• Published 31st Jan 2016
  • 7,994 Views, 241 Comments

Casualties - Starscribe

A terrorist attack on a suburban high school has unexpected consequences. Instead of hurting anyone, every person inside is changed into a pony.

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Chapter 1: Zero Hour

Lauren had seen many strange things in the school’s offices before; if anything the peculiar was what kept her days interesting. Membership in the Associated Student Body had many perks, but one she treasured above all others was being able to spend a period of every day as a “student assistant” in the office. If there was going to be any juicy gossip from second period, Lauren would be the one to get it.

When she saw a policeman standing outside the assistant principal's office, she couldn’t help but grin. She couldn’t approach directly: she would get nothing for sure. Rather, it was imperative she followed procedure. Lauren smoothed her hair, pulled her skirt down a little so it would look like it met the dress code better than it did, and hurried off to the staff lounge to make coffee.

She couldn’t just make a cup for the officer: that would be too obvious. She made half a dozen cups, each exactly the way their intended recipient liked them. Mr. Gibson the principal liked his extra creamy and with two sugars. His secretary Mrs. Malone took hers black, and so on. She didn't know how the deputy standing outside the door liked his coffee, so she made the last foam cup as bland and inoffensive as she possibly could. Her presence in the lounge didn’t attract so much as a second glance, and in fact she made cheerful conversation with several teachers who didn’t have any classes this period.

There was no guarantee the officer would still be there when she returned, but it seemed today was her lucky day. If one of them had been called onto campus, it was going to be quite the story. When she got back, she found the deputy exactly where she had left him, standing with his back to the windowless door. She resisted the temptation to hurry over, and instead made a loud show of delivering coffee to everyone, with as much bubbly abandon as she could muster. As usual, none of them suspected a thing. More often than not there was nothing for a “student assistant” to do but smile at everybody and only ever answer yes.

When there were only two glasses left (still steaming, to her pride), she didn’t sulk past the hallway but marched straight up, like nobody in the world belonged more than she did. She didn’t walk the same way she might for a boy her own age, who might’ve been convinced by hips alone. That sort of thing didn’t work on police officers. She stopped about a pace away from the door, and made herself as polite and respectful as she could. “Morning, Officer Cohen!” She hadn’t known his name, but his nametag knew.

The man was easily a full head higher than she was, with dark hair and a dark mustache. He was old enough to be her dad. Just walking had been the right move. “Good morning, young lady. Can I help you?” She hadn’t seen him on campus before, but that didn’t mean much. Police almost never had to visit while school was in session, and Lauren wasn’t the sort of girl to get in trouble. Her little brother, on the other hand…

“You sure can, Officer Cohen!” She thrust the coffee-tray in her arms out towards him, making the prop more obvious. “I’ve got Mrs. Fowler’s morning coffee, may I give it to her?”

The officer’s frown deepened. “Mrs. Fowler isn’t in right now, so I’m afraid not.” Even his mustache looked disapproving, and Lauren had no doubt in her mind that the policeman was onto her.

Yet why would there be a policeman outside the assistant principal's office? Come to think of it, she couldn’t remember a single time they hadn’t come in pairs. So this man’s partner was probably inside, with… someone. Of all the doors in the office, the assistant principal's alone did not have a window. “Oh.” She twisted the tray around, so the other glass was facing him, then stepped forward to offer it. His hand twitched briefly towards his side, though it didn’t stay. “I made an extra for you, officer. I’ll have to go back to the lounge to make another glass for your partner, but you’re welcome to this one.”

His face softened. “Oh, sure.” He took the cup, sipping thoughtfully. “Thank you very much, young lady.” His scowl slipped a little as he drank. She didn’t walk away, instead resting against the wall near the door, as though waiting for him to finish his glass.

He never did.

The door exploded outward suddenly, flying right off its hinges and through the air. Officer Cohen was spared only by virtue of standing to one side to drink his coffee.

Something came through the open doorway, pounding past Lauren and down the hall. It was so close she felt the soft touch of fur on one hand as it blasted past.

The animal barely stood to her knees, and she could only tell its orangish outline was male as it retreated. If she hadn’t known better, she would’ve sworn the little creature was a tiny horse, smaller than any she had ever heard of and with an orange coat so bright it had probably been spray-painted.

“The hell?” Cohen dropped the coffee, taking off after the creature with a few pounding strides. The door teetered, then fell back to the ground, bowed outward as though it had been struck by a speeding automobile.

