The following is an original piece of fiction created for the entertainment purposes only.

The Cursed

By LJ58

"No, boss," his foreman told him as he pointed out a cow to slaughter for the feast that weekend.

"Why not," James frowned at the older man who had been a part of his inheritance when his uncle surprised his entire family by leaving his ranch to him. "It's as good as any other," he remarked, noting the animal had turned to face him, looking at him as if listening to his every word. Which was ridiculous, of course.

Bill sighed, then pulled his had off and ran his fingers through his thinning hair that was more gray than brown now. "That's Daisy, and…. Well, sir, you wouldn't believe me…But come back just before dusk, and you'll know."

"What," James frowned at him even deeper, not understanding the old man's words as none of the hands standing nearby seemed to be able to look his way just then.

"Please, Mr. James. Just come back before nightfall, and you'll understand everything. Meanwhile, just let us pick another beef for your party."

"Fine," James spat, shifting on his horse as he looked down at the man he had at first respected when he first came to the ranch just a week ago. Now it seemed the man was not as obedient an employee as he first thought. "I'll be back out here at dusk, and you'd better have a damned good explanation, or you, and that cow, will both be finished."

Bill only sighed, glancing toward the cow that had lowered its head to continue grazing. James shook his head at the stupidity of it all, and spurred his mount to head back toward the barn. He had inherited the dairy ranch only a week ago, and while he was still learning his way, even he knew the cow Bill named Daisy was an older one. Surely her loss wasn't that critical. Even he knew an older cow wasn't likely to be as prolific a milker, or a breeder, as the young stuff.

He wondered if the man hadn't made the animal a pet. Or even a lover. He had heard some cowboys leaned that way, preferring the company of animals to other people. Well, whatever the reason, Bill better have a good explanation when he came back out, or he and Daisy would both be gone. Him to the unemployment lines, and her to the barbeque. Hell, he wasn't even sure why he was making that allowance, but he had liked the old man from the day he met him. He didn't want to just fire him at his age.

X

It was all but night by the time Bill led him into the barn where most of the stalls were empty just now. Once they got back into full operation, though, now that he had decided to keep the dairy, those grazing cattle would soon be filling the barns, and filling the tankers with milk for sale once again. He wondered if, explanation aside, he should replace the old man anyway, getting someone young in that could adapt to the necessities of progress to keep his inheritance profitable. Of course, he'd keep Bill around in some capacity. Just not as foreman. He'd need someone more business-minded. Not as sentimental.

The lowing of a cow in distress filled his ears just then as Bill led him to a stall across from the milking stations, and he looked inside to see a white and brown-spotted animal on its side, trembling violently. "What's wrong with her," he asked. "She isn't pregnant, is she?" "No, sir," Bill told him. "That's Daisy. And this is part of the reason you need to spare her."

The animal shuddered violently, and then, impossibly, before his very eyes, she began to shrink down in on herself, even as the thick coat thinned until only smooth, pink skin was visible. And still the big bovine cried in its bestial voice, until a startlingly human scream came from the reforming lips as a very human woman ended up laying curled up in the straw before him.

"My…..God," he gasped, staring at the brunette laying in the stall where the cow had been. She was slender, but voluptuously built, with a small collar around her throat holding a small silver bell on its leash ring. The same manner of collar that had been on Daisy's throat earlier, though that collar and bell had been much larger to accommodate the animal's bulk.

"Boss," Bill sighed, gesturing at the trembling woman that rose to sit in the straw, staring around with bright, pain-filled eyes. "Meet Daisy."

"My God," James echoed. "How…..? What….?"

He shook his head violently. "What is going on here. This can't be possible," he protested as Bill stepped forward, and wrapped a blanket around the young woman's shoulders as she looked up at him with wide, green eyes filled with misery, and….something else. Something unnamable.

"B-Bill," the woman rasped, her voice a husky, honeyed sound of pure sex. "Thank you," she smiled weakly as she staggered on her feet until she regained her new balance.

"This is James Winters, Daisy. The new owner. He's Nolan's nephew on his brother's side."

"Oh. Hello, Mr. Winters," the woman smiled bleakly at him.

"Someone tell me what is going on," James demanded, shaking off his bewilderment.

"Daisy is cursed, boss," Bill told him. "Your great, great uncle did it, and we've been watching over her ever since."

"Wait a minute. Your telling me this….person…..was old enough to know my great, great uncle? The old man they said was…." "A wizard," Daisy nodded. "Actually, he was a necromancer. Much worse," she smiled bitterly. "As I found out."

"So….what is this curse? You're a…what? A were-cow?" Daisy laughed bitterly. "That's a good one. All I know is that every morning I become a cow. And every night, a woman. And the changes are painful. I cannot begin to say how painful."

"And you obviously have a long life span," James snorted, still having trouble believing what he had just seen for himself.

"I'm immortal. You would have found that out when you tried to slaughter me for your party. The magic keeps me alive, no matter the wound.

"I'd still feel the pain. The misery of healing would be mine, but I wouldn't die. God knows I've tried to end this miserably existence myself many times over the long years since Old Simon Winters cursed me, but it's impossible. Only he knew how to end my torment, and he died without saying."

"So….you're a cow in the daylight, but…."

"It's hard to accept, I know," Daisy told him as Bill steered her to a small room in the back of the barn where a cot was set up.

"Do you…..? I mean, do you really…..understand things….when…?"

"I'm very much aware. I think it's part of the curse. That I know who I am. Who I was."

"I see," James sighed, staring at her as she sat back on the cot, and relaxed.

"Who is here tonight," she smiled up at Bill.

"There are four hands still waiting to see you," Bill told her gently.

"Only four tonight," she groaned.

"They are strong men, Daisy."

"Maybe…Maybe Mr. Winters would like to see just how human I am now," she asked, looking up at him with wide, green eyes now full of very unmistakable desire.

"You're not saying….?" James backed toward the door, shaking his head. "No, no, no," he said, though he could hardly pull his eyes from the shapely body being offered him as Daisy shrugged off her blanket to spread her slender thighs wide, exposing the moist, pink cavity just hidden by her dark curls.

Daisy actually looked disappointed as he turned and bolted from the barn.

X

James couldn't believe it. He had found his great, great uncles journals hidden in the library the week after he had discovered Daisy, and read through several before he found mention of majic. Spelled with a 'j' rather than a 'g.' He continued to read through the seven thick journals over the next few days, and found little at first but vague references to power, and the usual ramblings of a man making his fortune by hard work, etc. as his generation preferred. It was in the last journal that he finally found a reference to Daisy.

Halfway through, he found the passage he was looking for concerning Daisy. Only he didn't mention her by name. Or her, at all. He spoke of a vile seducer who had tainted his wife. Of how he had planted seed in her belly that killed her when she birthed the bastard, which justly died soon after his bride.

James had to wonder if that child had not been helped into eternity.

He read on, and was chilled at the man's attitude, his own relative, who spoke of making deals with darker powers than Satan himself to punish the seducer who had dared touch his wife. He spoke of the curse in particular, and wrote of how the man became a low animal by day, a cow, to be used as a cow, until such time as the world ended, or a greater power intervened, whichever was more likely. James had the impression the old man felt the latter was the more unlikely. By night, the animal became a human again. But not the man he had been, rather, the animal became another kind of beast. A wanton whore that needed to be used. Had to be used, or she would suffer damnably. One bound to his farm, as was his other cattle.

That made him remember the look in Daisy's eyes when she had stared up at him with those wide, miserable eyes even as she offered herself to him.

He read on, but the details became more horrific. If, as a cow, Daisy were bred, she would remain a cow until she delivered. If as a whore she were impregnated, she would return to a cow's shape, and her child would become another calf. And they would all be true animals, with no human sense at all. And so the cursed beast's life would go for the duration of its curse. The entries ended with that summation, and went back to the usual ramblings he had already endured. Nothing more was said about Daisy, or the curse. Nothing was said about how to end it. Which made him just as glad he had not seen the poor creature since that first night, nor made any vain promises to her about somehow sparing her more of the same she had already endured.

"Hey, bro," his younger sister Gina peered in just then. "You coming to the party, or you gonna sit here, and play old man with your dusty old books?" "I'm coming," he grinned up at her. "Just going over a few things."

"You know, this little shindig was your idea, James," the shapely teenage blonde grinned at him with laughing green eyes. "Mom's not going to understand why you're missing your own celebration."

"I said I was coming. Jeez, sis," he grinned at her as he put the last journal away in the bottom drawer of the desk. "Nag, nag, nag. What are you, a wife?" "Not yet," she winked. "But I think Kyle is getting there. By the time I'm eighteen…."

"Poor man," he commiserated, making her glare at him. "Not even grown, and you're already planning his life."

He only chuckled as she stuck out her tongue at him, and went out ahead of him to join his family at the big feast he had arranged to celebrate his inheritance with his family. Especially since he had already arranged a dairy contract with a leading wholesaler that was going to make him a lot of money. And all in only three days. In less than two weeks of owning his own dairy, he was already on his way to financial security at only twenty-five. It seemed that blessing old, great Uncle Simon mentioned more than once in one of his journals was real, because everything was turning golden for him. The only thing he didn't yet know was what to do with Daisy, and why Uncle Nolan left the ranch to him. And why make him responsible for the strange creature? What was he expected to do with her now that she was by default, his responsibility. One Uncle Nolan had never even hinted at in all the times had visited.

He sighed again as he locked his study out of habit from living in the city, and followed his sister out to the noisy gathering of his family. Ironically, his father hadn't attended, having hated his own brother so much that he refused to visit the ranch even after Nolan was dead and buried. Nor had he ever learned why the schism had grown between the two. He wondered if it was because of Daisy. He wondered if his father knew anything about her. He'd have to find out. Meanwhile, his mother, Gina, and the younger twins, Sam and Tonya were all attending, happily celebrating his good fortune. Even his dad's only other family, an aging sister, Aunt Carrie with her entire family of four boys, and three girls had attended, even her somewhat bashful husband Allen, and none of them were showing none of the usual signs of envy for being left out of Nolan's will. In fact, judging from his mother's reaction, they all seemed inordinately glad they had not been remembered.

Maybe he should question her about that, too.

X

James purposely arrived in the barn just thirty minutes before dawn. It was, he had learned over the weeks, the only time he knew by now that she would be alone, and resting. The rest of the night she spent indulging in every vice known to man, and then some as she tried in vain to sate the burning need fired in her blood and bones by the magic's curse. He had also learned why none of the hands had never betrayed her. They were as bound to the farm by some mystical loyalty, as she was by the majic that spawned her. It seemed that, once employed, workers could never speak of the dairy's secrets.

"Mr. Winters," the brunette cooed as she looked up at him from her bath. She was washing herself of the evidence of her night's debauchery before she returned to the inevitable form that would claim her at first light. "How kind of you to visit again. I had wondered….."

"Wondered what," he asked curtly as she suddenly dropped her head at his hard gaze.

"Nothing, sir. I….I didn't mean to….upset you."

"I'm not Uncle Simon, Daisy. I read his journals, though. I know why he changed you."

She looked up at him again, her eyes wide with despair. "Why," she rasped. "Dear God, why? I've been tormented for over a hundred years trying to understand that much. Why would the old man do this to me? To anyone," she asked, starting to weep now as her true feelings came out.

"What I read..…he claimed someone….you seduced his wife, and the baby you made killed her."

"Seduced….? No," Daisy cried, standing up in the tub dripping soapy water from her gorgeous frame. "I never touched Mrs. Winters. She was a friend, nothing more. I….I…."

She sank back into the water, crying again. "I never touched her. Never. This isn't right. It isn't fair," she moaned as fat tears brimmed in her dark green eyes.

"What do you remember," James asked gently as he came over and picked up a towel to hold out to her.

"There…isn't enough time to talk now," she sighed, glancing at the old clock on the wall. I have to get out of here before….you know."

"Yes," I nodded, realizing the small room was no place for a full grown cow to be at the best of times. "Why don't you tell me what you can until….time," he asked as she stood to take the towel again. "It might help."

"I….I had heard about the old man, of course. Who hadn't. It was a small community, especially back then. But I needed a job. I was broke, just out of the army, and had no place to go. I'm just glad I had no family to miss me after….this. I'd hate to think they mourned me, thinking I had just….left, or something.

"I was working for Mr. Winters for about three months before he started getting….strange. A week later, he came storming out to the barn shouting some crazy things. I ended up getting fired, and I left. That was it, I thought. But less than three weeks later, I woke up here, in this barn, in Daisy's stall. And I've been here ever since

"And until now, I never even knew why, though I could guess it must be the old man's majics from the way he would come and laugh at me while I was being milked, or…..later," she flushed as she stepped toward the door with the towel wrapped around her. "When I…couldn't help myself."

"What happens if you….leave?" "I can't," she sighed. "I tried to run one night. I was scared, and miserable, and I'd already suffered about a month of torments you cannot imagine," she was saying as James noted for the first time that the brand on Daisy's still visible on her left hip matched the ranch brand on all the cattle. "I got to the end of the path, near the main road, and found myself turning back. It was as if my body was taken over by someone else, and I just walked myself back to the barn. I'm held here, as surely as I'm cursed," she rasped, shaking her head.

"So, you don't know anything else about Simon, or his…majic," he asked as they glanced to the open front door, where the darkness was turning a faint gray as the sun began to rise.

"Nooooooo," Daisy groaned as she hit the ground, her towel falling away as her body began to twitch, and swell.

James stepped back, watching in macabre fascination as Daisy began to grow as her body hair grew and thickened as her skull swelled, and flattened as the cow began to take the place of the pretty, young woman that had stood before him only moments ago. In just a few minutes, a full grown cow scrambled to her hooves as it shook itself before looking around, and issuing a low, pitiful lowing from its thick lips.

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Bill's familiar voice called from just outside the barn.

"Oh, Mr. James," the older man stopped when he saw James standing there. "I didn't know you had come out. I guess she's ready for the morning milking," he said, glancing down and taking in the swell of Daisy's bulging udder.

The cow gave a low moo that sounded as if she were in distress.

"Y'hear, boss? That sound means she's needing milking bad. Any cow sounds that way when she's hurting from too much milk building up. The pressure can be bad, and they have to be milked regular to keep them from suffering," Bill told him as he patted Daisy's head, and led her to the nearest empty milking stall.

"And we use mechanical pumps here? No one milks by hand anymore?" "Not for some time," Bill grinned. "We've run close to nearly four hundred head, and at least two hundred of them are giving milk at any one time. Even after the sell-off following Mr. Nolan's death, we still have close to a hundred cows on hand. Sometimes more as the young are born. Couldn't handle milking that many by hand. Not and remain profitable."

"I figured as much.

"Bill," he asked as he watched the old man expertly prepare and attach the suction cups to Daisy as more hands appeared to help tend the cows already in the stalls. He knew by now, they would have already been up over an hour, feeding and watering the stock, and checking the cows roaming free in the pastures.

"Yes, boss," he asked, focused on his job.

"Do you know anything about this majic of Uncle Simon's?" "No, sir," he shook his head. "If'n I did, I'd let this poor girl out of this mess. I growed up here, y'know, and seen her grow more and more miserable if it's possible.. It doesn't help when she has to bear calves she'll never keep, or grow fond of men that'll grow old, and die while she stays young."

"How old are you, Bill," he asked.

"Bout sixty-five," the old man grinned. "I was already working here just about the time your Uncle Nolan took over after his aunt disappeared. She had inherited from old Mr. Thomas, as I recall, but then disappeared not three weeks later. They never did find any trace of her, and that's when Mr. Nolan stepped in, and took over."

"Simon didn't have any other family?" "Just his nephew Thomas. He didn't remarry after his lady died, and if he had any bastards, he never claimed any of them. Rumor was he had some sisters, but they never showed up. Not one of them."

"What about Uncle Nolan? Do you know any reason he chose me out of all our family to inherit this place?

"Not that I'm ungrateful, but my family's reactions seem….peculiar to me, to say the least." "I only know this," Bill told him. "One day, not long after Mr. Nolan took over the ranch, I found him sitting out in the north pasture. He was crying. Really crying. He was saying something about not realizing the cost of his good fortune until too late. He never said nothing else since on the matter, but I know he never invited any more family to the ranch for a long time after that day. I never seen any of them, either, not till you got invited here. You kinda broke his rules inviting your own here," he grinned.

"I see. Thank you, Bill. I'll let you get to work. I've some paperwork to finish up anyway." He paused, taking a last glance at Daisy as he turned away. "Take care of her."

"Always, boss," he said, standing up after finishing the connections that began to hum with life as Daisy's udders were emptied of their excess milk.

X

James spent the next few weeks searching the old farmhouse from attic to cellar. He could find nothing that would tell him more of great Uncle Simon's majic, or the curse that kept Daisy bound to the ranch. He never heard from his father, who refused to answer his calls, and his mother always found other matters to discuss when he tried to press her on details about Simon, Nolan, or his sudden inheritance from a man he had barely known. It made him all the more suspicious. But no matter how carefully he looked, he could find nothing else that provided any answers.

Until one night, when he found himself dreaming, yet feeling wide awake as he found himself standing in the middle of a lush, green meadow with a moon rising high overhead. He looked around the dark meadow, and found himself surrounded by dozens and dozens of cows. All looking toward him. All staring with intelligent eyes that begged him to do something. But what?

He turned toward the nearest cow, and reached out to her. The animal shuddered, and suddenly Daisy stood there, naked, and human, and still lowing like an animal as she fell to her knees, and seemed to worship him. He withdrew from her, staring in horror as he looked to another cow, and found himself reaching out to touch her before he could stop himself. Again, the bovine shuddered, and a redheaded female no more than fourteen stood before him before dropping to her knees, too. He gasped, stepping back, but the cows kept closing in around him, and at every touch, a kneeling female replaced the cow that had been there beforehand.

He soon found himself looking out at a sea of female flesh beneath the baleful eye of the moon, and turned from the sight of all those women of all ages to the darker shadows surrounding the meadow where the forest grew thick and large. He sensed something in the trees, waiting, and started to walk toward it when he heard a familiar voice call his name.

"No," his sixteen year old sister Gina called out to him, and he turned to see she was one of the many females still kneeling before him. "Don't go, James," she begged him, her wide eyes filled with despair. "You can't go."

"Gina," he rasped, staring at her naked body prostrated before him.

"Don't go," his mother begged as she, too, looked up from where she lay prostrate on the ground near Gina.

"Mom?" "Don't go," all the women begged him. "Don't go."

James woke up screaming.

X

He splashed water over his face as he straightened to look into the mirror at his pale visage. His own blonde hair was spiked, and tousled from sleep, and the sweat generated by his peculiar nightmare. Only he wasn't so sure it was just a nightmare. Something kept nagging at him as he reviewed that bizarre scenario that was all too real even now that he had woke up. He dried his face, and turned to look out the window past the thin, yellow curtains his mother had hung recently when she came over to help liven up the place, as she put it.

The moon wasn't full. It was barely a sliver in the sky just now. In his dream, it had been full and round, resembling a silver eye more than a celestial satellite as it shone down on the meadow full of cows. He remembered he had to started to turn away from his mother in the dream, and spotted Aunt Carrie next to her two grown daughters, and her one still teenage daughter not far away. He saw none of the boys. Only girls were here. Only females.

What the hell did it mean, because he was long past the idea the dream was a coincidence.

He sighed as he looked out at the sky through his bathroom window again. The moon hung low in the sky, like the mournful yellow eye had when it was full. Only just now that tiny sliver barely resembled the full moon he had dreamt. It was more like….

And eye just beginning to open, he thought with a shiver that etched his spine with ice.

And when it woke, he asked himself as he looked out at the night sky, what would it look upon? What would it see? Glancing at his watch as he padded naked back to his room, a habit he had developed since college, he realized it was already close to four. He padded back to his room, and flipped on the lamp to fill the dark room with bright light. Just a few weeks, and he was already well on his way to getting damned near rich. Only he was troubled by the ease of his fortune. He was also even more troubled by Daisy, and the constant references to missing women, and a secret price to be paid by the men who inherited the farm.

