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

Big John

by Bob Stein

"David! Wait up!" Johnny pedaled as fast as he could, but the older boy turned suddenly and vanished from sight. "Dammit!" This shortcut was a lot harder at night, and he wasn't sure where the turn was. There were no streetlights, and the crisscrossed maze of narrow roads weren't marked. None of the residents cared. They were all dead.

Slowing, he peered over the rows of tombstones. David should be the only moving object, unless a police car happened to be patrolling the cemetery for trespassers. There. A shadow passed in front of one of the big mausoleums. He recognized the structure, and was able to get his bearings. Two more roads over, then a turn to the left. That would put him at the back hedge behind the church, and two blocks from home.

Although cutting through the graveyard saved a couple of miles, Johnny wouldn't have used it except for David. He wasn't scared, of course. That was for little kids, not fourteen year-olds. It just seemed a little disrespectful. David had laughed and called him a wuss. What did a bunch of dead people care about respect? And Chip knew better than to let the older teen think he was chicken. You didn't hang with the school bully unless you were willing to do anything.

He realized that David had gone one street too far down, and was going to have to come back up a row. If he sprinted, he could get to the hedge first. Legs spun furiously as he shot towards the turn. Rats. The older boy must have seen him, and was racing to get ahead. Then Johnny realized that the terror of Paulsen Junior High was screaming his head off.

Bewildered, he slowed for a moment. Was this some kind of stupid joke? David wasn't even looking at him. Maybe he'd seen the cops! Johnny banked hard into the turn, figuring it would be better to get out of here now and ask questions later. As he came around the corner, he had to slam on brakes to avoid hitting something in the road. David's bike? He spotted the rider running as hard as he could for the hedge. Looking around, Johnny didn't see any sign of trouble, but he left the bike in the road. David could come back for it himself.

There was some kind of noise from behind. He glanced back, but didn't see anything. Nervous, he picked up speed. Muffled thuds now, faint, yet oddly familiar. Another glance back showed nothing, but the noise was getting louder and clearer. It was a mixture of rhythmic patterns, almost as if...

Johnny looked back again and screamed. Four men on horseback were charging towards him, all black silhouettes and glowing red eyes. Adrenaline surged, and he shot forward on the bike. This couldn't be happening! He was having some sort of hallucination or something. Glancing back, he saw that the hallucinations were almost on him. Hot breath touched the back of his neck, carrying the stench of death. Panicking, he took the last turn too fast and went sprawling painfully across the road. Scrambling up even before he stopped sliding, it was still too late. The horsemen were on him.

He cringed as the first horse thundered past, lather from the animal's flanks splattering on his face. The second shot by the other side, close enough to get a stinging flick of its midnight tail that made him spin around directly into the path of the third rider.

Johnny arched back as the animal hit him square. There was a shock of intense cold and a sick, wrenching sensation in his gut. Then they were past, and he was still standing. The horsemen pulled up just short of the cemetery wall, and turned around to come at him again. Dazed and oddly weak, he abandoned his bike and stumbled for the hedge. A horse screamed, making a sound that cut him to the bone. The ground shook as they pounded towards him, and he knew he wouldn't make it. Just as he reached the hedge, huge teeth closed on his shoulder, phantom ice cubes that passed through flesh and bone. Blind terror lent strength to his failing body, and he launched himself the last ten feet to dive headfirst through the bushes.

Hands pulled at him, and he batted them away, screaming.

"It's me, Johnny! It's me!" David dragged him out of the hedge and yanked him across the church parking lot. They collapsed together next to the building, watching the bushes for signs of pursuit with wide, frightened eyes. "Shitohshitohshitohshitohshit." The older teen was babbling. Johnny shivered from the contact, too terrified to speak.

Only after several minutes had passed did David seem to realize that he and Johnny were clutching each other like little kids. Pushing away awkwardly, he still stayed close by. "Shit, man! What was that?"

Johnny swallowed, and finally found his voice. "The horses. Did you see the men on horses?" He desperately wanted David to say no, that it was all some stupid trick of shadows and moonlight, to help him deny the whole experience.

"I don't know what I saw!" The older teen scrambled up and glared down at him. "And neither do you. We go tellin' anybody about this, and they'd lock us up. Beside, we were trespassing. They could throw us in jail for that!"

Though he doubted that trespassing would land them in jail, Johnny found himself agreeing with the rest. He looked back towards the graveyard. "Our bikes! What are we gonna do about our bikes?"

