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User:Posti/Something to Remember
Something to Remember
The fog was thinning. Phil could see brighter patches off the port bow, and steered towards them. Although he knew these waters well enough that he had not been overly concerned by the poor visibility, Kacey had been on edge ever since they got caught in the heavy mist. Two days of progress wrecked by a few hours of fog. He sighed, and rapped on the cabin door. “Kacey, honey? It’s clearing up. Why don’t you come on deck?”
There was a muffled thud, probably a pillow being thrown against the wall. At least she wasn’t doing damage – there was a gouge in the starboard bulkhead from her last temper tantrum. “Just tell me when we get home! I am so sick of being cooped up on this damned boat I could scream.”
Phil gritted his teeth. “You know we’re two days out. Come on, Kacey. It’s beautiful.” The mist was thinning rapidly, revealing crystal-clear skies, smooth seas, and… he blinked and stared at a wide spot of green off to starboard. An island? Confused, he pulled out the charts and checked his course. Any land along this stretch should be to port, and there were no islands shown at all.
The LAN had them pegged precisely on course and the independent compasses both verified direction. It did not seem possible that all of his navigational equipment could have failed at the same time. Besides, they had only been caught in the fog a couple of hours. Even running at top speed, the sailing boat wouldn’t do more than 20 knots. He scanned the chart carefully, working out from his last verified checkpoint. Nothing should be out here.
He angled the boat into the wind, spilling air out of the sails to slow down. Perhaps it was a big cargo ship, one of those monster container vessels piled high with green boxes. Pulling out the binoculars, he focused in on the object. It was definitely an island, and a large one at that - at least ten miles across, with tree-covered hills and one fair-sized mountain.
The cabin door slid open, and Kacey climbed up the stairs. She looked like a Sports Illustrated model, with only a thong bikini covering her dark, slender body. Even out at sea, she took great pride in her appearance, making sure that every strand of her shoulder-length auburn hair was in place. In the five years they had been married, Phil had never seen her leave the bedroom without first taking care of her appearance.
“So, Captain Ahab. Where the Hell are we?” Kacey looked at the sparkling water sullenly, then seemed to brighten when she spotted the island. “Hey! What’s that over there?”
“I’m not sure.” Phil gave the chart a final glance, and rolled it up. “A good sized island, for sure. But it isn’t on the chart. I’ve checked the readings, and all the instruments – “
“Yeah, yeah.” She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “You got us lost. This is why I wanted to take a cruise instead of this dumb-ass boring sailing rowboat.”
The chart crumpled as Phil tightened it a bit too hard. Right. A cruise, with food, games, and entertainment. And lots of other women. That’s all he needed – Kacey going off on one of her screaming fits every time he even glanced at anyone else. Although he had never given her any reason to be jealous, she was convinced that he was unfaithful. That was the reason he’d decided on this sailing trip. With no one else around, they might actually have a chance to salvage their crumbling marriage.
“Looks like a good place to stop.” She grabbed the binoculars and scanned the island. “Hey, there’s some sort of fancy building on the far end! Maybe it’s a resort.”
“Not hardly.” Phil squinted, and picked out the white shape she was looking at. “The weather is too rough most of the year. Probably some private estate. I doubt they would welcome visitors.”
“Wow! It’s a palace!” Kacey ignored his comments. “Head over to the end there. I’ll bet there’s a dock or something. Maybe the owner is somebody famous!”
“It has to be private property.” The sails flapped, then billowed out as he caught the wind again and started tacking away from the strange landmass. “I’d rather not spend the rest of this vacation in jail for trespassing.”
“Look, if it’s private property, it’s gonna be posted, right?” She turned and gave him her best smile. “Come on, sweetie. Just walk on the beach, a chance to stand on something that isn’t moving? Who knows? The owners might like to have some company. Please?”
Right. That’s why they had moved to an island ten miles from nowhere. However, Phil knew that the smiling request would quickly turn to screaming demands if he didn’t comply. “OK. But if the place has no trespassing signs we keep going.”
Surprisingly, there were no signs or other indications that the island was off limits. As they got closer, it was obvious that the building was done in the style of a Greek or Roman temple, all white marble or other stone that shone in the sun. However there were no satellite dishes, power lines, or other indications of modern amenities. Such things could be disguised, of course. Phil actually took the long way around the island to make sure that he didn’t miss any warning signs, and finally dropped anchor in a small lagoon just below the imposing structure.
He pulled out the rubber dinghy and used one of the compressed air canisters to inflate it while Kacey went back down into the cabin for a second check of her makeup. She emerged as he slid the boat into the water, wearing a gauzy beach robe that did little to hide her obvious assets. Most men would be instantly conquered – even with their strained relationship, Phil couldn’t help feeling pride and even a touch of lust whenever he looked at her.
The beach had a line of debris along the edge, mostly seaweed and bits of driftwood. He was pleased to note that there was no man-made litter. Someone must work hard to keep the trash off the sand. Steps carved into the cliff face provided access to the building above. They looked badly worn, as if they were centuries old. A clever cosmetic trick to continue the illusion of an ancient temple.
As they approached the top, a voice called out. “Welcome, travelers.” A young woman was waiting at the top. Tanned and ebony haired, she wore a flowing white robe that was in keeping with the Greek theme. “My name is Janeen. Welcome to our home.” She was pretty, but not really in same league as Kacey. However, her smile radiated genuine warmth as she took Phil’s hand.
“Um, Phil Velasquez.” He flushed suddenly, feeling a bit guilty about trespassing. “This is Kacey.”
“His wife.” Kacey made a point of looping her arm possessively through his, and he could here the slight chill in her tone. “I’m so sorry to be barging in like this, but Phil got us lost in that horrible fog bank, and now he doesn’t have the slightest idea where we are. Men! Never do know when to stop and ask directions.” Phil felt a touch of resentment at the thinly disguised barb, but said nothing.
Surprisingly, Janeen did not respond as expected. “I am sure your husband is an accomplished sailor. These waters are quite, well, unpredictable.” She took a step towards the main building. “Please come with me. The Mistress is always happy to entertain guests.”
They walked across a lush pasture that had an unusual variety of animals grazing off to the side. Phil picked out a llama, a camel, an American bison, a Scottish Highland bull, a large donkey, a moose with huge antlers, several kinds of sheep and goats, and at least four different breeds of horses ranging from a Shetland pony to a Clydesdale. “You have quite a collection here. Are there any problems with territorialism?”
Janeen shook her head. “Not at all. There are no females, so dominance really is not important to any of them.”
Blinking, Phil looked back at the group. Sure enough, there was only one of each, and most were obviously male. “Isn’t that sorta..” His question was cut off as Kacey suddenly grabbed his arm tightly and gasped. He followed her gaze and stopped suddenly as he saw the source of her fear. “Oh, shit!”
Another group of beasts had appeared less than fifty feet away. Almost every type of carnivore was represented. Big cats from a massive lion to a North American cougar, a wolf and a hyena, even a huge crocodile, all watching them with hungry eyes. Phil’s heart was pounding, and he had to swallow hard to clear the lump in his throat. “What do we do now?”
Janeen looked back in obvious puzzlement, and then laughed. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I should have warned you, but we see them around so much we tend to forget others might be afraid.” She walked over to the predators and hugged a huge Bengal tiger. “This is Liam.” The animal licked her hand and pressed his head against her. Almost on cue, all of the beasts moved around her for pets and rubs. “They are all quite friendly – would you like to pet one?”
