|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
Long as I can remember, my Ma always told me the same thing. "Watch out for Buddy Boy," she would say in a low voice. "He's trouble on two legs." Then she would laugh, a sharp cackle that made goosebumps up my back.
She'd never explain who Buddy Boy was. "You'll know him when you see him," she'd say. "You'll know from the way he looks at you, like a wolf staring at his prey. If you're not careful he'll eat you alive and spit out the bones."
Ma always talked like that to me. I'd listen to her 'cause she was wise in her ways, managing to make a living out in the woods from town. Most folks would shun her when she went for food, but she was always in church every Sunday in Cheneyville. Said it kept her in good graces with the Lord for her misspent youth.
'Suppose that meant me. She was just 18 when I was born, unwed, never knew who my pa was. Ma would never talk with me about it, even when I needed to know for school. "They don't need to know who it was," she said. "Bring nothing but more trouble." Even the principal Mr. Harvey didn't press when Ma told them that. They didn't want trouble, no way.
Ma did her best for me, though. She'd do jobs for folks in town, sewing, cleaning, cooking. Sometimes she'd tend the gardens while the Cheneys and the Bordelons were vacationing, keeping an eye on the place. Folks might not have liked her, but they would admit Ma was honest and kept her word.
Summer's heat was pouring down in the afternoon. Ma was sitting on the porch, doing some needlepoint. I wanted to head down to the creek for a swim, the only way I could cool off.
"Ma, I'm gonna run to the creek and do a little swimming."
"Be back by sundown," she said to me. "Use the path through the woods, over by old man Wilson's place. Just watch yourself, Buddy Boy's been lurking about." She said it matter-of-fact, like she knew for certain.
"I'll watch out, honest." With a quick step I headed out the gate and down the path, looking more towards that swim than anything else.
Took about an hour's walk, but finally I made it to the creek. Not much water there to swim in, the heat's been fierce and a lot of farmers have been watering crops as best they could. Still, I took advantage of what I had, wetting myself down and letting the cool water soak my skin. Felt good, a slight breeze making it feel even cooler. So good that I lay down in the grasses on the bank, taking a nap.
The chirping of crickets woke me up. Looking up at a darkening sky, I realized that it was late, later than it should have been. Ma was going to kill me for being this late.
Gathering up my stuff, I started back down the path towards home. The dimming light made the trek more difficult, shadows creating illusions in the trees. I'd been out at night before, but my nerves were jangling wildly like a banjo being plucked. Something, or someone was out there in those shadows.
I kept on going, best I could. Sometimes I'd stumble, and manage to catch myself. Then another trip, this time making me spill into the dust and dirt. A groan came from me, as I picked myself up and brushed as best I could.
"Welladay. Whatcha doing out here at this time of evening?" The voice made me spin around. Sitting on a trunk near the path was a stranger. I didn't recognize him at all, from the short sleeved shirt to the Levis. He looked at me, however, smiling an odd smile.
"Lis'bet's child, ain'tcha?" He said it more as a statement than a question to me. "Rachel, right?" At my nod, he smiled again.
"Betcha got a lot of questions, don'tcha?"
I nodded again, cautiously. "I might. . . Buddy Boy."
With that, he gave a loud whoop, slapping his knee. "Hah! Lis'bet taught you good, she did. She's a sharp one, always was a fast learner." He gave an odd smile, then winked. "Betcha you'd be a fast learner too. Especially 'cause of what you are."
My nerves were jangling again, but I ignored it. "Learn what, Buddy Boy? What you taught my Ma years ago? What made her what she is, what made me what I am?" For some reason I wanted to find out more now. Maybe to get the answers I wanted to hear.
He looked at me again oddly, then laughed. "Yep, you're a fast learner all right. Faster than your Ma. She always had the Blood, but you, you've got more than that. You got spunk. I like that. You got nerve. Like that too. Tell you what, you come to the edge of the woods at midnight, and I'll teach you a little. Not there, I'll leave you be." He stood up, walking into the woods.
