Following the little presentation, Gwen rested by the outside wall of the school, catching her breath. That comment, that stupid little remark by a stupid little kid, had forced those images from her nightmares to return, swarming and writhing in her cranium. Those stories of the severed tongue, of the rotting flesh and the lost love. She told herself it was not her mistake, but in her nightmares, she slipped into the skin of the perpetrator, that fateful night and that dastardly temptation being her doing. And what of those kids knew? They probably wouldn’t understand it, but would rip her apart nonetheless.
As she walked back to her home, remembering what she left behind but still neglecting to fetch them, she pondered on what that comment had brought up. That sea-witch back then, that wasn’t her. It may have been her own scales and blood, but it wasn’t her. No, that was a primitive creature, an uncivilised idiot. Cutting off the tongue indeed! That shouldn’t be what her kind should stand for. They weren’t supposed to be storybook monsters, meant only to terrify. They should aid, help the innocent beings of the sea. Why? They deserved help, yet never seemed to get it when they needed it. So many wishes in their heads, never to be fulfilled.
Yes, they did deserve help, and Gwen believed people should get what they deserve. Some things under the ocean, for example, did not belong there. Some little guppy could have great ideas on how to change the world – Gwen did recall a rather lengthy conversation with one – and with her help, those ideas could be heard. On the other hand, there were some people on land who didn’t deserve to be part of the dominant species. Just by looking at them, she knew some of those kids would never get anywhere; that one in the far left would be much happier as an oyster.
No, leave them how they are. If she did anything like that, she would be no better than her ancestor. Gwen chuckled to herself, partly at herself for her silly thoughts, and partly to make the weight on her gut slightly lighter. Those children or the nightmare images weren’t worth dwelling on; the former wasn’t her problem, and the latter would be forgotten with the arrival of her masterpiece. That. That machine. That what she should focus on.
Bothersome her doubts may have been, but they made the journey from the school to the beach go by somewhat faster. As soon as she chased away those past images, she noticed the murky novelty shops and the houses with dull brickwork, which calmed her somewhat. Just a few more steps to take and she found herself at the seaside, watching the water sliding off the thick brown surface under an empty sky.
Nobody was there. Good.
Not only was the scenery unspoiled by over-energetic brats and their obese guardians, but it meant she could return to her quarters.
From her skirt pocket, she unleashed a small remote control, resembling those used to open garage doors. After a single press and a little wait, her entrance appeared. A long, transparent tube rose from the sea, a kraken that devoured Gwen, sending her along her way.
As the tube retracted back into the ocean, Gwen dove back into her underwater mansion, Samson running up to greet her. Now that she was in the confines of her home, Gwen pressed another button on another remote to remove her disguise. Her green, scaly form, with the giant webbed ears and the wide feet that slapped on the floor, returned in all its glory. Samson seemed to perform a little dance to herald his master’s true form returning, making Gwen pick him up and dance his dance, but only for a while.
There was little time for levity though, as there was still the finishing touches to be put on what would be her greatest work. Incomplete it might have been, but it still stood proudly over its creator, a gigantic, firm fish tank. Just a little more work, and it’ll be ready to go. All those years of research, construction and positive thinking will all come together to bring birth to that brilliant behemoth.
Heh. Not only was she a great scientist, but also quite the wordsmith.
Was there anything she couldn’t do?
I’d tried not thinking about Jenny or the night I met her; a hard task considering how many sharks I’ve met keep reminding me of it. Some days, her image did not penetrate my brain, and the day went by quicker, more fish seemed to arise, and the existence of the surface was pretty much forgotten. Other times, the sun sparkling and the thick ripples up there beckoned me. Was Jenny up there? Of course she was, but would she look for me?
I found myself poking my head out from time to time, usually seeing nothing but the seagulls flapping about. Sometimes I heard a boat roar by, where I would pop my head out instinctively and call for Jenny, though I know she wouldn’t understand me. Most of the boats were too high for me to see anyone anyway. Occasionally, I would set off for the nearest beach to observe the humans there. I recalled one time I went there, and humans were everywhere, either relaxing or running…running…relaxing.. lifeforms. Once I peeked up and saw a man wondering about aimlessly – maybe we’re not so different after all – and one night I saw a young couple – LOVE – sitting down, enjoying the ocean. More people probably came, but I had to keep moving.
No time to think. Just keep moving. Just keep eating.
