He must have fallen from the rafter when the flash of white had occurred. He was on his back and felt heavy and uncoordinated, so took a moment to reorientate himself.
Ripping flesh and the taste of blood, the adrenalin of the moment before catching prey, his memories and instinct were all still there. His hearing, night vision and smell were also still working… Yet something was very wrong.
He rolled over and attempted to right himself so he might preen and return to his place near the ceiling, but instead passed out with shock as he saw his own form.
In the bedroom of the small cottage, a similar scene was being played out as the dark haired form roused groggily from his position on the warm hearth rug. As he rolled up onto all fours, he was relieved to feel his collar but belated realized it was strangely loose. He instinctively growled then whimpered as he looked down at his front paws and tried to take in what had happened. He, like his friend, gave in to the shock, and his body chose blessed black.
In the Mage’s bed, a black cat rolled over, stretched and relaxed though did not wake.
The white barn owl had been found by the Mage Alistair when but a chick. For some reason the tiny form had strayed from the nest and fallen. Alistair had picked him up and fed him with tweezers for weeks as he grew. Then the kind human had encouraged him to fly and to hunt. Owill was never tethered nor contained, but for the first weeks had a human made nest in a basket by the stove in the kitchen of the mage’s three roomed home while his white fledgling fluff was gradually replaced by beautiful blonde feathers, patterned with light brown speckles. He eventually took up residence in the open rafters of the cottage’s thatched roof, and was let out nightly to hunt.
The night he was taken into the Mage’s care, a black retriever pup only months old, had been curious about the strange creature that had been added to their household. The Mage initially worried as a black wet nose sniffed over the tiny raptor, then smiled as the puppy was given a nip for his trouble and retreated with a yelp, only to return a few minutes later to look again. This time the tiny bird allowed the contact.
Lex (originally Alexander – but too hard to say during training or when calling him on a hunt) was trained to do what he was bred for – to retrieve and be a loyal companion to his master. Even as a lanky rather awkward five month old, he had a clear sense of his place in the house and was not only a fine gun dog, but would also defend his master to the death. Like Owill he was never contained by any physical restraints but loved his collar – the sign of his master.
As days and weeks passed, the two became not so much family, but ‘familiars’, and a year on, the young owl was quite happy to fly down from his choice of perch and share some scraps of raw meat with his canine friend. In exchange, he would occasionally deliver a freshly killed field mouse or small rabbit after his nightly hunt.
The Mage Alistair had been feuding with a neighbouring coven for years. The heavily wooded region only had a few clearings where one was able to grow the herbs necessary for many of the spells cast by both establishments.
Initially it had been a silly squabble over a patch of nettles that marked the border of their territories, the two neighbours both claiming ownership. Instead of sharing, however, the coven put a hex on the site. The following day was the first of a very painful number of weeks as the Mage’s case of boils healed. The answer was a hex that saw any of the coven entering the area becoming permanently bald within hours.
Two spells later and they had called an uneasy truce. But it had rekindled of late when his dear Lex had inadvertently wandered onto their territory and been struck down by an impossible case of what, for a human, would have been hives. But for the poor dog it simply meant that by the time he had struggled home, he had also scratched and bitten himself so much that he was missing whole sections of his coat and bleeding.
The Mage gave him some elixir to banish the itching, and rubbed in a soothing salve for his self inflicted wounds. The following evening, three of the coven’s witches, again picking nettles in the disputed patch, found themselves completely voiceless.
The remaining ‘speech enabled’ witches decided to fix the situation once and for all, concocting a spell that would shift the mage’s form, while keeping his original nature.
What they had not accounted for were his two companions, one a creature of the day, the other, of the night.
Owill woke first and tried again to take stock. He examined, in amazement, his nude human form: arms and hands, where there had been feathers and wings; long legs and feet, where there had been powerful talons; and a bald chest where there had been handsome feathers. He could only turn his head half way! And when attempted his usual call, a strange baritone ‘OOoooo’ was all that came out.
He lifted a hand to his face and felt no beak, rather there was a mouth! How was he supposed to eat?
He struggled to his feet holding the nearest piece of furniture for support. His toes would not grip and the surface was flat and slippery. He wished for his perch. In the end he sat down again and did something he had been unable to do as a bird. He shed tears.
Lex had fared little better. He woke for the second time and ran his tongue over now blunt teeth, noted his sense of smell seemed dulled, and worried that he could no longer seem to prick up his ears. He too examined arms, hands, legs and feet, distressed that his fur had all but gone, though in a strange way pleased to feel his collar was still in place. His master would no doubt be able to fix the situation.
Unlike his owl companion he didn’t bother to stand, simply remained on all fours, though he did notice the cat on his master’s bed and rose onto his knees, hands on the bed and did his best to growl and bark at the intruder. The black moggy woke suddenly, panicked, then took off into the night through the slightly open window.
Satisfied, he decided to find master and moved into the lounge on all fours, only to see a human huddled in a corner. He approached with caution but did not feel any prickles of danger as he came closer, indeed the pale form smelt familiar and was obviously miserable.
He did as he always did when his master was upset, he moved in close and licked first the hands and then under the chin, and once across the cheek. He somehow knew this human was a friend and so was very pleased when he was invited to accept an embrace.
Owill for his part could smell the familiar scent and realized what had happened. This was Lex. They had both been changed… how on earth were they supposed to survive?
The two sat on the floor in their embrace and took mutual comfort whilst waiting and hoping the Mage would return soon.
Some time early the next morning, Owill woke still in a tangled form of limbs with his dear, former canine friend. The fire was waning and they were both cold, particularly as he was without his feathers and his friend sans fur! He could not work out exactly what to do, but had seen their mage pull a patchwork rug over himself many a time and spied the same on the ancient couch.
The changed owl was still struggling with his form, in particular his hands, so simply opened a mouth that was so recently a beak and bit down on the rug pulling it over both of them. The floor was hard, but at least now they were a little warmer. He and the changed canine cuddled close and slept.
As the birds outside heralded the dawn, Owill woke.
It was a chance to take comfort and take stock of their situation.
The former owl experimented with his new mouth, first moving around his human tongue. He ran it over the teeth, neat rows with slightly prominent eye teeth, then licked his lips and brought his right hand up to touch the tongue, and immediately began to grieve the loss of his wings. The pale feathers that had enabled him silence in flight were all gone and the limb heavy, he felt around to his backside… his tail too was missing, his wonderfully effective rudder in flight and he realized something more… without flight, how was he supposed to hunt?! He began to grieve anew and felt hot wet tears track down his cheeks.
Eventually he uncurled a little and examined his torso and legs, and the strange appendages between the long white limbs. They seemed ridiculously vulnerable just hanging there. He pushed away the long one and felt the strange floppy sac behind. Stroking over it and squeezing it gently made him feel a very odd tingle and he noted a change in the state of the front item. He quickly removed his hand from the region and curled up on his side in what would have been an impossible position in his previous form, and tried his voice again.
The sounds were easy enough but seemed to need more…something like the Mage’s speech. He tentatively tried his usual call, then added in the new tongue and finally just tried his own name. He managed “Wwwwoooiiiiii….ll.” then “Wiiiillll” then just “Will”. He experimented with a few other words he’d heard the mage utter, but finally just gave up and returned to simply uttering a series of mournful “Hooooo”s.
Lex stirred with the sound of his compatriot’s experiments. His dreams had included vague images of master, and the owl, and digging in the forest, and a very pretty golden retriever.
He woke suddenly and moved to clean himself as usual… but to his horror, was no where near flexible enough to lick… *anywhere* important(!) and remembered his change with a jolt.
The changed owl watched sadly as his companion of nearly three years cried out with a human voice before doing as he had, examining his new form with renewed horror.
His ears were in the wrong place, his paws gone, teeth blunt and muzzle… missing!
He knelt up on all fours and turned again and again looking for… His tail was gone!!
How was he to show pleasure or balance if his tail was gone? He slumped down onto the floor and began to do much as his friend had, he experimented with his voice.
The barks were much the same – though a higher pitch, and howling sounded similar, but growling was very tricky. He too tried his name but found the ‘x’ all too much, so ended up trying his full name a few times unsuccessfully though did manage “Aaaanddd” then finally “Aaaandrrrr”. It was a start. He smiled sadly at his dear pale friend.
Will reached over with his new hands and pulled his dark companion into a hug. They lay together in front of the dying fire, and a small black cat returned to snuggle against them as the last of the embers burned themselves out.
Hunger woke them both late morning, and the cat immediately took off to a safe spot on the sill of an open window.
Will made another attempt to stand, this time with the support of several pieces of furniture, and was successful. It was very strange… to be this high without perching on something, yet being fixed to the ground. His feet were still very inconveniently flat, but slowly adjustments were made, and after making his way around the room a few times, it still felt odd but somewhat balanced. He managed to let go and walked five steps across a doorway, unsteadily with legs set apart and bent a little like a small child, but he was proudly unsupported.
His dark friend tried to follow suit – but the former owl had always balanced on two legs, whereas the only time the dog had been upright was either sitting and lifting a little to beg, or when hauled up by his master to be held and supported (front paws on master’s shoulders) for an impromptu ‘dance’ once or twice.
The former canine pushed to all fours but then dropped to his knees, crawling to the settee, his legs not articulating as he was used to. He watched the owl’s progress before starting to claw his way up the settee then the bookshelf and finally struggling to his feet to stand *very* unsteadily and beginning to make extremely slow progress around the room, following the path of his friend.
Will finally collapsed onto the settee, sitting as a human for the first time, his toes still trying to claw the carpet instinctively and watched as (Lex)ander moved slowly around the space, falling to all fours as he had to navigate the two doorways, but eventually, on the fourth circuit, making it to the other side as a biped. He too collapsed onto the couch and the two embraced and rested for a time.
Will worried. He had eaten two mice and a vole the previous night, but (Lex)ander was far bigger and obviously hungry (if the growling stomach was anything to go by).
But what were they to eat now? They were both barely able to walk – how on earth were they to hunt?
A black cat that smelt vaguely familiar jumped up onto the lounge with them. (Lex)ander made an attempt at growling but the cat stood its ground, indeed made its way from the ex-owl to the changed dog rubbing itself affectionately, jumping up and licking in particularly sensitive places around ears and necks, and purring loudly.
In the end (Lex)ander followed the black feline on all fours into the kitchen, where the rather small black cat pawed at the old fridge door, then finally gave up all pretence of being frightened and grabbed the faithful ex dog’s collar in frustration, claws exposed… A yelp and slight struggle ensued, but eventually (Lex)ander understood and was able to pull the door open with his now human hands.
Will stood leaning on the door jam of the kitchen, and smiled at the tussle. He had followed more slowly, his progress on two legs becoming a little more confident by the minute – though holding something for support was still preferred and just a little… humiliating.
The cat could smell the meat and paced impatiently as (Lex)ander pulled at a white paper package of fish inexpertly, with hands that now could grasp with their opposable thumbs. He inadvertently knocked down several fresh eggs and two apples in his rather clumsy effort to retrieve the prize. Will joined them on all fours and they all assisted in tearing open the paper and shared the packet of raw fish then lapped up the remains of the eggs.
It was raw and barely enough, but the problem of being human (or in the case of the mage, animal), was so much more than a single mealtime with no one around to assist.
Three days later, the three friends had all but given up. There had been some wins… the former dog had found he could turn taps on and off. They all drank deeply from the flow several times a day. Eventually Will also learned the skill, and discovered rather by accident that turning one tap produced a hot flow, and the other, cold water.
They were both walking more confidently and had boldly taken to sleeping in the mage’s bed – far warmer now the fire was out. The cat always slept with them.
Door knobs were mastered, though toileting was still a worry until the cat managed to lead them through to the strange little room attached to the side of the house where a round hole on a broad soft piece of wood indicated a place one might defecate. The pit toilet a blessing with no flush to master, the cat now realized.
The changed mage had his own toileting spot in the garden just on the edge of the forest. And he too was still mastering his new form, however his human thoughts had not yet integrated, which had advantages for his dear friends.
He managed to tug the cupboard open on the second night and pawed at two sets of pants with clawed paws, dragging them down but as yet, unable to convey that the newly formed humans needed to put them on, nor how!
By the third day, both Will and (Lex)ander had tried and enjoyed other food objects found in the fridge. The red and orange fruits were a surprise… tasting sweet, and the yellow (cheese) was salty and satisfying. The dog had sampled them before at his master’s invitation but they were all new taste sensations for the ex-owl. The difficulty was their new larger forms seemed to crave more… and unless something changed, now they were faced with hunting. Will had hunted from the first month he could fly, but had no idea how to proceed as a human. (Lex)ander had not hunted so much as accompanied and fetched in the past.
By day five, the two were hungry and miserable. A futile attempt at catching a rabbit that had bounced into their master’s neglected vegetable patch was foiled by their own, still unsteady legs and lack of strategy. But the cat had had an idea and was strangely absent on the fourth night of their time in human form.
Brad trailed reluctantly behind his partner Skye, convinced that this time, she really had lost the plot.
He was blissfully happy when they had moved into the tiny abandoned cottage at the edge of the wood in their first year after the sun festival. The local farmer had tolerated the blonde, dreadlock sporting, hippie tenants, and been amenable to the idea of the derelict cottage being repaired and rent paid in kind (eggs, home grown vegetables, preserves, and the occasional salve for his prize sow and one rather poorly old horse.) Skye sold her balms and home made soaps at the local markets, and Brad sold his art through an agent in the village. Their existence was comfortable…‘at peace’.
Brad had been open minded when Skye began experimenting with astral projection in their ninth year together, though never really succeeded to find the ‘plane’ himself… But this latest took the cake!
They were following *a cat*, a black one no less, through the forest to some unknown destination, his partner claiming the animal was a wizard who had been changed and who’s friends needed help.
In the end Brad had accompanied her reluctantly with the intention of keeping her safe and perhaps guiding her to the local village and some sort of medical assistance if the behaviour really was the signal of the return of the ‘episodes’ she had apparently suffered as a teenager.
After almost three quarters of an hour of stomping through thick forest, however, he had to admit error. The cat had led them into a tiny clearing with a perfectly maintained ancient shack, and rather shabby little garden, currently being picked over by a bunch of enthusiastic hens, two pigeons, and a wild rabbit.
The cat sprinted up the path and scratched at the door.
Skye grabbed her dear partner’s hand as a totally nude male figure wearing a collar pulled the door open then promptly overbalanced, corrected and dropped to hands and knees. A second very pale man, also naked, could be seen assisting the door opener back up onto his feet.
The rainbow clad Skye simply whispered, “See!!! It’s true. *Just* as he said! Oh Lover! It’s *true*! We *have* to help them! Oh the poor loves! Just imagine?!”
He couldn’t, but followed her anyway.
Despite the fact the couple entered the building with as much quiet calm as could be managed. The mute pair scrambled backwards away from the incoming humans. Will pressed himself back against a wall, while (Lex)ander pushed down into a prostrated kneel, then whimpered and rolled onto his side a little exposing his stomach to display his complete submission. Both newly formed humans knew they desperately needed help.
Brad noted the chill inside the cottage and immediately withdrew to cut wood and gather the kindling needed to relight the fire.
Skye, meanwhile, busied herself checking the kitchen. She cleaned up the paper and containers scattered all over the floor - evidence the desperate search for food. There was little left in the fridge – but the freezer was semi full – the cat unable to convey the idea that the cold hard objects were, in fact, food.
Skye cleaned up swiftly, pulled out two frozen steaks then raided the garden and the pantry for anything that could form a meal. In the end rice, fresh herbs, a couple of eggs Brad had found, and (for the first time ever) rarely *cooked* meat was fed to the two. There was no attempt to sit at the kitchen table by either individual and in the end she simply placed their plates on the floor with a knife and fork in each, belatedly realizing that utensils were beyond them.
Skye set about cutting up the meat – gaining a growl and bared teeth for her trouble as she approached the dark haired man’s plate. On instinct she smacked him gently on the top of the head and scolded him. (Lex)ander immediately dropped in front of her, head between his hands and whimpered a little, indicating his submission.
The former dog had eaten rice before, Will sniffed at it rather suspiciously then followed his friend’s example and ate as fast as he could while holding the bowl steady with a hand either side.
