|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
Pan in the Hudson
Thick mud pulled at Chip's feet, mosquitoes swarmed by the thousands, and the trees around him were known to hold everything from ticks and poison ivy to rattlesnakes. So why was he enjoying himself? He mulled the question over as he battled a particularly stubborn patch of muck for custody of his right shoe. Thrill of the hunt, perhaps?
He grinned to himself. These mountains were usually full of hunters, but he was probably the only one who's prey wouldn't bleed when he hacked off a part. Come to think of it, he was the one who was usually bleeding, thanks to the sharp thorns and brambles.
A flash of reflected sunlight caught his eye, and he squinted into the underbrush. The shape looked right. A quick jerk finally freed his leg, but he knew without looking that the mud had won the fight for his shoe. Balancing on one foot, he grabbed at the vanishing footwear and pulled it free.
Slipping the shoe back on, he tried to get a better view of the form hidden under the vines and bushes. The right shoe squished a bit, some of the muck had made it inside. That was OK. If anything was alive in there, his sock would kill it.
At least the ground looked a little more solid in that direction. Listening hard for movement in the grass (not to mention a warning rattle), he worked around to the side and then broke through the surrounding brush.
A Hudson. Damn. No help here. He needed a back windshield for a 1950 Studebaker. Once disappointment faded, he looked over the car with appreciation. A Hornet sedan, probably about 1951 or 52. Large patches of moss covered the windows and once-white top, blending almost perfectly into the splotchy dark green paint on the body. Even new, the cars had been called inverted bathtubs. With the windows covered, this one really did look like an abandoned tub, albeit a 20-foot long one.
A practiced eye cut through the dirt and growth. No sign of damage, or missing parts. It looked like the car had been driven up here and forgotten. Judging from the trees which now boxed it in, a good twenty years ago. Chip wondered what had brought the car here. Blown engine? Sometimes people got rid of cars just because they needed too many little repairs, or even just for being out-of-date.
Curious, he tried to open the front door, and was surprised to find the handle locked. The rest of the doors were also secure, as was the trunk. Getting into the car was now a challenge for him. His Studebaker key fit the Hudson's door lock, but wouldn't turn.
Chip walked around the car again, unwilling to do anything to damage it. He'd found too many parts he'd needed ruined by vandals or broken by people who didn't know what they were doing. On impulse, he tried pushing one of the vent windows in. The front was either stuck or locked, but the rear vent flipped open easily.
The opening was wide enough to slip his arm through, and he groped for the inside handle. The upholstery felt dry and intact, but there was a strange odor, like a stable or barnyard. Just as his fingers wrapped around the metal lever, something grabbed at his hand.
"Yaauuugh!" Chip almost broke the handle off as he jerked his arm back out. The door came open, hanging his arm up for a moment. Then he twisted free and fell backwards into the mud. Scrambling away from the car, he jumped up and spun around.
The only thing different was that the Hudson's rear door was now partly open. Nothing had jumped out after him. There were no marks on his hand, and after a moment, he started to feel really stupid. Probably nothing more than a fallen headliner, or even a piece of junk thrown inside which happened to fall against his arm.
Even so, he waited for a couple of minutes before cautiously approaching the car again. Everything was quiet, but he still used an old branch to push the door open. The smell was much stronger, but nothing jumped out. Moving a bit closer, he finally got a look at the inside.
The back seat and door panel looked new, striped grey fabric and a burgundy vinyl typical of the forties and fifties. The front seat was missing, so he could see there was nothing inside. Well, almost nothing. The floor was covered from the back seat to the firewall with leaves and long grass. The greenery was all fresh and soft, and Chip looked back at the trees around him in confusion. Late fall had painted the foliage with reds and golds, leaving few if any of the bright green leaves that carpeted the Hudson.
The front door opened easily from the inside, letting in more sunlight which sparkled off the chrome knobs and switches. The entire interior was in mint condition, even the woodgrain decals on the dash and window mouldings. It took a moment to register the fact that some of the light came from the interior lamp, which had come on as he opened the door.
