User:Posti/Mortal Danger

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Mortal Danger

Author: Bob Stein

“Ramming speed!” Brian grinned as he and Eric drifted towards the center of a second canoe manned by Bob and Chip. Although the four were definitely improving after an hour of paddling, they still had maneuvering problems every now and then. At least this particular branch was free of the noisy paddleboats and Jon boats with fishermen. Fallen trees created an effective blockade at the entrance, but they had managed to slip between the branches in the narrow canoes.

“What is this? Return of the Titanic?” Bob fended off the mock attack with an easy push of his paddle. “At least there aren’t any icebergs.”

Eric wiped his forehead and squinted up at the sun. “I could go for an iceberg about now.” The others nodded in agreement. Trees on either side shaded much of the winding river, but this particular section was fully exposed.

“It’s so quiet.” Bob closed his eyes, concentrating. “We could be in the middle of the wilderness here. I can’t even hear the power boats any more.” That was surprising, considering how close they must be to the main channel. The branch they were exploring was part of a closed waterway inside Northwest River Park, but they had already seen the open river across the dirt barriers of some other channels.

The group paddled silently for a bit, listening to the birds and various rustlings of wildlife around them. It was incredibly peaceful here. Even the water looked different. An even layer of pollen floated on the surface, with bits of leaves and algae mixed in. Apparently, they were the first boaters to come this way in quite a while.

Bob was a bit puzzled as he looked around. He’d been here just a few weeks ago with some kids, and thought they had covered all the different parts of the waterway. This certainly didn’t look familiar. He couldn’t quite put a finger on what was different, but then, he wasn’t exactly an outdoors type. Must have missed this branch last time.

It was certainly longer than the others they had paddled down. Up until now, the canals had quickly ended at picnic spots or hiking trails. There was no indication that this one ended at all, even though they had been on it for some time. Well, at $3 per hour, the rental would hardly kill them. And it was relaxing. However, even in the midst of nature, nature sometimes calls.

“Uh, guys?” Brian seemed a bit embarrassed. “I need to make a pit stop.”

Chip nodded in agreement. “I could stand a whiz, myself.” He scanned the banks ahead. “Looks like a spot over there we could stop.” He pointed to a small stretch of sandy soil to the left. A couple of paddle strokes later, both canoes were beached. Brian and Chip scrambled out of their respective boats and headed off in different directions to relieve themselves.

As the two disappeared into the brush, Eric and Bob briefly considered paddling just out of sight. Unfortunately, the joke was more effort than it was worth. They ended up passing the time by watching swarms of water bugs flitting around the boats.


Brian was discovering that the wilderness wasn’t the most comfortable place to relieve himself. Some sort of big bugs kept buzzing around his head, prompting ineffectual shooing with his free hand. As he finished, one of the insects landed on his ear, and he instinctively swatted it. The action knocked his glasses off.

Oh, just great.” Annoyed, he peered into the thick underbrush. Something glinted in the sunlight, though it seemed further away than his glasses should have gone. Moving very cautiously, he crouched slightly to get under an overhanging branch and took another look. Weird. He would have sworn they were right here. Over there. He saw an earpiece sticking up through the weeds. How did they get so far in? He had to bend lower this time, groping for the missing eyewear with one hand while he pushed aside leaves with the other.

The buzzing started to get louder, and he paused nervously. Was there a nest of these bugs around? He couldn’t get a clear view of them, but they were awfully large. If he wasn’t half-blind without them, he’d probably have abandoned his glasses. Instead, he crept forward very slowly, forced lower still as the brush closed in around him.

This was ridiculous! He must have swatted the frames really hard to knock them this far. The buzzing was incredibly loud now, and he almost changed his mind about abandoning the spectacles. Finally, though, his fingers closed around a lens and he had them.

Or did he? Blinking, Brian gaped at the wire-rimmed glasses he held. The shape was right, but this pair looked like it had been made for the Jolly Green Giant! The frames were easily two feet wide, with lens like small plates. Bewildered, he looked around. There was no sign of his own normal-sized eyewear. However, there were some large, moving shapes in the brush around him. Nervous, he backed away from the spot. The buzzing rose to a low roar. And then several insects the size of small dogs burst out of the weeds.

