Written by Amethyst Mare for Catprog
"Late night TV is a load of bollocks," you mutter, fiddling with the black and grey remote.
You are sitting on your living room sofa and the only light comes from the glowing television screen, which is set in front of the sagging beige couch. It seems to promise entertainment after the late shift when sleep refuses to curl about you in sweet darkness and you know is your main form of amusement these days. Work was work and nothing to talk about. Man's work, it is, and you deem it good for you. Your thoughts are muddled and your head lolls against the back of the sofa. What time is it? You do not know, besides the fact that it is very late, perhaps even morning. Your eyes throb and you blink blearily as you flick through the channels: a documentary on the Second World War, a repeat of a reality show, a quiz show, a commercial for toothpaste and a game show that you have not seen before. You pause.
"Call now - don't delay!" The game show host, a spider of a man with slick, black hair grins toothily. "That's all for tonight's episode but you could be right here next week taking on a series of entirely new challenges! The prizes are astronomical! The fame inequitable! Don't be shy, place your call now!"
You scoff and shake your head, disappointed with his poor performance. Is that really the best spiel on offer? Surely there is more? What are the prizes? You might half give it a go if there is anything decent on offer, but you are sure there is not. There never is.
"Lame," you say loudly, shaking your head again as if the host can see you through the screen. "I'd never do something like that. Why would I? Who would? Just the lame sods that we watch, that's who."
The supposedly good-looking host stares out from the screen and smiles, teeth appearing larger and more animalistic then before. You are confident that there is nothing in the look, but you gulp and avert your gaze nonetheless, unnerved by the intensity of his dark, near black, eyes that penetrate the air and miles. He draws you in and you are sway to the screen, his fierce gaze boring into yours with the relentless nature of a predator. You curl your hands into fists and gasp, fighting witlessly as your chest constricts. There is a sharp pain in the back of your head and you fall limp, a deeper darkness snapping its icy jaws closed over your mind.
When you come to, you are no longer in your living room and familiar home. Flat on your back, you blink several times as an entirely white room swims into focus. It is perfectly circular with no sharp corners, a most intriguing design that has no beginning and no end. It makes your head spin and you groan, propping yourself up into a sitting position. Your arm quivers, struggling to support your weight. What has weakened you so? You swallow the lump in your throat and trace your hand over the smooth linoleum, the faint aroma of cheap alcohol lingering on your breath. Panic sets in, twisting and contorting your stomach as if filled by a rope of snakes. Are you trapped? You stagger to your feet, the room tilting sickeningly, and call out.
"Hello?" You shout, leaning into the comforting embrace of the cool, white wall. "Is anyone there?"
No one answers and you lower your head stupidly, wondering what you expected. Clearing your throat, you cough hard, forgetting to cover your lips with the palm of your hand. Your arm itches and you scratch it without thinking, lips turning down in a frown when it does not immediately relinquish its annoyance. How are you going to get out of this room? Pacing, you lose track of where you began and run a handful of prickling fingertips over the seamless surface, searching for a flaw in the pattern of nothingness. Why won't the itching go away? You mumble a curse under your breath and peer at the back of your hand where the itch has struck up something fierce, expecting to see an insect of some kind causing the disturbance.
Your eyes widen sharply and you stumble backwards, back flattening against the curve of the wall. Holding your hand away from your body as if it is infected, you tremble at the sight of the sprouting black hair, covering your skin as if by an animal's fur. A non-human cry darts past your lips and you slap the back of your hand, striving to scrape the hair away with your short fingernails. A hallucination - the hair is not disappearing. A hallucination it must be, for you refuse to believe that you are growing hair not only on your one hand now. Your other hand is also afflicted and the hair spreads up both arms at a terrifying rate. You whimper and crumple to the floor. What is happening to you?
The hair disappears beneath the sleeves of your loose fitting shirt and your belly is sucked inwards, a lighter 'padding' softening the appearance of your masculine body. Groaning harshly, you pant open-mouthed like a rabid dog and wrap your arms around your torso as the itching sensation races up your chest and to your head. The fat from your stomach seems to be migrating to your chest, though the feeling of femininity is unfamiliar to you and the knuckle-cracking in your head is adequate distraction as your face changes in a way that you cannot see. Bones grind and grate against one another for a brief, painful moment, realining, and your eyes slide to the side. Your vision is left oddly distorted as you cannot see directly in front of your nose any longer as it has shot forward as an animalistic snout.