Brad had delivered several armfuls of wood inside and begun the fire. While Skye cleaned up the remains of the meal (and put two more bowls of leftovers in the fridge ready for the following day), he coached both men how to throw another log onto the fire.
(Lex)ander was a quick study as he had seen master do it many times, but his first instinct was to pick the wood up in his mouth. Eventually both he and the ex owl understood the concept and had gained another skill.
It was obvious that the two humans were unworried by their nudity, but up close and personal as they were eating, it was evident that the two had not bathed since their change and really were a little ‘on the nose’. Skye found two fresh towels and ran a hot bath.
(Lex)ander was always encouraged to jump in the water when he and the master went near the creek, and he had been hosed down a few times on very hot days, but he had *never* been in the master’s bath. The closest the owl had come to water was the occasional fall of rain and then it was a serious inconvenience. But both did feel unclean and smelt bad. Finally they were coaxed into the warm water by the gentle Skye, who handed each a face washer and demonstrated how to soap it up and rub over still unfamiliar skin. She encouraged them to wash each other for the main part and to take extra care with their new ‘dangly bits’.
They took the lesson seriously and enjoyed the sensation of having hair shampooed and the bucket of water being tipped over to rinse. But like two little children, there was fun to be had and splashing soon ensued.
It was *wonderful*. Will had never thought that submerging one’s whole body in water could feel so delightful and (Lex)ander adored the warm splashing. Eventually, bathroom awash and water fast cooling, Skye managed to encourage them out to sit on the bath mat and towelled them dry as best she could. She then encouraged them up and both stood unsteadily, holding fast to the towel rail, as she wrapped a towel, toga style, around each lithe form before leading them to sit and finish drying off in front of the cheerfully burning fire.
(Lex)ander recognized the brush and enjoyed the feel of being groomed – even if some tangles in his much longer head hair did tug a little. He wished he still had his coat and the grooming could go on for much longer. Will struggled to sit still, only barely able to tolerate his hair being brushed by the female human. He had *always* preened his own plumage before.
Skye finished her task then retreated to the kitchen to spot Brad leaning against the door jam of the back door, staring out at the yard, deep in thought. She wandered up behind him and slid her arms around his slim waist, hugging him from behind. She stood on tip toes, nudged away the dreadlocks and kissed him affectionately on the neck whispering, “Penny for your thoughts?”
Skye didn’t expect the response. Brad was silent at first then turned in her embrace, flicked his long locks out of the way and wound strong arms around her, pulling her tight.
“Geez… um… Oh Saahh…” The gentle Brad was now looking directly through the door to the lounge at the two human figures on the floor in front of the fire cuddling in a seated embrace of care and comfort, “Look at them! They’re really just… children… And we’ve never even had kids! What have we taken on here? I mean… I know we have to help… but Saahh… How do we do this?”
“We teach them and we love them, and if they never speak or still struggle to walk, then we work around them… Come on Brad?! You must be able to see! Noone else knows of them. We can do this… let’s just give it a go… what’s the alternative? Hmmm? We report them and they’re thrown into an institution for the mentally retarded, or isolated and studied for years? Honey please? Look at me…” She took his pretty face in her work hardened slim hands and stared into his hazel eyes framed by impossibly long lashes. “Please let’s do this?! We can’t abandon them. I’m sure it was meant to be… It’s beautiful karma!”
Brad gave in, kissed his dear partner lightly then deepened the act, receiving love and devotion in return. For all his worries regards how they were to feed two more mouths and cope with trying to help these two, he could not help but adore his Skye all the more. If ever there was an earth mother… how could he not follow his magnificent lover? He broke the kiss, pushed the thick locks back behind her ears and kissed her again on the forehead before confirming his willingness with tear-filled gaze, “You amaze me every day… you know that? And I love you more for it… and… just yes… yes OK?? We do this… together we do this.”
The couple returned two afternoons later with food from their own meagre supply and some woodwork tools.
Brad worked to secure a dilapidated chicken coop before using an ancient shovel to dig over sections of the vegetable garden. In the end, the light ran out, but at least he had three rows of seed potatoes sewn.
Skye had cooked her partner and ‘their boys’ a fluffy herb omelette and fried freshly picked mushrooms and the last of the meat in the mage’s fridge, some frozen bacon, for dinner. The leftovers from her previous visit were long gone and the mage’s freezer was now bare but for some ice cubes and ancient bread.
They had found the mushrooms en route from their own home but Skye had been worried regards the dwindling food supply, not only at the mage’s house, but also their own. They only shopped once a month, the garden was struggling a little at the end of winter, and their nanny goat and pretty jersey cow were both heavy with their new progeny, so dry for the moment. She had taken what she could, an egg, some wholemeal flour, a handful of yeast, and some oil. There was sugar at the mage’s so she thought perhaps herb damper of some sort might work. Brad’s discovery of eight viable eggs under a rather clucky old hen as he repaired the coop was a true godsend. She cooked seven and broke one for the cat.
The cat rubbed against the wonderful woman, joining diners on the floor and enjoying raw egg and the edges of the bacon.
Will was a little worried by the strange food but followed his friend (Lex)ander’s example and in the end genuinely enjoying the fluffy texture, salty meat pieces, and strange tasty black and white offerings alongside.
Meal over, ablutions were carried out and Brad cut wood and dug the garden, then both friendly neighbours withdrew again – fresh damper cooling on the stove ready to feed hungry mouths the next day.
Over the ensuing fortnight, a definite pattern began to emerge. Every couple of days the new humans were tended. The generous couple were not only attentive but also took time to coach their new neighbours. Walking was still an ‘ongoing project’ but their teachers were both patient and kind, and after two weeks, Will and (Lex)ander always made an effort to stand in the presence of their visiting carers.
Skye was worried by the almost non existent language, so tried to reach them in the astral realm, but was only able to contact the cat. The changed mage suggesting that she try for an animal form, sadly it was not to be.
Something that was very apparent to the visiting couple over the weeks, was the blonde former owl’s definite, almost desperate, aversion to daylight; his retained very quick reactions; and habit of cocking his head ever so slightly. He was a quick study with all things practical, and seemed to be learning language at an amazing rate – even though he was still unable to say little more than “Will” and “Hooooo”, he seemed to understand many more words. Skye had a habit of chatting to him as she worked on various tasks, occasionally coaching him until he too could perform the act. He began to enjoy learning human skills and always thanked Skye by taking her hand and giving three odd little nods then wandering to bury himself under the covers in the bedroom if it was early in the day. The owl yearned for the hunt, craved it and mourned its loss…
(Lex)ander had no such yearnings – though missed master occasionally – and even accepted the attentions of the cat occasionally. The difference between the two personalities was compelling. Whereas the former owl was an extremely quiet, highly strung, intelligent human who slept for much of each day and enjoyed learning various domestic skills; (Lex)ander was an enthusiastic, exuberant individual who loved human company. And whether on two legs or dropping to four when tired, he was almost a constant shadow whenever Brad was around. He was attentive and loyal, and utterly devoted to his new carers and old friend.
Both ex dog and former owl revelled in the praise and apparent acceptance so easily given by Skye and Brad. But as they came up for a month as humans there seemed to be tension between their two lovely carers that had not been there before.
The reality was that the generous pair was genuinely struggling to support four people with their meagre income and resources. Brad had hardly produced any art in the month and the combination of more mouths to feed and season meant there was virtually no surplus for Skye to make produce for the markets.
The new humans may have felt the tension, but the cat understood and decided to take a calculated risk. Skye had not met him in astral form for a week but he knew it was time to act.
In the start of the fourth week, the cat sought out Brad and bothered him so much that the human took noticed. The mage eventually led him to a small set of drawers in the bedroom and began pawing frantically at the bottom one. Brad finally took the hint and pulled on the simple brass handle. The cat jumped inside and literally dug through the underpants and hand made woollen socks until he came up with the prize, a tiny blue jeweller’s pouch. Holding it in his mouth, he leapt onto the bed, only to drop it and prod and tug at the ties in frustration.
Brad got the hint and assisted him, stilling in amazement as the contents of the pouch were spilled onto the bed.
All cut to perfection forty or fifty diamonds of various sizes (or at least Brad assumed they were diamonds), sparkled, even in the poor light of the room.
“These’re diamonds!!! No?! Can’t…???? You’re kidding right?? Oh F$#%!!!! But what do I…?”
The cat dug into the bottom of the drawer again and began trying to tug a small diary out. Brad snapped out of his shock to lift the article and open it. In an elegant hand it listed off the various gems then three jewellers, with an asterisk beside one with a note in tiny writing “mage friendly”.
The cat was back up on the bed purring and rubbing against Brad, then ever so gently pawed at the collection of gems pushing seven apart from the others. The human knew what he was being asked to do.
“Oh Geez!! I’ll be arrested! These are worth a fortune!!!!”
More purring and rubbing then the cat licked at the name of the mage friendly list and tried desperately to convey his meaning. They all needed the money and Alistair Liebhausen was apparently their best hope – a changeling himself, he would be able to communicate with the cat…. If only Brad would get a clue and take the diamonds *and* cat with him, they would *all* be fine financially!
In the end Brad called to his partner and conveyed all that had happened in a near whisper. The diamonds were on the bed and the cat still pacing now near frantic and all but clawing at the name in the notepad.
Two days later, the cat, Brad and Skye had visited the rather enigmatic Alistair. They were welcomed politely and ushered into the rear of the shop. They explained their business rather clumsily and Brad was struck dumb as the cat leapt onto the counter and rubbed against the jeweller who promptly began to purr and shifted form – a tail, pointed ears, furry paws and whiskers emerging. Apparently the transaction went well, though Skye belatedly realised how very far Brad had needed to adjust his view of the world of recent times!
The two kind carers walked out with one black cat and the equivalent of seven years of income for them. It would not be wasted. Their lifestyle was nothing if not frugal, and Skye had it in her mind to help ‘their boys’ to become self sufficient also. She and Brad both knew there were more diamonds, but it was better to cosset the new humans in a happy and familiar environment than torture them with the world just yet, if ever. Skye carefully separated the amount they had just gained into two as insisted upon by Alistair – as instructed by the cat, who would apparently brook no argument.
A day after they were ‘cashed up’, the two households restocked larders, fridges with food, a few extra chickens in the yards of both tiny properties and food for the same (with orders for two goats and ducklings for each little farm in the coming weeks). Plus seed for the coming season and a number of hardware items desperately needed for repairs. The cat had contacted Skye again and conveyed his wish that they spend their money as they wished, encouraging them to spend some on art materials so needed for Brad to continue his work and ingredients for her products. Purchases were made carefully to maximise their most unexpected windfall.
The nicest part of having a little extra, was that Skye had been able to buy the new humans a few necessities while Brad sorted the hardware and his art supplies.
Wonderfully soft stretchy sweat pants, and loose fitted, baby soft, fine knit sweaters were obtained (ever the bargain hunter – it was a two for one deal!). She hoped they would replace the two old ponchos she had convinced her charges to wear for warmth. She also bought boxer shorts and a few t-shirts, and purchased various toiletry items before filling the ancient Volkswagen van with petrol and treating herself and her lovely (now exhausted) partner to a little indulgence… On the way out of town she had stopped at an Asian grocery store buying a container of Hari Chai (spiced Indian tea), some dried shitake mushrooms and a packet of seaweed flakes for soup. She knew Brad loved all three. As an after thought she put in two packets of sesame and honey toffee treats for the humans, and a packet of tiny dried fish for the cat … then sent a thank you to the higher powers for blessing them so richly.
The cat, curled up on top of the enormous bag of new clothes purred a silent ‘Amen’ and blessed the two in the front of the van and also asked for a blessing for his two changed pets, innocent beings in all this and currently waiting patiently at home.
Over the next three months, Skye and Brad gradually schooled their dear neighbours, building skills and encouraging them. Brad knew to pet (Lex)ander as often as possible, the preference being a pat on the head or affectionate scratch behind the ears or under the chin. Will also seemed to enjoy affectionate touches but preferred that the back of his head, his shoulders and lower back to be stroked gently. Both new humans were partial to a hug at any time.
(Lex)ander followed Brad into the garden every day their neighbours came to assist.
Brad had built him a trolley using old wheels found on a discarded shopping trolley and a wooden tool box. There was a piece of old conduit on either side of a sturdy handrail, designed to hold larger garden implements and a little bucket on the side for smaller tools, and the handrail was designed for pushing and support. The former dog was thrilled. He was gradually learning words for each of the tools, not so much to say, but at least to understand. He had mastered walking around pushing the cart, holding onto implements with a strong grip, and passing things to the wonderful Brad when asked. Though some of the bigger implements were still tricky with his balance for a time, he was very good on all fours in the garden and could dig easily with hands and now, small tools. As long as he was told where to dig, he was happy to dig as far and as long as he was instructed… and then some.
He had buried several bones from the evening dinners left behind by Skye – much to the disgust of the owl. Though he could not work out why the look of disdain, given that the former owl was also struggling with the change, refusing to come out during the day and often staring toward the rafters and “Hooing” pitifully.
Skye had noted the blonde human’s preference for heights and mournful looks upward during the day. Two weeks later, a ‘Brad built’ mezzanine level, graced the rafters over almost half the tiny lounge area. It consisted of five wide planks trussed together like a raft, a thin single mattress, and ladder going up. Will was thrilled and from then on, spent many a lazy hour simply watching the household from above as he always had. (Lex)ander joined him once and the cat a few times, but neither liked the precarious height.
Under Skye’s encouraging eye, Will’s coordination and walking improved. He was inside during the day by preference, so she taught him to wield a knife to fillet fish and cut vegetables; to hum a tune – though it was more a tuneful ‘hoo’ than a hum; mark the eggs each day with strange scratches that he gradually learned as numbers; and use all the household equipment. She talked to him of instinct and of honouring his past. Finally, in his fourteenth week as human, Will disappeared into the night to hunt.
The first night there was nothing, and Will returned to the house and his friend, the ex-dog, exhausted and frustrated. (Lex)ander welcomed his pale companion home and held him in a loving hug as Will shook, cried silently, then tried to explain his failure and distress. But over the ensuing weeks, he gradually began to find ways to move silently on the forest floor; to wait patiently in the shadows watching his quarry as he always had; and to pounce with a speed that was increasingly otherworldly. The rabbit and field mouse communities lost a few of their slower members to the new human, and the night creatures learned that there was a new predator in their midst.
More often than not he caught with hands where previously there had been talons, and bit down savagely with teeth where there would have been a curved beak, but the result was the same – neck snapped and throat torn out, the death a quick and relatively painless one.
Neither human had the ability to skin and gut an animal, so relied on Skye to process Will’s catches. As his hunting improved, Skye realized something quite profound. At no point did Will ever bring home more than would be eaten by the ‘family’ in a day, and as mouse was not really to her taste, she slowly taught him to fish – in his own way of course!
For Will it was an exciting experience. He had watched his cousins, eagles and occasionally a hawk, pluck fish from rivers and lakes – but always in daylight and always from above. Now he was able to use a lure, snag the creature and pounce on them once they were hooked. It wasn’t as glamorous as the spectacle of catch and fly - and certainly he ended up wet - but very early morning or late afternoon it was a satisfying sport and one his friend the dog gradually learned to enjoy also.
As Brad and Skye wandered home on the evening marking their fifth month of helping their friends, they chatted about their various wins – Will with his simple cooking, fishing and hunting; and (Lex)ander with his care for the garden and animals and slowly developing carpentry skills. Apart from a yelp as he hit a thumb on the the previous week, and the need to be coddled and coaxed back to the task, (Lex)ander had become quite astute at hammering, sawing and painting, he was excellent at rounding up the poultry, and of course his digging skills were ‘exemplary’.
The two kind souls suddenly realized just how far their changed charges had come – given (and Brad had accepted now) their bewildering starting point.
Clothes were still a point of contention, though colder weather made convincing the changed humans to wear things at least for warmth. In the end Skye had resorted to sewing some pants out of black ‘polar fleece’ soft and fuzzy outside and in. (Lex)ander was thrilled, Will not so much until he was presented with a second pale pair with a brown feather print. That day Skye was graced with a tight hug and kiss then watched as Will continued to stroke the material covering his thighs and ‘hooo’d happily.
