CostumeBy Nate Walis
(Copyright 2004: the work of prose below is the sole intellectual property of the author, permission is not given for it or any part of it to be posted or printed elsewhere without the consent of the same. The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The door to the room swung open and banged against the wall with a dull thud that jarred Sophie’s teeth and reminded her of the headache she had woken up with more than six hours ago. Silently she thanked empty space for the small mercy that her shift was finally over for the night. It might have been nothing to look at, but at that exact moment in time the six feet by four of the dressing room was the most welcoming thing in the world. It had everything she wanted, a door and four walls between her and the rest of humanity.
From her vantage point, Sophie could make out only the legs of the battered dresser and stool, the oriental screen in the far corner that swallowed up the rest of the room, hiding the tiny shower and toilet, was a blur of faded color in the corner of her eye. The carpet felt far better on the palms of the hands than the cold tiles of the corridor as she pulled herself into the room towards the stool. When the exposed skin of her stomach rubbed across the carpet it gave her a fresh burst of energy and a second later she cast a hand out and took hold of the nearest leg.
She paused there for a moment to gaze back over her shoulder and regard the progress she had made. Half the battle was over as she had covered half the way into the room and her upper half was fully inside. The fact was that she needed to check her progress before trying to shut the door for fear of misjudging and slamming the damn thing on the length of her tail that still trailed out behind her into the corridor.
Sophie turned over onto her back and drew her tail up as far as possible so that the blue scales rested and inch or two from her chin and the paler flukes which flared out at the end crept into the room. Once they had joined her, she rolled onto her side and swung the door shut with a flip of the end of the tail.
Now she was alone, she paused and rummaged around in a drawer at the bottom of the dresser. Rummaging around among the contents she cursed under her breath as the webs between her fingers got very much in the way. A tone matching her tail-flukes, the webs churned through the junk in the drawer and made her drop the object of her search twice before she tossed a pack of cigarettes onto the top of the dresser.
Pulling her tail round and under her buttocks, Sophie wriggled around until the end and the flukes were right under her rear end. From there she heaved herself up belly-first onto the seat of the stool and spent the next few minutes struggling to work her body around till she was sitting comfortably facing the mirror that dominated the whole of the dresser and looked down upon a multitude of cosmetics arranged before her like votive offerings at a shrine.
Before her hand strayed to the dresser for the cigarettes or the various cosmetics, Sophie stared into the mirror and regarded the reflection as if looking upon a stranger for the first time. She traced the tresses of hair hanging down below her shoulders, a brown so strong and tending towards red it seemed ready to burst into flame. She gazed into the round hazel eyes and lingered for a time on the details of a delicate face. A hand drifted down towards her breasts, naked save for a few scales that dotted them, as blue as those more numerous upon the length of her tail. The hand traveled down and was lost from the view of the mirror as it found her waist. A solitary finger roamed over the scales that began as a lonely few dotted around her belly-button and grew more and more it descended over the tiny curve of her stomach until all trace of skin was lost beneath the fine overlapping scales.
Soon the other hand joined the first as Sophie explored the scales at her waist, feeling as if for something lost which must now be rediscovered with all haste. Finally both hands met below her navel and she slipped her fingers under hidden seam of her tail and lifted the edge of the costume, pushing towards her right side. The tail fitted her so well that the overlapping inches of skin tone after the scales ended was a near perfect match for her own, perfect enough to fool the naked eye and create the desired illusion. Her hands found their way to their goal and released the clip holding the monofibre seam together and the costume slowly yielded as she peeled it from her legs.
Sophie bit her lip as she delicately removed the costume and liberated her thighs at first, and then her knees re-emerged followed soon after by her feet, all still held together by the stiff Lycra stocking that served to restrict her movements and heighten the illusion that what lay beneath it did not exist at all. She gingerly laid the tail over the back of her chair, well aware of the fact that she could not afford to replace it were there to be the slightest damage whilst she was off stage. Next she rolled the stocking down to her feet with little regard for the more robust undergarment. As usual it was wet with perspiration, she tossed it into a corner where similar stockings were piled and rubbed the feeling back into her feet. She wriggled a little on the seat as she quickly pulled of the scales that dotted her skin, then winced as she yanked the larger scales away from her nipples, too tired to use the solvents arrayed among the make-up on the dresser to dissolve the glue that held them in place. At last she pulled off the webbing from her fingers one piece at a time with a curse under her breath for each one.
Once finished, and dressed now only in a thong – the only underwear that the costume permitted her to wear – Sophie padded across the tiny space of the room and disappeared behind the screen where she was able to wash away the sweat and grime as well as do something else that her costume made impossible.
Dressed and mercifully clean, Sophie stood outside the back door of the club and watched as the night sky turned a pale gray before dawn. She took a last drag from her cigarette before dropping the butt on the ground and crushing it under her battered trainer.
‘Penny for your thoughts?’
She glanced over her shoulder and saw that a fellow smoker had joined her in the alleyway.
‘What did I do this time, Doug?’ she said, trying to cut to the point.
Despite the fact that she felt no particular enmity towards her employer, Sophie was almost asleep on her feet and polite conversation was the last thing she wanted.
‘Nothing…nothing,’ he replied, ‘apart from you never leave your stockings out for the launderette run, you constantly pester me for advances half way through the month and you stuck two fingers up at that yank the other week, nothing at all.’ His tone was light and he grinned as he spoke.
‘You were there, you saw; the bastard tried to cop a feel.’
‘I know, I know…only joking,’ he paused for a second, ‘It’s just that you looked like you had the weight of the world on your shoulders in there tonight, I was worried about you.’
Perhaps the kindest thing that could have been said about Doug was the fact that he had chosen to work in an industry where he at least looked the part. He was balding, a bit overweight, had slightly rounded shoulders and dressed in suits that would not have looked out of place on the set of a cheap gangster movie. Everything about him screamed sleaze; except for the fact that he was afflicted by a conscience and totally unable to stop himself caring for the welfare of his employees. When Sophie had first started to work for him, Doug had given her warm handshakes and friendly grins, which she had been sure, were a preamble to a clumsy effort to grope her when the chance arose. But when the much-feared fondling attempt failed to materialize and Doug talked away her nerves, she had begun to grow fond of his bumbling ways and cheesy sense of humor. Experience had taught her that she could always approach him with a problem, be it big or small.
‘The usual,’ she managed as she lit his cigarette.
‘Trouble in the bedroom?’
‘No, the other usual.’
‘Bang on,’ she lit another for herself, ‘they cut the electric off yesterday.’
‘Why didn’t you say,’ Doug’s hand went instinctively for his wallet, ‘how much do you need?’
