Witches, shifters and ancient curses, such is life on the Shifting Sands.
A woman's wrath is bad, but a witch's wrath is hell on earth. No one knows this better than the six men of Shifting Sands Ranch. When the owner's Chinese witch of a wife abandons him and the ranch, she takes one of the cowboys and leaves behind a curse that dooms the remaining inhabitants to a life that is anything but normal. Now, every month when the moon comes full, each man takes on the form of an animal. Witches, shifters and ancient curses, such is life on the Shifting Sands.
The clack of insanely high-heeled-and insanely expensive-shoes bounced off the varnished wood slats of the walls in the upstairs hall. "You'll be sorry!" Yi's grasp of English had grown in the past year, but when she was angry, the Chinese accent kicked back in. Add in a flurry of pure Chinese and Daniel had reason to be wary of the little spitfire he'd married.
Stupidest thing he'd ever done. He still didn't know what had ever come over him.
"Yi, damn it, get back here!" Her heels smacked on the wood staircase. Damn, how could such a little woman move so damn fast? His legs were twice as long as hers and he couldn't catch up.
"You fucktard," she screeched back, filling the house with the sound of her fury. When the hell had she started using that word? He'd only ever heard Russell and Jud use it before. "I've had enough of you!"
"Yi!" he bellowed, certain the cows in the lower forty could hear her. Did the little drama queen have to involve everyone in their fight?
The answer, he knew, was yes.
He reached the arch leading from hall to dining room to find Yi standing at the end of the long, heavy table, hands clawed, pretty face twisted into the ugliest sneer he'd ever seen her wear. He cursed when he saw Judson, Mike and Cy sitting at the table, staring at her in shock. Half-eaten dinners sat before Mike and Cy, hat-hair telling him they'd only recently come in. Jud stood just inside the kitchen door, apron slung around his waist, a full bowl of mashed potatoes held before him.
"All of you! Gay, country faggots!" She screeched, whipping a red-taloned finger out to gesture at them. "You're not real men at all! I've had enough of you. You don't want me? I don't want you! I show you!"
"Yi, calm down. Let's go back upstairs and talk..."
A wordless shriek burst from Yi, a far louder sound than it seemed a small, slender throat should make, then she spun and sped through the far door.
As always, Daniel had to pause a moment, completely dumbfounded by the actions of the stranger he'd married just six months ago.
The three men in the dining room shared his moment of shock, then turned as one to gape at him.
The sound of the front door opening and the screen door slamming against the outside wall got him going again. Cursing, he stormed around the far end of the table and headed out after her. "Yi! You get back here!"
"No! I leaving you pansy-asses behind."
The sound of that sentence in her broken accent nearly stopped him. But it wouldn't do to laugh at her now. It'd just piss her off more. He burst through the screen door and onto the porch that circled the entire house, stomping to the corner toward the carport. "Where do you think you're going?"
Yi was just flitting down the steps toward her shiny white BMW. It had been the sight of the expensive little tin can he'd bought her, packed to the gills with the designer luggage she'd insisted on for the shopping trip that passed for their honeymoon, that had sent him upstairs after her in the first place. "I'm leaving." She glanced at him, stuck out her tongue and flipped him off for good measure.
Again, if he wasn't so pissed, he'd have died laughing. "You can't leave."
"Oh no?" Having reached the door of her car, she spun, long black hair spilling down her shoulders. "You watch me. You bastard!"
She'd become entirely too fond of that word. "Yi, come back here and..."
Ignoring him, she turned toward the back of the house, opening that brightly painted little mouth. "Russell!"
Russell? Whatever words he might have been about to say rushed out of his head as his brain tried to fathom what she was up to now. She thought too damn fast for him, no doubt about that, and he couldn't figure out what Russell had to do with her leaving.
The boy rounded the back of the house wearing his best jeans, his fancy boots and a brand-spanking new shirt and hat. Neither the black shirt nor the black hat went with the boy's freckled skin, in Daniel's opinion, but they did set off his flaming orange curls like they were fire spilling from behind his ears.
