go by. The black and white stripes that covered his body swirled and flowed together hypnotically. She could only imagine what having a whole herd of them would look like.

Jess opened his eyelids and watched as his pupil dilated too slowly for being exposed to the harsh sunlight. It didn’t seem like he was going to get up anytime soon, so seeing her chance, Jess decided it was scavenging time. She opened the driver’s side door and climbed inside. There were some plain blue flip-flops and a keychain with the car keys lying in the footwell, but those were useless now. The dashboard clock said 6:40, but Jess knew better, the watch she had in her pants pocket read one o’clock. In the cupholder was an Iphone. She pressed the home button but the screen didn’t light up. Odd, she thought as she dismissed the useless device and went back to scouring the Jeep. In various nooks and crannies, Jess found three bottles of water of varying amounts of water, six packets of sunflower seeds, a half eaten hamburger (Yuck!), and a large wool blanket. She bundled up all of her loot in the blanket and dragged it outside using her mouth.

The guy was still passed out. Shame. Jess dropped her new loot bag next to her backpack, grabbed an ear of corn, and leaned against a back wheel as she started munching on her treat. It was strange, and lucky, that he showed up here, of all places. Jess knew that for miles around there was no life other than wildlife. It just happened that she was collecting some corn for a treat back home and heard some calls for help. It was really lucky that she had super sensitive ears that could hear him, because no one else would have. Jess smiled through a mouthful of corn at the fact that her body was perfect for this situation.

While she always felt that everybody else back home avoided her because she didn’t look the same, but there was always a reason for everything. Jess believed the reason she was turned into a bat-pony was to find new people. Jess threw away the finished corn cob and started working on getting the corn bits out from between her teeth and fangs. When she looked down she saw that there was corn juice all over her modified running shorts.

“Aw hell,” she swore, as she grabbed the corner of the wool blanket and started rubbing it dry. Jess stopped mid scrub and looked at the blanket, then at the zebra. She felt heat rush into her cheeks as she realized her mistake. He might have been knocked out but the blanket was still his property. Eating corn didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore, so Jess decided to spend her time waiting watching him.

---

When my senses finally flooded back into existence, the only sense I could recognize was pain. I didn’t know why the back of my head hurt or why whenever I tried to crack my eyes open it felt like someone was stabbing my retinas. I groaned, which was the only way to convey my discomfort. I heard a gasp and some shuffling somewhere near me. I couldn’t pinpoint it through the pain so I decided to disregard it. I brought my forelegs to my head for two reasons. One, to cradle my aching skull, two, to defend my eyes from the light.

“Hey, hey. Easy there big guy,” said a feminine voice coming from right next to me. It was followed by motherly clucking and something fuzzy, but also hard, lightly grabbing my legs and bringing them to my sides. As soothing as the voice was, it was too loud to help the pain in my head and I let out another groan.

“Be careful,” she said, more quiet than before. “You fell down and hit your head pretty hard. You’ve been out for about thirty minutes. My name’s Jess, I heard your calls for help.”

Everything from before I woke up came to the forefront of my mind all at once. Being transformed, learning how to walk, the thing flying at me, falling off my car.

“Something was flying at me, I thought it was going to kill me,” I managed to croak out.

I heard an awkward little laugh. “Yeah, sorry. That was me, I thought you were in trouble.”

“What?” Nothing made sense anymore. This Jess person was the flying beast?

I cracked open an eye and worked through the pain of sunlight and saw the blurry outline of a dark gray thing that looked a lot like myself, but with some key differences. The general face area was a lot slimmer, more feminine. The ears were a lot larger and hairier, kind of like a wildcat or a bat. The eyes were golden pools with a blurry vertical dark line in the middle. Lastly, there were pointy bits of white sticking out from under its lips. I used a leg to scrub my eyes of any blurriness and looked again. It was exactly what it looked like: Big fuzzy ears, golden slit-pupiled eyes, and vampire fangs.

I felt my own pupils dilate and my heartbeat quicken. The vampire thing rolled her eyes and scoffed.

“Not you too,” she said. A lot louder this time, which made me cover my ears in recoil. “Every time someone sees me this happens. They either run away, or are too scared to move. It’s not like I bite!” She finished with baring her fangs, which didn’t inspire much confidence in me.

“I don’t know what you are, lady-” I tried to say before receiving the most scathing glare ever.

“Jess. My name is Jess,” she said through clenched teeth.

“Right, uh, Jess. Well, I don’t know what you are or what I am so forgive me for being a bit afraid,” I said. My voice cracked through the whole thing, I must have looked like an idiot.

Her gaze softened and she turned away. I thought that she looked a little embarrassed, but that could have been my imagination. Jess looked back at me and gave probably the roughest, most blunt explanation in history.

“Almost everybody on the planet is gone, everyone who is left is changed into what we are. We get some drifters that pass through and from what they say, we’re all ponies now. Except for you.” Jess looked me up and down. “It looks like you’re a zebra.”

The expression on my face was between dumbstruck and slackjawed. I responded the only way I could.

“What?”

Jess rolled her eyes. “We’re all that’s-” she began.

I vigorously waved my legs for her to stop. “No, I get what you told me but seven billion people don’t just disappear overnight.”