Then he realized he knew where he had been standing in the dream.

He had been in the north pasture, just outside a thick forest the men claimed no one ever entered for reasons they didn't seem to be able to remember. The same pasture Bill had mentioned finding Uncle Nolan in that one day when he had been weeping over his fortune's cost. The forest, he decided as he recalled the women's fear. The forest was where he would find answers. He'd ride out there tomorrow….well, later today, he mused grimly as he stood in the window, watching the sliver of moon disappear over the horizon. He just wished he had a younger horse. Most of the stock still around seemed a bit old. He'd been buying fresh stock for the dairy, but so far had not considered horses. He should, though. He had always enjoyed riding when he visited Uncle Nolan. And he didn't want to tax the old horses still filling the corral.

Going back to his bed, he picked up one of Simon's journals and had a thought. If Simon had kept these journals, what of Uncle Thomas, or Uncle Nolan? Did they have something written down? Some record of their times here? If so, where? For he was certain if they did they surely would have more to say about the strange dairy, and the family secret that seemed to be passed on only through the males in the Winters' family. For he couldn't help thinking that the story about the old spinster Aunt Ellen trying to snatch the farm from Nolan had been a warning. Or something precautionary.

Where were those men's journals, though? He had looked just about everywhere he could think to look in the old house. Hadn't he?

Which was when he noticed the shape drawn innocently into the cover of the journal he held looked familiar. In fact, it looked very familiar. It looked like the outline of the living room on the first floor. He knew, but the distinctive angled silhouette made the room rather striking even with the old-fashioned décor that still filled it.

Acting on impulse, he pulled out the other journals from his bedside table and spread them out on his bed before him. Being a man of methodical thought processes, James carefully sifted the bound books, and then began to recognize each had a pattern on their front cover, just as he had begun to suspect. He lay them out, and soon had a pattern of the entire first floor. Except the seventh journal outlined a small, octagonal room he knew he had not yet seen.

So, where was it, he wondered as he looked at the books lined up before him.

He spent the next few hours looking for hidden rooms downstairs, and upstairs, as well as once more rechecking the attic and cellar in the old farmhouse. He found nothing. He was so distracted by his quest he forgot to ride out to the pasture he had dreamed of that night. By the time he remembered, he had to go to the auction barn upstate to pick up the four new cows he had bought, but the bull he had hoped to buy had taken ill, and the owner wasn't sure he would make it. He asked Bill about what had happened to the bulls that serviced the farm before, but Bill only commented they weren't around any longer.

It would be another week before he managed to finally find the secret in the journals. By fitting them together by rooms, laying out the actual floor plan, he discovered they actually indicated the location of the hidden room in a niche below the kitchen that apparently the pantry led to, rather than the attic. Why he had not thought to use the books as an actual map before puzzled him. He was usually much more careful in his analysis of any problem he face. It was how he had graduated business school with such high marks despite being an admittedly average student otherwise.

He went down to the pantry, descended the stairs he found behind the one loose shelf in the room, and emerged in a short hall dug into the earth itself that ended in a dead end. Before him, set into large timbers set firmly into the hard earth, was a huge, steel door with a very imposing lock.

"Naturally," he muttered, staring at the lock, and wondering where the hell he was supposed to find the key.

Still excited by his find, but disappointed by being so cut short, he turned to head back upstairs even as he almost tripped over a pair of matching halters. The kind horses would wear. He frowned as he picked them up, shaking the dust from them, and saw they were rather well made. Despite being covered by dust, they were still in good shape, and he had to wonder why they were down here. Well, he'd take them upstairs, and see what Bill knew about them. He seemed to know everything else about the farm. At least, the normal aspects of it.

After closing the pantry, and tossed the halters carelessly onto the old, wooden table that filled the dining room as he headed for the stairs, and the bed. He didn't notice the way the moonlight from the waxing moon struck the two halters, or the way the dark leather seemed to glitter and gleam.

"Reminds me," he muttered to himself as he headed up the steps to bed. "I still need at least two new horses."

X

"Hey," he mumbled sleepily into the phone as he juggled with the receiver after being woke from an unusually sound sleep. One of the few he had enjoyed of late since he had started searching out the secrets of his inheritance.

"Oh, hey, mom," he replied as he recognized her voice, and wiped the sleep from his eyes as he sat up in bed. "How is everythin…..?

"What? "Mom, calm down. I haven't seen them.

"No. I swear. But if I do, I'll call you the second I know anything. Meanwhile, have you checked with their friends? It is a weekend, and they might have….

"All right, all right. Look, do you want me to drive in, and…..? "Okay. Okay. Maybe you should call the police…..?" He frowned as his mother burst into tears.

"What do you mean it's a family matter," he asked even as the phone went dead. "Aren't I a family," he demanded of his father who had seized the phone to growl in his ear only to hang it up.

"What the fuck is going on," he spat, and shook his head.

His brother and sister had disappeared last night. The twins, his near hysterical mother had told him, had not been in bed when she woke up to make them breakfast. Sure, Sam and Tonya were twelve, but kids these days grew up fast. They likely were up to some mischief that they didn't want the folks knowing about. But why would his mom ask if he had seen them? Dressing, he found Will, his cook had already set breakfast on the table when he got downstairs. He had already learned no woman in town would work for him. Not one. Will was a good cook, though, and surprisingly neat. The old man's brother was also a fair housekeeper for a twenty-two year old wannabe rapper.

"Hey, Will, what'd you do with the halters I left on the table last night," he yawned as he sat down to drink coffee before digging into his breakfast.

"Didn't see no halters, boss," the old man told him as he set fresh juice on the table. "But Davie has already been through, so he might have moved them."

"Okay. No big deal, I just thought I'd take them down to the barn for you if he saw them laying around."

"Want me to ask Davie if he moved them, boss," Will asked him as he stood back, nodding in satisfaction at the large breakfast James put away.

"No, no. I'm sure he just took them to the barn, like you said."

Will nodded, then freshened his coffee. "Anything else before I start cleaning up this sty," he grinned, which was his usual joke since the house was virtually immaculate most of the time unless the man was cooking.

Still distracted by the halters, and the door, James was even more confounded by his parents, and the strange call when he walked into the barn an hour later to check on things. Bill waved at him as he stood beside a sleek, palomino mare he didn't recognize, and went back to grooming her.

"I gotta say, boss," Bill told him. "I couldn't believe what a fine pair of fillies you found at the auction yesterday. You never did say what you paid for them."

James frowned as he looked up at the finely-boned mare, and realized she was wearing one of the halters he had thrown on the table last night. Cleaned up, it was a solid black leather frame that looked almost unnatural its surface was so smooth. "Yesterday," he frowned, remembering only the four cows he had brought in. He knew, because he had been so disappointed about the bull.

"Yessiree," Bill grinned as he curried the mare's tail now. "Sammie here is one sweet, little filly. I can see how she, and her sister caught your eye."

"Sammie," he choked, looking at the horse again, and looking around. In a nearby stall he spotted an exact duplicate of the golden mare with the silvery mane and tail staring at him. It wore the other halter. Cut into the stall door someone had already hung the nameplate for 'Princess.' Next to hers, the empty stall declared it belonged to Samantha.

This was beyond coincidence. Tonya was in her princess phase of late, and had made him laugh all week at being ordered to address her as royalty. And then….Sam? But….Sam had been a boy. Of course, so had Daisy.

He shuddered as something nameless filled his heart, and he suddenly had the image of a large, iron key. But he couldn't place its location. He only knew it was close. Very close. More majic, he wondered bitterly as he turned to look at Samantha again. Was this really what had become of his twin siblings?

"I've already branded them for you, Mr. James," Bill told him. "I figured you'd want to ride one of them today."

"Uh, yeah," he nodded. "I….I'd like to ride one of them. Either one, it doesn't matter."

"Do you plan to breed them? I know old man Franklyn has a real nice stud that he loans out sometimes."

"I'll keep that in mind," he choked out as he turned to go. "Have one of them ready about noon, Bill. I plan to ride out about that time."

"Sure thing, boss," Bill nodded.

One more thing, Bill," he asked. "Have you seen my brother or sister? The twins I mean?"

"Hmmm. Can't say I have, boss. Something wrong," the man asked, obviously showing no sense of suspicion, or concern.

"Mom thinks they ran away," he told her blandly. "You know how kids are these days. She wondered if they didn't try hitching down here."

"Yeah. My own sister took off a while back, and she was just sixteen. Wanted to see the city. Couldn't stand the country."

"You ever see her?" "You know how it is, boss," Bill shrugged. "They takes off, and never look back. Sides, it's been a spell. I reckon she's gone and done forgot all about me."

"And maybe women just don't last on this farm," he tried to say, but oddly, his tongue wouldn't shape the words.

He frowned, paused at the double doors open to the morning sun, and decided to try something else. "I think those horses are Sam and Tonya," he thought. He thought it, because he couldn't say it. Something wouldn't let him.

"Something wrong, boss?" "No, Bill. Just….admiring the mares. They are beautiful, aren't they?" "For a fact, boss. For a fact."

James' face was grim as he turned and walked to the house. He never looked up as had been the custom when Daisy called out to him from the pasture where she was grazing after her morning milking. Unlike most of the regular stock, she was given more exercise, and fresh air in allowance to her truer nature.

He stormed into the house, found Davie and Will already gone, their work finished. He walked over to the phone, stared at it, but what could he do? Call his mother up and tell them he found the kids? That his brother and sister were now mares in his barn?

It was the halters. He was sure of it.

But it was something more, too. Majic. And a deal made with darker powers than Satan. How much darker could you get he wondered as he frowned at his old uncle's claims he had first written off as madness, then had to accept as real. Especially after he had seen Daisy.

And now this.

But the twins had been safe at home yesterday, over ninety miles from the dairy. Overnight, they became mares in his barn that Bill remembered him buying the day before? That was past odd. That was downright peculiar. And more than a little scary. What next?

He was afraid to consider that one.

He turned from the phone, thinking about the sudden vision of a key, and went back to the pantry. He searched it carefully, trying not to make a mess that Will would find, and bellow about. He was particular like that. Finding nothing, he swung the shelf back, and went back down to the iron door. It was still as formidable, and as sealed, as before. He looked down at his feet, but a careful search uncovered nothing in the thick dust that looked as if it had not been disturbed in years. Yet he had been down here just last night. Where were his footprints? He looked down as he took the first step back up to the pantry, and frowned as he looked at the marks he had made in the dust this time. Would they be gone when he returned? And how was it done?

Did he really want to know?

"Damn right I do," he told the ominous door. "And I want by brother and sister back."

For a moment, he thought he could hear an ancient, wheezing snicker. As if something were trying to laugh, but were not quite capable of it. He found that made him angrier rather than scaring him, and scowled at the door.

"This isn't over," he spat, and stalked up the steps to study the most important books he had right now. Simon's journals. Still, the only thing he could determine for certain was that the old bastard was a cruel, sadistic old tyrant that was as possessive as hell, which accounted for the majics that made the farm, and all about it so carefully sheltered from exposure. It seemed the man was fanatically concerned with keeping anything and everything that he deemed his own.

That did not explain the twins. Even if he now guessed the twins explained the missing women down through the years. Had they all become mares, too? Or were they used to fill other open spots on the farm? Dogs, cats, chicken, swine? More cows? Yet Bill gave no indication he knew nothing of this bizarre transformations he was guessing accounted for the Winters' women disappearances. Or could he simply not speak of it either?

He considered that as he wondered not for the first time if the twins knew what had become of them. If they, like Daisy, were now trapped in animal bodies. There were so many unanswered questions just now, but what frightened him was the fact he still had other family that might fall prey to this curse. He had to discover what was at work here, and he had to break it. Because if there was one thing he had learned in a lifetime of old horror movies, it was there was always a way to stop the darkness. Even Lovecraft's dark gods were once driven out by mere men. Which meant they could be again. Which meant this bizarre curse could be ended. Didn't it?

He had to hope. For all their sakes.

If only he could find that key. He was sure the answers he sought were behind that door. He was certain of it. He chose to leave his useless speculation for a time, and went out to find Princess saddled, and took her for a gallop across the pastures. He spoke with her, treated her kindly, but could get no indication his sister was inside the beautiful mare that now wore his brand. Just like her twin.

The day slipped past him, and once again, he never quite managed to get to the north pasture.

X

A week later, just three days from the first full moon since his inheritance, and his mother called him, screaming to stop it. Stop what, he didn't know. He did later learn Gina had gone missing. She had gone to spend the night at a friend according to the police report he watched, since his parents wouldn't answer his calls, and never arrived. They were treating it as a runaway. There was no mention of the twins. They seemed to have simply been forgotten. James had a disturbing premonition that it wouldn't be long before Gina was forgotten save for those that knew and loved her best.

He went straight to the barn, but found everyone outside in the corral where Bill looked up from branding a young heifer that was just entering its maturity. The cow bawled loudly as the hot iron was pressed to its hip, and then bellowed again. Bill had assured them the animals felt no real pain, but were simply frightened at their treatment.

"Got your new heifer branded just now, boss. Hope you find your bull soon. I figure sooner she gets covered, we can add her to the dairy in just a few months."

James nodded at Bill as he studied the calf as one of the other hands let it go, and it rose shakily on its hooves as if uncertain of itself. It turned to seem to study the still acrid odor of scorched hair and flesh, then gave what sounded like a disgruntled lowing to James before it trotted off toward the open gate another hand shoved open for it to enter the pasture outside the corral.

"Still looking, old man. Hard to find just what I want," he admitted, though he hadn't even been looking that hard for any bulls since he had embarked on his quest to find the answers behind the cursed dairy. For he no longer considered his growing fortune a blessing. It was cursed. With blood, and bought with the flesh of his own family.

"No rush. Most of the cows won't be in season for a few months or so anyway. Might have a few this month though. We usually push them all to the north pasture to keep them from disturbing the other stock during that time."

"That sounds good," James nodded as he turned back to the barn to visit the mares. He check the calf later. It might look too odd even for him to go chasing that heifer he did not remember buying across the pasture on foot.

He walked into the barn, went straight to Sam's stall first, and offered the mare that might be his brother a sugar cube. "You like that, don't you, gal," he blushed when he thought of the irony of his younger brother being a female. "Don't you worry," he told her, stroking her cheek. "We'll take real good care of you, no matter what happens."

"Boss," Bill called out as he moved to Princess, offering her sugar as the old man entered the barn.

"You okay?" "Sure, Bill. Sure."

"You're acting a bit….odd. Even the boys have noticed."

James turned from Princess and studied the old man. "And we know all about oddities on this place? Don't we, Bill?"

"Reckon we do, Mr. James," the man nodded as he stopped just short of where he stood. Was it his imagination, or did the old man cast his eyes at the mares in a suspicious fashion.

"Tell me something, Bill. If you can," he added cryptically. "Are there….things you know, that you can't speak? I mean, you can't say them aloud?" "Guess…there are secrets wherever you go, boss," the man nodded solemnly. "Some come out, in due time. Others hide themselves so well you never find them out."

James said nothing. "My sister Gina has gone missing," he blurted out.

"That's a shame," he nodded. "The new heifer, Regina, he stressed the name with effort, looks like she'll make a fine addition, though. We'll be back up to full production in no time once she's covered, and lactating."

"I see," James nodded. "Tell me something else, Bill," he asked grimly. "Have you ever seen a key? A large, heavy key made out of iron, with some odd symbols on its side?" "Never, boss. But Mr. Nolan, he told me about that key once."

"What did he say," James demanded with unexpected urgency.

"He said, if I ever seen that key, I should run. Run as fast as I could, and pretend I never seen it."

"That's all he said," James frowned.

"That's all he ever told me, Mr. James," Bill nodded. "He seemed right scared of it."

"I see. Thank you, Bill. Keep up the good work. All of you."

"You bet, boss," the old man waved as James turned and left the barn. If anything, he was more confused than ever. Did Bill mean to imply he knew about his siblings? Did he mean to say he was unable to speak of them either?

And what did Uncle Nolan know about the key he have seen in his vision?

What the hell was behind that door?

Or in the woods north of his pastures?

He had to find out. But his uncharacteristically haphazard casting around, and forgetful spells were not going to help. He was acting more like….like….

"Uncle Nolan," he recalled, remembering the old man's absentminded nature in those last years. Well, he wasn't absentminded. It was time to focus, and by God, he was going to get to the bottom of this. One way, or the other.

X

James spent the week searching the house again, still convinced he was overlooking something. He divided that time with the mares, and the heifer, but as with the twins, Gina showed no indication of truly understanding him, or remembering her past. Still, he was convinced it was her. He just knew it. Meanwhile, his dreams had collapsed into black, whirling images of sheer menace and terror that had no rhyme, no reason. He couldn't remember anything but the swirling blackness, and the sensations of despair that filled him every time he woke.

Until the night of the first full moon since he had moved into the house.

He tossed and turned, the dark shadows turning back into a clear, frighteningly familiar tableau that he knew well enough. He was in the north pasture again, under the baleful eye of the strangely yellow full moon, and there were dozens of cows around him. This time, he recognized them before they changed. He recognized faces from years gone by, and even Gina's pale, anxious face now trapped behind the horns and visage of the young heifer that stood before him.

As he stood before them, he felt a strange rippling shudder through his flesh, and realized he was changing this time. He was swelling with monstrous power, and growing taller. His muscles thickened and bulged as he felt he tail burst from his shredding jeans even as the headaches he had been having suddenly ended with the eruption of two, long, black horns from his skull that was rapidly shifting to take a bull's shape even as his lower body became that of an immense bull, complete with dangling cock already hare and ready to claim his herd.

Oddly, his torso remained humanoid, but his chest and arms where corded with new muscle, and much larger than he could have ever hoped to be in true life. He lifted his eyes to the moon, and gave a curt snort before turning, and walking to the first cow, positioning himself behind her flanks as he drove himself into her with a bellow of raw desire.

And the cow was but the first, for it was as if he were outside of his body, watching himself as he indulged in an endless orgy of gratification with the bawling cows who could not flee their master. Their bull. Even Gina, dark eyes wide, and frightened, stood quivering in place as her turn came, accepting his bestial phallus as her due course as she barely struggled at all to resist the inevitable end of his mad rampage of lust. In the end, he was back in his body, dawn approaching, as he felt the snug clasp of the last cow's moist heat around his tireless organ as he pumped his thick, ropey cum into yet another vessel. He bellowed just as loud as before as he fell back from the cow, shrinking down on himself as he regained his human form once again.

He looked up at the sun in confusion, realizing he was wide awake, laying sprawled behind a cow in the middle of the pasture. Moaning with unnatural fatigue, he pushed to his feet, staring around him in confusion. He spotted several rags on the ground nearby, and realized they were his clothes. Ripped to tatters as if something had torn them from his body.

"You have got to be kidding me," he moaned as he looked around the small, grazing herd he knew Bill had mentioned he'd be culling to drive up here. They were the few already in season, he had said. He didn't want them to disturb the others.

He heard hooves, and looked around, spotting a splash of color not far off. Someone was riding one of the mares, and they were coming right toward him. For a moment, he thought about trying to hide, but hell, this farm was full of weirdness. Anyone coming up here had to know it. He was still standing there, watching the smooth lines of the trotting mare with admiration when he realized it was Bill. He still couldn't make him out, but he just…knew….it was him.

A few minutes later, the old man rode up beside him, and gave him a rueful grin.

"Reckon you found your bull, boss," the old man told him in a bland voice.

"You….knew?" "Hard not to, after Mr. Nolan used to come up here every time the cows were in season."

James groaned again as the old man dismounted, and handed him a pair of jeans, and a shirt from his saddlebag. "Thought you'd be needing these," he offered.

"You….couldn't tell me, could you," he surmised as he pulled the clothing on.

"That's the way it works. You must already know how things are goin' around here, and….you can't say nothing till the master reaches a certain point himself. Then, well, what the hell can you do? It's too late."

