Lucille smiled as she heard the knock on the side door. She knew who that was; even if he weren't the only student scheduled for now, she'd know. Other kids might be early or - more likely - late, but Howaya Metu made it a point to always be exactly on time. It was a joke with him, that in this one thing he would be predictable.
When she opened the door, however, her smile vanished. How, normally almost irritatingly cheerful, looked miserable.
"Are you all right?" Lucille asked, concerned.
"I'm fine, Moondust," How replied, using her old nickname. He gave a sickly smile.
Lucille ushered him into the studio, then made him sit on the couch. He didn't protest. He didn't ask what she was doing, either, which was just one more indication that something was quite wrong with the young art student.
"All right; out with it," she ordered.
How opened his mouth, then shut it. Obviously, he had been going to tell her that everything was fine, but How didn't like lying. He gave a great sigh. Moondust waited while he collected himself.
"Its Mr. Mueler," he told her, finally. "We had another run-in today. He's determined to make my life miserable, and I don't know why!"
That was How's guidance counselor. The man was competent enough at his job but a complete mundane, not an artistic bone in his body. Yet Mueler insisted on trying to tell a born artist how he should structure his college education. This jerk was more likely to ruin How's talent than encourage it, because Mueler saw no value in art for it's own sake. And How, gentle, artistic soul that he was, couldn't understand why this respected - and feared - authority figure was tormenting him by telling him to do things which went against everything he knew.
How began relating to Moondust the details of the latest encounter with Mueler. The counselor had tossed out (literally) How's selection of colleges and courses, presenting one of his own, which contained classes on technical drawing and industrial design. As How spoke, however, he rapidly became more emotional, finally breaking down into sobbing incoherence. Moondust tentatively hugged him, and How threw his arms around his art tutor, grinding his face into her shoulder.
Lucille got him through the initial outburst, rocking the two of them gently back and forth and making sympathetic, reassuring noises. Then she told him she'd be back in a minute with something to calm him.
Lucille - or Moondust, as she liked for friends to call her - was a hippie holdover. Middle-aged, greying, a bit overweight, she was worldly and experienced. She was also a survivor, and knew how to present an acceptable front to the world at large, and how to know which friends to let see her real self. Most of the latter would not have been surprised at what she did next. From under a loose board in the bathroom she pulled out a box. From the box she produced blotter paper and a small bottle of clear liquid. She put on latex gloves, and used surgical scissors to cut a small square from the blotter paper.Onto this went a carefully measured drop of the liquid. Moondust rarely used the stuff herself - she had other ways of tapping her creativity - but she was a believer in following one's soul, and in using chemical aid if finding where the soul wanted to go was difficult.
Moondust thought for a moment, and cut the paper in half. Then she sighed and cut one of the halves in half. No sense taking chances, and How was a bit undersized for his 16 years.
"Here," she said, holding out the tiny piece of blotter paper, on the tip of one still-gloved finger."This will help relax you."
It was a measure of his innate trust in her that How took the paper and - at Moondust's instruction - stuck it under his tongue. The LSD quickly took effect, and the boy did, indeed, begin to relax.
How was soon giggling, and cheerfully describing his hallucinations. Only Moondust took a step back in astonishment, because they weren't hallucinations; he actually did grow foxy ears and (two!) tails, and the ceramic cats on the shelf really were dancing a hoedown. Moondust remembered how she had introduced him to the works of Mike Jittlov a few months earlier. She could almost hear the music.
The dose was small and How was tired before he started. If Moondust was right, what he was doing would be quite a drain, and he'd soon be worn out. As she expected, How quickly settled down and went to sleep on the couch. Moondust pulled a cover over him and went to make a phone call.
How came groggily awake, with the impression that some time had passed. He sat up, shaking his head, trying to clear it, noting from the dim light in the studio that it was late afternoon, or maybe early evening. Moondust was sitting nearby with a friend. It didn't occur to How to wonder why he had labeled the man "friend" instead of "stranger."He was too busy taking in the man's appearance.
