Animated World: Drawn In - Part 5
I sat down and fiddled with my shoes a bit. Candace had to have a look at my feet before I went about stuffing socks in, which worked better than I hoped. Allison sipped her strawberry concoction, the lines of her mouth undulating slowly. Candace's lines throbbed like they were caught up in the wind when she inhaled her pineapple one. Of course, their influences covered the cups.
I drank my blend. Candace began and dominated a new discussion.
"I think we need to take photos of my brother. Allison, does your phone take pictures? Mine is kinda grainy. Mom has a great camera at home."
One that mom used for taking photographs of things for her art and displays and putting on various webpages. It was a great camera to be sure but mom would also have freaked if Candace borrowed it.
Allison took out her phone and prodded it a bit. I shared the same type of phone as Candace, so I'd be no help. After a minute, Allison smiled and offered her phone. Before saying anything, she snapped a quick image of me. She reviewed it and rocked her head a bit.
After taking another one of herself, Candace announced the verdict of, "It's better than mine. It'll have to do."
On our left side, near the taco place, a woman pushed an infant in a stroller. Not a converted baby nor a converted mother. Allison noticed the baby and gave a quick smile before it let loose with a piercing screech which echoed through the atrium of the food court above us. Candace poked at her ears and groaned. Allison gave a little laugh.
I hadn't seen a converted baby in a while but I knew they existed. A strange thought, to live your entire life from birth as an animated human. The conversion rates for infants were slightly lower than average. Something like one in two hundred. And rarely is it knowable a child will be born animated. And animated parents almost never give birth to animated children. Mom ranted once about scams purporting to tell if a child will be animated or not and provide assurances one way or another.
Allison ran a finger along her colorful drink after she looked away from the baby. Candace watched her a little and asked, "What is it?"
Looking up, Allison fidgeted and shrugged. "Oh
nothing. It's just my mom was talking about how she got married still in her teens and had me soon after. And how the same happened with my grandmother and my great-grandmother. Like some family tradition. She was nearly planning what kind of room her grandkids would have. But, since I changed, she's dropped it. I mean, it's kind of a relief to not have her breathing down my neck. But just because I look different doesn't mean I don't want to have kids some day." She held her nail image over the cup then she held her arms.
Candace touched her on the wrist and assured her, "It'll be fine. You remember what we talked about with your parents, right?"
Allison let out a deep breath and gave a nod before saying, "I just
I wish I had parents like yours sometimes. I mean
I love mine. Well, my mom and my step-dad at least. But
yours have been through this and I just feel so totally lost."
Scooting over quickly, Candace gave Allison a big hug. I felt a sudden whim to hug her too. Couldn't quite explain it. But as soon as Candace released her, I put my arms around her too.
I could sense the surprise on Candace's face. Not that I cared. I was glad to see Allison smile. After a moment, Allison chuckled and said, "Thank you. Everyone always thinks of me as the strong one but this
it's a big challenge. But
I don't feel bad about it. Actually, the best part of all this is just seeing myself and being amazed. All the worry and anxiety comes from fearing what others see in my face now. But that probably sounds silly."
We both assured her it wasn't and she went back to slowly sipping her drink.
Social things were definitely at the top of my list of current concerns. Not as though I was the sort to set a room on fire socially. That was Candace. Actually she would set a room on fire, spray the flames in wide arcs, dance around the pyres, and then razz the firemen. I watched it happen a lot and yet I still couldn't quite get it. She often managed to forge organizing connections with groups of strangers, with herself at the center, before she even walked into a room. Still, she wasn't 'concerned' with popularity like some.
For example, our high school has a multitude of groups. The Art and Anime Clubs merged for a while with some other clubs before a spectacular fragmentation. Animated Awareness clubs cross-pollinated everything from the religious clubs to the drama clubs. Some were more keen on converted members and others all but violated equal inclusion laws with made-up rules. Then, there is the Candace Brown Fan Club.
It is a literal, registered, and active fan club. Candace makes the occasional appearance and I got roped into running it for a few weeks. Some meetings bordered on creepy. And Candace made it because there were previously no clubs dedicated to particular people on campus and she wanted to see if she could do it.
I had no expectations I would have a fan club come Monday or anytime soon. There was a vague idea in my head of skipping a few days but I knew that news of conversion would get out through the Candace pipeline, if it hadn't already via text messages she'd covertly sent. Still, I would have to go eventually.
In my mind, I imagined arriving at class as an animated girl. I wouldn't be the first but that didn't help me feel any more keen on the possibility. I mentally transported mom's image, only younger, into my classroom. That would be the toughest moment. I never liked that teachers took newly-animated students to the front and reintroduce them to everyone.
