Nature called when Scott was climbing over the rusted hulk of a old fire truck. He tried ignoring the signals from his bladder, concentrating on searching for the 1967 Buick that was supposed to be hidden among the trees. Cooler weather hadn’t done much to reduce the insect population, and he had no desire to expose any more of himself to the clouds of mosquitoes than necessary.
After a few minutes, however, he had to choose between becoming a bug buffet and soaking his jeans from the inside. Since most of the insects seemed to be swarming around the cars, he made his way to a small clearing and unzipped. He almost didn’t make it, and sagged in relief as pressure started to ease. At least he didn’t have to worry about offending anyone by watering the plants. Well, mushrooms, in this case. This part of the junkyard probably hadn’t seen a human in weeks. Nobody else was stupid enough to brave steep hills, thorns, and ticks to track down parts for a 30-odd year-old sedan.
He heard a distant shouting, too faint to understand over the steady sound of his own activity. Probably Mr. Wilson's wife screaming for a price. The couple was old and eccentric, and very hard to deal with. Most of the car nuts he knew stayed away from the junkyard because the old man charged high prices, and also because they didn’t want to hike over a mountain to find what they were looking for. Scott knew the secret to dealing with him, though. Wilson had a weakness for fantasy books.
It was a strange interest for someone who looked like the stereotypical redneck, but Scott had noticed a dog-eared copy of “Lord of the Rings” on his desk the first time he came. Next visit, he gave the guy some modern fantasy paperbacks that he’d planned to throw out anyway. Not only had prices dropped substantially, but after the second such visit Scott was granted freedom to roam the junkyard at will. No one else he knew had ever been allowed to wander unescorted.
The screaming had gotten a little louder, and curiously, almost sounded like it was coming from near his feet. He glanced down just as a tiny spark flared brilliantly on the ground and shot up the stream of urine to explode in his groin.
Instinctively jumping back with a strangled shout, he tripped over his own feet and ended up falling backwards onto the mossy ground. Fear for his privates overshadowed all else for a moment. Then movement in the area of his makeshift urinal drew his attention to something that made him forget even the throbbing heat in his loins. Something that looked like a cross between a grasshopper and a very old woman was heading for him. A very angry cross between grasshopper and old woman.
He stared in disbelief for a moment, trying to figure out what he was seeing. Then a second spark of light formed on the thing’s antennae and hit his left foot with numbing force. Any further curiosity was abandoned in a mad scramble to escape. He felt a burning shock his back with even greater force than the first two, and was nearly blinded when he looked back and caught a fourth square in the forehead. That last bolt actually saved him from further attacks, for it sent him tumbling down a steep ravine.
Recent storms had left the ground fairly soft, and Scott reached the bottom without serious injury. Wincing from assorted scrapes and bruises, he struggled free of the dead branches that had broken his fall. What in Hell had he run into? He tried to come up with something logical. A bug that shot lightning bolts? Whatever it was, he knew the attack was not imagined. His whole crotch throbbed with heat, as did the middle of his back. In contrast, the lower half of his left leg had lost all feeling. His head didn't hurt, but his forehead was swollen and hot to the touch.
There was renewed shrieking from above, and it sounded like more of the weird insects were joining in. The noise touched some inner sense that raised the hair on the back of his neck, and brought real fear to his heart. He spun and limped as quickly as he could back towards the road. The junkyard office was a half-mile away, but it was the only place where he could get help. Maybe Wilson knew what was going on.
The wife was talking to someone on the phone, her back to the door. Wilson, puffing on the stub of a cigar in his battered old recliner, smiled when he first saw Scott, but then went pale and sat up abruptly. "What in Hell did you do, boy?" His wife turned and gasped, backing away in obvious horror.
Scott realized he must look really awful, and hoped that he hadn't been hurt worse than he thought. "Something, I don't know what. I was up in the old part of the yard, and something attacked me. Looked like some big bug, but I swear it shot electricity at me!" The couple looked panicked. Probably afraid he was going to sue them. "I need to go somewhere to get checked out. Is there a hospital or doctor's office around here? I have insurance."
