I found Jenny.
I flew around this world so many times, and found myself face to face with this strange being. A furry creature with big pointy ears popping out of its head. I saw something like that in one of Gwen’s books, I was certain. Oh, something called a “kangaroo”.
He was like the March Hare. If I could trust the Hare, surely I could trust the kangaroo.
‘Oh, great,’ he said, ‘one of you was enough.’
‘You saw another shark? Did he have glowing eyes?’
‘It just gets worse.’
‘So, did he?’
‘No,’ sighed the kangaroo, rolling his eyes, ‘she didn’t.’
‘Yes. Oh wait, you were once a human, weren’t you?’
‘How did you know that?’ I asked, feeling my stomach twist.
‘Because that’s apparently what happened to her! Now, if you have no idea what’s happening to me, please leave.’
And leave is what I did, in the direction towards where the kangaroo was gesturing. I didn’t know whether to be irritated at his attitude, grateful that he gave me some help, or relieved that he apparently had no contact with my dark side.
When he mentioned seeing a female shark, my mind immediately went to Acacia. The kangaroo said the shark he saw said she was once human, so I began wondering if, even after my death, Gwen continued her experiments.
The shark I found in this land, however, was not Acacia. When Acacia was in this world, she could manoeuvre through it confidently and smoothly, yet this shark could do nothing but writhe on the floor. Writhe on the floor and weep.
Jenny was a shark.
I had done this to her.
‘Jenny!’ I took her by her hands – her fins. I don’t know how I held onto her, but I guess it had something to do with the fact that I once had hands. Still she shuddered.
‘Derek? Is that…’
‘Jenny,’ I said as I rubbed her face in an attempt to calm her, ‘yes, it’s me, Derek.’
‘Derek…’ she sighed, attempting to cover her face with her fin.
Well, isn’t this nice?
He just appeared.
‘Leave her alone!’
Selfish Derek. Don’t you want Jenny to share in our fun?
‘I wouldn’t wish this on anyone!’
Oh, really. The Mad Hatter is catering to your whims here, Derek. You wanted Acacia here, she came. You wanted Jenny here, she came. You wanted her a shark, that’s what happened.
Yes, Jenny, Derek wanted you to see what it was like to be a shark. Because poor little Derek wants everyone to feel sorry for him…
Jenny leapt off the ground and soared away from us.
‘Jenny! Come back! Don’t-‘
Don’t what? “Don’t believe that monster?” You know it’s true. I know it’s true and so does she.
‘Shut up!’ I cried, slapping him across the face. He only laughed at that. ‘Why couldn’t you just let me be? Why did you have to turn Jenny against me?’
I turned Jenny against you? Weren’t you listening to what I said?
‘So…’ I had to force it out of my mouth.
You went to see the Hatter to see if he can help you get rid of me. How precious. He’s killed more people than any shark, you idiot. If you seriously think you can redeem yourself with his help…
I was speechless, as much as I wanted to respond to him.
You really think he’s ruling this world well? He treats humans like his toys, giving them nightmares and driving them to madness, all for his twisted pleasure. He’s a leader but he’s the type of leader who calls for less bread and more taxes.
‘How’s he any different to you then?’
I’m necessary. We’re necessary. We help regulate the ocean’s population. If there were no frogs, there’d be too many flies. Without us there’d be too many fish. Too many to feed those useless humans. But I digress. Derek, you want to help people? You want redemption and acceptance? Then help me dethrone the Hatter.
I knew what he was trying to do. He wanted to rule this world himself. To make everyone killers like he was.
I did have a sense that he might have been right about the Mad Hatter. That March Hare of his, with the mouth for a head. He looked so uncomfortable, and the Hatter had to be behind his discomfort.
Some people deserve to die, Derek. Being a goody-goody little pacifist will do nothing. Didn’t you read the news when you were on the surface? Didn’t you hear about people being killed for no reason? Didn’t you think the people who killed those people should die?
His grin widened. I bet that’s why you became human, isn’t it? To feel power from being the dominant species? Speaking of which, there’s someone I need to see. Think about what I said, that is if you can think.
if you can think.
