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11 November 2017 @ 06:36 am
_Stone_ part 4  

Chapter Six


Sunday night

A solid night's sleep, and another day off my feet, and I was back in working order. I waited until twilight, then trotted most of the way to the Walmart we'd passed after we'd gotten off the freeway. Then I ducked behind a sign and triggered the change.

Deep breathing to help fuel the energy used, a mindset of half self-hypnosis to control the pain . . . it only took about five minutes, but it always felt longer. I pulled the "collar" over my head and unrolled and untwisted a pair of black running shorts. Checked the pocket. A plastic bag with my drivers license, social security card, an ATM card to an account that was down to fifty dollars and, this time, almost two hundred dollars in cash.

Everything else I own is in the trunk of my car back in Albuquerque.

So. Time to shop.

Walmart, being what they are, late night shoppers are infamous for the odd clothing their customers wear. My bare chest and bare feet barely raised an eyebrow.

Two tee shirts, two pairs of jeans, a packet of tighty-whiteys, socks, running shoes. All cheap generics. $75 and I was ready to rejoin human society.

Well, maybe tomorrow morning, after another good night's sleep. And I'd probably have to sleep on the Kovac's patio in dog form until I find a job and get my first paycheck.

I walked back to the Kovac's in human form, to get the muscles and tendons all stretched out properly. Almost three days in a sort-of-dog-form had let everything get hard and solidly into the size and shape of a dog. I really needed to spend more time human . . . and change regularly. I'd been slow and stiff to change, out in the desert.

Damn near got myself killed.

At least most of them had left once they had me tied up to that post.

"You kids take care of him. And clean up the mess." The oldest man had said. He'd left just two human-forms and two dog-forms arguing about how inventive they ought to be—and whether they freaking well ought to eat me!

The human shaped ones had sent the doggish ones off to collect firewood, and started dancing and . . . praying. Singing maybe. They'd raised . . . dust. It was only dust. And maybe they'd drugged me. It wasn't glowing. It wasn't! I'd already started changing, slipped my paws out of the ropes, and gotten most of the way out of my binding clothes before one of the men turned around and saw me.

I'd hoped to sneak away, run for it . . .

I shuddered, remembering the taste of blood in my mouth. Shut down the memory. I'd avoid Albuquerque. I'd escaped. They'd never find me again. I could live like a normal man.

I hope!

I got all the price tags and such off my new clothes and hid them in the bushes that filled the narrow side yard.

Then I rolled up my shorts, clipped on the dog tags and pulled it over my head and changed.

Laid down on my rug on the patio and snoozed.


Monday morning I alternately trotted and galloped along with Rachel. Exercise for her, learning the neighborhood for me.

Then they closed me in the laundry room so I wouldn't wander off while they went shopping.

I listened to them drive away before I changed. A quick shower would be good . . . I found a linen closet, and some towels that showed a bit of wear at the back and used Rachel's bathroom. I hesitated, then used Rachel's toothbrush.

Must not have bad breath for the job interviews!

And deodorant! I hope Rachel never finds out.

I looked carefully for peeping neighbors before I streaked for the bushes where I'd hidden my new clothes. This skinny unkempt space between house and fence was going to be handy. I hung my towel on a low branch to dry. Then it was time for a hike.

First a cheap tosser phone and set it up with a memorized credit card number. I wonder where my card is? I left my clothes and wallet behind in the running fight with the dog forms . . . That's going to be a problem. But nothing I can do about it until I have a paycheck and an address they can send a replacement to.

I filled out applications at three stores, and on the way out of the hardware store picked up a quick gig loading and unloading lumber for a nice lady who paid me twenty bucks and dropped me off at a corner store two blocks from home. Well, Rachel's home.

Uh, oh, cars in the driveway. I doubled back to the convenience store, bought deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste . . . Then I changed in the bathroom. Trotted out on all fours with my collar back on, carrying everything else rolled inside the jeans. Shoes dangling, laces tying the package shut.

I ignored the "Hey!" from the clerk, shoved the door open and trotted away. I could hear Rachel calling me . . . I waited for silence and peeked around a corner and spotted her walking inside. I bolted down the street and jumped the fence into the bushes. Buried my clothes in dry leaves, then emerged, stretching and yawning.

"There you are! Good grief, you have got to be the laziest hound dog in existence. And how you got out of the house, I have no idea!"

I gave her my best doggy grin and wagged my tail and got, drat, doggie treats, instead of left overs. Urf, and she'd bought a big bag of dog food . . . Well, I can deal with it for a few weeks.

So I snoozed on a rug on the back porch, and in the morning I cleaned up under the facet, dressed . . . and answered my phone. By noon the nice lady in the back office of the hardware store had hired me and I had acquired the purple shirt of a properly dressed employee of Handyman Central. Embroidered name tag ordered. All costs to come out of his first paycheck. "You can wear your jeans today, but you'll need to get khakis before you come to work tomorrow."

Then I had to hunt down an Allen Burton, my boss. Nice older guy, confident and friendly.

"So, lots of experience in other hardware stores, eh? I see you've moved around a bit."

Oh, guess he saw my application.

"Well, this is Jose Ortiz. You're going to follow him around and see how this store does things. Do what he tells you to do."

Jose grinned. "Pale palmaditas en la cabeza y frota tu barriga."

I pat my head and rubbed my stomach.

They both laughed and Mr. Burton waved us out.

I worked happily until closing time.

And hesitated . . . Only two miles to the Kovac's home . . . free food and with luck I can use the shower before I go to work tomorrow . . . so long as I don't have to shock some poor vet.

I found a dark corner to change and trotted home. Got scolded, and shoved in the laundry room with a bowl of dog food and a bowl of water.