"I can't believe that you wanted to come here," muttered Alan as he kicked a stone across the dirt road. "This is worse than a county fair."
Angelica sighed and hugged herself a little closer to him. "Oh come on, it's fun. Loosen up!" She started pointing around the park at the brightly colored tents and banners set in the overgrown pasture. "How could you not have fun at a Renaissance Fair!"
He rolled his eyes. "Watch me." He knew that even Angelica would admit that this fair was cheesy as hell if she hadn't insisted on being here. It was being put on by a local community theater group, most of whom would have had trouble finding Europe on a map. If he didn't care so much for her, he'd never have agreed to come in the first place. He wasn't above complaining, though.
Alan felt his arm being pulled to the side as Angelica spotted something. "Oh! A fortune teller! Lets go in!"
"Whatever," he muttered quietly. She shot him a dirty look, but he put on a happy face, "What?"
There was no line at the fortune teller's tent, marked only by a huge palm painted on a half sheet of plywood. Angelica parted the glittering orange curtains and stepped through the beads that hung behind them. The tent was dim, lit only by the sunlight that fought through the thick cloth walls. Pillows and blankets covered the floor, giving the illusion of plushness. They piled up high around a low, circular table in the center of the room, itself covered by a blue and gold cloth. There was no sign of the fortune teller, though.
"No one home?" asked Alan hopefully.
There was the loud rustle of curtains and a stout woman stepped through. She hid her blond hair under a long, badly made black wig and her pasty white features were darkened by a combination of make-up and the dim light. "Welcome to Madam… Zuzkas!" she exclaimed in an incredibly fake Hungarian accent. "Sit! Sit!" They sat down on the pillows. "Welcome! Welcome!" she exclaimed.
"Thanks you, thank you," replied Alan with more than a trace of sarcasm.
It was lost on the fortune teller. "Two young lovers, I see!" she said happily. She held out a hand. "If you cross my palm with silver, I may tell you your future."
Alan grudgingly reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a silver token. They'd been told that modern currency wouldn't be accepted by any of the vendors, only these Renaissance bucks that cost an American dollar each. He put the battered silver coin in her hand. "There you go." He grinned. "Will I be rich or beautiful?"
The woman arched an eyebrow at him. "A disbeliever? Well, I'll reveal your fortune to you, but only without interruption!" she quickly tugged on the blue and gold sheet over the table, revealing a chipped crystal ball. "You two love each other deeply," she said mysteriously. "You two will meet a great challenge in the near future," she muttered mysteriously. "I see that your relationship will be tested, tested like you never expected."
"How does it come out?" asked Angelica with a trace of wonder in her voice. Alan couldn't believe that she was buying into this!
"That I cannot see," she replied.
"What causes it?" she asked.
"Oh come on, Angelica!" muttered Alan. "Don't tell me you believe this crap."
The fortune teller looked at him archly, then looked back at her crystal ball. "It's caused by… It's caused by…" she repeated dramatically. "It's caused by your boyfriend being a jackass, that's what," she said archly, dropping the fake accent. With that, she got up and walked out.
Alan was left with Angelica staring daggers at him. "What? What'd I do?"
"Forget it," she muttered as she walked out of the tent. Alan followed her and gripped her by the arm. She stopped and turned. "It would be nice if you could at least play along for a few minutes!"
Alan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He didn't really care about this fair, but he did love her. No point in letting his miserableness prevent her from having a good time. He decided to just give in and make life easier. "Okay," he said sweetly, "I'm sorry. I'll give it a chance at the next booth."
Having won a minor victory, she allowed herself a smile. "That's all I wanted to hear. How about lunch?"
"Do they have rat on a stick?"
She shot him a withering look, but didn't say anything.
"Step right up and test your own strength in this ancient game!" yelled a man in a shiny vinyl jerkin.
"Oh, lets go over there!" said Angelica as she tugged Alan.
Alan followed, but grinned a little lopsided. "Aren't carnival barkers of the wrong era?" he asked.
"Oh, just come on and lets see what it's all about."
They walked over to the platform where the portly man was yelling into the crowd. "Do I have volunteers to try this ride out? Any volunteers?" He pointed at a couple of teenagers. "You two? How about it? Ready to try your hand and testing your own strength like they used to do in old Germany?"
The two kids didn't want to get involved, so the barker turned his attention to Alan. "How about you, sir? Care to try your luck?"
Alan almost begged off, but he felt Angelica stiffen next to him. Reluctantly, he sighed, "Okay, sure."
The mans face brightened a bit. "Wonderful! Wonderful! Let me take you behind the curtain where my assistant will show you the device!" Angelica tried to follow, but he stopped her. "No, no! No one else. You'll see him again in a moment." The barker then whisked Alan behind the blood red curtain.
He wasn't sure what he was expecting, really. One of those carnival things that you hit with a mallet and it rang a bell perhaps, or a set of fake weights. What he say almost made him laugh out loud. "A spinning wheel?" he asked sputtering. "You're kidding!"
The man tried to grin a little. "It's not a spinning wheel. It's a challenge wheel!" He caressed the wood with his hand. It looked like an old fashioned ships wheel without the hand grips. "In fact, it's even an antique! We got a bunch of stuff on loan from a collector to use. This ones the oldest artifact at the fair."
Alan sighed. The wheel looked antique enough, but he was sure it was just an oversized spinning wheel. "Fine, fine, what do I do?" he asked, thinking more of Angelicas anger if he backed out now rather than how idiotic he'd look on this thing.
The man pushed him toward the wheel, which was easily as tall as Alan and made with thick, heavily oiled wood. "Just climb on and hang onto the spokes. I'll spin the wheel faster and faster until you fall off."
Alan looked at him dumbfounded. "You're kidding? What kind of stupid strength test is that?"
The man rolled his eyes and leaned in, dropping his friendly demeanor. "Look, sir, be a jackass if you want but I've been trying to get someone to ride this thing for an hour. Get on, or get lost."
Grumbling a little, Alan climbed onto the side of the wheel. A rope tied to a post kept it from rotating while another rope was coiled at the floor tied to a pulley that apparently turned the thing. He gripped the bare wood hard, deciding that he would fall off as soon as possible. He didn't feel like breaking an arm just to please Angelica.
The curtain was pulled apart by another pulley, and the barker stood again on the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to show you a test of strength the likes of which hasn't been seen in hundreds of years." He waved back toward Alan, "This man will hold on as he is spun as fast as possible!"
To say the crowd was apathetic was an understatement; A few people even left. Alan felt like doing that himself, but he could see Angelica's face in the small crowd and didn't want to hear anything from her. But after this stupid ride, he was definitely out of here.
