Dance’s shoulder sockets are loudly tired of this position, lying on his side. Either side. Other positions make other bones complain louder. He decided to sacrifice the shoulders for awhile. This can be a serious decision for a concert violinist. Even a former one.
He is watching reflected light from the hotel pool slide through a gap in the curtains. The window is open to the afternoon wind, as he asked. The curtains riffle in the breeze, and his nostrils expand. He is smelling the dry trees outside the room, the chlorine from the overdosed hotel pool, and the smell of the whole area. As Emma put it, amused, the whole town smells like a mossy algae top note with a bass note of soaked wood tannins.
Part of his pain comes from lack of his usual exercise, lying here frozen to the bed by his own changes. He’s pinned them all down, parked in a hotel room and not going anywhere for awhile.
He’s been working on his new pawnshop violin, instead, with the help of his two partners. Poor battered relic of a good amateur player’s line, it must once have cost some decent money. With new strings and some careful adjustments over the last two days, it sounds much better than it did a day ago. He is fairly sure that the scarred violin has never been cleaned or cared for or treated with much respect. He can feel it trying pathetically hard to do what he asks of it, and failing, because it still needs repairs.
He knows how that feels. Sitting up to practice means learning a whole new posture, with the tail.
He stares at the light movement bouncing around on the wall in childlike gleeful rainbow bubbles. He’s too tired to keep his eyes on the TV, whether it’s local news, or the videogame that Drin set up for him. He’s dropped the game controller on the nightstand beside the bed, among the empty water glasses and the used tissues and the empty food wrappers.
The reflected light wriggles and changes color and flickers around on the wall. He can’t help but watch it. Any movement makes his eyes snap to it, focus, target on it as if he’s playing a game of darts. But he isn’t steady on his feet for that. Sometimes he gets dizzy just laying on the bed. When he turns flat on his back, it makes the pulse pound like a drum all down his belly and through his hips. It make his legs start tingling. He can do it for awhile with a thick stack of pillows under the small of his back, propping his shoulders high.
Propping up his upper body helps his aching head too. Well, he has something going on inside his face, he’s got drainage and sinus pain and headaches and he’s not thinking very clearly. He needs to drain it just so he can breath, at times. But not always–which makes him wonder what really is going on just under the bones of his face.
A distant, cool part in the back of Dance’s brain observes that things are drifting loose, poised, parts disarticulated, waiting for choices to be made. Old things had fallen totally apart from the way they ought to be in his old, orderly world. His wasn’t a real conventional world to begin with, but it had structure. A lot of structure, as it turns out.
Most of that has disappeared. They’ve run away from home. He still has the two people he loves, but nothing is guaranteed. His lovers aren’t who they thought they were, either. The loss comes back to their eyes every time they look at him.
They’re running away from a faceless enemy who puts unguessable toxins into perfume bottles for beautiful women. Contaminants that may not affect ordinary people at all–just ones like Dance.
Things like Dance.
His tail aches savagely.
Emma and Drin could start over. They could pretend to be new people if they chose, pretend none of it happened. They could pass as regular people again, some day.
But he’s the monster in their bed now. He can’t pass as remotely human. The new part of him has been growing steadily. Growing out since the afternoon someone drove a car right into his back, and then they threw a bottle of perfume out of the car. The night they ran away.
The tail has grown so sensitive he can’t lay a bedsheet over it. Nerves twinge in the muscles whenever it moves. The bones ache. It’s clumsy, it bangs into things because even he can’t see it.
Drin says that the tail is covered in a optically-advanced layer called a slidecoat, that it processes incoming light and reflects back what could be seen if it wasn’t in the way. It may be refusing to go back hidden in its old box, but the skin keeps it hidden so nearly invisible most of the time that none of them are quite sure how it’s been changing, including him. It’s impossible to believe until you see the dents in the mattress under it, but not the thing making it. It has scales, it leaves dents like an alligator leather in his lovers’ skin when they try to hold it up.
Drin says it is holding in the heat too much, which is why Dance is always too hot, chewing down buckets of ice.
But then Drin can’t remember the rest of what he used to know about it, and he looks anxious, and goes silent on them for an hour or more.
Emma is coping by doing things, being bossy, working on meeting Dance’s needs. When he’s not keeping her busy, she’s exhausting herself on research, trying to learn more on Drin’s borrowed laptop. She’s gone very owlish about it, possibly as a result of not venting her inner librarian as usual, at work.
Emma documents everything. She insists on buying little disposable cameras and taking pictures of the dents in the mattress, with her tape measure hanging around nothingness, the loop bigger every morning. That morning, last time Emma measured it, it was about nine feet long and about eighteen inches in diameter at the base near his buttocks, about as thick as his neck.