“No, thank you!” Kacey actually stepped back from the group, tugging at Phil’s arm. “This is quite close enough.”
Phil stared at the animals, fascination winning out over his fear. “If you are sure it’s safe.” Pulling free of Kacey’s grasp, he approached slowly with his hand outstretched. The lion looked up at Janeen, and after a barely perceptible nod, padded directly to him. Bravado vanished as the huge beast approached, but it was too late to run. It jumped up suddenly, using its forepaws to knock him backward onto the soft ground. He heard Kacey scream as the lion plopped on top of him, felt hot breath on his face, and then a sloppy, sandpaper tongue began to wash his face.
“Andy!” The girl was pulling at the animal’s forepaw. “That’s enough! You’re too big to jump up like that!”
It took a bit more coaxing to get the animal to get off him, but Phil was actually grateful for the delay. He managed to calm his fears and was even starting to ruffle the thick, tangled mane. For all his ferocious appearance, Andy was more like a friendly, if extremely strong-smelling, St. Bernard. Scrambling up, Phil brushed himself off, and wiped some of the lion spit from his face. “That’s OK. I was just, um, startled.” Then he grinned. “That was pretty incredible. How did you get them so tame?”
“He was probably giving you a test taste!” Kacey grabbed him and yanked him back, hissing in his ear. “How could you so something so stupid?! What if that animal had ripped out your throat? Don’t you have any brains at all?”
If Janeen heard that last, she gave no sign. “None of them are vicious, Mrs. Velasquez. I can promise you that no animal on this island will cause you any harm.” She patted the wolf, and then continued towards the temple-like building. “I will make sure none of the others bother you without permission. Come. The Mistress awaits.”
As they followed, Kacey fussed over Phil’s clothing. “Whatever possessed you to play with that beast? You are covered with grass and dirt and there is spit on your face and hair. We’re about to meet someone really important and rich, and you look like a ten year-old who just came in from the playground!” She sniffed and wrinkled her nose. “And you stink! I think that damned lion marked you!”
How quickly her concern had switched to appearances. Phil sighed and did his best to brush himself off. There actually was a strong scent left from the animal, slightly acrid and musky. Well, if their hostess objected, it was her own fault for having an overly friendly lion. As they approached the structure, however, he began to feel more self-conscious. Four other women were outside, and came over to greet them. All four were dressed in the wimple, elegant white robes and sandals, and all were quite beautiful. And while they smiled and nodded in his direction, the welcoming embraces and handshakes were reserved for Kacey.
Well, he couldn’t blame them, really. Lion spit and white fabric didn’t make a good combination. Feeling a little embarrassed, he murmured to Janeen. “Is there somewhere I could clean up first? Andy left me a little messy.”
The girl grinned, her eyes sparkling. “You definitely made a friend. He is usually much more reserved.” She turned to the others. “Why don’t you take Mrs. Velasquez to see the Mistress while I show Mr. Velasquez to a washroom. Andy gave him an enthusiastic greeting.”
“Please, call me Phil. I never was much on formality.”
Janeen nodded, but the women gathered around Kacey seemed to ignore him completely. Shrugging, Phil followed the girl as Kacey was led off to meet their hostess. If his wife felt any jealousy, it was probably lost in the apparent adoration of her guides.
Whoever his hostess was, she had spent a fortune building this place. The floors were polished marble with beautiful Persian rugs. Twenty-foot ceilings were decorated with elaborate carvings, and the walls were hung with incredible tapestries that depicted different Greek myths. The washroom turned out to be an alcove holding a basin, a pitcher of cool water, and some thick, white towels. Damn! He looked morosely at the dark stains left on the brilliant cloth. There was no mirror, so he ran his fingers through his hair as best he could.
Janeen watched him a moment, and came over to brush a few strands into place. “You look fine. Very handsome, in fact. I am sure the Mistress will be very pleased to meet you.” She motioned towards the main hallway.
More women were walking around the different rooms, all beautiful, young, and dressed in the same flowing robes. All of them looked at him curiously as they passed, but he felt more like a freak than a guest. It occurred to him that he had not seen another man or boy anywhere. Was this some sort of cloister? He touched Janeen on the shoulder to stop her short of some ornate wooden doors. “Before we go in, could I ask you a question?”
She seemed puzzled, but nodded. “Of course.”
Flushing slightly, Phil suddenly found trouble finding the words. “I, um, was wondering… well, it’s just that I seem to be the only, ah..”
“Man?” She finished his question, and it seemed that her smile wavered a bit. “Yes, that is correct. You are the only man on an island of beautiful women. I hope that does not distress you.”
He reddened even more. “It’s not that. I was just hoping that we haven’t violated some taboo or something. If my being here is offensive or any kind of problem at all, maybe Kacey and I should leave?”
Janeen’s smile remained steady, but the mirth in her eyes seemed to fade out. “Of course not! You are a most welcome guest.” A frown flickered over her face. “I just wish that… oh, never mind.” She brightened again, and pushed open the doors. “It is time to meet the Mistress.”
An excited babble of female voices washed over him as they entered the chamber. At least a dozen women were fawning around Kacey, feeling the fabric of her robe, touching her hair, her skin. His wife seemed to be eating the attention up, holding out her hand to show of jewelry and striking poses like a fashion model.
The room itself was stunning. Skylights and open windows provided bright, natural illumination, and there was a huge aquarium built into the inner wall. Perhaps it was an illusion of mirrors, but the tank appeared to be at least thirty feet wide, and seemed to continue back for more than fifty.
“Ah! Our other guest has arrived.” A rich, sensuous voice silenced the excited chatter, and all heads turned to Phil. The speaker was a tall, slender woman with ebony hair that cascaded past her shoulders. Although she was dressed identically to all the other women, she radiated a sense of authority and power. The Mistress.
Bowing, Phil glanced around at his audience. Something about their expressions made him feel more like a specimen than a guest, but he forced a smile. “Phil Velasquez, ma’m. I apologize for our intrusion, and thank you for your hospitality.”
There were some puzzling giggles from the other women. The Mistress approached him and held out her hand. “Welcome, Phillip. Your charming wife was explaining how you arrived here. It is quite fortunate that you found your way – the seas around my island can be quite tricky.”
Just what had Kacey told them? “She may have exaggerated our situation a bit. I had an exact fix on out position. I was curious as to why this island doesn’t appear on my charts.”
“An exact position? How amusing.” The Mistress ignored his question and swept back to a podium where she sat in a throne-like wooden chair. “Both of you are welcome guests. I ask that you accept my hospitality. Bedchambers have already been prepared, and a feast is planned in your honor.”
“We are happy to accept!” Kacey spoke up, shooting a warning look at Phil. He knew better than to argue, even if he felt somewhat uncomfortable. “It is a great honor.”
“Excellent!” The Mistress looked back at him. “Perhaps you would like to clean up? Someone will show you to your room.”
God, did he still look that bad? Phil glanced over at Kacey, who had a smug look on her face.
“I’ll take him, Mistress.” Janeen came up beside him and bowed. “It is my fault he got dirty.”
“Fine. Dinner will be in few hours. Someone will come get you.” The Mistress gave him a curt nod, and then rose and walked over to Kacey. Phil had obviously been dismissed.