Gwen had come in. She hadn’t completed the process to reverse Acacia’s transformation, she just wanted to check in on her. ‘Oh,’ said Gwen, ‘I see you’re enjoying the old boob tube there.’
Acacia admitted to herself that the television had a hypnotic hold on her; once she sat down and stared, she couldn’t stop staring. It gave her a little sting in her gut, now that she was doing the thing she had criticized so many humans for doing. Part of her felt that such a rest was well-deserved, given how long she had moved and hunted non-stop. So perhaps the voice did have a point then, she thought.
‘If only Derek had listened to him,’ she mumbled.
‘What was that?’ asked Gwen.
‘Oh, nothing,’ said Acacia, ‘just want to try this human thing out a little longer.’
‘Oh, g…that’s fine with me,’ said Gwen, ‘I mean, just because you were like Derek, doesn’t mean you’ll end up like him.’
She thinks she knows how you became human. She thinks she did it but just didn’t remember it. Can you believe it?
‘I can still have a successful transformation, you know. With you, you can go out and blend in. No different from the rest of them, you’ll be.’
Of the two voices she heard at that moment, it was the dark side’s that was the easiest to listen to.
‘I’ll take you out for a night on the town, even. Look!’ Gwen herself became human, but instantly, without the painful transformation. ‘It’s a hologram!’ Acacia could only stare blankly. ‘Ah, that’s one thing you don’t know about, but you will. I’ll make you completely indistinguishable from any human being.’
Now that is something we don’t want, is it?
The disguised Gwen helped Acacia off her seat, and she winced as her feet hit the ground, remembering a condition with this form.
Gwen then led Acacia to a tube, which sucked Acacia right up to the surface. It reminded her of the currents she had experienced back when she was a shark, yet when she dropped onto the beach, the air was nothing like she had experienced before. It chilled her, but soothed her at the same time. It was as cold as the air from Gwen’s house, yet she embraced it, forgetting about the pains on her feet.
The beach was empty, but there were still other humans out there for Acacia and Gwen to interact with. The lights in the distance hypnotised Acacia like the television did, but while the television made her sit still, she couldn’t stop herself from walking towards the humans.
‘Wait up!’ cried Gwen, ‘I know you’re excited but you have to take it easy. You have to exercise self-control.’
Acacia laughed inwardly at Gwen talking about self-control, yet she wasn’t sure if it was her laugh or the dark side’s. All that was forgotten, however, when she made her way up the stone stairs away from the beach and towards the town.
Gwen took a quick look back at the beach. ‘Maybe if it’s nice weather tomorrow, we can go have a walk across the beach. Maybe even build a sandcastle.’ She laughed at her own joke. ‘No, tonight we’re going to do something adult. We’re going to have a beer. Just a couple mind, don’t want to deal with a drunk shark, eh?’
Looking at the town filled her with energy, the same energy that made her keep moving when she was a shark. She wanted to run, yet her body would only allow her to walk. Whether it was so her feet wouldn’t hurt as much, or to keep up with Gwen, or because the instinct wanted it she didn’t know.
‘It’s going to be hard getting used to the human world,’ said Gwen, as the duo approached the pub, ‘but you’re an adult shark who’s become an adult woman, so I should treat you like an adult.’
Gwen pulled her into the pub, which wasn’t that much brighter than the outdoors. It was mostly darkness with only a few lights for illumination, but while the lights outside made Acacia want to walk, these lights made her as languid and stationary as the television did.
Gwen pulled out an ID and bought two lagers; Acacia could think of no other way to describe them but “like the sea but orange”.
Then she tasted it.
She brought it to her mouth without really thinking. When she took a sip, her hand forced herself to glug the entire glass down. It seemed to cleanse both her body and mind, washing away everything distasteful from both. Her brain felt lighter than it did when watching television, and yet it gave her an energy as strong as that obtained from the lights, yet somehow different.
Like the woman said, don’t drink too much. You want a clear head for what you’re about to do next.
Acacia almost said ‘Shut up’ out loud, but before she could do that, Gwen said to her, ‘Are you alright?’
‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
Just look at all those potential victims. Pathetic wastes of space. You’ll be doing them and the rest of the world a favour by killing them! I mean, don’t you hate humans? Don’t you like it when they drown or they struggle?