The barker continued. "I will just pull this rope," he said as he started to pull it. It was slow at first, Alan had to be pulled to the top of the wheel, but in seconds he was going faster and faster. The world was becoming a blur as he spun once, then twice.
The blood was rushing so fast to his head that he didn't notice what was happening at first. He was dimly aware of people yelling from the crowd, but couldn't make out their words. His chest felt tight, and soon so did his trousers. Alan started to feel panicked, but he couldn't unlock his fingers from the post. It was like they were stuck there. The wheel seemed to spin faster with every turn, his body feeling heavier and heavier.
Suddenly, his fingers came loose from the wheel and Alan was flung across the ground. He rolled heavily into one of the thick wooden rods that held up the awning, toppling it. Alan lay under the toppled awning, breathing hard. He didn't feel any pain, but he certainly didn't feel right.
There were hands groping over his head. "Alan? You okay?" he heard his girlfriend ask in a deeply concerned voice. She tugged at the heavy cloth, trying to get it off of him. "Alan?"
He tried to pull himself to his feet, but his legs didn't seem to be working right. Neither did his hands when he tried to rub his face. The fingers were completely numb. "I don't know. Something's definitely not right."
"Pull back that awning!" he head the barker yell to some unseen hands.
All of a sudden, Alan was flung back into the light. Angelica was standing close by, and took a step forward before recoiling back in shock. "Oh my God! What happened to you?!"
Alan looked down at himself, and felt his world start to drop away. His stomach twisted, and his skin rose up in goosebumps. Goosebumps that caused every one of the new gray hairs on his body to stand straight on end. His hands were nearly fully formed hooves, although his arms were only slightly altered. He turned his head back and looked to his legs and it became clear what was wrong. His familiar, human legs had burst out of his pants and been replaced by those of a horse!
Angelica looked near hysterics. "What happened? What did you do?!" she screamed. The barker and some of the other fair staff and patrons had started to gather around. Some, the ones that had been there at the beginning, were bewildered by what they had seen. The ones who wandered in now had wide grins. They all thought that it was an elaborate costume.
Alan looked fearfully around him and did the only thing that he could: panic. He rolled up onto his legs and started running for the nearby forest. He ignored the shouts from behind him as he broke through the line of tents, falling to his face as his arms gave out. They simply weren't able to hold the weight of a rushing horse, and they were too short. Alan managed to scramble back up and kept running by doing a bizarre hop, pushing off with his hind legs and catching himself with his useless hands before he slammed his face into the dirt. He reached the treeline and used his legs to leap over the tall bushes that blocked his path.
On the other side, he picked himself up from his bloody fall and stumbled into the woods.
Alan moved as fast as he could until he reached a small stream. Stopping there, he bent his body down so that he could get a drink. He stopped when he saw his reflection, realizing for the first time that his ears had also been changed. They were huge. They looked like radar masts pointed straight ahead. The ears of a donkey, not a horse. He tried to rotate them, but no luck. Whatever muscles and nerves were needed for that hadn't been included in this. Whatever the hell this was.
Sorrowfully, he bent down the last few inches and began to drink deeply from the stream. Alan had trouble getting enough water in. It seemed like the more he drank, the thirstier he got. He was gulping down the water as fast as he could, barely able to breath at the same time. When he had finally sated his thirst, a ravenous hunger set in. He started looking for something to eat.
He didn't search long before he found a wild raspberry bush nearby. He first devoured as many ripe berries as he could find, then started on the unripe. Still starving, he was eating leaves before he realized it. Finally giving into the depth of the hunger, he flopped down to the ground and started eating all the grass that he could. His mouth just wasn't big enough, his teeth not designed for this kind of thing. His jaws ached, and he gagged from the horrible taste.
It was over an hour of non-stop eating before he was able to stop and try to take stock of things. He looked over his body again. From the middle of his chest and back he was virtually indistinguishable from a donkey. He tried to remove the T-shirt that he was wearing, but just couldn't do it. He had no fingers to grip it. His hindquarters were about the right size, and the trunk of his body tapered down quickly at the middle of his rip cage. Grey fur covered his body up the his shoulders, which were twisted in an odd way. His arms were still almost human, slightly misshapen but furless, but his hands were utterly gone. Hooves ended where fingers should be. He already knew that his neck and head were almost unchanged, save for his ears.
Alan felt tears well up in his eyes. He didn't understand what had happened to him. People didn't change like this! It had to be a dream, or a nightmare. Then it came to him: that stupid ride! He must have fallen off and nailed his head into a rock or something! He had to be in a coma!
For a little while, he actually felt better to think that way. Being in a coma in a hospital was preferable to this.
He rolled himself back up to his hooves and went back toward the stream. The thirst was back.
Alan woke the next morning cold and in deep pain. His arms, face and particularly his jaw hurt like hell. Slowly, he opened his eyes to find himself still sitting in the middle of the forest. The expected hospital room didn't materialize, and he had never felt this much pain in a dream.
He looked over his body. Despite the muddy hindquarters and scratches all over himself, he was definitely unchanged, in either direction. At least it wasn't going forward.
He didn't have time to think much else before his stomach rumbled. He walked quickly over to the largest patch of grass that he could find and began eating. His body was easily three times his former weight, and he was finding it hard to fill it with enough grass to satisfy.
Alan was still ravenously eating when he heard a startled intake of breath behind him. He paused only a moment to look back. It was Angelica. "Oh God, what happened to you?" she asked quietly, as if she expected he couldn't answer. She had the same shocked look that she'd had at the fair. It seemed that she thought that it was all a dream or prank too, until this moment.
Alan forced himself to stop eating long enough to look up at her again. He swallowed and took in a deep breath. "I don't know. But I'm not doing so good." He reached down his head and pulled in another mouthful, swallowing it as fast as he could. "I'm so hungry, so thirsty."
Angelica hesitantly moved forward to her boyfriends side and rubbed his fur a little absently. "I'm so sorry, Alan. I pushed you into this."
Alan just gave her a sidelong glance. He wasn't entirely sure that she wasn't involved somehow. She seemed so insistent to get him on the ride. Then the thought occurred to him: the wheel! It could turn him back. He swallowed the lump of grass. "What'd they do with that wheel?" he asked.
She looked taken aback by the question, then shrugged. "I think that one of the carnival people took it with them." She looked near tears, "Oh Alan, what are we going to do?"
Angelica looked so pitiful right then that he wished he could hug her. "I don't know, but I don't think I can stay out here. Aren't there other people looking for me?"
She shook her head. "I think they all convinced themselves that it was a prank. Even the guy with the wheel. No one is sure how you did it, either."
Alan grunted and swallowed another mouthful of grass. He felt the sodden lump pass down his throat and he resisted the urge to gag. "I wish I knew. But someone has to know something."