Gasping for breath, you crawl into the centre of the room on all fours, shoes splitting and leg bones rearranging themselves so that you appear to be 'standing' on your toes, although your feet are hard and unyielding. You rock from side to side and something unknown shoots from the base of your spine, wriggling down your now much looser jeans and slapping against your left leg as if your spine has been stretched like putty. Between your legs, there is an uncomfortable sensation as your genitals churn, twisting without known feeling and seeming to...shrink? You are not sure and clap a new 'paw' (tipped with hard, wide nails on the fingers) between your thighs, grasping nothing that may be constituted as proud maleness. Something solid rises from the centre of your forehead and a silvery lock of hair flicks into sight as your hairline rearranges itself down the back of your neck and a fringe cascades into your eyes.
And everything stops. Your breath comes in short bursts as if you cannot quite catch your breath after running yourself into the ground. Inherently, you know that you are no longer a male but you refuse to understand or accept the moderate breasts on your chest or the snug femininity between your legs. The rest of your transformation is uncertain and, before you have the chance to contemplate your situation, bright light streams into the room from your right. A door, blended seamlessly with the wall, slides open noiselessly and you narrow your eyes at who enters, his hooves clopping loudly on the lewd linoleum.
"Welcome to the show!" The game show host says grandly, a smirk depleting the generosity in his tone. Although he does not look the same, you know it is him by his stance and demeanour. He now has the appearance of a brown horse walking on its hind legs, a black mane falling down his neck to his wide shoulders. Do you...look like him? Glancing down your body, you realise that the short coat of hair is indeed like this bay horse's, though black instead. Your 'hooves' are different too, like a deer's - cloven not hard. There is a bitter taste in your mouth and you resist the urge to spit.
"Welcome? Welcome? Is that what you say to someone that you've dragged here against his will and done who knows what to?" You snap, teeth clicking together. What's wrong with your voice? It's of a higher pitch than usual. "What am I? What have you done to me?"
The host smiles and licks his lips, straightening his smart, dark navy suit.
"I am so glad that you have decided to join us," he continues as if he has not heard your outburst.
"I didn't bloody decide to join you!" You shout, scrambling awkwardly to your hooves and almost topping off-balance. The something within your trouser leg wriggles. A tail like the bastard host's one? It feels different. "Change me back right now! I don't care about your god damn show! Change me back and let me go!"
Your anger is softened by the fight you are having with your clothes. Your trousers are too large on your new body and keep slipping, so you hook your fingers into an unused belt loop and yank them upwards, though they slide down again with a teenager's air of rebellion. There is no holding them. Frustrated, you kick out like a feral horse at the game show host, who steps patiently to the side and tilts his head to consider you.
"As a contestant," the host lifts a paw to gesture along with his speech, utterly ignoring your actions. "You must meet all objectives or be disqualified and lose out on the prizes. That is fairly standard. You must not attempt to harm any others during the course of the show and you now display your understanding that the show will be broadcast as per your permission." His eyes dance wickedly. "The forms you sign give permission for this, as I am sure you are aware."
Smoothing his slick forelock to the right, the host spreads his paws to either side in a genial pose. You stalk up to him and stand muzzle to muzzle, breathing heavily, anger searing through your veins.
"What did you say?" You speak quietly, dangerously. "You don't have my permission to do anything."
He pretends not to hear you and begins to reel off his game show spiel from memory.
"The objective of the first round..."
"Are you even listening?" You scream, an inch from his muzzle. He doesn't even flinch.
"The objective of the first round," he repeats calmly, with a plastic, dark smile, "is to find the costume. This will transform you into a new form and allow you to progress to the next round!"
Ignoring your fury and distress, he retreats to the door, though you cannot see anything beyond the square of bright light. He pauses and turns, curling his fingers into a fist and pushing his thumb upwards: a 'thumbs up' gesture.
"Good luck!" He chuckles, spinning on his hoof and disappearing as the door slides shut behind him. There is no evidence that there was ever a door there.
You bite the inside of your cheek, faintly amused that you still have the capability to do so in your reformed jaw. What now? As if to answer your unspoken question, another door slides open, again without any noticeable noise. All too convenient to lead the 'contestant' exactly where they need to go, you think bitterly. There is a street outside, something from a cityscape that is like a step back home. Your equine ears flick back and forth, detecting the sound of traffic, surprising you in two ways. Why can you hear traffic? You also had not noticed the ears before and their presence unsettles you. You miss your old body.
"Oh, yes, everything's falling into place very nicely," you mutter sarcastically. "'What now?' Oh, look! A door opens. Just like any other crappy game show. Not worth the fecking time!"
Your voice echoes in the empty room and you wonder where the cameras are. Is the obnoxious host watching you? In all fairness, you are bored by the conformity of the white room, so venture cautiously to the door and step out, one paw on the waistband of your jeans to protect your modesty.