Derek was pretty much a human himself even when he was a shark. When you sent him to Gwen, weren’t you hoping he would die?
Not caring how her feet felt at the moment, she ran outside and breathed in the air, the refreshing, cool air.
You’re as pathetic as Derek was! Go back in there!
‘Well, it’s just…this is a bit too fast.’
‘I mean, I don’t think I’m really used to this body…and Derek…’
What about him? I won’t let you die like he did.
‘Why don’t you just leave me alone? Just…don’t bother me until I’m ready or something!’
She didn’t notice Gwen beside her.
‘We need to talk.’
‘No!’ After pushing Gwen aside, Acacia ran again. Ran hard and fast, despite the pain in her feet. As soon as she was sure she had gotten away, she took another good look at the lights, the buildings, the sky.
The human world.
I didn’t bother going after Jenny, I didn’t even go after my dark side. Instead, I went for the kangaroo. He seemed somewhat smart.
‘Leave me alone,’ was what he said, but I stayed.
‘Look,’ I said, ‘we’re in the same boat here. I don’t know this place, you don’t know this place.’
‘Maybe we can help each other, you know, understand?’
He sighed. ‘Look, I consider myself humble, but I can tell that I’m smarter than you are, thus I don’t need you to understand this place. I’ll figure it out myself, thank you very much.’
‘Come on!’ I cried, ‘This is what he wants! He feeds off this type of attitude!’
‘Oh, what is this? Why can’t everyone get along? Why must everyone be so mean?’ He froze, apparently lost in thought.
‘Well, anyway, I think there’s someone who can help us. He’s like you only he’s a hare.’
The kangaroo raised an eyebrow. ‘Like me in that he’s actually smart, or like me in that he’s an anthropomorphic animal?’
‘Well, a bit of both, I guess. He at least seems nicer than the Hatter.’
The kangaroo snorted. ‘Well, you make more sense than most people here, so take me to the hare. My name’s Karl, by the way.’
Karl and I looked for the Hare, only to find the Hatter. He saw us approaching and walked on over.
‘Ah, Derek, I’ve been looking for you,’ said the Mad Hatter, ‘Ah, and you’ve made a new friend.’
‘Can you tell me what this is all about?’ barked Karl, narrowing his eyes.
‘I am simply trying to help,’ replied the Hatter, ‘you need me more than anyone, and yet you’ve never once tried to summon me.’
‘That’s because I don’t need you!’
‘Oh really?’ replied the Hatter, ‘Most people would disagree.’
‘Just take me back home this instant!’ Karl rolled up one of his sleeves.
‘What arrogant behaviour!’ cried the Hatter, ‘Derek! Attack!’
‘You want to feel like you’re doing good, do you?’ The Mad Hatter pointed at Karl, his hand shaking. ‘Kill him and not only will everyone be happy, he’ll be happy as well!’
‘Why should I?’
‘I’ve rebuilt the machine that Gwen used to make you human, Derek! With it, I can make you human again, and unable to ever enter this realm again! You’ll live a peaceful life with Jenny, isn’t that what you wanted? All you have to do is kill that kangaroo!’
With that, I slapped the Hatter with my tail, sending him stumbling to the ground.
Killing Karl is what he wanted me to do. Not he as in the Hatter, he.
‘That was a foolish thing to do,’ growled the Hatter as he got back up, ‘You may have had power in the oceans…’ I wanted to say ‘Don’t remind me,’ but I kept quiet. ‘…but this is my world, and you are but an insect compared to me.’
All he had to do was snap his fingers and an army of sharp-fanged creatures dove from the forests, each of them slobbering and snarling. They were like sharks with limbs, reminders of what I could have been.
‘Damnation!’ cried Karl, as he pushed aside the Hatter, knocking off his hat in the process. As the Hatter darted off, Karl grabbed a branch from the ground and held it up like a baseball bat. A beast pounced towards him, and before I could leap in front of it, he wacked it on the head with the branch.
I flew in front of him, and some of those monsters dug their claws into my flesh. Even though I was already dead, they stung and my whole body throbbed. I shook them off, only to see Karl struggling against another grinning beast. In seconds, I roared. Up I floated, and I rapidly soared towards the cat fighting Karl, knocking it off.