There was silence between them as he continued to eat. Hesitantly, Angelica knelt down beside him. "We have to get you home, Alan. We can figure things out from there."
He snorted, "Home? I live in an apartment and you in a tract house! I don't think we can keep me hidden in either place!" He paused, "You're sure that no one is looking for me? Maybe even waiting at my place?"
She shook her head, seeming distracted. "I doubt it. No one you knew saw you at the fair. At least, I don't think so." She ran her fingers though his fur a little, but said nothing else.
Finally, a thought connected in his head. "Shea!" he exclaimed.
"Huh? Who's Shea?"
Alan smiled for the first time since this happened. "My Aunt Shea! She's got a vacation place up near Lake Kindel! We can go up there until we figure this out."
Angelica forced a slight smile. "Yeah, that sounds good." She stood up and opened her purse. "I'll go get your truck and we can go up there." She stopped and looked at him. "But what are we supposed to do?"
Alan couldn't shrug, so he approximated it by tossing his head. "How am I supposed to know? Maybe you can drop me off and then find the people from the carnival."
Angelica nodded absently again. He kinda felt sorry for her. This was a rather odd thing to have to deal with, even if she wasn't the one transformed. She left the small clearing to get his truck and he made his way toward an old fire road nearby. He ate as much as he could as he walked. As he got closer to the road, he felt a familiar, but odd pressure in his bowels. Without thinking, he lifted his tail and let drop more manure than he'd ever had come out of him in his life.
He tried not to think about it, but just stepped away. He almost walked right into Angelica who was watching with wide eyed shock. They didn't exchange any words, she just opened the back of the Ford Explorer and helped him in. Alan discovered quickly that there was a reason that people didn't transport horses this way. His hindquarters were crammed into the back cargo area, while his front half was laying atop the folded down rear seats. It was going to be a long trip to his aunts cabin.
Angelica tossed a blanket over him to hide his condition from prying eyes and then slid into the drivers seat. She hadn't said a word to him since they parted back in the clearing. "What's wrong, sweetheart?" he asked.
She glanced into the rearview mirror, tears streaming down her face. "My boyfriends is a freak, that's what's wrong!" she exploded suddenly. "How am I supposed to love you like that?"
He blinked a couple of times in surprise. "It's not like this is permanent!" he said hopefully. "I'm sure that it'll wear off or something. Or we'll find out what caused it!" he said with far more confidence than he felt.
She just looked at him again in the mirror, crying.
They drove like that for two hours before Alan felt his stomach rumble. He tried not to think about it, but his body was demanding food very loudly. He couldn't ignore it long. "We've got to stop for food," he said, finally breaking the silence.
"I can't believe that you're thinking about your stomach right now!" she said hysterically. "Don't you give a damn what I'm going through right now?"
He started at her eyes in the mirror. "Angelica, I'm starving. Literally. This body needs a hell of a lot of food…"
Suddenly, she slammed on the brakes and wheeled the car over to a highway exit. Alan was tossed around in the back, unable to brace himself well without working hands and arms. His girlfriend wordlessly drove up the off ramp, then into the parking lot of a convenience store. She got out and slammed the door behind her.
Alan stared at her as she stalked off. Somehow, she was making this his fault. He wasn't sure anymore just how much he cared for her. The first rough patch, admittedly a strange one, and she gets hysterical! Alan passed the time seething and examining his hoof. It was a good, sturdy hoof…
The back door opened and Angelica dumped a bag out. "Here." She slammed the door closed again.
Alan looked at the pile of colored wrappers on the seat back. It wasn't what he would have bought, that was for sure. It looked like she'd dumped a few boxes of candy out, then raided the granola bars from the place. As she climbed into the drivers seat, he looked up. "How am I supposed to open these?" he asked. When he saw the look she shot him in the mirror, he didn't press the point.
Now, lamented Alan, I feel sick.
He'd finally managed to figure out how to hold the wrappers and pull them open with his teeth. He'd sated his hunger first on the granola bars, then started on the Milky Ways, the Reeses cups and a pile of peppermint patties. They had all gone down well, much better than the grass had. But now his stomach was churning in a bad way. "Angelica, can you find a place to pull over?"
"Fine," she snapped. "I'm sure you'd just shit in the car if I didn't."
He let it pass, again, because she was already pulling the car into a turnoff. "Thanks, sweetheart," he said bitterly.
She ignored him as she backed the Ford up on the turnoff so that the backdoors were masked by the trees and bushes along the road. She walked to the back and pulled open the door. "Need help getting out?" she asked.
He shook his head shortly. "No, I'm fine. Just stand back." He probably did need help, but wasn't about to ask her for it. He worked his way backward as quickly as he could. He was already feeling the contents of his stomach start to churn up. His hindquarters slipped off the top of the bumper, and their weight pulled him to the ground and the rest of the way out of the Explorer.
Angelica watched long enough to make sure that he didn't break his neck, then turned. "I'm going to pretend to be watching the scenery. Just climb in when you're done."
Alan didn't watch her walk off, but hobbled into the trees. His whole body felt stiff and painful. It was hard to walk at all, much less over this rough terrain. He got several yards from the truck before his guts finally had enough. He started throwing up, spilling out all of the food that he'd eaten earlier. Even as the food left his stomach, he could feel the hunger starting to return. Almost as soon as he managed to take care of the last of the heaves, he went straight for the grass again.
He was scarfing that down when he heard the second car pull up onto the turnout. Fearful about being seen, he peered carefully over the top of the bushes. A state trooper had pulled in right in front of his truck. He'd have to wait until it was gone before he could leave himself.
The trooper got out of his car and went straight for Angelica, who was leaning on the front bumper. "Miss, do you know this is for emergencies only?"
She looked at him and nodded. "I know, I just need to take a little break. It's been a long, rotten drive."
The trooper just nodded. "Miss, there is a rest area about three miles from here. Why don't you just go down the road a ways to that. It's really not all that safe here."
Alan expected her to make up a story, or at least claim that she would in a minute. To his surprise, she just shrugged and started for the drivers seat. "Of course, officer. I'll do that. Thanks."
Alan watched in disbelieve as his girlfriend and his car pulled away from the turnout, followed by the trooper. He was suddenly alone again.
Alan waited for hours.
Hidden by the small grove of trees and bushes from the highway, he waited for Angelica to come back around. He fully expected that she would go down the highway and circle back. When dusk finally started to fall, he realized that wasn't going to happen.
Alan resigned himself to the fact that he was now alone, utterly. He tried to pinpoint where he was. He knew that they were less than an hours drive from the cabin when he got out of the truck, but that was along roads. The country road that went there rounded widely around a national park. He was probably less than 20 miles from the cabin, but it was a rough 20 miles.