Bewildered and a little miffed, he followed Janeen out of the main building without speaking. Apparently, his hostess had more regard for male animals than male humans. There were different creatures everywhere, dogs, rabbits, a raccoon, even a koala bear. Without exception, every one with identifiable sex was male.
They ended up at a much smaller structure set back near the woods. His room was small, but looked comfortable. However, the bed was obviously made for one. Janeen must have noticed his questioning look. “I apologize for the accommodations. We rarely have guests, and are not set up for couples. Your wife’s room is off an open area shared by all of us. It includes our bath and toilets. I can arrange for additional pillows and mats if she prefers to stay out here with you.”
If Phil had been uncomfortable before, he now felt like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. His first impulse was to go back for Kacey, go back to the boat, and sail the hell away from this women’s-only club. Right - as if she was going to miss out on this glamour and excitement because he wasn’t having a good time. Sighing, he shook his head. “No, this is fine. She says I snore, anyway. Maybe she’ll sleep better.” He managed a slight smile.
“In our rooms?” Janeen’s eyes twinkled again. “It sounds like a thunderstorm in there sometimes! Go ahead and wash up, take a nap if you like. I will come get you for dinner.” She bowed, and then walked back to the main building.
Phil didn’t feel tired at all, but when he looked out and found the lion staring at him from the woods, decided to remain in his room. Why was Andy watching him? Perhaps Kacey was right – the show of affection had really been a taste test. No, he didn’t believe that. Still, the animal’s focused attention was a bit unnerving. He was glad when Janeen finally showed up to take him to dinner.
The second-class status was reinforced at dinner, where Kacey sat next to their hostess at one end, and Phil was placed opposite with only Janeen for company. He was surprised to see that his wife had changed into one of the long white robes. It would have been nice to change into something clean himself, but then, men’s clothing was probably in short supply.
Most of the conversation revolved around Kacey, questions about her job as a marketing director, how she dealt with men in business, and her views on politics. Naturally, all the world’s problems were universally attributed to men. However, he managed to tune out the chatter and focused on the vegetarian meal, which was surprisingly excellent.
Despite the obvious wealth and relative luxury, it turned out that the temple did not even have electric lights. Dinner broke up as the sun set, with Kacey giving him little more than a cursory wave before rejoining her new cronies. Janeen led him back to his quarters, apparently the only person who would have anything to do with him.
She turned to leave, and then stopped in the door and looked back. “Are you all right, Phillip? You have not spoken a word since dinner. Was the meal not to your liking? Or perhaps the company?”
Company? It suddenly occurred to him that she had spent the entire evening sitting quietly at the end of the table with him. She had not spoken, but then neither had he. He had been so intent on ignoring the man-hater’s club that he had also unintentionally snubbed the one person here who treated him as an equal. “I’m sorry, Janeen. I guess I felt a little uncomfortable – like being a fly at a spider’s convention.”
A look of alarm flashed across her face. “It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Then she frowned, and finally smiled sadly. “Yes, I suppose it was. Many of the women here have been abused or mistreated by husbands, boyfriends, even fathers. I think all of us have been badly hurt by men in one way or another. I guess it is easy to just lump all of them together.”
Well, that at least confirmed his suspicions. Phil snorted. “Kacey will be right at home. According to her, I haven’t done anything right for the past two years.” Then he added, only half jokingly, “Maybe I should leave her here.”
Janeen didn’t comment at first. Then she looked down at the ground. “Consider it, Phillip. And consider it soon.” And with that curious statement, she left him alone in the growing darkness.
It wasn’t until dawn that Phil discovered yet another modern amenity lacking - toilets. At least, there were none in the vicinity of his room. He could relieve his bladder against a tree, but he was damned if he was going to take a dump out there with nothing but leaves to clean up with. As uncomfortable as he was, he decided to go back to the boat. Besides a fully functioning head, he could take a hot shower and change clothes.
Luckily, the guest quarters were on the same side of the plateau as the lagoon. If he cut through the woods, he would only have to go through the section of pasture where the herbivores had been grazing to reach the top of the stairs. Halfway to the trees, he remembered the other group of animals. The carnivores had been friendly enough when Janeen was with him - hopefully, they didn’t turn mean when they were unsupervised.
As Phil walked through the mismatched herd, a donkey wandered in front of him and stopped. He tried to walk around the beast, only to have a mountain goat step into his path. Backtracking, he tried another angle and found himself facing a buffalo. The damned animals were deliberately blocking him! Phil might have been amused any other time, but his bladder was beginning to become insistent. He feigned a movement to the right, and then lunged around to the left like a quarterback in a high school game. A sheep tried to cut him off, but he made it past the herd to the far side.
What the Hell had that been about? He looked back from the edge of the woods. Most of the animals were staring at him, and the big draft horse whinnied plaintively. He didn’t have time to ponder the odd actions. Waiting another minute might force him to change clothes for other reasons.
The sun was still low enough that it was just barely casting a red-orange glow over the distant horizon. Although the view was beautiful, there was something odd about it that caused him to stop for a moment just inside the trees. He remembered checking the compasses as he came into the lagoon. Unless they were both equally out of whack, the sun was rising in the Northeast. He was startled out of his puzzlement by the sounds of a male voice coming from the direction of the steps - the words sound Chinese or Japanese. Then a woman spoke - the Mistress, though she was also speaking the same language.
He stepped back into the trees and squatted down as they reached the top, visible only as silhouettes against the dawn. It was a silly reaction - he had every right to go to his boat - but making his presence known now would only make him feel even sillier. He shifted uncomfortably trying to keep his mind off the growing pressure in his bladder, then froze as more women came up the steps. There were a good half dozen, whispering amongst themselves and watching the Mistress and the man.
The Mistress walked back to them. “Our friend is a fisherman from North Korea. He is demanding to know where he is, and what this island is doing in the middle of his best fishing grounds.” She chuckled, then moved to a woman in the back of the group. “I leave his fate to you, my newest sister.”
“Really?” Phil’s heart skipped a beat. It was Kacey! What the Hell was she doing out at this hour? He normally couldn’t get her out of bed before noon! “I mean, you can really do this? It sounds so fantastic!”
The fisherman shouted something back at them, obviously impatient. He heard Kacey giggle, then say, “A pig. One of those pot-bellied pigs from Asia.”
“Appropriate, if a bit old fashioned. Watch, my sister.” The Mistress turned and gestured at the still-ranting fisherman.
Phil blinked and squinted in the darkness. It was hard to tell in the dim light, but the man seemed to be shrinking. His voice got higher, and he hunched forward and fell out of Phil’s line of site. Language became garbled, ending in screams that grew more and more like a pig’s squeal. In less than a minute, the Mistress squatted down and picked up a small, struggling shape. Phil was dimly aware that his bladder had emptied itself.
“That was amazing!” Kacey’s voice was filled with awe and wonder, not fear. “He looks wonderful. Like a real animal!”
Terrified beyond words, Phil shivered in the dense brush. His wife had to be drunk or drugged. The eager tone of her voice made it sound like she was commenting on someone’s new car, not the sudden and impossible transformation of a man into a beast.
“Oh, he is. Any vet in the world would tell you he is a perfect specimen, young and healthy. Actually, he will remain this way for quite a long time. Part of the magic.” The Mistress put the former human back on the ground, where it squealed and bolted for the pasture. “It is still quite early. Return to your chambers and rest, my sisters. We have other entertainments awaiting us later.”
