Cliff woke up to the sudden feeling of falling and disorientation. Not again! However disturbing, it wasn’t the same as before when he came face to face with the void. There was a feeling of weightlessness, but there was also the presence of sound, color, direction, and the smell of food! For a second he was suspended in mid air as the woman poured him out of his bag and into the tank below.
He hit the water with a plop and found himself sinking. Panic hit him as he thought he was certainly drowning, but reason dawned on him gradually and panic subsided to a dull thump in his chest between the port and starboard rudders. He looked up and saw his neighbor grubbing away happily.
Breakfast was a finger’s pinch full of greenish brown pellets out of a back littered with Asian hieroglyphics that Cliff just could not decipher and despite the warnings of the mind Cliff found his eyes following the descent of once such pellet with predatory calm and alertness. His stomach rumbled with anticipation. As it fell he felt his muscles tighten somewhere behind him, like a bowstring being pulled but not released until the moment the pellet was only a few inches away.
In a burst of speed the tension was released and Cliff shot out across the tank scooping it up, darting this way and that as the heavier pellets descended all around him. On instinct he’d scoop them into his mouth, crunch them with a single tooth in his throat, and swallow them whole on his way to the next pellet. To his dismay fish food had very little flavor.
When he was human he use to be a bit of a health nut, and he recognized the hint of algae in his morning’s breakfast, and to his delight the flavor was much dulled. He suspected that if he was indeed a fish perhaps his sense of taste was greatly simplified, after all his fishy-brain wouldn’t have the capacity to process complex information being the size of a pea… and yet he was conscious. He pondered how in fact his fishy-sized brain was supporting his consciousness as he zoomed around the bottom of the tank eating his fill.
He’d only just decided that since he once thought a human transforming into a fish was an impossibility, and since personal experience had proven the assumption to be wrong, that perhaps consciousness was something other that a product of brain-power. He could think of any other explanation as to how his fishy-confines were supporting something as complex as his human mind, and then again he was struck by his bias and wondered if all creatures enjoyed a complexity of being he’d once thought impossible. Perhaps what separated man from beast was truly arrogance, and nothing else.
His blue scaled neighbor swam up beside him, snagging a pellet just before he could himself. A spasm of frustration shot through Cliff and he had to laugh at the absurdity of his situation, competing with a neighbor for limited resources… he was practically living the Darwinian Dream, if such a thing existed. He thought, oh I’ll show you my dim witted friend! We’ll see if you’ll rob me of my morning meal. Cliff, running on instinct alone, bit the little blue fish just under the rear fin. his neighbor missed the pellet and Cliff was able to steal it away as it drifted beneath him.
A finger tapped the glass and there was the woman watching the two fish eat, an absurd frown contorting her face. “Play nice now, or I’ll have to separate the two of you!”
Cliff was beside himself… it had been ages since he let anyone treat him like a toddler, even his parents when he had lived with them, and he wasn’t about to let his jailor be the first. “Listen you thick skulled titan, don’t talk to me like I’m three…” He watched a bubble of air float up from his mouth, and of course no sound was produced as he had no voice box to speak of. Fuck he thought and wheeled around on his neighbor.
The blue scaled fish was in the middle of snatching another pellet when it stopped, floating in place a contemplative beat. One of its’ eyes scanned over Cliff’s body and he thought he felt an awareness there similar to his own. “Mr. James… I’m trying to make the best of this situation, but I won’t be bullied! Not here! Not as a fish!”
He recognized the voice, but he couldn’t place it. He swam around his neighbor’s body squeezing something full and airy within to pivot and angle his bulk as he did. He scanned his blue companion once over and found no answers to be gleaned by sight alone. “How are you speaking?” He thought the words and his mouth moved as he did, again not producing a sound.
“As a fish,” Began his neighbor, “we don’t use our mouths for speaking, we just think it like we would have when we were human Mr. James, and the words come out. Nobody else can hear us, except other fish I suspect, other fish of our condition.”
Cliff eyed his neighbor suspiciously. “Who the fuck are you then if you know my name?”
The blue blue fish seemed to go a darker shade of blue and sunk a centimeter in momentary depression. “Mr. James, I’m hurt. Don’t you know me?”
Cliff studied his neighbor hard. His eyes were separated by a solid 180 degrees of pale blue scales, and his mouth was firmly shut unlike his own which still opened and closed exaggerating the human act of breathing. Old habits die hard I suppose. His neighbor had a few brilliant scales which shone out as bright as stars to his eyes, and Cliff thought, for a fish he looked fairly striking. He had no fins on his back and his back was arched plumply and ended in a short tail, very much stunted compared to his own.