"You can go back after yours if you want."

They stared at each other for a few moments. Finally, Johnny sagged and shook his head. "We can say we got in a fight. Some other kids beat us up and took our bikes."

David seemed reluctant, probably not wanting to lose even a fictional fight. Then he looked back at the hedge and nodded. "That works." Glancing at Johnny, he grinned. "They'll believe it, too. You look like you got the living shit kicked out of you."

Two hours later, Johnny was easing himself painfully into bed. The story about the fight had worked too well. Now he was forbidden to go out of the neighborhood after dark. The restriction didn't really matter to him. He didn't plan to leave the house for a month. Ouch. He'd left large sections of his skin on the graveyard road and the parking lot. Mom had wanted to call the police. Luckily, the injuries looked a lot better after he'd cleaned up, and he finally convinced her to let the matter drop. Damn, he was tired. Although the room was warm, he pulled up an extra blanket to try shaking off a deep chill that wouldn't quite go away.

Sleep with fitful, interrupted by visions of black horses with glowing red eyes, and distant fighting. He found himself lying awake in bed before the sun rose. Despite being stiff and tired and the fact that it was Sunday, he roused himself up with a soft groan and pulled on some clothes. Nobody else was up yet, so he grabbed a bowl of cereal and snuck outside. Maybe he could ride over to the airport and watch planes for a while. Then he remembered where his bike was.

The church spire was visible from the back yard, like a flag marking a golf hole. He wandered to the edge of the yard, and then jumped over the ditch to the shopping center parking lot. The bikes would probably still be there. Hardly anybody ever went to the cemetery, especially this early. And they'd been in the old part, way off the main road.

He made it all the way to the church parking lot before growing fear slowed his steps. He could see some of the taller monuments behind the hedge, turned pink by the dawn light. Despite vivid memories of last night and the bizarre nightmares that had plagued his sleep, Johnny felt a little silly. In the soft glow of morning, the graveyard looked as threatening as a kiddie park. And his bike was out there.

In the end, it wasn't even the desire to retrieve his bike that got him to climb through the hedge again. David's bike was out there too, and the thought of returning it to the older boy was too much to pass up. Who would be the wuss, then? Even so, he was extra cautious as he made his way among the weathered granite markers.

As expected, his bike was still lying in the middle of the road. The seat had a scrape on the side, but he couldn't find any other damage. David's was harder to locate. He back-tracked, checking a couple of the side roads. Maybe someone had found his and made off with it. Disappointed, Johnny had given up and was turning to leave when he caught the glint of sunlight on bright metal. While he'd seen some pretty outlandish memorials in the cemetery, none of them had been chrome plated.

The missing bicycle was well off the road where Johnny had seen it last night. More puzzling, he could see tracks in the soft dirt where David or someone else had ridden across the burial plots. Probably David, trying to beat Johnny to the hedge last night. He wondered how it got here, but picked it up off the worn headstone.

Private William J. Grodin, Infantry. October 2 1900 to July 23 1918. Damn. Dead at seventeen. Looking around, Johnny realized that this was one of the military sections of the cemetery. Most of the headstones were identical pale gray squares, featureless except for the deeply engraved names, ranks, and dates. All from World War One, if he remembered last year's history. Most of the markers were in even rows, but this one and the four in front of it were slightly offset. Maybe they were clustered by rank? Mildly curious, he rolled the bike around to the front row to check out Grodin's neighbors.

Lawrence Boone, R.G. Cooper, Samuel Peters, and Darius Linkletter. Underneath each name was another in quotes, probably a nickname. "Sampson", "Goliath", and "Racer" sounded OK, but Sam Peters must have hated being called "Buttercup". Then he blinked and felt a slight chill when he read the rest of the inscriptions. Calvary. All four of them. Soldiers who fought on horseback. Johnny backed away from the graves, sweat beading on his forehead. It was just a stupid coincidence. Swallowing hard, he forced back the urge to run and went back to his bike. He wasn't a wuss. Balancing David's bike next to his, he pedaled slowly away, choosing to go out the distant gate instead of trying to go through the hedge. Even so, his knuckles were white until he was well out of the cemetery.

"Geeze, Johnny! You look like shit!"

