His eyes snapped open, and he winced at the bright lights overhead. He was awake, but, apparently hadn't just imagined floating. The pillow his head was resting on was comfortable, at least, but that didn't change the fact that he had tentacles instead of legs. And, those boneless limbs, it seemed, were floating free in the warm water – a small pool.
The pillow rested on the edge of the pool, and Fleischer dared not move his head, in fear of sinking into the water and drowning. He knew he had gills, but not whether they functioned, and he didn't particularly feel like putting them to the test. His tentacles, it seemed, were doing some unconscious testing of their own – stretching out, and just barely unable to reach the other, deeper side of the pool, some twelve feet away.
Fleischer hated that sight – hated the feeling, the push and pull of the muscular limbs against his body in a way that his legs wouldn't have. They felt bizarre – far too many limbs, each seeming to move without any sort of command, idly gripping the surfaces in the pool, exploring, curling through the water. He could feel the way the water brushed over them. It felt almost nothing like the resistance to movement that the water would have provided his legs. Then again, his legs had been jointed, and not covered in slime.
He couldn't help but nearly scowl at that. He didn't want to look at the things, or even think about the fact that they were there. Fleischer finally turned over, onto his front, so that he could take a look at his new surroundings.
The room was almost nothing like the 'apartment' he had been in. His desk, at least, had been brought in, complete with record player, and pushed back against one of the walls. There wasn't any other furniture, though, barring a pair of chairs and a small table placed a few feet away from the edge of the pool. The pool itself was, naturally, the room's centerpiece.
Fleischer didn't like the look of things at all. The walls were painted a soothing cream color, and the floor tiles were a light tan instead of stark white. There were a number of frosted glass windows set into the walls, letting in their warm, artificial sunlight. It still didn't feel cozy, though – it felt clinical. Things had definitely not changed for the better.
He also couldn't help but notice that he no longer felt quite so hungry. If anything, he felt as though he'd eaten a full meal. The very thought of the fact that he had been force-fed caused a low, quiet growl to rumble in his chest. It was a sound he quickly silenced. It had seemed so automatic, though – like some new instinct.
A new instinct. That could only mean that his brain had been altered, as well, and Fleischer didn't like the thought of that in the slightest. He wasn't surprised, though. His senses had been heightened, and a change in the structure and chemistry of his brain had no doubt been required for that.
That was what terrified Fleischer the most – not the tentacles, not the teeth, or the claws – the fact that Davis could alter his brain. The man could alter the very way he thought, and behaved. He felt like nothing so much as a pawn, being moved around the genetic chessboard at Isaac's whim.
He idly smoothed his hair down, a force of habit made more difficult by the addition of claws. Fleischer gave a faint hiss when one of those claws caught the slightly pointed tip of an ear – another new change. At least he hadn't managed to draw any blood.
Each moment that passed had Fleischer sinking further and further into hopelessness. He finally just fell forward against his pillow, at least trying to hide the fact that he had tears welling in his eyes once more. He couldn't quite make himself pretend that those transparent third eyelids weren't there, blinking away the extra moisture. He had, at least, very nearly fallen asleep when the airlock opened with a hiss.
Fleischer didn't lift his head right away – he wasn't even sure he had the energy. He could hear the footfalls, though; one person, too light to be Davis. Fleischer didn't budge, though, not even when he smelled food through the slightly damp fabric of the pillow. He could hear the tray, as well, as it was placed on the table.
"Good morning, Doctor Fleischer," Hayes greeted, no doubt offering a cheerful smile.
The Medic did lift his head at that – just a little – just enough to see that, yes, that small, sweet smile was on his nurse's face – and, that she was hiding something behind her back. He narrowed his eyes a little, and tried to lift himself up a little further, having to use his arms on the ledge of the pool as support. The meal – baked fish – went almost completely ignored by Fleischer, in favor of trying to see what the nurse was hiding.
"I found out that some of your things were still in storage," Hayes said, her smile brightening just a little. "I did a little looking around and… I found something I thought you might want."