The newcomer was tall and lean, almost gaunt, with an air of fragility. He was also beautiful, and even sitting gave an impression of inhuman grace. His eyes were an incredible shade of green, his hair fine and blond, and his ears were delicately pointed.
"Wow," said How, a grin growing on his face. The man smiled back at him, and How could feel the warm laughter behind that expression almost breaking through.
"He's going to be a good one," the man announced, in a surprisingly deep voice.
"How, this is Lord Teleomier, an old friend of mine," Moondust explained. "I've already told him who you are, and about your problem. Oh, and I called your parents and told them you were so tired you fell asleep during your lesson, and that I'd bring you home after you woke up."
"If I am right about you, you are already sensing a certain kinship between us," said Teleomier.His smile widened at How's expression, revealing long and delicately pointed canines. "Yes, you are one of the fey. Given your ancestry, and Moondust's description of your true form, I'd say you are a kitsune. I, myself, am a pooka, with a feline affinity."
"If you say so," said How, distantly.
"His family has been in the country for four generations," Moondust explained. "He doesn't speak a word of Japanese, and isn't familiar with Irish folklore."
"You are a fox spirit, who decided to leave the faerie realm and live as a human," said Teleomier."How much you will be able to remember of your previous existence is not yet known. It should start coming to you, now that you have wakened."
How had a vague, brief memory of light and color and sound, and of endless pranks and revelry. It faded rapidly, but he felt that it was still there, in the back of his mind, waiting for him to recall when he needed to.
"All Fey currently in the physical world have made this same choice," Teleomier explained. "In Arcadia we are immortal, but bored. We can have anything we want, but life is shallow. Nothing is real and everything is always the same. Here, we have the unexpected, and the chance to change, even grow. We cast our spirits into this world, and hope that we are born into a good family, one that will appreciate the difference we bring."
"How's mother is a musician," Moondust told him, "and his father collects - and still reads - comic books. They're good folks."
"Excellent," said Teleomier, grinning. He reached out and gave How's shoulder a reassuring squeeze, his grip quite firm. "Well, you have much to learn but too much too soon could be harmful. Think on what I have told you, and we will talk again later. Moondust knows how to reach me."
Moondust drove How home, the pair remaining silent the whole trip. How's parents were worried, but after looking at the tired smile on his face, allowed themselves to be reassured.
"Your supper is in the refrigerator," How's Mother told him. "Eat, then go straight to bed."
How's father took him into the kitchen. Moondust started to leave, then turned back, as if something suddenly occurred to her.
"How is under a lot of pressure at school," she said. "I think he needs some time off, to get away from the trees so he can see the forest. I'm going to a Renaissance fair next Sunday. I need someone to help me set up and run my booth, and I think it would do him a world of good to go."
"What an excellent idea!" How's mother exclaimed. "I'll talk it over with his father, but there shouldn't be any problem."
As Moondust climbed back into her Citroen she had a sly smile on her face. Teleomier would be proud.She had told the exact truth, only neglecting to reveal that many of those at the fair would not be human. It wouldn't just do How a world of good to attend, but an other-world of good.
"How ya' doin'?" asked Tina, nuzzling him from behind, as she used their old joke.
How was only a bit below average height for a guy his age, but Tina was the second-tallest girl in the school. How grinned up at her, looking over his shoulder as he put his hands on hers.
"Not too bad," he responded.He glanced at the office door and grimaced. "Up until now, that is. Today's the final day to send off my college enrollment application. Mueler is determined to put me into an industrial arts program. Guess I'll just have to disappoint him."
He gave her a weak grin, and she grinned back. Tina hugged him tight and started to say something reassuring, but she frowned as she noticed an odd pressure on her chest. Leaning close, she whispered in How's ear.
"I told you not to do that!" she hissed. "If I want bigger boobs I'll ask for them!"
"Sorry," said How, chagrined. "Just nerves, making me forget."
"Well, let's get together at Moondust's after school. I'll make you forget Mueler and his stuffy little office."
With that encouragement, and a swat on the rump, she sent How into the lion's den.
How sat nervously on the edge of the chair while Mr. Mueler flipped through How's "revised" application. Finally, with an expression of disgust, he slapped it down on his desk, the sudden sound and movement making the student jump.
