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The Sea God
(An Intervention to Get Charles M. Bonanno Away From His Computer)
Since this is a matter of life and death, Mr. Charles M. Bonanno's brain and name have been used entirely without his permission.
I'm sitting at my computer, waiting for Feech to send us another story. I say "us", of course, to mean the entire membership of the List, because that of course makes sitting here more heroic.
I'm sitting here on my own behalf, really, but hopefully Feech will be fooled.
I've forgotten what day it is.
I feel the roughness of my face. No scales, but some scraggly beard growth. My fingers aren't yet numb enough to succumb to total painlessness and are only partially paralyzed as of yet, so I tilt them to avoid the most pressure-sore spots and work on an online crossword puzzle. My fingers make creaking noises and send some bursts of pain up to my brain, but I stubbornly ignore them. I will sit at this computer, and if that means my fingers have to complain until they fall off, so be it. I already read everything on the List, and it's been slow lately, apparently because no one else has decided to join me in my lonely vigil.
Either that, or they've realized the resounding implications of my plea and are also sitting at their computers, posting nothing in the same wide-eyed, innocent "I can't write anything so I will wait here until you do" -- oh wait, there goes Michael Bard, blowing the whole schtick. Now Feech will think that just because I've written something before I can do so again. Hm... Is it possible... No. Of course not. I refuse to allow any other writer to sit in embarrassed silence at _their_ computer, just because they can't get started either. One of us has to start sometime, and I already said it's going to be Feech.
"No you didn't. You said you'd sit at your computer until Feech sent you another story."
"I spoke on behalf of the entire List," I point out to the delusions speaking in my dehydrated, mirage-ful mind.
"Write one yourself, Chuck."
I take exception to that. I turn around.
"Wait a minute," I say, squinting. I almost lose my balance in my chair, from the effort of turning my head. The scene of my dim room weaves in front of me. "Whatreyou doing -- outta my head?"
"You sound drunk, you're so hungry. Or are you really drunk?" The form that speaks steps closer and seems to take suspicious sniffs of the air around my computer. "No, very un-drunk. You must save yourself. Write your own Feech's story."
"Who are you?" I ask clearly, having set my head in one place long enough to recover speech and sight.
The figure shrugs, as if he suddenly realizes he might not want to have spoken to me in the first place.
"You smell like cigar and cigarette smoke," I feel the need to point out, because the line about my possibly being drunk and smelly made me embarrassed.
"It's not mine," the young man says defensively. "I can't help it."
I look him over somewhat critically. Sort of a Depressionistic-shabby young fellow, who definitely smells like he's been enshrouded in any number of volatile smoke brands. His shoes are violently polished, though not new. It seems like everything he's wearing is either too large or too small for him.
I notice that this strange person has perched on the edge of a stool, a speakeasy type stool, which certainly hadn't been part of the room furnishings before I sat down to wait for Feech's next story.
"I had to have one," he explains, slightly less on the defensive but with an ornery tone to his voice. "It comes with me so I have a place to sit."
"So, get on with it." He waves a skinny hand at the computer.
"Uh--" I turn towards the screen, uncomprehending, then wrinkle my brow and frown. "No! That's totally against this whole principle. Who are you, anyway?"
He thinks about telling me. The man is light-complected, in fact inordinately pale as if he rarely steps out in sun and wind, but he still manages a dark glower from under his own brows. "Beckey," he growls. He frowns until, apparently, he realizes I have no idea who that is and feels safe.
"Lot of good you've done me," I crease my unkempt beard hairs at the stranger. "Telling me to write my own story-- as if-- and then you won't explain yourself-- thanks. What are you doing in my home anyway?"
"Gee whiz, CM. Like you're using it anyway. I'm not in your way, am I? Were you going to the refrigerator?"
I roll my eyes at 'Beckey's' dramatically outswept arm. The cuffs of his long autumn overcoat are buttoned back awkwardly, apparently so he can find his own fingers in the oversized thing. "No." I fold my arms. "I'm staying right here." I peer at the out-of-focus crossword I had momentarily forgotten. Bringing it into clarity in my brain, I ask, "What's a four-letter word for 'conceited and renowned'?"
Beckey thinks hard. "Powell. Right?"
I stare at the screen. "I can't make that fit." My fingers are too stiff to attempt to count off appropriate letters.
Beckey laughs, unsettling at first.
"I'll try 'diva'," I mutter at last, forcing my hands to type.
