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Greg didn’t like visiting the doctor under any circumstance. He would only going to the local health clinic to do one of two things. Those things were either drawing blood for extra cash or to get a flu shot. Nothing good ever came out of a hospital, and for some reason this particular government office was giving off the hospital vibe. It felt like he was sitting in a morgue… although he knew better than to believe his wild imagination. Greg would be very clear with the doctor about his intentions to be evaluated quickly. How hard could it possibly be to verify if he were human or not?

Just be yourself, thought Greg as he tried to control his breathing. I am sure that everything I am about to experience is just standard operating procedure.

Greg’s wondering gaze landed on Dr. Banes now and narrowed in sharply. She was standing at the service station preparing a few thing for the evaluation. She was a shorter woman with brown hair and Greg could already tell he didn’t trust her one bit. It wasn’t because Dr. Banes had been mean in any way; quite the contrary. She had been very nice in helping him find a seat in the middle of the room. She hadn’t even stared at his unusual skin color. What made her unlikeable was the feel of the room itself; it felt like she was there to hurt him. Greg forced this ridiculous impression from his mind.

“I am going to take a blood sample from you Mr. Carbuncle,” said Dr. Banes as she turned around and poured a purple vial into her drink. The mug flashed with light, and Greg was almost positive he saw a skull and cross bones rise up out of the steam and disappear into thin air… from somewhere in the distance they both heard a deep laugh. It sounded like the devil himself was just outside the door. Dr. Bane’s eyes went wide at the effect of the heterogeneous mixture. It was now boiling slightly in her hands.

She tried to laugh it off. “These essential oils are mighty powerful! You can actually see the antioxidants forcing the toxins out of the cup!”

Greg laughed nervously at this response. He had never seen an essential oil do that before, and he would know… he had about 100 vials in his medicine cabinet at home. “What kind of essential oil was that? It may have expired.”

Dr. Banes was taken off guard by the question. She had been looking nervously down into the boiling mixture in her hand. She tried to sound confident. “It’s called ‘Citrus Safe Space’. It was recommended by a friend a few floors down in the processing department.”

Dr. Banes put the mug to her lips and closed her eyes tightly. Greg watched as the poor woman forced the sludge down her throat. The good doctor coughed and almost threw up as she drank it. It must have tasted like sardine paste. Greg could see the woman was struggling with the liquid. He turned away and tried to block out the sounds of wretching coming from the doctor. It sounded like his cat Gregory III of Canterbury when he had hair in his throat.

This is all just standard operating procedure, Greg told himself.

When Dr. Banes was done, she put down her mug and leaned against the service station triumphantly. She undid the top button on her business shirt and smiled with relief. “They’re dead! They’re finally dead! Victory!”

Greg didn’t know what to make of the situation unfolding at the service station. He waited patiently for the woman to stop rubbing her stomach and praying to god. She was speaking in a foreign dialect that Greg just couldn’t place. It almost sounded Danish; maybe she was from Europe. Greg tried to interject as best he could into the woman’s celebration, “I could come back later if this isn’t a good time.”

Dr. Banes shook her head. “No, you’re all rioght Mr. Carbuncle. I am just trying to take in the full effect of the essential oils.” She re-buttoned her shirt and straightened out her lab coat. She was feeling 100 percent better, “I just had some bad tuna for breakfast this morning and that ‘Citrus Safe Space’ kicked it’s ass! I am going to sleep well tonight.”

“My name is not Carbuncle,” said Greg. He was trying to control the volume of his voice. It felt like he was always telling people how to pronounce his name. “My name is Cardoon. Pronounced like Car-DUNE.”

“Cardoon?” asked Dr. Banes incredulously. She thought she had seen his name correctly on the form. “I apologize for the mispronunciation.”

Greg smiled through clenched teeth. He was trying to remember his Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. They told him not to take things so personally; now was a perfect time to practice that principle. “No offence taken. It’s a common mistake.”