Monday mornings were usually bad anyway, but right now Johnny felt just as bad as he must look. Besides the scrapes and bruises from Saturday night, recurring nightmares had robbed him of sleep again last night. Sagging into his homeroom chair, he gave the boy who had spoke a dirty look. "Gee, thanks, Mark. Oh, and I hope you had a good weekend, too."

"I heard you and David got jumped by a gang! David said they took your bikes, but you guys caught up with them and whupped their asses good!" Mark shook his head. "Man, I bet you were glad to have David with you!"

Johnny had a flash of anger, followed by resigned disgust. It figured that David would take the credit. Right now, he was too tired to care. Besides, he and David knew who the real wuss was. The older boy wouldn't even talk about Saturday night. If it wasn't for Johnny, his bike would still be lying on that grave.

Mark seemed to think the anger was directed at him, and turned back quickly to face front. That suited Johnny just fine. He didn't want to talk to anybody right now. If he could just manage to stay awake through school today, he'd try to get a nap this afternoon. A couple of kids around him wrinkled their noses, and he caught some whispered comments. Come to think of it, he'd forgotten to shower last night. And the clothes he had on were from last week. He'd been so tired, he'd just grabbed something off the floor and stumbled out the door.

The rest of the day went downhill from there. His teachers must have known he was out of it, because he got picked at least once in every class to answer a question he hadn't heard, or to talk about a reading assignment he hadn't done. Mrs. Miller, his English teacher, asked if he needed to see the school nurse. And at lunch, even his friends found other tables to sit at. OK. He looked like shit and had BO. Get over it.

History should have been interesting, because they were talking about World War II. Mr. Fulcher even showed pieces of TV specials and movies. Instead of enjoying the break from lecture, Johnny cringed in his seat and tried not to watch. The battles on the screen were too much like the nightmares that had kept him awake the past two nights. Men falling in the mud, screams of humans and animals mixed with the sounds of explosions and the hot stink of blood. And Johnny in the middle of it all, running across the ground in a mad, reckless charge.

Phys Ed was last. They played volleyball, and despite his fatigue, Johnny perked up a little. But he was sweating like crazy, his shirt soaked as if he'd been sprayed with a hose. Even he could smell himself now, a thick, funky odor like the wet socks he'd left in his locker a few weeks ago.

He got a lot of stares as he walked to the open showers afterwards. The scrapes on his arms and legs probably looked pretty bad. It made him a little self-conscious, though. As he stepped under a running showerheads, a kid from one of the other classes smirked. "Hey, wolf-man! You got a license for that fur coat?" A couple of other boys snickered, shaking their heads.

It took a moment for Johnny to realize the kid was talking to him. Fur coat? Scowling, he turned his back to the kid and grabbed a bar of soap. Very funny. Johnny could count his pubic hairs on one hand. Between his slick skin and baby face, most people thought he was more like twelve instead of fourteen. As he lathered up, the soap seemed to drag over his arms and chest. Puzzled, he rinsed off and looked closer. Cripes! When had all that grown in? He pulled at some of the dense, golden hair that carpeted his arms. It was the same light brown as his tanned skin - guess he hadn't noticed it before. His chest had sprouted a heavy covering as well, and when he dried off, the towel caught on more thick patches on his back.

Curious, he padded over to the mirror. The reflection was startling, but it also explained a lot of the looks he'd been getting. Lack of sleep would cause the dark shadows under his eyes, and the bleary expression. Even the slightly swollen face could be a result of his wreck. But how come he hadn't noticed the facial hair, or the heavy growth on his body? Damn! A patch on his upper back was so thick you could barely see the skin!

Suddenly embarrassed, Johnny dried off and got dressed in a hurry. Something weird was going on. His arms and legs hurt worse than before, and this much hair growth couldn't be normal. Maybe he should check in with the nurse. About what? Getting hairy? Having bad dreams? A lot of guys his age were developing body hair, just not this much, and not so fast. And he sure wasn't thrilled at the idea of trying to explain things to the middle-aged school nurse. He decided to go straight home instead and hit the sack for a few hours. Maybe it was one of those things that came with puberty.

Puberty, Hell! He was turning into a damned freak! Johnny shifted in the hard plastic chair, trying not to feel the stares of people around him. Eleven o'clock at night, you'd think Urgent Care wouldn't be so busy. He folded his arms across his chest and looked down at his lap. Even that view was uncomfortable, the fabric of his jeans stretched tight over the obvious bulge of his crotch.

