Were All Human Even When Were Not

A flash fiction challenge, on the theme of “We’re all human, even when we’re not.” My apparently misspelled title is purposeful, promise.

Enjoy!

—–

Lorenzo’s ear itched.

Itches often plagued Lorenzo’s ears when in this form. Something about the shape of these ears caught the moldering dust that floated through the air.

No one bothered to clean up the meeting chamber. The large, single-roomed brick building, once a schoolhouse for every child in the community before the town had graduated to city status, stank. It was an insidious stink, though, one that not everyone noticed.

Lorenzo noticed, even like this.

As the others began to show up, the ear beckoned again. Lorenzo crammed a fleshy digit into the space.

It did not help. His normal method, extending just a little bit of claw to nip the itch, was not possible in this form. The last time Lorenzo had changed back to satiate his need, the others had not let him forget it.

“I greet you,” Lorenzo said to the incoming members. The Association of Thralls, Totems, and Familiars might have a widespread membership, but not a punctual one.

In his true form, Lorenzo would not much care about arriving on time himself. That was another reason for the change: humans had the capacity to care about being on time.

The thralls coming in now had no tongues, so each just shrugged at him in greeting. Why did they come at all if they could not speak?

The next entrant reminded Lorenzo that tongueless acquaintances weren’t so bad. Roland the Sentient — the three foot tall garden gnome familiar insisted that his self-proclaimed title be used in full when referencing him — sidled up next to Lorenzo. “How’s it going, werewoman?”

Lorenzo sighed. It was not his fault that the spell granted him by a powerful sorceress would only transform him into a woman that looked just like her.

“I’m fine, Roland,” Lorenzo said. As Roland’s eyebrows crept upward, Lorenzo added, “the Sentient.”

“I don’t understand why we let creatures like you into the group, anyway,” Roland said, as he did every month they met. He points a chubby finger over toward a pair of humanoid frog-like creatures apparently having a staring contest. “The Amphibros?” (The Charleston totems were cousins and hated Roland’s term for them.) “They’re self-aware. Plenty of humans around, too. But you’re a werewoman, a fake human.”

“The ATTF accepts members who don’t fall inside the easily marked categories,” Lorenzo chided. “Plus, you know you have it backward. The term ‘werewoman’ implies my natural form is human. I prefer the term therianthrope.”

“Now you’re just making stuff up,” Roland accused.

“But it means–” Before Lorenzo could go into his well documented etymology, Roland stepped up the to teacher’s lectern.

Enough members had arrived for Roland to call the meeting to order.

“As you all know, I am Roland the Sentient. This meeting of the Association of Thralls, Totems, and Familiars will come to order!” Everyone settled down. Even the muted thralls stopped shuffling and sat on the floor.

“We need to discuss,” Roland said, “and important issue to our assembly. What makes an eligible member of the ATTF?”

That brought a muttering to the crowd, consisting of whispers, hisses, pops, and sparkles that could be seen but not heard. Lorenzo sat in his chair, ears perked up. Roland was going to try and make a move.

Lorenzo had known this day would come, but he was no politician. The gnome had more social savvy in the tip of his hat than Lorenzo possessed in his entirety. Sure, Lorenzo got along with plenty of folks, but avoided those with whom a natural connection did not form.

Roland began outlining the relevant sections of the ATTF by-laws. Lorenzo knew them well enough. The potential must be self-aware. The potential must have a magical connection to a human. The potential must be free (enough) to act in the organization’s best interest. The potential…

Lorenzo had trouble laying attention. A new stink twitched his nose hairs. He glanced over at Necromancer Larry’s zombie horde. The horde had been reduced to three, and all of them seemed to be as well cared for as one could expect a necromancer to do. Zombies could go a day without a shower.

No,this was something else. Something…

In an instant, Lorenzo recognized it.

Smoke.

Fire.

Lorenzo did not think. He leaped from his seat and stripped off the robe. That got the attention of the purely human thralls — his sorceress had not been unattractive — but as he stood, he changed.

As the whiskers appeared around his face, they twitched. The smoke smell clanged against his senses. The pungent odor had a direction now, though. Back, toward the door.

Lorenzo scrabbled beneath the chairs of the crowded room and saw the tongues of flame peek out from above the door frame.

The only exit.

Lorenzo let out a hiss of warning but did not wait for the sluggish majority of ATTF to realize the danger. He leaped atop a rock golem and up to the beams that framed the ceiling.

The flames grew large enough for everyone to notice, and the moaning, whispering, popping, and sparkling took up a new, frenzied timbre.

Lorenzo was prepared, though. When examining the building through human eyes, he had realized the building was a death trap. Humans could take precautions. On his normal form, he might not have cared, but now…

Bracing himself, Lorenzo slammed a furry shoulder into the cask that sat on the beam. The barrel tipped, and Lorenzo fell with it.

Warm water seemed to dominate his world as he fell, and then blackness.

When Lorenzo awoke, he found he had switch back to human form. The ATTF all stood over him, staring down.

Roland broke through the crowd. He eyed Lorenzo, then the charred door frame. Lorenzo gave a weak smile, and Roland groaned.

“What I was saying,” Roland said, “is that we’re lucky to have members like Lorenzo.”

Lorenzo smiled, and then released the human form. He would not need it.

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