‘What? No I couldn’t…anyway, it’s more than having to put up with candles and cold beans. It’s the same thing every month, after the electric, water, council rates and my mobile I have those old student debts leeching from me as well. I’m stuck in a bloody rut and I something to kick me up the arise and get me out of it before I go mad.’
Doug looked thoughtful for a few moments before he spoke.
‘I’d pay you more if I could, but then I’d have to give the rest a rise as well; can’t afford that right now, no way. So you’ll have to get another job, or else rob a bank.’
‘Have you seen the unemployment figures lately? By the way, do you have a spare balaclava I could borrow?’
Doug was quiet again, as if he were weighing things up in his mind.
‘You could always go full BM; then I could get away with paying you more. What do you think?’
Body Modification, the words were both the ultimate taboo and the ultimate turn-on depending on which side of the equation you were on. In the last days of the twentieth century genetic modification had been nothing more than a term that was bandied around in the media as eco-warriors and the captains of industry argued back and forth about twiddling with the genes of crops and the dangers of "Frankenstein foods" being sold for human consumption. But with the passage of time it had come to mean so much more; it had come to stand for all the clever little tricks that mankind had learned to pull with the genetic makeup of not only the lower orders of flora and fauna, but also inevitably upon his own.
In the sweltering heat of the underground, Sophie's thoughts raced like the train as it wound its way through the bowels of London. Cramped into her seat, she stared down at the paper open on her lap, her eyes gazing right through the print as if it were not there at all.
There had always been an underground in the industry that catered for the more outlandish and offbeat of preferences; the titillation that would raise a few eyebrows were it mentioned in polite company, but was nevertheless tolerated so long as it never strayed from the unspoken bounds that were set for it. The dominatrix could wield her whip and clamp her punters nipples, the dancer could gyrate in her customer's lap and even the men who got off on wearing bibs and nappies were pretty safe whilst they indulged themselves behind closed doors.
While these had all been commonplace for as long as the industry had existed, it seemed that the past twenty years since the turn of the century had seen even more colorful ideas emerge from the mass unconscious when it came to getting your thrills. One had been the advent of the "Costume Clubs," where the emphasis was on the exotic dress of the dancers and punters paid to see in the flesh what they could only see as fantasy elsewhere. The clubs ran the gamut from small places where the girls dressed as Japanese schoolgirls for wild-eyed oriental businessmen to the big time operations, which rented out large premises and had the financial clout to rival the Hollywood studios when it came to the quality of their costumes. Some clubs were a mishmash of concepts and ideas, but others followed a strict theme and employed dancers to play specific parts such as the occupants of a nunnery, a women's prison or even a school of gladiators, decking out the interior of the club to heighten the effect. The more outrageous the theme, the more outrageous the costumes.
It was into this particular category that Doug's own club fell, doing a brisk trade catering for its punters with a group of dancers portraying the creatures of ancient mythology. Despite his not being able to raise the wages of his staff, Doug had managed to funnel enough cash into the place to make sure that the parts of the club that the customers saw was something out of the ordinary. "The stage," as he called it, was a good-sized loft not far from the banks of the Thames. Once inside, the illusion was almost complete and might have fooled the worse for drink into thinking that they were sitting in a Greek forum on a warm summers night. Only a keen eye would have convinced the average customer that Homer himself was not likely to be sitting away in a corner reciting poetry. At the far end of the club was a stage from which an ancient tragedy might have been performed, but from which a far more sensuous art was actually indulged in.
Doug's girls each had a creature that was their own, and the same money that had gone into the club also went into making sure that they looked the part whilst on stage. Fauns, centaurs, nymphs of all four elements, even snake-tailed nagas crept into the menagerie (though they were an import from the mysterious east and not native to the Mediterranean). And of course there was Sophie herself, the resident mermaid. They turned up, they got dressed, they danced for the customers and then they went home.
And when it was all over, the unpleasantness washed away and the money having changed hands, then everyone went back to their normal lives. If the willing participants, customer and provider of services, were to meet in the street then neither would dare to acknowledge the other in the real world.
But BM changed the rules; with it you could no more simply take off the costume and go home than you could take off your own skin. With BM the costume was your skin.
Doug had not lied when he spoke of the financial rewards, there was much demand for "the real thing" and people were willing to pay to see it. This was supposed to in some way balance the sacrifices that the subject had to make, the fiscal reward repaying the physical price. Sophie was also sure that he would pay her well were she to take that option; Doug had made it clear to his girls that the price of the treatment would go through the clubs accounts and their expenses would all be met.
She recalled as well the fuss and occasion that Doug had made when the first (and so far only) one of his employees had consented to the process. Kiera had returned from a long holiday in Africa and shown her face at the club only once before disappearing again amidst the whispers of the other dancers as to just what would return.
When the time came, Doug made sure that his investment in Kiera was worthwhile. Appearing on stage in a ludicrous toga and sandals, he announced to the eager crowd that he had just taken receipt of a rare specimen from the furthest reaches of the dark continent. At his command a pair of men dressed in similar togas (and feeling like a pair of prats) pulled a large cage covered with a rich red cloth out onto the stage. Without further ado, Doug whipped back the cloth and stepped back to reveal the contents of the cage.
Sophie recalled taking a breath in surprise.
There inside the cage was Kiera; the face was the same and the suggestive smile had not changed, even if so much else had. She wore a bra and loincloth made only of twisted black fabric, which was almost lost against the black and white stripes that crisscrossed her skin. A mane of black and white hair fell from her head and trailed away down her spine, narrowing all the way until it vanished just above the tail at the base of her spine that swayed back and forth. Far longer at the front, the mane fell down on the left side of her head, covering one eye whilst the other regarded the crowd with a mischievous glint. As she stepped out of the cage and made towards the edge of the stage, Sophie had cast an eye on her legs, seen that below the knee they bended back on themselves, and ended in black hooves, which clacked on the boards as she went.
Kiera was the new star attraction, she was worth more in wages than any two of her colleagues put together, she was exotic and alluring in a unnerving and alien way. But she could not go home, could not walk down the street, and could not ride the crowded and stifling underground back to her tiny flat in the soulless boroughs.
And it was that last memory which made up Sophie's mind.
As the thronging crowds piled out of the train and carried her from the platform, up the stairs and out onto the street she was fumbling for her mobile and dialing Doug's number.
A loud and persistent knocking at the door finally dragged Sophie out of bed. Though she did not bother to look at the bedside clock, the light lancing in between the slats of the blind betrayed the fact that it was the middle of the day. Silently cursing the nocturnal existence that her job demanded, she hunted around the room until she found a shirt to cover herself. The last remnant of an old relationship, the shirt was large enough to reach halfway down her thighs and would have to do, as her dressing gown was nowhere to be found.