Greg watched as the good doctor nodded her head and grabbed two objects from off the service station. She walked over to the coffee table and placed them on top.

Dr. Banes picked up the ring like object and turned to Greg. She sounded more professional now as she presented the strange device, “This object is called a blatherskite. It was invented by the awesome scientist and engineers at Prewitt Labs in Southern California. I am going to place it around your neck and sync it up to the blood thermistor.” She pointed to the black pyramid shaped thing on the table in front of him.

“What does all this do?” asked Greg incredulously.

“There is no need to be afraid Mr. Carbuncle... I mean Mr. Cardoon.” She smiled politely at her mess up and continued. “These tests are to help us see if you are telling the truth about your identity as a human. Unfortunately we can’t take everyone at their word in these evaluations; I am sure you understand.” She unclasped the blatherskite in her hands and held it open in front of Greg. Her soft voice continued. “Some Nightshade’s in our society might feel discriminated against during this evaluation process. This discrimination they feel might lead them to be untruthful about their situation.” She rested a hand on Greg’s shoulder and squeezed it slightly. She looked into Greg’s eyes with all the emotion of a wounded seal. She obviously wanted him to feel as comfortable as possible in this new environment, “I want you to know that it is okay to be a Nightshade! Nightshades are big, beautiful creatures… with a lot to offer American society.”

“I am not a Nightshade,” said Greg firmly. He was getting slightly creeped out by the woman’s calm intensity. She seemed to be talking to him as if he were already a nightshade in disguise. This was one closet Greg didn’t have to worry about leaving. “If this thing can tell you I am a human then I say let’s get it going.”

Dr. Banes seemed delighted by this willingness to wear the blatherskite. She fastened the ring around Greg’s neck and locked it into place. She pulled back and waited for the green lights around the thing to engage. She continued her speech as she searched her pockets. “If it so happens that we discover that you are a beautiful Daughter of the Erlking during this evaluation…I want you to know you are safe here in my office. This isn’t meant to condemn you in any way. You are beautiful in any form you chose to take… whether you previously owned that form or not. It is your right in America to be whoever you want to be regardless of consent.”

Greg felt like rolling his eyes at this politically correct crap. He was sure every government official in the land had to spout this garbage before administering the evaluation. All he wanted was a notarized piece of paper saying that he was one hundred percent human. He was going to say something snarky when the ring around his neck began to contract. Greg held up his hands and gripped the hard plastic.

Dr. Banes stopped him from pulling on the thing, “the blatherskite will shrink slightly, but it won’t harm you. It is just installing something we like to call a Data Disc on your lower neck. It is standard operating procedure for the evaluation process. The government needs to categorize you properly… plus it saves on having to cut down trees. There is far less paper work with this system.”

Greg’s heart was pounding regardless of the soothing tones of the good doctor. He was sure the thing would cut the air off to his brain. It was pressing up against his neck firmly, “and you say all this is just temporary right?”

Dr. Banes smiled and nodded her head. She retrieved a remote from her lab coat and held the thing up to her face. She was trying to read the buttons. She didn’t want to hit the wrong button like last time. The cleanup had been messy. “Yes Mr. Carbuncle… I mean Cardoon. These things are only for the evaluation process. If the government can’t label you then the government can’t tax you.” She chuckled at her own joke. “You may feel a slight pinch on the back of your neck during installation. You need to know this is all normal.”

Dr. Banes pushed the button with the word “install” above it.

Greg called out in pain as the blatherskite shot off his neck and hit the far wall. The ring snapped back together and rolled around on the carpet. The installation of the data disc had been quick and painful. Greg lifted his hand and felt the back of his neck. He was sure there was blood pouring out of his spine. His fingers landed on a hard plastic bulge sticking up from the surface of the skin. It felt uncomfortable, as if a giant tick were sucking his blood out. Greg had a sinking feeling that this device was now intrinsically part of him in every way. “I am not sure I want to continue this evaluation Dr. Banes. I have a cat I need to look after at home and I have already been gone for too long.”

