by Felix Sagittarius
Text ©2007 Felix Sagittarius; illustration ©2007 Cubist

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This is a TBP (Tales of the Blind Pig) story whose protagonist, James ‘Lord Felix’ Maxwell, can also be found in The Warrior (Anthro #16). Go here for info on the TBP setting

   A beautiful, brilliant green field before me—a crystal-blue sky dotted with clouds—I took a deep breath and sighed. It was a dream, of course; you just didn’t see colors this rich in the so-called ‘real world’. And the air… ah! It was crisp and cool, its scents a match for the hues, and it smelled of life and growing things. Behind me, I heard a drumbeat of approaching hooves. I turned, and there She was: Epona, the Celtic Horse Goddess.
   She was… Gods, if I could find the words… superb, a glowing white, with deep blue eyes. I dropped to my knees in worship. She spoke to me, but the words made no sense. She tried again and again, but with no recognition on my part. Dimly, I felt my foot cramp back in the world of the real. The pain pulled at me, dragging me away. Then, just before I crossed the threshold , in the state called lucid dreaming, I understood Her. “I claim you as one of my own!” She cried. Then with a whinny of joy, She vanished. The cramp in my foot increased, then the other foot joined in. I couldn’t move. Something strange was happening. I felt the bones, tendons and muscles of my legs altering, twisting and growing. The feeling raced up my legs, then my hands cramped and began to change. Change! That was what was happening! It had been years since the Martian virus began doing its thing with humans, and now, it was my turn.
All I could do was lie there and pray to the Gods that the agony would end soon. After a few minutes, I felt the bed slats start cracking, then, suddenly, they all went, dropping the mattress and me onto the floor. I felt the whole house shudder with the impact, then my flailing feet—hooves?—slammed into the foot board, tearing it away to crash against the far wall, and I slid partly off the mattress.
   I felt very different, larger, more massive, and less flexible. I couldn’t move my arms to the sides, only front and back, nor could I touch my face. My hands felt cramped, stiff, and trying to reach out gave a loud bang as my ‘hand’ slammed into the bed rails. I felt my ears twist around at each creak and groan. I could see the clock from one eye, blurrily, and the red of the LED display was washed out, a pinkish grey instead of the bright red I knew it was. I felt an ear twist to point at it, and realized I could hear the transformer humming! Smells, good Gods, they were incredible—the fresh sheet reeked of soap, scorched cotton, and a scent I didn’t recognize.
   I tried to raise my head for a look around and smacked my—nose? snout? muzzle? hard against the bottom of the headboard. The pain was fantastic; I laid my head back on the pillow until it passed. In my neighborhood, the streetlights are few and far between; it was dark in the room. I realized that, in the blackness, I couldn’t do anything. With that, I decided to try to go back to sleep and wait out the hours until dawn as best as I could. My mind wouldn’t quiet easily and I wondered what I was. A quadruped of some sort and a large one, but what kind? Bovine? Equine? Cervine? Maybe a Buffalo? I did a breathing meditation—which felt strange—and gradually, my mind calmed and I slept.

   I’d had the Martian Flu, as had so many other people, shortly after the return of NASA’s Beagle II probe. For a while afterwards, it seemed like the world was falling apart. People weren’t able to work, the power went off, followed by the loss of water pressure. Food deliveries to the stores stopped, and the shelves were quickly stripped bare. Worse, people were dying, in such numbers the morgues were overflowing and mass burials were done for public safety. Chaos, panic, and gangs of hungry, scared people ruled. I and my Ham Radio friends had worked hard, helping the Police and Fire people try to keep some form of order by acting as communication backups after their systems failed.
   It had been a frantic and terrible time. Eventually, as the survivors recovered from the Flu and got back to work, the world slowly came back to a kind of order. The power and water returned, along with food deliveries, then TV, radio, and computer links. We began to see the other things that the Martian bug had done. We’d seen people Changing, becoming animals, changing sex, even changing into intelligent machines. Families watched in terror as a loved one Changed. Thankfully, there weren’t many, and we did what we could to help.
   Of course there wasn’t often much we could do; in the end, we mostly just recorded the Changed’s names, addresses, and what they had become. Later, in our area, we invented distinctive collars to put on the deeply Changed, those who couldn’t talk. With them on, everyone knew who they were and that they were human, not true animals. It had been a wildly crazy year, and, now, years later, it seemed it was my turn to Change.