I'd probably die a little inside but be okay. Then, I tried to imagine myself with my friends. They'd met enough of my family that I knew they expected me to change eventually. I knew Amy wouldn't bat an eye. Craig and Casey would definitely ask some awkward questions I wouldn't be able answer. Pete, however, I worried about. But then I usually did that anyway. They were my friends though, so I knew it would be okay.
Then I imagined arriving at class as an animated girl like Parker. I stopped right there and went back to finishing my drink. Candace and Allison had been talking about something, which I caught the tail end of. Happily, Allison gave a soft laugh. Candace gave me a look and asked, "So
where should we go now?"
I was about to answer when Candace's eyes flicked to the top of my head. Allison gave a little gasp. It was one of those few moments in life where I actually wished there was a giant, horrifying insect sitting on my head but I knew it was because the changes had moved to my hair.
As calmly as I could manage, I asked, "What is it?"
Keeping her eyes locked on me, Candace reached down into her purse and passed me a compact. I could've just pulled on a lock beside my face because I noticed a bright, stray hair. I ignored it and grabbed the compact. I paused before opening it, took a breath, and snapped it open.
My hair was bright pink. Very bright pink. Usually it was a mellow, reddish brown like Candace once had. Now, it was like someone had gone to town on it with scorching pink dye. And not a cotton candy, soft pink. A bright pink near the color Candace once had her nails painted. Bright, undeniable, blazing from the top of my head like I lit it on fire, pink. And my hair looked shaggier as well but that wasn't my top concern (yet).
My hand trembled a little as I looked at my reflection. Just the hair. Although my facial hair looked rather sparse. But my hair. My mouth dipped open a little. Same mouth. But my hair!
I heard Allison's voice stammer a little. All I heard from Candace was the artificial shutter click of Allison's phone. I glowered at her and she hid the phone sheepishly.
Finally, Allison offered, "Maybe
you can dye it
" It was really the only possibility. But mom had tried and failed to change the color of hers a few times before accepting it. For some, it was successful. For most, the hair just grew out faster to show the old color. Mom earned the nickname "Rapunzel" for a while.
Candace tapped a finger on the table, leaving a colorful little glow where she touched, and looked me in the eyes. I looked over at her. I snapped the compact closed and passed it back to her. She put her hands over mine and said calmly, "Bro? You are going to be okay."
The glittering color of her eyes looked even more intense than usual. Her words left no doubt. I wished I could've felt that same determination for myself or willed it into me by her expression alone. I could hear sounds beyond our table.
There were chuckles. I could feel eyes on me. It wasn't overt. It wasn't someone screaming as if I was sitting there naked. It was painfully subtle but I could feel every inch of it across me. They knew what was happening to me. I couldn't hide it from them or me. I was turning into an animated
I rolled up my long sleeves, releasing my arms. No point in covering them up any more.
I waited. I figured public mocking would come next. At least I wasn't alone. But that was about it. I noticed some "normals" took a few, unconscious steps away like I was a plague carrier but that was about it. The gigglers rose up briefly but then dwindled. When normalcy returned, Candace encouraged me, "Could you stand up a moment?"
I didn't really want to but I rose slowly, conscious of the fact I might actually lose my clothes if I'd shrunk by a lot. I rose and rose
but not by much. Candace rose and stood above me. By about a head. I felt like I was still on my knees. I tipped onto my toes in a vain effort to eke out one more inch. But that was all. Allison rose too and I grimaced. I was even shorter than her. She noticed and settled back in her chair.
Standing there, I also noticed that my hips seemed slightly wider. It helped keep my pants from sliding off. My cuffs were spilling all over my shoes, which barely stayed on. With some work and stuffing, I felt like an idiot but at least looked presentable. The shirt sleeves absolutely buried my arms and the formerly-tight shirt was hanging off me.
Before I could sit down, Candace insisted on Allison taking a picture of us side by side. She claimed she would just send it to mom. That didn't make me feel any happier about it. My little sister loomed beside with an arm around me. I certainly didn't give a smile. Allison grimaced by way of apology for being an accessory and I finally sat down.
I slumped on the table, barely propping my head up with my sleeved arms. I was definitely leaning towards heading home and burying myself in covers. Allison put a hand on my shoulder and said, "She's right. You're gonna be okay."
Allison glanced away when I met her eyes and then looked back. She didn't have Candace's intensity but I knew she meant it. I had no idea if any of them were right. I brushed far too much bright pink hair out of my eyes and puffed it with a bit of air before asking, "So what now?"
Candace bent up and almost launched into one of her usual pronouncements but she slowly bent back down before saying anything and instead said, "Your call, bro."
