Heart and Hooves: An Urban Fantasy
by AJ

Chapter 1

The first time I saw him, it was midsummer and I was working the streets up on the Hill. I was wearing my 'work clothes'—a clingy nylon tee-shirt so you could see the rings in my nips, tight jeans ripped off about midthigh, a wide, black leather, silver-spiked dog collar around my neck. I was working at projecting an air of debauched innocence (which isn’t easy—try it and see). Since I was standing right outside the hardest leather bar in town, I was getting lots of looks from the leathermen walking in and out of the bar—appropriately called “The Hellhole.” I was pretty sure someone was going to engage my services soon, and I’d be able to eat for a while afterward, so I was in a pretty good mood.

He wasn’t much to look at: short, kinda chubby, amiable face—you know the type: the kind you could take home to Mom and Dad and expect that they’d like him. Normally not the kind I’d look at twice, ‘cause I don’t have much to do with nice people anymore.

The thing that caught my attention was that he set my fey-dar off like crazy. Yeah, I know all about ‘gaydar,’ and I got that in spades too. But it’s nothing compared to how far away I can spot one of the Kin…and I usually make tracks outta there when I do. One thing I don’t need is to attract the attention of some Unseelie bastard and have him make my life even more miserable just because he can. Nope, I swore off hanging with any of the fey a long time ago. I’m way over that.

So this guy is strolling up the street, and I’m trying to be really inconspicuous, projecting “I’m not here” like crazy, which usually works. But when this guy draws even with me, he looks over and smiles a little and nods at me, like he’s known I was there the whole time. That was when I knew he was one of the really old ones…Shit! Just my luck. I knew I’d been spotted, and it was only a matter of time before I ran into him again. I hoped I had enough smoke to survive the encounter. I knew what the old ones are like—been there, done that, barely escaped with my skin intact… most of it, anyway.

Just then one of the big dudes that had been eyeing me up and down as he went into the bar a bit ago re-emerged, and headed my way. I wiped the worry off my face—tricks don’t like to see a worried look, ‘cause then they think you got “issues” and that puts most of ‘em right off. He leaned up against the wall next to me and lit a cigarette, not even looking at me.

“Hey boy, how much?”

“I ain’t cheap man, but I play hard…and I don’t use a safeword.”

He took a drag on his cigarette and blew out a big cloud of blue smoke. I could see it curling in the air where the streetlight shone through it.

“I think I’ve heard of you, boy…been making the rounds, haven’t you? Here’s the deal: I get you all night, and I do whatever I want. I pay you a grand. We got a deal?”

I shrugged, acting nonchalant. “Yeah, that works. Where you want me?”

“See that black pickup over there in the pay lot? There’s a big dog kennel in the back. I’m going to get another beer, and when I come out, I want to find you in that dog kennel. Naked. Got it?”

“Yeah, got it. In the dog kennel. I’ll be waiting.”

“Don’t jerk me around, boy—I have a lot of friends in this town.”

“I wouldn’t, Sir. I’ll be waiting for you.” I hit just the right notes of nervousness and servility…sometimes I amaze myself. I won’t bore you with the details of that night—let’s just say that dude was tough and mean, and he liked edge-work. He’d done quite a bit of creative carving on me when he let me out of the dog kennel the next morning, right back on the Hill, and I was sporting a brand new PA that I hadn’t really wanted. But at least he was honest, and I had a roll of hundreds in my pocket, and a promise that he’d tell some of his friends about me. I kissed his boots just before I drug myself off to the bus for a ride back to my place on the shore of Lake Washington. All part of the act, you know…

The bus ground to a halt at my stop, waking me out a light nap. I stumbled to the front of the bus, and the driver flashed me a concerned look.

“Hey, you ok, kid?”

“Yeah, I’m good. Just a long, hard night, dude.” I gave him a weary smile, ‘cause it’s one of the things I love about living in Seattle—people ask if you’re ok, and even mean it sometimes.

