by Bob Stein
"You have no idea what you are dealing with!" I can hear anger
and frustration in the lead agent's voice. "This isn't a normal
animal, and you damn well know it!" He twists around to glance
at the growing crowd. "Dammit! Get that TV crew away from here!"
"And I suppose you have an explanation for this?" My Rescuer takes a deep, shuddery sigh. "Look, Agent, uh, Stanton?"
"Agent Stratton. Nobody knows what the Hell is going on. Not me, not you, not even our little friend here." She points at me. "To be honest, I didn't really believe my friend when she tried to explain it to me on the phone. All I knew was that there was a horse involved. But I heard reports on the radio as I drove over here. So far, all of the changes reported happened at two o'clock. Almost an hour ago. Right?"
The man throws up his hands. "We don't know enough to make that kind of generalization! He could be contagious! This could be some sort of genetic plague, or an alien threat..." His voice fades suddenly, and even my weaker eyesight can make out the red flush on his cheeks. "God, I can't believe I said that. Look, Ms. Parker. This is like being sent to arrest Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny. It could all be some really good hoax. Except that right now, there is a chance, however slight, that whatever happened to this, er, man, could happen to other people. We can't risk letting him escape, possibly infect more people."
There is a brief silence, and I can hear the murmur of a crowd outside. This is going to get bad. I am really frightened again, this time thinking of all those Alien Dissection TV specials. A lot of horrible things could be done for the sake of National Security. Wasn't the Holocaust a result of Nazi Germany's National Security?
The woman, whose name I now know is Parker, shakes her head. "Take a look at this colt, Agent Stratton. He is no more than two weeks old. It doesn't matter if he was a middle-aged man an hour ago. He is completely helpless, confused, and scared. Even if he was capable of escape, which I assure you he is not, he has no voice, no hands, no way to communicate at all. What I do know is that he is in desperate need of feeding, and a thorough checkup by a competent large animal vet. He also needs appropriate facilities and some sort of surrogate dam. Are you prepared to do any of that right now?"
"Well, not yet, but..."
Parker cuts him off. "Let's cut to the chase. I have all of the above waiting, plus the transportation. I've already been exposed, so there is no additional risk involved. You can have someone follow me to the stables, and keep watch if you need to. But the longer you screw around here the harder it will be to keep things quiet." She waits just a beat. "And if you try to take him off on your own, I promise I will start a media circus that will make Ruby Ridge look like a Christmas Party."
Stratton stiffens, his fists clenching. Then he glances back at the crowd again. "The best thing for everyone involved is to get him out of here as soon as possible. So I'll go along with you taking him to your stables. Your place will be quarantined -- no one in, no one out. Communications will be strictly controlled." He looks directly at her. "But you have to understand this, Ms. Parker. Regardless of what rights you think you have, I can lock you away without charges for as long as needed -- no phone calls, no lawyers. Just you in a holding cell, maybe for months. I don't want to do that. Please don't force me to."
Parker looks back at me, and my gut clenches as I see that same frightened look that Debbie had. However, she nods her head. "That works for me. I don't want to cause any trouble. I just want to look out for his safety."
"Believe it or not, that's part of why I am here." Stratton manages a weak smile. "I've got a wife and two kids, a basset hound that chews my paper before I can read it, and a neighbor who likes to work on his Harley at two in the morning. Forget the TV shows and movies. I'm just a guy doing his job. And part of that job is protecting him from the weirdoes and fanatics that are going to freak out when this gets out."
I feel a chill. The Religious Right is headquartered here in Tidewater -- good old Pat Robertson and his bible thumpers will probably denounce me as an abomination, the work of the devil. Or at least call my transformation a punishment from God for my unknown, untold sins. Could be. I've never been a particularly religious person, and that in itself is supposedly enough to damn me forever. I have to admit that I'm a lot more open to the concept of God right now than I have ever been before. It's as good an explanation as any other I can come up with.
Parker pats my neck and squats down to look me in the eye. "You'll be OK, boy. Just a few miles from here, and then I'll fix you up with some dinner. The mention of food has a disturbingly strong effect on my attention, and she is closing the trailer up before I realize that nobody ever tried to talk to me directly. Not Parker, not Stratton, not anyone. It's as if I don't exist anymore. Maybe I don't -- not as Bob Stein, anyway.