Beckey leans over on his stool to see what I'm doing. "You can read and write. Couldn't you do something yourself, instead of this, so the story gets finished? Nobody cares whether you get their puzzle right."
"I'm not doing a story, so there is no story to get finished."
"Eh." The thin person sits back again and grimaces as he attempts to bend one knee up to settle a foot on a rung of the stool. "Bad knees," he explains, almost accusingly, when I glance at him.
A possible explanation for this person's presence crosses my mind. "Hey, wait a minute. Listen here, you. I had nothing to do with that. I don't care _how_ many rumors there are, none of it's true. None of it!" I gesture widely to draw Beckey's attention away from the collection of ancient baseball bats in the corner of the room. "Those have-- I mean, the sins of the fathers and-- I have nothing to do with it. I don't care how many so-called Italians tell you otherwise, I..." I trail off. My joints creak almost as painfully as Beckey's, for different reasons.
Beckey just looks at me somewhat disdainfully. "So." He shrugs. "I'd remember if it was you that broke it. And I'd hear your name if you had something to do with the next time around. And the... the other things, too." The man actually blushes.
"What, now you're accusing me of lowdown mobster pranks??" I panic slightly.
He scoffs. "Of course not. You're putting this all in on your own to draw attention away from the real reason I'm here." Suddenly there are only shadows, and the baseball bats no longer show.
I fold my arms again. "I refuse to write anything."
"Too late. You might as well finish it, now."
My jaw drops in a very good show of righteous indignation and surprise. "I don't think so, Mr. Whatsyername Beckey. Just because I'm thirsty and delusional is no reason to torment me and get ideas out of my head. You can just-- go." I wave towards where I think I remember the door being.
"I can't write or read. F-- I mean, you have to do it for me."
"Ah ha! So you know Feech and _he_ must have sent you, ha ha! Got you now!" At least, it sounds like a fair accusation, although just what I 'have him' for is still unclear. I attempt to ponder that.
"Well, I did mention his name," Beckey points out.
"Yes, but that was when I was thinking about him."
Beckey shakes his head pityingly. "You really are confused, aren't ya, mister." He holds the knee that seems to be bothering him most.
I peer at him narrowly. "I'm... not the only one, am I. You don't know what we're doing in a room together, either."
The room suddenly seems foggy instead of dim.
Beckey glances around, timidly, at the shift, then back at me. His attempt at a boldened poker face can't entirely disguise a raw fear that makes me uncomfortable, too.
The young man seems to be looking at me as though perhaps I will prevent whatever event he is afraid of, as the fog chills both of us and I realize that my back and hips feel as if I have been sitting on a cold surface for a very long time. The room had been warm when I started my story-vigil.
"You're a ghost," I accuse him, in my own terror that I can't explain the origins of. "You-- you're doing all this." I start to wave my hand at the enfolding fog, but I don't feel safe, all of a sudden, reaching out where I can't see. I rotate my wrist once, and the joints complain. Beckey gets off his stool, stumbling as his knees buckle, and comes close to me as if he, too, can't bear the dying visibility and needs to see at least something familiar. The thought of the darkness removing us from each other's sight grasps my throat with an uncomfortable choking hold. Even if Beckey is the one doing it all, or maybe especially if he is, I must see him or something horrible will happen to me.
"I don't want to die," Beckey almost whimpers to me. What happened to the warm room and the regular, if odd, conversation? He's looking at me with disconcertingly hollow eyes. Where they had blue-gold color before they are now greenish-fog grey. They're earnest, fearful and not quite right.
I try to grab the back of my chair and find that it is not there. That's what I was afraid of. The fog eating up everything. Darkness seems to be brought in as a solid thing the tendrils of vapor string along behind them. "No," I tremble, "You're a ghost, admit it!"
He nods, sadly, but he's shaking more violently than I am, or at least my vanity would have me say so.
"I knew it!" The triumph doesn't make me feel any better. "Stop-- all this. Right now."
He shakes his head in the negative. He turns his eyes away from mine, and I see that up until I said that he truly thought I might be able to protect him from... something.
"Say something," I command Beckey.
He tightens his mouth and shakes his head again, not looking at me. I think he might be avoiding crying from fear. A light breaks far, far above us. I don't want to look up.
The darkness begins to resolve into sections, below us being pure, deep black. My feet have no hold on anything. I keep my hands at my side as long as I can, but eventually they begin to float upwards, in a way familiar and totally unwelcome. I force them down again. Every moment that I relax they are drawn upward with the buoyancy of any live body underwater.
