By Jett Centaur
"Hey, Jess, you believe in fairies, right?"
I glanced up at Chris, taking my eyes off the path just long enough to stumble over a rock. The question had taken me by surprise: the conversation, if it could be called that, had been on Dan's iguana. "Not really. Why?"
"Got something to show you." He grinned stupidly. Four beers and he could hardly walk straight. He'd already run into a tree, apologized to the tree, mooned the tree (don't ask), stepped up to his thighs in mud, and fallen off a boulder
and into a stream while attempting a Peter Frampton impression. Leslie was doing a little better, but she was definitely tipsy. Dan, for all he'd drunk, seemed perfectly sober, but he was just a touch crazier than usual. Mike and Rob were still draped ove
r the cliff emptying their guts in the valley. They wouldn't get up and stumble to Mike's house for a couple of hours yet. I was the only one who hadn't touched a drop, so of course I was getting racked on pretty bad, even though it was all in good fun. I
found my friends' drunken antics extremely funny, and we were having a great time stumbling around in the woods on the way home from the party.
I stifled a yawn. "Yeah, sure. When we get back, do you want to camp out, or do you want to sleep in Rob's basement?"
"Camp out. Rob's rec room smells like dogs," Leslie said immediately. She exchanged a knowing glance with Chris and Dan, then burst into laughter. Yep, they were tanked.
Chris, who was leading the way, veered off the path, taking a smaller one. I shined the bright flashlight/torch along the way, sure that he was going to lead us off a cliff. About thirty yards down, the path ended in a clump of bushes. Right there
, off to the side, was a clearing. Chris clicked his flashlight on.
"Okay, it's a ring of rocks. Is it supposed to be a fairy ring or something?" I looked down at the ring of stones. It was about twelve feet across. Except for the uniform size of the rocks, it was just a clearing.
"You tell us. You're the one who spends all your time on the Net looking at pictures of fairies," Dan said, his grin flashing white in the darkness.
"You're the one who spends all your time hanging OUT with fairies," Chris cracked.
"Uh, he hangs out with you, you idiot," Leslie said. Dan and Chris busted up.
I shrugged. "And? Where'd you guys get the rocks?" I grinned knowingly. "If it was old man Clark's stone wall, he's gonna come after you with a shotgun."
Leslie laughed. "We found this a couple weeks ago, last time there was a party at High Rock? The one the cops busted? We had to split is a hurry, took the wrong path and found this."
I bit my lip and looked down at the stones. "Cute. So..? I'm getting eaten alive by bugs. Now what?"
"You don't believe this is a fairy ring, would you sleep in it?" The bait had been laid, the trap snapped shut.
I looked at my watch. Two in the morning. This was really wearing on. "There ain't a hell of a lot of a night left to sleep, but hey, why not? Who's gonna go back and get the sleeping bag?"
Dan flipped on the flashlight and pulled a sleeping bag out of the bushes. He tossed it to me. "We were planning this," Chris said.
"Gee, I never would have known," I said drily.
"We'll be back in the morning, if you haven't been turned into a mushroom," Chris called as they headed back down the path. Dan and Chris laughed uproariously. Chris was drunk out of his skull: Dan is just perverse. He's tall and bony an
d a bass-ackwards philosopher. He looks something like a skeletal, green- haired Charles Manson. Chris is almost his opposite, a short, studious-looking kid who's normal enough that you'd never suspect what was going on in that head of his. They're just a
bout best friends. We all are.
I flashed the light around the clearing, making sure I didn't lay the sleeping bag down on any rocks or sticks. Then I lay down on the ground, the bag under me. It was cool out: before I fell asleep I would crawl into it, but for now I just lay th
ere, staring up at the stars. It was a clear night, and I picked out several constellations. The bugs were leaving me alone, and it was very comfortable there in the woods. When I finally started to get drowsy, I shimmied into the bag and fell asleep.
I woke up just as dawn was breaking. I think it was the cold that woke me up, because I was shivering and damp with dew. My shirt was soaked, plastered to my back. I reached for my sleeping bag, intending to pull it up. Instead, I grabbed a handfu
l of feathers and torn cloth and something that was furry in a coarse, almost dusty way.
I stared into the trees, the stones of the ring at eye level. Something wasn't right. My legs felt incredibly heavy. maybe my friends had come back and tied me up? I'm a very heavy sleeper, and my friends have taken advantage of this several times
. I've woken up in several odd predicaments, including buried under a pile of cats.
I lifted my head, and I thought I heard laughter. "Leslie? Very funny, you guys. What'd you do?" Silence.
I sat up, slowly, but my body didn't want to bend the rest of the way. I looked down and screamed. Even with my own cry of surprise in my ears, I could still hear the laughing.
The bottom half of my body was laying on its side. There was a lot more of it than there should have been, and it was covered in short brown fur that turned black at the top of the legs. Legs that ended in hooves.
I tried to get up. The horse legs didn't want to work. "Oh, God, Oh, God," I chanted, trying to heave myself up. I succeeded in heaving myself up on my four feet, after about ten minutes, and I stood awkwardly, feet splayed in every dire
ction. The tail was moving of its own accord.