The trailer lurches slightly and then starts to roll. Parker is driving a bit slower now, probably getting a police escort. I wonder what she is expecting out of this. Fame? Some sort of financial reward? All of my assets combined wouldn't bring much. Not that I have much use for any of them now. My house isn't zoned for horses. I can't drive. I don't need clothing any more.
Alone in the trailer, I find myself wondering about all this. There has to be a reason I turned into a Shire colt. At least two of the other victims of whatever this is became fantasy creatures. A centaur and a werewolf. I wonder who they are, or were. God, I wish I could call Eric up in Boston. After sharing all those stories and pictures about equine transformation, I'm experiencing the real thing. He might even be a bit jealous.
I wish I knew where the other victims were. From what Brian said, the changes had happened all over the world, at the same time. That pretty much ruled out any kind of biological agent. This is no Martian Flu, like the Blind Pig stories on the Transformation Story Archive. Actually, it doesn't fit any of the categories. The closest thing I can figure is magic. Of course, any sufficiently advanced technology is the same as magic to someone who doesn't understand it. Which brings me back to alien invaders, or maybe some mad scientist. And the biggest question -- why me?
Part of the answer might lie in the fact that I have always wondered about the possibility of being a horse. Long before I ever had any real contact with the animals, I can remember being fascinated with them. The Budweiser Clydesdales were favorites until I discovered Shires -- black ones in particular. I have no idea why -- they just seemed right. Come to think of it, I also tend to imagine becoming a foal, not a grown stallion. The practical side of my fantasy, I suppose -- why give up four or five years of life to start out as an adult animal?
Practical side? God, what am I thinking? What is practical about being an animal? No hands, no voice. At best, I won't lose much life expectancy overall, except that I will die as a horse, not a man. Does that make a difference? What has happened to my soul? If there is an afterlife, will I face it as a human or an animal?
I suddenly think of my parents. Has someone called them? What would they do? Probably think it is a joke, at least at first. Damn, they don't need this. While they get along OK, neither Mom or Dad are in the best of health. However, they are also both surprisingly adaptable and open to new things. If I can somehow let them know I am still here, that I am OK, I think they will be able to handle the situation.
Am I OK? I mull that over for a moment. I'm a Shire colt locked in some strange woman's horse trailer, escorted by police and the FBI, heading off for some stable I don't even know the location of. I've got a thousand things to be scared of, no idea how any of this happened, and no expectation that it will reverse itself. Still, I don't really feel threatened. Stratton and Parker both seem to be decent people trying to do what is best. I am really lucky about that. Of course, my experience with people has been generally positive all through my life. Either I am extremely fortunate, or the world isn't quite so bleak a place as it seems on the evening news.
Which I will be on, most likely. There was at least one news crew out there. Probably interviewing that woman who saw me in the elevator by now. I hope Vinnie or Brian talk to them. It would be nice to get described by someone who didn't scream and run. How are people reacting to the others? The centaur would be really strange. At least he can talk. But he is going to look like a freak to everyone. Different usually means scary. I guess I am safer from the weirdoes like this -- it is hard to imagine a dangerous foal.
Funny how I have slid around the original question -- Am I OK? Physically, I seem to be strong and healthy. Pretty, too, all glossy black and soft. Actually, I am exactly what I would choose to be if someone gave me a choice of equine forms. Or at least, what I would have chosen. Maybe that's part of all this. It explains why I ended up a foal and someone else ended up a centaur. When I think about transformation, I have always looked at it as realistically as possible. No magical abilities, or mental tricks. In most of my stories, the person always survives with his personality, but skills and knowledge retention levels vary. Even with hands or a voice, do I still have the ability to use a computer or work on a car?
Maybe all that doesn't matter any more. Writing and tinkering have always been a big part of my life, but that was a different life. I am starting fresh here, more so even than if I woke up as an infant. This time, I am going to experience a totally fresh perspective. Unless my mind regresses later, I won't exactly view the world as a horse, but I sure won't be seeing things as a human.
