"Time of death?"
"May 20th, 1:08."
That was today's date, right? Who were the people talking? Were there people in my room?
Wait, what? Death? I wasn't dead. What was going on?
My eyes were open and I could see perfectly, but my vision was very blurry, especially on its periphery. Could they be damaged? Why? I didn't seem to be able to move them to look around the room and could only watch a large lamp above my head that was turned off, and figures of people by my side. Trying to do something that would indicate that I was not dead and they were mistaken, I realised that I could not move at all. It took me a few more seconds to notice that I was not actually breathing.
Dead? I was dead? What happened? I had gone to bed a few hours before, and I woke up... dead? The figures I saw were draped in white, wearing surgical masks and silicone gloves, moving incessantly around me, occasionally flashing a bloody hand as they put tools away. Doctors and nurses? I was in an operating room?
My heart wasn't beating, but if it were, it would be breaking records. The situation made me incredibly nervous and scared, feelings amplified by the fact my body was not answering my commands and I was paralysed. In spite of that, I needed to do something to show the surgeons I was alive and awake. Maybe they could restart my heart and save me. If not, my brain would eventually suffocate and I would actually die.
My senses seemed to be enhanced by my panic. Not a sound could escape my ears as I powerlessly laid on a surgical table. I could hear the surgeon and nurses' hearts still racing, probably from their nervous attempts to save me. So many different smells were assaulting my frozen nose that I couldn't recognise any of them. My skin had become so sensitive I felt the bumps of the table below me, and the pressure of the air above.
Metal began clicking around me as the people in the room sighed, putting their tools away. They had given up on me. I wasn't dead!
One of the nurses put her hand above my eyes to close them. Being in panic and trying so hard to show them I needed help made her hand look much bigger than it should have been as I began feeling threatened but was entire powerless.
"Huh?" she said, visibly surprised.
"I can't close her eyes."
"Let me see."
The surgeon brought one of those small flashlights to examine my eyes and pointed it towards me, giving me a brief glimpse of myself in the lens. I couldn't see clearly because the light blinded me shortly after, but I was absolutely positive that I saw a short muzzle covered in red-orange fur, with a tiny snout and terrified black eyes. Was that a fox?
I suddenly gasped for air as my heart abruptly restarted. A strong sensation of burning radiated from it, but the pain it gave was nothing compared to the pain I could feel in my lower gut, as if it had been skinned then covered in salt. The second I started coughing, several of the nurses rushed to me, giving me an oxygen mask to help me breathe, shouting instructions to one another. After a minute, the mask I was given was changed, and before I could understand what was going on, I lost consciousness.
I wasn't sure how long passed until I progressively awakened, still feeling dizzy and confused at first, but slowly realising that I was not dreaming and I was awake. Although my head was clearer than before while I was dead, I still didn't understand the situation I was in.
The reflection I saw in the lens of the flashlight before being blinded was a fox. I had no doubts. But… it should have been me. I was the one laying on the operating table whom the doctors of this hospital were trying to save. Did that mean I had turned into a fox? Shaking from nervousness at the idea that I wasn't dreaming and it was true, I reluctantly raised a hand to my face.
There was no hand. Only a brown paw. I tried closing it into a fist and spreading its fingers to make sure it was mine, and despite the obvious evidence, I had a hard time believing it. I had a paw. I really had become a fox.
Shock from the realisation made me freeze for several minutes as my brain was trying to find ways to counter the obvious fact that I did not want to accept. In an effort to prove myself I was either hallucinating or dreaming, I closed my eyes and shut my senses off as I could, trying to feel my body. I could feel fur softly skimming my skin – my fur. I could feel that my feet, or my hind paws, had only four fingers that I could control. I could feel a muzzle and the teeth inside it. I could feel my ears moving on top of my head. There was some longer hair that was caressing the back of my neck that I ignored. It didn't matter how much I tried to convince myself that this wasn't real. I was a fox.
I had a tail.
It took me a few seconds to realize that I did not have only one tail, but six. I couldn't exactly move them independently, but I could feel and move each one of them separately. I could feel the muscles tensing up at the end of my spine when I ordered them to do something. I could feel them brushing on one another, and on the bed.
Having a tail – or six for that matter – was indescribable, but oddly enjoyable, and I found myself moving them for fun, which happened to help me relax in a situation in which I shouldn't be relaxed at all. I was in a hospital, turned into a six-tailed fox, had just escaped death, and I had no idea what had happened or where exactly I was. What else had changed? Were my parents aware of this?