Greg gripped his pocket with the cat photo in it.

“It’s okay Mr. Cardoon. We will have you home to your cat in no time.” said Dr. Banes softly. She lifted her long brown hair up and showed him the back of her neck. Greg could see the data disc flashing on the surface of her brown skin. It looked harmless enough.

Dr. Banes continued. “Even I have been through this process of installation before. Let me reassure you it does come off at the end of the day.” She let her hair fall back down on her back and walked over to the coffee table. Greg watched her reached down and started up the blood thermistor. The black pyramid shaped tower began flashing softly at the top; it looked like the Luxor in Los Vegas. After a few seconds it went solid white and a voice spoke up from the speaker. “Processing the host. Do not remove the Data Disc.”

“The blood thermistor will turn green if you are a Nightshade and red if you are a human. Try not to read into the colors too much. They are only there for our record,” Said Dr. Banes as she fiddled with the remote in her hands, “The date disc in your neck should transfer the information of your DNA sequence to the processor. Prewitt Labs has found that there are a few alleles that the nightshades cannot fully mimic in the human stand. It usually takes a minute or two but the data disc is very efficient at what it does.”

Greg tried to sit back and relax. His eyes watched as the blood thermistor flashed on the coffee table in front of them. It was obviously transferring information from his body to the processor. The fan inside the base of the unit started humming loudly.

Dr. Banes picked up the clipboard and read through the information that Greg had filled out on his way in. She pulled some spectacles out of her pocket and placed them on her nose. She tapped her cheek with the pin and moved around uncomfortably in the big leather seat. After a moment she look up over the edge of the clipboard at Greg. “Tell me a little bit about your career choice. It seemed like a unique job!”

“I am an audio book narrator for middle grade readers,” said Greg frankly. He was trying to ignore the light pulsation at his neck. It felt like the data disc had severed a nerve on the way into his spine. “I work with a few big publishing companies around the US. They send me the books that they have the audio rights to and I read them off as directed under contract.”

“You work from the sanctity of your home?” asked Dr. Banes curiously. She was taking notes on the margin of the evaluation form. She stopped and grabbed her abdomen. Things were getting a little hotter inside her guts.

Greg noticed the good doctor was starting to sweat for some reason. The room didn’t really feel any hotter. “Is there a problem with where I work?”

Dr. Banes shook her head and breathed out a deep sigh. She was feeling funny inside at the present moment. The tonic might be having an adverse effect on her abdomen. What the heck had Daphne given her? It felt likes devils fire. She tried to put on a good show for the human in the room. Humans were very skittish creatures. “I’m just alluding to the fact that most nightshades chose jobs that are inconspicuous. If you are a nightshade I want you to know it’s okay to come out and tell me. No one here is going to judge you.”

“I am not a Nightshade,” said Greg. He was getting fed-up with the doctors narrative. “I am sure this machine will prove it to you.”

“It says here on your application that you are not fond of children and you like long lonesome walks through the woods.” She looked a Greg accusingly, as if seeing something in him that was obvious. “These are all traits that help us as government officials identify Nightshades in our society. Nightshades are forest creatures that detest little humans. They also get thrills and chills just being in the forest.” She looked down at the application and read it out loud. “You said being in the forest “rejuvenates you”.”

“Yes, it is true that I said that. I just so happen to like bird watching,” said Greg as if confessing a grievous sin to his priest. He looked around the room, as if to make sure no one else was watching though he knew they were alone. “But that doesn’t mean I am a Nightshade. I am sure there are plenty of humans that enjoy hiking through the woods and don’t like it when the neighbor kids defecate on their lawn…” Greg was getting a little defensive. His voice was getting elevated as he spoke. “I really mean it. They defecate and write go back to your home planet alien boy!”