Daniel gripped the railing of the porch, watching the boy scuttle to the driver's side of Yi's car. Behind Daniel, the screen door opened and took long enough to shut that he knew all three men from inside had followed him out. But he couldn't bother looking behind him. Cold rage or icy fear-didn't really matter which-froze him on the spot. "Boy, what do you think you're doing?"
Yi planted her feet on the pavement beside the BMW's passenger door. "He's not a boy. He's a man. He's the only man here!" Some of her anger must be cooling because her English was clearer.
Suspicion wound a hard knot in Daniel's gut. "Russell." Yes, the boy was well into his twenties but Daniel had known him since he was a pup. There was no way he was leaving without an explanation. "Look at me."
Russell hesitated, head still down, fingers almost touching the handle of the driver's side door.
"Don't listen to him." Yi snapped her fingers. "Get in the car."
Wincing, Russell gripped the door handle.
"Russell, boy! You look at me and tell me what you think you're doing!"
"He's going with me, you barren old man!" Yi stated triumphantly, opening the passenger's door as Russell opened the driver's door.
Rage pushed Daniel away from the railing, propelling him toward the steps. "The hell he is!"
"No!" Mike's boots echoed right behind Daniel's.
"What the fuck?" This from Cy, right in line.
Daniel scowled deeper, hating to have the scene witnessed, but more intent on apprehending Russell. "Boy, you'd better explain."
Yi's command froze Daniel in his tracks, halfway across the pavement between the house and the car. Scowling, he faced her, not sure what pissed him off the most: Russell, her attitude or the fact that his damn feet wouldn't move.
Slowly, Yi's sneer turned into a spiteful smile. "He's going with me." Her voice was steady and low, her porcelain skin nearly translucent in the light of the setting sun. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel saw Ben and Gordy, the last of the hands who lived on the ranch, come around the corner of the barn but he couldn't take his eyes off a thick lock of Yi's silky black hair puffing up on a breath of wind to caress her cheek.
Wait, there wasn't any wind.
"Yi." His voice sounded strange, far away. He cleared his throat and tried again, sounding only a little more normal. "What's going on?"
Her smile hitched a bit more at the corners. "Russell, start the car."
Daniel's brows crowded his eyes as, on the outskirts of his vision, he saw Russell duck into the BMW and shut the door.
"You're no big, important man," Yi started. "When I heard you were a rancher, I thought you'd be a rich man like George Bush. Important. Powerful. You're not." She frowned. "I thought you'd have a place with hundreds of men, real men, cowboys." She sniffed. "Ha! Six men and only one of them worth anything. If I left him here, they'd turn him gay, too. I'm taking him before you make him a deviant, too."
Daniel would have responded to the direct attack but his lips didn't want to work.
Scrunching up her nose with a dismissive snort, Yi turned. "You," she pointed at Gordy, stopping him in his tracks, "and you," Ben stopped as well, "all of you!" she pointed at the men behind Daniel. "Perverted! Unnatural!"
The BMW purred to life as Russell started the engine.
She shook her head, putting on a sad frown. "You don't know what you've done. You don't know what I am!"
A strange tingle started in Daniel's shoulders. He shook them, reaching up to run a rough hand through his hair. Where the hell was his hat? And his feet still wouldn't move.
Yi's shoulders shook, the silk of her tank top shimmering in the golden sunset as she started to laugh. "I'm not what you think." Strange, her hair really did seem to be floating now. There still wasn't a breeze. "I could have been big help to you, made you something, but no. You reject me."
Daniel wanted to object. He didn't think he treated her bad. Still didn't know why he'd married her, but he'd been as decent a husband as he could. He bought her nearly everything she asked for, had started the house renovations she'd harped on. What more was he expected to do? He tried to open his mouth to say it but it was hard to talk when his skin was buzzing.
