Published: August 5, 2005
"I hear and do strange things in sleep, and awake with a kind of exultation instead of terror." - HP Lovecraft, Shadow Over Innsmouth
A slender blonde teenager shambled through the cooridors among the bands of lively high school students, all dressed in matching purple and white uniforms. Among them, she seemed almost a zombie, devoid of anything but the most basic animation.
She wasn't in a mood to be listening to the teacher or the guide as they explained the various displays and artifacts they were passing. There would be a test later, or an essay assignment, or something like that, and she would be getting something less than her usual A, but that didn't bother her right now.
She was listening to the whispers of her peers, intermixed with the whispers came out of her own mind, a whirlwind of sounds, rising and falling, the beat of the crowd's heart.
The beating whispers were placed in counterpoint by the squeaks and clicks of her shoes, with all the others, striking and dragging across the slick floors of the mueseum. They blended together with frightening fluidity, growing into the squeal of tires burning to a stop.
The guide's baritone voice growled inaudibly, morphing further into the death cries of a man watching the end of his life approaching in the charging form of a solid tree.
With each step, the visible world blurred, speed lines blending across the historic artifacts that surrounded her. Each permutation, more serious than the last, she drew further in and more frantic. She hung in silence, unable to voice her rising emotions...again. Just frozen in silence, facing the onslaught of grief and guilt as meekly as she had faced her father's death.
The teachers had long given up trying to reach her today. They were too busy trying to take care of the other students on this field trip to worry about the inconsolable. Which was fine with her for the moment. She didn't want to deal with other people just yet.
When the blurred and distorted surroundings suddenly broke into an incredible clarity, it was something she was wholy unprepared for. The island of screaming, solid reality drew her attention like a mouth to the flame, and she found herself facing a bronze medallion carved in relief.
The medallion was carved to resemble a woman's intensely staring face bordered by a circle of interwoven cords. As cool as a tame fire on a winter night. The face was African when Terra's eyes first landed upon it, but as she watched and the cords coiled serenely. As she watched, the face shifted slowly in features to Meditereanean, European, Asian and further, shifting always.
At times the face was gentle, at others it was terrifying, and the animals about her shifted as well, sometimes hostile and sometimes affectionate, other times unconcerned. She reached out quietly with her hand towards the medallion, expecting the glass case to stop her at anytime, despite the fact her hand was already through it. There was still an enormous gulf between her and the medallion, half a foot that stretched forever. If she could only cross that, the world, her world, would be forever and irrevocably changed.
The face shifted slowly, features growing slowly more and more familiar as she watched and her hand moved closer.
"Granddaughter," a whispered voice said with a solemn sense of finality. “Welcome.”
Suddenly the entire surroundings snapped flat into crisp reality as she found herself holding a plastic replica of the medallion in the case. She blinked in surprise and looked up to see the guide passing similar medallions out to all the children, but none of theirs seemed half so complete a duplicate as hers, and the weight she felt was more than she could account for in the plastic.
Looking toward the case, she blinked again, viewing the real thing and for a moment she wondered what the big deal was. It looked as cheesy and fake to her as the plastic medallions all the other students had.
All except her.
She was holding something ancient. Something that should land her in jail if anyone were to see her walking out with it, but she didn't feel at all scared. The medallion was hers, and that was the truth of matters. Everything seemed clear again, and she moulded right back into the pack of teenagers and paid attention to the guide as he directed their attention to another display.
Her grief and guilt had come under control, and her eyes saw everything clearly. Bright orange eyes, like the light given by a sun edging over the horizon.
Colleen Black turned toward the sound of the opening door and walked to the edge of the living room to watch as her daughter closed the door again and slipped off her shoes. Terra’s manner and demeanor gave her some relief as she seemed a lot more animated and aware than she had been.
“Did you have a good field trip, Terra?” she asked hopefully.
“It was okay,” Terra said, turning around. She held up a sort of necklace, but Colleen didn’t pay it much mind. “They gave us a free necklace.”
“Why did you buy those contacts?” Colleen asked warily.
Terra looked up toward her mother with confusion clear in her face. The orange eyes were narrowed with the attempt to understand what her mother was talking about.
“Like, what are you talking, Mom?” Terra asked.
Before her mother could answer, the light shifted, and Terra’s orange eyes again appeared brown.
“Oh, it must have been a trick of the light,” Colleen said. “I thought your eyes were orange for a moment.”
“Okay, yeah,” Terra said. “That, like, would be kinda strange. I gotta go work on this essay thing for the field trip now, Mom, I’ll be down for dinner.”
Her mother nodded and watched go upstairs. Terra paused only a moment to glance into the mirror, mostly out of curiosity.
“They do look sort of orange,” she muttered quietly. “What’s that about?” She walked into her room and laid the medallion down on her bedside table.
