"Look, Mommy! A horse lady!"
Marian ignored the pointing child, as she paused for a moment in the underground parking garage to steel herself before entering the bank. The employees were used to her by now, but most of the people in the lobby would only have heard of the famous centaur woman. Seeing a real, live creature from mythology would be a new experience for them. She wasn't looking forward to their reactions. The mother of the small boy was behaving in what Marian had come to think of as the typical way. She was trying to ignore Marian, while still watching her out of the corner of her eye. It was worse than open staring.
The fact that her boss still asked Marian to deposit the receipts from the real estate business each day was a point of pride to her. He had kept Marian on after her transformation, despite pressure from several sources. That trust and support were more than enough to make her go through this ordeal five times a week. Besides, Marian felt that she had to get out in public at least some, and this gave her both justification and opportunity. So, through the doors and up the steps she went.
Her rubber shoes making tiny squeaks on the polished floor, Marian entered the lobby and moved to a vacant window. Behind her, some wit made a low whinny. Marian ignored him; she had learned that reacting to such provocation only made things worse. Instead, she handed the money bag to the teller. The woman, whom Marian had known for years, smiled up at her. It was a timid but sincere expression. She might have done better, if Marian had not towered imposingly over her. Take a large mare, replace the neck and head with the upper half of a woman, enlarged to proportion, and you have a creature easily eight feet tall.
"Here you go, Ms. Holst," the teller said, after a few moments. She handed the receipt book and empty bag back. "Have a nice day."
Marian mechanically returned her smile, checked to see that nothing was in her way, and carefully turned around. Even the relatively open area of the lobby was a bit cramped for something the size of a plow horse. The way was clear; now she only had to worry about negotiating the stairs back down to the garage.
Marian's large van was in a space marked for handicapped use. She felt a bit guilty about this, even though the vehicle had the appropriate plates, but not guilty enough to park further away. Although no nation had yet formally recognized the strange occurrence known as the Gifting, many regional and local governments had already been forced to deal with its results. Marian, for instance, had been officially declared disabled, due to her mobility problems, and therefore eligible for the same assistance as others considered handicapped. More than one person had observed that it was fortunate that most of the people directly affected by the Gifting were in the United States. There were already reports from other parts of the world about mob attacks on Gifted people with obvious physical changes or who had been incautious about revealing their Gifts.
Marian opened the rear doors of her van and climbed laboriously in, human torso bent well over. She squeezed her way to the driver's position and lay down on the special pad installed there, closing the doors with a lever. The steering column was equipped with hand controls for the brakes and gas, the same as used by paraplegics. Marian started the engine and carefully backed out of her space.
Only a few hundred people were known to have been Gifted on that early Spring afternoon, when magic had re-entered the world, and only a few of those had received noticeable changes to their forms. However, these few had attracted a great deal of attention, far above that generated by the more normal-looking Gifted. This attention had been sensationalistic as well as helpful. Marian had received several offers to sell her story and/or appearance to various media. Three men's magazines had even tried to get her to pose for nude photos, probably because her breasts had been enlarged even more than the rest of her torso. Much of a Gift seemed to be pure wish fulfillment.
Traffic was already getting heavy, even though it was still early in the afternoon. Marian maneuvered her bulky vehicle carefully, glad that her workday started at seven. She felt awkward using the hand controls, and preferred to drive when there were few other vehicles on the road. One of her greatest fears was of being involved in a traffic accident. The thought of standing out in the road, explaining to a police officer what had happened, while people drove by, gawking, was enough to make her run hot and cold at the same time.
She was almost to the Center when she realized that the van needed gas. Marian spotted a full-service station ahead, and pulled up to the pumps. A handsome young man with the name "Mike" embroidered on his coveralls came out, smiling as he saw Marian.
"Fill it up?" he asked cheerfully.
"Yes, please." Marian was a bit puzzled at his casual attitude. Since her transformation, more than two months earlier, few people had reacted this calmly on meeting her.