Staying to the trees, Alan started for the small rest area he'd heard the trooper mention hours before. He slowly threaded his way along the highway. He was finding walking a lot easier now, that was for sure. He was still clumsy, but he wasn't falling on his face. He just had to compensate for his arms being too short for the body, though he could have sworn that they had been shorter before.
He had no idea what time it was when he finally stumbled into the rear of the rest stop. From the light traffic, he figured it was around midnight. The rest area wasn't completely deserted, either. A couple of semis were parked at the far end, a small sedan right behind them. Frantically, he looked around for his truck. He had been holding out the slight hope that Angelica was waiting for him, but no luck.
The rest of the place was as basic as they come. A small cinderblock building made up a filthy bathroom with a water fountain behind it. A small grassy area and a few benches made the attempt to look like a picnic area complete. It was definitely a place for people who were not planning on staying.
That's when Alan spotted something he could use. With a shuffling trot, he hurriedly made his way across the grass to the shadows of the bathroom. Under a burned out light, he found a telephone. He propped his forehooves on the steel shelf under it and knocked the receiver loose. He pushed the "0" button with his nose, then fell back to all fours. He couldn't cradle the phone properly in this position, so he tried to just talk into the phone and use these ears of his to hear. He got the operator to place a collect call for him.
The phone rang a few times, then he heard it pick up. "Hello?" asked a tired voice.
"Angelica!" yelled Alan, suddenly far more angry than he realized. "Where the hell are you?"
There was a short pause. "Alan?"
He grumbled. "Who the hell else would it be?" he thundered. "You left me by the side of the God damned road!"
"What was I supposed to do?!" she shouted back, angry herself. "That cop wanted me to move!"
"You could have come back!" he yelled. "God damn it, it's your fault I'm in this mess!"
"Oh fine, blame me like you always do!" she paused on the line, then Alan could hear her sobbing. "I can't do this, Alan. I can't deal with it. Just leave me alone. Leave me alone." She sobbed again and hung up.
Alan stared at the phone receiver dumbly. He was the one that had been turned into a freak of nature, what the hell was her problem? All she had to do was get him to the cabin. Depressed, he let out a long, slow sigh and felt his ears droop down.
Startled, his ears shot back straight up. Alan felt a rock in his stomach as he tried to move his ears again. With effort, he found himself able to rotate them slowly, droop them down and pick them back up.
All things he had been unable to do this morning.
A shaft of light suddenly shone right into his eyes. "What the hell?" he heard a man utter in surprise. Alan couldn't see the man holding the flashlight, but could see the state police cruiser parked nearby. He'd been so engrossed in his thoughts that he hadn't heard it pull in! "Who…? What the hell are you?" asked the trooper, amazed.
Alan stared at the light only a moment longer. He tried to imagine how to explain all this to the trooper without ending up dead or in a zoo.
Nothing came to mind.
Without a word, he spun on his hind legs and tried to bolt for the edge of the woods. He heard the trooper shout after him a couple of times, but not the sound of pursuing footsteps. In a flash, he was through the edge of the trees. He ran as fast as he could though the thick woods, stumbling more times than he could count over roots and rocks. Amazingly, he didn't break an arm or a leg. He ran blindly for several minutes until he was forced to slow down. Exhausted, he simply collapsed onto the ground and sobbed.
The sun was already far above the horizon by the time Alan woke the next morning. The chill of the night air was nearly gone and the birds and animals were active again. He blinked a few times and shook his head, resigned to the fact now that this was no dream, no coma.
He was more than a little surprised that he hadn't been found by the state police by now. He'd been asleep for hours in the woods, and he knew that his misshapen legs and blind run through the woods couldn't have carried him far from the rest area. In the distance, he could even make out the sounds of passing cars on the highway. It was a few minutes before he came to the realization that no one was looking for him. Angelica probably hoped that he'd never turn up again, and that trooper probably put in for a vacation when his shift was over rather than try to describe what he saw.
After all, Alan thought bitterly, there was no way he could have seen a half man, half donkey run into the forest.
He laid his head on the ground, feeling the cool earth against his human and donkey skin. A fly landed on the tip of an ear, and it moved reflexively. More than ever, he needed to come up with something. He had to do something.
With a grunt, he twisted his head around and tried to take stock of things. It didn't look like he'd changed more during the night, but he was certainly banged up. His skin was black and blue all over from the falls, and there were dark scabs raked across his donkey hide. All in all, his body seemed functional at the least.
What Alan needed right now was directions. He knew about where he was, the cabin and the solitude that he needed to think was just a few miles away as the crow flies, but that was across dozens of large farms and ranches, major roads and small towns. He rubbed his chin with a forehoof. He wasn't getting anywhere sitting here. He pulled himself up to all fours and checked the sun, still climbing in the sky. Grimly, he set off for the horizon.
Despite everything, Alan made good time though the woods. His front legs, he had a hard time thinking of them as arms anymore, were easy to use with a lot of practice. Practice he got, too. He came to the edge of the forest after about an hour of walking. Farms dotted the landscape after that point. The smells of nearby ranches came to his nose from across the valley. He followed the edge of the forest for the rest of the afternoon, stopping only to drink at streams that tasted of pesticides and eat where he could hide his bulk. Alan knew that he'd been lucky so far. Since the trooper the night before, it seemed that he had managed to get away unseen.
He stopped to rest in a thicket behind a small dairy farm as the sun began to set. He had to cut across some of these farms now, he knew. The edge of the national forest was nearby, and he could travel through there straight to the edge of the lake. From there, the cabin was easy to find. He even knew where his aunt kept the key.
He waited in the thicket for the sun to go down. He'd been trying to answer one question all day. What next? Once he got to safety, he would be still be half an ass. He had to find what had changed him, find what was responsible. He hoped that by the time he got to the cabin Angelica would be more willing to talk. He needed her to do some leg work, find the man with the spinning wheel. That had to be the key.
The sun finally dropped below the horizon. Alan waited about half an hour more so most people would have finally gone inside. He skirted the edge of a dairy and headed across a field on a neighboring farm that had been left to fallow. The weeds were thick in the soft earth, making it hard to walk. Alan had to keep pulling his hooves out of the ground. It took much longer to cross the field that he had intended, and the time spent in the open, even with the moon only a sliver, was more than Alan wanted right now. He was deeply relieved when he was finally to the end of the field, a large barn between him and the house.
A wayward scent made his stomach growl. He walked along the edge of the barn to the source and found a couple of enormous plastic bins, lids tightly in place, pushed against the outside wall. It almost smelled like granola inside. Hungry, Alan tried to open one of the boxes. The latches were not locked, but were definitely not easy to open without hands. He gripped one plastic latch in his teeth and pulled, feeling it pop easily. He repeated it on the second latch and shoved it off with his face.