I shake my head, because to say "No" in protest would waste air.
It's hard to move in any direction under the immense, green and yellowed pressure. I can see the form of Beckey, with the coat floating upwards as well. Neither of our bodies moves from this spot far below the lighted surface. I don't wonder why I will not swim upwards. It would take too much time. We would die before we got there.
I don't want to look up, but I do.
This is when I begin to remember. I can see Beckey is already fearing, knowing it is too late as well. He's resolutely holding his breath, in the futile self-preservation I've adopted myself, but there's a clamminess to his appearance that doesn't come from so little time underwater.
I can see, but I don't want to see, for if I look too long I will become what I see and that is the one thing I want to avoid above all other things. Above me is a white body, a belly, of enormous width and length, angled up towards the cone of light that barely illuminates me where I stand in my human shell.
My flesh feels heavy, and is beginning to flake, in what I realize is a deliberate rotting away so that I will have to take the only shape open to me. Not fair!
No, I won't remember, I set my mind against it, but if I will not remember then I have to do it all over again, as it's happening above us now. I won't. I refuse to die that way again.
Again... I don't want to remember there ever having been any death. At all. Ever. I swirl upwards, without my human body, towards the firm, smooth white belly of an undersea reptile, its glossy and well-fed form in careful, worried stasis as it attempts to conserve all its massive lung capacity's air.
I know it won't last forever. The air is up beyond my slanted silver eyes, in the sun-shaped glimmer that indicates the breakthrough point and the surface. I can't hold out until the entire time is up, because I need to try to get away.
I know what I am, even though at the time I was this animal there was no such thing as "prehistory". There can only be "prehistory" with "history", and there is no such thing. I can't die this way again, please.
When the pleading begins I know it is too late.
There is only one thing to do, but I feel that once I begin it I will give in to panic and the end will come.
My lungs are beginning to feel tightened. I've already tried, until I knew it was taking away my remaining air, to struggle with massive twists of my form away from the hard, warm land-rock that crashed through the surface and slammed half my pelvic region and part of my right hind paddle into another section of fallen cliff.
The world shakes many times in one swimming animal's lifetime, I had no reason to fear the shore when the rattles began. It doesn't matter now how freakish my situation is, because it is the last thing I will ever experience. I don't know about coming back as anything else. I don't want to die.
My black paddle-fins and curved spine jerk in a more concentrated attempt to shift the stone by small increments. Nothing responds. Vibrations from flying reptile-like creatures ripple down from their claw-touches on the surface and make me mad and taunted. The ache and spreading pain of the crushed parts of my body mean nothing if I can have no air.
I only shift my broken bones, not my entire body and not the huge part of the seacliffs that saw fit to crash in on me when I was shooting through the water like I am supposed to do, like I was always supposed to do. Saltwater sears the insides of my lungs and I realize too late that I have begun to try to take in breath. No breath, no. Wait-- I pull towards that maddening ripple of flying things. My lungs contract, hard, as my nostrils allow in more water as if it were air, I'm losing my control, I'm losing my mind, everything is gone.
I have strange recollections of green water where I hid when I was very little, where I could no longer fit when I grew black and white and huge, how the roots and caves there seemed to grow smaller, and how the mottled yellow backs of the next generation's babies seemed far-off and childish, as if I could never have looked that way or seemed so innocent.
I open my mouth but it is not to eat, and I choke on the water in my lungs and my whole torso revolts, vomiting up from my gut as though I had eaten something toxic, but it goes on and on because with every muscle spasm my stomach and lungs try to draw back to regroup for the next attempt to clear out the seawater, and more is drawn in. I can't shake from fear, I can't move to escape, I can only force water in and out until my organs, my healthy, well-made, full-grown, blissfully fed organs begin to fail. I just ate. I felt wonderful.
It's impossible to move. I begin to attempt to breathe the water, possibly my last rational thought, but of course my nostrils are burning and my lungs were never made to breathe from the sea, and the light is right above me, no more than two of my body's own lengths away.
My body continues to wrack itself with choking and attempts to vomit. I roll partway over onto one side. I feel like my muscles where the stones fell are relaxed, painless. Pain is having no air.
I feel like bubbles are floating past me towards the surface, and I want to be like them and do it, too.
Whenever I stop trying the pain goes away, but then I remember that I am dying unless I can get to the light. I can't stop without panicking and I can't panic without trying until... No. I won't die. I refuse.
