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Summer Bovinox
By Bob Stein (based on illustrations by Eala Dubh)

The sun was still just a faint glimmer of red behind the rolling hills, but it would be rising soon. Myron turned on the rental car's map light and checked his scribbled directions. Right 5.2 miles outside of Chirbury, then a left onto B4386 for 2.1 miles, and finally, right on Leigh Road for 2.9 miles. According to the odometer, he should be smack in the middle of Mitchell's Fold, Shropshire, Wales.

Climbing out of the tiny Fiat, he peered at the dark landscape for some kind of sign or marker. One of these dark mounds was Stapeley Hill, home of the ancient Celtic stone circle he was looking for. Not that he expected anything noteworthy - the old woman running his bed and breakfast had been quite clear that this was a 'local's only' attraction. In fact, she had only told him about it after hearing of his disappointment in Stonehenge.

Although it had looked impressive in photos, the famous landmark was actually only 12 feet tall and thirty feet across. And it was roped off so that you couldn't touch anything, with no visitors before dawn or after dark. Even when Stonehenge was open, the ancient structure was so crowded with tourists that he was more likely to commune with nature in a WalMart store.

OK, maybe it wasn't all that bad. A good part of his bad mood had been caused by the long trip back. Driving in Great Britain was a test of nerves and memory. The divided highways were easy enough, but a few accidental attempts to maneuver the busy roundabouts in the wrong direction had earned him blaring horns and shaking fists more than once. Happily, this early morning trek had been free of traffic almost the whole way.

Well, the cows were up, even if the farmers were not. He heard soft lowing from the grassy hills. Miles from any street lights, the stars were still twinkling in the pink-gray pre-dawn sky. He had to grin. Most of his friends would probably think he was nuts to have gotten up so early just to stand in the middle of an empty field. Of course, their idea of a great vacation was Vegas, or Disneyland. Noise, bright lights, and crowds of people. He shuddered. That was more his idea of Hell than a place to relax.

After a moment, Myron started walking up the larger of the hills. Since the stone ring was set up to work with the sun, it seemed logical that it would be on the highest point. There was supposed to be a public footpath leading to the ring, but until the sun rose he was probably going to have better luck just wandering around. He stopped a moment, considering going back for his camera, then decided there would not be enough light anyway. He could come back for it later.

Although it was the beginning of May, the morning air had a slight chill. Not enough to be uncomfortable, but he was grateful for his long-sleeve shirt and slacks. Sticking his hands in his pockets, he strolled over the soft ground, heading for the crest of the hill. The cattle were visible now, mostly gathered close to the top. Great. The ancient stones would be even harder to spot among dried cow patties.

Some of the huge animals turned to watch as he approached, and a couple actually plodded towards him to snuffle curiously from a dozen feet away. They probably weren't used to seeing humans wandering around the dark. There would be plenty of them here later on. That was another tidbit of information shared by his hostess. Some of the locals would gather on this spot at mid-day to celebrate the Festival of Beltaine.

The event honored some ancient Welsh deity that the old woman had referred to as "The Shining One." He was the god of healing and light, and had something to do with the welfare of sheep and cattle. Given Britain's recent epidemic of mad cow disease, it looked like Old Beli wasn't doing a very good job these days. Maybe that was why he didn't rate an early morning event.

As Myron had feared, any stone set into this hilltop were nearly invisible. He'd been hoping to find the center marker before sunrise, just to see if the ancient Celtic astronomers still had things lined up. It didn't really matter. He was content to stand here and watch the rural landscape come alive.

A sudden prod from behind startled him, and he turned to find one of the cows regarding him with huge, liquid eyes. She had only thebarest nubs of horns, with a thickly muscled body covered in golden brown and white fur. Although the animal was huge, he was amused rather than frightened by her attention. She snuffled at him, and then butted her head against him again, pushing him towards one of the larger clumps of cattle.

A little bewildered, but also curious, Myron stumbled ahead, only to have the cow nudge him again. The other animals seemed a bit nervous, opening their circle as he was pushed among them. Amusement quickly turned to annoyance. The first rays of the sun were breaking over the far hills, and he seriously doubted that the view would benefit from a border of bovine butts. Yet the animal kept shoving him, moving with him each time he tried to step out of the way.

The cattle had closed ranks again, and Myron felt a twinge of concern that made him feel silly. He could see the tabloids now. 'Yank Tourist Held Captive by Cows!' Make that, 'Yank Suffocated by Cows.' He wrinkled his nose as the combined odors of his audience assaulted his senses. Why the sudden increase in stink? His worst fears were confirmed when he glanced down. A large, grayish lump was directly in front of him. Major cow flop.

Then he looked closer. The surface was too regular, the edges too defined. Amazed, Myron looked around the hilltop and then back at the stone directly in front of him. This was the main marker! Grinning, he turned towards the horizon. The sun was dead center between two distant hills, sending a hard edge of light that was creeping towards him through the grass. Just then, the cow almost knocked him over with another hard shove that sent him stumbling forward. His right foot landed on the stone in perfect unison with the first ray of sunlight.

It was as if he had stepped on a land mine. A shock of pain and heat shot through his body and his legs jerked so violently that he literally flew backwards and landed in a heap on the dew-covered grass. He lay there for a few moments, literally stunned. It took a while to recover from the sudden and intense jolt, but he slowly realized that whatever the cause, the pain was gone.

What the Hell had happened? Myron raised up on one elbow and rubbed bleary eyes, still feeling a little disoriented and somehow bloated. He must have pinched a nerve or something when he stepped on the stone. The sensation had been awfully intense - hopefully nothing had been broken. Nothing hurt - actually, he felt oddly warm and content just lying in the thick grass.

