|Works by Bob Stein on Shifti|
The courier was little more than a kid, a bit scruffy and looking bored as he held out a clipboard for Eala to sign. As soon as he had the signature, a small box seemed to materialize in his hand. “Merry Christmas.” He handed it to Eala and strode off.
Eala stared at the package. It was no more than a half-meter in any dimension, and unmarked except for a rather crudely scrawled ‘Eala’ across the top. How had the guy known where to deliver this? More curiously, the cardboard was damp despite a decidedly uncommon dry spell throughout Ireland. No wonder the guy had beat feet so quickly. He must have spilled something on it.
Almost as soon as he was inside, the box started dripping. He hurried over to the sink. Whatever had soaked the box must be coming from inside, not outside. Just great. A broken, anonymous Christmas gift. There was a distinctive odor to the liquid, one that he recognized immediately as saltwater. That got him increasingly worried as he pulled at the now-sodden cardboard. What would be delivered in brine? Live fish? He knew there were salt water aquariums, but he didn’t have such a thing.
The sink was half full by the time he tore the flaps apart and saw what was inside. Seaweed? He frowned and poked cautiously at the dark green and purple kelp. If there was something inside, he couldn’t make it out through the swirl of water. Eala blinked, realizing the sink would be overflowing soon if he didn’t get the drain opened. But where was it all coming from?
Pushing the box aside, he felt down around the drain but couldn’t find the stopper. Because it was sitting on the counter. Could part of the box have clogged the drain? He reached down with both hands and lifted the mess up. Water poured from the seaweed, and as he gaped in bewilderment, began spilling over onto the floor. A moment later, the seaweed squirmed in his hands and he dropped the mass with a yelp.
Stumbling back, Eala found that the kelp had left a sticky brown residue on his hands, and he wiped the quickly on his pants in alarm. Though he left a considerable amount on the fabric, his hands remained covered. More wiped off on his shirt, yet his hands remained covered. They felt a bit warm now, as if he had pulled on mittens. It wasn’t a bad sensation, but obviously meant he was having some sort of reaction. In fact, he realized he had the same warmth spreading around his legs and belly where he’d wiped his hands, and also on his feet.
His feet? Holding his hands out from his body, Eala discovered that he was standing barefoot in water up to his ankles. He was so stunned that it took a moment before two very important messages registered in his brain. First of all, his apartment was being flooded by a piece of seaweed. Second of all, whatever was flooding his apartment had dissolved away his shoes and socks. Spinning, he made a run for the door. Only to have his feet give out from under him.
Eala sprawled face-first into the rising water, sending up a swirl of sand where he hit bottom. Sand? He pushed up, finding the formerly solid floor had more resilience than it should. His head broke the surface, and he gasped to see the contents of his apartment crumbling away into what was rapidly becoming an indoor swimming pool. What was happening? How could all this be coming from a lump of seaweed? He tried to stand up, but his legs seemed to be stuck together. Twisting back, he saw that he was totally covered in the same chocolate-brown residue that had gotten on his hands. And that his pants and most of his shirt had already gone the way of his shoes.
There was a pale mound about where his old sofa hand been, and he struggled over to it, having to pull himself with his hands. It turned out to be more sand, a small island rising above the otherwise unbroken expanse of brine. He dragged himself up, confused and more than a little scared, though not as terrified as he probably should be. Whatever was happening, he wasn’t in any pain. The sensations were actually pleasant, like soaking in the ocean on a hot summer day.
Eala blinked as his nose twitched, then started to create more of a division between his eyes. He was swelling up! Idiot! Some sort of allergic reaction to whatever toxic waste had poured from the kelp. And he was just sitting here… on a sand bar in his water-filled apartment. OK. None of this should be happening. He needed to try to get a grip and figure out what, if anything was real.
Unable to stand, he tried rolling on his side. It was hard to move his neck, and he reached up to feel thick folds of flesh that seemed to extend outward to his shoulders. A check further down confirmed that the flesh of his legs had merged into a single limb. For a panicked moment he thought his groin had also melted away, but felt the organ nestled in an orifice in his thickening skin.
Nothing was working right. Muscles pulled against each other, and it felt like someone was kneading his guts like bread dough. Even so, Eala was feeling more curiosity than fear now, along with a growing excitement. He recognized most of the external clues, and impossible as it had to be, he was willing to go along with what appeared to be a transformation he had long wished for. Sure, it was more likely that he was having a very intense hallucination, but crazy or not he was going to enjoy it.
A shudder started in his head and worked down his long, and now sleek, body. Hands feet flattened out into flippers, and his skin erupted in sleek dark brown fur. Whiskers pushed out on either side of his protruding muzzle, and his ears and nostrils became smooth orifices with closable flaps. Imagination or not, he felt wonderful. Full of energy, alive in ways he had never experienced before. Rolling back on his belly, he lunged into the water. Though the space was confined and the water not really high enough for much, he shot around the room, catching and eating a couple of fish that tasted wonderful. Fish? Before he could figure that development out, something even stranger happened. The doorbell rang.
Eala shook his head, then looked around in astonishment that turned to disappointment. The apartment was perfectly dry, the sandbar was a sofa again, and he was lying on the floor. Whoever had intruded on his wonderful dream rang the bell again, and Eala sighed and yelled “Coming!” Except that what came from his mouth was a familiar-sounding bark.
It seemed he had not quite woken from the dream. Eala realized he was still fully transformed. A large part of him rejoiced, though he also knew that he either had a huge problem with sanity, or an equally huge issue with location.
“Ah! I thought I heard you bark.”
Eala blinked. The door that he’d sworn he’d locked was now open, and the courier was smiling down at him.
“Looks like a good job, too.” The young man pulled out the clipboard and peered at it. “Male vitulina richardsi. Now, just one last step.” He scribbled something on the clipboard.
His mind still whirling, Eala gaped as the world stated to close in around him. There was pressure all around him, pushing, squeezing, and then he was suddenly back in warm water again. This time, however, there was a huge presence with him, a female that he instantly imprinted and joyfully followed into his new life.
Back in the now-empty apartment, the scruffy-looking young man smiled and made a final check mark on his clipboard. “Christmas present for Eala Duhb. Signed. Sealed. And delivered.”