"Can you tell me if I'm right? Are those animals….?" "Some are real cows. Either bought, or natural born. Some ain't. Some are old surviving family members still alive. Some are their offspring. Some are busybodies that seen what they shouldn't when they came poking around, and the farm's majic took care of 'em.. But, yeah, boss, that one was Gina. Only she ain't Gina no more. Way I understand it, once she's used as a cow, she becomes a cow."

"She won't be like Daisy?" "No. Daisy's…unique."

"And the twins?" "Just like Gina, once they were treated like animals, they became true animals."

"Yet you didn't stop me….?" "This can't be stopped, boss," Bill told him sadly as James left his shirt hanging open, and stood there barefoot glaring at him as he handed him a thermos of coffee, and a wrapped sandwich. "Your uncle," he tried.

"That's why he let that old spinster sis of his rob him. Or try. He had learned enough already having grown up on the farm, that he wanted no part of what Mr. Thomas was going to leave him. Only she ended up part of the farm in a way she didn't expect.

"And he was forced to come back. Just like Daisy. Just as you'd be forced now, if you tried to leave. Once you become a part of the farm, it just won't let you go. Not till you die."

"If you're lucky," he added, thinking of Daisy. "So, what did happen to old Aunt Ellen?"

"Better I don't say."

"Or can't?" "That's about right, boss. Dark things happen here. Dark things," he said, glancing at the woods.

"You still have some unsaid things, don't you, Bill?" Bill said nothing as his lips formed a thin line in the weathered plains of his whiskered face. He hadn't even bothered to shave this morning. It gave him an entirely different look.

"You might as well stay up here, and rest for the day. You'll only wear yourself out learning you can't leave for two days anyway. Or rather, two nights."

"The moon."

"It's a breeding moon. Every two months, the animals on the farm are bred. Sometimes cows. Sometimes horses. You recall we have a pair of shepherds, too? "You've got to be kidding me," he moaned, echoing his earlier words.

"I don't know the why, boss," Bill admitted as he turned, and mounted up. "I only know what I know. My father told me how old Mr. Thomas used to revel in his days. I think he was…well, fond of what he became.

"I never saw that in Mr. Nolan. He hunted a way out. In the end…."

"In the end…?" "I'm sorry, boss," Bill sighed. "Another day, perhaps."

"You mean, after I find out the hard way, anyway."

"Reckon so," the old man grimaced. "Just….take my advice. Relax, rest, and….try not to fret yourself over what can't be helped. At least your family is no longer aware of what happened to them."

"That we know of," he added bitterly as they both looked from Princess, to Gina. Odd how he knew them so well even now.

"Right."

"What about the rest of the people in my family?" "Every full moon, three are going to be taken. Only the men of the family aren't touched. The rest, women, and children….

"They are always taken if they have been exposed to the farm. Always."

"Damn," James spat, crushing the sandwich in his hand.

"I'm sorry, boss. Really I am."

James looked up at him. "I'm not finished, Bill. Not by a long shot."

"I recall Mr. Nolan used to be real determined, too. He was a real religious man. Prayed all the time. Till the day he just gave up, and let it beat him. Just….letting you know, boss," Bill nodded as he started to ride away.

"I'm not Nolan," James murmured. "And I'm damn sure not Thomas, or Simon.

He turned and walked over near Gina, who simply eyed him suspiciously, and went back to grazing with the rest of the cows. He carefully flattened his sandwich after sitting on a stump he found, opening it as he realized he was hungry, and his lethargy wasn't going to pass without some food in his belly. He eyed the thick slab of meat suspiciously, but he had already been eating beef since his arrival, so he took a large bite. It was ham. And that he was aware of, he had no pigs on the place. Didn't want any. He never did like those animals.

Finishing the sandwich, he opened the thermos, and inhaled the scent of strong, black coffee. He drank it right from the thermos as he replied the events of the previous night through his mind. He suspected this was just where and how Bill had found Uncle Nolan weeping that day he described. But James, while numb at what had been done to him, and through him, was not crushed. Maybe it was Uncle Nolan's own morality that had cursed him, fearing God had abandoned him.

James had always been more of a borderline agnostic, even dallying in other philosophies disguised as religion to seek order in life before he turned to business as a vocation. He would likely be an accountant, or something similar had not Nolan chose to name him his heir. Still, he wasn't going to let some old curse carelessly created by his great uncle destroy him, or his family. Somehow, he was going to prevail. He just had to…..

James woke abruptly even as nightfall began to claim the night sky. He was still dressed, and still human, even though the moon hung heavy in the sky.

"This is not part of the bargain," a wiry, young man howled as something monstrous shifted in the nearby forest before which he stood.

James tried to approach him, and the forest, but could not seem to even life his head. Had he not already been looking in that direction, he wouldn't even have been able to see them, for only his eyes seemed capable of movement just then.

All you asked…..All you craved…..Has come to pass. The price must be paid. Balance maintained. The beast is your blessing, and now your curse.

"Not her, too," the man howled back, his body started to swell as his old-fashioned finery began to burst at the seams as the man became the bull he had been just the previous night.

All your line….Shall share your blessing…..Share your beast….Unendingly until my due is paid.

"Never," the manbeast screamed, his voice turning into a hellish bellow of unbridled rage and fury.

X

James sat up abruptly, once more, stunned by the vision as he looked around frantically, blinking against the glare of the overhead sun.

It wasn't quite noon, and yet he still felt the chill of night, and could hear the inhuman rage in the young man's voice as he screamed at the night shadows in the forest that spoke with an unearthly timbre that still chilled James' bones.

"Is that what Cthullu must have sounded like to Lovecraft in his visions," he wondered idly as he tried to describe that bizarre, otherworldly voice.

He stood up, reaching for the thermos once more, and noted it was half empty. He didn't even recall drinking that much. He took a sip of the tepid fluid, and sighed as he returned to his seat on the low stump where he had been sitting earlier. Gina was no longer nearby, having apparently wandered off to another part of the pasture nearby. Still, the small herd was staying close, as if something held them in the pasture, too.

Or, he thought speculatively as he looked out at the forest he had just seen shrouded in darkness. Because some instinct frightened them into staying away from the trees. He sipped absently at the lukewarm coffee as he studied the forest. Even at nearly noon, the trees seemed….dark. Menacing. As if shrouded by some otherworldly presence. As if…..somehow visually warning the unwary to stay away.

Capping the thermos, he stood up as he continued to eye the forest. It figured prominently in his dreams. From the very first, he had seen this forest before he even realized where it was. And now this last vision.

It meant something.

"Fuck it," he drawled, and shoved to his feet as he started toward the forest's edge where he had just 'seen' that man he now suspected was Simon yelling at the shadows that spoke with weird voices.

He didn't get three steps before Bill came riding up, on Sam this time, holding a saddlebag out to him. "Thought you might like some lunch, boss," the old man nodded as he said nothing about the direction he was heading.

"Nothing to say, Bill."

Bill was conspicuously silent."

"Thanks for the food, old man," he nodded at him.

"You have to do what you have to do, boss," he nodded at him, and turned the mare around.

"Bill," he called out as the man before he rode away. "Have you ever gone into the woods?" "Never," Bill called back, and even as he rode off, James saw his look of stark terror as he glanced back at him.

"Interesting," he murmured, knowing that Bill had seemed as unflappable as they came until just now.

Turning back to the forest after dropping the saddlebag on the stump, he turned and headed toward the forest once more. "Hey," he yelled as a moment later a cow charged him, cutting him off, and standing in his path.

"Gina?"

The cow snorted, pawing the ground, and moved to stop him again. Even as he tried to get around her, she moved again, lowering her broad head to butt him backwards. Before he could react, he was surrounded by snorting cows that were herding him away from the forest with overt purpose. They stopped only when he reached the stump where he had been sitting earlier. He looked around the ring of cows that had acted very intelligently, and locked his eyes on the young heifer he knew had been Gina.

"You do remember, don't you?"

The cow stared placidly at him for a long moment, then slowly its head moved to nod.

"You know everything that's happened?" The cow nodded again.

James' lips thinned as he reached out to touch her dark head. "I'm sorry."

The cow snorted. He could just imagine hearing one of his sister's characteristic come-backs.

"D-Did I….hurt you?" The animal snorted again, and overtly shook her head.

"This is all very strange. But you have to know I'm just trying to find answers. To find a way to stop this."

Gina did not respond this time.

"I think I should go into the forest. I think there may be answers there."

Gina dropped her head again, snorting as she violently shook her head.

He sighed. "All right, all right. I'll stay put," he chuckled.

"For now."

Gina butted him hard, glaring down at him as he ended up sprawled on the ground before her.

He couldn't help but start laughing as the heifer staring down at him moved closer, and actually licked his cheek with her broad, flat tongue.

"Yuk," he couldn't help exclaiming as he wiped his cheek.

She snorted at him again.

"I love you, too, sis," he told her honestly as he stroked her coarse hair. "But I'm not going to let anything stop me from finding the answers we all need. Not even you.

"Hey," he complained when she snorted again, and he ended up covered in mucus from her broad nostrils.

He got the impression she was laughing as he pulled off his shirt to wipe his face, letting the sun warm his bare skin as he climbed up to sit on the stump, reaching for the saddlebags to inspect their contents.

"Hey, an apple," he grinned, holding it out to Gina who remained close after the other cows had finally moved away a few feet to give them room.

"Want a bite," he offered, and yelped when her teeth brushed his fingers when she took the whole fruit from his hand.

"Selfish wench," he laughed, then did a double-take.

Since when did he call his sister a wench?

X

He sat on the stump watching Bill ride up early the next morning after a night spent fucking like a madman. Or a randy bull. He was dimly aware of singling out Gina, mounting her several times as his lust rose to drive him to mount the cows in his herd again and again. He was still rutting atop Gina for a fifth time when his body began to change again, and he spent his last climax in her after he had become fully human once more. Oddly enough, his cock remained buried in her, spewing his cum in her gaping passage even then. Only as he pulled away did he realize his still hard shaft was a full four inches longer than it had ever been, stretching out at nearly eleven thick inches that showed no sign of being sated even then.

The truth was, even as he backed away from Gina, who looked back at him to give a soft bawling cry that could have meant anything, he did so while fighting the urge to shove his still throbbing cock back in her pink hole that still dripped from his previous couplings.

He didn't even bother to put on clothes until his powerful erection finally began to fade. He went to the stump, sat down, and barely paid attention to Gina who came to graze near where he sat as he scavenged the remains of yesterday's supper to fill his rumbling belly. After he finished the scraps, the hollow feeling in his gut faded somewhat, and he found his unnatural erection had dwindled enough for him to pull his jeans back on. They were still snug, though, as he was obviously larger than before even limp.

"Morning, boss," Bill nodded at him, frowning as he realized his boss was smiling as he scraped together his trash to pack it into the saddlebag for him to take back. "You okay."

"Peachy, old man. Peachy," he nodded, suspecting the man wouldn't believe him if he told him about the cows' behavior. Or about Gina. Somehow, he just knew Bill wouldn't believe him despite all else going on around him.

"You'd better be careful when you go home tomorrow morning," he advised him, giving a discreet glance at James' spread legs, and the bulge in his crotch.

"Yeah?" "I….don't know if you realize it, but Davie likes men. A lot."

"O-kay," he drawled. "I hadn't noticed that. And I used to think I was pretty observant."

"Guess you were distracted," Bill offered as he traded saddlebags with him without dismounting when James finally walked over to him, seeing the man wasn't going to get down. "But I've noticed he's watched you a lot, and on a farm used to the peculiar ways of your uncles, I doubt anyone will blink an eye at you two ending up….."

"I get it, Bill," he glowered, then turned to the horse. "How you doing, Sam," he asked the mare as he patted her broad neck, now more than ever convinced his brother was still in there somewhere. "Hanging in there, okay?"

"Boss," Bill began. "I wasn't just warning you."

"No?" "I was….offering you a way out. After the first moon, you'll find yourself….well, aroused. A lot. Davie might be….strange. But he could….help you."

"I'll bear that in mind," James scowled as Bill again tried to turn the horse, but James held to the bridle.

"She's just a mare now, boss," Bill told him as James gently stroked her fine cheek.

"Indulge me, Bill," he told him. "Whatever has or has not happened, I'm not going to just ignore them."

"No, I reckon not," the old man nodded as he acted impatient to get away. It occurred to James the man was genuinely scared. He kept shooting anxious glances at the forest, and trying to turn Sam back toward the barn.

"Well, guess I'll see you later, old man," he finally told Bill after he had patted, and stroked the mare who seemed to enjoy it well enough.

"And, Bill.

"Thanks," he smiled as the old man shot him an impatient glance.

"Uh, sure, boss," the man nodded, then rode away at a trot, obviously having no idea what James was thanking him for.

"Bill knows something he can't, or won't share, Gina," he told his sister as he turned to face the cow who had not left her post at his side since the morning had seen him restored to normal. Or relatively so.

She only gave him a placid look this morning, but he wasn't fooled. She remained firmly between him, and the forest. He only shrugged, and dug into the food the foreman had brought him for breakfast. No apples this morning, just coffee, ham and egg sandwiches, and a few strips of bacon.

"Sorry, sis," he grinned, noting the cow was indeed glancing his way as he sifted through the offerings. Nothing for you this morning."

The heifer snorted, and acted as if she weren't interested as she went back to grazing.

"You're not fooling me," he grinned, and bit into his own food, surprised at how hungry he was. Or maybe not. He had had a long night, with little rest. This time, he was taking Bill's advice. He stretched out next to the stump, and closed his eyes to nap. He was asleep in seconds.

X

He was back in his bedroom. He knew it in spite of the strange, heavy oak furnishings that filled the room. A young woman lay on the bed, a huge mound rising beneath the covers where her belly would be.

"Who was it," the old man spat. "Who?" "No one, Simon," the woman recoiled from his fury as he towered over her. "I swear."

"I have not touched you in months. Not once. Yet your harlot's belly is fuller than ever I've seen. Do not lie, wench," Simon hissed. "Tell me his name."

"Oh, God's mercy, my love, I swear…..it is true. No one touched me. I cannot explain this unnatural child. But it wants out. It tears at me. Please, summon the midwife."

"And expose my shame to all the world," he spat, his dark eyes glittering with madness as James realized the man had a very large bulge in his woolen trousers, which was all he wore. "Never. Bear your bastard as you can, but if you will not confess your sin, I'll find out all the same.

"I have ways.

"You know I do," he murmured darkly as he turned from her.

"Simon, do not," she screamed even as her screamed changed, and blood blossomed beneath the blanket in such torrents the outer covers were instantly soaked.

James gaped at the birth struggles even as Simon Winters turned to stare indifferently at his wife. "I told that foul demon I was the master. Not him. Never him. If you think to use treachery to subvert my will, I will show you both how little you know my will. Or my might."

He gestured at her as alien syllables exploded through James' ears, and tore at his very senses. He seemed to pass out within his dream as he slowly woke to find himself laying back in the meadow once again.

"Holy….shit," he rasped, seeing the sun was almost down, and an extra saddlebag was resting near the first. Bill had come, and gone, and had not even woke him.

He reached for the thermos he had been drinking from earlier, and took a long swig. Glancing over at Gina, who looked at him expectantly now, he opened the saddlebag Bill had brought, and found a ripe, red apple. "How about that, sis," he grinned, and tossed the fruit her way. "He brought another one."

The heifer chased the rolling fruit a few feet, and grabbed it up to chew contentedly on it as she ambled back to stand near him as he gobbled a few of the sandwiches still in the first saddlebag down even as the last light faded from the sky.

"Well," he sighed, resigned to stripping to spare his jeans as he noticed the moon was already just visible on the far horizon. "Might as well get this over with," he murmured as he noticed his long cock already swelling to its new length as he stepped out of the denim jeans.

Gina stepped closer, rubbing against him despite the fact he had yet to change. "Are you trying to tell me you ant me," he asked her incredulously as she stepped around to present herself to him. "Now?"

Gina nodded very enthusiastically, her head bobbing as she looked back at him.

"So, you like this?" The animal she had become lowed in what sounded like an eagerness that was astonishing to hear.

What the hell, he thought, already hard, and feeling that strange heat beginning to rise. He was already past thinking clearly as he stepped up, and simply drove his shaft deep into her waiting cow's cunt to begin thrusting into her with abandon. Even as he did, he felt his body shifting as his bovine persona exploded out of his now fluid flesh, and he began to bellow his need to the gathering herd who answered in kind.

X

"Looks like they're all breeding," Bill told him as he went down to the barn two weeks later. In that time, he had yet to find anything else out, and the visions had ceased again. He now suspected they only came with the full moon. "You did a good job," Bill actually praised him.

"Gina?" "She's fine," Bill nodded, saying no more.

He also found, as Bill had suspected, that Davie was just what he had claimed. More, maybe than either of them suspected. He had woke the second night back to find the young man's long, brown hair pooling around his groin as his lips slid up and down his long eleven inch shaft, swallowing him whole with obvious skill as James found himself unable to even think of stopping the young man.

Instead, he just lay there watching the housekeeper suck him like a pro as he shuddered in delight every time his sensitive shaft was swallowed. And that was only the beginning. Davie did indeed follow him around the house, having moved into his room, and his ed since the third night when he had sucked him off only to then impale himself on James' hungry cock that remained hard, and eager.

He was no gay, and not even bi, but he could no more have stopped the man not much younger than him, than he could stop Daisy from fucking any man that wanted her. It seemed of late all Davie had to do was touch his groin, of lick his lips, and wherever they were in the house, James would all but rape him now.

"Guess that was expected."

"Yeah," Bill nodded, then looked up at him from where he was inspecting the milking machine he had been working on. "Hadn't seen you for a while out here."

"I've been busy elsewhere. Books, and such needed doing."

"Uh-huh," the old man drawled. "How's Davie."

"Driving me fucking nuts," he admitted.

Bill only chuckled. "Will was the same way with Nolan. Reckon Davie's son will be the same with your heir," he ventured.

"Not if I can help it."

"My son was born here," Bill ventured after a while as they stood there silently regarding one another. In time, he'll be coming back even though he swore he wouldn't. I said the same thing, as I recall."

"What happened to your father," James asked abruptly.

Bill said nothing.

"Can't say?" Bill said nothing.

"I understand, old friend. Don't worry. I'm not giving up. I may be….distracted…but I'm not giving up," he assured him.

Three weeks later, he noticed the difference in Davie as he lay in bed, watching the young man ride his hard cock as they both grunted in abandon. Dave's once firm, hard chest was softening. His nipples were darker, and looked swollen, and there was a definite rounding to his ass as it ground against his thighs each time the young man dropped down to fully engulf his hard length in his tightly stretched bowels.

"What's happening to you, boy," he growled, reaching up to grab handfuls of soft flesh, squeezing them so hard Davie squealed even louder.

"I'm….taking hormones," Davie admitted as he continued to ride James with a wide grin. "I…I thought you would like me this way better, master."

James moaned at the words, and felt his balls tighten as he exploded in the boy's ass. Especially that single word that reverberated through him until he thought he would faint from the sheer delight of the passions roused within him just then.

"I want to be all you could ever want," the young man rasped in a high pitched voice, smiling hopefully at him as he sagged to drape himself across James' chest. "Dad was never willing to go this far for Mr. Nolan, but I know you're the master," he said, and James shivered at the word again as the obviously lovesick boy continued.

"I want to serve you forever, as best as I can. I thought…you'd be pleased by me if I…."

"You do please me," James told him gruffly as he realized the young man was more boy than not. His figure was lean, and coltish, and there didn't seem to be a hair on his body other than his brows, and the dark mane that fell from his head.

"Thank you, master," Davie cooed, kissing him for the first time, and letting the surprised James feel his tongue as their lips merged.

"Mmmmm, may I have your permission to dress more appropriately, then," he purred as the boy milked his still sensitive cock with his ass that was just as talented as his mouth.

"Of course," James grunted, starting to realize Davie really was distracting him, and wondering how purposely it was being done by him, or by the powers that be. He'd have to find out, before he forgot all about his intentions, and ended up like Simon, or Thomas, just endlessly indulging himself until he died, and another took his place in this vile parade of misery.

