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User:Erastus/A Most Unusual Family

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A Most Unusual Family

Author: Erastus Centaur


warning: adult situations


I consider myself to be an average guy - average height, not much overweight, medium blond hair, average looks, average desk job, average income. I even have an average name of Jack.

So how is it an average guy can be so unlucky in love? Here I'm trying for a long lasting relationship and nothing seems to work right. I've had women leave me for a variety of reasons both gentle and pointed and I've had women I found I couldn't tolerate anymore. This was always about the time I started to talk of marriage. There have been dozens of women and still no wife. What is a poor guy to do?

With another relationship ending in disaster, I needed a vacation. I took three weeks to backpack with a Eurail Pass. I wasn't interested in the romantic cities of Rome, Paris, and London. Instead, I went to Warsaw, Krakow, Berlin, Prague, Brno, and Budapest.

All of those cities -- and the towns between them -- were great -- but not wonderful. I kept feeling that I needed someone to share them with. I hadn't escaped my problem.

It was evening of the last day. I was in Budapest. I had to take the overnight train back to Vienna to catch a morning flight. I had a couple hours after dinner before catching the train. I decided on a last visit the street fair that had been running for the duration of my visit.

I saw a tent at the end of the street that hadn't been there before -- or at least I hadn't seen before. The crudely lettered sign said, "Fortune Teller". Oddly, it was only in English. I suddenly had a big urge to hear the answer to my important question. Would I ever find a wife? Perhaps I might waste a few dollars. Perhaps I might get some peace of mind. I went inside.

The woman facing the glass ball (who could tell if it was crystal?) might have been a gypsy straight out of a Hollywood movie. Who could tell if she were authentic or preying on gullible Americans? Did I care which it was? I paid the fee, pulled off my backpack, and sat down.

She asked in heavily accented English, "What in future you want know?"

"I want to know if I will ever marry," I said.

She caressed the ball and it began to glow. At least I would get a good light show for my money.

The glow brightened and broke into colors. I couldn't make out any recognizable images, but the gypsy studied the colors intently. She stared for several minutes. Finally she spoke, "Yes, you will mate."

That seemed an odd way to say it, but perhaps her Engish is not good. I asked, "Who will I marry?"

"That is second question. Pay more please."

Fleece the mark time. "Aw, man! You already know. Why can't you just tell me?"

"Pay more please."

"Why should I pay more? It isn't any more work for you to tell me who my bride will be. You should just tell me!"

"You Americans all same. You take from world. You step on poor." She began to chant what almost seemed like singing. The language didn't sound like the Hungarian I had been hearing the last couple of days. Her singing was accompanied my movements that seemed like a fast Tai Chi and almost seemed to be a dance.

Part of my mind said that I should get out of there, forget about who I might marry. Just leave. It was getting too wierd. My future bride wasn't worth getting into danger. Part of my mind was entranced by her singing and movement. I stayed glued to my seat. I wonder if I could have moved if I tried.

My belt was suddenly tight. In glancing down to see what was wrong with my belt, I saw a golden fur on my arms that changed to a light cream at the wrists.

The belt was becoming painful. I stood and undid the belt and saw it spring back into the beltloops. The pants themselves split along seams and fell. I tried to lunge at her but merely banged into the table.

"What are you doing! Stop it!" I yelled. I tried getting around the table but chairs and my pants got in the way. I felt very uncoordinated. I fell heavily against the table but still couldn't reach her. It was a struggle to stand again.

She ignored me, but a moment later stopped her chant and looked at me. "Stupid Americans. Always take." She stood there with a sneer on her face.

My toes cramped painfully. I worked quickly to get them out of my boots while six fingers and two thumbs began to shrink. The nail of the remaining fingers thickened. I was too occupied to try to attack her again. Golden fur grew on my legs. Eight toes shrank and two grew, with thickening nails. My feet deformed, looking more like part of a leg than a foot. Long creamy hairs covered over the distorted feet. My chest expanded, splitting the seams and popping buttons of my shirt, which fell to the ground. It was already covered in golden fur. My eyes seemed to get higher and my forward vision wouldn't work right. My field of vision expanded. The elastic band on my shorts gave way. My manhood seemed bigger but hidden away. I felt my jaw push out. My ears twitched. My two remaining fingers grew hooves. Long creamy hairs grew out to cover them. New muscles in my butt twitched and I felt a tail brush against the back of my legs. My deformed legs wouldn't balance properly anymore and I fell forward onto arms that had become legs.

I turned my head on a now very flexible neck. I was standing on four hooves! I was covered with golden fur which became light cream for the feathering over those hooves. I could swish a light cream tail. I was a horse! This witch had turned me into a horse! I let out a yell, which came out as a whinny. I tried another attack, but only got as far as painfully banging a foreleg into the table.

Just then a man pulled back the tent flap and stepped in. He was breathing as though he had been running. He could have easily been the gypsy's brother. He started shouting to her in what must have been their native language. She shouted right back. It got quite noisy for a moment. He smacked her cheek hard enough to send her sprawling. She got up, glared at him, and disappeared through the flap.

He turned to me. "I am most sorry. Marika not like Americans." That was obvious! "I try stop her telling fortunes. She sometime sneak away. She be punished. I will try undo."

He started singing and moving as she had. I had a bad feeling, but soon felt my body relax. Glancing down, I watched things slowly return to normal - the hooves shrank, the fingers grew, the legs reformed, the neck shortened, the chest flattened, the vision shifted, the fur retracted. When things seemed about right, I dug into my backpack for clothes.

He spoke as I dressed. "Marika stronger than me. I can no remove all. This shape hold for few days. Go home quick! Curse then come and go. Leave now! Quick!"

I left. Quick.

I practically ran to the train station and almost cowered on the platform waiting for the train to arrive. I wanted a way to lock a door with me inside, but there isn't much of that on a train in which one doesn't buy a sleeping compartment. That wasn't a part of my Eurail pass and I didn't have enough money on me for that kind of ticket. I chose a seat so I had my right shoulder against the window, bunched up my jacket for a pillow and tried to shut out the world.

I actually slept a bit, though my dreams were plagued with strange images. By the time the train got close to Vienna I had convinced myself the episode in the tent was either a dream or a hallucination caused by something in that tent.

The man beside me saw that I was awake. He said, "Nice girl, wild night?"

"Huh?" was about all I could manage.

