Richard realized he hadn't eaten since the morning. "I don't want to fight, either. We've never had a serious argument and I don't want to start. Let me take you to dinner, Mary. As an apology." He turned to face her.
"My dearest Richard, I will forgive anything if you feed me. Oh, yes, my uncle was here earlier."
"Here? How do you know?"
Mary rolled her shoulders. "I could sm... I could see there was a note on the door. It was addressed to you but I read it before joining you in bed." Richard noted she had the decency to blush at the admission. "He was very angry that I wasn't here. The note said he would return tomorrow and if I was missing again, there would be 'consequences'. His manservant was here with him. I... I suppose he was, anyway. He follows my uncle like a shadow."
"I can walk you home after dinner. I'll change your bandage and then bring you home."
Mary's voice was quiet. She looked down at her feet. "I don't want to go back home."
Richard sighed. "You have to, Mary. We'll talk about it after dinner. I don't want you withering away. May I have the honor of escorting you, Miss Havers?" He offered his arm to her.
"I should be delighted, sir." She flashed a shy smile before taking his arm.
After a few steps outside, Richard unhooked his arm. Although he attempted a few conversations, Mary was quiet the entire walk to the tavern.
"It seems Big Tom is busy tonight." Richard remarked. "I've seldom heard so many people at once."
Mary had her eyes closed. She was slowly shaking her head back and forth. "Too loud." She whispered. "Too loud."
Richard patted her arm. "It'll be all right, Mary. I'll be here."
The roar of laughter and drunken threats increased significantly when he opened the door. Large groups of rough men stood and sat at various tables. The serving girl met them as they entered. She had to lean close and yell to be heard over the noise.
"Bad night for dinner; the Vindictive is in port. Big Tom already had to throw out ten of her men." A shout for more drink brought her away from them.
"Perhaps a different place for the night, Mary?" Richard asked. "Mary? Are you all right?"
Mary was grinning but it was not a pleasant smile. The small hairs on Richard's neck stirred. She was looking around the room slowly, watching the men argue and fight.
"Mary?" He asked again.
"What? Oh, I'm fine. There's an empty space in the corner. We can sit there. I'll warn you that tonight your purse will be quite empty when I'm done eating."
They made their way to the small empty table, dodging fists, bodies and insults. Several men called out to Mary with varying degrees of offers. Richard was bristling with every comment but finally took action when a large man grabbed Mary around the waist. She danced out of his grasp but a piece of her gown was torn.
"Have you no decency, sir?!" Richard yelled.
The man stood, laughing. Richard had to look up at him - he was certainly taller than Richard and at least twenty stone. His arms were as big as Richard's leg. Mary stood behind Richard.
"Aye! I ha' more than decency for her!" He grabbed his crotch and pulled. His companions roared around him.
Richard started to take a step but Mary pulled him back. She eyed the bull male in front of her. "Why, sir, I'm surprised you know where to find your manhood. I would have thought one of your mates would have it by now. Perhaps as a small toy to bring out for pleasure." The man's face turned an ugly purple color at the insult. His friends laughed even harder. Several of them cheered Mary on.
After they were seated, Richard studied Mary's face. She was flushed and still grinning at everyone around her. Her teeth are showing. That's what's different. "Where did you learn to talk like that, Mary?"
She laughed at him. "Here and there, Richard. Don't you ever listen to people talk around you?"
"Yes, but... But generally it's better company than this."
Mary grabbed his hand and squeezed. He winced at her strength. "You can't be coddled your whole life, Richard. If your back is too straight, it will snap at the smallest thing. Enjoy yourself more."
A seaman stopped by their table to drop a huge cup of beer in front of Mary. His accent was too thick to understand but he seemed to be encouraging Mary. He walked away laughing with his belly shaking.
Richard reached for the drink but Mary's hand slammed down against his own. He gasped at the pain. Where does she find the strength for this? Was she always this strong? He wondered.
"I believe that's my beer, Richard. I'm certain Big Tom would be happy to get one for you."
"Mary, I really don't think..."
"No, you often don't think. That's your problem, Richard."
Richard watched his gentle Mary pick up the beer, take a gulp and then slam the tankard back down. "Why are you doing this, Mary? Who are you now?"
