a Canine Club story by Andy Hollis
This is the third but not final story in the series that began with 'The Lady's Choice' and 'Summer Changes' Reading those stories first will help with this one but not absolutely necessary
Larry is having dreams; strange dreams involving him becoming a dog, but why? And what will really happen?
Ouch. Sudden pain jarred me awake. I flipped over on my stomach and sighed. I reached around to feel the lump on my backside. It must have grown three inches overnight. In fact, I thought with another sigh, it was long enough to wag.
I'm turning into a dog. There was no getting around that fact anymore. The changes started a few days ago, but until now no one besides my best friend had noticed. Now maybe my parents would believe me. Then again, they probably wouldn't.
Everything started Sunday night when I had a weird dream. I found myself in a huge chamber that looked like a lab out of an old mad scientist movie. But in the dream I was a dog. I seemed comfortable enough as a dog, and I enjoyed having my family pat my head and stroke my fur. They made such a fuss over me that I licked faces and hands as if I had been born a dog.
Monday morning I woke up and found that lump. My first thought, with the memories of that dream still fresh, was that it was a tail. I laughed it off. There was no way I could really be turning into a dog, and yet as the day wore on I found less and less to laugh about.
I got out of bed like always, stretched then screamed my head off when I saw the dresser mirror. There, reflected in the glass was a large, black and tan dog instead of me. I walked over to the mirror and the dog walked as I did on two legs, but sort of hunched over. I looked behind the mirror, and every where I could think of on the dresser but couldn't find any sort of projector. In the mirror the dog copied my movements. I even went so far as to press my finger into the glass and trace out my name and dog followed as a normal reflection.
The trick was impressive, I had to admit, as I stared at the dog. I recognized the beast as a Doberman Pinscher without the clipped ears or tail. I pulled on my clothes and watched the dog dress himself as well. This was crazy. I shuddered as I left the room and ran down the hall to the bathroom. At least, my reflection in the toilet was me, although I saw the Doberman in the mirror over the sink.
Tuesday was worse. I woke the same way with a much larger lump and my eyes had changed. Now all the colors in the room looked washed out, and mostly gray. I blinked for a while trying to clear my vision, when my nose kicked in.
Scents. I never dreamed there were so many smells in my room. I mean I could smell everything from a pair of dirty socks under my bed to cookie crumbs left on my desk.
Incredible, I thought as I climbed out bed. Who needed colors when the scents told everything. This time I laughed at the sight of the mirror. Instead of the Doberman there was a little yappy dog with a scrunched in face. Pekinese, I told myself.
I threw my clothes on a raced downstairs to the kitchen. My little brother and sister were already at the table inhaling corn pops. I sniffed and frowned before walking over to Mom who stood at the stove. "Mom, I need to talk to you -- alone," I said giving the children a pointed glance.
"What's the matter, Larry. Got a girlfriend?" Trish said with a super sweet smile.
"No," I said right back. "It's your perfume. Don't use it anymore 'cause it really isn't right for you."
Mom turned around, walked over to the table and took in her own deep sniff. "Trish, you know you're not allowed to wear make-up or perfume to school. Go and wash it off."
"Tattletale," Trish said as she left the room. Mark giggled for a moment until he saw the glare on my face. At eight he knew better to get me too mad at him.
"What's the problem, Larry?" Mom said leading me into the dining room.
"Look, Mom, I know you aren't going to believe me, but I think I'm turning into a dog."
"A dog?" she asked and I could tell she was having trouble keeping a straight face.
"I know it sounds crazy, but I had this dream on Sunday, and yesterday I found this lump on my tailbone. It's growing into a tail, Mom, and my nose -- I can smell everything and then some."
"Larry," she said and placed her hands on my shoulders. "You're thirteen. Your body is going to change, but it's only that you're growing up. That lump is probably just a cyst or something. Does it hurt?"
"No, only when I lay on it, or sit on it the wrong way."
"Then there's nothing to worry about. I'll make an appointment with Dr. Fisher and he can drain it or something. Okay?"
"But what about the dogs in the mirrors?"
"I'll have him check your eyes too. Go, have your breakfast and get ready for school."
"Hey, Larry. What's wrong with your eyes?" Tommy asked giving me the once over. He had been my best friend since first grade.
"They look weird, you know. They're brown and yellow but yesterday they were blue."
I shrugged. "I can't see colors very well any more either. I think I'm turning into a dog."
"Cool," he said offering me a high five.
"You believe me?" I asked, stunned. "I said I was turning into a dog."
"So? I know a boy who turned into a fox and another who turned into a wolf. If you change into a dog, I'll bet it's my turn next."
"You mean those are really kids?"
"Davey, you know the wolf, saved my sister's life. This is so great. What sort of dog are you going to be?"
"I don't know. A dog. I've got a tail, and you wouldn't believe everything I can smell now." I shook my head as we walked. "But I don't want to be a dog."
