|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
A Brief Centaurlude
I heard my little sister crying like her heart would break, I should have known to turn and run in the other direction. I really should have. Or at least finished taking the garbage out to the dumpster, like I was supposed to. But like the big doofus I am, I went to see what was wrong. Whizzbang came too. Well, he came and went about five times, at top speed. I just followed the rut in the packed dirt of the path leading to the little four stall stable.
I found Phillipa sitting on a bale of hay in the stable, her head in her hands. Hook hung his head over the stall door and kept saying, "I'm sorry, Mistress, I'm sorry!" Over and over again.
"Hey, sis," I said. "Hay, glue pot. What's up?"
Philly sighed and shot the Holsteiner such a dirty look he ducked back into the stall. "Remember that big thunderstorm last night?" she asked.
"Well, it blew down all the little green apples."
I peered over the stall door at Hook. Sure enough, his belly was swollen. It looked like he was pregnant with twins elephants. He gave me a sheepish look, which is something else, considering he's a horse.
"The vet's on the way to pump his stomach," she said. Hook moaned.
"You really are an idiot," I told the horse. "This is, what, the third time you've gorged yourself on those apples? C'mon, buy a clue."
.When my parents bought 'Shadygrove's Hooked On A Feeling' last year, my sister was fresh off reading one of those fantasy novels where the little orphan girl bonds with a telepathic horse whose former owner was mean to it, and she turns out to be the most powerful magic user ever known. You know the crap I'm talking about. Philly, of all people, should know that's all junk. She is a mage, not trained or anything, sure, but a real mage all the same. Luckily, she couldn't figure out how to work telepathy. Instead, she nearly fried herself giving the big bay Holsteiner human-level intelligence. But Hook still has the instincts of a horse, and when the unripe apples fall, he jumps the fence and eats them all. And then he bloats. Horses can't barf, you know.
"The show jump against Passwind is this afternoon." Philly said. "I'm gonna miss it. That snotty Cerise is gonna . . . " she hiccuped, unable even to contemplate what her rival would say.
"Can't you just magic the apples out of his belly?"
She glared at me and sniffled. "I'm a protoplasmic mage, dummy."
"So? Apples are organic."
"Don't you think I tried? I guess they don't count as living things once he starts digesting them."
I really did feel bad for her. Philly worked hard getting Hook in show condition. She came home every night smelling like horses and barely able to walk. Of course, that meant yours truly usually ended up doing the dishes and walking the dog. This was just a small competition, between two local riding schools, but it would be her first real show jump with her own horse. Missing it would put her behind on the ranking. And more important to her, she'd lose face. I knew she had a thing about some rich girls and their horses at another school, Fairwinds, the one she called 'Passwind'. That Cerise she mentioned, for example. You'd think two horse-crazy girls would be best friends, but Philly hated her with a near-religious passion. Just hated. The feeling was mutual. Of course, if that girl had even the slightest inkling of what my sister could zap her into, she'd be shaking in her expensive calfskin riding boots.
I know you're thinking, wait a minute, this guy doesn't seem very surprised his kid sister can use magic. What's going on here? Well, I've had a year to get used to it. I never believed in magic or anything like that. Who would? Not believing in it doesn't stop it from existing. I guess you can get used to anything. Like, this kid I knew in fifth grade, for example, she went through chemotherapy. All her hair fell out, even her eyebrows. She looked like some kind of alien at first, but when you saw her every day you just got used to it. It helps that Philly can't do anything really spectacular yet. She only got a little instruction from her last year art teacher, another mage, before he got called away on some sort of mission. No one heard from him since. So she's figured out a lot of it on her own.
I sat down on the bale of hay next to her and tried to think. Organic, organic.
"Why don't you turn Whizzbang into a horse, or something?" I pointed at our dog. "He's got energy to spare."
