Chapter 2
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Chapter 2

 

Hunter closed his front door behind him. Processing what had happened at school was not really on the table, so he settled for letting it rattle around his head. Brain has encountered unknown compilation error, please reboot system. 

So after “Orson’s” explosive transformation, everyone had rushed over to make sure they were okay, but it seemed whatever magic had turned them into a girl had also kept them safe. There were other questions of course, like why the girl had offered to be called Olivia — “You know, until this wears off” — or why she didn’t seem more upset. 

But most importantly, Hunter couldn’t get the fact that his name had been on the list out of his head. What was he supposed to do with that? Was this going to happen again? Was he in danger? Why was this happening? Who was doing it? After the fact, the teachers had rushed in, but the magic had been untraceable and Olivia had rejected immediate magical help. After some probing, it was also clear her mind had not been affected by magic, so that had been easy enough to rule out. One of the girls present had loaned her a training bra, and that had been that. And Hunter had been stuck on Modem Dialup Noise.

He tossed his backpack to the side and looked around. He felt like he’d been standing in the doorway for a good couple of minutes, yet he didn’t hear anything. Weird, his parents were supposed to be home already. He blinked. Why was his mattress on the living room floor? There was a ruffling coming from upstairs. Had someone broken in to… steal… his mattress…? And then given up halfway through? That didn’t make sense.

“Mom? Dad?” he shouted upstairs. He heard a door open. 

“We’re in your room, honey! Come up here! Oh, could you bring us some water?” his mom shouted back. Hunter closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was going to be one of those days. Grabbing a pitcher and a couple of glasses, he made his way to his room. About halfway up the stairs, the fumes smashed him across the face like a wet pancake. 

He coughed as he opened his bedroom door. The window was open. Everything in his room had been piled on one side, and there were newspapers on the floor on the other side. His parents were wearing loose-fitting clothing and face masks, covered in paint. “Um,” he said. 

“Hey, Hun!” his mom said, pulling her mask down. “Sorry we didn’t warn you earlier! Robert and I watched West Side Story again and we got into the mood to do a makeover.” Dad raised his arms in the universal sign for ‘what can you do?’ Hunter had to take a deep breath. He put the pitcher on his bed, next to every pair of shoes he owned (all three of them).

“Mom,” he said. “Dad. You are aware that the space between ‘Watching A Musical’ and ‘Repainting Your Child’s Bedroom Like A Broadway Production’ is a spectrum, right?” He rubbed his face. Everyone made fun of theater kids, but having two as parents was a special kind of hell sometimes. “You could have just… snapped your fingers during breakfast or something.” He looked at their handiwork. There was a classic New York fire escape painted on one wall. The other one was painted a deep red. Well, the paint job was well done at least. “How long until I can sleep in my room again?”

“Funny thing,” his dad laughed sheepishly, “we accidentally used paint that’s a bit more chemical than we meant to, so it’s recommended you don’t stay in this room for about a week. Haha.” Hunter rubbed his eyes. 

“Patricide is frowned upon,” he mumbled. “It’s not worth it, it’s not worth it, it’s not—”

“What was that, honey?” Mom asked. He looked up at her and gave her the most genuine smile he could. It wasn’t very genuine at all. 

“It’s fine,” he said. “I’m fine. I have some homework to do before tomorrow so I’ll be in the living room. In my bed.” His mom resumed painting.

“Sounds like a good idea, kiddo,” Dad said. “Wait, hold on, how was school today?”

“It was… Someone turned into a girl,” he said, deadpan. He wasn’t going to dance around it. Even if his parents weren’t exactly the most present parents, they were involved enough with his school that they’d find out one way or another.

“Oh, good for her,” his dad said. “Hope she’s happier now.” He looked at his son over his mask the same way someone might look over their glasses. “You better support your classmate, you hear me?”

“Yes, Dad,” Hunter said. “For what it’s worth, she wasn’t expecting to be a girl when the day started.” That got his parents to stop for a moment and stare at him. “Nobody knows what happened. There was a weird game, then ‘poof’, they were a girl.”

“They or she?” his mom asked. Hunter frowned.

“I don’t know?”

“Make sure to ask tomorrow, okay, sweetie?”

“Yes, Mom,” he said, and pulled the door closed behind him. Sometimes he wished he was goop, because right now just walking downstairs didn’t feel good enough. He needed to dribble. Hunter wanted to run downstairs like fresh yogurt. Since that wasn’t an option, he settled for using his legs instead. Grabbing his backpack, he threw himself onto his bed which was conveniently in front of the living room television. That was going to be a perk, at least. The downside was No Privacy For A Week. They could have at least talked to him! This wasn’t even a punishment!

He screamed into a pillow and did his homework, intermittently changing from one to the other, taking a break to make food. His parents had a tendency to forget things like food when they threw themselves into a project like that, so he’d figured out how to cook from a fairly young age. His chicken Alfredo was not bad, even if he said so himself and the sauce came out of a bottle.  

His parents came downstairs to eat, exchanged pleasantries, then went back upstairs. They’d tire themselves out eventually, he knew, at which point they’d (hopefully) take a shower and head straight to bed. It wasn’t that he had a bad relationship with his parents. He had a lot of fond memories growing up of playing board games and going on trips within a reasonable driving distance. It’s just that, as he grew older, he sometimes got the sense that he could just not come home and it would take them a day or two to figure it out. Not that they didn’t care or didn’t love him. They just lived on a different plane of existence, some days. 