The trailer lurches and bumps, distracting me from my contemplation. Then we come to a stop. I find myself sniffing at the air, excited by rich familiar scents. Horses, hay, wood, dirt, manure. Curiosity burns, and I want to explore, to track down these odors. Dimly, I know that the Colt is taking over for now, but my own curiosity is mixed in with the foal's, and I make no effort to fight him.
I prance eagerly by the back, shying a little from the noise as the Parker lowers the wall. A new place. This feels better somehow. I can see some other horses in an open place, and squeal to them. One whinnies back, a female. I do not scent a dam -- there is an empty spot in my head there. The Parker is making noises, but I am not interested in her. I step onto the sloping wall and then hop to the ground and trot to the other horses. Big sticks are between us. The Parker opens a hole in the sticks, and I bolt in. The scent of herdmates fills my nostrils, and for a while, I forget everything.
Ouch! I scamper away from the cranky male with an indignant squeal. He'd warned me off a couple of times with a half-hearted swing of a hind hoof, but I hadn't been expecting his sudden lunge and nip at my side. The stinging fades quickly, and I shake my head and vent frustration at the air with hind hooves.
It is getting dark now. They'll have to get a light for that video camera -- I wonder if it's digital? I have a digital camera. A Ricoh. It takes good pictures, but it is such a battery pig. I don't smell any pigs around -- I stop and shake my head. Why am I thinking about pigs?
I sniff the air, searching for the Parker. No, not the Parker -- Ms. Parker, the lady who rescued me. Confusion. The activity in my head is very weird. Sorta like sitting in the front row of an IMAX theater, the ones that have the monster sixty-foot screens. If I really make an effort, the big picture of my human thoughts is spread out before me. However, it's hard to catch everything going on, and the detail stuff seems fuzzy. Maybe that's a bad analogy. How about a computer with a fifty-gig hard drive and eight meg of RAM? Yeah, that's my new brain. Plenty of storage, but no processing power.
Except that I am thinking OK now. At least, it feels like I am thinking OK. Part of the weirdness is that I have total recollection of the time I have spent in the corral here, and those memories feel totally normal as well. Simpler, perhaps. Energy, curiosity, absolute concentration -- total focus on whatever caught my eye. No sense of time, though. At least until old Grouchy snapped at me.
Time. Another weirdness. The concept is clear now, but the memories of my colt thoughts have no associated minutes or hours. Everything is now. I review memories of the past few hours. Scents, sounds, tastes. Oh, God. Tell me I didn't eat horse droppings. I have read that foals do that instinctually to get some sort of special bacteria they need for grazing. It had faint flavorings of grass and grain, with a slight bitterness. Great. I've become a manure connoisseur. On film, yet. If I could flush, my muzzle would be glowing red right now.
I push that image aside and try to focus on other things. Like communicating with the other horses. The gelding doesn't feel like company right now -- I really shouldn't have kept after him, but I am so bored. The older of the two mares will tolerate me if I just stand next to her, but then I find myself lipping at her teats, and she chases me off. The filly actually played with me a little while, but then she tired of chasing each other around the turnout and ignores me now.
With the sun on its way down, I know that time has passed. The transformation happened at 2 p.m., and the sun usually sets around 5:30 p.m. About three hours total. I am happy that I can still manage the mathematics, but that is the only way I can judge the passage of time.
Why don't I feel different? I mean, I've changed species here. Being a colt seems perfectly natural. I remember my fingers, and walking upright. Yet I now have solid hooves and four legs, plus a tail, fur, and everything else that goes with being a horse. If I really concentrate, I can make myself aware of some of the changes. Moving my tail, for example. Flaring my nostrils and curling my upper lip. Those are pretty obvious.
What about hearing, and sight, and smell? I know I didn't see the same way before, even with my contacts out. I wonder what happened to them, come to think of it. Probably fell off when my eyes enlarged. Vision is a little blurred and colors are faded. It's like I am seeing the world through a pair of low-quality digital cameras -- everything is grainy and dull. I have great peripheral views, though. It's weird to see your own butt all the time. Or should be. The split field of vision doesn't bother me at all now, in fact, I have to consciously think about it to even find it unusual or different.