"What. Did. You. Do?" Wilson's voice was harsh, and there was no mistaking the raw terror in his eyes.
"Nothing!" Scott was bewildered by the man's reaction. "I was looking for that 67 Buick. Over behind the fire trucks. I went over to a clearing, and then this weird grasshopper thing attacked me. Never saw anything like it before!"
"Before that! What did you do just before it attacked you.?" The man was grilling him like a murder suspect.
Flushing slightly, Scott battled growing anger and embarrassment. "I had to take a leak. It was too far back here, so I went over to the clearing to get away from the mosquitoes. Maybe it had a nest under the mushrooms…"
"Shit!" The man interrupted him, pushing out of the chair with surprising speed. "God-damn idiot takes a piss in a toadstool ring, and don't know why he got attacked! Oh Christ Almighty!" He grabbed a walkie-talkie and shouted "Charlie! Get yer ass outa there now! Don't come back to the front of the yard. Charlie? Damn your hide, you'd better not be sleepin' this time!"
Scott stared open-mouthed as the woman scooped the contents of the cash register into her purse, and ran out the door.
Wilson screamed once more at the walkie-talkie, and then threw it aside and glared at him. "I let you wander around 'cause I thought you knowed better! All those books you brought me. Didn't you read any of 'em?" Then he pushed past and followed his wife out the door. She was already waiting in the truck, and before Scott made it outside, they peeled out in a spray of gravel and dirt and took off down the road.
He looked around, wide-eyed. What would scare them so bad that they'd run off and leave their business like this? Then he picked up a faint and terrifyingly familiar sound which seemed to slowly build. Maybe they had the right idea. Scott stumbled for his car. Better to get out of here now, and try to get help on his own. There was a fire station about ten miles back… He stopped, patting his pockets frantically. Oh, shit! His keys were in his toolbox. And his toolbox was up by the old fire truck.
Scott's throat was suddenly very dry. The phone. He could call for help. Walking was getting harder, and he had muscle spasms starting in his back. Going back into the office, he shut the door and searched out the telephone. It was one of the old black rotary types, but he got a normal tone when he picked it up and dialed 911. It rang once, and then went dead. The drink machine rattled into silence at the same moment.
A shiver ran down his back, and he caught himself panting. This was crazy. And what was Wilson going on about? What did the old fantasy books have to do with a bunch of weird bugs? A glimmer of an idea formed in his head, but before he could quite identify the link, he saw movement through the window. It was the kid who worked for Wilson. Charlie. A scruffy kid, late teens, with bad teeth and long dark hair that looked like it hadn't been washed in a week. He was scowling, banging on a walkie-talkie as he came out of the far gate and turned to walk to the office.
Scott's first reaction was relief. Charlie probably had a car, and they could get out of here. Then he saw the kid stop and look around in puzzlement. Screaming a warning, Scott ran for the door, but even before he opened it he saw the first sparkle of light. Even a hundred feet away, it was obvious that these were much smaller than whatever had attacked him. Charlie still stood there, waving his hand in the air to shoo away what he must think was a swarm of fireflies.
Maybe he could save the kid. Scott kept telling himself to open the door and call out, get the boy inside. Yet he remained frozen, watching in horrified fascination as the sparkles increased in number. Charlie brushed at his face and hair, starting to look annoyed. He was obviously unaware of the dark hair spreading across his cheeks. A dense group of sparkles swarmed around his hands for a moment. He shook them off, and then stared open-mouthed at the dark lumps they had left behind.
He screamed, a child's pitiful wailing that tore at Scott's soul, only to fall silent as another swarm illuminated his throat. Spinning, Charlie ran for the office. His sudden movement seemed to aggravate the sparkles, and they enveloped him in a malevolent cloud of light. The boy stumbled halfway to the door, and then tripped over an old tire. His clothes fell away as he hit the ground, revealing a twisted, brown-furred body.