Phil remained hidden until long after the women were gone, trying to convince himself that it had all been some sort of weird nightmare, or a hallucination. When he finally ventured out, the landing was vacant. There was no sign of clothing or anything else to indicate anyone had been here. What had he actually seen, anyway? A man falling to the ground, and the Mistress picking up a small animal. However, the fisherman had vanished.
Looking down into the lagoon, Phil saw what appeared to be a medium-sized Chinese junk anchored in the center. Not a hallucination, then. Then a cold hand clutched his already tight gut. Their sailboat was gone.
Horrified, he ran to the landing. The fisherman’s odd craft was not big enough to hide the big sloop. Had the boat sunk? He searched his memory. Everything had been done – plugs installed, the anchor secured, the automatic bilge pump switched on. God, could something or someone have cut the anchor line?
The first rays of sunlight danced in a fine mist rising off the water, creating the illusion of a reddish glow around the junk. In the midst of his frantic search for the missing sailboat, Phil suddenly realized that the pulsing light was no illusion. The mist was thickening, forming a miniature cloud of fog that completely obscured the fisherman’s vessel for a few moments, then dissipated to reveal - nothing. The junk was gone.
Phil’s knees gave out and he sat down hard. A flash memory of something the Mistress had said about the pig staying young and healthy came back to him – ‘Part of the magic.’ It hadn’t been a dream. The horrified denial of truth that he had struggled to maintain crumbled as he looked down at the empty lagoon. Magic. What kind of nightmare world had they stumbled into?
The world of Circe. God, how could he have been so blind not to see it before? The Mistress had to be some kind of sorceress, if not the legendary witch described in Homer’s Odyssey, then one so close that there was no difference. An island populated by beautiful women and animals. Male animals. He had to get Kacey away from here, before… Sick realization hit him hard – she had not been drugged. His wife had taken part in what was essentially murder, and actually enjoyed it. What did Circe offer her? Eternal youth and beauty? Life surrounded by women who fueled each other’s hatred of men, living in pampered luxury?
He had no doubt that he was one of the other entertainments the witch had mentioned. Would Kacey laugh in delight as he sprouted hooves or claws? Their marriage had been crumbling because of her petty jealousies and vicious temper – he had no illusions that she might come to his defense, or even warn him of the danger.
God, what could he do? With the sailboat gone, the only escape from this island was the rubber dingy. He scrambled up suddenly and looked down at the beach with a sick dread. Even the small inflatable and its motor were gone. He was stranded here.
How much time did he have? Circe and the others had returned to rest up. Perhaps he would be the after-dinner show. Unless they discovered he was missing. Given his soiled condition and the timing, Circe would easily guess that he knew what was going on. He spun and ran for the guest quarters as fast as he could. Survival as a human probably meant hiding in the woods that covered the other side of the island, but he needed at least some basic tools. He’d left the small pocket knife he always carried on the table by his bed, next to his wallet and keys. With that, and perhaps the sheets from his bed, he might have a chance.
The animals did not block him this time, though they did watch him run through the pasture. He realized now that they had been trying to keep him from being discovered. In fact, if they hadn’t slowed his progress he would have met the fisherman on the landing. And probably shared his fate. How much of their minds remained? He didn’t know what would be worse – being a man trapped in the body of an animal, or losing your human identity entirely.
Branches tore at his arms and legs as he pushed through the last patch of woods. He pressed himself against the back of the guest building, sweaty and panting. Easing around the side, he risked a glance around the front corner to make sure the clearing was empty, then slipped into his room and shut the door.
He spun around, heart in his throat, and saw Janeen staring at him.
Her eyes widened as she took in the bleeding scratches and dirt, and her hands closed into tight fists. “You saw, didn’t you?”
Phil groped for the handle of the door, preparing to make a run for the woods. Only the witch had shown the ability to transform…
“Wait!” Janeen reached towards him and then stopped, dropping her hand back to her side. “Don’t be afraid of me. I came to warn you. To help you, if I can.”
“Help me?” Phil’s voice was hoarse with fear. “You’re one of them! You knew what would happen to me from the start, didn’t you?”
She flushed and dropped her head. “I arrived here a few months ago. The Mistress has a way of finding us - I don’t understand it, but one day I went to the roof of my apartment building to jump off. The Mistress was waiting for me. She took my hand, and then we were standing in the clearing.”
“You wanted to commit suicide?” Despite his own fear, he was shocked. “Why?”
“My husband was a drunk. He got mean sometimes, but I could usually stay out of his way. Except that he brought home one of his boozer buddies that night.” Tears formed in her eyes and her hands became fists again. “He wanted me to have sex with both of them. When I refused, he beat me bloody and then raped me. Both of them raped me. He stood by and laughed while another man raped his own wife.”
“Oh, God.” His own peril forgotten for the moment, Phil was overwhelmed with pity for this girl. “No wonder you are here.” Then he frowned in puzzlement. “Why would you want to help me, then?”
She looked up at him with sad eyes. “Because you are different. Not all of the men who the Mistress transforms deserve punishment, but the others have blinded themselves with hate. Andy - the lion who liked you so much? He was little more than a child, a boy who was wind-surfing in the Mediterranean. I doubt he had ever even been with a woman, much less hurt one.” Her head dropped again. “I was the one who chose his form. He was so young, so innocent. But I had just arrived, and I saw only another man, a predator. So I had him remade into the image of my hate.”
Phil didn’t know what to say. How did you respond to something like that? “He seems happy.”
A smile flickered in the corner of her mouth. “None of the animals can hurt us – part of the spell seems to force limited obedience. I think Andy really loves it, though.” Then her smile faded. “The carnivores hunt on the far side of the island. Most of the herd animals stay here because it is the only place they are protected. I’ve seen Andy take down a wild boar and eat it while it was still kicking. That innocent, bewildered boy doesn’t really exist any more.”
He shivered, remembering the cruel fangs and sharp claws that had been so close to his throat. God, how could he survive out there? Once he left the compound, he would be prey for the different meat-eaters. Maybe Andy would spare him, but the others might not have any such compulsion.
Sagging against the door, Phil felt the crushing weight of hopelessness. “There’s nothing I can do, is there? I can’t get off the island. Even the dinghy is gone. I can either let the witch turn me into some animal, or get eaten.”
“There is still time. They plan to transform you just before the evening meal.” Janeen hesitated. “Your wife is to choose your form. She has joined the Sisterhood with her whole heart.”
He had suspected as much. “Time doesn’t do much. I am still stuck here.”
“No. Your inflatable boat is hidden in a small cave just off the main beach. I dragged it out of the water before the mist came. No one knows it survived. If you can get back into the fog and stay there, you will be left behind when the island moves.”
“Moves?” Phil stared incredulously, even though he suddenly had hope. That explained why it wasn’t on his charts, and how the victims could include a Korean fisherman and a boy from Europe. It also meant he would have no idea where he was when he escaped - if he escaped. “When does the move take place?”
“At sunset, I think. It is hard to tell. There have not been many victims since I got here.” Janeen straightened suddenly. “I must return before I am missed. It is not safe for you in the woods. Stay here, or explore the grounds, but do not go back to the lagoon. As long as they think you don’t know about your boat, you are probably safe. Wait until we gather for the noon meal. The Mistress always takes a bath afterwards – it will be your best chance to escape.”
She took a tentative step towards the door, and he moved aside and opened it for her. As she passed, he touched her shoulder gently and whispered, “Thank you.” She paused for a moment, then continued out and across the grass towards Circe’s temple.