"Yes, you do, because I can understand you once you're changed and we can start our own act. Ladies and gentleman, Tommy Hamilton presents Rex, the wonder dog. Can't you just see it?"
"Sure, what sort of name is Larry for a dog? I know Davey isn't any sort of name for a wolf but you don't argue with him."
"Not a chance will I ever do that, and you don't argue with me either." I grumped my way to class after that.
The walk home was worse. Tommy kept checking my face for fur, but it was my hands that had changed. "I've got pads now," I said showing my palms. "And I want to walk on them."
"This is getting serious. Look, Larry, I know this sounds crazy, but I know someone who might be able to help you."
"Who? Where? Can I see him now?"
Tommy shook his head. "It's a her, and she's got a place downtown. Come on."
I felt my stomach sink when I spotted the sign outside of the building Tommy led me to. "Madam Wanda's Palmreading?" I demanded.
"Sure. I know she's not a real Gypsy or anything, but who else would you go to for advice on the occult?"
"This is so stupid," I said about to turn around, but he did have a point. I let him go in first.
Madam Wanda surprised me. She was quite young, although she did wear a long silky gown with stars and moons sewn on. "Well, Tommy, it's nice to see you again. And who do we have here?"
"This is my friend, Larry. He's having a problem and we need your help, Madam Wanda."
She sat down in a wave of silk. "Very well. Larry, you sit there and give me your right hand. Let's see what the problem is."
I held out my hand startled by how much of a paw it looked. I didn't say a word as she turned my hand over and over.
"I see. You have a very short life line, young man, but you will have many many children. In fact," she said rubbing my pads, "what is going on here?"
"Larry thinks he's turning into a dog."
Madam Wanda nodded her head. "I was afraid of that, and from the looks of your hands and eyes it won't be much longer. I can't help, but I know someone who can."
"You do?" I was ready to celebrate. "I don't want to be a dog."
"Do you have any idea who is doing this to you?"
I shook my head. "No. Why would anyone want me to be a dog? I thought it was just happening."
"No, magic like this is never accidental. Someone cast a very powerful spell at you, son. Let me call my friend." She went into the back room. When she returned, her expression was somber. "I'm afraid she's out of town until Saturday."
"But it's only Tuesday. I don't think I can hold out until then."
She looked at me, and I could see that she agreed. "No matter. I want you to meet me here on Saturday no matter what shape you are in. Understood? We may still be able to get help."
"Okay," I said, but felt my stomach sink.
That was yesterday. This morning I didn't even bother trying to get my pants on over my tail. I walked over to the dresser to see a large, German Shepherd staring back at me. I stared, and my heart pounded at the sight of the dog. He was the most gorgeous creature I had ever seen. I turned my head this way and that to get a better look at him, then opened my mouth to study his teeth and gums. I think I was in love.
Monday there was a Doberman, and yesterday there was that yappy thing, and now today, the Shepherd. It was almost as if I was being given an option. I was going to be a dog, no choice about that, but at least I could pick the breed I was going to be. But how did I tell whoever that I wanted the Shepherd?
"I choose that one," I said firmly.
I stared back at the Shepherd, smiling as hard as I could. I felt my tail tugging at my spine. I looked back to see it literally grow away from my body. As it did so, I felt my arms drawn closer to my legs. I held on to the dresser for a second, but I had to spin around and drop the floor as my hips and shoulders turned inward.
Paws, I thought as I watched my hands curl in. I had paws and four legs now. I lowered my rear end to sit on my haunches and a second later started scratching my right ear with my right foot. My ears twitched as I scratched the one, then my jaw ached as it stretched away from my face.
When my body stopped shifting, I stood up and tried to get a good look. I did look much more canine that human, although I didn't have any fur. My tail wagged furiously. I laughed at the sight but all that came out were a couple of barks.
Since there was no way I could dress myself now, I headed out of my bedroom and down the hall to the bathroom. I had to go, but first, I peered into the bowl to see my reflection in the water. My whole head had changed. The ears, the eyes and the muzzle were completely canine leaving nothing of the old me. Without thinking, I lowered my head and started lapping the water. I jumped back, startled.
How much of a dog was I going to be? I tried every which way I could think of to use the toilet, but no matter how much I raised my leg, or tried to stand up it just didn't work. Now I would have to get used to going outside, too. This was just great.
I trotted downstairs to the kitchen. Even though my entire family stopped eating to stare at me, I didn't feel the least bit embarrassed about not wearing anything. I walked over to the back door, and barked. "Hey, I need to go out."
"Woah," Trish said. "Look at Larry."
Mark said, "Yes! I knew he'd pick the Shepherd. I told you." He stopped at a glare from my Dad.
"That will be all, Mark. Larry needs to go outside, and we can't let him looking like that. Mark, go put some papers down in the laundry room."
