It all started on a day I hadn’t had much sleep. A headache, and a day full of meetings stared me in the face. So much so that I didn’t notice it until I brewed my first cup of coffee and sat down with it. My eyes fell on my toes and I saw it then.
The third toe on my left foot had turned into a word.
The toe was gone, disappeared. Instead there was something like a Scrabble tile in its place, with the word ‘TOE’ on it in black caps.
To be honest, my first reaction was irritation rather than alarm. I had too much on my plate and now my eyes were playing tricks with me. I pulled on a pair of socks and forgot all about it.
The next day was Saturday, and I woke up feeling better. Until I went into the bathroom.
The disease was spreading rapidly. It must be a disease, mustn’t it? Some sort of degenerative disease?
My hair had now turned into words. All my toes were now gone. Replaced. And the left side of my body seemed to be doing worse. My elbow, upper arm and shoulder, and waist down — all were gone.
Turned into words.
I looked like a 12-year old’s work of creation on some free downloadable animation software. Tiles, with the words ‘HAIR’ floated up like dialogue bubbles above my head, mocking my every thought.
I was scared to go out looking like this. I pulled on a full coverage sweatshirt and beanie and wrapped my neck in a scarf. So, what if it’s July.
I spent the day drinking and researching my condition on the Internet. At the end of a very taxing and futile search, I was drunk. And confused as to what doctor I could go to. Should I go to a bone doc? A hair doc? A skin doc? Or just my general GP?
I dismissed that last idea right off the bat. No, this is clearly a matter for a specialist of some sort. Would be great to go to House, I thought. Too bad he’s fictional.
I resolved to research ‘real doctors like House’ the following day and decided to go to bed early. How much worse could things get with another day?
I woke up the next morning with the sun falling at an awkward angle on my face. Swatting the remnants of sleep away, I was surprised to see I wasn’t on my bed. No, I was on the bookshelf. Instead of being in a horizontal position, I was vertical, standing up. Was I sleepwalking? I wondered.
Then I looked down and froze, breathless. Where my chest should have been, the words ‘The Oxford English Dictionary’ were written upside down. Well, upside down from my vantage point anyway.
I was a bit upset. After all this, I had turned into a book of words? A bit of a letdown, no? But then I started thinking of all the things I didn’t have to do anymore. No more meetings, no more chores, no more brewing coffee, making lunch.
Not too shabby, I think, settling down in my corner of the shelf. Roget’s is right next to me. Maybe I’ll strike up a conversation when he’s awake.
I hear footsteps and look up as I see me walk into the room.
Me, as in, the person I used to be before I turned into words. He walks in with a cup of coffee and sits at his desk with his back to me. I can see him logging into Outlook and Zoom.
I think he can sense my eyes on him. I see him looking uncomfortably at the shelf a few times, backward glances thrown over his shoulder. One time he walks over and peers through the books but can’t figure it out.
I will keep a watch on him. Morning to night.
Yes, I’ll look over him now. Maybe some day he’ll turn into words too.
Oh, you don’t have to worry now, dear reader. No, you don’t have to look over your shoulder. Definitely not at that dusty old bookcase. Ah no, don’t look at that old dictionary in the left corner.
No, don’t look too closely at it.
You never know what could happen.
Paroma Sen 2021
Like fantastical hyperbolic stories? Here’s another:
In response to J.D. Harms’ awesome work & prompt: