[tsat home] [#24] [stories]

A Dark and Stormy Night:
the Ultimate TG Experience?
by McKenzie Rigby
as told to Andy Hollis & Jeff Mahr
©2002 Andy Hollis & Jeff Mahr -- all rights reserved

chapter one
St. Elmo's Fire

It was a dark and stormy night. The lightning flashing through my basement studio's high casement windows was bright enough and frequent enough to interfere with my enjoyment of my favorite video. Of course, I knew the scenes and the lines to Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde by heart, so I wasn't really watching so much as using it for background noise as I typed away at my latest novella, Wise Guys and Smarter Girls. Wise Guys was going to be my magnum opus, the finest, most comprehensive, work of transgender fiction ever written. It was going to be the story of a mobster who runs afoul of his bosses and has to hide. In the same tradition as The Purloined Letter, he decides -- actually his girlfriend convinces him -- to hide in plain sight. Did I mention that she's a scientist or that she had been raped in high school?

Anyway, the lightning was so bad that I finally gave up my writing, turning off and unplugging the computer. Better to have it off now and live to type another day. Actually, even Jekyll and Hyde was getting hard to hear above the cacophony from without so I also turned off the television and, like mama taught, unplugged it too. After all, I was not so rich that I could afford to replace all my electronic equipment.

At that point, I would have gone over to Barbie's place, but her roommates had made it clear that she did not want to see or talk to me any more, not since she'd found I had used a pair of her panties to... well, you know. In keeping with my bland life, I'll save the graphic details for my stories. Bottom line was, no girlfriend. She hadn't even bothered to take them, or any of her other clothes, with her when she'd stormed out, saying she didn't even want to try to remove the stains from my pathetic sex acts from them. I admit Barbie is tall for a girl at five-foot ten, but geez, you'd think I'd been wearing them; like I could fit my six-foot eight-inch, two hundred twenty pound frame into her size sixes even if I wanted to. Actually, she was another reason why Wise Guys was languishing. I missed her and just couldn't seem to concentrate on my plotting when all I could think of was her.

With no television, no computer, no job no girlfriend and even the dog asleep, I was at a loss as to what to do and 3 AM is way too early for bedtime when you've been on the night shift for the last five years. I would have been there now, playing night watchman while waiting for a better paying job in management and finishing off the great American transgender novel, but the owners had torched the warehouse in order to insure maximum return on their investment and, as the cop who questioned me noted, "there ain't no reason for ya ta guard ashes." The good news was they didn't think I had set the blaze, although they still wanted me to stay in town and available. "S.O.P." the cop had insisted.

So, what was I going to do? She had taken her collection of Barbie dolls, but I could feel her clothes beckoning me. They were still in her closet and the top three drawers of my dresser. I hadn't had the heart to box them and dispose of them. I think, deep in my heart of hearts, that I still hoped we could be together again, but then I glanced at her picture, hanging above my computer, smiling joyously as she glanced over at me as I snapped her picture. I had taken it just after she had aced her serve during this year's semifinal game at the regional volleyball tournament. Her long blond hair framed her angelic, heart-shaped face and sparkling blue eyes -- and the bikini didn't hurt either. Slowly, that smiling visage was replaced by hers as I saw her last; hurt and angry beyond words and I knew I could never win her back. She was too angry.

I ambled over to the couch and stood on the back so I could look out at the night sky. Looking out the window into the storm, the flashes from the lightening were even brighter and more blinding so I used one hand to shade my eyes while holding onto one of the water pipes suspended near my ceiling for balance. The sky was so brightly lit that, for a moment, it reminded me of that old sci-fi movie The Day of the Triffids and I chuckled to myself for my foolishness. Everyone knew that all that stuff about aliens and ghosts and magic was just bunk, but it might help with a story line someday, so I filed it in my memory for later consideration and cranked open the window in order to get a better view. I was going to have to break down and wash them one of these days.

That was when things got strange.

This huge, six-foot glowing ball of light appeared in front of my open window as if examining me. It gave off a faint hum as it hovered above the sidewalk before me. I had heard of St. Elmo's fire, but I had thought that that was usually found out over the ocean, or some other large body of water, since most of the reports were from sailors. This was Columbus, Ohio and the largest body of water near me, besides some poor excuses for rivers that flowed through the city, was the Hoover Dam on the opposite side of town.

If that wasn't strange enough, a smaller ball of lightening, this one only about a foot in diameter, separated from the original and leaped at me. I didn't even have time to react before it was on me, encircling my body so that I too was glowing.

I initially felt just a mild tingle, like lying on one of those magic-finger, vibrating beds in a motel. I know I never actually felt pain, but the next thing I remember, I was lying on the floor with Igor -- that's my dog -- licking my face. I had singed hair and tingling skin to go with the bitter, acrid odor in the air. Everything hurt, and I mean everything, so I cautiously dragged myself into a standing position, using the couch to lever myself up, and staggered off to bed.

When I woke again, the storm had passed and it looked like it was late afternoon from the position of the shadows on the building across the street. My skin still tingled and I felt dizzy, but the pain was mostly gone. Nature was calling again -- you'd think she'd have given up in the midst of a major metropolitan area like Columbus -- so I visited the bathroom and relieved myself, sitting for safety.

After getting shocked by the ball lightening I had basically crawled into bed and slept off the major effects. I knew it was time for a shower and some major cleaning up, as there was a thin layer of soot on the bed that must have been the remains of my clothes and hair. I didn't even want to look in the mirror until after cleaning myself thoroughly, but I must admit that I was cautiously examining myself while I showered to see what might have happened to me. I knew very little about getting struck by lightening, but I felt certain that it was not good for the human body. Thoughts of burns (there were none), blindness (I could still see) hearing loss (I could hear the sounds of the shower running) were just a few of the fears that ran through my mind and I probably would have gone to my doctor if I had one, or an emergency room if I could afford it. I didn't and I couldn't, but the fears were still there so I kept checking for anything different, anything at all.

I had lost all my body hair, but I was pleased to find that I still had hair on my head. It felt fuller than before and I wondered if my body still held a small charge of static electricity that might be fluffing it out like when someone touches a Van de Graff generator. I also noted that the tingling had not gone away. It didn't seem to be concentrated anywhere, but I imagined it felt stronger than when I had first woken up. Maybe I was going to turn into a woman, like the people in the stories I wrote. I laughed dismissively knowing the impossibility of such an event.

When I finished my shower, the mirror was steamed up as usual. I checked for some paper towels to clean it off, but I was out again. Leaving the warmth of the bathroom to dig a new roll out from the kitchen cabinets really didn't appeal to me, so I just opened the door to let some of the steam out. I figured that if it was still steamy after I had dried off, I could use the towel to clean it off. Off on the far wall, over the computer, I could see Barbie's picture staring back at me through the crack in the door. I could almost imagine her sneering at me, waiting for me to melt into a puddle of primordial slime as partial penitence for my crimes against her.

My skin was definitely more sensitive and I had to pat myself dry after my shower instead of rubbing myself off as usual. Another thing; my hair definitely felt longer as I toweled it dry. Some of my characters had used a form of electricity called electrolysis to get rid of hair. Could electricity also stimulate hair growth? It was time to clear the condensed water from the mirror. I almost felt like it was an unveiling, like I was going to see someone different in it.

There was.

It was Barbie. The hair was dark brown instead of blonde, but that was probably because it was still wet. There were no breasts and the hips did not swell like her luscious curves, but the face was hers, the arms and hands were hers, even the long, slender legs were hers.

Quicker than I could consciously track, my mind went looking for, and found, additional similarities. Her mole, the cute little one beside her mouth; I had one too. Her long, slim, graceful neck; I had that too. Her nipples, full, large and reddish brown; I had them too. I had it -- er, her -- all.

As I continued cataloging the changes, I absently wondered how I could have missed things like the changes in my nipples in the shower. A moment later, the answer came as the tissue under my nipples began to slowly expand outward from my body, reminding me of two small, round balloons being inflated. In shock, I watched them grow, certain that when they stopped, they would be the same D cup beauties I had, until recently, fondled. I remember thinking, in a detached and demented way, that now I wouldn't have to make up with Barbie. I'd be able to play with her boobies whenever I wanted.

When the twins were done filling out, I looked further south, waiting to see if the process continued as expected. I had been so engrossed with them that I had not realized that my waist had narrowed and my hips had widened. It was almost anticlimactic when my genitals slowly migrated back into my body leaving me with a completely female body.

The voice in my head was the final straw as it said, "We claim this structure for the Electrolytic race. Let the invasion commence."

interlude one

McKenzie Rigby removed his glasses and wiped his tired eyes. The sun was up and it was time to stop writing and go to sleep. Tonight would be another boring shift. His job as a security officer gave him plenty of time to decide where to take the story. With a lifestyle that left little time for friends or fun, the praise of his anonymous friends on the Internet was the high point of each day.

He didn't remember how he had found them, probably stumbled across a website and from there been directed to the TG-TF mailing list. Not that he cared about transgendered issues. He'd read a few stories, more than a few, and thought he could do better. He did. After a bunch of messages that asked him to write more, he was hooked.

Outlook Express™ dinged, telling him that St. Elmo's Fire had been sent to the list. Now, he could settle back and wait for the responses to come pouring in. In fact, to help the process along, he switched to a different identity, and sent a short note, praising his own story, to the list. He had lost count of the various e-mail address he had created over the last few months, more than enough for his own ball team, he decided.

Two responses came back; his and one from a list member named Wally the Weasel. McKenzie frowned at the name that sounded vaguely familiar, but he couldn't remember seeing it on the list before. He read through the note.

"What a piece of rubbish that story was. As if anyone would believe that Mac Rigby was really six foot eight and two hundred and twenty pounds. Six foot eight around the middle and maybe two hundred pounds at age ten is more like it.

"Ball lightning doesn't act that way..."

McKenzie felt his chest tighten in anger and he stopped reading. Where the hell was Fred when he was needed? He refused to read the long, scientific sounding essay on the properties of ball lightning that apparently followed Wally's comments. Pseudoscientific, he thought. Why should some dimwit that didn't understand the concept of fiction be yelling at him? Where was the list admin when they were needed? Heck, where was that ultimate arbiter of list etiquette some of the old timers whispered about during late night chats. Where was the List Administrator when you needed him?

This would stop now. Which of his names had been the most vitriolic? Ah, Alexei, the mad Russian. That would do. In short order, Alexei Romanovsky skewered the would-be critic to the bone. To be safe, he sent five more letters, not as nasty, out as well, and a sixth that offered to moderate the flame war. With that, he turned off the computer. While grabbing a half empty can of dog food out of the refrigerator, he also found some Buffalo-style chicken wings from yesterday's lunch. Igor got the canned stuff and he finished off the wings before heading off to bed.

chapter two
Dominatrix Barbie

Cold water splashed over the bed. I woke screaming as I realized that someone was standing over the bed with what looked to be a nasty weapon.

"Oh, it's you, Phoebe, what do you want?" I sputtered through the water still on my face.

The girl, one of Barbie's long time friends, shook her head sending her dark red hair rippling over bare shoulders. "Not acceptable, Kenny boy. You will address me as Mistress Phoebe from here on."

"I beg your pardon?" I asked trying to cover my self with the dry half of the sheet.

"You will learn to beg and beg hard, slave boy. Sit up!" she ordered cracking a whip over my knees. "Mistress Barbie is considering -- only considering mind you -- taking you back even after what you did, but it will not be easy for you. No, not at all."

"Get out of here," I snarled. "I had a rough night, and I don't need any of this shit. I made one little slip but that doesn't mean I'm about to tolerate this S&M garbage. I'm not into humiliation."

"I don't remember asking your opinion about this," Phoebe sneered. This time the whip cracked against my chest.

I grabbed the end of the whip, pulled the thing out of the girl's hand, and threw it against the far wall. I stood up with the sheet around my waist. "Get out now, before I call the cops."

Something clicked behind me that sounded a lot like the hammer of a revolver pulling back. I turned my head around, the spun around to face Barbie herself. The woman was dressed from neck to toe in a shimmering black latex outfit, complete with knee length boots of brushed leather. She held a large-bore gun pointed at my chest and a riding crop in the other hand.

"Hello, Kenzie. I thought you might give Mistress Phoebe a hard time. That was a naughty boy, just now, throwing Mistress Phoebe's whip. You will pay dearly for that."

"Oh, please, Barbie, this just isn't you. I..."

"May I Mistress Barbie?" Phoebe asked interrupting me.

"Yes, I think our Kenzie had better start learning some manners right now. Drop the sheet, McKenzie."

"And if I don't?" I asked shaking my head. This could not be happening. I had written TG stories before, but never anything to do with the rough stuff. It just wasn't my scene.

Barbie raised the pistol, aimed low and fired at something behind me. I heard a short, agonized yelp and turned to see Igor lying on his side, bleeding from the shoulder the bullet had just grazed. A second bullet struck me in the leg and I felt hard searing flashes of lightning through my closed eyelids as I fell to the floor.

"Now, Phoebe!"

The girl yanked the sheet away from me, and a second later I opened my eyes to see her standing over me holding a large syringe. Before I could say anything, she bent down, and rammed the needle into my ass. I felt my entire backside burning as she pushed the fluid into the muscle.

"That, Kenzie is an extremely fast acting mix of estrogen, progesterone and estradiol with a sedative and a few special concoctions of my own making added in. Phoebe will be giving you one of those shots twice a day. You like wearing women's clothing? You like abusing yourself with women's clothes? Feel what it's like to be a woman."

Phoebe held up a frilly, French Maid's uniform that looked to be a perfect fit for her, a petite size four. "When I am finished with you, Kenzie, you will fit into this, and you will look good in it."

"That's crazy," I stammered out trying to hide a yawn. I tried to ask about Igor, but there was a sharp crack as Barbie's riding crop lashed across my cheek. "You will address me as Mistress Barbie, and only if you are requested to do so. The rest of the time you will remember your place as my lady's maid. You will fit into this outfit one way or the other."

I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to think about what the other way would be. I knew that no matter how many hormones she shot into me my body would adjust only so much, and hormones would not make me shrink.

Crack, the crop found my other cheek. "There will be no zoning out, either. I expect your undivided attention, Kenzie, and I will get it."

"Okay, okay," I said, only to get another crack of the riding crop on my leg.

"You will address me as "Mistress Barbie", and only if I give you permission to speak. You are my slave. Remember that... Well?"

"Yes, Mistress Barbie," I stammered out.

"Mistress Phoebe, please ask Mistress Helen to bring in the things we selected."

"Of course, Mistress Barbie. I can't wait."

It was all I could do to stifle a yawn. They said there had been a sedative in that shot and I believed them. I fought to keep my eyes open as Barbie's second roommate brought in a large trunk.

"Thank you, Mistress Helen," Barbie said. "Remove the pellet from Kenzie's leg if you would be so kind. No lidocaine. I think he will need several stitches, but he has not behaved well enough to earn the use of an anesthetic."

The girl studied me for a moment with a wicked gleam in her eyes. "Has he received the shot yet, Mistress Barbie?"

"Yes. Go ahead."

In spite of the sedative, I felt every second of the procedure. The stitches forced a scream from me, twice, and both times Barbie and Phoebe used their respective tools. I passed out when Barbie attacked my genitals.

"Wake up," Barbie said pulling me upright by my hair. She shook my head for a bit. "Now comes the fun part. See what I brought you?"

Phoebe held up a large white bra, with padded cups. "You will be needing this in a few days, slave, so you had better start getting used to it now."

A few weeks? This was crazier than I had thought. I know how hormones work on the male body. I, unlike so many TG writers, had done the research and read the case studies on the subject. It didn't matter how large of a dose I got, my body would use what it needed and eliminate the rest. The process would take months, but if I told these hellions that, I'd get punished again.

I must have dozed off from the sedative. When I woke, I found myself in a strange room on someone else's bed. Soft cords attached my wrists and ankles to the bedposts. I managed to sit up enough to see the silky pink nightgown I wore, but that effort was enough to make me dizzy. I closed my eyes and drifted off before I had a chance to try to find Igor.

I'm not sure how long I stayed that way, waking and sleeping. I remember the burning pain in my butt every time Phoebe or Barbie gave me my shot. I don't remember eating during this period, but I don't remember wanting to, either.

"Okay, Sleeping Beauty, time to get up."

Through the haze left over from the drugs, I looked up at Barbie and blinked. "Mistress Barbie?"

"Good, you're learning. Get up now, and walk over the mirror there."

The movement made my whole body protest. I sat up and stretched, only to notice how the nightgown hung on me. I felt my hair, now, touching my back several inches below my shoulders. "Mistress Barbie? How long have I been in this bed?"

"Three weeks. As you will see, the serum has worked a major miracle with you, Kenzie."

Trembling, I faced the mirror to see a slim, young woman with curves in all the right places staring back at me. God, I was a knockout. "That's impossible."

"Until now." Barbie pulled the nightgown over my head.

I stared at my reflection for what seemed like hours. For all intents, I was a girl. My manhood had all but shriveled away; my body had been shaved or depilated so that I saw no body hair at all except for my head and eyebrows. My eyebrows and had been plucked and shaped to form twin arches over my eyes. My ears had been pierced several times. At that point I noticed how much I had shrunk. Barbie stood several inches taller than I did now. Again, this was impossible, but I held my tongue.

"I don't think that I ever mentioned that Mistresses Phoebe and Helen are genetic researchers? Oh well, no big deal. Just wait until you meet Mistress Eleanor today?"

"You have four roommates, Mistress Barbie?"

"Not at all. Mistress Eleanor is the surgeon who will be doing your sexual reassignment today. We've decided that you are much too pretty for that maid's outfit, Kenzie. After the surgery you will need a lot of training in how to please a man, so we do have about a dozen young men ready to give you all the lessons you will need. Doesn't that sound like fun? Just think, girl, the next time you wet your panties it will be for the same reason that we all do."

interlude two

McKenzie Rigby gave the story a quick proof reading before he sent it off to the list. He yawned, stretched and shut down his computer for another night. Too bad, he thought for a second. Too bad that Barbie wouldn't take him back even like that.

Igor yawned and stretched. When Mac got into bed, the dog jumped up and joined him. It wasn't the same.

chapter three
The Hundred Percent Solution

 "I say old chap, what are you afraid of?"

"Eh, what's that Watson?" Sherlock Holmes, the Great Detective, put down his violin and glanced inquisitively at his portly friend, just returned from setting the kettle to boil for tea. He would have asked Mrs. Hudson to do it, but she had but recently traveled to Binghamton after selling me the building. She had been getting on in years and had finally decided to live a more retiring life with her oldest daughter Olivia. We had all been getting a bit long in the tooth of late.

"You've fought a starved, half crazed wolfhound, you've battled Moriarty beside the precipice at Reichenbach Falls and you've faced down some of the most atrocious evildoers of the century. Never once have I seen you afraid," Dr. Watson gulped a breath of air and quickly continued, fearful that if he did not, he might never have the courage to ask the question again. "As your friend and as the chronicler of your investigations, I don't think I've ever seen you afraid, so I began to wonder, what are you afraid of Holmes?

"Watson, old friend, you know I routinely chide you about how dashing and adventuresome you made me appear. Surely you know that I nowadays would much prefer to remain here in our flat and concentrate on my investigations of scientific criminology."