What the hell? How could the battery still be good? A familiar sound drew his eyes to the dashboard, where the Hudson's clock dutifully ticked off the seconds. On impulse, he reached over and twisted the radio knob. Even though the key was not in the ignition, the dial lit up, and music faded in as the tubes warmed up. Sounded like the tail end of an old Beatles song.
Chip clicked the radio off, shaking his head in disbelief. Brushing aside the leaves revealed a perfect mohair carpet, apparently original. Even the tracks for the missing front seats were clean, except for a small trace of fresh grease.
The hood release handle was on the other side, and he had to lean into the car to reach it. Now he could see the driver's side of the huge transmission hump, and discovered a leather bag and some pottery jugs of some kind wedged behind the pedals.
The release popped easily, and he turned his attention to the new items. The bag jingled when he picked it up. It was slightly worn, but sturdy, and tied with a short strip of darker leather. When he pulled the knot loose, the bag turned out to be a flat piece of leather which spilled a collection of silver and copper coins onto the car floor.
The biggest was a silver "Peace" dollar, shiny as the day it was minted in 1879. A perfect Indian head penny was dated 1853, and there were pennies, nickles, and quarters ranging from 1936 to 1940. He couldn't identify some of them. A few looked like old Spanish or Mexican coins, and there were two oddly shaped pieces that had what looked like horses stamped on them, but no writing at all. The last two were darker than the pennies, but still looked clean. Bronze, maybe.
The two jugs were loosely corked, and the one he opened held some sort of wine. The coins were tempting, but he finally wrapped them back up and returned the bag and jugs to their original positions. Despite outside appearances, somebody had to be using the old Hudson as a hiding place. Maybe kids, using the car as a secret fort or club.
That still didn't explain the condition of the interior. He stepped back and prodded the outside of the door. The bubbling paint crumbled away, along with several square inches of rotted metal. Even the door handles were covered with algae and moss, the only sign of recent use being his own handprints.
The hood was raised slightly, but he had to fumble for the secondary release. The hinges were stiff with rust, but he was still surprised to see the leaf-filled tangle of rotten rubber hoses and crumbling wires. A large black lump on the right was only barely recognizable as a battery, with half the casing missing, and dry, corroded plates.
Chip traced the still hooked-up battery cables with disbelieving eyes. This was getting too weird. Dropping the hood back down, he made sure that it was fully closed, but stopped before he shut the doors. This definitely rated a picture. Even then, nobody would believe him, but at least he could prove to himself that he wasn't crazy.
He pulled out the battered Polaroid and took a close-up of the dash. His fancy 35mm Minolta came a bit too dear to risk carrying through the woods. Besides, he liked having the picture right away, even if the film was hard to find and expensive.
Chip pulled out the first picture and stuck it on the fender before backing up to get an overall shot. The doors opened wide enough to give a good view of the inside, and still show the ruined body. Maybe he would go back for the 35mm. If nothing else, he could send a picture to Hemmings Motor News. They usually ran pictures of restored cars, but this was odd enough to interest any car buff.
A plaintive electronic sigh from the camera announced that the first picture was ready. Peeling off the backing, he nodded in approval and lay the photo back on the fender to dry. Then he pulled out the second shot and lay it beside the first. This wasn't getting him any closer to the rear glass he needed, but he wanted to make sure the picture came out before he left.
As he waited for the timer, Chip looked around for other old cars. A loud thump from the Hudson made him jerk around, heart pounding. The front door had swung shut again, probably from its own weight. He started to laugh at himself, but the chuckle died in his throat as the rear door rocked against its stop. Gravity didn't rock doors.
The stop finally popped in, and the rear door slammed closed. Chip was suddenly aware that he could smell the strong animal odor outside the car now, and started to back away.
The camera beeped again, reminding him of the pictures still on the Hudson's fender. Despite growing fear, he was reluctant to leave the photos behind. As he started back, the second picture seemed to stir in a sudden breeze, although he didn't feel any wind. The black rectangle hovered over the fender for a moment, and suddenly split apart by itself. Chip's mouth fell open as the negative dropped to the ground, and the photo started to float towards the woods in mid-air.