"Dad wouldn't let me. He told me I had to dress as a man. He hated it when Mr. Nolan made him dress up. But I loved watching him. I was jealous of the pretty things he had."

"He didn't take hormones, though?" "Never," Davie giggled like a schoolgirl. "He drew the line there. He said he would risk the forest first."

"Has anyone ever risked the forest," he asked casually as the boy drew circles in his own thick, sandy-blond chest hair.

"Sometimes, I've heard of men sent there for…punishment."

"What happens?" "Only the foreman knows. But everyone is scared of that place. They avoid it. Even the animals stay away from the north pasture unless it's a breeding moon."

"Yeah?" "I snuck up there once to watch Mr. Nolan," he admitted.

"That right," James murmured, letting the boy gossip.

"Yeah. He was….so fantastic. He turned into this huge half man-half horse, and he was mounting the mares like an equine Adonis."

"That's pretty poetic."

"I love poetry," Davie admitted.

"There's nothing wrong with that," James assured him, finding himself stroking the boy's lean, slender back.

"Master," Davie asked, sending another inadvertent shiver through James' body.

"Yeah?" "Do you remember? The breeding?" "Somewhat," he admitted to the boy, surprised he could. He supposed it was common knowledge, though, so it was hardly a secret now that he was already summoned by the moon, and whatever spirit was haunting this place.

"You tell me something now."

"O-Okay," the young man sighed, content to remain implaed on his still throbbing organ.

"What happened to your mother?" "I….I don't really know. We moved here not long after my second birthday. She disappeared before I was three. I never did find out what happened…..but I have my guesses."

"Yeah, I guess you do," James sighed.

"Master?" "Ye-eah," James sighed.

"I just want you to know. I'm not dad. I'll do whatever I can to make you happy. To help you forget."

James surged to his feet, shoving the boy off him as he did. "Forget," he glowered at the boy, who curled up fearfully as if expecting a beating. "Davie, I don't want to forget. I want to remember everything. I want to know everything.

"Because I'll be damned if I'm to crawl in fear from shadows when I just might be able to beat them. Do you understand me."

"Y-Yeah," the boy whimpered, looking at him fearfully from the bed they had been sharing. "I…I understand."

"Look at me, Davie," James ordered him imperiously. "Tell me, if you can. Are there things you have not shared that you can't? Things you aren't allowed to say just yet?" "Y-Yeah," he nodded, and James realized the boy had struggled with the effort to get that single word out.

"But I'll always tell you whatever I can, master," Davie told him earnestly. "I swear."

James ignored his involuntary reaction to the title this time as he nodded at the young man. He didn't know if it was the majic, or if Davie was just one of those that wanted to be as he was becoming, but he didn't think even his fear of the farm, or James' status explained his eagerness to please.

"So, you've always felt like this."

"Always," Davie sighed as he held out his arms to James. Like a damn fool, James went back to bed, and joined him.

X

"Numbers," James shouted, sitting upright in bed, not too surprised to find Davie up and gone. He still had his chores around the house, and while it obviously angered Will, the boy was now dressing in women's clothes to perform them.

He looked around as he considered the outburst that had brought him fully awake. He couldn't remember the full dream, but he heard whispering in his mind as if someone had been talking to him. His gifts were his power. His only chance, the voice had said. Use them, or die.

He focused his mind.

Numbers. Somehow, his skill with numbers, and analytical thought had to be his salvation, which meant all the distractions of the past three weeks since he had come riding home on Princess behind a very silent Bill had been purposely thrown in his way. Just as everything about this hellish place had been purposely designed to ensnare, and propagate its own dark curse.

Forget the why, he told himself. Philosophers thought on that track. Analysts, mathematicians, they went for the how. The underlying principles.

Numbers.

Equations.

But what did the dairy have to do with….? Every breeder's moon. Every two months, he reminded himself.

Three were taken from the family still available every month.

Three and two were five.

Five.

Five.

James' eyes narrowed. Even he recalled that most magics held seven a number of some power. Five and seven were…..

"No," he told himself. Look backwards. Backwards meant subtraction.

So, five from seven is two.

Now…..what on the dairy comes in twos?

He frowned as he sat in bed listening to the sounds of the morning.

One barn.

One house.

One storage shed.

One silo.

Five milk trucks, now. Only three storage tanks.

Two, he grimaced looking around. What made two sound right? What did….

"Idiot," he spat, looking around the room.

"Two floors to the house," he realized, and scrambled naked out of bed to find the journals.

Surprise, surprise, they were missing, he found as he opened the drawer on his night stand where they had been left weeks ago. He looked around, found one of Davie's notebooks he used to write his poetry, and ripped out a blank page.

"Let's try this again," he said, and began to sketch the house plan from memory. He quickly finished the silhouette of the house, drew in the floor plans, and then noted the hidden room. He then considered the second floor. Bedrooms and guest rooms.

He sketched in his own in a different color ink over the first floor plan, and jumped up to pull on a pair of jeans, and shoved his feet into a pair of boots before he ran bare-chested out to enter the next guest room. He looked around it, found it matched the kitchen's basic dimensions, and sketched it in, noting by the third guest room, and bath that it seemed the entire floor plan was the same as the first if you flipped it over and around.

Which meant instead of a secret room hidden in a pantry…..

He reached for the storage closet at the end of the long hall, and found it locked. Now why would a linen closet be locked?

He didn't ask. He lifted his boot, and kicked.

The frame splintered as the door bowed, and yielded, and behind the drunkenly hanging panel he forced open was a narrow row of steps going up. "Somebody has a secret," he grinned, and snapped on the light switch, and raced up the steps.

"Holy shit, I've hit the jackpot," he rasped as he looked around at the small, octagonal room he found at the top of the stairs.

It was lined with row upon row of books. All in leather bindings, most without names. On one wall was a picture of a burly, bearded man with cold, glittering eyes. "Uncle Simon," he guessed, and frowned at the familiar set of those dark eyes that stared at him over the bushy beard that obscured most of his features.

He had not been able to see the man in his dreams. His back had always been turned, or his face was wreathed in shadow. Yet he had no doubt this man was Simon Winters. The necromancer. He turned to a small desk in one corner of the secret library, and spotted several old journals. And a few that looked more recent.

He went to those first.

"The Confessions of Nolan Winters," he read from one of the notebooks.

Three others were from the hand of Thomas Winters.

The last was in the same hand as Simon's original journals.

"Definitely the real jackpot," he murmured as he scooped up the journals, and went to the only chair in the room to begin reading.

Despite his need to know more about Simon, he couldn't help opening Nolan's notebook first. He had to know what had been going through his uncle's head. He had thought he knew the man. He had thought he liked him, too. He especially wondered if Nolan Winters was going to mention his dad, and brother.

He opened the notebook, and began to read.

X

"I'm telling you, Ellie," he spat at his sister. "This place is cursed. You don't want it."

"I don't care. I'm not leaving it to rot. It's still worth a fortune for the land alone."

"You'll never see a dime," Nolan told him. "Uncle Thomas should have taught you that much. The wealth remains tied to the land. To the dairy. It's part of the curse."

"Bah, this this the nineteenth century, you simpleton," the aging brunette snorted as he stepped onto a bus. "You can't honestly think…..?" "I know what I know. I've seen things that make me fear for my very soul. I'm leaving. I'm going to try to get as far away as I can. And if you're smart, so will you. I don't care what Uncle Thomas' will said, I want none of that accursed land. Not one inch of it."

His spinster sister only laughed as she hitched her coveralls, and turned back to the old truck that had brought them to town with the excuse of shopping. The fact was, Nolan had been preparing to run since his Uncle Thomas had vanished, and been declared dead after just a few weeks. He was not going to end up like his savage, rutting uncle. Never.

He tore his eyes from Ellie. Poor, doomed Ellie, and climbed onto the bush. He still held his breath, fearing some manner of intervention, but the bus pulled out, and nothing stopped him, or the vehicle carrying over a few people from this dinky town in the Midwest to a new life. Or so he hoped. Fervently prayed.

He kept moving for over a month. In all that time he never once called home. Never wrote. He didn't want to know. He told himself he didn't care. But one day he just found himself boarding a train that carried him back home. He knew what he was doing. Raged inwardly at where he was headed. But couldn't keep himself from taking that final ride where Old Willie was found waiting patiently at the train station as if he had known all along he was supposed to carry him….home.

God, how he hated that evil old man. There was something odd about him. The foreman seemed ancient. As if he had been around longer than poor Daisy. As if he knew things, and was just waiting to see them happen, just so he could laugh a little more behind those thin, smirking lips. God, how he hated that old man. God, how he terrified him.

He wanted to leap from the foreman's truck over Benson's Bridge. To smash himself into oblivion, but he had become religious enough to know that would only ensure his damnation. Maybe, he told himself, maybe the things he had learned, the penance he had paid, would be enough to strengthen him to overcome the demons that haunted Thomas' farm.

His brother had not believed any more than Ellie. His younger brother had stormed off in anger when he had been left nothing after years of working for Uncle Thomas. Somehow, Martin had managed to never see anything. Not anything. Not even Daisy. But he had. Thomas had reeled in his lusts, and passions, and had delighted in parading them before him, and him along.

"Old Simon may have damned us," Thomas had once claimed, "But it is we who have benefited by his black art."

Thomas had always been a creature of passion. Raw, and bestial, he had even been seen several times copulating with beasts by neighbors. Of course, those neighbors tended to have terrible mishaps if they spoke too much aloud. Some outright vanished, and while nothing could be proven, after a while people around town became very cautious of who said what about the Winters' place.

He should have known better, though. He recalled Dante's Inferno, and the inscription over the gates of hell. Abandon hope, indeed. The farm slowly but surely drew him back in within just days of his arrival. Day after day of fruitless searching failed to produce his sister whom he had loved, for all the animosity between them. God only knew what had become of her. Meanwhile, he was damned as no man should ever be damned when demons controlled his very body and mind to make him mate with rude beasts, and even lie with dogs and pigs. He was horrified, but unable to stop himself no matter how hard he prayed.

In the end, he was forced to endure the final damnation of pride and self when he woke to find young Billy in his bed, mounting him like he was a woman while his strange son stared with huge eyes at their coupling.

He finally saw Martin again after years of mindless abuse and torment, but he was far past reconciliation. Martin had wed, and had a son now. He wanted a legacy for his son. In a frenzy, Nolan suddenly found the strength to blurt out the truth, and tell Martin just what manner of legacy he would be inviting. He even forced him to go to the barn, and look at Daisy as she suffered one of her horrible changes. Martin had fled the farm, and never come back. Wise man. But then some years later, his wife appeared one afternoon, cradling a young boy, and he knew….just knew….the farm had called her, and the boy. Worse, a few days later Martin and Beth lost their eldest daughter, who had been in the car the day that he had not even noticed. Martin never forgave him.

James was going to be his heir. God help him. He was going to be damned to hell the same as he. He would try to warn the boy, but he doubted it would do any good. He knew it would do no good. Old Willie was watching him always now. Smiling. And that could mean nothing good. He feared the thing in the wood was getting impatient, and that meant his time was coming. His damnation was due.

"Forgive me Martin," he wrote at the end, "If you can. I know poor James never will."

X

James put the frantically scribbled confession and frowned. Nothing. Nothing of value. He had either not learned anything of value, or his uncle had simply gone mad, and took what he knew with him to the grave.

Or the forest.

He grimaced at the man's obvious growing madness, and realized his religious background had not prepared him for the things he had faced. He wondered if he would have been any better grounded in such beliefs, and then coming face to face with such impossible events as he now experienced. He shook his head as he lifted one of great Uncle Thomas' journals, which were, actually, thin notebooks rather than true diaries. He opened the cover, and blinked.

"This is ridiculous," he exclaimed, and saw endless breeding charts. He flipped though the pages, and then opened the second, and the third. Thomas wrote nothing. Not a single, personal observation, or warning, or anything of that nature. All he had done was kept very careful diaries of all the breeding done on the dairy. Which cows were covered, and what they bore, calf, or heifer. The mares, and their offspring were noted, as well as one or two rather surprisingly familiar names in horse racing history. He even chronicled the dogs, and swine on the place, all with the same, careful attention to detail of a modern geneticist.

"Wonderful," he muttered. "So, he was a good father," he snorted derisively, thinking of the man keeping up with every calf, foal, pup, or piglet he sired.

"Christ," he shuddered, even finding a few listings for cats, and chickens.

"Uncle Thomas, you were a fruitcake," he drawled as he tossed the notebooks aside.

"I wouldn't say that," Will said as the big, old man appeared in the door behind him.

James spun around as he rose, holding Simon's last journal. "Will. What are you doing up here?" "Mr. Nolan used to come here sometimes," the man shrugged. "When I saw the door stove in, I knew you found his sanctuary."

"Couldn't find a key," he told him. "And I didn't feel like waiting to find one," he added at the man's questioning look.

"You read about me, didn't you," Will asked grimly. "You know….I was like Davie."

"Not quite."

"I know what this place does to you, sir," Will told him grimly. "I know what it did to me. Forcing me to go to the master, and to…do things. Just like it's now forcing….my Davie."

"Maybe in part, Will," he told him calmly. "But I think Davie is acting more on his own volition than you. He likes what he is, and what he's becoming."

"Dressing up in his mother's old clothes," Will spat. "Being used like a woman? You think he wants that?" "Yes.

"Will, you likely been cut off from the rest of the world for a while, but there are men out there all over the world that feel like they should have been born women. Or women who think they should have been men."

"Like Ms. Ellie," Will nodded grimly.

"You knew her?" "She….disappeared right after my wife did," he told him, still standing in the door.

"Do you know what happened to them? "I got a good guess," he spat, and looked toward the barn.

James nodded. "Yeah. That's what I figured, too. I'm trying to find answers, Will. Believe it, or not, Davie is helping as he can. I want to find a way to end all this….madness."

"You're the first," the old man spat grimly.

"What? I thought Uncle Nolan….?" "You read his words. He went slowly insane here. I doubt he knew half of what he was doing. When Ms. Beth brought you here after you were born, he seemed to wake up for a spell. He took to living almost like a man again. But he wasn't the same.

"though he was never as bad as Mr. Thomas. Anyway, I hid his books up here. I thought…maybe if you didn't read them, you wouldn't….go after Davie."

"I didn't go after him, Will. He came to me. Just like he chose to take the hormones he's using."

"Hormones," he frowned. "I….I thought your family's majic was changing him," Will choked.

"No. He's doing it. He truly wishes to be a woman."

"Damnation," the old man sighed. "Still, I doubt this place helped him. We all grow a bit twisted here."

"I'm not arguing that. I spent last month…..

"Never mind. Anyway, is there anything else hidden around here that might help me get to the bottom of this nightmare, Will? Any other rooms. Or….secret keys?" "Don't know nothing about no key," the old man told him. "But I know Old Bill keeps everyone out of the woods. Course, no one wants to go there. You go in, you never come out.

"Ever."

"I see," he murmured.

"You should be careful around….him. He's not a good man. That old man is evil. Pure evil."

"Who, Bill?" Will's lips thinned. "I said no names. And I won't. Me, and Davie are stuck here same as all the others."

"I understand," he nodded. "Can you fix the door downstairs, Will? And get me the key this time."

"Sure, Mr. James," he nodded. "Uh…."

"Yes?" "I just….I just ask you….don't hurt my boy, sir. He's really a good boy. I swear he is."

"I know, Will. Don't worry, if I can find what I need to know, maybe I can free us all of this….curse."

Will said nothing. When James turned to look at him again, he found the doorway empty.

"Evil old man," James murmured thoughtfully. Then he thought of something else. Bill claimed Nolan had tried and failed to end the curse. Yet Will said he never did anything. Nor did his rambling confession mention any such efforts.

"Bill. Willie? Was Bill the same old man Nolan knew as Thomas' foreman? Yet….that meant he would have to be….? He looked up at the portrait and shuddered.

The eyes.

Bill was Simon. The old bastard was still alive!

"Now, that," he murmured to himself as he clutched the last journal to his chest, "Is interesting."

X

James purposely said nothing the night of the next full moon when he was informed he had three new fat sows filling his hog pens for the first time in years. He knew all three had been his aunt's young daughters, but he said nothing. Not even when Bill not only tagged their ears, which was normal, but also branded them with the Winters' brand, which was not. The three sows had ran around their pen for hours after, screaming and bolting from anyone who approached them, but eventually, they settled down.

And hat was the same night James had another vision.

Somehow, he knew the tall, sandy-haired man dancing naked in the pasture as the moon rose was Thomas Winters. The man's pale, green eyes glittered with madness as he chanted, "More, more, more," as the cows began to gather around him. Even as he changed, as his horns grew, and his tail exploded from his lean, muscular backside before the other changes came, Thomas was still chanting as he all but attacked the first cow, raping it more than he mated it. He seemed to bellow in laughter, and mad delight as the orgy extended far into the day even after he had changed. It was as if the man had completely surrendered the wanton beast within him, and did not care. He only stopped when his body simply collapsed, exhausted by his efforts, though his imposing cock still pointed up at the sky as he lay panting for breath in the middle of the pasture near a familiar stump.

James woke sweating, and sat upright in bed as he realized he had just been shown just how far he could go if he lost all control. Then he frowned as one small detail filled his mind. How was it that all those years ago, the very same stump was setting in the very same place in the pasture? That just wasn't possible. Was it?

He looked down at Davie who slumbered peacefully beside him in a pale, ivory nightie that framed the growing curves beneath his lingerie. They had cooled some of their more frantic couplings of late, and he had managed to get some detective work done on that last journal, as well as studying some of the arcane lore in the secret library these past two weeks. Only he still had yet to learn much more than he already knew that would be of any value.

But he was connecting the moon to the visions, and the….the due being taken from him for the apparent blessings he had been granted. He had learned more of dark powers that apparently existed all around them even in the greater world, as well as spirits trapped between worlds that could not move on, and sometimes cursed those around them unawares.

This, however, was not one of those cases. Everyone on this farm was more than aware of the curse, and Bill, especially, he was coming to realize, was exploiting it. To what end? Was he somehow sharing Daisy's immortality? Feeding off her somehow in a manner that kept him alive, too? But how could he….?

"Milk," he murmured. He never noticed any the unfortunate creature's output on the daily production lists. Yet he knew Bill milked her twice daily himself. So where was it all going?

"Milk," he murmured. Could the milk of an immortal cow confer some of its longevity upon another? Was that it? Or was there something more to this bizarre arrangement?

He now knew there was a timeline. Mrs. Winters had been impregnated, and died in childbirth at least three weeks before Daisy was cursed. According to the vision, he now suspected Simon had a falling out with his….benefactor. That would explain the fear the old man exhibited when near the forest. And he always avoided dismounting for very long, if at all on those occasions he went up there.

There was a connection, he knew as he climbed from the bed, careful not to disturb the girlish creature that literally groveled at his feet like some kind of turn-of-the-century mistress at her master's feet.

He shook his head at that image, not even sure where it had come from. Likely the same place some of the odd, and outdated terms cropping up in his speech of late. Which meant he was being influenced by someone, or something. Someone old.

If Bill was Simon, and alive, he doubted it was him. Especially since this someone was guiding him toward the answers he had been seeking all along. So, scratch the evil, old man pretending to be your sympathetic friend. Thomas?

Doubtful. If that man was alive, he would be still be fucking poor Davie till he tore him apart. Along with anyone, or anything else in his immediate vicinity.

Nolan?

Again, doubtful. By his own admission, Nolan had given up years ago, and descended into a madness that left only a pale, absentminded automaton in his wake. Not Ellen, though. He didn't sense the presence that haunted him was female. Not even a mannish one, as Nolan had described his sister.

So, who?

He went to the end of the hall, stared at the door, and then shook his head. He wasn't in the mood to read. He went downstairs, and entered the pantry. Going down the stairs, he stepped into the dust, and found something glinting in the dim light from upstairs near the sealed door. He went to dig it out, mindful of the halters he had found before, and lifted a small, peculiar branding iron. Peculiar, because it was comprised of a simple circle. Nothing else.

