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by Destrier

By mutual consent Nathan and Olwyn agreed to blow most of their meagre savings on the festive season. They both agreed it probably wasn't the sensible option: the loss of Nathan's job had been a bombshell they hadn't needed, and to have been made redundant the week before Christmas seemed particularly calous. They both needed a pick-me-up.

So their small bungalow on the edge of town had been decorated inside and out. A real tree stood pride of place in their tiny lounge: one of those beautiful Norwegian spruces whose green hovers between blue and silver. Olwyn had taken particular pride in decorating it, picking a gold and red theme that was echoed around the room by foil hangings and tinsel deckings. She had done a wonderful job, as Nathan had with coloured lights at the front of the house, but it didn't entirely stave off the air of gloom. They were not an unpopular couple, but they were lacking in close friends, and besides those from close relatives, there were few cards and fewer presents.

Nathan came in from the cold, rubbing his hands, and caught Olwyn standing before the tree, gazing at it. He came up beside her and placed an arm about her slim waist. Inclining his head, he kissed the back of her neck, nuzzling gently. "We'll cope," he said, reading her mood perfectly: it echoed his own.

She sighed and leant against his comforting presence. "I know," she said, returning his kiss.

"I'll see if any of the local stores need a sales assistant," he said. "That'll tide us by. And who knows? I might find another job like I had at Nova."

It was doubtful and they both knew it. Nathan was a talanted graphic designer, but not quite talanted enough to hold his own. Nova was a small agency, and cash-flow problems had left it unable to afford the flashy state-of-the-art software that could take so much out of their artist's workload. Digital effects were in and Nova lacked the expertise to market traditional hand-drafted graphics. Now he was unemployed and his CV was noticeably lacking in the areas of experience that would stand him in good stead right now: familiarity with Inferno or Volcano, or the new Fireline package that was Silicon Graphic's new baby. Even a good working knowledge of Photoshop and StudioMax would have been valuable. But while he was no computer slouch, he simply hadn't had access to such software.

The doorbell rang and he gently released his wife and went to answer it. The small hallway was freezing and he pulled his sweater down further before kicking the draft-excluder snake from the front door and opening it.

A postman stood there. "Mr Eggerson?"

"That's me," Nathan agreed.

"Happy Christmas, sir," said the postman cheerily, handing a large padded envelope over. It was intriguingly bulky and hand addressed in a flowing script. "Lucky to get this to you in time, sir. It was only posted yesterday. Sign here please, sir. Thank you."

Nathan wished the man a happy Christmas and shut the door, reseating the fabric snake against the base of the door.

"Who was it?" asked Olwyn.

"Postman." Nathan opened the envelope and removed two small gift-wrapped parcels. One was flatish and yieldingly soft. The other was cylindrical and heavy for its size.

"Aunty Vivian," said Olwyn, looking at the address.

"We know what that is then," Nathan said with a laugh.

Sure enough, when Christmas morning arrived and their few presents were opened wiith due ceremony, Aunty Vivian's gifts turned out to be what they always were: socks for Nathan; bath salts for Olwyn.

"It's the thought that counts," Olwyn said, smiling. The bottle was corked and beribboned, containing multicoloured crystals. The label showed a picture of a jockey on a galloping racehorse. "Epsom Bath Crystals."

"You'd think with all that New Age stuff she mucks about with, she could cast a spell or two for us," Nathan said. The socks were of a plain, soft fabric, white in colour with black toes. "A charm of wealth? An Amulet of Gainful Employment?"

Olwyn uncorked the bottle. A strong, herby smell immediately permiated the air, warm and redolent. "Hmm, not bad. An improvement on the usual."

"Smells kind of like a stable," mused Nathan.

"It does not!" refuted Olwyn hotly.

"I don't mean a dirty stable," he said. "I mean fresh straw and wood."

"Maybe," she conceded. "I think I'll try this later on. Are you going to try on your socks?"