   A shrieking scream assailed my ears, and I jerked all over in terror, flailing around trying to get away from the horrible noise. My ears folded flat against my head, and I opened my eyes to see that the room was now clearly lit. I realized that the hideous sound was the alarm clock, and I raised my hand to shut it off. There was a crash as my fore limb struck the night stand. The clock flew off and shattered against the wall, along with the table lamp. I froze, then remembered the night. I held the limb where I could see it—a slender, strong leg, black from the—wrist?—down, ending in a solid hoof.
   I raised my head, carefully, remembering the painful bump in the dark and looked at my—new—body. Oh, Gods, I thought, I’m a horse! I concentrated, and my new tail flipped into view—also black, as were my legs from the—ankle?—down. I couldn’t really tell what color my body was—the colors were too washed out. Now what do I do? I thought, I don’t know anything about horses. Damn it, I’m a city boy! I’ve ridden a horse three times in my life! I have no idea of how to handle one, let alone be one! A sudden thought, and I raised my head again to check—Whew! At least I’m a Stallion!
   I moved my limbs, one by one—everything worked and I could feel them. Okay, now how do I get up? I twisted and rolled back onto my stomach, then tried to put my fore legs out, but I couldn’t get a good footing on the shifting mattress to lift myself. I folded them back under, and tried to raise my rump and get my back feet under me. It took some work, but, as they were on carpet, succeeded. Now, I put one foreleg down and pushed, bringing the other down as I rose. The mattress wasn’t giving good footing at all, so, carefully, one limb at a time, I stepped over the broken bed rails into the open space by the door.
   Now, I had to get out the door, then down the stairs. I could see myself in the bureau mirror. A white streak down my—face?—from just below the ears, to just above my dark nose, and a black mane. For a horse, I don’t look bad at all, I thought, moving my head to look at myself. Weird—one eye was still on the mirror, and the other on my body. This is going to take some time to get used to…
   I put out a fore hoof, then moved the rear leg on the opposite side, then repeated on the other side. It felt like the right way to walk. Slowly, I walked to the door. It took some work and exhaling deeply, but I got through the door into the hall. I headed for the stairs, listening to the house creak and groan around me.
   Oh, Merde, this ain’t going to be easy, I thought, looking down the stair. Fifteen steps, I’d counted them often enough, and I wasn’t sure the banister was wide enough to let me by. I carefully put a hoof on the first step, and began putting my weight on it. It creaked, then gave with a sharp crack. I backed off quickly, then bent my head down to examine it. It had broken across. The steps obviously couldn’t carry my weight.
   Okay, let’s try this… I placed a hoof on the end next to the wall and slowly increased my weight. It groaned, but held. I didn’t trust it though. I’d helped my daddy build the upstairs addition on the house when my little brother was born; I knew how we’d put it up. The stairs were anchored with heavy lag screws, plenty to hold two hundred plus pound humans, but I had no idea how well they’d hold something as big as I now was. I drew back again and thought about it. I really didn’t want to hurt myself, but this was the only way down. Can I do it quickly enough to be down safely before it gives? I thought I could turn and leap from landing at the bottom into the living room, but first I had to get there. If I went slowly, the whole thing might tear loose and give a long drop, and at my current weight, that could do real damage to me. If I leaped, aiming about half way down, it would certainly collapse, but maybe I could be quick enough to leap to the landing. Having helped pour the cement for the landing’s base, I wasn’t worried about it collapsing.
   No choice, I thought. Just do it! I turned to line up down the stairs, marked the points I wanted my fore hooves to hit, then crouched and gathered myself. I flung my body down the stairs, hitting the edges of the step I’d aimed for, and felt the whole staircase shudder violently. My hind feet came under me and I leapt again, hitting the landing, pivoting, and launching myself into the living room The staircase tore loose with a shriek, then fell with a huge crash and a cloud of plaster dust. I overshot the open area I’d aimed for, and landed on the big throw rug. I skidded, then hit the couch and the wall going sideways. The whole house shook, the wall cracked and gave, clouds of dust came down from the ceiling, the windows shattered and pictures rained down on me. I lay there on what was left of the couch, dazed, for a few minutes. Then I realized, I did it! I’m down!
