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guess it was a silly time to do it, but it was one of those jobs I kept telling myself I ought to get down and do and never actually got around to doing. So in the five minutes I had before leaving the house for my weekly riding lesson, I sat down at my computer to do a little file organisation.
I don't know about you, but I used to pick up files, especially pictures, frenetically. Uploaded camera files, downloaded internet art, scans, renders, you-name-it. I liked to keep everything neatly categorised, but seldom did it as I worked. Instead, everything ended up in my generic Windows "My Pictures" folder. Then, every so often, when I happened to feel virtuous, I would go through the jumble and sort them into various sub-folders.
On this occasion, it was an odd assortment – I'd just returned from a short vacation with some friends in America, so there were some pictures from my digital camera there. There was also about a month's worth of down-loadings from TransFur, my favourite site for transformation artwork, which I loosely categorised into species. As usual, I spent more time looking at the pictures than actually sorting them, and suddenly realised I was very short on time. In a frenzy of mouse-clicks, I hurriedly shoved pictures into this folder or that, only to pause yet again over one of the latest TransFur offerings – a rather nicely executed drawing of a young man half-way transformed into an ass. His head had changed, and he had the ears, but apart from a covering of rust-brown fur and a donkey tail, the rest of his body was largely unaffected yet. There was a fetching expression of dismay on his newly equine features that rather appealed to me.
I guiltily glanced at the clock again, and stood up hastily. A couple of clicks and the picture was despatched to Transformations>>Donkeys. A slightly over-enthusiastic drag of the mouse roped the next picture in too, except that this one was a holiday shot of me and a friend outside an anime shop in Boston. I tutted in annoyance, but time really was short now, and I'd be lucky to make the train. Leaving the computer running, I grabbed the bag holding boots, hat and crop, and left the house at a run.
I lived just south of Surbiton, which is to say, the very edge of London suburbia. There was a perfectly decent riding stables there, but the one I used was a short journey down the line in Cobham called Northfields. I caught the train by virtue of it being five minutes late – often a blessing as today's tardiness was by no means unusual for me. Early afternoon as it was, there were few people on the service, and I virtually had the carriage to myself. I sat down and relaxed – all the rush was for the hourly train service – at the other end I had bags of time before my lesson.
The carriage vibrated, and with a strained hum, the train pulled out, clattering through the points and then settling into rhythmic clacking as it reached speed. I settled back to watch the scenery, and wondered idly what to have for dinner tonight. Salad, I thought suddenly. I wasn't usually a salad person, but tonight, I decided, I was really in the mood for a salad. I would swing by the supermarket on the way back – or maybe a little later if I smelt too much of horse (a beautiful scent in my opinion, but some people are just strange).
I wriggled my toes uncomfortably. My trainers were fairly new, and although I had thought them fairly comfortable, today for some reason they seemed a little tight about the toes. In fact…
I shifted, flexing my shoulders and rubbing my thighs. I suddenly felt most odd. Not in pain or anything; just a really strange itchy tingling that made me shiver all over. I hoped it wasn't a precursor to illness, or an allergic reaction – there was certainly a high pollen-count today, but that didn't usually give me anything other than a runny nose.
My face felt funny and I wrinkled my nose. It felt flushed and tight somehow, as it sometimes did with a particularly congested cold. I pulled a tissue from my pocket and blew my nose, hard, and then again, but the feeling persisted, and my nose felt clear. Actually, it felt clearer than it usually did.
My feet felt really uncomfortable now, and I decided to change into my riding boots – not an especially inspired decision as riding boots aren't exactly designed to be roomy. I slipped the trainers of gratefully, and felt my toes. They felt oddly numb, and slightly swollen. It was also too long since I'd cut my toenails, I decided. I put my boots on. They didn't feel any better than the trainers had, but I decided I must have stubbed my feet without realising it.
By the time the train pulled in to Cobham, I was in some distress, and very grateful to get off the train. My whole skin felt strange; my feet felt pinched; my face felt just plain odd. To make things worse, my stomach had begun to roil. I didn't feel sick, and it wasn't painful, but it felt like a bad day at the chemistry lab down there, and I was beginning to feel an embarrassing build-up of gas.
I set off for the stables – the road from the station passing between rows of neat semis before joining a main road with fields on either side. Tall hedges screened the sides, and I heaved a sigh of relief, glad to be free of the houses. I was beginning to limp now, and began to contemplate just cancelling the riding lesson. There was an odd tension growing in my hips; again, not painful, but I seemed not to be able to straighten properly.