Spinning, Brian ran for the boats, clutching the unwieldy glasses instinctively. The giant bugs flew by so close that he could feel the breeze from their wings. He stumbled and fell, tangled up in something baggy and confining. Panicked now, he kicked free and scrambled out of the undergrowth. The insects buzzed around him, sounding like chain saws. Where were the boats? Confused, he searched frantically. There! That was Bob’s scent. And he could pick up the sweet odor of Eric’s Mountain Dew.

The sweet odor of Mountain Dew? Brian froze suddenly, realizing that something was very, very wrong. In fact, several things were very, very wrong. Since when could he smell a can of soda a hundred feet away? More importantly, he was moving on all fours. Naked.

Perhaps naked was too strong a term. The dark, banded fur covering what appeared to be his body precluded the need for clothing. He rose to his hind legs and twisted around with remarkable ease. Thick, bushy tail. Claw-like hind feet. Small, black hands with delicate little fingers. He sat down suddenly, feeling dizzy and disoriented. This was impossible. Terror and delight waged war inside him as the truth became obvious.

He was a raccoon. The details weren’t quite what he had imagined, but then, he’d never seen one from the inside before. Male, though his nose had already told him that. His nose was telling him a lot of things. Deer had been walking on this trail just a few hours earlier. Other raccoons, including several females. He pushed that from his mind for now, though it remained in the background. Other odors were difficult to understand. One brought a flickering memory of something like a humanoid goat. How could it be a memory? Such things didn’t even exist. Of course, Optometry students didn’t normally turn into raccoons, either.

His hearing was different, too. The insects buzzing sounded more like high-pitched laughter. His furry brow wrinkled. It was high-pitched laughter! He spun around and saw two of the huge flying creatures behind him. This time, however, they did not flicker out of sight.

Faerie. Not the glittering, glowing miniature people from movies and fantasy story illustrations. These were more like human-shaped grasshoppers. Pale green, with huge, solid-black eyes. Maybe half his current size, though much frailer. They hovered in mid-air, apparently conversing in soft, musical sounds. Panic forgotten, he reached out with one black paw.

The creatures backed away suddenly startled by his action. After a moment, they started buzzing again, and rose to circle above him. Brian shook his head, feeling a bit confused. Memory of the females stirred, and he found himself starting to follow one of the enticing scents. Before he got more than a few steps, he came across a large, shiny object on the ground. Metal. Lens. His glasses.

Cold fear cut through the blanket of instinct and animal thought. Brian grabbed the nosepiece in his mouth and bolted towards his friends. He had no doubt that the strange creatures were trying to affect his mind, to give him the thoughts of a raccoon to match his body. He'd often discussed the prospect of truly becoming an animal, and even figured it would be acceptable. Faced with the reality, he discovered that he was terrified of losing the memories and knowledge that made up his identity. Unless he could escape these faerie, Brian Eric Coe would cease to exist.


Chip looked around a bit before deciding on a suitable target. Sorta stupid, really. One tree was just as good as another when it came to draining the bladder. He felt a little strange taking a whiz in the open like this, but he knew he couldn't hold out until they got back to the park office. If anything, he barely contained himself until his shorts were clear. Relief was almost tangible, and he sighed deeply. Some trick of the wind seemed to echo the sound, stretching it out into a sensuous moan.

He frowned. That was no breeze. "Very funny, Bob." The soft sighing came again, this time from in front of him. Puzzled, he looked around the side of the tree trunk. No one was there. Besides, there was little chance that his friend could move quietly enough to sneak up on him. He shook his head and grinned at his own nervousness. And looked up into the face of a beautiful girl.

"Gaaah!" He stumbled back, startled. The girl had appeared between him and the tree, which meant that he'd just anointed her. Mortified, he fumbled with his shorts as he stammered out an apology. "Oh, Shi…, I mean, uh…" His cheeks flushed beet red and he turned away from her. "I didn't see you there. Oh, God! I don't believe this!"

