|The Shoes make the Horse
by Michael Bard
© Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
Morgan looked up at the sign, water dripping from his legs and clothes, as all the various lions and tigers and bears and squirrels and--
He sighed, scratching at his wet fur under his wet shirt. It itched no matter what he did, or what he wore. Everything he tried tugged painfully at his fur, but he had to wear something! Pulling slightly at one slightly too tight pant leg, he was happy that he could, at least, wear them.
A month since The Change. No more shoes, he'd thought, until walking on pavement, dry or wet, all day had cracked his left hoof. He cringed at the memory of the pain, and winced at the memory of the doctor's bill.
It figured. People could fly, become the full animal that they resembled, transform objects, shoot energy bolts--
The crowd parted as a bear in norm form shoved and waddled his way past.
Morgan, of course, got nothing. Just a doctor's bill. And he needed a job. Really needed a job. That bill had killed the last of his savings. And, that meant that he needed shoes as there was no way in hell he could pay the doctor again.
With a snort to clear his nostrils of some water, and of the barnyard of odours, he clopped through the door leaving a small puddle of water behind. With every movement his wet clothes tugged and pulled at his fur, and his back itched. His ebony body glistened in the dim glow inside the store, the annoying whine of the fluorescents overhead making him pull his ears against his skull.
At least they'd turned off half.
The store seemed abandoned. Empty shelf after empty shelf. However, various hand written paper signs were taped up all over the place. Birds this way with an arrow. Dogs and Wolves above empty shelves. Here and there he even saw some crudely made-- things for various types of animal feet. The only part of the store that was well stocked was clearly labeled Low-D and crammed with all kinds of human shoes. A month ago they'd have been useful. Now they were garbage just waiting to be hauled away.
Finally he found a arrow labeled hooves and followed it. A hand written note that read cloven loomed over empty shelves but he continued on, dreading what he wouldn't find. But, he was wrong. There, on the shelves labeled horse and related was a single pair of shoes sitting all alone.
He smiled. Then he stared. Then his tail started whipping back and forth.
The damn things looked like toys. Blue plastic toys. Shiny, crudely made. Around the top of the heal of each was an elastic cable, with an ugly metal clamp that could be closed to tighten the shoe around the hoof.
Tail whipping, his pants painfully yanking said tail at every swing, he picked one up between two hooflets on the tips of his fingers. He felt he was picking up a red hot coal, even though the shoe was cool to the touch. Lifting it up, he cocked his head to look at it out of one eye.
The thing stunk of rubber and plastic. Faintly he could pick out-- hay? And--
Wrinkling his nostrils in disgust, he flipped the thing over. The bottom was flat, but with heavy treads at least half an inch think. In fact, the whole thing was built like it was for a horse and nowhere was the plastic less than half an inch thick.
It was like they'd been made for a--
"They're pre-change shoes to protect damaged equine hooves."
Morgan spun around and stared at a low-D, a way low-D, lizard of some sort. Maybe. All he could see that was not human norm were scales replacing hairless skin, and the faintly yellow eyes.
"I'm lucky to even have those. I've got a cousin who stables horses, grabbed every one he had the day after The Change."
He looked around at all the other empty shelves.
"If they don't fit, you aren't going to find anything. And, sorry for not getting to you sooner, but I was on the phone."
Remembering the debit for two grand for the doctor's bill, Morgan's body slumped in defeat. He sighed. "Is there someplace I can sit to try them on?" Numbers flew through his head. He'd tried grass, but it was so bland. He could eat it if he had to though-- And there was that big bag of rice--
Still plotting his finances, he sat down and let the low-D lizard lift his left hoof and wiggle one of the boots on. It was cool, and stuck to the damp sides of his hoof. The rubber squeaked loudly.
"You really ought to take better care of your hooves you know."
Morgan snorted and shrugged, trying to get the damn damp shirt to settle better. There was a place on his back that was driving him crazy with its itch, a place he couldn't reach.
"Keep still, please."
As the lizard slapped the treads of the shoe, Morgan felt it press against the soft bottom of his hoof, the part that was inside the hard nail wall. There was a sudden tightening as the clasp snapped into place, and he felt the slight pressure of the metal spring across the back of his hoof.
"Just let me get the other one."
It wasn't long until both Morgan's hooves were securely shoed. Wiggling phantom toes, Morgan then put his hooves onto the floor, the rubber scrunching and squeaking a bit as he applied a bit of weight.
"Looks like you lucked out size wise."
Morgan snorted and nodded. With practiced effort, he pushed himself upward a foot further than before. At first he wobbled, his hooves pressing into the rubber which squeaked a bit in protest, but then he adjusted. It was like walking on a carpet, and he felt far more secure than with just the GripKote(tm) he, and it seemed everybody else, had been using. Taking a few steps, he found them comfortable, functional, and effective.
If it wasn't for the colour--
"What do you think?" the lizard asked.