It is indeed a city, although it is not one that you are familiar with. But who can be acquainted with every city in the world? You blink, caught by the sounds, sights and smells. The pavement is hot beneath your cloven hooves and you lift first one and then the other in an attempt to release the warm tension. The city sweats.
Where can you go? There is nothing but an open, bustling route forward, crowded by glassy eyed furs. The foxes, wolves, serpents, dragons, felines - too many species to count - stomp along their way, the anthro forms strange to your eyes. Cautiously, you pad into the street and stare upwards at the obscenely tall buildings, shop windows reflecting daylight so that the products may not be clearly viewed. A vixen in full make-up pauses and presses her muzzle to the glass of what you presume is a lingerie shop, judging from visible advertisements, and cups her paw, blocking out the light. She murmurs under her breath, swishes her tail and walks on, her pace hypnotic. You shake yourself, realising that your eyes were glued to her shapely rear, bouncing with every snappy stride. You are not a man anymore.
No, you can't think like that. If you finish these 'tasks' or whatever that horse-faced bastard said, you'll escape. Game shows always worked the same: the contestant did as they were asked and they went home afterwards, even if they didn't win. You sigh and hug your arms around your chest, breasts pressing inward gently. Home. Did things still operate the same in this half-world? Lifting one hoof after the other in awkward walk, you bite back a grunt of discomfort as your breasts strain against the motion, unsupported as they are. Your jeans slip and you grab them as a nearby wolf smirks, his gaze tasting your body as if he was devouring a steak. Shooting him a dirty look, you ensure that you are well covered and turn in a circle, not knowing where to go. There are no bearings to be had. You want to go home.
You half-pause at your reflection in a shop window but move on quickly from the long legs and whiplash tail, crowned with a tuft of silvery hair. You are positively equine, a long horn rising from the centre of your forehead and parting your forelock. That is what equestrians called it: a forelock. Shuddering, you increase your pace and halt abruptly at the edge of the pavement, glancing from side to side. There is no 'right' direction and traffic is terrible, a screaming, honking mass of rocking metal containers, occupants glaring over steering wheels.
No, you can't cross here. Making your way further down the street, you reel like a drunkard, unable to make your legs work in the correct manner. Your jeans drop, even though you have them bunched at the front, revealing a glimpse of your boxers and feminine rump, subject to humiliating jeers. Blushing anxiously, you drag them up for the umpteenth time, too embarrassed to even shoot a glare at the suspects. Traffic slows to a crawl as you trot to a pelican crossing, ignored by the cars and drivers, or so it seems.
An impatient canine, Jack Russell from the look of his muzzle, in one of the vehicles threw a curse to the air and spun his wheel viciously. You stare slack jawed as he mounts the pavement, slamming his paw on to the horn repeatedly, a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of his lips. He doesn't stop for anything, smashing through a waste bin and denting the front bumper of his shiny vehicle - it could have been driven away from the dealer's lot that very morning, so immaculate had it been before abuse. And he drives straight for you like a madman! Or mad fur? It's too late to speculate and you dive out of the way, hitting the concrete hard and knocking the air from your lungs. There is grit on your tongue and tyres scream too close, far too close.
A pedestrian swears and the drama rolls by, a scrap of waste paper flattening against your heaving side and then fluttering away as if it was never there. The Jack Russell barges back on to the road, scratching up the side of a sports car, and screams out the window, one paw waving crazily. Your chest heaves and you gulp at the lingering charcoal tyre marks, exactly where you were standing a moment ago. Your side aches from landing so heavily and your tail is twisted beneath your body, though you scramble carefully to your hooves so that you may not give watching bystanders any more of a show than you already have. A dolphin whistles, clicking his beak in amusement.
It is no good wandering around in ill fitting clothes, you decide, staunchly ignoring the leers, which are all too obvious when one is looking for them. Anxiety rocks in your belly. You don't want to play by the rules but you don't want to walk around with your wares on show either. Clothes will benefit you either way, you decide with a sick feeling. Are you playing straight into the paws of the show host?
Either way, there is an abundance of shops and, avoiding the street rubbish, you flee across the road, weaving in and out of crawling cars. Though drivers call obscenities and make rude gestures, you make it across the four lane road in one piece and stand panting on the far side next to a building with a bright pink neon sign. It seems to be a club of some kind - The Tail End - but that's not what you are looking for right now. Clothes, you need clothes. There is a scrappy charity shop with a pea green front a few doors down, slightly out of place but as good as anything else in the near vicinity. The windows are dirty and you approach at a cautious pace, ears drooping apprehensively.