The knocking at the door continued as she picked her way through the messy flat towards the door. Once there she stared through the peephole in the door and caught sight of the distorted image of a man in a courier's uniform. As strange as the view through the hole made him seem, it was clear that the look on his face was one of impatience as he kept on pounding the door.
Putting on the chain, Sophie opened the door and peered round at the courier whose knuckles had stopped only an inch from the wood.
'Ms S Higgson?' he asked in a stressed tone of voice.
'Package for you, luv,' he proffered his palm-sized inventory, 'just need you to swipe for it and then I'm gone.'
Sophie retrieved her ID card from the pocket of her coat, which was mercifully still hanging from the peg on the back of the door. She quickly swiped it in the slot of the inventory and was rewarded with a smile from the courier and a small cardboard box as he tapped the screen, recording the delivery.
'Return's been paid for, luv,' he explained before disappearing, 'call the number on the label when it's ready to be sent back and they'll send someone round to pick it up.'
And with that he was gone.
Sophie closed the door and carried the box into the living room where she sat down and cleared a space on the table. The address on the label was of course her own, but the plastic pocket attached to the box was filled with a small sheet of instructions and another label bearing an address in Kent for the return of the package.
Before she read the instructions, Sophie opened the box and pondered over the contents. Nestled inside the packaging, she found what looked like two test tubes with a plastic lids and a small book. She unscrewed the test tubes and noticed that the first had a swap attached to the lid, while the second hid a miniature syringe in the same place. Putting these down, she flipped through the pages of the book and was assaulted by a spectrum of colors. Each page was devoted to a different tone, from an intense color at the one side and fading to paler tones at the other. All in all it gave the impression of a book of wallpaper samples, except for the fact that each page was perforated where it met the spine do that it could be removed from the book.
More than a little puzzled by these finds, Sophie skimmed through the instructions without bothering to read in any great detail:
...using sample containers provided, please supply a specimen of blood and skin cells for the purpose of genetic profiling (the inside of the cheek is advised as the most readily accessible source for the latter and can be collected using the swab provided)...having taken time to browse the pigment catalogue enclosed, please remove the color of choice by tearing along the perforated line and placing this back in the box with the specimen containers after discarding of the rest of the catalogue...finally seal up the box, attach the label provided and return to The Retreat. Once we have taken receipt of the returned package we will contact you with further details...Thank you for your patronage...
"The Retreat," that was the name of the place. Sophie had been wondering what to expect and when she would hear from the people who were to carry out the BM. Doug had been quite vague when pressed for details and simply insisted that they were a private and very exclusive clinic that dealt with each client on a one to one basis and in the manner that they felt best fit the situation.
Kiera had been no more help when Sophie had called in on her unexpectedly to pump her for information on her own experience. In the well-appointed apartment that her BM status afforded her, the zebra-girl simply reclined on a sofa in a silk dressing gown and refused to tell. She was the result of their handiwork, Kiera explained, and even in the twenty-first century the sacred oath of privacy between patient and doctor held weight. They were legally bound to keep her identity confidential and she was in turn bound to keep their unique methods and practices quiet so that they remained that way.
Before Sophie left, Kiera stretched out her legs and waggled her hooves before lying out on her side and warbling out a few lines in imitation of her colleague's stage act. They were both the worse for more than one bottle of wine and Sophie had not been sure weather to be amused or insulted.
But for all her unanswered questions and misgivings she was committed now and determined no to turn back. The swap went round the inside of both cheeks, the syringe went in her arm with a yelp and she mulled over the book for a while before settling on a page where a deep blue faded into silver. With the page torn form the book and the box sealed up again, she stuck on the label and dialed the number for the courier service.
Within the hour the package was on its way back from whence it came.
From the back of the cab, Sophie caught sight of the imposing gates, as they swung open. The car turned in off the road and wound its way up a broad gravel drive hemmed in on both sides by trees. The cab driver muttered and cursed as his wheels threw up the gravel, which clattered off the bodywork, but Sophie ignored him and instead tried to get a better view of what was hidden around the next bend in the drive.
Train tickets and a letter informing of the appointed day for her to attend the Retreat had turned up out of the blue just as the package, from then on everything had been hurry, hurry. Doug had given her the time off without question and pressed a fifty-pound note into her hand for the taxi from the station. The letter's directions had the grumbling driver winding his way down narrow country lanes and through tiny hamlets, until they had arrived at those tall, cast iron gates.
There had been no sign by the road declaring that this was in fact the place she was looking for, but as there was nothing else for miles around this had to be the place. The driver had been surprised to find no intercom on the gates, but a whirring camera turning in their direction from atop one of the gateposts was followed by the gates simply opening of their own accord as if they were expected.
As the cab rounded the corner, Sophie was presented with the facade of an elegant Victorian house. Built of red brick, it was perhaps too small to be called a stately home and a little too large to be a manor house. Long low wings of two stories ran off to each side and the entrance was reached by three wide steps before the circle where the drive came to an end. Like the driveway, the house was flanked by trees and afforded an air of privacy that seemed right for a clinic of its kind.
The driver pulled up by the steps and busied himself with Sophie's luggage - which as it consisted of a hold all and a rucksack - took only a few moments. He accepted the money, grumbled again at changing the fifty-pound note and then disappeared down the drive leaving her alone in the shadow of the house.
Sophie shouldered the rucksack and dragged the hold all after her as she wandered through the open doors and into a hallway lit by an atrium window high above. Twin staircases wound up the sides of the hall leading to the first floor; black and white tiles checked the floor. The walls were hung with landscapes large enough to cover the space and on the borderline between average and bland so as to not attract too much attention, giving the impression of expensive background detail. Beyond the stairs, Sophie saw a lounge laid out with leather couches and a pair of doors leading out into a garden spreading out behind the house.
She was so busy taking in the hallway that she nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard a polite cough. Sophie spun round to see a raven-haired woman sitting behind a neat desk of dark wood. Tucked away to the immediate right of the doors, Sophie had failed to even notice the woman and she was embarrassed to realize the woman had been sitting quietly waiting for her to turn round all the time.
Sophie hauled her luggage over to the desk and pulled the now crumpled letter out of her jacket pocket. The woman smiled as she accepted the letter; a sincere smile it seemed to Sophie. As she quickly read the letter and tapped away at the tiny desktop computer upon the desk, Sophie sized the woman up as best she could. The name badge she wore simply bore the name "Gillian," with no mention of the Retreat and no mention of her job title either. From where she sat behind the desk, Sophie could make out that Gillian was wearing what appeared to be a black dress cut in an oriental style with a short collar. The dress had long sleeves and hugged close to Gillian’s figure, a little fuller than Sophie’s own and impressive for a woman who seemed well into her forties. The desk was covered by a dark throw that hung down over the front and hid whatever impressive pins Gillian might have been concealing under her snug dress.
