The Homestead - Book 1 - Part 1

Chapter 1

I rested comfortably, my boots propped lazily upon the split railing that ran along the sidewalk, and my hat pushed down low over my eyes to block out the afternoon sun. Beside me argued my grandfather and Mr. Williams, the barber, their grumbling broken often by their laughter, all for the love of checkers. Every now and then, a buckboard would rattle by, a horse would neigh and you might pick up a passing conversation as people would move about.

From across the street, I could hear the blacksmith's hammer ping out the rhythm as he beat against a glowing red horseshoe, then to be swallowed under the hissing and bubbling in an instant, as it was dropped into a bucket of water. Far off, down the street, I could just make out the lilting piano sound as Mrs. Corduroy was practicing for Sunday's service, a light rendition of Blessed Assurance which happened to be one of my favorite hymns.

The tune filtered through my addled mind and I found myself humming quietly, while Mr. Williams and my grandfather were continuing their game. From a distance I could hear someone walking toward us, yet I remained in my lazy state, boots still supported on the rail. As the person approached, the steps grew louder. Without looking, I was trying to discern whether they were male or female by their step. From the trod I was hearing, I was relatively certain it was male, but by the weight I assumed it was but a boy or small man.

I pushed my hat back and glanced up as the person neared, slowly pulling my feet down to allow him or her to pass. The person did not, instead turned and headed into my grandfather's store. I glanced at Grandfather and slowly rose to my feet.

I stood and stretched, patting my grandfather on his shoulder and yawned. "Stay at your game, I'll see what I can do for him." Grandfather nodded and then jumped his opponent's checker, placing it into a small pile on the table. I walked into the store, taking my apron down from the nail and replacing it with my hat. I moved over to the counter and slipped behind it while the fellow studied several tins on a shelf.

I wanted to appear busy, so I began to shelve the new bolts of material that we had received only yesterday. From time to time I would glance toward the man, with his back to me. He was intently studying the labels of the cans he had been sorting, making it appear that he were reading each colorful label. This surprised me since most of the people I've been privileged to know were unable to read at all. He was wearing baggy bib overhauls, an off-white button down shirt and over-sized boots. On his head, he had a wedge type hat made of tweed, also, much too big for his head.

It was then that I realized that this was no man at all, but rather a child. A boy most likely picking something up for his mother, and It was pretty plain to me that the lad was from a poor family, because his outfit was nothing more than a 'hand me down' from his father.

If I were to guess his age, I would assume that he was younger, perhaps 15 or 16 years old. I moved aside some of the bolts of cloth, making room for the few cans that he had chosen. He sat them down and returned to shopping.

"Will you need a box for your items?" I asked. He said nothing, leaving me unsure whether he heard me at all. I shrugged and continued with my shelving the material bolts, all the while watching the boy and wondering why he was acting so strangely.

Again he returned with a few more cans, and set them down. When he started toward another section of our shop, I tapped his hand and repeated myself, "Will you need something to put your items into?"

He glanced at me briefly, then shrugged and nodded. I quickly walked into the back room and picked up an old vegetable crate, and carried it back to the counter. One by one, I carefully placed the tins into the crate, and I made a tally on paper of what was being chosen.

He carried another four tins to the front and set them down, and I added them onto his growing list. He pointed to the bags of flour, holding up five fingers. "Five bags or five pounds?" I asked, wondering if the boy could speak at all.

He frowned and pointed at the paper under my hand, I spun it for him and using my pencil, scrawled 'pounds' down. I nodded and began to fill a bag and measuring it out for him.

Briefly, our eyes met. In that one instance I knew that this couldn't be a boy at all! If he were a boy, he was very effeminate! His nose was slender and straight, and his eyes were much larger than my own. His honey blonde hair was cropped, yet hung down just past his ears, almost like he himself had trimmed his own hair with scissors. He possessed long curved eyelashes and arched eyebrows. He tapped the counter, I again looked up into his large brown eyes.

He pointed to a small sign behind me, it was an advertisement for our own bacon. I smiled, "You want bacon?" To which he nodded. "How much?" I asked.

He held out three slender fingers. His fingers were long and dainty, upon each one was an elongated nail. "Surely, no male could possess hands like this imposter!" I thought.

I carefully weighed the cured bacon and wrapped it into a brown paper, the hickory smell was making my stomach growl. "Will that be everything?"

The boy nodded and pointed to the list, I quickly added up his tally. "That'll be three dollars." While I waited, the boy dug into his pocket and placed several coins onto the counter.

