|This story is Copyright by David Ihnen. Please do not distribute without permission.|
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"Yeah, I know, I'm thirsty too." He muttered.
The farmer boy mopped his forehead with a handkerchief from his back pocket, raising his straw hat out of the way. The hot spring sun beat down on the field, quickly turning the moist brown soil lighter. He looked around and couldn't see his dog. He was usually lying in the shade somewhere nearby. He yelled for his dog.
"Scout! Where'dja go!?"
He was answered by a crashing through some nearby brush. A large hound dog came joyfully sprinting across the freshly ploughed field, running up with his tail all awag and ears flapping. The boy knelt down and roughed the dog up affectionately, recieving the eager dog's wet kisses, returning them in kind. A shout of laughter rang from the edge of the field.
"HAHA!! HEY DOG BOY, GOT SOME KISSES FOR ME??" a voice taunted from the safety of the woods. "I'M TELLIN PAW HENRY!"
Henry frowned, tensing. Scout growled towards the voice, but the boy restrained him with a hand.
"Let him go, Scout. Down."
Scout whined once and sat, staring towards the receding sounds.
Henry took a skin slung across the plow handles and poured out some water for scout and the horse, leaving none for himself. The empty skin sagged from the handlebars as he continued, tugging the reins to guide the horse along the hillside.
As the sun went down, Henry unhitched the horse and let him back to town. There would be hell to pay tonight. His half brother Jeremiah's spying would get him another beating. Henry's stepfather seemed to blame him for his mother's death. Henry had been out helping the local doctor collect some herbs for his mother when she died. The stepfather, though, had been at the common room, getting drunk. Tears leaked out of his eyes even now as he remembered. First his father, frozen in the first winter. Then his mother, sick in the humid air of summer, not even lasting the second season. In the hard four years since she died his stepfather had only gotten worse. Drinking, physical abuse. But there was nothing he could do. He couldn't pay for passage back to the grey wet shores of England.
The dusty young figure paused on a small hillock outside the town. The horse nuzzled his shoulder. He could see the torches burning on the watch tower, a sharp point along the blurry dusk edge of the stockade. A small human habitation, carved out of the massachussetts wilderness. More like festering wart amidst the natural beauty he thought. He approached quietly. He could hear Scout ranging somewhere off to the right.
"WHO GOES THERE!?" shouted a voice into the night, shattering the gentle lull of the crickets.
Henry almost jumped out of his skin. The horse reared, yanking Henry's arm. "For cripes sake Job! Its just me Henry!"
Job laughed and set down his musket. "I get you every time!" he wheezed, laughing, then turned sober. "I'd be careful tonight, Henry. your father is drunk again. Widder Downing threw him clean out of the common room this evening!"
Henry clapped the old man on the shoulder. "Thanks Job. God be with you." He left the old man to his guarding. Guarding against what, Henry hadn't a clue. Lord Jackson said there should be a guard. He said there should be a stockade. The boy was convinced that things were far better before Lord Jackson, even though he was only six when the tyrant showed up.
Scout trotted through the stockade gate behind Henry and the horse, down the only real street in the town. Henry left the horse with Jake at the stable, giving the young mute a hug. Jake pointed to Henry, made a pillow with his hand, and pointed to his straw bed. Then down the street towards Henry's house, and made a motion like drinking. He pointed to Henry and slid his hand across his throat.
Henry shook his head. "I'm sorry Jake. I have to go to home. He'd just come find me and beat you too."
Jake looked sad and waved.
Henry and Scout continued down the street. Flickering firelight shown through the tiny windows of various houses and huts. The smell of cooking stew here and there made his mouth water. His own house was second from the end of the row, not far from the chapel. A squat, straw thatched job. There was no food cooking there. But he could smell the alcohol. The roof had started leaking in the spring rains, and he hadn't had a chance to fix it yet. He could hear his father yelling inside. Henry shuddered. He crouched down in the evening stillness, running his hands through Scouts fur.
