Fiction by Emily Calvin
As Lolly K. Nesrin awoke one morning she found her bed transformed into a suffocating, swampy egg, and her body morphed into a boneless, slimy tadpole. Before conscious thought and voluntary action entered the scene, an urge to blink blinded her entire body and mind.
odd. it’s as if i have lost all muscle control in my eyes.
She proceeded to fight like mad for a single blink to cease the unendurable pain that poured from each eye. She directed every thought in her brain toward the once insignificant act of opening and closing her currently numb, palpebral muscles. Her eyes burned like a swim through the Dead Sea following an exhaustive, iridocorneal assessment. Salt seeped into every pore of her frozen, defenseless perspective. But time after time after futile attempt, Nesrin could not convince her levator palpebrae superioris muscles to respond to her brain’s incessant pleading—
open, stubborn eyes…please can you find it in your tiny souls to open? just once. to end this agony that has, since this morning’s abrupt awakening, grown comparable to hot coals on naked cornea. blink, for god’s sake. or for lucifer’s sake—for who knows at this point the deity responsible for such an unjust conundrum. you know you’re fully capable of this action. you’ve done it involuntarily a million times before…so focus, and blink.
However, Nesrin no longer knew for sure if she really could blink. How does one close an eye when one has stopped receiving any sensory intake from a usually subservient eyelid?
i am officially unable to say with full certainty and conviction that the two eyelids i once took for granted still mount themselves atop my watery pupils. i am certain, if i still possess eyelids at all, every muscle has atrophied overnight.
Perhaps the answer hid in the unbearable sting of the thick, womb casing in which she lay, prostrate on her back, even though she also no longer believed in the existence of her spine…or any other worthless bone in her newly deformed “body.”
But wait…the pain subsided;
her eyes somehow adjusted to this lack of closure. They seemed to open up and absorb the gooey, embryonic fluid surrounding her eyes like pupils that enlarge when the lights turn into blackness everywhere. Sight, however, failed to enter the picture as of yet. Nesrin no longer writhed under her ocular agony. However, she began to notice a surmounting wave of exhaustion and internal fire similar to muscle spasms after vigorous exercise. Every muscle in her body tore itself from any tendon and ligament holding it all together.
i usually have a hard time looking at the glass half-full, but perhaps now is a better time than ever to find the silver lining in all this mess. i no longer possess bones. but i suppose it could be worse. i could be dead. i could have never woken up and drowned in this swamp. my bones could be shattering into a million pieces and tearing through my flesh. instead, they have simply dissolved…i presume. in light of such alternatives, i really should consider myself lucky. it could be worse. it could always be worse.
Her body had yet to move a single ripple through her self-sufficient, underwater cocoon. Surrounding this ovular egg tucked into a bed of mud and seaweed was an even larger body of mud and seaweed and, above, within, and around all, water…mucky, swampy, mossy water…in the middle of Scottish farmland. But Nesrin could not possibly be aware of such surroundings inside her womb. She also, at this time, had many more, distracting, and upsetting thoughts filling her head.
She hadn’t made much of life, or even thought much of it up until this point. Everything just sort of happened to her. She was a passive observer…until now. She couldn’t even remember what her life had been before she awoke in the egg at the bottom of the loch. Possibly amnesia. Possibly an unfortunate side effect of walking on earth like a zombie in a pink suit. She couldn’t remember specific details about anything pre-tadpole, but she could remember feeling bored, lonely, and quiet.
She knew she had a job, but she couldn’t quite remember where, or what exactly she did. She knew she had a family, but she also felt her stomach drop into her gut when she tried to recall their faces. This feeling, Nesrin remembered. It returned to her time and time again growing up. Her stomach would turn sour and drop into her bladder, and she worried she might explode in an offensively unpleasant way. Her mouth would freeze like someone had snuck super glue between her lips while she slept. Anxiety lit her nerves on fire similar to the burning flesh she would soon feel inside her egg. She could never say a word. Her nervous stomach and incessant stutter created an anti-social wallflower who preferred to hide in the shadows than communicate with a single person.
Nesrin forgot about her camouflaged existence, along with her previously agonizing eye issue, as her skin pulled itself so taut she realized movement was no longer an option. She felt her hands and legs mold into one snake-like appendage. Nothing in Nesrin’s life could possibly set a precedent for this mutation. Her torso sucked in each of her limbs, and she wondered if her joints had turned into vacuums and her appendages, dirt on her bedroom floor.
maybe i’m being cursed for vacuuming too much. is it possible that the dirt has been alive all this time and is finally seeking retaliation for all of the horrors i’ve committed when i thought i was merely cleaning? all is fair in love and war, and this must be war, so i suppose this can be considered fair. i no longer have arms. i no longer possess legs. no more vacuuming; that’s a guarantee.
