|The Transformation Story Archive||Mythical Beings|
The Waiting Game
Ken shifted around on the tattered remains of his sleeping bag, trying not to wake up. He could hear birds chirping outside the cave, and morning sun had already started to warm the air. Finally, he steeled himself, and sat up to see what he'd turned into this morning.
That he actually could sit up was encouraging. And the furry limbs he saw wouldn't need special attention. Yesterday's trials and tribulations with the long, scaly tail of a merman had been one of the low points of an already terrible week. Luckily, the pool here in the cave had allowed him to keep his fishy parts wet.
These new legs were thick and muscular, with massive black cloven hooves. He was definitely not human, but very obviously male. Barbara would have gotten a laugh... He felt his stomach tighten, and forced her from his thoughts. Sitting was a little uncomfortable, and he realized that he was squashing a tail underneath him. Considering the obviously bovine feet and sexual equipment, he wasn't surprised to feel a snout and horns when he checked out his head.
He was a minotaur. Half-man, half-bull. Yet another supposedly mythological creature that really existed, at least for today. Despite a conscious effort to avoid it, Ken found his eyes drifting to the statue near the cave entrance, and tears filled his large brown eyes. If only he had a Theseus to slay him.
Getting up was awkward, and he had to stand leaning against the rocky wall until his mind adjusted. Every new body had to be learned, but this one was close enough to human that he could move safely after a few minutes. The centaur form of his second day had been a painful lesson. He shuddered, remembering the agony of a shattered foreleg which lasted until he'd passed out and woken the next morning as an uninjured griffin.
Still, he kept one hand sliding against the wall as he followed his dreaded morning ritual. Careful not to step outside the well-defined mouth of the cave, he looked around and listened. Their rented Jeep was gone, as was all of the camping gear. The searchers must have taken it all back to the hotel, after they gave up looking for him and Barbara.
Swallowing hard, he swiveled his head to look at the stone figure blocking the other side of the cave entrance. The life-sized statue of a centauress had a ragged NYC T-shirt covering her human torso. She was partially turned towards the back of the cave, her arms just starting to reach out, and a surprised expression frozen on her face.
That last moment of Barbara's life would haunt his memories as long as he lived. He'd heard her first, gasping and calling out his name that morning after they'd found the hidden entrance. Then the hissing. Terrified, he'd scrambled up and looked for the snakes which had to be all around. Barbara had called out again, and this time he looked towards the mouth of the cave to see his wife of five years petting a small horse.
It took a moment for him to realize that there was no horse. Despite the impossibility, Barbara had become a centaur. And as she started to turn to look back at him, he realized where the snakes were, and what they meant. His scream had come too late, and the color vanished from her flesh instantly as it turned to stone. Where she had become a centaur, he had become a medusa.
He traced the contour of her cheek with thick, black fingers. There was almost no feeling in them, but he could sense the firmness of the stone. Her features showed no pain. If anything, she seemed to have been experiencing a childlike wonder at her new body. He hoped that was true. That she had simply stopped thinking before that wonder had a chance to turn to fear.
Tears flowed freely now, and he was grateful that he could grieve. As a medusa, he'd been unable to speak or cry. That first day had been mercifully brief, thanks to knocking himself out as he tried to bash the serpents on his head to pulp against the walls of the cave.
And then the cruel trick of waking up a centaur the next morning. His tears became bitter. But for one day's difference, this Hell would have been a wondrous sharing of new experiences. He had no doubt that they would have made the best of things, exploring the strange fate that had befallen them. Even laughing at the faces of their colleagues as they trotted hand-in-hand into the University office.
There was no laughter left in his soul, now. It had turned to stone along with Barbara. So had the curiosity and interest which had brought them to this remote Greek province. Both of them had shared a love of Ancient Greece. His interest was architectural, and hers was in the culture and mythology. An area which still clung to ancient Gods in the midst of Orthodox Christianity had seemed an ideal vacation spot for the two of them.
Now he knew why the legends survived. Others must have stumbled onto this cave as he had, and gone out to seek help. He wondered how they had been received. Considering the myth of the minotaur, his current form would most likely get him killed rather quickly. Not that he feared death. The only reason he hadn't left the cave was fear of murdering someone else. So far, he seemed to retain his own thoughts and will. But faced with death, might his mind also become that of a monster?
At least no others had come in. Some of the searchers had come within inches of the opening, and it had taken all of his willpower not to call out. The entrance was invisible, not just hidden, but somehow not there when you looked at it from the outside. If he hadn't tried climbing up the hill, they'd have never discovered it. Some sort of optical illusion. That should have warned them off, but neither of them had much common sense.