Lauren hadn’t expected that to be how she got to see what was going on inside. Yet with the door gone, who could blame her if she…

There were two people, exactly as she might’ve expected. Mrs. Fowler sat with her head resting on the desk in front of her, hands on the side of her head as though suffering from a terrible headache.

And the other policeman? The man was on the ground, shaking and convulsing as though he had just been shot. Since when did the county police let their deputies dye their hair bright red like that? “Excuse me,” she said into the opening. “Are you two alright? Should I get help?”

Only a faint moan from the policeman answered. She stepped through the doorway, fumbling in her pocket for her phone. Whatever else she did, she figured this would probably be a good time to call the police.

Only her hand didn’t obey. She pulled it out of her pocket with some difficulty, feeling pins and needles spread slowly from her wrist up to her elbow. The skin turned red and feverish, heat boiling just below her perception.

Lauren stumbled, holding her hand away from the rest of her body as far as she could. The fever-hot burning at her fingertips had already spread to the rest of the hand, and it seemed to be getting worse. She ignored the shouting, and what sounded like the crack of a gun. She ran all the way to the staff bathroom, startling the secretary as she passed but not even slowing down to reply.

Students weren’t supposed to use these bathrooms, but she hardly thought about that. There was a first-aid kit on the wall here, she remembered. She found it exactly where she expected, practically tearing it off the wall with her good hand, dumping its contents all over the counter. She was evidently alone, which gave her a little comfort. Her skin was turning bright red, and her fingers were swelling up. An allergic reaction?

Lauren briefly contemplated the trick of many an animal stuck in a trap, somehow removing the offending limb. It didn’t actually hurt that much, but the effect was spreading so fast… No, she didn’t have the stomach for that. Not to mention this first-aid kit lacked a bonesaw or anything she could’ve used. It did have a bottle of iodine. Careful not to touch the offending limb, she tore off the lid and proceeded to dump it all over her hand.

Brownish fluid washed over it without the slightest impact, and the stinging had spread halfway to her elbow. The fingers were even worse than before, so stiff and filled with fluid she couldn’t move them. “Dammit!” she swore, but swearing didn’t help either.

The fire alarm started blaring, a white strobe flashing in the corner of the room. She ignored it, fumbling through the supplies she had upended for anything else she could use. She found some Advil and downed a few with some sink-water, but of course they made no difference. A few “wound-sterilizing wipes” were similarly ineffectual. Lauren screamed, but of course screaming did her little good.

She needed to stay calm. If the medical supplies she had on-hand didn’t do her any good, she should… go to the hospital? Could she even make it in time? Even as she watched, her right hand began to twitch involuntarily. She felt deep crunching noises from within, as though her very bones were buckling under the pressure. Yet such a thing should hurt, shouldn’t it? Why wasn’t she in agony?

It was getting harder to breathe. Her chest and throat were feeling warm and swollen now too, just like her arm. The poison was airborne.

Had the tiny horse really been the source of the infection? If so, was simply running through the building enough to expose the students? With the heat of the day, most of the hallway doors were open. She dropped to her knees, breathing becoming more labored. The strange tingling was spreading through her chest far faster than her arm: apparently its effects were felt far more quickly that way.

Lauren became conscious of a painful reality then: she might be about to die. Panic raced through her, made her shake and nearly fall over, but she forced herself to continue what she was doing. She took her cell phone in the one hand she could still use, and composed a text. She found her brother’s number. He was in Gym right now. “poison gas, get outside now.”

Her brother wasn’t particularly obedient, or else he probably wouldn’t have had his phone on his person during PE anyway. But given what she knew about him, she knew there might be a chance. It was all she could do for her little brother.

She tried to send another message home to Mom, but wasn’t able to finish typing. Her phone clattered to the ground, and she let herself collapse. Whatever was happening to her would take its course, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. In that moment, she felt all her fear drain away. She had done all she could: if she was about to die, then she would die. If not, then she wouldn’t. She was too weak to struggle any more.

She didn’t die. After a few moments, her breathing became easy again, and she was able to watch as the changes began to spread. Her hand was the most pronounced, though it no longer resembled a hand in any meaningful sense. The whole thing looked horrifically like it had merged completely together. This was nothing close to the strangest part about it, though.

Most horrific, it appeared her hand was being covered in hair. Was it a trick of the light, or was she actually growing blue hair? With the strange warmth filling the entirety of her chest, there was no point in trying to avoid contact with her arm anymore. She touched it with the back of her other hand and found it far softer than any hair she had touched before.

