by Tom Byam Shaw
So I think I first started seeing it in June, but it might’ve been September. September was when I began paying attention to it. I was in the kitchen at a party hosted by the guy who ran the student radio station. Alex had just done tarot readings and told me that my mental and physical health would take a hit, but that my writing and love life would flourish. I was riding pretty high, trading mezcal shots with some Scandinavians, when a woman with antlers walked by the door.
I set down my glass and spilled out of the room, catching her halfway down the corridor before she started to climb the stairs.
I got them from the new studio she said, tilting her head so they caught the murky light. They’re bioluminescent. To demonstrate, she reached over and flicked off the light. They were pale blue, etched out of her head, parting her hair. Growing all the time, she smiled; her teeth flecked with light, since they planted them in my skull.
I left the party heavy with dreams, tracing the drizzled tarmac all the way back to my shitty apartment.
It became one of those collective student manias. Do you remember when everyone was going to or starting spoken word poetry nights? A bit like that. As harsh winter hit our town, first gradually and then all at once, the new mods on offer was what we talked about. The capitals and trendy places further south had their own studios and styles: bionics, mechanics, grafts, it varied.
Ours did a bit of everything. My friend Lachlan went in early November to get a new sense stapled in. I was apprehensive, but when I saw him again he explained. It was just under your diaphragm, the procedure didn’t touch the brain. The implant hummed when you were facing due north. It’d be useful hiking, which he did a lot.
Others were bolder. Not long after I saw someone walking along High Street with another pair of eyes pressed into the side of their temples. Two pupils swam in each.
Right now you’re probably wondering what you would have done. Not as an actual statement of intent, but as another hypothetical to torture yourself with. If you had to have something done, what would it be? Ruth put two whiskers in her cheeks so she knew when it would rain. Asma had her hands and forearms split to the elbow, with another opposable thumb planted in the palm. Nathan put LED lights under his skin; when he concentrated, rippling patterns burst from his fingers to his forearms like aurorae.
Helene outdid us all. It was a procedure that lasted 24 hours, and she emptied her bank past her overdraft and still asked her parents for more. When she was done, the difference wasn’t obvious. After the bandages came off and the neat scars had closed completely, she was confident enough to offer a demonstration; while admitting that she’d been inspired by Nathan somewhat.
Standing in the centre of her living room, our circle of obsessives lined on the couches, she pulled the cord on her dressing gown. I can’t remember who screamed. Across her skin points flexed and relaxed: bunching into tips and dissolving. Chromatophores. Like cuttlefish skin. Helene smiled as a wave of blue and purple shivered from her big toe to the inside of her thigh before exploding green and tracing up her stomach. Joining her arms above her head, she turned uneasily as her skin flashed and bunched.
Touch. She smiled. The crowd pressed in, feeling the bursts underneath her skin.
The receptionist was nice. The office was antiseptic. The light was clean and bright. Tinged blue. Not sickly. Somehow clear. I sat down, holding the binder full of notes. I had had my consultations. I had enumerated the procedures. My trust fund was empty. This would take two days. Every scrap of tissue would be re-arranged, re-purposed, re-used. I would change, alter so fundamentally to be unrecognizable to my friends; my family; my species. When you see me I will lope, or shamble, or crawl down the street. When your small and human eyes meet my compound; or bifurcated; or smooth eyeless plates you will know just what you are; just what you can become. Another form curls inside you, dear reader, curls inside you and waits to be born.