He placed his arms around the crate and began to slide it off the counter, I cringed because I was afraid it would be much too heavy for the boy. I guessed correctly as he almost dropped it twice before I ran around and took it from him.

"It's a slow day, I can take it out to your folks' place and save you the walk." He shrugged his answer and followed me to my grandfather's buggy.

As we passed the checker combatants, Grandfather suddenly looked up. "Where you off to, Quin?" I paused and rested the heavy box on the rail.

"The box is too heavy for the boy to carry back to his farm, so I'm going to deliver it for them." Grandfather waved his hand into the air, and I continued to the buggy carrying the crate of groceries.

I jumped up quickly and took the reins into my hands, and the boy scrambled up beside me. As soon as he was seated, we took off with a swift snap of the reins. "Which way?" I asked. His response was a slender finger pointing north, and I guided the horse into that general direction away from town. We rode in silence for almost a mile. Finally, when I could stand the quiet no longer, I looked at him.

"You sure don't talk much," I quipped, studying his small ears and the slenderness of his neck. He shrugged, making a face that caused me to scowl. "Well, can you talk?"

I heard him clear his voice, the pitch was high enough that I believed that if this were a boy, he hadn't started puberty. "I can talk," was all he said. "Just don't have anything to say."

"Been living in the area long?" I asked, trying to draw him into some sort of conversation that would pass the time.

"Not long," he spoke deeply, as if he were trying to sound more manly. I smiled and looked away to hide my grin.

"I have a place near the Round Rock Basin...well, it's actually my grandfather's, but it'll be mine someday." I added, "You living in that direction?"

He only shrugged and pointed toward a road that ran to our right, and I eased the horse down the narrow lane. "Yeah, this is direction I would take to go to my grandfather's old homestead." He said nothing, but his silence was beginning to unnerve me.

"Not far from his place is a lake, and I go there sometimes to do a little fishing. You ever been at the lake?" I asked.

"I know of it." He again reminded me of a boy trying to sound like a man.

About five miles from town he pointed toward another lane, "Turn here." I gave him a curious look, but said nothing. The lane he directed me toward, was the same one that led to my grandfather's old homestead.

"Our farm's just ahead," he said as the buggy rolled along.

As we neared my grandfather's home, my mind reeled. I wasn't sure if I should say anything to the boy or confront his parents directly, for they were trespassing upon my grandfather's land! I decided to remain quiet for the time being, letting it all play out before I chased them away.

The house looked much like I remembered, having only been up here a few times since I came to live with Grandfather in town. I pulled the horse to a stop and set the brake. The boy, instead of jumping down as I would have done, eased himself to the ground, using the little step plate to bridge the distance from the buggy to the ground.

I walked to the back of the buggy and untied the crate. "I can get it," he said softly.

"That's okay, I'll carry it inside, I've brought it this far." Again he shrugged and followed me toward the house, looking suspicious as if he were hiding something from me.

"Uh...Mom?" he called out. "MOM?" We stood quietly and listened, nothing was moving aside from my horse. "Uh...she must be down at the lake or something."

Now it was my turn to do a slow nod. It was more then evident that there were no other souls on the property than the two of us. "Perhaps she's in the barn?" I smiled and suggested.

"Could be," he sighed, as I sat the crate down upon the porch.

I scanned the entire farm; there weren't any animals to be seen. No chickens, pigs, cows, horses, dogs or cats could be seen. Nothing you would assume to find on a 'working' farm. This kid was trying to buffalo me into thinking that he was with his parents! Still, I didn't let on that I suspected something was fishy.

Following him to the barn, I almost laughed aloud when he shouted into the loft, "MOM?" Clearly, he was trying to make his voice sound deeper than it could possibly ever be. As we waited for his mother to respond, I looked all around the empty stalls, but there was no trace of straw to be found in the amounts that would be expected on a farm. No, this boy was lying, of that I was sure!

We left and headed back to the house. He waited for me to pick up the crate and held the door as I passed. I walked into the dark house and sat it down on the table. In the corner lay a dress, hanging over the back of a chair.

"Your mother's?" I asked, pointing.

His face flushed, then he nodded rather too quickly. I frowned, this was the first actual evidence that there might be another person somewhere on my grandfather's farm. Still I said nothing, why would I care if this little vagabond and his mother were using the house to sleep? I walked outside and he followed, shutting the door quietly behind himself.

"Uh...thanks for the lift," he pointed weakly toward the buggy.

I smiled, "No problem, glad to help." I took about three steps and paused, turning back toward the boy. "Hey, if I see you around town...what should I call you?"