"But Dad, why do I have to do it? Oh, okay. Come on, boy."
"I'm not a dog yet," I protested, but no one acted as if they had heard me. I had no choice to follow Mark. He waited until I was finished to clean up, then followed me back into the kitchen.
"You are going to be a handsome dog, Larry," Mom said and fastened a flea collar around my neck. I watched with growing interest as my sister filled a bowl with dry dog food, and put it down by the stove for me.
"Breakfast. What are we going to call him? Can I name him?"
"When's he going to get fur?" Mark asked. "I don't want to pet him like that."
I lowered my head, and for the first time ate from a bowl on the floor. It was good, too. I finished in five seconds flat, licked the bowl, then whined until Trish put down a bowl of water.
"He's going to be a big dog at that," Dad said. "Look at those paws."
It was funny, I thought as I lapped from the bowl. Mom didn't believe me at all yesterday but she went out and bought a flea collar, and dog food anyway. And Mark, what did he mean by that crack about knowing I would pick the Shepherd?
Duh. I glanced over at my family calming finishing their breakfast and I realized I'd been had.
Mom stood up from the table to kneel down beside me. She put her arms around my neck. "Larry, I know you can still understand me, and I know this must seem confusing, but stop fighting the change. You will just have to trust me on this, but it's for the best. It really is. Just let yourself go."
With that, she put her hand down in front of my nose. I sniffed her palm, and then licked it. At that moment I felt our relationship change from mother and son to owner and pet.
My nose twitched. I rubbed it with a paw.
"Hey, look," Mark called out. "He's changing colors."
My whole body itched as fur grew in on my head, then flowed down across my back to my legs. Both Mark and Trish rushed over from the table to pet me now that I had fur.
"He's beautiful," Trish said.
"I still find this incredible," Dad said. "A boy one minute and a dog the next, and you could never tell he was ever anything else."
"No one can tell," Mom said. "Okay, you kids play with the dog now but you do have to get ready for school."
In spite of everything, I did play with the kids as if I was a dog. I could remember who I was, but it just didn't matter. I bounced around, growled and fetched as if I had always been a dog. It felt so natural and at that point I wanted to forget the human part of me.
After a while, I did get tired. I headed for the doggy bed my mother put out, turned around a few times and lay down. I had a feeling that when I woke I would just be a dog and that was fine with me. No more school, no more worries about anything, and it might have worked too.
Tommy Hamilton knocked on the kitchen door. Mark opened the door. "Hey, short stuff, is Larry ready?" He looked at me and opened his mouth.
"Don't say a word about it being me," I growled out. "Just nod your head if you really understand me."
"Wow," Tommy said nodding his head. "That's a beautiful dog. What's his name?"
"We haven't decided yet, and we're not sure we're going to keep him," Mom said. "Larry won't be going to school today. He's sick in bed."
"Oh, okay," Tommy said and dropped to his knees to pet me.
"They did this to me. Tell Madam Wanda will you?"
"Good boy," Tommy said. "It's almost like he's trying to talk. I've got this friend, Madam Wanda? She reads palms and things and she says that dogs really have their own language. I'll have to tell her about you, boy. And if you don't keep him could I have him? I know my Mom and Dad wouldn't care and my little sister loves big dogs. She was rescued by a wolf once."
"I think it's time you headed for school, Tom. We'll see you later, and I'll have Larry call you when he's feeling better."
"Okay. Tell him I said 'Hi'."
"That was close," Mom said as she closed the door behind Tommy. "If I hear that wolf story one more time. You don't suppose he could understand Larry like he did that wolf cub, do you?"
"No," Dad said. "Once the fur grew in that was it. I know there's no other way, sweetheart, but maybe I had better get this over now."
"Before the kids get too attached to the dog. I understand, it's just that. Never mind. The spell will make sure he's all right."
"Yes, it will." Dad pulled out a leash and attached it to my collar. "Okay, boy, this is it. We're going for a ride in the car."
I wagged my tail and danced around on my hind legs with my tongue hanging out of my mouth. The dog was excited, but I had a really bad feeling.
Dad dropped me off at the pound. He told the attendants I was a stray. They promised to try and find my owners, and if not they were sure I would be adopted right away. They put me into a little cage in a room with a hundred other dogs, and walked away.
I couldn't believe this. Not for one second. I started howling my frustration. My folks had somehow turned me into a dog and then sent me to the pound. I howled until my throat felt hoarse, and if they had come to put me down right then I wouldn't have fought it. Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing.
A couple of times that day people did come by the cage looking at me, but I growled and bared my fangs every time until they went away. I watched the attendants, however and I realized it wouldn't be that hard for me to make a break for it.
That afternoon, I perked right up when I smelled Tommy and Madam Wanda enter the building. After a while, I heard them enter the room I was in.
"That's right," Tommy said. "A German Shepherd puppy. I don't know how he managed to get loose, but it won't happen again."
