Fluxus

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
A young woman falls into the Puget Sound and is saved by a mysterious new friend. Little does she know what kind of world she vicariously entered.

Submitted: January 18, 2010

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Submitted: January 18, 2010

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Fluxus
She looked like a sheet of printer paper. Crisp white face, her mousy hair neatly combed straight down the sides of her head, and two pale green eyes that glistened in the light, but only barely. And when she looked out over the Sound, the waves spat at her face and the salt water wouldn’t even bring life into her skin. Her mother thought she might be anemic, which would cause her face to be so gray. But it wasn’t that. It wasn’t that at all.
She attended University on the Sound, one of those fancy liberal arts schools where rich kids went to get their French arts and literatures type degrees, had no idea how much their parents were shelling out, or what they were going to do with their worthless degree when they got done. She was there on scholarships alone, and for a fine arts major. She was a remarkable artist when it came to clay and pottery. In high school she was a ceramic prodigy, and her instructors told her that she had to do this as a profession, so she did.
College was alright. She went to class. She came back to her room. She studied. She ate pasta. And sometimes she saw her roommate. Her roommate was one of those people that liked to party, and have hard alcohol. So more likely than not, she lived in her room alone on the weekends.
Honestly though, she was lonely. Because she was on scholarship, she didn’t seem to fit the mold of most of the other students, and thus, struggled to find a niche on campus. She contemplated transferring many times, but couldn’t find a university that could give her such great scholarships.
She found solace in one place though, and she went to this place all the time. If you walked down the hill from the college, toward the Sound, there were several piers in the deep water. It was a local fishing spot, also where some of the larger boats and ferries would dock for a short while. Most of the piers were up high, but one of them was a dock that lay flat on the water and moved up and down with the tide. None of the fishermen used that one because it was too close to the boats, and the boats didn’t use it because it was too close to the fishermen.
It was her dock, and often when she was lonely, she would go there and sit and watch the big cargo barges go in and out, and smell the sea air, and just listen to the flow of the water. No one knew when she went either. Her roommate wasn’t in the room half the time, and she had no friends to wonder where she went. She never thought it would be a problem, until one Friday afternoon when she went down to the docks, just as a storm was coming in.
It was high tide, and a fresh new wave of cold air was blowing down from the north, churning up the water in the Sound. She walked out onto the dock, and was immediately knocked off her feet by a huge swell. She fell against the wood and gripped the planks in an attempt to stabilize herself. It was only then that she realized what a stupid idea it was to go out on the docks before a storm. Not even the fishermen were out today.
She went to stand up, but just as her knees took the weight of her body, an enormous wall of water and wind crashed against her. She saw it too late. Her little body effortlessly flew into the sea. The cracking noise of her head smashing against the side of a wooden support poll of the neighboring pier was lost in the waves. Unconscious and bleeding heavily, she sank down into the blackness of the Sound.
It was quiet as she sank. The sounds of the storm were completely muffled in the dark saltwater. It was a peaceful death, or at least that’s what the police would try to tell her mother. And ever so lightly, her body hit the sandy bottom of Puget Sound.
* * * * *
I saw a flash of silver blue, in the pattern of the side of a trout. A silvery line down the lateral side, speckled with little dots of shimmer. This pattern flashed around in front of my eyes several times. And then two silver colored eyes blinked at me. The eyes belonged to a grayish green face with black shadows around the eyes, under the nose, and on the sides of the face by the ears. The ears weren’t ears, but a sort of web-like fan much like the pictures of ancient dragons of the sea would have for their ears. And he had hair too, messy black hair that stuck close to his head. But he had the body of a human. The more I looked, the more I saw of him. The silver line and spots were on his sides, like they would on a trout or dolphin. He also had strange dark gray freckles all over his arms, legs, and face.
He brought a webbed hand to my head and touched it. Pain. I didn’t think you could feel pain when you’re in heaven. Or hell. Or wherever I am. As he came closer I saw he had two gills, one on each side of his neck. It was dark wherever we were, and his lateral strip and dots down each side almost seemed to glow silver. Also his eyes faintly glowed too, or maybe it was just his whole body that seemed to radiate light. Perhaps he is the water god, or whichever god took me when I died.
“How do you feel?” he asked me, touching his hand to my head again.
“I feel pain. Are you supposed to feel pain when you’re dead?” I asked him.
“What?” he snorted. “You’re not dead! I saved you!”
I cocked my head to the side inquisitively and felt a shooting pain through my neck.
“Ah! Don’t do that!” he said, gently moving my head back into a vertical position. “They’re new, the flesh doesn’t want to be messed with.”
“What?” I asked, starting to wonder what was actually happening. “What happened to me?”
“You fell off the dock. You hit your head on this poll,” he said, knocking on a thick wooden support that was embedded into the sand next to us. “You were unconscious and bleeding everywhere. You were going to attract sharks.”
I put a hand to my head. An unfamiliar texture met my hand. Something was wrapped around my head. Only then did I realize that I was sitting on the bottom of the Sound, underwater. I opened my mouth to gasp for air, and bubbles started pouring out of my lungs.