He tapped my watch on my left arm. I looked at it. Caught in the flexible metal band were a few long cream colored hairs - just about the right color and length to match the hoof feathering of a certain horse. My stomach felt like that certain horse had kicked it. I managed a weak smile. "Yeah. Wild night."

If my stomach didn't feel so queasy, the thought of a horse with a watch on the left foreleg might have been amusing.

I was filled with dread the entire flight back to the States. I couldn't concentrate on reading. I couldn't sleep. The man in the tent said the curse wouldn't reappear for a few days, but what if he was wrong? What if I became a horse on the plane? There just wasn't room for that, not to mention the thought of panic in the horse and fellow passengers.

The plane landed with the flight being properly uneventful. I made it home without incident. Though only early evening local time, I was exhausted though felt somewhat safe if the curse came back.

I called my boss the next morning -- a Monday -- and left a message on his voice mail. I explained that I was indeed home but had caught a nasty illness and needed a few days to recover.

I spent that Monday in nervous energy doing all the things around the house that men who live alone rarely bother with. I needed a distraction. Bad!

I did the same Tuesday, this time tackling the garage and yard. The yard had overgrown while I was gone, though the lawn service had been there recently. I had done a lot of trimming and weeding by the time I was ready for dinner.

As I was about to pull food from the refrigerator I felt a sudden tightening at the belt. I glanced at my arm and saw a sheen of golden fur. Almost in a panic, I ran to the garage, closed the large door and stripped out of my clothes. I even thought to remove my watch. I watched the fur grow, the fingers shrink, the legs and arms reform, the hooves expand.

I was soon a horse on four hooves. I now had a problem. I was in a suburban garage. I didn't know how long I would be a horse. I had missed my dinner and I was hungry.

I glanced out the back door of the garage. The lawn actually looked rather yummy. I didn't dare go out there until after dark.

In the meantime, thanks to a flexible neck I could get a good look at myself. I had seen the golden fur and creamy feathering in the dim light of the gypsy's tent. Now I could get a better look at it and also see the overall muscle tone (very good!), the light colored hooves, the creamy mane. I tried various exercises just to feel the body. What is it like to raise each leg one at a time? What is it like to twitch an ear? How does one swish a tail? How do I lie down and get up again?

I naturally stuck my head between my forelegs (not as easy as I hoped it would be) to get a look at my equipment. Wow! I was certainly hung like a horse!

All this sounds like methodical thinking. On the contrary, I was doing it as a distraction to keep me from bolting through that little open door and trying to jump the fence in a blind panic. The panic was not just from my new shape. The garage seemed awfully small and crowded.

Darkness finally came. I squeezed through the little door and started to browse the lawn. It actually tasted pretty good! Once I got a bit of food in my stomach and got the hang of nibbling the grass, I could stop thinking of my body and start thinking of my future.

Item one: The gypsy brother implied the curse would come and go. Would it really? If so, how long of a cycle? If the cycle was longer than several days - or my shape was permanent - I could be in trouble. I would have to deal with the world as a horse. I had no way of knowing the length of the cycle. I could only wait it out.

Item two: The garage and lawn were too small for a horse. The house was out of the question. I would have to move. Item three: I needed horse food and related supplies. Item four: I needed to spend a lot of time in the library and bookstore learning about horses.

I felt my hunger was satisfied and squeezed back into the garage. I heard horses slept on their feet. I found it worked well.

I awoke as a horse and began to ponder what to do next when I noticed my vision change. I had begun to change from horse to human. I waited until the last of the fur receded, grabbed my clothes and went inside. During the change I realized that I could feel things moving around inside me, but none of it actually hurt. I had been a horse for 12 hours.

Once I had some breakfast, I called my boss. I explained that I was feeling better, but something came up and I would like a leave of absence. He didn't particularly like the idea, but corporate rules said I could apply for one. I figured I had time as a human so went into the personnel office to fill out the form and to my boss for his signature.

The next stop was to see a realtor. I put my house up for sale and started the search for a small farm within commuting distance of the city.

The third stop was to the library for horse books. The fourth was at an animal store to buy some straw and what feed they thought might work for horses. The city just doesn't have many horses in it. When their food choices looked rather dubious, I headed to the grocery store to buy large bags of raw oats and lots of carrots. The fifth stop was to buy a digital camera with a tripod and a small TV with big controls.

I was home by noon back to nervous energy wondering when I would become a horse again. I used it to whip the house into shape to sell, doing all the little jobs I had kept putting off. During breaks, I read about horses.

I set the camera up in the garage and set the controls for exposures every 20 seconds. I set out the feed. I hooked up the TV.

I went to bed Wednesday evening still waiting for the second shoe to drop. I was convinced the stress would get to me sooner rather than later. I woke up human, but partway through breakfast, the belt of my robe began to feel tight. I dashed to the garage, stripped off my robe, triggered the camera, turned on the TV, then stood in the camera's field of view. Each time the camera clicked, I turned about a third of the way around. I continued even after the transformation was complete and until the camera had filled its disk and shut off.

If anyone could have seen into my garage during the next twelve hours, they would have seen a horse idly watching television as it occasionally stuck its nose into a bag of oats. The horse sometimes grabbed a stick in its mouth to poke at the remote on the floor to change the channel.

Once back in human form, I downloaded the images into my computer. The first thirty images showed the transformation took about 10 minutes. The rest of the images showed a pretty good looking horse. I used the library books to identify the breed as Jutland, known for the chestnut fur and flaxen mane, tail, and feathers. The Jutland is a draft animal, quite solidly built, with an average weight of nearly a ton. I printed a couple of the best photos of the complete horse. I wanted to see what a horse dealer would say.

As for the curse, it appeared that I would be a horse for 12 hours and human for 24. And while television might have an effect on my intelligence, shifting to horse did not. I could still follow the plot of movies and read the text of commercials. I could also still see in color.

I figured that I had until early evening on Friday as human. I spent it with the real estate agent looking at farms. They were either too expensive or too small.

I tried an experiment. After an early dinner, I tried to shift. I visualized the growing fur and the shifting bones. It worked! I was soon back in my horse form two hours ahead of my predicted time. I left the TV off and merely tried to get some sleep.

After eight hours as a horse and at least a bit of sleep - it was now the middle of the night. I imagined the fur receding and fingers growing. Another success! I now had enough control and could perhaps hold a job.

