The thing nobody tells you about shifting is how annoying it is. You spend your life on the periphery, always teetering on the edge of fitting in, never fully invested in who you are. Family isn't so much a foreign concept as it is a wall you can't scale (no matter what form you take) or a threshold you can't cross. Friends are nonexistent. Acquaintances become enemies as easily as the species up the food chain that already want you in their jaws. You have no choice in the matter; you have to look after yourself. Nature doesn't nurture.
When I was a fish, I swam in the wrong direction just once trying to keep up with the school, and that was that. They all swiveled in unison and swam in the other direction faster than if a predator had come up and spooked them. Bugs are usually hive mind idiots I grow bored of. By some strange skillset I don't understand, reptiles always know immediately I'm not one of them, and after too many close calls with coiling snakes and snapping turtles, I've learned to avoid them altogether. Croaking the right note to get on a frog's good side is impossible, and don't get me started on birds. Wolves and other canines seem to know by scent they should stay away from me.
Every time I start to think I've found somewhere to blend, to carve out a façade of belonging, I end up ostracized before I can even begin to get settled. Nature knows, I guess. It knows I'm an abomination. Honestly, seems like it created me so I couldn't belong. At this point I've gone through so many shapes and sizes and species that I can't even remember what form I had when I was born. To keep trying feels futile.
But I saw something the other day that made me wonder if I might give it one last shot.
There was this little girl, a human girl, and she was wearing extremely oversized shoes. Silly thing for a literal fly-on-the-wall to notice, but that's what I saw, blurry and echoed in the kaleidoscopic view of my eyes. I wanted to shift into something else to better my perspective, but something twitched in the corner of the room and I was buzzing out of there before I even realized what had moved. Once I was safely outside thanks to a cracked window and a holey screen, I shifted into a blue jay to get a better look at what startled me. Figures it was a cat. It mewed at me and flicked its tail.
In case you didn't know, that's cat for "fuck off."
That wasn't the only thing that happened that day, either. I ran into another human while I was flying around trying to find something to eat. It was a guy, probably adolescent, talking on a cell phone at an intersection. Remembering the cat, I dove to the ground and shifted into a tabby to hear him better.
"I'm almost there. Yeah, I left the house like fifteen minutes ago." He glanced at the house directly behind him and shoved a jangling ring of keys into his pocket. Then he eyed the street sign on the corner. "I'm on twentieth and Park." The sign read: 31st and Maple. He crossed the street and jogged away.
As if that weren't enough, I also encountered a whole group of them later that night, all huddled around one of the larger houses in the neighborhood. Music thumped from inside, the smell of alcohol permeated the air, and I overheard a conversation as I passed by.
"What are you supposed to be?"
At that point I realized what was weird about the gathering. Nobody looked human, no one except the one in the slinky dress who was answering the question.
"I'm a hot chick attending a party."
"You're such a buzzkill."
"She just didn't want to make a costume."
"Oh, gimme a break. I had to sneak out the house 'cause I'm supposed to be babysitting my little sister. I didn't have time to sew together an elaborate costume."
"I thought you were getting Tyler to babysit?"
"Yeah, well, apparently he had other priorities."
They all got knowing looks on their faces, and then the one wearing bunny ears draped her arm over the self-proclaimed hot chick. "Eh, who cares if you aren't dressed the part? It's a house party, not a formal." She raised a red cup that sloshed gold liquid. "Let's get wild!"
This emboldened me.
One last shift, I thought and joined them in human form.
Been fitting in ever since.