I appreciated that, especially that she called me 'bro'. I thought about it a moment. Offhand, I knew that there was a salon somewhere in the mall. I figured Candace knew where. I recalled that they sold wigs. They were probably pricy though. Anything cheap would look lousy and weird.
I didn't particularly want to sit in a chair while a hairdresser tried to recolor my hair. Although I figured they would have some experience, it wasn't really the sort of thing I wanted to do, especially when I didn't know what else was going to change next.
Really, the only option was somewhere quiet where I could easily hide. It was time to head back to the bookstore. Candace narrowed her eyes but accepted my proposal. Not as though Candace disliked books. Far from it. We were a natural family of readers. And Candace was the most polyamorous of readers. She delighted in a multitude of teen fiction which littered her shelves, many of them choices I could find no fault in. But she tended to slip between one and the other with great glee, forgetting some for weeks at a time in an infinite cycle. Occasionally, she would finish them.
Allison clapped her hands softly and smiled, "Oh yeah! There are some books I wanted to check out. That's a good idea."
We finished up and gathered our belongings. I checked the back of my head. My hands slipped through dense extensions of hair on my shoulder. Leaning forward a bit, I received walls of blurry but brilliant pink. With a sigh, I hoisted up my sleeves and let my colorful, slender arms show as I gripped a handful of the bags. No sense in hiding the clearly obvious.
In a way, it was a bit like jumping into that terrifying deep end of the pool. Only it was a slow drift and the water was ice cold. I waded through the early dinner crowd. Mothers wrapped arms around their children and subtly tugged them in a direction away from me. Fathers gave me a calm but stern glare. Kids laughed. Other teenagers laughed. People murmured. And it all loomed above me. Allison and Candace joined me at either side. It helped a bit, aside from the reminder they were both taller than me.
Walking, I noticed the subtle projection of my hips as I walked. Not a girly walk. Well, not any girlier than my typical walk. But I felt like a child with my height and now-bulky clothes.
During our trek across the mall, Candace passed time by mentioning movies she wanted to see in the next few months. She even mentioned one I'd been curious about.
There were only a few well-known animated actors. Some quit acting when they changed (some returned). For a while, having an animated actor or actress (especially the later) was regarded as a stunt. Then there were films last year which ignored the fleshy or painterly qualities of the people involved and got a bunch of awards. So it became even more of a stunt.
Allison mentioned a few movies too, and one film in particular with an actor who had gone through animation in a
complimentary manner. Her blush was subtle but clear as she talked about him. Candace offered up her own favored actor. He wasn't animated but she imagined what he would look like in art all the time. I could recite his name by heart the number of times I heard it mentioned around the kitchen table. Not that I was without an actress or two I thought about.
The walk went quickly and I didn't even notice if people were staring at me. The bookstore was quiet, even quieter than earlier, at least until Candace got over to the magazines. I lingered over there for a bit but ultimately wandered the narrow aisles towards the back.
I didn't really want to buy anything there was plenty to browse. There used to be three stores like this one in the area. Now there was just this, an off-shoot of the mega store on the other side of town. Mom always fumed about that. I traced a small hand along the book covers. Lingering on one, I watched. No change to the book. Not yet.
I made my way to the current affairs section, usually where all the animated issues books were found. Usually only a few in the science section. I noticed one about hospital care issues for converted people. It had been a big issue during the last big political debate, despite the fact every single study didn't find a single thing persistent or infectious about spreading influence. Insurance couldn't deny, especially for animated states. It seemed odd to me that they would, considering that animated people seemed to be in better health. The problem was that hospitals were still skittish. I remembered the time I went with mom to the doctor for a case of flu (which she still got seasonally). The nurses acted like they wanted to put her in isolation.
Then there was the time the news tried to make a connection between a number of elderly, animated people who died close to one another. They glossed over the fact all were quite old. As well, in one case, an old man was walking for the first time in a decade and even went so far as to start jogging. He died in his sleep but medical reports couldn't find a cause. However, animated biology can vary according to appearance. When a liver is considered healthy at a certain color, is it still healthy when it looks like a child colored it in?
I avoided the 'New Age' book but then I always had. The newest of them advanced wild claims about the cause of people becoming converted. Many were at least optimistic, touting a spiritual reawakening of the type which had been touted as coming for a long time. The first wave of new changes. The only ones I bothered with were the pantheistic ones which claimed a widespread "human spirit" energy which originally inspired the human form. Those who were "enbrightened" were closest to the energy source. Some went on about human art as a subconscious expression of this innate presence, connecting "anime" and the early Japanese conversions especially.
The feminist works made me grimace a bit because they suggested that the ultimate embodiment was a serene and glowing female spirit race which guided human evolution. I flipped through one in particular before I shook my head and set it down.
Pink locks flicked against my cheek.