I was forced into a change after 16 hours as a human. It appeared I could be human for twice as long as I was a horse. The next morning when I felt the shift to human begin, I imagined myself as a horse. I kept the form for a few more hours. I could shift to horse early, but I couldn't keep the curse waiting. I could keep my horse form for longer than I needed to.

As much as I grew to hate that confining garage, I felt it best to be human during the day and horse at night, at least for a while.

During the second day with the real estate agent, we did find a farm that would be perfect. The commute was longer than I wanted, but that would be the least of my worries. The house was small, but the barn was close to the house, new, spacious, and even weathertight and heated. I didn't know they did that for barns. The farm was also available immediately. I signed.

I moved over the next couple of days, spending nights in my new barn. That was much better than the old garage! I spent another day thoroughly cleaning that old garage and spreading the tainted straw in the garden. I took the keys to the agent assuring her it could now be shown. It was three months of tight finances before it was sold.

I spent a wonderful two days as a horse exploring my new pasture and barn. Even the rain felt delightful as a horse. I found I didn't shift for four days after that. During those days, I laid in horse supplies and got to know the local farmer businesses. I also showed the photos of my horse form to a few people. All thought the horse was a good one, able to fetch a high price when sold or used for a stud service. Stud service? That got me a bit flustered and apparently that showed. One asked why I wouldn't want to use such a fine horse that way?

I saw that I would be spending lots of time in the barn. Since my equine form still appreciated movies and music, I installed a stereo sound system and a TV system complete with cable. The cable installer did think I was a bit nuts to run the cable to the barn. I added large foot switches to everything. I also added locks to the barn doors and made sure I could operate them from the inside as a horse. I wanted security, but I didn't want to be trapped by a fire and need 10 minutes before I could operate a lock. To finish it off, I added framed prints and posters.

I felt ready to face the job again. It had been a month and I didn't have enough money to retire yet. During the week, I worked by day and slept as a horse by night, spending one day each weekend as a horse. If there was a business trip coming up, I spent both weekend days as a horse, saving up enough horse time to be human for the duration of the trip, which was rarely more than three days.

The job was tolerable, but it felt so good to come home, head straight for the barn, check that the feed bin was full, queue up some music or a movie, slip out of my clothes, and become a horse, letting the pressures of job and commute fade away. After a few turns around the pasture, I was ready to settle in for the night.

I barely used the house. I was in it for my breakfast and morning shower and for such things as laundry, but that was about it.

As a life, it was actually rather pleasant, even if I was alone most of the time.

I tried dating a few times. While dating Alyssa I asked what she thought of werecreatures. She replied that the concept was a waste of time and that people should be happy with what they are. While dating Cassie I asked the same question. She never returned my calls after that. While dating Rose she said, "Are you gay? You just don't seem to be attracted to me. I don't feel any energy from you." I realized women didn't turn me on as they once had - men didn't either - and felt rather relieved not to have to bother with the dating scene anymore. I could deal with being single.

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Once a life becomes routine, there always seems to be something to break that routine. Many times that only results in a new routine.

I had the barn doors open one evening getting ready for the night. As I was filling the feed bins, a young man appeared at the door. He introduced himself as Ethan Salinger, living with his parents on the next farm down the road. As I shook his hand, I figured he probably just graduated from high school if he had gotten that far.

Ethan said, "I've seen that beautiful stallion galloping around your pasture. He doesn't look like he gets brushed very often. If you would like, I could teach you how to do it."

That seemed rather presumptuous, but accurate. I couldn't exactly brush myself. I thought for a moment, then said, "Rather than teaching me, would you like the job of brushing him in the evening?" I offered a few dollars for each time.

"Uh, sure," Ethan said, "I could do that. You're sure you wouldn't want to do it yourself? It is a great way to bond with your horse. By the way, where is your horse?"

"He's at the back of the pasture," I said. "As for bonding, I think it would be tough for me to bond any closer." That produced a puzzled expression, which I let pass. "Why don't you come back in about an hour? I'm sure he'll be settled down by then. The door will be unlocked. Come on in even if you don't see me."

Ethan asked, "What's the horse's name?"

Uh... I'd never had a need for a name for my alter-ego. My pause was not going over well with Ethan. I grabbed a name out of the movie I saw last night. "His name is Maverick."

Ethan maintained the look of a skeptic. He said, "For a guy that has bonded so well with his horse, it seems odd that you stumble over his name. But I could use a bit of spending money, so I'll do it. I'll be back in about an hour." He left. I continued with preparations until I was sure he wouldn't be back during the change.

I made sure my clothes were well hidden, did the change, took a quicker than usual turn around the pasture -- a shame as it is always so invigorating -- and made sure I was back in the barn before the hour was up.

Ethan brought some tools with him when he returned. He first walked around me with a critical eye. "Bonding with his horse," he muttered. "Yeah, I'll believe that. I don't think I've ever seen a horse so filthy." Evidently my morning human shower had no effect on horse dirt. I wonder where such dirt went when I was human? "Time for a bath!"

Ethan found the hose and turned it on me. He proceeded to give me a thorough shampoo. He dried me off, then gave me a thorough brushing. Ooohhhh, that felt good! He even pulled out scissors and trimmed the edges of my mane, tail, and around each hoof.

"There we are!" said Ethan as he put his equipment away. "I'm gonna have to speak to your owner about neglecting you like that. Maybe we should have a discussion about the word 'bonding', or why the SPCA shouldn't be called."

I would have 24 hours to think about that one.

Ethan showed up shortly after I arrived from work the next day. He must have been watching for my car. He started talking almost as he cleared the door of the barn. "From the filthyness of Maverick, I should report you to SPCA! Bonded with your horse, have you? Ha!"

I held up my hand. He stopped. I said, "Calling the SPCA might be a bit overboard. Other than dirty, did Maverick look ill or underfed?" It was weird talking about myself this way. Ethan shook his head. "Was Maverick injured or have signs of abuse?" Another head shake. "So you think having a horse that is merely dirty is a great crime?"

"I guess not,' said Ethan. "But it is important to a horse! It shows how much the caretaker really cares for the horse."

"Maverick and I have a very unusual relationship. I care very much for Maverick. Someday I might tell you the story. I was impressed with the way Maverick looked when you were done yesterday. I have a bonus for your work." I paid him three times our agreed price. "If you want the job of keeping him groomed, you have it. You can come back in a couple hours to groom him this evening. If you leave a list of equipment, I will keep it all in stock so you don't have to bring your own stuff every day."

