Author: Cecilia Kennedy
Shapes drift down the aisles of the ferry I’m taking to an island I’ve never seen before. A coworker, Sally, swears it’s the best-kept secret in the entire Pacific Northwest. We’ve got a seat near the window, as parents and children run up and down the aisle next to us, from one side of the boat to the other, inside and outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of an otter or seal, but it’s always just birds, tricking you into thinking their wings are fins.
Out of the corner of my eye, a hooded shape makes its way up and back. It’s much colder on the ferry than it is on land, when the air is still, and the water isn’t kicking up waves. Sally tells me all about the shops—and there’s a glimmer in her eyes—a yellow spark of something I’ve never noticed before, when she tells me of the pizza slices and tempura-battered shrimp.
The hooded figure passes two or more times. I assume it’s good exercise, walking laps around the boat—maybe to ward off seasickness. As I talk to Sally, her eyes glow bright, and the hooded shape takes on speed. I hear a clunk, clunk slither sound, and the shape disappears, then reappears again, until I see something else I hadn’t seen before: antlers protruding from the hood, a serpent’s tail swishing along from behind. My breath goes still, and I lean into Sally’s stories a bit more to avoid looking at the aisles, and as she talks, the flame in her eyes turns green, just as the ferry reaches the dock.
We get out into the sunshine, the town all lit up with salty air and rays, restaurants and shops, but my skin grows cold when I see everyone, including Sally, shed their coats, bare their antlers, their slithering tails. All turn to look at me to see what I’ll do, as I’m surrounded by faces with pointy teeth and vulture eyes. I want to run, vomit, get back on the ferry, but when I turn around, even the ferry workers have shifted their shape, so there’s no escape. Sally places her tentacle on my shoulders, insists on the pizza place near the corner, where tiny antlered children run. I remove my coat, let the sun soak into my skin, order a slice of the specialty: basil pesto squid—and wonder when my tentacles will come in, when my shape will shift—and how long it takes to fully conform.