Speech was the slowest of all to develop. There were now many words understood, but few words said. With everything else Skye had decided it was probably to be a separate ‘project’, needing special attention.
And all the time the two new humans had been learning and growing into their roles, the former Mage was drifting into his cat persona more and more, to the point of no longer conversing with Skye in his human form and often refusing contact in the astral realm. But he did perform one last act before slipping permanently into his cat manifestation… He led Skye to his spell books.
The cat had been insistent rubbing at her legs until she followed him to the bedroom where he tugged away a rather moth eaten rug on the floor. He pawed at a knot hole in the wood. Skye pushed on it not really sure that was what she had to do, and a trapdoor in the floor slowly opened.
The space revealed was little more than an in floor cupboard, however contained all manner of jars apparently containing spell ingredients and six enormous ancient books.
The cat was near frantic as she moved to close the door again. Nudging, licking and mewing, he finally encouraged her to take the books. She wondered at his motivation, but finally, simply complied.
Skye hitched the heavy satchel up again as she and Brad kept walking and continued their discussion regards Will, (Lex)ander and the cat’s futures. Both silently worried a little by the contents of the books and what might be so important that she should take the books home with her.
They all sensed the weather change, it had been unusually warm and humid, and they all felt the prickles and could see the black clouds approaching late afternoon. There had been a gentle breeze all afternoon, but it too stopped leaving an eerie quiet.
Will returned from his hunt the instant the wind dropped. He was empty handed and more than a little spooked, but they had food and the signs were all there.
(Lex)ander had a surprisingly easy time convincing the chickens and ducks to return to their coop for the evening, and on instinct rounded up the two goats and put them in the small tool shed come lean-to at the rear of the cottage.
Leaning heavily on the handrail for balance Will opened the backdoor only to see the cat sprint past into their home. (Lex)ander was next and once inside, he took Will’s free hand, and tugged him inside then locked the door behind. Minutes later the wind picked up.
The storm struck full force around a half hour later - first rain, then driving rain and lightening with accompanying thunder. Loud horrifying bursts of sound, threatening flashes and residual rumbles…
At the first loud crack (Lex)ander whimpered and sprinted on all fours to the bedroom where he promptly buried himself under the bed covers. Will was not far behind, his ceiling abode just a little too close to the action. The cat had taken his place in his basket curled up tightly ready to wait it out.
As soon as Will entered the bed he was grabbed and hugged hard then had his face licked for good measure. (Lex)ander continued to lick and touch for his own comfort, distracting him from the frightening world outside. It worked but also had a surprising effect on his friend. What began as comfort quickly developed into more, the ex-dog soon finding himself the recipient as well as the giver, as soft slim fingers began to knead his firm muscles and stroke him.
The electrical storm outside paled into non existence as the storm of sensation and passion in the bedroom increased.
Will sought out the limber tongue, this time using his human nature to suck it into his own mouth and tangle it with his own. Another crash of thunder caused the ex dog to pull even closer slamming their two erections together and evoking an amazing set of sensations as they rubbed against each other.
Neither had felt anything like it as either human or other. In their rather short lives, the dog had not coupled nor had the owl, but both were now their age equivalents in human years and driven by some inner need. Hands caressed, bodies undulated and tongues tangled until both pulled away and cried out as they climaxed simultaneously.
In the rather sticky aftermath hands found each others softening members and stroked through the combined fluids until in a post coital haze, the abating storm was ignored and the pair slept.
In previous weeks, the mage had been doing his own love making – or more accurately, procreating – and in the process had his quiet revenge on the coven. Their four black female cats were now *all* pregnant with his seed. There would be a generation of kittens drawn to darker magic than that practiced by the coven.
But there was also a surprise in store for the mage as he experienced a strange sensation when coupling with the last of the four females. She snarled and clawed at him, crying out just as the others had, but as he entered her there was a tingle of magical energy. Images and memory flashes flowed, all related to a rather maverick member of the coven whose antics, he knew, had enraged the High Wiccan more than once. Before the falling out, she and the mage had met online several times, then in the forest once to swap spell ingredients, but soon after, she had disappeared.
He realized her fate, and going against his male cat instincts, treated the pretty feline with care and affection, rather than simply mating in a frenzy of teeth, claws and snarls as he had with the other three females.
Rejected by her family for her penchant for the occult, the teenaged Nicola had found herself amongst a group of women in the forest who seemed to want to shape her in their ‘own image’.
Initially it was fun, but gradually there were things she just could not accept. She loved the study of magic and had a natural talent for it, but the raven haired girl preferred bright colours to the traditional black, adored the sunshine and spent more time engaging with local animals and convening with the trees than attending to her studies.
When she refused to give up her computer and internet connection after the unauthorized wiccan list she had set up was reported, her computer was confiscated, and she had been put on 'probation'. It was effectively house arrest, which she violated in no small way as she changed her form and escaped out the cat flap using several spells that were banned from apprentice wiccans. She spent three nights sprinting into town in the new feline form and using the internet at a friend’s house before sneaking back into her ‘prison’ just before dawn.
On the third night she had been caught… by the tail no less. On instinct she snarled and sunk her claws into her captor. The High Wiccan was called and even before Nicola had time to change back and explain, she found herself permanently transformed. She would live out her life as a cat, despised by the other three original moggies of the coven, and looked upon with disdain by her former fellow wiccans.
The changed mage continued to meet her in the forest as she grew larger with his children, and two months later, the night after the storm, she disappeared from the coven altogether, followed his scent and pushed her way through the cat flap to snuggle down with him in his basket. She was within a week of delivering his children, her belly distended and coat rather dull as her body supported the new lives within. The ex-mage, now tom cat, welcomed her, licking over her ears and face with affection as she collapsed exhausted onto the soft cushion her host had tugged from the tired lounge suite several months before.
The following day, the soon to be mother cat – ex human witch – was fed along side the father of her children. She then accepted the gentle stroking of two new humans before joining the mage on the back step to lie side by side in the morning sun. Nicola had never felt so accepted or loved before.
She felt her babies wriggle again inside her and for the first time, was truly happy. The soon to be mother rested her head back on the mage’s soft fur and purred her pleasure. The answering rumble completed the picture of contentment.
Skye and Brad were delayed by the storms – the winds had unroofed the animal sheds and a leak had developed in their spouting forcing some emergency repairs – including a visit to town.
With their carers absent, Will and (Lex)ander followed their usual pattern for days their carers usually did not appear. (Lex)ander tended animals and the garden in the day while Will worked inside, then Will fished in the early evenings after dinner, while (Lex)ander tended the fire and slept until his friend returned (Will only ever caught rabbits on days he knew Skye would be there). When Will returned they would both retire, but now prior to sleep, there was always kissing and loving touches, ‘hoo’ing, friendly growling, licking, rubbing and release followed by happy sighs and slumber with limbs entwined.
When Skye returned on the sixth day after the storm (Brad preoccupied with a sculpture that just had to be finished – his first commissioned piece!), she noticed a profound difference.
The cottage was a little messy but by and large, well kept in her absence. There were two cats not one – and the two humans were touching each other in a way that had not happened before – affectionate touches, small smiles and loving glances, and happy sounds meant only for each other.
As (Lex)ander departed to tend the animals and collect eggs, Skye addressed the former owl, “You two have feelings for each other?” Will cocked his head to the side and frowned a little. Skye took his hand, kissed the palm and pressed it over his heart, “He makes you feel… good inside?” Then took a risk and brushed the fingers of the other hand further down his torso.
Will watched the progress of the hand, felt its meaning, then nodded a little and sighed, “Hmmmhoooooo” in agreement.
“Oh sweetie, that’s lovely… just… lovely!” He replied with a blinding smile and sparkling blue eyes.
Later she had a similar conversation with (Lex)ander and desperately wished she had worked more on their speech – but that would come. For now it was good enough that they seemed to have found each other.
Nicola, ensconced behind the old couch on an old towel she had dragged there the previous evening, began to give birth only minutes after Skye departed.
The ex-mage led the humans to her the following evening. Four tiny blind black kittens were discovered feeding from their exhausted mother.
(Lex)ander immediately found the female food and water, and Will went fishing for fresh supplies.
The mage was thrilled, purring and licking the mother of his children in a way most atypical of a male cat. And when Skye observed the same, a day later, she began to wonder. It had seemed that he was all cat and instinct now, but this… this was different. She wondered about the female feline too.
The little ones grew quickly, and though the ex-dog was initially the most attentive, (Will finding them altogether too small and inactive to be bothered with), when their eyes opened and they began to interact, the ex-owl too was captivated. Both were happy to play the role of teacher or climbing frame to the four black balls of fluff.
Skye delighted in the four tiny kittens and Brad too succumbed to their playful charms.
Apart from additional ‘family’ distractions, Skye had resolved to teach ‘their boys’ to speak a little better and lessons were now included in each day the carers attended.
It was hard work… very hard work! To get tongues and sounds to work the way of humans was … just tricky. And after two weeks of frustration and effort the two new humans took comfort in each other, offering loving touches, caring licks and kisses, and reassuring sounds in their own original languages.
By the end of the second month, however, both could form some rudimentary sentences. The first consisted of “Love you” or in Will’s case “Love yhoooooo” as he struggled to leave old habits behind.
In their fourth week of Skye's 'program', she took to turning on the tiny television when the children’s shows were on and had both sit and watch some of the simple stories and try to repeat some of the words. The strategy was a good one for a time, but they needed to interact with more people if they were ever going to be able to fend for themselves in the human world. Consequently several trips into the village were planned for the coming fortnight.
The first one was a disaster!
Skye and Brad had forgotten that the former owl had only ever been in the presence of four other humans up close, had never ridden in a vehicle and hated the sun. Sitting in the back of the old truck Will insisted on hiding under a rather smelly old tarpaulin all the way into town then would not come out as noise and light caused him to cower under his protective cover. Consequently (Lex)ander joined him for a time and also refused to budge, but eventually was persuaded to join their carers. He kissed his rather miserable lover on the lips, growled out, “Luff You.” then crawled out into the sun.
(Lex)ander had been to town on several occasions with the mage, enjoying the experience immensely, but had always walked on a lead. Skye saw him looking around uncomfortably and tug nervously at his collar after scrambling inelegantly from the truck. She thought for a moment. She couldn’t exactly put a leash on him then lead him around the village, so instead promised to hold his hand the entire time he was away from the truck.
(Lex)ander couldn’t believe how different everything looked as a human - walking upright meant being able to see into shop windows, to reach for things easily and to see other people at their level. There were shops with bright coloured displays, the fruit and vegetables at the market, the hustle and bustle of the high street. People didn’t stop to pet him but they did smile as he passed. The two hippies were known and liked in the village, and were now accompanied by handsome young brunette male with a cheerful smile, wearing loose fitting black cotton pants and black t-shirt. The tell tale sign that he was one of the ‘alternates’ being his long, loose locks and lack of shoes.
For Skye it literally was like taking a puppy for a walk – he was fascinated by everything, and several times she had to calmly remind him “No touching!”. (Lex)ander was obedient and happy to be led by the hand without protest.
Skye gave him three cloth shopping bags which were gradually filled as she bought supplies and introduced him to various stall owners at the market. He simply ducked his head shyly and said “Lo” politely, before waiting quietly for Skye to finish yet another friendly chat. It was better standing than sitting at the mage’s feet he supposed, *and* he was allowed into the shops instead of being tied outside.
As they went into the health food shop for a few extras, (Lex)ander noted a young cocker-spaniel, her lead fixed to a post in front of the adjacent shop, sitting forlornly and whimpering occasionally. He tugged at Skye’s hand insistently and she paused. She released him then took the burgeoning bags temporarily, wondering what he was about to do.
(Lex)ander walked over with his still rather slow gait, dropped to his knees, let the dog sniff him, then wrapped his arms around the soft neck, stroked down the fine long hair and nuzzled the pup’s ears with a human nose, growling a little as he did so. He felt the blonde dog relax then rolled out of the hug and onto her back in a sign of supplication. (Lex)ander petted with human hands but nuzzled under the exposed chin again. The pretty female rolled again and lay prostrated, wagging her tail and looking up at the new human with the adoration of a devotee. An amazed young owner just emerging from the chemist witnessed the last part and could not believe it! Gracie had always been flighty and more inclined to bark and nip at strangers (hence her muzzle), but here she was apparently begging for more.
(Lex)ander saw her approaching master and swiftly made to withdraw just as Skye moved forward in case there was a problem. The ex-dog’s hand immediately sought out Skye’s, but she stilled him in his attempt to move away. The master of the dog obviously wanted to say something. (Lex)ander worried that he had done something wrong and took back the bags politely, then stood just behind Skye, hand in an iron grip and eyes down, as the conversation commenced.
The young man took in the hippie attire and smiled thinking… #Typical! The dark guy probably does animal spiritual healing too!# But it didn’t stop a measure of respect and courtesy. “Thanks! Um… she usually gets upset if folks approach her… that was incredible?!”
Skye introduced herself briefly, then (Lex)ander, “Oh he is quite the expert when it comes to canines.”
Gracie had not stopped wagging her tail and looking enthusiastically at the now very shy human. Finally she ducked right down and despite her lead, crawled forward without losing eye contact with (Lex)ander. Skye saw the move and squeezed the ex-dog’s hand before releasing him to pet the pretty young bitch one more time before they moved on.
They delivered the bags back to the truck. Brad had obviously been back and forth several times as she noted the sections of wood, various other hardware items, an exchange gas bottle and small collection of seeds for the garden.
(Lex)ander climbed into the rear and pushed his way under the tarpaulin, finding a sweating, thirsty and quite distressed Will. He took a risk and threw off the cover revealing the setting sun and cool air. Skye came very close to panic as she observed the listless pale human, whose eyes expressed the torture that had been his past two plus hours.
Brad was on his way back to the truck as the drama unfolded, quickly changing course and purchasing two huge squeeze bottles of chilled spring water, and a bag of jellybeans as an afterthought.
Will was cuddled and fed all the way back to the cottage by his dear (Lex)ander, then carried inside in the strong arms of Brad, (Lex)ander close at heel.
Their charges finally settled for an intertwined, exhausted sleep, Skye and Brad stoked the fire, packed away food purchases and fed the cats, then departed. On the way home Skye related some of the ‘wins’ with (Lex)ander… in the end they both agreed their next ‘town adventure’ needed to be in the evening.
Skye was due the next day, so Will rose late and left to hunt for one or two rabbits. He was barefoot for silence but sported a soft, long sleeved, dark green thermal for warmth and a tight pair of light brown sprint runner’s thick leggings. He was now able to slip through the woods surrounding their property almost completely silently, and with a confidence on two legs that his friend the ex-dog was only now gaining.
He took his usual trail to the broad paddock sporting three warrens and was only around twenty minutes from home when he skidded to a halt. Will was shocked beyond belief. On the trail was a young owl, a former cousin, dead on the ground, blood fresh and wounds only hours old.
Though owls were primarily solitary and had their hunting territories, they still communicated, and Will knew this dear soul. He was barely two years old. Someone had shot his eye out and he had obviously died of the injury and/or the fall. Dear Will could not hold back his tears as he gently folded the pretty wings and lifted the now cold and stiffening form, then carried the dear bird back to the cottage.
(Lex)ander woke to banging at the back door and desperate crying. The ex-owl collapsed into the arms of his dear (Lex)ander, the dead form with its beautiful feathers, so like his own had been, clasped tight to his chest. (Lex)ander was not sure what to do, so sat his distressed friend down and simply held, kissed and rocked his dear Will who continued to mourn and cuddle the still form, and allowed the ex-owl to grieve a deceased relative.
And that was how Skye found them the next day.
The kindly neighbour eased the now stiff body from Will’s tight grip and wrapped it reverently in the home dyed rainbow scarf she had been wearing around her locks. The pretty, deceased youngster was buried as sunset approached. (Lex)ander dug the hole at the base of the cottage garden oak.