Gentle fingers brushed his shoulders, and stroked his back. Chip's eyes widened as the girl pulled his arms away from his zipper and turned him slowly around to face her. They nearly popped out of his head when he realized she was naked. She pulled him against her suddenly, surprisingly strong for such a slender frame. Lust flared suddenly inside him, burning with a ferocity he'd never experienced before. There was no time for thought, for worrying about consequences. She was on him in an instant, arms and legs wrapped around him in a passionate tangle.

Overwhelmed by passion, Chip returned the embrace. Or tried to. His hands met an obstacle halfway down her back, as if she were leaning against a projection from the tree behind her. The distraction prompted a glance over her shoulder. A thick growth of wood extended from the trunk, ending against her back. His fingers searched and failed to find the edge. It was like the tree was part of her. Or maybe, she was part of the tree.

As his mind struggled to comprehend these details, Chip became aware of other things. Her hair, closer than it had been before, was thick, green, and leafy. And the smooth, tanned skin had a woodgrain pattern. He was having sex with an Oak tree.

He screamed and tried to disengage himself from the passionate plant. Her legs held him like a vise, and all he could do was push against the wooden shoulders. Arching back, he moaned in pleasure and horror. His partner showed no expression on her exquisitely carved face, though the blank eyes seemed to look evenly into his. She looked like an unpainted mannequin with a houseplant stuck on as a wig. And yet she was soft, supple, beautiful, and incredible, unbelievably passionate. His resolve was weakening, despite the horror of the situation. Then he saw his hands.

Considering what else was going on, he had good reason not to have noticed before. Still, he couldn't help being amazed at his own blindness. His eight fingers had merged into four, with thumbs lengthening to form three equal-length digits on each hand. They splayed out stiffly against the creature's shoulders, looking very much like deeply cloven hooves. And the frail-looking arms above them were growing coarse white fur.

The shock of seeing himself transforming broke through even the numbing lust, and he twisted violently enough to pull out of her. Her legs opened suddenly, allowing him to fall back in the dirt. Scrambling frantically away from her, Chip gaped as the girl seemed to step back into the tree. Bark rippled around her head, and then closed over it, leaving only two leafy branches that had been her outstretched arms.

A glance down revealed that while the tree looked normal again, he certainly did not. His clothing hung loosely on a much smaller body, and all of the exposed skin had a dense covering of curly white hair. Feet had changed even more than his hands, pure animal hooves with no gripping ability. And his legs were swollen and twisted oddly. Caught halfway between human and goat, they were unusable. More bewildering was the evidence of his copulation with the strange creature. A thick layer of yellowish powder was embedded in the fur around his crotch, which was also darker and oddly shaped.

He began to shake uncontrollably, and tears ran unheeded down his cheeks. Oh, God! What had happened to him? Unable to rise on his partially transformed legs, Chip broke down and sobbed, making small bleating noises that only drove him deeper into despair.


"Did you hear that?" Bob sat up in the canoe and looked towards the trees where Brian had vanished. "Sounded like a scream!"

Eric nodded as they both scrambled out of their canoes. "Brian? Are you OK?" Before they reached the brush, another shout came from Chip's direction.

"What the Hell?" Bob spun around and stopped. "Wait, Eric!" He ran back to the canoes and pulled out two paddles. Tossing one to Eric, he gripped the other grimly. "No telling what's in there. Be careful."

Eric turned back towards the woods, only to fall back in a panic as a dark, furry shape exploded out of the brush. Both men brought their paddles up, ready to defend themselves from the large raccoon which started jumping around in front of them.

"Shit! I wonder if it has rabies?" Bob swallowed hard, staring nervously at the animal. "There's been cases reported around here!"

Eric looked back into the woods the creature had come from. "Brian! Are you OK? Brian!" By odd coincidence, the raccoon suddenly stood still and stared at him. Then it dropped something onto the ground that they hadn't noticed before. Glasses. Brian's glasses.

