|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
Hotel room decor didn't really provide a suitable showcase for his trophies, but Danny made do with the top of the dresser. Arranging the prizes carefully, he stepped back and nearly fell over backwards. The costume that had just won him Best in Show and Best Technical awards also had him balanced on the tips of his toes, an arrangement that was both precarious and painful. Even so, he hated to take it off. Parts of the head and legs would be damaged no matter how careful he was, and the outfit would never be so perfect again.
Clomping over to the bathroom door, he took a long, last look. A humanoid Clydesdale gazed back at him, the reflection a product of months of work and more money than he wanted to think about. This costume was literally a work of art several times over, requiring him to be a sculptor, painter, carpenter, and tailor. A friend who did professional makeup for television and movies had provided some technical advice, and Danny had used photos of real horses as a reference for the whole project. From the special contact lens to the stilt-like hoof structures, the effect was so realistic that a lot of people did double-takes when they saw him.
There was some irony involved here. This equine illusion had been created for his own pleasure, not for winning trophies. The contest had simply provided a reason to make himself look like a horse that his family, friends, and co- workers could accept. Sighing, he shifted uncomfortably. As much as he wanted to stay like this, it was time to give up. He'd spent more than 5 hours walking on his toes in a crouched position. There was some damage, if nothing else than bleeding blisters and split skin. Despite that, he straightened up for one final pose and did his best to imitate a whinny. It came out startlingly real.
Danny spun around at the strange voice, this time losing his balance and landing with a painful thud on his butt. If he'd still been standing, he might have thought he was looking in a mirror. For maybe a moment. The speaker was also wearing a humanoid horse outfit that was obviously Clydesdale or Shire-based, but it so far surpassed Danny's that he forgot to even question how the huge figure had gotten into the room.
The stranger moved easily to the dresser and picked up the Best of Show trophy. "You deserved this. I've never seen a better equine simulation."
Still sitting on the floor, Danny gave an incredulous snort. "You gotta be kidding! I don't know who you are, but I'm glad you didn't enter the contest." He stared, open-mouthed as the massive figure approached and offered him a hand up. From this angle, he had a pretty clear view of the legs, as well as other parts. This costume didn't hide genitals under a loincloth, the way he had.
Danny flushed suddenly, averting his eyes back to the hooves. This guy had managed to reproduce even the sexual equipment in uncomfortably lifelike detail. His embarrassment changed to confusion, and then growing fear. He focused on the hooves, and then panned up slowly until he was staring up into large, bottomless equine eyes. "Oh, shit." This wasn't a costume.
"Quite right. About this not being a costume, I mean." The creature extended its hand again. "I think you'd be more comfortable off the floor."
Still somewhat dazed, Danny reached up and gripped the three-fingered hoof. His guest lifted him effortlessly, not surprising since he stood a good foot higher than Danny did even with the costume's hoof-stilts. Speaking of which...he realized that his feet no longer ached. And there were some strange sensations coming from all over. He absently swished his tail as he tried to figure out what was different. Swished his tail. Danny felt dizzy again, but managed to twist enough to land on the bed this time.
A glance down provided plenty of evidence that something strange was going on. Where his costume had been realistic looking, the equine limbs splayed out in front of him were obviously genuine articles. And he had no doubt that the carved foam and old sock under his loincloth were now just as functional as the flaring nostrils and thick lips of his muzzle.
Danny stood suddenly, feeling perfectly balanced and normal. It was terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Looking back at the mirror, he was stunned at the changes. No longer restricted by the need to cover a human body, his equine form had very different proportions. Muscles quivered under the copper-brown hide, and pulled in new places. Most of all, the sensations nearly overwhelmed him. Odors were thick without being unpleasant, and the awareness of his body was almost sensual.
The door opened suddenly, and a dark-haired, slender young man burst into the room. Vinnie was an old friend whose 'elf warrior' costume consisted of pointed ears, a bow, and a loincloth. "Cool! You haven't taken it off yet! Mark wants to get some more pictures!"
Danny was more bewildered by his friend's apparent indifference than he was by the transformation. "A picture? Are you kidding? Look at me! Don't you notice anything different?" Twisting around, he pointed at the other equine. "And what do you think he is, the tooth fairy?"
Vinnie gave him a puzzled look. "What's wrong? Did you break something?" He looked over towards the visitor, but didn't seem to see him. "And who's supposed to be the tooth fairy?"
"He can't see or hear me, Danny. And you look the same to him as you did before." The strange equine snorted. "I hate close quarters. Would you mind if we went somewhere else?"
Blinking, Vinnie looked around the empty room in confusion. "Damn! Musta missed him."