Why couldn't Dad have been home? Bad enough he had to tell anybody about the problems he'd discovered after his nap. But to have to show Mom? He felt his cheeks burn yet again, secure in the knowledge that no one could see them anyway. None of his face showed except for his eyes, nose, and mouth. An even sweep of short, reddish-brown hair covered everything else, even his forehead and ears.

Glancing nervously down the corridor, Johnny had to fight the urge to scratch himself. What could you do when everything itched? Strip naked and rub against the wall? Of course, naked didn't mean quite the same thing anymore. Every square inch of skin had the same thick hair as his face. Well, almost. His genitals were hairless, but if anything, the changes there were worse.

Besides having more than doubled in size, everything had turned dark, nearly black. A couple of fingers and toes had taken on the same discoloration, but he wasn't worried about them. The doctor hadn't been much help. The bastard had actually made a crack about him being really popular with the girls. Maybe he was just trying to make Johnny feel better. Granted, most of the guys at school would love be hung like this. If he hadn't gone from small to double extra large in a few hours, he'd be happy, too.

Nobody believed him about that. The doctor had listened, and then shaken his head with this really aggravating smile. Hair didn't grow that fast, and genitals certainly didn't change so much in a few hours. Johnny just hadn't noticed the changes before. Right. He hadn't noticed the fur coat, or the fact that his dong hung halfway to his knees. The most frustrating part was that his own mother didn't believe him either! That had gotten him so upset that he'd been sent out to wait in the hall while the doctor and his mother discussed what was happening.

Hyperplasia. That's what the doctor called it. Some sort of hormone imbalance. And they even had a name for his fur coat. Hirsutism. That was one of the symptoms of hyperplasia, along with enlargement of the genitals, and changes to the skin and bones. About the only thing that made sense was that one of the causes was too much adrenaline. Despite what the doctor said, this had all started Saturday night. Right after he'd had some major adrenaline pumping.

What was taking so long? Johnny fidgeted, trying to work out cramps in his hands and feet. This was just an emergency clinic. The doctor had already told Mom that he would have to be seen by specialists. Resentment flared. It was his body they were talking about. Why wouldn't they listen to him? Just because he was 14, they thought he could overlook something like this? Fine. He'd let them play their stupid game of being the grownups. He could look for his own answers.

Johnny convulsed in bed and came wide awake, sounds of an explosion still ringing in his ears. It took a moment for him to realize the noise had been inside his head, part of the nightmare. It was like the earlier dreams, except this was even more real. Smells, awful and wonderful, seemed to linger in his nostrils. A battlefield again, swarming with men on foot and men on horseback. Cannon thundering ahead and behind, and bullets swarming past like angry bees. The pounding of hooves on blood-soaked earth. It had been so real. And so exciting.

Two-fifteen. Oh, great. He'd been asleep maybe an hour and a half. After the two bad nights before, he should be exhausted, yet he felt ready to explode. Maybe it was nerves. Mom had spent the ride home assuring him that everything could be treated. They had all sorts of drugs and injections and stuff. She just wished he'd come to her sooner. Johnny sighed. By the time she left the doctor's office, she'd started 'remembering' small signs that something was different. Darker skin, excessive hair, changes in his appetite, moodiness. By the time they saw the specialist on Thursday, she'd have convinced herself that he'd been shaving his whole damned body for years.

Closing his eyes didn't help. Some of the odors from the battlefield permeated his room. Sweat, dirt, urine. He sat up suddenly, alarmed and mortified. The smells were real, and they were coming from him. Fumbling for the lamp switch, he knocked the whole thing off the bedside table. It felt like he had a miniature bowling ball glued to the tip of his middle finger. Squinting in the darkness, he blinked, and then raised his other hand to compare the two.

The center finger on each had swollen thicker than his thumbs, the tips flaring into black, hard lumps the diameter of a half-dollar. The rest of the digits seemed shrunken, and if they were drawing into his palms. Throwing back the covers, he discovered similar changes below. Worse, really, for there were no toes left at all. Just dark, numb lumps on the end of feet that were too thin and too long.

Shivering, he slid out of bed. There was no mistaking the source of the urine smell. The sheets had dark, damp stains, and the mattress underneath was soaked. He had to use both hands to pick up the lamp, but managed to turn it on and set it back on the table. Swallowing hard, he forced himself to look down.