“Stop, stop!” he yelled, coming to me and closing off my nose and putting his hand over my mouth. I struggled to get free, to fly to the surface. “Stop, you can breath just fine. You just were. Relax. Focus. You can breath. Feel it.”
And slowly, I realized that it was real. That I was sitting on the bottom of the Sound, breathing. He released me and backed away slowly. His gills were pulsing water through them in reaction to my struggle. Then very gently, I brought a hand to my own neck. Right above my collarbone, the skin had been perforated. It stung as I touched it.
“Don’t touch, they need to heal,” he said, taking my hand from them.
My eyebrows furrowed and I stared at him. “What did you do to me?”
“I saved you. There was no way you would have survived that. I happened to be under this pier when you fell. I had no choice.”
“What am I?” I whispered. Quickly I checked my fingers. No webs. Thank god.
“A human,” he said. “You are just as you were when you fell, except for the added bonus of the capability to breath down here.”
“Okay, what did you do to me then? How come I have gills?”
“You sank down here, and the only way to save you was to get oxygen to you. So I breathed oxygen into your lungs, and in the process of doing that, it gave you gills. It’s a very complicated process, but…”
“You couldn’t have just taken me back up to the surface?” I was outraged. I had gills. I was a fish.
“No. You needed medical attention. So I gave it to you. No one is up there. No one could have helped you. Believe me, I didn’t want to do this to you either, but I had to.”
His silver eyes were big and innocent looking, even with the dark black shadows on his face.
“Can I please go back home?” I asked.
“You will be extremely cold when you leave the water,” he advised. “When you are down here, you’ll stay warm.”
“So you did more to me than give me gills?” I asked, a little concerned that I was completely comfortable in this icy water.
“I hope not,” he said, looking away.
I chose not to pursue that, but instead get as far away from him, from the water, as possible.
“I’m going now,” I said, trying to propel myself upwards.
He helped me swim to the surface. I noticed he had a bit of a dorsal fin on his back, which was the same charcoal color as the markings on his face. I broke the surface of the water and took a huge gulp of air through my mouth. He helped push me back onto the dock. It was dark out, deep into the night. Once out of the water I could see that his lateral silver stripes and dots were indeed glowing.
“If you need me, you know where to find me,” he said as I stood up on the now calm dock.
“Why would I need you again?” I asked, still blinded by anger towards him that I was somehow part fish.
His face flashed with sadness briefly and then he shot down into the dark water.
In a sudden pang of guilt I called back to him “Thank you for saving me!”
He didn’t hear me.
* * * * *
When I woke up the next morning, to an empty dorm room, I assumed it had all been a very strange nightmare. Lillian had been partying the night before and didn’t come back. Perhaps I went to sleep early and had dreamt it all. Fish people don’t exist. I rolled out of bed with a tremendous headache. It was that bad of a nightmare. I stumbled to my desk and plugged in my electric kettle to make some strong black coffee to snap me out of my daze. I noticed a heap of clothes from yesterday on the floor, and then realized that I was completely naked and my hair was heavily matted. It hung down in long tangles across my neck and shoulders.
I looked in the mirror at my face. My face looked gaunt and tired. I looked abnormally pale too. My hair was disgusting. It had a strange odor to it I couldn’t quite place. I grabbed a hair band off my dresser and attempted to contain the mangled mess. Then as the hair was pulled from my body I saw two gray black slits just above my collarbones, one on each side of my neck. I blinked. They were about two and a half inches long and stung when you touched them. Bright red flesh lay below the black outer sheath.
Then I identified the scent in my hair. Tide flats. And my clothes. They left puddle on the floor. They were drenched with the seawater. In a panic, I checked my hands and feet. No webs. My skin was spotless. No funny silver streak either. My ears were perfectly intact. But the gills. They stuck out against my white skin like two big ugly hickies.
I noticed it was close to noon and Lillian would be back soon. Quickly I hid my wet clothes and grabbed my towel and headed to the shower. Showering proved more problematic than I first thought, because the second soap or shampoo got into the gills they shot the most severe pain I have ever experienced all through my body. I had to wash my hair leaning backwards so that no soapy runoff would touch them.
After my shower, I got dressed, and realized that I couldn’t let anyone see my gills. I wasn’t sure how to explain to somehow how or why they got there. No one would believe me. Fortunately it was early November in Washington and wearing a scarf did not seem too out of place. I wrapped one around my neck just as Lillian walked in, extremely hung over.
“Have a good night?” I asked her as she climbed into her bed.
“Yeah, yeah, super fun.” She mumbled from the sheets.
“Cool, I’m heading out,” I said, turning off the lights for her.
I made my way down to the docks again, to try and find my mysterious fish savior and ask him to kindly remove my gills somehow. The Sound was very calm on this Saturday morning. The water was back to its calm and gentle flow around the piers. I walked out onto the dock and sat down, peering into the deep dark water, hoping he would come up.
After staring at the water for what seemed like an eternity, I realized how stupid I was being. Fish-men don’t exist. And even if they did, he was probably long gone by now. Why would he stick around such a dangerous place full of fishing hooks and propellers?