Without thinking, he grabbed at the flying photo. There was a considerable resistance as he tore it away from the unseen force, leaving a small corner floating by itself in front of him. As he stared dumfounded, something hit him in the stomach, and he kicked out in blind terror. His foot connected with something soft, and a high-pitched squeal exploded in his ears.
Falling backwards, Chip scrambled away from the noise, his own screams joining the wailing. The camera flew off into the brush, and he didn't even feel the branches tearing at his face and hands as he pushed through the heavy undergrowth. He ran blindly until a hole swallowed his right foot, throwing him forward into a fall that shattered his leg and knocked him out cold.
Chip came half awake, feeling stiff and awkward. What a weird dream. He shifted around, trying to get comfortable. The surface under him was uneven, and rustled slightly as he moved. Huh? Suddenly wide awake, he bolted upright. It was pitch black, but the animal smell of the old Hudson surrounded him, mixed with the earthy odors of leaves and grass.
Sudden memory of the fall prompted a cautious touch on his right leg. The fabric was torn and damp, but he could move everything without any trouble. Other than a dull ache in both legs, nothing felt broken. Maybe he'd just popped a hip out of joint.
Somebody must have found him, but why stick him in the old car? Maybe his rescuer had to go back for help. Chip groped for the door handle, and pulled it back. Nothing. The window crank was just as useless, turning easily, but not moving anything. The rest of the handles seemed to be broken as well. All of the lock buttons were up, yet nothing worked. This didn't make sense. He'd opened the door from the inside handle before.
The vent window! The latch was still open, but the small glass pane refused to budge. Frustrated, he started to beat on the door, but stopped suddenly when he heard a rustling outside. "Hey! I can't get out!" No response. "Is there somebody out there? Can you open the door?"
There was still no answer, but the outside handle creaked on the front passenger's door. Feeling nervous, he grabbed one of the heavy jugs and slid back against the rear seat. The door was jerked partly open, letting in dim light. It started to swing back closed again, but another jerk opened it fully. Chip hefted the jug, and carefully looked out. There was nothing there. In the midst of his confusion, he spotted his camera and jacket on the ground.
Dropping the jug, he started through the opening, but ran face-first into something soft and warm that gave out a loud grunt. Falling back with a shout, he stared at what should be an empty door. It was getting dark out, but there was still plenty of light to see clearly. He started to put it off to imagination again, when the leaves shifted as something he couldn't see climbed in.
The air shimmered slightly, and a small form began to take shape in front of him. Too terrified to move, he blinked as the cloudy image solidified into the figure of a small man. Bare-chested despite the cool weather, the newcomer was about the size of a 10 year- old boy, with a dark, scruffy beard, thick eyebrows and sharp features. His only clothing seemed to be pants made of what looked like curly black sheepskin, covering badly deformed legs.
"Feelin' a bit rocky, Gov'nor?" Guttural and rasping, the words had a definite Cockney lilt. The little man grinned at him, and plopped down straddling the transmission hump. It was suddenly obvious that he was wearing nothing at all. Embarrassed, Chip automatically looked away. The "pants" were actually wooly legs which tapered impossibly thin, and ended in small, cloven... hooves.
Startled, he looked up again, only to discover small horns poking out through the creature's hair. Chip closed his eyes. God, he was hallucinating. People didn't appear out of thin air, and they sure didn't have hooves and horns. The little man was still there when he looked again, and there was no doubt as to where the strong odor was coming from. This was one hallucination in need of a good bath. There was something familiar about the man's appearance. dimly remembered images from old comic books, or the literature class he'd always slept through. One of the half-goat/half-human monsters from ancient Greece or Rome. Right. And there was probably a dragon circling overhead.
The creature grabbed one of the clay jugs, and pulled out the cork with his teeth. "Care for a swallow?" Chip cringed away from the offered jug, earning a look of disgust. "Look 'ere, Gov'nor. Things are sticky enough now without 'avin you quiverin' away like a frightened schoolgirl."