The attendant made a show of the job, accompanying every movement with a flourish. Marian found herself watching him with more than casual attention. Although her form had changed, her tastes had not; she was still attracted to broad-shouldered, good looking men, such as this one. Unfortunately, Marian's shyness concerning her new body, as well as the practical difficulties involved in trying to form a relationship with a normal man, kept her from doing anything about her feelings. She therefore found the attendant's presence irritating.
Once the fuel was flowing into the tank, Mike moved back to the driver's window and began making conversation. It suddenly occurred to Marian that from his angle all he saw was a well-dressed, well-endowed young woman, sitting behind the wheel of a van. That made her even more nervous, dreading his reaction should he discover just who - and what - he was talking to.
"Do you live around here? I think I've seen you drive by a few times."
"Not far from here," Marian replied, keeping her tone neutral, while wishing he would just do his job.
"Well, I get off at five. Want to go try that new restaurant out on Loudon?" His grin broadened. "I could pick you up at six, sharp."
Marian's embarrassment began turning to anger. She knew it wasn't his fault that he was ignorant of her situation, but that didn't help much.
"No, thank you, I have other plans." She stared straight ahead, hoping he would give up.
"Well, how about tomorrow night?" Seeing that she was about to refuse again, he quickly added, "Don't be too hasty. I might just turn out to be what you've been waiting for."
Marian had noticed him looking at her hands. She hadn't worn her rings since the divorce, so he knew that she probably wasn't married. Still, his line and his smugness were infuriating.
"The answer is still no," she said, deliberately being rude. "Frankly, I don't think you're man enough for me."
The attendant's grin changed to a leer, and he leaned closer.
"You never know until you try."
Would nothing discourage him? Marian reached out with her left hand, grabbed him by the front of the coveralls and lifted him to her eye level. In addition to turning her into a centaur and giving her what an acquaintance had snickeringly referred to as "mythic proportions," Marian's Gift had given her enough strength to chin her new self one-handed. She pulled Mike up to the window so he could see inside the van.
He opened his mouth to protest the rough treatment, then froze as he saw the equine body her human torso was attached to. His eyes bugged and he turned quite pale.
When Marian saw the expression on his face all her anger vanished. She was not a vindictive person, and the action she had just taken now repelled her. She set the attendant gently down, mumbling an apology.
To his credit, he didn't
run screaming. Instead, he finished his work, took the money Marian offered,
then stood watching dumbly as she drove away.
Marian banged her head as she climbed out at the Center for Gifted Research. It was a minor thing, but on top of what had just happened it made her want to cry. Marian spent a few seconds on self pity, mourning her fate of being one of a kind, then went glumly inside.
"Hi!" called Pinky, as Marian walked toward her desk in the reception area. "My, you certainly look cheerful."
"I don't feel like talking about it. Besides, I doubt you'd be able to understand how I feel."
Aside from having skin the color of bubble gum, the receptionist looked quite normal. A little judicious makeup and you would never know she was Gifted.
"You might be surprised, honey," said Pinky, smiling. "Before the Gifting, I was a man."
The large yellow cat which had apparently been napping on the couch across from the desk suddenly stirred. Its form expanded and shifted until it became a thirtyish, slightly stocky woman.
"That's at least the fifth origin I've heard you give," said the former cat.
Pinky stuck her tongue out at Wanda Lafontaine, also known as Flow, and went back to doing her nails. Wanda turned to Marian.
"I've been waiting for you," Flow said. "Mr. San Savant wants to see you in his office. Something about you having a bad day."
It didn't surprise Marian that the Director of the Center already knew about her troubles. His particular Gift seemed to make him part seer and part psychotherapist. Still, she didn't feel like seeing him right away. Marian decided instead to go to her room, change clothes and rest a while. Looking nice had always been important to Marian, and had grown more so since she had been involuntarily transformed into something out of legend. Dressing well had expanded to replace several of her previous outlets, which were now denied Marian by her Gift.