Terra awoke the next day, with the vague memory of the previous night’s dreams, and stretched wearily in her pajamas. She yawned and glanced up toward the crucifix on her wall. For a moment her gaze was fixed on it. It had sat reassuringly on her wall for ages, but had never seemed more than an inert sculpture. This morning, however, the comforting light coming off the structure didn’t appear to be reflected sunlight.
She didn’t think about it too long, however, she still wasn’t completely awake and she had to get ready for school. Shaking her head clear of the anomaly, she snagged a uniform and some clothing before stumbling off to the bathroom to get groomed, dressed and, most importantly, awake. She felt especially tired and off-balance this morning for some reason.
She dumped her pajamas in the wash haphazardly, drawing what sounded to be an exaggerated sigh of relief from her as she did so. It was like the material had shrunk over night, crushing her chest and hips brutally. She was almost relieved that she didn’t wear anything under the pajamas to bed, however ridiculous the concept that her clothes shrank was. She was too busy imagining the wedgie that would have resulted to care that it was unlikely.
Terra stepped into the shower and stood under the water, letting it clear her early morning fog as she went about the dull practice of soaping herself down. Surely some perverted peeper would have considered the sight a wonderful show, if the bathroom had a window, but for Terra it was just another morning chore. And this morning there almost seemed to be more of her to clean.
Stepping out of the shower, she started to dry herself off and then walked to the mirror. Her first glance into the mirror and she flinched, blinking in confusion. The woman before in the glass couldn’t be her. She was too curvy, too mature, too sexy. Hesitantly, Terra reached up to grasp her hair, and the bombshell in the mirror did likewise. Experimentally, she started to braid the blonde locks, examining the reflection as it proceeded to copy her every motion until all the extraordinarily long golden, not merely blonde, hair hung from her head in a group of long, thick and intricate braids.
“Wow,” Terra said simply.
Terra walked downstairs, still a bit off-balance but understanding why now.
“Terra, dear, are you all right?” her mother asked, hearing her daughter’s steps. “You’re taking an awful long time getting rea...oh my!”
“I think I’m, like, having a growth spurt or something,” Terra said in embarrassment.
Colleen reddened heavily as she examined the way Terra was squeezed almost indecently into the suddenly outgrown uniform.
“How could I possibly have missed this!” she gasped. She came to a conclusion quickly enough, a death in the family was known to be heavily distracting after all, but she didn’t mention it out loud.
“I don’t know,” Terra said. “Yesterday I was, you know, Meg Ryan and today I’m totally Pamela Anderson.”
Colleen reached for the phone and grimly dialed a number, looking toward her daughter.
“Well, you’re not going to school like that,” she insisted firmly.
“Hold it, you’re going to call me in at school over clothes?” Terra asked in disbelief.
“I’m sure Father Greenwich would understand,” her mother said dryly.
Terra looked slightly dissatisfied, despite the near mountain of shopping bags that surrounded her. Any other time, a shopping spree like this would have thrilled her to the bone, but the fact that she was practically forced into this did not make her happy.
In addition, the school uniform store didn’t have anything with her sizes. According to them, no sixteen year-old could possibly have her sizes and only a few rare adults (not including the surgery induced). The result was that her new class uniforms were now on order and the replacement was still leaning toward making her look a bit like the fetish idea of a Catholic school girl.
Those were still not what was most on her mind.
Her mother reached out and touched her hand softly.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she said reassuringly. “No one is responsible for ice on the road.”
“I just sat there, Mom,” Terra said quietly. “I couldn’t even scream, I was just like a wet rag.”
“And what do you think you could have done?” her mother asked sharply.
“I don’t know,” Terra said quietly.
“It’s amazing enough that you didn’t get seriously hurt yourself,” her mother said quietly. She sighed and straightened a moment before leaning back to her daughter. “I’m not asking you to forget him, heavens, no, but don’t blame yourself to keep that memory.”
“I’m going to be fine,” Terra said hesitantly, then she continued, more confidently. “Really, Mom, I think I’m getting through this. It got really bad yesterday, and then it got….okay.”
“Don’t be embarrassed to talk to me, though,” Colleen insisted. “And do something about those dreadlocks. You look ridiculous.”
Despite herself, Terra laughed weakly at the comment.
Terra rolled in her sleep, the medallion still on her bedside table where she had placed it the day before. It sat inert and heavy as Terra twisted restlessly, sweat dripping off of her forehead.
“So,” Erica said, smirking as Terra came up to her locker, right next to Erica’s. “You get out of school to do a little cosmetic surgery, huh?”
“Chwa,” Terra snorted as she opened her locker. “As if. I seriously don’t know what was wrong with my old sizes. Do you know how totally annoying these things are? I’ve got perverts with camera phones following me around campus now.”
“You should have thought of that before, shouldn’t you?” Erica said smugly.
