A few weeks ago, I came across this prompt that requested a "realistic but trippy story." The kind of story that makes you stare at the ceiling wondering what on earth the writer was thinking. I'm not one to back down from a challenge, and so I wrote such a story. Fair warning: I do have a point buried in all this, but it's hard to make sense of this little piece.
Mr Hagfish had the habit of forcing sleepy students to the front of the classroom in an attempt to invigorate our dying brains. In my opinion, our brains were perfectly healthy—if not a tad bit under utilised—that summer, but I wasn’t technically allowed to have an opinion in Mr Hagfish’s lecture class. At least, I wasn’t allowed to have my own opinion in Mr Hagfish’s lecture class, especially if it was contrary to whatever he seemed to be spewing out at that moment. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help having my own thoughts. I was, after all, my own person—then and now.
It was rather frustrating, therefore, when Mr Hagfish decided that I’d be the sleepy bugger he’d toy with that morning. The sun was streaming through the dusty lecture room, warming our backs as our necks slowly beaded up with sweat. I extracted my sweaty body from one of the wooden armchairs I’d claimed as my own on the first day of class. I somehow had the foresight to choose the one right next to the window, where warm summer air would drift into the classroom and huff against my face before turning about to bug someone else. I also had the benefit of a view—it wasn’t much of a view, but it certainly proved a less provocative distraction to the scantily clad young women in the classroom. Apparently, wearing cloth swimsuits in a lecture was the summer norm.
It was a long walk from my seat to the front, but then again, I hardly had a choice but to walk the plank like the man I’d convinced myself I was.
The philosophical question we’d been tasked to contemplate desperately clung to the board with its chalk dust claws, fearing, I suppose, that if it didn’t, some student would go on and erase it from the face of our universe.
“Read it out loud, Mr Goop,” Mr Hagfish said, nudging his stubbly chin towards the blackboard.
I pressed my glasses firmly against my nose bridge. His handwriting was so small not even ants could make the sentence out. Fortunately, I had near supersonic vision—courtesy of my deplorably high eyesight aiding lenses and my stork neck able to crane closer and closer to the board.
“You have a moral obligation first and foremost to yourself,” I said as monotonously as I could muster. The words roll of my tongue as if I didn’t have one—as if I was a robot trained to spew syllables out without putting much thought into it.
Mr Hagfish, however, doesn’t seem to mind. We’ve already argued over the moral implications of becoming a robot earlier in the semester, and he’s of the opinion that artificial intelligence can indeed achieve sentience. I suppose that’s what we all were to him—non-sentient humans or sentient robots. I don’t think there’s much of a dichotomy when it comes down to it. I just had more body parts than a robot, coupled with the ability to impregnate a woman and watch micro-copies of me run around someday. I think I’ve got the better half of the deal.
“Well?” Mr Hagfish said, stroking his prickly beard expectantly. He crossed his knobby legs and raised his brow at me.
I didn’t really have an answer, so I turned my gaze downward to the floor’s wooden panels. They seemed warm and welcoming against my stark black trainers. They seemed to say, “we’d rather have rubber sandals pressed against us,” or “take those ruddy trainers off, your feet must be steaming in there!”
Mr Hagfish, however, couldn’t hear the floorboards speak over his own booming voice. He addressed the class.
“This is what happens when you leave your brain at home,” he said, expecting perhaps to elicit some semblance of laughter from my fellow students, but most were lolling their heads as the sun continued to sink its fingers into our skin.
I imagined the entire school’s stone structure was baking under the heat, but I didn’t voice my concerns. The school had been baking long before I’d arrived. Surely it could take a couple more days in the oven before the sun transferred its energies to some other part of the globe.
I peered through my glasses at Mr Hagfish, surprised he hadn’t tut-tutted at my lack of an answer more than usual.
It was the oddest thing I’d ever experienced—Mr Hagfish’s stubble was growing out into whiskers and his eyes spaced further and further from each other. His peppery skin turned slippery, and his limbs clamped against his body. I’d never witnessed devolution, and I don’t think I’d ever wish to witness it again. Mr Hagfish had, in fact, transformed into a slithering slug of sorts, and if I wasn’t so terrified, I might have laughed.
As it was, I had this unreachable itch between my shoulders. As I craned my back and bent my arms to reach it, however, the itch began to spread until it didn’t feel like an itch at all. My smooth brown skin was beginning to crumple up and harden. My fingers felt rough, and my joints oddly stiff. I was degenerating too, but not into some slimy version of myself.
I tried to move forward, but it was no use. My feet felt like lead. My arms had completed their transformation, and stretched out from my torso like perfectly positioned shelves. The tips of my fingers were mossy and green—I couldn’t feel them, but I could still see them. The rest of me had turned stiff along with my joints, and when I finally had the guts to look down at my feet, they weren’t there. They’d joined forces with the floorboards. I was simply a step over them in the food chain—I, at least, was a living tree.