The same goes for my ears and nose. I can smell all sorts of things, dirt, sweat, wood, even the faint stink of cars I can hear in the distance. The other horses each have a unique scent, and I can tell their age, health, even their moods just taking a sniff. I suppose the same might work for me. Yeah, I know my own odor. Always there in the background. It is sorta comforting.
My ears perk up, and I trot towards the fence. Parker is walking to the gate. The woman working the camera backs away as I approach, her scent nervous. I guess she is afraid of joining me in here. Come to think of it, there is no one else around. I sniff the air cautiously. Only a few fresh human scents are close, though I can detect a large number of them not too far away.
"Robert. If you understand me, I want you to move your head up and down." Parker nods her own head slightly, as if signaling a trained animal.
Excited by the contact, I squeal and shake my head, kicking up my hind hooves and prancing in a circle.
"No! Robert, please. Stand still and nod your head if you understand me." She has a funny sound in her voice. Fear? Concern?
I have to clamp down on my foal's emotions and plant all four hooves solidly. Then I nod my head.
Parker chews her lower lip for a moment, and then tilts her head slightly. "Paw the ground four times with your left forehoof, and once with your right."
That takes a bit more concentration, but I manage it OK. She must be afraid that I have become an animal all the way. That's easy to fix. I will simply write in the dirt here. Just write in the dirt. Drag my hoof across the ground and make marks. What kind of marks? Letters. Letters from the alphabet. To make words. Words to write. In the dirt.
I shake my head suddenly, startled by the mental loop. Why can't I focus on writing? I spelled my name out for Brian before. B-O-D. No, wait. That is wrong, isn't it? B-O-B. That feels right. Yes, I can see the letters now in my head. How did I draw them before?
"Nobody has figured out what happened yet, but hundreds of people all over the world were affected." Parker must see my ears perk up, for she nods in confirmation. "Hundreds. All exactly at two o'clock eastern standard time. There's been a real live werewolf on TV. I saw the interview just a few minutes ago. And they showed film of a centaur in Canada, and a weird sort of dragon creature. One man got turned into a little boy, and they even have witnesses who swear that another man turned into a teddy bear. A toy, stuffed teddy bear."
The mix of transformations has a strange familiarity. I can't help wondering if there is a unicorn somewhere in England, and a donkey sphinx up in Boston. No, wait. It couldn't be. Damn, I don't follow enough of the other list members outside the equine group. Still, a mass transformation of humans into such a variety of creatures. The list?
Parker gets a funny look on her face, part bewildered and part amazed. "They found a common link to everyone they have found so far. Just one. An internet site called the Transformation Story Archive. It was already shut down, but I did a search on your name and found your web site for Posti. And some of your stories. You wanted this to happen!"
No! I shake my head violently, exploding in a kicking fit of rage. Not this! I mean, I've written all sorts of transformation stories, and even wished for the chance. But why a dumb animal? Why not a little kid, or a centaur, or the humanoid equine? This isn't what I wanted!
Parker opens the gate and approaches me, her voice soothing as she holds out one hand. "It's OK, boy. Calm down. You're among friends here."
The foal wants to run away, to snap at the air in frustration. I can control him, just barely. Control myself. Part of the sudden rage is directed at myself, for I realize that it is true. I brought this on myself. All those stories about being transformed into a horse -- they had to outnumber any other theme at least two to one. And the end result was usually the same as well -- a glossy black Clydesdale or Shire colt. A foal who accepted his existence as a normal animal and adjusted to it.
That is why I can't make the marks on the ground any more. Damn all that stupid 'reality' I wanted to work into the stories. Working to make a transformation logical, to account for the lack of magical evidence. If the transformed person looks and acts the way his new form is expected to, it is easier to believe that such changes could really happen without anyone knowing about them.
Except when several hundred people all change at once. With witnesses. Oh, God. I think of the teddy bear. So many people on the List with strange interests. OK, wanting to be a horse is a strange interest, too. But there is some logic in my choice. A horse lives longer than most animals, equine medicine is pretty advanced, and they usually get decent treatment. What about someone wanting to be a hamster? Or an otter? Or worse, inanimate objects like mannequins and stuffed animals. Was the teddy bear dead?