Phil spent a restless morning, afraid to go outside and unable to sleep. He took the time to wash out his soiled clothing in the washbasin and draped it on the bed to dry. Unfortunately, he had only relieved one of the pressing bodily functions, and soon realized that he could not wait any longer. Creating a makeshift toga from a sheet and his belt, he went back to the woods.
It was hard not to run for the beach, to find the raft and get as far away as he could from this nightmare. However, two things kept him here. First of all, some of the women were wandering the grounds now. He could not make it to the landing without being caught. And the second reason was Janeen. She had taken a terrible risk to warn him. If he did escape, she might still face the wrath of an angry witch, goddess, or whatever the Mistress was. He would ask her to come with him for her own protection.
It was concern for the girl that finally drove Phil to wander around the grounds, carefully avoiding the lagoon end. Hiding in his room all day would be suspicious, though he could not bring himself to go to the temple. If the few women who saw him noticed his damp clothing or the fact that he was avoiding the main building, none said anything. They simply stared, or worse, seemed to find him amusing. Were they chuckling over his appearance, or some shared insight as to his fate?
The other side of the plateau was cultivated, with an impressive collection of vegetables and fruit trees. As long as the weather stayed constant, the inhabitants would never want for food. There was a large, crystal blue lake of fresh water beyond that. He knelt by the edge and washed up as best he could. As he was rinsing off his arms, a low rumble from behind made him jump.
Andy. He turned and stared at the massive animal nervously. They were out of sight of the main compound. How tame was this animal without one of his keepers around? Janeen’s description of him killing and eating the boar came to mind, and he began to move slowly towards the water. Cats didn’t like water, right?
Wrong. The lion sprang at him suddenly, knocking him backwards into the shallow muck along the lake’s edge, then leaped into the water and used a huge forepaw to splash him. It was startling to see a five-hundred pound carnivore frolicking in the lake like an overgrown Labrador, and Phil crab-walked backwards a few feet before he realized the transformed boy was playing with him again.
Annoyed, he stood up and wiped mud from his arms and legs in disgust. “Dammit! I just got my clothes washed out.” Andy stopped immediately, somehow managing to convey the image of a whipped puppy despite 3-inch fangs. The poor kid must be desperate for some companionship – Janeen seemed to be the only other human who would even come close to him. Even the herbivores were better off in that regard, able to live together in the herd. As a lion, the other beasts were either prey or competitors. Andy couldn’t even follow his natural instincts of mating and building a pride.
On impulse, Phil crouched suddenly and scooped up a handful of the dark mud, which he threw at the startled lion. Andy jumped as the muck splattered against his side, and then leapt into the air and landed in a feline cannonball that drenched Phil from head to toe. Sputtering, Phil staggered back and ended up tripping over his own feet and falling backwards into the mud again.
Pushing himself up on his elbows, Phil looked at the equally drenched lion and started to laugh. It was a ridiculous reaction considering the dangers he still faced, but it provided a desperately needed release of tension and fear. Andy sneezed, shook himself like a dog, and then pounced again, this time grabbing Phil with his forepaws and rolling over in the muck. Outweighed by three hundred pounds and lacking Andy’s carefully-retracted claws and sharp teeth, Phil found himself in an exhilarating and playful wrestling match with a full-grown lion that ended only when he realized they were being watched.
Three women were looking at them in obvious disgust, including his wife. He rolled free of the animal and stood up, painfully aware of what a filthy mess he must be. Kacey snorted. “I knew you were a lying, cheating bastard, but I never thought you were such a pervert. Instead of checking up on your wife, you play around all morning with this… animal!”
Phil flushed indignantly, feeling angry and silly at the same time. “What the Hell is wrong with you? We were just playing! Look, I was exploring the place, and he startled me and I fell in, and then, well, it just sorta turned into a wrestling match. For God’s sake, Kacey, he’s just a kid!”
The words were out before he realized it. “I mean, he’s like a cub.” Panic welled up, making him fumble mentally as he tried to cover the slip. “A puppy really! It’s like playing with a big dog!”
The tall black woman to Kacey’s left raised an eyebrow, and the Swedish blonde on her right smiled slightly. His wife, however, glared at him with undisguised loathing. “We are guests of a cultured, elegant woman who I want to make a good impression on. She asked why you did not join us this morning for breakfast. Do you have any idea how embarrassed I was? Then I track you down to make sure you don’t miss lunch, and find you out here. Just how do I explain to our hostess that my husband prefers the company of a filthy, stinking animal?”
“He’s not…” Phil caught himself, realizing there was no point in arguing. In truth, Andy did stink, and some of that animal odor had rubbed off on him. However, he knew it was not the smell, or even embarrassment that made Kacey so bitter. It was the fact that Phil had been having fun, actually enjoying himself. It didn’t matter that Andy was a grown lion. His wife’s jealousy only saw him taking pleasure in the company of someone or something other than her.
Turning back to the huge cat, Phil smiled sadly. “Sorry, big guy. Gotta go now. Maybe I’ll see you later?” As Andy slunk off into the woods, he couldn’t help wondering if the lion would still see him as a friend the next time they met, or as potential dinner.
The three women remained watching as he did his best to clean up. Wading out to a waist-deep point, he immersed himself completely and managed to wash most of the muck from his hair. He emerged sopping wet, but considerably cleaner. Looking at his sodden clothing, Phil tried to take advantage of Kacey’s pride. “Look, honey, I’m really not fit to go inside. Why don’t you tell her what happened? I can make myself presentable for dinner.”
“Nonsense!” The black woman smiled suddenly and stepped forward to take his arm. “The Mistress prefers her men to look wild and natural.”
Phil saw Kacey’s eyes flare in anger, then soften into what might pass for amusement. “Yes, dear. You must come to lunch. The Mistress specifically asked for you to be there, and it would be rude not to accept.”
The forest was close by, with the far side of the island beyond. He could run away now, find a place to hide. And then what? Hope he didn’t end up eaten alive by one of the other carnivores? He forced a smile and nodded. “Let’s go to lunch, then.”
He was flanked by the two other women, with Kacey leading the way to the temple. They stopped long enough for him to dry his hair and face with a towel from one of the washrooms. Staring at himself in the mirror, Phil was dismayed. Between the lack of sleep, no razor, and his romp in the lake, he looked like a bum.
“Come on, Phil.” Kacey called impatiently from the hallway. “We are already going to be late.”
If Janeen hadn’t already told him that his transformation was to be done just before dinner, he would have been more nervous about her impatience. Still, for someone who was trying to make a good impression, his wife was awfully eager to parade him looking his worst. Perhaps it was all part of the male-bashing mentality - the more brutish he looked, the better.
The main hallway was filled when they walked in, and all heads turned towards them. Phil scanned the room for Janeen, but the Mistress stood and commanded his attention before he could locate her.
“Welcome. Phillip. We missed your presence here this morning.”
“I, uh, overslept.” He was suddenly nervous. “Great bed. Slept like a log.”
“Indeed? I am sure that Janeen would not have disturbed you if she had known you wished to sleep in.” The Mistress smiled, but her eyes were cold.
God, how much did she know? Phil felt his gut tighten. It was useless to deny the girl had visited him. “She just came to invite me to breakfast, and see if I needed anything.” Predictably, a look of anger flashed over Kacey’s face.