Though the start was rocky, Ethan was faithful about grooming me in horse form. I sure appreciated his efforts. Those groomings made me feel so much better!

I'm sure Ethan wondered why he never saw both me as human and Maverick at the same time. I still didn't think it was the right time to explain it to him.

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Ethan came for a grooming and was obviously not in a good mood. I as Maverick did nothing to anger him. He soon set to work with the brush. After a moment, he paused, faced my head, and said, "This is one of those times that a guy needs someone to talk to. Are you a good listener?" I wanted to nod my head, but only turned my head to look at him. "People will say I'm a bit crazy for talking to a horse, but who else can I talk to?"

Ethan brushed me for awhile gathering up his courage. "The problem is that my dad and I don't agree on what I should major in now that I'm in college." One of the common problems of youth. Ethan explained the details, waving the brush to emphasize a point here and there. When he got into descriptions of his battles for independence from his father -- something a young man forgets all young people go through -- his brushing got a little too vigorous and downright painful. When that happened, I merely stepped away. Ethan got a surprised look on his face, muttered, "Oh, sorry," before resuming his work. He ran out of steam in his talking about the time he finished brushing me. He put the tools away and said, "Good night, Maverick."

After work the next day, I stopped by a card shop and found a poster with an "inspirational" do-your-own-thing message. I used that to replace a poster I had in the barn.

Ethan saw it that evening and seemed a little surprised by it. He glanced at it repeatedly while he worked and otherwise seemed deep in thought.

The next time I was Jack when he came, I casually asked, "Have you picked out a major for college yet?" We hadn't exactly been buddies so the question caught him off guard.

He recovered and said, "I've signed up for..." then named the subject he had claimed as his choice.

I merely said, "Good. That sounds like an interesting subject. You should do well in it."

Over the next few months, Ethan took opportunities to talk to Maverick about a wide variety of subjects that affect the college man. I varied the poster for a bit of guidance, though I usually didn't change it the day after the talk. At times, he didn't talk of his problems, instead he just talked about what had happened that day. It appeared this guy didn't have a whole lot of friends.

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Between having to work later than usual and heavy traffic due to an accident, it was more than two hours after my usual arrival time when I finally pulled up to the barn. Ethan wasn't due for an hour yet, so I didn't feel anxious or rushed. I filled the feed bins, stripped off my clothes and hid them, and triggered the change. I relaxed as the change did its work.

It wasn't until my eyes had worked their way to the sides of my head that I noticed Ethan in the doorway behind me. From the way his mouth hung open, he had evidently been there for some time. Damn! My first thought was to change back, but Ethan would react one way or another before I had use of my voice again.

Once the change was complete I turned around to face him. He didn't move. I stepped towards him. He held his ground. I stopped when I was within reach of his arms.

"Jack?" he said. I nodded with huge motions. "Jack? That's you in there?" I nodded again. "Jack? Your a horse!"

Why is it intelligence seems to vanish when a person is faced with something really strange? I shouldn't complain. I did the same type of thing when I turned into a horse for the second time.

Ethan reached out a hand to touch my nose. "Wow. Jack and Maverick are the same person! Uh, horse! Uh, creature!" I nodded again. "Can you change back?" I nodded. "Uh, of course you can. Can you change back now?" I nodded again. I triggered the change to human. I was glad my schedule had allowed me to save up time as a horse.

Ethan watched the whole reverse change with avid fascination. He barely moved a muscle. It was only when I felt the change was complete and went to get my clothes out of hiding did Ethan speak. "Wow! I wish I could do that!"

"Sorry," I said. "I can't share."

"How is it you can do this?" he asked.

I told him my story.

"That certainly explains the close relationship you talked about after I gave you that first bath. It also explains why I've never seen a saddle or halter and why I've never seemed to need that halter."

He thought a moment. "Do you think you could find the gypsy again?" he asked.

"Sorry, I doubt her brother would let her back into Budapest. I have no idea where they live."

"Have you ever been ridden? Uh, I mean, has Maverick ever been ridden?"

"No," I said.

"Would you be willing? You should know by now that I know how to care for horses and that includes riding. I could teach you -- how to be ridden, that is. I'm sure you would be a lot easier to train than a real horse. I could even supply my own tack and saddle."

"I'll consider it," I said.

Ethan's eyes suddenly got big. "All those nights I thought I was pouring my heart out to a horse, I was really talking to you!"

I nodded.

"Do you understand me when you are a horse?" he asked.

"I keep a very human mind when I have a horse body." The eyes got big again. "Don't worry. I'm good at keeping secrets." I winked. I had kept my secret of Maverick well. "I also think those talks were good for both of us. I'll still be a good listener if you ever need someone to talk to."

I glanced at the clock on the wall. "It's getting late and I do need to sleep as a horse if I am going to avoid unexpected changes at the office tomorrow."

"May I watch you change one more time?"

"Sure," I said, "though there will likely be lots of chances to do so in the future."

Again, he watched carefully.

The next day I agreed to be ridden. That began my training as a horse. I thought I had gotten to know my horse body well. When I realized how wrong that notion was, I also realized humans tend to not know their body well until they take up a sport or are trained in dancing.

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Ethan and a woman approached the barn. From the grin on his face -- and some of his musings while he groomed me -- I felt sure I knew what was coming. I let Ethan lead. I didn't want to tarnish his big moment.

Ethan said in his most formal manner, "Jack, I'd like you to meet my fiance Ellen. Ellen, this is Jack." Ellen and I shook hands. "He is a good friend of mine and the one I told you about that spends his nights as a horse."

It was an odd expression she got on her face, a mix of wide-eyed wonder and long term skeptic.

"Ethan," I said, "before I demonstrate for the lady, I would like to know a few more details."

Ethan's smile got a guilty edge to it. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sure I told you how we met in the library." Indeed, he had. At length. "You want to know the wedding details, don't you."

When I nodded, he mentioned a date a week after graduation and described the church and what they wanted to do for the ceremony.

I turned to Ellen, "If you would excuse me for a moment, I'll get out of these clothes. It destroys the clothing budget rather quickly if I change to a horse while wearing anything."