As the boy tried to get up, he caught sight of himself and seemed to sag. If anything, the sparkles seemed to intensify their attack. His legs stretched out impossibly thin, and his toes fused into cloven hooves. The boy's outline blurred slightly in the brilliant glow, proportions changing to match his limbs. He looked towards the window, and saw Scott. Incredibly, the boy's face seemed untouched except for patches of fur across his cheeks.
Charlie tried to say something, and must have remembered that he no longer had a voice. He struggled to stand up on all fours, human head grotesquely sprouting from a deer's neck. Fear left his eyes, and he actually grinned at Scott as the sparkles clustered around his face. Bad teeth straightened, and then pushed out as nose and mouth became a muzzle. Even after his head had fully changed, the boy seemed to be somehow amused, as if he were the butt of some inside joke. The sparkles rose up, stopping to form a crown of light around his skull. His large brown eyes showed confusion, and then faded into the empty innocence of an animal. The doe that had been Charlie blinked, and then bolted away for the trees.
Tears ran down Scott's face, and he realized that he had been holding his breath the whole time. Aching lungs drew attention away from his other problems temporarily, but memory of the boy's transformation provided a terrifying reminder. Sure enough, tugging his left shoe off revealed a swollen, dark mass instead of toes. It was hard to reach the middle of his back, but fingers reported thick, coarse fur instead of his normal body hair. He remembered a mirror in the small bathroom in back, but wasn't ready to see what had happened to his face. There was, of course, the first point of attack.
They weren't turning him into a doe. His sexual equipment was huge and dark, but it was still definitely male. It was not, however, human. Even after watching Charlie become a deer, Scott was shocked by the obvious transformation of his own body. What next? Would they make him a stag, perhaps even bond the two former humans as mates? Curiosity overcame fear, and he made his way to the tiny, dirty bathroom. It was getting dark, but enough light made it in through the windows for him to see his reflection.
His skull was wide and oddly flattened, obviously part animal. He tried to picture himself as a deer, antlers pushing out from his forehead, only to remember Charlie's eyes. The boy might still be alive out there, but everything that made him who he was had been snuffed out. They had killed him for no reason. The big question was, who and what were 'they.?'
Wilson's screaming came back to him, and he went back to the old man's chair. He'd seen the fantasy books before, of course. Many of them were his. He picked up one and saw that Wilson had scribbled on the cover. "Use Latin?' The book was Elf Defense, a modern fantasy story that Scott had read years ago. He frowned, trying to remember what it was about. The main character was a woman who did battle with the King of Elves. A woman lawyer. The Latin phrases had been used as a weapon against elves.
He picked up another book, this one covered with notes. 'Demons of the Dancing Gods.' Another modern fantasy, this one had references to cold iron and soul-stealing used to kill faerie. A quick check of the other volumes seemed to confirm his conclusions. Wilson had been collecting ways to kill elves and faeries from literature. Blinking, Scott stared out the window at the glowing swarm which had slowly made its way back towards the far side of the junkyard. Faerie? In this day and age? The idea was ludicrous. What else could they be? Space aliens? One theory made as much sense as another. And Charlie was still a doe, and he was still… what?
Human enough to drive, at least. Scott stumbled to the window and looked at the ground. The boy's clothing had been reduced to rags, but he could see change and what looked like some keys. There was an old red Ford sedan with current tags on it parked next to the wrecker. It had to be Charlie's. The swarm had vanished into the trees now. He could grab the keys and sneak over to the car. Wilson had gotten away, so maybe he could outrun them, too.
Scott opened the door carefully, and moved slowly to the tattered clothing. Luck was holding, for the keys bore a Ford logo. So far, there was no sign of the sparkling. He started for the car, hope rising. Scratching absently at an itchy ear, he eased the door open and climbed in. Damn. Dropped the key. He saw it on the floor and reached out, only to freeze when he realized that his hand was illuminated by a soft glow.