A bell tinkles as you push the door open and you duck your muzzle shyly, ignoring the greeting of a vixen cashier, a fake smile plastered across her tinted lips. You feel bad for planning this deception but...there is no money in your pocket and they are surely in cohorts with the game show host. Maybe they know what you are going to do before you know yourself. The thought is disconcerting and you brush it aside, grabbing the first items of clothing in a smaller size that you see: baggy, camouflage trousers and a muddy-green tank top. As an afterthought, you lift a bra that you hope will fit off a back rack and slink to the rear corner of the store, disguising yourself behind a rack of summer hats to change.
You lose the boxers when the jeans fall about your hooves and kick them impatiently to the side, jostling the hat rack in your urgency. What do you need them for anyway? There's no way that you're putting on women's underwear! Well...whatever underwear that was not necessary, that is. Avoiding contact with your altered sex, you reach for the trousers and scramble into them like a schoolchild rushing to ready themsel in the early morning. The camouflage trousers are easy to move in and you tie the 'belt' strap, which is built into the fabric, tightly, knowing that you will not need to worry any longer about that particular modesty. The bra proves a bit more troublesome after you've removed your house shirt (complete with unknown stain) and you have had a little experience in removing said garments. You manage to clasp it at the front after a few attempts, however, and wiggle it around so that the cups rest over your feminine breasts. It's not the best fit but offers enough support for you to continue with the tank top, pushing your muzzle through the neck hole and stretching it to fit. Finally, you tug it down over your flat stomach and freeze.
"Hey, you! What are you doing?"
The vixen has spotted you and advances with a steely expression, glasses balanced on the end of her russet muzzle. You do the only thing that you can do: you run. Dashing out the glass door, bell tinkling at your hooves, you fling yourself into the smoke-scented pollution of the city. Shoving past other furs, you make use of your elbows and hard hooves, kicking out as an equine scream rips from your throat. Fight and flight has taken over and you are nothing more than a prey animal running for her life.
In on the game show as they are, others in the street make progress difficult for you. You squirm past foul-smelling anthros, their fur rank with city dirt, snapping your teeth together when more cluster together to block your path. A canine - you don't see what breed - slaps your buttocks to raucous laughter and heat rushes into your muzzle, silver mane whipping against your neck. How dare he! You don't have time to retaliate as the sales vixen pursues with due haste, so you duck your head and bully your way through the crowd, your slimmer form allowing you to wriggle through smaller gaps than you could as a man. A paw with hard fingertips like tiny hooves snakes forward and strokes your breast; you slap it away in disgust, wishing that you could find the culprit and give him a piece of your mind.
The crowd begins to thin and you burst into an open area with a little greenery - a city square of some kind that gives the semblance of community. The paving slabs are a pale cream and pruned trees are spaced at intervals, their leaves a sharp, crisp scent in the heavy air. Benches are scattered haphazardly and coated with bold graffiti with a refreshing fountain placed in the obvious centre of the square. Some young furs crowd around the edge, letting the cooling spray land on their muzzles. Checking to ensure that you are no longer being chased, you peer over the small shoulders curiously to see that they are throwing pennies into the fountain as if it is a wishing well. This world is not so different from yours then, if it is another world at all.
It seems clear by this point in the 'game' that you have to find this costume that the host spoke of, just so you can get away. It's not worth being stared at like a piece of meat to defy the will of the powers that be, you think, ears drooping and a sigh fleeing your lips. Your reflection stills in the fountain, the younger furs tumbling away in a flurry of paws and squeals, revealing your delicate muzzle and finely pointed ears, now that you observe yourself more closely. Even if you look different, you know that you are still you in essence.
And you have clothes that kind of fit. Kind of. That alone is a very good thing.
Leaving the square behind, you delve into a more upscale shopping district, prices on merchandise in windows soaring beyond belief. Absently, you cast your eyes over what is on display, half-heartedly looking for this costume although you have no idea what it could be. You suppose that it will be glaringly evident as with all game show resolutions and perhaps there is even an audience watching your progress now: there could be cameras concealed anywhere.
A designer brand shop of some furry definition has a red sign outside to show that they have a sale currently running. As you meander around the sign, a group of shouting female furs rage out from the shop, bags and merchandise tossed between them. You are not privy to female discourse when it comes to shopping; it seems that they are fighting over some sale items between themselves. A red dragon with brilliant, orange wings snatches up a sweatshirt that looks like any other and tries to whip it away from its purchaser, a red-eyed, albino poodle who is not letting go without a fight. Growing, the poodle heaves on the garment, dragging it through the dragon's claws and rending the fine fabric beyond repair.