It was a lot of work for what he saw in the dim light. Mounds of sweet smelling food. Alan felt his mouth water, and he dug his face in without any more hesitation. He was only barely conscious of the fact that he'd gone completely animal in his eating habits in just hours.
"Hey!" came a shout from nearby, "Get the hell away from there!" Alan looked up to see a middle aged man running toward him and waving his hands. Now, when Alan pulled his head out of the bin, the man got a more complete look at his dinner guest and skidded to a stop. "What the hell?" he said incredulously.
Alan decided to take that moment and run. In his own rising panic, though, he stumbled over his own forelegs and fell face first onto the gravel. He pushed his body up, but found himself looking at the business end of a rusty pitchfork. "What the hell are you?" asked the farmer, who seemed far more curious than scared.
Alan felt his throat tighten. "Please, I'm a man, not an animal or monster. Please, just let me go." His voice cracked, and all he could manage were sobs.
The farmer looked steely eyed at him. It was clear that this was a man that trusted what he could see to be real, until now. He just gripped the pitchfork a little tighter. "Not until we get this sorted out." He seemed to think a little, then motioned with the pitchfork. "Into the barn."
Not having any way to escape, Alan meekly did what he was told. He walked ahead of the farmer and into the darkened barn. He heard the man flip a switch and the building was filled with dim light from bare bulbs in the ceiling. He paused at the junction between the two halves of the barn, going only when the farmer jutted his pitchfork to the left. Sobbing slightly, he entered an empty stall.
The farmer stepped in behind him and Alan saw something shiny in his hands. He fell to a crouch when he saw that it was a knife! Instead of the pain that he expected, though, he felt the old farmer slice through the back of his t-shirt and pull it off of him. The man ran his fingers over the bare pink skin around Alan's shoulders and back to the gray fur. "Whadya know," he mumbled. He stood quickly walked out, slamming the door behind him. The farmer left a moment, then came back with a padlock, completely shutting Alan in.
Plaintively, Alan looked up at the man. With his shirt gone, he felt all the more like an animal, his only covering his fur. "Please, don't do this to me. I have to find the person that did this and get turned back."
The farmer looked at him suspiciously. "We'll figure this out in the morning," he said simply. He tugged at the latch to make sure it was secure, then left the barn.
Alan was suddenly plunged into darkness. For the third night in a row, he sobbed himself to sleep.
The darkness didn't last long.
Alan lay in the straw for perhaps half an hour before he heard the light switch click on. He slowly opened his eyes and looked up toward the door. The silhouette of a woman appeared there. Alan didn't say anything to her, but waited.
"I thought that man was hiding something," she said in wonder. She unlocked and opened the door, then stopped and closed it again. "What are you?"
Alan didn't feel like explaining again. Instead, he looked at her plaintively, "Please, water."
She hung at the edge of the door another few seconds, then nodded. He heard a hose running a second, then she returned with a bucket of metallic smelling water. Alan dipped his face in and drank deeply. The water made him feel a little better, but no less depressed about things. He looked up at the woman, who hadn't moved from that spot since he started drinking. "Thanks."
She shrugged very slightly. "The least I can do. Now what are you?"
"I don't know," he said tiredly. "Three days ago I was a man. Now I'm this." He felt a sob rising in his throat. He looked down at his former hands again and felt his heart skip. There were gray hairs sprouting above it now! "Oh God, I'm still changing too!" He broke down in sobs.
The woman carefully opened the stall door and stepped in. She knelt by the half donkey and started touching him on the ear, "It's real, that's for sure," she mumbled. "It's warm, real."
Alan looked at her hopefully, sniffing, "Please can you let me go? I'm so scared."
She looked thoughtful, then stood and walked back to the stall door. She closed it and relocked it with the padlock. "I think we'll talk about this in the morning."
The woman left and turned off the light, and his world plunged back into darkness once again.
Alan woke in the middle of a distant argument. He absently twisted an ear toward the door, hearing the footsteps of two people crunching on the gravel and their heated words. "Don't walk away from me like that!" yelled the woman.
The footsteps stopped. "I don't think you realize what we've got here! He's…"
"A scared kid who is turning into a donkey. I don't think you know what we've got. I sure as hell don't!"
The heavy steps of the man started up again, followed rapidly by the woman. They pounded into the barn and stopped in front of the stable. "You want me to treat that like anything less than a demon?"
The woman ignored her husband. "Better, kid?"
Alan looked at the pair. "What are you going to do to me?" He felt the hunger rising up in his belly again, but didn't know how to ask these two for food.
The man gave him a dirty look. "I'm going to get the preacher from down the road a ways and have him take a good look at you, that's what!"
Alan got nervous, the last thing that he wanted was more people to know about this than already did! "Please, don't do that! Please!"
The man looked triumphantly at his wife. "There! See! If he wasn't a demon, then why wouldn't he want to see the preacher?"
"For a million reasons, Jeb," she said with a sigh. "And you're not letting that blasted preacher onto this property while I'm alive, you got that?" She shot her larger husband a dangerous look. "Understood?" The man grumbled something below even Alans hearing and stalked away, clearly upset. She turned to Alan, "Now I want your whole story, now, or I'll do something you'll regret later," she said in the same tone.
Nervously, Alan spilled out the whole story of the last few days, from the start of the Renaissance Fair to his wandering into the farmers yard. When he was done, he looked thoughtfully at her, "You believe me, right?"
The woman slowly shrugged. "I don't see why not. Why lie about it?" She tapped her fingers on the stall door. "Have you thought about how you're going to get yourself human again? Just going to your aunts cabin isn't going to work." She jutted her chin at him, "And you're still changing, aren't you?"
Alan looked at his fore hooves sadly, seeing that even the tiny vestiges of his hands were gone. The gray hair was creeping further up his wrists, "Yeah, it looks like its going faster." He couldn't work up the sadness to cry anymore about it.
The woman unlocked the stall and stepped in, kneeling next to him. "Look, we've not been properly introduced. I'm Gladys Charbanaux." She reached down and touched him on the hoof in a version of a handshake. "I'll help you, but you'll have to stay around the barn for a while. I'll see that Jeb lets you walk around a bit, but he'll never let you off the property."
Alan felt a great relief wash over him. "Thank you," he said tiredly. Even having just awoken, he was aware of the stress that he'd been under for the last few days. He needed to rest some more. "I'll owe you my life if you can help me."
She rubbed his hair between his ears and smiled. "Don't worry about a thing. Let me get you some feed." She paused a moment and smiled. "You know, it's been a long time since this stall had a resident. It's kind of nice." She shrugged a little and walked away.
Alan tried to ignore his rumbling stomach while he waited for something to eat. For the first time since he first saw the hooves, he felt hope.