Dr. Banes shook her head sympathetically to Greg’s plight. She leaned in and tried to be as sensitive as possible to the albino human man. This guy even looked like one of their kind. It wouldn’t be hard to fudge this evaluation at the end… heck society had already labeled him a nightshade. “We humans can be really cruel sometimes to your kind. I am sure they call you a…” She paused and spelled the words out slowly and quietly. “B-L-E-A-C-H-E-R.”

“They do called me that,” said Greg. He was remembering his encounter with the people in the waiting room. All their eyes had been on him. He was sure they believed he was a human eating monster. “But I am not a bloody bleacher!”

Dr. Banes looked taken aback by this hidden animosity in the human! She couldn’t believe that Greg would say that word so openly in her office. This was why humans were the problem in their society; it was so easy from them to hate things they just didn’t understand. Dr. Banes was going to lecture him on diversity and inclusion when the blood thermistor dinged loudly. It started flashing the color blue into the air. A voice spoke up. “Perfect match, Perfect match!”

Greg jumped at this foreign color. “What does that mean?”

Dr. Banes couldn’t believe her eyes; the thing had actually turned the color blue. She was lectured back at Prewitt Labs that the odds of this thing turning the color blue was one in 10 million. She stared at the thing in disbelief and stood up slowly. Her gaze shifted to Greg who was sitting on the couch shaking with anxiety. It was at this moment that Dr. Banes realized there was something terribly wrong with her human body. The potion from before was not being kind at all to her internal organs. She lifted a hand and gripped her stomach tightly. Something was definitely wrong with her guts. It felt like someone had lit a fire in her chest. “Don’t move…stay right there!”

“The hell I am!” barked Greg as he stood up. He pointed to the blood thermistor on the table. “Wasn’t it supposed to turn Red? I mean… I am a human and red is my color.”

“Not know!” screamed Dr. Banes as she gripped her chest again and belched out purple fire into the air. The flames spread out long and wide; licking the ceiling like a lizards tongues. Bright green Onex orbs began pouring from her mouth like a shower of marbles. Their hard surfaces collided loudly with the floor and spread out everywhere. Her lower gizzard had rejected everything. The purple flames stopped coming from the doctor’s mouth and formed into two fire monsters. One was male and the other was female. The terrible creatures ran around the room laughing like jokers and tipping things over. They finally met in the middle of the room and embraced each other; both taking a knee in the process. Their eyes meeting for what felt like the final time. Their voices quivering but still audible in the office air. It was the display of two lovers dying in silence.

“I don’t want to die like this, Frank.” One fire monster sobbed to the other, “I don’t want to die like this…” Their deep voices faded into oblivion as they suddenly extinguished into thin air. The room smelled of sulfur and sin.

Greg had fall backwards onto the couch during the whole event and was screaming his guts out. He watched in horror as Dr. Banes transformed into a Nightshade. Her skin went pale white and her long brown hair bleached instantly. Her eyes seemed to fill with blood and hate. Her clothes tore and stretched as her body expanded upward and grew more symmetrical. Light brown freckles spread across her body in complicated patterns. Her pointed ears stretched toward the ceiling and twitched as if habitually.

To Greg she looked like a creature from his nightmares.

She turned and looked at Greg as her face became more angled and sharp. There was a terrible beauty to it all. The Nightshade’s were better formed than the humans could ever dream to be. “I guess the cats out of the bag on this one Mr. Cardoon… but on the bright side ‘The Giver of Knowledge’ will be please to know that we found a perfect match for his program. I need to contact headquarters but my data disc is broken.”

Greg was coming to his feet slowly. He felt like he had fallen into a lions den at the zoo, “You were a nightshade the whole time?!”

Hera looked down at her perfect body and then over to the human by the couch. “Welcome to the new world Mr. Cardoon. From here on out your life is going to change,” She held up the Remote to his data disc and pushed the button.

Greg stifled and then passed out. His body thudded on the floor.

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