Fortunately, Philly didn't read any novels about talking dogs. I don't think I could listen to a Border collie yammering all day. Sensing he was the center of attention, Whizz rolled over and kicked his legs in the air. I obligingly rubbed his belly.Philly eyed him a moment, then sighed. "No. I have enough charge stored up to change his body, but not his mind. Whizz wouldn't know what pulling on the reins means or anything. And if he decides he wants a belly rub, I'd be squashed. I need something that thinks like a horse. Or something smart enough to figure out what to do."
Maybe that was when I should have run. But no, I opened my big stupid mouth and put me foot - or hoof - right into it.
"I'd make a good horse."
"Yes," Philly said in a calculating voice. "You would, wouldn't you."
"Oh, hey, wait, I'm joking!" I got up and slowly backed away.
"You'd be a perfect horse! I wasn't gonna be the first to say it." Philly bounced up and trapped me in a hug. I thumped her on the top of the head until she let go.
"How could you replace me so easily?" Hook huffed. "I think he'd make a lousy horse. Probably trip over his own legs half the time. I bet he'd turn out to be a grade horse, too."
"I agree with him," I said.
"No, really! It would be perfect! We'd smash the competition, and I'd change you back as soon as I recharge. Oh, c'mon, Andrew. Please?"
"This is the stupidest thing I ever heard of."
"I'll owe you, big time. You know I can make it up to you." And the damn thing about it, was she could. I never asked her for any uses of her magecraft because I knew she'd be able to blackmail me. This way, I'd be holding the favor over her head. So what was a few hours as a horse? No one would ever know it was me. I'd probably blunder into the first jump and we could go home early. Besides, there was nothing good on the tube.
"I dunno. I mean, that's a pretty big favor." But she knew I'd given in.
She skipped in a circle chanting thank-yous.
Hook rolled his eyes. "There goes the gene pool," he sighed.
"Don't worry, I'm not gonna be in the water long enough to make a contribution." Sour grapes, I thought, from a gelding.
Philly got control of herself and steadied her breathing as she gathered her energies. "Okay, take your clothes off."
"I can't change the clothes, they're inert. If you don't want to bust through them you're gonna have to get naked."
"Oh, geez." I went into an empty stall and started taking off my shoes. I forget that as a horse I'd be for all intents and purposes in the nude.
"You need to be where I can see you to do this."
"Give me a second!" I snapped. My 13-year-old sister, for chrissakes. I stripped and tied my jacket around my waist. It wasn't perfect, but no way was I gonna let them see all my bits and pieces while I was still human, I don't care if it was just Philly and Hook. I swung the door open.
"I'm not coming out. Just do it from here."
Philly's eyes took on the silvery color that meant she'd built up a charge. Now, I never really got into fantasy and magic and all that. I played Dungeons & Dragons in junior high, and I read Piers Anthony's Xanth books, but that was about it. Needless to say, I'm not the best person to ask about how all this works. I understood it, magic is a sort of energy. She could store it like a battery, and the more she practiced, the more she was able to store. Kind of like exercising a muscle. To cast a spell she worked up a charge and then released it in a burst. Of course, I'm sure this isn't even close to how it actually works, but it's how she explained it to me. Batteries and energy I can understand. I still don't know why she can only affect living things, but can't do illusions or throw fireballs or see the future. She only gets mad when I ask detailed questions. But now that I found myself on the receiving end, I desperately wished I'd asked more questions. A lot more.
She pointed her finger at me as her eyes glowed completely silver. I was done for. I closed my eyes just as a spark shot through the air at me - everything went dark - I fell to my knees -
And it was over. I heard Whizz barking like a lunatic, business as usual. I didn't feel any different, except when I opened my eyes a purple-green squiggle floated in the center of my field of vision. I lifted my arm to rub my eyes. A normal human arm and hand, five fingers and all. I looked up at Philly.
"Sorry, kiddo, I guess this one was too hard for you . . . what?"
My sister wore an odd expression, like she couldn't decide whether to laugh or scream. I looked down. A pair of skinny, furry legs ending in hooves stuck out from under my jacket. My legs! She'd only managed to change my legs.
"I'm a freak!"
"Actually," Philly said as her expression shifted more towards 'laugh' than 'scream', "You're a myth."