"Look what you did!" She screams, her friends nodding their heads in anger. "You'll have to give me the money for that! It was mine!"
"Well," the dragoness smirks, picking a pink scrap of fabric off one claw. "It was yours. Now it looks like it belongs on the rubbish heap. Like you."
"Why you -"
The poodle lunges and the group dissolves into a clawing mass of fur, feather and scales, each anthro undistinguishable from the next. You dart to the side of this group but they seem subconsciously determined to block your path, a hissing cobra showing her fangs in a deadly smile. Recoiling, you rush out into the road, narrowly avoiding a lorry (whose driver abuses the horn) even as the fanatics screech obscenities, refusing re-entry to the considerably safer pavement. As if to conclude their unladylike catfight over the clothes, the dragoness rends her claws through an opposing possum's shirt, tearing it away from her body. A group of male anthros inch closer, catcalling the semi-nude possum who frantically tries to cover her torso. Even you cannot resist a smirk before becoming abruptly aware that a fox' eyes have travelled to you as you ogle.
The fox looks you up and down, licking his lips with his thin, little tongue. Against your will, your ears flatten to your skull and you bare your teeth, eyes wide and fear trembling in your belly. What's his problem? You had forgotten for a moment, once again, your new gender and that you are just as subject to stares as the female furs that you watched so eagerly. It is distasteful to remain staring when another observes, so you flatly and defiantly meet the fox' dark brown eyes, dirty in their obscenity, and dare him to do his worst. Flashing a pointed grin in your general direction, his eyes flit over your shoulder and he draws a grey hood up around his ears, his interest lost or disguised.
Satisfied, you trot around the remaining shoppers, narrowly avoiding an elbow to the ribs and earning a sharp look from the dragon on guard for others that sought to take her hard-won purchases away. You had no idea that women, or female furs under the circumstances, could be so 'grabby' and belligerent when it came to high-end sale items. As you stumble and allow a curse to pass your lips the thought that it might all be for show comes to mind. They should all be actors but, with so many furs, it seems impossible that a simple game show could or would hire so many. You shake your head and bite your lip, drawing a bead of blood. What is real and what is not?
A grubby grey sweatshirt and red paw brush against your side and you flinch away reflexively. Who was that? The paw follows your side and strokes the hem of your tank top with disconcerting familiarity. You recognise the muzzle behind the hood and fight down the urge to raise a clenched fist. The fox, of course it was the fox. He hadn't disappeared at all! He has followed you - but why? Spitting something that you would not have dared utter to a respectable family member, you slap his paw away and squirm into the crowd. Every fur has somewhere to be and their pace is quick, sweeping you along like a drop of water carried with the body of the river. You lift your head high and curl your leonine tail between your legs, wanting to appear as if you are one of them, just one anthro in a crowd.
The fox is nowhere to be seen but having him out of sight only makes your stomach twitch uneasily, bile rising in your throat. Being a natural prey animal - what would unicorns be classed as anyway with that horn? - is unsettling and you feel considerably further down the food chain than you should be. A suited up fur kicks your heels and snaps at you to 'be quicker'. You can't even complain about the stab of pain in your fetlock. It was a wolf that kicked you and his yawning eyes linger in your mind as he strides away, tan briefcase clasped in his right paw. The angry words are stuck in your throat and a distinct aroma of sweat graces your nostrils, betraying your fear to every other fur in the near vicinity. A cheetah smirks knowingly.
Move. You have to keep moving. It is the only way that you are going to survive this hell. You lick your lips dryly, no moisture remaining in your mouth. What you would give for a tall, cool glass of water with beads of condensation trickling down the side. You salivate wantonly, tail thumping your leg as if you are a dog that has been presented with a treat. You are more animal than human now.
Your hooves clop loudly on the hot pavement and your route takes you into a shadier part of the city. Windows are smashed and badly taped up in places in a sort of 'quick fix' job. A scrap of litter catches the breeze and brushes past an overflowing, cracked waste paper bin, discoloured by the elements. It might have once been a forest green but now there is no telling. There are more clubs on this street and female furs lounging in revealing outfits, chewing gum and smacking their lips with every chomp. After recent experience, you try not to look but traitor eyes are prone to wander. Still, you are one to learn from experience (more so if experience is negative) and watch the ladies more discreetly than you would have done previously.
