Toby saw the rabbit first. Long experience with unpredictable animals alerted a sixth sense in Eric’s mind, and he gripped the leash tighter just before the big mutt bolted to give chase. The dog’s first lunge nearly yanked his arm out of its socket, and the second snapped the lead clean in two. “No, Toby!” Both Matthew and Eric yelled, but it was already too late. Free of his human anchor, Toby bolted into the thick fog.
“Oh, that’s bloody wonderful!” Matthew frowned more in worry for the animal than anger. As rural as the surroundings looked, busy highways were close by. If the rabbit tried crossing one of those roads, Toby would follow without a thought for the metal monsters hurtling past. “Toby! Come back here!”
The two men tried running after him, only to get stopped by one of the rail fences that marked off different pasture areas. Matthew started to climb over, but Eric grabbed his arm. “Not a good idea.” He pointed to a sign nailed on one of the fence posts. WARNING. BEWARE OF BULL. To punctuate his warning, a large, dark shape appeared out of the rolling mist. Toby’s intrusion must have irritated the huge bovine, for it snorted and stomped at them. “I don’t remember seeing him before.”
Matthew shook his head. “Me either. We must have wandered a bit off the usual path.”
“Sorry.” Sighing, Eric coiled the remains of the leash and stuffed it in his coat pocket. “I was paying more attention to the conversation than where Toby was leading us.” Although they kept in touch via email, the two friends were normally separated by the Atlantic Ocean. Eric’s quickie visits were usually spent catching up on little things, more enjoyment of each other’s company than any real discussions.
“Well, we can’t be but so lost. How long have we been walking?”
Eric glanced at his watch. “More than two hours!” He blew through his lips. “Do you think Toby will find his way back?”
“Actually, that’s what I’m afraid of.” Matthew chewed his lip absently. “The traffic is pretty bad near the house. And there are some other highways around. It’s bad enough in good weather, but with this fog…” His voice trailed off and he looked at the mist with a worried expression.
“Then we’d better find him.” Eric listened for a moment, and picked up the dog’s yelping. “Sounds like he is still close. I’ll try going around this way, you go the other. We’ll meet up on the other side.”
Matthew nodded, and started yelling as he disappeared into the mist. “Toby! Here, boy! Come here, you stupid dog!”
Grinning, Eric joined in with his own shouts. Jogging along the fence, he would stop every now and then to listen. Toby’s barking was still audible, though faint. Matthew was getting hard to hear as well. Sounds were probably getting muffled by the thick fog. Speaking of which. He slowed down to a walk after stumbling on the uneven ground already obscured by gray swirls. Even Boston’s famous pea soup weather didn’t get this bad, at least not often.
The pasture was a lot larger than he expected. It took quite a bit of walking to reach the corner post. If Matthew was still yelling for Toby, his voice was too faint to pick up. The dog, however, was getting closer. “Toby!” He clapped his hands and whistled. “Come on, Toby! Come here, boy.” He stopped and listened. The barking came from just ahead, off to the left. “Toby? To- ahhhk!”
Eric jumped as a small white shape rocketed between his legs, followed by the larger brown streak of his quarry. Both animals shot under the railing before he could react. A moment later, Toby’s barking ended with an abrupt yelp. Initial fear turned to amusement as the dog came running back out of the pasture. Eric clapped his hands and crouched down. “Toby!” Luckily, the dog’s remarkably selective hearing chose to listen to commands this time. Eric grabbed the broken leash and checked the animal over. No signs of injury, just a lot of mud.
“Get away you great brute!” Eric was startled to hear a woman’s voice coming from inside the pasture. A loud and ominous snort indicated that she wasn’t alone. The bull!
Quickly tying the dog’s leash to a rail, Eric stepped up on the fence and peered into the mist. There was a bellow of rage, and the ground vibrated under pounding hooves.
“I’m warning you.” The woman certainly didn’t sound intimidated. “Don’t mess with me. I’ve had a bad day.”
Valor overcame common sense, and Eric leaped over the fence and headed for the sounds. There! He made out the black mass of the bull’s butt. It was pawing the ground and shaking its head from side to side. The woman stood directly in front of it with one hand pointing at the animal’s nose. He saw the bull start to charge, and unable to think of anything else, yelled and slapped its rump as a distraction. Just as his hand made contact, there was a brilliant flash of light, like a green strobe light going off in the fog.