Ellen left the barn while I took off my clothes. After I had turned my back to Ethan, he called her back in. When I heard the footsteps stop, I triggered the change.

A moment later, I heard a gasp. Then Ellen said, "You weren't kidding!"

Ethan replied, "No, I wasn't."

Ten minutes later, Ethan and Ellen approached. "Ellen, I would like you to meet my other good friend, Maverick."

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Ethan and Ellen had a beautiful wedding. They followed it with a ten day honeymoon. I assured Ethan I would be fine until he returned, though I might be a bit dirty and in need of a good bath. And no, I did not want someone else groom me while he was gone. Didn't wild horses survive without grooming?

Two days later when I drove into the driveway, I found a horse by the barn. The lead rope from the halter had been tied to the handle of the barn door, though it was long enough to allow the horse to graze. There was an envelope taped to the barn door. I opened it to find a letter. It said:

Dear sir,
I hope you can take care of my horse. I inherited it
from my father, along with his farm. My father just died
and now that the funeral is over, I must fly back to my
home and job.
I have no place to care for a horse where I live and
have no time nor money to keep up the farm. I have no time
to sell the horse and don't think it would be worth much
anyway.
While driving by last evening, I saw your horse. I
figured you could take care of this horse until you could
sell it. You are welcome to keep the horse or keep the
proceeds of the sale for your troubles.

Sincerely,

The signature was a messy scrawl. I had no clue where it came from. The person's home town was also not given.

The horse appeared to be young and healthy. A quick glance showed it to be female. The coat was sorrel with black on the legs, tail, and mane. She had a white star on the forehead.

I took several photographs, which I would take to the local horse dealer in the morning.

There wasn't much else I could do that evening, other than to be sure she was fed and comfortable in a stall. I triggered the change and stayed near her. She seemed to appreciate the company and seemed disappointed when I changed the next morning.

On the way to work, I stopped by the horse dealer and showed him the photos. He agreed she was young and healthy, but didn't think she would fetch a great price as she was not a purebreed. He said it was hard to determine what breeds were in her ancestry. Though he knew most of the horses in the area, he didn't know this one or who had owned her. He did agree to list her as being for sale.

That evening my new companion seemed to want extra attention. I groomed her (following Ethan's many lessons on me), but that didn't seem to be enough. Oddly, my curse seemed rather strong, though I couldn't say how I knew that.

I finished my preparations for the night. The change started as soon as I had gotten my clothes off, without my usual mental trigger. About three quarters of the way through the change as my horse senses kicked in, I noticed a thick, warm, enticing smell which I didn't recognize.

A moment later when my penis slid out and demanded attention that I realized what I was smelling. She was in heat!

I practically ran for the door, nudged it open, and stepped into the fresh air. My companion complained loudly at my departure. Let her yell, I thought. I want to keep my humanity. That means mating with humans, not horses! I may look like a horse, bit I certainly didn't think like one! I did not want my offspring to be a horse!

I tried to trigger the change back to human, knowing I had time saved up. It wouldn't work! No matter how much I imagined human hands and skin, the change would not start. The fur would not shrink away.

I fled to the far side of the pasture and figured I had better spend the night there. It didn't do much good. I tried another change to human with no luck. My member still responded to faint whiffs in the gentle breeze and she still called for my return.

I tried thinking of the project at the office, or anything else for that matter. I tried pacing along the far fence, but found the "fifth leg" got in the way and was a constant reminder. I would have tried a cold shower if I could have turned on the hose and guided the flow. It was a miserable night. I got little sleep.

It turned out to be a miserable morning too. I still couldn't shift to human. That meant I couldn't call the boss.

Out of desperation, I nudged the gate open and headed down the road. My desperation was greater than the embarrassment of being seen in public with a prominent fifth leg. I had gone a mile before my member began to shrink. Even after waiting more than an hour (not that my sense of time is all that great) and getting 5 miles from my farm, I still could not shift. I was stuck!

That I thought walking five miles back to the farm as a buck naked human was an improvement over my situation showed my mental state.

I reviewed my options as I walked home. She was going to be in heat for several days. It appeared that as long as she was in heat, I couldn't shift to human. I couldn't call anyone to take her away. I could run away from home myself, but she needed someone to feed her. Besides, running away didn't allow me to return to human and kept me at the mercy of anyone that found me. I could release her, but she wasn't likely to run anywhere but to me. I didn't care to spend the next few days fully charged and in need of release, much less stuck as a horse. As much as I hated the idea, she would be my mate.

Within a mile of my barn, I could smell her again. My body quickly responded.

I walked back to the barn and up to her stall. She was delighted to see me. I manipulated the latch of her stall to let her out. I headed outside for some room. I couldn't imagine having enough room in the barn. She followed eagerly.

How does one court a horse?

It turned out not to be necessary. She was ready and so was I. I can't imagine anything else providing so much physical pleasure paired with so much mental anguish.

About 10 minutes after the deed I found myself shifting to human.

It was now close to noon. I called my boss and said I was sick. I spent some time replenishing the feed bins and followed Ethan's example of talking things over while I groomed her. Grooming proved to be more interesting than yesterday as she was in a playful mood. I'm sure I still had the smell of stallion about me.

My companion was possibly pregnant now. If she was, she was carrying my offspring. Since it would be my offspring, my morality prevented the option of abortion. I also couldn't sell her now, at least until I knew she wasn't pregnant. She was my horse.

She needed a name. Though her red color suggested the name "Sunset", I decided on "Star". It might be an common and obvious name for a horse, but I didn't think I should use a name that would be confused as human.

I thought back to my encounter with the gypsy. I certainly had mated. It was not in a way I would have ever imagined. Was this what she saw in that crystal ball?

When I was done grooming her, I called the horse dealer and told him she would not be for sale.

I spent some time trying to find out how well she was trained. It didn't work well, so I gave up. That would be a job for Ethan.

That evening when I changed, it was much to Star's delight. I had let her into the pasture before I changed as I knew what was coming. I guess since I had all day to think about it and her, the idea of mating didn't seem so repulsive. I was able to enjoy the pleasure without so much anguish. I was also able to find out what my capacity was - it proved to be considerable in human terms.

I had no trouble shifting to human the next morning and heading off to work. I must have had the idiot grin on my face as I got a couple of comments about whether my luck in love had finally changed. I replied with a, "No comment," which only encouraged the speculation.