Except for the horse that had kicked down the door and nearly knocked her over. Brushing past him had felt almost exactly like this against her right hand, the one that was no longer a hand. He had been bright orange, another color horses weren’t ever supposed to be. Lauren put together the impossible implication of those two facts even as she recognized the shape of her right hand. Her hand was turning into a hoof, and she was becoming a horse.

Could she be dreaming? Was that why she wasn’t in pain? She tried to reach up, find something she could use to hurt herself, but couldn’t get her body to move. Breathing alone seemed to be in her easy control. Sitting up only made her legs flop about. Unfortunately, she couldn’t flop hard enough to inflict pain on herself.

She moaned faintly as the strange shifting sensation filled her whole body. Her back arched involuntarily, then stayed unnaturally contorted. Blue fur spread up her arm, which was very clearly no longer an arm. She couldn’t even look up to see what was happening to the rest of her, with only her arms clearly in front of her eyes.

She didn’t need to look towards her skirt to know something similar was taking place down there. Her legs were shortening, bending so far down she thought they were bound to dislocate. Only they didn’t. The cold sensation of tile on skin vanished as more of the fur covered the exposed flesh. Something stung on her back, as pressure began to build on either side. It was like a blister welling up spontaneously, and for once it started to hurt.

She found the strength to scream as skin stretched and then tore. The pain only lasted a few seconds, accompanied with the wet feeling of blood soaking into her shirt and dribbling to the ground. Yet for all its sharpness, the agony lasted only moments. The throbbing stopped, and instead something strange seemed to be growing out from her body. She could feel her shirt sliding up and out of the way of the strange growths, which let her feel more and more of the floor on either side. A second set of arms, maybe? God, if she could only turn around to look.

She couldn’t, but she was distracted by another brief flash of pain, just above her butt. It didn’t last nearly as long as the first, yet it had the same effect, pushing away skirt and underclothes and spilling out over the floor. She could clearly feel the hair as it grew there, much longer than anywhere else on her body. A tail.

Everything moved, from the organs in her chest to the very shape of her skull. The world stretched out, her arm losing a little of its definition. Even so, she could see further up and around, closer to the ceiling. She could also see that the hair or fur was growing on her face, because her nose had grown into a muzzle and the fuzz covered it all over. One ear twitched, and it was very plainly not where it ought to be. Worse by far than the strange way the room seemed to look different was the smell, though.

Humans didn’t smell well, and Lauren had been one of the worst. Now though, she became frightfully aware of the fact she had her face on the floor of a bathroom. As clean as it was, she could smell all kinds of things that had happened, far more pungent than she had ever smelled them before. It made her so sick she had to make an effort to only breathe through her mouth, as this bizarre transformation finished.

As quickly as it had come, the feverish warmth began to subside. Numbness faded from her right arm, and she found she could move it freely again. It didn’t do exactly what she expected, but at least it twitched. Soon she found the fever fading from the whole of her body, leaving her only slightly chilly. It was done.

Just because the transformation was over didn’t mean Lauren particularly wanted to move, though. She had just seen and felt awful things, things nobody (she knew of) had ever gone through. Well, maybe one person. That first horse, the one that knocked over the door. Was he patient zero, spreading some invisible contagion wherever he ran? If so, how much of the school would be affected? Would her brother suffer, even as she had?

What about her friends? The other students and teachers?

This realization made her painfully aware of another detail: if the first victim had been contagious, she likely was as well. Not only that, but she had been changed into some kind of monster!

She cried a little, rocking back and forth on the floor. A perfectly dignified reaction, under the circumstances. With her hearing so much more sensitive and the strange sensations of the transformation gone, she was conscious of noise from outside. Screaming, running, commotion. Pounding footsteps. Something shattered on the ground. A voice barked over the PA, but she couldn’t make out the words.

Lauren wasn’t sure how long she laid there crying and feeling sorry for herself. Did the shock of the transformation steal her away from consciousness, however briefly? Eventually, either the disgusting circumstances or her concern for her classmates motivated her to sit up. She found the movement came naturally, though she couldn’t have said how she knew how to do it. She rolled, getting all four legs under her, and lifted her neck. The room seemed to loom above her, even further than it ought to in a sitting position. The counter was well out of reach, her eyes perhaps at a level with the rim of a toilet. Her clothes billowed about her, no longer tight and form-fitting. Instead her tank top hung from her torso like a tent, while her skirt and underclothes had already slipped off.