"If this is a joke, I'm gonna rip his lungs out." Bob frowned, still afraid to approach the animal. He turned back towards the woods. "Brian! Say something!"

The raccoon exploded into a loud chittering, and then picked up the glasses and threw them at Bob's feet. Both men froze, eyes wide.

"No way." Bob swallowed, and then squinted at the beast. "Eric, tell me I'm crazy. Tell me you aren't thinking that…"

Eric squatted down suddenly in front of the animal. "Brian? Is that you?" It bobbed its head up and down in an unmistakable nod. "Oh, my." The man sat down suddenly, a dazed expression on his face.

"Chip!" Suddenly remembering the second cry, Bob ran after the missing member of their party. Eric scrambled up to follow, but the raccoon went crazy again as some small birds fluttered out of the woods behind them.

"It's just some…" He jumped back as they zoomed past him to attack the raccoon. He stared for a moment with his mouth hanging open. They weren't any kind of bird he'd ever seen. Not a bug, either, though the greenish color and wings gave that impression. Whatever they were, the raccoon was obviously terrified of them. It was running frantically around the canoes, trying to escape.

"Get outa here!" Eric swung the paddle, trying to swat one of the huge things as it dove at the animal. He wasn't quite convinced that the raccoon was really Brian, but he couldn't exactly swear it wasn't, either. The blow hit home, and he felt a solid thud. The other bug-thing stopped in mid-air, hovering over them for a moment before zooming back into the underbrush.

Curious, Eric turned the paddle over to look and dropped it with a cry. A dark, smoking form was embedded in the plastic blade, obviously the thing he'd hit. The body sizzled and bubbled, as if it were being eaten away by acid. At the same time, a sickeningly sweet odor filled the air. Eric felt the bile rise in his throat, and had to struggle to keep from throwing up. The raccoon stared at the carcass for a moment, and then chittered at him. Eric sighed. "If you're telling me we're in trouble, I'm inclined to agree."


"Chip?" Holding the paddle up defensively, Bob slowly approached what looked to be the huddled form of his friend. He recognized the T-shirt and shorts, anyway. Even from a distance, it was obvious that something had happened. Most obviously, the man had shrunk. His T-shirt bagged on him like a tent. As he got closer, Bob realized that Chip's normally dark hair was pure white. "Chip? Can you talk?"

The small form looked up at him with watery eyes and bleated. Even after seeing what was most likely Brian, Bob wasn't quite prepared. It was obviously Chip, but his human features had somehow been translated into those of a goat. The result was neither human nor animal, yet still recognizable. The rest of his body followed the same formula, though both legs were too deformed to stand on.

"Bob!" Eric's voice echoed through the trees. "Get back here quick! I think we have trouble."

More trouble than this? Bob gave an incredulous snort before replying. "I know we got trouble! We'll be there in a sec." Steeling himself, he squatted down next to Chip and placed a hand on one shoulder. "We gotta get outa here, Chip. Can I carry you?"

His friend made a final attempt to stand, and then nodded miserably. Luckily, his reduced size made him easy to lift. The formerly athletic man was about the size and build of a skinny 9 year-old, though the yellow-stained sexual equipment that Bob scrupulously tried not to look at belonged to no child. As he hefted Chip onto his shoulders, Bob wrinkled his nose at a heavy, musky odor. Then he hurried back towards the boats, trying to keep Chip's head out of the branches.


A low humming surrounded the small clearing where Chip and Brian waited, building in intensity. Both man and beast spun around nervously when Bob stumbled out of the woods. Eric stared at the strange-looking creature on his back. "Is that Chip? He looks like a goat!"

Bob shrugged as he lowered the goat-like fellow into their canoe. "I guess so. At least he's wearing Chip's clothes. You think that's Brian?" The raccoon hissed at him and ran over to grab the glasses. Bob raised a hand wearily. "OK! OK! Sorry." Taking a deep shuddering sigh, he turned back to the only other human. "If we are both seeing the same things, it can't be a hallucination, or us going crazy." Then he frowned. "What's all that buzzing?"

