|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
It was late afternoon when Thomas arrived at Sedgewood Riding School. The dwindling sunlight that filtered through tree branches decked out in glorious autumn colors, and the crunch of the gravel driveway under his beemer's tires, reinforced the crisp feeling that fall brings to the air as he approached the main house.
Thomas expected someone would greet him, after all, he was paying a princely sum for three weeks of intensive riding lessons. When knocking repeatedly on the door brought no response, he decided to investigate the barn for signs of the staff and owner. He opened the barn door cautiously, for if the truth were known, the great beasts frightened him slightly. Their inscrutable, expressionless, eyes, and massive bodies, made them appear unpredictable, and possibly a source of danger... but that was part of the attraction.
For a moment he stood in the doorway, looking down the long isle between the stalls. The warm moist air inside the barn rushed out to meet him, carrying with it an aroma that can only be described as green, and earthy... with just a hint of ammonia. In each stall stood some of the finest examples of hunter, courser, and Irish Cob, that Thomas had ever seen in his lifetime of pouring over equestrian books and magazines. For a moment he stood drinking in the scene with awe.
"Hello? May I help you... are you lost?"
At first Thomas couldn't locate the source of the query. "Hello, yes, no I'm not lost... at least I don't think I'm lost. This is Sedgewood Riding School, isn't it?"
A stall door swung open to reveal a rather petite, raven-haired, woman, who looked to be in her mid thirties. With a broad smile, she offered him her hand. "I'm Margaret, Margaret Dunn... and you must be Thomas Rowan."
Margaret appraised her new student quickly... riding boots, a proper jacket and trousers, well groomed, this yahoo wouldn't know a tattersall from a tourniquet. He's probably never been on a horse in his life. Ah, well, she thought, at least there won't be any bad habits to break with this one.
As Thomas shook her hand he was startled by the strength of her grip. Margaret's face was without line or blemish, but her grip was like a vise. Her callused hands told of a lifetime of handling ropes and mucking barns. Thomas smiled. "Where is the rest of your staff? I'd like to take my luggage inside and begin as soon as possible."
Margaret stepped past Thomas and through the door, heading straight for his car. "I'll take your things inside. We'll start your lessons tomorrow, right after breakfast."
Thomas slept fitfully that night. Near daybreak he was dreamed of hearing the patter of a large crowd, shuffling feet, and the clanking of pots and pans... but when he awoke all he could hear was the wind rustling through the leaves, and two bluejays arguing over their property rights with a crow.
She brought breakfast to his room. There were hot biscuits with apple butter, poached eggs, and an ocean of steaming oatmeal laced with raisins and brown sugar. Margaret placed on a tray across his bed almost as soon as he opened his eyes. "Good morning Thomas, and lovely morning for your first lesson it is too!"
Thomas stared at the tray of food for a moment, it did look tempting. "Thank you so much, but I'll just have the coffee."
Margaret smiled icily. "You'll need to eat more than that. You have a big day ahead of you." Thomas suddenly felt a ravenous hunger building deep within his belly. It was unsettling, but he decided that Margaret was right... and the food did look appetizing.
When Thomas arrived in the training ring Margaret could hardly stifle a chuckle. He looked as if he had just stepped out of a circa 1800's Currier&Ives engraving. "Is something wrong?" Thomas inquired.
Margaret coughed to cover her amusement. "Oh, no! It's just that so few of my students dress so proper."
Thomas was crestfallen... he knew that she was laughing at him, and that made the beady-eyed, lanky, mount, that she had chosen for his first ride, all that much more insulting. Adding to his discomfort, the unruly beast had a mind of it's own, and it tried to unseat him at the slightest provocation.
"I'm sorry Margaret, but this horse just isn't working out... I'd like to try another."
"This is the only school horse, the rest are boarders. You'll just have to learn to get along," she replied with an obvious smirk.
"But, but, you must have over thirty horses here! Surely any one of them would be better!"
Margaret shook her head. "No, they're boarders I have contractual obligations to fulfill. Mohammed!" The horse nearly fell over in his effort to turn to face Margaret, now suddenly aware, it seemed, of her obvious displeasure. "Behave!" Thomas was sure that Mohammed nodded his assent, but he dismissed the thought immediately as absurd.
For the rest of the day, Thomas's lessons continued, unremarkable, and by supper time he felt worn out... very tired, and voraciously hungry.
Margaret brought his supper to his room once more. It was a huge repast of ham and boiled cabbages, carrots and buttered rolls... but for desert was the ubiquitous oversized bowl of steaming oatmeal. It didn't appeal to him, but he felt compelled to eat it. A hot bath following the meal increased his sense of torpor, and Thomas gratefully crawled into the soft bed heaped with comforters. As he drifted off to sleep there came that sound again... the muted murmur of a crowd, interspersed with the clank of pots and pans.
The next morning Mohammed was saddled and waiting for Thomas in the ring, but Margaret was no where to be found. Thomas forced down the lump that was forming in his throat, and mounted the horse. "There, that wasn't so bad now was it," said Thomas, to himself as much as to Mohammed. The horse snorted. Margaret arrived in the ring riding an exquisitely fitted Furioso stallion. Thomas was spell bound. It's great neck arched high, and a long, flowing, tail draped behind it, nearly sweeping the ground. When it moved, horse seemed to float across the ring.