Pop! Pop! Ssssshhhhhlooopp!
Her skin loosened and wiggled and slithered like a slug as her body morphed into a long cylinder wrapped in alligator skin. The movement stopped. Nesrin rested…for a second.
i’m beginning to lose faith in a logical explanation as to what might possibly be happening to me. first, no eyelids. okay. i got used to that. but no arms? no legs? what is—
but her thoughts dispersed as a “CRAAAACK!” reverberated around her.
goodness. what now?
Her snake body wriggled as she felt the level of fluid in her “safe” home lower.
oh dear, it must have cracked. the egg must have cracked! i’ll surely drown. this is the end. this is the end, and all i’ve done with my life is sit quietly on the sidelines and vacuum from time to time.
Just as the last of the goopy fluid had drained from the egg, Nesrin opened her eyes. Well, no, they’d always been open…but…she could see!
A cloud of grey fog and brown spots blinded her, but it looked better than nothing.
i never paid a single thought to a world without my eyesight until now. how strange that i wouldn’t even consider such a common predicament. well, my predicament doesn’t seem to be so common, but people lose their eyesight every day. i don’t know the numbers of how many blind children are born a day, but i’m sure it’s a regular occurrence. at least the black has faded to a nice grey. one might even call it pewter, if one were looking at the glass half-full…which i am…in case you forgot. cobalt. although that’s more of a blue. aaahh blue. my favorite color growing up. yet somehow, i can’t seem to recall it’s appearance. how strange to forget a color. how strange to see nothing but grey and know you will never see anything else again. grey fog and shadows and murky movement in my unidentifiable surroundings. whatever will be next?
Her skin continued to shrivel and stretch. The pain she formerly wrote off as torn muscles evolved into an inexplicable melting sensation emanating from every inch of her flesh. Her skin absorbed all the surrounding water, and she felt her flesh dissolve into nothing. Some people who have lost a limb can still feel it from time to time. This is called “Phantom Limb.” If Nesrin knew of this term, she might have comprehended the feeling creeping over her body, but she could not describe to anyone, not even herself, the sensation of tingling, phantom flesh. Pins and needles shot through her body, but she knew by now skin could not possibly still encase her. Instead, the casing around her skeleton-less form flaked and shrunk into soggy raisins like her fingers used to after a long soak in the bath. She no longer possessed skin. Scales shot out from every slimy pore like needles piercing cartilage.
Her brain shot in a million directions. Her full-grown scales distracted her from the searing suffocation developing in her throat. Breathing. How had she not thought of breathing until now?
i suppose that fluid must have been feeding me oxygen, if that is what i still breathe. now what am i going to do? shall i drown here? i will die, in this muddy water, in this cracked egg, beneath the depths of god-knows-what i’ve awoken in. i must be blue in the face by now, if i have a face at all. when will i choke to death? they say drowning is a peaceful way to go. although this feels anything but peaceful.
Nesrin’s throat closed entirely just as two slits opened themselves into tiny membranes on either side of her body. Her lungs collapsed; each membrane separated into rows of a disc-shaped film with an intricate capillary network. She involuntarily gasped for air and water rushed into her open mouth. Instead of drowning her, however, the water filtered itself through her new gill rakers.
i’ve grown gills! how brilliant! oh, how fabulous. maybe this won’t be the end after all! maybe this is just a test in resiliency, and for once in my life, i am determined to succeed.
The choking subsided as her gills began to flap up and down while her brand new operculum closed to draw water in and opened to allow fresh water to escape. Her insides twisted and burned as if all her organs melted into one. If an Ichthyologist dissected her body, everything would appear in working order. Water flowed smoothly across the lamellae her body just formed, and oxygen and carbon dioxide waltzed across the capillary membrane and parted ways in a ballroom quadrille of gas exchange. Although Nesrin had no idea what her body could be up to, it functioned perfectly, however oddly.
The realization that her throat no longer sucked in oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide took a second to reach her, but when it did, Nesrin barely reacted. All she knew was the pain in her throat had subsided, and somehow she no longer felt on the verge of suffocation. She felt a cool rippling sensation across her sides, and Nesrin realized she could feel the water rushing in and out of her body through her gills. Still, no reaction. After enough unbelievable things happen, one can’t be blamed for giving up on the element of surprise. Anything was officially possible.
