My Son, the Shapeshifter
by Shane D. Rhinewald
My son the shapeshifter starts the school day as a honey badger--thirty pounds of coiled muscle and a quarter-inch of thick skin. The predators will stay away today, and even the serpents with their venom will do him no harm.
"Let them stare. You're small but fierce," I say. "And I love you just the same."
When I tuck my son into bed that night, he reverts to a boy, swallowed beneath the blankets, a tuft of thin hair all that I can see in the gloom. I touch his frail legs through the material and hear the wheeze in his breathing.
I pray that tomorrow he wakes as a fire-breathing dragon.
My son morphs into a stork on the way to the doctor, one bent wing tucked up against his body. He tries to flap it in the backseat and squawks more and more frantically with each failed attempt.
"You'll make it worse," I say. "Don't worry. You'll fly again soon."
I watch him in the rear-view mirror, and I fear that this time even braces of aluminum and plastic won't make my promise true.
When we arrive, I gather my broken bird in my arms and carry him through the revolving doors. The nurses stroke his beak as I hurry him through the corridors, and his clawed feet flap at the ends of limp legs.
The doctor pokes and prods the broken wing with a grimace. When I ask him if my little bird will ever kiss the sky again, he shakes his head. Not this time, he tells me. Not ever again.