He looked down at the dusty ground, " can call me Sam."

"Okay, Sam, you may call me Quin." I stuck out my big paw and shook his diminutive hand, it felt so small in my own, almost like that of a girl's. His grip was weak, most unlike a teenage boy who would have grown up around farms.

I climbed up on the buggy and smiled, bent down low and gathered up the long reins into my hands, then with a quick snap, quickly rolled away.

Chapter 2

For almost three days I had remained silent to Grandfather about the boy and his mother living on his farm. I wanted to make sure that they were still there before I said anything to my grandfather at all.

It was a Saturday and we closed up the shop around six in the evening. I left Grandfather reading at his office desk, and headed down the stairs to the store. "Where you off to?" He called from his office. I paused and stuck my head into his room.

"Going to try catching us some crappie fish at the lake." He nodded and sadly waved me on, because he knew that he was too old to walk down the lane to the water's edge with me anymore.

Behind me as I bounded down the stairs I heard the familiar treading of Grandfather's old dog, Gypsy, a Husky mix. I patted her on the head as she pushed past me, but her arrival caused me to pause at the bottom of the long stairs.

"Grandfather?" I raised my voice.

"Yes, Quin?" he replied without coming into view.

"Will it be okay to take Gypsy along?" I glanced back at her as she stood waging her tail at the door. "She really likes going out there with me."

He was quiet for a moment. "I don't care. But, if you remember, the last time you took her, she had gotten into some stagnant water somewhere and smelled like rotten fish for almost a week!"

"I'll keep an eye on her!" I smiled, and Gypsy began to dance as if she knew she would be going along.

"All right. Good luck!" he called aloud as I opened the door for Gypsy. I grabbed my fishing supplies on the way out, and headed toward his buggy.

Leaving the buggy behind, the horse gently munching on the thick grass by the road, I crossed the grassy meadow and headed down toward the small lake. The full moon was reflecting brightly on the ground and casting shadows as if it were midday. I called softly to Gypsy as she had wandered into one of the darkest shadows, and she responded by quickly returning to my side. "Good girl." I touched her thick fur, more to reassure me of her nearness in the darkness, than of anything.

The crickets were chirping, and their huge volume drowned the subtle walking of both Gypsy and me. Far ahead, a great bullfrog croaked his call, "BHAOW...BHAOW!" I gingerly eased down a small hill to the water's edge, there I laid my fishing pole and box down, setting the small kerosene lantern beside them. I hooked a small piece of chicken liver onto the great barbed hook and flipped it out into the still water of the lake, tiny ringlets of waves drifted slowly back toward me as I took my regular position in the lush grass that grew at the water's edge.

Simultaneously, while watching as my bobber dimly floated out in the shadows, I dug deep into my jeans to retrieve a match for the lantern. I struck it against a large rock and lit the tired wick with the flame. To my left, Gypsy was standing with her front paws in the dark water, drinking its coolness and enjoying this moment with me. Her great lapping sounds, causing even the crickets to grow quiet. "Shhhhh girl, you're gonna scare everything away."

She raised her head and looked at me, water dripping from her muzzle as she slightly tipped her head and caused me to laugh. I settled back into the grass and looked upward. The stars spread across the heavens in one great twinkling blanket, and Gypsy settled down by my side. I laid my pole across my legs and sought out the bobber; it was still floating unnoticed by the fish that I was after. The moon's image brightly shone against the mirror like surface of the lake, with only a slight breeze disturbing its full reflection.

I let my mind wander to the strange boy that had been roosting in my grandfather's old homestead. Wondering to myself whether he was still hiding up there, or had decided to move on. I momentarily thought of sneaking up there and seeing if he I could scare him, but it would be my luck that he had a gun and end up shooting me instead. I did want to know if he was still hiding out, but I figured that I could give him a few more days before paying him a visit.

Lazily, Gypsy rose up and stretched. Seemingly bored, she moved off into the tall grass, heading away in her usual nightly adventure. "You stay out of the stagnant water!" I whispered after her, then laughed. Against the faint yellow glow from my lantern I continued to study the bobber that was tethered to the string on my pole, and it bounced ever so slightly.

I sat up slowly, the pole ready in my hands. Again it bobbed, only moving down a fraction of an inch, but still noticeable. I slowly drew some of the slackened string in, and waited. The bobber rose slightly in the water, little tiny circles distorting the moon's reflection. I straightened my arms and held them steady, as the red and white sphere floating on the lake began to move very slowly toward the left. The more it moved, the quicker it became, then suddenly it sank, disappearing in a audible 'sploop' of sound.