Relief turned to boredom very quickly. Alan spent all his free time that morning eating and drinking, feeding his hunger. It was something that scared him, because it seemed that the more he ate the more he continued to change. By the time that he was satisfied, he realized that his jaw was moving differently, a little side to side. Not much, but enough to chill him. His teeth seemed different, too. Flatter.
The boredom allowed his mind to wander from his immediate problems to Angelica. How could she have left him like that? Like this? How was she explaining his disappearance?
The thought of her in a police station trying to explain that her boyfriend is a jackass brought a smile to his thickening lips. After what she put him though, she deserved it.
Alan could barely see the sun through the worn planks of the wall, so he could tell how much time passed. It was just afternoon when he saw the first human face since his food was left. Mr. Charbanaux walked over and leaned heavily on the door. "Finished eating all of my animal feed, spawn?"
Alan returned the steely gaze. "My name is…"
"Spawn," said the farmer loudly. "If you are not a demon yourself, then you must have an evil soul for the good lord to have allowed this to happen to you." He stared hard at the half donkey in his barn, "If it wasn't for my wife, I'd have already skinned you. She has a soft spot for donkeys. You owe her your life, you know." He pushed himself off the door and stomped off.
With a sigh, Alan went back to staring at the walls and thinking of Angelica, his thoughts getting darker and darker all the time.
"I've got some good news," said Gladys as she walked into the barn. Alan looked up in time to see her smiling face in front of the door. "I tracked down the people who owned the artifacts from the fair. There were actually a few of them. I'm going to start tracking down who owned that wheel."
Alan smiled, despite his dark mood. He had found gray hair covering his arms to the elbows when he woke this morning. At that rate, it was only a few days, at most a couple weeks, before he would be a donkey for good. "That's great," he said with only mild enthusiasm.
"What's wrong?" she asked, then chuckled involuntarily, "Other than the obvious, of course."
"I don't know," he said quietly. "I've been thinking about Angelica." In the past two days, his mind had done somersaults on her. He still hated what she did to him, but he could see why she did it. Frankly, it was almost as much stress on her as him at the time.
"Why pine after her?" she asked. "I thought you hated her."
"I guess I still care for her," he flipped his tail a little, "I guess I want to just talk to her before I can't anymore."
Even though she looked sympathetic, Gladys shook her head. "I'm sorry. I can't push Jeb that far. He still thinks that you're evil in some way." She shrugged. "I think he's coming around."
"Can I at least get out of this stall?" he asked. Maybe from outside, he'd be able to find a way to escape. He was grateful for the woman's help, but still thought that Jeb was going to kill him the first chance he got.
After a moments thought, she nodded and opened the door. Alan moved stiffly out, the tiny stall hadn't been that good for getting the kinks out of his legs. Walking slowly, he looked over the barn more carefully now. There were about twenty stalls lined up along the walls, none of them very large. As he passed, he noted that a lot of them were being used for storage now and only a couple at the other end held animals, a pair of tired looking horses. "Are these the only animals you have here?"
Gladys nodded sadly, "Now it is," she said sadly. "We used to have a small collection out here but we lost them over the years to age, disease, that kind of thing. The two horses are pretty much on their last legs, too. We've been talking for years about getting more, but money's always just a little tight." She reached into a stall and patted one on the neck, who in turn nickered and looked curiously at Alan. "I think he's trying to figure out what to make of you. You probably smell like a donkey."
"I guess I do," he muttered. He took another step before he stopped and stared down. He was walking stiffly, but normally. It wasn't until that moment that he realized that his arms were the wrong length, at least to be arms. They were perfect for fore legs, though. "Damn."
"Don't worry, Alan," said Gladys cautiously, "We're going to figure this all out."
Before he could open his mouth to reply, he heard a shout from the other end of the barn. "Gladys! How could you let that… thing out! He might escape! Or call the hounds of hell on us or something!"
Gladys turned, eyes burning, "I think if he was going to do that, he'd have done so already." She looked at Alan, "We'd better get you stabled back up before he gets more upset."
Alan didn't argue, but followed the woman back across the barn, getting more sure on his hooves all the time. He missed only one step, when he spotted salvation hanging on the wall: A battered, avocado green telephone.
The old farmer had been careful each night to triple check the heavy padlock hanging on the stall door. It had been enough the first night to hold the tired, malformed animal he wanted to keep. What he hadn't counted on, what he hadn't considered, was that Alan was still changing.
It was hard to keep a donkey in a stall that he didn't want to be in.
Alan threw out his hind legs as hard as he could, feeling them only briefly meeting resistance as the shoved the door right off the hinges. He stood on all fours for a few seconds, listening to the silence. He heard the distant rumblings of the old horses, disturbed in their sleep by the sound, but other than that it was quiet.
Alan turned and stepped over the door carefully. It was the first time in more than a day since he got out of his stall, and nearly five since he had been caught by the farmer and his wife. He was steadily changing, faster than he liked. His body was filling out, and nearly all of his skin was covered in dense, gray fur.
Quickly, he walked over to the phone on the wall and knocked the receiver off. Quickly, he dialed Angelicas number. It rang four or five times, then he heard a tired, "Hello?"
"Angelica!" he almost shouted, "God, I'm glad to hear your voice!"
She seemed to pause on the line for a second, then in disbelief she breathed "Alan! Oh God, I thought you were dead or something!"
He felt a pang of anger. "No thanks to you," he muttered without thinking.
"Everyone is asking about you, asking where you are!" she said quickly, ignoring his comment. "Where are you? What happened?"
He sighed. "I found a farm a couple miles from where you left me. I'm not sure where it is exactly, but…"
"Get off the damn phone!" yelled Jeb from behind him. Alan panicked and bolted away as a huge hatchet came down and smashed the phone to pieces. In a blind panic, Alan started to run for the other side of the barn, but a shot from behind him startled him even further. He heard a whizzing sound pass his ear and he stumbled to the floor.
Jeb was over him in a flash, waving a high caliber pistol in his face. "Don't move or I'll blow your god forsaken head all over the barn!" he screamed.
Cowering, Alan tried to protect himself with his fore legs, but wasn't having an easy time of it. Instead, he was just shivering in fear, waiting for the end to come.
"What is going on out here? Jeb! Put that thing away!" shouted Gladys as she ran into the barn. "You'll scare him to death!"
He turned angrily back at her. "I caught him on the phone!" he yelled. "He was probably calling his minions on us!"
Gladys stopped and pulled the gun out of his hand, "On the phone?" she asked, the question of her husbands ability to reason left unasked. She knelt down and started rubbing the thin gray hairs that covered Alan's neck. "Calm down, he's not going to hurt you."
"I keep telling you, Gladys! We should just kill him! Or get the preacher!"