She shook her head, almost as though she knew what he was thinking. "It's too late. I'm done with you. And I curse you." She literally spat on the ground. No doubt about it, now her hair really was floating, strands of it nearly straight up from her head. Still, there was no wind.
Daniel tried to glance around, to see if he could figure out what was going on, but he couldn't move. That tingle in his shoulders had moved up and down and now every bit of his skin was crawling.
"I curse you, all of you, to live with your true natures." Yi tipped her head back, arms spread, voice raised in a strange sing-song, her shrill voice seeping into his skin and making his eyeballs ring. A stream of Chinese-he never could remember which dialect she spoke-spilled from her lips, twisting them in ways that didn't seem quite natural. Maybe that wasn't Chinese? Then she lowered her face to look at him again. Her skin really did look like it was glowing. "You live with the truth of yourselves on this land you love so much. You're stuck on it until you each find someone who can live with what you are!"
A part of Daniel decided that, no, the last few sentences of what Yi said wasn't in English. That part wondered why he could understand it. Another part of him wondered why the hell he couldn't move and why his skin felt like millions of ants were crawling underneath it.
Laughing, Yi lowered herself into the passenger seat. Delicately, taking her time, she folded her shapely legs into the car and smoothed her skirt out over her knees. Somehow, none of that hair got trapped in the door when she shut it. "Goodbye, Daniel." She waved like a beauty queen, even blowing him a kiss as Russell started down the drive. "Enjoy yourself! Y'all." Cackling, she pulled back into the car and continued to laugh as Russell drove off.
Daniel could only stare at the spot where the little white car had been, could only track the retreating vehicle out of the corner of his eyes. What the hell...?
Motes of dust danced in the air about his motionless form. No, not dust, too colorful for that. Too thick. His nostrils flared, panicked for a moment that he might not be able to breathe. But he drew air into his lungs just fine, drew in the colored dust. It filled his head, tickling the inside of his skull.
Something thudded softly on the porch behind him, followed by a tiny rodent squeal. A rooster squawked to his right, far away from where any chicken had been just now. He managed to roll his eyes to the side just in time to see Gordy disappear. Disappear?! No, wait... Ho-lee shit! The shirt and jeans Gordy'd been wearing ripped as a big ole black bull expanded out of Gordy's body. Gordy just kind of grew and re-shaped and, bang, there was the bull with the tatters of Gordy's shirt on its humped back. The bull stood with legs splayed, staring at the ground with big, dark eyes. A clatter of hooves on cement and a horse's confused bray came from where Ben had been standing.
Daniel would have looked, but that strange feeling eased down his neck just inside his skin, spreading down his chest and arms. He blinked and colors he'd never seen before replaced a lot of the normal ones around him. The ground was a rainbow of strangely muted reds and greens and the sky was an odd shade of lavender. His shoulders hunched on their own and he managed to twist his neck some. It felt weird. Like there was a lot more to his neck than there should have been. He blinked again. The barn across from him was shrinking. So was the bull that used to be Gordy. How the hell could he now see the roof of the barn?
Daniel blinked again, shaking his head. It felt funny. There was more to his nose than there should be, the crazy colors showing him a shining blue silver like the moonlight itself shone underneath his... snout? He jumped back, standing tall, staring at the top of the chimney of the house beside him. Shocked, he tried to raise his hands only to find that they weren't quite long enough to reach his face. He bent his neck to find there was a whole hell of a lot more of it. And his hand...was that his hand? It only had three big fingers and a thumb, with big talons. Turning his palm down, he stared in wonder at the scales that covered his hand, a hand that was a shape he didn't have. A shape he'd seen...where?
On that crazy painting Yi mounted in the main room of the house. The one with the twelve animals in it, though one of them sure wasn't a real animal. It was a dragon.
What the hell...he tried to say the words, his mouth opened, but the musical sounds that came out weren't any words his ears could recognize.
What had happened?