Things needed to be done quickly. Day comes and goes quickly, night comes and goes quickly, I was not going to live very long. Gotta eat as much fish as I can. Gotta swim as fast as I can. Come on Derek. You can do it.
That’s the spirit.
I tried keeping these thoughts in my head for about a week or so, until, as it happens, I ran into Acacia. Who else?
‘Hello, Derek,’ she said, her smile smaller than usual.
I said nothing, I just swam next to her again as if that was greeting enough.
‘You’ve been looking at the surface, haven’t you?’
‘No,no I haven’t. No. What gave you that idea?’
‘Harold told me he saw you. He thought it looked kinda creepy.’
‘Okay, maybe I was…’
‘You still want to be human.’
I attempted a smile as wide as hers as I chuckled a painful chuckle. To my surprise, she did as I did.
‘Well, you’re in luck. That nutter Gwen Wickiton has just what you need.’
The tone of her voice made me shudder, yet I still responded the way I did. ‘She does?’
‘Yes. She’s recently completed a machine that makes fish human. Sounds like what you’re after.’
Gwen Wickiton. I had heard about her and her experiments from word of mouth a few times. Sometimes I would hear my prey talk about her before they got devoured, sometimes I would hear about her from other sharks, and from those, I knew she was this…thing that would create all those weird machines. And those machines would always work. She said she would create a machine for reading emotions and she succeeded, so if she made a machine that she said could make fish human…
Acacia laughed again, though it was a deeper laugh than usual for her. ‘You’re actually seriously considering it, aren’t you?’
‘And what if I am?’
‘And what if you go in that machine, it doesn’t work and you die or something?’
‘Well, what if it does work?’
Acacia sighed as she came closer to me. ‘You think if you become human, you’ll end up with that “Jenny”…’
‘No,’ I said, looking upwards, ‘it has nothing to do with her.’
‘What is it then?’
I spent a second looking upwards in silence before responding. ‘Maybe I’m just bored being a shark.’
Acacia’s pace lessened as she stared at me. I did as she did, staring at her while silent. She looked beautiful in this light.
‘OK,’ she said, ‘you want to go be some test subject, fine. I’m not going to stop you.’ She swam away quickly.
‘You don’t want to listen to me, so I won’t bother with you.’ And she faded into the murky blue of the ocean.
Why bother with her?
I’m sick of being a shark. Just swimming. Just eating. I’ve explored the ocean countless times, and it offers nothing new. There’s a world up there with so much to do, with humans with purpose. And Jenny – oh, Jenny. She wouldn’t judge me, no, she’d listen to what I had to say, and she’d understand it all. And the people up there…I’d be one of them. No gasps and shudders as I pass by. No running away to find cover. No, they’d look at me and Jenny passing by…
I cannot believe this.
I didn’t ask for your opinion.
Just when I think Acacia and I have finally knocked some sense into you.
Look, I don’t have to listen to you.
Oh, you do. I’m what’s keeping you alive.
You’d like to think that.
Without me, you’d have starved to death years ago.
Don’t flatter yourself.
It’s not my fault you take me for granted.
I mean it. Just shut up.
I hear nothing.
That’s right. Yeah, just go. And don’t come back.
Without that voice bothering me, I set off on my own little quest. I would find Gwen’s elusive mansion, and when I did, I would claim my reward. Legs to run with. Hands to touch with. A new world with new possibilities. The freedom to do as I please, no longer forced to endlessly hunt down tiny fish. I saw those fish pass me by, but, without that bossy nitwit in my brain, they swam by safely. I had a more important task to complete, or, to use a groanworthy line, bigger fish to fry.
I had no idea what Gwen’s home looked like, yet I told myself I would know it when I saw it. Sure enough, when I saw the stately, light-green house shielded by a dome, I knew instantly that it must belong to Gwen. Probably because of the drop in my stomach as I approached. I did not go near the mansion, yet I circled it as if ready to devour it, and the thought of fleeing and leaving it alone forever sparked a few times in my cranium.
But that didn’t stop the tube from sucking me up.
It was complete. Her treasure, her masterpiece now stood firm and finished. The gargantuan tank filled with water, fit to accommodate any sea creature of any size. And when the machine was activated, those sea creatures will transform into intelligent mammals, ready to enter a world with new possibilities to them.
All Gwen had to do was test it.