I stopped, and muttered aloud, "This is ridiculous!" It was getting hard to walk, and my feet were beginning to feel genuinely painful. My toes had gone numb, which was a blessing, but my arches and heels felt cramped and sore. And whatever was going on in my gut was now causing me to bend almost double. I tried to straighten, but found myself quite unable to do so. Skin and muscle seemed to conspire and make it impossible: I was no more able to straighten than to bend an arm backwards. The effort caused an abrupt bout of flatulence, and I was doubly glad to be free of the residential area.
I stopped and leant against a road-sign for a few moments, giving me some relief from the discomfort of trying to stand upright. I was going to be late at the stables, but at this point that was a very secondary concern. I was becoming genuinely worried now. Had I eaten something bad? And yet, I didn't feel ill. My abdomen rumbled violently again, full of snakes, and I thought with sudden panic I was going to lose control of my bowels. A panicky glance up and down the road offered little solace, but there was a gate into the field beside me, and desperate to be at least out of public sight, I clambered awkwardly over it.
The field appeared not to be in use; not pasture, for it look as if someone had ploughed it not too long ago, but overgrown with weeds. Nettles and tall thistles abounded. I staggered several yards to one side, away from the gate and along the thick hedge, finally sinking with immense relief into the temporary privacy of tall grass in the lee of the hedge.
It was such a relief not to be standing, I simply crouched on hands and knees for long moments. Then a growing urgency within prompted drastic action, and with a final check to be sure I was alone, I hastily removed boots, trousers and pants. Not a moment too soon: when my bowels had finished having their way I felt as if I'd personally fertilised half the field. I felt a lot better though, both from the release of pressure from within – and my innards felt much quieter now – and the relief to my swollen feet. Panting a little, I moved a few yards downwind, crawling to keep below the grass level.
Perhaps it was the physical relief, or the surreal experience of being half-naked in a field in broad day-light while cars rushed by on the other side of the hedge, but I felt curiously liberated and a little euphoric, in no hurry to dress again. I had thought the day to be a little chilly; it was overcast and breezy, but I felt no chill. I needed to clean up though, and wondered if there were any tissues in my pocket. The thought died as I tried to pick my trousers up. There was something wrong with my fingers: very wrong with my fingers; they wouldn't separate, and they looked strange. My thumbs were paralysed. Something about the proportions looked wrong, I stared in horror as I realised that my thumbs and most of my other digits were curling and shrinking. As I watched, they shrank, retracting, nails dwindling and vanishing, but at the same time my hands were swelling and lengthening, and the middle finger of both hands was also thickening, as if to compensate for the loss of its fellow digits. The nail spread and thickened, and a faint familiarity soon blossomed into outright suspicion and mounting awe. Under my eyes, both hands grew into an extension of my arms, assuming the familiar proportions of an equine-looking foreleg. The grossly enlarged fingernail was soon indisputably hoof-like. I felt a strange, crawling sensation in my shoulders, and a creeping in my arms, and suddenly found I had lost most of the sideways movement there. I was pretty-much obliged to stand on all fours at this point, and it was several seconds before I realised with shock that I wasn't kneeling. Distracted by my hands, I hadn't noticed the same transformation invading my legs and feet.
I was a pretty bizarre sight: so much so that thoughts of how or why were simply lost to me. All I could do was stare back at myself. I was standing on four equine legs, each ending in a small, neat hoof. With a sense of unreality, I lifted each in turn, flexed it, tapped my hooves against each other. They felt, at one and the same time, both sensationally different and beguilingly familiar.
Then I began to wonder how and why, and perhaps most importantly, what now? Here I was, on all fours, arse displayed to the world, with no hands, thirty miles from home. Life just doesn't prepare one for circumstances like this.
I was distracted by a darkening of my skin around the coronets of my new hooves. The flesh darkened to a mid-grey colour, and tingled. I lifted a foreleg to look closer, and saw, like a time-lapse film, grey fur sprouting vigorously. It rose up my arms and legs; a hairy tide that didn't stop but spread across my torso, up my neck and over much of my face.
Then I began to grow. My body grew fatter, chest and abdomen barrelling out, as my limbs thickened in proportion. My neck broadened and lengthened, and my face too until I could clearly perceive a long muzzle in the corners of my eyes. My upper clothing began to stretch. Seams strained, and several stitches popped, as the surprisingly tough and elastic material struggled to accommodate my bulking form. A strange, floppy weight came into being on either side of my head. A reflexive twitch and I realised my ears had grown – grown immensely, into tall, mobile things.