“Please,” Terra said. “If I’d gotten surgery, I’d still be bruised up and healing and junk.”
Terra shut the locker with a heavy slam, denting the metal door with the casual slam. Erica’s response and Terra’s own indignation froze as they looked at the vaguely hand shaped dent.
“Whoa,” Erica said. “Bionic woman much?”
“I am totally not a cyborg,” Terra snapped back, rolling her eyes. She turned about to start to walk toward her class.
Whatever Erica was about to say in response never came out. A trio of tall, muscular bodies, senior football players, put themselves in Terra’s path, smug and self-important expressions on their faces.
“Well, Terra, looking pretty go…” the boy’s words choked in a sudden expression of terror as his entire body seemed to seize up at once. His two friends were struck by similar sudden terror.
Erica couldn’t see Terra’s face, being behind her, but she could see the thick braids of her hair twist faintly about, as if a strong wind were blowing that touched only them. Then Terra stomped around and past the boys, who collapsed as she left them behind.
Erica swallowed nervously and wondered just what Terra had done to so terrify the older boys.
Colleen’s opinion of her daughter’s new hairstyle had past beyond amusement after a week had past. On the one hand, she was glad that Terra had done something to bring a bit of change to her life. On the other, dreadlocks were not a look she appreciated for her child.
Terra didn’t really seem to think about the braids one way or another. She almost seemed to have forgotten her hair, actually. Before the accident, she’d spend almost an hour taking care of it. Now, she barely stayed in the bathroom long enough for a basic shower. If Colleen mentioned the braids, Terra always seemed to take a moment to figure out what her mother meant, and then she’d promise to handle it.
Colleen was nervous about pushing the issue, not wanting to drive her daughter away at this time, but it was such a radical change in behavior. She had to mention something, and she was prepared to do just that as Terra walked into the kitchen, looking intently down at her arm and holding it with her other hand.
“Mom, what is this?” Terra said nervously, and any thought about the braids fled Colleen’s mind.
Terra was looking down at a patch of rough and red skin in the middle of her forearm. Her mother came over swiftly to take the arm and look it over.
“It looks like it’s just a rash or sunburn,” her mother said hopefully.
“This isn’t the only patch, Mom,” Terra said. “There’s some on my back, and on my neck,” she cocked her head and pointed to a patch of red there. “It’s everywhere!”
“Maybe it’s an allergic reaction,” Colleen said. “Something you picked up playing soccer?”
“Mom, I’m losing hair,” Terra squeaked, drawing her mother’s gaze upward for a moment before Terra continued in a panicked hush. “Down there.”
Her mother flushed brightly and looked about in embarrassment.
“And look at my nails!” Terra brandished her hands and the nails, which were almost brown and seemed to be more pointed than normal.
“We’ll go to the doctor,” she said decisively. Then she continued in a cheery tone. “And it will be nothing, you’ll see.”
More patches of red skin had appeared by the time Terra was brought to a doctor, and the old ones had grown. She was having a tough time with trying to avoid scratching at the burning itches. Her nails were almost black now, and besides not wanting to further irritate her skin, she was trying to hide them.
Then her mother walked into the room, looking relieved and comforting. Terra stood up and walked up to meet her, anxiety clear on her face. Her mother’s words almost immediately drew a sigh of relief from her.
“It’s just a rash,” Colleen said. “No virus or bacteria or anything else. The doctor says that it looks like just an allergic reaction. The skin looks like it’s going to peel off soon and you’ll be fine.”
“Oh, great,” Terra said irritably, despite the obvious relief. “I’m going to look so like a leper.”
Terra stepped out of the restroom stall and strode to the mirror, wincing at the specter that faced her. Her entire face was red and cracked, and her pupils were contracted to a mere slit down through the orange irises. The rest of her body was no better and the itching was driving her crazy, and scratching with her…claws only made matters worse.
Desperate she stuck out her tongue to lick one of the points of infection and almost gagged as soon as she did. A line was etched down the middle of the first half of her tongue and the very tip was split into two prongs. She half thought the tongue was longer and slimmer than she was used to as well.
“Like, what the hell iss going on?” Terra demanded.
“Terra, Mrs. Drake is getting…ewww,” Erica said, shivering slightly as she saw what Terra looked like under the hood she had been wearing all day. “That’s really some rash. Maybe next time you won’t rush surg…”
“I didn’t have plastic surgery!” Terra snapped frantically, pulling her hood back up.
“Whatever,” Erica said. “Look, this lady is here for career day and Mrs. Drake wants us all there.”
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Terra said bitterly.
She angrily walked out of the restroom and strode down the hallway toward her classroom.
“What is she, a nurse or a librarian or some other church approved occupation for women,” Terra asked, looking back over her shoulder toward Erica.
“Navy search and rescue actually,” a young woman’s voice said ironically, drawing Terra’s face around.
