The Transformation Story Archive Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...

Always Read The Label

by Jack deMule

It started off like any other trip to town. Breakfast at Mrs. Mac's diner, accompanied by the same idle chitchat, and stale jokes. A stop at PhotoWorld to see if my prints had been delivered, and then the super market for a few weeks of groceries, before my final chore at the feed mill.

I love stopping at the mill. It has served the area for neigh on ninety-five years, a feeling of stability and permanence surrounds it. The dusty rough hewn floors, and venerable machinery, had attracted me to the place since boyhood.

I knew that no matter what insanity was taking place in the world that here I'd find a little island of stability. Where the faces were always the same, and talk always focused on grain prices and stock reports. Until today...

"Hi Tom! Ya got that order I called in Friday mixed for me?

" Uh, hi Jack. It'll be ready in a few minutes. We're running a bit behind. We were short handed for a couple of days last week."

"No problem Tom, I'm in no rush to get anywhere." I was checking the bulletin board for anything of interest, as Gerry opened the top half of the Dutch door between the office and the mixing room.

"Hi ya Jack! I'll have your feed done in a few, back round to the dock, and I'll have it ready and waiting for ya."

"Oh sure! Working hard at I bet too. What, were you on vacation last week?" I was going to razz Gerry a bit more, when he opened the bottom half of the door and stepped into the office.

I stood staring at him not knowing what to say. Then I did what I usually do when I'm in an uncomfortable situation, I said something stupid. "So you've put on a little weight?"

Gerry looked surprised, then he smiled. "Yeah, I weighed myself this morning, about eight-hundred pounds, more or less."

"I was still very uncomfortable with the thing that looked like Gerry from the waist up, and a pony beneath. "Terry always said you ate like a horse. I thought she was just grumbling because you keep going off your diet." Gerry's face darkened.

"It's Terry and her damn diet that got me like this. You know she has spies everywhere, at Mrs. Mac's, the bar, even Tom spies on me for her. So I started snacking on that horse manna stuff."

It must be something else I thought. "There's only oats, molasses, and some vitamins and minerals in it. Are you sure that's what did it?"

"Didn't you get the advertisement from the manufacturer? It was reformulated. I'd tell ya what's been added but I can't pronounce most of the stuff. Don't matter now anyway, it's been recalled, and the last two bags are going to be picked up by the distributor tomorrow."

I wanted those bags of horse manna, but I knew they'd never sell them. I decided then and there, that I'd come back later that night and steal them. I'd never stolen anything before, and it made me almost panic at the thought, but my mind was made up before I even really thought about it.

I backed my truck up to the dock. Watching Gerry toss those one-hundred pound bags of feed into the back of the truck, two at a time, with as little effort as you or I would toss a feather pillow, only re-enforced my determination to commit the theft.

In a town where most people leave their keys in the ignition of their car, and you're considered eccentric if you lock your doors at night, a feed mill is not a terribly secure place. I opened the door to the office and walked in. I knew the building well and had no problem finding the room where the packaged feed is kept. Two bags right by the door, yeah they've got to be the ones I thought.

How stupid could I be! I can't carry one-hundered pounds the three blocks to where I parked my truck! I didn't want anyone to see my truck near the mill, but I'd be spotted for sure dragging my bags down the street. No problem! I'll just open a bag and eat my fill right here. I can trot home later. The thought of it gave me goose bumps.

I had eaten about ten pounds of the feed and wasn't feel very well, when someone snapped on the lights. It was Tom.

"Jack! What in blazes do you think your doing!"

"I'm gonna be a centaur Tom. Don't try and stop me either! I can feel it working already and I wouldn't want to hurt you by accident!"

"Well, it's working all right! But you don't have to worry about hurting anyone. You should have checked the label before stuffing your face."

In the now brightly lighted store room I could read the label of the bag that I had been greedily eating from. The manufacturers logo was correct but as I read the big red block letters I had a nasty feeling I wasn't going to like my new life. Manna products. New reformulated Goat Manna.

Then I noticed the backs of my hands, a shaggy gray pelt was beginning to sprout from them and I could hear the snapping and cracking sound of the horns as the grew from my head.

"Shit! Is there anything you can do to stop this Tom? I don't want to be a goat or even part goat" He could hear the rising panic in my voice.

"Gee, I'm really sorry Jack but if there were something that would have stopped the change, don't you think we would have used it on Gerry?" He really did sound sorry too.

"You going to call the sheriff on me Tom? You know, for busting in and all."

"Naw, you've been a good customer. I'll just but it on your account." He pulled my card from the file and licked his pencil. Tom always spoke when he was writing, "One bag of goat manna. Anything else?"

"No, I'd better get home while I can still drive." I could feel my legs starting to reshape, and wasn't sure how long I still had before the stuff really kicked in."

Well, the change wasn't as extensive as Gerry's. I'm still on two legs, even if they are goat legs. I notice I get a few strange looks from people whenever I'm in town, and young men hold their girls a little bit closer. With Gerry and I walking around, there's been a revival of interest in Greek mythology.

My friend Bob stopped by the other day, he must have had the same idea as I did. Only he arrived in time to see Tom and I leaving, so he didn't get caught. He should paid closer attention to the label too. He ate a lot of calf manna that night. After he's grown for years, I bet he scares the crap out of the people in town. There has already been talk of building a labyrinth.

Always Read The Label copyright 1996 by Jack deMule.

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