I suddenly want to call friends from the list, to make sure they are OK. To let them know I am OK. What has happened to them? Is Eric an animal like me? I can only hope he really did become the sphinx form he liked to imagine. But did the transformation only affect those who really wanted change? Poor Matthew has written about becoming an equine for years, but that interest ended with his marriage. It would be a cruel trick to grant that old wishful thinking now that such a change would be a curse.
Parker is stroking me, calming me. Why has she helped me? This is a terrible risk for her, and I don't even know the woman. At best, Debbie might have told her we have been friends for years. Debbie, who ran from me when she realized her family might be endangered by her kindness to me.
"It's OK." Parker hugs my neck. "People are scared, of course. But the Government has already announced that whatever happened was not anything contagious. Nobody knows what actually caused the change, only that all the victims were members of that transformation group. So far, all the real attention is focused on the oddballs. Centaurs, werewolves, the creatures that don't exist. Didn't exist."
Until now. Just how accurate had the transformation been? A lot of the List members had written about creatures with special powers, like that horse goddess who could transform others. If the author had become her, did he have her abilities? A scary thought, especially if she also had the character's personality. And if the werewolf bites someone, will he make that person a werewolf, too? Come to think of it, can he transform back and forth between wolf and human?
Lots of my stories have had the character able to shift between human and horse! I struggle to recall some specifics. My character in the Blind Pig universe can take on any equine shape, or become a little kid! A flicker of confusion. What does a blind pig have to do with anything? I don't smell any pigs around here. Why am I thinking about pigs again?
"Robert!" Parker's voice is sharp. She has been talking, but I was not listening. She must be able to tell that. "I said that the quarantine is being loosened. You parents are on the way."
My parents?! Thoughts clear suddenly and I feel a stab of panic. What will they do? What will they say? I've shared some of my stories with them, of course, and I guess they know about my interest in transformation. It hasn't ever been a subject of discussion, though. They've pretty much assumed it was just another one of my hobbies, like tinkering with old cars and writing science fiction. Which, in a way, it has been. After all, no matter how seriously I have considered transformation philosophically, the impossibility of anything actually happening pretty much kept it in the same league as werewolves, unicorns, and genies in bottle. All of which might now exist.
"Nobody else knows where you are right now. Thankfully, there aren't any markings on my trailer or truck, and Debbie hasn't told anyone. We're off the main road, and they have kept the number of cars down. But it's only a matter of time before the press tracks you down." Parker looks down at the ground. "Look, I want to help you. But I'm a little afraid of what might happen. This place is all I have. If people get crazy..." Her voice trails off, and she stares at the ground.
If people get crazy. I shudder, and have a flash of resentment against Parker. Can't she see I am helpless? Then I feel shame. This woman has put herself at risk, possible even serious danger for someone she has never met. That realization doesn't help me any. Nobody I know has space or facilities for a horse, assuming that zoning restrictions against livestock aren't enforced. Would people still consider me to be human? Then I feel a chilly hand close around my gut as an even harsher truth hits home.
I am a horse. An animal. It isn't a matter of philosophy, or physical appearance. I still know who I am, and seem to have my human intelligence and memory. Yet in the very core of my being, my soul or heart or spirit, I know that I am a Shire colt. I can't even force myself to question that conviction. It simply is.
Something else from my stories, perhaps. Could it be some sort of punishment from a God I have never really believed in? This could just as easily be a reward from that same diety. I can only imagine what this event has done to World religions. The Christians will probably call this God's wrath against sinners who don't appreciate the human form. Buddhists will say this is proof of their belief that humans and animal are the same. Reincarnation before death. The Muslims? Well, they hate everyone anyway. But most of them love horses, so I might be ahead there. A least I still have a sense of humor. I may really need it later.
"The Government has a couple of places nearby." Parker scuffed the ground with one foot. "They have already set things up, if that's what you want to do. They aren't going to force you anywhere, but it's the only way they can pride protection. We can't really hide you, even with other Shires. You're black."
Huh? That gets my attention. There are lots of black Shires. I've seen them in person, and lots of pictures as well. My confusion must be apparent.
