4 min read

Come Tide or Ebb, by Sophia-Maria Nicolopoulos

Abstract image in which flowing colours with bubbles flow through a golden ring against a black background
Photo by Susan Wilkinson / Unsplash

Content warnings

Death of a parent (past)

When the first signs show, slippery skin that glistens underwater and suckers growing on the side of my palms, Father decides to lock me in his bedroom, barricade the windows with different-sized planks, and burn animals in the yard. Defiling the remnants of the animal kingdom would suspend The Plague—people from faraway cities have succeeded by burning baby crocodiles or beetles. So they say, but we have no neighbors to corroborate, no Internet to cross-check, no fresh newspapers delivered.

We have nothing but cockroaches and crabs, metal scraps and fleas on wooden floors. Gluttony has always been the downfall of our kind, so Nature has punished us harshly.

To fill the family yard with fumes of rotten shells and agonizing squealing, when, a decade back, it brimmed with my brothers’ laughter and Mother’s high-pitched reprimands, feels like tradition now. BeforeThe Plague came for me, it did for Mother. And even before that, it harvested my twin brothers. They were only eight when Nature called on them; gradually shedding their humanity to walk on all fours, with horns protruding from their hairy muzzles, and hind legs pushing the ground away, they ran outside the coop Father built to keep them in.

Mother didn’t make it. Her heart was weak after my brothers’ turning. I held her hand when her lower body shifted, long and matte gray; when the fish tail hit on the bed, sleek and thick, cutting it in two. She died with a human face—her bright blue eyes haunted my mind whenever I looked at myself in the mirror, teary-eyed and fuzzy-haired, begging for Nature to let us survive plague-less.

Yet now, as I’m lying down, beads of sweat decorating my forehead, as I feel the human life draining out of me, the edges of my limbs coiling, changing, shifting, I cannot help but envision Mother as a proud sea lion. A fast and amiable creature, slicing through the waves, giving back to the seas what us, humans, had stolen.

It is the seventh day of my capture when I crack.

I slam on the door with my left arm, the only human limb I still have intact, begging Father to open up. Nothing in the world could have prepared me for the pain of The Plague, for the way my body melts and welds into something softer, almost liquid but not at all.

Yes, I can taste it in my newly formed beak—those teeth and soft gums taste alien, somehow foreign. Like they don’t belong to me anymore. Regardless of the sheer burning and numbness flooding all the angles and curves of my body, excitement builds inside me like moist sand castles by the shore.

“Father!” My human voice sounds slippery, not my own.

“I’ll shoot, Anastasia!”

“Father, I need… water… to… to…” I gasp, the air today thicker than yesterday. It’s been like that for days. The idea of seawater entering my skin elates me, but I keep it quiet because hurting Father tears me apart.

But Father must understand that there is not a monster inside me.

Not at all.

A miracle. That is what resides in my gut, slowly unleashing, taking form.

I bear a miracle.

My tentacles slither underneath the door, trying to find its hinges or the lock. But, they are too weak or soft.

Water. I need the sea to fully transform.

A burn on my tentacles sizzles my upper body, sending me away from the door. I crash on the opposite wall, cephalopod and mammal alloyed in baby collagen skin and rotten flesh. The mirror hanging above my-still-human head shakes. The cloth I’ve placed to cover it falls.

Father has burned my tentacles.

“Please, just… stay where you are. Fight it, daughter. Fight the monster!”

I can’t, I almost shout.

Instead, I go with “I won’t.”

Guttural. That is the sound of my voice now, inhumane, almost a cry from the depths of the oceans.

I like it.

Gathering all of my essence, both human and mollusk, I will myself to stand and look in the mirror opposite my parents’ bed. The one Mother was staring at the whole time she grew her sea lion skin.

And I gasp at Nature’s miracle.

I trace the sensitive suckers on my brand new tentacles, the shimmering mosaic of colors on my torso and neck. I notice how my blue eyes turn darker, longer, deeper. I move slightly left to peer at my spine that is slowly giving way to my mantle.

This has never been a plague.

It is the tenth day of my capture when I crack open the door.

Sun rays touch my reassembled body when I quickly unlock it, and slither on the corridors of our humble home. Father is fast asleep holding a flare gun in his hands. I let a tentacle approach his face, counting the wrinkles and the crevices I have been so used to, caressing his cheek one last time, forgiving him.

He doesn’t know any better.

As I itch closer and closer to the shore, gliding beyond the sandy roads and the wooden planks, across the small port whose fish boats stand as specters under the early sunset sky, my sacks get excited, the colors beneath my skin switch from iridescent green to bluish white to pigmented purple.

The sea calls on to me, begging me for an exchange. Nature wishes to recycle me for the sake of perseverance, and I?

I accept.

My malleable skin touches the water.

I breathe through my gills for the first time in my life.

I dive into the kelp forest I swam around as a child.

Nature always takes care of us.

Saving the world must go like this: little by little, brother by brother, sister by sister, we will push through, appendages on appendages, antennae on antennae. We will push through, come ebb or tide, giving back to the planet what it needs.

We will pay our dues.

Sophia-Maria Nicolopoulos

Sophia-Maria Nicolopoulos is a Publishing Operations Manager from Greece. She writes whimsical horrors and fever dreams inspired by Greek folklore and myths. Her uncanny tales are forthcoming on The Deadlands and can be found on Inner Worlds, Alternative Milk Magazine, and other venues. Her poetry books (available everywhere) break down intergenerational trauma and mental health in dark fantasy settings. To read her manifesto about how felines surpass us all, stop by her Twitter profile @sophiam_weaves or website sophiamarianicolopoulos.wordpress.com