‘Ms Higgson?’ Gillian asked, betraying an accent that set Sophie thinking of Eastern Europe.
‘Welcome to the Retreat; my name is Gillian, if you need anything during your stay just pick up the phone in your room and dial one for reception,’ she gestured at the desk before her and the telephone sitting beside the computer. ‘I’ll be sure to send someone up to see to you.’
I’m sure you will, Sophie thought.
‘You are scheduled to meet with Dr Pickford at twelve tomorrow in consulting room two. Your room is number twenty-seven, on the first floor,’ Gillian handed over an old-fashioned key. ‘Shall I call for the Porter?’
‘No need,’ Sophie picked her luggage up once more and started towards the stairs.
‘Meals are delivered to your room; I’m afraid we have no dining room. Just…’
‘Call reception, yes,’ Gillian laughed to herself.
At the top of the stairs Sophie paused and glanced back down at Gillian, sitting at her desk and tapping quietly at the computer again. From where she stood, Sophie was able to see Gillian’s legs before they disappeared under the desk. If the dress she was wearing had seemed a little snug on her chest, it looked positively skin-tight on what could seen of her lower half. Sophie was sure that the woman could not have walked at more than an inch at a time. Shaking her head, she decided to leave alone the mystery of the receptionist in the tight dress and find her room instead.
Sophie nodded; she had enjoyed the first good night’s sleep in months of working nights at the club and was still finding being up and about in daylight as something of a novelty. Her room had been much like the hallway; well furnished, but nothing over the top. A double bed, sofa, ensuite bathroom and a TV, which she had studiously ignored in favor of sleep.
But in contrast, the consulting room was quite a surprise. She had been expecting a dark room dominated by a huge desk and walls lined with diplomas and certificates; instead she had walked into a room painted a neutral wheat shade and carpeted with a thick brown shag-pile. The only furniture was a pair of comfy armchairs, a set of wooden shelves in the corner and a sideboard holding a coffee machine and crockery.
Even Pickford himself had been somewhat of a surprise, turning round to greet her from where he stood before the shelves and motioning to an empty armchair. Rather than the drab and gray man she had thought would lurk in a dark office and bore her to tears with a maze of medical jargon and babble, here was a bright character in jeans and a black woolen sweater. His dark brown hair was slightly unruly, but there was no sign of gray even at the temples and Sophie figured that he could not have been much more than thirty-five. A pair of spectacles rested upon his head as if they had been left there and forgotten, a suspicion that was confirmed when he retrieved a file from the shelves and then stopped with a look of confusion on his face until he found them and hastily balanced them on his nose. So, Sophie thought, this is what all those crazy professors look like before they go bald and loose their looks.
As soon as she was seated, Pickford had dropped the file on the arm of the empty chair and offered her a cup of coffee. While he made them both a drink, he had enquired as to whether she slept well.
‘Good, very good…kill you quicker than lack of water, you know?’
‘Pardon?’ Sophie looked a little puzzled.
‘Lack of sleep, brain needs to reach REM sleep every night…if it can’t then everything starts to fall apart…’ he paused, as if aware suddenly that he had wandered off the subject at hand. A confused expression crossed his face as he handed Sophie her coffee and sat down in the vacant chair. His own cup nestled between his legs; Pickford glanced at the file and seemed somehow steered back on track by the sight of it on the arm of the chair.
Sophie found herself grinning at Pickford’s friendly and bumbling manner. It was a long time since she had been a student and she had forgotten the eccentric characters that filled the halls of academia. There was no way that he could have survived in the real world; but here surrounded by his modern Swedish furniture, making coffees and polite small talk with his patients he made an endearing character.
‘I hope that Gillian made you feel welcome when you arrived, showed you the amenities and all that?’ Pickford smiled after asking the question and took a sip of his coffee.
‘Good woman, Gillian,’ Pickford went on. ‘Very good with people,’ he considered something for a moment and then added, ‘former patient of mine, still up and alive…reassuring for you, eh?’
A former patient, so that explained the curves that she liked to show off. If he could do that for a woman heading towards fifty, then he might work wonders for a younger model. But then this was far more than a nip and tuck in the right places, and there were no examples of Pickford’s more extreme creations wandering about for her to judge him by.
Pickford made a point of opening the file and leafing through the contents, stopping occasionally to scrutinize a particular point and then moving on until he had made his way through the whole thing. Then he looked up and caught Sophie’s eye, his face a strange mixture of concern and enthusiasm.
‘So I see that you’re the girl that I’m to make a mermaid out of.’
‘I suppose so,’ said Sophie, the words sounded so strange coming from Pickford’s mouth that she could not manage much more.
‘Well,’ he began, ‘I have to say that I don’t think I could have picked a better candidate myself.’
He glanced away and took a quick sip of coffee as Sophie realized that he was blushing. A man more than a decade her senior and a doctor on top of that, had turned red with embarrassment at paying her a compliment. The last thing she had expected was for the man who was going to perform intricate surgery on her to get bashful at the prospect of admitting that he found a woman attractive. After so long performing in front of crowds of leering men, shouting at her whatever filth and depravity they could think of, Pickford’s reaction came almost as a shock. But then she supposed that a man in Pickford’s position had to control himself no matter what he might feel; no woman would put herself in the hands of a doctor whom she could not trust to keep his hands where they were supposed to be. Still, the doctor’s red face seemed an endearing quality and Sophie found herself liking him all the more for his little show of human weakness.
‘Now then,’ Pickford tried to move the conversation on, ‘as all the papers have been signed and the specimens required were taken weeks ago, I think it’s time we got down to some of the practicalities.’
‘So is this the point where you whip out your magic wand and make my shoes redundant in a puff of smoke is it?’ Sophie joked.
‘Unfortunately not,’ Pickford smiled, sharing the joke, ‘if only I could. Actually, Sophie, this is going to take at least three days of intensive surgery and a good few intensive months of recuperative physiotherapy and rehabilitation before you’re back on your…feet. And you understand that this is a contract, which binds you for a full five-year term to remain in the form you will be adopting…a mermaid that is? You’ll be a mermaid for the duration of that time with no get out clause.’
This is it, Sophie thought, now we really are through the looking glass now.
‘I think it might help if you keep in mind the fact that this is just another form of surgery, genetic rather than simply cosmetic, but a straight forward process that has precedents all the same. In the past we have been limited to changing the surface details of our patients; tweaking their faces, removing unsightly blemishes and of course the ubiquitous enhancements in the obvious areas. But now we’re moving into an age where we can go further, actually take action at the root of whatever the patient believes is their particular problem. In time this kind of gene therapy could cure disease and make genetic conditions a thing of the past, but right here and now we’re discussing a use to which it has been put that has lofty – if not so noble aims. I’m not about to subject you to something that could kill you or go awry, I’d like to think that we know what we’re doing here.’