Terra gaped in surprise, not at the naval officer’s uniform about the Japanese-American girl in front of her, but at the translucent image that seemed to overlay her. Swishing through the air about the woman, Lieutenant Kuwiko Schmidt by her name plate, was the ghostly image of a shark marked by a huge scar along its side where some other shark had bitten it.
The woman looked no less surprised as she regarded Terra, taking a slow deep breath of air in through her nose before a softer and more understanding expression came over her face.
“Don’t worry, it’ll be over before you know it,” the woman said, seeming to refer to her presentation, but Terra somehow felt that the sentence was a message meant completely for her.
Terra stumbled away from the woman and toward her desk to sit down. The naval officer watched her, unblinking, until she finished taking her seat, and then the woman put back on a cheerful expression and started to address the class.
“Okay,” Lt Schmidt said. “The Navy isn’t all about big guns and torpedos. We also have one of the most elite search and rescue programs in the world…”
Terra shivered in the corner of the shower as the hot water streamed down from the spout. Lying across from her was the red and cracked skin that had, until this moment, been driving her insane. Aside from the split down the middle and the hollow nature of the skin, it almost seemed to be a clone of her.
To add to the matter, the hair of her braids had fallen about her in a wide mess, but the “braids” remained. Several of the greenish appendages had lifted up at her thought, giving her a brilliant view of the…she could only call them tentacles. She blinked and slipped her tongue, completely forked now, out of her mouth and then pulled it back in.
She couldn’t even begin to call herself human anymore, how could she face anybody as this….thing.
She grimaced and grabbed her clothes, getting dressed in a near daze and pausing at the door of the restroom. She couldn’t hear anything beyond the door, so she took a chance.
With a swift dash, she was through the hall and into her own room. Just a moment later, her mother wandered into the hall curious at the sounds she was hearing.
“Terra?” she asked quietly, but received no answer.
Looking towards the bedroom with a dissatisfied and worried expression, she strode toward the stairs and walked down to the first floor.
In her room, Terra’s eyes frantically landed upon the medallion that had been sitting in her room the entire time. Angrily she strode to it and grabbed it up.
“You did this,” she snapped tearfully. “What did you do me?”
The medallion grew hot in her hands and she gasped as she collapsed to her knees and her eyes seemed to grow vacant.
Scores of faces streamed through darkness, and lives ran backward, starting with Terra and moving back, through her father and his father, and his mother, and ever backwards.
Terra gasped in shock as she was struck with the reverse image of the last moments of life of a woman that looked like she did now, armed warriors assaulting her in droves among a forest of statues that seemed to have been soldiers themselves. The memories moved further back to the woman’s metamorphosis, similar to Terra’s own, and back to a human life.
The next three ancestors also appeared human, and then another monster-woman appeared. This one died under the hot breath of some kind of dragon, even as the dragon’s body grew stiff as granite. In the next forty generations, four more of the creatures occurred until the images stopped, focused on a woman with three faces and three bodies. Several other women were masterful warriors and leaders, with very clever tactics, but no one that had ever made history pages.
“Metis,” the first body and face said, a motherly and calm woman dressed in humble ways. All the knowledge and joy of hearth and home was in her body and she smiled with a light to eclipse the sun.
“Athena,” the second said, a tall and imposing woman in robes, wearing a helmet and bearing a stout spear. All of a fighter’s power and skill was incarnate in her hand and her eyes held the light of wisdom.
“Medusa,” the last said. The woman was beautiful, even with the scales covering her skin and the tentacles that took the place of her hair. A pair of great brown hawk’s wings spread out of her back majestically.
The three bodies merged into one and then the roll of lives leaped forward at a tremendously faster pace than before until it slammed to a stop with Terra grabbing the medallion and yelling.
Terra blinked back into awareness of the physical world and stared at the medallion in her hand.
“Like, no way,” she whispered. “What am I supposed to do now?”
The question was idle, but it brought a reaction. Terra flinched as the medallion grew warm, but she barely had the chance to say “not again” before another wave of images washed over her.
Colleen looked up hopefully towards the sound of steps coming down the stairs. When she looked up, she saw her daughter, hesitant, but finally free of those ugly rashes. Colleen sighed in relief and then smiled encouragingly.
“Are you all right now?” she asked. “Everything back to normal?”
“Sort of,” Terra said, growing more confident. “Does everything look okay?”
“Except those awful braids of yours,” Colleen said with a trace of humor.
“Oh, good,” Terra said, smiling warmly at last. Her mother couldn’t see the scales or the tentacles, just like the medallion had shown her would happen. The “glamour” worked. “Yeah, all that dead skin just shed off. It was totally disgusting. I dumped it all
in a trash bag already.”
Terra put a cheerful face on as she sat down to dinner and spoke to her mom, but wondered just what else she'd be facing in the future.