"I'll have none of that!" she spat back. "I don't want that man on our property! And you know perfectly well we can't kill him!" She gently tugged on the shoulders of the young man who was now more animal than human, and he stood. She led him to a different stall and directed him in. The farmer angrily padlocked it again, then spent a few minutes piling bales of hay in front of the door. By the time he was done, there was no way that Alan could have kicked the door out.
Alan felt deflated, almost more than he could take. He felt like he was so close to getting the help that he needed! He fell to the floor, sobbing himself again to sleep.
"That was a damn fool thing to do." She paced at the stall door angrily. "I had to talk Jeb down all night. He is still itching to just kill you."
"I'm sorry," said Alan angrily, "But I've been cooped up in this place for a week!" He sighed, noting with a chill the very equine sound that was becoming. Talking was just becoming hard. "I've got to get out of here!"
Gladys continued to frown, but shook her head. "I guess I can see why, but you'll have to be patient. I think I've found what will turn you back."
Alan allowed himself a bit of hope. "You found the wheel?"
She smiled. "Better, I think." She climbed the hay bales in front of the door and sat down. "You told me all about that day, what happened. You weren't at the fair that long, were you?"
He shook his head. "A couple of hours, I guess. We went to a couple of sales booths, the fortune teller, got lunch…" He stopped, remembering. "The fortune teller!"
Gladys tilted her head curiously, but had a curious smile on her features that indicated she knew what was coming. "What about it?"
"That lady said that Angelica and I would be tested, because I was a jackass!" he said suddenly. "It was her, wasn't it?"
The farmers wife shrugged, but the smile got bigger. "Not the woman, but her crystal ball."
Alan frowned, "The ball?" He tried to remember even what it looked like, but couldn't. Was there even one there?
Gladys nodded, "The ball. I've got gypsy blood, you might say. My great grandmother was one and told me a lot of stories. I've talked to the man who owned both the ball and the wheel, and it was as I suspected. The wheel was just an old spinning wheel from Belgium. The ball, though, is very rare and very powerful."
"But why did that fortune teller do this to me?" asked Alan with a sob, looked at his lost humanity. His body was now little different than a donkeys and his neck was getting thicker. When he looked at his face in the water trough, it was losing every one of the features that made him human.
"She didn't, really," said Gladys. "It was a lot of things, but she did accidentally activate it."
"Can you turn me back?" he asked hopefully.
Gladys smiled warily. "I can, but for now I won't." When Alan started to open his mouth to protest, she raised a hand. "I don't know much about this! My great grandmother only told me a few stories before she died, and that was a long time ago. If we start mixing things up, there's no telling what will happen."
"How does this thing work?"
She shrugged, "I'm not sure. I do remember hearing the real reason that the gypsies were so good at predicting the future: They made it happen. I had no idea that they were so powerful, though." She smiled, "That would seem to fit, wouldn't it?"
Alan tried to sigh, but it came out more like a whuffle. "So we wait until I'm all gone? Then what?"
"I already bought the ball from the collector, it's cracked so he wasn't all that deeply enamored with it anyway. When it gets here, we wait until you are completely changed. Then I simply read you a new fortune. One that makes you human."
A peel of thunder rolled through the sky as a pre-dawn storm moved over the tiny farm. Alan stood anxiously in his stall, listening to the lightning. Unlike the horses at the other end of the barn, he wasn't at all nervous about the bright lights and loud sounds. He was more worried about the barn getting hit by a stray bolt. There was still so much stuff piled in front of the door that there was no way he would be able to escape.
The sound of the rain calmed him a little from that fear, and he went back to brooding and pacing. The transformation was nearly complete, he knew that without looking at his reflection. It was only an hour or so after his last talk with Gladys that he felt his throat change, and the only sound that he could make was a very strangled hee-haw. His donkey sounds had improved with the alterations in his neck, but his human speech was gone for now.
He dipped his muzzle into the feed bin and scrapped around for a few stray bits of grain. He was still having trouble keeping himself feeling fed, but not so badly now, the edge was off the pains. Perhaps, he considered, it was because the transformation was nearly done.
His thoughts wandered back to Angelica. It had been three days since he called her and she hadn't found him yet. Assuming that she's looking, he thought bitterly. He still had feelings for her somehow, but they were marred now. If she would just show up now, just try and help him, it might even be forgivable. Until then, Alan would just wish bad things to happen.
The barn door opened and Jeb stepped up to Alans stall. "Time for you to earn your keep," he muttered as he started pulling bales of hay and crates from in front of the door. Alan stepped out as fast as he could, but was careful not to run away. He was sure that the sharp scent he smelled on the old farmer was gun oil, and that bulge just what it looked like. The farmer ran a hand quickly over the donkeys hide. "Damn, you're covered in crap."
Alan looked at the farmer, wanting to roll his eyes. He hadn't been allowed to leave that stall for three days, and the piles of crap had really built up. As much as Alan had been disgusted by sleeping on the same floor he was using as a toilet, it wasn't like he'd been given a choice.
The man started walking toward the barn door, motioning for Alan to follow. They reached the door, and Jeb disappeared into a vacant stall at the end of the barn, coming out with a well worn harness. "My truck is stuck in the mud, you're going to help me get it out," he said simply.
Alan looked into the raging torrent outside the barn and shuddered. The last thing he wanted to do was go out there and catch his death of cold. He looked at the farmer, trying to screw up the courage to be defiant, when he sniffed the gun oil again. Better to catch a cold than get an acute case of lead poisoning. He lowered his head meekly, accepting the harness.
With Alan not moving, the farmer quickly put the straps on and took the lead rope. They stepped into the rain and the donkey felt the rain mat down his hair instantly. The days of sweat, grime and donkey droppings that were matted into his fur coat were washed away quickly, replaced with the splattered mud from the dirt road. Jeb walked to where his pickup was stuck deep in the mud. Wordlessly, he tied the heavy leather straps to the front of the truck. He looked at the donkey, "When I get in the truck, pull with all your might." His eyes narrowed, "If you don't, you're donkey enough to sell to a meat packer." The words were chilling, but the tone was almost casual, like he didn't mean it.
Alan knew better than to argue, and the moment that the man got in the truck he lurched forward himself. His hooves fought for purchase on the slick roadway, finding it only occasionally on a buried rock. Grunting and groaning, the donkey strained against the straps, feeling the water run through his coat, chilling him to the bone. Gritting his teeth, he strained harder and harder, pulled harder and harder, as if his life depended on it.
Suddenly, the weight of the truck vanished and Alan nearly fell on his snout. He stumbled forward a few steps before slipping and sprawling in the mud. The truck, free of the soft mud, slid dangerously close, but stopped. Jeb quietly got out of his cab, unhitched Alan, and drove the truck to a gravel covered spot near the barn. By the time that he came back, the donkey was already on his hooves and waiting, still breathing hard from the exertion.