"How, this is effectively the same application you gave me earlier," he said, sounding exasperated. "You promised me that you would change your courses and college to one of those I suggested."
"No, sir," said How, quietly but firmly. "I promised that I would consider making a change, which is what you asked me to do."
Mueler made a growling sound, and ran his hands through his thinning hair. He seemed to think hard for a moment, then abruptly leaned forward, hands extended, almost pleading.
"How, you've got to forget about all that artsy-fartsy stuff and learn something practical, like drawing plans and blueprints."He saw that his imploring gesture wasn't helping, and leaned back in his chair, glaring at the young man. "You're seventeen years old! You need to grow up and face reality!
"What prompted you to apply to the University of Louisville, anyway? There are plenty of better colleges which have accepted you."
"Tina is going there on an athletic scholarship," How explained.
"You mean Tina Moore?" the counselor responded, surprised. "How, when are you going to give up this juvenile infatuation? Listen, you need to get away from her, find someone more your type, better suited to you."
"What do you mean?" asked How, confused, wondering if the man meant he should stick with Orientals.
"Well, you know that she's not really interested in you," said Mueler, vaguely.
Once more, the advisor had managed to say something so at variance with reality that How couldn't even think of a reply. He and Tina had been an item for nearly three years; she was the only human besides Moondust who knew what he was.
"Actually, we're planning to get married eventually," How said, hoping that some facts would cure Mueler of his delusion. "Tina figures she can make a good living as a professional athlete until at least her early thirties, so even if I'm not able to support us by then with my art, we'll have enough saved up to live on."
"How, you've got to quit deluding yourself!" said Mueler. He leaned forward, his voice lowering."That dy... young woman just isn't interested in boys."
It took a moment for what Mueler had said to make it through How's parser. Then he flushed, angry and embarrassed. He settled back in his chair, glaring at Mueler.
"How, I know you don't like to... to..."
Mueler stopped in confusion. The face of the clock on his desk was smiling at him. Then the bland, institutional paint on the walls began to form patterns, which resolved into images of dancing animals. And the animals pulled themselves free and began to caper around the office...
* * *
Tina went to their favorite spot, a wooded lot near the school, and not too far from Moondust's. How liked to come here when he was feeling moody or wanted to think. It was one of the few local places with some of the old magic left, which may have been the reason it had never been purchased for building a home. Most people felt uneasy there. At first, Tina saw no sign of her friend, and was about to leave, but then she remembered that How - like others of his kind - could hide himself. Tina decided to try something, as long as she was there. Recalling what How had taught her about seeing the unseen, she cleared her mind and let her gaze unfocus. The woods subtly changed, blurring a bit here, sharpening there. The old rotten stump was glowing a pale, eerie blue, now, and the large oak to her left seemed to have gained a face in the bark. Those weren't what she was looking for, though.
Tina concentrated on How, on the mental composite she had of him. What's that called? Oh, yeah; gestalt. It was what he was to her, her total concept of him, in shorthand. What had been a blur on a branch resolved into a fox with two tails.
Tina walked toward the tree, smiled gently at the rather surprised fox, and held out her arms. How hesitated a moment, then jumped, Tina catching him neatly. She cradled him in her arms, touching noses with him as she scratched the back of his neck.
"What did you do to Mr. Mueler?" she asked, gently. "They took him off in a straightjacket!"
*I just tried to... wake him up,* said How, sounding miserable. *I didn't want to hurt him, just shock him into realizing that he was wrong and maybe he would stop trying...*
"Hush," said Tina, realizing how guilty her friend felt. She hugged him, could feel him trembling, on the edge of tears. "He must have been crazy already. That's why he was so hard on you and others. You showed him something he couldn't handle and he cracked. If you hadn't done it, something else would have."
* * *
Later, at Moondust's, How was still subdued. Tina had to do most of the explaining. The older woman listened quietly, occasionally asking a question, mostly just nodding.