Danny rocked slightly, the ground suddenly soft and uneven under his hooves. He was standing in a lush green pasture lit by spring sunshine. There were horses all around, with one especially huge stallion grazing close by. But no sign of the mysterious visitor.
"Sorry. I don't really care for the hybrid form." The giant horse was looking directly at him. Danny recognized the markings now. OK. That worked. After everything else that had happened in the past few minutes, a talking horse was almost incidental.
And then he was on all fours himself. There was no sensation of transformation. One moment he was humanoid, the next he was an animal. Danny was surprised at how calmly he was taking all of this. Oh, the sudden release of his bladder was probably just a horse thing. Right.
"My name is Morgan." The contact was all mental now, clear but not overpowering. "I need your help."
Danny was incredulous. "My help? If all this isn't some wild hallucination, you have to be a god or something. What could I possible do for you?"
"I guess I'm a 'something.' Not a god, at least in the sense you mean." The stallion pawed the ground with one hoof. "Think of me as a sort of caretaker. There are a lot of us, each assigned a specific species."
"But I'm not a horse!" Danny paused, confused. "I mean, I am now. But in the real world..." His voice trailed off. This all felt pretty real. And there was something else in the back of his mind, a hope that mixed curiously with fear.
"In the real world, you have spent a great amount of time to create an illusion that you were partly equine. An illusion which you created to do more than win trinkets."
It was true. Danny had been fascinated by horses most of his life. As he reached adulthood, he'd come to realize that his interest went deeper than what most people could understand or accept. He actually wanted to become a horse. The massive draft stallion form he now had was top choice, but any equine form would have been acceptable. Donkey, mule, mare, stallion. Still, he couldn't help but ask "Why me?"
"You saved one of my children." Morgan tossed his head slightly, and a golden-haired stallion appeared next to Danny. He had the feathering and solid build of a draft horse, with traces of smaller breeds.
Confused, Danny tried to recall the animal. He'd had very limited contact with horses, despite his interest. And as for saving a life? As he watched, the stallion shrank suddenly into a gangly foal. And recognition came instantly. "The colt in Nevada!"
"Yes." Morgan waited until the foal had given Danny an affectionate nudge before tossing his head again. The animal returned to adult size, and then flickered out. "He was locked in a stall with no food or water, abandoned for days in blistering heat. You could have simply ignored him. Instead, you saw his suffering, and took care of him. If you had not intervened, he would have been found dead by his irresponsible owners."
Though he remembered being furious, Danny hadn't realized the situation was so critical. It turned out that the owners had thought someone was set up to take care of the colt, but hadn't made sure before they let for a long weekend vacation. Other than having to climb over a padlocked gate a couple of times a day, he'd actually enjoyed the work. Still, that had happened more than five years ago. "What made you approach me now?"
That only served to confuse Danny further. "But I don't do anything even remotely connected with horses! I work with computers, doing Government contract stuff."
Morgan seemed to smile. "In 12 months, the company you work for will receive a contract from the United States Bureau of Land Management. If you choose to help me, you will be offered a chance to head up part of the contract in Wyoming. One of the assignments for that office is handling wild mustang herds on Government land."
"We just sent in that bid!" Danny was flabbergasted. "Besides, you're talking about the future. How could you possibly know that we'll win against all the other companies? I mean, unless you really are a..."
"God?" Morgan snorted. "No, I'm not omniscient. And I can't see the future. "
"Then how do you know all this?"
"I cheat." The equine shook his head. "Human bureaucracy is one of the universe's great horrors, but sometimes it can be used to my advantage. A few administrators in the right places can do more good than an army of ecologists and animal rights fanatics."
"That's a $200 million contract!" The implications were staggering. "You're going to change the outcome just to get me into a specific job?"
"A guilty conscience?" There was a touch of humor in Morgan's words. "Your company's proposal is a good one. It has a strong chance of winning without any help. My people will simply nudge the process here and there. Your resume will get extra attention, and hints will be dropped around your corporate headquarters. They'll have the management offer waiting for you when you get back. Short notice, I know, but the pay is good. And I can promise some rather unusual additions to the benefits package."
Danny wrinkled his muzzle in confusion. "When I get back? They won't even know about the contract for a year!"
Morgan looked him with sudden seriousness. "That is the other part of my offer. You love horses, but you do not truly understand them. Anyone who chooses to serve me must spend a year as one of my children. Call it a training period, or perhaps, a form of initiation. Your human identity will cease to exist, replaced by the memories and perceptions of whatever equine form I select for you." Danny stared at him but made no comment, so he continued. "As far as your family, friends, and co-workers are concerned, you will be on special assignment somewhere for your company. Your obligations will be taken care of, and no one will question your whereabouts during the year, or ask you where you were afterwards."