I quickly pulled back on the pole, setting the hook on my slippery victim. It only broke the surface slightly, but I was sure of what I had as soon as I caught sight of the black side and slightly yellow belly. One hard smack of its thick tail and the catfish drove straight toward the bottom of the lake. My experience told me it would try and lose the hook somewhere in the thick tangle of limbs near the edge. I reeled quickly and turned it short of its escape, Gypsy returned and ran along the bank barking into the water as if telling the fish to give up struggling.

Slowly, after a few short minutes, I was able to pull it to the edge, drag it to the grass and slowly slid my hand up its slippery back, avoiding the great horns on its fins. The large fish gaped with its mouth as I slowly worked the hook from the rubber-like skin of its jaw. Gingerly I carried it toward my tackle box, I opened it up and drew out the long cord and secured my catch on the line. I dropped the catfish back into the water and tied the cord to a stick that I had shoved into the soft earth near the water's edge. "It isn't Crappie, but at least it's something," I sighed, then examined my hook and once satisfied that I wouldn't need to bait it again, I tossed it back into the shimmering water.

Suddenly, far down the shoreline to my right, came a loud splash! I was certain it was a fish, but the huge sound unnerved me greatly. I sought out Gypsy, and she was also studying the direction where the splash came from. Without a glance at me, Gypsy began to slowly drift around the lake until I could see her no more. All around me began a great chorus of spring peepers and bullfrogs called out to their mates. Intermingled with them were the crickets, and owls that had made their home near the lake. I felt a chill wash down my spine as I slowly raised my lantern up and whistled for Gypsy.

"Come here, girl!" I softly called. My voice echoing against the backdrop of large old trees that grew along the lakes banks. Behind me a stick broke, and I wheeled and stared into the blackness beyond my light's reach. "Gypsy?" I whispered, hoping beyond hope that she had doubled back behind me. Again a small stick broke, and I held the lantern up higher. Suddenly two glowing eyes danced into the reflection of my lantern; they were steady and watchful. I could feel sweat bead my lip as I softly prayed that it was Grandfather's dog that I was seeing. Again, behind me in the lake a fish jumped...or, at least, I hoped it was a fish. I quickly glanced over my shoulder, when I again peered back toward the eyes they had moved closer. Now they were slowly moving toward me.

I looked around me for any weapon, but the only thing close at hand was the lantern that I held. I tightened my grip on it and waited, hoping to see the familiar face of the Husky. I felt my heart jump as the shaggy body of Grandfather's dog bounded into the light. She was wet from her chest down, covered in a thin layer of duck weed. I patted her on the head and handed her a small piece of the chicken liver that I was using for bait, she curled into the thick grass and laid her head upon her front paws. I sat the lantern back on the ground and resumed fishing.

For another two hours I fished, and close by lay Gypsy. The only sounds to my ears were the steady croaking of the great multitude of frogs backed by the constant hum of the chirping crickets. Occasionally a solo insect would drift past my ear, which I would chase away with a quick movement of my hand. I bent over my pocket watch and studied the hands, it was slowly approaching 11:00 p.m.. I glanced at the line that held my catch, I only had three fish to show for my efforts, a catfish and two crappies. I sighed, and began to reel in my bobber. "How about it girl, do you want to go on home?" She sat up and thumped her curved tail against the grass, as if telling me that she was ready. I flipped the liver that I had on my hook far out into the water, it no sooner hit and was engulfed in a great splash. "Sure, now you want it!" I groaned at the ripples left by the sudden strike.

I lifted up the lantern and blew out the glowing flame, there was plenty of moonlight to see without wasting my fuel any more than I needed to. I gathered my pole and box in one hand, the lantern in the other and followed Gypsy as she led the way up the hill toward the meadow. We paused at the top, behind us somewhere, another great splash echoed into the night. I turned to scan the shoreline, nothing seemed to be moving.

Suddenly, Gypsy's ears perked up and she turned her head. "What is it, girl?" I whispered. I began to listen more closely to the night sounds, and a barely audible sound came to my ears. It almost sounded like a frightened sob, so I began to quickly walk in that direction, beside me loped the dog.

I found the path that led down to the water from this point and took it, now at almost a dead run. Up ahead was another stifled cry, someone had fallen into the water and was in the process of drowning. From the sounds made by their thrashing, I could tell they were getting weak.