Marian took the stairway, of course. The small elevator would barely hold her, and she didn't trust it anyway, not when she weighed over half a ton. One of the other members of the Center had laid neoprene-covered ramps on all the stairs, which made it easy for her to use them, although the boards were very noisy. Of course, the hand rails were awkwardly low, but Marian's quadrupedal stability made them unnecessary. She began plodding slowly upwards, ducking under the low spots.
She was about halfway to her floor when she heard something behind her. Glancing back, she saw Adamant come around the turn, running tirelessly up flight after flight. He looked like he had been tunneling; he and his clothes were filthy and disheveled. As usual, he wore only shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes.
"Hi, Equus!" he called, swatting Marian on the rump as he went by.
Marian gasped in shock and outrage and flinched away, lurching into a wall. Adamant continued on, heedless, as Marian yelled after him.
"Don't call me that!" She knew it was hopeless. How did you discipline someone who couldn't be hurt?
She finally made it to her floor and pushed through the fire door. San Savant, blast him, was waiting for her.
"We need to talk," he announced, in his slight Eastern European accent.
Marian meekly followed him back down the stairs. Near the bottom, Adamant, looking even more bedraggled, passed them, again going up. This time he took no liberties, due no doubt to the presence of San Savant. It wasn't just that the man was Adamant's boss, and head of an organization dedicated to easing the adjustment of the Gifted to their Gifts. San Savant had a sort of paternal charisma about him which brought even the indestructible man under control. This may or may not have been part of his Gift, but it certainly made his self-appointed job easier.
San Savant watched as Adamant rounded the corner above them, then rolled his eyes. "He claims he's teaching himself how to fly."
"You mean he's..."
"Jumping off the roof, yes." He heaved a sigh. "Actually, he's trying to cure himself of his phobia about falling, using saturation therapy."
Contemplating the spectacle of Adamant repeatedly jumping off the roof of the Center took Marian's mind off her troubles until they reached San Savant's office. There she was able to lie down on a pad similar to those in her van and her room. Even prone, she was nearly as tall as San Savant, who was slim and a bit below average height. San Savant brought out some papers, and as soon as Marian was settled he began.
"I have been talking to our lawyers. They say there is a good chance that the judge's decision concerning the custody of your children can be overturned."
This was not what Marian had expected him to talk about. After a startled pause, she abruptly shook her head.
"You don't want to be a mother to your two sons?" San Savant looked surprised.
"They saw their mother turn into a monster, then have a screaming panic." Marian swallowed hard, remembering the events of that April afternoon. "Every time they've seen me since, they have reacted in terror."
"I am sorry you feel that way. Perhaps you will reconsider later."
San Savant busied himself for a few moments with putting the papers away. Marian sat quietly, memories of that eventful Monday pouring unbidden through her mind. That she soon found out she wasn't alone hadn't helped her mental state much, and hadn't prevented her husband from filing for divorce only two weeks later. Robert had been awarded the children, their home and half their savings, and Marian couldn't even hate him for it.
"There is something else." San Savant's voice startled Marian back to the present. "I need you to help Adamant."
That was almost laughable. What possible problem could an indestructible man have?
"What do you mean?"
"Think for a moment. How would you feel if you knew that you would most likely outlive everyone around you?" San Savant seemed quite sad at the thought. "His physical form is locked in its current state. He will be 26 years old forever. How would you react, knowing that everyone you see will be dust in a thousand years, while you just keep going on and on?"
"I - hadn't thought of that."
"Adamant's rudeness is an attempt to distance himself from others," continued San Savant. "He wants to spare himself grief in the future. His attitude is understandable, but far from healthy. I want all of you at the Center to make an effort to break through this insulating layer, and help him to relate to other people."
"I'm not sure what to do."