‘I suppose you didn’t kill Kiera,’ Sophie conceded.
‘Kiera? Oh yes, you have the same employer as the young lady who was with us not long ago. A colleague worked with her, but as I remember it involved extensive dermal work as well as alterations to the skeletal system.’
‘Well I can tell you that what I’m proposing in your case is nothing nearly as drastic and invasive as all that.’ He rose from the chair and returned to the shelves, rummaged around for something and then sat back down with a covered Petrie dish in his hands. ‘Take a look at this,’ he said as he removed the lid and handed it to Sophie.
Inside was a tiny object about the size of a penny; slightly oval-shaped, it sat suspended in a layer of clear jelly, but the light still played off the intense colors as it faded from intense blue to pale silver. It was a scale, the exact same color as the page she had torn from the little book and returned to the Retreat weeks ago.
‘This is…’ Sophie stopped, unable to find the words.
‘That’s a scale,’ Pickford smiled, ‘or to be more exact, it’s one of your scales.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s a scale grown from the cell sample that you sent to us, designed and grown in a culture right here to the pigment specification you chose yourself.’
‘How’s this supposed to help me become a mermaid? People don’t have scales now, do they?’
‘No, but mermaids do; well at least the type that you’re to become do. And if people did have scales, yours would be pretty much the same as this one on a genetic level. This scale has the exact same genetic makeup as your hair, skin, teeth and your whole body; we just tricked it into thinking that you were supposed to have scales as well. You see this way there’s no chance of rejection as the scales are as much a part of your genetic profile in the ways that matter as any other part of your body.’
‘So you’re not going to cut me open and give me gills instead of lungs, or whip out my leg bones and replace them with a dolphins nether regions?’
‘There really is no point,’ Pickford gestured with his hands, ‘if you don’t mind me saying, you’re not likely to have to spend the rest of your life living under the waves now, are you? As far as I understand it you really need to have what amounts to a pair of legs in the shape of a tail, or rather one leg that looks like a tail from the outside. To that end I think that the changes had better be external rather than internal, and seeing as you already have experience in performing as a mermaid the rehabilitation will be at least a little easier for you.’
‘My aim, Sophie, is to make a mermaid who can sit on a rock and charm the stars down from the sky; not to create some kind of zoological curiosity.’ He fixed her with a smile. ‘And of course the procedure done this way will be ultimately reversible.’
‘Okay,’ Sophie took in a deep breath, ‘when do we start?’
As bashful as he may have been in the consulting room, Dr Pickford turned out to be a total professional when it came to the operating room. He had informed Sophie that the process would be divided into three distinct stages, which he termed "preparation," "augmentation" and finally "consummation" (he blushed again at the last and moved swiftly on). It would have been possible for the whole operation to be carried out in the space of one day, but he explained that he wanted her to have the chance to come to terms with the alterations to her body a little at a time rather than waking up a biped and going to sleep as a mermaid in the same twenty-four hours.
At 9:00am the next morning Sophie was collected from her room by an efficient nurse and pushed in a wheelchair to the farthest wing of the house. The nurse had specific orders from Pickford that his patient was in no way to exert the muscles of her legs before the operation began.
Dressed in a theatre gown that barely covered her most intimate parts, Sophie could not help gazing down at her legs as she was wheeled towards the first stages of an operation that would totally change their shape. She ran her fingers over the skin of her thighs and was caught off guard by the realization that when she had slipped her underwear off before stepping into the shower, she had had no idea of the odd significance of the act. It would be a long time before she was able to slip them back on again.
Pickford greeted her as she was pushed through the doors of the theatre. His casual clothes had of course been replaced by theatre greens and his face covered by a surgical mask, which he pulled down to reveal a determined expression.
'We'll be starting in a few minutes, Sophie,' he motioned to the operating table and two theatre assistants gently lifted her from the wheelchair and laid her down upon it and raised the top half to an angle where she could see her own legs and the Pickford's face. 'First thing is to administer the anesthetic,' he produced a syringe filled with a clear liquid, 'you'll be conscious, but unable to feel a thing for the duration. He wiped a spot at the top of her arm with cotton wool and injected the contents of the needle. 'As soon as this take effect we can start.'
The effects of the injection were unlike any anesthetic Sophie had experienced in the past. Rather than passing out, she felt a sudden wave of relaxation and well being. The only thing she could compare the experience to be being high, unable to move or speak, yet still aware of her surroundings with her vision blurred slightly at the edges. When Pickford removed her gown she was aware of his touch despite his reassurances that she would feel nothing, but she simply floated on the chemical high that the drug had induced. In a corner of her mind Sophie was aware that she did not know what to expect; but again she simply could not find the will to do anything about it.
Sophie felt her legs lifted and something being pulled up over them. She glanced down and saw that what amounted to a long thin bag of heavy plastic had been slipped over her lower half. The bag was transparent and she could make out her legs inside. She also noticed that the bag was gathered just above her waist so that her torso was left clear.
There was a slight churning sound and Sophie heard a male voice from the far corner of the room.
'Solution pumping,' another voice answered.
A pleasant tingling sensation swept over Sophie's legs as a warm liquid began to fill the bag. Soon it had totally submerged her feet and still it kept rising to cover her knees and then her thighs until the whole bag was filled. Once full, the pumping stopped and Sophie felt her legs floating in the liquid as if she were laid on her back in a swimming pool, floating on the water. But she was sure that this was not simple water. The liquid's warmth seemed to seep into her legs until they felt warmed to the bone and the sensation relaxed her so much that she felt she might melt from it.
Sophie could never recall just how long her legs had been floating in the liquid, she felt that she had drifted away and slept for hours. The next thing she recalled was the feeling of a touch on her thigh. Her eyes opened to see Pickford pressing a finger into the flesh just above her knee. To her surprise, when he removed his finger it had left a small depression on the flesh such as might have been left behind had he done the same to wet clay.
'The solution's taken effect, the flesh is pliable enough,' he said to his assistants out of Sophie's sight. 'I'm about to begin.'
What followed was a bizarre mixture of massage and a strange trip for Sophie. Pickford moved to the end of the table and began to knead her toes, which offered no resistance to his fingers and soon molded together until the ends of Sophie's feet were devoid of digits altogether. Next he began to work on her feet themselves, smoothing the insides of both and rounding her heels in the palms of his hands. Sophie watched as her feet gave way and became one, the flesh of each melting into the other whilst Pickford's hands pointed them downwards and pushed what had been her heels back a little so that the tip of the newly amalgamated extremity was in line with her legs on an almost horizontal plane. Returning to what had been her toes, Pickford flattened the blunt end of the flesh and smoothed the point together until there was no trace of Sophie's feet whatsoever as he carefully removed her toenails, placed them in a waiting metal pan and quickly eradicated the small indentations they had left.