“Baaaaaaaaaaaa.” Eric shook his head in confusion. Where had the sheep come from? And why was it so big? It was hard to think clearly, but it gradually occurred to him that he was on hands and knees. That would explain the eye-level view of a ewe’s rear end. He sniffed under the tail instinctively before recoiling with a startled bleat of his own. Bleat? Twisting around, he stared. Either he was wearing a very virgin wool body suit, or he was a match for the female sheep directly in front of him.
“Oh, bother!” The woman towered over him, hands on hips and an annoyed expression on her face. She had one of those ageless faces, attractive and dark-haired. The filmy dress she had on had little more substance than the fog surrounding them. “First that blasted dog, and now this! I’m moving back to the Lake District.” She crouched down and grabbed Eric’s muzzle. “I don’t suppose you had the decency to become a proper sheep, did you?”
Eric tried to pull away, bleating in fear as his mind cleared. He was a ewe! And this woman, whoever she was, had changed him! Amazement mixed with fear and disgust. All the times he’d fantasized about transformations, and he ends up as a yarn factory!
“I thought not. Bloody Hell! What were you thinking, going after that monster with your bare hands?” She let him go and sighed, anger vanishing. “Chivalry. Not dead. Just turned to mutton chops. I’m sorry, young man. You must have heard me, and come running to help.”
Unable to speak, Eric nodded his head. Sensations were starting to awaken as he got over his initial shock. Four legs felt very odd, not uncomfortable, but different. He and the other sheep seemed to have identical scents, something he found disturbing. Not because he smelled like a sheep, but because that shared odor was somehow part of his identity.
“Maybe I can undo this. Hold on.” There was a flicker of light, and Eric felt different again. His view had changed as well. The transformed bull was now a bizarre combination of human and sheep, a wooly female satyr crawling around on her hands and knees. It only took a quick look to verify that he was still a twin, right down to the fleece-covered breasts.
“That won’t work.” Another flash, and they were normal sheep again. “Let me try another way.”
Eric blinked, feeling suddenly massive and more thick-headed. Anger flared as he picked up a male scent from the beast next to him. Another bull! Bellowing in rage, he pawed the ground and… bleated? Two confused ewes stared at each other.
“This is a fine mess.” The woman planted hands on hips and shook her head. “Phooka can’t normally affect humans at all. You must have gotten fused with the bull when I cast the original spell.” She frowned. “I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t stay here much longer. The fog is starting to lift, and I can’t be out in the sun.”
Eric bleated nervously. He didn’t want to be left like this! The former bull snuffled the ground and started moving away. Good riddance. Except that Eric started following him. It took every bit of will to stop, and he trembled with growing anxiety as the other ewe got further away. They must have bonded mentally, as well!
“Let me see what I can work out.” The woman came over to Eric and placed her hands on his back. There was a tingling sensations that spread out through his body, turning into an odd pressure in his skull and even stranger, between his hind legs.
When she released him, he seemed to still be the same. No, wait. His scent was different. And his head felt heavier. Horns? The former bull sniffed in his direction and bleated invitation. The pressure between his legs responded, providing an instant identification of the change. She’d turned him into a ram! He found the mating urge even harder to resist than the herd bond, and moved towards the ewe in a losing battle.
“Excellent! I can do minor alterations individually.” The woman grabbed him again, and he felt a powerful throbbing, followed by weakness. He was unable to break free of her grasp, and gasped as she actually hoisted him in the air. His bleating jumped up several octaves, and the ewe came running over in response. He was younger. Much younger, probably little more than a newborn lamb.
“There. That will give you some more time.” The sky started to lighten over the pasture. “I must go now. Sorry for the mistake.” She put him down.
Eric bleated in terror, and butted his head against her legs. Oh, God! Not this! She couldn’t leave him stuck like this! It was already had to fight instincts that were urging him to find the ewe’s teats, and he was afraid of losing himself.
“Oh, all right. I can try on last translation for both of you.” She placed a hand on his head and concentrated for a moment. “Oh! How silly! I should have checked first.” Her form was thinning like the fog around her, and her voice seemed to echo in his ears. “Good luck!” There was a flash of light…
Matthew found Toby tied to the fence rail about fifteen minutes later. Eric must have found him, but where was Eric? The fog was clearing now, with patches of blue sky appearing overhead. As he looked around, Matthew was surprised to see an unfamiliar black Shire grazing on the far side of the pasture. He thought this might be a different enclosure until he spotted the BEWARE OF BULL sign a little further down. Eric was nowhere in sight, though.
Why had the man left Toby tied up like that? As he untied the dog, Matthew noticed that the big Shire was obviously pregnant, probably due to foal any time. He decided to watch her graze for a while. With a lovely horse nearby, Eric was sure to turn up sooner or later.