I stood up to leave, deciding that I would just go to the hospital and have them stitch up these big ugly holes and be done with it all. But as I began walking away I heard a thump on the dock behind me. I turned around to see him sitting there, his whole body out of the water. It started me to see him so suddenly.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked.
“I could see you looking into the water, silly,” he replied.
“Yeah I was looking for you, why didn’t you come up?” I asked.
“I wanted to see how serious you are about wanting me to remove those. I wanted to see how long you’d wait, how willing you were to believe that I am real.”
“Well you are real, and so are these,” I said pulling part of my scarf away and revealing the left gill. “I can’t just live with these. Can you get rid of them for me?”
His face fell. “No can do,” he sighed. “I’m afraid they are now a permanent fixture.”
“Can I get them stitched up in a hospital?” I asked.
“Yes, I suppose you can try. It won’t work in the long run though. The gills are already set into your respiratory system. It’s all connected now. There’s no undoing it. If you are embarrassed by them, then you can cover them up.”
“I am not embarrassed by them,” I corrected him, “They just look a little weird against my… abnormally light colored skin.” I realized that my skin was almost a gray green today. I must have been seeing things. “Regular humans don’t have them, and I might raise a few questions.”
“I see,” he said, “Well cover them up then. What ever suits you.”
“Isn’t there anything I can do to fix this?” I begged, becoming desperate.
“No,” he said. “Just accept it. I saved your life, and this is what I had to do to save it. Stop being ungrateful. These gills aren’t as ugly as you think.”
In reality, for being a fish-man, he was a very handsome being. I felt a bad that he felt insulted by my desire to be rid of them, and for that I quit pestering him about it.
“Thank you, by the way for…”
“I know, I heard you,” he snapped. “These ugly ears have pretty amazing hearing for being fish ears.”
I saw that I had upset him greatly by my request. I was silent for a moment, then came and sat next to him on the dock.
“You’re welcome,” he finally said.
We sat there in silence. I tried not to stare at him. His body was extremely well toned, and seemed to have the same bone and muscle structure as a human. The only differences were his skin coloration and markings, his ears, gills, small dorsal fin, and webbed feet. Afraid to make things worse with my savior, I tried a new tactic.
“What do you call yourself?” I asked, trying to make the question sound as sensitive as I could, but it came out wrong.
“No, I am not a fish-man, or a mermaid, or what ever other crazy titles you probably keep giving me,” he snorted. But I think he seemed pleased that I was taking an interest in him. “We’re called Fluxus. It’s Latin for flow. One is a Flux. More than one is Fluxus. We flow like the water, we blend in with the water. We are the flow.”
“There are more of you?” I asked in amazement.
“In Puget Sound? Yeah a bunch of us.”
“Aren’t you afraid someone will see you?” I asked, realizing we were in broad daylight sitting on a dock.
“No one is out right now,” he said. “I know all of the patterns of the fishermen and the ships. Saturday and Sunday sees little traffic here. However, you usually come out here on the weekends.”
I flushed pink despite my unusual pallor. “Look, I’ve got to get back to school. But thank you once again for saving my life. I’m sorry I was so ungrateful to you.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, “I would be pretty upset too if I woke up and realized I had ugly human ears and hands too.”
I could hear residual spite laced in his tone and I went to say something kind to him but he cut me off.
“Hey don’t you want to know my name?” he asked. “I have a name you know.”
“Fine, what’s your name?” I asked as nicely as I could.
“Nikolai,” he replied, jumping into the water, then bobbing like a cork as he said, “And what is your name?”
“Bennett,” I replied.
“If you ever need to find me, you’ll know where I am,” he said, just as his head plunged under the surface and I saw his shining body slide down into the depths of the Sound.
* * * * *
Several days passed. I wore the scarf every day, and no one ever noticed. It wasn’t like there was anyone who would notice anyway. Lillian was gone most of the time, and I had class. Being a liberal arts school, I had to take more than just ceramics classes at University on the Sound. I focused on my schoolwork, but every once in a while I wondered about the Fluxus that lived in the Sound. Then more days passed, and gradually I began to delve further into my classes, learning to live with and accept gills. At least they were easy to hide.
As the days turned into weeks, I began to notice a definite shift in my skin pigment. I was very pale to begin with, but increasingly so, I appeared to look almost green, or sometimes ashy toned. I assumed it was the wintery climate, and began to wear foundation and blush to give my face a bit more color. I was almost sickly looking when I didn’t. No one seemed to notice.
My head injuryhealed remarkably quickly, but I began to have severe back pains, in one centralized location between my shoulder blades. I assumed it was from hitting against the pillar. The gills began to sting less when touched or when they came in contact with soap. I had full rotation of my neck back fairly quickly as well.
About a month after I first met Nikolai, and after I had just begun to adjust to life with the gills, the back pain became almost unbearable. I was sitting at my desk one night, typing an essay, and I just couldn’t lean my back against the chair anymore. I thought that a hot shower might help, so I stripped down and turned up the heat as high as I could. I let the hot water pour over me, but it didn’t seem to help. I stood there in agony, staring at my feet. At first, I was blindly looking down, but then I noticed something was out of place. Instead of my feet being their usual pink color, they were almost charcoal colored. It was so startling to see them like that that I lost my balance and in an attempt to steady myself I grabbed hold of the faucet and accidently pulled it all the way to cold. The second the cold water hit my back, the pain was gone.
