Sleep should be quick. Sleep should be empty.
The night before my first day at school, and not only did I spend most of it struggling to snooze, but the sleep I did get… I knew I was asleep because I felt nothing. While I didn’t feel, however, I saw plenty. Well, I’m not sure what I saw, and I don’t think I remember everything, but I know it was noteworthy. I recall seeing the ocean again, but only for a few fleeting seconds, and that was replaced by grey spirals, swirling and rocking about. More of those fanged grins. I did see Jenny though, only in short bursts, and I think she was…
That surreal slideshow was brought to an abrupt halt as Gwen entered my bedroom, a plate of baked beans on toast resting in her webbed hand. Toast was a human food I had little fondness for, it reminded me of when I had fish’s bones caught in my teeth, but I still gobbled it down, for fear of offending her. After I did, she grabbed me by the arm and slammed me down onto the floor.
‘Gotta get up!’ she said, leaping up and down, ‘One thing to know about being a human is that success requires getting up early! I should know.’
After I got up on my feet, still feeling the sharp pain in my soles, I took a shower – strange how after living most of my life in water, this certain water could feel so refreshing – and dressed myself in the t-shirt, the jeans, the shoes. A quick look in the mirror just to check…yes. Just like anyone else I see on the surface. No dark shadow lurking in search of prey. A normal eighteen-year-old man ready to just go to school.
After handing me a backpack and an apple (‘Couldn’t have become pet without one,’ Gwen had said), Gwen took me to a tube, waiting for me next to a picture of a man with several arms. It devoured me. All of a sudden, I felt like I was swimming again, only I was doing it not of my will, being taken somewhere quickly by an unseen force. After looping and spinning and diving, I leapt out of the sea, and landed on the sand of the beach. Often had I seen this place, but had never actually been on it. The sand felt as the toast tasted, only colder, so I didn’t want to sit among it for very long. I had school to get to, so I left the beach, and neared that town. It lacked the blues and greens of my old home, with no plantlife or little animals floating about; blocks of dark brown sat on a field of grey, all underneath a big mass of white. No sounds except for the wind and the seagull screeching.
My desire to explore this new world overpowering me, I ran towards that town, but that running subsided when I took a look at its contents. Those dull brown giants populating the place…they leered at me, groaning, as I passed, as if they knew what I had done.
You be quiet.
How can I shut up after what you’ve got yourself into?
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Acacia. No, it wasn’t her, it was a fake, soft shark, looking at me through a wide window. It looked just like Acacia though, same grin, same eyes.
From my pocket, I took out the map Gwen printed out for me. The school wasn’t far from where I was. Just move pass these buildings- these smirking, creaking buildings – cross a road, with its roaring beasts darting past, and come to a place where I see people. All sorts of people. People walking past brighter buildings.
My head throbbed.
As those fierce vehicles subsided, I walked across the road, my feet still stinging, and waved to one of the people – a rather portly person smaller than me. When he smiled and waves back, that throbbing in my cranium disappeared. Planting myself into the morass of people entering the school – a huge lump of a building– nobody looked at me. Good.
Just keep moving.
Jenny had started the morning listening to her grandpa talk about Gwen Wickiton – about the ‘codswallop’ she was talking about – but that was the only time that week she had thought of Gwen or slimy undersea thingies. Things had finally gotten round to going the way they should be going. Morning maths classes as usual. Numbers and fractions and the like. Still time for a bit of dawdling though.
After making sure she had all her textbooks and notepads for doodling on, she heard a bump and an ‘OW!’ behind her. Knowing she would have that miniature guilt if she passed by a fellow student in pain, she turned around to see a young man about her age, landed on his bum, rubbing his head. Though he was trying to get up himself, Jenny still approached him and gave him her hand. His eyes bulged as he landed on his feet, but he still chuckled afterwards.
‘T-t-thank you,’ he replied, clutching himself as if trying to keep warm.
‘No problem,’ said Jenny, smiling.
‘Oh,’ he replied, still fidgeting.
‘It’s just…you reminded me of an old friend just then.’
‘Did I?’ Why not? It was still dawdling time, and it wasn’t like there was anyone else to talk to. ‘What was your old friend like?’
‘Well,’ replied the guy, giving himself a moment of pondering, ‘she was interesting.’
‘Oh,’ said Jenny, walking beside him, ‘So do you think I’m interesting?’
‘Are you new here? I don’t think…’
‘Yeah, I’m new. I had to…relocate…because…I…my…wasn’t happy where I was…’
‘Don’t we all feel like that?’ replied Jenny, holding her head up to the ceiling as brief memories slipped through her brain. ‘What’s your name anyway?’
‘My…Derek. My name’s Derek.’
‘Nice to meet you, Derek. I’m Jenny.’