She takes pictures of Dance lying there on the bed twisted around, trying to get comfortable, sprawled naked in different odd positions that won’t look like anybody’s average porn shots. She catches him yawning, and asks him to open his mouth wide for her while she aims the flash into his tongue. She takes pictures of the changes in his lower back and his hips. She takes pictures of how he’s lost most of his pubic hair in the last few weeks.
She takes pictures of the astonishing things that have happened between his thighs. She takes pictures of his genitals in every state, showing his penis going from flaccid to erect, even some pictures of him trying to relieve himself in the trash can when he couldn’t make it to the toilet in time.
She takes pictures of him writhing in orgasm in Drin’s arms, which probably will come out like those unflattering sexual pictures of ordinary people. Pictures that will never, ever get developed in a regular photo lab.
The tail is just a symptom.
A lot of things are totally unhinged, out of kilter, flapping gently in any breeze that offers. He knows that the decisions they all make will fossilize down to the way things go on for quite a long time.
Drin says that it’s even possible that some choices made at the biochemical level will just make the tail go quietly away, shrink back to nothing, and Dance will be much as he was.
Dance just doesn’t know which way things should be.
Right now he’s the monster that can’t hide underneath the bed. They might mesh into this world better than he does, right now, but they didn’t come from here either, as they all believed. Certainly not as their memories were somehow edited to make them all believe. They can’t avoid it when they see those loops sprawled across the bed, with nothing visible there to explain the crumpled, compressed sheets.
The thing built off his spine unrolled itself out of nothing, longing to touch Drin, and it can’t go back into hiding. He has no idea exactly where it went when it hid from everything, small and hot and cramped, but it isn’t going back in its hole now. It stays out all the time, and increasingly it hurts.
The scaled glassy invisible skin has outraged nerves that hurt the way a bad sunburn hurts, so laying on any side of it hurts, but not moving the weight off any one section of skin hurts too. Besides the incredible unbalanced weight dragging at his spine and muscles too weak to support it reliably, his legs have gone all silly on him.
The second day in this room, he fell badly, and then he got to lay there whimpering. The skin of his tail was burning alive with outraged nerves so badly that he couldn’t move for an hour. He got to abuse the little hotel trash can that night because he couldn’t even crawl as far as the toilet. He has the suspicion this is not new to the trash can, which doesn’t help assuage his pride one bit. He hadn’t realized he was quite so… vain. Or body-proud. Or something.
He’s been asking for help to keep him steady when he walks. Pride be damned, it was a bad enough fall he’s not going through that again. Visions of wheelchairs dance in his head. His arms may be stronger and faster than ever, but below the waist he’s a total disaster in the coordination and walking department.
Now he can actually chimney his body up into the ceiling corners above the bathroom door with his arms. When the tail hangs down loosely, touching nothing but air currents, it hurts less. It pulls differently on the tired muscles and the vertebrae of his lower back, easing the ache that reaches past his kidneys.
However, it wasn’t so funny when Emma came in from shopping and walked into bathroom, smacked face-first into the magic invisible tail, and shrieked in surprise. He thought she’d seen him climbing up there, but apparently not. The tail hadn’t liked her being alarmed, and wanted to pet her a lot, and she really hadn’t been much in the mood to be touched like that.
The tail has a mind all of its own, too. The slide coat on it keeps it hidden so well he can’t see its movements. He rarely gets a glimpse of where it actually is, as opposed to where he thinks it is–and it turns out that visual feedback is more important to his coordination that he’d realized. Often he has no idea what it’s up to. It moves on its own, gripping and smacking into the bed and the walls and scrawling wild gestures in the air like a drunk.
It’s like being attached to a retarded cousin.
In spite of how much it hurts to grab things or touch that burning skin to anything, it still loves to fall into Drin and grab his crotch, or to drape itself around Emma’s tits. The damn thing is tied into his subconscious or his libido or something because it doesn’t want to let go of them, and it has a very silly lewd sense of humor. He can’t stop it from pulling pranks like floofing up Emma’s skirt, or yanking down Drin’s loose pants.
The only reason they believe his protests is that they see him grab at it, gritting his teeth, to haul it away from teasing them–and when it resists, like a little kid, it’s very strong.
It’s also got some weird tie-in with the rest of what’s going on between his legs. For the last two days, the sexual heat went away completely, it left his plumbing system completely unable to respond at all.
“Down for repairs,” he told Emma wryly, when she touched him in a way that normally would have made him come up hard.