Skye explaining quietly to Will that the tree’s noble heights represented the heights the dear raptor would prefer to perch on in his afterlife having been so prematurely and unfairly ‘cut off’. Will sobbed into his dear (Lex)ander’s arms as Skye offered prayers and covered the small form with soft sun warmed soil. Another one of Gaia’s beings pointlessly destroyed for sport by humans, but buried with respect and the reverence the dear owl deserved. Skye recited a quiet blessing for the treasured, dearly departed creature, and another for her two charges as she placed night flowering jasmine from the garden in a pretty circle around the tiny grave.
Arriving home very late, Skye found herself truly angry for the first time in years.
On her way back, torch in hand, she had picked up a dead squirrel and another so injured that it was simply kinder to act as she had. She kissed it, blessed it then snapped its neck. Not a hundred yards on another owl was down its wing injured. Unable to fly or move without pain, it struggled pitifully on the ground as she approached. She grabbed its talons and swiftly covered its head with her skirt then carried the wrapped figure home, arriving to another distressed scene. The hunters had apparently decided that their own pregnant nanny goat was also fair game. Although her shattered leg would apparently heal (Brad had already engaged the vet from town) the goat would need to spend the rest of her pregnancy without any weight bearing, even though lying down for three weeks might risk both mother and the twins she carried.
The carnage was so pointless!
The police were called but a little less than sympathetic to the two hippies and their ‘wood creatures’. The nanny goat incident was noted but little done as there were no witnesses.
A week later, the police started to take a more notice as a local farmer lost a prize ram to a ‘pot-shot’, and the local off-license store owner’s cat needed to be put down after a bullet tore through its body late one night. The dear pet had struggled home to die in his tearful owner’s arms as a vet injected the stricken animal with an overdose of anaesthetic.
A couple of hippies living in the back of Old Ferguson’s reporting an isolated incident with some wildlife and a goat was one thing, but the latest incidents confirmed that it was more than a couple of teenagers with a pea rifle, and the shootings were getting bolder and closer to town.
Under pressure from the local mayor and several influential townsfolk, the local policeman decided to act. His investigations took him to Skye and Brad’s home. He had seen the hippies once or twice around town and ‘knew their story’ from a third party source, so had a fairly fixed idea of what they would be like. He was therefore quite surprised by the mild mannered, highly intelligent, clean living pair who offered him tea and concluded the meeting by giving him home made lemon cordial and three cakes of Skye’s hand made lavender soap for his wife.
In the ensuing weeks, only one more incident was reported and the assailant(s) apparently left no clues other than the consistent use of bullets from the same two guns and few dead animals. As the deaths abated, the townsfolk assumed that the hunters had moved on to another county or simply gone to ground with all the fuss in the local paper. That was until a single incident that rocked the small community.
Skye had been true to her word regards visiting the town at night. She and Brad had been taking their boys into town every week, late on Saturday mornings. Skye, Brad and (Lex)ander would set up the small tent at the farmers’ market, after which Will would sprint to the shade and sit in the back for the day, assisting Skye by passing her things and tying pretty ribbons onto soap cakes and her little bottles of herb oil. He had also learned to hold a pen in the last few months, and although still a little shaky, was able to copy the runic symbol for ‘peace’ onto all her purple and green cards.
(Lex)ander knew to walk close by Brad as he strode through town to the gallery where Brad's work was displayed, the establishment opening late to take advantage of market day.
There had been one terrifying incident where he became distracted by a pretty beagle who sniffed him with interest. He had paused and when he had looked up, Brad was out of sight. He had ended up being found, wandering and crying by the town’s Scout leader who was very kind and took the time to listen to his limited speech. Consequently they located the now rather frantic Brad at the gallery, just before his carer called the police. The Scout leader had smiled at the ex-dog and patted his shoulder while telling Brad what a sweet boy he, (Lex)ander, was. The man reminded him of his old master, the mage, and (Lex)ander was sure that any dog belonging to the Scout master would be very lucky indeed.
The two ‘challenged’ boys had become quite well known in the small town. Skye and Brad had insisted on pleasantries whenever they met anyone. Will still could not help ducking his head a couple of times when greeting someone but knew to say “Hoo..iii”, while (Lex)ander tended to seek out one of his carer’s hands before dropping his gaze a little and near mumbling a “Heyyyy”.
Beth – the rather buxom owner of the coffee shop - now knew to make up ice-creams as soon as she saw the two rather pretty humans approaching at the end of each market day. They were always flanked by the mild mannered hippie couple, and she could not but wonder at the very special strength it must take to care for such sweet, yet apparently ‘damaged’, individuals. Both men displayed all the innocence of children, the dark one grinning and all but bouncing on the spot as she placed the two huge scoops of chocolate ice cream on his cone; while the shy blonde waited patiently, eyes sparkling and head cocked slightly to the left as she piled his cone with strawberry and vanilla. Beth inevitably served camomile tea gratis to the dreadlock adorned carers, and chatted easily to Skye regards the success of the market that day, while the two ‘boys’ happily consumed their frozen treats.
So when an old truck roared into town on a Friday evening and she heard a frantic banging and calling out at the local doctor’s residence next door, Beth was alarmed. She recognized the woman’s voice immediately and raced downstairs, donning her overcoat en route and hurrying outside to assist.
Will had been out fishing as usual. He caught a fresh water cod of a very decent size and decided to return home early. Padding through the forest in his usual attire, he was almost invisible, but for his hair and his catch.
He heard the first shot and recognized it as a danger, so began to run. He could see a young deer standing oblivious in a clearing. He was almost upon the animal before it spooked and ran, the whizzing noise close by his left ear leaving him in no doubt that the animal had been the target.
Now running as fast as he could after the fleeing quarry, he wished desperately for his wings!
As he followed after the animal into the forest, a third bullet found a mark. He felt a strange thump in his side then agonizing… white… and fell facedown on the ground. The hunters emerged from their concealed places a hundred or so meters away, only to realize they had shot (and possibly killed) a human!
Will heard the two approach and despite his own agony, followed instinct and knew to lie still. The smaller of the two men was obviously panicked, “Oh F#@%! Oh F#@%! John! Whata we do now?? Geez man!!! We’ve killed a human!”
“Would you *shut it*?! ‘S his fault – he scared away the prey… bastard! Anyway looks like it’s just one of them forest wierdos – check it out – he hasn’t even got shoes.” Will felt the nudge of a rifle against his side and suppressed a whimper of pain. “Probably lives by hisself. Bloody hippies… C’mon… Just pull him over under them ferns and let’s get outta here… and fer godsake tuck yer sweater over yer hands!”
“No finger prints you idiot!”
“Oh F#@%! F#@%! F#@%!!!”
Will was just aware enough to feel his body being grabbed, but gave in to blessed black as agonizing pain radiated from the wound in his side and back as the men began to move him.
When Will had not returned by mid-morning (Lex)ander panicked. The ex-owl did not like the sun and was always home before sunup. He waited a little longer but just after midday went searching. He was unsure if Will had gone hunting or fishing so wandered several tracks calling before venturing onto the forest trail that led to the wide creek nearby.
Rounding a bend he heard, then saw, a number of crows milling about on the track picking at what looked like a rather nice sized fish. His immediate sense of foreboding was confirmed as he spied a pair of pale feet that he recognised immediately, poking out from under the ferns. (Lex)ander was instantly terrified, cried out for Will, dropped to all fours, and scrambled into the undergrowth.
He could smell the blood and saw the torn and bloodied shirt. He licked his beloved friend’s face as he began to whimper his plea for Will to wake up, to be alright. He could feel the heartbeat but there was no response and (Lex)ander knew there was only one thing he could do. He lifted his friend onto his shoulders and staggered down the track toward Skye and Brad’s cottage.
Brad was out chopping wood for the evening when he heard the distressed cries from the forest trail. He knew it must be the dark haired Ander and that something must be terribly wrong for him to venture so far from home alone. He dropped his axe and made for the track and was only a few steps into the woods before he was faced with a horrendous picture.
Lexander was now covered in his friend’s blood and dirt, face streaked with tears and the limp body of his best friend draped over his shoulders.
He collapsed onto his knees as he saw Brad approach, but only when Brad relieved him of his burden did (Lex)ander truly begin to cry and gave in to old habits, following the wonderful carer on all fours.
Brad’s panicked call alerted Skye to the emergency and within minutes they were all on their way into the village.
The local doctor immediately realised the gravity of the injury and had an ambulance ordered to take the stricken human to the large training hospital in the nearest big town.
While they waited for the paramedics the young GP was able to replace some of the blood via a catheter and stem the blood flow. Without X-rays and a full surgery however, there was no way to treat the injury further – there was no exit wound but already severe bruising around the spine left little doubt as to where the bullet was lodged. What the doctor could not tell, however, was the extent of the associated internal injuries.
The police were called and took brief statements. A day later, two sets of hiking boot prints, a dropped lighter and several spent bullet casings were gathered. The local ‘prank shooters’ were now being sought for attempted murder – or at very least grievous bodily harm and assault with a lethal weapon. The investigating officers rather shocked that there were drag marks and an attempt to hide the ‘body’ in the underbrush.
(Lex)ander and Skye travelled in the ambulance while Brad drove behind in the old truck. Two hours after arriving at the hospital, Will was still in surgery. The bullet that had been lodged against his spine had been removed, bone fragments extracted, part of his small intestine had been removed and several ruptured blood vessels repaired. The surgeons were hopeful, but his condition was still listed as critical.
When they were allowed to visit the ICU, the two lovely neighbours and (Lex)ander kept vigil by Will’s side.
On the second day of their visit the family was rather shocked to see Will in a full body cast. An MRI had revealed that the severe bruising caused by the bullet, and the delicate operation to remove it, had caused massive swelling around the spinal chord with reactions in five vertebral junctures
Skye and Brad were taken aside by one of the young doctors as their other fostered charge rushed to sit by Will’s side, desperate for him to wake up.
“I know you had to sign all the permissions, and he is a lucky man to have been found… but… just so you know… We’ve taken the precaution of giving him a heavy sedative, he is being fed intravenously as you saw yesterday but we’ve also inserted a catheter and added a temporary colonic bag. The cast is necessary, the lateral process T6 on the right was shattered and the spinous process T5 has also been damaged. Our second set of MRIs and Xrays this morning revealed a crack in the T6 vertebra itself, a damaged disk and muscle injury. We can’t risk him moving. It seems the swelling is affecting discs, and of course that is also affecting the spinal cord above and below. The tests are showing no pain response in his legs… At this stage it is unclear as to whether the damage will be permanent, but we are hopeful he will make a slow but full recovery.
“The good news is that his internal bleeding and other injuries have responded well to the surgery, and although he’s not out of the woods yet, it is possible he will be in a regular ward by Thursday. Oh, and the bullet has gone to police forensics – with photos of the injuries. You did sign the release but I simply wanted to confirm our actions for you. I’m sure the police will be in contact at some stage soon… I hope they get the bastard who did this.”
Skye had been gripping her partner’s hand so hard that Brad swore he heard a finger snap.
“So what now? What can we do for Will? You… You know he’s ‘special’?”
“We have alerted staff of that fact, yes. So for now it is best you simply reassure him. Do all the things you would if he was at home in bed sick… um… Perhaps just chat, read to him, play music, that sort of thing… it will pass the time. And if he asks questions about his condition, be honest with him. At this stage it’s just… a little too early to tell. But um… just remember, we have counsellors and chaplains on site if you need them, not just for Will, for you too.”
Skye paled at the thought that they might need outside counsellors, and that Will might not recover. Certainly some of his scarring would be permanent but the thought that he might need to wear a brace long term, or worse, use a wheelchair for months, or forever, was just awful.
Will drifted in and out of consciousness for the three days after the carers had heard the devastating news. Will was aware of his dear friend (Lex)ander and occasionally Skye and Brad being present, but struggled to coordinate his hand to give even a tiny squeeze back when the voices asked him if he could hear them.
Something bothered him more than the distant voices, he didn’t seem to be able to move his legs… at all! He was flat on his back and in some sort of hard casing so was unable to lift up to see. He assumed his legs were in a cast also. Tubes and monitors penetrated every part of him it seemed, nose, arms… and other places.
(Lex)ander felt the first real squeeze on the morning of the fourth day and saw the amazing blue eyes flutter open in the evening of day five post shooting. The dear friend lifted up and kissed Will joyfully and shed a tear before literally bounding to the door on all fours and pulling up to stand and call to Skye who had gone outside with a policeman to answer yet more questions.
She paused in the conversation as the over excited ex-dog reported the most welcome news. The young policeman realised the significance of the development and promised to return the following day.
When Brad arrived they all rejoiced and Will’s bed was angled up a little – allowing him to see his surrounds and all three loved ones at once. It was a start, but it took only a matter of a half hour he was exhausted again.
A day later, a therapist came in to massage his legs and arms. Skye was there to learn to the techniques so she might do it also, but ended up stroking the damp brow as he cried out repeatedly with fear and frustration when he realized. Will knew he could not move his legs… but had not fully comprehended the reason until he saw legs being moved that he knew to be his but had no way of connecting with. He was told he was being massaged but couldn’t feel his legs being touched or gently moved as the therapist worked joints a little and stimulated unresponsive muscles. And he was truly terrified. He had seen paralysed owls before. They always died painful, horrible deaths, unable to perch or hunt... He would have asked for oblivion but that everyone he loved was there.
Skye stayed with him until he fell into an emotionally exhausted sleep then spoke briefly to the doctor on duty. It was decided that a slight increase in Will’s sedative would be prudent. The swelling would eventually begin to abate according to the medical team, but it would be several weeks before any firm predictions could be made regarding the improvements and longer term effects.
On the second day of therapy Will had his situation to explained to him, so simply lay listlessly on the bed, powerless to assist and too tired to protest. The therapist was encouraging and cheerful but around midnight, as day seven post-shooting approached, other things began going wrong.
Will’s breathing became laboured, his temperature skyrocketed and he began to hallucinate. Antibiotics were changed, then increased as he apparently convulsed, though his body was restrained by the stiff casing and paralysis. The source of the new problem was identified as an infection stemming from his internal injuries. A mere six hours later, with virtually no warning, his left lung collapsed and blood pressure became erratic.
Brad and Skye were contacted at home and drove the old truck at break neck speed to the hospital, (Lex)ander in tow. The ex-dog knew from the curt orders to ‘get in the truck’ and the strained tone of conversation as they drove, that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
They were ushered back up to the ICU and waited for nearly thirty desperate minutes as several senior surgeons were called for and consulted before the family was informed.
Will was deemed stable, but only just, any infections should have occurred earlier according to the experts. The chief surgeon struggled to explain the sudden downturn. The crisis was not yet over but at least it seemed Will was responding to the new treatment regime.
As they entered the room where Will was now lying, Brad and Skye caught (Lex)ander and held him as he wept for his companion. His dear friend now had tubes *everywhere* and so many pieces of equipment around him that he could hardly be seen!
There was little they could do. They remained for some six hours or so, then were encouraged to return home for sleep as it might be ‘a long haul for the next few days’.
En route to their cottage, Skye’s resolve took a turn she never thought possible. Arriving home, she grabbed the mage’s books and sought to appeal to the ‘higher beings’.
Finding “A Supplicant’s Appeal for Healing”, she read and re read the semi spell/ semi prayer. There would apparently be consequences, a price, but she had to do something. Brad hugged her hard a she told him her plan, then assisted in collecting all the necessary items from their home. He was terrified of losing her, but also understood her reasoning. With no hope of their own children (something they had established some years before) the two neighbors had essentially become 'their boys'. This was about *family* in the broader and most beautiful sense of the word and he would support his dear love… all the way for that.
The mage and his mistress had been preoccupied with their little family during all the dramas, but the tomcat had followed the trail to Brad and Skye’s cottage when (Lex)ander did not return after six days.
Arriving at the cottage, he saw the open book from the window sill, and entering sensed the extreme distress of all in the room.
There were only three humans. The pretty blonde Will was not there. The mage concentrated hard to source old human memories and listened. It seemed something was terribly amiss and the kindly Skye was going to try a spell from his books. The mage’s sensibilities surged to the surface. She needed help!
He raced home, nipped Nicola hard and the entire family was roused, then made their way to their neighbour’s cottage as fast as the three month old kittens could manage.