The walls here are plastered with posters, some torn off or sodden with moisture, and a group of lazy dogs lean against one such wall, conducting a mumbling discussion. One of the group looks up: a shabbily dressed Golden Retriever with dirty, yellow fur and ripped jeans. Unease stiffens your muscles and you look straight ahead, aiming to keep away from the troublemaking lads the best you can. They have other ideas. A wolf whistle follows you, possibly thrown forth by a wolf, and colour floods to your cheeks. Knowing that it's a bad idea to do so, you throw a glance back over your shoulder.
"Hey, baby!" The Golden Retriever shouts, slapping a paw on his thigh. "I'd love to bury my bone in you, how 'bout it?"
"Ugh..." You shudder, quickening your pace. Did you once shout things like that? "Fuck off, douchebag. I ain't got time for perverts like you. I'll be gone soon enough and thank god that I'll never have to see your ugly mug again!"
"Is that right, honey," the words drip off the dog's tongue, though not like honey, as he dashes in front of you and holds up his paw. "You better be spending some good time with me before you blow this joint then. Be a shame to miss out on all of...this." He spits on the ground and smirks, grabbing his crotch in a move like one that a certain Michael Jackson might have made in your world.
Duly disgusted, you shove the Retriever in the chest and burst into an ungainly run, tail swinging uncontrollably. Now more than ever, you are grateful to not have to hold your trousers up and you lean forward, begging your legs for an extra flare of speed. Shoes and bare hind paws pound the street behind you, hoarse calls feeding terror into your hooves. They are giving chase and you dare not look back. If you look back, you will be like a fox cornered by hounds and they will have you. Don't look back. To your left, cars slow to a crawl and you catch a glimpse of red lights coupled with road works up ahead.
Spotting your chance, you swerve without warning across the road, dodging cars unapologetically. A hawk of some kind in a day-glow yellow vest drills a trench into the blocked off work area, the vibrations rendering you unsteady at such close range. There is a frustrated howl somewhere to your rear and a flash of triumph gives you courage to jump over the bird's ditch, laughing wildly at his surprised squawk. He likely hadn't expected to encounter a civilian, if that is what you are, in his area, but doesn't give chase, which you are thankful for. The other workers flap their arms at you as you weave behind cement carriers and a digging machine, hoping that the dogs are unable to utilise a stronger sense of smell as anthros. There is no way that they will have been able to maintain sight of you in this havoc!
As you round a bright orange cone, you almost career muzzle first into the same fox from earlier. He stands quite still and meets your supposedly white-rimmed eyes with a level gaze, a deep-set hunger lurking in the depths. It seems unusual that you should feel so much from another through the link of a brief glance, but you swallow your fear and veer around him. Adrenaline boosts your speed as two of the more persistent dogs - mutts from the look of them - yelp upon rediscovering you.
Where is that fox? He has vanished again with traditional, russet stealth. You have heard that foxes are sly under normal circumstances. Would those traits translate to a half-human and half-fox character? You hope not. Taking a corner at breakneck speed, your breath grates and you dive into a group of female furs chatting about their clubbing experience, laughing like hyenas every few seconds. Wait. Of course, a dolled up hyena was the main culprit of inane laughter, you should have guessed. No one notices the addition to the group and you duck your head to avoid your horn from being spotted. No further yelps or canine howls are forthcoming so you feel that you have duly outsmarted the pooches, a victory in itself.
Slipping to the edge of the group, for you do not want to be caught out in your ruse, you act as if you are following the street signs, even though they are meaningless to you, and are just walking with the group as they happen to be there. As you pass an alleyway, however, a paw lands on your arm and drags you roughly into the musty passage. You have barely a chance to take events into account when a grey paw presses over your lips, forcing your head back against the hard, brick wall. Stars burst in your vision and you struggle briefly, stilling as something sharp presses against your throat. The wolf bares his sharp teeth and chuckles dangerously. What is going on? Surely this is just another part of the show? It must be. Licking his lips, the wolf leans in close, panting softly as he pulls the knife back.
"I've been watching you, sweetheart," the wolf breathes in your ear, making you shiver. "You've got cash on you, I can smell it. You can get it. Give me all that you've got and perhaps I'll let you get away...unmarked." He turns the knife deliberately between his fingers, fingering the blade.
"You can't be serious," you scoff, thrusting away as he 'kindly' allows you space. "It isn't me you should be bothering for money, so bugger off."
His expression darkens and you are afraid that you have said something terribly wrong. Ducking under his outstretched arm as he stands immobile, you dive back into the grey daylight. Why didn't he stop you? You don't care as you work your way through the mass of furry bodies, stray fright stirring your pace. If that host has the gall to turn you into a half-unicorn thing...why would he not have the balls to kill you too? Maybe it makes for good ratings in this world? Panting heavily, you are sure that the whites of your eyes are showing. A quick look shows that not only the wolf is on your tail, but the fox is too. Predators like those like to tease their prey before they catch it. You've seen it on wildlife documentaries.