Raising it, he saw a tiny sparkle on the back of his fingers. It was like a butterfly made of spun, multicolored glass. There was another flicker in the rear view mirror, and he saw two more of the lights hovering by his right ear. If he concentrated, he could pick up an almost musical drone as they flickering around the side of his head. The sound started to increase, and he realized that his ear was actually lengthening. Hair spread across the edges, thickening as the tip reached slowly higher. There was something oddly sensual about this gradual transformation, quite different from the violent shocks he'd experienced before. The other ear was growing now, urged into a different shape by new sparkles. They were both fully animal now, the right ear larger than even the doe's had been.
A brighter glow drew attention back to his outstretched hand. The single butterfly had been joined by four others, and they danced over his dark, swollen fingers. He gazed at them in wonder, feeling delicate tendrils of light reach into his flesh and remold it, making it thick, and hard, and black. The sensation was warm and thrilling, unlike anything he had ever experienced before. No wonder Charlie had grinned just before…
Scott shook himself out of a daze, and batted the sparkles away with a cry. He groped for the keys, but couldn't close stiffened fingers around them. As he struggled, he felt the gentle touch return to his ears and start on the back of his neck. Shaking them off, he scrambled out of the car and slammed the door, trapping them inside. At least, some of them. The sun was going down, and it was much easier to see the telltale glow in the corner of his eye. Spinning, he swatted them again and ran for the office. His fingers hit the handle with a dull thud, and he had to use his other hand to grab the knob. Once inside, he slammed the door and ran for the bathroom to check for any passengers.
By now it was too dark to see much, but the darkness was actually reassuring. The sparkles would give themselves away if they came in here. Scott shivered as he felt the hard lump of his hand. An automatic glance down startled him, for the once-similar lump of his foot had become an almost fully-formed hoof. It hadn't split yet, but he knew what to expect. A familiar pressure started to build, and he pulled apart his almost ruined pants. This was what had started the trouble. At least there was a toilet here.
Not that it would do him any good. Scott stared at his crotch as a thick, black organ pounded out of what seemed to be an animal sheath. The shaft dropped down, proving to be mottled pink and black as a foreskin slid off the tip and drew back slightly. How had they gotten down there? He'd never seen them around his pants at all! He frowned. Sure, a buck was big. But this didn't look like anything he'd seen in pictures. He felt his back. The coarse hair had spread around to his sides and down his rump, and he discovered a thin projection of hairy flesh at the base of his spine. A tail?
Overwhelmed by morbid curiosity, he searched the shelves for some kind of light. Two flashlights both proved dead, but he finally found some candles and matches in a desk drawer. Fumbling awkwardly with stiff fingers, he managed to get one lit and carried it into the bathroom. The flickering light added a surrealistic touch to the already fantastic reflection.
How could he have missed this? Scott stared at himself, horrified and fascinated at the same time. He'd watched them alter his ears, and managed to ignore the changes to everything in between. A coarse thatch of black hair hung over a broad, flat forehead. His eyes had enlarged, and spread apart to make room for a much wider nose. Where the boy had retained his face until the end, Scott's head and features were probably more transformed than anything else, save his swollen genitals. At least he didn't have to worry about being mated with the boy, for it was already obvious that Scott was becoming some sort of donkey or mule.
What could he do? Even if nothing else happened, he had lost the use of his right hand and left foot. And his head was more deformed beast than human. Was there a way to change back? He thought frantically, trying to remember some of the books he'd read. They'd been entertainment, not something he'd taken seriously. Wilson had believed, though. He had damn good reason. Scott stared at the small bookcase, and shook his head. Of course! All the notes. The answer was probably scribbled on one of these books.
It was hard to read. He wanted to blame the candlelight, but knew it was at least partly due to his changed eyes. Even so, he managed to come up with a list of possible cures and protections. Most were useless. He didn't have any silver, and anything that lived in a junkyard had no problem with steel or iron. Latin phrases sounded promising, assuming he could remember anything in that language. Ironically, a scene from Disney's ancient 'The Shaggy Dog' came to mind, with the boy trying to figure out a Latin phrase that eventually turned him into a dog. En Canis Copore Transmuto. Or in this case, En Donkey Copore Transmuto. Whatever the Latin word for Donkey was.