"So, what do I do with this," he asked the door.

He didn't even hear the wheezing chuckle this time as he heard steps on the old stairs behind him.

"You shouldn't come down here, master," Will told him even as James hid the branding iron under his robe. Something warned him it could not be discovered. For now, he heeded that warning.

"Will," he frowned, staring at the big, weathered old man in a woman's gown, and a pair of dangling earrings clipped to his large lobes.

"Sometimes….I have to dress up. I don't want to, but I….have to," he explained as he stared down the last few steps to where James stood.

"Why are you here, Will? You should have gone to bed hours ago."

"I….I was sent. I don't know who, or how. I just know, I was supposed to stop you from coming down here. I fought it, but….I was too weak. I had to come. I couldn't even change," the old man blushed.

"Look at me, Will," James told him, thinking of the instinctive need to hide the brand. "Pretend you stopped me. Think hard about doing just what you felt you had to do. Make it real in your own mind. I was never here.

"Never even got into the pantry. All right?" "I'll….try," the man nodded solemnly. "We shouldn't be here anyway. This is….an evil place."

"Have you been here before?" "No. I just….knew it was here. The master….Old Mr. Nolan, he used to come down here and just stand for hours. Just….stand."

"Well, let's keep this our secret," he told him, realizing there might have been more to Nolan than the journals indicated.

X

"You treacherous cur," the handsome young man spat, slapping the older man so hard he fell back.

"You'll pay for that, Nolan Winters."

"I am already paying," he screamed back at the older man. "You cannot mean to leave me this den of sin, and iniquity. I won't accept it!"

The man laughed as a truly immense organ rose from between his thighs as his robe parted. "You have no inkling we men of the dark powers possess," Thomas Winters mocked. "But I think 'tis time you learned. Come here, my pretty lad."

"No," Nolan screamed even as his feet carried him forward to where Thomas continued to lay beside the leather chair in the library.

"Yes. You see, we can command you weaker men. Even our own blood before they are fully aware of their own abilities. As I command that simpleton Billy. As I command you," the gaunt, older man laughed as Nolan went to his knees, an expression of horror on his face as his lips seemed to open willingly to accept his uncle's cock.

It would not be the last time, either. And a month later, when he vanished, supposedly dead, Nolan fled the farm, leaving his sister, who had already been corrupted by his uncle to bear the brunt of the curse. Ellie, however, was not up to the challenge, even as James became aware of the shift in the dreamscape he was observing, he saw a stocky woman riding a gray mare toward the north pasture with a look of grim determination on her face.

Just a few moments after she determinedly stalked into the dark forest, a shrill scream of blood chilling fright echoed out over the forest. James continued to dream as he found himself sudden inserted into the dream, facing liquid shadows that covered the dense foliage as he went to the gray mare, and absently patted the animal's quivering neck. The beast was frightened, yet unable to move, and for a moment, he didn't blame it one bit.

Then, he seemed to gain some control over his dram form, and turned to enter the forest himself.

"No," a shrill scream sounded in his ears as he turned to fin the gray mare gone, and two, beautiful palominos charging him to cut off his path.

"No," they screamed with human voices, keeping him from taking that dark path. The animals kept pushing, and guiding him until he was away from the forest, and in the doing, he somehow lost his clothes. Still, they kept prodding him, and turning until somehow….with little effort, he found himself sinking his almost always eager shaft into one of their moist, warm cavities. He groaned as he grabbed at the animal's rounded flanks, and stabbed himself deep into her willing body t start fucking her as if his very lige depended upon it. It did not occur to him he should be too short to stand behind her, and reach her so. Just as it did not matter which sibling he was fucking. All that mattered was that he sate the hunger of the beast growing within him.

James woke slowly this time, surrounded by the heat and smell of damp, sweaty horseflesh. He woke up to find himself standing in Princess' barn, laying against the animal's side as it reclined in her stall. "Well, this is awkward," he murmured, realizing he was completely naked, and there was evidence of recent sex smeared all over his groin.

Princess only nickered softly, and pressed her muzzle you his cheek.

"I guess neither of us is much in control lately," he told her, rubbing between her ears as the animal his young sister had become nickered softly to him. He started to stand up, and then froze as he looked down at his dangling organ.

"Wow," he grimaced even as if felt the shaft stirring. "Every boy's dream," he muttered as he realized he was even bigger than before. Now a full twelve inches he soon realized as he watched incredulously as his shaft swelled almost instantly to full life.

Before he was even conscious of his actions, he found himself moving behind the reclining mare, and simply thrusting himself into her fluid sheath. Her heat was incredible, and he began to pound himself against her in his awkward position as fast as he could before he exploded in her womb.

Again?

"I…I'm sorry," he told her as he fell back on his haunches, panting from the frantic effort of his coupling with her. "I….couldn't control…."

He realized he was feeling just as he had when he had first been distracted by Davie, before they had reached their accord. Someone, he realized, and he was getting a good idea, was purposely misleading him. Or rather, leading him around by his cock. And it had happened in the very middle of one of his vision-dreams that might have given him more information to attack this curse. Which meant someone knew he was starting to put pieces together, and didn't want him to.

He had been considering seeing Daisy that night again, but Bill had come to supper to discuss production quotas, and….

"Bill," he murmured soundlessly as he looked up at the stall door.

He didn't want him near the barn, or so his actions seemed at times. He always appeared just when he showed up. Or soon after. He also managed to interrupt him anytime he was about to see Daisy of late. Or distract him. And now his dream had been interrupted, and he had ended up in the barn not with Daisy, but with Princess.

We'll see about that, he decided and rose from where he knelt, ignoring his nakedness when he saw no clothes. He shoved the stall open, and started down the dimly lit corridor toward Daisy's room where he could still hear soft, frantic moans, and grunts. There was no sign of Bill.

He never saw the blow that suddenly drove him into darkness.

X

"Well, it's about time," a reedy, rasping voice snickered as he looked into the face of darkness, and saw only that.

No eyes. No shape. Nothing. Just….darkness.

"Who are you?" "Call me….cousin," the voice chortled, and it was the very sound he had heard inside that door below the pantry.

"You know what's going on….?" "I know many things. This is not the time to speak,however. It is the time to listen. You do not have much time. You must listen if you wish to break his hold on your people."

"All right. Shoot."

"Shoot," the voice snickered. "Colorful slang you possess, cousin.

"I know you hid the branding iron. That was clever of you. I feared you might not realize its importance."

"You sent it?" "Of course."

"And the halters," he added with a curt oath.

"Enough. Listen, or follow your forebears into eternal misery."

"Go on," James spat.

"Good. Good. You are intelligent.

"The brand is vital. You must find the whore, and take her even as she changes. As she does, set the brand upon her flesh over the first. It must surround that mark to contain, and break the power of the curse upon her flesh."

"That frees her from the curse?"

"Time is short. Just do as I say, and it will shatter the illusion of immortality upon her mortal guise. You must trust me, cousin, for that is but the first step to…"

X

James groaned as he sat up.

In bed.

He put a hand to his head, and felt a large knot there. "Ow," he cringed, feeling the swelling. "Someone is going to pay," he spat.

"Oh, you are up," Davie smiled as he entered the room ahead of Bill.

"How are you doing, Mr. James," the old man smiled, and for the first time, James actually saw the thin smirk Nolan described as the man put on a show of concern.

"I've been better," he admitted, and then remembered his dreams. All of them. And the pieces came together like a child's jigsaw puzzle.

"I don't think I'm going to make it to Baxter today, Bill," he groaned, putting on a show of weakness as he mentally willed the pair to believe him in real pain.

Not that he wasn't. His head hurt.

"You took a nasty fall when you tripped over that milking stand," Bill informed him. "You shouldn't go walking through a dark barn, boss. Lots of accidents waiting to happen if you don't know where everything is."

"Is that what happened? I…don't remember.

"Was I sleepwalking, or something," he asked, putting a confused expression on his face for the old man's benefit.

"I suppose it's possible," Bill allowed.

"Listen, Bill, like I said, I'm not going to get to Baxter. I want you to go, and take Will, and you can get the feed order filled, while he does the shopping. I think I'm going to just rest right here," he told him weakly.

"But….."

"Don't worry," he said, making what he felt was a brave face. "My little Davie will take care of me today. Won't you, sweetie," he asked, looking to the concerned young boy-girl who abruptly smiled widely.

"Oh, yes, master. I will take very good care of you."

"See you do," Bill agreed. "But I should stay, boss, and let…." "I want you to go. Remember, we have that new order today, and I don't want Hinckley taking advantage of one of the hands again, and overcharging us. You go in and handle it personally. Make him aware I can always go somewhere else if he plans to keep gouging us."

"Boss…."

"I'm counting on you, Bill," he moaned convincingly, putting his hands to his head. "And someone please get me a few dozen aspirin."

"I'll get them," Davie assured him, and bolted from the room.

X

James was finding Thomas had been right, in a perverse sort of way.

He was developing powers. Abilities that were shocking him.

He had convinced even the deceitful Bill to leave, and had everyone believing he was in pain. Even more astonishing was that as he thought of Bill, he could actually 'picture' him right before he left, harassing Davie.

"Listen, you unnatural sodomite," the old man had cursed him. "You just be sure he stays in bed all day. Do you understand me?" "I'll take good care of the master," Davie had responded, obviously frightened of this man.

"Just you recall who is your master's master," he spat.

Davie had not responded, and James had cut the 'connection,' fearing Bill might somehow detect it as he turned his attention to preparing for the trip to Baxter that would take him all day. At least. James smiled at that, and settled back to rest, and….contemplate. He did not climb from the bed until an hour from sunset, upsetting Davie who flew into a frantic hysterical fit until James simply told him, "Be quiet," and the young man had simply deflated as if someone had thrown a switch.

It seemed he was getting better at using his own growing powers. Or maybe because tonight was the third night of the full moon? The moon seemed to have a lot to do with things around here.

"Now, I stayed in bed all day, and you can assure Bill of that. Say nothing else. As far as you know, I fell asleep after a light supper you brought me, and remained in bed. Do you understand, Davie," he asked.

"Yes, master," the subdued boy sighed reluctantly. He was, however, still very obviously frightened of Bill.

He climbed out of the bed and pulled on only a robe as he prepared to carry out the plan he had devised impulsively, and yet seemed to be guided by the intelligence of his unnamed cousin. Stealing down to the barn with the odd branding rod in hand, he found Daisy still in her stall, lowing her distress at not having been milked that afternoon.

"Don't worry, Daisy," he murmured, looking around for sentries, but seeing none. His general 'broadcast' for everyone to leave the area of the barn must be working. He glanced at the sky just outside the partially open barn door, and entered her stall. "Don't worry," he told her again, pulling his robe back as his cock swelled in response to the heat of the animal that seemed to radiate heat as if looped in permanent estrus. "I have a plan."

The animal lowed softly this time, and shook her broad head as he stepped behind her, reaching into his robe's deep pocket as he did to test the presence of the iron. He seemed to sense it didn't need heating. Just as he now realized belatedly he had never once seen Bill heat an iron to brand the stock on the farm, and yet he had seen him do it. Smelled burnt hair, and flesh. Majic, it seemed, tainted everything here.

He took a deep breath as he stared at the cow's bony flanks, and sighed. Then, he sighed again, and stepped forward as he slowly slid his shaft into Daisy, feeling her heated flesh clasping him like a silken glove as he filled her with a soft moan of his own. Daisy only stood there, tail twitching as he began to thrust back and forth after a few minutes of simply standing there feeling her rippling flesh caress him. When he began to fuck her, she gave a soft lowing, and glanced behind her as he stabbed his hips forward, enjoying the feel of sinking his now twelve inch cock in her surprisingly snug channel.

"I'm the first, aren't I, Daisy," he rasped, meeting her eyes as she looked back at him as he began to thrust into her. "The first master of the farm to take you? The first master of the farm to even bother?

"I somehow know that. Just as I know about Bill's treachery now.

"Whatever happens, don't tell him I came here tonight," he told her as he felt her more violent contractions spasm around his flesh as he sensed the coming night as much as he saw the fading light leave the barn. "This must be our secret," he all but ordered her with the growing strength of his mind.

Daisy cried out with her pain and pleasure even as he lifted the brand, and unerringly pressed the circle of iron around the 'bar W' brand of the Winters' farm. She convulsed again even as she began to shrink down in on herself, and James soon found himself drawn after her as he continued to fuck her increasingly human body as his appetite began to swell as if eager for release.

"Oh," the brunette cried as he continued to fuck her as she recovered enough to push herself to her hands and feet. "D-Don't stop," she moaned as she seemed to ignore the iron still pressed to her hip that was glowing a pale blue now as it seared her flesh anew. Even as James looked down at it, still hammering himself into her from behind, he noticed his hand slipped, palming that brand as the short branding iron seemed to simply vanish in the same instant Daisy was fully human.

And in that same instant, he climaxed deep in her womb, filling her with his potent seed. "Remember, wench," he leaned over to growl in her ear. "I was never here."

So saying, he jumped p, slid out of the barn, and radiated a sense of normality over the barn as he crept back to the house. Even misty and Pat, the near twin shepherds didn't even stir as he passed them. Of course, he realized, eyeing them assessing, they were getting old. He needed younger watchdogs before long, he realized, even as he sensed his stray thoughts would likely damn some member of his family to such a role.

Just then, he didn't care. His cock was hard, and he wanted to use it. He was almost running to the house as he visualized Davie's slender, feminize body. "Time to play," he allowed himself gleefully as he burst into the house, and raced up the steps where he could actually sense his lover was making the bed. He all but leapt atop the startled boy as he entered the bedroom, driving him to his belly over the half made bed as he jerked up his maid's dress, and found his bare ass ready and waiting.

"Mine," he all but howled as he entered him with a ruthless thrust, heedless of his comfort.

Davie, predictably, didn't mind at all as his slender hips arched back to welcome him as the boy's hand knotted in the linen.

X

James heard the snickering voice deep in his mind.

"Careful, cousin," came the snide admonition. "You are in danger of falling into the very trap you condemned your forbears for as you masturbated to their adventures."

"I never…."

His protest died stillborn as he had an image of jerking off as he leered over the journals of his uncles.

"Lies," he howled, and had he not been in the dark place he had only visited once before, he would have woke the farm with the thunder of his voice.

"Such passion," the raspy, breathless voice wheezed. "You just might succeed, cousin. If you are careful. If you are wary, and clever enough to avoid the dark mage's tricks."

"What tricks?" The voice laughed in that wheezing raspy way again. "You wish a list? An instructor's guide? This is not a school lesson, boy," the voice sneered in a stronger, more visceral tone. "This is life. This is the true struggle for survival stripped down to its bloody entrails.

"Are you up to the challenge?" "What about Daisy," he spat.

"The coil of mortality now shrouds her once more. She may now live out a normal lifespan as of this day, and find her rest in due time."

"But….will she still change?" "That was done to her by the dark mage. Only he can undo it. Still, he no longer possesses her soul, or her immortality."

"What about the iron? Could it free the others? Restore them?" The wheezing laugh again. "There is freedom, and there is freedom. The moon confers a grand freedom upon you, and your ilk. Yet while some accept, others reject it.

"There are many freedoms, mortal cousin," the voice rasped. "You must decide which you crave most ere you do battle."

"Battle? You mean….fight Bill?" The voice died away as it laughed a final time.

X

"Predictable," Bill smirked down at the entangled bodies only half covered by twisted, unmade linen. "You thought this would undo me," he spat at the walls of the house. "You were wrong, craven beast.

"Again!"

Bill stalked downstairs, and left the house. He had won. The demon simply wouldn't acknowledge it. Then, again, it never did. Not until the time for the next heir drew close, and it would stir in its shackles once more, and tease him with all manner of torments once it was freed.

But the ar'rgotth'n would never be free. He would see to that. For a very, very long time.

As to his fool of a 'master,' he would serve him as all the others had. And in time, he would go the same way as they. Fodder for his own greatness. Fuel for his immortal life, and growing fortunes. Nothing could stop him. Nothing.

X

James sat up after Bill left the room, smacked Davie's rounded ass, and grinned at the boy's muted giggle. Will came into the room at the sounds, and stared at them with bleary eyes. He couldn't seem to take his eyes off his son's bottom.

"He…looks like a girl."

Davie lifted his head, his long, thick hair falling over his blushing features, and smiled. "I told you, dad. I've always been a girl, in here," he said, touching his heart beneath one swollen breast.

"I….I guess I never saw that. But I've always been glad you weren't. Not here. As much as I hated what would be done to you….what was done….at least you're still human."

James dressed casually as he nodded at Will. "They are all still human, Will. Every one of them. They just look like animals now."

"What…?" "I speak with them. I can almost hear their voices now. But they are human. Where it matters."

"Dear God," Will gasped, obviously horrified by that disclosure. "We were always told…." "I know. So was I. I suppose I'm less trusting, old man. I kept asking questions. And now I know the truth. Or a part of it."

"What….What is the truth?" "There is a demon on this land. No, I don't know what, or where. I don't know everything, Will," he told him as he finished buttoning his shirt, and headed past him. "but I'm not through. Not by a long shot.

"No matter what Bill, or Old Willie thinks."

Will gasped at that revelation, and stared after him as he headed downstairs with a wink, and a nonchalant, "Later, guys."

The moon was still high in the dark sky as he walked purposely toward the barn. Predictably, Bill was waiting before he even got to the door. Of course, he had not even tried to mask his presence. "Sir James. You are feeling better," he asked suspiciously as he eyed him.

"Much. Night seems to agree with me," he grinned as he purposely rubbed his bulging groin. "I want Sammie saddled," he told him then before the man could ask more.

"I want a midnight ride," he grinned as he continued to rub his crotch.

Bill blinked in surprise, and James could guess why. The man seemed to be able to predict everything else. Why had he not seen this coming? For once, the mare wasn't ready, and he had to throw open the door to let James into the barn as he strolled into the barn, and grinned.

"Sounds like Daisy is having fun tonight.

"Hmmm, I meant to ask her something, but I've forgotten what it was," he said, watching Bill's features carefully as the man led Samantha out of her stall as Princess watched from her own. "Can't seem to recall what it was just now, but hell, she's not going anywhere," he chuckled as he watched Bill saddle his mare.

"No, boss, she's not."

"Right," he grinned, and leapt easily into the saddle. "Don't wait up, old man," he laughed at Bill's expression. "This ride might take a while," he laughed as he urged Sam into a gallop right from the start inside the barn.

He yelled boisterously as they emerged from the barn, and raced for the pasture. Rather than stop, and open the aluminum gate, he encourage Sam to jump, and they sailed over the top rail with inches to spare. Bill stood in the barn door staring after them as James galloped off to the west, his shouts echoing back over the moonlit pastures as he did.

"Looks like the beast is already winning this one, master," one of the hands walked up behind Bill, naked save for his dirty boxers.

"Yes. So much for the modern man, and his clever wit."

"You want a go at Daisy before we start again?" "Not tonight. I have other things to tend. The next breeder's moon is not so far away, after all, and I must decide what stock we need most."

The hand snickered. "Considering the master's fondness for the mares, maybe you should send them next."

"We are due three more souls this month. That would give us seven fertile mares to breed. A goodly number, and an auspicious indicator.

"And," Bill chuckled darkly, "I have been promising to find more horses to increase our stock. Sir James would be disappointed if I postponed doing so much longer."

X

James angled north after he was well away from the barn.

Predictably, at least to him now, James calmed the distressed animal, and kept her pointed north. "Don't worry, girl. I'm not going into the forest. I'm going to check something else in the pasture. And what the hell," he said casually, still stroking her neck as they slowed to a trot. "We might even have some fun while we're there."

Sam threw up her head, shaking her mane as she gave a loud neigh.

