Tag Archives: Transformulation

“Transformulation” – Fiction by Serena Johe

Metamorphosed Women – Salvador Dali, 1954

A young lady undergoes some bizarre & bewildering changes in “Transformulation,” Serena Johe‘s gloriously gruesome short story from our Fall 2017 issue.

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A SERIES OF HARD SCABS FORMS JUST BELOW SAM’S LEFT ARMPIT. Brown and oddly geometric and bedrock dry, they overlap down the length of her torso, creating tiny roadways in the subtle spaces between her ribs. On Thursday, they darken to the color of dried blood, but Sam remembers the perpetual red and white volley of immune responses in her preteens, the patchy scabs like rows of magnified cells, and she convinces herself there’s probably nothing wrong.

The week after, she finds a lump at the base of her spine, and she begins to worry. It’s round and dimpled like a golf ball, in the space where her last vertebrae should be. When it distends and breaks the skin like a clay-colored bone cap, gleaming wetly in the light of her bedroom, she begs her parents to take her to the doctor, but they brush aside talk of cancer and laugh outright at the idea of mutating poisons.

Their nonchalance doesn’t convince her. True enough, Sam has seen many doctors for the multitude of anomalies that sometimes raise her flesh like a topographical map, and half the time they turn out to be minor irritations that hardly warranted medical attention. Still, she never regrets the visits. Nothing unsettles her quite like the appearance of an unidentified object bursting from beneath her skin. She is reminded of the parasitic creatures on the Discovery channel, of the long yellow stalk of cordyceps fungus she once saw blooming between two bamboo trees, and of the mutilated bodies of its hosts. They splinter apart in hardened sprays of tissue like a still-life explosion.

Sam taps the bulbous growth on her back and it clicks like hollow plastic. The dread and disgust pierce deep. When it doesn’t disappear by the end of the week, the sensation transforms into outright horror, but her parents insist she’s being melodramatic. Her arguments of flesh-eating bacteria and mind-controlling fungi don’t appear to help her case.

On the way to school on Monday, her mother’s eyes keep meeting hers in the rearview mirror.

Sam asks irritably, “What?”

“Don’t worry so much,” her mother smiles. “You’re going to give yourself wrinkles.”

Wrinkles are the last thing Sam’s worried about, and her mother’s lackadaisical attitude towards the quickly spreading rash does nothing but exacerbate her distress. When she gets out of the car, she pulls her shirt over the bulge at her back, which by now has discolored to the same blackish-red as the network of scabs on her side. She attempts to blend into the crowd as always.

At lunch, on her way to Izzy in the far corner of the cafeteria, she feels the pressure of a hundred pairs of eyes and tries not to tug at her sleeves or the scarf around her neck. She reminds herself that not many people would likely pay her so much attention. Then again, Izzy has known her since third grade. She notices something amiss soon after Sam slides into her seat.

“What’s with the outfit?”

Sam pokes a plastic spoon into her yogurt and tries to sound indifferent. “What do you mean?”

“No offense, but you’re dressed like a nun.”

“I am not.” Sam freezes as Izzy tugs at her scarf.

“It’s cute, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like eighty-five degrees outside–” Sam feels the scarf come loose and slaps Izzy’s hand away. “Ow! Sam, I hardly touched you!”

“I’m sorry, I’m not feeling well,” Sam says. She abandons her yogurt and hurries to the bathroom.

Standing over the sink, she pinches the spot where Izzy brushed her collar, right above the bone, as if to erase the sensation of having been touched there. She traces the line over and over to be certain that Izzy hadn’t discovered the mutinous spread of scabs that now reach her chest. Continue reading “Transformulation” – Fiction by Serena Johe

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