At least her throat calmed and her breathing problem solved itself. As she contemplated how long it would take for this faulty egg to finally fall to pieces and drop her into god-knows-what, she began to grasp the irreversibility of her condition, and her mind drifted into the future. What will she do down here for all eternity? Will she learn to swim and make friends with the eels? Do loch creatures live long lives? She hoped so, although her zeal to live surprised herself. One would expect to be much angrier and less thirsty for life in such conditions. But somewhere past her gills and scales and snakeskin; past the slime and muck and pain, she felt a desire to live, to survive, to evolve from this vulnerable state and live until she grew strong enough to grab evolution by the balls and spit in its face.
turn me into a tadpole and stuff me in an egg. sink my devolved body to the bottom of a loch. i won’t be stopped. i will break out of this egg, and then you’ll be sorry. i’ll grow and morph and change until i become the strongest, smartest, greatest creature this world’s ever seen!
At that, her tail let out a thrash that reverberated throughout the water-filled egg. Every fiber of this gooey egg shook and loosened until the entire shell shattered and disappeared into the fog and seaweed. If Nesrin’s eyes functioned properly, she would have watched in dismay as the pounds and pounds of seaweed swallowed the fragments of her egg. Most lochs would be considered swampy, but the particular loch in which Nesrin currently morphed had gained notoriety for its unsanitary state. Wire weed, bog-moss, stonewort, and various forms of litter filled the water top to bottom. No one had stepped a foot in that loch for decades, possibly centuries, for fear of getting trapped in the muck. Some people even called it “The Quicksand Loch,” and it sure behaved like quicksand as it consumed her former home.
Suddenly, Nesrin knew she had two choices: give up and allow the muck to consume her weak form as it did her egg; or fight with every scale on her body to grow, to breathe, to live, and most importantly, to think. As long as she keeps her mind in check, nothing can happen that she won’t be able to overcome.
Nesrin’s body shot out from each end and stretched for what felt like forever.
oh no…at this rate i’ll be bigger than the loch soon! and what will i do then? i can’t hide from the world then. oh, what will people think of me?
She thought of Medusa and her snake hair and her stone eyes. Cast into the depths and cursed with a monstrous existence, Medusa turned man to stone and instilled fear in every soul that crossed her path. She thought of the Kraken and his squid tale and sharp teeth. Another monster dwelling underwater, the Kraken tore apart ships and summoned undersea volcanoes. But she was not a scorned woman cursed with snakes for hair and a lethal gaze. She was not a bitter amphibian whose temper tantrums countered natural disasters. She was a boring girl who lived in a boring town where she only spoke when spoken to and vacuumed her floors at least twice a day. She was also a snake…or something like that…trapped in a loch, with what appeared to be no more options for normalcy or freedom.
She vaguely remembered a story from her childhood. Something about a monster who lived beneath a local loch. Another Scottish myth passed down through so many generations it lost any fiber of truth centuries ago. No one knew how the monster got in the loch—although many a scientist had his theory—but everyone feared this monster and her loch. Paleontologists named her a plesiosaur, or a carnivorous sea creature long extinct. Rumors developed about how an extinct dinosaur came to live in the loch and breathe under water. Nessie. The monster’s name was Nessie. She remembered because it sounded eerily close to Nesrin, and she also found it hard to believe in a female monster as a child.
but what if it is possible? what if i am that monster? i know that seems completely irrational and inexplicable, but given my present circumstances, i wouldn’t rule anything out at this point. i think, if i dare to accept this fate, that i might actually be the proverbial loch ness monster…
Although Nesrin never indulged in superstitions or fantastic tales, she found her perspective changing as her concept of reality and the impossible unraveled beneath the loch.
maybe such myths actually held some truth to them. maybe this event—my turning into a monster—only seems strange to me because i am not fully aware of everything that happens beneath the surface. maybe that’s how medusa came to be. and the kraken. and all the other mythological creatures and monsters. first the rumor. the myth. then the creature. some unsuspecting, trivial person who wouldn’t be terribly missed. someone tells a story; society perpetuates it into myth; the universe feels a need to fulfill such fantasy and therefore picks someone to become the proverbial monster. it’s punishment for contributing nothing to this world. the useless members of society are all doomed to awaken, one morning, as a self-fulfilled prophecy. i can’t speak for medusa or the kraken, but i can speak for myself. and i officially believe i am the only person in the world who can accurately describe the story of how nessie came to be. here is what happened:
Nessie awoke as a tadpole in an egg and vowed never again to sit by and let things happen to her. She would take control of her life starting now. Even if it was life at the bottom of a loch. Even if it was as the proverbial Loch Ness Monster. Hey, a fresh start’s a fresh start wherever you are.