Derek, of course, rubbed the back of his neck. ‘It’s nice to meet you too, Jenny…er…’
‘Wel, I’d love to chat, but I’ve got biology to get to.’
‘Oh, okay…I’ve got English…’
And the two departed.
While I entered the class shuddering, a small piece of energy also erupted inside me, as Jenny’s ‘Hello’ echoed in my ears. I knew it. I knew she would accept me! As I looked for my seat, I thought on what we would do together now that I was free of the confines of the ocean and she knew who I was. Perhaps we could even go swimming together.
But Jenny wasn’t here right now. Now I found myself in an ‘English class’. Gwen had told me I would like it since I enjoyed reading all her books so much. As odd as it was looking at a piece of paper and having it speak to you without actually saying anything, the voices that entered my mind when reading those books were worth listening to. I began to shine a small bit of doubt on that philosophy though, when I noticed my fellow students seemingly ready to start dropping off.
Just look at them, Derek. Sloppy, useless idiots. You’d be doing them a favour by offing them, won’t you?
Just as the temptation to yell at my inner killer crept up, the teacher entered. When I first saw him, I almost thought I was underwater again, as the man’s face so resembled a swordfish. Did Gwen have other experiments?
I would like to say what the man said, but I cannot remember. His voice reminded me of the sounds my underwater victims made as I chewed them up, so I tried not to listen. I did, however, listen to the book he passed around: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The book certainly spoke to me; I’ve felt alone as this ‘Mr Utterson’ has. Still, even with what Gwen apparently inserted into my brain, I found myself unable to understand some of the words.
And all the time I was staring at the book, the swordfish man seemed to be staring at me, one eye wider than the other, his wrinkles accentuated. The thought occurred that perhaps I should ask him why, but I know from experience that asking ‘why’ can lead to trouble. I once asked a fellow shark what he was up to, and it didn’t end well.
Not having to move all the time now did give me some opportunities to relax, but all throughout that class, my new legs begged for me to move them. Lunchtime soon made its appearance though, and it was then I ran into Jenny again, sitting at the same table she was.
‘Oh, fancy meeting you again,’ said Jenny, raising her face from her half-eaten sandwich.
‘Yeah,’ I said, before I noticed what she was eating, ‘Is that fish?’
‘It’s tuna,’ she replied, which caused a slight grumble in my stomach, ‘You want some?’
‘No, just wondering.’
‘Ah,’ she said, taking another slow, meticulous bite, ‘Enjoying your first day?’
‘It’s a little boring.’
Jenny chuckled. ‘How interesting. Oh yeah, and did you know that water is wet?’
We laughed together. Laughter has been a sound that has stung in the past, but here, it seemed to remove that sting. ‘Well, at least I’m doing something with my life.’
‘Pfft. Doing something with your life is overrated.’
‘Yes, I’ve found that doing nothing can feel quite good.’
‘Yeah, that’s true.’
Both of us continued our lunches, with me devouring my cucumber sandwich – average – and bar of chocolate – oh yes – stopping to chatter every so often. Until…
‘Well, gotta go, Derek.’
‘Nice talking to you.’
‘You too. You’re nice – which is more than can be said for most people around here.’
Once again I was reminded that my urge to keep on moving had been vanquished, as my body insisted on sitting where I was after Jenny departed. My stomach was usually so full of pain and the huge weight of guilt, and that one closing comment from Jenny made all that vanish. Though for how long remains to be seen.
That’s right. You think that.
I continued to attend this school for the next few weeks. The lessons involved merely sitting, absorbing information, and then proving you absorbed that information. The information was usually worth absorbing though, but it is a shame these books can’t be like television. When watching that box with the drawings that move, I was not tested afterwards. In fact, it usually cleared my brain, and such a thing should be advised when mine is inhabited.
What I really came to school for was the lunchtime chats. Almost every lunchtime I would run into Jenny, and we would talk until it was time for more information absorbing. Most of the time, the conversations would be pleasant diversions; she would talk about her grandfather, her life and aspirations, and I would speak to her about my life and aspirations (sadly, I didn’t have the grandfather to compare hers to). One day, she did mention Gwen…
‘Have you heard about her, Derek?’
I chose not to respond, and instead munched on the cucumbers.
‘Well, she came into this school one day, and geez, did she creep me out.’
I still chose to remain silent. I knew that not objecting would offend Gwen but objecting would offend Jenny, so I thought, since Gwen wouldn’t likely know about this conversation, the best course of action was to say nothing.
‘Well, aren’t you going to say anything?’
‘I don’t really know what to say.’
‘Hmm,’ replied Jenny, and the rest of the lunch period continued in silence.
The next day though, Jenny asked me if, the day following, I would help her with something. An opportunity.
Of course it is.