“Such a thoughtful girl, isn’t she, Phillip?” The Mistress walked to the huge aquarium. “But very emotional. She let her feelings cloud her judgment, and made bad choices. Her emotions betrayed her, and in turn, she betrayed me.”
He looked around the room again, fear building. Then there was a loud splashing nose from the aquarium. Spinning, he gasped as he saw a nude woman flailing inside the immense tank. Janeen!
“What are you doing!?” He ran towards the tank, only to stop dead as half-dozen women suddenly drew glittering knives and blocked his way. “Let her out of there!”
The Mistress ran her hand across the glass, looking at the struggling girl on the other side. From Janeen’s panicked movements, it was apparent that she could not surface. “Poor child. Despite the brutality she suffered, she did not learn the treacherous, violent nature of men.”
“You are killing her!” Phil took a step closer, but was forced back. Helpless rage was match for sharp steel.
“No, I am curing her.” The Mistress laid her hand flat on the glass and closed her eyes. Janeen saw her and appeared to scream. “Relieving her of the emotions that have been her downfall.”
The drowning girl clutched at her throat, and her struggles grew more violent as she tried and failed to swim up for air. Then she stopped suddenly and looked out from the tank with wide, frightened eyes. Air bubbled from her mouth and nose for a few more seconds, and stopped. As her hand fell away, the reason for her survival became clear – she had gills.
However, the changes did not stop there. Her neck swelled, spreading out to form a continuous sweep of flesh from her jaw back to her shoulders. At the same time, her arms began to draw in, and the separation of her legs blurred, then fused. She began struggling again, mouth open in a silent scream.
“Please!” Phil was heartsick, thinking of Janeen’s gentle nature with the animals, her kindness and concern. “For God’s sake, don’t do this to her! She doesn’t deserve to be punished like this!” Although he had known her for only a day, Phil was overwhelmed by a terrible sense of loss, and tears ran down his cheeks.
“Just what did you ‘need’ this morning, Phil?” Kacey advanced on him, a vicious sneer twisting her face. “I know you, you lying bastard. Did you lure her into your bed, or did you just screw her on the floor?”
“You sick, twisted bitch!” Anger boiled up under his grief, and he turned on her with an intensity that stopped her halfway. “I have been faithful to you for five years, really tried hard to try to make this marriage work. God, I have tried so hard to stay in love with you!” He swallowed, and turned back to the aquarium. Janeen was no longer recognizable as having ever been human. Her body was becoming larger, a streamlined shape with fins. “You know what this girl did for me? She came to warn me, to try to save me from the perverted monster you are so eager to follow. The one decent, caring human being on this island. And my ‘loving’ wife?” He spat angrily on the floor. “You know what is going to happen to me. And you didn’t say a thing. I guess this morning wasn’t enough.”
“You witnessed our little indoctrination ceremony?” The Mistress’s face was impassive now, and she stepped away from the tank. “And you still came here. Bravery? Or perhaps you realize the futility of running.” She motioned for the women to let him approach. “Better say your good-byes quickly.”
Phil stumbled to the tank and placed his hands on the cold glass. Sick dread washed over him as he recognized Janeen’s sleek form. A shark. A dorsal fin was pushing up from her back, and her skin was already taking on a gray-blue and white coloration. One her eyes remained human, the pale blue orbs that had sparkled with amusement when he had first met Andy, and shown such remorse and concern later.
Almost fully-formed now, Janeen swam to the glass to meet his anguished gaze. They shared a last moment of contact, and then the pale blue began to darken. “No.” Phil’s throat was too constricted to produce more than a whisper. “Oh, God. No.” Dark purple now, the cornea was beginning to merge with an expanding iris. And then there was only dead black. The shark convulsed slightly, and then slowly swam towards the back of the aquarium until it disappeared from view.
“Now it is your turn.” The Mistress’s voice was tight. “What shall you be?”
Bitter and sick with guilt over Janeen’s death, Phil turned to face the Mistress. There was no point in resisting. Her apparent anger puzzled him slightly, until he realized that losing Janeen was a failure for her. And he doubted that she was used to failure.
“He’s my husband! I want to choose!” Kacey stepped forward, a malicious smile on her lips.
The Mistress frowned slightly, but nodded almost imperceptibly. “What would you like to see?”
Kacey reached out and smooth his dark hair with one hand. Then she stepped back and cocked her head slightly. “He seems to find that stinking lion so attractive. Make him a lioness! We can see how he likes being on the receiving end. Or maybe that would make you happy, pervert! Getting screwed by what used to be a little boy?”
Disgust welled up so heavily that Phil was nauseous, not from the fate she described, but the realization that he had spent five years of his life thinking he loved this loathsome creature. Meeting her gaze levelly, he shook his head. “It doesn’t matter any more. Getting screwed by a lion or turned into a pig is better than spending another minute of my life with you.”
He had momentary satisfaction in the shock that registered in her eyes. Then she slapped him hard enough to start his nose bleeding. “Bastard!” Phil realized she must have expected him to grovel, to beg and plead for mercy. Only to have her overblown ego destroyed in front of her new friends.
Kacey retreated behind the Mistress, white-faced with anger. “Change him! Change him now!”
“Do not presume to order me, sister.” The witch’s voice was cold, but she did not look away from Phil. “You are new, and perhaps still too emotional concerning this useless human. Have you already forgotten the dangers of too much emotion?”
His wife’s anger fell away, instantly replaced with fear. She looked at the aquarium and then dropped her gaze to the floor. “I apologize, Mistress. I meant no disrespect. Please forgive me.” Her voice faded to a whisper.
The Mistress reached out and lifted Kacey’s chin with one hand. “You do not need to bow to me, sister. I understand your hatred. In truth, it bonds you closer to me, for we share the same passion and intensity. I bless the stars that brought you here.” Then she turned back to Phil. “However, I will not honor your request. The female form is blessed, no matter what the species. This detestable oaf shall not have that blessing.”
A slight smile formed on the witch’s face, and Phil tensed as he read the cruelty behind her deep, hazel eyes. “No, I have something else in mind, something that will torment him far worse than life with hooves or paws.” She stepped towards the huge tank and peered into its depths. “Sharks are nearly mindless eating machines – they are driven by instincts, reacting but never truly thinking. Janeen’s personality, her soul, is still intact inside the shark, but her actions are controlled completely by the killer instincts. Since the two of you shared in my betrayal, I think you should share her fate.”
“But…” Kacey started to object, then caught herself and dropped her eyes. “Mistress, would that not bring them together as mates? Even trapped as a shark, he may find some pleasure with her.”
The witch smiled broadly, an expression that sent a cold shiver down Phil’s back. “Not as a shark. As a porpoise. Predator and prey, equally matched. Her instincts will force her to attack him, and his instincts will make him defend himself. And all the while, they will be screaming deep inside, unable to stop.”
Phil stumbled back, numb with horror. He had not imagined the depths of this monster’s cruelty. Spinning suddenly he bolted for the exit, brutally knocking aside the women in his way. Knives slashed at him, and he felt burning pain as one sliced open his back. However, he managed to get free and burst out of the room with the women in pursuit. He heard the witch shouting after them. “Run all you like, fool! There is no place to go, no place to hide!”
A few of them kept chasing him, but the flowing togas slowed them. Leaping down the steps two and three at a time, he raced towards the landing. They must have guessed something was up, for he heard renewed shouting. He had a good lead now, already leaving the main grounds and cutting across the pasture. Then he faltered and slowed as he got close to the cliff overlooking the lagoon. The herd animals were massed along the edge, blocking access to the landing and the steps down to the water.