"Well, it sounds like the bastard got what he deserved," she declared, when the teenagers were finished. "One more strait-laced mind has wound up in a straightjacket because it didn't have the flexibility to deal with something different."
"That's pretty much what Tina said." How didn't look relieved or comforted by this.
Tina grabbed him and gave him a playful noogie. That made him grin, which made them all a little more relaxed. Moondust gave them both a brief hug.
"How, would you go fix us a snack, please?" she asked him. "I want to talk to Tina alone."
How nodded, rose and left.The two women sat in silence for a moment, the younger growing increasingly uncomfortable under the older's evaluating gaze.
"What do you feel about How?" Moondust asked, finally.
Tina started to answer, paused, then shook her head, sighing. She shrugged.
"I love him. Is that what you want to hear? I know its easy to say, but I mean it." She paused and gave another sigh. "I need him. He fills a hole in me I didn't even know I had until I met him. He's the trip to Disney World I never got to go on, because I'm always training. He's my reality check, my RDA of fun and silliness. He's my muse; he inspires me more than all my father's pressuring and pushing."
She paused again, this time to knuckle a tear from her eye. When she spoke there was a catch in her voice.
"He's my little fox."
Moondust was surprised, and impressed. Tina wasn't the most articulate person in the world, but she had managed to convince even this hardened, skeptical hippie holdout.
"My first great love was one of the Fae," Moondust said quietly.
"What was his name?" asked Tina.
"Her name was Clelleya," said Moondust, smiling a bit at Tina's startled expression. "She was much more serious than How - I was the silly one, back then - but she served as my muse. Unfortunately, she was too serious. She eventually became so depressed over human existence, pining for Arcadia, that she wasted away and died."
"Oh, no," whispered Tina.
"I don't think that's a serious risk for How. For one thing, he remembers enough of Arcadia that he knows how boring it was there." Moondust sighed, stretched, and leaned back, smiling. "You and How have something precious together. Don't take it for granted. Pay attention to him, and what he needs, as well as what your relationship needs. You two are off to a good start. With luck, your are creating something which can last a long, rich lifetime."
The buxom blond studied her naked image in the mirror, striking a stereotypical model's pose, hips thrust to one side, lips pouted, a hand pushing up her hair. She held that for a moment, then giggled and relaxed. She looked down thoughtfully at her pert, firm breasts, then rather hesitantly raised her hands to them. She had just begun to finger her erect, throbbing nipples when the door opened. The young blond gave a yelp, and ineffectually tried to cover herself with her hands.
"Typical," said Moondust, smiling. "We leave How alone for five minutes and come back to find a naked woman in his room."
"You ever hear of knocking?" the offended party asked, a voice that should have been sexy turned shrill with petulance.
"Hey, we're all girls here," said Moondust, entering the room and spreading the bundle she carried on the bed.
"Is that her?" asked Tina, her tone carrying a mixture of wonder and envy. "Wow. You've really done a good job."
"Thanks," said How, blushing. Since she was still wearing only her hands, it was obvious that the blush was all over.
"I'm glad you made up your mind at last," said Moondust. "We need to get the final fitting done soon. And since you're hopeless with pins, needles and thread, you can just stay that way we 'till we finish."
How muttered under her breath, but obediently raised her arms when Moondust approached with the slip. Moondust stopped and stared at How's crotch.
"A heart. Oh, how very precious," said Moondust, voice dripping sarcasm, causing How to blush again. Moondust shook her head, then looked at Tina. "Considering how many times he's been various females, you'd think he'd be more practical. I mean, look at that body! It's a teenage boy's wet dream!"
"Well I think she's perfectly darling," said Tina, defensively.
"Can we please get the slip on me? I'm getting cold!"
The slip was properly in place after a few tugs, and then the pieces of the dress were draped over the luscious form and pinned, How only being punctured a few times.
"Stop wiggling," snapped Moondust.
"This thing is drafty without panties," said How.
"Nonsense," said Moondust, "this house is tight."
She finished with the last pin, then stepped back to survey the result.
"Not bad," she said, admiringly, nodding her head. "I think all we need to do now is stitch it."
"She's beautiful," said Tina.