She glared at him. "Doing what, Richard?"
He was about to answer her when a large fist crashed down through their table. Richard scrambled away from the ruin. The man Mary insulted was standing by their table, swaying slightly. He looked more drunk than he had earlier. Mary stood near the wall, drenched in beer.
"YOU WHORE!" The man yelled. "I'll show you my manhood! I'll shove it up your loose CUNT and watch you squeal from it!"
Richard stared in silent amazement as Mary leaped at the man. She slammed into his chest, sending both of them tumbling along the ground. A ragged cheer went up but Richard couldn't tell who for. When they were finished rolling, Mary was on top of the man. Richard winced when the man swung his fist at Mary's face but Mary ducked and then grabbed the arm. She jerked and Richard heard a bone snap. The man screamed shrilly.
"Mary!" Richard shouted. He tried to make his way to her but other crewmates were blocking his path. "Mary!"
He could barely see through the mass of bodies in front of him. The large man was on his stomach now. Mary was still on top but she had her arms around the man's neck. Her face was next to the man's ear and he could see her mouth moving. When she was done talking to him, she stood. The man rolled onto his back and seemed about to stand again but Mary's foot struck out, smashing the man's crotch. The man wailed, clutching his one good arm to his broken manhood. Richard could make out a dark stain spreading through the man's trousers. He hoped it was piss and not blood.
The crowd parted as Mary walked back to Richard. Several clapped her on the back as she passed and still others shook her hand. She laughed with them. She's enjoying this. God, what has happened to my Mary?
"Richard! Did you see that? I don't think he'll be bothering us again tonight. I'll need another beer!" She laughed again. Her face was flushed from the exertion and she was rubbing her left arm over and over.
"You'll have no such thing! I've never seen such barbaric behavior before! I'm taking you home right now, Mary."
"I haven't eaten anything and I'm still sober, Richard. Why on earth would I go home now? Let's find a new table and eat. By an open window or I'll be stripping next!" She was scratching her left arm now, dragging her fingernails against the sleeve of her soaked gown over and over. She turned to find a new table.
"Mary." When she didn't turn to him, Richard grabbed her shoulder and pulled. "Mary!"
"What, Richard?!" She yelled.
"God's sake, Mary. You're bleeding." Richard pointed at her left arm. The sleeve was ripped and tinged with blood.
"I... What..." Sweat stood out against her forehead. "What's happened, Richard?"
"We need to get you outside in the cool air. Come with me." He grabbed her wrist and pulled her to the exit.
She was still scratching her arm when they were outside. "Mary, stop. Stop scratching."
"I... I can't... The itching. It's insane. Richard, I... Ohhhh..." She moaned. "R... Richard... something's wrong. I fear I may do harm to myself. I can't... I can't..."
Richard pulled her to a nearby carriage. A middle aged gentleman was seated in the driver's seat, smoking a pipe.
"Sir! I'd like to hire your carriage."
The man looked at Richard over his pipe. "Can't. Waitin' for someone else."
"I'll pay double. Please, my... my friend is sickly. I need to get her to the asylum. I'll pay triple. Please!"
The driver pondered for a moment before nodding his head. "Mind the inside. They'll take damages out of my skin."
"Thank you. You're a good Christian man. The asylum please, and hurry."
The carriage sped off when they were both inside. Richard held Mary against him, his arms around her upper body. She shook in his embrace. Her skin burned with fever and her eyelids flickered open and closed. She twisted against him, moaning over and over.
"Shhh, Mary. I'll help you soon. Shhhhh..."
Mary hugged Richard's body tightly and he cried out in pain. Breathing was difficult but he forced each breath while he stroked her back. He could do nothing to make her stop moving. He could feel her muscles tightening and relaxing, over and over beneath his hands. He'd sat through many of her fever spells but this was the first time he'd seen her do this.
"Pray with me, Mary." He told her. When she didn't respond, he began the Lord's Prayer and repeated it over and over until the carriage stopped. He paid the driver more than three times the fee and then released him. The walk to the asylum's entrance was difficult and at one point Richard had to drag Mary along. Inside, he found a derelict wheelchair to sit her in. He finally had to use straps to contain her when she wouldn't sit still.
