John C. Bunnell

You've heard the jokes about coat-hangers and paper clips breeding -- but where certain books are concerned, the joke may be on us.


A Million Copies in Print
Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters

Avon Camelot • 1999

Bruce Coville's Shapeshifters

I'm not easily scared by stories, but even though I wrote this one myself, it worries me.  I mean, how else do you explain why there are so many copies of certain series books in used bookstores?

Read an Excerpt....

Scientists back home claim our ancestors learned how to contact-shift way back when we were hunter-predators.  We don’t use the ability much anymore, though, and it’s degenerated over the last thousand years.  Now we need amplifying gear to force a change on anything much bigger or more complicated than a loaf of bread.  There was an amplifier in our spaceship, but the ship had burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.  So the fact that a half-dozen shift-victims were sitting on a bookshelf in front of me meant two things: Arel had survived, and he’d brought the amplifier down in his lifepod.  The question was why, and as I studied the “books” as carefully as I could without touching them, I tried to work out an explanation.

As I did so, I discovered that the situation was even stranger than I’d imagined.  The energy-auras of the shapechanged books were dimmer than mine or Arel’s.  But they were also somehow more intense.  There was too much dormant energy trapped in those “books”, and without proper equipment, it was hard to tell what it was doing there.  One worrisome possibility did occur to me, and I could think of only one way to test it.  So I slipped quietly out of the kids’ aisle and back to the stock room, going into hunter-predator mode myself.

Despite three lives as a cat, I’ve never been much of a mouser, and it took me most of two hours to find a mouse and catch it.  The last half hour was the hardest, because I didn’t want to kill the mouse, and I had to work out how to stun it so I could pick it up and carry it back to the kids’ section.  Eventually, though, I trotted into the proper aisle, mouse in mouth, and walked up to the shelf with the shapechanged books in it.  Fortunately, it was a bottom shelf, so I could reach it without having to stretch.  I shook my head back and forth a couple of times, batting the mouse’s nose with a paw to make sure it was still alive.  Then, with a mighty toss, I opened my mouth and threw the mouse at my target.

Considering that it was nearly impossible to aim, I didn’t do badly.  The mouse struck the row of books at the right edge of the cluster of chameleon-victims, and had just enough time to squeak angrily at me before it was caught by exactly the effect I’d suspected.  There was a faint flash of “light”--again, something I could see but no human could detect--and by the time the mouse hit the floor, it wasn’t a mouse anymore.  Instead, it was an exact duplicate of the sixth changed “book” in the row, right down to the grape juice stain at the bottom of the spine.  We can’t do that kind of relayed shapeshifting by ourselves, but you can program an amplifier for it.  And if the target object (or mouse, or person) isn’t a chameleon, it’s stuck in whatever form it’s been turned into.