The Artist stared critically at his latest creation, and decided it was okay. In fact he rather liked it, which was always his mark of success. Sometimes he produced work that others liked, but that he didn't. This didn't produce nearly the same satisfaction.
His subject was an odd one. Many would judge it as entirely weird, bordering on obsession when one considered the many examples of such he created. Facsimiles of previous favourites lined the walls, each a sequence of between five and twenty separate images. Every one was a variation of a single theme: young women transforming into animals.
They were portrayed in manga-ish style: long legs and cute faces with over-large, Bambi eyes. Most were line art, with a few colour pieces, and the complexity of the sequences varied. Some simply showed a pretty girl in various stages of transformation. Some told more of a story, with backgrounds and actions, such as the farm girl in boots and overalls, cleaning an aisle with a broom. In the second picture her clothing began to disintegrate - she wore a startled expression, touchingly rendered. This became embarrassed horror in the third as the deterioration of her apparel continued, and in the fourth, she was taking refuge, half-naked, in an empty pig sty. With her clothing completely vanished in five, six showed her begin to transform into a sow, growing a snout and curly tail, her body fattening. Frame ten showed her attempting to escape the sty and failing as her hands became trotters, and eleven showed her completely transformed into a pig. The final frame showed a bemused farmer scratching his head as he regarded the unexpected addition to his livestock.
Some of the sequences showed "reasons" for the transformations, such as the attractive young witch who made an error in her spell-casting and turned herself into a mare, or the genetic scientist's secretary mistakenly believing that the serum for improving bovine milk yield would do something for her flat chest.
Despite the subject material, most of the them were quite tasteful. The Artist tried to imbue all his work with a kind of innocence. Few of his works could be regarded as pornographic, and nudity, where it often occurred, was portrayed in a tasteful, almost innocent fashion. He aimed to titillate and stimulate the imagination. There were others who illustrated similar themes who delved into the realms of hardcore pornography, but that wasn't for him.
A female critic had once asked him, her face twisting slightly in distaste, "Is this what you would like to do to young women, if you had that power?" and he'd been quite hurt. No, of course he wouldn't. But this wasn't real was it? It was harmless escapism. There was a market for this sort of material, and unlike scenes of violence and sadism, it was hardly feasible that anyone could do this for real. He had been rather upset when she published a scathing condemnation of his work on an on-line magazine, even if it had earned him rather more customers that it frightened off.
He had extracted some small revenge by turning his next cartoon 'victim' into a bitch. The woman involved bore just enough resemblance to the critic that she was strongly suggested, whilst staying just on the safe side of the law. He turned her into an Alsatian, furnished her with a spiked collar and chain, and banished her to a kennel. It sold very well, but she had done her damage. He couldn't avoid, every now and then, a guilty twinge of Supposing she was real? when viewing his latest transformation.
His current subject looked quite compliant though. At the beginning of the sequence, she carried in a large box labelled Carnival Costumes - Donkey, Deluxe version. She read the enclosed instructions, undressed quite deliberately, and began to don the various parts of the costume. As she did so, each part became real, until she put on the final component. The seams vanished, and a real donkey was left standing there.
He had pencilled all fourteen of the sequence's pictures, but only inked in the first. He was working on the second now, where the girl sat on the box reading the instructions, the donkey-suit components arrayed at her feet. He was very pleased with the way she had turned out: slender-figured, wearing jeans, tee-shirt and sneakers. She had short, blond hair, and a sharp, intelligent face.
"Nothing unwilling or unwitting about you," he murmured. "No victim here. You're doing this quite deliberately."
"Ah, is that what you tell yourself?" a voice asked.
He jerked, startled. There should be no-one else in the house. Where..?
He stared in horror as the girl in the picture stirred and swivelled on her box. Perfectly animated, she put the suit instructions down and stared back, challengingly.
"How..?" he blurted. "What..?" He was too startled to think of any plausible reason for this hallucination. He hadn't time to think, "I'm dreaming,", "I shouldn't have made that drink so strong," or "I've been overdoing it a bit lately."