"Later," he replied. "I thought we might go back to bed for a bit."

"Are you cold?" Olwyn asked. "With the door shut I thought..."

Nathan gave his wife a Look. She smiled. "Oh!"

Their loving was at once tender and playful as always. They had many bedroom fantasies they often enacted - today they played out their favourite, mare and stallion: both on all fours, she murmuring flattering equine comparisons about his anatomy while he nuzzled at her face and breasts. Then, when they could bear it no longer, he took her from behind, lips carressing the back of her neck as she leant back into him.

Afterwards they lay together, happily exhausted, temporarily purged of the problems of the world. Nathan pulled the duvet over the two of them: as their perspiration cooled, it became too chilly to lie on top of the covers.

"We should have brought the heater up with us," Olwyn said, running carressing fingers across Nathan's chest.

"I didn't think we'd have any trouble keeping warm, my eager young filly," Nathan replied drowsily.

""If we were really horses, this wouldn't be cold," Olwyn mused. "We'd have our own winter coats." She twined a finger in Nathan's chest hair. "Or maybe some of us already have."

Nathan chuckled. "No food problems either. We could live on the common. Or since you're undoubtedly a thoroughbred, we could apply as racehorses in that stables down the road."

"I feel thoroughly bred at the moment," Olwyn purred.

"So you should," Nathan said, pretending exasperation. "It takes a stallion to satisfy you."

"Then it's lucky I have one," Olwyn said contentedly. She stretched languously. "I think I'll have a hot bath and try those salts. Join me?"

"In a bit," agreed Nathan sleepily. He admired her nude form as she slipped out of bed and padded over to pick up her dressing gown. She didn't bother tying it, grinning as he wolf-whistled his approval of the enticing view.

She laughed as she made her way to the small bathroom. "See? A stallion."

The bath was a small, enamel one, narrow and fairly short. Olwyn sighed, remembering their plans to save up for a corner bath large enough for the two of them. That would have to be shelved for a good long while now. This thing was barely long enough to stretch her legs in, and not much wider than she.

She turned on the hot tap full, and clouds of steam immediately began to rise, testament to the low temperature of the house. The bngalow had always been hard to heat: too many large windows and an inefficient storage heating system that took all night to charge and then seemed to yield all its heat in an hour. They kept a small portable convection heater and moved it from room to room, wherever they might be spending time. She smiled: it spent quite a bt of time in the bedroom.

She picked up the bottle of bath salts and tipped a generous amount into her palm. The crystals tingled against her skin - reacting to the moisture on her hands, she guessed. She scattered them over the surface of the water. There was a hiss of effervescence and the water changed colour - first amber, then torquoise, and finally a deep emerald green. Olwyn could see flashes of silver light too. Entranced, she threw another handful of crystals into the water, to see the same change of colour; the same glittering motes of light.

When the bath was full she turned off the tap and gingerly tested the water: perfect: hot but just tolerable. She stepped into the water and sat down, sighing with pleasure. "Oh boy!" The salts had lent the water a pleasant tingle against her skin. She couldn't stretch out in the water - not in this bath - but she tucked her legs up and slid her body into the water so that her torso was mostly submersed. "Mmmmm," she sighed. Whatever was in those crystals was worth its weight in gold. She could feel the tension in her body just draining away. She closed her eyes and could almost imagine herself turning into a fluid and mingling with the water.

Nathan dozed off but woke shortly after. He could hear the occassional splash from the bathroom and knew Olwyn was still bathing. He got up to join her: the bath was too small for two, but the couple had long enjoyed washing each other. Naked and feeling the chill in the air, he hesitated as he saw the new socks. Why not? He would wear them - and just them - into the bathroom. It would make Olwyn laugh.

