My body burned.
I’d rarely ever seen fire and never touched it, but when my transformation began, I knew what I felt was burning. Something erupted inside of me when the light appeared, engulfing my entire body. Whatever it was tugged at my every limb, my every appendage, stretching or compressing them as it saw fit. My general form may have diminished, but my fins elongated as if trying to escape from my form altogether. Something seemed to be devouring me – oh, cruel karma – as half of my tail was quickly eradicated. As I shrunk, the fire grew even fiercer and fiercer…
…until it was quickly extinguished.
Was it the water?
The water that I had once navigated through with ease now dominated me, holding me in its clutches, pushing me down to the darkness. Swim, Derek, swim, I told myself as I always did, but my fins were too lean to propel me, my tail had split into two. I clawed for the surface, reaching for the air the humans breathe, but I stayed where I was, floating above nothing. I closed my eyes, but the image of Acacia’s toothy smile still lay before me. That smile, lined with those large teeth. Beneath those tiny eyes. What did I ever see in her?
Though maybe I should have listened…
Upon this sinking, I moved my f…my arms and legs all the more, begging for the water to release me. And it had granted my request, as I noticed the water around me was shrinking away, disappearing back to the ocean where it belongs. More importantly, I had managed to reach its top, taking a gasp as I did so. A new kind of air, feeling…lighter than what I was used to. I savoured its presence, heavy breath after heavy breath.
Finally, the water had vanished, leaving me to plop onto the sleek surface. The first thing I felt when the water had subsided was a strong chill, giving me the temptation to clutch myself tightly. I did for a second, before I flicked away the wet hair – I HAVE HAIR – from my face in order to observe my new form while coughing out water. The first thing I saw was one of my new hands, wiggling about seemingly of its own will. I have seen hands before, those of humans sailing or trying to catch me, but seeing one up close made it seem so alien. These ‘fingers’ reminded me of octopus’ tentacles, only shorter and more bent. But these weren’t octopus’, they were mine, my fingers, my human fingers.
These long fins, these arms, I controlled them. This room did not give me much to do with them though, so I just used them to further observe my new form, feel my soft skin.
As I did, I looked down at the wet floor, peering at my reflection in one of the puddles. My head had narrowed into a thin lump, with a mess of tangled black on top. Those fangs with which I’ve grinded many fish into mere paste – all vanished, replaced by what look like rocks of some kind. Framing my head were these…ears…and when I notice their presence, I noticed how quiet everything had gotten.
Still, I’m human. That’s all that matters. No more hunting down defenceless things. No more being the killer of the deep. This was the beginning of a new life, a normal life. Yes, I’d just be an average person, immersed in the crowds, indistinguishable from anyone else. I’d walk with others of my kind, with Jenny, of course, by my side…
My hearing had lessened, but I still heard a door opening, and turning around, I saw Gwen entering the tank, plopping something thick into my lap. It feels rough.
‘YES!’ she screamed, raising her arms up once again, ‘It worked! I did it, I really did it!’ With that, she unleashed a long, high-pitched laugh, leaping about the now-dry tank before turning back to me. ‘Oh yeah, that’s a towel, you dry yourself off with it.’
I did as she requested, rubbing off all the water from my human body, fully embracing the drier world. After rubbing off the last of the liquid, I stood. A loud ‘OW!’ came from my mouth as I noticed the stinging in my feet. It was like standing on a pufferfish. Still, painful feet were better than no feet at all.
Gwen stared at me as if obsessed with my new form. ‘Well Derek,’ the witch spoke, ‘how do you like your humanity?’
I rushed up to Gwen and began to rapidly shake her hand while repeatedly saying ‘Thank You!’
‘You’re welcome,’ Gwen replied, ‘You know, most of the time us sea-witches take away your voice, but I feel that you should share your views with other people. But before you go up to the surface, you’ll have to stay here while I run some tests on you.’
My hand-shaking ceased. ‘What kind of tests?’ I asked.
‘Just testing how much human knowledge you truly have,’ Gwen explained, chuckling, ‘I’m not going to dissect you. I need to see if this experiment has been truly successful, so I just need to see if you can function in normal human society. First things first…’
After we left the tank, she fitted me with some clothes; a black t-shirt, blue jeans for my new legs, and shoes that made the pain of my new feet subside somewhat. ‘Well, aren’t you quite the fashion model,’ said Gwen. ‘Come, let’s see how much you really know.’