She stood up and bowed elaborately. "Ohayo Gozaimasu. Dozo yoroshiku. You have, after all, drawn me as a manga character."
"This... this can't be real," he said stupidly, denial beginning to get a foothold.
"Sure it can, baka," the cartoon girl assured him. She didn't look at all Japanese, but then how many manga heroines did? "You've no idea. You think yours is the only plain of existence? You and every other artist and creator in your world, when you imagine another world, that world springs into existence. You want to know about the world you created for us? It's just like yours except that every young girl lives in constant fear that she'll wake up as a dairy animal or worse. She daren't swim in the sea in case she spontaneously metamorphs into a dolphin. Use a cosmetic with an animal brand name? Oh yes, we all know about the poor girls who used Swan-White facial products. My next door neighbour's daughter drank willow tea - she spends a lot of time in the garden now. Make a catty comment and you'll be a house pet in ten minutes time. Or skip school for six months: you'll wake up an ass one morning, as sure as Laughing Cow cheese will earn you lifetime employment in the dairy industry. I'm telling you, Life's a bitch in your world, if it isn't a mare, or a doe, or a heifer."
Was it his imagination, or was the cartoon girl gaining colour and definition? She didn't look quite flat now: his eyes struggled to confirm that she and the paper she was supposed to lie on were at the same distance. And by the same token, the room around him was assuming washed-out look, as if all colour was fading.
"But it's just the women!" the girl exploded angrily, "Not the men! They can drink White Horse or Red Bull without fear. They can talk to solitary women in the middle of nowhere without fear that they might be Circe or her daughters!"
There was no mistaking now. The girl was emerging from the paper, not like something surfacing from water, but like a trick of perspective, as if a sudden shift of vision had revealed that she had been standing in the room all along. She still had the exaggerated proportions and wide eyes, but now she was real.
No matter what popular literature would have you believe, it is quite impossible to disbelieve in someone when they are standing in front of you accusing you of all hell, even if you have just seen them come to life from a cartoon. You can't argue with yourself that she might be a dream or a hallucination. You have to answer back: it's human nature.
"But I didn't..." he protested flatteringly. "I mean... I just draw pictures! They're not real!"
It was the wrong thing to have said. "Not real?" the girl repeated. "Not real. Well. I suppose in the sense that something in another universe is out of sight and mind, they wouldn't be real to you. So I'll tell you what, tomodachi. You put that donkey suit on. And when you've done that, you tell me what's real and what isn't."
There was a peculiar sensation like pressure suddenly released - the Artist felt as if his ears should have popped, but what happened was the room was suddenly monochrome. No, more than that: it looked as if he had drawn it. And then he was falling in a nameless direction, helplessly.
He landed without impact, and looked around. Apart from the fact that he was in a room he had never seen before - it looked like someone's lounge - the world looked normal. And beside him was a large box. In large gold letters it said, "Carnival Costumes," and below that was a picture of a donkey. Below that it said, "Donkey - Deluxe version."
Fascinated in spite of himself, he opened the box and began lifting out components. There were two leg and two arm sleeves, each ending in a hoof made of, he presumed, plastic. There was a body section in two parts - a trouser-like section and an upper torso section. The upper part included something like a hood which had a mane attached and a large pair of asinine ears. The face and muzzle was a separate component, as was a long tail with a gauzy tuft at the end. Each part was clad in shaggy grey-brown fur. It was uncannily like he had visualised.
"Now, put it on," said the girl's voice.
He looked around and saw, on the wall, a large framed print with his signature. It depicted in simple line style, the study he used as a studio. The girl stood there, arms folded, regarding him.
"I don't think so," he said. "I'm not quite sure what's happening, but I don't think I want to put this on."
"Oh, you believe you have some kind of choice?" she asked. "Gosh! Why didn't I think of that! Simply don't put it on! Really? Do you think?"
The girl in the picture began to do something at his desk, and he realised she was using one of his pens. "What are you doing?"