Sophie looked on as Pickford moved up to her calves and gently pressed them together. Again she felt the very flesh of her limbs yield as they became one and Pickford carefully progressed all the way up to her knees before returning the way he had come to pull them closer together and seal up the fain line that still hinted as to the distinct limbs which they had once been.
Before he moved upwards, Pickford called to his assistants who gingerly lifted Sophie and turned her so that she lay on her belly. Now the doctor was lost from sight, but Sophie was soon aware of just what part of her was working on. She felt gentle hands make contact with her intimate parts and begin to mould them as they had done her feet and calves. What might have been deeply uncomfortable was softened by the effect of the drugs and the warm and yielding quality that the strange liquid had conferred upon her body. The sensation of movement was soon over and she was turned onto her back once more.
Only now did Pickford begin to push together and mould her thighs, first unifying her knees and then sealing the ever shrinking gap between Sophie's legs until he reached the point where she had been waxed to remove her pubic hair before arriving at the Retreat. Here he spent a great deal of time putting an end to her crotch and leveling her flesh out so that when he was finished Sophie stared down the length of her body and took in the uninterrupted flow of soft pink flesh which started at her waist and ended at what were once her feet.
Her contemplation was cut short as the theatre assistants again lifted her and placed her on her stomach. Pickford worked quickly now, molding and sealing the back of her legs so that they were uniform with the front until he reached Sophie's buttocks. There he inserted something cold and hard, which brushed against her intimate parts and stayed there whilst he pressed the cheeks of her backside together and finally concluded smoothing everything together. When the object was removed the assistants turned her over once more and one held her lower half off the table whilst Pickford and the other pulled a long machine plated with polished metal from the corner of the room.
The machine was about five feet in length, three wide, maybe a foot deep and sat atop four legs mounted with castors. While Pickford opened the device like the bottom half of a coffin, the second assistant fiddled with the table until the section under Sophie's lower limb folded away, all the time his colleague held her still. Pickford and the assistant then maneuvered the machine beneath Sophie and guided the other man to lower her into it. She saw that the interior of the machine was shaped precisely to fit her new form and as the lid was closed she felt it press tightly around her allowing not an inch of movement.
Soon she began to feel heat building within the machine and suffusing her lower half once again. Reclined on the table she lost any sense of time and drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep.
When she awoke, Sophie found that she was alone in the dark. She groped instinctively for the bedside table and the alarm that she presumed must have woken her. As her arm waved about in the darkness she contemplated the ride to work and wondered if she should stick to the usual routine for her act, or try to throw in something a little more daring. Maybe tonight was the night to try taking the stage in a full-length toga and falling to the floor in pretend shock at the tail suddenly flapping away from between the folds.
It was about then that she realized the table was not there and there was no alarm.
Sophie recalled where she was and found the light switch on the wall by the bed.
Then she remembered what had taken place in the operating theatre.
With more than a little trepidation, Sophie pulled back the sheets to be presented with the sight of a dull gray material peeking out from under a nightshirt, which she had no memory of dressing herself in. She tugged the covers off her fully and stared at the tight stocking that covered her legs. Made of a smooth material almost without a discernable texture, the stocking was quite thick and extended right up to an inch above her waist.
The way in which the stocking held her legs together reminded Sophie of the similar garments she had worn under her costume. Perhaps, she thought, it was all a dream; just the effects of whatever they doped me up with.
At the other end her feet waved back at her as Sophie flexed them experimentally. They were quite mobile, but something did not seem right. It was as if they refused to bend all the ways that they should and Sophie simply could not make them point upwards as if she were trying to stand on the soles. A vague recollection of what she thought she had seen Pickford doing to them nagged at her, but she ignored it; lying down on her back, she began to pull the stocking down.
As soon as the garment had moved more than a few inches, Sophie stopped dead. At first she had simply rolled the hem down without a second thought, but then she realized that she should have passed her waist a good two inches earlier. She gazed at the point where her legs should have begun and saw only pink skin disappearing under the stocking.
She had not been hallucinating.
She did not have legs, as such, anymore.
She was one step on the way to becoming a mermaid.
If this was the reality of her situation, Sophie reflected, then she was going to get to grips with the practicalities of her new form. With this in mind, she stripped the stocking off completely and pulled herself over to the edge of the bed. She swung her unified lower limb over the edge and regarded herself in the full-length mirror upon the wall. The nightshirt followed the stocking and she took in the changes that Pickford had wrought to her body.
‘Mirror, mirror on the wall; who’s the biggest pink worm of them all?’ she whispered to herself as she followed the line of her body unbroken from head to what had been her toes. What Pickford had begun with his hands, the machine into which he had placed her had certainly made a nice finish to. The seamless line of Sophie’s lower body made her certain that the machine had been some kind of press or mould to set her flesh in its new shape. She noted with interest the absence of pubic hair and toenails. She also found herself admiring the graceful line that her lower half followed, from her waist all the way down to where her feet curved under slightly as if in anticipation of what was to come.
Sophie placed a hand on her extended lap and ran her fingers over the spot in which she guessed her intimate parts had been. She was surprised to find that while there was no trace to be found on the outside, something had certainly been left behind beneath the skin. Intrigued, she rolled onto her stomach and felt for her buttocks only to find that while they were still there, they too had changed somewhat. Rather than the rounded cheeks she was used to, Sophie found that both sides were pulled tightly together as though their muscles had been strengthened. A probing finger found that the line between them extended almost twice as far as it had before. Determined to find out all that she could, Sophie forced her finger in-between the cheeks and quickly found that her backside was just where she left it and her private parts had become a close neighbor to it.
Before she could explore any further there was a gentle rap on the door.
Sophie was suddenly aware that she had never bothered to check the time when she awoke. A quick glance told her that she had slept right through the night.
For all the apparent strangeness of losing her legs and awaking to find that her intimate parts had gone walkabout, she was about to have to deal with a whole lot more.
Pickford seemed quite delighted when Sophie explained to him that she had fathomed the ins and outs of the changes that he had made to her body the previous day (she later concluded that this was due to the fact that it spared him the embarrassment of explaining how her plumbing now worked himself), and was keen to move on to the second stage of the operation. Within five minutes of entering the theatre, she was back on the table and ready to take the next step away from being human and towards becoming a mermaid.