Star and I had another romp in the hay that night -- more literally than I had thought possible -- and another the night after. The next morning, she was no longer in heat.

The day that Ethan returned from his honeymoon I remained human until Ethan came by. We had lots to talk about, starting with introducing him to Star. The big question I had was how to tell if a mare is pregnant. He didn't know.

Life settled into yet another routine. I groomed Star, then became her companion while Ethan groomed me.

As a horse, I tried to learn to communicate with Star. I tried to "speak horse" even if it was with a heavy human accent. Other than that, it was just a matter of keeping up with life while we waited for Star to give some indication she was pregnant.

Things got a little strange 8 months after Star was in heat. There were times that she looked noticeably pregnant and times that she didn't. We even got out a tape measure and recorded the difference. This remained a puzzle.

This was strange enough that Ethan called a vet to visit when I would be in horse form so that I could be examined too. The vet confirmed that Star was indeed pregnant -- she was noticeable at the time -- but didn't know how we would get different measurements. He declared both of us to be healthy.

Ethan, Ellen and I discussed whether my offspring would be human or horse. We quickly abandoned that as unknowable and moved on to what should we do to prepare. We decided to have stuff for both infant human and foal on hand. If the offspring was human, my big concern was what to do while I had to spend time as a horse. We eventually agreed that Ethan and Ellen could move into my house and be caretakers of my offspring.

When Star finally went into labor, I had already shifted to horse for the night. I shifted back to human and called Ethan from the house and then called the vet. I also left voice mail for my boss claiming vacation time. Once we were all assembled, it didn't take long for Star to deliver a healthy colt. The vet was alarmed that he was so small, but he did appear healthy and he did get onto wobbly legs by the time the vet left.

I hadn't figured out what I would have done if Star had given birth to a human infant in front of the vet.

I was both elated and disappointed. My son was a beautiful creature with fur that matched his mother. But he was not human.

I stayed human that night, having saved up the time. Ethan and Ellen stayed with me.

When my little one was about 5 hours old, he seemed to abruptly collapse, landing in the straw. I became alarmed and knelt down beside him. His shape looked odd. A moment later I realized what I was seeing -- my son was changing from horse to human! He would carry the same curse. After ten minutes, a very human looking baby boy lay in the straw in front of me. His flesh matched mine in pinkness, his hair was the same color as the fur that had just disappeared.

We simply stared at the boy for a moment. We snapped out of it when he started to fuss. I picked him up, wrapped him in a blanket and held him close. Ellen warmed up a human size bottle and gave it to me. Star looked anxious, wondering where her colt had gone.

Ethan and I guessed that Star didn't look so pregnant when the fetus was in human form and did when he was in horse form. We also guessed that his horse form was small to match his human form.

From my son's red hair coloring it was obvious to me that Star had contributed genetic material. My family had never had hair that color. I wondered what other pieces Star had contributed. From his feathering over his hooves when in horse form, in addition to his human features, it was also obvious that I was the father.

Ethan and I went to the hospital to register the birth. I chose the name Jason. The administrator filling out the form seemed to take joy in giving me a hard time. The mother's name is Star? Are you a hippie too? Why didn't she accompany her child? Isn't she taking the natural birth thing at home a bit too far? Finally, she was done.

The doctor declared Jason to be healthy. It took a bit of convincing but the doctor finally agreed that Jason didn't need to spend the night. I certainly didn't want my little boy to turn into a little horse there in the nursery.

Jason in horse form was given the name Spike. I hoped we wouldn't confuse the poor kid.

Though Jason/Spike did his papa proud, I decided one was quite enough. I promptly had a vasectomy before Star could go into heat again. I had been looking forward to Star being in heat -- in contrast to my first encounter with her that way -- but I didn't want to be the one to impregnate her.

We soon settled into another routine. Jason would spend 12 hours as a very mobile horse and 24 as a human that didn't go anywhere. It would be a while before he figured out the trigger. While he was a horse, Star seemed to handle things well. While he was a human, Star seemed lonely while Ellen and I took care of him.

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Now that Star was no longer pregnant, I had Ethan instruct me in how to properly ride her. On days that Jason was a horse, I enjoyed taking Star out for a ride with Spike walking along beside us. Well, actually Spike romped and galloped more than he walked. On days that Jason was human, I bundled him into a backpack for a ride. On weekends when I could also be horse, Star, Spike and I could have a nice outing together. Those were enjoyable days. I began to feel a love for my strange family.

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The vet visited for a checkup when Jason was 6 months old. Ethan had scheduled it for a day when Jason was Spike and I could be Maverick. The vet declared us all healthy but he was concerned with the small size of Spike. He expected the colt to be much larger. Spike had grown, but was a lot smaller than the vet thought he should be.

When Jason was a year old Ellen or I started to read bedtime stories to him, which he enjoyed. Ellen was a bit surprised one evening a week later when Spike used his hooves to slide a book over to her. It would look odd to outsiders, but Spike got bedtime stories too.

At the next checkup, the vet was alarmed at how small Spike was. He expected to see a horse nearly mature. It was then I realized what was going on. Spike was maturing at the same rate as Jason. In a way, that was a relief. A five year old human wouldn't be able to handle the sexual maturity of a horse. Later, I told the vet over the phone that I didn't think Spike should be treated for being small if he was otherwise healthy. The vet thought I was nuts.

Ellen soon announced she was pregnant. Compared to our concerns while Star was pregnant, Ellen's pregnancy was a breeze. She delivered a girl and named her Melanie.

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At age 3, Jason figured out how to trigger the change. He soon aligned his changes with mine.

Jason and I went to the park for a picnic for a bit of father-son time, as we had done on occasion. This time it was a month after Jason figured out the trigger. Jason took two bites of his sandwich then declared, "I don't want a sandwich. I want grass!" I noticed his ears begin to twitch and lengthen as he started to take off his shirt.

"Jason, no!" I hissed. "This is not the time to be Spike!" This was not a conversation I wanted anyone to overhead.

"But the grass looks so good!" His shirt was off now and his fur began to show on his skin. His ears were prominent and pointed. He started taking off his pants.

I got up off the blanket and pulled it over the two of us. I then held him close. His face had started to push out. His middle fingernails had thickened, the other fingers had shrunk. "This grass is not for eating. You have to change back to human. Come on Jason, think skin. Think fingers. Think smiles. Think small ears." I kept up my chant as his tail appeared over his shorts. His body language suggested defeat as he triggered the change back to human. When I had a human boy in my arms again, I asked, "Do you want to finish your sandwich now, or should we go back to our barn?"