In fact, it didn’t feel cold at all. Finally, and mysteriously relieved of pain, I looked back down at my feet. I spread my toes out. Earthen colored webs connected them all. I touched the thin webbing and realized that it was real. Panicking, I checked my hands. They were their usual pale green color. But since when is pale green normal? Then, fearing the worst, I touched my back between my shoulder blades. Sure enough, a little bump had formed there. It was hard, like cartilage, but hadn’t broken through the skin yet. I touched my ears. Little ridges had been forming along the outer helix, but you could only feel them if you knew what to feel for.
Extremely disturbed by my new features, and the fact that my only pain relief was icy water, I stepped from the shower and decided to try and ignore what was happening to me. As long as I could hide it, I was safe. I didn’t want to bother Nikolai with this again. I had to show that I was grateful for my life, what ever it cost me.
Over the next few weeks, the charcoal color at my feet got darker and extended up my legs almost to my knees. The webbing got much thicker. My skin got more and more gray-green and I had to use more and more makeup to cover it up. The skin around my eyes and ears and under my nose got darker too, which had to be covered. My ears continued to develop into little fanned webs of skin and turn dark. The fin on my back broke through the flesh and continued to grow. That began to be the hardest to cover up, that and my hands. My hands began to grow webs between the fingers too, as well as turn dark gray.
Finally, just before finals week, the changes became so dramatic that I couldn’t hide them anymore. My ceramics final was to produce a large-scale sculpture, and without the use of my independent fingers and thumb, there would be no way I could complete it. I had to go to Nikolai.
I went on a Saturday, because I knew he wouldn’t be afraid of coming out of the water. I wore many layers of clothes, not only for warmth, but also to cover my changing body. I had woken up that morning with dark freckles all over my arms and legs. I went down to the dock and called to him.
“Nikolai, I need you!” I called, into the water. “Please, please, help me,” I said, sitting down on the dock. Tears began to come to my eyes. “Please… please… Nikolai.”
I began to cry. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t coming. I just sat and waited. I knew he was testing me somehow. So I would wait, show him how patient I could be, how badly I wanted to prove to him that everything was real. I sat in the freezing wind and cold for several hours, and he never came. I began to shiver violently. Just as the sky began to dim and fall into twilight, I realized what I had to do. I had to go to him.
In the icy wind, I pulled off my shoes and socks, exposing my dark webbed feet. I pulled off my jacket, my jeans, my shirt, until I was left in nothing else by my underwear and bra, body completely exposed to the wind, dorsal fin flopping against my back in the breeze. I had to trust that I would be warm down there. I had to trust that I could breath.
“This is real,” I said to myself. “Nikolai help me.”
And I jumped off the end of the dock.
My body hit the water, but it wasn’t cold like I expected it would. It was pleasantly mild. I let myself bob in the water for a moment before diving under. I ducked my head under and my gills flushed open and took in the seawater. I opened my eyes to see nothing but blackness. Light was coming from somewhere around me though. My sides, the silvery line and dots were glowing faintly. I dove down, deeper, looking for him. I called his name in the water.
And suddenly he appeared in front of me, in a flash of silver. He was grinning from ear to ear as he looked at what I’d become.
“Nikolai, what happened to me?” I asked. “You never said this would happen.”
“I know, I’m sorry. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what would happen to you,” he said, his smile fading. “I haven’t exactly ever done this to a human before. I just heard rumors about it, that’s all.”
I scowled.
“At least I saved your life. Would you rather be dead than be… well…” he didn’t want to finish the thought.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But please tell me, is there anything you can do to help me? I won’t be able to finish school, not with these,” I said, holding up a webbed hand.
“What are you wearing?” he asked, appalled at my garments. It was only then that I noticed he never wore clothing.
“Nevermind,” I said, blushing, “It’s a human thing. But seriously, is there nothing you can do for me?”
“Well there might be something,” he said, “but it might not work.”
“Anything,” I pleaded. “I have finals next week.”
“There is a Flux up in the northern part of the Sound that knows some magic or something. I know magic seems so silly to talk about, but he might be able to help.”
I thought to myself that magic didn’t seem silly at all. Two months ago I didn’t have gills, and now I’m a freaking Flux-fish.
“Can you take me to him?” I begged.
“Sure,” Nikolai said, darting off into the black.
I attempted to swim after him, but couldn’t keep up. I was brand new to my new apertures.
“Slow down,” I begged. “I’m new at this.”
“Oh I forgot,” he said, whipping back to me. “Crash course in swimming like a Flux, here we go,” he said, grabbing my hand and taking off.
He moved like a torpedo through the water, using his fin and webbed digits to propel him with the greatest of ease, despite having to tow me along behind him.
“How can you see where you are going?” I asked, staring as hard as I could into the deep black water ahead of us.