Picking up the paddle, Eric showed him the corpse. "I don't know what it is, but there were two of them. I swatted this one when they went after the rac.. after Brian." Then he gestured towards the forest. "The other one flew off, and now it sounds like there are more of them gathering. Maybe we'd better get out of here."

"I think you have a concensus." Bob managed a wry smile as the raccoon jumped into Eric's canoe and scampered to the other end. Maybe we'd better just take one. Neither of them can help with the paddling, and we can all fit now." Eric nodded in agreement and climbed in after Brian.

Bob picked Chip up again, this time putting him in the middle of Eric's canoe. The two transformed members of the group stared at each other as the humans pushed off and began paddling rapidly away from the shore.

"Where to now?" Bob looked up and down the river. There was no sign of civilization anywhere. Dimly, he realized that's what had bothered him about this branch before. All of the other park waterways had low hills on either side, created when the channels were dredged out. This canal was natural, with flat, thick forest stretching out from both banks.

Eric pointed back the way they had come. "If that was the way in, it must be the way out, too!"

"The way in to where?"

Before he could answer, the low buzzing behind them increased to a dull roar, and a dark cloud rose up from the brush.

“Oh, shit!” Bob stared at the swarm of insect-like creatures for a moment, and then started paddling frantically. “Let’s get outa here!”

Desperation somehow got them working together with their strokes, and the canoe actually started moving along pretty well. Pitted against the faerie, they might as well have stayed on shore. In moments, the swarm descended on them. Chip hunched over in the bottom of the boat, shielding Brian in his lap. Bob and Eric started swinging paddles wildly.

Although they only hit a few of the attackers, the effect was dramatic. Any of the faerie they touched seemed to crackle and burn almost instantly. After a couple of the small creatures had been destroyed, the rest hung back. Eric stared at the still-smoking remains of a faerie on his paddle. “It’s the plastic! Plastic kills them!” He switched ends and waved the wooden handle in the air. A couple of the creatures flew down suddenly and grabbed at it, trying to knock it out of his hand.

“That answers that.” Easily overpowering the two faerie, Eric spun the paddle around again and cleared the air with some careful feints of the blade. “Let’s try to move further down. Maybe they are territorial.” The canoe picked up speed again, but the swarm stayed close. “Maybe we should head for shore. At least we could run.”

Bob looked at the heavily wooded shore. “I don’t think we could move fast through that. Besides, there’s no way we could outrun these things. At least on the water, we can see everything coming.”

At that moment, the boat lurched in the water. “What was that?” Eric peered over the side, and then jerked back from water as a long, scaly arm grabbed at him from under the surface. “Gaaah!” He swatted at the green hand with his paddle. There was a muffled scream from under the canoe as he struck, withering the arm into a blackened stick before it was snatched back.

“Paddle!” They started churning the water again, but both men were starting to feel helpless. Bob was shaking in fear, but managed a faint grin. “Faerie, satyrs, and now mermaids. How come we can’t find the unicorns or centaurs?”

The boat lurched again, this time knocked sideways towards the right bank. As they tried to push off, one of the overhanging branches dipped down suddenly and tangled around Chip. Bob dropped his paddle and grabbed as his friend was hoisted up into the air, dumping Brian into the boat. Chip threw his arms around Bob’s neck, bleating in terror. The branch wasn’t strong enough to lift both of them, but it could drag the canoe to the bank.

Bob held tight to Chip’s arms, staring grimly into his friend’s face. Without some leverage, he wouldn’t be able to pull Chip free. Taking a deep breath, he jumped out of the canoe, into the shallow water at the edge. Eric shouted something, but he couldn’t make it out.

The branch jerked hard, drawing them both close to the main trunk. Bob braced himself against the bank and tried to jerk back. Part of the trunk seemed to flow outwards, enveloping Chip’s legs. He bleated loudly and stiffened. The small form convulsed, and Bob nearly let go when his friend’s face began to push outwards. Already goaty looking, the face in front of Bob’s began to lose what familiar aspects it had had. Even the spindly arms changed further, fully covered with dense white fur. But it was still Chip until the eyes changed.