As the dog and I broke through the cover of trees, the moonlight bathed the entire scene before our eyes. It only took a moment for me to take everything in, a broken log, and thick moss laying on the surface. Someone had fallen into the water and was being pulled under by the moss as it enveloped them while they struggled! I was only half right, they had been able to move away from the moss, only they had it wound around them and were frantically trying to get it off and keep from sinking under the surface of the water!

Gypsy raced along the edge of the shoreline, barking furiously, I threw aside my pole, stringer and box, and quickly raced down a fallen tree that this person had tumbled from. My speed and momentum carried my dive well beyond the mossy vegetation, and I struck out for the hapless victim.

As I reached the victim's side I moved behind them and with my free hand, began to strip away the thick moss that had bound around their body. In moments, I had the moss removed and was gently guiding her toward the shore and away from the moss.

I say 'her' because in my efforts to remove the mossy bindings, my hand slipped across a very feminine bosom! And twice as I swam her to shore, I was forced to brush against areas that could only belong to a female! The girl was exhausted, her breathing was labored and gasping. She was weak and wouldn't have survived her predicament had I not been there to help her.

I pulled her onto a sandy spot where I could gather her into my arms and climb to dry land, Her head was hanging limply as I laid her in the grass along the bank. I could tell that she was breathing by the rise and fall of her naked chest, it was a wonder knowing how close she came to drowning.

In the moonlight, I could see the soft shape of this girl's beautiful form. Her long, slender legs, the swell of her hips, the dark patch of her feminine secret, the thin tapered waist, the round swell of her soft flesh adorned with the dark silver-dollar sized nipples. As my eyes drank in this young beauty's body, I glance up to her face, then felt my heart leap into my throat. The short honey blonde hair, the narrow was Sam!

I began to search out where we were from the buggy, it wasn't too far from the spot where she was laying...perhaps only a few hundred yards. I gathered her small frame in my strong arms, and began walking toward where I left it in the meadow, behind me trotted Gypsy.

As I broke into the meadow, I spotted the silhouette of the rig, quickly carrying her to the back I placed her down as gently as I could. I couldn't believe my eyes as the girl appeared to be resting quietly, the soft moonlight dappling the dark leaves across her naked, wet body creating light and dark patches from their shadows. Hidden among the shadows, was the outline of her beautiful form. I swallowed hard.

We were on our way almost as soon as I settled into the seat, racing through the night, back toward the ancient farm buildings of my grandfather's homestead, where I could place her into a soft bed to recuperate. Within minutes, I was pulling the buggy up beside the house. I gathered her up in my arms and quickly rushed her to the door and pushed it open. I carried her back to the bedroom and laid her on a bed, where she remained out the entire time.

As I began to draw up the cover to hide the poor girl's nakedness, I hesitated, and let my young eyes drink in her soft form. The reaction from my body was almost too much to take, I let the cover drop and silently gave a slow exhale.

I took a few minutes once I had her settle d in the warm bed, and returned to the lake. Once down the path I had just exited I began my search, finally, after a few minutes of scrounging, I retrieved my catch, pole, and box and returned back to the stricken girl.

Chapter 3

I removed my wet clothes and hung them beside the stove, then returned to her bedside and watched her sleeping for most of the night, sometime though, I too fell asleep. By morning I sat up and stretched, glancing across from me she lay, still asleep, one breast was uncovered, exposed to the ravages of my lustful eyes.

I quickly pulled on my jeans, adjusted my twitching crotch, and stood, sighing longingly for her. I leaned forward, tempted to reach out and caress her youthful orb, but knowing that a violation like that would be well outside the boundary of what I considered gentlemanly. Instead, I pulled the covers up and hid the exposed flesh from my enraptured view.

I retreated outside rather quickly, trying to remove the wondrous image that was creating the sexual discomfort that I found myself in. I gathered a few sticks and carried them back inside, stacking them beside the stove. I felt I was being watched and slowly turned, Sam was standing in the doorway, wrapped in the sheet from the bed and looking extremely beautiful.

" did I get here?" she asked.

I adverted my eyes, I could see her feminine shape right through the sheet. "I was fishing at the lake last night...and heard you fall in. It took awhile to get you out but, once I did, I brought you back here."

"You saved me?" she asked. "I was sure I would drown."

"You almost did," I replied, pushing some sticks into the glowing coals of the fire that I had just lit.

" saw me naked?" she asked, her embarrassment evident.

"You were naked when I pulled you from the water," I replied.

"I...I was bathing." She dropped her eyes to the floor. "Did you find my clothes?"