Morgan turned around. "They're not bad. Except--"
The lizard shrugged. "I know-- and that's all anybody who can't get a hold of a Transformer will have."
Morgan tapped a hoof. If only they weren't so comfortable! But the doctor's bill-- He rubbed his eyes, pushing his damp mane out of the way for the hundredth time. Reaching into his pocket for his wallet with one hand, he pulled at his shirt with the other, trying to find some orientation that provided some comfort. Damn shirt. Damn clothes. "Okay-- how much?"
In a small voice the lizard said, "$160."
"A hundred-- sixty--" Morgan had $40 to his name. He had one credit card that had just enough left to cover his rent due in two weeks. On the other hand, or hoof in this case,, for the first time in a long time, he was standing without pain. In fact, he hadn't even realized he'd been in pain until it had gone away.
But, if he bought them, he had about two days to try and find some kind of income.
He sighed. A sound a lot louder than it used to be. "Fine." He swallowed. "Do you take credit?"
The lizard smiled and nodded eagerly. "You'll want to wear them home?"
"Assuming they're waterproof."
Morgan sighed again, the way only a really depressed horse can sigh. "Fine."
The low-D lizard turned away, and Morgan took a step to follow. That was when the water, the itches, the cloth tugging at fur, the stupid blue plastic, all decided to hit him at once. The never ending itch along the middle of his back flared up to an almost intolerable level; the proud pain free stride he'd taken after the lizard pulled his wet shorts against his dam fur making him whimper in pain. And then there was a loud earscraping rip and he felt his crotch suddenly blowing in the wind. As it were.
For a second there was silence. The lizard had stopped and was turning around. Morgan had bankrupted himself with the doctor, had swallowed his pride with the ugly plastic shoes, he itched like it was going out of style, and now his best fitting pair of pants had given up the ghost. In what might be the most embarrassing way possible.
And the painful whine from the overheads digging into his skull didn't help.
Morgan lost it. He screamed. He cursed. He shook his fist at the world as the lizard backed away. His entire body burned with embarrassment and he wanted to flee, but that would only make things worse. Where would he go? Out in public?
And then he slumped. "Why? Why me? Do I really want to so much?" All he wanted was a steady job with enough wage to pay for his simple needs. Were clothes that fit properly too much to ask? Simple god-damned clothes--
A warmth filled his body, an electric potential. A miracle. It oozed out of him like rich molasses--
And the itching was gone. The dampness in his clothes was gone. The tightness along his legs had changed to simple comfort. And he knew that he was no longer hanging in the breeze.
"Are you taunting me?" the lizard spit out.
Morgan blinked, staggered as a wave of fatigue swept through him. Hands fumbling, he managed to grab a shelf to keep from falling.
The lizard continued oblivious. "You lousy bastard! I'm going bankrupt because I have no stock because Transformers are charging an arm and a leg and are owned solidly by the big companies. Hell, if I don't show some kind of profit by the end of this month, the damn bank is foreclosing on my loan!"
"But-- But I'm not a Transformer. I have no powers--"
"Bull!" The lizard pointed at Morgan. "How do you explain that?"
For the first time Morgan looked down at himself, cocking his horse muzzle to do so. His pants were repaired, and both they and his shirt fit snugly and properly, nice and dry and warm. He could feel some kind of silk-like layer pressing against his fur, allowing each hair on his body to move easily without painfully tugging at his flesh. A properly designed hole let his black tail comfortably feed through and move about. And the shoes-- From the inside they felt almost the same, though he couldn't feel the pressure of the spring clamp. On the outside, they were no longer the shiny blue plastic, but instead a stylish black suede that went further up his leg than before with no sign of any kind of lace or hook. The sole was a bit wider and looked to be a bit thicker. "Impossible--"
"I should charge you double, you fu--"
"I didn't know!"
The volume of Morgan's plea shook the lizard out of his tirade. He blinked, mouth hanging open.
"I really didn't!"
"You didn't--" The lizard's eyes glowed as that idea sunk in. "If you work for me, starting now, I'll pay you 10% of the profit--"
"Give me a break! Twenty."
The lizard sighed. "Please. I'm-- I'm desperate."
Morgan ran some more numbers through his head, and shook his muzzle as he knew that the lizard's plea had convinced him. Sometimes he thought he was too nice for this world. "Okay, okay. But--"
"Twenty percent is fine, but at least $800 a month." That would cover his basic expenses, and allow a little left over. "And, I say when I take a break."
"These powers take energy. I almost fell after that one use. I can only do so much at a time."
"I've heard that-- okay."
"And, I only guarantee this deal, and this exclusivity, for two months."
"Hmm-- okay that should be enough time for normal manufacturing to get up and running, and for deliveries to resume."
"Oh, and one more thing--"
The lizard cocked his head.
Morgan kicked at the floor. "Umm--" He felt his ears burning with embarrassment. "Can I have these shoes for free?"
Website Copyright 2004,2005 Michael Bard. Please send any comments or questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org