|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
A Debt Unpaid
"Fallon! You bloody cheap bastard! Get your butt over here!"
Pulling the brim of his beaten hat down over his eyes, Fallon jumped off the curb and scurried around the ice wagon. Dodging horses and carts, he crossed the wide street and was down the back alley in a flash. He didn't glance back until he was at the other end. Witherspoon, the barkeep, hadn't chased him.
Didn't much matter if he did; Fallon would be back in the bar in a few days. It was just his way.
He felt into his pockets for as little as a nickel, but came up empty. The entire five dollars he got for working last week down at the docks was spent already! He pulled his hat down a little more, lost in thought. He'd have to really pull some fast ones to stay fed until something came along.
Easier said than done, he thought to himself. He was into just about everyone in the great city of New York. The grocer was looking for him to pay up his two dollars, the diner on the corner was refusing to serve him until he paid the four dollars he owed there and after he sweet talked the baker's daughter out of a few loaves last week, that kindly old man wanted to cave in his head with a rolling pin.
"What you need, Fallon my boy, is a new scam," he said under his breath. "Something to pay off all your debts, maybe get a little ahead." Easier said than done, though. When the blind man on the corner refuses to sell you a pencil without biting your penny, you know you're too well known as a rapscallion.
Fallon passed a fruit stand and palmed an apple without missing a step. He rounded a corner and took a bite. He chuckled. You'd think that people would know how much crime there was in this town by now. It's 1890 for crying out loud!
Fallon watched a familiar face round the corner as he took another huge bite. Looking quickly left and right, he ducked into the closest door. Burbury was one bloke he didn't need to see today, not at all.
The elderly woman behind the counter of the store looked up from her book smiling. "Can I help you, young man?"
Fallon looked around quickly, not sure where he was. Backwards on the door was painted the name Glenda Blythe, Furniture. The tiny store was packed with huge, bulky pieces. Tables, shelves and enormous davenports were crammed into the place with reckless abandon. He stole a glance at the door and wondered how they got it all in. "No, not really. I'm just... looking."
She smiled again. The woman lit up the darkened shop with it, in fact. "I can see that, but something tells me that you're not looking for a new davenport for the living room."
"Oh?" he said curiously. "What am I looking for?"
She shrugged and leaned on the heavy brass cash register. "You're looking for a way to pay off your debts."
"What?" he asked, wondering who she knew who would bother to tell her. "What makes you say that?"
She laughed and pointed at him, "Your clothes are dirty and worn, I didn't hear the sound of even two coins on your pocket when you jumped in, and," she chuckled, "I owed Burbury money last year, too."
Fallon felt more than a little conspicuous all of a sudden, but an idea was forming. If he could just get in good with this lady... "Do you have what I'm looking for?"
She shrugged. "I could use a new man, I suppose." She said. "My husband passed on a few years ago, leaving me alone. I've hired men before, but they all leave so quickly. My last one quit to join the navy." She shrugged, "It's a lot of heavy lifting, pays four dollars a week, but if you're strong enough, you're hired."
Fallon tapped his foot, thinking. The lady seemed soft enough, and the work couldn't be harder than being on the docks. "If you can advance me a couple weeks salary, you've got yourself a boy!"
Fallon grunted as he shoved the small table up the stairs. This was the third delivery today, and the second that was on the fourth floor. Worse, he was alone. The widow Blythe never hired anyone if she suspected that Fallon could manage it on his own. She just borrowed the cart and horse from the fruit man and sent him out.
"I'd walk out if I didn't owe her money, blast it," he muttered under his breath as he shoved the heavy furniture up another step. He really hated the job. The woman had seemed nice enough at the beginning, but she was seriously beginning to bother him now. She was always reading something. Not normal stuff like paper or the sports books, either. Weird stuff.
Then there was that whole incident with Fred Brakefield.
Fallon knew Brakefield, at least by reputation. He wasn't the most savory man in the world, but he was a passable carpenter. Fallon had incidentally noted Brakefields mark on a few pieces of furniture in the place and not given much thought.
Just the other night, he had seen Brakefield and the widow Blythe arguing about something. He only hung around long enough to get the gist of things, that Blythe had already paid for some furniture Brakefield had no intention of delivering, then left. He wasn't being paid enough to intervene.
The next morning, right in the middle of the room, was the most incredibly detailed statue of a rearing horse that Fallon had ever seen. It was huge! Easily life sized with a look of shear terror on its features. Fallon had never seen anything like it. On the base, it bore the mark of Brakefield, given the poor quality of his work overall, this statue was incredible! Fallon hadn't even known the man was a carver!
When Fallon asked about it later, the widow Blythe just shrugged. "I got that from a supplier as something of a final payment." She tapped her hand on the book she was reading, "If I'd been a bit faster, I might have even managed to make it real. Now I've got a useless statue to sell." She had shrugged and smiled strangely at Fallon, "Oh, well."
Fallon had moved the thing across the room, hung a tag on it, and didn't think about it much again. Until, that is, he heard that Brakefield was gone. No one had heard from him in days.
He shook the thoughts out of his head. At least I'm set for a while, he thought with a smile. In the last couple of weeks, he'd managed to get two months pay out of the old woman, though she didn't know about most of it. Of course, none of that money had gone to pay anyone he owed, save for the barkeep. He needed to get in to buy rounds for all of his friends, of course!
"There you are!" snapped the bitter woman at the top of the stairs. "I've been waiting for an hour! Get that thing up here this instant! And don't scratch the wood!"