Before she received another dose of the hypnotic anesthetic, Pickford drew her attention towards two plastic tanks that sat on a table a few feet from where she lay. The first and smallest contained eight small blue shapes, much like arrowheads, but curved on two sides and faintly transparent in the strong light of the theatre. Sophie looked closer and noted that they were suspended in a gel just like as the scale Pickford had shown her in the consulting room. She glanced down at her hands and spread her fingers wide apart as she recognized the shape of the webbing that had been glued in-between her fingers as a part of her stage costume.
But it was the contents of the second and far larger tank that held her attention rapt while Pickford explained them to her with a certain amount of pride.
In this tank was suspended a magnificent tailfin. Between two and three feet in length, it flared out at the top and twisted away into two flukes that tapered to points like nothing she had seen before. Of a blue that matched and yet far surpassed the webbing intended for her fingers, the tailfin was ribbed with five lines at each side that began at the top and followed the shape of the individual flukes until they met at their tips. Under the theatre lights, the tailfin shimmered like a giant butterfly of unearthly beauty and grace.
For the first time, Sophie found herself caught up in a state of enchantment.
Not only was she to be a mermaid; but also she was to be a stunning vision unlike anything she had dared imagine.
Pickford explained briefly what Sophie had already concluded; that the object of today’s surgery would be to attach the parts that she saw in the tanks. These had all been grown in the same way as the scales and would function as any other part of her body in just the same way. The webbing was self-evident, but he went into more depth in the case of the tailfin. Raising the end of Sophie’s unified lower limb, he explained that the tailfin would be attached to the bottom of her former feet. Now that the shape of her feet was like that of an uneven diamond, with the longer edges being the outer sides and the shorter being the edge where her toes had once been, the tailfin would be attached to the latter edges and make use of the bones and muscles now redundant that had once worked the long gone digits.
Sophie nodded that she understood and soon the anesthetic was administered.
Again she was cast adrift on a sublime feeling and watched in a detached wonder as Pickford went about his work, before falling into a deep sleep. She watched as each of the triangles of webbing was placed in-between her immobile fingers after a concentrated spray from a small canister, which Pickford held in his off hand, had been applied. From the way the webbing sank into the skin as each piece was pressed home, Sophie guessed that the same strange liquid was being used as had reduced her legs to the consistency of clay. She wondered what other uses the Retreat had put the same substance, or whether it was the sole preserve of Pickford himself.
Though he had been careful with the webbing, Pickford took the greatest pains by far over the tailfin. With this he ushered the assistants out of the theatre and would let no hands but his own touch the contents of the larger tank. Delicately laying the fin out before the end of Sophie’s lower limb, he made precise incisions down both sides where her toes had been with a scalpel. Though she could feel no pain, Sophie was sure she could feel Pickford’s fingers as he sought and found the bones that her toes had left behind. As he worked, slowly at first and then ever more quickly, she became aware of the tailfin as each bone and its nerve endings were married up to a rib running its length. Eventually the same canister reappeared in Pickford’s hand and as he squeezed the trigger, Sophie again felt herself succumbing to sleep.
When the alarm sounded for real this time, Sophie was awake in a second and silenced the clock she had retrieved from her bag before leaving for the operating theatre for the second time. Estimating that she operation could not have taken more than six hours, she had set the alarm to go off at midnight. This she hoped would give her a good few hours to sleep off the after-effects of the anesthetic and still allow for more time in which to examine the sum of the changes that had been wrought upon her this time round.
The first became apparent when she reached out and flipped the lights on. Her hand felt as if she were wearing a glove of some kind, and a closer inspection revealed that she was right. Both her hands had been covered by fingerless gloves; made of the same material as the stocking she had awoken in the previous morning. Sophie wasted no time in pulling these off to reveal her newly webbed hands. She blew on her palm and found that they were every bit as sensitive as her fingers and joined the skin as if they had always been a part of her. Each curved between her fingers and met them below the first joint, and whilst she found that she was perfectly able to hold a pen and perform a host of other minor feats of digital dexterity, she was unable to wear a ring upon her fingers any longer or intertwine her hand with that of another.
Another stocking had been pulled over her legs and she treated this in the same way, only pausing for a moment before pulling the whole thing off to reveal the tailfin. Once the stocking was gone, the tailfin unfurled upon the bed in all its glory. It was heavier than Sophie had imagined, weighing the end of her fast developing tail down and forcing her to flex her muscles to move it around. But once she began, it was evident that the tailfin was far from inanimate due to its weight. Sophie found that she was quite able to twist and turn the fin in many different directions as its two halves worked independently of each other and responded perfectly to the demands of the ribs now attached to the nerves and muscles that had once animated her toes.
Sophie lay on her stomach and arched her tail forwards so that the fin flopped down over her head. Leaning on her elbows, she ran her hands over it and explored the thing’s texture and shape, all the time as aware of her hands upon the fin as she was the fin between her fingers. She had expected it to be cold and maybe a little slimy, but she found instead that it was warm and quite dry, even noticing the tiny and delicate veins that ran through it.
Feeling more than a little excited, Sophie eased herself off the bed and crawled over to her bags where they lay in a corner of the room. Most of the clothes she had brought were casual and quite ordinary, but not all of them. Sophie rooted around until she had found the items she wanted and then climbed back onto the bed.
Quickly she stripped her nightshirt off and cupped her breasts in a black strapless bra. The next piece of clothing took a bit more forward thinking as she attacked the toe of a pair of black tights with nail scissors and then balled them up ready to be pulled on. Sophie teased the ends of her tailfin into the leg of the tights that she had cut and then eased them through the holes she had made for them until they emerged from either side. She then pulled the leg of the tights up over her bare tail and to her middle and tucked the empty leg into the waistband. The outfit was finished off with a little black dress that fitted her like a dream. The ended well before her knees (or once had) and had never failed to impress.
Fully dressed, Sophie picked up the phone by the bed and dialed reception.
‘Reception,’ she recognized Gillian’s accented English, ‘how can I help?’
‘This is Ms Higgson in room twenty-seven. I missed the evening meal, please could you send me up something to eat?’
‘Certainly,’ Gillian replied, ‘what would you favor?’
‘Send me some seafood,’ Sophie stifled a laugh, ‘anything will do, as long as its seafood.’
‘Very well, someone will be with you within the next half an hour.’
‘You won’t be bringing it yourself?’
‘No, I’m afraid that would be quite impossible.’
‘Ok,’ Sophie resigned herself to the fact that she was not going to be able to shock Gillian after all.
She spent the next thirty minutes practicing and pouting in the mirror until she heard a knock at the door. One hand resting on her tail and the other cradling her head as she reclined on the bed she decided that she was ready.
‘Come in and put it down by the bed; you’re safe to come right in, I’m dressed.’
