The Shape Shifter By James Bates

Not many people know this but we shape shifters don’t get to call the shots. Nope, we take what we get. Once I was tasked with being one of those Covid-19 masks. That was back at the start of the Great Pandemic eight years ago. An interesting assignment. I’m considered a very mellow dude in the shape shifting community but even I got a little perturbed when the guy who supposed to be wearing me stuck me in his pocket. Then he got sick. Man, was his wife ticked off. Then he died. She was still ticked off, but not as much. I heard she’s much happier now.

But I digress. Being an inanimate object like a mask is one thing, being a living breathing organism is completely different. Take my last assignment, for instance. I was a dragonfly. All well and good except…well, let me tell the story:

The first thing I remember was a loud, “Kids!” I looked around, confused. For some reason I seemed to be in a glass jar. There were a bunch of children sitting in desks in rows and a young woman standing in front of them waving her arms to get their attention. What was going on? I saw a sign on the back wall by the door and it read: “Miss Baxter – Second Grade.”Okay, I got it. She was a teacher, and I was in a classroom.

            Miss Baxter reached down, grabbed my jar and lifted it. One minute I’d been resting on a twig, chewing on some regurgitated food minding my own business, then suddenly I was air born. Help! I wanted to scream, but, of course, couldn’t, being a dragonfly and all. Then the reality of the situation dawned on me: I was in a canning jar. I was a specimen!

The teacher grinned along with the enthusiastic, “Oh’s” and “Ah’s,” emanating from the suddenly attentive kids. I had one of those premonitions I sometimes get: This was a class of what they called the Covid Kids; children conceived during the first months of the lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic back in 2020. Wow, there were a lot of them!

            “Do any of you know what this is?” Miss Baxter asked.

            A little boy with “Jeremy” printed on his name tag raised his hand and said, “It’s a dragonfly, Miss Baxter.” He pushed his glasses up from slipping down his nose. “I was wondering, do you know what kind is it?”

            What a polite young man, I thought to myself. My experience with kids his age, especially boys, had been disgustingly different.

            Miss Baxter smiled. I got the immediate feeling that the inquisitive, be-speckled boy with freckles and red hair reminded her why she liked to teach so much. “See the color,” she said, holding the jar (and me) closer to him to get a better look.

            “Yes. It’s blue.”

            “That’s right. It’s called a common blue damselfly.”

Blue damsel, for short, I wanted to say, but, like I said before, couldn’t.

            “Where’d you get it?” Jeremy asked.

            “I found him in my garden.”

            Next to Jeremy a young girl in pigtails with “Sally” on her name tag raised her hand, “How do you know it’s a he?”

            Yeah, teacher, I wanted to say, how do you know I’m a he? Wait a minute, am I a he? I’m pretty sure I am. But the real question was how was I going to get out of this jar? I looked up. Miss Baxter had poked holes in the lid but, still, it was getting stuffy. Plus, I was all out of food and was starting to get hungry. My thoughts were interrupted by Jeremy.

            “He’s a pretty dragonfly.”

            I liked this kid, but, personally, I’d go with handsome for a more apt description of myself.

            “What are we going to do with him?” pig-tailed Sally asked.

            “What would you like to do with him?” Miss Baxter responded.

            Right then that feeling of calm I was beginning to experience evaporated in the blink of a gnat’s eye. Let a bunch of kids decide my fate? No way. Once I was shaped shifted into a deranged nine-year old boy and the things that kid did to bugs, I don’t even want to think about. So, no, please don’t let these seven-year-olds born in a pandemic decide. Who knows what they’ll come up with?

            “Miss Baxter?” Jeremy asked. “Can we keep him on the window ledge and watch him. For a while at least. He’s kind of cool.”

            Hey, not a bad idea. I was beginning to like this kid a lot.

            “Okay,” she said. “And, Jeremy, how’d you like to be in charge of caring for him?”

“Great!” he said with a grin. “And I’ve changed my mind; he really is a handsome dragonfly.”

Atta boy! that’s how I spent the next month. Not the most fun I’d ever had, but at least the kids liked me. They were kind of fun to watch. They had to wear masks because I guess there were still issues with the pandemic virus from eight years ago, even though there was a vaccine that was supposed to be a cure but wasn’t helping like they thought it was supposed to. I don’t know, it was all a little over my head.

Anyway, they put me in a glass thing they called an aquarium with some wire mesh over the top, so I couldn’t escape (because I tried, believe me, I tried.)

            Toward fall, though, I started to feel kind of drowsy. Miss Baxter suggested to the class that they let me go.

            “But what will happen to him?” Jeremy asked, ever the curious one.

            “Oh, I don’t know,” Miss Baxter said, but I had the feeling she knew, just didn’t want to say.

            “Will he die?” Jeremy pushed her.

            “Yeah, he’ll die,” Sally said. “Everything eventually dies.”

Spoken with a lot of conviction for a second grader, making me wonder what her life up until now had been like.

            “Okay,” Jeremy said, shrugging his shoulders, giving in a little too easily from my perspective.

            The point was I was going to die. No two ways about it. So, they let me go and I flew around for a little while and ended up in a nearby swamp where I landed on a cattail reed and…that was that.

            Right now, I’m a brilliant red-orange maple leaf hanging in a tree in a park. People out for a stroll take a lot of pictures of me. They say I’m pretty, and when they talk like that, I’m reminded of what Jeremy said back in the classroom, that I was handsome. I still like that description much better even though as a leaf I guess I am kind of pretty. He was a good kid. And you what, now that I think about it, that whole experience with those Covid Kids wasn’t bad. In fact, as far as shape shifting experiences go, I’d have to say it had been one of the best.

About James

Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in over two-hundred online and print publications. His short story “Aliens” has been nominated by The Zodiac Press for the 2021 Pushcart Prize. His collection of short stories Resilience is scheduled to be published in early 2021 by Bridge House Publishing and Short Stuff a collection of his flash fiction and drabbles will be published by Chapeltown books in 2021. In addition, Something Better, a dystopian adventure, will be published by Paper Djinn Press in early 2021. All of his stories can be found on his blog:

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