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We all do things we come to regret. Sometimes small things, sometimes large; sometimes very quickly, sometimes not for a long time. This was just a small thing, but I came to regret it fairly swiftly. A simple thing: a hand-written sign I'd placed out the front of my place. It read:
I'm sure you can see the joke. Don't know how I managed to write the damned thing without seeing it in the first place. With hindsight, I guess I probably sold quite a bit more than I would have done otherwise, but after the tenth joker had pulled over to prove what a smart-arse he was, the joke was wearing a bit thin. So when the flashy Megane driven by Number Eleven pulled up, I was stomping down my driveway to remove the thing and wondering how to re-word it. Fill your own didn't seem to be much of an improvement, and Shovel it yourself sounded kind of offensive.
He didn't look the sort who would be at all interested in a bit of prime organic garden fertiliser, but I'd long ago looked in the mirror and decided you couldn't judge a book by its cover. Even so, if he was a gardener, or had even bought a bouquet of flowers in his life, I wasn't the judge of character I thought I was.
The cocky grin as he got out of his car said it all. A young man, scarcely twenty I thought, wearing nothing that wasn't expensively brand-named. Brand names! If you want to be branded, be a cow for goodness' sake. I can do that for you. The youth spied me and the grin widened.
"Hey, Granny!" he greeted me. "Your sign says you've got some horse shit for sale."
How to make friends and influence them. Granny, I ignored. I guess I am a little long in the tooth. I like to think of myself as kind of like the little green guy in those Star Wars films though small and wrinkled but a bit more than I seem. Horse shit irritated me. I don't hold with many four letter words. I don't like swearing (Darn doesn't count). Always seems to me like the people can't control themselves when they swear. Words are powerful things, and they change people. In this particular case, it was more of a challenge though: he was trying to shock me. Amusement cancelled out the irritation.
"Sure," I said. "Right this way."
I led him down the drive, around behind the house, where several large plastic bags lay next to the manure pile. I was sure the inevitable smart comment was going to come soon, so I decided to get it over with. "Do you want the pre-filled bags, or "
Right on cue: "Oh, no," he said, smirking. "If you hold the bag open I'll just do it myself."
As he started to laugh I felt the surge of magic from the house. I had time to say, "Not a problem, sir," as he exploded out of his expensive clothing.
He stood there in shock amidst the shreds of cloth for several seconds; a handsomely put-together young chestnut, about sixteen hands: a bit more than a colt, but not quite a stallion, to my way of thinking. Typical teenager. Ears back and eyes rolling, he skittered nervously on all fours, trying to come to terms with what had happened to him, and obviously failing.
"That'll be fifty pence," I told him, as pure shock caused the unfortunate fellow to lift his long tail and fulfil the bottom line of the sign. "For the bag."
He looked at me in terror, backing away on dancing legs.
"For what it's worth, I don't think it's permanent," I offered, not unsympathetically.
With a strange, drawn-out whinny of despair, he wheeled and galloped away, down my drive and not stopping at his car he had the makings of a decent show-jumper, I thought, as he cleared the roof with a foot to spare. With a clatter of unshod hooves, he vanished off down the road.
"That was a bit over the top," I commented.
"He deserved it," said a cool contralto smugly: Elizabeth, my student and lodger, and more magically gifted than any one I'd ever met, thanks to the legacy of a potent curse we'd defeated last year. And if anyone had a penchant for equine transformations, she did. "I'm as fed up with those idiots as you are. Will you get that sign in and change it now?"
As I headed in that direction, I called over my shoulder, "I assume it was just a short-term alteration?"
"Well, not exactly," Elizabeth admitted. "All he has to do is come back and be willing to apologise to you."
"Fair enough," I acknowledged. "If he hasn't got that much brain, he's better off as a horse. And in the mean time, look how much free manure he'll get."
"Especially," she added, "when he discovers the magically enhanced properties of his bowels."
"Oh, you didn't!" I was caught between disgust and amusement. "Well, if he's any sense at all, he'll sell it himself."
"Mmm." Her eyes twinkled. "Should make quite a pile out of that one."