He picks up dirt with one arm. And then another. The suckers on each limb grab at the dirt, and he throws it in waves behind him. There is Miracle Grow in this soil, he sees by the specks of white and the over-earthy scent. It makes his skin itch. His arms are red at the tips, the suckers are swollen. But still, he must dig.
It is a shallow grave, not quite six feet, as he’d read it should be. He’d never dug a grave before, you see. He was supposed to be somewhere in the Caribbean at this point, stretching his new limbs in clear, warm water. He was supposed to change color depending on his mood, or whether he was in danger. Yes, he might’ve even been some other creature’s meal by now. But still, that was where he preferred to be. Not here, not digging this hole.
The body beside him smells. The circular bruises on the corpse are purple, like rings of red wine on a white tablecloth. Or rings of experimental chemicals on a surgical table. The blood on the skin has already turned brown, like the rings of cold coffee on the ad he’d found in the newspaper: Looking for Test Subjects—Become One with Nature!
With one arm, he shifts his spectacles on what is left of his nose, clicks the beak of his mouth. It’s too dry here in Tucson; He’ll need to find the nearest ocean. Where was that? Google would know. As he pats the sides of the grave flat, another arm reaches out, taps the password into his smartphone, which lays on the patio table of the fenced-in garden. The doctor sure knew how to cultivate begonias. The red, white, and pink blooms overflow the backyard.
He chooses the quickest route, avoiding toll roads. He’ll need a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a large coat. He hopes the doctor had one in his closet somewhere, for ski trips perhaps. He seemed like the skiing type. Then he winces, thinking of the doctor’s smile.
“We did it!” Dr. Mitchell said.
“But thisss isn’t what I want-t-t,” he said. It was hard to talk with the beak. And it only got harder.
“Close enough, right?” Dr. Mitchell said, shrugging. “With more time, I bet the transformation will speed up.”
“No, no, no,” he moaned. “This isn’t right at all.”
“It’s all right, Jeffrey. Really it is.”
Had he cried? He had, and the tears stung his tender flesh. His panic seemed to encompass him. Even now, the memory of the disappointment brought tears to his eyes. He was supposed to be in the Caribbean. He was supposed to be crawling away from it all.
Then Dr. Mitchell hugged him, laughing into his shoulder.
“See, you can hug better now,” Dr. Mitchell said. “Oh Jeffrey, the world will know our names.”
So, he hugged him back. He wrapped him in his arms.
Now, Jeffrey scoops up Dr. Mitchell’s body with an arm. Then another. And another. It’s not so heavy with three. His beak clicks because he had no more lips to whimper. His spectacles slip, and another arm sucks onto one lens to adjust, leaving a ring of mucus in its wake.
He places the body and fills the hole with soil in a fluid motion, seven arms working in tandem.
According to Google, the closest ocean beach is Puerto Peñasco, in the Mexican state of Sonora. A four-hour drive. There, he’d begin his destiny. And perhaps, by then, he would look as he was supposed to. Soft-bodied and beautiful.
The eighth arm presses Start.
Lyndsie Manusos’s work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and other publications. She lives in Indianapolis with her family and writes for Book Riot and Publishers Weekly.