A couple of the stories mentioned daybreak as a turning point. If the transformation had not been completed by sunrise, the victim returned to his or her natural form. That sounded more like vampire stories, but he was desperate. Vision blurred a bit more, and he finally gave up reading. It didn't matter. If he didn't avoid the creatures, he'd be finished regardless. At least he had a chance as long as he stayed away.
Scott blew out the candle, blinking in the sudden darkness. The wick faded, leaving only a single spark which drifted up into the air. Towards him. Backing up, he almost tripped on his pants, kicking them off over the fully-formed equine hoof on his left leg. The spark followed, avoiding the frantic waving of his hands, only to vanish in front of his nose. A pleasant pulsing expanded his face outward, his mouth and nose slowly expanding into a snout.
Batting at his nose was painful and ineffective. The damn thing was actually up inside his nostrils! The solution was simple, if accidental. His hoof-like hand bruised the tender flesh of his nose, and it started running. The sparkle got trapped in his snot, and wrapped up in a paper towel. At this rate, he wouldn't last another hour, much less all night. At least they hadn't attacked him in mass, like they had the boy.
Which was curious. Why this one-on-one bit? Or for that matter, why had they attacked Charlie at all? He'd just been standing there. A pang of remorse hit him. Of course. They had simply gone after the first human they found, thinking it was him. Scott should have become the doe, been the one who was swallowed up by animal instincts. Would the boy be happy as a doe? Charlie might find contentment in grazing, bearing young. More likely, he would end up as venison on the table of someone he knew.
Another flicker caught his eye, and he struggled to focus. Damn this blurred vision! Now it was getting hard to tell reflections in the glass from glimmers that could be coming to change him further. The building wasn't going to keep them out. He saw a couple of sparkles explore the window, and felt his stomach clench as one found a gap between the panels and floated in. Reluctantly, he moved to the front windows and looked off to the side.
The far end of the junkyard was bathed in a soft glow, with brighter flashes close to the ground. A faerie conference? Probably a report on him. So far, the main troops didn't seem to be very bright. They'd attacked the wrong human, and not even checked Scott out. A few seemed stubborn, doing their best to finish up what the big ugly bug in the woods had started. Their queen, he guessed. Literally pissed off at him. If she figured out the mistake, she'd send the troops after him. And a few knew where to look.
He twitched his tail nervously, and then grabbed suddenly at the new appendage. It was almost fully formed, thanks to a sparkle clinging tenaciously to the tuft of black hair on the tip. He dislodged it, and ran for the door. There were still only a few of the creatures around the office, and they didn't seem to move suddenly even when he stepped outside. Instead, they flickered into the building.
A closed car would be perfect. Charlie's Ford already had some of the creatures in it, and his own car was locked. Nothing else was intact enough to provide protection. The Lincoln! He turned suddenly and made his way towards a side path. There was a 1959 sedan in the back part of the yard that was weathertight enough to keep its upholstery clean and dry a decade after it was junked. Maybe it could protect him from the sparkles.
Reaching the car was harder than he expected. His right hand was a hoof now, and the equine left leg gave him a lopsided gait that was difficult to manage. Despite some rattling of old hubcaps and crackling of branches underfoot, none of the creatures followed him. When he finally spied the car, his heart sank. The rear window was gone, probably sold to a collector. Still, the sparkles hadn't found him so far. Maybe he could just stay back here.
He slumped to the ground, perversely grateful for the furred hide than now covered his buttocks. Leaning back against the car, he shut his eyes and tried to relax a little. Even sitting still, the sensations from his body were strange and different. The hoof on his leg, for example. It wasn't really numb, not completely. He could feel the coolness of the ground, even some of the texture. It was more like wearing really thick shoes. And the scents and sounds of the world around him had gotten more intense. This whole experience was terrifying, but he could almost enjoy it. If he could only shake the memory of Charlie's eyes.