"Just inking in the next picture," she said. She worked with quick, deft strokes, evidently well used to the tool.
He got undressed while he was waiting, and not until she looked up did he ever stop to wonder what he was doing. Covering himself in embarrassment, he stared at the girl in horror. "How did you do that?"
"Clever, isn't it?" the girl agreed. "I wasn't sure if it would work, but since my world was created by you, I am your creation, much though it shames me to admit it. And if your work alters your work, it must therefore be your work. Q.E.D. And if you alter your work, it affects your world. So, if I make a little alteration here, and here..."
Naked, he stepped into the lower torso piece, pulling it up like an oversize pair of shorts, if shorts are made from five-inch thick foam. He felt ridiculous, as if he were wearing an adult-size nappy covered in grey fur. Again, he didn't stop to question his actions until he had pulled the thing completely on.
Cautiously, he slid a hand between the suit and his skin. The costume piece appeared to be nothing more than it seemed. Slightly relieved, he watched apprehensively as the girl in the picture picked up a drawing of a drawing and examined it critically. "Not bad. Did you notice you lost the pot-belly by the way?"
He looked down surprised. It was true. His belly was smooth and firm. In fact, now she mentioned it, his whole body looked trimmer, more muscular.
"I'll give you this," the girl said. "At least you draw attractive people. Or am I merely biased because it's all I know?" She shrugged. "Who cares anyway? Next picture. Oh! This is where the fun starts."
"Wait!" he called. "Look, I know I've drawn a lot of you, but it can't be more than thirty or forty. Not a whole world full!"
"But you established a norm," the girl told him, working with the pen. "You visualised a world while you were drawing, very much like your own except that the laws allowed pretty young girls to change into beasts. Just an idle fantasy to you maybe. Maybe it turns you on. Well, I'm afraid poor Suzi over there didn't find it at all titillating."
"Who?" he asked, startled.
"Suzi Tomera," the girl said bitterly. "The part time farm-worker you turned into a pig. A friend of mine, not incidentally. Suzi was studying to be a vet, did you know that? Well, she's sure going to be an expert on porcine physiology now, isn't she?"
"But how could I know you were real people?" he cried, as he pulled on the hind legs of the costume. It felt like pulling on comfortable but thick trousers, but as each sleeve pulled up, his legs changed. There was no sensation of change, but it looked like the refraction effect of immersing oneself in water, as it rose up his legs. When both legs were fully on and zipped to the abdomen section, his legs looked completely equine in proportion. They felt as they always had, but wriggling his toes caused his hooves to waggle up and down.
In the sixth drawing, before he could try to remove the legs, he found himself attaching a long ass's tail. It clipped to the rear of the body piece, but did not simply hang in place. Self-supported, he found he could move it by clenching his buttocks.
"But how are you doing this?" he demanded.
"Oh, I sort of reasoned that while you work on my image, my destiny is sort of in flux. I've always had a peculiar turn of mind. So I sort of turned the tables on you. Neat trick isn't it? The picture drawing the artist?"
The girl whipped the sixth drawing aside and set upon the seventh drawing. He found himself pulling the upper torso over his head, and settling it down to where it snugly mated with the lower half. Then he was pulling the attached hood up over his head - the eighth image, he remembered. The hood formed the donkey's neck with attached mane, and the two long ears.
"Cute," the girl said, glancing back and forth between him and her drawing. "Not long to go, now."
"Please stop!" he pleaded. The suit was extremely comfortable - worrying so. He tried not to think about it as a second skin. If he looked down, it was easy to see himself as a donkey standing on its hind legs. He wriggled his toes within the hooves, and thought he could still feel them there. He wasn't certain enough to derive much reassurance from this.
"Do you know, that's exactly what Suzi said?" commented the girl with deceptive brightness. "Just before she lost the ability to speak. If you've any last words, I should say them now if I were you." She set the ninth sketch in place.
"I'll add some pictures to each sequence - change you all back!" he promised. "I won't do any more!"