There was a long silence. Then Danny managed one word. "Yes."
The pasture shrank around them suddenly, and white fencing popped up around the edges. Most of the other horses vanished, leaving a small herd of almost identically marked Clydesdales. Danny twisted around, feeling a slight difference in his own form. He was still male, though now more colt than stallion. As he looked back, a symbol painted on a nearby building brought a thrill of recognition. Excited, he turned back to Morgan, only to find himself alone. The young Clydesdale felt a moment of confusion, and then dropped his head to graze.
"Daniel Richard Osborne."
Strange sounds woke the sleeping stallion, and he felt a moment of panic as he found himself in unfamiliar surroundings. Training kept him from losing control, and he assumed the preferred stance before cautiously looking around. There was a new stallion directly next to him, but even instinctual reactions had been curbed by his masters. Was this to be a new harness mate? He tested the air, drawing in the newcomer's scent. Morgan.
Memories flooded back, not only of his 30-plus years as a human, but of the past twelve months. His greatest equine fantasy had been realized. Danny was a member of the Bailey Clydesdale Hitch. Probably the most famous draft horse team in the world, and a constant image in the brewery's ads. Looking back at the experience with human perceptions was very strange. Some of the training he had received bordered on abuse, yet his only emotion was pride in being selected for the show team. The close confinement, restricted diet, and even the lack of any sexual activity were simply part of life. A Clydesdale's life.
As he adjusted to his memories, awareness of his surroundings altered. Vision was much sharper, though limited to the area in front of him. Morgan had made him human again. Colors brightened tremendously, though he now knew first- hand that the idea of animals being color-blind was a myth. And though his sense of smell as an animal had been far keener, hearing seemed pretty much the same. The greatest loss was the sense of physical awareness. It was as if his whole body had gone numb. He could sense the ground under his hands and knees, feel a warm breeze across his hairless skin. But no muscles responded when he tried to twitch parts of his skin, and his ears were fixed and dead.
"You did well, Danny." Morgan's form blurred and became the humanoid stallion again, offering a hand up. "Much of the training here goes against the nature of my children, and many cannot cope. What you imagined as an ideal existence is not so wonderful in reality, is it?"
Danny stood, and then dropped his hands awkwardly to his sides. "It was... different." He'd never expected reality to match his silly, erotic daydreams of willing mares and open fields. Looking back with full knowledge, he still wanted to go back. Yet that was not what Morgan wanted to hear. Danny sensed that somehow, and shook his head. "I guess I never really thought it through." He scuffed a foot in the grass, trying to hide his revulsion at the soft pink skin. "What happens to my slot on the team? Did a horse just disappear?"
"Another candidate has already assumed your position." Morgan snorted. "Enough about your old job. The contract with BLM starts next week, and you have already been appointed as a site manager. You will have a week to adjust, and get used to your new house. All of your things have been moved, and someone will be waiting....."
Danny tried to listen as Morgan continued on, but his thoughts kept drifting. He followed enough to know he'd be met by one of the horse spirit's human helpers, and that he'd have free time for a while until the contract got active. Then something caught his attention. "...at will. Just the Clydesdale form for now, but later, you will learn greater control."
"I can be a horse again?" His question must have sounded too eager, because Morgan stopped and gave him a curious look. Forcing calm, Danny shrugged. "I mean, I thought it was just for the year."
"You can become the Clydesdale stallion any time you want. There is a good stable not far from your house that is run by a friend. It is private, and has a large pasture." Morgan began to fade out. "Remember, you have a duty to my children now. Use what you have learned."
Danny was suddenly standing in a large, fenced-in pasture. Closing his eyes, he pictured himself as the Clydesdale, and felt a warmth flow through his body. Sensations opened up, and he rejoiced in his hooves and fur. The young man who came to pick him up had to wait a while, but he seemed to understand. As they drove away, Danny felt tears sting his eyes. It was an unfamiliar sensation, as horses didn't cry. But then, he mused, maybe that was because they didn't need to.
The plaintive tone of his cell phone went off again. Danny snorted and resisted the temptation to crush it under one hoof. Instead, he shifted back to a form human enough to use the instrument and answered. "Osborne. What is it?" His tone was angrier than he intended, but the office knew they weren't supposed to call him.
"Sorry, Mr. Osborne." It was Jennings, one of his assistants. "Mr. Blake has come in with another petition, and..."
