The Sign of the Crane

Part One

"Are ya ready, Michael?"

"Hit it!"

With a roar of Evinrude engines the boat rocketed forward, lifting Micahel Stantz free of the water and allowing him to glide upon the lake's glassy surface.

Michael was an eighteen year old soon-to-be high school senior. An excellent student but only an average athlete, Michael had traveled north to Minnesota with his friends to enjoy the last weeks of summer. Accompanied by his girlfriend Bridget Stuart, best friend Shawn Myers and two others, the fivesome had come in the hopes of a relaxing adventure of fishing and skiing. They could not have known that by choosing to lodge at Lake Silver Crane they had elected for a different sort of adventure altogether.

"Watch out for that wakeboarder, Drew!" seventeen year old Shawn barked at his friend from behind the driver's seat, fighting the wind to keep his longish hair out of his eyes.

"No sweat, man!" answered Andrew Collins, Shawn and Michael's longtime friend, and the only other male in the group with a boating license.

Easily evading the passing boat and its suspended passenger, Drew plowed through the wake with a series of short bumps and a triumphant shout. Shawn groaned a bit as seasickness threatened to overcome him for a moment. In contrast, Drew's twin Katie- the group's short blond haired pilot- and the long haired Bridget giggled at each bounce of the boat. Though gritting his teeth and fighting to keep balanced over the myriad of increasingly shrinking waves, Michael gave a wild shout and pumped a fist into the air, eager to show off for his girl.

This urge to show off grew when Bridget waved and blew him a kiss from the back to the speeding boat. Once fully clear of the other boat's wake Michael, eager to further impress his red haired goddess, resolved to attempt something he had never done before. His skis having not been on very tight anyway, Michael gave a shake of his left foot and lifted it free. For a single glorious moment he was standing with only a single leg, but the next saw him tumbling face-first into the blue. Throwing up his arms to let the rope fly free, his right leg still straight, his left still raised up to knee level; in the single instant between the fall and hitting the water he looked as if he were attempting a gravity-defying version of one of the Crane stances of martial arts fame.

It was only for a moment, but a moment was more than enough.

As Michael hit the water a blue flash of light filled his vision and sharp tingling ran throughout his entire body. The strange phenomenon lasted for only the merest instance, so fast that he could be sure of the reality of the experience, and by the time that he was bobbing at the surface a moment later he was far more concerned with spitting out half the lake and getting enough air. Beyond the half-imagined light, the only things out of place that he noticed were that his swimming trunks were now uncomfortably loose and that his life vest had grown tighter. With a shrug, he tightened the strings on his swimwear, loosened the straps on the vest, retrieved the skis, and began to wait. The water felt pleasantly warm after the cold of rushing air.

Within minutes the boat arrived, the motor disengaged and moving just enough under its own momentum that Michael, clinging to both skis, struggled to reach the rope before it could escape him. He rode along thus until for a bit before beginning to pull himself up to the vessel.

"Wow, Mike," Bridget laughed, pulling up the skis before reaching for her boyfriend's hand, moving cautiously to avoid slipping on the wet edges of the boat. "That was quite a stunt. Too bad it- huh? Oh, excuse me. I thought you were someone else."

Michael, pulled only half-free of the lake, blinked in confusion as Bridget turned her head towards the driver and barked, "Drew, you dunce! This isn't Michael!"

The others turned to the rear at this outburst, confusion written on all of their faces. It was only then that Michael realized that the heavy wet mass plastered against his back.

"Whoah, how did I screw that up?" Drew frowned, rubbing at the sparse hair on his chin. "I was sure that that's where he landed."

"She's sure cute, though," commented Shawn with a wide grin.

To which Katie replied, "Kinda looks a little like Michael a little bit. 'Cept for the red hair."

"Ew, don't say creepy stuff like that," Shawn complained while a combination of confusion and panic ran through Michael's mind. Straining his eyes, Shawn added, "Even if it is kinda true."

"What the hell are you people talking about?" Michael demanded at last, then gasped and grasped at his throat at the sound of the unfamiliar, soprano voice which had issued forth from it.

With one hand still clutching Bridget's, he looked down at his other one and found it to have long slender fingers. Reaching back he found that his hair now reached down just below his back, and pulling several strands forward found that his normally light brown tresses were now an even brighter shade of crimson than his girlfriend's. A sensation of absence below the belt line became apparent as his quavering hand reached slowly down the front of his jacket.

"Ohmygawd!" he screamed as he let go of Bridget, splashing backwards into the water in a dead faint.

***

"This is…way too weird," Bridget said again, sitting cross-legged in the sand, arms crossed beneath her sizeable chest.

"How do you think I feel?" Michael griped again, sitting across from her in the same position with a bright colored beach towel wrapped about the former-he's torso. Life vest sitting discarded at his feet, he hit Shawn and Andrew with a hard stare. Instantly, the two gawking boys looked away, causing Katie- seated at Bridget's side- to laugh into her hands.

The five were sitting in the midst of one of the artificial sand beaches built all around the lakeshore, currently abandoned save for themselves. It had been nearly half an hour since Michael's bizarre transformation and the feminized young man had only recently regained the ability to speak comprehensively without whimpering and babbling in gibberish.