As Nesrin allowed her mind to wander through the possibilities of mythological allies and loch life, her body continued to grow. It grew until, as Nesrin predicted, her tail and head jut out either end of the loch and her long, snake-like body curved up and down, rising above the surface of the water in bumps like knees in a tiny bathtub. The water began to ripple and splash as if a tidal wave loomed in the distance. No storm loomed, however. Nesrin had yet to grasp the extent of her strength, and the waves she felt were, in fact, of her own doing.
i must stop growing soon or i simply will not fit in this tiny loch.
Nesrin’s body writhed and roared and scared the shit out of any creature, man, or fish nearby. She cried and waited, and each time she began her waterworks anew, the loch seemed to accustom itself to this change of pace. From an airplane, it might have looked like some kind of sea monster had gone mad. And perhaps there’d be some truth to that. Nesrin sure did seem angry, and no one, not even Nesrin, could deny her monstrous size and strength.
everyone must be so frightened! even i have scared myself. oh what shall i do?
Nesrin’s crying slowed, and her massive body stopped shaking.
i must calm down and assess this new situation.
She flicked her tail, practiced moving it right, left, up, and down, and like a fawn learning to walk, awkwardly curled her long tale into her body and stumbled around in the mud. She slithered and shook as she tried to gain control of her massive, monstrous body. Finally, her tail formed a curly-q wrapped into her scaly belly, and she bent her neck and wrapped her head around her tail like a cat that naps in the sun. Finally, the scaly, bumpy monster disappeared from that aforementioned plane’s view and into the swampy loch.
i’m far too large. i wonder if i’ll have to get comfortable curling up like this all the time. but it’s too late for self-pity, for i might be stuck like this forever, and i must learn to accept it and remain strong. medusa turned men to stone. the kraken ate pirates. it seems, if i am to make a name for myself among such strong figures, i must develop some sort of defense.
Nesrin and her freshly morphed, monstrous existence vowed never to stand by passively again. She would lurk beneath the loch’s surface, curled into a feline-shaped ball, for the rest of eternity. There she would wait for unsuspecting victims and gullible tourists trying to snap shots of the mythical Loch Ness Monster.
One by one, the tourists came, after hearing about the first aerial sighting of Nessie in decades. The curious tourists trickled in slowly first, weary of the monster lurking beneath the loch. Then faster, bolder, braver. Each new tourist came closer and closer, and each new photograph got closer and closer to Nesrin…er…Nessie.
Finally, one poor tourist stepped a little too close. Tired of hearing tour guides’ uninformed and offensively false stories about her dinosaur ancestry and other such mythological nonsense (it’s like a game of telephone—the entire story is completely distorted and false by the time it comes back around), Nessie finally showed herself, her full self, to this terrified, tiny tourist. With camera in hand, this stunned human kept stepping towards the rising loch monster. Nessie raised her scaly, slimy neck and maneuvered her face so she looked straight into the camera lens.
A satisfied tourist checked his digital camera screen to find a breathtaking close up of Nessie’s sad, determined eyes. Blinding white filled Nessie’s dimmed eyes, and her head seared with pain. For a second, she thought she had been stabbed in the forehead, but the light disappeared in a flash. The pain between her eyes, however, remained steadfast. She flinched and squirmed and dipped her head beneath the loch. She tried to shake away the pain, but the poor tourist’s camera flash shed light on the power, strength, and, most importantly, anger, she never knew herself to be capable of.
Then she felt it. That feeling. That anxious, burning, terrifying pit in the bottom of her soul began to swell and steam, at least that’s how it felt to Nessie as she prepared herself for what she feared would be her worst explosion yet. Apparently being a swamp monster tends to sharpen one’s instincts while impairing one’s judgment because before she could stop herself, Nessie lifted her head from the water, painted a shadow over the shivering tourist, and roared so loud the loch rippled in terror. The photographer turned to run, fueled by fear and greed—fear that his death seemed closer than he would have liked, and greed for the fat check he was guaranteed to receive once the National Geographic got a look at this picture.
But the National Geographic would never see this picture. No one would. Because before the tourist could take two steps, Lolly K. Nesrin…Nessie…stretched her crocodile mouth wide, swam closer to the tourist, clenched her dinosaur teeth around camera, fanny pack, flesh and bones, and swallowed everything in one gulp. Screams erupted as she tucked her head and tail into her body and sunk into the mud and thought about how her stomach had never felt so warm and her soul, so ecstatic. The power of self-respect, even if it comes a little too late and a little too aggressively. Nessie finally stood up for herself, and under the safety of the swamp in the comfort of her curled body, she would wait until the fuss smoothed over and another aspiring photojournalist would wander over to test his courage. Then she would rear her head and consume another delicious tourist, and she would do so again, and again, and again, until the tourists, or her luck, ran out.