Your surroundings take a turn for the worse. Cars with no wheels park at the side of the road, rust lingering where window frames are supposed to be. Of course, there is no glass in the car windows, but shards of it litter the pavement so that you have to leap over entire sections in order to not cut yourself. You don't trust those hooves to keep you safe. Somewhere to your right in a cluster of dilapidated flats (six windows high), there is a gunshot that makes you leap like a grasshopper, skidding as you land. Who was that? Are they firing at you? No, the shot was too far away, but you are in a very dangerous area, more dangerous than ever before. Even worse, the dogs from the club scene have joined up with the fox and wolf duo, howling like beagles on the heels of their quarry.
Hide, you have to find somewhere to hind, you tell yourself, a stitch shooting through your right side. You are not fit to go on like this and the yelps of the dogs are far too close to slow down. Where can you hide? In a place like this, is there anywhere safe? There are some odd shops around - nowhere inviting enough to duck into. You doubt that anyone would protect you from the raunchy pack.
"Slow up, dah-ling!" One canine yells, cupping his paws to his snout. "We ain't gonna do nuthing to ya, slow up for us now."
There is a small line of shops that appear a bit more respectable and, as a bottle smashes at your heels, you read them in your mind, searching for one that might have someone willing to lock the doors and keep them out. There must be someone. There must be someone not in on the 'game'. There is a tiny Pawmart, a Red Hot chicken take-away, Toddler Day Care, Costume Rails, Second Paw Daily and -
Wait...what was that? You skid to a halt, kicking up little stones and backtrack to the last store window in a hurry. It is a costume shop! Is this too obvious a place to look for what they want you to find? Some kind of costume... There would have to be some sort of sign. What other choice to you have? Snorting, you know not so deep down that everything has been orchestrated. It is as if you had no choice in the matter about where you travelled this day and whether or not you will enter the shop. Taking one last look at the canine pack and wolf leader, you dive into the shop and slam the door hard enough to rattle the glass.
A lock - there is a lock! The soft click is deceptively quiet and the dogs crowd around the smeared glass door, slamming their paws against it angrily. Some of the burlier subjects try shoving it open with brute force and are unsuccessful. A part of you wants to poke your tongue out at them; however, you cannot risk riling them up even more. Swear words fly and the wolf shakes his head, snarling dominantly until the pack retreats. To your horror, some of the dogs have obvious bulges in their ragged jeans and trousers that could only be one thing that you are all too familiar with as a man. Shaking your head in dismay, you back away from the doors, bumping a costume rack. Where are the shop assistants?
"Hey, honey, why so shy? We only want some time with you!"
"Yeah, jus' ah date, swee'heart!"
Their voices are muffled if discernible through the glass and you shrink away. They're crazy, those dogs, let alone the wolf and fox. No way are you going back out. The wolf gestures at the door, speaking quietly so that you cannot hear and you take the chance to dive into a line of flashy clothes, tail whipping around a corner.
Everything is coming to a head and you rifle through the costumes in a panic, throwing the ones that don't seem to be 'right' to the ground. Of course, it can't be any costume that you have to find. You think that there must be one with a sign, something marked so that is clear to both you and the audience that this is it. That is how these shows work, or at least that's what you tell yourself. Your breathing is shallow and you stamp on a Minotaur outfit that is swiftly followed by a burlesque dancer's costume, although there was little fabric to that one. There is a ferocious crack and tinkle of glass; the door has given up under a more focused assault and your stalkers are in the building. Your mouth is dry and you scrabble through plastic wrapped costumes, tearing open the ones that you are unsure of.
"There she is!"
They are coming, the fox and the wolf pushing the dogs aside to reach you. Frantic for your life and sanity, you at first pay little attention to the bird - a blue macaw! - costume, but the square of hot pink paper stuck to the front catches your eye. The wolf races down the aisle, teeth bared in a feral grin and gun at the ready. You read the note.
CONGRATULATIONS CONTESTANT, the note reads in chunky, block capitals, a layman's scrawl. The wolf slides to a halt, raising his fist as his eyes flash.
You are reading the last words when the ear-splitting siren goes off, piercing waves reverberating around the small shop. The canines clap their paws to their ears until it stops, jaws moving in drowned conversation that quickly becomes apparent. With the siren silenced, they cast furious, sullen looks at you with many a rude gesture to be had. A terrier digs his paws into his pockets, fingering a hole and shaking with contained tension.
"Aw, no way!" He finally snaps, trembling. "We never get the good stuff."