"You can't fool me, Holmes. I've seen you with that bloody seven percent solution as soon as you begin to become bored. We both know that when 'the game's afoot' you are a different man, much like that Stevens chap's Jekyll and Hyde."

"That's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Messr. Robert Louis Stevenson. Quite a good tale of its kind, if a bit out of date. I believe it was written more than thirty years ago," Holmes noted as he settled back into his overstuffed, Chippendale armchair. "And I do recognize your concerns regarding my use of cocaine for restorative purposes between investigations."

"Then why do you continue using it? You know it is addictive. You've seen the dens of iniquity where the Chinamen, and those other poor unfortunates they've sucked into their evil practices, lie indolently smoking the seed of the poppy and you know that vile solution you inject into your arm is an extract of that same horrid plant."

"Will it please you to hear that I've sworn off, that I shall no longer inject myself with that 'vile concoction' as you've so often called it?"

"Well... yes. Yes it would."

"Then buck up old chap. Your sage counsel has convinced me. Never again shall I infuse this body or this brain with cocaine."

"Bravo old chap," Watson effused happily over the sound of a whistling teakettle. "Good to hear it. About time. So let me take the kettle off the heat and then you can tell me what will you do to keep away the ennui between investigations?"

"Sit Watson. You've done it often enough. Just this once allow me to bring the tea to you." As Holmes stood and strode purposefully, if with a bit more assistance from his cane than he would have liked, out of the sitting room, he continued, "I've been experimenting and I think I've come up with a capital way to pass the time. It's the result of a series of fortuitous events including my time with 'That Woman'..."

"You mean Ms. Adler?"

"Quite. As I was saying, it is the result of my interactions with 'That Woman', my considerations of the implications of Messr. Stevenson's hypotheses as outlined by his character Dr. Jekyll and examination of the properties of the various rare elements and vegetation your friends from India continue to send you."

"I say Holmes, I'm at a complete loss as to where you're going with this."

"That's all right my dear friend. Allow me to finish here with the tea and I'll be right in."

Holmes completed the task with his usual efficiency of movement. Once seated again, he took a sip of tea and savored the flavor. "Not as good as yours I'm afraid, but I do hope you will enjoy."

Using both hands so the tremors of age would not induce spillage, Watson too took a sip. "Nonsense Holmes, this is excellent tea although it's not the usual is it?"

"Very observant Watson. No, it's not. It's a special blend I've only discovered of late. What do you think of it?"

"Well," Watson took another prodigious sip and considered his words before answering. "I taste traces of some of the indigenous spices of the East, India to be specific..."

"Quite correct old man, although I believe there are also traces of items that can only be found in the Orient. What else?"

"It has a slight bitter taste although I cannot determine exactly what since it is all but hidden by the sugar. Not bad mind you, but still present."

Holmes merely nodded and smiled at his friend to continue and the good doctor made an elaborate pretense of sniffing the steamy air above his cup.

"I... I can't quite seem to recall... the aroma is familiar, but my nose has gotten on in years... it's... it's... it's laudanum. You put some of that bloody poison in my tea!" he shouted angrily and started to rise, however, the laudanum had done its job and he quickly slid back into his chair, too lethargic to make a second attempt.

"Why Holmes? Why?"

Morpheus was rapidly overtaking the good doctor so the Great Detective was quick to provide the explanation although he felt certain he would need to do so again. "Yes Watson, there is laudanum in the tea, but only enough to mask the other compounds and to reduce the pain to come. If it will help you to know, I too have taken the same formula and it is much more than mere laudanum-laced tea. If my research is correct -- and I am quite certain it is -- it shall wash away the pain of old age, a condition from which we both suffer."

"Eh, a fountain of youth? Balderdash. Holmes, you know there's no such thing."

"Quite correct old friend. There is no such thing as a fountain of youth, but the concoction you've just imbibed -- that we've just imbibed -- will act in the same manner as that fabled spring. By morning we shall both appear to be in our twenties instead of our seventies."

""But... but why didn't you just tell me old chap? I feel confident that I would have willingly imbibed such an elixir had you shared this explanation and your research with me."

"Because there is a unique... flaw to my discovery, much as that fellow Stevenson suggested in his book..."

"You mean I -- we -- shall become ravening beasts?"

"No; definitely not a ravening beast, old friend. The flaw is much more subtle than that. It shall produce a change of perspective, but not from man to beast, not from higher to baser emotions, but from male to female."

Watson fainted.

interlude three

McKenzie stopped to rub an aching neck. This one had been more difficult than most. The medical research, the character development, the linguistic characteristics had taken time and it was late. He'd have to fly as he got ready for work or he'd be late.

"Bad Igor! Why didn't you remind me to stop for work?" he chided as he playfully rubbed the Irish setter's head. Igor just licked his hand and wagged his tail hopefully. Maybe next time McKenzie would remember to include a dog in the story.

He was about to shut down the computer when the words of that message asking him to finish some of his stories popped into his thoughts. Staying his hand, instead he opened another file and labeled it chapter two. McKenzie stared at the blank screen for a few seconds and then wrote some phrases to remind him of what the next chapter would cover.

Smiling, he quickly left for work, rushing to make certain he was not late and docked pay. In his hurry, he left the computer on and on the still glowing computer screen were the following notes:

go find Lestrade

give him the elixir too

all three move to America

get connected to a reclusive American millionaire named Charlie

chapter four
Faster than a Speeding Tall Building

The wind tickled my eyebrows as I flew my daily patrol over Tinytown, USA. For me, the world's most powerful kid, the patrol took less than a minute, on a good day. I mean, how many things can go wrong in a mostly rural village that spread out over twenty square miles, tops?

I flew back to Tinytown Middle School, with my red and blue cape fluttering behind me. Landing just outside the schoolyard, I wondered again, why the Earthling children never realized that I, SuperKid, a visitor from another world, went to the same school as they did, or that I was actually their contemporary, Clark McKentzie, in my every day guise.

As always, the kids crowded around me. I was pleased to note that Lana Ledo and Barbie Bennigan were among them. These two girls were always fighting for my attention.

"Hey, SuperKid," said Harry Hooter, one of Clark's best friends. "Can you get me Bat Person's autograph.

"No, get Spider Guy," called out Freddie Fudrucker, another chum.

I gave them both my classic, pensive pout. "And why not mine?"

"That's okay, SuperKid," they both said. "Some other time."

"You can autograph my blouse," Barbie said holding open her sweater. "Right here, by my heart."

"And just what is wrong with my autograph?" I asked Harry.

"Nothing, Clark, sorry, SuperKid, but you've already signed everything I own twice and three times so far. I mean I know someday, when you grow up to be SuperPerson, defender of Truth, Justice and the Politically Correct Way, all those autographs will be worth a major fortune, but give me a break now, okay?"

"Okay, chum," I said and flipped my head to get my bangs off my face.

I noticed the grins that spread across the faces of all the boys present. "What?"

"It's nothing," Lana said. "Ignore them, SuperKid."

"But he's turning into SuperChick again," said a boy in the eighth grade. "You promised to go to the last dance with me, SuperChick and I mean to hold you to it, this time."

Reaching up to my head, I found that I indeed had a head of now glorious blue black curls that just touched my shoulders and my bangs were now just above eye level. I looked down to find that the rest of me had not changed.

"Not again, this is the fifth time this month," I said. "Who could be doing this to me now?"

"What about young Alex Applebee?" Barbie asked.

"No, young Alex is still in St. Cuthbert's Home for the Criminally Insane and Children's Sweatshop, but not for long, knowing him."

"Then could it be another fanfic author pandering to the prurient interests of his Internet readers?" Lana asked.

"No," I said with a long sigh. "I'm underage, and PC Comix would never permit it. Besides, all of us here are too young to understand any of that stuff."

Everyone laughed, with me, I hoped.

"Then you'd better see Dr. McDonald, the official PC Comix Pseudoscientist, SuperKid," Freddie said. "He can tell you what you need to do."

"You're right, thanks." I said raising my arm in farewell to my friends before jumping into the afternoon sky.

I flew the distance to Majormetropolis, where someday I hoped to work as a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper, if only I could get my grades in English up. A few seconds later, I landed outside the office of Dr. R. McDonald, pseudoscientist, whose motto read: "We make the logically impossible not only plausible but almost believable." Just my kind of scientist.

On the door, however, I found a note that read: Thanks for stopping by, but I'm on an extended vacation in Cancun. Please see my colleague, Dr. Wendell Whitecastle for any of your pseudoscientific needs. This means you, too, SuperKid. I'm on vacation and you won't find me no matter how hard you look.

I can take a hint, I thought as I flew over to the next building. I found the office of Dr. Whitecastle easily enough, and walked inside. "I'm SuperKid," I told the girl behind the front desk, who looked smashing in her dark red business suit, with mauve blouse and accessories. "I need to see Dr. Whitecastle right away."

"Go on in, Kid of Iron, he's been expecting you since Dr. Ron went on vacation."

Dr. Whitecastle was an older man, dressed in a lab coat, with rather grubby looking jeans and a gray t-shirt underneath. He peered at me through his thick glasses. "SuperKid?"

"Yes, Dr. Whitecastle, I need your help. I'm turning in a girl, again."

"But that is logically impossible, SuperKid. Other than your rather feminine hairstyle, I see no sign of other female characteristics, SuperKid. Males cannot turn into females, but they can take on a female appearance with years of hormone therapy and extensive plastic surgery. Is someone threatening you with this?"

"No, of course not, Dr. Whitecastle. I have been changed into a female more times than I can count, and it is happening again. I need you to help me figure out how and who is doing it to me this time."

"I see, and with all those so called 'super powers' of yours you cannot tell?"

"Are you sure you're a real pseudoscientist?"

"Of course not, SuperKid. I have my doctorate from M.I.T. I have more letters behind my name that even you could lift. I am a real scientist. I deal in cold, hard, observable facts, not this mumbo jumbo about space aliens, and ghosts and E.S.P. I can help you, but an investigation like this could take years."

"I see, thanks, Dr. Whitecastle but I am a space alien and I need a real pseudoscientist."

"In that case, I'd suggest Kevin Koënigburger. He's a good man, and his office is one floor up."

I found the office easily enough, and went inside. Dr. Koënigburger was a tall, pale man, with a dark goatee. He asked me to sit down.

"Tell me what's going on."

I filled him in on my latest changes. He nodded his head and wrote it down on a notepad.

"And you say you have been a girl more than once?"

"I get changed once or twice a week. It started a while ago with this lady from outer space. I thought she was just some space bimbo with a feminist agenda, but I did come to learn that her changing me into a girl was a good thing. I needed to get in touch with my feminine side. But after that every super villain with a grudge has been changing me."

"I see, and has this presented any problem at home?"

"No, my foster family has been great about this. I'd swear that I have more girl's clothes at the house than boy's clothes."

"And you are comfortable with this?"

"Dr. Koënigburger, I have a reputation to maintain. I have to be well adjusted no matter what I look like."

"I see. Now, when you are a girl, do you feel like a girl? Have you considered dating boys?"

"Doctor, please!" I exclaimed. "I'm underage. But I am obligated to the youth of America and PC Comix to be well adjusted, morally pure and one hundred percent heterosexual no matter what my gender. I mean at PC we are liberal, but not that liberal."

"I see, but these days, don't you find PC Comix a bit commercialized?"

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Never mind. But, if you are that well adjusted and comfortable with being SuperChick instead of SuperKid what's the point of changing back into a boy when you will just be changed back a day later."

"I can't let the villains win, that would be sending the wrong message, wouldn't it? I'm the Superhero -- or I guess it's Superheroine in this case."

"But don't you find winning and losing to be just so much masculine posturing? Competitiveness isn't something that should concern you, young lady."

"In many ways I know you're right, Dr. Koënigburger, but I have my plot line to think about. Thanks for the help."

"I might suggest you see that new pseudoscientist in town, Ivan Ihopsky. He should be able to help you further."

With nothing left to lose, I flew on to Dr. Ihopsky's office.

Dr. Ihopsky was a big, beefy man who wore a full black beard. He welcomed me into his office with open arms. "Ah, da, da I yam Ihopsky and I yam an official pseudoscientist at your service, SuperKidsky. Please, von't you sit down?"

"Dr. Ihopsky, I'm surprised at you. This is PC Comix, after all."

"Ah, yes, I forgot and by using my accent I have inadvertently poked fun at people from different cultures. I am apologizing to all Slavic speaking peoples that may have been offended by my accent. Is that PC enough for the editors?"

"It should be Doctor, and thanks. As you can see I am turning back into SuperChick and I need your help."

"Is this a problem? You are a rather attractive young lady, after all. Much more attractive as SuperChick than SuperKid."

I felt myself blush. "You really think so? No, I can't forget myself, even for a moment. I am SuperKid and I have to find out what arch-fiend is doing this to me this time."

"Hmmm, simple enough. Is there anything new in your life, friends, objects, hairstyles?"

"No new friends, and my hair always does this when I change to SuperChick, but Barbie gave me this locket yesterday, and Lana gave me this watch."

Dr. Ihopsky nodded, and said, "If you were to look inside those items with your x-ray vision what do you see? One or even both of the girls might have been duped."

"Yes," I said. "That has happened quite a few times in the past." I scanned the locket and said. "Nothing there, but a picture of me and Barbie. I signed it, of course, and..." As I checked the watch, I felt shivers running up and down my spine. Inside the watch I saw a small pebble that had a distinctive pink glow. I tore open the watch, and found a grain of pink Kryptunyte of all things. As soon as the pink glow touched me directly, the rest of me changed. I felt my hips widen and my chest expand, but just a little; after all, I was still underage.

"It would seem that we have found the answer. Pink Kryptunyte, I would imagine, a remnant of your home world of Kryptune."

"But what can I do, Dr. Ihopsky?"

"We cannot look at this logically, SuperChick. Think about it. You came from a world that we know must be hundreds of light years away from Earth. Your parents bundled you, as a baby, into a space ship that had a faster than light drive, which of course is a logical impossibility right there. When the planet exploded, dramatically enough moments later, pieces of Kryptune, no matter how violent the explosion could not have been thrown into space at speeds faster than light, so it is a logical impossibility that Kryptunyte could even exists, let alone cause you so much grief now.

"So, we have to postulize that the faster than light drive of your ship must have created some sort of vacuum that not only sent the ship to earth but pulled along a substantial amount of matter from your home world with it. That matter, during the trip must have been bathed by the ionic after burn of the FTL drive which would account for it's changing from harmless earth to deadly or unusual Kryptunyte. Now a lot of that matter would have burned up in Earth's atmosphere if it had been ordinary space debris, but since it was transformed into Kryptunyte instead we can assume that all sorts of different colors of the stuff actually landed intact here, on Earth."

I applauded. "Now that's what I call pseudoscience," I said. "I believe it. I believe it."

"Thanks for that, SuperChick. Now, logically it would seem that if pink Kryptonite would make you female then blue Kryptonite would make you male, but again, logic has nothing to do with this, so I'd say you need to find some yellow Kryptonite real quick. Not gold, not blue, but yellow." He rubbed his hands. "Just think, SuperChick, if my hypothesis is correct, that spaceship, your salvation from the destruction of your home planet could, ironically enough, be the cause of your own destruction. Good luck, and find that yellow Kryptunite before this change is permanent. I'd say you have less than twenty-four hours, so get moving."

"I will, Dr. Ihopsky, and thanks, thanks for everything," I said and took off through his window. After the sound of shattered glass faded, I did a quick flight around the world scanning for yellow Kryptunyte. I must have spotted tons of green and red Kryptunyte but no yellow, and no time to destroy the vile stuff that I did find.

After a brief venture into outer space itself, I still had no luck in finding yellow Kryptunyte. I flew home to Tinytown depressed. I had less than eighteen hours to find some and there was none to be found. I flew in through the secret tunnel.

"Great jumping horny toads," said Pa McKentzie as I flew into the basement workroom. "Ma, Claire is back, again. What happened to you this time, girl?"

"Pink Kryptunyte, Pa," I said. "I must find some yellow Kryptunyte in the next twenty-four hours to counteract the change."

"Oh good, Claire, you're back. A new catalog just came in and I need your help with some things,"

"Just a second, Ma," Pa said. "The girl needs some yellow Kryptunyte. Know where she can get some?"

"Oh, sure, mothers always know these things, Pa," Ma said and shook her head. "I just read in the paper this morning about the big Kryptunyte show that Arthur Applebee is holding at his place. He's got every color including plaid and paisley. Now don't you go trying them out, sweetheart."

"Arthur Applebee, isn't he young Alex Applebee's dad?" I asked.

"Why yes, I guess he is. Now just because you and Alex don't get along, sweetheart doesn't mean you should hold that against his folks. If Arthur has this yellow Kryptunyte you need I'm sure he will let you have some. Good folk, those Applebees. Always concerned about the neighborhood. They have a mighty mean barbecue, too."

"Way to go, Ma," Pa applauded. "You got this non-commercial commercial business down to a 'T', don't she, Claire?"

"Where is this exhibit being held, Ma," I said ignoring Pa's outburst.

"Over at the middle school, of course, but you've been too busy fighting crime and saving the world from alien scum to notice."

"I should have known that. The writers love that sort of irony," I sighed. "I'll be right back."

I flew to the auditorium to find the place swarming with kids from the school, all there the see the exhibit. At the far end of the room, Mr. Applebee stood collecting tickets. He let each child study a long display case filled with glowing rocks.

There, I sighed as I spotted a small chunk of yellow Kryptunyte right between the red and the green. I mean, how color insensitive was this guy?

"Hey, wait your turn," some guy told me as I landed a foot away from the display case. I glared at the dweeb until he apologized.

I had one chance to grab the yellow stone before the radiation from the green or the red stones affected me. Using my blinding fast super speed, I opened the case and snatched the yellow Kryptunyte in a millionth of a second. I stood back. "I apologize for the interruption, but I have to borrow this."

Sure enough, as Dr. Ihopsky had postulated, the yellow stone quickly transformed me back into SuperKid instead of SuperChick. The stone, once its purpose had been served, crumbled into so much yellow dust in my hand.

"That was the only known specimen of yellow Kryptunyte in the known Galaxy, SuperKid," Mr. Applebee said angrily.

"I know, and I am sorry, sir, but I had no choice. I..."

"Smile for the camera, SuperKid," a man's voice said from behind me. I turned around to pose, only to have the flash go off in my eyes. A pink glow surrounded me and seconds later I changed back to SuperChick. I stared at the now useless yellow Kryptunyte dust in my hand.

The photographer lowered his camera. He was a tall man, swarthy-skinned and wore a huge grin. "That was the only specimen of yellow Kryptunyte in the galaxy and once again you fell for my trap, SuperChick. It is I," he said and removed a plastic mask to show the dark face of one of my old adversaries.

"Doc Pappajohn," I gasped. "The Voodoo King."

"Correct, SuperChick. Better ingredients make for better spells, don't you agree?"

"No, I don't, and my mom does that a lot better than you do. I may be SuperChick again, but that doesn't mean I can't arrest you, again and lock you up for good."

"Ah, but when are things what they seem?" the man said and removed still another mask.

"Dr. Ihopsky?"

"Yes, SuperChick darling. I did this because I can't see you, a real mega-babe, wasting herself on some mistaken notion that it's better to be a dull clod of a boy."

"You won't get away with this, Ihopsky. I will..."