"Nice try," she acknowledged. "But you've built your world. You can't change its nature so easily. You're not a god, you know. Some of what you promise is possible, true, but, well, it occurs to me that I could make the necessary alterations quite readily, while keeping you safely under my thumb, in case you should change your mind or decide this is just a dream or something. No, we'll proceed as originally planned I think." And she lowered her nib once again. This time he secured the donkey face to the hood section. He knew what was going to happen, but he still found himself blinking in surprise as the eyes in the mask opened and they were his own eyes. Then the girl was moving on, pen skilfully following his sketch lines far faster than he himself would have inked in. Possibly she was going for speed over quality. It made no difference.
He told himself he would fight the next progression, but when she began the tenth picture, he obediently picked up the last two costume pieces - the forelegs - and put them on. The left one was easy, sealing to the shoulder of the body piece. The right one was harder with his left hand being encased in a hoof now, but the costume was well designed and he managed without too much of a struggle.
He was wearing the entire suit now. It still looked like a suit though. An extremely well-designed one, almost worthy of the Jim Henson Studios perhaps, except that you could still see where the pieces overlapped by ridges in the fur. And he could still feel the suit as a garment, even if his legs did appear to flex in new ways, and his eyes looked out through the donkey's eyes.
But he knew what came next, and the girl's next utterance confirmed it. "This is it! I guess you must always look forward to this bit. Well, let me tell you; I have too."
As the nib touched the paper before her, he once again lost control of his destiny. He watched in astonishment, just as if he hadn't known what would happen, as the seams blended together and vanished, leaving unbroken fur.
The girl moved to the twelfth picture in the progression. Swiftly, she altered the sketches, altering the decidedly feminine-looking figure the Artist had pencilled in and making it unmistakably masculine. Here the figure was standing erect on its hind-hooves, trying without success to find the waist seam of the suit, scrabbling futilely at its midriff with its fore-hooves.
At this point it still looked like a man in a suit, but the next sheet was more decisive, and the illustration was of a donkey, normal in every respect, pulling at the fur of one foreleg, as if trying to pull its own leg off.
The artist gave up in despair. He had drawn the sequence. He knew too well what had happened, even if he had hardly expected to be the victim. He lifted his asinine head and gave a plaintive bray. His long ears flagged dispiritedly.
"Oh, relax," the girl said. "It won't be so bad. I see the final picture provides for a nice safe life for you. And although I could stay here, I won't. I just want to make a few alterations while I can. There are some nice sketches you left for me to work from."
The donkey watched the picture on the wall. The girl sorted through his book of design sketches - doodles of ideas he'd had. Some she selected and penned in. "There," she announced with satisfaction. "Probably the strangest blow for sexual equality ever struck. But at least the field will be even now, with you as the first example. Just one more thing..."
She went to the sequence that showed the unfortunate Suzi helplessly turning into a sow. Removing the pictures, she re-hung them in reverse order. "That ought to do it," she said with satisfaction. "Now to finish you, and that'll return me to where I belong too."
The Artist suddenly found himself standing in a field of lush grass, surrounded by stout wooden fencing. A field shelter stood nearby. Other donkeys grazed distantly. There was a large sign outside the paddock with its back to him, but he knew what the reverse read: Donkey Sanctuary.
He shook his head and brayed, trembling. This was impossible! He was dreaming! He was... an ass. He couldn't really deny it, when he could feel his new body from ear tip to tail-tuft. He could feel the ground beneath his hooves. He could smell, hear, see differently.
Someone approached from outside the field, whistling cheerfully and swinging a bucket that his whuffling nostrils informed him contained food. Could he communicate somehow? Maybe this suit could be removed by someone else?
"Hi there!" said a bright and too familiar voice. The girl from the cartoon, vividly real, leant her elbows on the fence top and tossed him a handful of greyish food pellets. "That worked perfectly, didn't it? Now boys can change as well as girls. Only they aren't used to being as cautious as we are, so the scales will swing the other way for a bit. I hear the porcine population is growing by the minute: men can be such pigs at times. When they aren't making asses of themselves of course."