And then they had discovered the paintings. Matching styles from almost 2,500 years ago, the images depicted all of the creatures of Greek mythology. Stylized and simplified almost to stick drawings, the strange monsters and mythical beasts circled the wall in an endless parade. He'd been a little nervous, but Barbara had begged him to stay, even sleep in the cave with her. And fool that he was, he had ignored his fears.
Ken felt a rumble in his belly, and looked longingly out at the thick grass of the clearing. The meager amount of food they'd brought into the cave had run out two days ago, but he had been too afraid of having someone see him to leave the cave. It looked safe now, and it felt like he had several empty spots inside this minotaur body. Should he risk being discovered?
He turned back towards Barbara, flicking his tail from side to side in frustration. Something caught at the tip, and he grunted in pain when he tried to spin around. The ropy appendage was stretched taught, with the end somehow stuck in mid-air. He tried to break free, wincing as hair pulled. Finally, the clump broke away, and fell to the ground outside.
Holding the raw and bleeding tip of his tail, Ken stared at the opening. There must be some sort of a one-way force field there. If he left, he would not be able to come back! He managed to curb his hunger, and sat down near the pool to think. Did he want to spend the rest of his life as a minotaur? It was at least humanoid, and even if he couldn't speak, he could probably write. Who knew what he might wake up as tomorrow?
He glared at the figures painted on the wall. It was easy to spot the minotaur, especially since he could use himself for reference. Actually, he'd paid little attention to them before. The drawing next to the minotaur was a fishy shape. A mermaid? Curious, he traced the symbols back. There was no mistaking the three-headed dog. He shuddered at the memory of fighting two canine minds for control of Cerebus' single body. A crude human figure must represent the brutish ogre he'd become on the third day. Centaur. And then the human with a head of writhing serpents.
The order exactly followed his own transformations! But why hadn't Barbara become a medusa, too? The answer was simple. He'd come into the cave first, and taken the gorgon form. She had become the second creature in the parade.
He got up and followed the line of figures with growing hope. Even if the transformations could not be controlled, he could at least predict them. The minotaur was followed by a satyr, a chimera, and then a very human figure. Young, maybe even a toddler, but human! Or was it? There were wings on the child's back. He shook his head in wonder. Eros. The God of Love. The forms following that were all monsters again. Well, better to spend the rest of his days as Cupid than a walking steak.
Three more days. He could manage that. His eyes followed the line of drawings around the cave. Thirty figures made up the parade, mostly beasts and monsters, some of which even he didn't recognize. A sileni, a giant female wolf, a fiery horse. As he came back around to the medusa which had started this all, his eyes locked on a familiar shape. Just three shapes before the one he had started out as, but now 22 days into the future. Hope blossomed ion a way he had never expected, only to vanish as he remembered the time. More than three weeks! Swallowing hard, he looked back towards the entrance. He had to try. Oh, God, he had to try.
Barbara blinked. What had happened to Ken? There had been a flash of some kind, and now he was gone. She felt fear grip her stomach, and was reminded of her strange transformation by the size and position of that stomach. She turned slowly in the early morning light, still awed by the centaur's body she had woken up with. Her equine lower half was unchanged, but now she saw something else.
A large, white-furred shape lay across the ground beside her. It appeared to be a horse of some kind, and she was horrified to see the gaunt, fleshless skin stretched taut over the poor beast's bones. The emaciated animal had to be dead. Yet as she watched, the withered chest rose and fell once. And again.
She twisted around in sudden joy, looking for the source of the faint whisper. "Ken? Where are you?"
Confused, she looked down and saw that the animal at her feet had opened one crusted eye, and was staring at her. She started to speak, only to stagger as a whirl of images filled her mind. In moments, she knew all that had happened over the past month. Not only the events, but his pain and anguish over her, as well as the growing torment of hunger which had almost killed him.
Her reaction was swift and final. Using all her strength, she pushed the weakened beast out of the cave until it could reach some of the grass with its mouth. Bristled lips pulled feebly at first, but as more and more of the blades were swallowed, Ken first rolled up to his stomach, and finally managed to stand on wobbly legs. It seemed to take hours before he had eaten his fill, but the food had worked miracles. Fleshed out, he was a magnificent stallion, oddly delicate despite his size. Yet he wasn't a horse. For he pranced on cloven hooves, and a spiraled horn graced his forehead. It was that horn which he had nearly died for, waiting for the one thing that could turn stone back to flesh. The magic of a unicorn.
She could hear him snorting and whinnying, but the strange curtain between the cave and outside seemed to block mental contact. They were close enough in form that they might find happiness, and she almost stepped out to join him. But then she smiled and blew him a kiss. "I love you, Ken. Wait for me." Looking up at the figures, she counted off the parade. "See you in 25 days."
The Waiting Game copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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