Chapter 1 - Truck Ride North
“She speaks not with anger, but with the painful betrayal of the ignorance of youth.” - JJF
I lost count of the stories. I rode in the front seat now. Granny, well I thought of her as “Granny”, had taken a shine to me. Apparently I was a really good listener, which was something I’d never been accused of in high school. Hard for me to be anything but, without a voice. It was comforting somehow. So, I nodded, barked, and whined at the appropriate points to assure her that I was listening. As long as I didn’t look down to see fur or catch my reflection in the mirror, I felt almost human again imagining her stories in my mind. The saga of her daughter and her less than desirable son-in-law unfurled before me as we headed north back into winter. Everyday human drama played out as the miles rolled away behind us.
She’d never fully lost her fear of Apoc and fortunately he was satisfied to lay in the back and sleep. He seemed to be recovering quickly. He now jumped from the camper shell when she stopped off the road to let us out to answer the call of nature. He’d figured out how to prop open the back window so he could do his business and climb back in all on his own. He only needed Granny to shut the lid. I noticed that she tried her best to keep me between the two of them. Apoc did his best impression of ignoring her existence altogether.
She tried asking me questions at first, but it’s hard to get very far with just yes and no responses. After a while she just decided to share with me. It was like being her confessor, her hopes and dreams for her daughter that reminded me so much of my own mother. I wondered all the time about her, was she even alive? Had Shen made good on his threats to kill my family? Or were they still blissfully unaware of what had befallen their daughter? So strange that I thought of their daughter as someone else and not even me anymore.
I didn’t know for sure, but felt that trying to find out at this point might put them in more danger. I couldn’t call them and warn them. What could I say? Or get Granny to say on my behalf that would even make a lick of sense? Where could they possibly go to get away from the deadly machinery that was arrayed against them? I concluded that my best course of action was to adopt this new body and the behaviors that went along with it. That young woman I’d been... well she was dead now. She had been changed into someone or something else and would not be coming back.
I felt myself falling into my own thoughts as if into a winter blue lake face first. But rather than bobbing back to the surface I just keep sinking headfirst deeper and deeper into the dark flickering depths. And then my thoughts would stall as I tried to remember something about my mother’s face or something she’d said. Deeper and deeper the water swirled, I could remember her talking, just not what she’d actually said. I felt like pieces of me were getting buried deeper in my head filtering into the dark. All that water above pushing them down. I knew they were there somewhere in the dark, I just couldn’t seem to find the path back to them.
I glanced at my reflection in the side mirror and started. Only the eyes were mine. Every other aspect of my face had been changed, modified and reshaped. It was not me that stared back in surprise, but something else. Something not quite human anymore. Something that no longer had a family.
Not a real one anyway. I will never know what it was like to return to my mother’s arms and smell the warmth of her chest, her warm amber notes, her bright sweat, and the smell of homemade chicken dumplings tangled in her hair. I began to salivate just at the thought. My dad’s grin at my accomplishments, or the way he hugged me like a bear, completely enveloped in the safety of his arms. I remember the way he looked at me when I graduated high school and he just stared at me, like I was a stranger. He was beaming - proud and wide eyed at the same time as if I was monarch who had just thrown off the last of my cocoon of childhood. It made me smile and my ears got hot all the way to the tips and the hairs on the back of my neck were standing straight out. I asked him why he was staring, and he told me that I was, “Beautiful, the most beautiful young woman I’ve ever seen. You make my heart skip a beat...”
I wasn’t sure he was telling the truth. I wanted to believe him. I knew I used to be attractive. Some people found me pretty, guys would look sometimes. Even one or two that seemed to look at me as much as I looked at them.
I was a runner so my legs were very fit and firm. Belly was pretty good, I’d kept an eye on it after freshman year and it stayed small, but unfortunately so did my chest. I just told myself that I was built for speed.
I hadn’t really picked a major yet. I’d never understood the idea of forcing a freshman college student to declare what they thought they would be doing for the rest of their life, the moment they step onto the campus and before they’d had a real chance to explore their options.
And to add insult to injury most colleges don’t allow the student to try out the really interesting classes to determine if that major is right for them. Most of the really interesting classes are reserved for people who’ve been in the major sometimes for years. I was paralyzed with the fear that I would get to my junior year of some major and finally start doing the classes that were the most similar to the job that would have and then somehow, I would just hate it. And would be stuck with the terrifying realization that I’d just wasted years of my life and thousands of dollars heading towards a destination that I never wanted to visit. I’d met more than one student in my dorm who had come to this realization too late. The saddest of all was the one who continued with the classes to have a degree that she didn’t want... her family had spent too much money not to have her graduate with her medical degree. I was even sorry for her future patients, they were going to get saddled with a doctor who couldn’t stand the sight of them.
I heard Granny laughing and swam back for the surface. I turned back to her and nodded.
When I looked again at the side mirror, I wasn’t there anymore, just some mangy mutt.