   I got up and checked myself for damage: A few small cuts from flying glass and the picture frames, but my legs were ok! I shook myself all over, the glass and dust came off in a cloud. I stretched, finding some sore areas that were going to be bruises, then headed for the front door. It had sprung ajar, (even with the locks set!) from all the havoc I’d raised, and I nosed it open. The screen door was no problem, so I headed outside, glad to be free of the house. I stood in the morning sunlight and took a deep breath. Now what? I thought. I tried to speak, but all that came out were horse noises
   I heard a siren in the distance, getting louder rapidly. I guessed one of the neighbors had heard all the noise and called for help. I walked back over to the door and waited. A cop car skidded to a halt, followed closely by a fire truck, and two officers piled out, took a look, and stopped dead. I nodded at them and slowly walked over.
   “Woah, nice horse!” the younger one said.
   This got him a withering glare from the Sergeant, who asked, “Are you the home owner?” I nodded vigorously. “SCABS?” he asked. I nodded again. “No ID, of course?” I flipped my head at the house, and started walking for the door. The cops and the fire fighters followed. I pointed my head up, then over.
   “Second floor, to the right?”
   I nodded again. He went into the house, looked around and came back out.
   “Hell of a mess. Looks like you did some serious damage in there.” he said, then called to the firefighters, “I’m going to need a ladder—he collapsed the stairs getting down them.”
   A ladder was set up, and the officer climbed up and headed for my bedroom. He reappeared with my pants, climbed down, and withdrew my wallet and my driver’s license. He quickly recorded my personal info, then ordered the rookie back to the car to get a pouched strap from the trunk. He set it in place around my neck and laced it up. He took my possessions from the pants; car and house keys, wallet, money, crystals and cell phone, then turned the pockets out in front of me to show they were empty and placed it all in the attached pouches and laced them closed.
   I sighed in relief. Now I could prove who I was, and the collar signified my humanity. He filled out the cards with my name and info, then slid them into the clear pockets provided for them. I nodded deeply in thanks, and he said, “I’m calling a vet to check you over before we release you, okay?” I nodded, and they went back to the squad.
   The firefighters looked around, checking the house for safety, then retrieved their ladder. One of them came over and said, “You did a real job on that wall. It’ll need to be rebuilt before the house is safe, and you also shifted the whole structure off its foundation at that end. I don’t think someone as big as you can live there, so you might want to sell it as is. I haven’t a clue what the insurance company is going to think. We can get the door closed and locked, so at least it’ll be secure for a while. Can I get out the key?” I nodded, he got the keys and closed up the house, then replaced them in the pouch. He headed back to his truck, where the radio was crackling with another emergency. He waved to the cop, who waved back, and the truck roared away.
   I saw my neighbor, Mr. Wilkinson, coming over, and the older cop went to talk to him. I pointed an ear that way, and heard everything clear as a bell. Mr. Wilkinson heard a loud crash from the house, followed by an even louder one, and saw the window glass flying, so he called 911, and waited until the cops showed up in case it was a gas leak or such. The cop explained the situation, and Mr. Wilkinson walked on over.
   “James, is that really you?” he asked. I nodded. “Oh, man. The home owners association ain’t gonna like this.” he muttered. I nodded, remembering the (expensive) fight I’d had with them to put up my tower and triband beam. “You know that clause about large animals. They’ll use it on you for sure, especially after the way you embarrassed them the last time.”
   The cop said, “But he’s human! You know the court rulings, they can’t do that.”
   They continued talking to each other, ignoring me. I thought, This lack of speech is even worse than no hands! There’s got to be some way to communicate. My house, and all my possessions, what about them? And my personal papers? How can I get the insurance people… I sank into my thoughts, worries and new difficulties blossoming at every turn. I was an animal now, one of Epona’s children, a four hoofed, non-verbal beast, and everything that made a human life possible seemed to have been taken away. I began to feel the walls of restriction closing in and, with them, a feeling of desperation. I began to shiver as my future slowly closed itself off.
   I was so deeply into my problems that I paid no attention when another vehicle pulled up. I heard a conversation going on, but ignored it. Then, someone spoke to me, directly. I missed it the first time, but he kept trying and I finally noticed him. I came back to the world with a start. I shook my head and noticed the man talking to me.
   “Mr. Maxwell? Mr. Maxwell, we need to talk. Ah, there you are. I was beginning to worry. I’ve lost a couple of people who got so deep in their troubles they just gave up before I could help them and became animals. They were fairly shallow personalities, though. From what your neighbor says, that’s not you.” He was a younger looking man, carefully standing away from me—He must know about the behavior of startled horses, I thought. I shook my head again, then looked directly at him.