I looked up at her, "I didn't see any, but I really didn't look for any when I was bringing you up here to the house either." After placing a larger log into the burning kindling, I stood up and faced her. "Why are you dressing like a boy, when clearly you are a very pretty girl?"

She glanced at the board planking on the floor, "I wasn't always that way," she sighed. "Once, I was as male as you."

I frowned, not quite understanding what she was saying. "I find that hard to believe, when the girl I'm looking at, is as female as I am male."

"Perhaps now, but once..." she frowned. "Maybe it would be easier if I would start at the beginning."

I sat quietly as she narrated her strange story, I let her go, hoping that what she would divulge might help me in finding more information about her and filling in the gaps that were left unanswered. She took a deep breath and settled into a rocking chair, I leaned against the wall as she spoke, her voice sounding soft and feminine to my ears.

The words began, rolling effortlessly from her perfect lips. As if I were in a trance I listened, each word held upon her breath like a spring wind upon a birds wing. I wasn't going anywhere soon, not until I heard her story...

Chapter 4

*I climbed up into the stagecoach and took my seat, next to the man who removed me from the orphanage. At sixteen, I assumed that I was to be trained in some type of apprenticeship program. I exhaled slowly, happy to see the big building slowly falling behind the dust of our coach on that bright, sunny morning.

For almost ten minutes we rode along, and I studied the strange man with the greasy, slicked back hair as he was going through a case on his lap. Finally he reached across and locked the doors to our coach, then settled back to continue riding.

Since he appeared quite nervous, I said nothing. Why should I care if he feared for his own safety? For three hours we bounced along that dusty road, not a word was exchanged as we rolled along. As we climbed higher, our scenery began to change. Gone was the dusty prairie, now trees lined the sides of the road, and occasionally I could see towering pines as their base spread far out.

With a great banging jar, I sat up awake. I had fallen asleep. I glanced outside as our coach had continued on toward its unknown destination, carrying the strange man and me with it. I leaned toward the window; all around me was a great wooded forest, only the path we were on broke up the lush green surroundings. I looked upward at the sun, it appeared to be close to noon by now.

I glanced at the door, somehow the inside handle had fallen off. A quick look at the opposite door revealed the same fate, the handles had both fallen...or perhaps they had been removed. My eyes darted toward the greasy man, and I saw that the great barrel of a revolver was pointed directly at me! "I hope you had a nice nap!"

I swallowed hard, in each visible chamber I could see the bluish gray tips of each bullet. "I...I don't understand," I stammered.

He smiled evilly., "You will," he said with a quick wave of the gun, "Remove your clothes."

"Like hell I will!" I spat back, suddenly feeling pretty cocky as the stage rolled to a stop.

With a deafening silence, only the horses whinnying outside this tiny prison could be heard. He scowled, "Undress."

"Go to hell!" I shouted defiantly.

His movement was a blur, I felt the butt end of his revolver strike me hard on the head. "Fool kid, I'll teach you some manners real soon!"

I sat holding my head, a small droplet of blood rolled down my arm and stained my shirtsleeve. I winced under the pain he had inflicted.

"You aren't going anywhere! Now undress!" he growled, thumbing the hammer back on the big Colt. The sound brought my ears to attention.

"You wouldn't shoot me..." I whispered hoarsely. "Why are you doing this to me? You know I don't have any money!"

Suddenly the great weapon in his hand roared, and it filled the cabin of the coach with an acrid smoke. I flinched and held my ear nearest the gun. He didn't shoot me, but he was making a very blatant point. "Next one won't be so far to the, off with them clothes."

With a trembling hand, I began to remove my clothing. Soon I was seated, wearing only my long underwear. "Keep going," he motioned with the revolver, indicating what I still was wearing. "All of it!"

Slowly I removed that too, he pointed to the small pile of what I had been wearing. "Pick the pile up...easy like." I kept my eye trained on him and bent down, entirely naked I gathered my belongings in my arms. Slowly he pushed the barrel into my temple, "Throw it outside."

"The doors are locked." I whispered under the cold steel so near my face.

He quickly hung the handle back on and threw aside the door, "Throw it outside!" I did as he bade and tossed it through the small doorway. For a split second I contemplated throwing myself out as well. "Don't even think of it, you'd be dead before your feet even touched the ground." He gave a short laugh and pushed the gun against my head, "Close it, then sit down!"

Again a loud bang broke the silence of the coach's cabin, through the smoke I could see him tighten his jaw. I touched the tip of my ear, a small trickle of blood began to trail down my neck. "If I really wanted'd already be dead!"

"You shot me!" I screamed in anger, holding my burning ear in pain.