It was then I recognised the fur, and the ears, and discovered the ropey tail with its tassel of black hair at the end, and realised I wasn't transforming into a sleek Thoroughbred, or an elegant Arab, or even a common pony like the cobs I usually rode in my lessons. I let out an indignant cry; a rusty bray that was almost deafening to my own ears.
Like a punctuation mark in the silence that followed, my sweatshirt gave a final protesting rip and fell down my forelegs. My tee-shirt, though stretched to a degree it had never been intended for, hung stubbornly on, and stretched tightly around my chest and withers. It was quite an appropriate tee-shirt actually, with a comic horse, ears pricked alertly, asking, "Got carrots?"
I stepped free of my ruined clothing; my first steps as a quadruped. There is no textbook emotion for discovering oneself to have transformed into an animal. I think my initial reaction was one of aggrieved protest. It wasn't fair! Of all the times I had fondly imagined what it might be like to be a horse, why had it happened here and now? And why an ass? I mean, I liked donkeys; liked them a lot, but they'd never been on my Top 10 Things I'd Like To Turn Into list. Well, okay, maybe in the top ten, but not high on it…
But a memory stirred and I recalled the misplaced file. How and why would have to wait, but it was certainly an odd coincidence. I ran a large tongue over huge teeth, felt the toughened skin of my lips and muzzle. I looked back over my shoulder at my large, hairy body. I ducked my head to look at my four hoofed legs. I reared. I bucked. This was actually kind of fun – I felt a growing sense of liberation. Here I was under God's sky, without a stitch on my back –well, that wasn't quite true, I was still wearing a teeshirt, but the gist held true- no obligations, and free as the wind, at least at this moment. I tried walking, then trotting; a stumbling canter, and an outright gallop.
I wasn't quite sure what to do now though. I hadn't planned this. I wondered if it could be reversed, presumably by transferring that file to another folder?
Yikes, I thought suddenly. Supposing I'd dropped that picture in another folder? I had folders to cover most species, both real and imagined. Supposing I'd dropped it in the "pig" folder? Or worse still, the "plant" folder! Although intriguing possibilities arose. There was the "horse" folder, but there were also folders for centaurs, winged horses… unicorns! Could I use this technique to become a Unicorn?!
I was hungry, and munched some nettles and a thistle without really thinking about it very much. It would be quite a feat to get back home, enter, and use the computer, but I thought it was possible. About thirty miles, and somehow work a door key with my mouth. Then I thought I could probably handle the computer. I tried to imagine the process, and whether it could be negotiated using hooves and maybe a pen held between my teeth.
Bits of the procedure I couldn't remember, but I was sure it would come to me if the machine were in front of me.
I almost started out then and there, only realising as I actually reached the gate that an unattended donkey is unlikely to remain unattended for long, even a donkey wearing a tee-shirt that said… that said… well, whatever those words were. I would have to wait for night – preferably late night, when there were few people around.
Never mind, I thought. This is a nice place to wait. Plenty of food. Do some serious grazing while I think about the way home. I wonder which direction it is?
Well, it couldn't be hard to find, I mused, munching on some succulent weeds at the border of the hedge. And I had a key. I seemed to recall that the key would only work in my own door, so all I had to do was try houses. If the key didn't work, it wouldn't be my house, so I'd try the next.
I nuzzled at my abandoned trousers. I wondered what a key looked like. The cloth didn't taste or smell very attractive, so I turned away to eat something nicer.
Unicorn! I was going to be a Unicorn, I was! As soon as I had… I had to do something; something fairly simple. As soon as I did that, I'd be a Unicorn!
I wondered what a Unicorn was. Something nice.
There was a nagging doubt at the back of my mind: something not quite right. Something wrong?
I looked around. My long ears swivelled, questing for sounds that might mean danger, but I could only hear birdsong and the swish of those funny, wheeled things that humans drove as they passed by. My nostrils dilated as I tested the air, but could smell nothing that felt like a threat. Earth smells, plant smells. Funny wheeled-thing smells. Distantly, horse smells. Nice. Perhaps I would follow the horse smells. That felt like a good thing to do.
I trotted out of the field and headed towards the horse smells. The wheeled-things screeched and made loud bellowing cries if I walked in the middle of the road so I kept to the edge, mostly, where the food was.
Something was still nagging at my brain, but I couldn't imagine what it might be. It had something to do with a picture, I thought. Two humans, in front of a bright place. Two humans. Me, and another human.