"Having second thoughts?" asked Moondust, grinning.
Tina shook her head. Moondust shrugged and moved to the sewing kit.
"What started all this, anyway?" the older woman asked, as she threaded a needle.
"Oh, I'm just playing a joke on some guys at school who started a rumor that I'm gay," said How, a nasty smile on her face.
"Yeah, right," smirked Tina. "This about a guy who's spent nearly as much time in the girl's locker room as I have, spying."
"Hey, I'm doing research for my art."
"Yeah, right," Tina repeated. "Anyway, he's been acting like a complete swish the past two weeks. Two days ago he announced that I couldn't make it to the prom because I have to attend a cousin's wedding, and that he would bring a friend named Lin, making everybody think it would be a guy."
"And then he walks into the prom with her on his arm."Moondust shook her head. "This is going to be something."
* * *
They came in late, to heighten the suspense. She wore a pastel pink, backless and strapless dress, with pearly white purse and shoes, a pearl necklace, bracelet and earrings.He wore a powder blue tux with an iridescent white shirt and black shoes. They were the most beautiful couple at the prom, and the most graceful on the dance floor. They moved with a smoothness and effortless agility that left many breathless with envy and admiration. After an hour and a half they left, sweeping out the door without ever saying a word.
* * *
How and "Lin" walked through the mystic woods near Moondust's hand-in-hand, laughing.
"Did you see their faces?" cried How. "I though Timmy Pool was going to blow a gasket, and Johnny just looked confused!"
"Oh, did I!" his date replied. "Just for once, to be the most beautiful girl in the room, to be the subject of envy from the other girls, and lust from the guys! It was wonderful! And the way this body feels... I'm so light on my feet I feel giddy!"
She spun around, wrapping herself in their arms until they were face to face. They looked into each other's eyes for a moment, then their lips met, and touched for several long seconds. Then she gently pushed him away.
"That's where it ends, How," she told him, quietly. "I thank you for tonight; it is something I will remember for the rest of my life - but the ball is over and Cinderella must go home."
How hesitated, obviously desiring her.
"You sure?" he said, voice wistful.
"Positive. Even if I wanted to risk what I have with Teleomier, I won't risk what you and Tina have."
"Maybe, if you ask real nice, Tina will let you change her into this. But wait a while."
They turned and resumed walking. How was quiet for a long time. Finally, he smiled.
"It was a good joke, though, wasn't it?"
"Yes, How," Moondust confirmed, with a little laugh, "a very good joke."
Tina stirred in her sleep, then came fully awake as she realized that something warm and furry had just snuggled between her breasts. She opened her eyes and lifted the sheet, to see a foxy snout protruding from the top of her nightgown.
"You are insatiable," she muttered.
The lips curled up in a foxy grin, and the twin tails began wagging, tickling Tina's belly.
Tina sighed and reached down to dig the fox out, holding it over her, almost nose to nose.
"Now, listen, you..." she began. The fox licked her on the nose. Tina sputtered into silence for a moment. When she opened her mouth to try again, the fox licked her tongue.
"Oh, yuck!" gasped Tina, sitting up, dropping the fox to reach for a tissue.
How took advantage of the situation to begin burrowing back under the covers. Tina grabbed a tail in each hand and swung them apart, stopping only when the fox gave a little whimper.
"Gee, mister fairy, do you grant wishes?" she asked, in a little-girl voice.
How froze, then whimpered again, and settled himself into a very submissive posture.
"That's better," said Tina firmly. "You know, if you weren't so good in bed, I wouldn't let you in mine. How someone so impish ever managed to learn how to please a woman..."
The fox flowed into a naked Tina, sitting astride the original's chest. Where Tina had been holding the fox's tails, she now had her hands on copies of her own buttocks.
"Well, you know," the new Tina purred sexily, turning to look over her shoulder as she cupped her small, firm breasts, "one of the advantages of being a shapeshifter is that I can find out what feels good to you... first hand."
The original Tina punched her. Not hard, but right over the left kidney, and making a shove out of the move. The new Tina fell over forwards with a startled squawk, landing legs akimbo.