Richard wheeled Mary to the women's section of the asylum. Pale moonlight from the slightly waning moon gave him enough light to see the path. He stopped at the first room he found and wheeled Mary inside. The room was empty except for a molding mattress in the corner. The single window was barred and the door was heavy iron.
"I'm sorry, Mary. This is not the best place but I have more equipment here to help you. I'll get you lying down and then prepare some medicines that sh..."
Mary jerked her arms, snapping the leather straps on the wheelchair. She fell forward out of the chair onto the dirty stone floor.
The room spun. Richard found himself on the ground with Mary on top of him. His mind couldn't piece together what happened to cause him to be on the ground. He tried to move but Mary was holding him down. Her shoulders jumped over and over beneath her torn gown. She was rubbing her face against his jaw over and over.
"Mary, get off. I need to help you." He pushed again but stopped when she growled at him. The musky odor from the night before filled his nose and he could feel his erection grow, pressing against his pants. Mary licked his neck slowly, savoring the taste. She rubbed her whole body against his own, up and down. He could feel her breasts rubbing against his chest.
"Rrrrrrichard..." She moaned in his ear.
Richard found himself having a hard time concentrating. The smell coming from Mary filled his brain and all he could think was how much he wanted Mary. No. He told himself. NO!
He pushed with his entire body, taking Mary by surprise. She landed against the other wall, rolled and came up on her hands and knees. Richard was shocked to see her face. She had drool running down the sides of her mouth and her lips were pulled tight against her teeth. Moonlight shined off of her eyes. Mary watched Richard for a moment and then slowly turned around. Still on her hands and knees, she lowered her upper body and raised her hips. She moaned again. "Rrrrrrriiichard... please..." Richard stood. He wanted nothing more than to run to her, to join in her animal passions.
He ran out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him. A key was still in the keyhole and Richard turned it just in time for something to slam against the door.
Richard pressed himself against the wall opposite the door. Another slam against the door caused light dust to shower to the ground.
He heard Mary's voice again. She was quiet the but words didn't sound right coming from her mouth. "Rrrrrrriiichaaaard... preeessshe... preeeeeeeeesshe... don'..."
He called to her through the door. "Mary! I'll... I'll find something to help. Just... just wait until this passes. I'll find something."
"Rrrichaard... love... you..."
"Oh, God. Mary. I'm so sorry, Mary."
The door shook again. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUHHHWWWWWWLLLLL!"
Richard covered his ears at the noise. When he took his hands away he could hear a cracking noise followed by grunts. He got up and cautiously made his way to the door. A small window set into the door let him see inside. He gasped at the scene.
Mary was completely naked and on her knees with her upper body tucked into a ball. Her eyes were clenched shut and sweat covered her whole body. She was growing. He watched in amazement as her skin moved her body. Flaccid skin grew out from her lower back, only to be filled out with a popping sound. As he watched, a tail grew from her spine. Dark brown hair grew down from her neck to the new appendage.
She screamed again. Her mouth broke and elongated, cracking over and over. Thick hair was sprouting over her entire back now.
Richard pushed himself away to throw up on the floor next to the door.
Oh, Mary. Christ in Heaven, what's wrong with you?!
Mary howled, long and loud. Richard sat against the wall, curled up in a ball. His mind raced but nothing made sense. He listened to the noises coming from the cell and couldn't bring himself to look. When she howled again, he ran blindly away from her.
Briefly, he considered going home but at this time of night the journey would be treacherous. The door will hold her. It will. He assured himself. I just need time to think. Time to understand this. To understand what's happened to her.
He was in the men's common room when he realized how quiet the asylum was at the moment. After Mary's screaming and the horrendous crashing noise the silence was almost unnatural. Richard collapsed into an old chair by a large bay window. The pale moonlight and his own night-adjusted eyes let him see just how much his hands were shaking from his ordeal. He hugged his hands to his chest and rocked slightly while trying to grasp the situation. He could deal with the madness and the change in personality but the physical changes? Nothing in his studies or observations even came close.
"Mary..." He whispered to himself. "What have you become?"
After several hours of his mind racing, sleep crashed into Richard and he fell into a sleep filled with dark shapes chasing him endlessly.