"Or you won't hear the end of it, young man," Madam Wanda said.
Tommy stopped in front of my cage, and I bounced around wagging my tail and whining as loud as I could. "Rex?"
"That's me, Rex the wonder dog." I yapped as he reached in through the bars to pet me. "It took you long enough to find me. I've been here for days and days."
"Only today, boy. It hasn't been that long. Good boy. I had to beat it out of Mark to find out where you had gone," he said in a whisper. "This is my dog all right. Can I take him home now?"
"We don't have papers or anything," Madam Wanda started. "And his good collar is missing, too."
"I understand," the girl said as she opened the door. "I can see that this is your dog, son. We'll bring him with us to fill out the paperwork."
"You guys are great," I commented on the way out of the pound. "But just don't let my folks or anyone know that you have me, okay?"
Tommy translated for Madam Wanda. She said, "No problem, since it will be best if you stay with me for a while."
"But I'll come over and see you every day," Tommy added.
Being a dog really does have some advantages. Madam Wanda fed me well; she'd talk to me and never expect an answer, and she let me curl up and take naps whenever I wanted. Tommy usually brushed my fur every afternoon, and he would take me for long walks in the evening.
True to her word, on Saturday Madam Wanda called her friend. Ten minutes later I felt the lady arrive long before I could hear her car or smell her. Whatever power she had sent tingles through the air. I waited at the door for her, and sure enough she patted my head as Madam Wanda let her in.
"Beautiful dog," she said. "I take it this is the one?"
"Yes, he is. Larry Burke, this is Carolyn Rhys-Jones. Larry was thirteen as a human and now looks maybe five or six months as a puppy."
The lady knelt and placed a hand on either side of my head. "Normally there isn't much I can do after the subject has accepted his fur, but I will try. Wanda, could I have a moment alone with Larry?"
"Can you understand me?" I growled out as Madam Wanda left the room.
"You tried to say something, didn't you?" she asked quietly. "No matter. I'm beginning to see why this happened. Your parents are witches?"
I did my best to shrug. I nodded my head.
"You do have an incredible raw talent for magic, young man, but you're tuned to the Light as I am." She laughed at the expression on my face.
"It's not that hard to understand. Magic power has always existed but only a few people can ever use it. It's a talent much like playing the violin or being able to run the four minute mile or something. It takes years of practice to be able to use the power effectively, but without that initial talent you can't do it at all. Do you follow me?"
Again I nodded my head.
"Good, now the power to work magic comes in two flavors as it were. There is the power of the Light and the power of the Dark or more accurately, the Shadow. This is not necessarily good and evil, although at times it works out that way, but the two forces have always clashed.
"Your power," she said placing her hands on my head again, "is very much of the Light. Your parents belong to the Shadow and with you out of the way as a dog in the pound, they have removed someone who could grow up as a major power for the Light. Do you see?"
I hung my head down. "They're my Mom and Dad."
She smiled. "I don't need a translation for that. I know they are your parents, but sometimes this power affects people in different ways."
Tommy burst through the outer door with a clang of bells. "Oh, excuse me, where's Madam Wanda?"
"It's okay, this is the lady that can help me. Tommy, this is Carolyn Rhys-Jones."
"Hi, Miss Rhys-Jones. He introduced us. I'm Tommy," he said glancing back out the doorway. "If you can help please do something cause his parents are on the way over here."
"What happened?" I demanded.
"Your brother blabbed to your mom that he told me where you had gone. They checked with the pound and. Carolyn snapped her fingers. The room spun around and a second later I found myself in a large office. Tommy and I both looked around while Carolyn explained the situation to Madam Wanda.
"I can't afford to have a clash with his parents right now, or until I have to chance to check into who they are and which coven.
"Larry, it looks like we have a couple of choices to make. If you let me use your power I will be able to change you back into a boy, but as soon as I do your parents will know it, and come after us with every thing they have. The easiest thing to do would be to leave you as a dog. There have been others who are quite successful at it, and they may need a new member for their act. Or, you can join my order here and learn to use your powers."
Tommy translated as I said, "But you said they would come after me if I do. Can your order protect me?"
"Yes, but you see the difference is my order is strictly female. No boys allowed. By your turning into a girl, your parents will not know that their spell is broken, and you will be able to develop your powers in peace."
"A girl," I said with a snort. "I'd rather stay a dog."
"There is that option, but there will come a time when that form is permanent."
"Suppose I learned to use my powers then wanted to change back into a boy?"
Carolyn smiled at that. "There is no lifelong commitment to the order, Larry. When you leave it, if you chose to do so, you are free to become anything you please with your powers."
"Would I have to wear dresses and girly stuff?"
"Yes, you would. You will be a girl and at your age you will probably need a bra and you will need to worry about your monthly period. The dress code for young ladies in this order is not strict, but it will apply to you."