"You can't threaten me, SuperChick, I'm underage," the man said in a teenaged voice that I had heard before. Once again he removed a mask to show the face of my arch nemesis.

"Young Alex Applebee," I exclaimed.

"That is so stupid," he said with a sigh. "Of course I'm young, I'm a kid just like you, so there is no need to point that out."

"Yes, but the editors of this comic decided ages ago that the kids that read it are way too mentally deficient to figure that out for themselves, Alex. Those kids are reading this comic after all. So, you are young Alex. What do you want?"

"The same thing I've always wanted from you, SuperChick -- a date. I mean really, I ask you out one time and you treat me like some sort of master criminal."

"You mean to tell me that you went through all of this just to go out with me?" I said with a slight smile. I looked at him, and lowered my eyes.

"Yes, I am telling you that. Go ahead and snatch me baldheaded, SuperChick, but will you go out with me?"

I thought for a second and looked again at the remnants of the only known specimen of yellow Kryptunyte in the universe. "I thought you'd never ask, Lexie. Where do you want to go?"

"No, SuperKid," Barbie yelled out. "Don't listen to him. There's more yellow Kryptunyte. You can find it. You have to find it."

interlude four

As SuperChick and Alex walked hand in hand out of the auditorium, in spite of the girl's protests, McKenzie sent his latest story to the list. Now that's what fan-fic is all about, he thought to himself as he turned off the computer and sighed. He'd check his e-mail tomorrow.

Igor whined and Mac laughed. "Sorry boy, you can't be in every story. Maybe next time."

chapter five

"Welcome to Castle Dracul," our tour guide spoke with that guttural broken English that anyone who's watched a horror movie has learned to expect. He was even dressed in the traditional, at least for Bavaria as opposed to Transylvania; forest green shorts with crossed suspenders and knee high socks one expects from a local tour guide. To put it bluntly, it could not have been more fake looking if he had tried. There were some equally phony looking wall hangings and suits of armor, as if Vlad the Impaler would have used a jumble of late 14th century English and French armor. In point of fact, as far as Melvin Ukiah Dodson could tell, only the physical structure itself was authentic. Luckily, that bothered the middle-aged gentleman not at all.

"Save me the spiel, Hans," Melvin interrupted while waving the tour guide into silence. "I don't need it and I don't want it. I'm here to see the ghost your village aldermen claim inhabits the castle, so point me to the dungeon and let me stretch out my sleeping bag and gear."

"Ah, er, but of course Mr. Dodson." But it was quite evident from the man's expression and tone of voice that it was not all right. "Follow me please."

"Is this satisfactory Mr. Dodson?"

It seemed the dungeon was dust free. It was actually the best kept room in the castle if you ignored the green slime seeping down one wall, probably the one nearest the moat, or the flickering candle light that didn't even reach to the other walls. Heck, the rack and the iron maiden even looked authentic.

"Sure, fine. Now can we forgo the rest of the ten-cent tour and really talk? I do have questions and I'd like to hear the answers, but not that garbage that you hand out to the tourists."

"I'm not certain what you mean, sir..."

"But you'll stay as long as I'm paying for your time, right?"

"Well, yes -- at least until nightfall. I will not remain in the castle after nightfall no matter what the payment."

"Fair enough. In the meantime, how about the real story here? We both know the Dracula crap is exactly that -- crap. Vlad's castle is at least a hundred miles east of here."


"Yah, yah. The Burgermeisters will be angry. Don't worry. I'm not going to tell anyone, so your job is safe Hans -- in fact, I'll triple your salary for the month if you're completely honest with me. I'm independently wealthy and I don't need to publish my findings. I'm just looking for one single instance of a true paranormal event. It's become an obsession with me ever since -- well, for a long time."

The guide thought for several seconds before he answered. Melvin watched as the guide's eyes transitioned from anger at Melvin's snide remarks, to calculated greed and finally to acceptance.

The bad Transylvanian accent was replaced by the cultured tones of a public school educated Englishman. "I believe we have a deal, Mr. Dodson. We shall start with my real name, William I. Harrington."

"Pleased to meet you Will," Melvin said pumping the other man's hand vigorously and smiling. "So, grab a seat beside me here on the rack and tell me what's really happening here."

"Delighted. As you have already surmised, this is not the famous castle of blood. No skulls ever hung from the ramparts and most of the furnishings you see here are inferior Asian copies of other eras and other places. In fact, one of the breastplates in the Great Hall is actually made of plastic. Quite gauche.

"The true story of this castle is actually somewhat more peculiar, involving an Englishman, a Priest, and a demon."

"This has all the makings of a really bad joke, doesn't it?" Melvin asked propping his sleeping bag under his buttocks in order to get more comfortable. "I hope it will at least have a good punch line. But I warn you, one more lie and you get absolutely nothing."

"Oh, it will sir, it will..."

The year was 1812. There was yet another war going on in the upstart colonies across the ocean and Horace Whitting and his brother were somewhere in the Carpathians cursing the driver who would not, or could not, understand their instructions to drive at a slower more respectable pace. The carriage bounced insanely down the deeply rutted dirt road. Trees, so ancient and massive they completely arched across the road, had swallowed the full moon and it was inconceivable that the driver had the slightest concern for the safety of the horses, the carriage or it's occupants. At the sound of a wolf, baying in the distance, the driver's whip flashed and the carriage swept through the night with even greater abandon. It became all its occupants could do to hold on to the handrails and pray for safe deliverance.

Such was their condition, eyes closed, praying for Heavenly aid, that they failed to notice the carriage shoot into a clearing with neatly plowed fields. It was the silence visited upon them, the absence of creaking leather and groaning springs that first caused them to realize that they had stopped.

Pulling aside the curtain, Horace espied flickering lights through a window and realized they now stood before a local hostelry. He tapped his brother, Father Reginald, on the shoulder, so that he would drop his beads and open his eyes, Then, pulling his brother along behind him, Horace stepped quickly from the carriage, fearing the madman posing as a driver would suddenly decide to continue his race through the stygian night.

As Father Reginald knelt to kiss the ground fervently, Horace examined the inn before them. The lettering on the sign was faded enough to be illegible, even should Horace have known the barbaric local dialect, but the image, in slightly better repair, appeared to show an inverted five pointed star and a man's head with the horns of a ram growing from it. Upon the door was a huge wreath of a smelly tuberous plant that could only be garlic -- it wasn't bad enough that the locals had to cook with the vile stuff; they even used it as an adornment.

Surveying the rest of the village yielded less than a score of other structures in even poorer repair then the tavern before them. With a sigh, Horace, pulled at his brother until the priest was again standing and guided him toward the inn.

"That is a sign of the devil. I will not enter that building."

"Henry Whitting, you are my younger brother and I promised mother I would take care of you. Now priest or no priest, you are not going to remain out-of-doors this night unless you have decided that dying of consumption shall assure you of martyrdom."

"I am not a martyr and I..."

A great thud sounded as the brothers' wooden wardrobe trunk was flung from the roof of the carriage, landing at their feet.

"Watch what you are doing you bloody great oaf."

"Watch your language brother. I may be your junior, but I am also a priest, as you have just reminded me." Father Reginald turned to the driver who was frantically scrambling back to the driver's seat. "You there. Driver. We wish to be brought to a different inn."

Without even glancing back, the driver clambered into his seat, jerked his whip from its resting place and snapped it at the horses. The one on the left reared when the whip struck its hindquarter, pawing at the air, foaming at the mouth from the day's exertions. With a single wild roar it collapsed to the ground, shuddered once and was still. Without even that much fanfare, the second horse crumpled beside it and was dead also.

The driver stared down at the carnage below him, face white, eyes wide with fear. Jumping from the carriage, he ran off into the twilight screaming. In the distance the wolf howled again. Then there was silence.

"Be strong brother. At best the image is a tasteless joke. At worst, there are souls in there for you to save. Unless you wish to sleep outside with the wolves or die of consumption, you will join me at this inn." Without glancing back, Horace firmly grasped the trunk and, dragging it behind him, entered the building, taking care to avoid the aromatic herbs on the door.

The wolf howled again. This time it was followed by an ungodly scream, much like a man might make if he were being gutted and eaten alive. Father Reginald hurried after his older brother into the inn.

"That was not too bad now, was it Henry?" Horace asked as he tossed a chicken bone out the window of their new carriage.

Horace was again gently tweaking his brother for his fears at the inn. It had actually been surprisingly clean and comfortable. The innkeeper, a man who talked so much the bothers wondered if he also spoke in his sleep, had explained that the inn had been named "The Devil's Horns" by an ancestor with an unpleasant sense of humor and a tendency to serve "long pork" when there was insufficient cattle, goat, or pig at hand. Despite this gruesome revelation, their dinner and breakfast repasts had been surprisingly tasty. For that matter, the innkeeper had been quite helpful, finding another carriage and driver to take them to the conclusion of their journey. He had even prepared the luncheon repast they were currently enjoying.

Their journey's conclusion was almost at hand, Castle Fodor, was a short way above them on the winding road they followed. Built on a mountainous crag, its crenels and ramparts sullenly overlooked the valley below. Had it been light enough when they had stopped the night before at the Devil's Horns, they would have seen it, outlined by the blood-red glow of the setting sun.

"Our inheritance is almost upon us brother," Horace noted greedily.

"Not ours -- yours, Father Reginald corrected. "I am here at the family's request to insure that it is free of pestilence and evil. Once that is completed I shall return to my contemplative duties at my order."

"True. True. Your wisdom is my undoing yet again and that is the real reason for your presence. I may be the warrior who jumps to the fray, but you are the scholar with the wisdom that tempers my blade. But look. It is upon us. Rejoice, for this shall soon be over."

It had taken much of the day to make it to the top of the mountain. The slopes were steep, the switchbacks were sharp and the road narrow with an abrupt drop off, so the carriage driver had moved slowly and deliberately. As soon as they had reached the portico at the entrance to the castle, the driver had unloaded their luggage, turned the rig and left, despite their repeated protests. As they watched the carriage disappear in a rapidly diminishing cloud of dust behind a craggy outcropping, Father Reginald tried to make light of the situation.

"It must be a local tradition. They must be rushing off to evening mass."

"I think you must have the truth of it brother, but I would have thought he might be patient enough to receive his fee for services," Horace noted wryly.

"So what now?"

"We explore the new family home," Horace answered as glibly as he could under the circumstances. But then, as he grabbed the traveling chest, he grumbled, "This is becoming a habit."

"Nonsense, dear brother. We'll have nun of that talk of habits in this barbaric land."

Horace just groaned. Whether it was due to the bad pun or the strain on his back, he would not say.

"This building must have been designed by a madman," Horace groaned after yet another coughing fit. They had slogged through room after room; all empty, excepting dust so thick it caused clouds when they walked through it -- and not a single right angle.

"All but this dungeon; not a trace of dust here," Father Reginald noted as he examined the room. Green slime oozed down one wall. Along another wall was an Iron Maiden and in the middle of the room was a rack. "I fear that some great evil has occurred in this place. Give me a moment to lay out my vestments and prepare. Then I shall bless this room and exorcize whatever demons lay hidden in this place of evil."

"Do you not think you might be laying it on a bit thick brother?" Horace asked, the wry smile that had faded as they had examined one dust-filled room after another, retuning to his features. "This is a dungeon. Most dungeons have seen blood and death, but this castle has been empty for ages, possibly centuries. We haven't even seen any rats. What self-respecting demon would hang around such a barren accommodation?

"Next we shall hear the crack and rumble of thunder such as Madam Shelley used in her tale of horror. What was the name again? Frank something? We read it together at school; under the covers during a stormy night as I recall."

A cold breeze flew through the room, causing the candles to gutter and nearly expire. Next there was a sharp crack followed by the prolonged booming of thunder. It was muffled by the stone walls surrounding them, but still clearly identifiable.

"Feeling better now?" Father Reginald chided. "The Lord has answered. Now allow me to complete my blessing."

"Sorry old chap, but I am afraid I must insist you desist from such actions."

The brothers turned as one toward the new voice, deep, rich and cultured, yet somehow dripping with evil. The Iron Maiden was slowly opening. Horace perversely wondered why the hinges did not squeak and began to wonder if it might not be a much newer piece than he had initially guessed, albeit an excellent copy. He quickly lowering his estimate of it's probable value, but this line of thinking, and much of the rest of his reasoning capacity, squealed to a grinding halt when he saw the thing coming out of the instrument of torture.

Father Reginald was first to recover. "Be gone vile demon!" he shouted while reaching for the vial of holy water he had just set upon the rack.

Horace turned toward his bother to see what he was doing, or at least he began to turn. He swiveled just far enough to see Father Reginald, hand extended, face a rictus of terror, frozen in the act of reaching for the holy water.

"Oh, do turn your eyes this way. It is quite rude not to look at the person with whom you are conversing."

As one, both brothers turned to face the Iron Maiden. From behind the half opened door stepped an apparition from a nightmare, a horror of pulsing body parts in constant motion, sliding from place to place on a vaguely humanoid shape. As they watched, the mouth slowly slid into view at the crotch. They watched it speak to them as it slowly traversed the body, zigzagging this way and that around larger objects until it was located in the general vicinity of a human's mouth.

"I must admit that it has been several centuries since I last had the opportunity to speak to a mortal. Please make yourselves comfortable. Horace found himself bending to seat himself in what felt like an overstuffed lounge chair, except that he could see nothing.

Would you like a cigar?" A long cylindrical object slowly crept from the thing's mouth. Smoke wafted gently from the tip and, as the creature took a deep puff, the tip turned cherry red. It was only after the smoke cleared that Horace realized exactly what was burning. He fought to scream and vomit at the same time, but could not move.

"Tut tut dear lads, we must maintain proper decorum," the thing said and suddenly the only desire either man has was to sit quietly and attentively.

"Gads, how rude of me. Here I am tutoring you in manners when I have neglected to provide proper introductions.

"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Puppick, Arch Demon Sloth Puppick at your service. And you are?"

Each man found himself providing a proper introduction.

"Much better. I am quite certain we shall get along famously. The two of you shall assist me to escape my captivity in this barren castle. You, priest, shall say the incantation, while you," he nodded politely to Horace, "shall provide the physical form for me."

With that, Father Reginald stood and donned his vestments inside out and with his cross hanging upside down. Then with great care, he urinated into the vial of holy water. In the meantime, Horace carefully stretched himself out on the rack, limbs spread to emulate the five points of a star. Puppick strode to a position between the two placing one fluctuating extremity on each man's head.

Father Reginald, again unable to move except to speak, began reciting in Latin, speaking the Lord's Prayer in reverse. The candles flared brighter and suddenly Puppick started laughing maniacally. Then Horace started laughing also. As the prayer proceeded, the demon's laughter became quieter and eventually stopped while Horace's laughter grew louder and louder until it seemed to shake the entire castle.

Father Reginald finished the prayer and stood mutely staring at the scene before him. The demon's extremities slowly oozed to its sides and then the demon slide to the floor in a quivering lump.

"Free. I'm free!" Horace shouted as he jumped joyously off the rack.

Father Reginald, still unable to move anything but his mouth called out to his brother, "Horace. Quickly. Kill the monster. Show me the faith I know you have and grab the cross from my neck. You can stab it into the monster to kill it."

"I think not," Horace answered.

"But..." Father Reginald's eyes bugged out as he realized what had happened.

"Ah, the good Father comprehends. Your dear brother is there." Horace pointed to the disgusting mass on the floor.

"Sadly, you have shown that you still have the presence of mind to be dangerous. I would have preferred to keep you about as a pleasing reminder of my debased nature, but then I would need to be on guard constantly.

"No. I fear you must die, but if it will make you feel any better, your death shall permit your dear brother to live, albeit in my shadow."

Horace's hand lashed out, penetrating the priest's chest and then slowly pulling out a still beating heart. Horace muttered something and tossed the heart onto the demonic mass. It instantly disappeared into the shifting masses.

Looking down at the thing that Horace had become, the demon tsked. "You are an unsightly creature. Well, we shall do something about that immediately.

"I have left you a bit of myself, enough to permit you to perform some magic and, more importantly, to assure that the wards on this castle fail to realize that I have gone. Now stand and make yourself pleasing to me."

The creature stood. With a shudder, the body parts were engulfed by skin, raw, red, pustule covered skin.

"More pleasing."

The skin became healthy. Hair formed. A duplicate of Horace stood in place of the monster.

"Still more pleasing. I have been many long centuries without recourse to satisfy my lusts.

Horace blurred and changed yet again. His waist shrunk. His chest developed two large globes. Hair flowed to just above the buttocks and the body became pleasingly soft and rounded. When the changes were done, Horace was now Lilith, femininity personified. She bowed and asked, "How may I please you, my lord?"

The new Horace jerked his thumb towards the rack.

"I can do without the lurid details," Melvin interrupted.

"Uh -- yes. Of course. Silly of me. Allow me to jump ahead to the conclusion.

"Horace was ravaged and the demon left. I suspect he has been responsible for much of the evil that has befallen the world in the years since. He left Horace in the castle with sufficient magical ability to change his form and do some simple parlor tricks. Horace has been responsible for much of the castle's reputation as haunted. However, that same magical ability also trapped Horace in the castle. It's been many long years since he's walked anywhere but the dust filled halls of this decaying monument to the long dead necromancer that created him."

"Nice story. Now how about some of that honesty you so glibly promised me?"


The guide's hand made a slight, but not quite understandable gesture and Melvin was unable to move.

"I fear you are correct. I was not completely candid. However, the lie was my name, not the story. It is not William Harrington, but Horace Whitting.

"By the way, did you wonder about the shapes of the rooms? Have you figured out why they are so irregular?"

"Nope. Are you going to tell me?"

"But of course. It is the least I could do in return for your generosity. It is the entire castle, by the way. It was built in the shape of a pentagram, thus the irregular shapes of the rooms."

"Great. But your suggestion that I'm going to give you anything is mistaken. I told you I would pay you if, and only if, you told me the complete truth. You just admitted to lying about your name so the deal's off." Melvin attempted to rise but found he could not.

"What the hell is going on here? What did you do to... ?"

Another gesture and Melvin was silent.

"Such a wonderful thing, the ability to do magic. Puppick left me so little, but it is amazing how much can be done with what he did leave. I've been such a good student too, practicing all the time. Did you know that practice makes perfect? It also means that I can do more with the little bit of magic I have than Puppick ever dreamed possible. Instead of giving up something of myself like Puppick did to escape, I can just walk out of here, with your assistance. You shall join me and serve me in whatever manner I wish."

The guide spoke several words in an unrecognizable language and made two more hand gestures. He watched as Melvin slowly changed.

"Of course, there must be priorities to life and I too have needs."

He snapped his fingers and Melvin could move. He quickly scrambled to his feet and started to back away from the madman before him. Melvin almost didn't notice the changes until he tripped and nearly fell over the cuff of his pants. Focusing on himself, he felt movement to a part of his body that should never have moved like it had. Looking down he realized that he was smaller... and... and... and she screamed.

"Come to me my dear," Horace beckoned to the beautiful woman before him. "First you shall salve my needs, providing me the last bits of power I need to escape this prison. Then, we shall leave here and..."

interlude five

"What do you think, Igor?" McKenzie asked as he placed the whatever-it-was back in its box. "I wonder if anyone will get the Yiddish joke about the name?" Igor refused to respond, lying with his back to Mac. Jokes about belly buttons were definitely not his thing and the old joke about speaking ex-cathedra from his belly button was old back when Heinlein used it.