   “Mr. Maxwell, I’m Doctor Shaun Malcolm, a vet and something of an expert on large animal SCABS. Now, from what the Officer said, you did some real damage to the house getting downstairs; let me look you over for any injuries, okay?” I nodded, then stood still as he started his checks.
   He drew blood for testing—I was surprised at how little pain the needle stick gave—then he checked my legs and hooves, each in turn. He looked at my body, tisking at the cuts. “Got those getting down the stairs, right?” he asked. I nodded. “Well, that shows you’ve courage and imagination, to do that. I had a lady patient who’d Changed into a cow; her family eventually had to knock out the upstairs wall and rent a crane to get her down. Well. By now you’re pretty thirsty, right?” I thought about it, realized he was right, and nodded. “Where’s the outside tap? Go there and I’ll get a bucket.” he said. He went over to his pickup. Meanwhile, I walked over to the tap on the back patio, and stood, waiting. He came back with a gallon pail, which he filled and set before me. “You’ll find you can still suck.” he said.
   I thought back on all the old cowboy pictures I’d seen, and realized he was right. I put my head down, and put my muzzle into the water—too far, I got it up my nose. I pulled my head up and snorted, spraying water, and he laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a SCAB do it right the first time. Don’t worry, you’ll very quickly get the knack. Just the lips, okay?” he said with a chuckle. I would have glared, but the smell of the water had made me very thirsty, so I tried again, more carefully this time. Oh, but that tasted good! I drank the pail dry.
   “Careful. If you do too much at one time, you’ll hurt yourself. Wait a minute, and I’ll get you more. While we’re waiting, how old are you? Tap, please, tens first, then digits.” I did as he asked.
   “Well, this body looks much younger than that in horse years. Lucky you, about five, I’d say. Fully mature, but not much more. If anyone asks, tell them you’re a ‘blood’ bay in color, about sixteen hands high, and a ‘warmblood,’ I think.” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I filed it away and nodded.
   After refilling the bucket, he went back to the truck while I drank. He came back with his veterinary kit, and a five gallon bucket full of something whose aroma was half food, half something else I didn’t recognize. “By now, you’re hungry.” he said. “I want you to eat all of this, it’s a mix of horse chow and something else you’ll need so you can digest it. I’ve found that the Virus misses some things. While you’re eating, I’ll work on those cuts. Slowly, remember.” I dug in eagerly—it tasted even better than the water—but I remembered what he’d said about being careful, and slowed down. Once the initial edge was off. I felt him working on the cuts, distantly, but I concentrated on eating. I began to realize that this was the true center of equine existance: Food! I laughed and took a moment to slowly shake my head. So simple!
   I finished the bucket and stood, waiting, while he put it away. When he came back he said, “Is there anyone you’d like to contact? Family? Friends?” I thought for a moment. My parents were long dead, my brother had died of the Flu. Oh, yes, Parsifal! He’d need to know. I nodded at Dr. Malcolm, then nuzzled at my collar. “Cell phone?” he asked. I nodded. “Good.”
   He got it out of the pouch and flipped it open. “What number?” he asked, and I tapped it out. He dialed, and I could hear the conversation clearly.
   “Sir, I’m Dr. Malcolm, a local veterinarian. I have James Maxwell in my care, and he asked me to call you. He contracted SCABS overnight, and is now a horse.”
   “Damn, it got Felix! How is he?”
   “No, not Felix. James Maxwell.”
   “Oh—sorry, sir. He’s my best friend. We play in a reenactment group, and call each other by the names we play under. How is he?”
   I nickered, then whinnied.
   “That’s him, sir. He took a little damage getting down the stairs from his bedroom, but he’s fine now.”
   “Great! Oh, sorry, name here’s Scott Gilman. What are you going to do with him?”
   “The best thing would be to take him to my stable, until he’s been shod, and is used to his new body.”
   “Can I visit?”
   “Of course. The address is… “
   I started losing interest and returned to thinking on my troubles. I noticed, after a few minutes, that I was tapping out a rhythm with one hoof. Tap tap tap—tap tap tap tap—tap tap—thump. Nice beat. Oh, yeah, I remembered that piece, from an old American Gramophone Sampler album. It had started that way, then an airplane pass, then the music. I smiled to myself, remembering the laugh I’d had when I suddenly realized what it was, and wondered if the record people ever knew. Then it struck me, like a hammer between the eyes, just what my subconscious was trying to tell me: I can talk!