She could have tested it on herself. If she did, she would no longer have to rely on her technological disguises. Her scales would genuinely disappear to make way for soft flesh, her frog feet would shrink away into something that could fit in shoes, and her head would be adorned with lush hair. How could she change who she was though? How could she reduce herself to a lower level, forfeiting her ability to breathe underwater and communicate with the creatures below? She was a sea-witch and proud to be one, and had even made sure her machine would adhere to sea-witch traditions. When the fish would gain their feet, those feet would feel like they were being penetrated by knives, every step would sting. A small price to pay for a higher standard of life, but rules are rules.
No, she needed one fish, just one fish, to undergo the transformation. That creature would then be incorporated into the human world and Gwen would observe how it would cope. She was far too busy to search for the perfect subject herself, but she had known, since news of her accomplishment had spread everywhere, that a fish would come to her, seeking humanity.
That shark. He came for the machine, she just knew it. And what a perfect species! In seconds, she would reduce the mightiest predator of the sea into a meek little man. No longer would it devour innocent beings, exchanging those deadly hunts for paperwork and fatty foods.
As the shark plopped into the tank, Gwen darted for the lightswitch, blanketing the entire room in darkness. Holding a flashlight in one hand and a microphone into the over, she placed the light under her face, transforming her into a yellow wraith gleaming in the darkness.
‘Hello,’ she said, speaking into the microphone, ‘I know what you’ve come for.’
‘Yes,’ she said, a Cheshire cat grin on her green face, ‘You’ve come for my help, haven’t you?’
‘I have,’ replied the shark, ‘but can you please cut that out?’
Sighing, Gwen walked back over to the lightswitch, and illuminated the room once again. ‘What’s your name?’
Snickering, Gwen added, ‘You want to be human, am I right?’
After swimming in circles for a while, Derek responded, ‘Yes.’
‘Any particular reason why?’
Another bout of circling nothing before responding. ‘Well,’ he said, placing a fin to his teeth, ‘I once met this girl…’
‘Wait…did you save her from drowning?’
‘I read it in the news,’ replied Gwen, drumming her fingers over the machine’s controls, ‘I like it when they mention our brethren.’
Derek’s swimming grew slower. ‘Our…’
‘Yes!’ Gwen smiled that smile again as she rushed to the tank. ‘Fellow sea creatures we are!’
A laugh squirmed out of Derek’s mouth. ‘Yes, but I don’t want to be a “sea creature”…I’m sick and tired of doing nothing but killing fish, and being feared as this horrific predator. And there’s…’
‘So you really want it, do you? You really want…’
‘Just remember,’ continued Gwen, raising her arms, ‘when you get your feet, they’ll bring excruciating pain! You’ll walk just fine, but it’ll feel like you’re stepping on pins.’
‘I don’t care if it feels like a harpoon,’ Derek asserted, ‘Physical pain is preferable to mental pain in my view, unless it were really BAD physical pain. Wait, no, there is no mental pain preferable to physical pain. Can’t name any off the top of my head.’
‘Very well,’ said Gwen, still grinning and lurching in a vampire pose, ‘But when your form becomes that of a human, you can never be a shark again! You’ll never swim alongside your brethren, never feel the thrill of the hunt, never dominate the ocean ever again!’
‘YES!’ he screamed, ‘I want this!’
Gwen’s wide smile shrunk to a slight, subtle one. ‘Good.’
Slowly, she approached the control board, thrilling in the variety of colours and sounds. From a cupboard, she took out a petri dish of Great White Shark DNA and placed it in a slot. After that insertation, the machine made a bleep of satisfaction, drawing Gwen towards the lever.
All she had to do was pull it.
The tank began to glow a ghoulish white, accentuated by the sound of buzzing electricity. Derek gyrated and twisted as his form compressed and shrunk. Despite Derek’s diminishing size, Gwen could still see his transformation up close, through a wide television screen on the wall. She saw that dorsal fin, that herald of incoming disaster, shrink away into nothing. She saw those rows of fangs slide back into the gums to make way for the newer, flatter teeth. That giant tail ripped itself apart, both pieces thickening as the dull grey skin brightened into a shade of peach. As the flatter teeth sprung, so did the ears and the nose, while jet-black hair slithered out of the cranium.
These sights sent Gwen into a fit of laughter, and brought her dancing and running about her laboratory. ‘IT’S ALIVE!’
Another look at the screen showed that the gills were the last to go before the transformation was complete, and Gwen turned to see a young man, drowning in a giant tank of water.