"That'll larn ye'," said Tina, grinning at her double's ungraceful posture.
"Hey, no fair!" said the copy, voice changing pitch and timbre as How shifted back to his normal self; mostly human, but with very dark, curly red hair, fox ears and two tails. "You've had boxing and judo and karate and all that other fun stuff. All I've ever had is fencing."
"Just remember who's boss, then," said Tina, with mock threat.
How started to reply, but his watch, on Tina's dresser with his other belongings, beeped.
"Uh-oh. Gotta scramble. See you at school."
He jumped up, dressed quickly, opened a window, and flew out as a hawk. Tina sighed and closed the window, then went back to bed. She wished she and How could be more open about their sex life, but while How's parents and her Mother would probably understand, Tina's Father would consider the activity to be breaking training. Besides, How enjoyed secrets.
* * *
"Did you hear?" whispered Dierdre.
"About what?" asked Tina, unconsciously putting an arm around How as he sidled up.
"Last week... after the prom..."
"What?!" her audience said together.
The girl came even closer, and lowered her voice even more.
"Johnny Treaborn raped Cindy Johns."
"WHAT?!" yelped Tina.
"Its true. They had the police here earlier."
"Are you sure?" asked How, always unwilling to believe anything bad about someone. "I mean, are you sure this isn't just a misunderstanding, or a spat, or..."
"She's in the hospital," said Dierdre, firmly but still whispering. "He drank a lot after you left, How, then left with Cindy. She didn't want to leave that early, but he grabbed her by the arm and led her away. That was the last we knew until this morning. He beat her unconscious and raped her, then left her, naked and covered in her torn prom dress, in the parking lot."
"But that doesn't make any sense," exclaimed How. "Didn't he know he'd get caught..."
"How, he was drunk," said Tina, firmly. "He wasn't thinking."
* * *
"What do you mean they let him go?" demanded Tina.
"He was a juvenile when he committed the crime," said Moondust. She shook her head. "Six days is all it took. He's eighteen now, but the judge declared that it was enough."
How and Tina looked at each other, he sadly and she with anger. Cindy had never been one of their favorite people, but she hadn't deserved this. The girl was out of the hospital now, but still had some stitches and a splint on her left hand.
So far their last summer before college had been going well. Tina's father was busy, How's parents were away on vacation for a month, and the two lovers had pretty much just been enjoying each others' company and body for days at a stretch without worrying about anything else. Now this unsettling news came to upset their idyll.
"That bastard shouldn't be allowed free, much less to sit in judgement of others," muttered Moondust.
"I'm confused," said Tina. "Do you mean Johnny or the judge?"
"Both!" snapped Moondust, unhelpfully. "The kid for raping the girl, the judge for letting him get away with it!"
Moondust turned and kicked a garbage can across the room.
"He had the nerve to say that he was dismissing the charges, so the boy wouldn't have his life ruined by one mistake. What about his victim's life! That poor girl not only has to live with what he did to her, but with the knowledge that he got away with it! Meanwhile, the boy is bragging about how he did get away with it, saying that she blew the whole thing out of proportion, and deserved what she got for not putting out after teasing him all night."
The older woman spun back towards How and Tina.
"So now we have a guy who got away with rape once, and probably thinks he can get..." Her voice trailed off as she saw the expressions of her two young friends. "I know those looks. What are you two planning?"
This startled both of them. They hadn't really been planning anything; more like indulging in wishful thinking. Still...
"Punishing Johnny shouldn't be too hard," mused How. "I just change him into a girl and..."
"No, that would cause too much attention," said Moondust. "Besides, you can't really change someone permanently. You aren't that powerful yet."
"Yeah," sighed How, shifting uncomfortably. "Anyway, we don't need vengeance, here, we want deterrence."
"We don't need to change him," said Tina. She smacked her fist into her palm, making a sharp sound that caused How to jump. "Just leave me alone with him somewhere private, and I'll let him know what will happen if he doesn't change his ways."
"Ooookay," said How, eyes wide. "But what do we do about the judge?"