Richard moaned in pain when he awoke. It seems I shall be making a habit of sleeping on hard floors. He thought. He pushed the blanket away from his body and stood, knuckling his back. The morning was gray and misty with not a single bird welcoming him to the new day. He was mid-stretch when he realized he had not fallen asleep with a blanket at night. Next to the blanket were shreds of fabric. He bent to look closer but realized almost immediately what they were.
"Mary. Oh, Mary." Tears welled up in the corners of his eyes. He sat holding the fabric to his chest and sobbed until his throat ached. Memories of their childhood flooded him. She was always looking after him, making sure he ate well and dressed well. Her as a child with her elbow bleeding from a cut yet telling Richard he should be careful how he played and never mind her elbow. Memory upon memory of her laughing, teasing, sharing painful secrets and excitement for every one of his accomplishments assaulted him.
When the tears ended so too did his hesitation. He lurched to his feet, nearly running to the woman's section of the asylum.
The metal door to Mary's cell was crumpled in half and partially embedded in the wall opposite her room. The wheelchair existed as small pieces strewn about the room. More pieces of Mary's gown littered the floor, mixed in with shreds of the old mattress. Mary was gone.
Richard surveyed the room slowly as he decided what to do next. All of this power and she harmed not a hair on my head. I ran from her and she still showed me kindness. Never again will I abandon her. Never again.
He set off on foot for town. His stomach rumbled ominously as he walked but he shoved thoughts of food aside and, instead, concentrated on determining where Mary might have gone. Not to her uncle. My home or Widow Belford or with one of her friends. But, perhaps not. What could she tell them?
It was mid-day by the time Richard arrived in town. He first walked around the park but Mary was nowhere to be found. When he stopped in at The Fighting Cock, Big Tom asked if Mary was all right. The sailor she fought had to be brought to the ship for medical treatment but might very well die; his manhood and pelvis were both crushed. Oddly, the other sailors held no ill will towards either of them. They were all witnesses to the threat and he was not well liked by his crewmates. Richard promised to give Mary Big Tom's regards.
Richard paused in front of the door to his cottage. It was the last place he could think Mary might be. With a nervous hand, he opened the door. Mary's uncle sat on the edge of his bed. His manservant stood behind him with his arms crossed in front of his chest. He cut an imposing figure in his native land's dress and thick, brown beard but he looked small beside his master. William had his hands clasped in front of him while he stared at Richard.
"Richard. Where is she?" His tone was cold.
Stress gnawed at Richard's stomach. He could almost feel his heart thumping in his chest. "I thought she might be here."
William's nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath with his eyes closed. He smiled slightly. "Ah. I see. You'll come with me. I want to talk to you and I haven't had my mid-day meal yet. Ranjit's pet will have something ready by now."
Richard had no choice but to follow the two men to the Havers estate. The various dogs in their kennels bayed as they entered the grounds. The sound rattled Richard's nerves - too close to Mary's howl from the night before.
The dining hall was large enough to comfortably sit a party of twenty people. William sat at one end of the oval table while motioning for Richard to take the other end. William's Indian manservant clapped loudly twice and a young woman came through a side door carrying a huge silver plate of food. She was tall - as tall as Richard and perhaps a little taller. Her body was well defined with muscles flexing in her thighs and calves at every step. Her bare stomach held not an inch of excess skin. Richard had never seen a woman in such shape. She was also nearly naked - a thin, translucent silk outfit covered her breasts and hip. Richard could plainly see her heavy breasts through the material. He averted his eyes before taking in more detail.
"Come now, Richard! Why look away? Is she not magnificent?" When the woman placed the tray in front of William, he reached a hand around to fondle the woman's ass while another hand reached through her flimsy material to massage a breast. The woman leaned over and kissed William full on the mouth. Richard looked away but couldn't ignore the moaning sounds the woman was making.
"Th... this is indecent, William. What you do in your own house is your own business but I'll not stay to watch you flaunt your excesses."
William laughed. "Away, wench. You heard the gentleman." The woman left momentarily before returning with another tray for Richard. He studied the table while she laid out the various dishes. When she was finished, she retired to a large cushion in the corner of the room, behind William. She lay on her side to study Richard. His stomach rumbled at the smell of the food and he barely hesitated before eating.