I watched my left forearm ripple and harden, the light brown hairs and pink skin vanishing beneath blunt gray scales. Embarrassed I pulled my sleeve down to conceal it. The jagged surfaces caught on the fabric of my shirt. A ring of scales spread across the back of my hand.
“What’s the matter?” Doctor Levin asked.
“It’s happening,” I told him, and took my hand away.
He stood up from his chair on the other side of the desk to stare closely at my hand. After a moment, he seemed to make a decision and sat down again.
Underneath my clothes I could feel stiff scales poking through the skin as my body struggled to change into something else, something inhuman.
“I’m turning into a monster,” I said desperately.
He took off his glasses. After a casual inspection, he began to clean them.
“Help me,” I pleaded.
“Tell me how it started,” he asked.
A warm flush of fear ran through me. My shoes were becoming unwearable as the bones of my feet changed. I willed it to stop, but I felt it all through me, a sick warm glow that made my stomach knot and my chest ache, like there wasn’t enough air for my lungs.
I remembered seeing the Hideous Sun Demon as a kid. It was this movie about a guy who was exposed to radiation; it twisted his chromosomes so that whenever he was out in the sun, he would start devolving into a human iguana.
“Could you get the blinds, please,” I requested, “the sun’s really bothering me.”
Wordlessly he got up and stepped over to the window. He closed the blinds completely and returned to his seat. He waited.
I felt the changing recede slowly from my body.
“It started with the accident,” I said.
“No,” he said, “I meant tell me about the first time something happened.”
“The first time you felt something happen,” he corrected himself.
Nervously, I ran my tongue around the inside of my mouth, against my teeth. It was too sinuous, and the teeth were too jagged, sliding against each other like a series of razor blades.
“Well,” I began, “it was about a month ago, on the seventeenth. Two weeks after the accident. Nancy, my wife, was down with the flu, so I had to get Regan-”
“Regan?” he asked, making a note.
“My daughter,” I explained, “our daughter, mine and Nancy’s. She’s about seven years old.”
He nodded, “go on.”
I was a little annoyed. I assumed that Nancy would have told him about Regan. Nancy had talked me into coming here, and I supposed she would have told him about our lives. I felt like he was testing me.
“Anyway,” I continued, “I had to get Regan off to school myself. After that, I went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get washed up. That’s when I noticed it.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Teeth,” I explained. “When I was brushing my teeth, I saw them there, in the mirror, in a mouthful of toothpaste. Fangs.”
“It’s hard to describe what it was like. Imagine waking up and discovering you’ve got an extra nostril, or another hand. It wasn’t just that I saw them; I felt them, with my tongue, with the toothbrush. They were physically present.”
He was just watching me.
“I rinsed out my mouth to examine them. They were two fangs, about an inch long. Right here,” I bared my teeth and indicated the corners of my mouth, “sharp enough to prick my finger.”
“They looked very natural there; they even had a little bit of tartar in the corner. All my other teeth were the same; these had just squeezed in somehow. The lower teeth were unaffected.”
“I was looking at them, just sort of puzzled by the whole thing, when I noticed the other part.”
“Which was?” the psychologist asked.
“I wasn’t breathing. I hadn’t taken a breath for a minute and a half. I didn’t feel the need to, either.”
“You were a vampire,” he stated.
I nodded, “I didn’t realize it at first, you know. It was all so sudden and out of context that I wasn’t putting the pieces together. I mean, according to the stories, you have to get bitten, be buried and so forth.”
I gestured futilely. “I mean you aren’t supposed to turn into a vampire while brushing your teeth just after you’ve packed your daughter off to school.”
“I’d pricked my finger, but it wasn’t bleeding. I exhaled and waited three and a half minutes. I held my face really close to the mirror, so I could see the mist, but there wasn’t any.”
“It wasn’t like adding two and two. In this case, four was an unacceptable number. An impossible number. It was so completely irrational; my mind wouldn’t willingly accept it. Instead, over fifteen minutes, I just became gradually aware of it, to the point where I could think ‘vampire.'”
I looked at him.
“I know how hard it must be for you to accept. It was happening to me, and I wasn’t accepting it.”
“How did you feel?” he asked, “Any urge to drink blood?”
“I felt…weirded out,” I said, remembering, “my wife was in the bedroom, sleeping. Suddenly, there was this thing inside, a hunger, and I knew it wanted me to go in there and tear her throat out. It wanted to drink her blood.”
He was making notes again.
“It wasn’t me. And there was no doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to do it. It wasn’t very strong. It was like a far, far away, voice. It was just…” I struggled, “a component of the change.”