She ran the tests on me, the first being reading, where you pick up some paper which talks to you without talking. A series of books was given to me to flick through, starting from an extremely condensed story about a cat who wore a hat then moving on to longer things such as stories about time machines and pride and prejudice and the like. These books interested me, not only for the stories they told and the images they inserted in my mind, but for the fact I could do what no other shark did.
I also had to eat new forms of food as part of the tests. This was a particularly interesting test, as I could not believe the palette of tastes that my new taste buds could detect. Milk, bread, ice cream, chocolate, fruit, and even types of meat I had never devoured before. Imagine if sharks ate stuff like this instead of living prey! The ice cream in particular I favoured over all those fish. Could you eat ice cream underwater? If only I could recommend it to Acacia. Maybe it’d pick up her mood.
The least desirable of these tests, was a written test. Gwen gave me some questions I had to answer, ranging from simple to difficult, to test my intelligence. Like the books, the test spoke to me without speaking, but while the voices of the books were filled with vigour, this spoke with a monotone. This was definitely not as interesting as the other tests, so I’ll spare you the details, but I admit it was a good idea to see if the machine had given me any decent human knowledge. It took an hour and a half, but Gwen did go eccentric when she graded me, even though I was average for a human. She later explained that it was because her experiments would blend in, even though they were a `little weird.’
It had been quite a few days of testing, but Gwen decided that I had completely become a normal human, ready to be integrated into the land above. I had to agree; after all, it must be true if that thing in my head had learned to shut up.
While I was having dinner with Gwen one night, I noticed a large picture on the wall, depicting something that looked like her, only with a long black robe, kneeling over a cauldron.
‘I like that picture.’ When I said that, she dropped her fork. ‘Is that you?’
‘No.’ Gwen explained, ‘It is my great grandmother, the most famous sea-witch of them all. She had no real name, most people just referred to her as `The Sea Witch’. She is well-known for transforming a hopeful mermaid into a human.’
I leaned in closer. ‘What did she want to be human for?’ I asked.
‘To marry a prince. And to have an immortal soul. After meeting this prince, she came to my great-grandmother who did the deed, gave her sharp pains in her feet, like you and…’ Gwen chuckled in a sinister manner. ‘Cut off her tongue.’
I gasped at that statement.
‘Don’t worry Derek,’ Gwen assured, ‘I would never do that to you. Mermaid tongues sold a lot on the market those days, shark tongues are worth zilch. Anyway, after the transformation was complete, she met the prince, danced with him and tried to make him love her.’
‘Did he?’ I asked hopefully.
‘No.’ Gwen said quietly, a little sympathy in her voice, ‘The prince was to marry another. The mermaid…died.’
I hung my head, recalling the fact that I had never seen a mermaid. Did they all end up like that one Gwen’s great grandmother treated? What if Jenny was to fall in love with someone else?
‘But,’ Gwen cried, ‘it has been my sworn duty as a sea-witch to make sure that the same thing never happens to another creature, especially not you. I like you. That’s part of the reason I didn’t cut your tongue off. But you’ll still have excruciating pain in your feet. Rest assured,’ she continued, leaping onto the table, ‘you will not die. I will correct the mistakes of the past. You will have a happy ending.’
What could I do? I smiled.
‘Anyway, tomorrow will be your first day at school.’ Gwen declared. ‘An ordinary human school, not a school of fish for your dinner,’ she added, chuckling quietly. ‘Then, then, I will see if my experiment has been a success.’
‘Oh yes, it’s the same school your Jenny goes to,’ she said, lifting herself off of the table. ‘I do fancy myself the matchmaker.’
Afterwards, I wore my new pyjamas and crept into bed. Oh yes, sleep. Those moments where my mind becomes completely empty to revitalize my form. Always so refreshing, yet I could barely sleep that night, as thoughts of socialising with Jenny swelled within my brain.
Oh, be quiet, you pathetic human.
Now it actually sounded like a person talking, rather than a thought. I swear I could see a giant shadow on the ceiling. A shark shadow. MY shadow.
Thought you were rid of me, didn’t you? The shadow seemed to perfectly synchronise each word with its mouth. I am YOU. I can never die.
No, no, I’m human now, I don’t do that thing.
You’re going to enter a new world. A world full of such possibilities…
We’ll start with that stupid witch. Give her a good cut to the jugular. Then we’ll escape and we’ll have such fun…
I hoped my new humanity would destroy this monster once and for all.