"What? You're still angry about not being in that last story? Geez, I didn't know dogs held a grudge. You're in this story as two characters -- actually more than two. First you are the wolves. Note the plural. That means more than one. Then you were also the inspiration for William I. Harrington. Get it?" "William I. The "I" actually stands for Igor."

The dog remained unmoved.

"A little support here, Igor old boy, or you can go live with my sister and her family," McKenzie teased, hoping for a slightly more positive response. Igor was unmoved, not even a tail wag was offered.

With a shrug, McKenzie sent off the story and then downloaded his mail. There were a couple of pieces of spam, nothing significant, just attempts to sell him swampland in Florida and others of that ilk.

McKenzie quickly moved on to his list mail. "Okay folks, let me see all those wonderful letters of praise and encouragement," he thought with a smile. There was the biweekly announcement of how to unsubscribe from the list. There were a ton of messages debating the proper terminology to describe rabbit fur. Where were the damn letters of praise? Wait. Here was one, about his Sherlock Holmes story. Hell, it was from that idiot Wally the Weasel, again.

"Why didn't you tell the readers up front that Holmes and Watson were old? How much older were they anyway, sixty, seventy. Eighty? I'll bet they were over a hundred for that kind of science to be around."

"Grrrrr." Flame time. If Fred wouldn't deal with the idiot, McKenzie would. He started typing again. "Okay, Mr. Weasel, one of these days you will really get yours for criticizing me."

chapter six
SRU to You, Too, McKenzie
(with apologies to Bill Hart)

McKenzie found the shop at the end of a long, barely used corridor in the mall. A faded "Going Out Of Business" sign still hung in the front window, along with a collection of junk, knickknacks and sundries. The sign over the door read, "Spells R'nt Us." A large sign on the door proclaimed in larger letters, "No Spells Here. That Means You. Under New Management."

Pushing his way through the door, McKenzie heard the tinkle of chimes overhead. The store had a wide array of goods, mostly used and all of it marked down for quick sale. He picked up a porcelain horse.

"Hi, McKenzie, how can I help you today?" said a young voice from behind.

The man turned and found a small boy, dressed in a gray business suit standing about a foot behind him. "How did you know my name?"

"All part of the whole Spells R'nt Us shtick, you know. I know, you were expecting someone older, dressed in a bathrobe, but the old dude is gone and I'm here now. Meet my guard dog," the kid said pointing to a puppy that looked a lot like a wolf cub.

"Oh, nice dog. Listen, I need something for my girlfriend, well, my ex-girlfriend, that might get her to change her mind about me. Heck -- er, gosh -- I just want her to love me."

The kid reached up and pulled on McKenzie's shirt. "Hey, mister, how old do I look to you?"

"Ten, maybe eleven," McKenzie said with a shrug.

"Good guess. I'm eleven, but do you really think I know anything about girls and what they want? Get real, here. You're supposed to wander through the shop, find something that you absolutely adore, give it to her and then have her laugh about how hideous it is. That's what usually happens. Look over here," the boy said and motioned McKenzie to follow. "See, we have an almost new Beauflex machine. You know you are a bit of a porker, there, mister. Twenty minutes a day and maybe in thirty years it will give you real twelve-pack abs. Wouldn't that impress your girl?"

"That's supposed to be six-pack abs."

The boy laughed. "You know anyone that has those in real life? Most guys that buy these things work out for twenty minutes, throw the machine away and spend the rest of the day pounding down twelve packs -- like my dad. Forget six-pack, in thirty years you'll find out what twelve-pack abs look like. So, shop all you want, mister. Ring the bell when you're ready to check out."

Smart-assed kid, McKenzie thought as he walked down the first row of shelves. Nothing there, he thought as he headed down the second row, then the third. Eventually he made two complete circuits of the store before he noticed the doll. The toy looked to be an antique, with a pale-white porcelain head, a brown wig and white hands. A touch of rouge was painted on each of the doll's cheeks and it was dressed in a flowing white dress with lavender bows. Barbie would love it, he decided. She collected old dolls, after all.

He carried the doll to the counter and rang the bell. The wolf cub yipped a couple of times until the boy in the suit came out of the back room. He took one look at the doll and nodded his head.

"Good choice, McKenzie. She might actually like that. Now how much do you think a priceless antique doll like that would cost?"

"Priceless antique? Please, kid, don't make me laugh. I'll give you twenty for the doll."

"Done -- Sold American!" The kid snapped and grabbed the offered twenty. "That has to be exactly what your girl friend wants. Have a good afternoon, mister. Come back anytime."

McKenzie cradled the doll as he walked out the door. Something about that transaction didn't seem right. The kid hadn't put up any sort of fight over the price. Too young, or perhaps the doll really wasn't as valuable as he thought. In any case, he thought as he settled the doll on the front seat of his car, he would take the doll home and work on finding the best time to give it to Barbie.

Over the next week, McKenzie relaxed by brushing and arranging the doll's hair. He bought several, old fashioned outfits for the doll to wear, and he found that he liked dressing her -- so much so that by the end of the week the doll had a pretty outfit for each day. He especially liked the frilly white dress he had picked up for Sunday church services.

Sunday morning came. McKenzie spent time primping himself, brushing his freshly washed hair, shaving very close and even clipping the hair in his nose. Finally, at ten that morning someone knocked on the door.

He walked over to the door and opened it. Barbie walked in, still as pretty as ever.

"This has better be good, McKenzie. I had hoped I would never see you again."

Fighting the sudden cramps in his stomach, McKenzie nodded, and managed a nervous smile. "I know, Barbie, and I know that we can never be any more than good friends now, but I do want to be your friend. I found this for you."

"What?" she asked, less than impressed.

McKenzie walked over to the doll, picked it up and hugged it. This was crazy; he couldn't give up his doll. She was his, not Barbie's. Not sure what to do, he stammered out, "Uh, uh, I..."

"Oh, what a beautiful doll," Barbie exclaimed. "I love her."

"No, she's mine," McKenzie shouted. He felt the doll tingle in his hands. "I love her. She's mine."

"Then what was it... oh, my God," she said as the man visibly shrank five inches in front of her. He shrank again, and his face grew younger. McKenzie's hair stood out from his head as it grew longer, blonder and curly. He had no chance to pick at his oversized shirt, before he shrank again. This time, his clothes changed with him.

"What?" he managed to blurt out as his shirt and pants flowed together to make a little girl's party dress. His shoes changed to Mary Jane's complete with white ankle socks, and a large pink ribbon tied itself in his hair. McKenzie, now the size and shape of a five year old, closed his eyes as the world shuddered.

Melanie opened her eyes, and held her dolly tight. "Oh, thank you, Mommy, she's beautiful."

"That came from an old friend of Mommy's, Precious. He will never know it, but he gave me you and you were exactly what Mommy wanted. Let's go get in the car, and go home."

"Yes, Mommy."

The wolf pup whimpered as the kid closed up the shop.

"What?" the boy asked.

Another whimper. It was followed by a whine.

"So? I know it's traditional, but this is my shop now and I don't do bimbos."

interlude six

Yes, thought McKenzie, as he read the latest batch of messages from the list. They still love me. Even Fred, the List Admin, had sent out a memo ordering the flames to end. Igor seems to have forgiven me. Maybe it was the wolf pup in this latest story, but Mac really didn't care why the dog was paying attention to him again as long as he was doing it. With Barbie gone, Igor was his only real-life friend and he still regretted his teasing threat to send the Irish setter to live with his sister and her brood.

Of course, he had more friends on the 'net. There had been three different messages of support, or to be more accurate, messages chastising his critic. Boy that felt good; another one or two and it would probably turn into a full-blown flame war. Changing identities, Mac happily typed away. Before he was done, not one, not two, but three new messages were flying through the electrons of the Internet to help the war along.

chapter seven

"Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Thank you." Another bow and the applause finally died. Victoria Lane glided off the stage and to her dressing room, or as she preferred to call it, her closet with built in makeup table.

"What took you so long dearie? Waiting to see if one of those jealous queens was going to throw you a bouquet?" Freddie asked as he carefully removed the pins and slid Victoria's wig off her head. Freddie was the best dresser Victor had ever found.

"Ouch," Victoria complained. "Be careful. You nearly pulled out the rest of my hair."

"I didn't pull any of your hairs dearie and you know it. Someone's got a bit of testosterone poisoning, if that shiny dome is any indication."

"I am not going bald. I'm..."

"Already bald," Freddie interrupted with a huge grin. "You've been bald as long as I've known you. More than ten years now. Why I knew you when you were still..."

"Victor Lansky," Victoria said in significantly lower male voice. "But I'm still the best damned female impersonator in this city and the only one who's straight."

"True, true, but what a waste. You know you'd have 'em lined up and waiting if you'd just give 'em a nod."

"There's a better chance I'm going to give up little Victor. Why don't you give them a thrill? I know you want to."

"I probably would, but you know as well as I that they want the star -- they want you, not me."

"Oh hell. This corset is killing me. Help me get out of this rig," Victor demanded as he grabbed a handful of cold cream and started rubbing it on his face. "I wanna go home and watch the Knicks game, assuming I set the VCR properly."

"You need a man to do that properly," Freddie smiled cattily and paused for effect, "the VCR I mean."

"Be careful dearie. You know this is a bad area," Freddie said as he waved goodbye from the stage door.

"Don't worry about me Freddie. I'll be fine. I've been a New Yorker all my life." Victor waved and strode confidently up the garbage-strewn alley.

While it's true that people are doing things twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week in any city, and that New York, being one of the largest cities in the world, has more people working the off-hours than most, 3 AM is still a pretty quiet time. The bakery and newspaper trucks have yet to start their appointed rounds. The night shifts won't end for another three hours or so. Only the bums, hookers and others with a special affinity for the dark are about.

If Victor had not been making this same walk to the IRT every night for the last fifteen years, first as a stage hand, then as an apprentice like Freddie and finally as a star, he would have felt much less secure. Even so, he still kept his head down and walked briskly, not wanting to intrude or allow others to intrude on his life. He would stay in the lighted sections of the main streets, walking near, but not next to others who had clear destinations and steer clear of the loiterers, the ones who wanted something from you. Too many people got mugged, maimed or murdered because they didn't know the rules and Victor had vowed that he would not be one.

The quick pop, pop, popping sound changed those rules. One pop might have been a tire blowing out. More than one meant trouble with a capital "T" and that meant find a safe spot and hide until the turf war, hit, or marital disturbance was done.

Unsure where the noises had come from, or even if it really had been more than a single pop due to the echoes off the tall buildings surrounding him, Victor picked a direction at random, ran the few feet to the nearest alley and bolted into it. That was his first mistake.

As he entered the dark alley two large men, each easily a head taller than him ran past him. One struck Victor a grazing blow as he passed, making the man lose his grip and drop the already half opened medical transport container in his hand. The bump knocked Victor off balance and sent him spinning even as he tried to reverse direction. That was his second mistake.

If he had just stopped or even fallen immediately as a result of the bump, he probably would have been okay. However, Victor, not connecting the two men to the probable gun shots he had heard, tried to keep moving into the alley and regain his balance. Instead, he staggered backward several steps until he tripped and fell over something. Victor used all the grace and fluidity he had learned and practiced since starting gymnastics and ballet classes as a preteen to twist as he fell, hoping to turn enough to allow him to use he hands to cushion the fall. That was his third and final mistake.

He nearly made it. One hand, still bent at the elbow, struck something large and soft. It was an awkward position, but the lump saved him from a possibly serious injury had his unprotected elbow struck the pavement. He did manage to extend his other hand and the palm of that other hand struck the litter strewn cement and skidded producing pain.

Cursing prodigiously, Victor started to push himself into a kneeling position so he could get up when his eyes acclimated to the lower level of light in the alley. That's when he realized that the lump he was lying on was a man, a very dead one given the significant portion of his head that had been blow away.

Sad to say, in this day and age not everyone is a model citizen. Victor thought long and hard before he pulled out his cell phone with his uninjured hand and called the police. He was sorry almost immediately.

In what was, in Victor's admittedly limited experience, a very short time, a police car pulled up to the entrance to the alley and two large police officers clambered out. Neither was smiling and both acted like Victor had pulled the trigger.

Both had flashlights and while the smaller of the two half-heartedly examined the body for a pulse and shook his head. "He's got a uniform on. Looks like he does deliveries for some company called BioGenTech." Standing, he strolled back to the patrol car to call the coroner to pick up the body and the detective squad for whoever was on call. While he was doing that, the larger cop roughly pushed Victor against a brick wall and shone his flashlight in Victor's eyes as he demanded identification.


Victor pulled it from his wallet and gave it to the cop.

"Victor Lansky, 112 Houston apartment 15E." Frowning the cop examined the photo on the license and matched it against Victor's face.

"That you?"

"Yes officer."

"It's a little late to be taking a stroll this far away from home. What are you doing here?"

"I'm an entertainer. I work at the 'Cattle Call,' two blocks south of here. I was on my way to the subway to go home when..."

"Slow down. I don't want your life story. Ain't that that gay sex club?"

"It's a club and some of the patrons may be other than heterosexuals, but it's not a sex club. Besides, what does that have to do with... ?"

"I said, I'd ask the questions. So what made you decide to turn in this alley when the subway entrance is two blocks north?"

Victor sighed and decided that the next time he found a dead body he was going to walk away. It was going to be a long night.

"My don't we look like shit?" Freddie asked as soon as he strutted into the dressing room and saw Victor's face. Victor was too tired to even respond. "What's wrong? Are you sick?" he asked solicitously.

"No, just dead tired. I found a dead body last night on the way home and made the huge mistake of calling New York's Finest. I haven't slept and I spent most of the time since I found the body being grilled like I was the murderer. It was just moments ago that I cleaned up the cuts and abrasions on my hand. Boy was there a lot of blood." Head slumping onto his arms on the makeup table, Victor's muffled voice added, "I'm dead tired and I feel like I'm going to throw up."

"You're burning up too," Freddie noted as he pulled his hand away from Victor's forehead and shook it like he'd burned himself. "You're going back home and to bed. I'll tell the manager you're sick."

Victor's objections were overruled by his sudden need to vomit.

"Felling any better dearie?"

Victor found himself in his own bedroom, staring up at his friend. Freddie was holding a tray with a bowl of something on it. "Here's some chicken soup. I got it from the kosher deli down the street so it should have enough good stuff in it to cure whatever you've had. It's been four days by the way. Do you think you can sit up? Would you like some help? I can..."

"Whoa Tonto," Victor held up a hand to stop the torrent of words. His arm looked thinner than he remembered and Victor thought, "I must have been really sick," but he elbowed himself into a sitting position and realized he was in his pajamas but still had his breast forms on.

"Freddie, thank you for all you've done, whatever you've done, but I'm beginning to feel better. Can you help me to the bathroom so I can relieve myself and then can you help me get these damn breast forms off? I'm going to have a horrible rash." I opened my pajama top to display the offending appliances.

"Ah Victor? I think there's something you should know. While you were sick, something happened. You..."

The doorbell rang, followed immediately by the sounds of loud and insistent pounding on the door.


"Open up in there. This is the police."


"Had better get the door Freddie. You can tell me whatever it is that's so important after the cops have gone."

With a sigh, Freddie left to get the door.

"Are you Victor Lansky? No, you're not him. Where's Victor Lansky?" The voice grew louder as it approached Victor's bedroom."

"You can't go in there I've got a sick friend in there," Freddie said shrilly.

"Yeah. Right." A second later, the detective who'd replaced the street cop and questioned me all night and most of the next day was in the bedroom.

"Victor Lansky, you are under arrest for the murder of..." He stopped and stared at the breast forms.

Annoyed Victor purposely left the pajama tops hang open as he used his best Marilyn Monroe voice to answer, "Can I help you officer?"

"Uh... uh..."

"Cat got your tongue officer?"

"Are you Victor Lansky?"

"Do I look like Victor Lansky?" Victor smiled sweetly.

"It says here Victor Lansky is an entertainer, a female impersonator to be specific. For all I know, you are Victor Lansky," he replied gruffly, still staring at the breast forms.

"Well, what do you want me to do officer, strip my pajama bottoms off so you can decide whether I'm a boy or a girl?"

"Uh..." You could almost smell the smoke from his overloaded brain. "Uh... no. I guess that won't be necessary."

Turning to Freddie, he said, "If you see Victor Lansky, you tell him to contact Sergeant Lincroft at this number." The officer shoved a business card into Freddie's chest pocket. "It would be best for him if he turned himself in."

"Ooh officer. Can I have another card?" Freddie asked dreamily.

The officer cursed and stalked out of the apartment. As soon as the officer was gone, we both laughed hysterically. When we had finally recovered enough to talk, I reminded Freddie that I needed to get to the bathroom and also to get the breast forms off.

"That's what I was trying to tell you before Officer Lincroft so rudely interrupted. Now look dearie, I'm going to say this fast, before there are any more interruptions, so don't freak on me, okay?"

"Freddie, just tell me whatever it is you have to say already. If you keep procrastinating like that, I'm going to wet the bed soon."

"Right." He took a deep breath. "Those aren't breast forms, they're real breasts. Somehow, you've turned into a real woman. There, I've said it."

He stood expectantly, waiting for Victor to tell him he was nuts, but Victor just got a distant look on his face as he mumbled, "BioGenTech. Biosample case. Cuts on hand. More blood than I would have expected from the minor injuries I had. Oh shit." Victor Lansky fainted.

When Victor woke up, Freddie was sleeping in a chair beside his bed, head back, snoring quietly. Careful not to wake him, Victor slid out of the bed and padded into the bathroom. The urge to relieve herself was strong, but the urge to examine herself was much stronger.

She felt faint when she saw the image reflected back in her mirror. The height looked to be about the same. Five foot eight, she guessed. And she estimated that her weight was now a bit less at about 115 lbs. instead of 145, but that was where things diverged dramatically. Her bald head now sported a luxuriant mane of blonde hair. Her "breast forms" appeared to be a healthy D cup. Her waist was positively tiny, flowing outward into a clearly feminine pair of hips and down into an outstanding pair of legs -- the word "gams" fought for and quickly supplanted legs as the appropriate descriptive term. All in all, Victor had to admit that whoever had created the concoction -- she couldn't think of a better word -- that had changed her, had done an absolutely fabulous job.

Curiosity finally assuaged, Victor began her morning ablutions, showering, shaving, relieving herself, moisturizing, etc. It amused her to note that the differences were minimal. Basically, she did not need to shave her face or don one of the corsets she so hated. One of the advantages of being a female impersonator was that she was already doing much of what the average woman would do, although some additional study regarding the unique peculiarities of feminine hygiene and medical care seemed a high priority.

The other thought that kept running through Victor's mind was "why am I not more upset by this?" It has made me a non-entity. I can no longer do my job. Even if I can find a way to become Victor Lansky again, I'm going to be a fugitive. She was still pondering these issues as she walked out of the bathroom and found Freddie in the kitchen preparing breakfast.

He had set the small round table with a clean white tablecloth and placed a single rose in a narrow fluted vase. Wondering what was going on, Victor sat and watched as he placed the finishing touches on a plate of sliced fresh strawberries covered in freshly whipped cream and lightly dusted with powdered confectioner's sugar. Beside that, he added a steaming cup of coffee with a touch of Irish Cream and more whipped cream.