His casual attitude helped break through Chip's fear, and he managed to relax a little. On impulse, he reached out to touch one of the furred legs, but stopped short. As he did, the leg kicked out, and he yelled as the hoof connected painfully with his shin
"That's just in case you be thinkin' I'm some sort of illusion." The goat-man took a drink from the jug, and offered it to Chip again. This time, it wasn't refused. The wine was light and sweet, and washed away part of the dryness in his mouth. Actually, the kick had helped him a little. He might be able to imagine the sounds and smells, but the bruise forming on his leg was no hallucination. A little relieved that he might not be totally crazy, Chip finally worked up the courage to speak.
"Wha.. uh.. Who are you?" The creature smiled again, and leaned back against the dashboard. "Glad to 'ear you can talk. 'ad me wonderin' a bit, you did." He paused a moment, then shrugged. "In this world, I'm what's called a satyr, or faun. You couldn't rightly say my real name. Just call me Matthew." He extended a grimy hand.
Chip automatically took it, but had to fight the impulse to snatch his hand back. "I'm, uh, Chip. You don't come from this world? I mean, are you from another planet?" Matthew snorted. "This 'ere place was our 'ome before your kind came out o' the trees. Didn't see no 'arm in the monkey-folk back then. 'Course, that was before they got the magic."
A muscle spasm rippled through Chip's legs, and he shifted uncomfortably. "So you live here? How come nobody has ever seen you before?" The goat man scratched himself absently. "We don't live 'ere now. The monkey-folk drove us away. We 'ave a different place now, sort o' what the philosophers calls a new dimension."
Despite his fear and confusion, Chip was curious. "You mean, like an alternate universe, or a parallel world? And you have magic there?" Matthew looked at him oddly. "There's magic 'ere, lad, that's why we had to leave. Look. You've 'eard of unicorns, elves, and dragons 'aven't you? Chip nodded uncertainly. "Well, all those creatures, and maybe a 'undred other races started 'ere way back when there was nothin' but big lizards runnin' around.
"We lived 'ere for thousand's o' years, not payin' much attention to the other creatures. The races which could use the magic sorta' ignored the rest. It wasn't 'til the monkey-folk started bandin' together that the trouble started."
The satyr paused, and then shook his head sadly. "More fools we. Ya' see, the magic isn't something we carry in us. It's all around, like the sunlight, or the air. Everything has the magic in it. We can see it, and change it with our minds. "Course, we never really used it that much, 'cept the ones that liked to play gods to the monkey-folk.
"The few bad 'uns played tricks, thinkin' that the monkey-folk couldn't do anything. Only a few of your people could see the magic, and even fewer knew how to use it. What we didn't know was, they could use the magic even though they couldn't see it, and turned it to a 'orrible force more powerful than anything we'd ever imagined."
Matthew gave him a dark look. "Almost 'alf of the races didn't survive at all, and the rest lost all but a 'andful that stayed 'idden in the woods and mountains Millions of us were gone before we found the portal to the new land.
"Our place is nice enough, but we don't 'ave anything like the forests 'ere. That's why we still come back for visits. It's dangerous, 'cause the power is still 'ere, and it's 'arder to find places where the monkey-folk don't live." He picked up the leather bag and dumped the coins into his hand. "Can't say as I like what your people 'ave done to the planet, though I do like the little jewelry you trade for goods." Chip noticed that some modern coins had joined the ones he'd seen. His, no doubt.
He felt his pockets, and discovered more than just his change was missing. Car keys, wallet, even his belt was gone. Before he could say anything, Matthew pulled the missing wallet from behind the wine jugs and tossed it to him. "Don't worry. Your things are right 'ere. Chip tried to slip it into his back pocket, but found that the pants were stretched so tight that the tri-fold wouldn't fit. Finally, he put it on the seat cushion behind him.