Parker shakes her head. "Foals aren't born black. They start out gray, and darken as they get older. Until you mature some, you'll be easy to spot." She pauses. "If you mature."
There is no such thing as a black Shire foal. My ignorance of some things is surprising. You'd think I would have noticed that. Whatever has transformed me must have used my mental picture instead of reality. Guess I am not so different from that werewolf after all. But just how set is that image? Some of my stories have ended with the character permanently stuck as a foal. Eternal youth, equine style. However, there was always a Dam as part of the package, a plot device which is sadly missing here.
As an orphan colt, I am almost helpless and very much alone. It's not a bad situation as long as I expect to grow up, but I can't imagine relying on bottle feedings for the rest of my life. That possibility worries me more than the actual transformation, even when I realize that living as a horse also means dying as one. A moderate equine life span might be twenty-five years -- which means I lose a decade or more of life from what I might have had as a human. I can handle that easier than the thought of essentially being an invalid forever.
That point is brought into sharp focus by the arrival of a familiar silver-gray station wagon. Even with this fuzzy vision, there is no mistaking the covered electric cart hanging off the back as the car pulls up near the corral. My parents have arrived. Both are older and not in the best of physical shape. Up to now, I always assumed I'd eventually be taking care of at least one of them. Now I am in no position to help anyone.
The car crunches to a halt on the gravel parking lot. Parker gives my neck a last pat and goes out to meet them, closing the corral gate behind her. I hear the car doors open and have a sudden urge to run hide myself behind the other horses. What will they say? What will they do? It seems ridiculous, yet I find myself feeling a kid caught for shoplifting, or stuck in a parent-teacher conference. I'm a grown man! Or was one. I don't know what I am now. Based on my own convictions, I am more a pet than a son now. It doesn't matter, for the most important thing in the world to me is their acceptance, either as parents or masters.
I see Parker talking with them for a moment, looking almost casual as they go through introductions. This improved hearing is a curse now, for I can hear a ragged edge to Mom's voice that is most likely the result of a lot of crying. Dad is very stilted and formal, a far cry from his normal outgoing nature. I have to assume they have been told everything. The big question now is, just how much are they going to believe?
The ground is too rough for Mom to cross using her canes, so Dad makes his way to the fence alone while she lowers her cart from the rear-mounted rack. He seems a little unsteadier than usual, holding onto the wooden railing for support as he glances around the corral and then focuses on me. He stares intently, probably trying to see something that might identify me. About all that might match is the coloring of my hair and eyes.
Why am I just standing here? Because I am afraid to see Debbie's fear show up in their eyes, terrified that they will snatch their hands back and run away. We have always been very close -- not just family, but best friends. Dinner every Sunday, cutthroat Scrabble games, phone calls during the week to share news and bad puns. A scowl flickers across Dad's face, and turns into a worried frown. He looks so old and frail and lost -- it hurts to think that he must be terribly upset and confused.
Steeling myself, I move slowly towards him, ears up and tail flagged. His scent is instantly tagged as herd-mate by my foal's mind, and much of my uneasiness vanishes. I practically leap towards him with a squeal, only to freeze when he jerks back from the fence. Oh God, no! I slip my head between the railings and snuffle the air, trying to fill my nostrils with his scent, as if I could pull him closer with the suction from my lungs. I try to call out to him, but can only manage a high-pitched whinny.
"For God's sake, Tony, he isn't going to hurt you!" Mom motors past him, her cart bouncing slightly as she crunches over the gravel. She rolls right up to the fence and stops directly in front of me. Twisting the seat around, she looks into my eyes with that same puzzled expression that Dad had. "Rob?"
I nod my head as much as I can within the fence rails, and lip at the sleeve of her coat. Dad moves next to her, and reaches out cautiously to touch the side of my snout. It occurs to me that he isn't used to large animals at all. No wonder I startled him! His scent is full of confusion and concern, but there is no stink of fear.
Parker comes over to the other side of Mom's cart. "He can't talk, but he can answer yes and no questions with his head. A friend of mine works with your son, and she told me there were witnesses to the actual change. It is definitely him."