“Then what happened?” he asked.
“I couldn’t believe it, I had to test this. I went downstairs and walked out into the morning sun.”
“That was when your wife heard you screaming,” he said.
“And half the neighbors,” I finished for him, “I wound up with horrible sunburns. They lasted for a week. She saw them.”
He nodded. So, she had told him about that, I thought.
“But you were back to normal?” he asked.
It was my turn to nod.
“What did you make of that episode?”
“I certainly didn’t tell Nancy. What could I say: ‘honey, I turned into a vampire this morning while brushing my teeth, but I feel much better now.’ I thought maybe it was some sort of weird hallucination.”
“Have you ever had hallucinations?” he asked.
“No. Never,” I answered emphatically.
“Ever taken psychedelic drugs? Mushrooms? LSD? Things like that?”
“What about your mother?”
“What?” I asked, confused.
“LSD stores in body fat. It’s rare but sometimes it’s passed through the placental membrane into infants, and can kick in after the birth.”
“I don’t think so,” I said dubiously.
He made more notes.
“It wasn’t a hallucination,” I said firmly.
“You believe that now,” he said, emphasizing the last word.
“I do,” I said with equal emphasis.
“What changed your mind?” he asked.
“It happened again, a couple of nights later.”
“You turned into a vampire again?”
“Worse,” I told him, “I was lying in bed, next to Nancy, dozing. I felt this tingling all over my body. I looked down…”
He waited expectantly.
“I was growing fur all over. Suddenly, I could feel my body changing, pulling into a new shape, my teeth flowing. My teeth, Doctor, turning into fangs. Not just one or two, but the whole mouthful.”
“That far away voice I mentioned? It was back. It was like a wild beast now. Full of power and destruction. It wanted me to tear things apart, to seize flesh and bite and rend it.”
“I just lay there, for an hour, not believing it, fighting it.”
“Then Nancy rolled over in her sleep. She touched me. She felt it, Doctor, she felt the fur. She started to wake up. That was when I knew I had to do something. I leaped from the bed, and raced for the bathroom.”
“Where she found you shaving off all your body hair,” he said.
“Fur, Doctor,” I told him, “I had to shave the fur off. The bathroom was covered with it; she saw it, when she came in.”
“She said that you were mumbling incoherently, in a state of panic.”
“I couldn’t open my mouth in front of her, the teeth hadn’t changed back,” I explained, “and I was in a state of panic. Wouldn’t you be?”
“So you’d changed into a werewolf?”
“Look,” I said, reaching into my wallet, “here’s proof. I saved this from that night.”
I pulled out a lock of hair and dropped it on his desk.
“That’s from me,” I told him, “genuine werewolf fur. I filled a small garbage bag with that stuff.”
He looked at it, bending over the desk, holding his glasses. But he didn’t touch it.
“It’s happened again and again, since then,” I told him, “sometimes I start turning into some sort of ape. Once in the bathtub, I developed gill slits. Once my skin went all translucent. Another time, I started to glow and I killed everything that was near me. I can show you the dead patch in the garden.”
“I’m interested in these atavistic feelings you have when you change,” he stated.
“It’s like a radio playing low in the next room,” I told him, it’s distant and uninvolving. You know it’s there, but you don’t pay attention to it, aren’t affected by it. It’s just a part that comes from the changes.”
My voice was coming rapidly, cracking, I reined in my panic.
“I keep turning into monsters, Doctor. I’m afraid and I feel so alone.”
“You watched a lot of horror movies as a child?”
“Of course,” I responded, “so did everyone else.”
“Your wife tells me,” he said gravely, “that when you were a boy, you thought your father was a monster.”
The change of topics threw me.
“Yeah, so,” I answered.
“There wasn’t anything to that: Late at night, he’d check to see if I was all right. The door would open, and he’d stand there, a dark silhouette against the hall light. I used to imagine that he looked like different monsters. Frankenstein one night, the wolfman another.”
“No big deal,” I went on, “kids imagine stuff like that all the time. My best friend back then, Jimmy Deacon, had this really scary tree overlooking his bedroom window. In the dark, on winter nights, it looked like it was trying to get in.”
“But you thought your father was a monster,” he said, “a wolfman.”
“There’s nothing there, it was just a kid’s imagination,” I told him.
“What happened after he appeared in the doorway?” he asked.
“Nothing. I went to sleep,” I said.
“What time would he come?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered, irritably, “bedtime I suppose.”
I could feel the scales starting to squirm. We stared at each other for a second.
“Tell me what you think it is,” he asked.
“I had an accident,” I said. I spoke challengingly.