"Just be nice to him. Get him to share your activities. I know he annoys you, especially by using that nickname Pinky gave you. You might get him to stop by calling him Ed."
Actually, Marian had never heard his real name before, or even thought of him as having one.
"I won't promise anything, but I'll keep what you said in mind." She gave San Savant a wily grin. "And don't think I don't realize what you're doing. You figure that if I help him, I'll feel better about my own problems."
He smiled and spread his hands.
"An old technique, and an effective one."
It was about an hour later. Marian had changed clothes and now wore only a bikini top, a risky situation, considering how much she had to cover. She was heading out the back door, carrying a coiled hose, a bucket full of soap, shampoo, brushes and combs, and several towels. No bathtub or shower would hold her since she had changed. To stay clean she had to wash outside, on the patio behind the Center. She didn't know what she would do, once the weather turned cold.
"I'll be in my usual spot," she told Pinky, who, being on the phone, merely waved back.
Marian began with her head and worked down and back. She was just starting on her equine portion, her black coat shining wet, when Adamant came running around the building. He looked like he had been run over by a train. Several times. He started when he saw Marian, twisted around to wash her lower back, then grinned.
"Gee, can I help?" he asked, in a little-boy voice.
Marian's first impulse was to refuse, vigorously. Then she reconsidered, thinking of San Savant's advice.
"I always have trouble reaching my hindquarters," she said, tentatively. "If you promise to behave yourself, you can start there."
Adamant traced an X on his chest.
"Cross my heart and hope to be seriously embarrassed."
To Marian's surprise, Adamant not only kept his mind and hands on business but seemed to know what he was doing.
"You're very good at that, Ed," she said, making sure to use his real name.
Adamant gave a modest grin and shrugged.
"I used to work on a horse farm."
"I've heard about all your odd jobs," Marian replied, trying to start a conversation. "Sturdy says you worked for a temporary employment agency to pay your way through college."
"Something like that," Adamant replied, noncommittally. He washed for a few moments more, then paused. "You know, you don't smell like a horse."
"The doctors say that all my tissues are still human," Marian explained. "My Gift didn't make me part horse; it reshaped and enlarged my body to look like it is part horse."
Adamant resumed his grooming, whistling as he worked. They were just about finished, needing only to dry her coat, when Marian froze. Then she lifted both hind legs and lashed out, hard. Adamant flew twenty feet, bounced off a tree and dropped to the ground. He sat up immediately.
"Any particular reason for that?" He pretended indifference, but Marian could sense the anger barely held in check.
"You were whistling We Gotta Get You a Woman," said Marian, hands on hips and leaning forward as she gave him a firm look.
He stared at her in open-mouthed amazement for a long moment, then abruptly slugged himself across the jaw. "Bad subconscious!"
He grinned, anger gone, and rose to his feet. "Oh, well, at least it wasn't 'I'm Going To Catch That Horse If I Can.'"
Now it was Marian's turn to stare. Then she began to giggle. That turned into laughter, and she couldn't stop for several minutes. Finally, so weak that she was weaving, she managed to get control and wipe the tears from her eyes. "Ohhhh. Thank you, Ed. That's the first time I've really laughed in over two months."
"Since the Gifting," said Adamant, turning sombre.
"Come on," said Marian, trying to get him back in a good mood, "help me dry, then you can get the hose. I'll carry the rest of the stuff."
Adamant nodded, and grabbed a towel.
"By the way," said Marian, as they rubbed her down, "the proper name for that song is 'Chestnut Mare.'"
She paused a moment, gazing wistfully off into space. "I used to love that song. Even sang it to my kids."
He nodded again, absently. They finished drying Marian's coat and tail, gathered the gear and then walked back inside. San Savant had been right; she did feel better.
This work is Copyright 1998 by Rodford Edmiston Smith,
who can be reached at: email@example.com. Please contact the author for
permission before reposting or reprinting. Thank you.