"I like to keep my lessons interesting, Thomas. Say hello of Jeffrey, one of my boarders, he'll be demonstrating the finer points of dressage for you today." Thomas said hello to Jeffrey, despite feeling a bit silly about addressing Margaret's mount directly. Jeffrey exuded the sort of presence that made it seem proper at the time.
Thomas watched as Jeffrey executed a series of intricate maneuvers the piaffe, passage, pirouettes, and levades... all to perfection. It was an equine ballet. The likes of which no human dance could scarcely compare with in either power, or sheer gracefulness. Suddenly Mohammed joined in, matching Jeffrey move for move. Thomas worked hard to maintain his balance and not distract Mohammed from his endevor. When the demostration had ended Margaret smiled at Thomas, looking quite pleased. "Very good Thomas! I really think you were meant to ride." A return to grueling bending excersizes, and practicing lead changes, quickly brought Thomas back down to earth... but for a moment he'd been flying.
That evening Thomas received a less pleasant surprise, more oatmeal. "Margaret, you've brought nothing but oatmeal... with what I'm paying to stay here, I expect decent meals!"
Margaret placed the tray on a chair. "None of my other boarders complain, do you think that should I make a special meal just for you," snapped Margaret.
"You're other boarders are all horses! I'm not a...." That disturbing sound interrupted Thomas's tirade. The door to his room was still open and the sound was quite plain, and coming from the back of the house. Thomas pushed past Margaret and towards the kitchen.
Thomas found a line of people filing in through a door at the back kitchen, and then leaving through another, each was carrying a bucket. A tall, muscular, man who's face was nearly obscured by a thick mane of gray hair, was dolling out scoops of oat meal mush. Margaret handed Thomas a bucket. "Jeffrey, please fill Thomas's bucket." Thomas, dumfounded, meekly held out the bucket. "That's a good boy Thomas... now Anne will show you to your stall" An attractive young lady stepped out of line and beckoned for Thomas to follow. He tried to avoid staring at her nakedness, but then except for him they were all naked, and he felt the creeping warmth of a blush upon his face.
Anne directed Thomas to a stall. He found the engraved placard, already in place on the door and bearing his name, eerie. Thomas entered his stall and turned to face Anne. "You can't really expect me to stay here. I'll have my...." Impassively, Anne closed the door, cutting Thomas off in mid sentence, and then she locked it.
Thomas watched the other boarders file back to their stalls. He peered through a crack in the planks at his neighbor, watching him eat from his bucket, and then curl up on his pile of hay for the night.
There must be something in the oatmeal, thought Thomas. I'll wait until they're all asleep, and then I'll slip out of this insane asylum. I can be at the sheriff's office before anyone notices that I've gone. Having made his plans Thomas relaxed... in a few hours he'd be free.
The sound of a creaking hinge woke Thomas. Looking through the bars in his door, he could see Margaret standing before a stall just down the isle from his. Harsh shadows, cast by a lamp in the barnyard, as it's rays streamed in through a high window to illuminated the placard on Jeffrey's stall, danced across Margaret's naked body. Suddenly her outline seemed to melt into the darkness, and she disappeared. Thomas blinked and rubbed his eyes, for in her place now stood a jet black mare. A low nicker invited her into the stall, and Thomas's view was blocked. Thomas excitedly checked his neighbors... where humans had laid down to sleep there now stood horses.
Thomas listened to the grunts and sighs of Margaret and Jeffrey coupling, and when all was quiet, he climbed over the door to his stall and crept into the house. "Damn! There's no telephone. I've got to find my car keys," he muttered. He fumbled around in the dark, afraid to turn on a light and possibly tip off his escape, until he finally found his keys on the night stand. As he turned to leave, a silhouette appeared in the doorway to his bedroom... it was Margaret.
A wave of nausea swept over Thomas and he gasped for breath. Margaret lead him gently but firmly outside. "Thomas, I can't let you simply wander off in the middle of the night. It wouldn't be good for business." Thomas fell to his hands and knees, still struggling to breath, as he attempted to crawl away. Margaret patted his head. "Now Thomas, you did sign a contract, and for as long as your credit holds out, I'd like you to remain here as my guest."
Thomas wasn't listening now. His fine riding clothes had become painfully tight on his burgeoning Percheron frame, and he was struggling to remove his coat. Finally, despite his hooves and muzzle, he freed himself of his coat and could breath again.
Margaret took his coat and folded it over her arm. "I think you'll enjoy your stay here... Jeffrey will be leaving soon."
Thomas's ears pricked forward, but he was too busy struggling with his boots to pay more than polite interest to the conversation.
Margaret took Thomas's boots in one hand. "Of course Mohammed will be terribly jealous" Margaret mused. "Of course if he hadn't tried to divorce me, I would never have tried poisoning him with some veterinary supplies... and well, you can see the results yourself.
Thomas squealed as his trousers began cutting off the circulation in his rump. Margaret used her free hand to help him by undoing the buttons, and then she took his trousers too.
After putting Thomas's clothes on the steps, Margaret returned to scratch Thomas's withers and soothe his nerves. "Come now Thomas, back to your stall." She lead him back into the barn, while fluidly shifting into the form of a mare as she entered stall before him.
Margaret looked back and nickered at Thomas. His riding lessons were about to begin in earnest. The booming sound of Jeffrey kicking the walls filled the barn, and the other horses shifted about uneasily in their stalls until morning.
Sedgewood copyright 1999 by Jack deMule.
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