When I’m not out doing no good, I hang in this tiny little postage stamp park right on the shore of the lake. Almost nobody knows about it, and even fewer go there when the weather is anything but hot and sunny—which is most of the time. So I have the place all to myself mostly, and that suits me just fine. The folk that live in the houses adjoining the park don’t pay much attention to what happens in there as long as it doesn’t intrude, and I’m a pretty quiet guy, so it’s no problem.

I was definitely ready for a little chill time. My back hurt hideously, and a lot of the cuts back there were still oozing, I could tell. My tee-shirt was shot to hell…better do some shopping with that K the dude gave me, too. But right then I was too tired to think about it much. I just wanted to get in the water and stop hurting.

I peeled down all the way and left my clothes lying on the bank. I walked out into the lake, feeling the weeds and mud with my toes…it felt good, like home. The cold water stung like hell in the cuts, but I ignored that, ‘cause it was all gonna go away in a moment. When I was out about ten feet, and the water was up to my lower lip, I waited for just a moment, anticipating the rush of energy and the cessation of pain I knew was coming…then I took a deep breath and changed.

Thank gods the change is painless. It’s quick too, which is pretty handy. One moment I’m a short, dark haired dude, and the next I’m a wicked big horse, lying low in the water. The horse is a lot meaner and trickier than when I’m a guy…the first impulse I felt after I changed was to go find that dude from last night and stomp him into road kill, but I controlled that pretty easily. I’ve had a lot of practice controlling those kinds of thoughts—I suppose there are a lot of people out there that deserve to be turned into a big, sticky pizza, but I don’t need the trouble that sort of thing brings.

For those of you who are a little puzzled at this point, I guess I’ll explain. Pay attention, cause I’m only going to tell you about this once, ok? I’m a Pooka. I didn’t know that the first time I changed, and I freaked out over it, but I’m used to it now. After I changed back that first time, I looked on the Internet at the library and found out what I was…who knew? Back then, I was just a really scared kid who thought he was going to drown himself in the lake, and all of a sudden I’m this enormous, powerful horse. It was a lot to absorb.

Yeah, ok…so drowning myself didn’t work out quite the way I had imagined it would. See, when I was real little, I was found wandering in a park up just north of the U-district: Cowan park, actually. DSHS found me a place to stay with a really cool couple in Leschi. I won’t tell you their names, but the man was a professor at the U, and the wife ran a catering business. They were both cool as shit—had a big house next to the lake, got me into school, all the good stuff. But they had this son, Dan. How it is that two such cool people could make a mean shit like him, I’ll never know. I was there about three months, doing really good and all, when he started messing with me. He told me all older guys did it to little boys, and I was naïve as hell, so what did I know? I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. When I threatened to tell the parents, he just laughed and told me to go ahead—they already knew and thought it was fine. Dude seriously fucked with my head but good. I won’t go into the details, ‘cause they make me antsy when I’m the horse…like I want to go out and kill something.

So after about a year, I got tired of it all, and I couldn’t see any way to get out of it, so I decided to go for a really long swim in the lake, if you see what I mean. I left a little note in my mom’s sock drawer, telling her goodbye and all…they were always cool to me, even if they did let their son have his way with me (which, of course, was a lie. But I didn’t know that then). Then I trudged down to the dock, stripped off all my clothes, ‘cause I didn’t want to get ‘em wet and muddy, and walked out into the lake. I ducked under and held my breath till I couldn’t hold it any more…when I felt this huge surge of energy and suddenly I was standing there in the water up to my belly, and I was this enormous black horse. It was a little startling.

I didn’t go back. I just spent a lot of time being the horse at first…it felt good to be strong and tricky, I’ll admit. And time runs differently when I’m the horse…doesn’t mean as much, I guess.

So now I’m sixteen, and I’m making my way doing what I know best. It’s not much, but I’m good at it, and who cares what happens to me, anyway? I’m just street trash, for real. And if I have a little secret that nobody knows, all the better.