Sometimes a person comes across a moment in time that makes her stop and contemplate the life choices that got her where she is. I’m in the midst of such a moment myself walking across a field as I try to figure out how the heck one gets a goat out of an abandoned vehicle.
The only real choice I made, though, was in not complaining when my mom got custody of me after she divorced my dad ten years ago. I was only seven and Dad had spent at least half my life on business trips, so it seemed like the right call at the time. But then Mom met Hailey at a Bi-Pride event.
I was happy. Mom had been alone for years, and her finding love again seemed like something she really deserved. And they’ve always been super-cute together. I just wish that maybe Hailey was a little less… Hailey. Less the type of woman who thinks quitting her legal firm and moving to a farm in the middle of nowhere to raise goats is ever a good idea.
My first instinct when they told me about The Farm Plan was to call Dad and ask if I could live with him. I never actually asked though, because his wife answered the phone. I like her and could imagine happily living in her house, except for the fact that the house is filled with half-siblings. Or… Okay, “filled” is an overstatement. But there are three or them and they’re all under the age of five. As they all yelled in the background of the phone call, I realized I’d be better off spending my senior year of high school with the goats.
So I guess that was a second choice, but it was really just a repeat of the first one.
And, technically, I did chose to do as I was told when Mom told me to go fetch Lyle. Lyle’s the goat. He’s the big troublemaker in the herd, to the point that whenever something goes wrong we all claim it was Lyle’s fault, even when that something is it raining on a day we wanted to grill on or a traffic jam holding us up on the way home from a farmer’s market. But I kinda like Lyle, and he certainly seems to like me more than Mom and Hailey. The first time I spent the afternoon cleaning the barn, I saw him trying to dance to the Ramones. It was pretty much the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, so how could I not be charmed? Since then, I’ve given him a little more than his fair share of treats, so it’s no wonder the feeling is now mutual.
The goats all have trackers in their collars, so it wasn’t hard to find Lyle. And once I realized which field he was in, it really didn’t come as a surprise that he’d climbed into the rusty engine-less truck. I’ve never liked the truck, but the estimates for removing it were unexpectedly high and Hailey says it adds a certain je-ne-sais-que to our land. Sometimes I worry Hailey’s a little bit insane, but at least she’s insane in a mostly harmless way.
Lyle watches me as I approach the truck. He sits in the front seat peering out of the driver’s side window like he’s contemplating abandoning the farm and becoming a cab driver.
“Really, Lyle?” I ask. “Where do you think you’re goin?”
“Ideally?” he answers in an upper-class English accent. “London.”
My lips separate as I stare, desperately trying to come to terms with the fact that not only did a goat just speak to me, but told me he wants to go to the United Kingdom.
“The city in England,” he adds. “Not the town in Connecticut.”
“I figured,” I say dimly. Hailey’s sanity is clearly not the sanity I should have been worrying about. It would appear mine’s gone on vacation. “Besides, I think the one in Connecticut is called New London.”
“Ah, yes. You’re right.” He nods. “But either way, it wouldn’t be the London I need to get to.”
“Clearly,” I agree. Because if you’re going to lose your mind, you might as well do so agreeably. That’s what kept Alice going in Wonderland, wasn’t it? “But why do you need to go to London?”
“Because I live in London.”
“I’m not really a goat.”
I move my eyes slowly over him, noting the hooves and the horns and the fur. “You look like a goat.”
“Obviously,” he snaps. “But that doesn’t mean I am one.”
Okay… “So what are you, then? A were-goat?”
“Were-goat?” He shakes his goat-shaped head. “You yanks and your obsession with shapeshifters. No, I am not a were-goat. I am a wizard who was cursed into the form of a goat while on holiday.”
He narrows his beady goat eyes at me. “Not that it’s any of your business, but there was a misunderstanding wherein my girlfriend became erroneously convinced that I was cheating on her, at which point she cast a transformation spell.”
His sigh is deep, moving his whole body. “I don’t know. I actually think I’m a goat most of the time, and goats are not very good at keeping track of time. It was before you arrived, though.”
My eyes widen. “Yikes. So at least three months.”
He nods. “Yes. And it had been some time before that, so most likely I’ve lost at least half a year.” He leans against the window ledge, looking as miserable as a goat could possibly look. “And the worst part is that when I leave this truck, I may go back to believing I’m a goat again.”
“Why?” I look down the length of the truck. It’s old and rusty and barely holding itself together. “Is there something special about the truck?”
“Not really. Or not about this specific one. Anything with sufficient amounts of metal would work. It disrupts the magic, you see. Modern cars have too much plastic, though.”
“I see,” I claim, even though I don’t really. “So we need to figure out how to get you to England without you leaving the truck? But you can’t teleport because the truck disrupts magic.”
“That and because teleportation of living creatures is impossible.” He pauses. “Or it is if you want them to remain living, at any rate.”
“Well, I assume you want to arrive alive…” I frown. “And you can’t break the spell yourself, or you would have already.”
“Indeed.” He shifts, his nose sniffing at the air. “Did you know that goats are always hungry?”
“I suspected. I mean, they’re always eating…” I remember stuffing a granola bar into my jacket pocket. Taking it out, I unwrap it and offer it to Lyle.
“Thank you,” he says before inhaling it.
“Is your name really Lyle?”
“No. It’s Neville.”
“Like Neville Longbottom?” I blurt.