They were very good quality, he had to admit. He couldn't actually identify the material, the weave was so close: it could be cotton or wool, or a synthetic for all he knew. There were no seams, inside or out. The black toes joined to the white flawlessly without offering any clues there either. The material was thick and warm, and very soft. Nathan pulled them on over his feet. "Hmm!" He regarded the socks with delight: oh, he could use a dozen pairs of these! Warm and cushioning, he wouldn't even need slippers with these on. And despite their seeming thickness, they formed a surprisingly smooth fit against his skin. They were longer than he had expected too: he had supposed they would reach just a few inches above his ankles, but in actual fact it reached halfway up his calves. They were obviously quite elastic. There seemed to be some kind of sole involved in the toe as well: there was akind of protective hardness there he hadn't noted when handling them. Socks with toe-caps. He smiled. Then looked closer. Damn it, they WERE longer! They were almost to his knees! And he could see them advancing, growing longer still!

Seriously spooked, he tried to take them off, but his fingers could find no purchase: the material was flat against his skin with no edge he could find. But just then his attention was diverted by a cry of surprise from the bathroom. "Olwyn? Are you okay?"

"Nathan!" he heard her call back: she sounded distressed.

He jumped up, took two strides toward the door and nearly fell flat on his face as his feet showed a marked reluctance to bend properly at the ankles. Walking on tiptoe and angrily worried now, he hurried to the bathroom...

Olwyn had found the fizzing water so relaxing, she had briefly dozed off. She awoke feeling oddly stiff and tried to sit up. She couldn't. She felt wildly disoriented and the bath seemed smaller than usual. "I'm wedged in!" she thought, astonished. "I know I've put a few pounds on in the last month, but I'm not that fat!"

But it wasn't just that her sides now spanned the entire width of the bath: she found her arms would not flex properly at the shoulder. Both limbs stuck out awkwardly in front of her, and not her best efforts would persuade them to move more than an inch or two to the side. Up and down, yes, and the elbow and wrist joints behaved more or less normally, although her fingers tingled as if she'd jarred them against something. Her hips too tingled and her feet felt funny. Which all left her in an absurd position: stuck on her back in the bath, unable to do anything more than uselessly wave her arms and legs about above her. "Nathan!"

The bathroom door slammed open, and Nathan almost fell into the room. He glared back at the door as if to blame it for tripping him, then his gaze fell on her, and widened in shock. His jaw dropped.

At first Nathan had the incredible notion that there was a large pig lying on it's back in his bath. Only on his stunned double-take did he notice the human limbs and his wife's pale face on the creature's head did he realise the truth was much less plausible.

Her body had swollen to a gigantic barrel, practically filling the bath so that much of the water had overflowed onto the bathroom floor. Her breasts had vanished but there seemed to be some kind of small udder low on her abdomen.

He took all this in just before he fell on his hands and knees, no onger able to balance upright. A panicked look at his feet showed not the outline of his toes beneath socks: instead he found a pair of large black hooves, like horse's hooves. His gaze rose higher, taking in the altered proportion of his legs all the way up to his pelvis. In no way were they the human legs he was used to.

"What's happening to us?" he demanded, hardly knowing who or what he was demanding answers of. Olwyn's limbs were also assuming an equine configuration: as he watched, her toes seemed to flow together, harden and darken and leave solid hoof. Her hands also. And when he looked down, his hands too: he was astonished to find himself standing on four legs. His body was growing too: he could now look down on his wife, or what had recently been wife. A fine pelt of red-brown hair was now spreading smoothly across her flesh.

"I can't move!" Olwyn squeaked. Her voice sounded shrill and strained. "I feel really strange!"

It was the understatement of the year, and Nathan realised she couldn't see him from her angle. Not, that is, until her neck began to lengthen and allowed her to move her head. She screamed: it sounded like a mare squealing.

They both looked bizarre now: totally equine apart from their heads which still looked entirely human. His skin was covered in a soft coat of white hair, faintly dappled on his flanks. A dark tail hung behind him, pressed flat against his buttocks indicating his distress. Olwyn's coat was a fiery bay, almost red on her body, darkening to black on her legs.