Fleischer's attention was fixed on the nurse at that point. He could smell something – something that sparked a feeling of familiarity, and comfort. His eyes were riveted on the well-loved stuffed bear that was placed on the table, next to his tray. "Beschützer…" he murmured, the food entirely forgotten at that point.
He didn't remember sending any sort of command to his tentacles, but, apparently wanting to move closer to the table was enough to coordinate them to the task. His body was damp, and he hesitated a moment to make sure his hands were dry before gently picking the stuffed toy up. A little bit of dampness, he hoped, wouldn't ruin it, and he finally hugged it close to his chest as fresh tears welled up in his eyes.
"Was it yours..?" the nurse asked gently after a few moments, quietly having a seat in one of the chairs.
Fleischer said nothing at first, just hugging onto Beschützer – onto an object of steadfast comfort. "It was my son's," he finally said. It was all he had left of the boy. He and his mother had fled from a broken home, and he had no idea where they were or, given the passage of time, if they were even still alive. Regardless, Sofia and Lukas were far out of reach, and the thought was enough that he could no longer hold back a sniffle, or keep the tears from rolling down his cheeks. It was all Fleischer could do to not break down into sobs, and he started just a little when he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry," Hayes said. Her posture, her expression, and her scent all pointed to the statement being genuine. She even left her chair to kneel next to the edge of the pool.
Fleischer didn't think twice about leaning forward, and felt some small sense of relief when Hayes let him rest his head against her shoulder. He finally broke down into sobs when he felt an arm curl around him, and a hand rest on his back. There was a silent discomfort in the back of his mind at the thought of the nurse seeing and feeling the scars that covered his back. It was, however, a rather petty worry compared to the fact that he didn't seem to be the slightest bit human from the waist down.
It was only after a very long moment of just holding onto her patient that Hayes spoke. "Doctor Fleischer, your food is getting cold," she stated gently. "Please eat. There's nothing in it, I promise."
The Medic could tell she was being honest – could sense it – and gave another sniffle and a small nod before finally pulling back.
Hayes looked relieved, and offered another small smile before pulling back, as well. She pulled one of the chairs around, closer to Fleischer.
Fleischer, however, was having considerable difficulty even lifting himself out of the pool. He hesitated a long moment before offering the stuffed toy to Hayes so she could place it on the table, before using his hands to try and pull himself up. He managed, clumsily, to get himself out of the pool, and offered his nurse a quiet, rather embarrassed 'thank you' when she helped pull him up onto one of the chairs.
Once he was seated, he couldn't help but notice that his tentacles, once again, seemed to have a mind of their own. They explored the floor tiles, and a few of them even curled lightly against the legs of the table or the chair. Fleischer's face went rather pink, and he offered an apology, when one of the limbs decided to curl lightly around one of the nurse's ankles.
"It's okay," Hayes insisted, offering a little smile. It took just a little bit of coaxing, but, she did manage to gently unwind the limb, letting it curl around one of the chair's legs, instead. "The fish is very good, Doctor Fleischer. I had some of it, myself, earlier."
It certainly smelled good. It smelled delicious, even – enough to make Fleischer realize that he craved what was on his plate. He was glad to see that he had been afforded cutlery – some small sign that he wasn't viewed as an animal; not yet, at least. Granted, it was awkward at best trying to hold onto a fork with claws at the tips of his fingers. He also felt awkward, once again, eating in front of Hayes when she didn't have a meal of her own.
"It's fine, Doctor Fleischer," she stated. "I ate my own meal just before coming in."
Eating was difficult. Between his claws and his teeth (trying not to show those sharp points) Fleischer was at least somewhat awkward in just getting the food from the plate to his mouth. Once the food was in his mouth, he was reminded that there was something wrong with his tongue – that it was too prehensile, and too tapered at the end. He was almost glad that he didn't know for sure what it looked like.