"Remember, midnight." His voice drifted off into silence. I stood there, looking at the spot, then shivered.
I raced the rest of the way home. Ma was waiting on the porch when I came out of the forest path, looking worried. When I reached the gate, she called out.
"Was beginning to worry about you. Trouble?"
I shook my head. No reason to tell her, not yet. "No trouble, Ma. Just slept at the creek and forgot."
"Just be careful. Don't want to get caught by Buddy Boy."
The evening passed quickly, Ma going to sleep early. I lay down in bed, but my nerves were still jangling. Nervous, worried, afraid, wondering. Finally I couldn't stand it and got up, looking out the window.
I kept thinking I'd see a ghost light in the forest or something, but all I could see was the path, moonlight streaming down. It seemed bright, warm, comforting. I sneaked a look at the clock, and saw it was five to midnight. I opened the window quietly, and slipped on out.
Just as I reached the edge of the woods, he appeared. "Figured you'd be curious," he merely said. "Come with me."
We walked into the woods, the only sounds being the crunching of leaves under our feet. I didn't know how long we walked, but finally he stopped when we reached a clearing. There, he turned around to look at me.
"What do you know of nature?" he asked, his eyes glowing slightly. "What do you know of the way of life, of animals and plants, of the cycle of the world?"
His questions confused me, making me shake my head. "Dunno what you mean, just that things are the way they are."
He smiled softly, then looked intently at me again. "Listen to me Rachel. There are those who are able to do a little more in this world. Those who can touch the world and sense it, even make themselves a part of it. Your Ma could do that, and so can you. That is what I want to teach you."
His words puzzled me even more. "What do you mean, become a part of it?"
That odd smile came back on his face, and he placed his hand on the top of my head. "Let me show you, then."
There was an odd feeling in me, then it felt like I lost control of my body. I fell forward, landing on my hands and feet. But my arms stretched out, becoming longer. I could see my fingers pull back, becoming more like hooves. My body shuddered again, then I felt my neck stretching out, my face and head rearranging. It wasn't painful at all, the odd jangling sensation I'd had all evening the only thing I could feel. There was a wave of dizziness, then I blinked as the jangle faded.
I tried to look around, and was surprised at what I saw. My body, what I could see of it, was a deer now. Every part of me had changed, from my sight to smell to hearing. Things were sharper, moreso than I could ever remember.
Shaking my head, I gave a soft sound, that being the only thing I could say now. Buddy Boy stood close, nodding in appreciation at me. "Like I said, you're a fast learner. Your Ma took a lot longer to adjust to that. Not that she wasn't as fast as you before she left."
His words sounded strange in my ears, but they echoed in my mind. I wondered just what I would do this way, being a deer, then he chuckled softly again sensing my thoughts.
"Learn what it's like for a while. You know how to change back inside you. Once you've done it, you'll never unlearn it. Like riding a horse, you'll always enjoy it." He winked, then his form blurred before my eyes, falling to the ground and reshaping into a tall buck. He winked at me once his change finished, then walked off towards the woods again, his message clear to me to follow.
We wandered about for the rest of the night as deer, nibbling the grasses, drinking from the creek and otherwise being what we were. My mind drifted off, aware of what I was but not caring. Once or twice I caught the sound of hounds off in the distance, and we'd wander off deeper into the woods.
Finally as the sky started to hint the day, I found myself wandering at the edge of the woods. Buddy Boy was nowhere around, and I panicked for a moment. Then something inside of me reached and took control, my body shaking violently as it rearranged back to human. I gasped for a moment, then got up shakily. Realizing how late it was, I quickly snuck back into my room and into bed. I managed to doze off for a bit, then was shook to wakefulness by Ma. "Wake up, lazy. Got chores to do. Then you can go back to sleep."
Mumbling, I got out of bed and dressed, then headed out into the yard. But before I reached the door, Ma grabbed me by the shoulder and looked at me.
"You've seen Buddy Boy, haven't you? Don't lie to me, I can tell."