"What's the occasion?"

"I guess we could say it's your coming out party."

Victor hesitated several moments, uncertain how to respond. "I'm not quite certain I understand Freddie. Do you mean we're celebrating my becoming a woman?"

"And the first time I've ever slept over at your place. And your new career. And..."

"Whoa. Slow down there. I'm still a bit slow it seems. What are you talking about? I've lost my identity and my job. I'm a fugitive. I've got some disease or something that's changed me into a woman. I don't understand what we're celebrating."

"Tut, tut dearie. You worry too much. Relax. Enjoy your breakfast and let old Freddie explain."

Victor didn't move.

"Come on. Eat up. You wouldn't want to hurt my feelings now, would you?"

"Perish the thought," Victor couldn't help laughing. Picking up her fork, she took a small portion and chewed it daintily. "Say this is really good. I should have invited you over years ago."

"Just one of my many talents. I once spent a year at a culinary school. Now enjoy and allow me to clarify your life."

Victor nodded and took another mouthful, allowing it melt in her mouth. It was hard to concentrate on anything but the fantastic flavors bursting in her mouth, but she made the effort.

"I've been awake a lot more than you and so I've had more time to consider what's happened here. Let's take things one a time.

"First, whatever the biological vector was that caused this change --"

"BioGenTech. The guy had a BioGenTech delivery uniform."

"-- right... it's a biological vector. Now I once spent a year and a half working for the New York City Coroner's Office and I learned that there are really only two types of vectors, those are methods of transmission, for biological agents.

"They can be transmitted through the air, but I've been breathing the same air as you for nearly a week with no impact, so we can probably rule that out.

"They can also be transmitted through bodily fluids and I've handled enough of yours while you were sick, that I'm pretty sure we can rule that out. Besides, just to make sure, I did the old blood brother oath thing with you -- you know, mixing our blood together -- without being effected.

"The bottom line is -- you're not contagious."

"That's good, right?"

"Yes dearie, that's very good. So that leaves the issue of identity and employment."

"And the fact that I'm now a wanted fugitive."

"Wrong dearie. Victor Lansky is a wanted fugitive. You're not him any more. Let's take care of identity next. Remember how you asked me to help you find a way to travel as Victoria without getting arrested when you were running from gig to gig last year?"

"The fake IDs?"

"Exactly dearie, the fake IDs, the best that 42nd Street could provide. You have a birth certificate, a driver's license, a social security number, and even a credit card in the name of Victoria Lane.

"Victoria Lane," she mussed. "Victoria Lane. I'm Victoria Lane. Pleased to meet you, I'm Victoria Lane." She extended her hand to Freddie and he shook it with a big smile.

"But that leaves money. I don't have a job any more."

"Of course you do dearie. Seymour down at the 'Cattle Call' has been calling every day to check on how you are doing. He wants you back so bad it isn't funny. Business is off more than 30% since you went out sick."

"But Freddie. I can't be Victoria Lane the person and Victoria Lane the entertainer. It won't work. Who's going to want to see a female impersonating a female?"

"Dearie, dearie. That's the absolute beauty of it. You won't be a female impersonating a female; you'll be a female impersonating a male who is impersonating a female. Didn't you ever see that movie with Julie Andrews and Robert Preston? It's called..."

"Victor/Victoria." Victoria hugged Freddie for all she was worth.

interlude seven

McKenzie scratched at the itch on his chest. I've been scratching that itch almost all the bloody time lately, he thought as he wiped his forehead, and brushed the hair out of his eyes. Haircut time soon, he realized, or his supervisor at the warehouse would write him up for improper grooming, again.

Damn, he grunted as he looked down at the dog and scratched his chest again. He had hoped it was just an allergy that would subside once Igor went on his quarterly trip to the salon, but no such luck.

Turning away from the computer, Mac stretched and walked over to the gray box on his kitchen table. Inside, lay a gun-like object with a shiny golden sheen. There was what looked like a handle and a barrel, but no other buttons or triggers. McKenzie had to admit it might not even be a gun except in his imagination. Whatever it was, it had fallen out of one of the boxes he had accidentally knocked over at work when the mockingbird dive-bombed McKenzie's head to keep him away from its nest.

He'd have to think about returning the box -- sometime, but the object was fascinating. Maybe he could use it in a story, he thought as he turned it in various directions and flicked the imaginary trigger several times. After all, ideas have to come from somewhere, didn't they?

chapter eight
The Princess Journals

"McKenzie Rigby?" The man at the door wore a dark gray suit that screamed money. A red rose resided in the lapel of his suit jacket.

"Yeah?" McKenzie asked scratching at his chest. "That's me. Who are you?"

"I am Count Kristoff von Dachnaney. I represent the government of the Kingdom of Slovarnia. May I come in?" the man asked showing McKenzie his ID and papers.

"Sure, I guess, but what do you want with me?" McKenzie stepped out of the doorway. The man headed directly to the kitchen table and picked up the metallic gray object.

"Do you know what this is?"

"No, and I didn't steal it, if that's what you're thinking. I found it at work."

"It's yours, your highness. This is the case for the Royal Seal of Slovarnia, The Lion and the Tiger. Open it please."

McKenzie took the case, fingered it a couple times and, as if on cue, the case popped open to show what appeared to be a solid gold medallion with the images of a lion and tiger standing on their hind legs with a large seal between them engraved into the metal.

"So?" McKenzie looked up from the seal.

"Mr. Rigby, you have that seal because you are destined to have it. You are aware that you were adopted at birth, are you not?"

"Sure, why? My mother told me that when I was a kid, but I never could find my birth parents."

"Your birth parents were the last King and Queen of Slovarnia, King Richard, and Queen Emma. You were their first born child and thus are the heir to the Royal Throne."

"McKenzie laughed. "That has got to be the worse joke I have ever heard. Look, Mister, who are you really?"

"I really am from the Royal Court and I am here today to escort you, your highness, back to your kingdom. You were born the Princess Maryanna Magdelaine Eustacia Tatiana von Korngold."

McKenzie shook his head. "Look, Count. I don't know what you are trying to pull, but I am a male, there is no getting around that simple fact. I pee standing up, I shave and I never took a hormone pill in my life. No amount of surgery or injections when I was an infant could have done this to a female baby."

"Oh, no, your highness. We don't have all of that new science and technology in Slovarnia, yet. An old Gypsy woman named Bombi performed the magic that made you a male, in every respect."


"Yes, that's the one. An old Gypsy woman. Do you remember her? No? Doesn't matter then. She was an old crone when you were born and is positively ancient now. That is why we have to rush. If she dies before she removes this curse from you there could be dire consequences. Dire for you and the kingdom."

"I don't like the sound of that," McKenzie said. "Sounds like something I'd write. What would happen if Bombi died before removing the spell from me?"

"I don't know for certain, your highness, but I think you would turn into a little dog -- a cute little black dog, with a pug nose."

"Ah, but you don't know for certain. Who is ruling Slovarnia now?"

"That would be your uncle, Count Bedrich Smetanoff. He is taking care of the country, but everyone knows that he is just a straw man, waiting for your return."

"Ah, I see, but if my uncle usurped the throne so many years ago, why would he give it back to me now?"

"Good question, your highness, and I imagine he wouldn't give it back -- that is if he was the one that usurped the throne. That was done by a rogue, a real wizard of a confidence man, who called himself Ozzie Mandious. He proved to be nothing more than all flash with no substance, and your family did take back the throne last year with great rejoicing. Now, to make the celebration complete we ask that you, your highness, return to your ancestral home as well."

"This Ozzie guy, are you saying he killed my parents?" McKenzie demanded.

"Oh, no, not at all. Your mother and father, the former King and Queen of Slovarnia, retired to Monaco with most of the family treasury. They are still there as a matter of fact."

"Then why, in the name of all that is holy, was I turned into a boy, given to poor peasants in this country to raise, when my family is living it up in Monaco?"

"It is traditional," Count Kristoff explained with a shrug. "Your father was given to peasants and your grandfather before that. You grew up in poverty to get a better understanding of your subjects. Look around you, your highness. This flat, that computer and your job must be one hundred times better than the wealthiest of the peasants in Slovarnia. In Slovarnia you would be lucky to have a dirt hut and chicken of your own.

"Now don't go worrying that soon to be pretty little head of yours about the peasants, your highness. They have lived this way for hundreds of years. They wouldn't know any other way, so there is no need for you to start thinking of reforms. It isn't traditional."

"I see. Since my parents have most of the family treasury, as Princess would I have anything, or would I be lucky to have that same hut and chicken?"

"But you have the Ruby City, your highness, and the Ruby Palace and the lifestyle that goes with it. You also have any number of rich, royal suitors. You will not want for anything."

"Royal suitors? Oh, but I have a girl friend. Well, she was my girlfriend, but..."

"Do not worry about Miss Barbie, your highness. She has been silenced."

"What?" McKenzie shouted horrified. "You killed Barbie?"

"No, of course not," the count said quickly. "But, by now she will be hanging by her thumbs in Castle Caerfydduffyn to keep her silent. We cannot have anyone that might give you away to the enemy before your coronation, your highness."

"But I thought the Usurper was gone. What enemy?"

"Ah, this will be a problem, but nothing that you can't handle, your highness. Your cousin, the Grand Duchess Ginger has decided to take the crown for herself. She is claiming that you are dead. We must get you to Bombi before she can usurp the throne from you."

"But if she did, couldn't I then retire to Monaco with my parents?" McKenzie asked.

"No, Grand Duchess Ginger has never been one for traditions. She would have you killed in a heartbeat if she knew where you were."

"I've written about men transforming to women," McKenzie mused aloud. "Okay, I've written about a lot of men transforming to women. I like the idea of being royalty, but I'm not sure if I want to become a female in real life to do it. I'd wind up as a little dog if I don't?"

Count von Dachnaney nodded solemnly.

"Then shouldn't we go?" McKenzie asked, making up his mind.

"Yes, your highness."

"I have nothing to keep me here, then. To Slovarnia. How long a trip is it?"

"By the Concorde, not long at all. We do have one desert to fly over, and that is rather awful, but then you will experience the delights that Slovarnia has to offer it's true Princess."

Two cars waited outside for the Count, both nondescript Japanese makes. Five men waited in the second of the cars. McKenzie glanced at the man and he nodded questioningly.

"You're honor guard," the Count explained. "Those men have sworn loyalty to your family and to you, your highness. They would give their lives for you."

"Really?" McKenzie asked, glancing back at the men in awe. He scratched his chest.

"Yes, and pray that you don't have to test that loyalty," Count von Dachnaney said quietly.

The flight across the continents took forever, but the amenities on the plane made up for it. For the first time in his life, McKenzie flew first class and had stewardesses actually treat him with a show of respect. And the deference from each of the guards could grow addictive, he thought as he sipped another gin and tonic.

"If my friends on the list could see me," he said wistfully.

"They will eventually, your highness. After all, when you are restored to the throne, it will make international news. Be prepared for the fame that follows."

"But I don't know how to act like a princess. I grew up poor, remember?"

"Of course, it is tradition. Because you are the Princess, no one at court will dare laugh at your social blunders or your less than eloquent way of expressing yourself. They will, of course, titter behind your back all the time just loud enough that you will hear them, but not loud enough that you can call them on it. That, too, is tradition. In time, you will learn what you need to know about surviving court functions, but you will have a couple of good years for that, at least until the next usurper comes along."

"The next usurper?"

"Yes, they have one maybe two years to usurp the throne while the next Crown Prince or Princess is an infant, and after that the chance is lost. There are no registered usurpers at the moment, but that could change."

"One or two years?" McKenzie asked feeling lost.

"The Royal Heir must be an infant in order for the change of gender to be effective. Two is pushing it, although it has been done. Expect some turbulence when we approach the air space over the desert. They don't call this flight the twister for nothing."

"I feel that I should be riding a house and have a little dog at my side," McKenzie admitted. "Usurpers, courtiers and Princes, oh my!"

McKenzie watched the luggage from first class circle around the luggage rack. He froze at the sound of a stern woman's voice from behind him.

"Now which one of you -- a-hem -- handsome gentleman would be McKenzie?"

All of the men turned to stare at a tall woman, dressed in military style, from her olive tunic down to her patent leather pumps. She wore rather large diamond earrings and makeup that set off her green hair and eyes.

"Well, Grand Duchess," Count von Dachnaney said quietly. "What brings you here?"

"To see the fool that will be playing 'MaryAnn'. What else, my good Count? Anyone of you have the guts to admit it?"

"I'm McKenzie," one of the guards said bowing his head.

Shamed by this show of self-sacrifice, McKenzie answered as well. "No, I'm the one you want, Ginger, my dear. But where is the Skipper and Gilligan?"

"Don't listen to him. That's Gilligan, my dear. I'm McKenzie," added another guard.

"Don't look at me," said the third guard. "I'm just a guard."

Ginger looked behind her to her men, also dressed in quasi-military uniforms. "Take that one out and shoot him. There is never 'just a guard,' in situations like this."

"Wait!" cried an old voice from down the hallway. "Wait." A young man arrived in a sweat, pushing a wheel chair with an ancient lady half sitting, half slumped in the chair. "I am the Gypsy, Bombi," she said. "I can tell who the real Princess is."

"Get the old crone before she spoils everything," Ginger demanded.

"Princess?" several of the guards asked. "You said that the real Princess was dead, your Grace."

"She will be in a minute, once you've killed her. What difference does a day or two make? Get that crone or you will all pay dearly."

"I will pay a lot better than she does," McKenzie added.

Bombi pointed to the men, then stared at McKenzie. "You were just a babe in arms the last time these old eyes saw you, your highness. The real Princess has a strawberry shaped birthmark about an inch above her left breast."

McKenzie scratched his chest, and frowned. He opened his shirt and looked down at the red blotch that had been itching recently. "It does look like a strawberry, doesn't it?"

"Your Highness," Bombi said quietly. "You are the true heir to the throne of Slovarnia."

A thick white mist surrounded McKenzie from the floor up. He felt his entire body tingle, then shake as years of overeating melted away from his frame. His pale, pasty skin turned rosy fresh and his body developed some rather interesting curves. He felt his chest swelling against his T-shirt and, at last, his hair turned into golden tresses that curled over his shoulders.

"Your highness!" all the guards exclaimed including Ginger's.

McKenzie stopped studying his new body. He would have time later to shower and get used to his new shape, but for the moment he had to be the person in charge. "Ginger, you lose. You know the penalty for spreading rumors about my death and trying to usurp before I even take the throne."

The woman bowed, and McKenzie realized his gamble had paid off. "Bombi?"

"You are right, your highness." She pointed at Ginger. In seconds the erstwhile Grand Duchess changed into an exact copy of McKenzie's old self. Ginger stared down at herself, then screamed. She coughed, surprised by her new, lower voice and then screamed again.

"Do I still have it, or what?" the old lady asked.

"You bitch," the new McKenzie choked out. "You horrid bitch. This is worse than death."

"Don't worry, my dear," Princess Maryanna said. "I'll have Count Kristoff here take you back to the states, show you around your new home and teach you about your life there. If you ever try to return to Slovarnia..."

"I understand, I know the rules of exile. Very well, you've won this time, your highness, but there will always be usurpers to follow me."

The weeklong pre-coronation party was finally over, Maryanna thought as she strode gracefully, in her newest gown, across the marble floor to the dining area. For someone who had spent the better part of her adult life writing and dreaming about being female, Maryanna was in hog heaven. She had been fitted and measured for days and now had a wardrobe that would do any Royal proud. She had learned, and quickly, to walk in heels, apply makeup and carry off all the other essentials of a feminine lifestyle. For everything else, she had people to do for her.

The table fell silent as Maryanna took her place at the head. She sat down, tapped a spoon on her crystal wine goblet and cleared her throat. She glanced down at the long row of courtiers, sycophants, hangers on and other riffraff that had taken up residence in the Palace.

"Ladies and gentleman, by now you all know me and know that I was raised as a typical American male. This is not a matter for your amusement, it is a statement of fact, and as such I wish to make myself perfectly clear. I am the Princess of this Palace. I have spoken with my parents now, several times on the telephone and I have their blessing in this as well.

"I intend to trample all over the traditions of this country like people walking on grapes. I think Slovarnia needs new traditions and rulers to implement them. I intend to do just that. Anyone who objects will be asked to leave the palace, permanently.

"My actions may seem boorish to some of you, but if I ever catch anyone laughing or tittering about it, according to tradition, they will be tossed out the door. Is that understood? You know my guards, and you know that they can do it and will."

"Well, of course you would expect that kind of behavior from one of her background," a young woman tittered to her neighbor.

"Oh, my dear," Maryanna said quickly. "I am so sorry, but I was speaking to you. Eric, be a love and throw that lady out on her rear. She can send for her things."

"But, I never. It's tradition... I never meant any thing by it, your highness..." The lady in question was promptly escorted away from the table.

"Any questions? I hope not." She looked out at the gathered guests, and gave a little nod to Prince Rupert, her only official suitor, at the moment. He was a hunk; she had to admit, even if he refused to get rid of his overbite. She tapped the glass again. "Okay, let's eat."

Maryanna walked through her suite of rooms cradling her son, the Crown Prince Philip. "There, there, sweetheart, don't cry," she cooed, although the infant's face was still red from the effort. "It's... Who the hell are you?" she demanded of a short, middle-aged man dressed in black garb.

The man, a noble by the look of him, stepped completely into the room and bowed. "Good morning, your majesty. I am Duke Edward, and an officially registered usurper for the Throne of Slovarnia. I do admit that the people love you, Maryanna, but it's my turn now."

"There, there," she cooed at the baby. "Did that horrid man scare you? It's okay, my little snuggle-bunny." Maryanna turned to the usurper, and shook her head. "Sorry, it's not a good time for me, colic you know. Can you come back in a couple of years?"

"No, I can't. You know the rules."

Maryanna sighed, and walked over to place her baby in a large crib. The instant she did so, a brilliant golden light surrounded the crib making the infant coo and giggle as he watched it sparkle.

"What on earth is that?" the man demanded.

Maryanna held a finger to her lips and walked away from the crib. "As you know, tradition is a very real and powerful force in Slovarnia. It is stronger than even the gypsy magic that created that glow."

Someone screamed. They turned back to the crib to see a girl, standing beside the crib with two blackened stumps on her arms instead of hands. Tears ran down the girl's cheeks as glanced at the Princess.

"There, there, dear. You had to expect that, didn't you?" Maryanna asked. The girl nodded. "Those will heal just fine in a day or so, but now you stay there and guard that crib against the next girl that tries."

"Yes, your majesty," the girl said quietly.

"You see, she was, according to tradition, trying to whisk the crown prince away to some old gypsy woman who would then, according to tradition, turn him into a girl and send him off to be raised by peasants. I was. My father was before me and his father before that. I say 'to Hell' with that. If I retire to Monaco, my child is going with me, which is why that precaution. I had the devil of a time tracking him down the last time some fool of a lady's maid made off with him."

"The last time?"

"The last time some idiot tried to usurp my throne. Don't I know you from somewhere, Duke Edward?"

"Although we haven't met in this country, your majesty, we have met. I was flamed often enough by you on the TG-TF list, and at the last bash we both attended, McKenzie. I write as Wally the Weasel."

"The critic?"