It seemed his former brother was in full agreement. And she wasn't even in heat. He chuckled, and squeezed his legs around her chest, as if embracing her. "I guess we might as well enjoy ourselves, kiddo. Seeing as how we can't seem to stop aspects of this curse anyway.

"At least, not yet."

They rode on across the moonlit meadows, ignoring the few clusters of cows found here and there, until he rode into the small, northern pasture he now knew as the breeding grounds even if he had only been here once. Physically, anyway. He rode to the stump, which he now saw was set well away from the forest, and looked around. Sam shied anxiously when he looked at the forest, as if sensing his thoughts. He chuckled, and patted her neck again.

"Relax, girl," he calmed her as he dismounted, leaving her reins looked over the saddle horn. "This is as far as we're going tonight," he promised her as he looked over and realized he could virtually sense a deep, living shadow lurking among the trees.

Pulling a flashlight from his saddlebags he knew was packed as part of any rider's gear, he grinned as he flipped the switch, and began to investigate the very curious tree stump. Wide enough to sit on, it was only three feet tall, which now made him question why it had not been cut shorter, or even dug out when the tree had been cut down. Then he saw the vague impressions along the outside edge of the stump near the top. He looked again, and saw another mark cut deep into the top of the stump.

The bar W brand.

He looked at the images etched into the edge, and realized he had seen them before, too. He wasn't sure, but they looked like the innocuous glyphs he had seen in a book on lunar magic in the upstairs library. He had not really thought it important, and skimmed over a lot of it, but now, he had to wonder anew. These symbols meant something, or they wouldn't be here.

"Well," he sighed as he sat on the stump. "Not much else to be done now," he grinned, looking up at the dark, liquid eyes of his transformed sibling watching him.

"Or is there," he asked, aware of the barely surprised hunger that was with him more and more these past few days. It had rally surged to the fore after leaving Daisy, and even Davie's soft flesh had barely sated him this time.

"Bet I can think of another use for this stump," he chuckled as he reached for his fly as his hands slid over the sleek, warm roundness of her flanks.

Sam neighed, and again he interpreted it as complete agreement as his cock swelled and stretched out before him even as he watched the mare turn her backside to him in an almost eager willingness. "Hard to believe you were ever my…ahhhh…brother," he rasped as he slid his rampant organ into the mare's clasping hole.

Samantha snorted, but backed up even closer even as James felt what he had thought would not happen again for another month. His hands stretched with a vague pleasure-pain of pressure even as he felt his clothing bursting once more as his body swelled ever larger. He did not howl now, he neighed, voicing a shrill scream at the sky as he felt his feet knot to form hard hooves as his legs also shifted while his tail blossomed from his firm, muscular ass.

He shrieked again, his echoing neigh answered by Sam as he slid off the stump, and out of one boot as his now massive body resembled a humanoid equine that towered behind Samantha, their bodies now connected by a much longer and thicker shaft as he gripped the mare's trembling flanks while pounding his hips against hers as her quivering tail teased them both. Even as James covered his mare, he knew deep within himself that Sam would be with foal by morning.

If was sometime before the beast he had become was sated, and James' mind began to function once again. When it did, he was astonished at his transformation, having come to believe that his change had been tied to the breeding moon. He knew differently now. He also realized that unlike before, he did not feel displaced, as if another had set him outside his own mind so that he watched the actions of his new tenant, nor even he like the last night, simply a blinded occupant within his own body, either. He had been there, overwhelmed by his powerfully enhanced lusts and uncaring that this had once been his twelve year old sibling, but it had been him driving his two foot long cock into his equine lover's liquid hole again and again.

No excuses.

He was the beast.

"Wow," he told Sam as he found himself shrinking back to his human form, and standing there naked under the moonlit sky except for a single boot, and the torn remnants of his shirt.

The mare nickered her agreement.

"Well, I guess we'd better be getting back. Wouldn't want Bill to get the wrong idea," he grinned.

Sam snorted this time, and he didn't even need his uncanny senses to know what she seemed to think of him.

"I know what you mean, girl," he patted Sam's sweaty flank. "But I think after this workout, you'll appreciate getting groomed."

Sam shook her head.

"You don't like him touching you, do you?" Sam shook again, her silver mane flying as he pulled up his jeans that were still mostly intact since he had shoving them down even as he changed. His shirt, however, was history. Pulling on his other boot, he grinned as he stepped into the saddle.

"I don't blame you girl. But for now, we have to tolerate him. Hopefully, for not much longer," he assured her as they began a leisurely trot south and east to mask their direction home. "But we just have to be clever for a while. That's all."

X

Bill watched as Daisy became human once again, crying out in distress at the pain, and the need her restored animal form demanded of her. He glanced over to where Sam still remained hidden in her stall, having lain down after her long ride with James. The animal had been exhausted, and there had been the unmistakable musk of sex all over the mare when it had finally came ambling into the barn earlier that morning.

Alone.

James had not even come inside. He had apparently just let the mare wander in on her own.

It seemed the beast really was already taking over the man. He was beginning to succumb to the indifferent nature, and blind lust of the animal placed within him by the curse's dark powers. Still, after only a single month? So much for the fear the new breed of modern man might prove more resilient than his own generation. Not that Thomas Winters had needed much coaxing down the dark road. The young man had always been a hedonist, and a bit of a sadist. Nolan had tried turning his path to God, but that only shattered his mind, and led him spiraling into madness. He did not even consider Ellen, that mannish caricature of a woman that thought to subvert his hold over his small, but growing empire. None of the fools had any conception of what he was doing. What he was planning. By the time he was ready for the next phase in his grand experiment, it would be too late for James, or anyone else in the world.

Of course, as Tony had pointed out, it seemed far too late for his newest pawn already. If anything, his latest dupe was actually the strongest of them all in his drive, and passion, and was showing signs he would make the grandest breeder of them all. Too bad the family lines were thinning, and families were not quite so large as they used to be. Still, his fears their unnatural cousin might contact him had proved groundless. If he had tired, James' modern mind had obviously misunderstood, or simply rejected the message.

He had triumphed, yet again.

X

"Now what," James demanded, standing bare-chested before the door.

"I know it's you doing this. You helped change my brother and sister, and then you apparently try to help Daisy. What's going on," he demanded, not content to stare at the door, but pounded on it as if the tenant would respond.

"Sir," Will's cautious voice reached him. "Nothing ever happens in the daylight."

"Bullshit," James spat, not looking back at where Will still stood on the steps behind him. "This place makes its own rules, but I'm living proof the rules can be broken.

"So let's have it, chuckles," he demanded, pounding on the door again. "Give me something useful for a change," he yelled.

James felt the touch of the pale, blue aura that shot through the keyhole, hovered in midair, and then slammed into his chest like a living arrow of energy as something searingly cold. So cold it burned. He clutched at the place it had struck him even as Will gasped, and bolted up the stairs, leaving him to whatever came of this show of force.

"Is that….all…..you got," James irreverently demanded as he fell forward on his face in the dust, utterly unconscious.

X

He staggered to his feet feeling ancient.

"Will," he called out, his voice a low croak as if his throat were not used to being used.

He frowned, and staggered to the steps. The first splintered under his hoof.

Hoof?

He looked down and saw his foot was a horse's hoof. At the end of a horse's leg. He held up his human hands, and they looked normal, but as he looked down, he realized he stood naked, and from the waist down, he was a horse. He blinked, and lifted his hands even as his horse's tail brushed his dark thighs. A horse's head was perched atop his neck, his eyes rounding in alarm as he realized he had become the beast once more even while the sun filtered down from the kitchen's open door. His ears twitched in alarm as the second step shattered under his weight, and he stepped back to study the stairs that looked far more decrepit than that had just that morning.

Doing his best to ease his way up the stairs, he carefully shifted his greater weight as he moved up the rotting stairs to the noises of groaning wood, and creaking steps. Finally, he was in the pantry again, but it was empty, the shelves missing, or broken. He stepped outside into the kitchen, and found a crumpling structure that was in danger of tumbling down around his pointed ears.

"What the hell," he rasped as he stepped outside the back door, and saw the once immaculate meadows overgrown with tangled brush, and thick forest as far as the eyes could see. He heard someone, or something moving nearby, and cocked his head as he listened carefully, looking for darkness as he did.

Only the brightness of the huge, orange sun overhead filled the sky.

Orange?

He frowned, and looked down from the sky as hundreds upon hundreds of beasts came out of the forest to surround him. There were all manner of animals that moved to his side, then stopped to study him. Not just domestic animals, there were even wolves, bears, rabbits, deer, and more. Every animal he could imagine, and then some. They all moved to literally bow before him as he stood outside his crumpling home, and then the suddenly rose to part ranks, forming a long corridor leading back into the forest.

Before he could think to take the path himself, he spotted figures coming out of the brightly lit forest toward him. He saw two golden mares, and knew them for his siblings immediately. Behind them came others. All animal, and yet once human. And behind them, riding a white and brown cow like a king upon a throne, came a sneering, smirking Bill. Only his face was a mocking rictus of a grin, and the skin was stretched thin across his skull like papier-mâché. He wore a robe as black as a crow's wing, and held a large, clear glass of opaque milk that churned with secret life.

"See what we have made," the madman cried. "See what you have helped me build.

"Man is no more. He is remade as the animal he always was, and should always have been.

"Behold my triumph," the madman cackled gleefully as James screamed his denial in vain.

X

"Holy….shit," James moaned as he pushed himself to his knees, wiping the dust from his face as he found himself suddenly back in the pantry's hidden passage, and still very much human. "That…. Sucked," he exclaimed bitterly as he glared at the door.

He didn't hear it. But he felt it. Sensed the dry, wheezing rattle of a weak laugh.

"Oh, you thought that was funny, did you," he muttered as he staggered to his feet, one hand carelessly resting against the metal door to support himself as his knees trembled.

He sensed the laughter continuing.

"Well, I didn't see you out there in that….that freak-show future I'm guessing our buddy has planned for us all." The laughter fell silent. There was a sullen bitterness that radiated out of the metal now, and James guessed he had touched a nerve.

"But you want to be, don't you? You want out. That's what this is all about. The question is….do I dare let you out?" He sensed other feelings now. Misery, and grief. And surprisingly, loneliness.

James sighed deeply as he pressed his hand back against the door. "All right, I get it. You're a prisoner, too.

"And the enemy of my enemy, and all that. So, for now, we'll keep working together. But you're going to have to be a little clearer about things. I'm tired of chasing my…..tail," he ended in a mutter as he sensed whatever had been there had gone now. That, and his unfortunate chose of phrase disturbed him just then.

Shaking his head, he headed upstairs, and found new trouble already brewing.

X

"Oh, Mr. Winters," a very convincingly feminine Davie smiled as he turned from the stranger in the living room door to smile his way. "I didn't know you were up yet," he covered smoothly as the pretty black-haired woman in the door craned her neck to spot him.

"Mr. Winters, Rebecca Tate of Modern Dairy magazine. I've been trying to reach you for some time now. If you would just spare me a moment…."

"Go away, Ms. Tate," he snorted as he headed for the stairs, knowing what he must look like.

"Mr. Winters, I'm not going away. There have been some allegations about tainted milk, and yet your dairy continues to supply the greater tri-state area. There are even rumors you're going national soon.

"If you don't talk to me, I can assure you, there are some people from the FDA I know that will ensure you have time to….."

"Shall I give her the tour, Mr. James," a warm, and surprisingly sincere Bill asked as he seemed to just appear behind the well-dressed woman still trying to push past Davie.

"Please do, Bill," he nodded. "Especially the barn. Let her see….everything," he told him, not liking the man, but just then, liking the woman even less. And it showed in the glitter of his green eyes as he paused at the head of the stairs to look back. "Everything," he told the man cryptically, knowing the old man would understand.

"As you say, Mr. James."

"Just what kind of operation is this," he heard the woman demanding as Davie shut the door.

"Davie, I'm going to shower. Then I'm going to nap. I'm not to be disturbed for anything less than a fucking national emergency," he yawned as he became incredibly weary now that the adrenalin of his wild night, and earlier vision had faded.

"All right, master," he called up. "But…."

"But?" "I….I was wondering if you would….would call me Dee from now on. I think…..it fits. Don't you," he asked hopefully as he stood there looking pretty, and hopefully expectant in a yellow print dress with an apron around his slender waist.

"Dee. I think that fits you just fine, honey," he told him…her, and then spotted Will peering out of the kitchen.

"You okay, Will?" "Uh, Mr. Winters, I….."

"I'm fine, Will. Just tired, and a bit dusty. I'm going to shower, and rest. We'll talk later."

"Yes, sir," he nodded as he glanced at his smiling son who looked more like his daughter than ever now.

X

"I put her in Lilly's old stall," Bill grinned as James woke sometime after noon and decided he'd better see what had become of his guest.

James recalled the older mare that had been on her last legs, so to speak, and had finally died last week. Will had been saddened as he had watched from the kitchen window as they buried the old roan, and James had to guess that the woman had been his wife, or someone special to him. He didn't ask. Didn't want to know. Yet even he was faintly surprised when he stepped up to the stall in question, and spotted a beautiful black mare standing in the place of the old roan that had finally given up, and died.

"Wow," he blurted out, staring at her sleek, unblemished coat. "She's beautiful," he murmured, as if intoxicated by the sight of her.

Bill, meanwhile, was noting the young man's quivering nostrils and swelling crotch.

"She will be best used on the next breeder's moon, master," he told him when he stopped him from entering the stall, and broke the trance that had fallen over him.

"Oh. Right. Yeah, you are right," James laughed. "Have you branded her yet?" "I thought you'd enjoy doing that," Bill smiled secretly, and handed him a short branding iron with the Bar W brand. "Until she is branded, after all, she is still thinking and conscious in her new shape. I thought you'd like robbing her of her last vestiges of humanity, and marking her as your own for all time.

James knew two things at once as he took that small iron that looked much like the one he had used on Daisy. First, Bill was testing him. And second, Bill apparently had no idea that his siblings were still alive and well inside their animal forms.

He smiled at Bill as he took the brand. "Don't you have to heat this up?" "No," Bill said with a thin smile. "We do use majic for more than making cows on this farm. I think you've discovered that by now.

"All you need do is press it to her side, and the brand will bind her to the farm for all time."

"Right," James nodded, and wondered just what kind of test this was. "It's too bad, though."

"What is that," Bill asked as he opened the stall for him now.

James smirked at him as he eyed the brand. "That I have to wait. I keep thinking how good she looks.

"And smells," he admitted, and knew his claim was not all an act. There was still a lot of the beast just below the surface in him just then.

"The beast is strong in you," Bill smiled as if pleased. "You might just be the one."

"The one?"

"I will explain over supper tonight," Bill told him as he laughed at the way Rebecca shied from him, and tried to half rear in spite of the hobbles James now saw held front and rear legs captive, and still she still tried to defend herself.

"Spirited," he grinned without looking back at Bill. "She'll breed well."

"Indeed, Mr. James," Bill almost cooed.

James paused to pull out one of the cubes of sugar he had brought for the mares. The other mares. "Here you go, sweetie. Nice and easy now. It's not so bad here. Not at all. You'll have lots of sun, and fresh grass. We'll go for rides, and you even have your own room," he told her as he stroked her quivering neck as he fed her the sugar with his free hand after tucking the brand into his belt.

"That's right," he patted her, stroking his way along her sleek, black body, enjoying the soft warmth of her coat. "You're beautiful, too. You have no idea how beautiful," he murmured as Bill watched and listened to everything.

"And….you are mine," he told her as he pulled the brand out to hold over her left flank.

On a whim, he considered the brand, and decided to test something else he had been considering after rereading the book on lunar majic after returning late last night. The symbols, he learned, were from an old moon goddess cult that worshipped fertility through animal rites in this very region over a hundred years ago, having brought the belief over from Europe. The cult supposedly died out not long after missionaries flooded the area with their numbers during an evangelical campaign. A few brutal witch hunters had not helped their cause either. He focused on the iron, imagining a circle in place of the brand, and while it did not appear, he saw a faint blue aura surround the brand, and he smirked as Bill did not react to the halo as he set the brand to the newly made animal's flank.

"Mine," he murmured again as the brand was pressed to her side.

The mare shrilled, trying vainly to kick, but the smell of scorched hair and hide filled the stall all the same, and he stepped back to see not the Bar W, but a seamless circle branded into her otherwise flawless hide. Bill looked, and he only smiled, as if seeing just what he expected. Very interesting, James thought as he held up the brand that still looked quite normal now that the aura had faded.

"I rather enjoyed that," he told Bill.

"We'll have three new mares coming in soon," he reminded him. "Would you like to brand them, too?" "Absolutely," he grinned, and patted the mare's neck as he walked past her. "And be sure to turn Becky out into her paddock for some of that sun I promised her. And give her a good grooming. I want her to look her best for our first ride."

"Becky?" "Kinda suits her, don't you think," James grinned boyishly.

"You're going to….ride her?" "Just for a short ride, to break her in," James laughed at the man's consternation, knowing he remembered last night, and his act that had not been much of an act after all. "I might as well get some pleasure from her since I have to wait for….that other ride."

Bill chuckled. "I quite understand, boss," the old man cackled. "I must say, you are adapting to your new station in life rather well. And much sooner than I expected."

"Hey, old man," he grinned as he headed toward the stalls where his siblings waited. "We do what we can with what we have. I'm not one to fight losing battles, or look a gift horse in the mouth."

Bill's jaw almost dropped at that one, but he laughed with him all the same.

Inside, James was somewhat surprised himself at how easily he had made Rebecca Tate, nosy reporter one of his own animals. The truth was, he sensed something dangerous about her, and as he had been told, the farm took care of its own. He no longer sensed the aura of danger from her. Only need. He now suspected the young woman had been acting on her own, likely hoping to make a name for herself.

"Oh, and Bill. Don't forget to get rid of her car," he added, recalling the small, tan coupe out front.

Bill looked over from where he was carrying his grooming box into the stall. "I already told Tony to do it, boss. He knows how to handle these things."

"Good. Good," he nodded, and turned to Samantha, who poked her nose out to see what treat she had been brought.

"You get two today, for being such a good girl," he grinned at his sibling he now sensed was already breeding. Amazing the old man had apparently not noticed. Not that he cared just then. "A very good girl," he smiled, patting the mare's nose as he stroked, and pet her.

Princess snorted, and nickered, wanting to know what was going on, and why she wasn't being attended. James laughed as he turned to her, and fed her a sugar cube. "Don't worry, you spoiled wench," he drawled. "I haven't forgotten you."

He noted Bill seemed to watch his every move with the mares until he finally left. Still, the old man actually seemed more curious than concerned. Interesting, he thought, wondering what he had meant about being the one.

X

"You condemned that poor woman to hell," Will accused him as he returned to house nearly an hour after he had left.

"I bought me some more time, and allayed Bill's suspicions. And as to that poor woman, I likely spared other innocents by stopping any trouble she would have stirred up," James shot back angrily as he sat at the kitchen table, and nodded as Will poured him a cup of coffee.

"She was here to expose the dairy, without fully understanding what it was she was trying to discover. I believe she now knows enough to realize she was in over her head," he remarked as Will turned back to the supper he was preparing, having been told Bill was attending.

"Still….." "Are you afraid my resolve is fading, Will? Do you think Lilly died for nothing?" "What do you know about….?" "I'm not blind. Nor as completely distracted as he might like to think. Now, I have a few questions for you, if you can answer them.

"He said something about me possibly being….the one. Do you know what he meant?"

Will said nothing, but the expression he wore was eloquent.

"All right. I'll let that go.

"I want to share something with you. Something I….saw while I was downstairs earlier."

"I don't think I want to know."

"Will, it may concern you. And Dee. And every other persons on the planet."

"What do you mean?" "I think I saw Bill's true plans. I woke up….I think it was the future I was seeing. But far, far in the future. Even the sun was different. The whole world was one huge forest, but this house was still here, just crumpling around that door down there.

"And there were animals everywhere. No people. Except Bill, and he looked like….a walking skeleton. Everyone else, and I mean everyone, had become animals of one kind or another. I could sense it."

"And….what were you," Will asked quietly.

