Elaine nervously turned the key in the lock and opened the door to her darkened home. The slightly cool night air gave way to the warm, musty smell of her home, a mixture of dog smells and spices from her kitchen. Even before she turned on the light, she could hear the steady thumping across the entryway tile. The quickly reached out and flipped on the switch.
Shadow was laying on the floor next to the stairs, his tail thumping in welcome on the wood floor. She set down the bag of groceries and the book bag she carried and stepped over to him. As she did, he raised his head off the floor, an invitation to be scratched.
"How are you doing, boy?" she asked as he licked her hand in response. She laughed a little. "Is that affection or the pizza I had for lunch?"
The big black Labrador simple kept licking her fingers.
She stood and anxiously picked up the bag from the entryway table and walked into the kitchen. She started setting the items on the countertop in anticipation of cooking them later. A steak, the thickest that she could find, sat under it's plastic membrane waiting to be cooked. The vegetables she dropped into a colander to clean in a little while. She pulled out the two bottles of wine from the bag and set them aside.
She could never remember what kind of wine to serve with steak. No matter, though. Her guest had never had wine before. He might want to try both.
She heard the slight click of nails on the white tile floor, followed quickly by Shadow nuzzling her leg. She looked down into his pleading eyes and smiled. Over the years, he had begging down to an art form. His one problem was that he didn't know when to quit. He kept the same look on his face no matter how much you gave him.
She scratched his head and he closed his eyes in thanks. "Don't worry, Shadow, you'll get your share."
Shadow started wagging his tail at the sound of her voice.
With a final pat, she pulled her hand away. She looked down to see that he had resumed begging as she put the rest of the groceries away. She intended to ignore it, but in the end, she relented and handed a small piece of meat to him. He scarfed it down gratefully and looked back at her like a starving puppy.
She sighed. "You're incorrigible. Hopefully that won't be the same later." She walked back to the entry and picked up the book bag. She could hear Shadow following her slowly as she walked into the living room and took a seat on the couch. As usual, Shadow jumped onto the sofa next to her and laid his head in her lap. She absently started petting it as she opened the book to the page she had inserted the red leather bookmark into earlier.
She read the page once more, looking for anything that she might have missed. She wasn't sure if she could believe what she was reading, but after years of being alone, save for her companion Shadow, she was willing to try almost anything. She bent down and kissed her dog on the head, patted him once more, and then concentrated on saying aloud the words in the ancient book.
She concentrated hard on the words, hoping with each syllable that she was pronouncing them right. She focused solely on the yellowed page, the slightly faded letters, and never wavered. After only a minute, a minute that seemed oddly longer, it was done. As per the final instruction printed, she slammed the tome closed and dropped it to the floor.
For a moment, she felt drained. It was a fleeting feeling, though, that left her an instant later. Slowly, she lowered her gaze down to the form laying half asleep in her lap. Despite what she expected, it was still a shock.
Where Shadow had been a moment ago lay a young, black hared man. With a quivering voice, she stammered "Shadow?"
The man's eyes slowly came open. For a moment, he lay perfectly still. Elaine noted that he even seemed to hold his breath. Abruptly he pulled himself into a crouched position on the sofa next to here and silently began looking at his hands. He turned them over and over again, tracing the fingerprints with his eyes. A light seemed to dawn in those brown eyes and he twisted around, seeming to confirm that he no longer had a tail. He turned back and looked at Elaine with a look of panic. "What happened?" he asked.
Elaine smiled, still herself a little in shock that the spell had actually worked. According to the words written on the page of that leather bound tome, the animal changed to human would become something of a match for the person that changed it. The animal would gain the spell casters level of intelligence and many of her abilities, but would retain whatever general personality that it had. The two words that he spoke seemed to confirm the first part, to a degree. She silently prayed that it would all be true.
She reached out to him and hugged him tightly. "I made you human, Shadow."
Still confused, he asked "Why?"
Elaine drew back slightly and regarded her companion. "Because you've always been more than just a pet to me. I wanted to give you more." As he regarded her with those same, brown, pleading eyes, she sighed slightly, "And, because I wanted you to be more than a dog."
He looked at his hands again, and then sniffed the air. "I can't smell anything." He said in a dull monotone. "I'm cold."