The torn pants came to mind, and he gave them a closer look. Both legs were very stiff, and the ache had spread into his rump. The fabric had a rip in it, and the surrounding area was soaked with dark liquid. He'd thought it was mud, but now he could see the red stain of fresh blood on the skin underneath.
Alarmed, he pulled the ragged tear up to find unbroken skin underneath. "You're all fixed up now, lad." The satyr sighed. "Good thing I thought to follow you a bit. Popped the bone through, an' took a vein right with it. Spurtin' like a regular fountain. I couldn' jus' leave ya' there to die, even though you' messed up me trip."
Chip stared at the smooth skin, trying to picture the injury. He could remember the pain as he fell, and there was certainly a lot of blood on his pants. His fear was fading into a sense of crazy detachment, as if all this was a weird nightmare. "Not to sound ungrateful or anything, but why did you put me in here?"
Matthew laughed, making a sound very much like a goat's bleating. "You think I could move a big lump o' flesh like you? I 'ad a friend carry you in here, though even 'e 'ad a time gettin' you through the door."
The satyr was suddenly serious again. "We 'ave a real problem, you 'n me. If you'd not been such an oaf and gotten yourself busted up, I coulda' just cleared out. Even if you brought people back, they'd 'ave just found a normal junked car." He wave a hand, and the Hudson's interior was suddenly a mass of rotting fabric and springs, barely recognizable. Another wave restored the mess to its original splendor.
Chip felt the smooth cloth, and gave Matthew a bewildered look. "How do you do that?" The goat-man sighed. "It's the magic. 'Bout the best I can explain it is that my people, and most 'o the others in my world, can see it, and change it with our minds. We jus' think 'o what we want to 'appen, at least little things. That's 'ow I fixed your leg."
Chip winced as a muscle spasms shot through his lower body. "If you fixed it, how come everything still hurts?" He rubbed both thighs, trying to work out the cramping. His ankles stuck out a good couple of inches past the cuffs, and looked oddly darker.
It took a moment for Matthew to answer. "Things that aren't alive, I can change them any way I want, and they just return to the way they was when I leave. It's different with living things. They 'ave to be from my world."
A cold knot formed in Chip's stomach. "What did you do to me? What's happening?" New pain drew his eyes to his feet, which had swollen so badly they were actually splitting out of the muddy tennis shoes. His pants were stretched to the point of splitting, as if they had shrunk four sizes.
The satyr sighed again. "I had to make you part of my world. You're too big to be a satyr like me, so I had to choose something else. I picked a centaur." At Chip's bewildered look, he pointed out the still open door, and snapped his fingers.
Leaves shuffled outside, and then burly-looking young man, bare-chested like the satyr, leaned into the opening. "This is Posti, the friend who helped me get you in here. He's a centaur." Chip shifted around to get a better look. In contrast to the goat-man, the newcomer looked perfectly normal, if a little tall. Then Posti moved around the door, and his lower half came into view.
Like the satyr, he had a thick coat of hair which started at the waist, but instead of the hind legs of a goat, his human torso replaced the head and neck of a reddish-brown horse. The centaur made a noise that combined clicking and grunts, and Matthew responded with similar sounds. After one last look, the centaur moved back out of sight.
Staring at his swollen legs in horror, Chip could barely speak. "I.. I'm turning into that?" The satyr shrugged. "It was either that or a minotaur, and they're not much more than two-legged bulls. At least like this, you still look partly the same."
Something finally snapped inside, and Chip lunged towards the door with a scream. Despite the pain and stiffness, he actually knocked Matthew aside and rolled out onto the ground. There was an explosion of the strange language from inside the car, and massive hooves pounded towards him.
Screaming again, he managed to pull himself up and staggered away. If he could make it into the trees, the monster behind him couldn't follow. Every step was torture, only partly relieved when his pants finally ripped apart at the seams. Strong fingers grabbed at his shoulder, but he jerked free and threw himself into a thick clump of trees. More of the clicks and grunts erupted, this time from the centaur as he tried to force himself between the thick trunks.