The two adult cats settled their children near the fire then nudged Skye who was trying desperately to read and construct the spell involved, while Brad attempted to calm the dear ex-dog by promising to return to Will within hours. The mage and Nicola rubbed against her, and though distracted and distraught, she realized that the two felines were determined to tell her something.
She moved across to Brad, who had finally stroked (Lex)ander to sleep using an old brush now covered with soft sheepskin, the sensation apparently reminiscent of having his fur groomed. He smiled at her and simply said, “You *know* I love you,” before kissing possessively then adding, “I’m here… I’m always here! I love these boys but… Please don’t lose your way!”
She gathered the spell ingredients and positioned them as instructed then sat cross legged in the middle of the pentagram, each point marked by a candle. But it was a single candle that was her focus as she meditated and attempted to contact the mage and his partner in the astral realm.
It was a brief meeting. The mage cautioned her of the possible cost, but then encouraged her to use his and Nicola’s energies to boost her own as the spell took hold.
Before the conversation ended, she turned her focus from her usual astral plane, twisted her energies and felt the joining of others before appealing to the powers themselves for guidance and to Gaia for help for a favourite son. Will was one of Gaia’s own, changed by magic; an innocent, a hero, a sweet and loving being in whatever guise.
In the process of praying for Will, she included (Lex)ander, her own Brad and the two changed cats.
A rumble from the earth an two white figures answered her call.
The two individuals had long flowing white robes and hoods obscuring their faces. They stood silently for a very long time and Skye began to see clear visions of Will as he was before the shooting - running, climbing, chatting happily, playing with (Lex)ander, and helping her around the house. And then she saw the forest from above as he would have seen it before the spell struck… and felt the thrilling sensation of flying before a sudden jolt, and she was aware of the visitors again.
The figure on the left began to speak in quiet tones.
“You have requested healing for one of the forest’s own, a being you have cared for, indeed have displayed a familial level of love for (as you have with his companion). Surely there was no more reason for your devotion than general compassion. And it is but one creature… why must we intervene now? Why is his wellbeing so important? Surely if it is too much for you to bear, then there must be human facilities to address such issues!”
Skye was beside herself! Her dear boys, and now… All this effort and the cats and a spell and now… now these supposedly higher powers were telling her to just… walk away? She stood up mid pentagram, no longer willing to kneel to beings apparently so callous, then felt a warm strong male presence behind her as Brad stepped into the magical space.
He leaned forward and whispered, “Don’t know what you’re seeing or hearing lover, but if they’re not availing themselves, then let’s just call it quits and look after our boys and this bloody forest as best we can… Come on Skye … as best we can… I’m here… I’m with you.”
He saw his partner stiffen as she began to address whatever manifestations she could see, and did not fail to notice that the two cats were forced to absent themselves. The felines had given their all, but had to return to their children to rest – their small forms not able to continue to support the amount of power required. As a consequence, Skye was fast being sapped of her life force to sustain the contact. Brad slid his arms around his partner’s waist and added his energy to her own, enough for the conversation to continue and for him to see the two figures she was addressing.
Skye addressed the faceless figures, “You bastards!! I, *we* asked you for help, and all you do is recommend we lock them away?! Our boys?!! What, would you have me attach a leash to (Lex)ander and send him to some human version of a ‘pound’ as well? Well F@#K that! …”
Skye was now crying too hard to go on, so Brad took the floor, still holding his partner tight. “If you can’t help then fine, if you can then do. We love the changed boys as our own, and we love this forest and all its creatures… We will do what it takes alone if you won’t help. *Sorry* to trouble you.”
(Lex)ander had stirred during Skye’s outburst and awoken completely as Brad began. The ex-dog rallied and moved into the space also to accept an embrace from his carers and add his own energy to the mix. He eventually turned to growl at the two figures as Brad finished his brief speech.
The figure on the right moved forward a little to address the tight knit group as though in confidence, “We needed assurance that your motives were pure…” He turned to the other figure, “It seems, dear sister, that our mortals here have a calling… Nobles oblige toward our creatures beyond that of others… but I wonder how deep it goes.” The figure stared at each in turn, “Your stricken friend was willing to die for another and may still do so. So… what are *you* prepared to do to ensure your beloved Will lives?” The entire group paled at the thought of losing any one of their little family. Even the ex-dog apparently fully understood the meaning of the message.
(Lex)ander finally broke their reverie by howling long and loud in frustration and grief, and though he had been standing now fell into full down supplication and tried desperately to form words, to offer himself… anything to help his Owill live.
Neither Brad nor Skye could conceive of life without their partner. Skye swivelled in Brad’s hold and kissed him desperately, reassured by his whispered, “We do this together.”
Skye pulled away slightly and gently stroked her beloved’s handsome face, said “I love you”, then turned to back to the white pair. “We have nothing but ourselves to offer. All we ask is that you take us together and provide Will and (Lex)ander with another carer.”
The white figure on the left simply said, “No.”
Skye was frantic, and instantly very, *very* upset. “No??? What no? We *have* nothing else! Surely a two for one deal… He’s of the forest and was *helping* and now you would let him die because two lives forfeit are not enough!?! So why bother coming? What? It amused you or something?? You absol…” Skye was silenced with the wave of the right figure’s hand, and Brad found himself voiceless also. (Lex)ander whimpered a little on the ground and shuffled across a little until he pushed against Skye’s ankle for comfort though remained in a full down position.
“We are uninterested in taking your lives. If you want your ‘boy’ to recover then you must *both* commit to becoming protectors of Gaia’s forests and all they contain. Also acting spiritual guides to any who seek her.
“Daily you will walk as you do now, work as you do now, age as you do now. But nightly your spiritual selves with emerge. Your bodies will remain resting as you pursue your task. You will be the protectors, your task to monitor and keep all Gaia’s plants and creatures from human harm, and if you cannot, then to appeal to her and ease their way. And when your human bodies fail, your spiritual role will encompass your all, you will manifest and commune as needed in human, beast or vapour form.
“You Skye, will be tied to the owl, and Brad to the dog. They pair as you pair so it is just. Their original bodies will be mimicked by your spiritual ones and eventually they will join you in your quest also.”
The figure on the left took over the speech, “If you agree, your friend will survive and recover in full. If you do not then…”
Without even slowing down the two began to agree then remembered, and Brad asked, “But Will and (Lex)ander… they have no say in this?”
“Their fate is to be determined by your choice. They are yours to protect or let die. If you do the latter, their spirits will be lost to us forever. Do you honestly think they would prefer oblivion, to not be with you, their friends, their *parents* in situ?”
As though to confirm (Lex)ander chose that moment to pull Skye down to sitting again and crawl into her lap for a hug, alternating between licking under her neck and rubbing his cheek against her ample bosom.
Skye looked up at Brad who now spoke for all of them, “We agree. We relinquish our nights and our spirits the service of Gaia, and understand it will be our role to protect the creatures and the plants that live on her from destruction from human sources. In exchange, you are agreeing that our beautiful Will is to be restored and join our family once more.”
Both figures nodded and “It is agreed.”
There was a bright flash and several minutes later the three human forms came to sprawled on the floor, the pentagram apparently blown apart and the candles all out. Brad had fallen hard and had an obvious bump on his temple and very sore hip, the others had not fared quite so badly.
Skye struggled up, left (Lex)ander in Brad’s care and moved to feed the mage and his family – leaving a number of extra tasty treats as a thank you for their trouble, before making a nest of old cushions lined by a hand crocheted rug. The family settled down to snooze for the rest of the evening.
Skye and Brad too decided that it was better they sleep for a bit before returning to the hospital. They did as they had done several times since the crisis with Will, they took (Lex)ander into their bed, hugging him from either side and giving comfort.
By mid morning they were back at the hospital. Will was still struggling but apparently improving.
Five nights of very odd dreams later and they visited Will in a regular ward. The infection had resolved itself, his lung was back in action (just) and for the first time he felt the pressure of someone touching the soles of his feet with a needle. It seemed the swelling in and around his spine was beginning to reduce.
Two days on and he had the breathing mask off and was able to respond to his dear friends, his family, properly for the first time. His pain medication was still very high but at least, less sedated, he was able to interact a little. Squeezing hands and smiling occasionally, he finally giving a rather raspy “Hoooooo” after his beloved (Lex)ander kissed him hello.
Will had no idea of the price that had been paid, and Skye and Brad were satisfied that it was worth it, but they were still coming to terms with their new nightly regime.
It was in the evening after they had been given the wonderful news that Will was again beginning to feel sensation in his feet, that things changed. Skye sent a prayer of thanks to Gaia and the Powers as she Brad and (Lex)ander entered their small home. The ex-dog sniffed the air, unsure of what had just changed, then felt oddly closer to his two carers… Brad had always been surrogate Master and Guide, but now also felt like ‘Father’ and smelt different somehow.
(Lex)ander was not invited to their bed for the first time since Will’s injury, instead he was led to his very own trundle bed beside the master to take his rest, and was sent to sleep caressed by his sheepskin brush and accompanying reassurances that he was loved, and that Will would come home soon.
As soon as (Lex)ander was asleep Skye and Brad entered their own bed and began to kiss and caress. They shared recollections of their odd dreams and associated intense need to couple frequently over the last few days – giving in to the urges even as they spoke. Passionate touches and amorous kisses were followed by lovemaking again and again until both were utterly sated and exhausted. They fell asleep within seconds of each other.
Unlike the previous nights of strange images and sensations, however, this time the dreams were mutual. Skye had been engaged in astral travel for many years, yet this felt entirely different. There was no consent involved, it was a drive, an irresistible tug and then…
They had both become aware of the other as they realized their new spiritual forms and lifted from their intertwined sleeping bodies. Brad nuzzled the ethereally beautiful feathers of his partner, and she stroked across the adoring muzzle with the tip of a wing. They both felt the call of the forest and answered. Skye stretched unfamiliar wings and flapped a few times then simply relaxed into her form and took off easily. She flew into the rafters then fluttered silently back down, deftly controlling her descent.
Brad’s canine form stretched fully then stood proud. Like his dear partner he experimented a little, swishing his new tail, moving his ears and sniffing the air with an extraordinarily sensitive nose, then moved toward the door of the cottage. He was worried that he might not be able to open the door and silently wished for another way… He was therefore very pleasantly surprised, a few seconds later, when his form simply passed through the solid wood and into the night. Skye followed his lead, passing through the wall of the cottage then soaring skyward. But now they both had a second concern.
As a non-corporeal beings – how were they to affect anything? How were they to stop a poacher or veto a human attack on the forest itself?
Skye swooped down silently, landing on low branch just forward of the path taken by the large pale Alsatian-like dog. They communed by thought in this form, and decided to simply try out a patrol of the area for this, their first night.
Will woke late in the evening. He was having trouble sleeping as newly awakened nerves caused muscles to twitch and spasm at odd times, and continuing pain – though chemically controlled - was enough to wake him from a light slumber. The body brace didn’t help either.
When the nurse on duty came in at around one am to take his vital signs, he reached out for her hand, held tight then pleaded, “Hooooo Hmmm Pleee… Hoooo… Sssssstayyy???!!!”
Her dear patient’s look of desperation said it all. The nurse had seen his devoted family and had been briefed on his limited language. She noted the pretty face, with childlike innocent expression, handsome defined cheekbones, and stunning crystal blue eyes, now awash with tears of gratitude and relief as she settled onto the seat beside the bed. She wished she could do more. He was everyone on the ward’s sweetheart. Trying so hard for every therapist despite any pain and stoically bearing the humiliations involved in his inanimate then slowly recovering state.
On a whim, the young nurse Sherrie turned on the small table lamp, took a book from his side table and began to read from where the marker was. It was a picture book of’ Forest Realms of Europe’ with forward by Sir David Attenborough and had many glorious shots of flora and fauna, along with a scientifically accurate and lovingly written text. She really had no idea of its significance but felt she was doing alright as the young man began to ‘Hooo’ quietly and relaxed again.
She wondered what horrendous event or brain damage had caused the loss of speech, and was horrified as she read the full history of his injuries via gunshot – apparently inflicted post ‘special’ status!
With her patient fully asleep again, she was compelled to continue her rounds. Will slept, dreamlessly, until sunup.
The owl flew high, using the slight breeze to glide with ease, her wonderful partner below wandering the forest silently. They were both drawn to different sites.
Brad’s task proved the hardest – though his worry regards his corporeal state was unfounded.
A young fox was on his side, both back legs caught in a cruel trap, one at the knee, the other crushed at the paw and leg juncture. There were all the haul marks of a frantic struggle to gain release – only damaging crushed limbs further.
The dog found he was able to touch and control things with concentration – though with no hands had to pick up the solid stick in his mouth before, courtesy of his human memories, releasing the trap mechanism and opening the deadly metal jaws.
Sadly it was obvious, the dear animal was too damaged. It had been bleeding out for more than a day, and more than that, the limbs were obviously beyond repair, both held onto the body with little more than damaged tendons and blood soaked skin, the bones completely crushed. The small animal was barely conscious, panting and fevered with both pain and thirst.
Brad eased his dear forest brother onto a soft bed of ferns then, as he licked the stricken creature lovingly, appealed to the Powers and Gaia to ease the fox’s pain and allow him relief. He felt an overwhelming urge and simply followed the drive as the small animal bared its neck. Brad took the neck in his huge jaw and snapped closed with a killing bite. The half grown youngster died instantly and was reverently buried by the dog. Brad dug a hole well away from the site of the murder, slid the still warm body in, then covered the small form with soft earth and bracken. Skye flew down and her distraught partner took comfort from his dearest friend in her owl state as they grieved the senseless loss.
Returning to the scene of death, Brad tore out the stake that pinned the trap to the ground then dragged the offensive (now closed) item deep into the forest and buried it.
The owl, Skye, had an easier night – merely comforting a couple of panicked fledgling owls in their nest with quiet ‘hoo-ing’ until their mother returned. It was then Skye had felt her partner’s distress and flown down to assist.
After Brad buried the offending trap, they both did another patrolling round then, as the distinct scent of the coming dawn became apparent, they returned home. They both floated through the walls as before and reengaged with their human selves.
Both slept for couple of hours after their spirits and physical selves joined, then roused for the day.
There were other consequences of their change. Over the ensuing weeks a whole new theme emerged in Brad’s art – one of the beauty of, and tragedy, and triumph, in the forest. His art took on an “apparent visceral understanding” of the forest realm, according to a visiting art critic from London, who knew nothing of Brad’s sudden change in nightly habits. According to a second art reviewer (jumping on the story some week later), Brad had apparently painted the quintessential collection of “defined and refined Nuevo realism, glorious in its presentation and stunning in content. The perspectives are extraordinary. The images oscillate between poignant and distressing, and inspiring and elating.”
After several more articles appeared in magazines and newspapers in the city, the demand for, and price of his works skyrocketed. Rather than trying to produce more however, he simply worked at his own pace. Despite the local gallery owner’s ecstatic reaction to his success and push to ‘churn out more’, Brad was uninterested in accumulating great wealth. He simply painted as he felt and at his own pace, ironically driving prices for the works even higher.
The reclusive artist became known for *not* attending art shows and trying to ‘schmooze’ those of influence. Most functions were after dark and spanned the hours of his and Skye’s patrols. It was the perfect ‘personal interest’ story and art reporters were just itching to cover.
The art was a welcome distraction as Will’s recovery peaked then plateaued several times.
His speech was (if anything) better than before the shooting, as a speech therapist was engaged twice a week. He was now alert for much of the day and needed far less pain medication, plus he was eating a little – the elderly matron quite happy to offer their ‘star patient’ some of Skye’s home made juices rather than the usual fare, the healing herbs disguised by the tang of the combined apple, carrot and ginger.
Sadly it was his struggle to walk again that was most frustrating. As the swelling subsided and the vertebrae began to heal, Will thought he would simply get up and wander off, but it was worse than when he had first changed. The body brace was replaced by a lighter version that enabled him to sit up, and the very patient, remedial physiotherapist encouraged him day after day as he determinedly struggled up and back the strip between the two hand rails of the therapy room.
Lex(ander) and either Skye or Brad were there every day mid morning, staying until around three in the afternoon then leaving the ex-owl to children’s television, afternoon tea and a nap.