"Go on, boy. Go find a safe place to stay tonight. Stay with Jake. You don't want to be here." he murmurred, thumping the dog's chest and back. He nudged Scout's rump so the dog walked away a few steps.
Henry took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and quietly walked into the house.
His father was facing the away, yelling at his son Jeremiah who sat at the edge of the hearth, ignoring him. The flickering flames projecting dancing manacing shadows across the far wall.
Henry slunk quietly over to his mat in the corner. He had made a bed, but as soon as his mother died, Jeremiah got it. He slipped under the blanket and tried to hold his breath, hardly making a sound. As he huddled there trying to hide, he felt unfamiliar sensations in his body. He watched as the arm in front of his face seemed to tingle and narrow. His sparse hair was smoothly replaced by short fur. He involuntraily gasped as his fingers shortened into paws, his nails turning into dull doggie claws. His nose seemed to grow out of his face, filling part of his vision. He became aware of the sharp stink of the human habitation around him, and the alcohol his father reeked of. Scout nudged open the crookedly hung door and slunk over to the bed where Henry lay, twitching as the strange changing sensations covered him, stretching and pulling. Scout sniffed him once, and satisfied that it was Henry lay down half on top of him in comfortable doggie flop fashion. His father looked over at Scout, his eyes
"Where is that boy? He sould have been home an hour ago! He's is gonna get it when he gets home!"
Henry shivered even with his warm fur and blanket, making an involuntary whimper.
The man growled at the dog, "SHUTTUP!" and went back to drinking, staring into the firelight, eyes dull with alcohol and sleep.
Henry eventually fell asleep. He dreampt of running through the wood, the most wonderful smells assailing his senses in quick succession, Scout running just as joyfully at his side. This was an old dream he'd had many times before. He smiled in his sleep.
The boy's dreams were shattered by a sharp kick in his side.
"WITCH! yelled his father. Son of a bitch! You aren't fit to be a son, you worthless piece of shit! First you kill your mother, Then you don't fix the roof, and now you mock me by turning into a dog! Would you cast this spell on me too?"
Henry watched as the fur vanished from his thickening arm. He was picked up and hurled bodily against the wall, screaming in surprize and pain. Scout tore savagely at the father's leg, snarling. With a kick the hound landed with a yelp against the wall.
Henry's Stepfather picked him up and bodily and threw him through the front door into the street. The boy rolled in the dust and lay still, panting and moaning. The early morning attention of the town turned to him. There was a sharp pain in his side, and on his back and head where he hit the wall.
"He's a Witch!" cried the man. "I saw it! He turned into a dog!!"
Henry's desperate scrambling attempt to escape was aborted as his father kicked him in the ribs yet again. He fell to the ground with a groan, staring up at the sky. A huge white bird wheeled overhead. He blinked, thinking "An albatross?" He was too stunned to react to the kick aimed at his head. With an explosion of pain everything went black.
The world started to reality again. Water dripped off him. Old man Job stood apologetically nearby with an empty bucket.
"Sorry Boy" Job said softly.
Henry was tied to a vertical support in the front church aisle. The altar had been covered with a black cloth, forming the familiar judge's bench. Lord Jackson looked at Henry with cruel hate from under his powdered wig. Lord Jackson was a relative newcomer. He had come to town, and taken over. Nobody seemed to mind. Henry growled at him involuntarily, surprizing himself.
"You are accused of being a witch!" stated Lord Jackson, severely. "Let the trial begin!"
"But I'm not a witch!" the defendant protested.
Lord Jackson struck the bench with his gavel. "SILENCE!! Let the witnesses come forth!" Henry stared stonefacedly as Jeremiah and his father stepped forward.
"Did you witness this boy transform into a dog?" asked the magistrate.
"Yes, he did! He's a dog loving witch!" cries Jeremiah, glaring at his half brother hatefully. "I've seen him copulating in evil worship with dogs! He's the vile spawn of satan!"