“Your eyes must not have fully developed yet. I noticed they still retained green pigment. Silver eyes,” he said. “When they are silver you’ll be able to see like me. But for now, just trust me.”
“How far is it?” I asked, wondering how much longer it would be. I couldn’t gauge how fast we were swimming. All I knew was that it was fast.
“Hah, we won’t get there tonight,” he said. “We’re spending the night down here first. In the morning we’ll go.”
“Why not go tonight?” I asked.
“Because he’s asleep. We don’t want to wake him, or he might not help us. Fluxus aren’t nocturnal, you know. We have the same sleeping patterns as humans.”
I suppose it was a stupid question on my part.
“Wait, why do I have to spend the night down here,” I asked. “Can’t I meet you in the morning somewhere?”
“You’re being so silly,” he said. “You need to see what it’s like to live as a Fluxus, even if it’s just for a day.”
“Fine,” I resigned. I assumed this was, once again, one of his tests, seeing how badly I wanted to change back to a human.
“Where do you sleep?” I asked.
“Well there’s this cave under one of the islands. That’s where my clan sleeps,” he said. “It’s not very far away now.”
We swam a ways into the black and soon I felt the water get colder. We swam lower, and then back up and I realized we had entered the cave. Ahead of us I began to see a light. Then more lights appeared and I could make out the sides of the underwater cave. I couldn’t tell what was producing the light; they just looked like little glowing orbs.
Soon I began to see flashes of the silver sides in the distance ahead. Another Fluxus passed us going out of the cave. He didn’t even look at us. Then suddenly, the cave opened up to reveal a large expanse of light coming from a large glowing orb at the top of the cave. There were close to fifty Fluxus in there, most of them were sleeping. They slept in hammocks made of old fishing net, strung up on the sides of the cave. The ones that were awake sat on the sandy bottom, talking amongst themselves. No one seemed to notice us come in.
Nikolai led me up near the top of the cave and to two empty hammocks.
“Sleep here,” he whispered to me, pointing to the hammock above his. “I’ll be down here if you need anything.”
“How can you sleep with this bright light on like this?” I whispered back as I swam up to the hammock.
“What are you talking about?” he said, “It’s only a dim flicker.”
Must have once again been a vision difference with my still green irises.
“What is that thing, anyway?” I whispered, pointing to it as he curled up in his hammock.
“Ever seen a jellyfish?” he snorted at me.
“Oh,” I sighed. “Nevermind.” My vision down here really was that bad.
And we both just fell asleep. I was exhausted from the little bit we had swam and very overwhelmed with spending the night underwater, and instantly fell asleep.
* * * * *
I couldn’t get to sleep. I kept looking up and seeing her lying there, her body exactly like mine, except that she wore those strange white constricting human things. I had watched her for so long in her human form. And it was so startling to see her here in my world, just like me. It also made me very sad to know how much she loathed being a Flux. Were we really that ugly?
The next morning, I awoke before she did. Which was good. I had to somehow explain to everyone where she came from. We had all heard stories of humans turned Flux, but no one had actually ever witnessed it. They didn’t prod too much, thank goodness. When she awoke, she almost fell from her hammock and fortunately I was close by and could steady her. It was amazing how awkward she was in the water. I mean, she had the webbing and everything, and yet she couldn’t move nearly like we could.
That morning, we went out to get breakfast out by the docks near the cave. In my opinion, that’s where the best kelp is, aside from the kept in the real ocean of course. I tore into a big piece and felt the rubbery texture slide down my throat. I loved this kelp. So much better than the little seaweed strands over by where I found her. I offered some to her, but she wrinkled her nose and refused it.
“Come on, this is what we eat, try it,” I begged, holding out a big green blade for her.
“That’s disgusting!” she cried. “No way. I’ll just eat when I get back to school.”
“It’s going to be a long swim, you need to eat something,” I protested. “This is the best kelp in the Sound.”
Finally, she took the blade and nibbled a little off the end and somehow choked it down.
“Good isn’t it?” I smiled, munching on another blade.
“It’s gross,” she said.
“You need the energy,” I said, raising my eyebrows a bit. I was not going to carry her all the way there and back!
After much convincing, she finally somehow finished the blade.
“Good girl,” I said. “Okay, so can you try to keep up this time?”
“Yes, I can try. I’m new to this whole… fish thing,” she mumbled, staring at her hands.
“Good.”
We swam off. I slowed myself down considerably to make sure she could keep up. Eventually she got faster. She was watching my movements and attempted to emulate exactly the angles at which I pumped my arms and how my arms and legs worked in harmony together. I was rather impressed with how quickly she caught on. We made fairly good time swimming north through the Sound, avoiding the ships and barges.
“What’s his name?” she asked as we neared his domain.
“Antonio,” I replied. “He’s pretty old. But it’s been rumored that he knows some cures for things like this.”
Honestly, I didn’t want her to become a human again. Selfish of me, I know. But I enjoyed her company. She was very pretty. But she sometimes freaked out over the littlest things. Like having gills. Come on, it’s not that big of a deal. But if she really wanted to be human again, I’d help her. What ever it took. I did this to her, the least I can do it make it right somehow. Make her happy.