"And if I take my chances as a boy, there's a good chance my folks will kill me, right?"
"I'm afraid so. I know this is a hard choice, but you will have to make it soon."
"What about me?" Tommy asked. "His folks are pissed at me too, and if they come after me?"
She put her hands on Tommy's temples. "You do have some talent. I should have guessed that from the way you can understand Larry, but would you care to be roommates here?"
I laughed. "I'll do it if you will, Tammy."
It's odd. I found the change to female a lot weirder than the change to canine. No matter how hard anyone tried, though, my eyes stayed canine and so did my sense of smell. At least, my nose went back to looking human and kind of pretty.
As a girl I wasn't a babe by any means. I wore my hair long, and I did need a training bra but if I wore a heavy sweater I could still pass as a boy. Tommy turned into a knockout. She now had long golden blonde hair and a figure that should have been walking down a runway in a bathing suit. I know as a boy I would have killed to get near Tammy. I would have called me-the-girl a member of the kennel club and not even tried. I hoped that meant other boys wouldn't try either.
Two months after I began training I walked downtown to the mall with a few of the other girls. I needed some supplies, and Veronica said she knew a great place for me to get my ears pierced. Since Tammy looked so good in earrings, I thought I'd give it a try because as I was finding out my training would last decades at the very least.
I felt an odd twitch as I waited in the check out line at the drug store. I looked up through the glass out into the mall to see my little sister staring back at me. I glanced away and tried to act cool, as if I didn't know her, but a second later Mom walked into the store.
Now I could smell the stench of the Shadow on her.
Tammy motioned to the others and all the girls threw up a barrier of light between me and my mom.
"You idiot. You stupid brat, do you have any idea what you've done?" she yelled at me.
"I joined the order of the Light, mother dearest. Don't come any closer. I can fight back now."
"You've spoiled everything. Do you know that?" She tried to slap me but couldn't reach through the barrier.
"Oh? You turned me into a dog, sent me to the pound and I should care that I spoiled 'your' plans? I don't think so. I mean I don't remember asking you to please change me into a German Shepherd."
"You wouldn't understand."
"No I guess I wouldn't," I said.
"Is there a problem here?" I looked up to see a man with a name badge looking at us.
"No, my -- ah -- daughter and I were having a disagreement. We didn't mean to make a scene." With that she grabbed my hand and half pulled, half dragged me out of the store.
Carolyn met us in the hallway. "I'm afraid I will have to ask you to leave, Mrs. Burke. Laura is a full member of my order now, and is under my protection."
"You -- you bitch," Mom spat at her. "You had no business interfering the way you did."
"What? I rescued a human born puppy from the pound. I would say that is my business whether or not she had talent for the Light."
I saw Mom deflate. "Perhaps we should have taken another tactic, but would you care for a cup of coffee? Larry -- Laura has a right to know why we did this to her."
"Truce?" I said.
"Okay," Carolyn agreed. "For the moment."
Mom took us to a little café where she ordered the drinks. "Look, Laura, I know this is going to be hard for you to believe, but your father and I love you very much."
"Sure, I believe that, yeah right."
"We didn't want to do this to you but we didn't have a choice. Just before you were born your father and I were getting desperate. We didn't have money then, and how we were going to manage a baby was anyone's guess. I met a girl, Melanie Jones who offered me a way out. She told me I had talent for the Shadow and that by joining her coven I could have all the power I would ever need.
"The catch was this coven of hers was female only and initiation required that I turn your father into an animal. Melanie had already turned her husband into a dog, and just recently her daughter changed her son into a fox."
"I know. Tommy told me."
"Okay, but I couldn't do that. We found another coven and although we made some serious mistakes, we joined it. Since both your father and I had the talent he became a warlock, and I a witch. The problem is that when we joined we received power from an arch-demon. In return, we promised him that you too would be sworn into his service. We signed the pact in blood and you were born reeking of the Light."
"I see," Carolyn said.
"We had hopes that you would be another powerful warlock. With both of us talented for the Shadow we never dreamed that you wouldn't be as well. Now, the arch-demon will not accept you as a warlock or witch for that matter. The only way he can collect is to accept you as a sacrifice. He can use your life energy or soul if you will and deny your power to the Light at the same time. Old Hogranth isn't a bad sort, as arch-demons go, but we had to come up with a way to break that pact without getting the rest of us killed."
"This is just great," I said. After a long gulp of my soda, which wasn't very ladylike but I didn't care at that point, I said, "What happens if this arch-demon doesn't kill me?"
"He will take one of us in your place. Mark would be the next logical choice since he does have the talent for the Shadow and a big mouth. Mark wouldn't be killed as you would be, but it's not something that any of us want either. Hogranth's title is Lord of the Vipers, and he would have Mark spend a century or two as a snake."
"Yeah, Mark would make a good snake all right, but I can't let that happen either."