A noise startled Scott awake, and he fought against the urge to break and run. How long had he been asleep? Quite a while, judging from the stiffness in his joints. There were no obvious changes to his body, so he'd remained undiscovered. So far. More noise from the woods. And then he saw the lights. Two, three, four bright blurs of light floated in the distance. Oh, God! Not the little ones, with their pleasant oblivion. Four like the first monster, all lightning bolts and pain.
He got up and tried to move quietly, but his deformed body betrayed him. A glass bottle shattered under the weight of his hoof, and the lights swung suddenly in his direction. He could hear faint shouting, deeper than the original. Kings instead of queens, maybe. There was no comfort in that, only memory of pain. He had a head start, but knew they would catch him quickly. There was only a moment of indecision, and then he struck out for the far corner of the yard.
It looked like he wouldn't make it at first, for the lights moved faster than he expected. But they faltered as he got closer to the fire trucks and actually vanished before he reached the clearing. He was surprised to see only a few of the sparkles floating around the trees. Where was the great swarm? One landed on his left hand, and he felt the touch of transformation begin. Better this exquisite pleasure than the brutal attacks. He could only hope they finished before the four big ones came back.
More tiny lights floated out of the tree, until a brilliant swarm formed around him. They seemed to flit about in an agitated state, and then clumped over his body with a sudden force that was terrifying and almost orgasmic at the same time. Scott fell forward as his body twisted and gained mass, catching himself on arms that were almost instantly forelegs. He felt huge and awkward, muscles pulling under unfamiliar skin.
They flew around his head now, finishing up the coarse muzzle, and turning his last soft moan into a coarse braying. Almost done now. He twisted around and looked at his massive, dark body. Some sort of monster jack mule, the kind they used to pull logs and wagons. He felt wonderful and terrible at the same time, enjoying the sensations of mass and strength while he struggled with a mind that couldn't quite decipher the equine body's signals.
This was why Charlie had grinned. He'd felt the battle between animal form and human mind, and reveled in the promise of fulfillment that the doe's soul had brought with it. A moment of confusion, and then a new life.
Why weren't they finishing? Scott looked around, but saw only a few sparkles around his head. The others were vanishing into the leaves, hiding from the dull orange glow of dawn. Dawn? His thoughts thickened as the stragglers did their best to complete the change, but he realized that the large lights hadn't come back to the clearing. If the little ones had to go back to the trees, why didn't the big ones?
He stood there, mentally stuck between mule and human, until the sun was peeking over the horizon. All of the creatures had vanished, except for one large and familiar bug that seemed to peer at him with beady eyes. Scott called out for it to finish him, to make him truly a mule. But all that came out was a low wheeze that echoed across the woods.
It vanished suddenly as shapes appeared in the trees. Scott tried to focus distorted eyesight, and finally made out four humans. As they got closer, he recognized the Wilsons. Another couple, not so old, looked at him hopefully. The woman, dark haired with bad teeth, came over to him. "Charlie?"
Wilson shook his head. "Sorry, Harriett. This is that fool what started everything. He was already part mule when he came back to the office."
"Maybe Charlie got away…?" Her voice trailed off as the older man shook his head.
"You saw the clothes. He's something big, probably a buck or a doe. Best we can do is spread the word, and hope he lasts a few seasons. Hell, four or five years might seem like a real full life to him."
The woman started sobbing, and fell against her grim husband. Scott felt sick. The boy's parent's obviously. He wanted to say he was sorry, to find some way to make up for the terrible mistake. There was no way, of course. The last touches of the sparkles had stripped away even the basic concepts of writing and speech, though he could understand the humans around him.
"Damn, I can't figure why he came back here." Wilson snorted in disgust. "When I saw him over by the car, I thought we'd be able to save at least one of them. It's like he wanted to be a damn mule."
Unable to respond, Scott looked around in confusion, and then felt a cold chill when he saw a large flashlight hanging from Wilson's waist. The others had them as well. Four people. Four lights in the darkness. He wanted to scream and cry, but could do neither. Salvation as a human or a mule had been minutes away. Now both would elude him forever. The great shaggy beast dropped its head and longed for the blissful emptiness of Charlie's eyes.