"I wanna go home." So we cancelled the picnic. It was a long time before I dared have another.

That was when I realized that Jason would have to be home schooled. Ellen agreed to the job. Melanie could be home schooled too. That would probably be for the best as Melanie would likely say some strange things to her teachers.

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After a few years of schooling, Jason began a rebellious streak. Studying wasn't fun anymore, he said. He began spending as much time as a horse as possible. That was when we discovered the flip side of the curse.

I saw Spike galloping across the field when I cam home from work one chilly October evening. I waved. He nodded his head. I went into the barn to prepare for the evening.

A half hour later, a completely naked and quite chilled Jason walked into the barn. I threw a blanket around him and pulled him over to the furnace duct. I started making hot chocolate and asked, "So why did you shed your fur on such a cold night?"

"I didn't do it Dad, it just happened." At my curious stare, he continued. "I didn't trigger the shift, Dad. It happened all by itself."

It took me a moment to piece it together. I had already learned that if I spent too long as a human my change to horse would be automatic. I almost always triggered it so that it would happen when I wanted it to. Since Jason had been aligning his schedule with mine since he was three and learned the trigger, it had been many years since he had not triggered the shift. Now that he wanted to spend

all his time as a horse, he found out the hard way that if he spent too much time that way, his shift to human would also be automatic.

It didn't take him long to decide to sleep as a human and spend most of his days as a horse.

Ellen was frustrated trying to teach him. It didn't work to try to teach spelling and arithmetic when Spike wanted to gallop around the pasture. I soon hit on a solution. If Ellen couldn't teach Jason on human topics, Ethan would teach Spike on horse topics, which Spike took to rather quickly.

I let the situation go for a while, but soon insisted Jason learn how to be human as well as horse. I could confine him to the barn and have Ellen teach him even while he was Spike. Spike soon found the disadvantage of that. Melanie wanted to braid his tail or his mane whenever she had the chance. It didn't take Spike long to figure out he should attend class as Jason. He settled for a more balanced schedule and continued his education on two fronts.

It wasn't all study. I made sure I spent human time with Jason both doing human things and going for a ride on Star. I also made sure that Spike, Star, and I as Maverick continued to cavort in the evening. Spike liked to show off what he had learned from Ethan just as Jason liked to display what he learned from Ellen.

Jason was soon taking riding lessons on Star and was pretty good at it. I wanted to let Jason learn by riding me as Maverick, but Ethan vetoed that idea. He said that Jason would either not learn how to control the horse or would get into dominance games with me. Jason riding Star wasn't so easy to deal with either. I had to swallow jealousy when I saw another male sitting on my mate.

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When Jason reached middle school age I was certain he wouldn't shift to Spike at inappropriate times. I enrolled him in the local middle school. I did it as much for the social aspects as I did for the educational. It took him a while to fit in, except in gym class, where he was always picked first for a team, quite the opposite of my middle school experience.

Jason was faithful in his studies. It didn't take long for him to come up with a solution for studying while leading a dual life. He bought a pressure sensitive pad, laid it out on the barn floor, marked it with hoof size keys, and programmed his computer to treat it as a keyboard. The sight of a horse typing out an English composition was humorous to Ellen.

The barn -- at least around Jason's stall -- was beginning to look like that of a middle-school student. He put up posters of an odd mix. I guess I expected rock band posters. I expected the posters of horses as well. It was the posters of centaurs that startled me.

Jason was starting to look and act like a teenager. I didn't want to fight dominance battles with him when Star came into heat. I found and bought a small cabin with a shed and pasture an hour farther out from town. Since my fateful night in Budapest, I hadn't done any traveling. The fear of shifting in an inappropriate place had killed the wanderlust of my youth. Ethan, Ellen, and Melanie took vacation time to be with Jason at the cabin when Star was in heat. Jason liked the week off from school, but didn't like having to keep up with studies during that time.

I was relieved when Jason started to date, though I noticed it was never just himself and a girl. He usually went out with other couples. He rarely brought a girl home. He explained that the girls that liked horses seemed too eager and the ones that didn't like horses didn't want to come.

Jason came home from one date in a strange mood. When I asked him about it, he told this story:

"When we got back to Diane's house after the movie, I was the last one into the house and mistakenly left the door open. Diane's mother said, 'Close the door! Did you grow up in a barn?' I replied, 'Yes.' Everyone started laughing and I couldn't figure out why, which made them laugh even harder. I practically ran out the open door. Dad, what did I say that was so funny?"

By this time, much to my son's annoyance, I was chuckling myself. By the end of my explanation, Jason did admit it was funny. Even so, he didn't think he could date Diane again.

Jason led an active social life through high school and college. He dated several women. But none of his dates were the one. I soon realized Jason's interest in women was the same as mine -- they're nice people and fun to be with, but there was no desire to mate with them.

Jason worked at a nearby stable during his senior year in high school. The owner thought Jason did wonders with the horses and said great things about his future. That ended when Jason insisted he had to take his vacation when a mare came into heat and the owner insisted that was the time when everyone had to work. Jason quit, and adjusted his plans for a college major.

Star died during Jason's freshman year at college. He took two days off from class. His professors were not inclined to excuse the absences, after all it was only a horse that died. He took the time off anyway. Ethan, Ellen, Melanie, Jason, and I had a simple memorial service for her and then buried her at the far side of the pasture. She had lived a typical lifespan for a horse. I still miss her.

Five months after graduation and now settled into a job Jason said, "It's time, Dad." I knew what he meant and was somewhat prepared for the idea. It was time to search for and buy a mare for Spike. Jason had done his research. He knew all about the various breeds, which ones he had the most interest in, the likely price of a mare in each breed, and the likely availability.

Though a Clydesdale mare may look rather fetching, she would also be beyond our resources. Jason and I also discussed that his mother was not a purebreed and buying a mare with papers was probably not worth the money. There certainly would be no offspring to sell to recoup the purchase price! We would go for health and looks, not for pedigree.

The solution came from an unexpected direction. The local horse dealer handed Jason a notice of a government sale. The Bureau of Land Management was making 200 horses for sale to reduce the wild herd on government lands. The herd had gotten too big. Those horses that weren't sold would be destroyed. Jason wished we had the money to rescue more than one.