"When is the sacrifice to take place?" Carolyn asked.
"On Laura's fourteenth birthday."
"Then we have time," I said. "Since I have all this power do I have to worry about an arch-demon?"
"Yes, you do," Carolyn said. "This isn't a joke, Laura. Lord Hogranth has a valid claim on you and we will have to do something to make sure he cannot collect."
Carolyn paced her office floor. "I know this will be hard, but it may be the only way."
"But isn't there any other way?" I protested. "Mom and Dad made a pact with an arch-demon so can't I make one with an arch-angel or something?"
"It doesn't work like that."
"But," I shook my head. "Isn't there anyone in the Light that can stand up to the Shadow?"
"Of course, but the Light doesn't have angels or any of that. Look, this part is not going to be in your training for quite a while, Laura, but here goes. The power of the Light and the Shadow are regulated by two people. That's it, two. There is a Lord of Light and a Lord of Shadow, and frankly you would not want to meet either one.
"The Lord of Shadow has his demons and arch-demons and all the creatures of the underworld. The Lord of Light has six companions instead. For us to contact any one of the great ones is risky at best, and probably won't happen. So, we rely on ourselves and again, the best thing we can do is turn you back into a dog."
I shook my head. "I'm tired of running. I never wanted to be a dog. I didn't want to be a girl either but I did it to hide from Mom and Dad and now I don't need to hide, but I still need training. But if I go back to dog now that's it, isn't it? I mean I will live my life out as a German Shepherd because if I turn back this arch-demon will be able to claim me and kill me."
"That pretty much sums things up."
"Let me think about it, okay? The arch-demon won't be looking for me for a couple of months anyway."
Once back in my room it was my turn to pace, until Tammy shoved me down on my bed. "Will you cut that out? I'm trying to think."
"So am I and you're driving me crazy. So, what's it going to be?"
"I'm going to be a dog again if I can't come up with anything else. Maybe I should just turn back into a boy and go home. You too."
"What? Are you kidding? I'd never leave here now. My little sister loves me like this and my folks haven't even noticed I'm gone."
"Sure, you got all the good looks. If I turned back into a boy no one would notice. Maybe I should be a dog."
"Just say the word and I'll call Dr. Conley for you. Paula's a trip but you'll love Davey."
I stood up and headed for the door. "Not this time."
"Where are you going?"
"To the Library. Carolyn said there was this Lord of Light and didn't think we could call on him for help, but I'm going to try."
I opened the door to find a tall man standing outside the doorway. He had no scent, but I could feel the Shadow on him. "Going somewhere?"
Looking way up at him, I blurted out, "Arch-demon Hogranth?"
"Well, give the puppy a chew toy. You and I have business to discuss, Missy."
"But I'm not fourteen yet."
He cleared his throat. "I make it a policy never to ask a girl her age. But I do get concerned when people start breaking promises to me all over the place. I know you never promised me anything but since they do concern you..."
"I know the story. Sorry I can't offer you anything but I've never had an arch-demon pay me a visit before so I don't know the rules. What makes a demon arch anyway?"
"Very funny," he said walking past me into the room.
"What do you want here?" Tammy demanded.
The arch-demon snapped his fingers and Tammy froze into place. "I have no intention of frightening you, although I may be too late on that, but we do have a problem here. Before you were born your parents promised you to me, but in an effort to break that pact they changed you, body and soul to canine. The Light changed your body back to human, but your soul has remained canine, and as such, it is of no use to me. Therefore, the Pact that your parents signed with me is broken, and they must pay the price for that with their own lives. They knew this when they signed, and I am sure they are expecting this as well."
"But you can't do that," I said feeling rather stupid as I said it.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I can. Unless, of course, you agree to change back completely to human so that I may use your life force as planned."
I cleared my throat. "I'd have to die?"
"Unfortunately, yes. That is one of the side effects of my using your life force, but you would die to save your parents from the same fate. Who lives, and who dies? This will be an interesting couple of months for you while you decide. But, on your fourteenth birthday no matter where you are or what you are I will be there to collect."
"Hold everything, snake boy." A boy, this one about my age and height with bright red hair popped into the room.
"What is this, a party?" I mumbled and shook my head.
"Sorry, Miss, but I hope you weren't buying everything this snake-oil dealer was selling. Old Hoggy here doesn't have the last word in this. I'm Pat, by the way, and His Nibs, my boss and yours for that matter, wanted me to tell you that the proper way to deal with arch-demons is this." The boy turned, faced Hogranth squarely, and blew a raspberry. "Doesn't that feel better?"
"Well, Patty, just as cute as ever. Tell His Nibs that in this case he has no say what-so-ever." With that, he vanished.
"You're one of the Lord of Light's companions?"
Pat smiled at that. "Minion is more like it, or happy henchman. It's a long story and one that can wait for some other time. The boss, however, said that you, unlike the babe here, can join a male order anytime you choose since you are so uncomfortable in your present shape."