Finally, twelve weeks after the shooting, the good news came. Will was well enough to travel and the head surgeon considered the comfort of family vital to Will’s recovery. They could continue the treatment at home.
Laden with little gifts from the doting nurses (and one from the parents of a small girl in the spinal unit whom Will had apparently befriended), Will was wheeled out to the family’s old truck, lifted into the back seat by the strong arms of Brad, and embraced then kissed thoroughly by the near beside himself (Lex)ander. The wheelchair was folded and placed in the back of the truck and they were waved off by two of the orderlies from Will’s ward.
Will, still in his brace – as he would be for another two to three months – was quite emotional as they rounded the bend and bumped down the forest track to Skye and Brad’s cottage. He noted that (Lex)ander was walking far more easily than he had before Will’s accident and wondered if he might ever be that confident again.
A couple of things were definitely different once they were in the cottage. When (Lex)ander submitted to Brad in true dog fashion (which he did with practiced ease), Brad all but growled then bared his teeth and opened his mouth over the other’s neck, not to bite just to acknowledge the pecking order. And when Skye touched him, it felt like feathers not fingers stroking him.
As he and (Lex)ander were bedded down for the night – now on a double futon, the hard mattress affording Will, still in his brace, the support he needed, Will gave in to the emotion of the homecoming. (Lex)ander kissed and then licked away the tears, and eventually both of Skye and Brad’s boys fell asleep just as their carers made love then changed, as was their new nightly ritual.
Will woke in Brad and Skye’s tiny ‘guest’ room (the enclosed side veranda) to familiar smells and adoring touches. As awareness returned and eyes opened, he also became aware of his position and remembered. The dream was so vivid… he was flying, then running… and (Lex)ander was… and he sighed with relief… still here. It was true, he was home, or at least as close to it as was possible for now. He tugged at his slumbering friend, who grunted then did exactly as Will had hoped and snuggled even closer to the ex owl. Will let himself drift off again.
After all in the household roused an hour or so later, the family began a routine that would be maintained for at least the next two months. Under Skye’s instructions (Lex)ander gingerly lifted his friend from the bed and carried him to a waiting plastic garden chair now permanently placed in the shower recess. He would then wait for Skye to turn on the water and adjust it to a pleasant temperature, before gently soaping and rinsing Will then himself. He was grateful that some of Skye and Brad’s new found wealth had been spent on a shower rose on a long hose to allow a hand held wash.
Following the shower, Will’s fibreglass cast was unclipped and he, and it, were dried thoroughly and the dear human inspected for any abrasions due to rubbing from the previous days. They would then replace the cast, often accompanied by tears from both Will and the person dressing him, then finally Will would be given the choice of walking frame (on wheels) or wheelchair. The latter being for times when the previous day’s activities meant he was too sore to make the effort with his reluctant limbs or too ‘down’ to be bothered.
They would have breakfast then (Lex)ander would accompany whoever was working that day in the garden and work happily until lunch. Or join Brad in his workshop, pleased to be able to find the right brush or paint or product whenever asked. He liked the packets and tins that were already open, because reading was still proving a huge challenge.
Will spent his mornings ‘in therapy’, usually under the lovingly watchful eye of Skye, but sometimes Brad would take the coaching floor with encouraging words and kind touches. The leased treadmill and prone seated exercise bike now dominated the south facing rear veranda, meaning that Will could pedal or walk slowly while watching others at work in the garden or simply enjoy the semi outdoors. After his exertions there was always a wonderfully warm bath and massage. (Lex)ander now had the habit of lying with him as Skye dug schooled fingers into newly awake muscles, his friend’s gentle caresses distracting enough to make the exercise bearable.
More often than not it was Skye who toileted the still restricted Will, assisting him onto the special toilet seat with a canopy at the front like that of its infant equivalent, and cleaning him after as necessary. Initially it had been Will who cried, but of late it was Skye who took herself to the pantry after each time, Will’s stoic acceptance of his slow recovery and expressions of genuine gratitude making the dear woman ache on his behalf.
There were triumphs though. Will stood for most of the afternoon, cleaning vegetables and tying them for market then making scones, finally seating himself to help Skye by separating cream from the milk. Skye was annoyed and delighted as she turned to face a very naughty cream moustached grin. She scolded him half heartedly then knelt beside his chair and took the recovering human in a hug. Her new nightly persona meant that she knew what he had been forced to give up, knew his natural instincts were all still there, and knew his pain at being so incapacitated for so long.
In their tenth week after returning to the cottage, (Lex)ander carried his dear friend piggy back style, through the forest to their home. It was strange to return for both of them. Nothing was different. Skye had obviously been so the kitchen was clean and the only food in the house was dry supplies.
Skye had continued to walk through the forest every few days to check on the boys’ house and provide a care package for three cats (the ex-mage Alistair, Nicola, and one of their girls who had stayed). Nicola was pregnant again, and Alistair rubbed and purred so very loudly when the two ex creatures arrived that (Lex)ander thought he would cry with the relief of the familiar. Instead they all sat on the back step, Alistair constantly purring and rubbing backwards and forwards against their legs.
In the end it was a quiet afternoon in the sun, couple of hours to reassure each other that there would come a day when they would return to their home for good, fully restored and ready to face the next challenge.
On their way back to Brad and Skye’s, (Lex)ander still carrying Will on his back, they stopped at Will’s favourite spot to watch the antics of some young badgers then spied an almost mature deer standing proud in a clearing in the late afternoon. He was joined by a pretty female, then three obviously older family members… It was the deer Will had saved. There was a moment of acknowledgement then the five took off into the forest.
The hunters had been lying low close on four months – the human shooting had made all the local papers and the police cordoned off a full five square kilometres of forest to all but the residents, Brad, Skye and (Lex)ander. As soon as the presence of police and local authorities in the area eased, however, the two individuals who had caused the ruckus were first on the scene, deadly instruments again in hand.
By night Brad and Skye guided the forest animals and birds away from the traps and hunters themselves. Brad triggering trap after trap with the pressure of a stick. In the day (Lex)ander would find the traps and bury them. But there were still casualties.
One of the older deer was shot, despite Skye’s best efforts to warn the family. Several tiny voles, a badger and a number of rabbits were found murdered. And Skye herself was shot at, though it was more out of fear than intent as she swooped on the second hunter just as he lined up a fox cub in his sites. Thankfully his aim was not true and Skye’s arm was merely grazed.
In the end Brad and Skye decided, and their boys agreed, they had to do something to end the carnage once and for all, and Brad had a plan.
Skye took out the Mage’s books and communed with the ex-mage at length. Alistair quite thrilled to be consulted on such an important issue. They fixed upon a transformation spell similar to the one that had altered Nicola and he, and adjusted it just a little to ensure it be permanent.
The following night, the hunters approached the apparently stricken ‘wolf’ with deadly intent. Brad and Will could see the rather overweight, red faced, balding individual in the clearing, followed close behind by a younger man with spiky black hair and a rather pointed nose.
Brad looked over to Will who was concealed in the brushes and saw the unmistakeable nod. They were the same two Will had encountered on the night of his shooting. The first man had only just raised his gun ready to fire at the canine apparently trapped in the cruel iron jaws in front of them, when he registered the soft thud of a magical object hitting the ground between he and his fellow hunter. Enveloped in a flash of light, he was momentarily stunned before being utterly disorientated as his world shifted forever.
Where there had been the shooter of Will, now there was a fox with an odd bald patch between its ears and a rather mangy coat. And where there had been a second hunter complicit to the crimes against the forest creatures, there was a rather pitiful looking hedgehog who immediately rolled into a tight protective ball and waited for the terrified fox to sprint off into the undergrowth.
(Lex)ander picked up the hedgehog gingerly and tucked him into a Hessian bag and gave it to the wolf to carry home, then lifted Will gently, settling him in a piggy back once again, tucking practiced hands under the blonde’s buttocks and despite the fibreglass cast enjoyed the close contact and contented sigh as Will settled against his wonderful friend.
The little hedgehog was released into the forest near where Skye knew a similar little animal had been shot and killed three months earlier. It was a relatively safe area, and there was enough food for easy pickings.
Seven weeks later, the team of doctors, nurses and physical therapists all cheered as Will now brace free, walked toward a tearful little group consisting of Brad, (Lex)ander and Skye with the use of a single walking stick for a little extra balance, dropping even that a few feet from the family and walking unaided into their arms. It was two days before Christmas, and though Skye and Brad did not celebrate like others, it was the best gift they could possibly imagine.
That night after they tucked an exhausted Will and overemotional (Lex)ander into bed on the old futon, as the boys snuggled down together, Brad slid his arms around his beautiful partner’s waist and they stood in silence watching the two fall asleep and enjoying the simple peace of the moment.
Finally the two humans felt the tug of their nightly commitment and retired to bed to make love and make the shift to their other forms.
Christmas Day was spent quietly celebrating the traditional pagan celebration just post the Winter solstice. Will was still painfully thin, courtesy of his slow recovery and the months of limited movement wasting muscles. However Will’s ability to balance was improving and the lack of brace meant that he was able to toilet himself – occasionally even standing without his cane, thrilled to no longer need the special seat.
The greatest challenge in the ensuing fortnight was the struggle to gradually give the boys back their autonomy and return them to their home. It was not as though Brad and Skye objected to having them around nor did they begrudge all the extras required for Will’s convalescence, far from it. But there was a lack of space and privacy – not just for them but for their charges as well, and of late with their nightly duties… It was Skye who put it in perspective one morning, just after their astral selves returned to the unconscious bodies.
She stroked down the face of the man she loved with her whole being, tracing features she knew as well as her own. The straight nose and dark eyebrows; the smile lines that had grown deeper with age and hard work, and seemed to form arrows pointing to twinkling grey-blue eyes when he was happy; the jaw that could be set with the resolve of a warrior in battle, or relaxed to give back his boyish looks; and the dreadlocks now peppered with grey and prettier for that.
Skye was just about to continue her exploration when her partner’s long lashes fluttered a little and eyes opened to greet his beloved. He smiled at her touch and rolled toward the warm soft female form, pressing his morning interest gently against her thigh and accepting her kiss and slow dance of tongues to welcome the day. Brad felt her shift in invitation, rolled and entered his partner in all things in a move they both knew so well. He then proceeded to (try to *silently*) demonstrate his adoration only to have it returned, both stifling natural sounds of gratification in deference to the two boys who were sleeping just on the other side of a blanket divider in their bedroom.
The strangest part of the exercise, in retrospect for Brad and Skye, was that the very two they were trying to ‘protect’ were, in fact, having their own amorous moment, picking up on the subtle sounds of their wonderful carers making love (not to mention the smell which for (Lex)ander with his still far better than average, ergo, utterly intoxicating).
Will’s returning mobility allowed mouths to find each other, legs to intertwine and hands begin to caress parts long neglected during the months of recovery. Mutual arousal was felt in the form of duelling tongues, caressing hands and hard shafts meeting enthusiastically.
Will’s nervous system had only just come back to fully functional, and it seemed that every neuron was firing at once.
During Will’s convalescence, (Lex)ander had learned to pleasure himself using his hands (rather than his tongue as had been his habit when he was in his canine form). At the end of Will’s first month in hospital he had been introduced to the joys of lubrication and bringing himself pleasure by an extremely shy, yet kindly Brad who encouraged relief by showing him pictures… lots of pictures. The rather larconic, caring human’s most bold move was to screw the top off the tube and squeezed the clear gel into the palm of the now aroused and painfully frustrated ex dog, and whisper, “It’s natural… Sometimes it just… helps… And trust me, the more of this, the better. Just close your eyes and try what you saw.”
Now the ex-dog used all his new found knowledge to try to please his recovering friend, and as the pair kissed, he did as he’d learned. He lubed and stroked the ex-owl as they had done before the accident but then moved his hand around until one very slick finger, then two, breached and gently stimulated Will’s prostate. Will was in heaven, every new sensation adding to the last. When his rear entrance was touched he worried a little but the human prostate was a wondrous gland, and he was soon reaching for the tube of slippery gel so that he too might bring pleasure to his dear friend.
Frustrated a little by the awkwardness of the angle of two people on their side face to face, (Lex)ander spun around. Now mouth could find erect appendage while hand could focus on delivering clenching pleasure within the tight puckered entrance behind.
The touches were nervous and a little over excited at first, but settled into glorious exploration and mutual release, before they returned to what they both liked most, face to face gentle touches.
When Skye looked in on them the following morning, the bed clothes were tangled, pillows on the floor and very empty tube of lubricant was obvious on the side table. A very nude Will was lying on his back arms akimbo, with the equally unclad (Lex)ander curled around his right side, legs intertwined with Will’s. She smiled to herself and thanked Gaia and the Powers that the two innocent beings had found such happiness. They looked so content that she left them to sleep on, and focussed on making breakfast and doing a last minute check on the goods laid aside for the market that day.
Skye worried a little as she heard the long term weather report on the radio. It was as she and Brad suspected, there was no sign of rain and the drought across the region was deepening. It was only early spring and already dams were dry and streams running unusually low. If this was spring, then summer could bring disaster… and not only for farming communities – but for wild creatures also. She was about to move to make a full astral appeal when Brad arrived in from the garden, ready for breakfast and already prepared for the day in town.
He sidled up behind his rather pensive looking partner as she stood staring out the window. He wrapped his arms around her waist and nuzzled then kissed her on the neck, “Where are the boys?”
Skye leaned back and relaxed a little in the strong arms of her long time lover, “I suspect they picked up on our activities, and made their own fun. Anyone would think that someone has been giving them a hint or two?!” Despite the fact that Brad had nothing to hide or feel guilty about, Skye felt his skin warm as he blushed a little. “You’ve done well, Lover… They look so happy…”
A few consequent kisses followed before two rather sleepy figures emerged at the door of the tiny bedroom. Skye grinned at the sight of synchronous scratching of bellies and hair, and dual yawns before (Lex)ander helped his still rather unsteady friend to the table for toast and tea. It would be two days before anything was said regarding the previous evening’s activities, but the quiet ‘Thank you’ and (Lex)ander’s admission to Brad of their amour was still appreciated by their carer.
On the way to the village, as was now habit, (Lex)ander had again stuck his head over the high sides of the tray on the truck and delighted in letting the wind tousle his hair as he looked toward the road ahead. Brad seemed to spend the entire drive into town these days oscillating between demanding that the ex-dog pull his head into the confines of the truck, and being caught up in the delighted whoops and enormous grin of the brunette as the wind whipped his face and the sensation of speed was enjoyed.
It was Will’s first trip to town since his injury and he was again ensconced under an old tarpaulin between Skye’s produce and Brad’s art, but there was no performance when it came to joining the group once they were at their destination. The townsfolk all knew the story of Will’s injury and were pleased to see the young man up and about – albeit still leaning on a cane a little. Will’s speech had improved tremendously during his period of inaction, while the ex-dog’s confidence around town had increased tenfold (always walking close to Brad of course) since they all visited together.
Will sat behind the table holding Skye’s produce, shaded by the combined canopy of a large tree and the temporary stall’s covering. He happily wrapped things when asked and even stood to serve occasionally, Skye always mindful to assist when money needed to change hands.
Mid afternoon, shortly after the market wrapped up, the four wandered down the main street, stopped to do a little shopping then visited Beth to pick up ice-creams for the boys as they had made a habit of doing months before.
On the way back in the truck, Skye was particularly quiet. Brad could see the furrow lines of worry and reached over to squeeze her hand affectionately. “’Sup sweetheart?”
She sighed heavily, before returning the squeeze and dropping her gaze to where they were joined. “It’s so dry… we need to plan on having some extra watering places for the wild things don’t you think? And maybe some food… And I guess I’m worried that we need to get the boys back to their house, and Will’s still not a hundred percent… and I just… ::sigh:: I guess I’m just tired Lover… just tired.”
Brad kept driving but drew her hand up to his lips and kissed the back of it. “We’ll rest this afternoon… and I’ll take the boys home again tomorrow – once Will can climb to his loft and they are mostly independent again, you’ll feel better. And we’ll tackle the forest issues together… OK?”
They had agreed some days previously that the return to the loft was the acid test for Will – the final hurdle to normality – or as normal as it would ever get for the four.