She pointed behind me. I turned to look, and saw a horse growing out of my butt. I yelled again, and ripped the jacket off. Around about where my hips should be, my skin darkened and blended smoothly - and without a belly button - into the withers of a horse.
"It's . . . it's . . .I'm a . . . what do you call those things?"
"Centaurs." Now she really did laugh. "Cripes, Andrew, you're a centaur!"
I'm a horse's ass, I thought.
"I'm sorry. I ran out of power halfway through. This was the best I could do. C'mon, get up and let me make sure everything fits together right."
Philly held out her hand. I took it and tried to stand up. To my surprise, my knobby horse legs unfolded and I surged upright. Whizz yelped and ran out of the stable like he'd just seen, well, I guess I was enough to scare anyone. I took a few effortless steps into the center of the stable. I towered over Philly, a head or so taller than Hook. The genuine horse stared, his eyes showing a ring of white. For once, he was at a loss for words. "Actually, it's not a bad job," I said, twisting my upper torso around to get a good look at myself. I was a bay, like Hook, with black legs and a golden-red body, but I had two white socks on my forelegs. My tail looked like something you'd see on a show horse, flowing almost to the ground. I tensed an unfamiliar muscle and grinned as my tail swished. I could turn around pretty far, and saw a tickly mane running down my spine. I was quite a bit shorter than Hook at the withers, and my built was sleek and compact where he was tall and gangly. All in all, not a bad looking centaur. Not what I would have chosen, but I suppose it could be worse.
"How does it feel?" Philly asked.
"Mmmm. Weird. Indescribable. It doesn't feel like a part of me, yet. Kinda like when your leg falls asleep and you try to walk on it. I think my sense of smell is a bit sharper. Or this place suddenly stinks worse than usual." Hook snorted irritably.
"And my hearing is better for sure."
"That would explain the ears."
"Huh?" I hadn't noticed any difference, but when I reached up, I felt a distinct change. They weren't horse ears exactly, they were on the side of my head where they should be, but they were long and pointed and swept back, with a thin fuzz on the edges. I made the live-long-and-prosper sign at Philly.
She practically glowed with self-satisfaction. "I think it looks great. You're even better than the horse I visualized."
"Too bad, though, there goes the show jump," I said. "I guess I'll just have to hang out here until you recharge."
"Oh, no!" Philly stopped examining me all over and started sniffling again.
Hook cleared his throat. "I don't see why you can't compete like that."
"I'm a freak of nature, Hook."
"There's nothing in the rules that says you have to ride a Grade-A 100% horse," he said. "You fulfill all the basic requirements. You have the horse-type equipment that counts. Mistress can ride you with a standard saddle, you can go over jumps. It shouldn't matter you've got a human sticking out of your front end."
"You know . . . " Philly said.
"Don't even think about it!" My ears perked, whispering through my hair. I heard tires scrunch on gravel. "Someone's coming." Frantically, I backed into the stall and pulled the hay bale apart trying to cover myself up.
"Relax, that's Shayla's van," Philly said.
"Wait, you said the vet was coming!"
"Shayla is a vet. Well, a vet tech. She needs the practice. What's the big deal?"
"Yeah, you're not the one getting your stomach pumped." Hook snorted.
I groaned. Shayla was the last person I wanted seeing me like this. She's twenty-two, a perfectly proportioned five foot four, hair with streaks of blonde and brown she keeps in a short pixie bob, and the most amazing eyes - they can change color. No, really. Depending on how the light hits them, they can be green or gray or blue. Like I said, amazing. Maybe I haven't mentioned I've got a complete and utter crush on her. Not that she sees anything in me. I'm seven years younger than her. It doesn't sound like that much. But it is. I mean, she's in college, for chrissakes. I wouldn't have met her if it wasn't for Philly and her dumb colicky horse. I still remember the first time I saw Shayla, bending over doing something to Hook's hoof. She was wearing denim cut-offs, and her butt wriggled in the air. I just about dropped dead. And now she was gonna stroll in and see me, Horseboy. If she didn't go instantly insane she'd probably run screaming to the police. I mean, this wasn't something you could explain away. No one knew about magecraft, not unless you knew a mage personally. Philly didn't even know what she was until two years ago, when she started developing her powers.