When he was done with his homework and had caught up on some very important infomercials, he grabbed his phone. That was a rule in the household, initially instituted when he got his first phone and which he had then quickly retrofitted for the entire household. No phones during working/studying hours, and none at the dinner table. His parents had joked that, once he got a smartphone they’d never see his face again, but he wasn’t the one with an active Instagram account and ten thousand followers. 

Well, he’d missed some notifications. Ryan and Matthew had been blowing up the group chat all day. At least Ryan had switched to speech-to-text, being the only person alive who was more comprehensible through machine translation than without. 

Ryan: Crazy that happened add period

Matthew: lmao you don’t have to say “add period” we can understand you without it.

Ryan: It was for emphasis exclamation mark

Matthew: god you’re so dumb <3

Ryan: Duck you

Matthew: lmao

Ryan: Duck duck no duck say duck oh my God I’m saying duck what the duck

Hunter stared at his phone. Sometimes, watching Ryan try to interact with technology felt like watching a chimpanzee figure out how to finger paint using poop. It was equal parts hilarious, confusing and unsettling. He was loved and hated by the programmers in school for his ability to crash any app if given fifteen minutes. He was the ultimate stress-test, in more ways than one. 

Matthew: deep breaths man. 

Ryan: Someone turned into a girl today Matthew exclamation mark

Ryan: What if we’re next question mark?

Ryan: Wtf it worked that time

Matthew: idk could be kinda funny

Matthew: hey ryan can i borrow a tampon

Matthew: bfhahahaha

Ryan: That’s not funny dude exclamation mark! Exclamation mark!

Ryan: What if we’re next

Matthew: what like a serial killer?

After grabbing himself a snack and drink, Hunter decided to interject. He could watch his friends interact all day sometimes, but today he felt a lot of the same anxieties Ryan did. 

Hunter: someone is turning people into girls, matt. and they’re doing it with a game.

Hunter: it just doesn’t make any sense

Matthew: ayyyy it’s brattila the hunter

Matthew: hunter s dumpson

Matthew: mike hunt

Matthew: is Gatherer joining us soon?

Hunter: you done?

Matthew: yea i am thank you

Ryan: What up man question mark

Hunter: confused as fuck about school. people turning into girls is weird

Matthew: just one person

Matthew: lets not overreact, aight

Hunter: for now. like, there’s gonna be more for sure

Ryan: Who decides who got onto the list question mark

Ryan: Maybe it’s a different group every time

Hunter: you think so? that would mean we’re safe

Matthew: aw man

Matthew: it would be so funny

Matthew: hey Ryan would you hit on me if i was a girl

Ryan: I’ll hit on you fox only no items final destination

Ryan: 1v1 me

Ryan: I’m gonna destroy you

Matthew: Daddy? Sorry, daddy?

Chewing on some cookies, Hunter chuckled to himself. Matthew knew exactly what to say to push Ryan’s buttons, and Ryan was all bark and no bite when it came to his friends. That said, he did want to get the conversation back on track. 

Hunter: okay what do we do if this happens again?

Hunter: we gotta have a plan, right. it’s based on votes

Hunter: so if you have more votes, you’re less likely to get eliminated.

Hunter: try to think of some ideas

Ryan: I mean it’s obvious right question mark

Ryan: You gotta make it so they don’t wanna lose a good specimen

Matthew: you’re a genius

Matthew: hey Ryan Question Mark

Ryan: What

Matthew: shit

Matthew: hold on there’s a semen joke in here somewhere

Ryan: You are the worst

Hunter: I don’t know if that’ll work. 

Hunter: worth a shot. 

Hunter: I’m gonna think of some things. guess we’ll know more tomorrow

Ryan: yeah. yeah no point in worrying about it

Matthew: i’ll worry if I want to 

Matthew: i mean, Olivia seemed happy enough right

Matthew: am I the only one who thinks this is funny? 

Ryan: yes

Hunter: yes

Ryan: we’ll see who’s laughing when you’re suddenly in a skirt

Matthew: dude id wear a skirt

Matthew: wait

Matthew: Ryan Question Mark

Matthew: do you want to see me in a skirt

Ryan has left the group

Matthew: lol

Matthew: lmao even

Hunter: I’ll invite him back in

Hunter: ass

Matthew: ehehehe

Matthew: oh hey did we have homework for tomorrow

Hunter: yes

Hunter: loads

Matthew:...

Hunter: yes you can copy mine tomorrow morning

Matthew: thanks :)

Hunter: yeah yeah just pay me back by taking it easy on ryan for a bit

Matthew: ugh fine

Matthew: see you tomorrow!

Hunter: Night Matt.

It was getting a bit late. Hunter put his phone down and rubbed his face. Why was everything so messy all the time? People were messy, life was messy, his parents were messy, school was messy… How were people supposed to cope with life being like that all the time. 

Well, he figured, if he was lucky, tomorrow would be a quiet day. 

Hunter was many things. Kinda clever, kinda good looking, kinda nice, kinda good at video games. But he was not lucky.

Chapter 2 of this nonsense!

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