A cold chill ran down Bob’s spine as he saw human eyes get larger and darker. Terror faded from his friend’s gaze as pupils became huge and black, with only the smallest rim of white around the brown irises. And then the tree let go. Bob fell backwards into the water, with Chip landing on top of him. Goat’s eyes regarded him with mild curiosity, and then a fully formed faun sat up, straddling his belly. A whitish powder was mixed with the yellow now, embedded deep in the curly fur around his crotch.

Bob stared up at the tree, and saw a matching white and yellow spot which was folding back into the trunk. “Pollen.” He half-whispered the word as he looked back at Chip. Or at least, the satyr that had been his friend. There was no recognition in those animal eyes. Hoof-like hands picked at the clothing still draped over his body, tearing away the fabric.

Like the faerie, Chip didn’t match up to the figures of Greek mythology. He wasn’t half-goat, half-man. Instead, he was a wholly unique creature which strongly resembled a humanoid goat. But the truth of it was, he was more some kind of bumblebee. The real function of this animal-plant interaction was pollination. If he hadn’t just lost his best friend, Bob might have found the idea funny.

The faun slipped off of Bob and scrambled up onto the shore. He didn’t even look back before vanishing suddenly into the forest. Still laying in the shallows, Bob made no effort to stop him. Chip wasn’t there any more. Besides, he was in enough trouble on his own.

Faerie swarmed around him now, and he no longer had the paddle to protect himself. Maybe the best thing to do was to lay back and let them make what they would of him. With a little luck…

Thwack! The buzzing moved away, and he jerked up to see Eric wading up swing his paddle like a fan. His friend was drenched, and a bloody scratch showed through torn fabric of his shirt. “They pulled us out to the middle before I could help!” He swung at a close-flying faerie. “Flipped the canoe over. Brian escaped into the woods, but I couldn’t find him again!”

Bob sat up and looked around for his own paddle. It was nowhere to be seen. Crawling up onto the shore, he stood and looked around while Eric kept the attackers at bay. Mostly heavy forest, but there seemed to be some open area just beyond some trees directly ahead. “I don’t know what good it will do, but there’s a clearing over there of some kind. It’s better than getting stuck here.” Covering his face with one arm, he shouted and ran.

Eric made a final swing with the paddle before charging after him. The swarm of faerie followed at a safe distance, but at least whatever was in the water stayed put. They made it to the clearing without further incident, and moved out into the center. Eric watched the swarm, but they seemed to stay right at the edge of the forest.

“Remember what I said about unicorns and centaurs?” Bob’s voice was tight. “I take it back.”

Curious, Eric turned to see what the other man was talking about and froze. A huge, horse-like creature was approaching them. A black Shire with cloven hooves, glowing red eyes, and a twisted spike growing from its forehead. A unicorn. Or at least, some nightmare version of one.

Bob rose shakily to his feet. There was nowhere to run. The ground vibrated with each plodding hoof, and even the swarm behind them seemed to fall silent. Eric moved close, and then stepped beside Bob. “Start moving slowly to the side. Keep your hands down and don’t make any sudden movements.”

The older man nodded and started edging away. Eric moved in the opposite direction, waving his hands to distract the beast from his friend. The monster animal ignored him completely, snorting once as it zeroed in on Bob.

Sensing its approach, Bob stopped moving and turned to face the unicorn. It was beautiful and terrifying at the same time. He held out a trembling hand, which the nostrils snuffled in normal horse fashion. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad. The huge muzzle pushed closer, brushing his face with bristled lips. Then its head dropped and it dragged the tip of its dark, gold-flecked horn across his chest. Bob tensed, only to find himself relaxing as warmth flowed from the tip through his body. It was a wonderful sensation. Relieved, he smiled up at the bright red eyes. And gasped as the delicately spiraled horn suddenly pushed through his ribs and impaled his heart.

