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The voices were back.  They started out quiet, and almost soothing, but they very quickly gained a volume and clarity that couldn't be ignored.

"Good morning, Doctor Fleischer," not voices – one voice… Isaac's… and, through the intercom, given the faint static.

Fleischer only gave an inarticulate groan in reply.  He had had the most vivid, terrible nightmare, and he was exhausted.  His muscles were slow to respond, and he must have slept at some odd angle because his legs felt odd.  Perhaps it was because he had fallen asleep in the bathtub, again.  He had been doing that a lot, lately – but, his skin had gotten so sensitive to the dry air, and it positively itched if he let it get too dehydrated.

"Doctor Fleischer," the voice returned, gently insistent.  "I want you to look down.  Do it slowly, and, please try to remain calm.  We can fix this."

Look down?  Fix what?  A sense of dread started to well up in the man, and he couldn't ignore a cold prickling up the back of his neck.  He forced his eyes back open, and slowly looked down.


It hadn't been a nightmare – not a figment of his imagination, at least.  No.  Maybe he was still asleep – still caught in some horrible dream.  It felt real, though – the tug and push and pull of the boneless limbs as they moved, and the feeling of lukewarm water sliding over slime-coated skin.

The blond realized that he had been holding his breath, and the moment he did, it felt like he couldn't breathe.

"Doctor Fleischer, please calm down," the intercom crackled.

The command, gentle though it was, was ignored.  Fleischer found himself breathing faster, gasping and gulping, and his heart started racing impossibly fast.  Even his heartbeat felt wrong – there were too many beats, and some of them felt like they were coming from the wrong place, and he had tentacles, and everything was wrong.

He very suddenly felt very sick when he saw the tentacles, again – bright yellow, with their shimmering blue rings, creeping up the tile wall, and draped over the edge of the bathtub.  His eyes snapped shut, and he was left trying to swallow back the bile, and just breathe.  Even that didn't feel right, though; it caused a faint pulling at his sides, along his ribs, and his mouth and throat were dry, and, he just kept breathing faster.

It was only as the edges of his vision started to dim that he felt a small hand gently touch his shoulder.  It still startled him a little – just enough to get him to snap his eyes open and try to see who was there.

"Doctor Fleischer?" Nurse Hayes said.  She sounded concerned, and was even kneeling next to the bathtub.  There was something in her voice, and her posture; she was nervous.

Fleischer only stared at her, his breathing gradually slowing down to something approaching normal.  That is, he stared until he remembered his eyes.  He quickly looked away – turned his attention to a patch of tile wall not occupied by a tentacle.

"Doctor Fleischer, it's okay," the nurse insisted.  There was a nigh-imperceptible shake in her voice, and in her touch, but, there was something sincere in her words.

The Medic's breathing did finally calm, and it was only then that he could force himself to turn his head and look at the woman.  He couldn't imagine that he looked any less a monster than he had before the tentacles…

To Hayes's credit, though, she didn't back away.  She offered a small, sympathetic smile, even, along with a gentle squeeze to her patient's shoulder.  "It's okay," she repeated, with that little smile back on her face.  "Doctor Davis is already working on how to get you back to normal."

Fleischer couldn't help but wonder if by 'normal', Isaac meant the state he had been in before – before whatever it was that they had done – or after.  He had the sinking feeling that it was the latter.  Why undo all of their 'work', after all.

"This was… an accident," Hayes started to explain.  "Doctor Davis didn't mean for this to happen.  Something went wrong, and he's going to do his best to fix it.  Alright?" she added, offering yet another little smile.

That smile – every word – it was all sincere.  Fleischer just knew it somehow, and he couldn't explain how he knew, but, he did.  "Please," he started, and, the word felt odd on his tongue.  "Change me back," he pleaded, having pushed any remaining shred of dignity back, for the moment.  Tears started to well in his eyes, and those transparent lids quickly blinked them away.  "Please…"

"Doctor Fleischer…" the nurse trailed off for a moment, and seemed to bite back a sigh.  "Doctor Davis is the one in charge," she continued, managing a faint smile.  "He's working on changing you back – though, it may take awhile."

How long was 'awhile'?  Days? Weeks?  What if it was impossible?  What if he was stuck – stuck as a freak of nature – nothing more than a scientific curiosity, something that shouldn't even exist?  Fleischer gave a hard swallow, and finally lost his battle to keep tears from falling from his eyes, blinked away by a piece of anatomy that a human being shouldn't even have.

The action prompted another gentle squeeze on the shoulder by Nurse Hayes, along with another little smile.  "It's going to be alright," she said, the way a mother might talk to a child who'd skinned their knee.  "Doctor Davis said he's hoping it will only take a few days to get this sorted out."

It was a lie.  Fleischer could tell by the tone of the nurse's voice, and the subtle changes in her expression, and – and something else.  It was probably a lie with the best of intentions, but, it did little to comfort the Medic.  He felt like he was going to break down into sobs, again, and he didn't need Hayes there to see it.

"Please," he said, his voice slightly hoarse, and more than a little shaky.  "Please, just… just go."

The nurse finally did let out a small sigh at that.  She seemed disappointed – and maybe just slightly hurt.  "I'll be back later with something for you to eat," she said, offering a faint smile before standing, and turning to leave.

Fleischer couldn't help but feel a little guilty – but, he didn't try to stop the nurse as she left.  She'd be back later – she'd said so, even.  He was quietly glad that she had left, though; it meant she wasn't around to see him finally break down into sobs.  He was struck by the occasional hiccup, which was painful enough without the sharp, tightening sensation he felt down his sides, along his ribs, with each one.

