Flash Fiction by Riley Tao
When I asked my doctor, he gave me a bland little smile and said I’d need a therapist’s note first. When I quietly found a therapist, he gave me a moue of pity and sent me to the local mental hospital. When I tried to escape, they tied me to a chair and strapped electrodes to my body and held my eyelids open with mass-produced specula.
The next day, I learned in chemistry that the reason why my tears burned every time the doctors shocked me was because salt water is an excellent conductor.
The science of my day had failed me.
But after the Squelch, the science of my day was no longer in charge.
When the creature fell from the sky, it landed with a squelch. Its purple blood had stained the sands for miles around; its unblinking eyes never rotted or decayed; and all who partook of its flesh… changed. A child had become a fairy; a woman had become a fox-goddess; a soldier had become a tree. Few of the altered—Squelchers, they called it—had been accepted back into society. Most of them had been called monsters, unnatural, sacrilegious.
And yet hardly any of them regretted it.
Warily, I walked into the alien sand, and my boots sank into the blood-sand slurry. They called us Squelchers because of the noise we made, as we placed one foot after the other, forging onwards through a field of blood.
Finally, I reached the corpse of the fallen thing. Up close, it looked almost simple—nothing more than a pile of foreign flesh.
I took a bite.
For a moment, nothing happened.
Then the world tilted.
The sky became a whirligig of rainbow-colored bands; a piercing tone sang through my bones and spread across the lands. The Squelching thing blinked blearily and opened eldritch eyes; they turned to me and, undeceived, saw through my body’s lies.
“YOU SEEK TO LEAVE THIS BODY BEHIND,” it intoned.
I trembled. “…Yes.”
“YOU HAVE SEEN MY OTHER CREATIONS. YOU KNOW I MAKE MONSTERS FROM MANKIND.” It blinked languorously. “WHY, THEN, DO YOU SEEK MY GIFT?”
I closed my eyes. “Because… if you could make a human into a monster… I thought… surely you could make a man into a woman.”
“I DO NOT MAKE MEN INTO WOMEN,” the thing said.
My heart froze for an infinite moment. Of course it didn’t. Of course even an eldritch abomination thought I was unnatural. Of course—
“I FIND THE SOULS OF WOMEN,” it continued, “AND RESTORE THE BODY THEY WERE MEANT TO HAVE.”
There was a sonorous gong, and something aligned within me. I fell to my knees, stunned, as my flesh began to change. Bones moving, muscle redistributing, fat shifting.
And the vision ended.
I gasped, disbelieving, heart pounding, in the sunlight. My hands trembled before my eyes, just a little slimmer, a little less angular.
Then I stood, a fire kindling within me, and began the long Squelch back to civilization.
Riley Tao (they/them) is a student at the University of Chicago. Their work has previously been published in Reckoning Literary Magazine, and has upcoming publications in Cast of Wonders and Protean Magazine. Some of their work can be found online at rileyriles.wordpress.com.