Antonio was from the Mediterranean seaboard and had come here about two years ago to escape prosecution. There was some major overhaul in the social structure of the Fluxus there and his powers, or knowledge, or whatever made him so special put him in danger, so he fled to the Northwest seaboard.
We neared his place, which was a small canyon in the Sound bottom. Before we even reached the entrance, he met us.
“Hello,” he said, looking at us. “What can I do for you?”
He was known to be very hospitable and nice, despite the fact that he guarded his canyon very well against visitors.
“My name is Nikolai, and this is my friend, Bennett,” I explained. “We have come in hopes that you can help us.”
“What do you need help with?” Antonio asked in a calm voice.
“I am actually a human,” Bennett said. “Nikolai transformed me into a Flux to save my life when I fell into the Sound. I would have drowned. But I want to be human again. Can you help me somehow?”
“Ah,” Antonio sighed. “Haven’t encountered one of your types in a while. Funny things those gills eh? How quickly one can grow them if their giver so desires it.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, “He had to save my life.”
“Of course, of course!” he said “Had to be done.”
“But can you help her?” I questioned.
Antonio looked at me and his eyes flashed with an expression of warning.
“Yes of course,” he said. “Wait right here.”
Bennett smiled at me as the old Flux glided down into his lair and disappeared.
“Thank you for taking me here,” she sighed, touching my arm. “And thanks for being my friend.”
“You caught that…” I smiled. I had called her my friend. After all, she was.
Antonio came back holding a small bottle filled with pink liquid. He handed it to Bennett.
“Drink three drops of this every day until you regain your human features again. But do not drink more than three in one day, or else it will surely poison you. Once the bottle is empty, you will be fully human again. It will take a while, so don’t become impatient.”
“Thank you so much!” she said, taking the bottle in her hands. “How can I ever repay you?”
“By figuring out who you are,” he said.
Then in a flash, he was gone. Bennett tucked the bottle into the top half of her white thing and smiled at me. We began to swim back towards the dock so she could go back to the college and become human again. An ache began to form in my chest. It was a pain I had never felt before.
“What do you suppose he meant, ‘figuring out who you are’?” she asked me.
“No idea,” I replied. “He’s known for being full of sage wisdom like that.”
I swam slower on the way back. I didn’t want it to end. She was so full of life, so vibrant, so feisty, and so human. Fluxus never bore emotion like she did. Our emotions are solitary. We live in clans, but are very much solitary individuals.
Eventually we reached the dock. She was about to jump back onto the dock when I stopped her.
“Wait,” I said.
“Yeah?” she replied.
“You’ll come back to see me, right?” I asked. The ache had grown stronger.
“Sure,” she said. “I don’t really have any human friends, anyway.” She smiled.
“Alright,” I said, smiling back.
“Hey, can I get your help with something,” she said, a bit of worry in her tone.
“Of course, anything,” I replied, eager to please her.
“I have this ceramics final I need to complete, and I need the full use of all my separated digits.” She fanned her hands out in front of me to display the webs. “And since the effects of Antonio’s medicine won’t come through for a while, I was wondering if you could possibly help me get rid of these?”
Interesting word choice on her part, that the pink bottle was medicine to her. “Sure, how do you want to… fix your hands?”
She jumped up onto the dock, and I followed. It was mid afternoon and the dock was just as she had left it almost twenty-four hours ago. Her clothes were neatly piled there, waiting for her. She stood up and walked toward her clothes and pulled something from one of her pockets. I didn’t recognize it.
“What is that?” I asked.
She fumbled with it and soon it exposed a blade.
“I am right handed, so I can do my left hand, but I’ll need to you do my right hand for me,” she said, her voice wavering.
“Bennett, what are you talking about?” I gasped. “Is a grade really that important?”
“Yes, if I don’t complete my final, I fail the class, and if I fail the class, I will lose my scholarship, and if that happens, I will be kicked out of college. This is important.”
My eyes widened and I stared at her. Only then did I see a faint ring of silver in her irises, just right next to the green.
“Please,” she begged. “I need this. I’ll do my left hand first.”
I couldn’t dare let myself inflict pain on her. But she needed my help. She sat down on the dock with the blade and spread her left hand out, fully expanding all of the webs. The skin had not fully developed and was still very thin in some places. She stared at her hand, the blade in her other hand, just inches away.
“I can’t believe I’m going to do this,” she whispered. I sat down next to her, and put my hand on her shoulder.
I wanted to comfort her, but I couldn’t watch. As the blade neared her hand, I closed my eyes.
“Aaahhh!” she yelled as I heard the knife scratch against the wood. I opened my eyes briefly and saw blood all over the dock and the silver knife still running its blade along the thin folds of skin. How stoic she must be.
After what seemed like an eternity, the sound of the knife on wood stopped and she began to gasp for air, and the sound of her crying filled my ears. I opened my eyes and saw that each digit on her hand was free and human-like, and blood covered her fingers and the dock.
“Okay,” she sobbed, her voice shaking. “C-c-can you please d-d-do the other one?”