He can’t believe it when he wakes up the third morning with a raging hard-on, as if there had been no hiatus, and it was the tail that woke him up, flopping around trying to do something about it. It grabbed at his crotch, gripped his penis too hard, trying stubbornly to masturbate. It didn’t calm down until somebody’s hand took up the job instead and his penis declared itself happy. It does react to pleasure, becoming fluid and easy and strong when he’s having sex. He knows enough about basic anatomy that he is pathetically grateful about that.
Every morning when he wakes up, they’re finding the tail weighs another twenty pounds. Emma bought a bathroom scale. She weighs herself right beside the bed, muttering at the fluctuations she writes down. Then she lifts up the slippery pile of his new extendable personhood in her arms, and steps on the scale again with the load. When he can stand for it to be touched at all, that is.
Most of the time Drin has to be doing something extremely sexual to him for Emma to girlhandle it for weighing. It’s gotten heavy enough that this morning was probably the last time Emma can hold it up by herself. She’s a strong girl, but there’s limits.
She and Drin will have to swap jobs tomorrow morning. They might kid him about it, but they’re not going to let him out of the task, either.
Emma isn’t fazed a bit by his physical needs, by suddenly getting to know a whole new side of him and his amazing erratic digestive system. That morning, she bought piles of fresh herbs and knobs of ginger root and cinnamon health food capsules, crowing about getting lucky. She’s been coaxing him to eat whatever high protein sources she can find.
Drin suggested trying the pet shop to try various samples, but it was Emma who grimly bought him a bag of frozen mice. She waved one of those in his face, and blinked when he grabbed it and wolfed it down. He was just glad for how cold it was. Frozen cubes of beefheart, liver and seafood, intended for large fish, prompted the same response.
He’s learned it has to be moving, half-melted and spreading scent, for him to react. Emma disapproves of keeping reptiles as pets when they need to be fed things like poor pathetic frozen mice, but if she can find nothing better, she will do it. He prefers to eat without anybody watching him flipping his food around. He’s not very happy about the baby mice either.
Emma says he’s depressed, not just sick and hurting and begging for more sleep. She’s been concerned about his tired indifference to how he looks, bullying him into combing his hair, helping him shave when he’s too clumsy to do it, using wet towels to cool him down in the afternoons when everything is breathlessly hot and he still can’t stand the weird smell and the rattling of the air conditioner.
It gives her something to do, it gives her a reason to touch him, which she seems to need as badly as he does.
But she did one thing that he didn’t wanted to revisit. Emma gravely pulled out a hand mirror out of one of her shopping bags this morning. She bought it so he can look at the more awkward personal parts of himself, in the same way that women are supposed to keep an eye on their private parts.
She asked if he wanted her help to see what’s changed, and he said no. As politely as he could manage to say it, but no. He asked her to go take a long shower and let him get on with it by himself
She actually sang in the shower, to make sure he knew she was there, ready to come running if he yelled for it, even dripping wet if necessary. It just made it harder. Made him flinch, expecting her to come charging out any moment, and he didn’t want her to see how upset he was.
He spent a difficult, thoughtful forty-five minutes straining around, aching, trying to see things he’s never noticed before. A lot of men never see themselves in such a way, never realize how odd their asses really do look until they see it, big as life, in ridiculously personal detail on theri own webcam images. Well, poking about the Internet in years past, he’s had plenty of chances to learn that women look odd too caught at such unflattering angles. That was before Drin marched into his life and found them all much more amusing things to do with all of their perfectly ordinary personal charms.
Dance has never been able to think a live person’s body is odd when he’s got his nose down kissing their skin, smelling it, enjoying himself, getting to know his lovers. It all seems right and normal and healthy. He’s only had these two lovers to explore. But this… what he looks like now…
When Emma did eventually emerge from the bathroom, her fingers were all wrinkled from so much time in the water, her face all peachy pink and soft from being steamed so thoroughly.
She took one look at him and put the mirror away in a drawer and made sure he knew that she likes touching him, that she is not afraid of how he’s shaped now. But hell, she’s braver than he is. It makes her laugh when he says so.
What he has now, she told him briskly, looks like an adaptation of a reptilian cloaca, a slitlike pouch that covers up all the relevant bits safely away from dragging on the ground. Very sensible arrangement, really, to protect everything much more than the way mammals have to allow things to cool off for sperm development. If his cloaca stays closed too much, his testicles may stay too hot for fertile sperm, just like a man wearing tighty-whiteys too much.
He may be sterile anyway, of course.
Dance just kept staring at her as she talked her way through this. He’s been trying to convince himself that his lovers have seen all of him before, anyway, except of course they haven’t. He hasn’t seen it all before. Nobody has.