"Quick, get in the trailer," Philly said.
"Oh, man," I grumbled. But I didn't have much choice. The barn was too small to hide in. You could see right into all four stalls. I heard her van door slam, so I'd lost my chance to make a break for it. The only escape left was out the back doors and into the trailer. Philly hustled me along. At least I didn't feel any need to balk entering the trailer, like I've seen so many horses do. I shuddered at the way my hoofs rang on the metal ramp, and I would've preferred cleaner straw, but oh well. Anything beat being spotted. Philly left the stable doors ajar, so I heard them clearly as the vet tech worked on Hook. I kept hoping Shayla would ask where Philly's sexy brother was, but all they talked about was horses, horses, horses. I don't know what it is about girls and horses. I'm sure you could think up all kinds of dirty psychological reasons, but it's a mystery to me. Huh. Now that I was more equine than not, maybe I could pick up a horse-crazy girl at the show today.I perked up my elf ears. Shayla said something about the show, and Philly answered confidently that she'd borrowed a friend's hunter-jumper and still planned to compete.
"Oh really? Whose horse?"
"Ah, she's not from around here. You wouldn't know her. He, uh, the horse, hasn't jumped before." Damn straight, I thought. I haven't walked twenty feet yet.
"Hopefully he's a bit brighter than ol' Hook here." Oh, I bet the bay just loved that remark. Sometimes I wonder how he keeps from speaking up to people. "Was that him you took to the trailer just now? I'd love to see him."
Dead silence. I nearly pooped myself. Had she seen me? Was this some kind of a set-up? "Sure . . . " Philly said. I knew that tone of voice. The same one she got when Mom caught her doing something like wearing makeup to school or forgetting to let Whizz out so he peed on the floor. It's how she sounds when she's trying to think up an excuse but is just mentally spinning her wheels.
The stable doors creaked. I drooped my upper torso down and hung there, my fingertips just barely brushing the straw. Nobody here but us horses.
The trailer rocked as the girls climbed up on the bumper to look in.
"A bit dark," Shayla said. Thank goodness. "Look at those muscular hindquarters. He's got a lot of power in his back end."
Shayla slapped me on the rump. I almost lost it and looked up, but barely managed to confine my reaction to a tail-swish. Oh man! I don't care if it was my equine butt and not my human one. It felt just like I'd been spanked. My face heated up. "But I always say, you can have the prettiest horse in the world but he's not worth anything if he doesn't have that spark of intelligence in his eyes." She made those little clucking noises you do to get a horse's attention. "Hey, fella. Look here." Oh, did I ever want to. She'd see a spark of intelligence, all right. But I kept down. I rustled my hands around in the hay like I was busy eating.
"He's probably still worn out from getting here," Philly said brightly.
The trailer rocked again as they left. Their voices receded, but I still heard each word, then Shayla's van starting up.
I relaxed, and risked swinging my upper torso up to see out. Philly came back out the doors with a big grin on her face.
"What was all that about jumping in the show today?" I demanded as I backed down the ramp. It was harder than it sounds, since I lacked a horse's peripheral vision. We went back into the stable.
"I got a rush of brains to the head. Remember the costume Melissa and I wore in the school play?"
"You were in a play?"
She smacked my arm. "We were the knight's loyal steed! Remember? I made a paper-mache horse head and leggings and a tail and we wore that blanket thing over the rest because we couldn't afford fur fabric?"
I nodded, even though I didn't remember, because I pretty much got the drift of where this was heading. I crossed my arms and planted all four hooves firmly on the ground.
"No. Forget it."
"It would be perfect!"
"Hundreds of people are gonna see me at close range. Horse people! I think they'd know the difference between the real thing and a centaur wearing a horse mask."
"Don't be so sure," Hook said, arching his head at me. "All the ugly bits would be covered by the fabric, which as I remember is rather shockingly patterned. You'd go in, jump a bit, get out, and no one will be the wiser."