The glare I receive makes me realize why some people think the Devil is a goat. “You do not want to get me started on the subject of Harry Potter and the completely disrespectful approach to magic that horrid series takes.” He snorts. “And quidditch. Absolutely ridiculous. She took airball, put people on brooms rather than having them levitate like reasonable human beings, and then added something that when caught gives you fifty points. Fifty! In a game where three-four would be considered a high scoring match!”
“I did always wonder about the snitch,” I admit. “It seems unbalanced.”
We pause for a breath before moving on.
Neville tilts his head at me. “Have you ever tried to cast a spell?”
“Of course.” I smile. “What little kid doesn’t. I used to grab a stick and run around the playground yelling all sorts of spells at things.”
“That was play,” he says with an eye roll. “Have you given it a serious effort? And have you done it recently? Having magical abilities before puberty is nearly unheard of.”
“Oh. Then, no.” On the edge of the field is a section of trees. “Should I grab something to use as a wand?”
Neville’s eyes close as he takes a breath. “No. That’s not really something people do.”
“Sorry. I didn’t know.”
“No reason you should,” he tells me as opens his eyes again. “You have the aurora of a wizard about you, so I think it’s worth trying. Untrained, you probably can’t manage more than one casting a day, so we’re not going to experiment. I’m going to climb out of this vehicle. Then I need you to grab hold of me and think really hard about turning me back to my real form. Imagine it in as much detail as you can.”
“But I don’t know what you look like.”
“You’re not casting a transformation; you’re uncasting one. So don’t think about what I look like. Just think about me shedding my goat body and revealing the truth.”
That sounds a little less daunting, and I nod to show my understanding. “Alright. I’ll try. Do you want me to put you back in the truck if that doesn’t work?”
“If you can, then yes, please.” He takes a deep breath. Then another. And then he leaps through the window.
He takes a few steps, looking a little confused, then stops to regard me with a hopeful expression before bleating in the tone goats use to ask for treats. Guess that means he’s back to being goat-brained.
Slowly, so as not to startle him into running off, I get on my knees and wrap my arms around his neck. “Neville,” I whisper. “Be Neville.”
Lyle bleats uncomfortably and wiggles in an attempt to free himself. I hold tight though, turning my imagination into reaching inside the goat and trying to touch the heart of his essence. Against expectation, I feel a tingle along my skin.
“Be Neville,” I repeat, envisioning Lyle breaking open to release the human trapped in his form. The image is gorier than I anticipated, but I hold onto it as the tingly intensifies, growing first warm and then hot. I imagine the heat leaving me to wrap itself around Lyle and melt away his shape.
“Be Neville,” I say a third time.
The universe cracks.
Lyle expands and contracts, then finally settles into the form of a man standing on all fours.
“Neville?” I whisper.
He turns his head to give me a remarkably Lyle-esque look of exasperation. “Of course it’s Neville. Who else would I be?”
Laughing, I let go of him and fall back onto my rear in the grass. “And I really just did magic?”
His gaze softens a little. “You really did. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” I smile at him for a moment. And then I realize he’s completely naked. “Clothes,” I squeak. “You need clothes.”
“Oh.” He looks down at himself as though he can’t feel the air on his skin. “So I do.”
He stands up and I put all my energy into staring at his feet. Between one breath and the next, a pair of jeans appears and some canvas sneakers appear, at which point I allow myself to look up.
Neville is younger than I expected, probably on the same side of twenty as I am. He has soft brown hair that flops over hazel eyes, a pair of copper rimmed glasses, and a t-shirt featuring the cover of the Clash album London Calling. I wonder at the shirt…
Maybe I should leave it be, but I have to ask. “Are you wearing that because you like the Clash or because Lyle’s heard me playing classic punk tunes often enough for you to know that I like the Clash?”
He laughs and holds down a hand to help me up. “I own all of their albums on vinyl.”
His head cocks roguishly to the side. “The albums are in my room if you wish to verify their existence.”
Laughing, I shake my head. “I’m starting to see how you wound up as a goat.”
Without comment, Neville starts to stroll across the field with all the confidence of someone in a familiar park. I trot to catch up. “So… Am I a wizard?”
“Gods no!” He catches my look of disappointment at the outburst. “I mean, it takes more than talent. It also takes training.”
“Does it?” I ask. “Because no one trained me to break that curse.”
“Breaking a spell is easier than creating one, same way breaking a vase is easier than blowing the glass.”
We walk on for a few paces. “I could recommend you to my school,” he says. “As a first year, I shouldn’t have much say, but my grandfather is in charge to the place, so…”
I blink. “Schools of magic are real things?”
“Oh, yes. There are several in the United Kingdom, actually. My school, Hyde College, was opened by the first Queen Elizabeth and a fellow named John Dee.”
“That’s cool. I don’t think I could afford to go to college in England though.” I don’t have any idea how much a school of magic in another country costs, but my guess is that it’s considerably more than the public university I was expecting to end up at.
“I shouldn’t worry about that,” Neville tells me. “My family is quite wealthy and I fully expect my parents would be more than happy to cover your tuition in exchange for rescuing their baby boy.”
I blink. “Seriously?”
He nods. “Oh, yes.”
“Well, damn, Neville…”
“One thing though.” He turns to look down at me, the greens and browns seeming to dance in his eyes like flames. “I despise being called Neville. My mum’s the only one who uses that name. Everyone else calls me Nix.”
“Okay… Nix it is.”
I smile up at Nix, who grins down at me. My stomach gives a little twist as my heart assures me that, no, it wouldn’t be crazy to follow a boy across an ocean and study magic. Not crazy at all.
Above photo is by Irit Elazar Cohen and prints can be found in her Etsy shop.
It was offered as a prompt on my Wording Wednesday group on MeWe.