"Y'know, this isn't the first stunt like this he's pulled," said Moondust. "He's an old man, about due for retirement anyway, and his bosses have been putting pressure on him to go ahead and quit, what with all the bad publicity from this case. It wouldn't cause too much of a fuss if he just disappeared..."
She jumped for the phone and hit a speed dial button.
* * *
Johnny was fitting the key in the door of his car when someone grabbed him and spun him around.
"Wha...." he yelped, startled. He saw who had hold of him and smiled uncertainly. "Tina?! What are you doing?"
She stepped back into a boxer's stance, fists raised. Johnny looked confused for a moment, then raised his shoulders in an exaggerated shrug. Tina decided to let him know she meant business; her right fist flashed out. Johnny's head snapped back, and he bounced off his car and dropped to the pavement. Tina waited a moment for him to get back up, but he just lay there, groaning.
"That's it?" said Tina, incredulous, slowly lowering her hands. "One punch, and that just a jab?"
"Maybe he has a glass nose," said How, helpfully.
Tina scowled, and crouched down beside the young man. She sat him up, leaning back against his car, then held out her hand. How placed a tanto - a Japanese fighting knife - in it. Tina placed the point in Johnny's right nostril.
"Now that I have your attention..." she said, giving him a nasty smile. "Once could be just a mistake. Even if it wasn't, maybe you'll learn your lesson and never do it again, anyway. But just in case, I'm giving you this warning..."
"What have I ever done to you?" Johnny wailed.
Tina turned pale.
"Not to me, you bastard. To Cindy!"
She reversed her grip on the knife and raised it high, then plunged it down between his legs. Johnny gave a hoarse cry. Tina pulled her hand away and leaned back. Johnny sobbed with relief when realized that the blade was stuck into the asphalt... then turned pale as he realized just how close it had come.
"This is the only warning you get. You ever hurt another woman, and the next time won't be a warning."
She stood, glared at him, the turned and walked off.
"Beautiful," said Teleomier, as Tina and How rejoined him and Moondust in the woods beyond the road."It was obvious you meant what you said, and he won't tell anyone about the threat, because that would mean admitting being beaten by a girl."
"And you left the blade to remind him, so he can't just shrug it off," said Moondust. "Assuming he keeps it."
"Oh, he'll keep it," said How. "He's been wanting a tanto for ages, and is too greedy to just leave it."
"Well, anyway, he won't leave it in the road," sighed Tina, running her hand through her hair. "He'll at least take it somewhere out of sight, even if only to throw it away."
"And now for that judge," said Teleomier, turning and walking away.
"I can't believe he thought I was doing that because of something he had done to me," hissed Tina, with one last look back at the still-seated Johnny as they left.
* * *
The Honorable Jubial T. Cassard was up late, still sorting through the day's mail. He was having a lot of trouble with this normally routine chore; for some reason, he was getting a lot of hate mail, lately. His ire increased with each protest. How dare they question his judgement? The matter was closed!
Cassard felt suddenly sleepy; he reached for his cup, and found the coffee to be cold. He started to ring for his housekeeper, then remembered that she had already retired.
That's what I get for staying up so late, giving this foolishness attention it doesn't deserve. He yawned prodigiously, trying to fight it. Damn. I must be getting old. Good thing I have tomorrow off.
Maybe he would retire at the end of this year, after all. He wavered, his vision blurring, almost falling forward onto the desk. He surged upright, worried now. He turned to the door of his study, only to see a large, green-eyed cat and a fox standing between it and him. He barely had time to notice that the fox had two tails before the room went black.
* * *
Cassard woke completely and thoroughly, with none of the residual grogginess he was accustomed to. This didn't prevent him from being thoroughly disorientated. He had a vague memory of the strange events preceding his loss of consciousness, and knew they weren't the product of a dream. He also knew that he wasn't in his study, and though he was lying on a bed, knew it wasn't his. Sounds, tactile sensations and scents were too different. In fact, he felt quite different. The aches and pains so much a part of age were gone; he felt alive and vital for the first time in years.