For the first time, Elaine realized that he was naked and she took a wool blanket from a nearby chair and wrapped him in it. He started feeling his face with his new hands, seeming to take inventory of his lost features. As he did so, Elaine had a sickening feeling growing in her stomach. She looked at his eyes, as expressive at they ever were, and tears started to roll down her cheeks.
Shadow looked at her and gently asked, "What's wrong?"
"You're mad." She said quietly. "I've done something terrible."
Now, it was his turn to hug her, and he embraced her lovingly. "I'm not mad. Confused, perhaps, but not mad."
Her tears stopped rolling, "You're not?"
He smiled lightly, "No."
She looked into his eyes a long time, realization dawning in hers. "But, you didn't want this."
He sat back a little on the sofa. "Elaine, a few minutes ago, I couldn't have even conceived of this. I was more interested in getting you to give me more of that steak than anything else." He stopped, seeming to weigh the words he was about to use. "But. . .but now that I can understand it, I don't want to be like this."
"But, why? I thought that you would love it."
"Let me put it to you this way." he said gently, "How would you have reacted if I had made you a dog?"
She looked at him for a long time, her mouth slowly dropping open as the thoughts raced through her head. Abruptly, the dam burst and she broke down in loud sobs. Stunned, Shadow couldn't think of anything else to do but hold her tightly until she regained control of herself.
After a couple of minutes, she said between sobs, "My God. . .I'm sorry. . .Shadow. I had. . .no idea. . .I'm sorry. . "
Without knowing why, Shadow began to rock her back and forth slightly, running a hand back and forth along her upper back as she slowly calmed down. She pulled back a little and looked him in the eyes. "You're not mad at me?" she asked, again.
Shadow smiled lightly. "No. I can never be mad at you. I may look like a man, but I still have the soul of that four legged thing that walked around here before. As a dog, I loved you unconditionally, and even if I didn't realize it, I always knew you had the best of intentions. I still do."
She smiled, her eyes red from crying. "I'm sorry." She whispered again.
"Don't be. You never have to apologize to me. Besides, you can always just turn me back, and all will be right."
As a dog, he had been an expert at sensing emotions. He could tell when Elaine was in a good mood or bad and anything in between. Looking into her eyes, she saw the growing panic behind them. He sensed her struggle. He closed his own eyes as he realized what it was she wanted to tell him, but couldn't.
"You can't change me back, can you?" he asked.
That brought a new flood of tears as he held her again. He rocked her back and forth a long time, but every time she seemed to regain her composure, there was a new flood of tears. He started whispering into her ear, "It's all right, don't worry. It's all right."
It took her nearly an hour to cry herself out. She had pent up so much emotion over her years of loneliness that it all seemed to come out in that one burst of regret. She wanted to be able to turn back time, to put right what she had done to her one true friend.
Shadow merely wanted her to stop crying. His heart was a little heavy about his loss, but he was being honest when he told it was all right. He knew that she didn't do anything out of malice, and he couldn't conceive of ever hating her for it.
She finally stopped crying, her eyes puffy and red. She looked at him again, with pleading eyes. "Can you forgive me?"
"Elaine, I'm being honest with you. There isn't anything to forgive. I'm not mad. I know why you did it, and I suppose that if our situations were reversed I'd have done the same. Please, it looks like we are going to be companions for a long time, now. Let's not start with you thinking I'm mad."
For the first time, he stood comfortably on two legs, surveying his new limbs, stretching new muscles. He looked toward the kitchen. "If memory serves, you came in with a bag of food. I seem to recall smelling a steak in there. Am I safe in assuming that it was dinner?"
She smiled for the first time in over an hour, seeing her first opportunity to apologize in some small way for what she had done, even if it wasn't required. "Yes! It is dinner! Care to give me a hand at cooking it?" she asked as she stood from the couch, wiping her cheeks.
He smiled, "I'll try. I've never cooked before, though."
"You've never walked and talked either, and you seem to be doing that pretty well."
He nodded, "Good point. Why don't you get started. I'll be right behind you in a minute."
She nodded and hurried to the kitchen, leaving him standing in the living room. After she left, he knelt to the floor in the closest approximation of a dogs stance that he could now manage. He tried to turn himself back, tried as hard as he could to imagine himself a dog again, but failed.
With a sigh he stood, brushed the stray black hairs off his bare knees, and walked into the kitchen.