I held out my fin to Karl- which reminded me of how much I missed having arms – and he grabbed on as tight as he could. Though he didn’t really weigh me down, I was certain he would slip off and thus fall to his death at the claws of the creatures. However, he held onto me and looked for all the world like a child holding a balloon, grabbing tightly until we found a safe spot to land.
‘Well, thank you,’ said Karl, dusting himself off, ‘you’ve done more than what most people would do for me.’
I had a quick look around to make sure we had lost the monsters, and then we went off again to find the March Hare. Most of this world seemed to be just the same old fields littered with trees, and it was hard to tell where it all began or ended. It took us a while, but finally we stumbled upon a house, or at least something that looked like one. It was just a colourless blob among colourful surroundings, and its bricks were as black as ink.
Out from the front door of the house came my dark side, grinning his toothy grin. Karl jumped backwards slightly.
This is the Hatter’s house. Here’s where he keeps all his little plans. Plans to spread nightmares, plans for murders. Doesn’t that make you angry, Derek? Doesn’t that make you want to tear his minions to shreds?
Kill them, Derek, lessen the Hatter’s numbers so we can rule Wonderland. Use anger, use righteous anger.
Karl turned to me. ‘You know, he has a point. Why didn’t you kill those…whatever they were? You have big teeth, don’t you?’
I opened my mouth, but I had no answer.
Oh, let me guess, if you killed them, you’d be ashamed at how malicious you were, how could I do this, blah blah blah. You shouldn’t be all sad about the way you were born, Derek. He pointed at Karl. He’s a kangaroo yet he is proud of who he is, aren’t you? Karl was as silent as I was. You wouldn’t want to be a human, would you?
‘Karl!’ I cried, ‘You actually agree with him?’
Karl raised an eyebrow. ‘I agree with him somewhat. I’m certain I don’t agree with whatever he thinks completely. There’s a difference.’
Well, we see eye to eye on some things, don’t we? I think that’s enough for me to reintroduce you to an old friend of yours, Karl. We see eye-to-eye on some things too.
Darkness consumed us.
‘So,’ she said, ‘I see you like being human then.’
A young woman that bore quite a resemblance to Acacia in her human form, wearing a black dress and having purple streaks in her hair. She leaned against a lamppost, smiling a friendly smile.
‘I know you’ve met Dark Side,’ said the woman, ‘and he’s feeding off you. You’re nothing but a food supply to him.’ Acacia looked at her arms, with the woman chuckling as she did. ‘Not the sort of food you’re accustomed to, mind. He feeds from anger, murder, bloodlust, what defines a shark.’
Yes, and don’t you want to kill her right now?
‘If we feed Dark Side, he will conquer Wonderland, so we have to starve him. To do that, we must make you less of a shark and more of a human.’
Acacia grabbed her by the arm and snarled at her. ‘What business is it of yours?’
‘I simply want to help,’ said the woman, ‘just think. That loathsome little creature will be defeated, and you’ll have a happier, more fulfilling life. Look in your pocket.’ Inside Acacia’s pocket was a wallet, with ID – her human surname was apparently “Surstone” – and a few £20 notes. The woman gestured behind Acacia, and there before her were more lights. Different lights from what she had already seen.
A building lined with purple lights, with humans her age stepping into. Risings, was the title in big purple lights above the door.
Ah, it seems that she did have a good idea. Just think of all the potential victims in there.
‘People need friends, Acacia,’ said the woman, ‘so let’s be friends. Let’s have a fun night out together. My name’s Patty, by the way.’
Acacia entered the building with Patty. As soon as she reached the man at the door, she flashed her ID – which strangely came as naturally to her as swimming – and the man let her in.
For a moment, she actually felt like a shark again. In the old days, she would sometimes come across human teenagers having a party at night. There’d be a big bonfire illuminating them, and they’d be guzzling beers from a big blue box, dancing like idiots and making out. When Acacia saw them, she’d snort at them for wasting their lives, for she was sure they didn’t earn that beer. They seemed people who had never worked a day in their lives.
Now all around her were people drinking beer, dancing and making out, and Acacia was certain none of them had earned this. She could only roll her eyes.