She fanned her beautiful perfect webbed hand out to me. “P-p-please, you’re t-t-the only o-o-one who can d-d-do this f-f-for me. P-p-please, Nikol-l-lai.”
The bloody knife lay next to her. In a sudden act of ridiculous human emotion I wrapped my arms around her shaking shoulders. I wish she knew how much I cared, how much it hurt me to do this to her.
I took a deep breath and picked up the knife. She lay on the dock, her body shaking, but her hand steady and exposed.
“I am so sorry for this,” I said.
“No, d-d-don’t be sorry,” she said, “T-t-thank you.”
The second I touched the blade to her skin and felt her warm blood on my hands, I vowed to protect her from any harm, ever. She was the single being I cared most about. I cared so much that I was willing to do this for her, to cause her pain, and to destroy the thing that connected us, being Fluxus. But it was for Bennett, anything for Bennett.
* * * * *
I looked really funny wearing latex gloves while sculpting. I wrapped my fingers in thin sheets of gauze until the bleeding stopped, but I couldn’t get any clay into the fresh cuts. I took substantial amounts of over the counter pain medication to get the pain to a manageable level so that I could use my hands. But the important part was that I could use them.
I drank three drops of the medication every day and slowly, very slowly, I saw changes. The first thing to change was my skin pigmentation. Finals week came and went. I passed all of my classes, and went home for Christmas break. I live just a few miles away from University on the Sound, so it wasn’t like there was much of a scenery change for me. Mom was happy to see me, and complained that I didn’t come home more often when I went to college so close by. Truth of the matter was that I wanted some independence from her. She was great and all, but I needed some room to breathe.
She thought it was odd that I always wore a scarf, and long sleeve shirts and sweaters, and jeans, and socks. Oh and I always wore my hair down to cover my ears. She never outwardly asked why I did it, but sometimes would ask if I wanted the heat in the house turned up or something.
It had been about two weeks since I began taking the drops. He was right, the changes would be very slow. One afternoon I decided to go down to the dock to visit Nikolai. Truthfully, I missed him. He was one of the few people in my life that took an interest in me at all. I missed having friends, and someone to talk to that was my own age. (Professors and my mother didn’t count as viable social interaction.)
It was a windy day on the Sound, and my hair whipped around my face and would occasionally expose my webbed ears. The beach was sunny though. I walked out onto the dock and sat there for a moment, hoping beyond hope that Nikolai would come up, and that I wouldn’t have to go find him somewhere in the Sound.
“Come on, Nikolai, I know you’re down there,” I playfully called into the empty waves, peering down into the deep water.
I heard a thump from behind me as he popped up onto the opposite side of the dock. His face was beaming and his hair flew about his face in a wild black mess.
“Bennett,” he called, elated, “how are your hands?”
I showed him my hands, and the big ugly scars on the sides of each of my fingers.
“Better,” I said, cordially.
“And how is the… treatment?” he asked, skirting around which word to use.
“Good,” I said. “I’m still mostly Flux under this,” I motioned to my clothes. “But I’m slowly working my way back to human state.”
“Good, good,” I heard pain in his voice.
“How are you doing?” I asked, as I saw his face falling.
“Good. I’ve missed you,” he replied, sequestering a smile.
“Hah,” I laughed, “good to know, I suppose.”
Truthfully, I’d missed my friend too.
“Are you Flux enough to come for a swim with me?” he asked, walking toward me. I hadn’t realized how tall he was when we stood next to each other. It was truly an oddity to see him out of water, in my world.
“I don’t know,” I said, trying to be polite. “It looks kind of cold.”
“Don’t be silly,” he said, “you know as well as I do that it isn’t cold to us.”
I gazed out into the water. The blackness of the waves, the wooden dock, his face, and the now brown blood stains on the wood brought back a cascade of memories from the last time I was swimming with him. I looked down at my hands. The new pink scars from the removal of my Flux flesh made it all real.
“Bennett?” he asked, noticing I was staring at my hands and the scars.
Then I felt something in my chest. It was an ache, but it wasn’t painful. It was an ache of longing. I heard my own heartbeat.
I flipped my jacket over my head, slid my jeans off, and pulled my shoes off. The spots, stripes, shadows, all of the markings were there, but they had faded.
“Come on,” I said, grinning.
I grabbed Nikolai’s arm and pulled him into the water with me.
It was then that I realized how happy I was down here. I was not happy to be a Flux by any means. But I was happy for companionship. Happy for someone to play with, someone to swim with, someone to talk to. A friend.
Have you ever touched the top of a manta ray? Raced with an international cargo ship bound for South America? Played fetch with dog sharks? Tickled anemones until they laughed? Tried six different varieties of kelp? Thrown rocks out of the sea?
I have.
I went down to the Sound every time I could. Christmas break ended and I began a new semester, and a new set of classes. School demanded my attention, but for once, I spent less time in the dorm room than Lillian. I began to just wear my bathing suit down there, instead of stripping down to my underwear every time.
Though I loved the Sound, and loved spending time with Nikolai, I continued to take the pink drops. I knew I was a human, and I had to stay human. I had to go to college, had to get a job, had to live the life I was given. My mom gave me the life of a human, and I was determined to live that life.