Maybe he should go wake Mom and see if she remembered this. His sexual equipment had grown even larger, but the real eye catcher was his ponderous sheath and jet black foreskin. Not bad for a boy who'd been circumcised up to a few hours ago. He felt lightheaded, almost giddy, wondering if he should laugh or scream. Maybe both.

There was more, much more. His thighs jutted out sharply, and didn't seem to move sideways as well as they should. White hair had sprouted on his wrists and ankles, much longer than the copper brown coat that glistened softly in the light. And there was a lump under him, a swelling just over his butt that twitched slightly. It was hard reaching around to feel the spot, and he realized his arms and shoulders were awfully restricted as well.

Surprisingly, walking wasn't as hard as he expected. Pushing up from the bed, he was able to balance on the heavy protrusions that had been his toes. The first couple of steps were unsteady, only to become surer as the base of each foot flared further. Thankful for the carpet, he clomped to the dresser and stared at himself in the mirror. He actually had to duck down a little to get his whole head in the reflection, which translated into an extra foot in height.

It was hard to find any of his own face in the image. Deep brown eyes were huge and wide-set over flaring nostrils and thick lips. And his skull looked too flat, as if it had partially deflated. In some ways, it looked like the monster from an old werewolf movie. Except that the fur was too sleek, the face too long and wide.

In the midst of staring at himself, Johnny felt a stirring in his bowels. Oh, God. Not that, too. He clenched his buttocks tight and struggled to reach the bathroom without waking anyone. One look at the slick tile floor sent him shuffling to the kitchen and out the back door. When he reached the grass, he dashed for the back of the garage. The lump over his butt lifted, and he started dropping his load while he was still moving.

Where was it all coming from? Not just the large pile of manure on the ground, but the extra mass of his body. He had to weigh a good 200 pounds now. Some goddamned hormone imbalance. The doctor didn't know what he was talking about. And at this rate, Johnny didn't have time to wait for any specialist. Besides, he knew where the answers to his questions were.

Only one person saw him as he made his way across the parking lots. From the squeal of tires and rapid vanishing act, Johnny figured the driver wasn't going to be reporting anything. It occurred to him that he was naked. The fact that he wasn't bothered by that was more alarming than the actual nudity, but he pushed it to the back of his mind for now.

The hedge posed a problem to his new bulk, one that he solved by simply pushing through with a cracking of broken branches. His heart was pounding now, each step more of an effort. The ground pressed against him, tombstones shrinking in perspective as he grew larger and heavier. And still he plodded on, curiosity and wonder winning out over the raging fear.

As he approached the forgotten memorials, he wondered how he could summon the mysterious phantoms. A nervous giggle caught in his throat as he pictures some astral doorbell floating in midair. Then he saw the shadows and knew he needn't have worried. They were waiting for him.

There was no terrifying charge, no screams or pounding hooves. The four horsemen cantered over to circle him, looking down over the massive black muzzles of their horses. Oddly, the human shadows seemed impassive while the beasts snuffled him all over, lipping at his arms and face. Their eyes glowed brighter, as if an internal fire had been stoked, and he felt them touching his mind.

One of the riders made a signal with his hand, and the shadows formed a line behind him. An impulse - was it his or theirs? - turned him back to the markers and he walked over to the spot where he'd found David's bike. A fifth shadow flickered into shape, then solidified into the uniformed figure of a young man. William J. Grodin, Private. Little more than David's age, he was splattered with mud, and had tired, sad eyes. Yet those eyes lit up when he saw Johnny standing there, and he looked past to the shadows with a hope that was almost tangible.

The soldier lay his rifle down slowly, as if afraid of spooking him with sudden movement. Johnny quivered, muscles tensed and eyes wide. Every bit of common sense screamed for him to break away, to escape before it was too late. In his heart, however, he knew any turning point had long been passed.

Approaching cautiously, Grodin reached up and stroked his neck. The touch was oddly sensual, and a quiver of pleasure rippled down Johnny's back. After a minute or two, the firm massage moved down to his shoulders. Bones shifted, arms dropping lower even as his chest swelled out. When the hands caressed his thighs, Johnny wavered for a moment, and then dropped heavily onto all fours. The new position was comfortable, natural, and he twisted his head around to look at the shapes behind him.

The four cavalry soldiers were solid now, dirty and tired looking. Two were only a little older than the young man still stroking his side, the others more his father's age. Their mounts were real as well, with intelligent brown eyes instead of red orbs. He knew them suddenly. Sampson, Goliath, Racer, and Buttercup. Not nicknames. Partners in battle.

