So today on twitter an acquaintance tweeted the following:
“I woke up with a swollen face-I look like half a chimpmunk!! That’s it. I’m going back to bed.”
We then had a joking exchange about a story title I made up based on the tweet (the one in the title above). It was amusing, but I could not get it out of my head. I decided that it might make a good seed for a writing exercise, so I set one up and the result is below.
The rules I made were: write for 40 minutes twice (it was originally 45 minutes but my daughter woke up a little early from her nap), then edit for 15 minutes. That’s it. Nothing amazing emerged but it was a great loosening-up exercise. I ended up using some pretty traditional tropes, but it was enjoyable to write something quickly that did not have a lot of expectations hovering over it. The result is below:
She looked in the mirror again. It was the eighth time she had examined her face since she had gotten home. The pain had subsided. . . well, the physical pain had. Now she had to deal with this:
The reflection of her left profile was her: lustrous skin over high cheekbones, sparkling green eyes, and burgeoning, supple lips. Well, OK, the lips were a bit thin and the sparkle was contacts, but still, it was her. No question.
The right profile was completely different: puffed-out, reddened cheek; a squinty, dull eye; lips almost completely gone, enfolded by the fleshiness around them. And for the love of all the holiest things, her left incisor seemed to be poking out! As she looked at the reflection the eye twitched, and her nose, also a bit puffed-up, did the same.
And . . . was that a small, dark hair, under her nose, starting to poke out?
She shook her head; no, that was ridiculous. It was just a bit more root-canal swelling than usual. She resolved to stop worrying and get on with the day.
Until she came downstairs and her husband, returning home early from a meeting, burst into laughter upon seeing her. She snarled at him, and then immediately wondered why that had come out of her mouth rather than the snappy reply she had intended. He did his best to control his mirth, and opined that, perhaps, spending the rest of the day in bed was a good idea.
She shrugged; that had been her thought anyway. She glared at him as she went back upstairs, and stifled an irritated chitter when he chuckled again.
The next morning she awoke and looked at the clock with surprise: she had slept for almost 18 hours. She still felt exhausted as she got out of bed. Her husband was still asleep, but she decided not to wake him yet. She went into the bathroom to check on the swelling.
The right side had changed overnight, but in a way that contracted her stomach. The cheeks were not just puffy; the skin’s texture had changed, and was that . . . fuzz appearing on her face? The little hairs under her nose were now numerous, longer, and black. They felt strange, as if she could taste the air with them or something. Her nose was darker too, and the teeth. . . she shook her head. No, the incisor couldn’t be longer. . . .
She turned on her heel and marched out of the bathroom. Now she was worried; at the very least the swelling should have gone down, but it looked as if that side of her face was more than just puffy. It was different.
It was changing.
She shook her head again; no, she was just too anxious about the puffiness. That had to be it.
“Oh, that’s not looking better,” her husband said, sitting up in bed.
She stopped, cocked her head, and twitched her whiskers at him. “What do you mean?”
He yawned.”Still puffy, and there’s something over your lip.” He put his index finger under his nose to emphasize his point.
“That’s it?” she asked, trying to not bounce on her feet.
He shrugged, and squinted at her. “Your makeup looks awful.”
She made sure to flip him the finger twice as she went out the door, once before and once after putting on the hoodie.
The dentist’s office had just opened, and there were no patients when she arrived. It was five shades of taupe and suffused with hammered dulcimer music clearly playing off of a cassette. She had not realized how boring and old it felt.
The receptionist smiled up at her when she came in. “Can I help you?”
Her speech was bit funny with the odd-sized teeth, and her tone was guttural. “I want to see the doctor, please.”
“OK. Do you have an appointment?”
She was about to answer when a door opened down the hall and out came the dentist. He was short, wiry, and moved with. . . she could only call it a sinister grace. How had she not seen that yesterday?
“So, what time is. . .” he stopped speaking and walking when she saw her, still hooded, but a bit of light glinting off the incisor. “Ah, good morning.” There was silence for a good ten seconds. “Mrs. Yuen, please tell my 8:30 that I have an emergency patient.” He gestured for her to follow and headed into a room on his right.
She narrowed her eyes; something smelled wrong about this. But she went down the corridor and went into the open doorway. As the door was slammed behind her, the tang of something bad hit her whiskers, and she turned and grabbed the descending arm of the dentist, which held a creepy-looking hypodermic needle with. . . fins? She squeezed with her right hand, and he squealed and dropped the needle, which shattered when it hit the floor. She spun him around and slammed him into the cabinets behind him.
“What have you done to me?”
“What, what, what are you talking about?” he said, with absolutely no sincerity.
“If you don’t tell me, the last thing you will see before you lose consciousness is the room spinning as I slam you into a wall and turn your clavicle into a jigsaw puzzle!” She ooked at him to drive the point home.
He stood up straighter and tried to surrender with dignity. “Well, seeing as you’re so upset, and incredibly buff, I’ll tell you.” He dramatically closed his lab coat; she flexed her left eyebrow and he quivered. “OK, fine. I gave you an experimental genetic growth hormone.”
You . . .WHAT?!?!?”
He tried to smile, but her combination of human and simian rage was unnerving him. “A new medication, designed to encourage rapid healing and dental health.” He again tried to recover his composure. “I mean, it was approved by the FDA . . .”
She took a step towards him and he shrank back. “This . . . is . . . CANADA, you idiot!”
“Oh, right,” he smiled again, and the light reflected strangely off of his glasses. Were they fake?
In a flash, she leaped at him and grabbed the collar of his lab coat. “WHO ARE YOU?” she chitter-roared.
“I’m. . . I’m. . . “his voice started to rise, get weirdly squeakier, “I’m just a dentist. I was born in Montreal, Calgary!”
With a bellow that would have done Mighty Joe Young proud she lifted him off the floor by his lapels. As she started to shake him, he undid the remaining button on the coat and fell out of it. As he hit the floor he went onto all fours and scampered, quite ferret-like, for the door, glasses and wig falling from his head as he zipped out of the door.
She threw the coat to the floor and gave chase, but by the time she got to the lobby, he was gone. The receptionist had stood up and looked at her in terror. She turned to the receptionist and showed her some teeth. “So, what’s your story?”
* * * * *
The story was that the receptionist had been hired the week before, that the dentist had very few patients, and that when the cops were called they looked at her funny and said that she should sue. They filled out a report and escorted her out of the building. When she called the next day the phone was disconnected, and a trip over to the office found it completely cleaned out. A few days later she noticed the swelling and other aberrations abating. By then she had been checked out by three doctors who shrugged and called it, in order: an allergic reaction, a random mutation, and obviously some kind of weird experiment gone awry. And then she looked fine, and her tests came back with no problems, and that was that.
Until exactly 26 days later.
She decided to take a walk in the cool night air, which didn’t seem to bother her much anymore. The only thing that really annoyed her was that the incisor never completely grew down. She had a permanent scowl, but it proved useful sometimes. So what was she? Child of the night? Alien experiment? Victim of a global humanimal conspiracy? She shrugged at the sky, looking at the moon, not yet full. Whatever it was, in a few days it would give her a good excuse to stay in bed.
The ending is abrupt due to time constraints; next time I should spend a few more minutes on getting to the end and see if I can improve it. As I said, a lot of recognizable tropes. It puts me in my of some recent writing advice I read that said you should discard the first three things you think of in a story, to get the the better, deeper ideas. I might try this again, with the same title, and take it in a different direction, and see if that notion bears fruit. Hopefully it’s enjoyable to read, raw as it is. Comments are encouraged.