Still, no answer as to the fish’s identity came to him. “If I should know you I’m sorry, but I really don’t. Could you just tell me.”
“It’s Rudy,” The fish cried out in exasperation, “I died in your arms for god sakes Mr. James. You’d think you’d at least have the decency to remember that.”
Cliff recognized the voice then, and it was the chilled splash of an ice bucket running down his back. It hardened his soul. Here was his friend. The last time he’d seen him Rudy had been sniped in the back on wallstreet, plumes of smoke rose behind them, and tensions had risen to a fever pitch the likes of which Cliff had never seen. How many people had died? He had no way of knowing, and wondered if he ever would.
Rudy floated closer. “Don’t you have anything to say?”
Cliff opened and closed his mouth, finally realizing whatever powers of speech he did posses had nothing to do with his mouth. “I’m sorry Rudy, I’m…” And in his mind he was overcome with grief. He hadn’t yet mourned and the loss hit him like a tone of bricks. He thought of his mother and father, his little sister, and his body. They were all gone, the light up above seemed unreachable, and Cliff couldn’t ignore the fact that he’d seen Fear down below in the deep red.
tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap.
He spun away, not able to face Rudy anymore. “How the fuck did this happen?”
Rudy let him have his space but replied all the same. “I don’t rightly know. I suppose Hinduism or Buddhism has it right, and you and me have been reincarnated in lesser forms for our bad-living. But that doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense to me. I’m thinking we’ll find out in time For now, our goals should be based in the present. Survival is key.”
Cliff had never heard Rudy speak like that before, and was grateful for the kid’s strength as the impossibility of their situation would most certainly have been enough to do him in without his friend’s company. Suddenly He was struck with guilt, he’d never been particularly nice to Rudy on the other side. Mostly he’d written the guy off as an idiot, and someone to be tolerated but of no great significance. Maybe that’s why you’re here, he thought taking people for granted has got to be some kind of sin to be sure.
“Get down!” Rudy’s voice came shrill and desperate, and and he sunk even lower into the tank. His gaze was pointed up, and Cliff followed it all the way up into a pair of green slitted eyes… a cat’s eyes.
It was a black and white tuxedo. It’s face was all black, apart from it’s chin, and it’s eyes pierce through the water as sharp as knives and fell on him. Cliff felt a pang of anxiety pierce thought his body, and got the distinct impression that the feline was an enemy, something that would do him harm if given the chance. “What’s that?”
“Mia…” was Rudy’s reply, spoken at a terrified whisper. “She keeps a cat too.”
Cliff felt his blood run cold at the sight of those predatory feline eyes staring down at him, and he couldn’t help but imagine the blue eye’d devil and his damned gold watch, his finger tapping on the glass with the point of his nail, tap-tap tap-tap tap-tap. And in his heart he knew, the cat with the green eyes was an agent of that devil. He had no idea how, but he knew as if on an instinct, he just knew. He needed to know the rules of the game he was playing and fast and that meant surviving long enough to make it to the big tank.
He remembered the giant black fish with the bulbous eyes popping out of either side of his head. “When you were coming in did you catch a glimpse of the big tank” he whispered so the cat would not hear him. Rudy nodded his head as best a fish could. “Remember the black fish? Well when he looked at me… I think he’s one of us. I think he knows. We have to speak with him.”
Rudy was right beside him, fear in his eye. “Well I heard the girl talking. We’ve got a month of ‘quarantine’ before we’ll be allowed to join the rest of the population. We’ll need to be careful until then… I don’t trust this Mia one bit.”
“Nor do I,” agreed Cliff. A month was a long time, but he realized he had little choice in what his captor did, not having a way to communicate with her. “Alright then, we keep our heads down for the month, and avoid her. We’ll sleep in turns to make sure neither of us floats too near the top… Why the hell doesn’t this tank have a lid!”
Rudy sighed, “This is one of our challenges. To atone for our sins we must face the danger of failure, and death.”
Cliff felt a flicker of anger wiggle its way up from his heart. “Now what makes you say that?”
Rudy timidly nibbled at a last pellet which had sunk to the bottom of the tank. “It’s instinct Mr. James, instinct.” And he added, “It’s instinct that’ll keep us alive long enough to check up on your hunch about the black fish, and they’re all we have so we’d better trust them.”
So readers, what are some of your favorite stories involving human transformations? Discuss in the comments below. Go!