   I let out a shrill whinny, and jumped in the air. I bucked and twisted, then reared. I was overjoyed! I could communicate! I stood and danced with joy. Dr. Malcolm jumped up against the house, out of my way and looked at me as if I’d gone mad. Mr. Wilkinson and the cop came running over, the officer with his gun drawn. I turned to face them on dancing hooves, then settled down. “Mr. Maxwell? What’s wrong?” the vet asked. “Are you all right ?”
   I nodded, hugely. then started in with a forehoof: tap tap tap—thump thump thump—tap tap tap. They looked at me, puzzled. I repeated it. “You’re trying to indicate something?” Mr Wilkinson said. I looked at him and nodded; he was an old man, a World War Two vet, and more likely to recognize it than the younger men. I repeated, slowly.
   Suddenly, Mr.Wilkinson got it! S O S—that’s the old S O S!” I nodded, danced for a moment, then tapped out my call sign, and looked up at my ham antenna. “He’s sending Morse code!” Mr. Wilkinson cried, “He’s found a way to talk!”
   “He may have, but I don’t know Morse, and I’ll bet few people do anymore.” said the cop, holstering his weapon.
   I walked/danced over to my car, and nosed the license plate. “He told me he had a local radio in there, something about two meters. I’ll bet we can scare up a local ham who knows code on that!” Mr. Wilkinson said. I nodded again, joyfully. Dr. Malcolm slapped me on the back and said, “I knew you were a smart man. Congratulations! I suppose you want someone to get on that radio and call for help?” I nodded, yet again.
   “I’ll handle that,” said the cop.”I’m used to talking on the radio, and I can declare an emergency to make it legal.” Then he asked me, “Can I get out the keys?” Nod. He opened the car door and climbed in. “This it?” he said, pointing at the radio with its hanging mike. Nod. “Let’s see… okay, power on.”
   The radio came to life; two of my friends were chatting. I danced. The cop picked up the mike, and at the first lull in the conversation, closed the transmit key and said, “This is Officer Murray of the Grandview Police Department. I have an emergency and need someone who can read Morse code. Can anybody help?”
   There was silence for a moment, then, “This is WA0SJH, Officer, name is Martin. What can I do for you?” “I’ve got a SCABS patient here, name of James Maxwell. He’s a horse, now. He’s indicated he can communicate with Morse code, which no one here knows. I need someone to translate.”
   “A SCAB? Hoo-boy. What’s his call sign, Officer? That’s how we know each other.”
   Murray gave me an uncertain look, “Ah… I’m not sure… “
   “You’re using his car radio, right?” Martin said. “It’d probably be on his license plate.”
   Dr. Malcolm read it off the plate, and the cop sent it.
   “WD0FGW? Old James?” Martin said. “Wow! Some people said he was a horse’s ass, but not the whole animal!” came back.
   I snorted.
“Can you translate what he sends, please?” asked the officer.
   “Sure.” Martin replied. The cop looked at me, closed the key, and said, “You’re on.”
   I tapped out <WA0SJH de WD0FGW hw cpy? k> and nodded at the cop. Martin repeated it back, and said, “Weird sound. He’s using his hoof, right? Clean copy, though.”
   “Yeah, he’s tapping on the driveway. He wants to send more,” he said, and held the mike for me.
   I clattered out <Hlo Martin hrses ass hi hi bk remembr that code reader I sold u? think u culd rig it fr me? k> and nodded to the cop.
   “Sure James, I remember that box. Ran off the audio line from the rig. I don’t see why we can’t fake up a battery pack for power, and a mike for copy from your hoof. This is weird, though, talking with a horse!? Betty ain’t going to believe me!”
   I nodded, and the cop closed the key. <Great, Martin, es tnx. Ask the cop for where thr tkng me bk tnx agn and cu real sn I hpe 73 es 88 WA0SJH de WDOFGW sk> and nodded. Martin translated, the cop gave my friend the address as Dr. Malcolm supplied it, and I felt very happy. The cop thanked Martin for his help and shut down the rig, then climbed out, locked the car and put the keys back in the pouch.
   Dr. Malcolm walked with me over to the horse trailer, and I paused at the ramp. Walking up it, I discovered, was harder than it had any right to be. It wasn’t just a simple slab of plywood; it was a milestone, a one way gate that marked the end of my previous life, and the start of a very different one. I took one last, lingering look at my home and all it had meant… turned, and climbed aboard the trailer. Dr. Malcolm closed the tailgate, then climbed into the truck and started it.
   And then, we drove away.

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