"Say again what happened, Mike," Drew insisted, to which Michael replied irately, "I've already told you!" Having been asked this at least twice by everyone, his ability to control his temper was nearly shot. "I have no idea what happened. None. Zero. All I know is that I fell, there was some weird light, and I come up looking like this. Would you like me to draw you a picture too?"

"And that tattoo?" asked Shawn.

Shrugging off the towel just enough to expose his right shoulder, Michael gazed down with bright green eyes- rather than blue- at the black and red image of a crane standing on one leg with wings have raised."

"Yeah, I've got about as much information on that as anything else that's happened today. Thanks for playing though," grouched Michael, pulling his towel back up with a scowl. When he had lifted his head back up from studying the tattoo he had been quite positive that what his friend had been really looking at had been within the towel itself.

Not that Michael could blame him. After all, he thought with a perverse grin, even without a proper look in the mirror he was fairly certain that the shape of his figure surpassed even Bridget's comely form.

"What are you thinking about?" the girlfriend in question demanded.

The smirk evaporated.

"Nothing, Megs, nothing!" he sang.

Bridget, who preferred to go by her middle name of Megan, gave her girl/boyfriend a long, suspicious stare. After several minutes she said with a forlorn look, "You know, besides the obvious question of 'What in the hell happened to you,' what I most want to know is how this is going to affect our relationship."

"Eh?"

"Don't pretend, Mikey. I know how that perverted little mind of yours works."

He honestly didn't know what she meant and it showed.

Bridget's face brightened a shade or two as she muttered loudly, "You would make me come straight out and say it, wouldn't you, you little perv?"

More loudly she said, "What I mean, dumbass, is how does this…this metamorphosis or whatever it is…that is, if it doesn't go away on its own will that make me a…a…a lesbian?"

Stunned silence reigned.

"Oh, I get it!" roared Katie with laughter, falling over backwards in the sand, "You were both definitely straight before, but now Michael's a girl now, you still like him, so that means…!" The rest was dissolved into incomprehensible giggles.

"Ya know, I never actually thought of that," admitted Drew, turning a bit pink himself.

"I did," Shawn announced proudly.

"You would."

Michael's anger and frustration boiled over at this point. Rising to his shapely legs in a single motion, towel draped across his body as a poncho, he bellowed, "Thank you, Ms. Stuart, for being the only person here suffering from my predicament! And no, you an' me are certainly not Lesbos, 'cause I'm a guy!"

Bridget looked up at her boyfriend with a milk-souring glare.

"And what're those things you're hiding under that towel, Michele? And I only asked cause I need to get this straightened out now, or else I'm gonna turn into a total head case trying to do it later."

Michael really liked Bridget. He'd almost go so far as to say that he loved her. Yet one of her most endearing character flaws was that she could be quite self-centered when she wanted to be. Like now.

"You're not the victim here, I am!" he screeched, ninety-five percent of his brain filled with righteous anger, four percent with hatred for his new voice and the last one percent marveling at how high a note he could hit.

A cold voice answered, "Who's the victim?"

A single shot rang out, causing the patch of sand at Micahel's feet to spray into the air. The five friends scrambled backwards even as they visually sought out their attacker.

She was easy to find: A tall, slender Native American girl striding out from the trees, dressed in jeans, cowboy boots and a red denim western shirt. Three brightly colored feathers were woven into her long, loose ebony hair, and she would have been quite pretty were it not for the snarl on her face and the rage in her brown eyes. In her hands was an antiquated bolt action rifle.

"Damn, missed," the newcomer spat, cocking the gun with practiced ease. She began to approach at a slow, steady pace, weapon held at eye level. As she advanced the others retreated.

"Finally," she purred with a sadistic grin. "At long last, Blind Heron's curse comes full circle, and the wrongs committed against my tribe shall be rectified.

"Hey- hey there, lady," Michael protested, arms raised above his head.

"Shut up," she replied, coming to a stop not five feet away. Her weapon was pointed directly between Michael's fear-widened eyes.

"Son of John J. Stantz, cursed bearer of the Sign of the Crane, its time for you to die."

She squeezed the trigger.

To Be Continued...

Author's Notes: This is just an idea I've been playing around with for the last couple of months. I have actually planned out what happens since the initial conception of it, but in the wake of other, far more pressing projects, this will have to wait on the back burner for now, though I do hope to be able to update from time to time.
Though this takes place in America and involves American characters, this story belongs in the Anime/Manga category because it was written with anime in mind, and thus is meant to be read as such.
Drawing from my guilty-pleasure sub-genre of anime (magic-based gender benders- Ranma 1/2 in particular), I got my inspiration for this while on my family's annual ski vacation to...you guessed it, Minnesotta. I'ved always loved that part of the country and I thought it would be a great place to set a story in. That and, being a victim of constant random thoughts and having watched a fair bit of Ranma over the summer, I wondered briefly after one wipe out what it would be like if I had somehow come out of the water...well, you know. As for the curse's trigger, it just so happened that that particular fall had been triggered by an impulsive attempt at skiing with one ski, my random thoughts pointed out I was sorta doing a crane pose right before I fell. Being born of randomness, this story's plot itself is rather random, so I hope that all fans of randomness, anime, and gender benders can appreciate this story.
On a final note, please remember to tell me what you guys think. I always love to sit down and read reviews, and the more of them that I get the more likely I am to update this more often.

Sorry for the long winded afterword.
Until next time,
- Lord Slayer