Arriving home the two wonderful carers were reminded of Will’s fragile state once more. (Lex)ander was bright eye and literally bounced down from the truck, but Will was in an exhausted sleep. He had rarely been awake for more than five hours at a time even in the latter part of his recovery so barely registering as Brad and Skye manhandled him to the edge of the truck’s tray, and certainly was instantly asleep in Brad’s safe arms.
Two days later the loft was attempted. They had attended the farm and the animals, and Skye had assisted Will with food preparations for the coming two days. Finally, after midday and with Brad behind him ready to assist or catch him were he to slip, Will climbed the ladder on increasingly shaky legs, three times having to abort the attempt. Each time he made it up two or three more rungs, a triumph given that on previous days the consequent confidence loss meant two days before the attempt was repeated. But this time, after four tries and with all the determination of a professional mountaineer, Will gripped the lip of his loft floor and with a little boost from Brad, made it to his glorious vantage point… And (Lex)ander braved the height (despite his own phobias) also to celebrate.
The loft was warm, and the bedding fresh… there was also a lovely addition courtesy of some of Skye’s friends at the market, two enormous fluffy pillows with covers made of angora so soft that it felt like the inner down of an owl. Their wonderful human carers withdrew as dusk approached, and that night Will and (Lex)ander were neither worried nor afraid… Instead dinner was ignored in preference to quiet touches and contented slumber. Skye and Brad both ‘checked in’ when in astral form. And all was well for three days…
But all was not well with the world, and the new year saw Gaia expressing her frustration and upset at being abused, switching from sleet and fog to near tropical heat and humidity; calm days to force nine storms; and hail borne of a heatwave swiftly replaced by icy conditions across whole regions… all within a matter of two weeks. “Record…” whatevers were being noted by the media and social and environmental mismanagement blamed… but the rhetoric, by and large, was not followed by action.
Toward the end of day twelve of the utterly un-seasonal cold snap, Skye approached the wiccan camp she had never intended to deal with in astral form. She was accompanied by a delegation of sky bound creatures, whilst below Brad in wolf/dog form led the ground dwellers, to meet with groups of magical creatures from their entire region. The brief was to stop the plunder…
It was never going to be an easy meeting…
(Lex)ander woke just before midnight to soft petting marked by a somewhat contented ‘Hoo’.
The ex dog’s normal reaction to realizing he was up so high would have been panic, but there were cushions all around, and the two they had their heads on were so amazingly soft he almost felt like he was back at his mother’s belly. So much so that when a finger enquired as to his consciousness, he began to suckle and paw at its owner, whimpering just a little and instinctively expecting milk, only come to full consciousness and find his wonderful Will grinning rather coyly.
It was wonderful but after only a few seconds (Lex)ander knew. The dear recovering Will was stroking him and being attentive, but the ex owl was in pain again, the ‘hoo’ing was just a little too strained, and the pretty face marred by closed eyes and furrowed brow. (Lex)ander surmised that it was the cost of climbing the stairs the previous night, so rolled over and began to attempt to massage his friend as he had seen Skye do so many times, but seemed to be failing as the careful attentions brought tears to the fore. But the minutes passed and as untutored hands rubbed and caressed, the ex-dog smelt a change in the tears, from pain to grateful relief. Then for the first time heard his friend say “Thank… yhooooo” before falling to sleep for a short while.
(Lex)ander lay still stroking his pretty friend for a time, but also felt the call of the ‘other’ world and the forest, a strangely similar to the feel when Brad called him early in the mornng these days. He knew Will was still fragile but slowly roused him an hour with tentative kisses and careful touches. They rose and made their careful way down the ladder.
As they alighted and he searched for his walking stick, Will felt it too.
The ex-dog saw the worry and offered a calm touch, deciding in that moment that there was a way that would not involve the dear recovering human any humiliation. “I want to carry you. Please?! Please Will let me carry you?! I miss it so much – you on my back, my hands on your beautiful behind, please let me do that… *please*”
Brown eyes met crystal blue and there was no further argument. The back door was left open as was their habit, and the pair advanced through the forest with the blonde astride his dark partner’s strong back – neither knowing what they were about to encounter.
The coven’s estate was heaving with all manner of creatures as (Lex)ander and Will approached, spilling out across the front yard and into the dirt road. Will, still on his friend’s sturdy back, hoo’ed encouragement as the normally shy ex-owl heard the head wiccan beginning the meeting. They pushed through to a position just outside the front door and Will was lowered to stand, with help, leaning against his wonderful friend. Only seconds later, two black cats – the female heavily pregnant - brushed against known legs affectionately, then used their now human friends for leverage to rise above the crowd, both sitting on (Lex)ander’s shoulder to take part in proceedings.
There were to be no guarantees. The human world seemed hell bent on wiping each other out. But there were some that had begun to make inroads, some who were self appointed guardians of Gaia and yet more who were simply good souls with a commitment to the earth. Without any formal connection, they simply tried to do ‘the right thing’. And now at the invitation of the coven some of those trusted humans were at the meeting – albeit wide eyed and seated rather nervously toward the back of a room filled with all manner of creatures.
The meeting settled, and to Brad’s surprise, it was one of the coven acolytes who stood to begin proceedings. The slight, cropped haired blonde could not have been more than sixteen, but spoke with complete confidence and took command of the room. When Brad looked over to the High Wiccan he understood, this one was the coven leader’s chosen successor, young enough that she might be groomed for the role and literally ‘grow into it’, though in his astral form Brad could feel her phenomenal magical power and could not help but wonder just how much ‘growth’ was needed.
“The High Wiccan Meredith and members of our coven thank you for coming. We accept that we have not always been on the best of terms.” She paused for a moment, and looked pointedly at two black cats lounging by the hearth, the ex-mage simply lifting his head for a moment to acknowledge the reference. “But we have chosen to convene this unique gathering for a specific purpose. Our forest is tinder dry – as is our land in general, yet storms in other regions are raging, we have had cold then hot, sleet and fires. In discussion with covens around the globe, they have similar issues and all are working to change the actions of humans toward Gaia, we strongly encourage you to do the same through all your contacts and networks. We *must* work to change this plunder of the land forever, but in the meantime – and for our small region, we put it to you… Our friends of the forest and the skies in this area will die without food and fresh water, we must provide at least that until the drought breaks. I open the floor to suggestions.”
The water was the most critical issue as the forest’s creek was not but a series of stagnant puddles in a deep cut in the earth, and many local dams were dangerously low (and farm owners not necessarily welcoming of wild intruders - reserving the water for their own stock).
As various options were discussed a rather unsteady, exhausted brunette carrying a smaller blonde, entered the back of the room. Several of the magical creatures close felt the prickle. The two humans were not as they seemed.
Brad saw the rather confused boys enter. Their motivation for attending, he knew, was the call of the magical community, but also knew that the two were the ultimate innocents. His astral form moved closer as (Lex)ander lowered Will to the ground then supported the ex owl as still unsteady legs and sore back adjusted to standing. In his dog form, Brad rubbed reassuringly against (Lex)ander’s leg and the ex-dog felt it. This was the alpha male, older wiser, stronger. In private he would have prostrated himself and submitted to their dear carer, the ‘top dog’, but for now he was still holding Will up by one arm, so bowed his head and dropped his gaze in respect to the ethereal dog.
Brad’s form was now fully manifested as canine in response to the magical influences of the room, so licked the hand reassuringly, the hand he had so often held as they walked through the village.
Neither Will nor (Lex)ander understood the incredible magical power in the room, but the ex-dog was so moved by the licking that he began to cry silently. The creatures who had followed Brad to the meeting all turned to observe two humans sinking to a seated position to accept the careful attentions of a spiritual dog, and were shocked to see flashes of human and animal forms in the two additions to their forum. Those who detected magic knew their signature as innocents, many with links to the village and forest felt the bizarre challenge that had been thrust upon the two, and looked quizzically toward the members of the coven.
Nevertheless, the meeting continued and finished amicably. All ‘friendly’ farms surrounding the forest region would have water for the wildlife placed at their borders contained in half drums normally reserved for fuel.
The human ‘activists’ had resolved to work with the covens and also already extended their network to more mainstream business, utilize the various larger lobby groups and media groups. Two of the humans present volunteered to write articles for local papers and several of the wiccan acolytes (still at university) volunteered to work with the humans to lobby the government.
The only completely surprising part of the exercise was that the local mayor (the Hon George Heath) ‘outed’ himself as a mage, and as a farmer, was hardly in need of an ‘update’. The balding but still quite handsome (according to his wife Jean) Mayor stood at the end of proceedings and pledged his *and the local council’s* support, plus the seeking of any other political ‘clout’ he could muster. He did not disappoint.
So it was settled. In addition to the water, grain would be placed at strategic positions every two days, and any needing fresh meat would have to find their way to four locations on every other day (though ‘Aunty’ Betty, retired teacher who lived at the southern edge kept breaking the rule and fed anyone needing meat on any day!)
The congregation departed for the most part, but the coven plus a few remained.
As was his habit, Will was asleep by the time the meeting ended having been forced awake by his friend so they might attend. After their arrival it had been mere minutes before Will simply snuggled into his friend’s side and fell into a light slumber again, and that was how the High Wiccan Meredith met them. Their two carers were still in astral form, (Lex)ander was on the floor with Will virtually in his lap, flanked by Brad and Skye and guarded at the front by the two cats.
The witch squatted down in front of the two men as brown eyes lifted and blue blinked slowly awake to meet her look of regret and apology. (Lex)ander nudged Will a little more and he nodded sleepily as she addressed them.
“I approach you brothers…. to apologise. We know you. Your signature is strong, and your reputation precedes you.” She nodded acknowledging Skye at that point, Will’s injury well known to all of them. “You were innocents – you *are* innocents… we had no idea when our anger manifested the spell… My dear owl and dog… I see your spirits as you truly are… but we cannot reverse what has been done. I am sorry. All we might do is to draw on our energies to return you to your natural state when you pass from this realm. I *am* sorry. But you will have at least each other in this life. I will have the coven work pray to the Powers and Gaia on your behalf. You will ultimately join your dear carers here in their nightly vigil for they too are changed.” Meredith nodded at Brad as dog then Skye in her owl form, “And for that we will always remain grateful.”
(Lex)ander looked a little puzzled but Will sat up properly at the proposal, smiled at his human cushion, his best friend, then turned his azure gaze on Meredith. She saw him surrounded by his owl aura clearly and gasped a little as the strength of it obviously enveloped his partner in a protective bubble before he began to speak.
“Hoooooommmm Please, Mistress hhooowee would like that very much I think.” Will looked to his friend – who was now gently rubbing the ex owl’s back as was his habit whenever Will was awake and in need of reassurance or comfort. (Lex)ander looked over at Brad’s astral form then simply nodded his agreement. He could not think of a nicer way to spend his next life than running with his father figure to do good.
Meredith smiled at the two and for the first time they saw the kindness and genuine care she spoke of reflected in her eyes. “So be it. Be well sons of Gaia, our coven will work for your growth and protection. We will ask the blessings of the goddess upon you, that you might find health and happiness in your current form and eternal happiness in the hereafter.”
She then turned to address the cats, “This coven no longer has an argument with either of you. Rather, we pledge any of yours protection that might join us. We thank you for braving this meeting as we recognize our differences have led to your change.”
The ex- mage stood, licked his pregnant again partner across the ear then moved to rub his body against the senior witch’s left leg very deliberately, first in one direction then the other, arching as he passed and raising his tail. She understood and his act required a promise.
“Your boys here will be looked after Mage, as will all your children should they need it. Be well.”
The group all rose and departed, old feuds resolved and new alliances established, but as they returned home, Brad and Skye to their true forms, Will to his loft and (Lex)ander his old master’s bed, a passing motorist flicked a cigarette from his window and the live embers found the tinder they needed.
(Lex)ander smelt it first. He initially thought they must have left something burning in the hearth or that Skye had left something in the oven on her last visit. However it took only seconds to realize the smoke was something else. The forest was burning.
(Lex)ander instinctively howled his distress, waking Will who immediately began to cough, his loft already thick with the smell of burning. As Will descended from his sleeping space, Brad’s old truck roared up the driveway, Skye barely waiting for him to pull on the handbrake before launching out and running toward the house.
She burst through the back door and immediately took the two now frightened men in her arms.
“My darlings, we will have to move fast – we’ll hose down your roof, fill the gutters with water and attach a sprinkler up there to the tank as best we can – but then you must come with us… Bring anything you want … but come quickly my loves, Brad is here to help too…”
Will climbed to his loft and rescued his favourite cushions, (Lex)ander retrieved his lead, a picture of he, Will and the Mage in their original forms, and his master’s favourite old jacket.
The mage and his partner urged Skye to the hole in the floor where his collection of precious stones were and she understood, lifted them from their hiding place and tucked them into her pocket.
Brad was already hosing down the roof and Will, confident with heights, climbed up and followed instructions – using the old tennis balls (Lex)ander so enjoyed playing with to stop the water flowing down the downpipe and leaving a channel of water all the way around. Brad then helped him to set an old soaker hose across to slowly drizzle water down from the apex of the roof. There were already embers falling, and certainly no guarantees that any of their actions would help.
(Lex)ander could hear the roar of sirens in the distance, but he and Skye focused on collecting up the terrified chickens and their goats, pushing them all rather roughly into a makeshift cage on the back of the truck – joining Brad and Skye’s own livestock. The two carers had rescued precious little from their own home before assisting ‘their boys’, but they simply hoped all would be well – they had to leave.
Tasks completed as best they could, Will and (Lex)ander piled into the back of the truck with the animals, including the cat and his brood. Wet towels were thrown over them before the truck sped away.
The sky was blazing red and the smoke so thick that it was all Brad could do to keep on the road. Twice they changed their route as huge flames loomed. Skye was openly crying by the time the town came into site, terrified for her boys and for them, but also devastated by the site of still burning logs and charred earth.
The town had not fared so well either. Thirteen homes on the outskirts had been either burned or damaged, and the local kindergarten burnt to the ground.
Brad headed for the Town Hall where he parked the truck, found water for the animals (from the public toilets’ hand basins!) then moved to volunteer his services to the local fire chief who had suddenly become the coordinator of nearly twenty crews plus almost fifty volunteers, now fifty two. As Brad approached the very athletic looking older man, he realized he had two shadows. Will and (Lex)ander flanked him on either side, ready to help.
The chief knew the boys, so addressed Brad very directly, “You OK with these two in the fight?”
“They’ll hold their own. Thought you needed helpers?”
“Can they understand instructions?”
“Of course. Long as it’s kept simple.”
“Right then, just keep ‘em with *you* – Jake back there’ll give you some coveralls, you’ll be on the cleanup – not at the front, but it’s still important to be careful. Aahhh geez… I forgot… Look I’m afraid we’re running out of…”
“Brought the stuff from home – rakes, shovels, axe, if that’s what you need. The boys are OK with those too.”
“Brilliant… Any extras – just share them around OK? Right then…” With that, the three were swiftly dismissed to find ‘Jake’ and their bright yellow garb. The two ex animals then followed their carer back to collect the tools from the truck – in the process Brad reported back to Skye.
She was frantic, but understood. Will was only just recovered, yet really could not let (Lex)ander go by himself, and all knew the danger. She kissed Brad passionately, made all of them promise to return safely and ‘not do anything stupid’, before watching tearfully as they alighted one of the fire trucks heading out to face the inferno that was now threatening not only their own homes, but the next village, farms and a huge amount of forest.
Skye busied herself with tending their terrified stock then went to assist in the town hall where sandwiches, tea and coffee were being provided not only for the fire fighters, but also for the families who had fled their homes. The atmosphere was sombre but the solidarity amongst those of the small community was absolute. People by and large knew each other – at least to greet, and those who did not, soon found themselves amongst friends.
When most of the crews did not return that night, Skye ended up sitting holding hands in prayer with the lovely ice cream shop owner, Beth. The woman was grey with worry, her husband, son and teenaged daughter were all out with the fire crews. Though not particularly following Christian traditions herself, Skye believed strongly in a higher power – and the power of prayer, so began.
“Blessed be our partners and children, *please* keep them safe! Watch over your two forest boys Will and Lex, and Brad, and Beth’s beloved John, Lara and Clint. And bless their compatriots who are also trying to save your land. Let you guide them and bring them safely home to us.”