"The next one will be dead on...put on the items in this box!" he growled, gesturing down quickly with the smoking revolver's barrel, as he pushed the box forward with the toe of his boot.

I slowly bent down and pulled the material onto the bench I was seated upon, beneath it were more items. "These are all women's clothes!" I frowned as I placed each one next to me.

"That's right!" he laughed, "Now dress!" He smiled as I held up a strange white item. "It's a woman's underthings. Put them on." It was light and lacy across the front, it fell down to my waist and would have probably fallen further had I been standing. "Put those on...NOW!" I lifted up a thin item that looked like pants made of a light lace, however, at the bottom it was ringed with several rows of thin ruffles.

I slowly pulled it up my leg, letting go at my waist. The great ruffled legs ran almost to my ankle. "Now that." He pointed to a strange looking item that had a string running, zigzag along one side. "Put the laces in the back." I hesitated, "Do it now!"

"Over the rest of this stuff?" I asked, he pointed his gun toward my face, I quickly relented and pulled it on. I frowned as it settled at my waist, one end was high and almost covered my chest, the bottom ended right at my hips. At regular intervals around the middle, great whale bones were inserted. "What the heck am I supposed to do with the strings on the back?"

"Draw them and tie it off as best as you can!" He laughed as I struggled with the long strings. I felt like a fool wearing these clothes, and he knew it.

"Why are you making me wear this stuff?" I asked, finally tying the string at the bottom. "I don't get it!" I complained, looking down at the strange garments he was having me don on.

I sat back and watched the man, he smiled and pointed to the shoes still laying in the box. I shot him an angry glare and picked them up, they had a flat sole with a very low heel. The shoes were a dark black and still quite shiny. I slowly pulled one on my foot, wincing in pain at the discomfort of trying to wear smaller shoes than I was used to.

"Now the petticoat." He laughed, as I fought to find the opening under all of the swirling white material. "Don't forget the other one." He indicated toward an extra petticoat that had fallen on the floor, "You're going to wear two."
"Why am I wearing any at all?" I complained as I again fought with the second item. As it settled at my waist, I could see a wide strip of lace running in two rows at their bottom, between the rows was a thin ribbon of blue. "What are you planning to do with me? Why are you dressing me like this?" I asked again, touching my aching ear, now dry with blood.

He gave a short laugh, "You'll see in a moment." He nodded at the long blue dress, "Put it on!" I slowly pulled it over my head, material rustling past my ear and sounding like I was standing under a great waterfall. As it settled down, I couldn't help but to be amazed at my looks! If it weren't for the lack of a figure, breasts and the hair...I would look just like a woman! I pulled at the light blue calico material until it fell to its full length, at my ankle. The two layers of petticoats made the dress look full and puffy on me, I sighed and glanced up quickly.

As I did, he threw a small cloth at me. It was a bonnet. I held it until he again aimed the revolver barrel at my head, so without a word I put it on my head and tied it beneath my chin loosely. " satisfied? Now what?" I asked, "I think you have some explaining to do."

He laid the revolver on his lap and reached up into his breast pocket. "I run a tavern in a small town called Cold Forks. It's about a hundred or so miles from here." He looked out the window at the passing forest, "Once we get down the hills further and out of these woods, you will understand fully of what I have planned for you."

"I want to know right now!" I glanced quickly at the revolver, wondering if I had enough time to snatch it from his lap.

"If you insist." He opened a small box that he had pulled from his pocket, with great care he lifted out a long chain. Suspended from the end was a dull medal with a spinning cherub embossed on its surface. "This is called 'The Medallion of Zulo'."

I shrugged my indifference, again glancing quickly from the chain to the Colt. He held it out, away from his body, his eyes following the little spinning medal. "What's that got to do with me all trussed up like a Christmas Turkey?"

"This is a very special little necklace, it will transform the wearer into whomever it had touched last." As the words he had spoken sunk in, I laughed. "Oh don't be so quick to laugh, my last little employee found out the hard way that its magic is VERY complete!"

"Last?" I asked. "Then you've done this before?"

He snickered, "I found it by accident, as well as what it could do. Being an enterprising soul, I used it to make me a great deal of money." He glanced quickly at me, "The last girl was a fool, she couldn't handle the changes and threw herself in front of a wagon. But not before she made me quite a tidy little sum of money."

"This girl you're speaking of...she sold herself for money?" I asked, slowly easing myself closer to the revolver. "You forced her to doing this?"