He didn’t say anything.
“It was a bad one. The car was totaled; I’d collided with a truck.”
“You had a severe concussion,” he offered, “you were unconscious for several hours. That can cause strange behavior.”
“People have accidents all the time. Even bad ones,” I said, “they don’t start turning into monsters. This truck was carrying something.”
“Agricultural pharmaceuticals,” I told him, “I managed to check up on some of them later. Do you know what Anaphasin is?”
“What?” he asked.
“It’s a brand name for thalidomide. The truck was full of it…and other things.”
I let him digest this.
“I didn’t believe thalidomide was allowed in this country.”
“Not for humans,” I said, “it turns out it’s pretty common as an animal tranquilizer.”
He looked at me.
“Don’t you see,” I explained, “it’s derailed my genetic structure. My chromosomes are mutating because of my exposure to the truck.”
“Into vampires and werewolves,” he scoffed.
“It’s happening,” I insisted, “I know it sounds crazy, but this is really happening and that’s the only explanation I can find. Maybe it’s something else that’s causing it, a quantum mechanic effect or something, but this is real.”
“I’m a psychologist,” he said.
“I know that,” I said.
“You aren’t a geneticist, or a chemist, or a biologist,” he went on.
Once again, we had one of those short moments of standoff.
“You have the fur,” I told him, “that’s real. The dead patch in the garden is real. Nancy’s seen parts of the changes, like the sunburn. I can show you footprints and claw marks all over the house. You’ve seen my hand…”
I stood up and tore open my shirt, exposing the last cluster of grey scales, before they faded, “I can show you this,” I snarled at him.
He stared for a second and then pulled his eyes away.
“All I see is normal human flesh,” he said softly, “all I saw was a normal hand.”
I slumped back in the chair.
“Of course,” I said, “that’s all you can see, all you’ll allow yourself to see.”
“Explain,” he requested.
“I saw a collection of Japanese historical prints once, it was from the time of the Great White Fleet, when the Americans sailed into Japan and forced the country to open up. It was funny: All the drawings of the Americans, their clothing and their ships, made them look Japanese.”
“Americans were outside their existence, in order to deal with them, they had to think of them as looking Japanese. They could only see them from their own frame of reference.”
“Don’t you see?” I asked, “Grey scales on a human being are outside your frame of reference, you see it and then your mind rejects it, and instead you see something that your mind will accept.”
“Doesn’t say much for the human mind,” he said, “it’s a wonder that we can deal with novelty.”
“If I suddenly became dangerous; a grey skinned lizardman with fangs and talons, then you’d see. Self-preservation would force you.”
“Is that a threat?” he asked.
“No,” I sighed, “it’s just the way our minds work. You can’t accept this, and if I wasn’t inside it, I wouldn’t either.
“Let me suggest this alternative hypothesis:” he said, “You are hallucinating, the shape of these hallucinations may be related to your past, but the fact that you are having them relates to the severe concussion you suffered in the accident.”
“I’m not insane, Doctor,” I told him coldly.
“I didn’t say you were,” he said, “it’s not a term we like to use.”
“I’m not hallucinating. I’m trying to deal with this rationally. I am rational,” I told him.
“Yes,” he agreed, “you are rational. But rational people can have delusions.”
I stood up, “good day, Doctor.”
“I think we should discuss this again,” he began.
“I don’t think so,” I told him coldly.
“One thing,” he called.
I turned back at the doorway.
“Vampires can’t be seen in mirrors,” he said.
“The change wasn’t finished at that point,” I replied.
As I left the office, I found Nancy waiting for me. I hugged her. Under my clothes, I could feel the scales twisting in my flesh, fading again.
“Did it help?” she asked me.
“No,” I answered.
We wrapped our arms around each other, clinging miserably.
On the way back, as Nancy drove, I discovered that my right hand had become a chitinous claw, glossy black, covered with stiff wire-like hairs, and ending in a series of sharp delicate pincers. I stuck it into my jacket pocket, and turned my face to the passenger window. Sometimes, in the reflection, I caught glimpses of faceted eyes.
At least with cancer, I thought, people understand. They gather around. But this, with this, I had nothing but ever increasing terror. Fear of the future, of myself, of what I might turn into. No one understands this.
Was it triggered by things I did, or things I saw? By foods? Emotions? I wasn’t sure. Even when I was completely human, I felt myself withdrawing more and more into myself. Avoiding emotions, avoiding people, hiding from anything that might spur the change.
I felt myself hiding from Regan and Nancy. Not allowing myself to touch either of them. How long had it been since I had dared to make love to Nancy? I missed her touch, missed holding her in the night.