"Shut up, horseface. If you weren't such a hog I wouldn't be in this mess."
Hook snorted a loud, shuddery snort. I snorted back, even louder but without the vibrato. He slicked his ears back, looking offended. I think I said something nasty in horsespeak.
"Andrew," Philly said in a dangerous tone. "Don't yell at him. Now look. You agreed to let me ride you in the show jump today."
"As a horse! If people see me like this, I'll end up in a zoo, or a research lab."
Philly shook her head sadly. What a faker. "If you don't do this, I'm not gonna change you back."
It hit me like a cold pickax in the gut. She had me by the short hairs. This centaur thing wouldn't wear off. Without her, I was stuck as a myth for life. Sure, it looked cool, but it wasn't the lifestyle choice I'd pick. As a centaur I wouldn't have a life, period, never be able to have a job or a family. What would Mom and Dad say? They wouldn't say anything. Neither of them knew about this little mage thing of Philly's. Maybe she wouldn't let it go that far. But she sure could make my life miserable in the short term. I scowled at the little creep.
"All right. You're a filthy sneaky weasel and when you do change me back, I'm gonna kick you in the ass. And remember, I'm only doing this because you threatened me. I'm not promising I'll do good."
"I knew you'd see it my way," Philly said sweetly, scratching me under the mane right below where the human skin blended into the horsehide. It felt good, in a weird kinda way. I jerked away from her and scuffed at the dirt with a hoof. I imagined what it would feel like if Shayla scratched me there. I shook it off and got back into the trailer.
We hit the road not long after. Dad drove us, which came as a enormous stroke of luck. Captain Oblivious probably wouldn't notice I'd been changed into a centaur unless my horse parts were blocking the TV. He didn't give a crap about Philly's horse stuff, he merely functioned as chauffeur. I worried a bit about carsickness and being able to stand up going over bumps, but my four-point suspension handled it pretty well. The view got boring, though. Field, field, field, trees, field, trees, field, field, town with two buildings, field, field. That pretty much sums up rural Maryland.
When Dad made a pit stop at the gas station, Philly got in back and handed me a soda and a couple of candy bars, which I wolfed down. I was a much bigger animal, now, and my bulk demanded food. I mentioned this to her, since I would have to wait until she recharged to change back. She promised to order a bunch of pizzas just for me, after the show. I salivated at the thought. For once my eyes really weren't bigger than my stomach. She also gave me my Game Boy, which I'd left in the front seat of the truck. Hallelujah! It was just an old Mario game but anything beat fields and trees.
We arrived at the show arena with just enough time to saddle up. As soon as Dad parked, he headed off to the beer tent, just like Philly said he would. She insisted on giving me a quick groom before we went out. It felt bizarre. It felt really good, but, I mean, this was my sister, going all over me with a little brush. When she bent down to get under my belly, I grabbed her arm and hauled her right back up. It may be horse's equipment down there, but it was still me. Me, naked. Some things are just plain wrong no matter how you look at them.
Next, we put on my 'disguise'. You know that sort of all-over blanket with a hood that you see on horses the knights ride when jousting? I have no idea what it's called, but that's what I wore. The neck was so tight I had to keep my arms crossed. It felt unpleasantly like a straightjacket. Also, not being able to swing my arms made it difficult to walk. The paper-mache mask cut off most of my peripheral vision. I actually saw through a little square of mesh on the front of the neck, and the fake horse head sat on top of my head like a hat. It looked weird, I'm sure. No one else's horse wore anything like it. But then, no one else was trying to disguise the fact they rode a centaur. Philly was pleased.
"I did a great job on that head, you know."
Otherwise, the saddle felt almost exactly like a belt one notch too tight. When my sister clambered aboard, I flashed back to when we were little kids and she used to demand horsie rides. I gave her so many horsie rides I got rug burn on my knees. Weird how these things work out.