The sleeping back was torn to shreds. My pants had split right open and fallen off. The shreds of my socks still hung absurdly around my front legs, just above large, hard black hooves. I'd dreamed of becoming a centaur sometimes, but that was the
furthest thing from my mind now. All I was thinking was broken up, disjointed. I was hysterical, crying, as I stumbled out of the ring. I tripped on the stones and nearly fell. All I could think was, *Oh my God, please don't let me fall and break a leg.
I'll die out here.* I think my hysteria worked for me: I didn't think about moving my legs, making the horse legs work. With
me in shambles, my new body was on automatic pilot.
I somehow found my way back to Rob's house. Leslie, Chris, and Dan were just coming out of the basement. Dan had a rifle, and when he saw that the thing in the bushes was huge and thrashing around mindlessly, he raised it. Why did he have a rifle?
Because a week before, a man in that area of town had been attacked by a rabid raccoon that had killed his dog. No one was taking chances with rabies going around, so Dan was holding onto the rifle.
Then I crashed through the woods and into the clear yard, fell to my knees shivering and sobbing.
"What the hell..." Dan lowered the gun. Chris and Leslie backed away.
"Don't shoot me. It's me," I said. Dan muttered something I can't repeat. I was crying so hard now that my sides were heaving.
Leslie came forward, looked back at Chris. "What the hell! This is Jess, you guys. We did this...oh, Jess, I'm so sorry...I didn't know..." Sober, she was starting to realize the impact of what had been meant as an innocent joke.
Then she knelt down and hugged me. Dan dropped the rifle and came closer, and Chris knelt by me and took my hand. "You're going to catch cold out here. I think you'll fit in the shed," Leslie said.
I got to my feet again, somehow, and made it into the shed. It was empty and clean, ready to be used to store summer furniture. I hit my head on the low doorway. I was now almost a foot taller than Dan, who's 6'1". Leslie brought blankets and
lay them on the floor, and somehow I got my legs under me to lay down. Chris brought me a bottle of water. I drank and he refilled it six times. Dan pulled the remains of my footwear off my hooves. I started to feel a little better and stopped crying. My
friends sat with me for hours, and we talked, trying to figure out what to do next.
Once the hysteria faded, I started to handle it a little better. I've always been level-headed, and by that time I was starting to realize exactly what had happened, that a secret wish had been fulfilled. Be careful what you wish for, indeed! The
shock was wearing off, but the disbelief would hang on for a while, for both me and for my friends. I called my parents to warn them. They didn't quite believe me until I made it home by half-walking, half-stumbling through the woods, only setting out aft
er dark and only walking out of sight of the road.
Leslie, Chris, and Dan called me every day, but my boyfriend Rob stopped calling me. He couldn't stand what I had become. But my three friends stuck with me while I adjusted to the size, walk, diet, and living quarters (the garage) of a centaur. L
eslie constantly asked me if I would forgive her, and I did, over and over again until she was satisfied. All three of them felt terrible about what had happened, but eventually, it came to light that what they'd "done to me" didn't seem so bad
after all. Leslie told me that a big part of what helped to get over the shock was being able to look in my eyes and see the same funny, smart, girl she'd been friends with since middle school. Dan's rationale was "Cool, you're a freak!" Chris w
as just there. He came over and played Magic with me as if nothing had changed. And truly, as far as our friendship was concerned, nothing had.
It was a couple of weeks before I went back to school. My friends had gone about informing the people in our closer ring of friends what had happened to me, and I even talked to some of them on the phone after the change. By that time, I was fairl
y competent at walking and I knew what to eat, so I thought it was time to get on with my life. I walked into school as if nothing had happened. Leslie, Chris and Dan were by my side.
The noisy halls went dead silent as I trotted through the doors. Books dropped, conversations ceased, and then the only sound was the clopping of my hooves on linoleum. People stood still in shock. Then the whispering. I turned my head, tried to k
eep my chin up.
A hand touched my arm, and I looked down. It was a girl who I'd sat next to in English class. "Jess? It is you, isn't it." It wasn't a question. "Are you okay?" I smiled. The dam broke, and suddenly people were crowding around
me, some in awe, some in concern, some in curiousity. Most of the looks and words were kind and sympathetic.
People offered to carry my books, walk me to my homeroom, help me with my locker. Once people realized that only my bottom half had changed, that I was still myself, they accepted that I was still me, and that I was no different from any other acc
ident victim. Although the vice principal yelled, "It's still eight months early for the senior class prank! Get that horse out of here!" when he saw me and my art teacher fainted dead away when I walked in.
There was teasing, especially from the younger students, freshmen and sophomores mostly, but I've always had a reputation for being tough. If human Jess could beat the tar out of a two-hundred-fifty pound football player, what could Jess five time
s that size and strength do? Most of those who had once tormented me went out of their way to be nice to me. If I can't get respect, I'll settle for fear. There were a few who would pull my tail, make rude noises and comments as I walked by. I put up with
the troublemakers as best I could, instilling a little terror when I had to. For some reason, even the tough guys would mutter "Nothing" when asked to repeat their comment to the face of a 7-foot tall, half ton centaur.
So I guess my adjustment was easier than most. I kept my friends close, and, over time, I found others like me. I can't say it's been easy, but then again, it wasn't as hard as it could have been.