Fallon rolled his eyes and came to a decision. It was time to move on.
He stepped through the front door of the store, noticing the room seemed darker than normal even with the lights on. He glanced at the widow Blythe, but almost recoiled. She had a disturbing dark look there. "Good evening, Fallon. Deliveries go okay?"
He glanced around. It didn't feel right in here. "Fine, ma'am," he said cautiously. "All delivered and the carts back to the owner." She nodded but said nothing. She also didn't make a move toward the cash register. She was supposed to pay him tonight. "Is something the matter?" he asked hesitantly.
She turned a page, and Fallon saw that she was looking at a ledger and not one of her odd books. "I'm short this month, Fallon. Very short."
He knew he'd been caught, but played it out to the hilt. "Business off?"
She shook her head, still not making eye contact. "Not at all, in fact its been the best in months since I was able to start making deliveries again." She looked up, her usually bright eyes dark as coal. "Odd coincidence, don't you think?"
Torn between fleeing and telling the truth, Fallon did a rare thing. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Blythe. I don't know·"
She sighed sadly, "I know, and I suppose I shouldn't have expected better." She turned a couple more pages back in the ledger, but didn't look at him. "There will be no more pay until we are even, understood?" she said simply.
"But how am I to eat?" he asked plaintively.
Her eyes narrowed. "I hope that you've got some of my money saved. If you return it now, all will be forgiven. If you don't repay your debt, I'll collect it in other ways."
Fallons mind was running at top speed. It was clear to him that he was caught pretty bad this time. It was time to move, maybe to Boston or Philadelphia. For now, just play along. "Of course, Mrs. Blythe. I will. I'll find another way to eat."
She nodded again, "See that you do. And don't try and leave without paying. I always collect my debts."
Fallon babbled some more apologies, then backed out of the store for the last time.
He turned and walked quickly away. He could be on the evening freight train to Philadelphia if he hurried. He'd be out of state before the old woman had any idea. He allowed himself a smile as he turned the corner by the music school. He still had a few bucks. He absentmindedly bumped a man on the sidewalk. He could always stop by the bar and buy a few...
"Mack! Look out!" screamed the man. Fallon looked up in time to see a rope flying out of the mans hands and a piano falling from the sky, blotting out all the light.
There was no pain as his life ended with a final dramatic chord. Fallon didn't even feel the weight of the smashed piano on his chest. In fact, he was getting lighter and lighter all the time, shucking off his crushed body and rising above the street. He saw the over eager crowd gathering around it, his blood staining the shoes of the workmen. Strangely, it didn't really bother him all that much.
His life of barely existing was over. He was free!
His perspective shifted as he rose above the buildings and into the vast sky. The world got brighter and brighter until all he could see was a tunnel of the purest white he had ever seen. He was filled with the love and beauty of that moment. It was wonderful! He was getting closer and closer to it with each passing moment.
Suddenly, the tunnel stopped getting closer. His body twisted a bit, and he had the sensation of something holding him back. It took him a second to place the feeling, as sensations of discomfort had faded the instant the piano hit him, but it was coming from his mouth of all places.
He reached up to try and pull away whatever it was holding him, but stopped when he saw his hand. It was molding into a new form! The fingers were pulling rapidly into his hand, his nails expanding as fast. Around his wrist, feathery hairs were sprouting. Good Lord! he screamed in his mind, It's a hoof!
He tried to scream into the tunnel for help, but nothing moved beyond the white light. He tried to run, but he couldn't get a grip on anything in the ethereal plane! There was only a slight sensation as the invisible bridle stretched to hold his new head and no wind to blow the tail that he felt handing over his rump. He tried to scream, but all that came out was a strangled whinny as the tunnel got further and further away.
The light faded all at once, and suddenly his nose was assaulted by the foul smell of the city. Rotted food, urine and horse droppings mingled together by a spring shower in a horrid stench. Fallon felt his head swimming, rolling it to the side as he felt his stomach turn, but something stopped it.
His eyes popped open. The street looked wrong, less distinct, and there was something between his eyes. He looked down to see the same hoof standing solidly on the ground. On impulse, he raised it slightly. Oh my God! I'm a horse!
"That's right, Mr. Fallon."
He turned his gaze to the sidewalk and was somehow not surprised to see the old woman standing there. He wanted to lunge at her, but simply couldn't. He stood as meek as a lamb while the woman he knew robbed him of his eternal reward stood there!
"I know what you're thinking, Fallon," she said with a small smile. "You want to cause me harm, but you can't. It's all part of the deal." She stepped over and ran a hand gently over his neck, "I must say that it was a fortunate accident. Fred Brakefield was going to be my steed, but I was too angry to grab his soul before it found the sanctity of Heaven. I managed to keep his body nicely preserved though," she said as she ran her fingers through his mane.
"I guess you weren't entirely worthless, I'd much rather you pay off your debts this way. Once they are clear, I'll let you return to the other side." She chuckled. "Of course, after I have to feed and house you, it'll take a while to pay me back. I think you owe a great number of people money, too. They deserve to be paid. I'll see to that, but you owe me further. It should just take a few years, maybe a decade." She smiled more broadly, "I'm sure no more than twenty years."
Fallon stood meekly, feeling week in the knees. He wanted just to run away, take his chances as a horse in the wild, but couldn't! He was trapped!
Blythe gave him a final couple of pats and stepped back. "I told you, Mr. Fallon. I always collect my debts."
A Debt Unpaid copyright 2000 by Brian Eirik Coe.
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