Mom reaches out and strokes under my chin, her expression a mixture of amazement and stunned disbelief. "Debbie called us. At first I thought it was a joke, but she was so upset..." Her face crumples suddenly and tears stream down her cheeks. "Oh, God! I didn't want to believe it, not even with all the news on the radio. Are you OK?" That last is directed to me.
I nod my head again and drop my chin to rub her shoulder. It's the closest I can get to a hug now, but she seems to understand the gesture. I feel her arms around my neck and then she buries her face in my fur and sobs.
"Hello, Hoss." Dad blinks and pales as he realizes that his usual nickname for me has a new meaning now. "What happened?" He frowns. "Oh, wait -- yes and no questions only. Are you OK?"
I am not sure how to answer that one. After a moment, I nod my head very carefully.
"Were you a member of that list they talked about on the news?" He rolls his eyes before I can respond. "Never mind. Stupid question. This is that online writer's group you have told us about?"
Another nod. Several of the list members have been down to visit me, and a few have met my parents. Happily, I never did go for the fantasy personae on the web -- it would have been embarrassing to have an internet friend show up at the door expecting me to be young, rich, and handsome.
Mom pulls back and wipes her eyes. "I'm sorry, hon. I promised myself that I wouldn't make a scene, and then I fall apart as soon as I see you." She sniffs and chews her bottom lip a moment. "Rob, they are saying that all of the people on that writer's group turned into something they wanted to be. Is it true? Did you really want to be a horse?" She is staring at me, obviously bewildered.
Well, I can't exactly deny it now. I nod my head slowly and deliberately.
When she frowns at that, I feel my chest tighten. I can't expect her to understand, but I have been hoping that my parents would be able to accept this. Am I wrong?
"Look, son." Dad reaches out and pats my neck. "This is going to be hard for us to deal with, but we can adjust. All that really matters is -- are you happy?" His voice breaks, and his eyes fill suddenly. "Oh, damn. Rob, we just want you to be happy."
I want to cry, to hug him, to try to explain -- and I can't do any of that. This equine form has no way to express normal human emotions, and my parents can't read the signals my equine instincts are sending out. Grief and pain well up inside of me, and have nowhere to go. My guts are being wrenched out, and all I can do is nod my head.
This is so unfair! If I had been given some warning, some time to prepare, none of this would be so hard. I could have made arrangements for everything, had a chance to talk to my family. This is almost like I had died. They will have to sell my cars, my house, give away my things. And what if this isn't permanent? I could change again at any time. Considering the different stories I have written over the years, I could end up as almost anything from a cow or pig to a five year-old boy. Or I might wake up a year from now as my original self -- with all of my belongings gone.
Unfair or not, this is all I have now. Just how much of a hypocrite am I? After all my musings and declarations of how I would choose to be transformed, I am moaning about how inconvenient the reality is. This might be punishment from an offended deity. It might just as easily be a miracle. The final choice is really up to me -- am I blessed or cursed?
Mom strokes my nose. "I don't know much about horses, but you look beautiful."
"He's got perfect conformation for a Shire colt." Parker steps up beside her. "When he grows up, he'll be magnificent. The question then is going to be whether he is a stallion with a human mind, or a human with a stallion's body."
"How long will he live?" Dad lays his hand on my neck. "If he grows up normally?"
"Maybe twenty-five or thirty years." Parker shrugs. "Barring any unusual illnesses or injuries. I suspect he'll get the best of care."
My parents look at each other, and then Mom cups my chin in her hand. "You know, I'd pretty much given up hope of getting any grandkids from you. Think you might provide some with four legs?" Her voice is still shaky, but the familiar humor is like cold spring water to a man dying of thirst.
Dad sighs, and then manages a faint smile. "At least I have a better chance of beating you at Scrabble now."
The miserable weight of doubt suddenly lifts as I feel the bond between us. Not broken, not lost forever. A thrill of sheer joy fills my heart, and I spin suddenly and leap into the air, kicking up my hind hooves with a squeal. My future is far from certain, and I know that there will be many obstacles ahead, many problems to solve. Some people may fear me, or hate me. But for now at least, I have two people who love me no matter what form I have. They have accepted this, accepted me. And in that acceptance, I know that I have been blessed.