Again he laughed, "She didn't seem to mind too much, until she found that she was with child." He smiled, "I guess she wasn't sure that Cold Forks was a proper place to bring up an infant."

"You're an asshole!" I hissed, "Why not just get a girl to work for you? Seems like there should be plenty of them around that like that sort of thing!"

"Perhaps, but it gives me a thrill to see a transformation happen...and then take advantage of it when it does!" He laughed again, slowly swinging the chain beneath his clutched right fist.

"You're insane!" I shouted, quickly lunging at the revolver. His hand dropped covering the barrel with his left palm, I tugged but was unable to free it from his grasp, instead I threw myself against the door of the coach. It broke free, sending me sprawling down a slight embankment that bordered the dusty little road. As soon as I rolled to a stop I stood up, the coach had turned and begun racing back to where I had jumped.

In horror I watched as the coach bore down the road toward me, with the strange man leaning out an open door brandishing his revolver! I desperately spun and raced down the hill, hoping to lose him among the tall trees and grasses. He fired a shot which bore deep inside the bark of a tree near my head, it sprayed the side of my face with the splintered wood. I slipped behind the great bole of a tree, trying to catch my fading breath.

I quickly glanced over my shoulder, heart racing from fear as the man and driver scrambled down the hill behind me. I spun and dashed headlong through the brush, again a shot rang out, the high whine split the air as the bullet buried deep into the ground only a few feet away.

I raced through the trees, my feet carrying me like a frightened deer down a dirty little path that followed a small stream. Again a bullet struck the water that I had been running past, so I doubled my efforts to put them far behind me as I ran.

As I hurried on, a great rushing sound was pounding my ears. "Waterfall!" I gasped, out of breath. I ran as fast as I could, nearing the peak of the great fall. I was seemingly trapped, ahead was a fall that seemed nearly a hundred feet over the rocks below...behind me were men that intended to see me dead... or worse!

I was about to leap, taking my chances in the murky fog of the bottom when I noticed a small fallen tree that spanned the width of the stream. Without a thought for my own safety, I raced across the length of the trunk. Nearly at the half way point I felt it crack under my efforts, but I continued from the fear of what would happen should I pause. I made a huge effort to speed on faster, until my feet came to a solid footing on the far side.

It seemed at the very moment that my foot struck land, the tree trunk split in two and almost took me along with it as it plummeted over the edge. I gasped loudly as I caught myself by falling forward, but I quickly gathered myself up, and scrambled through the brush knowing that they weren't far behind me.

Inside the dense foliage I hid myself just as they broke through the trees on the other side of the stream. Quickly pulling the billowing material under me from their view. "I tell you I heard something!"

The fat driver pulled short along the edge of the stream and studied the ground, "The kid came through here, Taggert." They appeared to study the tracks left by these shoes I was wearing. "I think he threw himself over the edge!"

The shorter man scowled, "Nonsense. He's here, somewhere close by." He glanced over his shoulder toward the woods on his side.

The driver continued on toward the falls, "Like I said, Taggert, I think he threw himself off! I thought I heard a scream!"

My attacker followed the driver to the edge, "Tracks stop right here. Shit! He did throw himself over the edge!" The man grabbed his hat in frustration and slapped himself hard on the leg.

"Come on. We'll have to go back for another one!" he growled and followed the driver back the way they came. "On the way we'll need to stop and buy some more clothes...the little idiot jumped with the last new outfit that I bought!"

As they worked their way toward the woods, the driver stumbled and caught himself. "So...who were you going to turn him into?"

The man following him laughed, "Those clothes were new, he was well on his way to becoming a if he'd been born that way! Now the little shit went and killed himself... depriving me of another cheap screw!"

I rolled over and faced the sky, my heart beating profusely in my ears as I struggled for my breath.

I lay quietly for several minutes, their voices disappearing in the distance. Quietly I stood, slowly raising and peering through the tall grass, it was completely still aside from the great rushing waterfall as it spewed forth the torrent of liquid.

I gradually stood and sighed deeply, finally able to breathe more easily at my successful escape. Suddenly, from behind me a great branch snapped, and I spun and saw the towering silhouette of a bear. It stood on its hind feet and slowly walked out from the darkened woods, only ten feet from me!

It seemed all the blood drained from my face, and sweat broke out upon my forehead. I felt the woods growing suddenly dark, as images began to spin before my eyes. I felt myself lose balance and lean forward. My last recollection was of the ground suddenly spinning toward my frightened face. Here I would die, knowing that it would be under the gnashing teeth of a great brown bear...then sudden darkness enveloped me.*

To Be Continued in Part 2

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