His father agreed. He still stank of alcohol. "He has! I saw it myself!"
Henry looked down. Now he would be killed. He'd seen it before. He's always imagined it would be his demon. This was more of a surprize. Three times already since Lord Jackson had come to town people had been executed for little more than looking at somebody funny. The townspeople cried out, demanding his execution.
"Witch, witch!" yelled the townspeople. Even those he had done favors for many times, overcome with the mob zeal. "Purge the wickedness! Kill him!
"Burn him! " yelled somebody in the crowd.
Jackson struck the bench again. "Order in the court!" he yelled.
The crowd gradually quieted down.
"Do you have anything to say for yourself, witch?" the man demanded, sneering condecendingly at Henry.
Henry's mind raced. If he could just get away, out of these ropes. If only he could change again! He screwed his eyes shut, trying to picture himself as a dog. Nothing seemed to be happening. Jackson spoke.
"If you have nothing to say we must find out ourselves! Trial by fire!" pronounced Jackson, sealing it with his gavel.
The crowd cheered. Henry's bonds were released and he was taken outside where they were already building the pyre. He struggled in his captor's grasp but they held him tight. As they brought him up to the pile of wood, Henry slumped in defeat. He felt himself starting to change again. As his muzzle formed panic welled up in him. He twisted, sinking his teeth into one of his captor's arms, the rest of his body rapidly changing. The man yelped in pain as Henry hit the ground, sprinting through the astonished crowd, towards the stockade gate.
"SHUT THE GATE!" roared Jackson. "DON'T LET HIM GET AWAY!"
Henry ran like he never had before, joined by Scout. They raced towards the closing gate, the townspeople in close pursuit. The blast of a musket assaulted Henry's ears. A burning pain seared his head. Scout hit the ground without a yelp. Henry aborted his run as Scout fell behind. He ran back and tried to pull Scout with him. The dog's limp body made pitiful trail in the dirt. The townspeople caught up with them. Henry stood over his fallen friend, snarling in rage at the crowd. He wanted nothing more than to tear them limb from limb. Hackles raised, he advanced on the humans, who scrambled back hastily from the huge dog.
"HELL!" they heard a yell from the gate. "GET IT OFF OF ME!" The gatekeeper was striking desperately at a fox that nipped at him and dodged around him.
"OUT OF THE WAY!" roared Jackson, plowing through the crowd with his musket cocked. "LET ME AT HIM!"
Henry started at the sight of the vengeful dictator and sprinted towards the gate again, leaving Scout behind. Tears streamed from his eyes, clouding his vision. As he passed the gate, a red blur led him out of the clearing and into the thick woods. They ran for a long way until Henry brought up short. An otter was standing in front of him on the trail.
"Hey, you okay?" asked the otter. Henry fainted from the exertion and surprize.
Henry woke up. He could smell a strange combination of human and animal scents.
"I think you scared him Oren." said one voice.
"Nay, he'll be okay." said another.
"Shhh! He's awake!"
Henry opened his eyes and took a few moment to focus. Around him were several animals. And they were talking.
"Now I'm know I'm dreaming." he muttered. Then the events of the last hour or so flooded through his mind. He jumped to his feet, on guard. Some of the animals started, backing away from him a bit.
"Relax." said a deer, morphing into a handsome young man. "We're friends."
Henry looked wary, but his tail wagged tentatively.
"We call ourselves the Tiyessa." said the former buck. "We, like you, can change into animals and back."
Henry surveyed the Tiyessa. "Okay." he said.
"Come, we must get back to camp." he was told. They led him along, a distant look on his doggy muzzle.
As they walked back to the camp, the dog watched them. There seemed to be a comfortable comraderie between the members of the tiyessa, a friendly togetherness that he had longed for as long as he could remember. He would be a part, he determined. This was worth living for.
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