A Tale of a Tail

Dance and Grace disappear under the water, leaving Teo behind on the shore.  They’re headed upstream, of course, but does the road follow the banks of the bayou?  He spins in a tight circle, looking for anything, a motorbike, a bicycle, a… horse?  Yes, a horse.

 

He’s too rushed to be calm, but the animal doesn’t seem to mind.  In fact, it seems to invite him, sidestepping closer and snorting impatiently.  A poor handler he’d be if he can’t guide a horse by shifting his weight and talking to it.  It’s been too long since he’s ridden, but he grips the animal’s mane and flings himself aboard, and the horse takes off down the dirt road that winds along the bank of the bayou.  He has to duck when it veers in and out of saplings, darting down toward the water and up again onto the more open trail along the top of the bank.   Branches smack his shoulders and sting his ears.  Hanging on with his knees only works so well when the horse has a barrel this thick, lots of it muscle, and all of it clenching at once in unexpected jinking, darting motions more like a cutting horse than a trail horse, even though its build is not entirely suited to that.  Hell, it’s built more like a damn Friesian, with all that hair.  Wonder if it’s fought bugs?  Teo thinks.  It sure as hell has the evasive moves.  Why couldn’t he have found a horse wearing a saddle?

 

They screech to a halt and Teo dismounts.  Well, he falls off, but who cares?  Dance and Grace are sitting along the bank, dripping wet.  She’s staring — dumbfounded — at the short, limber tail that’s weaving in the air.  Does she think it’s going to bite her like a cobra?  It won’t.  It doesn’t have teeth.

 

They both turn to him when he makes his dramatic appearance.  He hopes neither of them are unkind enough to laugh. But Dance looks very serious, and Grace keeps gathering up parts of her tail like it might escape into the swamp.

 

“Ummmm,” Teo says, “you do realize that it’s attached to you, don’t you?  It won’t do anything you don’t want it to do.”

 

Teo kneels next to Grace.  It almost looks as if she’s going to go into shock.  God, it must be hard to find out like this, to discover that you’re a monster —  But then, Grace doesn’t seem to think of the zoomorphs as creatures.  She made that abundantly clear the day she met him.  She looks up at Teo, confusion in her eyes, and bursts into tears.

 

Suddenly Hal is there, gathering her up in his arms, crooning nonsense to her as she weeps.  His naked body curves around her protectively, and the tenderness makes Teo’s throat ache.  Hal smooths her wet hair, dries her eyes, and kisses her as she fights for composure.

 

Wait a minute — Hal’s naked.  And sweaty.  A long hank of hair keeps dropping into his face, almost like the forelock of the horse.  The horse that’s disappeared completely, without anyone remarking on it.  The knowledge drops into place with a neat little series of clicks.  The horse is Hal.  Hal is the horse.  A zoomorph, and one that can change form completely.  Teo feels like a moron. Even worse, he has to struggle not to stare at all the bronzed nudity. Just not appropriate in any way.

 

Grace turns to him over Hal’s shoulder.  The weeping has made her eyes a bright, almost metallic silver, a counterpoint to Dance’s golden ones.  “Who are you, really?  You’re not Drin’s nephew from San Francisco, are you?  You’re not from here at all, are you?”

 

“No,” Teo sighs, “I’m not from here.  I’m from — the place that Drin and Dance and Emma come from.”

 

“And you knew that this was going to happen, didn’t you?  You knew when you started asking those questions about my family– what did you do to me?!”

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