As we trotted into the arena, Philly leaned forward and whispered to me, pointing out the snobby girls already inside. She went on about this girl said this and that girl did that, but I knew she hated some blonde named Cerise worst of all. I forget why. When we passed Cerise, I paused and lifted my tail. Philly saw and kicked me in the ribs, but giggled. Well, I'm sorry. It isn't a moment I'm proud of, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. I don't think horses have the, if you'll excuse me, the sphincter muscles to hold it in. I never saw them make the least effort, anyways, not even oh-so-smart Hook. Cerise gasped and turned her head away, scrunching up her nose.
"She probably makes her servants clean it up," Philly sniped as we continued entered the ring. She patted me on my shoulder-withers. "Smooth move, ex-lax." And giggled again.
The loudspeaker crackled to life, announcing Phillipa Fletcher riding 'Fletcher's Big Brother'. I cringed.
Philly twitched the reins attached to the bridle on my false head. This was the most dangerous part of the plan, aside from not knowing whether I could jump in this form. She needed to balance completely on her stirrups, or she'd yank that paper-mache head right off. I nodded, making it look like the 'horse' was tossing it's head, and broke into a canter. As she explained to me, the scoring was based partly on speed, and partly on not knocking any jumps down. I completely had the speed under control. In fact, it felt great to open up and stretch my legs. I didn't have to think about which foot went where and in what order, it all just fell into place. The jumps were another thing entirely.
"I can't do it!" I said. The first jump loomed closer and closer. It was big anyways, but as if this wasn't bad enough, some one covered it with little flapping banners, and they'd put these big plaster dolphins next to it, and painted the poles all different colors. Basically it looked like the gate to clown hell. I'm surprised real horses jump those things. I faltered. Philly gouged me in the ribs, and in said in a voice chopped up by my steps, "Don't you - dare stop - everyone - is watching!"
"Close - eyes!"
I did, and kept going. Trust the force, I thought. Or, at least, my horsy instincts.
"Jump," Philly said. "Now!"
I snapped into autopilot. My forelegs cut their stride short, then pushed off, tilting my equine torso up. My back hoofs finished their stride slightly ahead of where my forelegs had ended theirs. I sunk down on my hind limbs, feeling my center of gravity shift backwards. With an explosive contraction, I propelled myself up and over. My eyes stayed closed the whole time. I landed with a thud, still running.
The crowd roared! Philly grunted yes-yes-yes on each beat. I opened my eyes. I did it! I was over the first jump . . . and only the entire course left to go.
I can do this, I told myself. I can! The next jump was even bigger. I soared over it like I'd been launched from a cannon. Then a hard one - two fences close together, with only time for one stride in between them. I changed gaits smoothly and took it like a champ. The sensation of hurtling over those fences under my own power cranked me up like I've never felt before. My huge muscles bunched and stretched, my hooves bit into the dirt, a fine sheen of sweat coated my entire body but I wasn't even breathing hard. In fact, I started to truly enjoy myself, despite the limited view out of my costume. Instead of holing up til Philly recharged tomorrow, I thought about sneaking over to the athletic field at school after dark to time myself on the track. Maybe turn myself loose on the local golf course. Wouldn't it get those geezer's knickers in a twist trying to figure out who left hoof prints all over their precious greens?
The last jump was ahead. I sailed over it, as nice as you could want. Now you know, they design these courses partly to surprise the horse and see how it performs under stress. With my superior human brain, do you think I scoped the course out and planned my moves ahead of time? Not likely. What a dope. On the other side of the jump, instead of nice, solid ground, there was a pond! I screamed as we crashed into the water, sending up a tidal wave. Okay, it wasn't as deep as I thought, only up to my knees, or whatever you call those joints on a horse. But it was enough to startle me.
Instinctively, I threw my arms out for balance. The shoddy seams on the hood ripped and the fake head tumbled off, dangling by a strip of fabric from my shoulder-waist.
Philly leaned forward and hissed, "Keep moving!"