"Yeah." The Retriever jerks his head. "This show sucks. It's not ever good for us. We never get it."
Grumbling, the 'harmless' dogs make good their retreat with many sighs and groans, few bothering to look back. The fox shakes his head and passes the gun between his paws, catching your eyes and mouthing the words, 'next time'. A growl builds in your throat and you stomp your hoof on the ground, staring him down until he leaves, following the alpha wolf's lead out of the shop and...to wherever it is that they are going. You don't give a damn.
Who could it be other than the confounded host? The stallion strides between racks of clothes, mane slicked back and a slimy smile upon his fleshy lips. Done up in a lurid blue suit, you he is not out of place in the fancy dress shop and you are forced to hold back a smirk. A flock of cameras follow at his heels, some of the camera crew, the first that you have seen throughout this whole ordeal, holding up bright lights to better illuminate you and the host for the pleasure of the prospective audience. The horse smiles, hiding his teeth.
"You have completed the first round of our game show challenges," the horse chuckles and offers his paw to you. "We congratulate you once again, darling."
You roll your eyes and snort softly, deigning to take his paw so that it is left hovering awkwardly in midair. What a fool you think he is. Regaining his composure, he straightens his white tie, smoothing it down against his broad chest.
"Well now," he clears his throat. "You will now be able to progress to the next round, which will take place in seven days time, or next week, if you prefer. You will, of course, continue in the guise of a fabulous blue macaw, which I am certain you are fabulously excited about!"
Wait...next round? Next week?
"What is all this about?" You blurt out, struggling to get a word in around the host, who turns towards the cameras to say more. "No way am I doing more than this! I've done what you wanted. Now you have to let me go, damn you. I'm not playing your goddamned game any longer, do you bloody well hear me?"
The horse's eyes darken and his chest expands as he holds in a breath and releases it slowly, holding up his paws in an attempt to placate you. There is a large, ruby red ring on his right forefinger, but you only catch a glimpse of it. What value does that gem hold? Pretending to appear defeated by waving his paws in an exaggerated fashion, the horse slips you the wink of a conspirator.
"Now, now, I wasn't going to show you the prize from this week until a little later on," he chuckles and holds a finger to his lips, "but I just think that you deserve it, my dear."
Two grey-haired canines, veterans of the business, rush forward with a giant photograph of a tropical beach, keeping the heavy edges straight so that the thick paper will not bend. You widen your eyes at the image. The beach is pure white with very fine grains of sand, bordered by a luscious jungle of rich, green foliage. You can almost hear the macaws, like the costume, calling out in the treetops, dolphins dancing in the secluded bay. Seeing that you are impressed, the bay equine waves the photo-carriers before the cameras, capturing the moment for the audience's benefit.
"You have won a holiday on a tropical island of your choice! As long as that island or location has one of our luxurious Passionfruit Paradise resorts, that is! Fully catered too and all manner of spa and sport activities provided so that you may enjoy the experience to the fullest." He cocks his head jovially and flicks one ear back and forward again.
You stammer, lost for words, which seems to please the host. You have never had such a holiday, caught up in the working life and chasing girls. Some towns never feed ambition and you'd been working in manual labour since finishing school. That kind of work did not pay for tropical holidays, let alone luxury resorts. Your thoughts drift and you find yourself imagining laying on that beach, waves lapping softly against the shore and a breeze rustling the trees. Salt will tickle your nostrils and sand sift between your fingers. You have to go there, you just have to. And, if this is the first prize... You glance calculatingly at the host, eyes narrowing just a fraction. If this is the first prize, what will the others be? Will they be better? You've already completed one challenge so how bad could the others be? Swallowing hard, you nod and smile falsely for the cameras, waving to the invisible audience as if you have won the lottery. The horse grabs your paw and thrusts it into the air, cheering for you and your shining decision.
It cannot hurt to see what more you can win...can it?
When you are transported to another land to play in a game show and your very identity is stolen, what is a man, or unicorn, to do?
Okay, I have had mixed reviews on these stories in the past and they are always a challenge and a half to write. (Yay! :D ) I'd only like to note that it's a commission and that I'm writing to very specific specifications (say that ten times quickly). It met the commission brief and expectations and that's my job! :D
I tried to mix an adventure style (the very fast paced style from Anglo-Saxon literature where things keep happening in quick succession) with a modern style and I think it came together well, although could have done with some fine tuning with a more flexible word count. I had to be a bit tight with this one. I intended to put across a message here, which is the main focus and what you should be thinking about when you finish reading it!
Commission for and characters © to Catprog, who will also post this story on their website
Story © Amethyst Mare