It wasn't until he started to get up that he realized his shoes and socks had come off. And his shirt must have gotten twisted as he fell, for it was hanging open around his belly, the buttons popped off. God, he needed to go on a diet! Myron stared at his massive gut in dismay. English cooking must be really packing on the weight. He shook his head, trying to clear muddled thoughts. This didn't make sense. He'd been eating lighter than usual, not heavier.

He pushed himself up and managed to stand, though balance seemed a bit off. His left shoe was on the ground, but the right was nowhere to be found. As he leaned over to pick up the one loafer, he felt a cramping in his toes. Balancing awkwardly on one leg, he tried rubbing the spasm out - and stared as the toes pressed together, and then merged into two thicker lumps.

No. It wasn't possibly. He could see the main bones thickening, his foot stretching out. This was some allergic reaction to the grass. Or maybe some really weird bruising from hitting his foot on the rock. Yet even as he thought that, Myron realized that both feet were affected equally. And not just his feet. His entire body was swelling, gaining mass with each heartbeat. His pants were sliding down in the back, too small and too short. The fabric squeezed his legs with increasing pressure, and his ankles were jutting well below the cuffs. The right cuff wasn't even there anymore, just some tatters of blackened fabric.

Myron spun and stared at the stone. Sure enough, a scorched footprint was burned into the top, with bits of melted rubber and bits of leather that might have once been his other shoe. He closed his eyes, trying to clear this mad hallucination from his brain. Unfortunately, he could feel the pressure and pulling as he continued to swell, and grabbed automatically at his pants as they finally slipped off his butt.

His fingers couldn't quite grip the fabric, and the cause was quickly obvious. His hands were altering to match the swollen, thick lumps that had been his feet, no longer able to flex or grip. Although his rationale mind was still trying to deny the obvious, his eyes easily matched up the general shape with the cloven hooves of the cows around him. He was turning into a cow? Bewilderment mixed with his disbelief. There were cows all around him, dozens, maybe a hundred. What possible use would another bovine be?

The answer came in the form of intense warmth and swelling in his crotch. Myron gasped as his testicles and penis swelled suddenly, his lengthening member drawing up to his belly as a dark-furred sheath formed around it. God, it looked like he was carrying some small cannonballs between his legs!

Myron suddenly remembered the Festival of Beltaine, and realized that there probably WAS a deity involved. Beli, The Shining One. A quick glance around confirmed his immediate suspicion. The cattle watching him with increasing interest were all female. If there had been a bull for this herd, it must have died of old age, or perhaps been a victim of the Mad Cow disease slaughters. In either case, Old Beli had obviously decided to show Myron just how well an ancient god could look after the welfare of his charges.

Curiously, the knowledge was somehow comforting. Though he still hoped that this was all some insane delusion, the result of bashing his head on a rock when he fell, Myron felt his fear draining away. He was still bewildered as his body continued to transform, but those feeling were becoming based more on awe and amazement.

The seams of his pants finally gave way with a popping of stitches, revealing a long, ropy tail that swung loosely with a twitch of new muscles. His shirt actually shredded, fabric pulling apart over the barreling mass of his chest and back. It was getting hard to stand upright now, and he leaned forward precariously on fully formed hooves. The sensation was curious, like having his feet asleep. Hands and feet were numb, yet he could feel pressure, even coolness through them.

Up to now, his head had been mostly ignored by the forces reshaping his body. They rectified that oversight with a pulse of heat that thrust his lower face forward even as it sucked the back of his skull back into his thickening neck. He longed for a mirror, a still pond, but had only the flowing shape of his own shadow to follow the transformation. Pressure in his forehead eased as horns emerged, forming elegant black curves in the grass.

Finally, his mass was too much to hold up, and he fell forward onto thickly muscled forelegs, his hooves hitting the ground with a solid thud that seemed to reverberate through the air like the tone of a huge gong. Momentum threw him off balance, and his hind end twisted sideways and hit the ground. The position was uncomfortable, and he found himself rising with a lunge that came all too easily. Standing on all fours felt normal, but seemed to accelerate the process, as if the earth itself was fueling his change.

He felt his muzzle make a last push outwards, saw the shadow horns make a final outward curve. A sensation of mass, of incredible strength and virility washed over him, and for one terrifying moment, he felt the transforming heat touch his mind. However, when it faded, he realized that he, Myron, was still present and accounted for. Relief mixed with gradual awareness that his thoughts had not gone unaltered.

Odors, rich and varied, filled his nostrils. Grass, dirt, his own bullish sweat-urine scent, even a lingering trace of that marked his own lost humanity. Then his mind processed another, far more overpowering smell - the desire of a hundred cows combined into a single heady perfume that awakened new instincts and desires. Cows that pressed forward to welcome him, pulling off the scraps of clothing that still hung on his black-furred, powerful back. Cows that he felt a sudden and deep attachment to, a need to serve and protect.

One of the females pressed against his side, gazing into his eyes with obvious desire. Her scent was familiar, her markings known. This was the cow that had pushed him here, the one responsible for the loss of his humanity. He tried to summon a spark of anger, a faint glimmer of resentment. And was more than a little surprised to find nothing but gratitude.

Perhaps it was more of Beli's influence, a change to perception and thought that made the prospect of his new life acceptable. Insurance that the cows would not be short-changed by an unhappy bull. Still, as Myron tilted his head to regard the first of his bovine mates with bemused wonder, he found himself responding with a very deep and contented 'Mooo.'

The End