Jeb picked up the lead line and walked back to the barn. Gently, he removed the stained harness and laid it over some saw horses. He grabbed some towels and started to rub the fur dry all over Alans back. The donkey glanced back once in a while curiously. The man seemed to be nearly normal this morning.
For the first time, Alan felt a brush run over his hide. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to give in to the feeling. It was simply wonderful! The dampness was slowly pulled out of his fur, and for the first time since he started to transform, he actually felt good.
The man led Alan to a new stall and spread some fresh hay out. Once he was inside, he closed the door, not bothering with a padlock, and leaned in. "I'm impressed," he said simply. "You worked hard."
Alan's ears perked up and he looked at the man expectantly.
He just smiled thinly and sighed. "Maybe Gladys is right, you're not the spawn of the devil." With that, he turned and walked away.
Alan stared after the man for a long time, wondering what had just happened.
For the next four days, the farmer treated Alan at least as well as he would a prized animal. To Alan, that was more than a small improvement. He wasn't in constant fear of being dead by his hand anymore. The sea change in the mans attitude was bewildering, but certainly welcome!
What concerned him, though, was the waiting. Gladys had promised that she would try and change him back the moment that she got the gypsy ball, but that had been days ago. He wondered why she didn't have it yet. Meanwhile, Alan was waiting to see if his mind would follow his body.
The sun rose a little higher in the sky as Alan grazed and thought about it. Jeb had finally relented and allowed him to go outside the barn for much of the day. Frankly, at this point, Alan wasn't much of an escape risk. He was an animal now, all the way through. Though he could still understand speech, he was having trouble with reading now, and that wasn't just because his eyes were weaker. The letters didn't seem to make as much sense as they once did. He tried to scratch them into the earth, but he couldn't figure out if what he drew was right or not.
It was something that worried him more than the loss of his body in many ways, and there wasn't anything he could do about it until Gladys got that damn ball!
He grazed another couple of hours contentedly until he heard the sound of a car coming up the drive. At first, he ignored the sound since Jeb had gone into town this morning. But when he caught the image of the small sedan out of the corner of his eye, he perked up. It was Angelicas car! He immediately began trotting toward the fence line. She had finally come for him!
He stopped at the edge of the fence, waiting for her to come flying at him with tears in her eyes. Instead, she climbed out of the car slowly and looked around, barely noticing the donkey not more than fifty feet away. She turned and walked toward the door to the house and knocked.
"I'm back here!" yelled Gladys as she came from around the side of the house. "What can I do for you, miss?"
Angelica looked a bit sheepish at that moment, but managed a smile. "I'm looking for someone who might have been through here. His name was Alan…"
Gladys cut him off. "No one has come through here in a while, miss. We're just a couple of poor farmers." Alan looked at Gladys in shock and tried to bray his anger, but couldn't. He could form the desire, but not the will to use it!
"Damn," muttered Angelica. "If I don't find him soon, I'm going to be in deep shit."
"Oh?" asked Gladys. "Why's that?"
Angelica didn't seem that interested in telling the woman, but at the same time seemed to need to tell someone. "He's… missing," she said as if she was trying to believe it was just that herself. "The cops are beginning to think that I had something to do with it. I just need to find him and take care of this."
Alan rocked his ears back and forth. That bitch was more worried about herself than him!
Gladys smiled slightly. "You know, I might have just the thing for you." She motioned for Angelica to sit on a chair on the porch while she vanished into the house. She returned a moment later with a large velvet satchel. She paused, throwing a significant look Alan's way, then sat herself. "I'm a bit of a fortune teller," she said quietly as she pulled the cracked crystal ball into the light.
Alan felt his eyes bug out and his tail flip angrily. How long had she had that? He wanted so badly to burst through the fence and get some petty revenge, but he just felt rooted to the spot.
Her eyes suddenly wide with wonder, Angelica stared at the ball. "Wow…" she murmured, already enthralled. Alan knew that Angelica was a sucker for horoscopes and the like. "Are you good at this?"
She laughed. "Good? Why, I predicted that my husband would get to be a more mellow human being. I even predicted that my new donkey would be nice and docile!" Alan seethed at those words. He'd never given her any problems! Why was she doing this?
Angelica touched the ball gently. "Can you tell me my fortune? Will I find Alan?" Her entire world consisted of the ball at that moment, her problems seemed to fall away just knowing someone else would tell her what to do.
Gladys smiled and glanced quickly at the donkey in the field. "Of course." She made a show of looking into the clear, cracked crystal. "You will find Alan, and soon!" she said dramatically. When Angelica smiled, Gladys continued. "You are both going to be together for a long time, living a gentle life in the country." Gladys smiled broadly and looked at the young woman. "You two will have many, many little ones around you!"
Angelica laughed. "You mean kids? Oh wonderful! I love kids!"
Gladys smiled even more, "I see that Alan has is not missing, but has simply found new living arrangements, ones that you'll find very appropriate!" She then got serious. "You two will live a quiet, content life, together, but beware. You will have many suitors, and may lack the will to stay faithful."
Angelica sighed, her mood seeming so much better. "That sounds wonderful," she said. "Once I find him, I'll be able to get the cops off my back and even get a good years out of him before I dump him!" she said with a triumphant smile. She stood up. "Thanks, ma'am, I feel so much better now. I've just got to go…" she stopped and swooned a little on her feet. "God, I feel dizzy all of a sudden."
Gladys stood, concerned. "Oh, that's not good." She gently guided her back to the chair. "Rest up here a bit. I'm sure that you'll be all fine in a second." She patted the girl on the head and stood. "I need to check on my donkey."
Alan, listening from the field, stood stunned as Gladys walked over. The woman stopped in front of him, silent for a moment. "I'll be honest, Alan. I was going to keep you here, forever." Alan just stared openmouthed at her, but stayed silent. "I knew you'd make a handsome animal the moment I saw you, and you do." She reached out a hand and rubbed his ears. "But I can't do that, not forever. You've been too trusting of me."
She smiled. "There is a price, though. I'm keeping Angelica. Once she's had a couple of foals, you'll go. Jeb and I need some animals around here, and the horses are going to pass on soon." She stopped rubbing the ears and started on the muzzle. "I'm a little sorry about the docility I forced on you, but it made it easier to talk to your new companion." She palmed the small ball, "In fact," she said running her hand over it gently and grinning, "I predict that Angelica will be upset by her own transformation, but will never give me, Jeb or you a single moments problems."
Alan glanced up at his girlfriend sitting on the porch, her head between her knees, her long ears pointing straight into the air.
He wanted to break down laughing. It came out as a choking bray, but it was good enough.