* * * * *
I had given her the life of a Flux. And she loved it. I saw how happy she was. How happy swimming here with me made her. She came here all the time, and we spent hours down on the bottom, just gliding. She said that being a Flux made her feel like she was flying. That she could soar beneath it all, soar on wings I gave her.
And day after day, her color began to fade. Her dorsal fin got smaller. Her webbed toes began to thin. Her ears began to smooth out. And the silver ring I saw in her eyes all those weeks before was gone and they were back to their human green. The ache in my chest grew heavier and heavier the more I saw her change back to her human self.
But she kept coming back. We got closer and closer. I fed off her raw human emotion like a sponge. Fluxus barely have emotion, and what emotion we do have is usually kept to ourselves. But human emotion, this is so rare and so special. She captivated me. I couldn’t help myself. I cared about her so deeply, and it brought so much joy to me to see her so happy. I felt a strange warmth circle me when I was with her. Like nothing else I’d ever felt, it overpowered me, this strange new human emotion. I wondered what it was.
* * * * *
I was lying to myself ever day. Of course I couldn’t just walk away from him, from everything. I was becoming more and more human every day. That’s what I wanted right? Right? I wasn’t sure anymore.
By mid-February I was almost entirely human again. The gills remained, but everything else was back to normal. I spent as much time as I could in the Sound with him. My grades began to slip. I had no friends, no human friends, that would keep me on the surface. My friend was in the water.
But by the time only three drops remained, I was failing all of my classes and knew I needed to get my act together. This was the life I was supposed to live. I was a human. I’d take the last three drops, and become human again, and say goodbye to the silly fantasy I’d been living under the water.
It was a Saturday. I sat in my room at 8:00am, staring at the bottle. My gills were still intact, lying flat against my skin. The last three drops, and they would seal over. My days with Nikolai would be over. I contemplated throwing the drops down the drain. I also contemplated just swallowing them now, and not even saying goodbye to him. It would be too hard.
After staring at the bottle for about an hour, Lillian came in, still drunk from the night before.
“What in the fuck are you doing up?” she muttered. She reeked of alcohol. “Don’t you have some friends or something?”
“Go to bed, Lillian,” I said.
“Stop being so damn pushy,” she said. “I’m just saying, you need to stop being a loner.”
“I do have friends.”
“Yeah right,” she snorted. “You don’t have anybody.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said. “It’s all just a game anyway.”
I looked over and she had passed out on her bed. I looked down at the bottle and in one swig I drank the last three drops.
* * * * *
She ran down the hillside with such speed that it almost looked like she was going to trip over herself. She reached the dock and as she ran out onto it, she took off all of her human clothes. All of them. She dove down into the water like a bullet, shearing through the waves effortlessly.
Frantically in her human body she searched. No webs. No hypersensitive ears. Nothing to help her. Just her gills which weakly fluttered in the water. She became light headed as the gills began to fail her. She didn’t have much time left to find him.
“Nikolai,” she weakly called, struggling to stay in control of her movements in the rough sea, just below the surface.
And then like a rag doll, she felt limp. Her gills had sealed over and left her perfectly unmarred, pristine neck remained white in the green sea. She sank down into the water, until her human body finally settled on the sandy bottom of the Sound. And all she wanted to do was say goodbye to him one last time.
* * * * *
I saw a flash of silver blue, in the pattern of the side of a trout. A silvery line down the lateral side, speckled with little dots of shimmer. This pattern flashed around in front of my eyes several times. And then two silver colored eyes blinked at me. The eyes belonged to a grayish green face with black shadows around the eyes, under the nose, and on the sides of the face by the ears. The ears weren’t ears, but a sort of web-like fan much like the pictures of ancient dragons of the sea would have for their ears. And he had hair too, messy black hair that stuck close to his head. But he had the body of a human. The more I looked, the more I saw of him. The silver line and spots were on his sides, like they would on a trout or dolphin. He also had strange dark gray freckles all over his arms, legs, and face.
He brought a webbed hand to my neck and touched it. Pain. I didn’t think you could feel pain when you’re in heaven. Or hell. Or wherever I am. As he came closer I saw he had two gills, one on each side of his neck. It was dark wherever we were, and his lateral strip and dots down each side almost seemed to glow silver. Also his eyes faintly glowed too, or maybe it was just his whole body that seemed to radiate light. Perhaps he is the water god, or whichever god took me when I died.
“Bennett?” he said, touching my cheek. “Are you alright?”
I put a hand to my neck. Stinging pain.
“Yes, yes I am alright. Never been better.”
He smiled.
I smiled.
“Glad you’re back.”
“Glad to be back. And this time I won’t leave.”
“Promise?”
“I promise.”
My skin already regained its sea green twinge. The scars on my fingers had already formed new skin on top of them. But the best part of all?
“Bennett, you are beautiful. All of you,” he said.
“I’ll be more beautiful when the transformation is complete.”
“Your irises,” he said. “They… they’re silver.”
“Your heart,” I replied, “I can hear it beating.”
The End


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