I was all alone with it, and the only response I seemed to have was to become more alone with it. With my fear.
Late one night, they came for me.
Doctor Levin had signed the commitment papers after the interview, at Nancy’s request.
They must have expected a struggle. I surprised them by going quietly. I didn’t have the heart to fight. Nancy wouldn’t look up at me, as they lead me away.
I didn’t see her again for two weeks. Two weeks, and endless changes, as my flesh crawled back and forth.
Once, I was a skeleton, lying on the bed as my flesh oozed gelatinously along the floor.
Once, I became a nameless thing of tentacles and eyes and open sucking mouths which writhed hungrily.
Night after night, my body, my fickle friend, betrayed me.
When she came, I’d become the mummy, Kharis. Buried immortal for two thousand years. I sat hunched stiffly in the wheelchair, all but immobile.
She looked awful. I wanted to speak, but my throat could no longer form human words. I wanted to weep, but centuries of Egyptian desert had leached the moisture from my body.
In the back of my mind I could hear the dry voice from the land of the Pharaohs.
“Jerome,” she said, “Jerome, can you hear me?”
Painstakingly, I nodded. I moved my free arm forward, until I could clasp her hand. I was careful not to crush it.
Oh darling, I thought, how much I’ve missed you and Regan. I wished that she’d brought our daughter. But then, I realized, I didn’t want my daughter to see me like this.
“They say you aren’t responding to conventional treatment,” she said.
“The hospital Doctors want me to authorize a new treatment for you,” her voice broke, “they say it’s safe now. Not like the old days. They say it’s the only hope.”
Tears rolled down her eyes. I could not cry.
“Electro-convulsive therapy,” she said.
No, I screamed inside, not that. Don’t kill my mind, I thought, it’s all I have. It’s my body that’s gone wrong. Inside is all I have left.
“They say it’s for the best,” she said.
“Please,” I tried to make an ages old throat speak, “please don’t do this to me.”
All that passed was a coarse moan.
She looked into my stiff desiccated face, sobbed once, and left.
Please don’t kill me inside, I begged. But no words came, and there was no one to hear them.
That afternoon, they came for me again.
It was another month and a half, before I was released from the hospital. It was early evening when Nancy picked me up. We drove home without speaking, I watched the sky get dark.
Regan met us at the door. She’d persuaded the babysitter to let her stay up to greet me. She rushed into my arms.
“I missed you, Daddy,” she smiled.
I lifted her up and held her close to me. Her small warm body felt good. I looked into her smiling face, “Daddy, missed you too, Pumpkin.”
She had cupids bow lips. Odd that I’d never noticed her promiscuous child sexuality before. She was going to be a heartbreaker, I decided.
I kissed her.
I put her down. We grinned at each other, glad to be together again.
“Are you still turning into monsters?” she asked, she’d always accepted it with equanimity, even glee. After all, having a dad who turned into movie monsters was almost as good as having a dad who was a movie star.
“There are no monsters, dear. It was just a funny idea your Dad had. Those Doctors burned it right out of him. Now he’s just me.”
I spread my arms to show her: Just Daddy, just human old Daddy. No scales or talons or fur, nothing different on the outside. I looked just like everyone else.
“It’s past your bedtime,” I told her, “run on upstairs, Daddy’ll be up to check on you, and tomorrow, we’ll do all kinds of things.”
As Nancy paid off the babysitter, I watched Regan’s round tight buttocks bounce up the stairs. I definitely would have to pay her a visit tonight, I promised myself. But first, there was Nancy to deal with.
We were alone. She looked nervous.
“Are you feeling all right, Jerome?” she asked, “You seem … odd.”
“Never better,” I told her, “I’m cured after all.”
“Doctor Levin said he’d like you to continue treatment,” she said, “he felt that you had unresolved issues, to do with your father.”
I took a step towards her.
“I don’t see any need. I’ve had treatment, I’m fine,” I replied.
“Doctor Levin argued against your ‘treatment’,” she said, “he thought your ‘transformations’ were a symptom, not the problem itself. He suggested that maybe it was your way of coping with the real problem.”
She took a step back.
“Symptoms, problems. What’s the difference? I’m not turning into movie monsters anymore. I feel much…better.” I smiled reassuringly, she looked uncertain, almost afraid.
I took another step.
“There’s something different about you,” she whimpered, “you aren’t the Jerome I know.”
“I’m your husband,” I told her, “look at me.”
“Jerome, please…” she said, and then I was on her.
She didn’t even have time to scream.
Later, after I finished with Nancy, I went upstairs.