A faint babble of sounds started to creep over the graveyard. Shouts, faint explosions. Johnny looked back at the young man by his side, watching gentle fingers reshape already inhuman legs into more familiar limbs. Strong, thick, hooves dug into the ground as his weight increased yet again. Odors now, sharp chemical smells, burnt flesh. Excitement started to build deep inside him, mixed with confusion. Grodin was working on his arms now, sending throbbing pleasure up into his chest and neck.

The ground shook slightly with the impact of a shell, and he picked up tension and impatience from the horses. They were anxious to move, to join the blurred movement that hid in the corners of his vision. One of the younger cavalrymen twisted in his saddle, looking anxiously at something that was more mist than vision to Johnny's eyes.

Strong hands cupped his face, and he found himself looking into Grodin's pale blue eyes. Johnny's own excitement was mirrored there, along with something else. Sadness? Pity? For a moment, the young man's form flickered, and Johnny was staring into the empty eye sockets of a skull. Tufts of brown hair and parchement scraps of skin fluttered in a slight breeze. The sad, pale young man was a corpse. And Johnny was supposed to be a 14 year-old boy, not a horse.

Awareness came as an almost physical blow. Grodin was flesh and blood again, pity replaced by a look of grim determination. Johnny tried to shake his head free, but the man held him with superhuman strength. The others must have sensed his sudden resistance, for he felt massive bodies press hard against him, locking him place.

Oh, God! What had he been doing? What had he been thinking? He wasn't a horse! He had a life to live, things to do! Screaming, he tried to twist out of the huddle of animal bodies, and caught site of two of the beasts. Blood red orbs burned inside rotted skulls, muscles and black hide shriveled over stark white bones. The demonic eyes flashed at him, and hot tendrils of thought plunged into his mind.

Stunned by the mental blast, Johnny was only partly aware of Grodin's hands stroking his face. Sampson was feeding him images of mares and pastures, Buttercup filled him with the thrill of running, charging across the battlefield. Fresh excitement and a sense of purpose in serving the Rider came from Goliath, and Racer filled in his past with memories of a newborne foal, all legs and hunger, growing up into a powerful stallion.

The assault tore at Johnny's soul, ripping great chunks of his humanity away. Knowledge, memories, abilities flickered in his head like a billion candles being snuffed out one by one. New thoughts flared up in their place, far fewer in number, simpler. Yet he remained aware of the process, feeling his loss as the four shadowy horses altered his essence to match their own.

In the midst of his terror, Johnny felt a voice. It was a friendly voice, commanding, but one he could trust. He followed the sound, trying to push through the four beasts crowding his mind. Directly in front of him. Grodin. The young man stroked his face, already pushed out incredible far, drawing it further into a muzzle. Johnny focused on the man's voice as he murmured comforting words that had already lost meaning. There was fear from the teenager deep inside his head, but that boy was already little more than a jumble of images and a confusing sense of loss.

The tang of cold metal filled his mouth, and straps closed around his head. More weight on his back, and a tightness around his chest. Sampson filled in the blanks of his mind. Bit. Reins. Saddle. Not words, really. Knowledge of how they communicated what the Rider wanted. Racer, identifying the sounds of battle that drew ever closer. Goliath and Buttercup giving him a million details of a horse's existence that no human could conceive of. And then the four withdrew, each leaving a bit of themselves that fused into a new and distinct fifth.

A shell screamed overhead and exploded close by, showering the group with dirt. Johnny held steady, eyes white with fear, but waiting for his Rider to mount. As he felt the added weight shift on top of him, he pranced nervously, anxious to move. Then he felt the signal, and leaped forward with the rest, screaming his defiance as he charged into battle.

"Damn kids." The old caretaker scowled at the rutted turf and shook his head. "No respect for the dead." Using a rake, he managed to smooth out most of the bike marks. He glanced down at the headstone. "Sorry about that, Private Grodin." Something about the marker caught his eye, and he squatted down for a better look.

The line of engraving between Grodin's name and the 'Cavalry' ID looked new, with none of the discoloration or wear that had blurred the rest of the inscriptions. Then he shrugged. All of the Cavalry stones had a name there set off by quotes. Apparently, time had just overlooked "Big John."

Big John copyright 2000 by Bob Stein.

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