To my credit, I didn't break stride. The crowd went completely silent. I'm sure they expected the other half of the 'costume' to fall off and reveal another teenage boy in the back end. The only thing you could hear was the thumping of my hooves on the sod. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked. Suddenly one of those dumb girls screamed like an air raid siren. The big, high strung jumpers panicked and took of running in all different directions with their poor riders flopping around like rag dolls. The crowd decided to join the act, and everyone either tried to jam themselves through the single entrance at once, or lost their head and tried to run across the ring out the horse's entrance. People and jumps got knocked over by out of control horses, and everyone screamed and squealed fir all they were worth.
"I'm getting out of here!" I yelled. All Philly could do was hang on. I charged the entrance, and they parted like the Red Sea. Yep, death on four legs, that's me. As we shot into the parking lot I saw, out of the corner of my eye, good old Dad asleep in the truck. "Where are we going?" Philly asked. Good question. I looked around wildly. I wasn't about to dart into traffic, and the arena's acreage was hemmed in by housing developments on one side and a shopping center on the other.
"Through the suburbs, I guess, and try to get home" I answered, and dropped into a bone-jarring trot. The pavement was hell on my legs, and glass crunched under every step.
"Don't you think you're a bit visible?" Philly sat up straight and pointed. Some of the people from the arena ran to block off the exits from the lot. A tall woman jumped out from behind a parked van and tried to lasso me with one of those capture poles like a dogcatcher uses. I grabbed the loop and yanked her off her feet. Two men who probably saw the Horse Whisperer with their girlfriends tried to calm me down and force me back to the arena. I reared up, striking out with my forelegs. One guy turned tail and ran. The other, a beefy guy who looked like he might have played high school football, tried to tackle me. I didn't expect that, and it almost worked. I roared defiance. I guess my adrenal glands were in my stallion parts, and instinct took over. How dare he! Philly jumped from my back as I staggered sideways. She darted around my flailing legs and punched the football dude in his flabby stomach. He didn't see that coming! He let go of me and fell on his ass. Ears flattened, teeth bared, I charged the people trying to cut me off. They scattered like bowling pins. I turned, stomping my hoof.
Philly waved her arms and shouted something. I thought she said, "Run! Run!" Five or six people steered their cars in a circle to hem me in. An ugly old Dodge Ram barreled towards me. I summoned every ounce of strength and leaped right at it.
The Dodge screeched to a halt behind me. I landed on the pavement and almost fell on my face. Tah-dah, I thought, and lurched into a run. If I could make it into the townhouses, I might be able to lose them. Suddenly, there I felt a bright spike of pain that bloomed into a red and yellow flower on my haunch. I yanked it out. A tranq dart. Philly didn't say run, she said 'gun'. Already, my vision began to fuzz out.
I accelerated towards the houses, racing past a group of guys my age hanging around a bus stop. Out of nowhere, one guy chucked a soda bottle at me. It bounced of my chest and rolled under my left front hoof. Glass, not plastic. I stepped on the stupid thing and went sprawling. For a second I was too startled to even feel the pain in my leg. But, oh, man, did it hurt. I tried to raise my upper torso, and nearly passed out. I barely managed to take in the sight of my foreleg splayed in front, twisted at a horrific angle. I heard footsteps and smelled the overpowering scent of humans gathered around me. Distantly, I heard Philly shouting.
I wondered if they'd have to shoot me. Someone knelt beside me. I could smell her. Stupid, but it seemed so important right then. The scent of other horses and animals she'd touched, the peanut butter sandwich she had for lunch, the detergent she used on her clothes, the crushed grass staining the knees of her jeans, bitterness from some medicine she handled, the lingering traces of her perfume - Tommy Hilfiger's Freedom - and underneath it all the basic, good scent of female human. There are no words to describe it, I can't really compare it to anything you might have smelled in your experience as a human. Sniffing her gave me the sort of warm-happy-hungry-nostalgic feeling you'd get from sniffing baking bread. It was Shayla.
Her scent was so enticing, I almost didn't notice her eyes glazing over silver. I'm surrounded! She placed her soft little hands on either side of the break. Warm numbness flooded my leg. I turned away. Never could stand those paramedic shows. Philly stood there gawping at Shayla. I don't know which surprised her more, her vet friend turning out to be a mage or magery doing something useful for a change.