Eric screamed as he saw the horn emerge from Bob’s back. A cackling light washed over his friend’s body. Then the stallion sent Bob flying through the air with a toss of his head, to land in a broken heap on the grass. The sheer violence broke Eric’s forced calm, and he ran blindly away from the killer unicorn. Tears streamed down his face in a combination of grief, fear, and despair. Then a stone tripped him up, and he tumbled headfirst into the grass. Powerful hooves were thundering behind him, and the swarm approached overhead. It was over.

“Enough!” A powerful voice vibrated in his ears, and everything around him stopped. The swarm, the unicorn, even the sound of the breeze blowing across the field. Absolute silence, except for the pounding of his own heart. Slowly, carefully, Eric raised his head and looked around. He expected to see some vengeful god, a terrifying titan. Instead, he saw a scruffy boy.

Or at least, what looked like a boy. He was taking nothing for granted here. The kid had wild, curly hair, freckles, and hooves. OK. Not a boy. Horns, too, and pointed ears. More like what he would expect a satyr to look like.

“I warned you about leaving the gate open!” That deafening voice again.

The boy rolled his eyes, obviously not the speaker. “I did close it. It’s not like I’m the only one who sneaks over to the mortal realm. Ask Titania about her wonderful collection of beer bottles.”

“Silence, Puck!” The voice was angry. “This has cost lives! Mortals are dangerous! Three of our people were destroyed by their accursed plastic. And others are badly injured. There must be payment!”

“Payment?” Eric nearly spit the word. “Brian is a raccoon. Chip might as well be dead. And Bob…” He took a shuddering breath. “All we did was get lost. You guys attacked us first. I didn't know what plastic did at first, but if I had my paddle now I’d shove it up your stupid ass!”

“Stupid Ass?” The voice sounded amused rather than angry. “How appropriate.”

Eric was suddenly cooler, and discovered that his clothing had vanished. He waited for some more threatening attack, but nothing came.

“Oh, you really handled that well, mortal.” Puck plopped down on the ground and regarded him with a grin. His voice matched his appearance, young, yet slightly coarse and bestial. “I might have gotten you turned into a satyr, or a even a unicorn like your friend over there. But no. You gotta go insult the boss.” He plucked a dandelion from the ground and blew the fuzz towards Eric. “That’s the trouble with you mortals. No brains.”

Eric scratched absently at his chest, still waiting for ‘the boss’ to do something. The boy just sat there, pluck flowers and shaking the white fluff into the air. Something Puck had said tugged at his thoughts. “What did you say about turning into a unicorn?”

Rolling his eyes, Puck flopped on his back and giggled. “I said you coulda been a unicorn like your buddy. They gots all sorts of magic. But an ass is an ass. “

Eric swallowed, and looked hopefully over to the dark shape of Bob’s body. “You mean, he’s still alive?”

“No! We like zombie unicorns wandering around here all the time.” Puck snorted. “Of course he’s alive! We don’t kill here. Not even someone who does kill.”

Scrambling up, Eric ran over to his friend’s form. The person he found there was breathing, undamaged, and way too young. He pushed back long hair that covered the sleeping boy’s face. Even at something close to 16, Bob was easily recognizable. Yet there was also coarseness to his features that became more pronounced as Eric watched. Afraid to believe, he pulled up the T-shirt to examine Bob’s barreling chest. No wounds, though dark hair was spreading rapidly over his skin.

He backed away and sat down to observe the rest of the transformation. Bob continued to get younger, though the increasing equine influence made it harder to follow. It was weird to see him obviously drop below puberty while his mass increased. Eric guessed he was no more than 10 when his face pushed out into a muzzle, and maybe 8 as his hands and feet reformed into cloven hooves. By the time a small nub of a horn appeared on his forehead, Bob was a gangly, newborn foal.

A loud snort startled Eric, and he spun around to see another unicorn behind him. Obviously a mare, she ignored him as she plodded over to the still-sleeping colt. Eric blinked as she nuzzled Bob gently. The foal’s coat was slick with afterbirth, and the remains of an umbilical dangled from its belly. It shuddered, and then gave a high-pitched, weak whinny.