“Let me through!” Phil managed to shove past a goat and a sheep, only to face a living wall of horses and cattle. Looking back, he saw some of the women already halfway across the pasture, and threw himself against the massive beasts, screaming in frustration. “Damn it! Why are you helping them?”
“Because they have no choice.” He spun around and saw the black woman who had been at the lake. She was flushed and breathing hard from the exertion but wore a triumphant smile as she stopped a cautious distance away. “The Mistress commands them, controls their will. They are forced to obey us. Just as you will, once the Mistress arrives.”
“Never!” More of the women were showing up now, including Kacey. He redoubled his efforts to push through, and actually slipped under one of the large beasts before some of the smaller animals scrambled to fill the gaps between their legs. Then a thundering roar shook the air. Women and herbivores alike scattered as Andy charged towards the landing.
Phil struggled to free himself from the press of animals, and was actually dragged off to the side as instincts overrode whatever mental commands the Mistress had given them. However, the path to the landing was clear now, and he felt renewed hope. The lion was guarding the top step, snarling and lashing out at the women with his claws extended.
As Phil approached, Kacey screamed out “Kill him!” The lion suddenly went silent and shuddered violently.
“Andy?” He reached out to touch the animal, and just barely snatched his hand back in time to avoid having it torn off by a swipe of one paw. Shaking again, the beast backed away and twisted as if he was trying to run off. “KILL HIM!” Kacey was shrieking now. “You have to obey me! Kill him! KILL HIM NOW!”
Andy’s ears went back and he tore at the ground with his claws, lunging to the side, then back in an apparent attempt to break away. He shuddered again and looked at Phil with a tortured expression, and then gave a tremendous roar and charged.
His back to the cliff, Phil had no place to go. Cringing as the lion leaped, he braced for the onslaught of claws and teeth. Only to feel a quick breeze and the passing stink as Andy flew over him and plummeted to the rocky beach a hundred feet below.
Phil screamed and twisted around in time to see the tawny body hit some boulders below with a soft thud, and bounce off onto a patch of sand. Before he could turn back, Kacey was on him, screaming in rage and clawing at his eyes in a frenzy of hate. “Die you bastard! Why can’t you die?”
For a moment, he considered grabbing her and leaping over the cliff to join Andy. But that would make the former child’s sacrifice a waste. Instead, he swung at her with all his strength, connecting with a right to her chin that sent her flying backwards to lie in a crumpled heap on the ground. Before any of the other women could react, he was running down the steps.
Phil didn’t look back until he had reached the bottom, and was surprised to discover no one was following. Then he saw them part as the Mistress moved to the top of the landing. He froze, thinking it was too late. But the witch did not make any gestures, and he felt nothing to indicate that he was being altered in any way. Perhaps he was out of her range.
Edging back along the beach, he made his way to where Andy had landed. Any hope of the boy’s survival ended when he saw the unnatural twist of the lion’s neck, and the blank, staring eyes. Another good person destroyed because of him.
“You have impressed me, Phillip!” The Mistress’s voice was clear despite the distance. “Two that I thought were mine, lost forever. You must be quite proud of yourself!”
There was no point in replying. Instead, he remained crouched by Andy’s broken body and whispered a quick prayer for the boy’s soul. Then he scanned the cliff face for signs of a cave, having to blink to clear away tears. Janeen said she had hidden it on the beach. It had to be far enough away that it would not have been discovered when the fisherman arrived.
“You are wasting your time, Phillip.” The witch shook her head. “There is no way off this island for you. And even if there was, the waters surrounding my island are even better protected than the land. Surrender now, and I will allow you to take Andy’s place. A powerful young lion, free to run, to hunt.”
“NO!” Kacey was pushing her way to the edge of the cliff, shrieking at the top of her lungs. “KILL HIM! DESTROY THE BASTARD!”
Phil stood up, knowing he had little time left. The first prospect turned out to be little more than shallow depression in the rocky face. Then he saw a darker spot about halfway down the beach. Looking closer, his heart leapt as he spotted faint, but recognizable footprints and a wide, smooth path in the sand. The kind of trail dragging a rubber boat would create. He had to gamble that the dingy was there.
Taking a deep breath, he began walking for the cave. He had made it halfway there before someone saw the tracks in the sand and shouted. Phil launched himself towards the cave, actually crying out when he spied the bright yellow craft. Grabbing one of the mooring ropes, he dragged it towards the water as fast as he could. Two of the women were already coming down the stairs, and the rest surged towards the landing when they saw him. The real threat was the witch, who was halfway down by the time he reached the water’s edge. How far away did her powers reach? Had he gotten this far, only to end up transformed into a beast anyway?
The first two women had hit the beach and ran towards him as he shoved the inflatable boat into the lagoon. He saw the glint of sunlight on metal, and knew they would try to puncture the boat if they could get close enough. Paddling frantically, he pushed the boat ahead of him, trying to put as much distance between himself and the beach as possible. The cut on his back burned as salt water washed over it, but he gritted his teeth and kept thrashing his legs.
He was about thirty feet from the shore by the time the witch arrived. She glared at him and muttered something, gesturing wildly. For a few moments, he felt a slight prickling, but could not take time to examine himself. The sensation faded the further he got from shore, until it finally disappeared completely about a hundred feet out. Hauling himself into the dingy, he stood and raised two shaking fists with the middle fingers extended.
“You haven’t won, fool!” The Mistress screamed at him now, obviously frustrated at his escape. “Only sealed your doom!”
“Give me a knife!” Kacey tried to snatch one of the blades. “I’m a good swimmer. I’ll stop him, I’ll KILL HIM!”
Even from this distance, it was obvious that his wife had snapped. The burning hatred that turned her against him had been fueled by jealousy and failure into an inferno of raging obsession.
“No, Kacey!” The Mistress grabbed her and yanked her roughly back. “I have already summoned his death.”
This time, however, his wife was too far gone to heed even the powerful witch. Jerking her arm free, Kacey tried to fight her way through a wall of women to chase him. As Phil began to yank on the small outboard’s starter rope, he heard her resume her screaming. “He’s mine! I want to kill him! HE’S MINE!”
“Wait!” The witch called out again, but this time Phil saw her raise her hand. There was a flash of light, and then the Mistress was holding some sort of goblet that glinted in the sun. He paused in his efforts to watch as the woman offered the goblet to Kacey, saying something that he could not make out. Whatever was said must have been about him, for Kacey suddenly grabbed the goblet and turned to glare at him in mad triumph before swallowing the contents in one gulp.
The Mistress went to her as soon as the goblet was cast aside, and two women held hands for a moment before suddenly embracing in a passionate kiss. Pulling apart, they moved to the water’s edge, where Kacey pulled off her toga. The witch’s hands caressed her shoulders, her breasts in a blatantly sexual display that both repulsed and confused Phil. Were they trying to make him jealous?
Then he realized that something else was going on. Kacey was getting larger, and thicker, even her ample chest being absorbed as her torso bulged obscenely. If this was some form of punishment, his wife seemed to be enjoying it. She swayed slightly, head arched back as she stroked her own flesh with dwindling arms. Mesmerized, he watched as she stretched up, six, eight feet, teen feet. The sun glinted on iridescent green scales that were flowing across the surface of her bloated body, and her arms had flared out into scalloped fins.