"Yes, the critic, which makes this so much more pleasurable. You and your clique flamed me for daring to share my opinions on the list about those miserable excuses of stories of yours. You had the entire list against me quite a few times, but now, now at last I will get the last word in."

"So, Wally the Weasel. I wouldn't have flamed you at all, if all you did was critique my stories, but no. You went out of your way to demolish them. There are writers on the list that can't even spell their own names, let alone write legible stories, but did you go after them? Oh, no. Let me get one comma out of place, and you said it ruined the whole piece. Oh, and by the way, Wally..." She started.

"By the way, what?" he asked after a moment.

"'In' is a preposition. It's bad grammar to end a sentence with a preposition." Maryanna's fist crunched into the Weasel's nose hard enough to send the man sliding on his backside across the polished marble floor until he crashed his head into a solid marble desk. "Ow, that had to hurt," she said as two of her guards rushed into the room.

"Are you all right, your majesty?" the taller of the guards asked.

"Of course, Eric dear," she said and ran a finger down the man's cheek. "That awful man wants to send me away to Monaco where I'd never see you again..."

"I'll take care of him," Eric said quickly with his face burning crimson.

Both guards picked Wally up and held him, feet dangling in the air, between them.

"There, that's much better. I feel so much better now. Eric, be a love and tell Duke Edward what the traditional punishment is for failed usurpers."

"They are flogged to death in the public square."

"Goodie, I can't wait. I want to see Wally the Weasel flogged to death."

"Guards, attend me. I am the registered Usurper," Wally choked out. "It's tradition!"

Maryanna smiled. "So sorry, chump, but I announced at the beginning that there were would be a lot of changes made. These guards aren't from Slovarnia. I do agree with you that it is important for the people to love me, but more importantly, so do the guards, and boy do they love me," she said with a sigh and a slight smile on her lips. "Where is Prince Rupert?"

"His Highness is either in the gardens or packing for Monaco, your majesty. He wasn't sure what to do."

"I'll find him and let him know," she said and retrieved the baby from his cradle. "See you later, Weasel boy. I think I will put a streaming video of the flogging online so the entire list can see you meet your fate. That will teach those critics something."

interlude eight

Yeah, death to all critics, McKenzie thought as he sent his latest chapter off into cyberspace. He sat back in his chair with a slight smile on his face. Now that would be the life. Pity, he thought, glancing at the gray box on his kitchen table. Why couldn't that be the royal seal after all? Even if it were just for a moment, it would be great to have all the Wallys on the list tremble a bit.

Igor was sitting with his back to Mac. It was evident the dog was pouting.

"I know. I'll try to write in a bigger part for you next time. I promise. Besides, it felt really good to kill off that lousy critic.

"All writers do it, after all. Agatha Christie supposedly once brought in a new character just twenty five pages from the end of a book, just to tie up some loose ends."

Igor looked up at McKenzie with an expression that had to mean, "Who cares?"

"Okay, so maybe that didn't have anything to do with anything, but the principle is the same. Look, you stupid mutt, I can't stay and argue this with you. I've got to get to work."

chapter nine
Fangs for the Memories

"Didn't your mother ever tell you it was bad manners to play with your food?" Phil Baso was scared, really scared -- and that made him bluster.

The woman before him was clearly crazy, but she was amazingly strong and faster than anyone he'd ever seen before -- almost supernaturally so. With promises of sexual gratification beyond his wildest dreams, she had led him to this squalid room, in this third-rate flophouse, in a part of town where his body might not be found for days and then might just be tossed out with the trash.

"Silence worm or I shall consume your essence even sooner. Do you not wish to know what I have in store for you?"

"About now I'm wishing for the keys to these handcuffs and to have never met you, you crazy bitch. For the umpteenth time, release me now and I'll walk out of this room and forget I ever met you."

He felt like the open-handed slap nearly tore his head off. Such a feminine act, such pain, it should not be possible. When his head stopped spinning, Phil had to wonder if the crazy lady's crazy story wasn't true.

It was only about fifteen years ago, a fleetingly short time when you are immortal. I had been working as a night watchman in a warehouse by the dock. All sorts of strange things happened there, especially on the night shift.

There were noises from the creaking building as it expanded and contracted with the changes in temperature. There were pipes that would bang whenever there was a demand from the furnace or air conditioners. There were faint scrabbling sounds that I hoped were from mice rather than rats or cockroaches.

And then there were the echoes. With its high ceilings, even when the warehouse was full, which is was better than half the time; it was basically a huge empty space. Every sound was revisited in gradually decreasing harmonics as it echoed from wall to wall and back.

To add to that, there was the lighting. Some companies would keep the full lighting on 24/7. Of course those were usually the warehouses that were in use continuously around the clock unlike the one where I worked. I guess that given the choice or providing better lighting for the mice, insects and watch people they decided to save the pennies and use minimal emergency lighting and make us provide our own flashlights for our rounds. Most of us would keep a spare set of batteries or two and change them during breaks, just to be able to see.

Even once you'd been there a while and learned to recognize the noises and not get spooked by the shadows, there was still the problem of theft. I think I remember reading somewhere that some experts had once estimated that better than 20% of all goods coming through any American port are contraband or diverted into illegal channels. Warehouses, especially ones that closed down for a full shift or two like the one where I worked, were prime targets. All of this added up to making the life of a night watchman more exciting than most of us wanted.

The night in question, the shift was just half over when I started hearing the flapping sounds. I assumed that it was a bird that had snuck in during the day when the loading dock doors were often wide open.

Normally, I wouldn't worry about a bird. There was nothing I could do that would get it out any sooner than waiting for morning and letting it get hungry enough to fly out of the building in order to forage. The problem was, this bird didn't sound right. There was too much flapping. Most birds sleep during the night hours, especially if there was too little light to navigate safely. Even if you disturb them with your flashlight, they usually find the nearest perch outside the glare of the light and settle back down again. This flapping only stopped for brief moments and then started again. Additionally, it seemed to start in one area of the warehouse and be slowly moving closer to me, as if it were searching for something.

The training for a night watchman is pretty skimpy. They tell you to call the police if there's someone in or around the building that shouldn't be there, they tell you to call building maintenance if there is a problem with the physical plant and they tell you to make regular rounds to check for one of the two types of problems mentioned above. If something outside the two realms described above occurs, you're on your own.

I took the course of least resistance. I ignored the noises and went about my business making my duly appointed rounds. I don't know who was more surprised, the bird or me, when it struck me in the face and somehow scratched my neck. I spent the rest of my rounds trying to stop the bleeding. For some reason, it just wouldn't coagulate.

Normally, I would not have remembered the event, but it was indelibly etched in my mind because it was coupled with my firing. I swear, the only unusual sound I heard that night was the bird, but somehow, someone managed to haul a three by three by seven-foot crate out of the warehouse without my seeing it. The company assumed I had stolen it, or had at least been a knowing participant in its theft. What was worse, I couldn't explain why the electronic key boxes showed that I had failed to complete my rounds over a two hour period.

That's when they started, about a week after I got fired. Night after night, it was always the same dream -- only it kept changing, just a bit. If I compared from one night to the next I couldn't tell the difference but, if I compared two versions of the dream that were several days apart, there was a change. Unlike my usual dreams, I remembered these dreams; I remembered them as clearly as if they were real.

At first, I welcomed the dream. I was out of work, no girlfriend and no money for entertainment. This took the place of two out of the three and I wasn't in any rush to go find a job when I still had some money in savings.

They all started a minute before midnight. I'd be in bed and I'd come awake in a cold sweat with the alarm clock ringing. I'd reach over to turn it off and there she'd be, standing by the door to the bedroom. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, ever imagined. She would pose for a moment unclothed -- never naked, unclothed -- and then glide to me with that enigmatic smile on her face.

I would reach my hand out to hold her, to touch her, to make myself believe she was there, but as she approached I found myself putting my hands down and turning my head away. I would try to turn back, to raise my hand, but in the dream, I couldn't. I had no will of my own. I just lay there waiting for her, barely breathing for fear she would leave.

Slowly, seductively, the covers would slide back off my body. I was naked too and fully aroused. The first I would feel of her was her hair -- long, silky, blonde hair -- as it danced over my face and chest. Each contact was like an erotic adventure. Within moments, I was begging for more, yet secretly afraid that I would die from the ecstasy of the next of those brief touches.

Next, I would feel the bed give as she crawled onto it beside me, still killing me with each gossamer tingle. It seemed to go on forever as she slowly positioned herself on top of me, her breasts against my chest, her legs straddling my waist, her head in the crook of my neck.

I could feel her kissing my neck, light butterfly-like touches. The ecstasy would grow and grow until I would explode and die. When I would wake again, I would be in bed. The covers would be on the floor and the clock would read one minute past midnight. That first night, I lay there for hours reliving the dream, trying to indelibly etch every aspect of it and that woman into my memory. That was how I realized it was changing.

I slept late that first morning, almost until dusk, but I expected that. I don't think I actually fell asleep again until just before sunrise.

When I finally crawled out of bed, the dream still crystal clear in my memory, I showered and shaved, the usual waking rituals. Surprisingly, I wasn't hungry so I passed on that. Instead, I flipped on the TV and submerged myself in mindless escapist entertainment, or at least I tried to submerge myself. It didn't work.

The dream kept intruding as I compared each actress to the woman in my dream and finding that the actresses kept coming up short. Oh, one might have hair that was close to my dream woman's and another might have a smile that was close, but not quite as bright. Yet, not one single one was her equal. Fool that I was, I was looking forward to the night, hoping I might dream of her once again. I was so anxious to meet her again, I remember going to sleep early, before the evening news, to give me time to ready myself for her arrival.

And like clockwork, at eleven fifty nine that night she appeared again. Standing in the doorway, gliding toward me, the touch of her hair, her body, her kiss...

Again, I slept late and again I wasn't hungry. Again, the television was unable to offer me her equal and again I went to bed early.

That third night she again appeared just before the witching hour and again we danced our dance of love.

The patterns were now set. I would live for her touch in my dreams, sleep late, skip eating, be bored with television and go to bed early in order to be ready for her when she next appeared.

It wasn't until two weeks later that I realized I hadn't eaten since the dreams started. I probably wouldn't have noticed even then, except that the building superintendent came pounding on the door to find out why the place smelled so bad. I hadn't taken out the garbage. Most of the perishables in the refrigerator were spoiled too.

I apologized with a twenty-dollar bill and lied, saying I had been out of town. Then I emptied the refrigerator into the garbage and dragged it down to the dumpster. I promised the Super I would walk down to the corner and get some food from the bodega there, but when I got there, nothing appealed to me, not even the fried lantanas and my friends had teased me often about how I was addicted to the greasy things. Instead, I went home and repeated my usual routine.

That night I realized that her hair was a shoulder length brunette and her breasts seemed smaller. I remember trying to change my dream, to bring back the blonde beauty I had first seen and with whom I had fallen in love, but it didn't work.

A week later, the routine was shattered when I was wakened by a friend from work at about three in the afternoon who had heard of a watchman vacancy at a nearby warehouse. It took an unimaginable amount of effort to move my hand the short distance to the telephone beside my alarm clock on my nightstand and I could barely croak out the answers to his solicitous questions. Rather than hang up the phone afterward, I just dropped it to the floor. I could hear rain beating on the curtained windows and the noise was just intrusive enough that I couldn't go right back to sleep.

Struggling to my feet, I dragged myself to the bedroom door, planning to visit the bathroom and then return to my warm comfortable bed. Pulling the door open, I was nearly blinded by the light pouring through the living room windows. It was so painfully bright that I actually stepped back and closed the door.

Now I was wide awake and feeling rather stupid as I realized that I actually felt afraid of the light. Using one arm to shield my eyes, I again opened the door, although much more slowly this time, and forced myself to stagger off to the bathroom. It was ridiculous, but I couldn't bring myself to let the light actually touch me, so I was careful to skirt around the patches that glowed like some hot desert sun on the living room floor.

The bathroom was light enough that I didn't bother to flick the light switch. Too tired to try aiming, I sat and relieved myself. As I washed my hands, I glanced in the mirror and realized that I badly needed a haircut and that I needed to start eating again. I was wasting away.

I decided then and there that I needed to get dressed and go shopping for some food. I was going to do it immediately after showering, but when I came out of the bathroom, still drying my longer hair, the sun was so bright that I decided to wait until the evening. Besides, it was still pouring rain.

My clothes didn't feel right. There was nothing I could put into words; they were just a bit too loose one place, a bit to tight somewhere else. The legs on my only pair of clean jeans needed to be rolled up; the size was right so it must have been a manufacturer's defect.

I lost track of time waiting for sunset and so it wasn't until ten that I finally headed out. My first stop was the corner bodega, but again, I just couldn't find any food I wanted to buy so I went two blocks down and stopped at the Arby's® -- and still couldn't bring myself to eat anything.

Giving up on food, I started back home, but instead stopped at Louie's. It's a tiny little bar in the basement below the bodega. Cheap beer and quiet enough to think.

Grabbing my usual seat at the bar, just below the television, I ordered a beer and tried to figure out what was happening. It didn't take long to realize that I had no clue and I had just moved on to my next concern of trying to figure out who I could see who could help me figure out what was going on, when my beer came.

I had dropped a ten spot on the bar in anticipation. It's an old trick. You make a promise not to take more money out and once whatever is on the bar is gone, it's time to go. Some people keep the swizzle sticks from their mixed drinks; I drop a bill on the counter. The problem was, Louie left my beer, but didn't take the money and make change.

"Hey Louie, when did you start giving it away?"

"I didn't. The guy at the end of the bar is paying." Louie jerked his head in the direction of a tall, dark haired man about my age, sitting at the far end of the bar. Never being one to look a gift beer in the mouth, I gave the guy a brief toast and returned to my thoughts.

A moment later, he was sitting at the stood next to me. I was about to tell him to get lost, I wasn't into guys, when suddenly the world blurred and I was back in my apartment, lying in my bed. The dream was starting again.

It continued like that for what seemed like forever. Each night, just before midnight, I would find myself in my bedroom and the dream would start. It didn't matter where I was; the dream found me and brought me back to the apartment. Once I even went to a friend's house in Jersey to try to get away. It didn't work. Instead, I got a call from the friend the next morning asking where I had gone.

I tried locking myself out of my bedroom. I tried handcuffing myself to the radiator in the living room. I tried staying at Louie's all night on several different occasions. Nothing worked, although I seemed to be offered drinks more and more often. I felt like I was Bill Murray in that movie, "Groundhog Day."

And if that wasn't bad enough, my visitor kept changing. My vision, once the most voluptuous, most beautiful creature imaginable, slowly became plainer and plainer, to the point where one night I realized that she wasn't a woman any more. She was a really effeminate man.

But it didn't stop there. If I focused every week or two I would realize that she -- I mean he -- was slowly becoming a remarkably handsome man.

Almost as strange, was the fact that I was not upset by the idea of having a man kissing me each night. I had no idea why, but I had to admit that it was just as enjoyable having a man kiss me now as it had been having a woman doing it before. I began to think about the guys that kept offering me drinks at Louie's, how this one had a pretty smile and how that one had a cute butt. I found myself enjoying it when one leaned close to touch me, so much so that I began leaning into them so they would have to touch me. I even began wanting them to bring me to a private place touch me other places besides my hand or my hair. Hell, I wanted them to take me to bed and have their way with me.

As I noted earlier, no matter what I did, I just couldn't break away from the dream or break the pattern of the dream. It was always the same dream, only my visitor changed, ever so slowly. I eventually I had given up and just waited in my bed, waited for it to happen so I could go on with my life.

Finally, it happened. My visitor was an absolute Adonis with long blonde hair and a physique that would be the envy of a Greek god. I couldn't help myself as I almost drooled in anticipation of his touch, his kiss. He appeared out of nowhere, standing by the door, smiling at me. I waited patiently as he slowly approached me, threw off the covers and sat beside me. But this time something happened. Instead of running his hair over my chest before mounting me, he smiled and spoke to me.

"You have turned out well my child."

Those words were like a shock to the system. It was like I had been hypnotized and, after months in a trance, had suddenly recovered my wits. I took one look at him, another look at myself, and screamed.

He nonchalantly waved a hand and I was calm again, although this time I was cognizant of the tremendous changes that had occurred to my body and, I belatedly realized, my brain. I knew what I was and my new role in life, or rather death.

"Succubi and incubi, we're one and the same. It's only a matter of the form we happen to be in. I'm still not quite as good as my creator, thus the handcuffs, but after our first kiss, you shall be mine -- if you survive that is. That's why there are so few of us, you know. Most humans seem to die before the process is completed, but I have high hopes for you, that you will be my first child. We shall see."

I lay there on that cheap motel room bed, handcuffs chaffing, as I glared up at the beautiful but mad woman before me telling me her bizarre and nightmarish tale. She sat beside me on the bed. Slowly she leaned forward to kiss me.

interlude nine

"Damn, that one was fun. Let's see if that one gives someone a chubby. Time to check my mail and go to bed. Mac quickly scanned the files in his inbox.



"Story. We'll set that one aside to read later when I have time.



"Only two stinking responses? Damn that stinks. So what do they say?

"Loved Faster than a Speeding Tall Building. Keep writing. Please."

"Good. Good." McKenzie beamed with pleasure.

"In 'Vector/Victoria' you incorrectly defined the word 'vector.' It's actually, 'a quantity possessing both magnitude and direction.' You would have been better off calling it a 'medium,' but then you would have to change the name of the story to 'Medium Matilda,' and that might give people the wrong impression."

McKenzie Rigby cursed and turned off his computer. "Ungrateful..."

chapter ten
My Auntie's Panties

Catherine Rigby walked her son, McKenzie up to the front porch. "Now behave yourself, for God's sake," she told the eleven year old boy before she rang the door bell.

"I will," McKenzie answered, sullen. "I always do." The boy stood on the porch, holding onto his suitcase for dear life.

Every summer, for two weeks, he always had a visit with his aunt, Prissy. Priscilla was okay, for a grown up, but she didn't have kids of her own and never knew what to do to make things fun.

"There he is," Aunt Prissy said from the doorway. "Hi, Mac, still way too pretty to be a boy."

"Everyone says that," Catherine added with a laugh. "I have to run, Prissy, but I will call tonight. Watch him, though. He's going through some phase, you know, everything has to be completely logical." She laughed and headed down the walkway as McKenzie watched her go.

McKenzie carted his suitcase inside the cool, dark hallway, and took in the scents of freshly baked cookies. He flipped his long, brunette hair off his eyes, and gave Aunt Prissy a big smile. "Just in time for cookies?"

"You got that right, Sweetheart. Now, take your things to your room and hurry back before they cool. You do remember what happens to little boys that are bad, don't you?"

"I'm eleven, Aunt Prissy, and not so little anymore."

The lady looked down at the boy and laughed. "Put your things away and I'll tell you."

McKenzie combed his hair before hurrying downstairs. He trotted into the kitchen for the cookies only to be met by a small, gray and black bundle of muscle and energy that barked. The dog all but knocked the boy over as it tried to lick his face.

"That's Igor," Aunt Prissy said. "I got him for you, and to keep me company."

The boy managed to get up from under the beast. He sat down at the table and took a couple of the cookies. His Aunt poured a tall glass of milk for him, then sat down herself.

"As I was saying, this year I have some rules that you need to remember. I know there aren't that many kids in this neighborhood, except the new boy that moved in next door, but he's older than you are. But, I don't want you on the phone to your friends all hours of the day and night, nor do I want you on the computer all that much. You can play outside as much as you like, just remember to tell me if you leave the neighborhood."

