Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock...
"Fine," she said eventually, staring down at her hands like a guilty child. "I admit it. I set the curse in a fit of temper."
"Oh, I knew who was responsible, Mrs. McMahon," Mayor Gil said sarcastically. "You are the only class five witch in the state and not even one of our many resident deities could have pulled that stunt off. In fact, my first call was to Lex, because this is exactly the kind of fiasco he usually orchestrates."
Marissa nodded her head morosely. Yeah, it did sound like something her adoptive uncle would do. Lex, or Lexor Luthor (no, not from the comics), was a four thousand year old Egyptian demigod. He'd literally bought her from her black-arts addicted mother as a child and raised her as his own. Like any ancient deity, Lex's morals were rather flexible. Marissa had spent most of her life from age eight trying to moderate his wilder schemes.
"Do you know what he told me?" Mayor Gil continued. Marissa nodded again.
"He told me," Gil plowed on, "that only an earth witch had the kind of sympathetic animist bond to do something like this. A god could have done one or two people but not a whole town."
"It wasn't the whole town--" she tried to say, but Gil cut her off.
"I have Dante out rounding up roving bands of puca right now."
"Horses," she cut in.
"Big, black, ornery, flesh-eating beasts that change shapes and cause naught but trouble. Tell me, Marissa, does that sound like horses? Or does that sound like pucas?" Marissa shrugged but had to admit, if only to herself, that his point was valid.
"And not just shifters, either. The whole damned police department, even the humans, were affected. Hell, even Khan himself was affected!"
"I know," she whispered. "He called me demanding to know how long it would last."
"And how long will it last, if I might ask?"
"A month," she replied sheepishly. "It was just a standard transfiguration. Natural born shifters will simply have an extra form for a while."
"And the humans? None of them seem to be shifting back to human."
"They don't know how to voluntarily shift," she mumbled. Gil perked up at her words, though.
"So someone like Dante should be able to guide them back to human form?" he asked hopefully. She nodded quickly.
"Dash would probably have more luck since he's both a horse and a herd stud. But once human again, they should stay that way. They wouldn't know how to shift back."
"God! First piece of good news I've heard all day," he muttered as he fished his cell phone out of his pocket.
"Dash? Gil here. How's the round up going?" He paused and listened for a long moment. "Marissa said to guide the humans back into human form and they'll stay that way. Yeah. Yeah. Well, keep me apprised of any new developments."
He snapped his phone shut and glared at her balefully for a long moment. Marissa chanced looking him in the eye for the fist time since being summoned to Town Hall like a kid caught throwing rocks at recess. He didn't look angry, she realized. He looked... curious?
"What?" She asked slightly defensively.
"So this transfig-a-ma-thingy spell. Can you focus it so it only hits a specific person? Or does it always hit a whole town?"
Marissa flushed guiltily. It was a cheap shot, but a well deserved one. This morning's spell casting had been horribly sloppy even if she had been pissed off when she did it.
"It's not usually so wide spread," she said miserably.
"But can you turn just one person?" he pushed.
"It's not a turn," she corrected. "It's more like an enchantment. And yes, I can and usually do only enchant one person at a time. I was yelling at Mooney and cast angry and..."
"And threw out a non-specific spell?"
"An improperly defined one," she said. "That's why some of the horses turned into donkeys. I defined the target as "people who were horse's asses and the magic turned those who were equine 'horse's asses into jack-asses..."
"so you could do it again? Just turn, say one person into a wolf?" Gil asked hopefully. Marissa just nodded.
"Good," Gil said as he sat back in his chair. "Then turn me into a wolf. I always wanted to be one, you know. I didn't start out life as a thee-day-squirrel."
# # #
BY THE TAIL
Posted by Pat C.
Posted by Pat C.
(I just had to get in on this …)
Dash pulled the horse trailer into the compound’s front yard and climbed warily out of the cab. He eyed the man who briskly approached him with even greater suspicion. It wasn’t so much the gun as the scent the man carried. Dash snorted a warning. He couldn’t help himself. No horse, or horse shifter, could ever fully be at ease around the smell of big cat.
“Thank you for coming,” Tasman Khan said. He too was clearly uncomfortable. Given the circumstances, Dash could hardly blame him. He was glad now he hadn’t brought Merry along. She’d be toting her own rifle and no doubt using it, and it wouldn’t be a tranquilizer gun like the one Tasman was carrying, either. If horses didn’t care for the tigers, horse-lovers liked them even less.
Dash got right to the point. “How many we talking about?”
“Very few, thank Vishnu. I must admit surprise. Once I learned the nature of the affliction … well. My family—indeed, my entire breed—isn’t known for its social graces.”
“I ain’t here to judge, Mr. Khan, just to round ‘em up. I’m guessing your dad … ?”
Tasman displayed his tranq gun. “He has been neutralized. For his own good more than ours. My brother Ravi is in the garage. He’s been trying to curl up into a ball but his new legs aren’t designed for it. He appears to be in shock. I imagine he’ll give you no trouble. The one you need most worry about is—”
A scream ripped out of the stately mansion. Dash recognized the cry of a furious mare in full-on stomp all comers mode. Feline yowls fled before the thud of hooves against stone, and against too-slow flesh. Tasman winced. “Mother,” he finished.
“Sounds like I’ll be needing to borrow your gun. Any others?”
Tasman made a sour face and nodded toward a broad field beyond the manor house. Dash peered past the tiger. In a field a small, lean horse pranced gaily. Its coat was palomino, with a rich black mane and zebralike striping. It had a tiger’s tail. A young man, whooping like, well, like an Indian, clung to the horse’s bare back.
Dash snorted again, this time in surprise. “Is that … ?”
“Guri.” Tasman sighed. “I too admit confusion. I would not consider him a horse’s ass. He’s more of an ass in general.”
“Guess that was enough,” Dash said. “He ought’a be docile enough. We’ll just let him run himself out. I better see to your ma. Sounds like she’s kicking up quite a ruckus up there.”
“Beware her teeth.”
“Gotcha.” As Dash headed for the front door he heard Tasman yell, “Sanjay! Stop riding your brother. It’s unseemly.”