He let himself sink into the tub as much as he could, given the tight space, and tried his best not to pay any attention to the tentacles.  It was a fruitless endeavor – they kept moving, and he could feel them, and he wished they would just stop.  The boneless limbs seemed to respond to the thought, growing very suddenly still – until Fleischer could no longer concentrate on telling them to remain unmoving, anymore.

It seemed like hours had passed by the time Fleischer had finally discovered how to get his tentacles (as much as he didn't like to think of them as 'his') to move when and how he wanted them – sort of.  Their color had even changed, fading to a dull yellow-brown with a few dark splotches.  The rings had squeezed shut, and their bright, iridescent blue was nowhere to be seen.

Sinking further into the tub had finally explained why the blond's sides felt so strange – gills.  Submerging them had caused them (nigh-imperceptible slits, when above the surface) to open, and gently fan the water.  Fleischer hadn't been particularly pleased when he'd caught sight of them – caught sight of the dark, delicate-looking tissue attached to the undersides of the flaps of skin.

Gills weren't something that humans had.  Humans didn't have claws, or sharp teeth, or tentacles, either.

The intercom suddenly crackled to life, signaling Nurse Hayes' return.  "Doctor Fleischer?" she said as she stepped into the main room.  She placed something – a tray, maybe – on the table in front of the couch.  It sounded like a tray, at least; and, it smelled like there was food on it.

Fleischer didn't answer, though.  The food smelled good, but, he wasn't hungry.

"Doctor Fleischer?  I'm coming in," she added, her voice still gentle.

Fleischer could tell she was nervous before she even opened the door – he could tell she was nervous even without being able to see her through the shower curtain.  His tentacles, apparently picking up on some subconscious desire to hide, pulled up and behind that curtain, squeezing into the bathtub as best they could.  Given the lack of bones, they were able to pack into the relatively small space with surprising ease.

"Doctor Fleischer," the nurse said, again, standing just outside of the curtain, but not opening it, just yet.  "You need to eat something, doctor.  You must be hungry, it's been over three days."

"I am not hungry," Fleischer retorted, trying to ignore the fact that his tentacles were growing brighter, again.

Hayes, somehow, managed to stay – or at least sound – upbeat.  "I brought you weisswurst with some bread and mustard, doctor.  It's very good – still hot, too."

The only response from Fleischer was silence.  His stomach tightened rather painfully at the thought of good food – of how hungry his body was, no matter how much he tried to deny it.  He felt weak, and exhausted, and, for the moment, still defiant enough to repeat, "I'm not hungry."

"Doctor Fleischer…." Hayes said in a sympathetic tone.  "They're not going to let you go without eating for much longer."

No, they wouldn't.  They wanted their precious specimen alive.  Fleischer knew they would be more than willing to just shove a tube down his throat and make him eat, if it came to that.  He couldn't bring himself to care, though.  For the moment, he could exercise some sort of control, no matter how fleeting.

"No thank you," he said, making some small attempt to be polite, in the face of what he knew would be disappointment from Nurse Hayes.  He could sense that disappointment, too – the moment that her mood deflated.  With every inhale, he could tell that she was worried, and still just a little nervous – and, why wouldn't she be?

She gave only a small, somewhat defeated sigh in return.  "I'll bring your dinner in and leave it on the counter," she said, before quietly walking out.  She returned, of course – soft footfalls quickly followed by the sound of the tray being placed near the sink.  "Please eat, Doctor Fleischer," she said, before finally turning to leave.

Fleischer didn't stop her, and it wasn't long before he heard the sound of the airlock opening, and then closing, again.  He was left in the bathroom with only his meal, and being in the same room made the aroma almost overpowering.  The smell made his stomach twist, reminding him again of just how hungry he was.

He didn't budge, though.  He wasn't sure he could make it out of the tub and to his dinner even if he did want to, for all his tentacles were cooperating.  Fleischer was determined to remain defiant, though – for as long as he could, at least.

Hayes was right, though – they weren't going to leave him alone forever.  One additional day of fasting after Fleischer's refused meal of weisswurst was all that his 'caretakers' were willing to put up with.   He was greeted, soon enough, not with the scent of food – but, the bitter smell of anesthetic .

This story is actually a couple of years old. I was feeling very nostalgic and decided to pick it up and re-read it, and I wound up realizing that it had actually been very well-written. This was also my first real attempt at a horror/thriller piece. I'm posting on here, now, because along with being nostalgic, I would also appreciate any thoughts or critique on it. I wrote this not too long after I published Bedside Manner, and haven't really written up anything particularly longer than drabble, since.

Post-Modern Prometheus is a sort of alternative/hypothetical sequel to First Do No Harm… and Comorbidity…

If you want to delve into the back story, I would definitely recommend reading FDNH before Comorbidity. Both of those stories are relatively old, though, and I feel like I have improved my writing and characterization a great deal since then. As a result, if you do like Doctor Fleischer, or my writing in general (which, if you do, thank you very much - my main hope when I post my writing is that people will get some enjoyment out of it) then consider picking up my book, Bedside Manner, in paperback or on the Kindle…

Fair warning, though, this being a horror/thriller piece, expect some disturbing content, though I am not really prone to using a great deal of blood and/or gore.

As a final note, the thumbnail image is in the Public Domain, and was downloaded from Pixabay…

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Submitted on
September 25, 2014
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