"Sure, Aunt Prissy. I will."

"If you don't, you will regret it. I'll make you wear skirts or lacy dresses and take you shopping with me so everyone can see you."

"That's a punishment?" McKenzie asked with a slight frown on his face.

"Yes, for you."

The boy laughed, "There is girl in my class, Lauren? She wears skirts and dresses all the time. She's being punished?"

Aunt Prissy sighed. "No, it's not a punishment for a girl. Girls are supposed to wear skirts. Boy's don't."

"Yeah, but girls wear pants, too," McKenzie added. "Sandra wears jeans with a zipper in them and everything. I've got a lot of sweats and shorts that don't have any opening at all. So why would it be a punishment for me to wear a skirt?"

"Girls can wear whatever they feel like wearing, boy's can't. Have you ever asked your mother for a dress?"

"No, I haven't thought it about before," McKenzie lied. "Mom buys my clothes for me and she doesn't ask me what I want. She just gets it. What's wrong with wearing a skirt? You're wearing one. You know, that looks a lot cooler in this heat than my shorts do."

"There's nothing wrong with me or any girl wearing a skirt. It's okay for girls to wear boy's clothes, but it's not okay for boys to wear girls clothes."

"Why not?" the boy asked with a deliberately straight face.

"Because no boy wants to look like a girl," Aunt Prissy said quickly.

"But girls want to look like boys, right? So you mean that it's a lot better being a boy than a girl." McKenzie sat back and waited for the reaction.

"Yes -- I mean no," she half yelled, turning pale. "It's different. I mean it's different being a boy or a girl but it's not any better. Do you want to dress up as a girl?"

McKenzie shrugged. "I don't know. I've never done it before," he lied again. "You want me to try on a skirt to see if it fits?"

"What are you talking about," Aunt Prissy demanded.

"You said if I misbehaved or broke the rules you would make me dress up in skirts or lacy dresses, so do you want me to try one on?"

"Aren't you scared that someone would see you?"

"Why should I be?" McKenzie asked. "You told Mom that I was too pretty to be a boy, so if anyone saw me wouldn't they think I was a girl anyway?"

Aunt Prissy held her head in her hands. "Your mother told me about that logic thing, but I didn't listen. It's..." She stared at the boy for a moment, and smiled. "You don't mean a word of that, do you? No, not really. You think you can talk me out of this with your word games, not a chance, mister. I don't have any clothes for you to wear now, but I'm taking you shopping for something pretty, right now. Let's see how you feel when it's for real."

"I don't like ponytails," McKenzie whined as Aunt Prissy pulled his hair back and tied it up. She did leave the boy's bangs hanging down over his forehead. "You know, it's okay," he said glancing out the car window at the mall. "I don't really need new clothes."

"Thought so," she said, opening the door for the boy to slide out. "That was just talk. You don't want to wear a skirt anymore than any other boy, do you?"

"I don't care about skirts or dresses," he said, quickly enough to make his aunt smile. "I was just worried about all the money you have to spend."

"Right, I get it. Come on, Missy. This should be fun."

McKenzie let himself smile as he walked beside his aunt into the mall. If she felt better about forcing him to dress, he could play that part, too.

In spite of his protests about not needing new clothes, Aunt Prissy took him through the Gap for Kids, Fashion Bug and Penny's in a matter of minutes. After being measured and told by countless salesladies how pretty he looked, McKenzie walked out into the mall wearing a short pink top, and pleated white skirt, and opened toed sandals. He now had two sun dresses another skirt complete with cotton panties and a training bra. Aunt Prissy told him the bra just in case he did something really awful, McKenzie only shrugged, and promised her he wouldn't do anything that bad. Besides, he had a couple of pair in his suitcase already, but he wasn't going to tell her that.

Aunt Prissy watched how comfortably McKenzie walked in his new skirt, and noticed that fact that he developed a rather feminine swing to his walk. She wondered, for a moment if the boy had ever dressed before, but decided against it, in spite of the fact that he smoothed his skirt before sitting down.

Kids crowded the ice cream shop, most of them with their mothers. McKenzie smiled as several boys gave him more than casual glances. One of them, a real cute boy of about thirteen, walked up to the table.

"Hi, Ms. Rigby," he said quickly.

"Hi, Bradley," she answered. "McKenzie, this is my neighbor, Brad. Brad Jackson, this is my... niece," she said at length. McKenzie will be staying with me for a couple of weeks, or more if it works out."

"Hi," Brad took McKenzie's hand, and gave it a quick shake. "Would you like to dance?"

Both Aunt Prissy and McKenzie looked at the boy with mixed emotions. McKenzie nodded and looked down. "I'd love to Brad," he said then looked up at his aunt. She nodded, and Brad led the new girl onto the dance floor.

How McKenzie could dance with that boy and not show any sign of embarrassment or even hesitation at pressing his cheek against Brad's was beyond Aunt Prissy. She remembered being forced into skirts herself as a girl, and being forced to dance with boys, at least until she reached college age. And yet here was her nephew, a much more pretty, and certainly more feminine girl than she had ever been, and he was a boy. Perhaps this wasn't the right punishment after all, but now what could she do? If she told Brad that McKenzie was really a boy... Bradley probably wouldn't believe it for a second. Looking at the girl now, she didn't believe it.

After a few dances, Bradley lead McKenzie back to the table. Both kids looked as if they were riding cloud nine for all they were worth.

"I trust you had a good time?"

"Yes, Aunt Prissy," McKenzie said, beaming. "Can I walk home with Brad? He knows the way."

"I'm sure he does, and no, you may not. We have a lot more to do this afternoon, young lady. Brad, we will see you later," she said, dismissing the boy with a nod. Brad clenched his teeth, and pressed his lips together, but nodded himself and walked off.

"He is so cute, don't you think?" McKenzie asked his aunt.

"Yes, but I had no idea you were gay?"

McKenzie's smile didn't falter as he said. "I don't know. I might be. I've never been a girl before, and I wanted to try it out. That's the logical way to do this."

Aunt Prissy relaxed. "I suppose it is. If Bradley asks you out again, and I think he will, will you go?"

"Yes, I need all the information I can get."

"Aunt Prissy, Aunt Prissy!" McKenzie called as he ran up the front steps. He banged his way into the house. Today he wore boy's shorts and a white T-shirt, but his ponytail did bounce on his back.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Brad asked me to the Fourth of July Dance. Can I go? Please? Can I get something to wear?"

"That's getting serious, at least for around here," Aunt Prissy commented. "What happens if Brad finds out you're a boy?"

McKenzie shrugged. "He said he didn't care when I told him," she said with a pause, "Just before he kissed me."

"What? You didn't. He didn't, did he?"

He nodded. "Just a peck on the cheek, but I don't think he believed me. He said he didn't care if I came from Jupiter, I was the prettiest girl he had ever seen."

"You are, that, but... Okay, if Bradley knows then it's okay with me. Come on, we have some major shopping to do."

Actually, McKenzie thought as he climbed into the front seat of the car, he didn't tell Bradley the whole truth -- or his aunt, either. Bradley had asked him to the dance, then kissed him full on the lips.

McKenzie blushed and looked down, demurely. "Oh, Brad, that was so nice. You know I have to ask my Aunt, though. She might not want me to go with you."

"You think so?" he asked.

"I don't know, the last time a guy asked me out she took him aside and told him I was really a boy..."

Bradley threw his head back and laughed. "You're kidding. Think anyone would believe that?"

"He did, Jon, that is. Would you still take me if I was a boy?"

Bradley laughed again. "I don't care if you're from Jupiter, you're the prettiest girl I've even seen, and I want to take you to the dance."

McKenzie sat back in the car seat and hugged himself, secure in the knowledge that if Aunt Prissy did try to spoil things with Brad he would be prepared.

By the time they finished at the mall, McKenzie owned a lovely, pale green gown, accessorized with his first purse, white, and his first pair of heels. The heels were maybe two inches, but he managed to get his balance right away. He also wore two bright green emerald studs that pierced his ears. The trip to the hairdresser's salon would wait until just before the dance.

"This has been the best summer ever. Thanks, Aunt Prissy, thanks for everything." McKenzie gushed on the ride home.

"It's okay, dear. I'm just glad that you're happy."

McKenzie hurried upstairs to his room, unlocked his suitcase, and dug into the deepest corners to pull out a small, weathered book. He opened the book to the appropriate page, and read through the instructions again. Two more kisses from Bradley was all that was needed, if the spell was to work. It had to work, he thought and packed the book away to study himself in the mirror. How could Brad resist kissing him again, who knows, maybe even tonight?

"You want to come over to my place?" Brad asked as McKenzie locked fingers with him.

"Okay," he said. "There isn't that much to do at my aunt's."

The Jacksons had a large, dark brick house that looked like money, McKenzie thought as they walked up the front steps. Brad opened the door.

"Mom? Hi, it's me. I've got McKenzie with me, the girl from next door?"

"That's nice. Hi, McKenzie," she called from the kitchen.

"Hi, Mrs. Jackson," McKenzie called back. He stared at a book, with a gray, weathered cover on the coffee table. A second later he picked it up, and flipped through the same book of spells he had hidden in his suitcase.

"Oh, that," Brad said, quickly. "Mom got that for me before we moved here. Kind of hokey, I know, but it's fun to read."

"You ever try any of the spells?"

"No, most of them you can't get all the ingredients, you know?"

"I guess," he said and put the book down. "Why don't you show me around the house. It's really nice."

"Thanks, Mom's been working her tail off on it. I help, but she usually wants to do it all herself. Thinks I don't have any taste."

"Well, if you pick out your clothes, you do," McKenzie added quickly. He let Brad take his hand as they walked through the house.

Later, standing on the front porch of Aunt Prissy's house, Brad gave McKenzie a much longer kiss, before staying "good night". McKenzie felt his whole body respond and tingle at the kiss. The flush on Brad's face showed that he felt the same way.

After a day of primping at the beauty parlor, trying on a hundred shades of make-up, lipstick and nail polish, McKenzie finally felt ready to meet Brad on the evening of the dance.

Brad, dressed in a dark gray suit, met McKenzie at Aunt Prissy's front door.

Aunt Prissy took a picture of the pair holding hands. "You both look fabulous. I know you will have a great time tonight. Brad, McKenzie did tell you that he was a boy, right?"

Brad nodded. "Yeah -- he mentioned something about that. I don't care what he or she is, she's still the prettiest girl I've ever seen."

"Go on then, but be back early, you are both still too young to go out on a real date. Do you want to walk, or can I give you a lift?"

They decided to walk to the community center to take advantage of the still cool summer evening. Hand in hand the two kids walked, slowly down the street until they were out of sight of both houses. Brad looked down into McKenzie's eyes, then bent over to give the younger boy a third kiss. McKenzie's mouth opened and their tongues met.

It is better being a girl, McKenzie thought as his heart raced. The world spun around and the change completed. McKenzie didn't have to check to realize the she was now completely female from head to toe. At least Brad would never know... Brad? She opened her eyes to find herself kissing another girl.

"Brad?" she asked.

"It worked," Brad replied looking down at his new gown, and they way his chest now poked out. "I'm a girl."

"But, I don't understand. What happened?"

"The spell in my book," Brad said with a grin. She opened her purse and pulled out a small compact to check her make-up. "Three kisses from a boy would do it, right McKenzie?"

"You knew? You knew all along I was a boy?"

"There aren't that many kids around. Your aunt told me a few times that her 'nephew' was coming for a visit, and when I saw the two of you at the mall that first time I wasn't sure. You were good, I'll say that for sure, girl friend, but when we danced I read you as a boy, for real."

"But you were like -- such a hunk. You wanted to be a girl?"

"Since I was four I've wanted to be a girl. Mom used to let me dress up, when I was little, but not since. She thought I grew out of it. But look at you, you were so lucky, McKenzie. You were completely fem. I bet you had a hard time trying to pass as a boy."

"I'll say. I gave up trying years ago. Mom never noticed. I was a boy, and that was final."

"But once you got into a skirt, that was it. You were a girl. But me, you know the way I looked. If I wore a dress..."

"You would stick out for ten miles. You're pretty as a girl, though."

"Thanks, girl friend, and you will be ravishing when you get older. Come on, I'm Michelle now. Let's go to the dance and find a couple of guys."

As they approached the community center, the two girls, still hand in hand, turned a lot of heads as they passed.

interlude ten

"There," McKenzie told Igor as he sent the next chapter out, "that was a good one. What?" he asked as the dog barked. "You were in it. I know it wasn't a big part, but you aren't a big dog," he laughed.

"Well, what do you know," he said reading the newest batch of letters. Wally the Weasel didn't like The Princess Journals, poor baby. That's odd, no one else did either. Bunch of idiots. Don't know quality when they read it. No one got the Oz jokes -- bunch of losers, well I know they will like this one."

He sat back to wait for the next batch of replies.

chapter eleven
Blonde Like Me

"What do you do when a blonde throws a pin at you?"

I was so bored I didn't even bother answering. Jack was my best friend and fellow member of what Outrageous Ads called it's brain trust, but he had been telling blonde jokes for the last fifteen minutes and I was, to say the least, bored. The only surprises so far had been that there were so many and that he had remembered them. Usually, Friday night at a bar like Bloody Bob's with a friend is a much more uplifting experience.

"Run like hell. She's got a grenade in her mouth." Even his guffaws were beginning to wear thin.

"Excuse me," I interrupted, anything to break the cycle of bad joke after bad joke. "I'm going to ask that girl over there to dance."

"You mean the pretty one? Over there?"

"Yeah." I turned my back before I could be asked any more questions or -- perish the thought -- be told any more blonde jokes.

"Excuse me."

She came up to my eyes, which put her at about five-foot six-inches tall, with light brown hair and green eyes. I wasn't in love -- yet -- but I definitely wanted to get to know this girl better.


"Would you like to dance?"

"Aren't you from that table over there? The one telling all those blonde jokes?"

"Well, my friend Jack is the one telling them. I can't get him to shut up. In fact, I was hoping you would dance with me and save me from..."

"No thank you. Your friend is being really demeaning, but you're behavior is worse. By not telling him how bad what he's doing is, you're condoning and even encouraging it."


Ignoring me, she turned her back on me and returned to the conversation I must have interrupted with her friends. I slunk back to our table just in time for another blonde joke.

"How do you keep a blonde occupied for hours? Give her a piece of paper with the words "See Other Side" on both sides."

"Damn it Jack, will you shut up already?"

"What's the problem dude?" Jack was actually a graduate of Princeton with an MBA, but he was practicing speaking like a surfer to help him prepare for an upcoming ad campaign.

"Nothing. I just lost a chance to meet a really good looking girl because she was turned off by those damned blonde jokes of yours."

"Whoa. Bleed off. That sucks."


"Bleed off. You're getting blamed because you're near me. That's prejudice man and it really sucks."

I was shocked. He was right. Where I had planned on telling him that he was prejudiced and it was hurting my chances for a love life, I backed off. Sure, he was telling some really crappy jokes, but was that reason for that girl to assume anything about me? I looked back at the girl I had asked to dance and suddenly she didn't look quite as interesting any more. Instead, I bought us both another beer and Jack moved on to a different class of jokes.

"Why won't sharks eat lawyers?"

I groaned. This was a yuppie bar and easily a third of the people in it were probably lawyers. The damn fool was going to get us killed yet.

"Professional courtesy."

I tossed some money on the table for a tip and dragged him outside. It was time to call it a night.

"Gentlemen," Jonas Hastings glared around the boardroom table, "we are going to loose this account if someone cannot come up with something big. We need ideas and we need them soon. Hank, take your whiz kids," he pointed to Jack and me, "back to your office and don't come out again until you have at least one blockbuster idea."

It was a morose group that sat around Hank Pensivo's office. Hank was stretched out on the black leather couch with a newspaper over his head while Jack sprawled out on one of the matching chairs, filling it with his girth. I was pacing as usual, burning off energy faster than I could take it in. Coffee cups, soda bottles and empty pizza boxes covered the coffee table between us.

"Come on guys," Hank beseeched us. "This shouldn't be this hard. It's a goddamned women's hair coloring account. How difficult can this be?"

"I know a gnarly blonde joke about a new slogan for hair dye? 'Buy a double batch and get a snatch to match.' Who ever heard of a company making hair products only for blondes anyway?" Jack asked for the umpteenth time.

"The company comes from Sweden," Hank reminded him yet again. "They consider themselves 'experts' in all things blond."

"Can the damn blonde jokes Jack." I was still a bit burned by losing my chance with that girl because of them. "We've been at this since Friday afternoon," I added, turning to Hank, "and it's now Saturday evening and none of us have come up with any new ideas since about 4 AM," I croaked. "We're stale. We need to take a break."

"You heard Jonas," Hank responded. "This account is more than thirty percent of the gross income for this firm. We may not need to stay in this room for the remainder of our lives, until we give him his winning slogan, but we do need one and soon. Dig deep. One of you must have something."


"Sorry Hank."

"Okay," Hank sighed in resignation. "Let's stretch and get the kinks out; then get back to it in a few hours."

"Hey! There's that girl again. You wanna ask her to join us and see if she can help inspire us? Hell, you can even pay them the standard focus group participation fee." Hank didn't disagree so he continued, "and I promise, no blonde jokes." We were back at Bloody Bob's, Hank too this time, which is why we had promised to leave in just two hours to return to the office and hammer out a campaign slogan. I turned questioningly to Hank.

Hank just shrugged and went back to staring at his Vodka martini. He was turning out to be a morose drunk and this was only his first drink.

I didn't wait for him to reconsider.

"Excuse me miss." I tapped her on the shoulder. "I was wondering if you and your friends could help us."

She turned with a bright smile on her face, but that quickly soured when she saw me. "Oh, it's you again. Couldn't you take the hint last night?"

"Actually, I did take the hint if you'll recall -- much to your loss -- but now I'm asking you and your two friends here to assist us with a work related problem." I paused to see if I had at least gotten one of her friend's interest.

"We," I made a sweeping gesture to include Hank and Jack before offering my business card, "work at Outrageous Ads and we're having a problem coming up with a slogan for a product line. If you would join us for a short while maybe you could help us?"

"Oh come on Caroline," the taller brunette chimed in. "It sounds like fun."

"Sure," the other brunette added. "Cindy's right. Why not?"

"Because we have plans and are going to leave in about a half an hour," Caroline responded, but I knew it was a weak come back. I was gaining.

"I'm empowered to offer a focus group participation fee of twenty five dollars each?"

"Oh why not," Caroline stalked over to the table and sat down, leaving her friends and me to scurry along behind. "But if I hear just one of those demeaning blonde jokes we're gone."

Jack was endearingly sheepish as he promised. Hank looked up at Caroline's arrival and tossed me a quizzical look. He must have missed much of the earlier conversation.

"I'm Caroline," the blonde introduced herself, "and this is Cindy and Maggie. Now what kind of work project are we supposed to be helping you with?"

Hank must have caught on as he responded before I could. "We work for Outrageous Ads over in the Glover building, across the street. We have a client -- you'll pardon me if I don't give you the client's name -- who wants to introduce a series of beauty products into this country. The catch is, they are specially produced only for blondes."

"Oh well, that leaves us out," Cindy and Maggie said in unison, sounding disappointed.