The food was safe to eat, at least. Fleischer wasn't entirely sure how he knew – it just tasted – it just smelled… right. It wasn't long before every flake had been eaten, either.
"Doctor Davis requested that I perform a brief exam," Hayes stated, once her patient had finished his food. She offered a small, sympathetic smile. "It shouldn't take very long, I promise."
Fleischer knew that Isaac was more than a little thorough. If the man was settling for a brief exam, now, that was just a sign that he had probably performed considerably more invasive exams before moving him to his new room. It would explain all of the visions he had had – the bright lights, the blurred figures, the distant feeling of cutting. He couldn't help but shiver at the memory.
"Is everything alright?" Hayes asked, apparently having noticed the motion. It was a ridiculous question – but, it was one that any good physician would have asked of their patient.
"I'm fine," Fleischer insisted, wincing just a little when he realized that the nurse had, at some point, put on a pair of latex gloves. She had said it would only be a brief exam – but, he suddenly found himself hoping she would stay just a little longer, if only just to talk.
The exam was short, though – a brief check for any outward signs of degradation. Fleischer did his best to cooperate with his nurse as she checked his eyes, and teeth, ears, and the place where smooth, slimy flesh started to blend into human skin. She listened to his heart – his hearts. There were three in all, and Fleischer wasn't sure that he wanted to know if Hayes had seen them herself, or not.
She felt along his ribs, too, and wound up eliciting a quick, sharp, involuntary growl, and the appearance of bright blue rings, when she touched the man's tightly-closed gills. Hayes started at the sound, and quickly pulled her hands away. "Sorry," she murmured, suddenly looking and smelling of fear.
Fleischer offered a quiet, very embarrassed apology in return. His gills were more sensitive than he had realized – even closed. He hadn't meant to frighten Hayes, though. He had been more surprised than anything.
"It's okay," she insisted, offering another smile. The fear scent was still there – but, at least it was fading. "Maybe… if you submerge them? I only need to see them open – that way I wouldn't have to touch."
Fleischer gave a small, sheepish nod in reply and managed, with a little help from Hayes, to unwind his tentacles from the table and chair, and slip back into the shallow end of his pool. As soon as he was chest-deep in the water – as soon as those slits were submerged – his gills opened just enough to lightly, lazily fan the water.
Hayes knelt next to the pool and leaned forward just enough to get a look at the dark, feathery, red-purple tissue that was exposed every time the man's gills opened. She made a note on his file, and gave a small nod. "Alright, one last thing," she said. "If I could just see one of your tentacles."
Fleischer couldn't help but noticed that she hadn't paused before saying the word. She hadn't hesitated – hadn't stuttered, as though she was talking about something freakish and abnormal. He was quietly very relieved for that. It meant she still saw him as a human being or, at the very least, a person.
The tentacles were a problem, though. More specifically, getting them to cooperate was a problem. It was hard for Fleischer to command limbs that he still didn't see as his – that he still didn't fully accept were part of his own body. It took a great deal of concentration to finally lift one of the appendages out of the water, and into the nurse's reach.
She was very careful, too, not so much grasping the limb so much as cradling the end of it in one hand. Hayes did gently run her thumb over a few of the suckers, and was quickly apologized to when a few of them insisted on clinging lightly to her hand. It wasn't long before she was giving a small chuckle as the suction cups liberated her glove from her hand.
"It's alright," the nurse assured Fleischer, before he had the chance to apologize. "They have quite the grip. And, they seem to have a mind of their own."
That was no joke. Fleischer managed, at the very least, to get that tentacle to cooperate for the rest of the exam. His lower half even faded back to that dull yellow-brown – no more blue rings. He felt a little calmer than he did when the nurse wasn't around.
Hayes, if she was aware, didn't say anything. She just offered a little smile as she finished up the exam. "Everything appears to be just fine," she stated with a little nod.