"You are being given something rare and precious; a second chance," said a deep, unfamiliar voice. "You aren't stupid, just out of touch; the product of a stratified and isolated sub-culture. Hopefully, you will make better use of your new life."
Cassard sat up quickly, but was only in time to see someone walking out the door of the motel room, closing it behind them. The judge looked around, then down.
Cassard's first coherent thought was Why am I wearing women's clothes? The second was Oh, my God...
A quick lunge for the mirror over the dresser, and Cassard was staring at a pretty young woman, perhaps in her early twenties. On the dresser were a purse (which she would later find contained enough money to tide her over until she could find a job) and motel room key. From the latter Cassard could see that she wasn't even in the same state. There was nothing in the room to connect it's occupant with Judge Cassard... not even the occupant.
* * *
"Think we went too easy on the judge?" asked Teleomier.
"No," said Tina, after considering things for a moment. "I'm not the vindictive sort."
"Well, I think he got off too easy!" inserted Moondust.
"That's because you are the vindictive sort," joked Teleomier. He put his arm around her and pulled her close, gaining a reluctant smile.
"Are you all right?" How asked the pooka.
"Just tired," Teleomier replied."Making a permanent change is hard enough, but against someone so... banal..." He shrugged, and now it was Moondust who hugged him close.
"Let's go home, hon," she said. "I'll rub your feet."
"Hey, I helped!" said How, pouting.
"Well, I'll rub your feet, then!" laughed Tina.
* * *
How was born on April 15. His father has repeatedly stated that this lends a certain air of inevitability to How's life. In human form How is of Oriental appearance, lean and a bit below average height for an American. He has short, shiny-black hair and dark eyes. His face is round and usually crinkled into a smile. In trueform his hair is shoulder-length and curly, with a reddish cast. He also has fox ears (on the sides of his head in the same locations as a human's) and two fox tails. As a fox How is an American red fox (not Redd Foxx) of above average size. After his wakening How began to dress more expressively. How's mode of dress has been described as 21st Century Troubadour Punk. It has also been described as assault with intent in fourteen states. A typical outfit might be: Safety-orange running shoes, pants with broad, vertical red and white stripes, a pale blue shirt with ruffled front and cuffs, a bright yellow scarf around the neck, a maroon jacket that is two sizes too big, and a wide-brimmed, floppy scarlet hat with a pink ostrich feather plume. What's frightening is that he makes such outfits work.
How and Tina will both be attending the University of Louisville in the next series of stories. Tina is a star athlete, both at basketball (she's 6' 3") and running track and field. Tina is rather Aryan in appearance, being tall, lithe, blond and blue-eyed. She tends to wear practical outfits, feeling she doesn't have the looks or the build for anything "pretty." She especially likes outfits that leave her arms and shoulders bare, though she does take care to cover up properly in cold weather. Tina has a lean, athletic build, more muscular than most women but far less extreme than that of those bulked-up female body builders.
In a way, the two are exact opposites. How lives in a world of dream, but values the mundane for the inspirations and motivations it provides. (No Changeling could have invented the smell of fresh-baked bread. Nor would any Changeling have the motivation to bake without mundane pressures.) Tina is a natural athlete, from childhood forced into a regimen of training and competition. (Ever see the movie "Golden Girl"?) She relishes the dose of disorder and fantasy that How provides. She's his reality check; he's the vacation at Disney World she never got to go on. Each values the other's perspective, knowing it to be important to their internal balance. Not to mention how much fun they have, keeping their little secret from the rest of the world.
Though How can change and has changed Tina into other forms, she will not allow him to "improve" her for competitions. That would be cheating. Instead, he has the role of muse; he inspires her to go beyond her normal limits, to achieve poetry in motion. It's all her doing, but without How to urge her on, to provide support and comfort, she would never be better than good. With him, she is often great. (Ever read or see "The Natural"?)
How is majoring in art, as he wanted. He is an excellent sculptor (and so fast!) with minor talents for drawing and watercolor. He has a long-term project, to use three-color laser projections to make 3-D moving sculptures of light, in a volume of fine mist.
This work is Copyright 1998 by Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please contact the author for permission before reposting or reprinting. Thank you.