At the sale, Jason slowly inspected the mares. He looked at several longingly, but chose one not yet mature. Though there would be no offspring this year, she could be around for a long time. The one he chose had tan fur with black socks and tail. He named her Lady.

It took a lot of training on the part of Jason and Ethan, but soon we had a quite pleasant addition to the family.

When I sensed Lady was about to come into heat, I left for the cabin. When I returned home, Jason had a particularly wide grin on his face. In the next foaling season, Lady delivered twins, a colt and a filly. A few hours after birth both shifted from horse to human. The family curse lived on. Jason named them Justin/Storm and Rose/Cloud.

I watched with interest as Jason dealt with his children. I was frequently reminded of similar situations when he was young. I also watched as Melanie took over many of the tasks her mother had done for Jason and Spike.

Justin and Rose didn't make it easy. Their cycles were of slightly different lengths. It was soon common that one was shifting to horse as the other shifted to human. It was fascinating to watch a little horse play with an infant human.

During the following spring Jason realize that while he wanted more children, he wanted the twins to be a bit older. Having grown up with the curse, he didn't feel as squeamish about propagating it as I did. He joined me at the cabin, leaving the kids with Ellen, Melanie, and Lady. The year after that, he decided that two children really were enough and got a vasectomy.

The year after that, Melanie married and moved to a new home nearby. She visited when she could, but I think Ron, her husband, was uncomfortable around us, though he never did anything to endanger us.

I retired from my job that year. Jason's salary and my pension was more than enough. This allowed me to adjust my schedule so that either Jason or I was in human form most of the time to care for the twins, which would have overwhelmed Ellen.

During the "terrible twos" - a time before either of then figured out the trigger - we had to watch them carefully. One human sibling in human form frequently used the other in horse form for personal transportation. They could get across the field in no time, but one didn't always have a good hold when the other took off.

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The cabin got crowded the spring that the twins turned 15. Ethan met me at the end of the driveway when I cam home from work. He said, "Rose abruptly shifted to horse and has gone into heat. Justin is with my parents. I suggest you go straight to the cabin if you don't want to be involved in incest."

I said, "And Jason?"

Ethan said, "I haven't seen him yet. When I do, I'll have him meet you at my parent's place."

We three men had a nice time at the cabin, though our happy mood was spooled a bit when Cloud sent e-mail (thanks to her father's hoof sized keyboard) lamenting she was stuck in horse form. We did the parental fretting, but there wasn't a lot we could do about it. Even going home wasn't a good idea, that would mean three stallions fighting over her.

Rose sent e-mail a week later giving the all-clear. She had been stuck as a horse the whole time she was in heat. She wasn't too happy about the experience and grumbled about being stuck in horse form for a week each spring.

Rose wasn't so sure of the idea of motherhood. She doubted she wanted to buy a stallion and take care of it. She didn't think it would work to send the stallion off to the cabin with the men during years she didn't want children. She declared she would rather be a career woman.

At Rose's urging, we bought a second cabin for the women. Rose didn't want to be at the farm when Justin wanted to mate as he would then mate with her too. The cabin for Rose was a good 20 minute drive from the men's cabin.

Though Rose and Justin dated, human mates didn't appeal to them any more than they had appealed to me or Jason. Once Justin graduated and got a job, he asked about buying a mare. I was a great-grandfather within a couple of years. The curse lived on.

Rose completed college and settled into a job. She even got a few promotions and raises in short order.

It wasn't too many years before motherhood became the top item on her agenda. She still didn't want the hassles of owning a stallion. Besides, she would essentially be a single mother even with the stallion around. She opted for a stud service. She decided she could afford a good one, given her income and savings. She arranged for a visit to a Clydesdale farm.

While the men waited at our cabin, Ethan took Cloud to the stud farm. On their return Cloud reported through email that the trip appeared to be a success. The note said little. What does a woman say on that subject in a note to her father and grandfather?

A week later, Cloud reported shat she was no longer in heat, but couldn't shift to human. We loaded the car and returned to the farm.

Three days later, Cloud still couldn't shift. She was now quite worried. Her vacation time would soon be over. We gathered around Cloud to discuss the situation.

Ethan said, "Remember how we became so concerned when Star was pregnant with Jason because some days she looked pregnant and some days she didn't? Remember when Lady was pregnant and did that and we commented it was just like Star?"

I nodded, "Go on."

Ethan said, "When Jason was born and shifted, we figured that Star changed sizes because the fetus was shifting between human and horse. I suspect that Cloud's baby will also shift before birth. If so, what would happen to a human woman carrying a horse fetus? I have some guesses, none of them pretty." I could tell from Cloud's ears that she was paying very close attention to this. "I think locking Cloud into horse form is the way that the curse protects her from an oversized fetus. I think she won't be able to shift until after the birth."

Cloud's reaction was immediate and noisy. It took all of us to calm her down. The reason was clear. Birth was 11 months away!

After a day or two of sulking, Cloud e-mailed her boss. She asked if she could work from home. That was turned down. She asked about a leave of absence. She was told the company had no such policy.

Through the computer, she wondered "out loud" about an abortion, then decided she couldn't do that, even if not doing that meant she would live as a horse for nearly a year. She sent e-mail to her boss submitting her resignation.

Those 11 months were long ones for Cloud. We all tried to be extra nice to her, but her computer messages frequently reminded me how much she hated the curse she inherited. She also had a few choice words for the grandfather that did stupid things that caused him to acquire the curse.

Michael/Buddy was born as a beautiful colt. His markings were of a Clydesdale, but his fur was much lighter than the usual chocolate. He shifted to human 2 hours later.

Once Michael was born Cloud could shift. Rose quickly arranged to have her ovaries removed. She did not want to live through that again. She didn't even want the hassles of going into heat! The doctor was reluctant to remove healthy organs saying that it would be better to just have her tubes tied, but Rose could be quite persistent.

Today, I look back on a long and very unusual life. I have a son, two grandchildren, and a great-grandson and have reached the age of 80. I had passed on a curse that I had acquired in my youth and seen the ingenuity that allowed me and my progeny to live well in spite of it. We prove again how adaptable humans are.

Rose may have detested the curse each spring, but even she enjoys a good gallop across the field with her son. I may have a most unusual family, but we wouldn't have it any other way.