The door was opened by a young man not more than twenty and wearing the uniform of a male nurse. At first he seemed taken aback at the sight of Sophie as she moved her hand up to her breast and gave him a seductive smile. Then his eyes trailed down to the sight of her tail, naked of scales, but clearly visible for what it was beneath the black tights. Sophie flapped her tailfin as he stared open-mouthed and pointed at the platter he was carrying.
‘I’d bet you a pound to a penny that whatever you’ve got under there, it isn’t the catch of the day right now, is it?’ It was a line so predictable that it made her cringe, but it had the desired effect.
The nurse’s Adams apple bobbed for a second before he dropped the platter on the floor and fled the room.
Once she was alone, it took Sophie so long to stop laughing that the contents of the platter had gone cold.
The last day in the operating theatre began as the other two had with Sophie being wheeled through the doors and delivered onto the table in the center of the room where Pickford greeted her. But this was the third day, when the final stage of the process would take place and for all intents and purposes she would say goodbye to the human being known as Sophie and become a creature conjured out of myth and fantasy. The same face would stare back at her from the mirror, but everything else would change from this day onwards.
Pickford would today engage in the delicate task of attaching the individually grown scales to Sophie’s tail, thus rendering the transformation complete and providing the world at large with its first genuine mermaid.
The end of her tail was soon strapped to a complex harness and hoisted off the table until only Sophie’s torso remained upon the table. The doctor explained that for this part of the operation he would be unable to turn her as he worked and instead needed to have the whole of her tail at his disposal.
‘I think that I’ll have outdone Barnum by the time the day is over,’ he joked.
Sophie laughed out of simple politeness, but Pickford’s casual joke sent her mind racing back over the events of the past two days once more. She realized that the intense changes wrought to her body and the speed with which they had taken place had left her somewhat stunned; despite all the care taken to stagger the operation over a number of days she had still been overwhelmed by the massive reality of her new physical appearance.
Only now as the anesthetic took effect for the final time did she begin to contemplate the vast implications of what she had allowed Pickford to do to her. There was a part of her that still refused to believe his claim that her transformation would not be permanent, that she was being initiated into a strange kind of human zoo where she would have all the rights of an animal. Sophie recalled a time when she had visited an aquatic park on the continent, but now rather than tanks populated with dolphins and other cetaceans, she pictured herself on show and made to perform for the applause of the tourists. She worried that with the changes to her body would follow changes to her mind. Deprived of legs and forced to deal with the reality that a tail had replaced them, would she be able to think like a human being for long? Sophie had been sure changes had begun to creep over Kiera after she had returned from the Retreat, as if her usual playful nature had been absorbed into the provocative nature of the creature she portrayed on the stage, the creature that had replaced her former self.
While she swam in an ocean of her own thoughts, buoyed up by the effects of the drugs in her veins, Pickford had wasted no time in starting on the job at hand. On a shallow tray by the operating table lay row upon row of scales, each nearly identical to the original Sophie had seen in the consulting room. With a fine pair of tweezers in one hand and the spray he had employed the previous day in the other, Pickford moistened a spot on Sophie’s tail and gently attached one scale at a time. He began at the very point where the tailfin met the pink skin and laid the first layer half over the former and half over the latter as to disguise the transition from one to the other. When he had laid a complete band around the base of the tail, he then began another above it taking care to overlap the second layer over the first. In this way he proceeded, each new band growing wider as the width of the tail increased and each overlapping with the last so that no gap at all was visible. Sophie watched his progress as the effects of the anesthetic clouded her thoughts and silenced the trepidation that had taken hold of her. All the anxiety and fear was reduced to the simple act of watching, and she counted each scale as a step on the road away from her former self.
As the scales reached her knees and then inched up over her thighs and finally reached up to encircle her waist, Sophie felt herself swallowed up by a feeling of deep calm. The completion of the tail seemed somehow to silence her doubts and resign her to the fact that this was now as much a part of her as the color of her eyes, the curve of her breasts or the sound of her voice. As Pickford dotted the scales up her stomach and over her back to graduate the change from fish to flesh and finally released Sophie’s tail from the harness, she watched the whole thing move like an iridescent shirt of chainmail above the elegant shape of the tailfin. This was no costume that she could pull off at the end of the day; as she had predicted, her costume had become her skin.
It was a good month later when Sophie and Pickford met again. They sat in the same chairs, in the same room and drank coffee from the same cups. Only Sophie, out of all the pieces that made up the picture, had changed.
She sat proudly, with her tail gathered up beneath her so that the flukes of her tailfin fell over the arm of the chair. She wore a loose fitting dress that made no effort to conceal the shape of her tail and fell away to reveal the silver and blue of the scales as they caught the sunlight streaming in through the window. Her hair was gathered beneath a scarf wrapped around her head and also caught the light where Sophie had taken to entwining small beads and charms into the locks as her rehabilitation had progressed.
For his own part, Pickford was visibly impressed. Sophie tried to puzzle out whether his admiration was for his own handiwork or simply for the sight of a flesh and blood mermaid sitting not more than a few feet away. In the end she settled upon a mixture of the two.
Both knew that the past month had been a revelation for the patient. The sudden reality that she was now at the end of the tunnel had washed away all trace of the trepidation that had dogged Sophie through the days of the operation. And Pickford had been right, her previous experience had crystallized in her mind and overcome the shock of her new form. At times Sophie caught herself thinking that she had forgotten to undress at the end of the day, but all that had soon passed as the undulating motions of her tail and its hypnotic scales became far more than could ever be termed second nature. As she learned to move and cope with the freedoms and the limitations that were afforded by the tail, Sophie found a new confidence born out of the very changes that she had once feared.
‘I’m pleased to say that you have a clean bill of health and the physiotherapist reports that you’ve taken to the using of your tail like…well like a fish to water. So I’ll have no problem in seeing you off back to London as soon as all the details are finalized. I hear your employer has made all the necessary arrangements for you in advance?’ he glanced up from her file to ask the question.
Sophie nodded. Doug had been in contact and rattled on over the phone about the apartment he had laid on for her return. The place was apparently tailored to allow her every freedom despite the limitations that faced a mermaid stranded upon dry land. He explained that the backers of the club had been generous in advancing capital to ensure that the new attraction was maintained in the appropriate manner. The money was even enough to secure a small indoor pool as a further sweetener to the deal. She had enjoyed mastering the art of swimming with her tail in the Retreat’s own pool, and Sophie was particularly looking forward to the thought of a private pool of her own.
‘So the car will be here to pick you up some time this afternoon and I’ll be seeing you, hopefully, in five years time…which should give me plenty of time to grow you some new toenails to replace the ones that I did away with!’
Sophie leaned forward and gave him a conspiratorial whisper in the ear.
‘Who says I’ll want those; I may ask you for gills when five years are up…’