I nodded slowly. "Yes, Ma. Saw him yesterday on the way home from the creek."
"You stay away from him, you hear? He's the devil, and I don't need him getting you." With that, she headed out to the shed to feed the chickens. Me, I went to get water for the horses, afraid of what Ma might think if she knew about last night.
For a week it went on. I would sneak out at night, meeting Buddy Boy in the woods, and he would show me more. One night we were hawks, flying high over the woods, learning what it was like to fly. Another night we became foxes, romping through the brambles chasing after each other. I learned more about what I could do, his voice and thoughts guiding me.
"Never forget, you can be whatever you want to be. A mouse, a sparrow, a cat, a dog. You could be a tree in the woods, a breeze blowing the trees, a mist drifting about. Whatever it is you desire to take in form, you can take. Always, under your control, as you wish, when you wish."
Late one night, just before I was going to sneak out, Ma came into the room. From her look and her breath, she'd been drinking a little too much again. She looked at me with a wild glance, then slapped me hard.
"Bitch!" she cried out. "You've been seeing Buddy Boy, haven't you? I told you to stay away from him!" She slapped me again, sending me across the bed whimpering.
"Damn you bringing him into this house. I ought to beat you until you can't sit for a week. Teach you not to disobey me again, do you hear?" She was in a rage, screaming at the top of her lungs. She raised her hand again to hit me, but another hand grabbed hers and spun her around.
"Why don't you take it out on me, instead?" Buddy Boy glared at her, his eyes drawn tight in anger. "Why don't you hit someone who'll hit you back instead of our daughter?"
Ma flew into a rage at that, beating on him repeatedly. "Why? Why did you come back here? Why did you have to take my daughter? Damn it, she's mine!" Her cries became incoherent, still pounding on Buddy Boy repeatedly.
He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close against him. "Why shouldn't I come back to you, to her? She's mine just as much as you, and she needs to know. She needs to know who and what she is. Just as you've known but haven't told her."
Ma started crying, sobbing against his shoulder. He kept holding on tight to her, murmuring softly while looking up at me from time to time. "Lis'bet, you can't hide what she is forever. Not from her. I'd find her again no matter where you'd go, she's my flesh and blood as well."
"You're not going to take her," Ma said between sobs. "You're not going to take her and toss her the way you did me."
He lifted her chin and kissed lightly on the lips. "I didn't leave you, Lis'bet. You left me. And I'm not here to take her, I'm here to teach her. Teach her about her heritage." He paused, then looked Ma in the eyes. "I am here to take you, though. You've lived alone for too long now. It's time for us to be together again."
Ma looked at Buddy Boy with alarm. "I'm too old," she started to say. Instead, he placed his fingers on her lips.
"Come with me, Lis'bet. Let me show you again."
Ma looked over at me, visibly torn. "I can't leave her," she said. He nodded, placing his arm around her shoulders.
"She'll be safe. I give you my word on that. You won't lose her. Now come, Lis'bet. Come."
She walked slowly with Buddy Boy, still crying softly. I watched them leave the room, then went out to the front door. At the gate, they paused and looked back.
"I'll be back, Rachel," Ma called out. "I will be back." Then they both walked to the forest's edge, disappearing into the darkness.
It'd been two days now since they left. Since then I had been taking care of the chores, as it's what Ma would expect from me. That afternoon, I went into town to get some food, just to be sure there was enough when they came back. On the way back, I took the path through the woods, just as a shortcut.
About halfway through, I spotted a pair of foxes scampering about. One of them caught sight of me, then gave out a sharp yip. The other looked up as well, both of them peering curiously at me. I smiled softly, giving a wink at them both. "Dinner will be around sunset," I said quietly. "If you want to show up."
They both scurried off into the bushes, then one poked it's head out at me, giving another soft yip before disappearing. Chuckling softly to myself, I went off homewards. Dinner was going to be unusual, definitely.
Buddy Boy copyright 1996 by Tal Greywolf.
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