"A….horse. But….still kind of human."

"The ar'rgotth'n," the man rasped, and clasped both hands over his mouth as soon as the word spilled from his lips.

"I've heard that before. What is it?" "I…..I don't…."

"It's all right, Will. Don't let it scare you. We have to face this, or none of us will ever be free, and I'm afraid Bill's monstrous dreams will come to pass no matter what I do."

"I heard him boasting one night," Will finally said as he sat down at the end of the table, and hung his head. "To this day, I don't know if he knew I was there, or not. I doubt he cared, though, he is that powerful."

James said nothing to that. Powerful he might be, but it was increasingly plain to him that the man had his blind spots, and he was capable of mistakes. At least, around him.

"I was out by the barn, helping unload the month's supplies, and he was laughing at poor Mr. Nolan the day after your last visit. Mocking him for his concern for his….nephew. He said you were not even truly human. That none of you were. All the heirs chosen shared the blood of the ar-rgotth'n, which he claimed was the source of his power, and the fate of all mankind."

"But he didn't say what that was?" "No, sir," Will rasped, looking up at him with miserable, frightened eyes. "But I got the impression…it wasn't quite human."

"I've been gathering that much myself," he told him honestly. "I….feel things lately. Sense things, that I couldn't before. And they are growing stronger every night."

"I truly wish I could help you. For Davie's sake, but….."

"I understand, Will. I do know the old man's grip is strong. But the fact we're sitting here talking proves it can be broken."

"Unless he's just playing with us again. I….I found out something."

"What is it? Can you say?"

"You….you told me Davie is taking hormones."

"Yes," he nodded.

"Mr. Winters, there isn't a pill one in his room. Not one. Not even an aspirin. Maybe he does….think like you say. But whatever he thinks he's doing, my boy isn't taking hormones. There are none in our quarters to be found."

"I see," James murmured, and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I'll look into that, Will. But for now, we won't say anything to him. I think we both have to admit that he's happier of late."

"I know that. But….I'm worried. Females don't do well here. Nor do some males," he grimaced as he pushed back to his feet. "And God help me, but old as I am, I'm scared of what's waiting out there for all of us."

"So are the animals," he remarked idly, but was still determined to know.

One way, or another, he was going to find out everything. Even if he had to find a way to hammer that strange door down, or bulldoze his way into the woods.

X

"So, what did you mean about being one," James asked carelessly as Bill finished up the more casual dinner conversation of production reports, early estimates on calving, and such things as were common on the dairy farm.

"One what," he asked blithely, showing few manners as he literally devoured his food with ill grace to purposely fuel the man's belief James was losing his humanity.

"The one," Bill told him, glancing at Will, who discreetly set the pie he had made on the table, and left the kitchen without a word said.

"The one what," James asked with a disdainful snort as he eyed the fresh pie.

Bill sighed, and smiled thinly. "You show promise. But there are still things to consider.

"You see, I worship an ancient power….."

"This isn't one of those damned Jehovah's Witness things, is it," he glowered.

"No," Bill smirked.

"You ever see any of them, you can add them to the pig pens," he joked crudely.

"I'll…bear that in mind. As to the one…."

"Ancient power. Right. Bottom line, Bill? I'm feeling a bit restless he admitted as he used his fork to rake half the pie into his empty plate, inhaling the delicious odor of spiced apples as he did.

"Ah, well, the bottom line is, there were once powerful spirits in the land, air, and water here. Not as the Christians consider them, but spirits that manifested certain elements of creation. Even….fertility, and nature itself were but physical aspects of these powers.

"Hmmmm, sounds like a goddess thing. I recall goddess worship was big before the Jews came along with their patriarchal beliefs.

"Saw it on the history channel," he grinned as Bill frowned at him.

"Of course," Bill drawled. "The point is, Mr. James, there are those who still belief nature is a living force. And can be a vengeful one when rouses."

"Hey, I don't doubt it. Global warming, ozone, pollution everywhere. I'd be pissed, too."

"Exactly," Bill finally sighed as he weighed James' careless words with his tone. "The point is, there is a belief that one day, the goddess of this world would send a spirit, a ar'rgotth'n, to show men the error of their ways, and retake the land for her first children, the animals.

"Some believe this is the true reason men drive most animals into extinction, fearing one of them might be the divine manifestation of the goddess' retribution. It's all very mystical, and deals with a subconscious primal memory."

"Right. And this applies to me how?" "I have come to believe the spirit-beast is just that, a spirit. That it need not necessarily be born into a brute beast, but might come in the guise of a man."

"No sit," James murmured. "And how would you know? I know lots of people that already act like animals."

"Yes," Bill smiled. "After decades of careful guidance, and influence, they do. And in time, they all will surrender to the truer essence of the animal within each of us. Thus subverting the goddess' fury, and restoring possession of the earth back to us, its rightful masters."

"Ah, right. But you missed the point I was asking.

"This applies to me, how," he drawled again.

Bill sighed.

"I think….a certain man will come to be born in time that manifests equal parts man and beast. He will not be of just one animal nature, but will possess them all. He will be a living link between man and beasts, and the goddess who would destroy men. He will deny the goddess her spiteful vengeance. He will be our savior.

"It is possible, that you might be him."

James blinked. Then smirked. Then snorted.

Then he burst into laughter.

"Bill," he chortled. "I like you, but that is the craziest thing I've ever heard."

"Crazier than turning into a man-bull, and impregnating cows that were once human?" "Hmmm, I see your point," James paused in scooping up the fragments of pie left from the pan after Bill had carefully cut a small piece for himself before James claimed the rest.

"I'll be honest, boss," he told James now with a crafty gleam in his eye. "I have been helping breed the perfect heir to that position. I have been watching the Winters line for a very long time, helping guide it to the desired end. I thought it might still take generations before I harvested the being capable of becoming the ar'rgotth'n, but now I have to wonder if you might not be it.

"Okay, say I am," James asked carelessly as Bill finished his meal more sedately, eating gracefully as James used his fingers to scoop up the last of his pie before he washed it down with the iced tea left in his glass. "What does that mean, besides me having a lot more babies when the moon is just so?" "It will mean you will come to command the animals you mate, and birth," Bill told him, a mad glint filling his eyes now as he spoke. "It means you will father a species of natural beasts loyal not to the goddess of the earth, but to you alone. In time, your essence shall be so strong that you could breed beasts of the field from the wombs of human women.

"Just as your children will do. And the goddess, stripped of her might by your very existence, will be forced to bow to you.

"And the man whom you serve."

"What man?" "Isn't it obvious. You still need a man to run things as the beast grows more powerful, and makes it more difficult for you to walk among normal men. You will need someone….like me," he smiled, "To intercede until all men bow to your greatness."

"That's an interesting story. But if this goddess is such a hotshot, how is she going to be stopped by someone like me?" "Because when the time is right, you will drive her to her knees, and your greater essence will make her just one more beast that cowers beneath you as you fill her womb. And the spawn you create will ensure our….your domination over her, and the earth.

"I have foreseen it," Bill rasped, lost in his own made dream now.

"So, where's the goddess, and when do I meet her?" "Not yet," Bill snapped out of his reverie, and James sensed the man now believed he might have said too much. "Not yet.

"We must be certain you are the one. To face her before we are certain would mean your doom. Your line must be protected first, and you must strengthen yourself."

"Yeah?" "Yeah," Bill nodded, measuring James by his indifferent façade.

"In time, all will be revealed.

"So, how am I going to have an heir if everyone I touch turns to animals, as you claim?" "Your heir has already been established. Your older brother will be heir to the essence of your spirit….if you fail. As you are the heir to the spirits of those before you," Bill told him.

"Wait a minute," James frowned. "You telling me I got a bunch of dead guys living in me?" "Their essence," Bill frowned. "Not the person, but the essence of the pure beast that was refined from their weak, mortal souls."

"Right," he drawled. "I'll tell you, old man," James told him as he rose. "You can really spin a yarn with the best of them," he snickered. "Now, if you don't mind. My young wench is warming the bed for me, and I'm of a mind to indulge myself since you wouldn't let me have Becky today."

James appeared not to even notice the outdated speech spilling from his lips as he waved goodnight to the man. Just as he appeared not to give much credence to much of what Bill had told him. But in his mind, the pieces were coming together. Bill was a madman. He wasn't looking to subvert a goddess for the good of men, but for his own personal domination of the world. He wasn't sure what that affair with Daisy had meant to his plans, but he had not yet seemed to notice. He did notice that the man didn't seem concerned with his actions, or behavior. If anything, he seemed increasingly amused.

Then, just before he left the kitchen, he looked back at Bill. "Say, if all the family but the men get snatched for my pens, does that include my mother?" "Yes," Bill nodded as he started to rise after carefully wiping his face as if he had been a mess. He could act quite the gentleman when he wanted, James realized.

"So…I could end up fucking my own mother?" "She would not actually be your mother any longer," Bill informed him. "Just as Regina, Princess, and Sammie are no longer your siblings. They will be, as they are, just animals for your own use."

"Hmmm, too bad."

"Too bad," Bill blinked, his composure cracking only for the second time in all the time James had known him.

"Yeah," he grinned as he started to turn away. "It might have been kind of hot doing mom, and having her know it."

He heard Bill's soft chortle as he left, and knew it was a dark, malignant sound. As for himself, he was horrified by the actual thought of doing such things to his mother, but just then, he knew he had no more chance of resisting his own impulses when the moon did take him than he had the first time.

Or did he?

Then it occurred to him.

The forest was full of darkness. Anger, and rage. As if the forest itself were alive, and possessed.

Like, say, one really pissed off goddess?

Somewhere deep under the house, he felt a soft, dry rasp of laughter.

X

There were nine of them. Nine, skittish, anxious mares that circled him as he dismounted Sam's bare back, and stepped bare-chested to the stump to finish undressing even as the sun went down. He sensed two of the new mares were two of his aunt's teenage sons, who were still numb and lost within the new flesh they wore, yet to accept what had happened to them. Apparently, his altered brand kept them from simply accepting the animal within them the others had before. Princess and Becky were near the two, hovering protectively, and the other four were mares still young enough to breed even if they were getting older.

He knew his mother had been taken, too this month, but she was not among the mares. She was back at the barn, now wearing the collar of a new golden-haired shepherd that joined the other two older dogs. He knew, because he had sensed her in the animal even as he had branded her, too, with Bill's majic brand which he also altered with his own growing powers.

Meanwhile, he was actually allowed to come up to the breeding pasture on this first night alone, bringing the mares with him as he welcomed the first night of the breeding moon that would soon be rising in the night sky over his growing herd.

Stripping completely, he went back to Sam, the only already pregnant mare among the nine, and took the saddlebags slung over her back. "Let's hope this works, girl, or we may all be in trouble before this is over."

Sam nickered anxiously as the others simply watched as he stood before them naked as he took out a handful of dust from the pantry tunnel, and dusted the stump. Then he went to each mare in turn, and tossed handfuls of dust over them. When they were lightly coated with the fine, dark earth, he turned the saddlebag over his own head, and let the rest of it fall over his head even as the moon began to rise.

If the book was right, this should give him greater control over his animal side. Not that he could stop the breeding cycle, but…he had other plans this night. Even as his nostrils flared, and he turned to Becky, sensing she was as much in heat as all the others save Sam, he smiled as he felt his body begin to change.

Becky and the two new mares that had been boys shied violently at his sudden change, but the majic kept them from bolting. They were as compelled as he was to complete this seeding of flesh and spirit the Bill felt was somehow going to grant him some grand victory over powers men had long forgotten. To what purpose, James still wasn't sure in spite of that troubling vision, but as the now eight foot humanoid equine went straight to Becky, a part of him was determined to find out.

And stop it.

For now, all that mattered, though, was his lust. And he shrieked a challenge at any power listening as he drove his already rampant shaft into Becky's hindquarters as his equine head nipped at her twitching ears as he leaned over her, pulling her back against his hard thrusts.

X

"Master, master," Tony came running into the barn as Bill was finishing the morning milking of Daisy. She was the only cow he personally oversaw, but he had men to tend the other more mundane animals anyway. Gina, he noted, would soon be giving milk, and he looked forward to adding the young heifer to the milking stalls. Her gamboling days would soon be over, he mused as he looked up at his man, the only man he actually shared his grand vision, and immortality with. Tony had been with him from the beginning, although he had started out of fear, he now served willingly out of hope for his own empire as a reward.

"Best you come," the seemingly young hand told him anxiously as he glanced back at the open doors. "you will never believe this. It's….It's….

"I don't now what it is," he exclaimed as he raced back to the doors even as Bill heard the pounding of many hooves.

"What the devil is going on now," he complained, not wanting to admit he was growing a bit concerned over the peculiarities that young James was exhibiting. Surrendering to the beast was one thing, but he was showing signs he had greater control over his powers than even Thomas had exhibited. He had seen the young devil actually speaking with the animals of late, and noticed his catamite was growing more shapely than ever without due cause.

Moreover, the animals he favored seemed ill-mannered, and obstinate, except when he was around. Then they followed after him like tame kittens. Even Daisy seemed changed, though he could not put his finger on it, she seemed….different. As if something had been altered in her very essence. But what?

"What the hell," Bill exclaimed, truly stunned as he watched nine mares charge down the pasture to leap the gate, and approach the barn. The very nine that had gone up to the breeding meadow just yesterday afternoon with James Winters. And speaking of James….

"Don't touch them," a voice shouted in a high-pitched shriek as the last mare leapt the fence, and Tony went towards the nearest mare with a leash chain. He was confounded, however, for only two still wore halters. The two palominos that still possessed the dark leather halters he now didn't recall putting on them.

James leapt the back of the corral as he came around the side of the barn, eyes wild, and ears flat as he bared his teeth at Tony.

His equine teeth.

Bill gaped at the powerful young man still in the shape granted him by the breeding moon. The human stud was more perfect than even the handsome James Winters had been. A tall, muscular creature that snorted, and glared down at Tony, who whimpered in fright as the creature moved gracefully toward him on its deceptively dainty hooves.

"Mine," James shrilled, and backhanded Tony so hard he went flying almost fifteen feet to slam into the side of the barn. He was not conscious by the time he slid down to the dusty ground.

"Mine," he echoed in a tighter, more human sounding voice as he turned to confront Bill as he lifted his head and tail in challenge.

"Mr. James," Bill called out, holding his hands out, palm up, and empty. "What happened? Are you all right?" James tossed his head, the dark mane that fell behind his broad shoulders shimmering like dark clouds in the bright dawn sun.

"Mine," he echoed again, and stomped one hoof.

"Yes, yes," the old man nodded anxiously, completely at a loss just then. "They are yours."

James nodded his head, and looked back at his mares. Shaking his head just so, he brushed past Bill, and led them into the barn. He overturned several feed bins as they ignored the cows, other hands, and even the barking dogs, to start eating from the spilled grain that covered the floor. They went to the water trough outside after a time, and quenched their thirst in pairs. By then, Bill had Tony conscious, but the man wasn't moving from where he sat sprawled beside the barn.

His neck, and back had broken He couldn't even lift a hand as he stared miserably at his master for the past two hundred and fifty years. He couldn't even speak very clearly. Just whined, and stared down at his limp body.

"Wh-What happen' t' 'im," the man finally managed to slur as the tall equine stood over his mares as they drank before quenching his own thirst in the same manner.

"I….I cannot being to guess. In all my studies, all my preparation, I've heard of nothing like this. The beast roams at night, and manifests only at night during the breeding moon.

"This should not be possible. I can't begin to imagine what is going on. I have to….research this."

"What 'bout me, master," Tony groaned. "My back…."

"I don't know. I don't know if even my majic….."

Bill stepped back abruptly, for James stood over him, dark green eyes lit with an unnatural light locked on his own as he seemed to study him before he turned to Tony.

"M-M-Master," the young man shrieked as a wide, powerful hand reached down, and wrapped itself around Tony's face, and lifted him into the air by that grip.

"He'p meeeeee," the man shrieked as he began to change before Tony's eyes.

"Mine," James snorted at Bill, eyes challenging him as the small colt was lowered gently to the ground, and shook itself as if in disbelief."

Bill stared in horror. This was beyond all he had ever known, or expected.

"Mine," came the curt, low challenge in that single word as James' ears flattened, and his nostrils flared.

"Y-Yours," Bill nodded agreement quickly, and his own eyes rounded as he saw a faint blue nimbus flare briefly over Tony's left flank, marking him with the farm's brand.

Then, James turned, and leapt the corral, and his mares followed, leaping the fence as they galloped back the way they had come. The colt was left behind, whinnying pitifully as it went to the gate, but could not jump it. Acting on impulse, Bill went to the gate, opened it, and watched the young foal trot after its new master. Tony never once looked back.

Bill couldn't stop looking after him.

X

"D-Did you see that," Will asked his son, who was turning into his daughter as they looked down at the barn from the bedroom window where he had been helping Dee make the beds since the house was otherwise empty that morning.

They had gone to the window after hearing the commotion down in the corral, and opened the drapes in time to see the mares come galloping down to the barn. Dee had watched in stunned silence with his father, and even Will had been unable to speak as they stared at what transpired before their eyes.

"How….?" "I don't know," Will replied helpless at his child's helpless query he couldn't even finish framing.

"Is he….? Dad, do you think he'll be all right?" Will sighed as he closed the drapes after the colt had trotted off after the mares. "I honestly don't know.

"I thought Mr. Nolan's madness was bad enough, but….this…."

"I think he is going to be fine," Dee suddenly smiled as she turned to lay the pillow he had been clutching on the bed. "I know he is."

"I wish I was as sure."

"I am," Dee nodded at him. "And, dad," he continued as Will shook his head, and went to pick up the dirty linen that needed carrying to the laundry room.

"Yeah, son," he asked, still unable to refer to his son as his daughter even though the master had the past few weeks.

"That's a really pretty dress you're wearing this morning."

Will froze.

Dress?

He looked down at himself, and realized he was wearing one of those workday dresses that Mr. Nolan had always insisted he wear. He was even wearing his woman's shoes, and could feel the snug band of his stuffed bra around his chest at the very moment he realized he appeared to have genuine cleavage. What the hell was going on?

He had no memory of dressing like this. Had not dressed like this except on those nights he felt an odd compulsion, since he had only ever done so at Mr. Nolan's command because the lunatic didn't like admitting even to himself that he was laying with a man, so Will had been ordered to make himself as womanly as possible. For a man as craggy, and plain as he had always been, that was hard to do. But when he had a choice, he always dressed as the man he was. So how had this happened? Things, he realized, were getting worse.

"Th-Thanks, Dee," he choked out, not wanting to worry him as he carried the laundry downstairs, leaving his son to finish tidying the room.

But he was worried. Very worried. Because as he headed downstairs, he could actually feel breasts moving in his bra. A bra he knew had only ever been stuffed with tissue. God help us, he thought as he reached the laundry room, flung down the linen, and pulled at his chest to find very real, if somewhat overly firm mounds of flesh filling his dress.

A covert search of his crotch reassured him somewhat, but how had this happened to him?

"Idiot," he told himself. If the master could turn into that….monster, and turn men into colts, sticking him in a dress with tits was child's play. Only what was playing this game? He found he didn't really want to know as he went back to the kitchen to continue his usual chores. Something told him things were changing here, though. That as bad as they had been, they were never going to be the same again.

The only question was, were they going to be better? Or worse?

X

James yawned as he rose from the sweet, soft grass that was his bed. Nearby, the herd grazed peacefully, and he gave them a signal of safety when they looked up, as if alarmed at his movements. He ran his hands down his naked body, trying to remember if he had . Of course, if he had, they would still be out by the stump in the breeding meadow. Not here in the forest glade they now occupied.

Nearby, he could see the overgrown remnants of what appeared to be an ancient temple. He had not been inside yet. It was his next stop. Tonight, maybe. Just as the night before had been his first trip into the forest. He still wasn't sure what had happened to him. His mind was a hazy field of perception, impression, and instinct that had yet to be translated into human thought. He only knew that he had claimed Becky as his own, and then left the others to go into the forest before any of then could react in time to stop him.