Beth’s simple “Amen” was echoed around the room as other names were mentioned and more prayers offered.
The two women sat for many minutes in silence as an ancient television on the stage of the hall beamed images of the fire front and dire warnings regarding the predicted hot winds to come the following day. Eventually Skye returned to the truck to sleep in the front seat, curled up with only Will’s cushions and an old crocheted rug for comfort. She tried to meditate but exhaustion claimed her first and she slept until five, when three trucks entered the town, sirens blaring.
The wind had turned.
Will and (Lex)ander were both well equipped to fight the blaze. Will with his intimate knowledge of the forest, connection with the wildlife, and fast reaction time; (Lex)ander with his superb sense of smell and experience with the garden tools and digging. The fire chief need not have worried about the two boys – indeed it was their warning of the wind change that alerted all the crews.
They fought shoulder to shoulder just to the right of their carer whose dreadlocks were strapped back with an old piece of string, but bounced just a little as he turned to look over with pride at ‘his boys’.
Twice, earlier that evening, he (Brad) had been warned by Will of a falling branch, in the second instance, tackled to the ground by (Lex)ander apparently to get him out of the way, but as a rather naughty grin emerged and his was licked across the nose he realized, the boys were, in truth, just happy to be with him in the fight.
When the wind turned, however, the sprint to leave was a serious one. Though the fire was doubling back on itself, all the experienced fire fighters knew, there was plenty more to burn. Frantic calls to evacuate ensued, and the forest, sadly, abandoned in preference to saving their own lives.
Around seven in the morning, with black smoke blanketing the town and flames visible on the hills, Skye and Beth finally had their prayers answered as the last truck of tired fighters pulled into town. A tearful Skye waited while the crew bade a temporary farewell to their volunteers then were given leave to hug her three men close. Hug then with an adoration and relief that simply belied relief and gratitude.
On the second day, Will was obviously in pain, his grey demeanour indicating that a recently mended back did not take kindly to raking, or beating out flames with a wetted bag; Brad’s face and hands were burnt to the point of blistering; and (Lex)anders eyebrows, lashes and hair had all been singed at some stage. They were minor injuries and fairly typical of all the crews. It had been a hard eighteen hours.
Thankfully, a mere hour after the exhausted group entered the hall for some sustenance, they heard two helicopters, water bombers, fly low overhead.
It took a full week for the fire to burn itself out. A week of exhaustion and frustration, the latter mainly Will’s, as his back simply would not stand the physical needs of the job and he was relegated to ‘coffee duty’ by the end of the second day, whilst Skye donned his overalls and headed out with Brad and (Lex)ander.
But at the end of the time, they headed home with the animals. The coven had been burnt to the ground, Brad and Skye’s barn was a mangled form of blackened, twisted metal and coals, and the all the boys’ outbuildings were gone, but the two houses had survived. The forest was not so lucky and on their first night home, an exhausted Brad and Skye managed to shift to their spiritual forms.
The two ethereal beings took to the forest despite the fatigue of their earthly bodies. Brad carried several small creatures back for assistance before retiring. He amd Skye knew what they would find... devastation and death where there had been thriving forest life. The birds had flown, their nests burnt and babies all dead. Similarly the foxes and any creatures with tiny ones underground had been forced to run or die. Some had stayed and the entire family suffocated or burnt as the intensity of the inferno expressed Gaia’s anger.
On the evening that the fires finally abated, it was Will who had taken control of the caring, despite being, judging by his rather grey pallor, still in quite a measure of pain. As Brad and (Lex)ander slept an exhausted sleep, Skye was conscious enough to realize that they were all gently washed and had fresh aloe vera plant from the garden applied to burns, Will splitting the succulent’s leaves down the middle and rubbing the sticky juice onto the damaged skin just as he’d seen Skye do many times. Near unconscious with fatigue Will dressed the deep scratches on her face and hands, and carefully washed her singed hair before pulling the home made bedspread over all his charges as they slept on in Skye and Brad’s bed. The ex owl then took up vigil on the uncomfortable old chair in the room.
In truth Will was reassured. He felt he was finally useful.
He had watched his heroic family exit with the fire trucks each day, leaving him to serve hot drinks and make sandwiches and run simple errands. His obviously pained movement and slow speech (along with the townfolk’s knowledge of his devastating injuries and Skye’s boys’ ‘limitations’) had others on the ‘home team’ treating him like a simpleton though by no means in a malicious way, but he had still felt… shamed. He did everything asked of him and more, to the point of being openly praised by all on the relief team manning the Town Hall. But for Will, it was not enough. His only solace had been the dear ice cream shop owner, Beth, who never failed to give him a kind word or hug toward the end of the day as they both waited for their loved ones to return.
Though their physical bodies were depleted, Brad and Skye did their best but could do little but observe the devastation in their astral forms. They were able to pinpoint those injured who might be saved and guided those still able to move by themselvesz. (Lex)ander was still too sore but Will headed out, following Skye’s owl form as best he could to collect the small animals and birds identified as needing help.
There was an eerie silence in the still smouldering forest. Animals and birds who could outrun the fire or fly away had done so though many slower animals, babies, eggs and chicks had been killed or injured, trees blackened and earth scorched.
Where it was practical, Will collected the tiny creatures in need of assistance onto a hand made wood cart. Even when a creature was too damaged to be saved, he lifted the small body onto the soft straw, administered a rudimentary painkiller and moved on. The wiccan vet Lottie at Brad and Skye’s house was given the sad task of easing those who could not be saved to a painless end. They were all blessed and held with love as the tearful Lottie administered overdose after overdose of anaesthetic to appallingly burnt animals. In total twenty seven had to be eased to their final rest - fur and skin, eyes and breathing passages so damaged that they would never recover.
Six trips in and out of the forest later, the ex Owl was in extreme pain himself. Skye was too exhausted to continue and Brad had already headed for home. One of the last creatures Will had picked up was a little hedgehog. The singed feet and nose needed treatment though the injuries were life threatening. The tiny creature’s blue eyes identified him unmistakably as the former human – one of the hunters who had wounded Will. The little hedgehog curled up on the straw of his temporary shelter, accepting Will’s kind ministrations as his burnt feet were tended to and wondered at the familiar scent and the kindness of some humans. Feet dressed and nose cooled with salve, he nuzzled the kind hand then ignored the other small animals in the enclosure and curled into a protective ball, falling asleep while licking over the bandages on his injured feet.
Toward midnight Skye returned to her body and an exhausted Lottie departed after checking on the worst of the treated injuries a final time.
It would be several weeks before the cottage was clear of injured creatures and things almost back to normal. (Lex)ander and Brad’s burnt skin peeled, and scratches healed. The Mage and family returned home on the second night – all the kittens safe, and two weeks from the dousing of the flames the township held a special celebration to thank the fire fighters and volunteers.
There were drinks and dinner catered for by the group that so wonderfully fed and watered the fire fighters for the duration of their struggle. Will was, again, on ‘bar duty’, as able to pull a perfect beer as serve the elderly spinster Ms Hass with tea just as she liked it in an ancient fine china cup. Skye looked over several times, worried that Will might tire, but it seemed he was the darling of the ladies’ auxiliary and recognized by the men as one of their still recovering own.
The many speeches during the evening were made by the local member of parliament promising more monetary assistance for the community; the mayor, whose daughter’s own property was ravaged by the flames; the local hairdresser whose house had been saved at the very last minute by the swift actions of one fire crew; and the wife of one of the worst injured fire crew (she tearily reported ‘Ron is on the mend’ and thanked everyone). But finally, the regional fire chief stood up, making a point of throwing his yellow fireproof jacket over his large frame before picking up his matching hard hat and moving to the podium.
Peter (Fire Chief Simons) looked distinctly uncomfortable as he began to speak, clearing his throat twice and clumsily adjusting the microphone at the last minute. “I feel a bit of a fraud standing up here alone. The efforts of all crews, across the whole district was… ahhh… just extraordinary. This is my twenty seventh year in the service – and all but five spent in rural territory and I’ve gotta say, the core team here are damn fine professionals, but it was our volunteers… umm,” the strapping fifty five year old blonde was very emotional as he pointedly looked at many of the faces now clean of the black smears and sweat that had covered them in the previous weeks. “You folks stepped up. We could not have done it without you, and if any of you want a change of career, I reckon just see me after…”
One of the men leaning on against the drinks table raised his half empty glass of lager and yelled out, “Long as we’re paid in beer!”
Peter smiled widely, “I’ll have ta talk to head office on that one!” Before continuing, “Seriously though, I know every one of you deserve a medal but there were some amongst the crews that I, well many of us, really thought at the beginning, would not cut it, and went on to prove us very, very wrong. I’m sure you don’t mind folks if I particularly honour a young lad today who I think you all know, in this town. Is Lexie here?”
Brad gave (Lex)ander a little push but the brunette couldn’t move. As soon as his fire nickname was mentioned, he felt a desperate tightness in his chest. Will was as much the hero, so was Brad and Skye! And any number of others. His panic was absolute until Brad placed a calm hand on his shoulder and he registered the whispered words, “Come on, I’ll take you up, just relax.”
Brad accompanied him as far as the stairs of the makeshift stage in the old rotunda then gave him a little push.
(Lex)ander’s first instinct was to fall to all fours and submit rather than present himself as human to the crowd of several hundred, but he managed to spot Will, still serving at the drinks table, and was privy to a look of such pride and love from his friend that he straightened and walked across the stage, nervous but upright.
Peter nodded his thanks to Brad as ‘Lexie’ graced the stage, and was reassured, as a cheer from the townsfolk and fire fighters alike went up, that the acknowledgement sat well with the community.
(Lex)ander stood silently, head down, toeing the ancient wood of the rotunda as the fire chief read out a number of abbreviated accounts of the new human’s bravery and service during the testing time. He concluded by presenting the brunette with a brand new pair of regulation boots and plaque, before stilling for a photo then handing the microphone over to (Lex)ander.
There was deathly silence for nearly thirty seconds before the ex-dog dared speak, “I….I… I…” a strange almost growl came through the PA before, “Thanks.. But um… *everyone* did it not just…” He trailed off a little but many of the crowd was moved to tears as they heard the heartfelt and very rapid, “me, ‘cause Will helped too but he was too hurt still, and… anyway thanks Chief McKearn.”
Finally the president of the ladies’ auxiliary stood and took the podium, removed her apron and moved to the microphone insisting that all who had assisted with the catering for the crews (and the celebratory night) move to the front of the rotunda. She gave tribute to the workers, the stores who had donated food and services, and the wider community for giving what they could to families who had suffered losses – be it buildings land or stock, and in a fitting end to the night, the local member of parliament surprised them all by handing over a personal cheque for two hundred dollars toward the appeal the auxiliary had running to aide the fire victims.
That night (Lex)ander and Will were again in their own home. Before climbing tentatively up the ladder to the loft, (Lex)ander hid the new boots behind the settee.
He settled behind his blonde friend in a spooned hug before whispering, “I’m sorry.”
Will turned enough to see the genuinely apologetic ‘puppy’ eyes.
“For what Luv?”
“Shoulda given you some boots… and Brad too. You… you… fought!”
Will lifted a turned a little more and kissed the man on the cheek, “Nahhh, never liked ‘em anyway… just weighed me down… Glad you got them though, ‘n ya don’t have ta hide ‘ em OK?”
Will had turned back to his relaxed position on his side but felt the smile of a friend and a tongue began to gently lave the nape of his neck and they both slept.
Part 15 FINAL
Several of the animals had nursed to health after the fires had refused to return to their forest homes following their recovery (in many cases there was nothing to return to), instead they took up residence in the thickets and trees that surrounded Skye and Brad, or Will and (Lex)ander’s cottages. Most were youngsters now orphaned – but a few were older, including one little hedgehog/ex-human.
After his paws and nose healed, he had became quite the family favourite, often found snoozing under the sapling lemon that had seemed to have miraculously escaped the flames, and more than happy to accept a pat. Eventually he and a new ‘lady friend’ found themselves the proud occupiers of a sturdy wooden sleeping box with tiny front entrance, filled with sweet smelling fresh straw and placed just behind the wood pile where they could either escape unseen into the undergrowth, or where the ex-human, and his hedgehog partner could tentatively venture across the lawn to greet one or other of the humans. He struggled to remember his time as human and post fire, his days consisted mostly of snoozing alongside his pretty (newly pregnant) female, their nights spent foraging for food.
The former hunter was truly happy and with the arrival of his tiny fuzzy children, sent a silent prayer of thanks for Mother Earth’s gift and pledged himself to her and thanking her for his change in addition to a prayer of thanks to the four humans who had treated him with such kindness. His eyes flashed yellow then changed permanently from their original green to deep brown/black as a final shift was triggered, his prayer of thanks was heard, and he gave in completely to his animal instincts and gentle nature.
For the boys and their carers, life reverted to its pattern of old with a few exceptions, regardless of whose property was being tended, the four ate together before retiring to their own homes. The boys were acknowledged in the village… and were treated as ‘challenged cousins’ of Brad and Skye, though few saw the ‘kissing cousins’ irony in the labelling of the gentle pair.
Following the fire out buildings and fences were repaired or replaced over with Brad and (Lex)ander doing most of the hard work, though Skye and her ‘shadow’ Will, often responded to calls for an extra pair of hands and never failed to have food and drink on the table ready at the end of the day. Most crops waited until some decent rains for their planting, a time when the blackened forest also burst to life.
Four years on from the fire, (Lex)ander left his boots at the base of the ladder and was confident of their sleeping platform now – even trusting it enough to engage in tender caresses, passionate kisses and the moving together of body parts that previously he and Will had only been able to engage in on the ground. Now their love making just seemed better with the altitude. They had discovered (with a little assistance via some magazines from Brad, and silent presentation of specially scented lubricant from Skye) that their love making could be so much more.
Will started hunting again – but this time the dog followed, learning stealth and hunting skills from his wonderful, healed partner.
Brad and Skye’s astral forms sometimes spied them, and watched for a time to ensure the safety of the pair. They need not have worried.
Around the town, Will and ‘Lexy’ were now warmly welcomed just as any other resident, Lex with his boots, dedication to his 'fire training', and devotion to Brad; and Will with his regular quiet presence assisting Skye and sweet generous smiles for all who visited their little stall. Both men were always treated kindly and with respect. It even extended to defending them when a rather abusive individual - a visitor - accused the 'Lexy' of being a "retard", and bumped him deliberately as they passed in the street. The local sheriff (who was well aware of Lexy's fire fighting efforts) took offence and 'advised' the individual to remove himself from the town. Of course changed humans were still treated rather like children as their limited speech and sometimes odd habits reinforced their ‘simple’ status, but they were well liked and the residents of the small township apparently more than willing to encourage and assist.
Skye was tired. Too tired to even contemplating getting off the old couch. Brad was asleep, his head in her lap, equally exhausted. Four years on from the fire, four blissful years that had seen their boys grow as humans and now, she knew, quite the ‘characters around town’ in their own right. But four years of guardianship by night and quiet toil as the sun shone, had begun to leave its mark.
Skye gave up all notion of getting up that afternoon – contenting herself with watching the ex Mage and his partner and latest brood.
Both the cats’ lives as human were null and void… but they were happy. Nicola and Alistair had cut off all hope of reversal years ago and now Skye observed the cats stretched out on hearth rug, idly grooming each other with hot rough tongues, while their latest little black children pounced awkwardly, and stalked and wrestled clumsily with each other until collapsing exhausted to take their mother’s milk once more.
Three nights earlier Skye and Brad had communed with the Powers and struck one more deal. When they died, they died together. And when ‘their boys’ died, it would also be so. But more than that.
There would eventually be four astral forms, four protective spirits, travelling the forest, since as the boys died they would receive back their original forms – albeit spiritual only, but never the less….)
That night as the changed owl and dog made love, their wonderful carers’ astral forms took off into the night yet again, but this time with a measure of joy as they passed Will and (Lex)ander’s home and heard the sounds of lovemaking. Tonight two would do conduct their patrol of their forest, happy in the knowledge that one day they would all act as two of four wardens and the boys having each other for eternity.