This was not as disquieting as it ought to be, though she couldn’t have said why. Maybe she was just too focused on wanting to get a good look at herself: it wasn’t as though there was anyone to see her in here. Just as with rolling into a sitting position, standing came naturally. It didn’t feel like pretending to have four legs had felt as a child, nor like anything she could easily describe. Lauren wanted to stand, and so she stood.

Her legs still shook as she did so, though that might’ve been the shock. Even having seen one of these creatures before, Lauren was unprepared for just how small she was. She still couldn’t reach the counter, and might’ve struggled even to climb up onto a toilet. Even so, there was a full-body mirror on the door, and so she stumbled over to it to get a good look at herself.

There was no mistaking it: she was a member of the same species that little horse had been, the one that had kicked down the door. Bright yellow eyes, soft blue coat, and a mane like a blue jay. The colors were so harsh on her eyes she couldn’t look at them for long without laughing. Just now, that laughter came bitterly. Nothing outside of a tropical jungle should be this colorful!

Nor could there be any doubt in what she saw. She saw an ear twitch even as she felt it. Flicked her tail, and saw the reflection do the same. Opened her mouth to show her flat teeth, and so did the little pegasus in the mirror. That she was a pegasus she didn’t even question: she had wings, she was a horse, so it must be. Yet she couldn’t imagine a Greek hero trying to ride up to Olympus on her back. Maybe a housecat could try it, but not a person.

Her wings responded to her will just like any other part of her body, spreading and turning over as though she had always had them. Something about this fact disturbed her, though Lauren couldn’t have said what it was. It was the same horror she felt in being able to walk so easily, something about what that implied…

She dismissed it for now. Lauren was done feeling sorry for herself, it was time to get more information. She made her way over to where she had dropped her cell phone, and tried to pick it up. She couldn’t, not easily. Nor could she actually do anything to the touch screen: small as she was, tiny screens were not made for hooves.

Fortunately, she didn’t need to. “Okay Google!” she shouted, suddenly thankful her nerd of a little brother had set this up for her. Her voice sounded at least an octave higher than it had been, more musical somehow. The least of her worries. The phone made that characteristic tone and the screen came on. “Call Mom!” The icon started to spin, but it didn’t reply with the usual answering tone of a successfully recognized command. Around and around it spun with no result.

She nearly crushed the stupid thing with her hoof before it did respond. “We’re sorry, we’re having trouble reaching Google’s servers. Please check your network connection and try again.” She hadn’t even noticed the “No Service” text at the top of the screen until that moment.

Of course, that didn’t make any sense. You could get service anywhere on campus, even under the bleachers down by the south field (she’d tried it)! Perfect time for the cell company to have a service disruption. Unless it wasn’t accidental…

No, no conspiracy theories. She was already done feeling sad for herself. That meant she needed to be rational, to consider what the next best option was. Obviously she couldn’t stay hidden in this bathroom. Sooner or later somebody would wander in, and anyway plenty of other people had been near to the little horse. It was possible more than just the police officer had tried to grab him.

She had to go out and see. Without her phone, it was the only way. Surely the school’s adults would do something about this, they had to! Help was probably already on the way.

She had no intention of going outside naked, but what could she do? Lauren had the clothes she had been wearing at the time, her cell phone, and that was it. Her backpack had gym clothes, but that was hanging on one of the hooks in the staff lounge. So what could she make of clothes with a skirt, a tank-top, and some underclothes?

Not much as it turned out, particularly when she had no hands to work with. Even tightened up all the way, the skirt was way too small for her to wear. Perhaps clothing made of elastic for a dog would’ve fit her, but nothing tailored for a 5’ 7” teenager. Besides, her tail would just keep the thing hiked up all the way, making the whole thing pointless.

In the end, it was the best Lauren could do to tie the straps of her tank-top and wear it backwards like pants. Her tail could hang out where the neck ought to be, and make her feel a little less like she was naked. It still didn’t bother her, but she was pretty sure it would as soon as she left this room and was around other people. Or other little horses. Whatever she was.

This done, she pushed the rest of her clothes into a corner under the sink, shoving her phone in along with the rest of it. As much as it hurt to part from the device, she couldn’t use it right now and had no way of carrying it if she didn’t use her mouth. It was time to go out into the school and see what had happened to her friends.

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