The Tall Trickster

It hurts when I change shape, but the pain is delicious. I revel in it as my limbs extend, contract, contort … until I’m a giant or a mouse or a sweet little babe by the side of the canal on the edge of town, waiting for the clip -clop of the washerwoman’s wooden soles. When she finds me, she bends over me and coos, and then she puts me on top of the fresh linen in her basket and carries me home.

Later she tries to suckle me, because she lost her own babe to the plague recently. The moment I latch on I morph into an animal guise, growing large sharp teeth and I bite down hard! The washerwoman dies of fright; pops her clogs, you might say!

They came to the woods, the townsfolk and their priest, with bell, book and candle. Casting out all my demonic brothers and ghoulish sisters. Silly; that won’t work on me! Then they came with painted wooden placards called icons. Ha, the Virgin Mary! I hid from the purifying presence, submerged myself in the brook, peering through film-covered eyes, through the filth on the water’s surface, waiting until they thought they were done.

‘Lange Wapper’ I hear them call me, because I can stretch my legs so tall that I can pear into the windows of the houses all along the canal, my flat webbed feet shaped to float and slide over the surface tension. Time for revenge. Oh my … dear, you forgot to draw the drapes!

[Lange Wapper is a figure from Flemish medieval folklore. The legend centres around the city of Antwerp.]

[NaPoWriMo 2019 – day 15]

Theseus’s Ship

Theseus Ship

The results are in and are final; we have a shelf life, an expiration date. Mankind can live until the age of 122. This is the oldest any human being on this planet of ours will ever be.

The science is conclusive with scientists and researchers in agreement. Nanorobots (the same ones who fight our cancers, deliver our drugs directly to our tiny cells) have taken tissue samples in every nook and cranny. Rushing through red rivers in an alien landscape until they finally reached the small fibre nerves in our peripheries, the microscopic robots have mapped every cell in the human body, examined every mitochondrion and tinkered with these diddy batteries, which scientists believe are the master key to youth.

To no avail. Even the God molecule, tweaked and optimised for maximum potency, eventually leads to liver failure and the potentially fatal sloughing of skin. The only option left to us to prolong life as we know is the unaffordable-for-most solution of replacing every body part, each organ and natural device as it fails.

It is a conundrum to prolong life through mechanisation; we have reached the apotheosis.

Congratulations: you are a first-generation superhuman, a godlike pioneer, a full-body prosthesis with a mind linked to the cloud in row D. You sit and watch your great-granddaughter place flowers in a vase on top of a dresser at your side – she says they are your favourite, she says they are the same flowers you had at your wedding. You search your memory for information, but you can’t for the life of you recall the scent of the flowers, nor the sensation of holding your sweetheart’s hand.

You reply, ‘Are they?’

What She Heard

Photo of blue and white tea cup and saucer. The teabag has a label that says drink me.

 

‘Look, I know you’ll probably think that something’s wrong. But it’s not like that!’ Aubrey places her cigarette to her lips and takes a quick drag, her hand unsteady. She stares hard at her mother.

Hedy is looking at her daughter, who just sat down across from her on the small chequered blue sofa. She feels her grip tighten on her Woman’s Weekly as she studies her.

‘I know what you’re going to think. But it’s not like that this time. So, don’t think that there’s … there’s something wrong with me. It’s not me this time!’ Aubrey’s fixed eyes irradiate genuineness.

Hedy puts down the magazine to add sugar to her tea and starts stirring. She stirs hard and long, longer than she usually does, making sure that every last bit of the hard cane sugar lumps is properly dissolved. The yellow and blue cosiness of the room, with its bookcase and picture frames, cannot protect her. Seaside holiday memories and Victorian postcards seem to lose their comforting power in the face of the grey wave that is about to engulf room. She softens her face.

‘Mmm .. alright, just … tell me what’s on your mind.’ She forces herself to smile at her daughter, then carefully sips her tea as if to say that this is just one of their normal teatime chats.

Audrey’s left foot dances up and down, and she takes two quick drags before putting the cigarette out in a small Chinese ashtray.

‘It’s … it’s the neighbours! They’ve … been talking about us behind our backs! They’ve decided that they don’t like us, and they want us to move out.’

Hedy hesitates.

‘How do you know this?’ she asks. ‘Have you talked to one of the neighbours?’

‘They’re going to call our landlord behind our backs, because they don’t like us, and they want to drive us out of the house. It’s really true. I’m not imagining it!’ Aubrey voice becomes more urgent, and her left foot dances semicircles in the air.

Hedy’s mind scrambles to keep up with the onslaught of thoughts that are trying to swallow up her last ounce of tranquility. She knows that her daughter won’t back down, no matter what she says. There really is only one solution.

‘I’m going to call the landlord and ask him about it,’ Hedy decides. She scans her daughter for a reaction, but Aubrey just glares at her, her left foot still tripping the light fantastic. Hedy carefully places her tea on a sidetable and reaches for the phone.

A short conversation follows, and then Hedy hands the phone over to her daughter. The landlord talks and Aubrey listens. Her expression is sphinx-like when she finally puts the phone down. She crosses her legs and lights up another cigarette, her left foot now perfectly still. Hedy watches and waits while the afternoon sun slowly creeps up one side of the room, the changing light colouring the pigeonholes of the square bookcase an alternating grey and golden orange, like a natural rendition of Celebrity Squares. Then Aubrey’s stillness crumbles, deep frowns and furrows now animating her face, and she starts speaking.

‘Ehmm… he … he told me I was wrong … It’s not true, but I … I really believed it. I was sure that it wasn’t my imagination. I heard them saying those things, but it wasn’t true!’

‘I know, sweetheart,’ Hedy’s voice breaks a little as she watches her daughter grow smaller until she seems to disappear into the pattern of the chair. ‘How would you feel about giving your doctor a ring tomorrow about adjusting your medication? Don’t you think that might be a good idea?’

‘Yes,’ Aubrey nods tiredly, ‘I’ll call him in the morning.’