Matthew was shouting after him, the sound getting closer. Chip was having trouble getting through himself now, the locked joints combining with a heaviness that made it almost impossible to move. He could hear the satyr more clearly now. "You can't go back. It's too late." Chip staggered on, aided by the downward slope. If he could just make it to the main junkyard.
The trees thinned out ahead, and he could see the rusting hulks piled in the field beyond. Gasping in pain and exhaustion, he leaned against a tree to catch his breath. Spasms shook his body again, pushing him up into the branches. There was an incredible weight below his waist which kept pulling him backwards, and he had to grab the trunk to keep from falling.
More shouting drifted to his ears, but the sound came from ahead, not behind. Battling the pain, he focused on the junkyard beyond. Small points of light waved between the rows of cars, moving towards him. People! They must have seen his car was parked out front, and come looking for him when the junkyard closed.
"I'm up here!" At first he thought that they hadn't heard his shout, but then the flashlights converged and started towards him. He started to shout again, but a final wave of agony wrenched his body, and he fell heavily to the ground.
It took a moment to realize that the pain was gone. Not just the muscle spasms, but all of the aches and stiffness. God, he felt wonderful. He rolled up to stand, no longer having to depend on the trees for balance. Still, there was a wrongness about his body, despite the absence of pain.
He looked down, and felt the cold fear again. The tattered rags of his pants had fallen to the ground, revealing dark-furred legs which stretched down to hooves almost completely obscured by feathers of white hair. Twisting around revealed the heavy equine body behind him, and he watched the thick tail twitch slightly as new muscles worked.
"Chip." He spun around, heart pounding again. The satyr looked out from the trees, partially hidden in the shadows. Chip backed away, and pointed to the approaching lights. "There are people down there. They'll help me." The centaur, the other centaur, moved behind the satyr, but neither creature came out into the clearing.
"You cannot stay here like you are." Matthew's voice was urgent. "It is almost too late already." The shouts were getting closer now, and the satyr moved a step closer. "You can't let them see you." Chip backed further from him. "Why not? Are you afraid of them? Change me back, or I'll tell them all about you, and they'll track you down."
The satyr was pleading now. "Yes, we're afraid of them, and you have to be, too. Their magic can affect you now. If they see you, you'll be lost forever." Chip moved further away, wary of the two creatures. "They haven't got any magic. You're the one who can change things." He could make out individual voices now. The searchers would be here any minute.
The two creatures backed deeper into the woods, and Matthew spoke sadly. "Your people have the magic that drove us from your world. We can transform normal things into anything we can imagine. Your people transform anything they can't imagine into something normal."
Light shone in the clearing, and the satyr stretched out his arms in a final plea. "Run, before it's..." He stopped in mid-sentence and bolted back into the trees. The voices were very close now, and Chip looked uncertainly back towards the lights. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. He turned to follow the vanished satyr just as the first flashlight beam hit him. There was a wrenching in his head and arms...
"Shit!" The junkyard owner puffed a bit from the long climb, and then yelled back to the men further down. "It's just a damn horse!." Disgusted, he played his light over the big stallion which was pawing at its muzzle. "What the...?" The animal shook its head violently and finally threw off a dark T-shirt which had somehow gotten pulled over it. Wild eyed, it skittered around in confusion for a moment, and then was suddenly calm.
"Where the hell did you come from?" The horse snorted once in reply, and then dropped its head to pull up a clump of grass. The man picked up the T-shirt, and shone his light on it. Looked like what the missing customer was wearing. He thought he'd seen the bastard in the clearing. Must've caught him in the act.
Confusion turned to anger. Bad enough the damn fool had them all combing the mountain. So he liked pulling tricks like this on animals. A rustling came from the woods further up the mountain, and he caught a glimpse of someone or something running away. With another curse, the man stuffed the shirt in his belt and followed. Lost people took precedence over lost animals, but they'd make sure he knew just how the horse felt when they caught him.
- end -
(Please address comments/questions to Posti@aol.com)
Pan in the Hudson copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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