“Well, it did happen. It’s been about four months since too. Boy, that was a weird-”

“Four months!” I interrupted. I could tell that I was starting to get on her nerves, but at this point I didn’t care. “How could I have been gone for that long when I was driving my car as a human last night.”

“Listen, man, I don’t know. There were some ponies just there right after and some show up later like you. If I knew why I would tell you.” She was annoyed, that was made clear as she crossed her forelegs at me and her eyes got hard and steely.

A realization hit just as I was about to speak back, one that I should have had much earlier. My family, they were probably gone or changed just like me. What if they all came back at different times and had to survive alone.

“Oh God, my family…” I moaned, as I collapsed into a ball. I don’t know when I started crying, but I did. Every so often I took a deep breath but I wasn’t focusing on breathing. Why would something like this happen? What could be cruel enough to break up families and loved ones. Jess was quiet for a long time. I imagine she was just standing there unsure on how to comfort a grown man… Zebra.

“Hey, it’s okay big guy. I bet your family is safe. They probably haven’t even come back yet. All I know is that you’re here now. We have someplace that’s safe not far from here that you can use to look for your family if you want.”

Jess nudged me onto my feet… hooves? I don’t know, but I got up and let her lead me over to my Jeep. There were was a backpack and a bindle made from the blanket I kept in my backseat. I’d have to ask her about that later. There were too many emotions bubbling inside me, so many that I felt sick. I pushed it all down. I packed all those bad emotions into tiny boxes and filed them away for later. Too much was going on right now to deal with silly thoughts and feelings. Sometimes you’ve just got to compartmentalize the crazy and continue as if nothing happened.

I leaned against the bumper, the black paint already hot in the warm sun. I think I wanted to take Jess up on her offer, at least for a little bit. Maybe learn what’s going on and what I am before I start on a cross country road trip. Jess sat down next to me silently, waiting for me to make the first move.

I tilted my head to look at her again, this time with clearer eyes. Her coat was a bluish gray and her indigo mane was done up in a ponytail. Her huge golden eyes had a slit pupil dividing the iris, a lot like a cats. Her body was smaller and slimmer than mine with a kind of sleekness that indicated she stayed pretty active. She wore spandex looking athletic shorts with her tail sticking out the back and a black Under Armour workout shirt that looked like it had been hemmed to fit her. She had larger ears than mine, fuzzier too, and black leathery bat wings poked out from holes in her shirt and adorned her sides. I cocked an eyebrow at that. I knew she looked like a vampire but bat wings?

“So what’s up with the teeth and wings, Jess?” I asked, as I pointed at the same spots on my own body.

“I don’t know, I just kind of woke up this way,” she shrugged. “We haven’t met anyone else like me yet. The drifters call me a bat-pony, which I think is fitting.”

“Huh,” I was quiet for a minute before speaking again. “Do all ponies have wings?”

“What? No. Some of us don’t have anything on them or have a horn sticking out of their forehead. The ones that don’t have anything are really good at growing plants and are really strong while the ones with horns do magic,” said Jess with such certainty I almost didn’t doubt it. Almost.

“Magic? Are you serious?” I scoffed.

She turned her whole body towards me and looked me dead in the eyes.

“As serious as death. They can levitate stuff with their horns. Magic.” With finality, Jess tapped me on the nose and returned to leaning against the Jeep. I would have to see this “magic” for myself I guess.

“So what do you think I can do?” I asked as I traced the black stripes on my arms.

“Who knows. I guess you’ll have to tell me when you figure that out,” she smirked.

“So how did you learn how to fly?” I asked.

“I don’t know, mostly practice. I failed a lot trying to figure it out. I was being chased by wild dogs a month ago when I first took off. I thought I was going to die and I knew the only way I was going to get away was by flying. So I started flapping and flapping thinking ‘What good are wings if you can’t fly’, then something ignited inside me and instinct took over. Next thing I knew, I was soaring over those stupid dogs,” Jess started smiling as she stared off into space. I could only guess that first time flying was amazing.

“Where are we by the way?” I asked. I had forgotten that I was suddenly in a cornfield, everything had just happened way too fast to keep up.

“You don’t know?” Jess stared at me with a quizzical look on her face.

“No. One minute I was driving down a highway in Ohio, next minute I’m driving through a cornfield.”

“Huh,” Jess shrugged. “Well, we’re out in Amish country not too far from Philadelphia. You say you were in Ohio?”

“I’m in Pennsylvania? How does that even happen?”

“No idea. Nothing about this apocalypse is natural.”

I nodded in agreement. As strange as this conversation was, it was nice to have a frank discussion. Right now, I couldn’t sweat the crazy stuff, I just needed the information. I let silence fall and closed my eyes to just feel the sun on my new body. Jess shifted next to me.

“You still haven’t told me your name, you know,” she said, sounding annoyed again but the half smile on her face said otherwise.

My eyes shot open. “Oh! Whoops. My name’s Sam,” I said as I stuck my foreleg out on instinct to shake. Surprisingly, Jess took it in stride and pressed her hoof to mine and shook it up and down.

“Nice to meet you, Sam,” Jess smiled, the annoyance evaporating.

“Sooo,” Jess said, dragging out the vowel. “If you’re up to it we can head back home?”

“Philadelphia, right?” I asked, she nodded. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

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