Kacey’s lustrous hair vanished as her head dropped back into the swollen mass of her shoulders. It was assuming a more triangular, flatter shape, ears and nose melting into a scaly, serpentine mask. A sea serpent. Phil gaped at the monster, a twenty-foot column of shimmering green that continued to rise up. She swayed, and then fell into the surf with a tremendous splash that scattered all but the Mistress herself. Dripping from the spray, the witch reached up to stroke Kacey’s fully transformed head one last time and then stepped back as the new monster launched herself into the lagoon – towards him.
Renewed fear clutched Phil’s gut, and he began to work on the engine frantically. It sputtered once, then died. “Come on, come on!” He screamed at the stubborn outboard, and yanked again. This time it roared to life, and he twisted the throttle to full just before the fifty-foot nightmare of glistening green scales closed in.
Kacey shrieked, a soul-piercing sound that reverberated across the lagoon as the inflatable shot out of reach. With only Phil in it, the light craft skimmed the top of the waves, picking up speed rapidly. He looked back – Kacey was streaking through the water like massive torpedo, closing the gap between them too fast. The ocean was still a hundred yards away, and the supposed safety of the fog at least another two hundred yards beyond that. She would be on him in seconds.
He searched the boat frantically for some sort of weapon, anything he could use to slow her down. There was a flare gun in the emergency kit, but he didn’t have time to get it out and loaded. Desperate, he grabbed the anchor and swung it like a mace as the monster loomed behind him. Luck was with him, for the sharp blades dug into the top of her skull and she screamed and stopped to twist wildly in the water.
The respite was short-lived, for she shook the anchor free and came at him again. This time she caught up to the boat, and he threw himself to the bottom as her massive body suddenly looped around the sides and began to squeeze. The outboard raced as the propeller was lifted out of the water, and the inflatable boat’s sides buckled inward. Trapped, Phil struggled to free himself, only to gasp as water closed over his head. Kacey was trying to drag the entire boat under, to drown him in her coils.
Her scream vibrated through the water, and the inflatable became a personal roller coaster as she twisted and thrashed madly. Phil’s lungs were straining now. His head pounded and a haze clouded his vision, his life counting down in seconds. Then a second, deeper shriek reverberated around him, and the inflatable popped suddenly to the surface. The boat had slipped from her crushing embrace.
He gasped for breath, bracing for a second attack. The water boiled underneath him, as if some great struggle was going on at the bottom of the lagoon. There was splashing, and more of the shrieks, muted and somehow overlapping. Then above it all, he heard the rhythmic rumble of the outboard. Despite Kacey’s wild gyrations, the motor must have remained above the surface.
Throwing himself at the motor, Phil held the throttle wide open and steered for the distant fog. He knew there was no hope, that the monster would reappear and drag him under once again. Kacey would make sure he was cold and dead before she released him. Yet he was out of the lagoon now, and the rolling foam had not moved.
A brilliant scaly column erupted from the water – Kacey. She gave a hideous shriek and began chasing him. A hundred feet long now, the shimmering green death caught up with him easily. Phil could only watch helplessly as she loomed over him, apparently planning to crush him with her body. It was impossible to find any trace of the woman he had known in the monster. All that remained was her hatred.
Then she was yanked suddenly downward, disappearing again beneath the waves. When she reappeared, she seemed to be tied in a knot, her iridescent scales now a mix of green and purple. The water frothed again, and this time a second serpentine head appeared near hers. This new monster was the one with the purple-black coloring, and it was obviously intent on ensnaring her in its coils. What was that the witch had said? She had already summoned his death? It appeared that she had doomed Kacey instead.
Or had she? Kacey struggled to free herself, writhing in her opponent’s grip. No matter how hard she struggled, the huge purple monster continued to surround her. Still, there was nothing in the larger serpent’s actions that indicated intent to do harm. Sudden realization almost made him laugh. If the Mistress had created the purple-black creature, odds were good that it was male.
He heard her shriek again, this time sounding more terrified than terrible. Yet her undulations were flowing with the other monster now, not struggling against it. As the first wisps of fog began to appear around him, the entwined serpents slipped beneath the surface still locked in their passionate embrace. A bitter smile formed on his face as the lagoon and the island beyond were lost behind the thickening mist. Kacey had found a perfect match.
The fuel only lasted another half-hour, leaving him adrift on choppy seas. If he hadn’t gotten far enough away, he might end up back on the island. And if he had succeeded in escape, he could find himself anywhere in the world, battling freezing cold, blazing sun, or even a raging hurricane. There was nothing to do now but wait for the fog to lift. Despite the pain from his back and a hundred other aches and pains, exhaustion finally caught up with him and he fell into a deep sleep.
Phil woke to the warmth of a clear, sunny sky. After lying in the bottom of the boat a few minutes, he became aware of the faint, but unmistakable sound of breakers, and finally forced himself to take a look. It was an island, but not the one he had just left. He could make out hotels along the beach, and crowds of people. There were boats, too, and several seemed to heading his way.
He stood up and waved, wincing as the effort cause renewed pain across his back. The knife wound was bleeding again, leaving a watery red puddle in the bottom of the boat. He reached back to try to feel how bad the cut was, but his fingers brushed something else that commanded his attention. Hair? Pinching some of the fine growth between his fingers, he yanked some strands free and looked at them.
They were short, more like overgrown peach fuzz than normal body hair. However, this was a tawny brown, not the black he should have had. He recognized the color, and looked down at himself for the first time since this morning. A fine layer of golden fur covered his arms and legs, and according to his fingers, formed an even coat over his face as well. Morbid curiosity got the better of him, and he knelt down to look at his reflection in the ruby-colored pool at his feet.
The witch had started her transformation, all right. He stared at the thick mane of tangled hair, no longer black, but a perfect match for his new fur. The deep brown eyes he had been born with had likewise faded to a pale yellow, with irises that were not quite round any more. His nose might be a bit wider, and his face a bit more protruding. It was like a faint ghost of Andy lingered within him now. Still, his features were roughly the same. With some hair dye and colored contacts, he would look enough like his old self to get by.
The first boat was close now, and he could make out uniforms and an official seal on the side. U.S. Coast Guard - he wondered where he was, and what he could tell them. Nothing beyond the fog, he realized. They would take him to shore, find out who he was, and then start to guess. Some sort of accident to be sure, a freak storm that had swept him hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles from his starting point.
It was best to let them come up with their own explanations. Eventually, he would return home. But not for long. He balled his hands into fists, absently noting the chocolate-brown nails and raised, rough pads on his palms. There were other changes under his tattered shorts, he was sure, but none of that mattered.
In truth, he was grateful for that short touch of the witch’s magic, even though it had made him somewhat less than human. The changes were proof of his experience, something concrete he could focus on. He would see Andy in the mirror every day for the rest of his life, and with him, the sparkling blue eyes and charm of a girl he had barely known. Both gone now, but not unmourned. And not unavenged.
He knew what to look for and how to prepare. The witch’s magic did not have the range of a good automatic rifle, and her grand temple was not immune to high explosives. Liquidating his resources would provide enough money to buy another boat. After that, he would cruise the coastlines, looking for mysterious fog banks that were here one day and gone the next. It might take months, or years, but he would find the island again. And then, as the Mistress had provided him with a trace of Andy’s image, he would give them something to remember him by.