"What did this to us?" she demanded, frightened.

"The presents," exclaimed Nathan. "Those damned presents!"

"You're telling me that my Aunt Vivian has moved on from balancing her chakra and that lesson two is how to transform her niece into a plough horse?" Olwyn demanded.

"Have you got a better explanation?" demanded Nathan. Damn, it was getting hard to talk. His mouth and larynx weren't responding quite the way he wanted them to, but it also seemed harder to find the actual words in his mind.

One thing was clear though: Olwyn couldn't remain where she was for much longer. They were both growing: he reckoned they were about pony size right now. If they kept growing, Olwyn could end up injuring herself.

She was quite helpless however: like a horse cast in its stall, she had no purchase. Her slender equine legs thrashed the air hopelessly.

Nathan nerved himself to move his new body, awkwardly rearing up to brace his arms - forelegs! - on the near rim of the bath. Setting himself, he hooked both front hooves over the rim and heaved. The bath creaked and the seal around the wall split with a loud cracking sound. A startled spider shot out from under the tub and made good its escape out of the bathroom door. Nathan heaved again, making an deep grunting noise in his throat. The bath lurched, spilling more water, and teetered on the fulcrum of one edge. He pulled again and the bath fell over with a crash, depositing several gallons of emerald tinted water and one almost-mare. Olwyn kicked and wriggled her way free and struggled to her feet, mane and tail plastered against her dark coat.

They stood then and stared at one another. The tides of change were lapping at their faces now: Nathan felt his jaw begin to lengthen as he watched his wife's face begin to shove forward into a muzzle. Nostrils widened: ears grew tall and pricked: eyes grew huge and brown and white- rimmed.

Mare and stallion stared at each other, then slowly took the step that seperated them and sniffed at each other, gently nuzzling. Both felt... well, reborn was the only way to describe it. They were still themselves, they knew, and yet the world of words had lost its hold over them. They communicated their wonder in soft grunts and gentle whickers, reaffirming their love for each other.

It was the mare who finally led the way to the back door with a come-hither whinny, and the stallion who kicked it open, watching to be sure his lady was suitably impressed. The two horses moved out into the cold air, snorting with steaming breath and wondering at how weather so cold for humans could feel quite acceptable to them.

A damp fog billowed over the common. The two horses spent some time looking out at it, each occassionally dipping their head to touch the other in reassurance. A wordless coonversation passed beteen them, expressed in movements of the ears and skin; a toss of a fine head and a scrape of a graceful hoof. Then apparently reaching agreement, the two horses spntaneously broke into a wild gallop, jumped the fence and fled across the wet ground to be lost in the shifting grey. The sound of pounding hooves vanished on the still air.

Aunt Vivian turned up late in the afternoon bearing gifts: a jar of bath-salts blessed with a charm of wealth, and a pair of socks charged with a spell of gainful employment. She couldn't imagine what had possessed her to get her enchanted items mixed up like that. She made a mental note to use different coloured socks and salts for different spells in future.

Getting no reply from the doorbell, she made her way around the back of the house and found the backdoor lying in the garden in sorry shape. It had a number of small indentations in it. One was recognisably hoof-shaped. Hoof prints pocked the lawn and led toward the common.

"Ah," said Aunt Vivian slowly. "Ah." She went in and had a look round. She found the bath, and the opened jar of salt. "Ah," she said again. "Well." Perhaps it was for the best. She knew they hadn't been very happy lately. Too preoccupied with material things in her opinion. They'd be happier this way. She'd have to remember to visit the common more often. With sugarlumps. "Well."

She patted her pockets absentmindedly and drew out a crumpled diary. Now, who had she inadvertently given the rabbit slippers and Flopsy Bunny bubble bath to? And the comic reindeer antlers and deerskin mocassins? And the his-and-hers Tiger and Tigress cologne set..?

The End