Just as he had planned.

Only his plans ended at the forest's edge.

He recalled darkness. Fear and misery, and rage and anger. And so very much more.

He recalled….possessiveness.

He idly reached down, and plucked a berry from a nearby vine near the temple, and ate the fat, juicy fruit that tasted sweeter than anything he had ever eaten. He smacked his lips, and looked around the sunlit glade, wondering why he had thought it seemed so dark before today. The forest was full of light, and life. He ambled over to Princess, and fed her a few berries he had picked, noting Becky's envious glance as the black mare tracked his steps.

"Poor Becky," he chuckled, carrying her a few berries. "Don't worry, my lovely young mare. I care for all my girls. Even you," he assured her as he fed her the treat, and stroked her warm coat as he sensed the early stirrings of life within her.

AS YOU SHOULD

The words echoed in his very soul rather than his ears as he smiled at the warmth they stirred.

"I know," he replied, knowing instinctively he need not speak. But he did so anyway.

RECALL THE BARGAIN…THE DUE MUST BE REPAID…THE ATONEMENT MADE.

He sighed, as the soundless words stirred something deep in his heart, and lost among the sensations filling his mind from the night before.

"I recall," he told the sunlit forest. "I am not the betrayer. I am not a usurper. I am your child."

CHILD

And there was such longing in the single word that even James, confused as he remained, could not misunderstand.

"I will not forget," he promised the unnamed that filled the glade, feeling the hum of expectancy in the very air around him.

X

Dee lay back on her master's bed, dreaming of him as she ran her slender hands over her naked body. Especially the wondrously sensitive, and oh, so warm slit that had carved itself into her belly just beneath her tiny, limp cock of late. He had been gone for almost a week now, but Dee wasn't worried. Not like mother worried. The poor dear even wondered if the master was dead, for she had learned that terribly Bill Franks had been riding up to the north pasture every morning, but found no sign of the master, or his herd of beautiful mares. It had him quite perplexed. He was alive, though. She knew it in the way her very bones tingled when she thought of him. She knew it in the ripples of pleasure that shuddered every time her fingers slid into that newly opened secret place, and made her cry out with delight.

She smiled at her mother's frantic manner as she spent half the time fussing around the house, and the other time staring endlessly into whatever mirror was handy. As if she had changed anytime soon. Her mother had always been lovely, and Dee knew she always would be. She just knew it. She sighed as she spread her slender legs out and slid her hands up and down her pale, smooth torso, no longer able to see down her body past the large swell of her breasts.

She gasped as she felt a gentle intrusion, and suddenly she felt something take her, possess her, as her legs spasmed, and she knew, simply knew, that she was being used as every woman ever made was fashioned to be used. It was over instantly, though, and in the same instant, she knew she was pregnant.

Just as she knew…..

"The master is coming home, she whispered, and drifted off to sleep with a contented smile on her pink lips.

X

Will heard the door open just before dawn on the morning of the eighth day since Mr. James had last left. He cringed, glancing at the reflection in the hall mirror as he paused to consider a possible retreat. Or even an impossible one. At least now he understood the compulsion to be up and ready so early this morning.

"Wilma," he heard the man call loudly. "Where are you. I'm hungry, and I want food. Lots of food."

Wilma? How could he know, Will wondered, then remembered where they lived.

He sighed, glanced at the reflection of a thirty-something woman in overly fine shape, if a bit plump, and steeled himself for what lay ahead. He hated the easy sway of his now large breasts as they moved before him, and the sensual sway of his new, rounded bottom that had the hands whistling after him as he came and went from his private cottage near the bunkhouse where he lived with his daughter. Until his daughter had moved into the master's bed. That much stayed the same.

What had not was the space between his thighs. His old, wrinkled dick still dangled there, but beneath it was a warm, wet hole a few of the hands had found one afternoon when they bent him over the back porch, and showed him how much they enjoyed his new curves. Old Bill had said nothing, growing strangely silent as he went out searching for Mr. James every day, and every day coming home alone.

And now he was back.

"Good morning, Mr. James," he heard his new voice purr like soft silk as he paraded into the kitchen.

"Well, don't you look nice this morning, Wilma," he called her casually once again. "Coffee, woman," he ordered curtly as he fished out a mug from the cabinet himself, and went to the table. "And bring on the food.

"I'm ravenous," he grinned, flashing strong, white teeth at her.

Something had changed.

Not just him, Will realized. James had changed, too. He looked the same. But he radiated….power. Only it wasn't dark like Bill Franks. It was something else. And it felt….old.

"I'll just be a second, master," he heard himself call him in the same manner Dee used the word. God help him, what was going on here?

"How's my little lover been," he asked as Will bustled around filling his cup, setting his place, and filling a plate full of the recently cooked food he had left to warm on the stove.

Will know who he meant. "She's missed you a lot. She's been sleeping in your bed again. I hope you don't mind. What with you being gone so long, and all."

"Not at all. Dee is a treasure. We both know that, Wilma," he grinned, and stirred in a bit of fresh cream into his coffee before he took a drink.

Will stared.

James had never used cream, or anything else in his coffee since the day he had arrived. He always drank it black. "Who are you," he rasped.

"I am your master, Wilma. I am the one giving you peace betwixt your body, mind, and soul. You may have denied the truth as vehemently as Dee embraced it, but we both know this was always how you viewed yourself.

"And for your loyalty, and service, I have rewarded you."

"By making me a….woman? On this dairy," he moaned in dread.

"This is soon to become a much different farm, my dear woman," James called her.

"Who are you," he rasped again.

James chuckled. "I am the that which even Simon Winters could not stand to look upon. In his pride and arrogance, even he feared what he might find in the shadows behind the leaves of that holy place he uncovered."

"I….don't understand," Will complained.

"Wilma," James sighed. "I found the key."

"The key. To the door," he exclaimed.

"Yes."

"Where? Mr. Nolan searched it out for years before he finally gave up."

"He never looked in the one place right before his eyes."

"What?" "Think about it," James chuckled as he set to eating with a grace and dignity he had not exhibited in many weeks. It was as if he had become an entirely different person.

Will blinked, but could only shake his head, the dark hair now crowning his new features tickling his neck as he did so. "This is all beyond me."

"Don't worry, woman," James smiled. "As I said, I recall your loyalty, and your attempts to help. You will not be forgotten."

Will found he couldn't speak as he chose to refill the master's coffee mug rather than stand there gaping.

X

Bill glared at the house. It was wreathed in shadow even in the bright, morning sun. The same shadow that had once wreathed the forest temple he had uncovered after years of study and research. For over a week he had ridden the old gelding all over the farm, and driven the side roads, endlessly seeking the young James, or what he was becoming. He found not one sign of him. Nor the nine mares, and the young foal that had been made of his loyal man.

For almost three hundred years he had been carving his name into the annals of the divine, and creating for himself an empire that would reshape the earth in his own image. He might not be remembered of men, but he would remember the last man when he passed from the earth, and his own children populated a remade paradise free of the human blight. But not in the goddess' fashion as legend hinted, but rather in his own. No monstrous creature of nature would stand over all in the end. No, he would be the ruler of that new world. Immortal, and ageless, even if he had yet to find the secret of youth, he would still be as he was almost three hundred years ago when he bound the goddess' own power against her.

Only he was filled with doubts of late. And he was beginning to wonder what was wrong that he felt the plague of aches and uncertainty that had not touched him in all these many long years. He had yet to ascertain what was happening, for his majics had found nothing out of place. Nothing out of balance. Yet his carefully preserved world felt wrong. He had to find that young fool before he did something foolish. Only he wasn't sure how to stop him if he truly had manifested the power of the beast in his own flesh, as he now feared. Something even Thomas, an ever eager pupil, had failed to do.

Was James the one, he pondered yet again even as he heard hooves galloping across the pasture that morning even before the sun rose. He came out of the barn, leaving one of the other hands to milk Daisy for the first time in many years as he stared at the darkness beyond the barn's outer lights. A few moments later, nine mares familiar to his eyes came trotting up to the fence, and a man, just a man, slipped off the back of the black mare and opened the gate.

"Morning, Bill," James waved as if nothing unusual had happened. "Picked up a straggler from somewhere," he told him as he gestured to the colt that trotted along with the mares. "Guess he slipped away from a neighbor's farm, but hell, he's a cute little guy….so finder's keepers. Right?" "Ah, sure, boss," Bill nodded, studying the young man that stood before him barefoot and in jeans as he held a shirt flung carelessly over one shoulder, and the other hand held his boots. "Whatever you say."

"Right. Well, get them fed, and settled, old man. I'm starving. Your sandwiches didn't quite do it this time."

"My….sandwiches?" "Well, you must have brought me something, or I'd really be hungry," he grinned. "But damned if I can remember. I guess I slept most of these three days away this time.

"Think I had some fun, though. I'm betting all my girls are carrying," he chuckled as he swatted Princess' golden flank as she walked past him to the barn in her turn as the animals all went inside as if obeying a silent cue.

"Uh, yeah, boss. Sure. I'll take care of everything."

"Thanks, Bill. I may sleep in this morning, so don't come knocking. Not for a while anyway," he added as he carried his boots and shirt rather than pull them on as yet.

He paused to pet the new shepherd before he went on toward the house, whistling a strange tune as he went. Bill stared after him, frowning darkly, before he turned to find every one of the mares had entered a stall on their own except for Tony. The little colt stared around anxiously, whinnying plaintively until one of the older mares nosed open her stall, and let him enter. The foal didn't hesitate. He trotted inside on his spindly legs, and the mare tugged the door back in place with her chin.

"What the fuck," the utterly astonished man gaped along with his hands.

"Take care of them," he barked at Allen, the senior hand under Tony, whose absence he had not bothered to explain. "I have to go check something," he said as he went not to the old gelding he had been riding, but to the farm's old pickup he still preferred to the new model James occasionally drove.

Thirty minutes later, he pulled up in the pasture near the dark forest, and climbed out of the cab. He walked around the stump, and frowned. The sigils of power were gone. Smoothed over as if they had never been. In fact, the stump showed signs of rotting away. This was not possible. The spell he had put upon the land should have held for countless millennia. He frowned as he turned to the forest, but sensed none of the menacing rage and fury he had come to expect from that direction. He frowned as he dared approach the woods, and then even put a foot inside the shadow of the nearest tree.

Nothing.

No reaction.

No angry recriminations.

Absolutely nothing.

For the first time in almost three hundred years, he stepped into the sacred forest, and turned his steps toward a grove he had not seen except in his memories in all that time. He went past the glade, saw no evidence of recent visitation, and went to the vine-covered temple. Near the steps were three statues of dark marble. All were old men showing indescribable fear etched into their features as they looked back over their shoulders at something that seemed so horrific their very flesh and blood had frozen for all time in the terrible stone that now claimed them.

"Simon," he murmured, looking at the old man who had thought to conjure fortune, and ended up with a key to something far more powerful. And far worse than any mere demon.

"Thomas," he stopped at the second man, a bit taller, and not so well dressed who looked as defiant as he did terrified. And, of course, the last. Cringing in the shadow of his forebears, poor, mad Nolan who looked as if he had been expecting his damnation all along.

"Fools," he murmured as he entered the temple, and stepped into the sacred chamber where he had found the sleeping goddess so very long ago. He, and Simon. Though they had both come for different reasons.

He walked up to the altar, and looked around. He swore as he noticed the clean, white sheet now stretched out over the marble slab. Upon it was the impression of a thin, girlish body.

"The bastard found the key," he roared, and turned and fled the temple as if he might yet be struck down by whatever curse had taken the other men.

He ducked Ellen Winter's plump, mannish frame not far from the temple, and ignored the shattered bodies of other stone men who had been smashed by the years, or by a raging goddess trapped in the very wood that once had succored her. He reached the truck in the meadow, fearing he might already be too late, and gunned the engine as he felt his gnarled hands clench, and spasm with long forgotten pain.

"The stupid bastard doesn't know what he's doing," he roared as he flooded the truck's engine, and had to wait again before he could start it. "The stupid bastard," he cursed as he finally started the engine, and tore deep ruts into the green summer grass as he raced back to the farm.

X

"I'll need you to come with me this time," he told Dee as he took the young girl's arm who trembled in anticipation as he nodded at Wilma to open the secret door.

"Oh, my," Dee rasped as she peered down into the darkness before them before a single light was flipped on to light the way.

"Whatever happens, my sweet," he embraced Dee. "Trust me. Don't let fear blind you. Trust me that everything will happen for the best."

"I do," Dee smiled at him.

"Good," he nodded, knowing that Bill would be coming, but far too late to stop what was about to be done here.

He knew everything now. The goddess had shown him.

How almost three hundred years ago, William Franks had stumbled upon Simon Winters trying to stop destroy the new base of his farm's sudden blessing and prosperity. Winters had been a witch hunter, and William had aroused his suspicions after his nearly bankrupt farm had suddenly grown richer than any in five states. Winters had been a simple man, and saw the world after the fashion of his kind. When the zealot stumbled across the ancient temple William had dug up on the fringes of his property, where he had since unleashed an ancient power that had been sleeping for God only knew how long, the man had tried to destroy both William, and his 'devil.'

He would have died then, had not William, his designs perverse even then, chose a novel manner to punish the wretched fanatic. He used the man as a bull to see his stock, and watched him struggle in vain on the few short days he was allowed human shape to free himself of his perceived curse. As William continued to study the old ruins, though, and to marvel at the thing that had once been his mortal enemy, he began to craft a plan.

He fashioned a new bargain with the spirit still safely bound within the temple. Grant him power to live forever, and he would use his farm, if it was protected from danger of any sort, to spread the wakened goddess' warning to a race of men who were perilously close to earning her everlasting enmity, and the eventual destruction of their kind.

Even then, William had been a perverse, and selfish man. He chose to use the bargain for his own ends, and twisted it so that the temple, and sacred forest became a prison thanks to the majics he had learned over the years. Even the powerful goddess could not break free of the spells, and when she tried to subvert his own people, he simply remolded them into beasts.

And then William was handed his first surprise.

His wife, his chaste, dutiful wife blossomed with life that he had not planted, having not touched her for many months since he was careful about exposing her to the forces he was coming to embody. And as the child grew, he came to realize the goddess was not completely helpless. She had stretched out her might, and claimed his beautiful bride as her own, and now her unholy spawn was within her, seeking freedom if not through one avenue, then through another. For the bargain called for him to free her upon the earth once more, but William would not risk losing his precious richest which were growing faster than he could spend them. In those days, he had been predominantly motivated by his greed. His lust, and cruelty were to grow, and be refined only later.

His wife died in childbirth, he saw to that. He buried her in an unmarked grave near the sacred grove to taunt the thing that had dared sully her. Its unnatural child he tossed into a room he prepared just for it in the past months of its growth. Even as it drew its first breath, crying for its mother, he threw it into the underground chamber charmed against entry by any force save his own, and locked the key in the one place no other man could reach.

In the son of the man who had thought to destroy him. For Thomas Winters had been the first son of the witch hunter, and Daisy. Only unlike the following offspring, that would always be calves, that first child was a son. When William looked down upon the child delivered from the womb of an apparent cow whom he had made scapegoat to his alleged grief to cover the binding elements of his true intention, to fashion a fount of power that would keep him both alive, and healthy for all time, he realized he had a key to an even greater scheme than any man had ever conceived to date. He would subvert the goddess' own prophecy to his own end, and breed a line of manbeasts that would deliver the world entire into his hands.

It was that very day he set the child in the arms of one of his men, and began to plot, and ensured the Winters' line, those he bred, and those that still existed, were always bound to the farm to ensure he had someone to continue his dreams of power.

And Thomas became useful when he was forced, by necessity, to pass the farm to him as heir, after a few carefully planted rumors of old Simon, of course, and so began the Winters' legacy. One he carefully harvested every generation until the most recent child of man and beast had been born. James, son of a young colt that his mother did not even remember raping her one afternoon when she visited the farm with her husband who had come to demand his brother offer his older son a legacy. Just as 'Uncle' Nolan had been born of a bitch bred by Thomas himself, and given to Ellen and Martin's mother to raise as her own.

James considered his older brother, but knew the man would likely never have survived this adventure. Jack was not the kind to be either adaptable, or flexible in mind, or body. A lawyer, he saw things black and white, and couldn't begin to imagine anything beyond his law books. James also now knew about his sister Misty, too, who had vanished the day Beth had returned to show Nolan, or more rightly Bill, his newest heir. The young girl had been taken by the farm, the first of his line to suffer even before he knew what he had been born to propagate.

Now, however, he knew everything.

"I am the key," James reminded himself, and visualized the key he had seen before as he simply put his hand to the metal door sealed with majic, and pushed.

Not so much with his hand, as with his mind, and the will behind it. Blue fire sprang from that free hand, and he felt Dee cringe within his embrace as he shoved the door wide. "Courage, my sweet," he cautioned her as they stepped into the dark, musty chamber as Wilma cowered outside, refusing to even look inside.

"Hello, brother," he called out as he became aware of the rustling that marked the stirring of something nameless in the stygian depths of the small room.

About time

"Play nice now. Dee doesn't understand how lonely you are. How hurt."

"And you think you do, little cousin?"

"I do now."

He heard a stirring, a rasping wheeze of labored breath, and then something unseen brushed his calves. "I sense the mother on…..no, in you," the voice exclaimed excitedly.

Dee gasped as she felt something on her bare legs.

"Mother," the as yet unseen thing chortled as Dee felt something rise before her in the darkness her eyes could not penetrate.

"I have brought a vessel. For your rebirth. For the sake of the bargain, and the debt still owed. Will you accept her?" The darkness stirred again, then with a faint rasp, whatever stirred collapsed before them as Dee gasped, and doubled over.

"Master," she groaned, clutching her stomach fearfully.

"Don't worry, Dee. All is as it should be. Trust me," he ordered her, his eyes turning from the grizzly sight of his cousin's ancient remains that never should have survived this long, but had.

"I do," she promised breathlessly as he helped her from the stygian gloom of the chamber, saddened that even someone like William could have abandoned a child in such a place for so very long.

Even as he emerged from the open door, Bill came panting down the steps, shoving past Wilma as he stared at Dee, and cursed James. "You fool. You damnable fool. Do you know what you have done?" "The due is met," James smiled at him, and before the man could react, he grabbed the old man's hands raised toward Dee, and twisted and flung him into the room.

"Rot in your own hell, you monster," James roared as he pulled the door closed, and felt the power of the mystic trap snap closed once more. He dimly heard the pounding of fists on the other side, but James turned a shaken Dee away from the door, and led her up the stairs.

"Tomorrow," he told Wilma as he led Dee from the kitchen. "I'll have the men fill in that tunnel. There is nothing down there for anyone to find any longer."

"Master," Dee frowned. "I don't understand," she murmured, her hands fluttering anxiously over her belly that would soon begin rounding with the promised life William had once cheated the goddess out of when he had promised her flesh to walk the world once more. The essence of that child now resided in that child to be, as the essence of the goddess trapped for so long was within him. When the child was born, they would be rejoined, and the schism healed.

That was the pledge.

The bargain broke the curse upon the farm, while leaving the blessing the greedy miser had wanted to begin with so very long ago.

He could not restore the flesh of his family, or those taken by the farm, or Bill's machinations. Just as he could not prevent Daisy from continuing to change until the day she died. Which she now could do in due time. Yet pain would no longer haunt her, though, for the goddess' power would ease her life, giving her a gift of passion, rather than a curse of wantonness. It was all he had been able to do for her.

Still, he had one last gift, if any of them would accept it from him. He could make them truly the animals they appeared now, if any of them wished, or he could leave them their minds until the day they died. Of course, he already suspected very few would be asking for such oblivion. His father would have to take solace in the fact the curse was ended. There would be no more Winters children reborn on the farm in bestial bodies. Only true animals would fill his barn and pastures now, and forever.

As to the goddess, and her intentions once she was reborn.

Well, only time would tell.

End….?