But I do.
It stays with me, the drawn-out gasps and rush of gurgling, sun-grown plankton-filled water into places water must never touch. I rise from my body and skim across the top of the sea, choking in my mind, coughing as if a little droplet had gotten into my lungs and I had thrust my body out of the sea and coughed a bit to clear it out, that simply.
It stays with me, and I feel lungs tighten in every life since that life, and I choke and cough easily, dislodging something that isn't there and feeling afraid.
I never, ever-- I _never_ want to die that way again.
I fled my drowned body and skimmed away, astonished and ashamed. I should not be dead. It was not-- still is not right. And after a long stretch of hanging there in its half-floating state, my black and white body with its death-glazed tarnished silver eyes and some sickly pink showing where rot had already set in began to break free of its injured parts, but it was far too late for my salvation.
The bloated sea-reptile that had been in its prime and enjoying every moment finally rose into the sun and began to be pecked apart by the flying creatures. Small nibbling things and a few large ones came from below, but none of them could do anything but eat my decaying body, as they had where the leg and joint stayed in between the rocks. I was almost entirely consumed, and the rest settled in the blackness below for colonies of bacteria to cloud over.
I could ask none of them to save me, and I was long gone from this place and time, and I desired never to remember. But in my superconscious in every experience since then, I have been unable to stop it. Damn this Beckey, for reminding me.
I stand there in my own computer room and look around. It's dry, and heated. My computer monitor actually looks bored with my extended vigil.
"What would you have come back as?"
I whirl around and see the damp, dripping Beckey on his aged stool. His eyes are dark hollows, and his cheeks sink in until no skin nor color shows. He has bad teeth, that curl his lip up towards one cheekbone in a half-sneer. Before they created a semi-appealing overbite, but now I shudder and step back.
Beckey is gripping a sodden brown fedora in his hands and wringing it, not in any directed attempt to get the water out, for that is obviously futile, but as if in a longstanding show of anxiety. His hair is plastered to his skull with greyish, partially sedimented water. He's now wearing a "new" coat and saddle shoes. The shoes almost seem to glow in contrast with the state of the rest of his corpse.
"Brand new," he rasps, licking back what I can tell by the all-pervasive smell is seawater, as it drips from the corner of his lip. He holds out one foot, slowly, having seen the direction of my stare.
"So," he inquires again. "So, what would you have come back as?"
"Huh?" That's the most I can manage for a moment, and I shake my head. My arms are down at my sides again, where they should be. Not like... not like the way my powerful fins drifted towards the clear light I could not reach. "You look awful," I comment, coughing.
He laughs, then breaks into painful coughing much as I have just done. "Then I--" more coughing-- "I looked good before huh?" Beckey grins.
"Well, a little _better_ if not exactly _good_. Maybe I'd go so far as to say weirdly cute," I add quickly, feeling like it might not be good to insult the poor dead guy. "You don't look so well now. I thought you looked, well, not bad before."
He chokes a bit and reminds me, "I keep askin'... What--"
I nod, "would I have come back as. I don't..." I shake my head confusedly at him.
"_You_ know. The big If. If you hadn't--" he waves a hand at me briefly, then tilts his head to take the comment back away from me and put it on him, as if realizing how much more dead he looks than I at the moment.
I don't want to say the word, but I will. Okay? I'll say it. "Drowned." I feel a sick tightening in my stomach. "If I hadn't _drowned_, damnit."
He nods, encouraging.
"I dunno." I sit down heavily in my computer chair. Somehow it seems like my clothes should squish around from seawater, but I'm home and my clothes are dry.
I raise my shoulders in an extended shrug, to indicate that I really, really don't know.
"What would _you_ have 'come back as'?" I challenge Beckey.
"This." I look up to see what I expect will be the dripping body I have been conversing with, but it's a dry-clothed man as well, with red hair and a much ruddier complexion than Beckey's had been even before the ocean incident.
"Hi," he says, reaching out a hand to shake. "I'm Feech."
This just about gets him killed, as I roar and leap at him to tear his head from his body. "You little shit! You bedamned little creep got me away from my crossword puzzle to drown me again?!?"
"Ch-urgh-arles" he grks around my clenching fists. "St-rgh-ories, rem-urf-ember?"
Oh yea. I drop him.