Rolling awkwardly onto its belly, the foal blinked in apparent confusion and looked around. After failing the first try, it rose unsteadily on splayed-out legs, and then stumbled around the mare. Usually, a newborn would seek out its mother’s teats instinctively. However, this colt walked past the mare and managed to whicker at Eric.

“Bob?” He held out his hand and crouched low as the former human stumbled closer. A loud whinny from the mare stopped Bob before he could touch Eric’s palm. She moved between them, forcing the human away. The foal tried to go around her, but she nudged him gently with her muzzle. Bob stiffened at the contact, and shook his head in apparent confusion. When he still didn’t give up, she pushed him towards her rump. The foal shook his head again, but this time he zeroed in on the waiting teats.

“And then there was one.” Puck grinned up at him. “Down three, up four. We came out ahead on this one. Maybe I’ll leave the gate open more often!” They both jumped as a crack of thunder echoed across the clear, sunny sky. “I was just kidding! What a grouch!”

Eric watched the nursing colt. “Is he still there? I mean, does he know who he is?”

The boy shrugged. “It’s still your friend there. Right now all he knows is that he is hungry. But after a while, he’ll remember what he used to be.”

“Can you change him back?”

Puck snorted. “Do you really think he’d want to be?”

Shaking his head, Eric sighed. This was what Bob had always said he wanted. Even better, really. Now he was a draft horse with magic. And Brian was a raccoon. He didn’t know Chip well enough to even guess, but maybe that followed some inner desire as well. Which left one human.

“What now?” He looked down at the boy expectantly.

“What do you mean, ‘what now?” Puck sat up and grinned at him. “We wait for you to finish, and then I’m gonna ride you over to the toadstool ring.”

“Finish?” Eric’s throat was suddenly dry. “You mean, I’ve started changing?”

The satyr chuckled. “Gods! What fools these mortals be!” Reaching between Eric’s legs, he yanked on something that pulled the base of the human’s spine. “That was my work, by the way. Shakespeare was a hack.”

Eric twisted around and stared at the long, ropy tail that emerged from his rump. He hadn’t even felt it grow out! Yet the muscles twitched on command, flicking it at will. And there was hair on his back. Thick patches of dark brown that spread across his skin like a brush fire.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Puck giggled again. “All four of you. You couldn’t have found your way here unless you wanted something like this. That’s the way Faerie magic works. You always get what you want. Even if you don’t always want what you get.”

A throbbing built in Eric’s hands, and he held them out to watch the transformation into hooves. “I think this is what we wanted.” He swallowed as the last of his fingers vanished. “We were more interested in the actual change, I guess.”

The boy grinned, and stood up. Walking over to Eric, he reached out and pulled on the man’s ears. Eric closed his eyes and shivered as he felt flesh stretch and reform. When the sensation stopped, he could feel donkey’s ears flopping on either side of his head. Too bad he’d already lost his hands. After a moment, Puck began to stroke his cheeks. Eric’s jaw thrust forward, and his nostrils flared and enlarged. The rapidly forming muzzle split his vision, which distorted and shifted color slightly.

Disoriented, he fell forward onto fully-formed forelegs. Puck worked quickly now, nudging the transformation here and there. And then it was done. The satyr was still poking and prodding in places, but Eric somehow knew that he was completely transformed. Oddly, he retained all human memory. Being a jackass felt perfectly natural, but he knew who and what he was.

The boy climbed up on his back, light enough that Eric was hardly aware of him. “Ya, mule!” It was easy to follow the gentle nudges of Puck’s legs, and he was soon trotting along at a good clip. His rider leaned forward and whispered into one ear. “You’re stuck as an ass now, but if you work with me, maybe we can have some fun. No human shapes, of course. But pretty much any equine form. Got any fat and bean-fed horses you want to beguile?”

Eric brayed noisily and picked up the pace as his new master broke into a fit of wild laughter. There were a couple of horses in Boston that he’d love to meet as an equal. And a couple of friends who just might want directions.

End?