I shook my head. "This really isn't that bad, and I'd miss Tammy and the other girls. Speaking of Tammy, can you fix her?"
Pat smiled, then said, "In a second." Without warning he kissed me right on the mouth. I sputtered for a moment, then let myself relax as he coaxed my mouth open with his tongue. I wrapped my arms around his neck, and closed my eyes.
"Maybe you are getting comfortable like this," he said with a wider grin.
"What do you mean?" I asked, then at his urging I looked in the mirror over my dresser. I stared at myself for a moment. "I'm really pretty. Does that happen every time you kiss someone?"
"No, but in your case." He kissed me again until an alarm bell rang. "That would be His Nibs calling. I gotta split, but could you get me a copy of that Pact your folks signed? I'll meet you here tomorrow night."
I gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Pat snapped his fingers and vanished with a pop as Tammy shook herself awake.
"What happened? What happened to you?" she demanded. "Don't tell me you made a pact with that creep too."
"Nope, but I think I've got a boy friend."
I walked up to the front door of my old house just as Dad was leaving for work. He glanced at me, then did a major double take.
"Larry? I mean, Laura? Your mother told me what had happened with your new Order, but she never told me what a pretty girl you had become."
"It's better than chasing sticks and burying bones, Dad."
He checked his watch, and turned a deep shade of red. "Got to run."
Inside the door, I called out, "Mom? Mom?"
"In the kitchen, sweetheart. What brings you here?"
Both of my siblings stared at me as I entered the kitchen. "Wow. Larry, you're a real babe," Mark said, then sighed. "But not as pretty as that Shepherd."
"What happened to you?" Mom asked me with a frown on her face.
"Just getting comfortable with who I am now," I said. "Do you have a copy of that Pact you signed with Hogranth? He came by my room last night and made rude noises at me about killing you and Dad because my soul isn't any good to him now."
Her face turned pale. "He's going to take us instead?"
"That's what he said, but Pat, one of the Lord of Light's happy henchmen chased him off. He wanted to get a copy of the agreement to fight this."
Mom frowned again. "Pat? You mean Patience? About fourteen, red hair and kind of cute. That Pat? Oh, so you're sweet on him, are you? Let me warn you that all of those 'companions' of the Lord of Light are hundreds of years old and not really interested in little girls."
"I'm not really interested in him, either, Mom, but he may be a way out of this mess that you and Dad got me into, remember? I didn't buy Hogranth's Snake Oil. You did, but now I have to pay the price."
"Okay. Of course we have a copy. I'll get it for you."
"Hey, Laura, want to play fetch?" Mark called out holding up a stick.
"Very funny, short stuff," I said although my teeth felt funny as I looked at the stick. Somewhere deep inside I did want to jump for the stick after all.
Two boys appeared in my room that night, right on schedule. Pat introduced the second as Fidge. This one took the Pact, and read it through.
"It's very straightforward, and doesn't leave any room for loopholes, but I will see what I can do." He popped out in spite of Tammy's protests.
"Would like to go for a walk?" Pat asked me.
"I'd love to," I said with a wink to Tammy.
"What is going on in here?" Carolyn asked from the doorway.
I blushed from the tip of my head down to my toes. "Nothing. Nothing at all. Pat, this is the leader of our Order, Carolyn Rhys-Jones. Carolyn, this is Patience."
"Young man, this is not the place. Oh, my mistake, but still this is a girl's dorm."
"I understand," Pat said quickly. "I was just taking Laura out to discuss a few things about her case."
"I see," Carolyn said and I blushed again. "Very well, but not too late."
The last thing I had ever expected was that I would start dating a boy. I mean I was perfectly happy being a boy for thirteen years, but now I felt more than happy to be a girl. It was weird when I thought about it, so I tried not to think about it.
As my birthday grew closer and closer, Pat stayed around. He knew I was scared, and I appreciated the support from someone who wasn't scared of the arch-demon.
I suppose I should have been happy when my birthday did arrive. I got or so it seems, hundreds of presents, and a party but I felt that the whole world was holding its breath waiting for the evening.
Pat, Fidge, and Tammy all walked with me to my parents house. Mom and Dad said very little as they opened a secret passage in the living room and led everyone down into the cellar. A secret passage, I couldn't believe it, and yet there it was. I never would have guessed.
The passage wound its way down a long narrow corridor and ended in the same mad scientist's lab that was in my dream. This place was great. Hundreds of vials of chemicals lined one wall, while bookshelves piled with books and papers covered the rest.
Dad knelt and started to draw a symbol on the floor in chalk, but he fell back when a hole opened in front of him. A King Cobra, a giant of its kind, rose from the pit and hissed until it towered over everyone present.
"How very prompt," the snake whispered.
"That is so you, Hoggy, but cut the crap and get on with it," Pat said tapping his foot.