"I drowned too, Mr.B. This is what I would have been if I didn't. But I did. I never knew..." He looks a little shy, but continues, "I never knew that you, you know, died that way too."
"Well I would have just as soon not remembered it, myself."
"I promised myself that I would, because I wasn't ready to go. I panicked and said I would remember everything, and it changed all my plans. I ended up in a totally different body from the one you see now."
"Um. Well. I mean, put it that way, and I guess you know there are all kinds of reptiles that I would... choose, I suppose..."
"But you didn't." He sits down on a chair that matches mine. "Why not?"
I open my mouth to answer but don't really have much of a chance as I am swiftly interrupted.
"I'll tell you why not. _This_ is why not."
I feel myself spreading over the entire floor. It takes me about three nanoseconds, a long time, I know, but cut me some slack, I've been through a lot today, to figure out what I'm becoming.
I scrabble at the flooring with my thick front claws, but can't get much purchase so I curve my body around using my belly for support and get a look at my tail. Good and massive, just like I like 'em. "But why wouldn't I have wanted to be this in the first place?" I mentally ask the intruding, yet acceptably Charles-transforming Feech.
"You did, Mr. Bonanno. I changed my mind in a snap decision, and so did you. You didn't want to deal with the memories, while I insisted on remembering everything. Why do you think you want to be transformed all the time? If you hadn't panicked about dying how and when you did, you would have taken a form you planned on all along."
"Why does this feel like a story wrap-up combined with a lecture?" I ask, suddenly suspicious.
Feech looks somewhat smug. "Guess what you've been doing."
"No! I refuse to have anything to do with... writing... a... Phooey."
I try stretching my jaws and find them deeply satisfying in structure and size. "Why wouldn't I have wanted to be a saltwater crocodile?"
"You just answered part of your own question," Feech notes. "Seawater's the worst. Really sick stuff to drown in. If you lived in brackish or salt water, you know, _it_ might happen _again_. Besides, what about how you fellows actually kill your prey?"
"So I see... Still... I really like this form..."
"And I this one. If I would have thought things out slowly, I would have realized I wanted this one anyway. But I didn't, so I ended up socially phobic because I wasn't drowned by no natural accident, and with bad knees because of certain mob individuals we won't mention right now, and with a... female body."
"Come on, what reasons?"
Feech glances around as though there is something or someone else to see in the room before finally answering. "I ended up female instead of a guy, like what you see now, because... I was ashamed of some stuff. I never should have been. Now I find myself upset about the female body, and it looks more like Beckey's old one did than the one I'm wearing now. You wouldn't recognize me on the street if you went by gendermorphing this one."
"So you don't have red hair in real life."
He sighs. "No. And I'm not exactly a pleasant person to be around when I get hypersocialized. Me as Beckey wasn't afraid of anybody, which got me good and dead in the end, and this form isn't afraid because I'd really rather not be. You know what else I was? Way back before all this happened and I died before my time?"
Feech looks down at me imperiously, and I begin to get nervous, although I outweigh him by about four hundred times. "A duck."
Oh no. "Is this some kind of sick revenge story? Because I can avoid ducks, really I--"
Feech chuckles. "Don't worry. I wasn't anywhere near your species' range. I just wanted to see you squirm, because I'm feeling good."
"You always take it out on other people when you feel good?"
He grins. "Most always."
"Feech, tell me what made you so ashamed you changed sexes because of it. Come on, I'm all naked and scaly in the same room with you, you can tell me."
"That's not fair, really, Charles. Although I'm not keeping anything from you. I'll tell you absolutely anything if you ask the right questions."
"Good, so tell me."
"No. Not until you come out with me to get you something to drink. If you think you were dehydrated before, wait until you feel it in the crocodile's body."
"I believe you misunderstand something, my dear young friend," I say in my own imperious tone. "_I_ am not leaving this computer until--"
"Stop!" Feech wraps his forearms around my muzzle, forcibly closing it, and turns my yellow eyes in the opposite direction from the monitor.
I successfully lift my hindlegs, while my forelimbs are forced outwards from my shoulders and begin to scrabble at the floor in my attempt to get up some traction and speed. "_I_ wrote this story, you said so yourself! I won't be denied my right to protest!"
"Come on, let's go get you a drink."
"No way, I'm not moving from thi--"
I didn't know his trueform was so strong. Apparently this set of his legs doesn't remember having been broken. Damn, try as I might I can't quite reach my heirloom baseball bats as Feech grabs me by the thick crocodile tail and drags me away.