I finally noticed that I was laying on my right side, my lower gut still extremely tense and rather painful. Ignoring the pain, I forced myself to breathe slowly, trying to calm down and think, although taking deep breaths was impossible as my stomach gave me a debilitating stabbing pain if I made the mistake of inhaling too much air. After taking some time to calm down, I could finally move my head and scouted around, meaning to at least know where I was. A dark ceiling and blue walls indicated that I was in a hospital room, covered in a comfortable set of sheets. Electrodes were attached to my chest that measured my heart beat, and a tube was inserted into the wrist of my left front paw, covered in a tight bandage to ensure I wouldn't nibble it out. A regular IV hanger was standing by my bed, outside of my reach, with two large pouches of transparent liquids. I could only assume one of them was a powerful painkiller. There was a large cage on top of my bed, probably to stop me from running away.
Remembering the immense pain I felt when I tried breathing in, I extracted myself from the sheets that covered me, leaning on my right elbow to be able to see my belly. It was hidden under a massive bandage that covered the entire bottom half of my body, from the middle of the rib cage to the top of the pelvis. I had no idea what was under it, but I it likely was responsible for my death, and it would probably be better not to know.
I sighed. What was I going to do? The only thing I knew was that I was now a grievously wounded six-tailed fox. I had no idea how to use this new body of mine, I didn't know what I was meant to eat, how to eat, drink, or anything other than what I probably looked like. Although I would be taken care of by humans for a certain amount of time until I healed, I wasn't sure what would happen to me. The nurses didn't seem to be shocked by my having six tails. Did that mean that six-tailed foxes were common in this world, or were they simply too busy trying to save my life to have the freedom to stop on this weird detail? If six-tailed foxes weren't rare, then I would probably eventually be released, and I didn't see myself surviving in the wild. My situation was looking extremely bad, if not hopeless.
I didn't have much time to learn to use this new body. Trying to learn as fast as I could, I focused on the new senses that I would now have to use. The vision was very bad, as expected from a fox's eyes, but I was surprised to notice that I could see the same colours I could as a human, while foxes, like dogs, were colourblind.
My sense of smell was astounding. I could smell so many things I had no idea what most of them were, but I could definitely smell them distinctly, although I was not able to make proper use of the information this brought me. There was only one scent that I recognised, overwhelming in its perfect coverage of the room – the scent of blood.
The sense of hearing was also absurdly good, and I could hear my own heartbeat, as well as vague sounds coming from beyond the door, probably from the rest of the hospital, barely covered by the regular beeping of the machine that kept track of my heartbeat. There was another regular and slower heartbeat coming from this very room.
Turning my head towards that noise, I finally noticed a girl sleeping in an uncomfortable position on a chair by the bed. Judging by her casual clothes, she was not a nurse, but a visitor, and I found myself quietly hoping I was her pet and that she was the one who brought me in. Although I didn't like the idea of being a pet at all, I had to admit it was a much better fate than being a wild fox and eventually dying alone in some forest because I was unable to feed myself. Even without the cage covering my bed, she was out of my reach, and I couldn't get closer to try to get her to wake up. I had no choice but to lay down calmly and wait until someone came over to try to learn what had happened to me.
I seemingly dozed off, as I was woken up by one of the nurses who was coming to check on me, dressed in the usual white blouse and a pair of wide light blue trousers, with a white nursing cap bearing a simple red cross at the front. Her hair was dyed pink and was decorated with two weird rings on the side and slightly behind her that were partially hidden under her shoulders, instantly reminding me of nurse Joy from the Pokemon games I used to play. If that was true, then my having six tails could only mean...
"Oh, hello, Vulpix," she said when she noticed I was staring at her.
So I became a vulpix. Not just a regular fox – a vulpix. Excitement briefly took over me as I began imagining myself battling other pokemon, jumping several meters high and throwing gigantic flames like in the anime. The idea of having those powers was extremely enticing, so much so that I temporarily forgot how dire my situation actually was, my brain enveloped in some powerful daydreaming.
The nurse carefully removed the cage from my bed and extended a hand towards me. "How are you feeling? I am nurse Joy, the head of the hospital. I'll be taking care of you until you recover."
So she was indeed nurse Joy, like in the games and the anime. Did that mean the world I was in was that exact one? If it was the same world as the games, then this was a pokemon centre, and I was in one of the towns I knew from the games. The nurse was talking to me as if she expected me to reply. What was I supposed to do? Could pokemon here understand humans, like in the anime? And if I answered, would I just be saying "vulpix"? How did I even talk with a muzzle? And in what language? The nurse was speaking English. What would happen if I replied in plain English? What if I made a mistake and actually spoke a human language when I wasn't meant to be able to? How would I be treated if they knew I had been transformed into a vulpix? The mysteries surrounding pokemon would be easily solved if I could communicate with them while being a pokemon. Would that mean I would be nothing more than a lab rat until scientists had all the answers they wanted? Would I be exhibited as a circus monster, the human who became a pokemon? Would I be accepted by other humans and pokemon? Turning back into a human didn't seem very likely to happen, and I was probably stuck in this body for the rest of my life.
The idea of them discovering the truth scared me. Given I had been called "Vulpix" and was being treated like a normal animal, they might not be aware of what had happened to me, and I didn't know whether or not them discovering the truth would be a good thing for me. Did they actually know and were just playing a game with me? How intelligent was vulpix supposed to be? I decided to remain silent and just stare at the nurse. I needed to gather more information before making a decision.
"Your constants are good, at least," she said, looking at the beeping machine, apparently not upset by my lack of verbal response. "I think you're out of danger now. Still, that was quite the night for us. And for you, I suppose."
From its position on the bed, she stretched her arm forward to pet me, but I dodged the hand by pushing myself backwards.
"Shhh," she said, moving her hand slowly towards me. "There's nothing to be afraid of. I'm here to help you."
Her hand looked a lot too big now that I was a vulpix. It felt a bit scary, but at the same time, had a weird friendly scent that I could not describe. I eventually decided to allow her to touch me, and she gently stroked the back of my head, giving me a much welcome shiver of relief that actually did little to soothe me given my dire situation.
"Are you still in pain? Can you hear me?"
I still wasn't sure what to do. It seemed she was expecting an answer, and I remembered that in the anime, pokemon could nod to say either yes or no, but this couldn't be the anime. I had to take a risk, or the nurse would start asking herself questions that might be dangerous for me. I nodded to mean that I could hear her and understand her.
"Ah, good!" she sighed, relieved. "You've lost a lot of blood. I thought there might have been brain damage. We will need to test that anyway, but for now, you need to recover. You'll be staying here for a while, I'm afraid."
She stopped petting me, which disappointed me greatly, and proceeded to gently touch my body in various places for reasons I wasn't too sure of – probably checking if my muscles were alright after the blood loss. She carefully avoided the bandaged part of my belly, which I assumed was where the wound that had caused my death was.
"You are still very tense," she noticed. "Sorry, I can't give you more morphine. You're already close to the limit. You'll have to bear with the pain for now. Are you hungry?"
I wasn't hungry at all, and the prospect of having to eat food in front of her was scary and embarrassing. I had no idea how to eat, and if she noticed that, she would start asking herself questions. I shook my head to reply.
"Can you stand?"
I stood up from my lying position as best I could, shaking with my whole body as I was making too much effort shortly after waking up from death. Standing on all fours was extremely embarrassing – all the more so because I realized I was completely naked. My tails were down, covering my bottom, and my ears kept moving towards every new sound they could detect. I didn't stay in that position for too long, for my legs soon became very tired and I just fell back on my side.
"That's pretty good news. You're going to feel very weak for a couple more days, so please don't stand if you can avoid it. You're barely recovering from the operation. I don't know how well you will heal. Time will tell. At least your life is not in danger anymore."
She stretched an arm and pushed a button by the head of the bed which I had not noticed. A faint bell rang somewhere far away, and a nurse who was not wearing that weird pink hair soon came.
"Give her some food and water and have someone watch her while she eats. If needed, help her stand still. Have someone watch her night and day. If any journalists come, you have my permission to insult them, but do not let them anywhere near her and do not answer their questions. Call security if they are being pushy. They'll have to deal with me if they want to learn anything about this, and I'll be damned if I let them disturb this vulpix."
The nurse with the pink hair turned to me and smiled.
"You can push that button if you need something, but do not push it for no reason or you will be punished. I have other duties to attend to, so I can't stay here, but I will visit you soon again. You might not be aware of it, but surviving this made you special."
Surviving what? Special? Was I some kind of survivor of some catastrophe? What had happened? Why did everyone play the pronoun game to make sure I didn't know what was going on? Why would journalists be interested in my case? Was there anyone able to answer my questions? Did they assume I knew?
Did they know? Were they aware I was a human and wanted to keep journalists from visiting me for that reason? Why else would journalists want to see a wounded vulpix? Was that why nurse Joy seemed to be expecting an answer from me earlier, and not because pokemon were on average more intelligent than animals? Did they know my actual name?
The other nurse came back shortly after with two bowls, which she put by my side as nurse Joy left, then sat on the chair that was previously occupied by the sleeping girl.
"Are you not hungry?" she asked. "Maybe you're thirsty. Can you drink? I have a feeding bottle, if you can't drink from the bowl."
I refused to drink from the feeding bottle, offended and ashamed by the idea, and tried to drink from the bowl. Unfortunately, my shaky legs couldn't support me and I dropped my muzzle into it, knocking it over and spilling water mostly over the floor.
"It's okay," the nurse said. "I'll clean that."
Unbearably thirsty, I begrudgingly resolved to drink from the feeding bottle with the nurse's help as I direly needed the water. She was nice enough not to take me on her lap and just held the bottle at a comfortable height for me to drink while laying on my side. My pride took a violent hit when I did that, but the circumstances were special, and I had no other choice. Once repleted, I pushed the bottle away with one of my front paws and sighed.
"Hey, it's not so bad! You'll heal eventually. I hope your stay here won't be a bad experience. We'll keep someone by your side to play with you if you want."
I didn't want to play. I had no idea what games foxes or pokemon played. I wanted explanations. Why was I a vulpix? Why was I wounded? Who was the girl sleeping by the bed when I woke up? Where was I? And most importantly, was I really in the anime's world? Who could answer these questions if the humans didn't know I was victim of a transformation?
Thinking about it, this world couldn't be the same as the anime's world, for the physics in the pokemon anime were close to non-existent. It was probably some kind of altered version of it, where pokemon did make sense, and I was trapped in it with no knowledge of it whatsoever. It couldn't be the same as my previous world either for obvious reasons. I had no clue what kind of world I lived in and I had no way of gathering information about it. I was just stuck in this small room, bound to machines meant to check on my health, until I was allowed to finally leave, but that would be too late to learn anything and I would be left to my own devices. Despite being firmly atheist, I found myself praying to any god that could possibly exist to help me out of the mess I had found myself in. And I didn't even know why or how...
While I was thinking, the nurse took the bowl of food away, understanding that I would not accept to eat, and proceeded to clean the water I had spilled over the floor. She gently petted me and stroked the back of my head like nurse Joy did earlier, her eyes lowering themselves constantly as she failed to hide her sadness.
"It's sad that you have to go through this," she eventually said, noticing I was staring at her with curious eyes.
She then started talking about herself, probably to try to entertain me, but I was not listening. Was it common for humans to talk to pokemon like that? It was obvious by now that pokemon were supposed to understand human language, but I still had no idea whether or not I was supposed to be able to answer. I knew I could answer yes or no by nodding, which was a form of communication, but I didn't know how much further it could go.
"You're not listening, are you?" the nurse asked, acting upset to guilt me. "Maybe you want to sleep? It's barely 8pm, I didn't think you'd be sleepy yet, especially after sleeping so much today!"
That meant that a full day had not passed yet. It was still the... 20th of May, if I remembered correctly. Why was it so difficulty to remember that single date? Was it the drugs?
"Before you sleep, there's someone who wants to see you."
She stood up and opened the door to let the visitor in. I had no idea how I did that, but I instantly recognized the odour of the girl who was sleeping on the chair a few hours before. I was actually surprised she was allowed to stay by my side after the operation that seemingly saved my life. Wasn't access to the recovery room usually only granted to nurses, or occasionally visitors?
"Hey Vulpix," the girl said.
I could hear in her voice a lot of different emotions. She was obviously relieved that I survived, but I couldn't say she sounded very happy. She sounded more like she was just about to break into tears.
"Do you remember me?" she asked, sitting on the chair the nurse had brought for her – the very chair she was sleeping on when I woke up from the anesthetic.
I slowly moved my head from left to right, staring at her. She was a very pretty young adult, probably twenty to twenty-five at most, with absurdly smooth skin on her wonderful face. Her perfectly combed brown hair was tied in a short ponytail behind her that didn't go down more than the top of her neck, while her forehead was hidden under a masterfully executed fringe. The deep blue of her eyes made me feel envious as she was keeping them locked me, wavering rapidly in sadness.
"Ah," she said, visibly disappointed. "I'm the one who... found you. I brought you here. You don't remember what happened, do you?"
I moved my head again. If she said she found me, then I couldn't have been her pet in the first place, which meant I was a wild vulpix, which made all my fears about living in the wild come back to me. A fearful jolt pushed me back as the girl brought a hand to my head, but I allowed her to pet me in spite of my nervous reaction. She had unladylike short nails, and through her careful stroking of my head, I could feel that her hand was remarkably strong.
"She's breathing fast," she noticed. "I think I'm scaring her. I should leave."
As she withdrew her hand, I put one of my front paws on it to tell her not to leave. She tried to take it back from me as a response, believing that she was the one making me breathe so quickly out of fear, but I pushed the hand onto the bed and weakly applied pressure to it to insist. The girl smiled.
"That's not a surprise," the nurse said. "After all she's been through, it's a miracle she is still alive. And she's probably in pain right now. You should stay with her, she seems to like you."
I honestly had no clue who that girl was, but if what she said was right, then she had saved my life by bringing me to the hospital – or should I call it a pokemon centre – after finding me wounded and dying. The least I could do was show some gratitude and allow her to pet me. I knew how she felt – I was always upset when I saw stray cats and they refused to be touched.
At least, I thought it was my life she had saved, but was it? If she had "found" me as she said, then it was safe to assume that my body was actually moving before being wounded and eventually dying, which meant that it was not my body. I had taken possession of a vulpix's body. How? And what happened to the original body owner? Did she... actually die, and I somehow revived the body by taking control of it, which would explain why I was unable to breathe and was considered clinically dead, then started breathing again out of nowhere? What if they were aware of that, and the girl witnessed it and reported it? Would that be enough for them to understand I was human? The way they acted towards me didn't feel like they considered me to be human. They were petting me and talking to me as if I were a child, not a young adult, and as if I were less intelligent than them. If they knew, wouldn't they hesitate before petting me or globally treating me like a normal vulpix? And if they knew I was human, they would know I was not going to try to escape, so why the cage?
Those were too many questions I couldn't answer, and I tried my best to get them out of my head. I didn't need any more things to worry about. I was a vulpix and I had to accept it. I could at least try to enjoy this girl carefully petting me as I held her arm between my front paws, but the feeling of being petted bothered me. Thinking back about it, I was questioning my early wish to be her pet. I didn't like the idea of being someone's pet. As a human, I enjoyed having pets a lot, and I truly loved mine, but now that I was a vulpix, I didn't want to be the pet. There were a lot of people who did love their pets, but some of them – like my parents – did not, and considered them to be nothing more than furniture. I could only assume the girl who had saved me was more like me than like my parents, but even then, being a pet didn't sound like an enjoyable thing. I didn't want to be bound to someone, to have to obey them, and have little to no freedom to do what I wanted. What would I be doing anyway? My cats spent their time sleeping, and my dogs spent their time wallowing alone in a corner hoping one of us would stop being busy on their computer and come play with them. The life of a pet didn't seem fulfilling at all. At least if I were wild, I'd have the freedom to go where I wanted, sleep when I wanted, eat when I wanted, and do what I wanted to. I would however have to hunt for food, and I would probably spend most of my day doing so, which sounded like an immense hassle. At the end of the day, I didn't actually know what I wanted, whether or not they knew I was a human, and whether or not being a pet was the best option for me, but it did feel like a much easier life.
The girl who had apparently saved my life was carefully stroking the back of my head and under my ears as I was lost in my thoughts. Raising my head to her, I noticed she was keeping that sad look in her eyes. I couldn't have been her pet, so why was she so sad? What she said implied we did not know each other. Did she love pokemon that much, or was she shaken by whatever she had seen when she found my body? Was she still worried? Was it because she knew I was a human?
A long yawn interrupted both her petting and my thinking. With a shy smile, the girl stood up, understanding it was time for her to leave, and thanked the nurse for allowing her to see me before leaving the room. The nurse took over petting me for a few seconds, put the cage back on my bed, said she would be monitoring me via the beeping machine and a camera, and left the room, switching the lights off. Staring at the void, I laid down as I could, but most positions I tried were painful because of whatever was under the bandages I was wearing. The least uncomfortable one was to lay down on my side, my back straight, a bit like my dog used to sleep in his old age.
I was very depressed. In barely a day, my life had completely changed and taken a turn I would never have believed possible. I still had no idea what happened, but I was now certain that I was not dreaming. I had turned into a vulpix and was grievously wounded, but had survived and was stuck in a pokemon centre for an unknown amount of time. I didn't know what was going to happen to me in the future, but all I could think of while trying to fall asleep was that despite the dire situation I was in, I felt relieved, for unlike I thought when I woke up, I was well alive.