Danny cut him off. "Look, Jennings. That bastard has trying to push through the same lousy proposal for three months. Deal with it!" Then he turned off the phone before dropping back to four legs. They kept calling all the time, now. If it wasn't one of the pain-in-the-ass ranchers like Blake, it was another useless bureaucrat calling, or some other 'emergency' that his secretary could handle as well as he could. This BLM job had become a nightmare over the past six months.
He'd coped well enough at first. Although he did not have a direct connection with the wild mustangs, it turned out that his office processed much of the Bureau's land use regulation paperwork. As Morgan had said, a few well-placed people wielded a lot of power. In his case, it was simple to delay an unwanted application by sending it to the wrong data center, or coming up with yet another critical permit requirement. Beneficial programs, on the other hand, flew through approval cycles with unheard-of speed.
Lately, though, he had been spending more and more time in horse form. He'd made no human friends here, and work was boring. True happiness only existed when he was a Clydesdale. What had started out as his weekend release was becoming a daily routine. His work was slipping, and he'd already been warned that he needed to make more of an appearance at the office. Yet he couldn't stop himself. The equine form was a drug that he had to have to survive.
He almost ran headfirst into Morgan. The horse guardian appeared directly in front of him, interrupting a sprint across the field. Surprised, Danny skittered to a stop and stammered out a greeting. Morgan simply stared at him. The silence sent a chill through Danny's heart, and he realized this was no social call. Yet there was no anger in Morgan's demeanor. Only deep sadness.
"You have failed me."
Simple words, yet they carried a finality of tone that made Danny shake. He found himself unable to speak.
"Blake's plans for development have just slipped through, because you weren't there to stop them. Many of my children will die needlessly, victims of your selfishness. Did you think I wouldn't know? That I wouldn't care?" Morgan shook his head. "You are about to be fired. The time and effort spent placing you in a position of influence has been wasted. All because you want to play horse."
Danny felt the Guardian's disappointment like a heavy weight. "I didn't know! Morgan, I swear I didn't know. I was going to catch up on things. Spend extra time at the office. My staff knows I'd never approve anything that hurt the horses!" He seized on that in desperation. "Jennings! He knows I'd never approve it! He must have caved in!!"
"Silence!" This time, Morgan was angry. "Do you think I am a fool? Maybe I am, for placing trust in you. For giving you a gift I thought you would appreciate, not abuse."
A sickness filled Danny's soul, and he fell to the ground in submission. "Oh, please! Morgan, don't change me back. Don't leave me stuck as a human! I'll do anything! Take away my mind and leave me here. I'd rather forget I was ever human than never have hooves again!"
Morgan stood over him, working his jaw silently. After a moment, the Guardian gave a deep sigh. "It is partly my fault. I gave you the equine form and life you most wanted, thinking you would see the truth and learn from it. Instead, you found only what you wanted to see, and became blinded to the importance of your task. Because you still do not understand."
Danny started to shrink, and moaned in horror. Yet the awareness of his form did not diminish. When the sensation stopped, he felt a thrill of relief. Morgan had changed him into some sort of smaller breed, but he was still a horse!
"I give you one more chance to learn. Not because you deserve it, but because you may still be useful to me." Morgan towered over him now, his tone dark and ominous. "This time, there are no guarantees. No one will watch after you, no one will protect you. Perhaps, if you survive, you will understand the importance of your tasks."
There was a flicker, and Danny was suddenly surrounded by an unfamiliar herd of horses. They were dirty and thin. Twisting his head, he could make out his own ribs easily, and felt the unfamiliar pain of hunger. He was one of the wild mustangs! Even as he thought that, a warning cry sent the herd galloping around them. Danger! He spun and ran with the herd, unable to control instincts. There was a sharp crack, and a young mare screamed and fell behind him. Another mustang ahead of him stumbled and fell with a crimson stain spreading across its chest.
Controlled by blind panic, Danny couldn't see the ranchers he knew were following the herd. Pickup trucks full of men with guns, firing blindly into the mass of horses. Getting rid of competitors for their cattle's grazing needs. A bullet whizzed past his ear. Maybe they'd stop when the herd ran far enough away from their land. He suddenly understood Morgan's sadness, and cursed his own foolishness. A year. Forced by a stallion's nature to act and move as a normal animal, yet knowing everything that was going on.
His lungs ached, and muscles turned on themselves for fuel as he galloped on. The memories of his mustang mind told him this wasn't the first such chase, nor would it be the last. Terror, pain, and hunger. They were simply part of life. A mustang's life. Danny's life. He felt tears sting his eyes. Perhaps a horse could cry after all.
Tears copyright 1999 by Bob Stein.
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