"Not necessarily," I noted. "We're running into a brick wall and so we need as many different perspectives as we can get."

"Besides," Jack added, "the only way our client is going to make any real money is if he can convince more people to become blondes."

"But why would I want to become a blonde?" Maggie asked.

"Yeah," Cindy said.

Before Jack or I could answer, Caroline spoke. "What's wrong with being a blonde?" she asked in a menacingly quiet voice.

"Nothing Caroline," Cindy responded and Maggie nodded vigorously to show she too agreed. "It's just that you have the coloring for it. It suits you. I don't think Maggie or I could pull it off."

I should have just shut up, but "pull it off" had a peculiar ring to it. It's much like the only time you should ask a woman if she is pregnant is when you see the baby's head coming out; there are some questions that just should not be asked. "Does that mean you're not a natural blonde?"

Her face was instantly bright red and I knew I was in trouble, so I used my advertising skills to backpedal as best I could. "I mean I never would have guessed."

Too little, too late.

"Whether I'm a natural blonde or not is none of your business," she huffed, standing and gathering her drink and purse. "If this stuff is so great, it should make anyone look like a natural blonde. Why don't you try it?"

With that, she left. A moment later, Cindy and Maggie had made their excuses and left too. I slumped down onto the table and groaned. "My life is over," I sighed overly dramatically. "We may as well go back to work now."

"You're right." It was Hank. He had that glow in his eye, the one he gets when he's onto an idea. "We've got work to do."

"What's going on?" Jack asked. "Did I miss something?"

"The answer Jacky Boy. The answer to our problem," he said, bubbling over with excitement. "Come on."

"How can you tell if a blonde's been using a computer?" Jack asked, trying to lighten the mood in Hank's office. We had been arguing violently for the past hour and I had offered my resignation twice. I was going for three.

"Shut up!" Hank and I both said in unison. Then Hank added with a tentative smile, "You see, we can still agree on some things."

"Yes, but apparently not on the important things. I categorically won't do it."

"You'll see white-out on the screen."

"I said shut up." Turning to Hank I continued. "If you think this is such a good idea, you do it, or convince Jack here to do it. I can just see him standing on stage, modeling the product and telling blonde jokes."

"Which would go over like a lead balloon," Hank answered. "Besides, he's too... large... to make it work.

"Look. You know it's a good idea. It's different. It will catch people's attention, just like those borderline porn ads from Ralph Lauren®."

"It is porn."

"No it isn't. You'll be fully dressed."

"But I'm not blonde. I have black hair."

"So? That's the whole point. If our beauticians can use this stuff and make you look good, it will work for anyone."

"Then it's just plain weird."

"Of course. Weird sells as you very well know."

"People will think I'm some kind of sicko." I was running out of excuses and I knew that he knew that I couldn't afford to quit this job. I'd never find one that paid anywhere near as well.

"And you can laugh all the way to the bank. Besides, maybe the client won't like it... or will want a different model doing it."

He had me there. I had early on recognized the value of money. From paper routes, to yo-yo string supplier, I had been working since I was eight. The problem was, this was a good gimmick and I knew it.

"Okay. But I want a promise to make a hard sell to the client to find another, better model." Hank knew I was already running ideas through my mind as to how I could make the idea work, but still make such a bad impression, the client wouldn't want me.

"Hey Caroline," Maggie called. "Look at this. I hear this stuff is absolutely great."

"So you girls are serious about going blonde?" Caroline asked as she glanced at the ad Maggie was pointing to in her magazine. They were back at Bloody Bob's for a pre-makeover celebration.

"Cindy says she'll do it if I do it. I'm just not convinced that I'd look good as a blonde."

"Of course you would and that ad's the proof of the matter."

"What do you mean? What's that ad got to do with proving we should go blonde?"

"Look at that model's face. Does it remind you of anyone?"

"I don't think so. How about you Cindy?"

"Nope. I don't recognize her."

"Sure you do. Think a moment."

Both girls examined the model carefully, before again denying they recognized the model.

"You met her here."

"In Bloody Bob's Bar and Bistro? I don't remember seeing anyone that looked that good here. I'd remember that kind of competition."

"We joined them to discuss the same product being advertised in that ad."

"The only time I ever talked to anyone about this stuff in this bar was with those guys..."

Caroline smiled.

"You don't mean..?"

Caroline nodded.

What? What Maggie? What's Caroline talking about?" Cindy stared at the picture again. "Oh? Oooooh."

Caroline nodded again. "I wonder if he still lets his friend tell those terrible blonde jokes?"

interlude eleven

Dead tired. Itching stopped. Barbie came and took Igor so I'm all alone now. Not gonna write anything more tonight, maybe ever. I miss Igor. I can't even pick him up from the vet's for another three days until he's completely dewormed.

chapter twelve
The Writing Life

"'Dear McKenzie,'" the man read out loud to his dog. "'That last story of yours wasn't up to your usual standard. Come on, Mac, blonde jokes are out. Get a grip and write something decent for a change.'"

Igor barked.

"The only response I got to that story and it has to be from some asshole who doesn't have a sense of humor. Christ, what do they want from me? This isn't supposed to be great literature here."

McKenzie pushed away from the computer but glanced back as the email dinged. "Oh, great, Wally the Weasel. I'd better see what he has to say."

"Once again, McKenzie Rigby inflicted another pointless story on the readers of this list. How long will it take before Mr. Rigby gets the message that his writing is pedestrian, at best, and his talent, or lack there of is not welcome on this list or any other. Hello, McKenzie, it's Superboy not SuperKid, and he works for DC Comics, not PC. Get it right if you are going to write fan fiction, and there is no country named Slovarnia. Get a map. I'd like to see someone like you try to flog me to death..."

McKenzie hit the delete key. "Anal-retentive son of a bitch! The word is parody, but that's beyond your IQ of negative 20."

The list wouldn't stand for that, he thought. Any second, he expected to see a bunch of mail in support of his stories -- any second now. One ding came after five minutes from Jeff Hollis... Jeff had always supported him in the past -- Hey, that's one of my identities, McKenzie realized as he opened the letter.

"I have to agree with Wally, this time. Big Mac's stories are getting kind of lame."

After checking the email address twice, McKenzie opened Netscape to Webmail Five and pulled up the account. He couldn't get in. This is my account, he thought as he tried the password again. Someone's going to pay for this, but... If I tell anyone that I'm Jeff Hollis... No, better let that slide. He pulled up a couple of his other identities, still secure, but he changed the passwords to be safe.

"You want a flame war, Weasel boy? You got one. And it's not funny," he told the dog. Igor rolled over.

"Or better yet, I'll quit the list. That will show them." McKenzie reopened his own account, and typed out the letter.

"To all of my friends on the TG-TF mailing list. Since that is the way you feel about my writing, I will honor your wishes and leave this list for good. I could have been posting to some of the big lists like TSA-Talk or Fictionmania, but I appreciated the intimacy of a small, seldom used list like this one. That's it, amigos. I am out of here."

"I wouldn't post that if I were you," a voice said just behind McKenzie's left ear.

McKenzie spun around and, of course, no one was there.

"Over here, writer boy," the voice said again. This time the man spotted a ball of sparkling white light that was maybe two inches long.

"What?" McKenzie stammered out. He squinted at the ball of light until it resolved itself into the figure of a tiny man, dressed in a sparkling white suit. A pair of multi-colored butterfly wings fluttered on the homunculus' back.

"What in hell are you supposed to be?"

The man bowed. "I'm Fred, the fairy list uncle. You gonna make something about it, Mac, old boy? See this wand -- this one right here," Fred said and held out a tiny stick. "This wand can do a lot of damage."

"Oh, I get it. I'm dreaming."

"Guess again, writer boy. I'm not a dream. In fact, I can be your worst nightmare if you send that letter to my list."

"Your list?"

"TG-TF. It's still not big enough to get real list uncles like the others, so I'm it. And I hate it when one of you writer-types gets a hair up his over-sized ass about something that someone said and you threaten to leave. Or, in your case, you threaten to leave just to get sympathy because that nasty critic hurt your feelings. Well, boo hoo, Mr. Rigby and stop whining."

"But he started it," McKenzie said, with a pout. "I've put my heart and soul into those stories and he trashes them."

"That's what critics do. They have their purpose, as do you writers. Okay, so you're a competent storyteller for the most part, but you're no great shakes, you know? If you can't take a few non-constructive criticisms along the way you had better give it up now."

"But he's so incredibly stupid!" McKenzie protested.

"That may be, but it's not for you to say so. Most of the people that are -- discriminating enough to be on this list know old Wally for what he is, and they have a good idea what you are, too. So, if you want to quit my list and go to another one, feel free, but don't do it publicly. Leave and be done with it, but don't spend the next five weeks whining about it. Got me?"

"Or what? You'll turn me into a girl with that wand?"

McKenzie felt his body tingle for a second, before he shrank and shriveled down into a five year-old girl holding a dolly. He looked at himself, then at the doll. "Very funny, Freddie."

"How about this?"

The child grew, and developed into a teenaged girl, then into a rather well endowed adult. McKenzie hesitated for a moment before touching his right breast. "It's real," he said in his own voice. Startled, he looked at his reflection in the windowpane only to see his own ugly face topping the body of a voluptuous bimbo. He screamed.

"Told you the wand could do a lot of damage. Now do you believe me?"

"Please, I'll do anything you ask, just do something about this."

Two seconds later, McKenzie changed back into himself. He patted his chest, and sighed. "You could have left me female, you know."

"Not in the contract, kiddo. I don't do wishes. Behave yourself, or else. Don't mess around with my list, and you really don't need to be your own fan club. You can have that email address back, but keep all your various pen names to yourself. Don't make me come back." Fred said, bowed and vanished.

McKenzie stumbled back to his seat, and sat down glaring at the computer screen. He deleted the letter in progress, then typed out a quick note to the list: "Thanks, Fred. Thanks for waking me up."

Within a minute, at least a dozen responses came back. All but one of them read to the effect of -- Hey, you met Fred. Cool! What's he like?

The last was an admin message asking that the 'Thanks Fred' thread be dropped as off topic.

Typing again, McKenzie wrote a private letter: Dear Wally, we need to talk. Please respond at your earliest convenience. Thanks.

interlude twelve

"There," McKenzie said to the rug where Igor usually lay as he sent the next chapter off into cyberspace. "That sort of realism always gets them. Think they will believe I really had a change of heart?"

Igor growled, barked once, then settled down to chasing his tail, or at least that's what McKenzie imagined he would do.

"What do you know, you stupid pooch?"

"A lot more than his master," a small voice said from behind.

McKenzie turned to find a ball of light, about two inches long, floating in front of his computer.

"Okay, writer boy," the light resolved itself into a rather handsome young man, two inches tall, sporting dragonfly wings and little else. "I was going to let this go, but I will not be used in such fashion."

After pinching himself, twice, both times hurting, Mac shook his head. "Fred?"

"Oh, now you know who I am. Well, that last story just doesn't cut it, Mac, old boy, if you know what I mean. You used my good name to make out that you're some sort of saint; well it isn't going to happen again. You and all of your different alias are hereby off the TG-TF list, and if you do try to log on again, no matter what you call yourself, I will know it, and there will be heck to pay!"

"What to pay?" McKenzie asked trying not to laugh at the little man. "If I said I was sorry would that help? I had no idea you were for real, Fred, old boy, if you know what I mean. Other people have written about you and you never -- or did you?"

"Sometimes. It depends on the offense, and you should know better than to mess with me. Now, the question is -- what to do with you. I need an example, and I think I know what that should be. You've sent off twelve stories lately, an even dozen. Of those twelve, which is your favorite?"

"I, I don't have one. I like them all. Why?"

"If you knew you were going to be a character in one of those stories -- for real, which story would it be?"

"I guess... Do I get to pick the character, or just the story?"

"Good question, and just the story, so go on," Fred said with a long sigh.

McKenzie thought, and paced the floor of his apartment for a while, before he said, "The Princess Journals."

"An excellent choice, Mac, go for it. Watch out Slovarnia, Mac is back in town," Fred called out.

A gown? The first thing McKenzie noticed as his head cleared was the long, pale blue gown he -- she wore. She raised a hand to his face, and found the skin to be smooth and silky. Her hair curled well down over her shoulders. The figure that she could see, looked young, but over the age of consent. She smiled, then paid attention to her surroundings.

She appeared to be standing in a closet, or alcove covered by heavy woolen drapes. She parted the cloth, and peeped out to see a young mother, carrying a baby across a large, hall, with floors that looked like polished glass.

That, she thought, was Princess Maryanna, the writer turned royal... But where did that leave her? Who was she?

A man entered the room and she watched the Princess place the babe in a large crib.

That man was usurping the throne, she thought, and she knew what she had to do. The Princess would be all right, but the babe had to be saved at any cost. She entered the room, hurried over to the crib, screaming mentally all the way.

Tradition. I can't fight the tradition that I created, McKenzie thought as she struggled to prevent herself from reaching for the babe. Too late! She tried to breach the golden light that surrounded the crib, and screamed out loud, this time, as both of her hands burned to blackened crisps from the spell.

"Not so funny now, is it, Mac, old girl?" Fred's voice whispered in her ear. "Those hands will heal, sooner or later, but it looks like you won't be writing any until they do. Enjoy your new life. Write sometime. Hasta la vista, baby!"

"I am going to get you, Fred. I don't know how or when, but you will get yours. I swear by the tradition of Slovarnia! Fred? Fred? Come back here, you pompous little fairy. You can't leave me like that. Come back here. Oh, bloody hell. Who will go out with me like this? How can I do anything until my hands heal? This is crazy. Fred?

"There, there, dear. You had to expect that, didn't you?" Maryanna asked. McKenzie hadn't realized the princess had approached her and nodded respectfully. "Those will heal just fine in a day or so, but now you stay there and guard that crib against the next girl that tries."

"Yes, your majesty," McKenzie said quietly as the princess turned back to the usurper.

"You see, she was, according to tradition, trying to whisk the crown prince away to some old gypsy woman who would then, according to tradition, turn him into a girl and send him off to be raised by peasants. I was. My father was before me and his father before that. I say 'to Hell' with that. If I retire to Monaco, my child is going with me, which is why that precaution. I had the devil of a time tracking him down the last time some fool of a lady's maid made off with him."

"The last time?"

"The last time some idiot tried to usurp my throne. Don't I know you from somewhere, Duke Edward?"

"Although we haven't met in this country, your majesty, we have met. I was flamed often enough by you on the TG-TF list, and at the last bash we both attended, McKenzie. I write as Wally the Weasel."

"The critic?"

"Yes, the critic, which makes this so much more pleasurable. You and your clique flamed me for daring to share my opinions on the list about those miserable excuses of stories of yours. You had the entire list against me quite a few times, but now, now at last I will get the last word in."

"So, Wally the Weasel. I wouldn't have flamed you at all, if all you did was critique my stories, but no. You went out of your way to demolish them. There are writers on the list that can't even spell their own names, let alone write legible stories, but did you go after them? Oh, no. Let me get one comma out of place, and you said it ruined the whole piece. Oh, and by the way, Wally..." She started.

"By the way, what?" he asked after a moment.

"'In' is a preposition. It's bad grammar to end a sentence with a preposition." Maryanna's fist crunched into the Weasel's nose hard enough to send the man sliding on his backside across the polished marble floor until he crashed head first into a solid marble desk. "Ow, that had to hurt," she said as two of her guards rushed into the room.

"Are you all right, your majesty?" the taller of the guards asked.

"Of course, Eric dear," she said and ran a finger down the man's cheek. "That awful man wants to send me away to Monaco where I'd never see you again..."

"I'll take care of him," Eric said quickly with his face burning crimson.

Both guards picked Wally up and held him, feet dangling in the air, between them.

"There, that's much better. I feel so much better now. Eric, be a love and tell Duke Edward what the traditional punishment is for failed usurpers."

"They are flogged to death in the public square."

"Goodie, I can't wait. I want to see Wally the Weasel flogged to death."

"Guards, attend me. I am the registered Usurper," Wally choked out. "It's tradition!"

Maryanna smiled. "So sorry, chump, but I announced at the beginning that there were would be a lot of changes made. These guards aren't from Slovarnia. I do agree with you that it is important for the people to love me, but more importantly, so do the guards -- and boy do they love me," she said with a sigh and a Cheshire-like smile on her lips. "Where is Prince Rupert?"

"His Highness is either in the gardens or packing for Monaco, your majesty. He wasn't sure what to do."

"I'll find him and let him know," she said and retrieved the baby from his cradle. "See you later, Weasel boy. I think I will put a streaming video of the flogging online so the entire list can see you meet your fate. That will teach those critics something."

At least, McKenzie thought as the guards led the would-be usurper out of the room, I get to see Wally the Weasel get his. Pity that isn't the real one... Then again, on this world it is. This might be worth having no hands for a day or two.

"You may go, my dear," Maryanna told the girl by the crib. "See, that awful man will get what's coming to him, but you really should see someone about your skin. Don't want scars on your lovely hands when the spell wears off, do we?"

"No, your majesty," McKenzie said with a slight curtsy. "But, your majesty, I have to tell you. There is a curse on the baby." Where did that come in? It wasn't in the story. Uh oh, I can't tell her that. I cut that from the first draft.

"A curse? What sort of curse?"

"The same one that afflicts his father, your majesty." No, McKenzie half screamed to himself. I can't tell her that. She can find out for herself, but it's tradition to break bad news like this. Damn, why did I think this tradition bit was funny?

"And that would be?"

"Have you ever wondered why Prince Rupert spends so much time in the gardens, and why he plants so many vegetables?"

"No, I suppose he wants to feed the bunnies that live on the grounds, since they are about the only ones that eat those veggies, but get to the point, girl. What is this curse?"

"Prince Rupert, and now Crown Prince Philip, is a werebunny. Were-rabbit? They will turn hare on the nights of the full moon and attack veggies with a vengeance."

"You had to tell me that, now, right at the moment of my greatest triumph, so far. Another tradition?"

"I'm sorry, your majesty," McKenzie said and held up her hands. "Tradition is strong on those of us Slovarnian born. I... I," McKenzie struggled to break the hold of whatever was making him enact the words and actions of that discarded first draft, "was born in upstate New York, for Christsakes. Hell, I'm a writer and Fred the fairy list uncle put me here as punishment. Please, you have to help me, your majesty."

"Did you say something, my dear? I'm sorry, I was just thinking about your words and I can see that the curse bit may be accurate. Rupert never does spend the nights of the full moon with me. He says those are the best nights for planting. Well, I think I will have words with my bonnie bunny boy, and find out for sure. You are dismissed."

McKenzie turned and walked out of the great hall convinced that she would never get the opportunity to tell the truth again. Or write for a long time, either. Damn. What can I do now? Check the mirror, that's what I'm going to do. I've spent most of my adult life dreaming about being female, and now that I am, I can't believe I don't even know what I look like. Hell, with this body it doesn't matter that much. With a good pair of gloves, the guys aren't going to notice those missing hands much either. I could say it's a new fashion statement from the States.

"One problem solved, the old fashioned way," Fred congratulated himself as he prepared to travel home. "She won't be writing again for a long time. Now, let's track down the real Wally the Weasel. The dog, got to do something with McKenzie's dog -- Ivan or something. I'll work on it." Fred blinked out, leaving the new lady's maid to her own devices.

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