Suddenly the numbness stopped, and so did the pain and dizziness. Shayla slapped me on my horse-shoulder, startling me into standing up. I flexed my leg, then stood on it firmly. "What's the verdict, doc?" I grinned at Shayla, who frowned at where the break used to be, then frowned at Philly.
"Hi." Philly said stupidly. "I guess you're one too."
Shayla turned her attention to the gawkers. Her eyes flashed, and she clapped her hands. A spark leapt from her and raced across them. One by one their faces blanked, and they wandered off in twos and threes, scratching their heads in confusion. Shayla nodded once, the turned back to us.
"I thought I sensed something weird going on with you today, so I followed you to the show. Got here just in time, it looks like. What were you two thinking?"
Philly and I hung our heads.
"Who's your mentor, kiddo? Someone's gonna get called in for letting you loose with powers like this."
My sister mumbled, "Mr. McNichol. He's the art teacher at - "
"I know who he is." Shayla sighed and ran her hands through her hair.
"OK, you get off this time. But I'm formerly taking over as your mentor until he gets back from his business trip."
"Cool," Philly said.
"Let me tell you, even though I don't approve of what you did, that's some nice workmanship. I don't know if I could do better myself." She took a long, lingering look over my equine parts. I blushed. "Still and all, explaining this to your parents may take more skill than either of us have. Let's see about changing your brother back."
"It's all right," I said. "She already told me she won't be charged enough to change me back till tomorrow."
"I never said I'd be ready tomorrow," Philly said.
"What!" Shayla and I spoke at the same time.
"I never said tomorrow. You thought that up outta your own brain. I kinda just let you think that so you'd help me," she said. "I stored up a month's charge to boost Hook for today, then he went and bloated, and I had this huge charge built up . . . "
"A month!" I roared and reared up to my full height. When I dropped down onto all fours again, Shayla put a restraining hand on my arm. "Can't you do something?" I pleaded.
She shook her head, making her hair swish enticingly. "I can't unwork another's magecraft."
"But you fixed my leg!"
"I merely rewove the pattern. I can't alter it, only your sister can do that."
I glared at Philly, who glared right back. "Well, what am I supposed to do?"
"You, young mage, are going to store your power for a month. If I detect even the slightest drop in your power level, I'll . . . " She let Philly's imagination fill in the rest. I could tell it was - she went from her normal light olive to a sort of sickly green.
"And what about me! I'm stuck like this until she's recharged. I'll be shot or put in a zoo or something, unless you keep doing the brainwash thing on people."
"No can do. Memory erasure is tricky. That only worked 'cause everyone was standing so close together. I think it's best you come with me until Philly can unwork her spell," Shayla said. "I'm caretaking a client's private ranch while she and her husband go hiking in Europe this summer. We can hide you there and tell your parents you're on a camping trip or something."
So, I get to spend a month alone with gorgeous, delicious Shayla. Only I have to do it as a centaur. I must've looked stricken, because she patted me, gently but firmly. "Buck up, Andrew. It's only for a month. And things could be worse. You still have your hands, and you can still talk. I'll turn the TV and the computer to face out the window so you won't be bored out of your skull while I'm at work. And we can work out together."
"Well, I have to exercise the lady's horses, and I'm certainly not gonna let you vegetate and lose that wonderful muscle tone Phillipa gave you. And you really should work on your gait so this sort of thing doesn't happen again." She hooked her arm around my waist and led me towards her van.
Was that the sun breaking through the clouds? Did my big pointy ears hear birds singing?
"Sounds like fun," I said calmly. Mentally, I kicked up my heels - literally, too. I think the horse bits were starting to leak into my thoughts. Philly kept shooting me smug looks, like I should bow down and thank her for the opportunity to be ridden around a ring with my love object on my back. Maybe I wouldn't kill her once I got changed back. Maybe just rough her up a bit. Maybe.
A Brief Centaurlude copyright 2000 by Sideshow Lew.
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