That’s it. If you kill one of them, you’ll be doing him a favour. Now, you need to keep awake. I hear cola has some caffeine in it.
Acacia went up to the bar and ordered a coke, though she didn’t know if it was because the dark side ordered her to, or if it was her own curiosity. After she paid with the money Patty gave her – though doing so made her shudder slightly –she dumped the cola into her mouth. It felt like her throat was eroding. She held her stomach, certain she would vomit all over the floor.
Don’t be like that. You have work to do. See that man there?
There was a man in a polo shirt sitting all alone. He wasn’t dancing with anyone, he wasn’t drinking with anyone, he wasn’t making out with anyone. Just sitting all by himself thinking.
He was all alone. He had no-one.
No-one would miss him.
Now I’ve seen what humans think. Do what I say.
Acacia leaned on a pillar near the man. ‘Hey there,’ she said with a smile, ‘you wanna dance?’
Both of them went up onto the dance floor, and as they did, the pain in Acacia’s feet stung even more, and her “dance” was her leaping up and down as if she had suddenly found herself on hot coals. The man laughed. ‘You’re great.’
Acacia had only been human for a few hours, yet through those few hours and observing humanity when she was a shark, she was certain she knew more about humans than anyone. This man, she knew, was laughing with her, dancing with her, complimenting her just so he could say he could. It was for his sake, not hers.
The idea came into Acacia’s head to grab a nearby glass and smash it, and then plunge it into the man’s heart. No, do it to everyone there.
She heard the Dark Side laugh.
She ran into the bathroom.
As soon as she entered, she ran the tap and splashed water on her face. She closed her eyes, imagining her days as a shark, manoeuvring through the waves, hunting her prey.
Derek. Stupid Derek.
Or was it Gwen? Her machine put thoughts into her head, not those thoughts of Dark Side, thoughts preventing her from reaching her full potential.
But why listen to Dark Side? He was a part of Derek, and any part of Derek was a part not worth listening to.
‘You know, you probably should have killed him.’
Acacia opened her eyes to see Patty behind her.
‘You probably should have,’ laughed Patty, ‘just not while everyone was watching. Lure him to a dark alley and do it there.’
‘You’re sounding like him, you know,’ replied Acacia, ‘how do I know you’re not one of his friends?’
‘Well,’ replied Patty, ‘if I were the one turning you human, I’d have asked first.’
‘Yeah,’ sighed Acacia, ‘I’m going to believe that.’
‘I’m certainly more honest than he is,’ replied Patty, ‘in fact, I’ll prove it right now.’
After she took a deep breath, Patty let her hair be sucked into her head, her skin turn a sickly purple and horns and a tail spring from her body.
Acacia was not at all surprised.
‘Now I have less reason to trust you.’ Acacia had heard about demons from her days as a shark, stories about them told to her by other sharks who had overheard them from humans. Derek compared his dark side to a demon, and Acacia admitted to herself that she saw why.
‘Yes,’ said Patty, ‘I’m a demon, but we’re like sharks in a way. We’re a necessary evil. We’re here because life would be boring without us. We make the good days seem better in comparison. We make sure bad people, truly bad people, get what’s coming to them. We don’t do it for the sake of it, like that shark and that Hatter.
‘You know that world you were just in, “Wonderland”? That came about because of demons like me. This man made a deal with demons to have his own afterlife where he could bring others into. It was thought that such a thing would provide another way to make the world more interesting, let virtuous people prove their virtuousness by them rejecting it, and maybe even offer release to some people who deserved it. We gave the man his world and he paid a price for it, but it wasn’t enough for him, no. He studied and practiced other forms of magic, ones even us demons are vulnerable to and…’
Patty then noticed the door opening and so grabbed Acacia by her arm and took her into a stall.
‘The “Mad Hatter” as he is now known, it should be that we gave him the power, we could take it away, but the other magic he studied made that more difficult. We’ve debated about whether or not letting him keep his afterlife is a good thing – I mean, he did help that Edward guy get what was coming to him – but he seems to have plans for this “Dark Side” shark.
‘He wants Dark Side to get more powerful so he can unleash it on the world. If that doesn’t happen, Dark Side will take over his land and then unleash himself on the world. If we can’t stop them, we can at least weaken them.’