"Patience, I'm surprised and horrified that you could be so rude," Fidge said. "After all, the poor thing went through quite a lot to bring us this impressive display. Go on, Hoggy, don't mind Pat. You do such a great snake impression that we can't wait to see some others. What about Jimmy Stewart?"
The snake shrank down to Hogranth's so called human self. "You two are such fun at parties. The Light has no business here."
"But we do," Fidge said quietly. "The Light always takes interest in what the Shadow is doing. In fact, we stick our noses in everywhere invited or not, but which noses would you rather see? Ours, or the Boss'?"
"Now Fidge, you know the Boss has a much cuter nose than either one of us. Shall I give him a call now, and get it over with?"
"I am here to collect a just debt," Hogranth announced. "And neither you nor your Boss can stop me. By the terms of the Pact agreed to by myself and these two humans this child, now known as Laura, belongs to me."
"That's not the way we read it, Hoggy. Your claim is for the Burkes' firstborn son, who no longer exists. Laura is a sworn member of the Light's Order now, and beyond your reach. Nowhere in the Pact did you make provision for a substitution or even a retaliation for not delivering the said firstborn son," Pat said. Both Fidge and I applauded.
Hogranth laughed. "Very funny, boys, but I will not be denied."
"Take my life force instead," Dad said. "We're the ones who started this, and we are the ones who cannot bear to see our child given to you, Lord Hogranth."
"But my dear sir, your life force is already mine, so you have nothing to bargain with." Hogranth walked over to me. "Mr. and Mrs. Burke, I am still rather annoyed by your pitiful efforts to hide your son from me. She is now very pretty, but still canine. I command you to break the spell you cast to make her canine. That will also restore her to male form, and your firstborn son will once more be bound by our agreement."
"And if we refuse?" Dad said.
"I will kill both of you, as is my right, then I will break that spell myself."
"Break the spell, Dad. I'm ready."
My parents looked at me, then at each other. "No. We will not turn any of our children over to you."
Hogranth slapped Dad right across the face. "No," I screamed before I let out a low growl.
"Laura, DON'T!" Pat screamed, but too late.
The arch-demon turned his attention back to me as I jumped for him. I opened my jaws and aimed for his throat. No one was going to get away with harming my family. The force of my attack knocked the man flat on his back. Seconds later, as soon as I was completely a Shepherd again, I lowered my head and bit into the demon's throat.
Something exploded in a flash of black then white lights.
Ouch. Sudden pain jarred me awake. I kept my eyes closed as I tried to move. Something held me down, and I swore licked my nose. I opened my eyes to find myself lying on my side, still a dog. I looked up into the huge face of a timber wolf.
"Well, hello gorgeous," the wolf said, and gave my nose another lick.
"Don't mind him, girl friend, he thinks he's God's gift to females."
I focused in a red fox sitting a few paces behind the wolf. I growled and bared my fangs for a second. "Sorry, where. What?"
"Don't worry about the growl," the wolf said. "Paula has that effect on everyone."
"Big talk, wolf boy. I'm Paula and this big oaf is Davey. We're the Canine Club so to speak."
"Oh, right, you're Tammy's wolf aren't you?"
"In a manner of speaking," Davey said. "It's Tommy again, and you have been out of it for the last week and a half."
"What happened?" I asked.
"I can answer that."
I looked up to see Pat and I wagged my tail. "Uh, hi."
"I tried to tell Hoggy not to mess with your family. You are a German Shepherd after all, but would he listen? Not him."
"Did I kill him?"
"As much as you can kill an arch-demon, yes, you did. He will probably reform in a century or two, but for now Hogranth is no longer a player. Your family is free of him, as are you, although there are some complications."
With a shake of my head, I stood up. "Such as?" I didn't really want to hear the answer.
"You gave everything you had defending your father as you did. When that built-up power of the Light touched the arch-demon it exploded leaving you powerless and a dog."
"I'm stuck like this?"
"For the foreseeable future, I'm afraid. It was your power that Carolyn used to make you a human again after the first change, and until that power can rebuild..."
"It's not that bad," Davey offered.
"That's why Tommy called in Dr. Conley and these two," Pat continued. "He thought having other members of the Canine Club around might help you adjust. Then again," Pat said and dropped to all fours as a German Shepherd. "So can I."
"But won't the Lord of Light object?" I asked licking his nose.
"He might, but this won't be the first time he's lost his patience. I don't mean to be rude, guys, but if you will excuse us?"
"Well, we can take a hint," the fox said and stormed off with a sweep of her brush.
"Man, this is so unfair. For once I find a female worth talking to, and I don't even get a chance. Later."
I gave the new Shepherd a nip on the shoulder. "Well, it's going to take a lot of effort to get me comfortable with this shape."
Pat laughed and nipped me back. "So it will, and the sooner we get started the better."
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