'Just fine.' Fleischer had gills, and sharp teeth, and mutated eyes, and claws, and tentacles, and he was 'just fine'. The choice of words was, no doubt, an attempt to soften the blow – a nice way of saying that he wasn't physically coming apart. Mentally, on the other hand…
"Doctor Fleischer," the nurse started, thankfully interrupting her patient's unpleasant train of thought. "Is there anything I can get you? I could put a record on, or get a book from the desk."
It was an offer for something to do, at least – something to do that wasn't simply sitting, and stewing, and slowly going mad. "Chopin, if you please," Fleischer finally said, giving a little nod, "and a copy of Faust, if there is one." Hayes gave a nod in reply, standing up, and placing Beschützer near the edge of the pool before starting to walk away.
The stuffed bear was almost immediately the center of Fleischer's attention. He wanted to hug it close, but, he was soaked, and afraid to damage it. He could only look for the moment, then – look and remember. Beschützer had been the only thing left of his son when Fleischer had returned home that Christmas Eve.
'That Christmas Eve' had been decades ago. It was still sharp in the doctor's mind, though – the crunch of snow under his boots, the clouded sky, the way his breath had fogged in the cold air. He had known he was returning to a broken home, but… but, he hadn't realized just how badly his uncle had made it in his absence.
Fleischer, not for the first time, found himself spiraling into a flurry of what-ifs. What if he had fought back against Gunar sooner? What if he had packed Sofia and Lukas up, and simply gone before his uncle had hit the boy? What if he had had the strength to do something to stand up to Gunar before it had been too late?
It had been too late, though. It was too late – Sofia was gone. Lukas was gone. Only a stuffed, well-loved vestige remained.
This story is actually a couple of years old. I was feeling very nostalgic and decided to pick it up and re-read it, and I wound up realizing that it had actually been very well-written. This was also my first real attempt at a horror/thriller piece. I'm posting on here, now, because along with being nostalgic, I would also appreciate any thoughts or critique on it. I wrote this not too long after I published Bedside Manner, and haven't really written up anything particularly longer than drabble, since.
Post-Modern Prometheus is a sort of alternative/hypothetical sequel to First Do No Harm shadowfire-x.deviantart.com/ar… and Comorbidity shadowfire-x.deviantart.com/ar…
If you want to delve into the back story, I would definitely recommend reading FDNH before Comorbidity. Both of those stories are relatively old, though, and I feel like I have improved my writing and characterization a great deal since then. As a result, if you do like Doctor Fleischer, or my writing in general (which, if you do, thank you very much - my main hope when I post my writing is that people will get some enjoyment out of it) then consider picking up my book, Bedside Manner, in paperback or on the Kindle www.amazon.com/Bedside-Manner-…
Fair warning, though, this being a horror/thriller piece, expect some disturbing content, though I am not really prone to using a great deal of blood and/or gore.
As a final note, the thumbnail image is in the Public Domain, and was downloaded from Pixabay pixabay.com/en/dna-biology-med…
I hope Fleischer somehow manages to get free, as a mutant or (somehow) as a human (again) either way....
It may be my suspicious nature talking but I'm still wondering what Davis has up his sleeve..... ( ! )
*sits in corner chewing nails while waiting for next story installment(s)*
Post-Modern Prometheus Part 13
Fleischer's meal was drugged. He hadn't even taken the first bite of his stew, but, he could tell by the faint, bitter smell that it was drugged. It had been the first time he'd caught wind of that bitter scent since he had been moved to the pool three days before, and this time it was not Nurse Hayes, but Doctor Davis that sat across the table from him, flanked by two guards.
Beschützer, displaced by a meal, and the two men on the chairs, was resting on the desk across the room. Fleischer had moved it there the moment he had heard Davis over the intercom – he didn't want the man near it.
"Doctor Fleischer," Isaac started, "you haven't even picked up your spoon." The man sounded concerned and, given his posture, his expression, and his scent, it was at least a half-truth.
"I'm not hungry," Fleischer quickly replied. Or, at least, he wasn't hungry for sedatives and a trip to the operating room; he was still haunted by the visions from a few