She says she knows it’s an adaptation, because his one penis still looks like it always did. If he had reptilian genitals, there’d be two erectile organs, called hemipeni. It’d be a wet dream come true for some people, of course, she says, but not exactly what anybody expects to see. They’ll have to keep checking on that area in case anything changes further.
He’s not sure he wants to let them poke around looking that closely to check on him. He doesn’t want to do it. He doesn’t want to find some kind of nub of a second penis growing out.
The tail is bad enough.
She scolded him when he said so, and kissed him silly. She made him feel the love pouring into him through her hands, while she explained it all in her storytelling voice. Somehow that was the most upsetting of all. He wasn’t sure why. He just wanted to cry.
When she saw that the words were just making it worse, then she stopped talking and made love to him, slowly and thoroughly, and exhausted both of them. He slept, instead. That’s been a new habit, the last few days.
Being clumsy isn’t stopping his sexual needs since it woke up again. Part of the achiness is just wear and tear from so much sex. He should be out for the count, feeling this bad, but he’s still up hard, begging for it if the slightest chance of sex offers, and a good whiff of honest sweat from either of his lovers sends him rigid as a rock.
He’s in some kind of full-on raging heat like a screaming cat. It’s humiliating, some sort of overriding trance like a Siamese, yowling and rubbing his face on Emma and pushing his ass at both of them, begging for it. He’s probably going to hump furniture if he gets left by himself too long. Dance knows he’s giving himself suspiciously TMJ-like symptoms from having his jaw wide open that much, busy pleasuring other people’s body parts, or busy pleasuring himself by licking them. A lot.
It isn’t just him. They’re all over him, too. His lovers are in heat too, they’re not shy about that. Emma has complained once that her wrists hurt from taking awkward angles to grip their penises too often, and her jaws hurt from going down on them so much. But she still wants more.
Drin doesn’t complain much, but he’s walking a little funny, and Dance has managed to restrain himself and turn down some of the poor man’s more wincing offers to satisfy him. Dance will take Emma’s word for it when she says she calculates he’s been climaxing about every two hours through the day, and about every four at night. That’s when he’s trying really hard to keep his thoughts disciplined and just lay there and be quiet so they can get some sleep.
Drin sounds cooler about it, the least ruffled mentally about it, but he’s right there touching Dance the most often. It’s his hands easing Dance into climax all the time, his body taking the most punishment from Dance’s hips whacking into him. He’s the one who’s up all night, talking to Dance, holding him when he’s hurting, trying to get him to eat, trying to arrange pillows to help prop him up, rocking him in his arms and kissing him, getting him off when he can’t stand it any longer.
Drin is restless anyway, nights. He doesn’t sleep much when it’s dark. Neither of them have asked him why he has bad dreams if he dozes off at night. “Guess I got that old night watch built in for the duration, don’t worry,” he says, making a face.
Drin has some ideas about finding support people to look for in a new part of the country, and he’s been trying searches on his battered little secondhand laptop. He visits different coffee shops, visiting Wifi spots. None of them knows where exactly they will end up, or what they’ll be doing, or why. None of them know what is going to happen to Dance’s body.
Drin believes that it’ll improve. He says Dance will get adjusted to the shift in his center of gravity, he believes the tail will stop growing so fast, its coordination will improve over time. He thinks it might learn how to vanish from sight completely. But he doesn’t think it’s just going away.
That’s why Dance touring in a zydeco band is probably wishful thinking on Emma’s part, but it might come true. Emma searches on the computer for zydeco and jazz and blues gigs in another part of the country, where she and Drin might find jobs eventually. Dance has never watched so much tv before, hunting among cable channels for history of the blues, about cajun music, about jazz, any music he can find, just in case.
Emma has taken on daylight watch. She gets things for Dance during the day, goes shopping, does research on Drin’s laptop while he’s out cold during the afternoon, and insists that Dance try to exercise his tail, work on testing it out, try to get some coordination going, whenever he can stand to move it around.
They can go out in public and ask questions and get directions and buy food and pay for gas.
Dance has never needed care like this, never asked for it from anyone, and he is stunned by it.
Dance knows that not all of the shadows in the room are cast by the reflected pool light darting about. When he’s laying still, feeling hot, needing to cool off, then he sometimes sees little flickering lights tossed out from his tail, little glittery blue and red and green flickers that are not just the cute rainbow patterns of a glassy surface tossing back reflected sunlight.
It can be quite pretty.
He just wonders why.
Challenge: bjd_30minfic, prompt 7, Shadow