A Short-Short Story
I won’t let them have her.
Not now, not ever.
My mother wraps her arms around me. Her fingers gently brush my swollen belly—the belly that has Isabel inside, waiting to be rescued. Waiting to be reunited with her father.
“Take this one,” my mother says, and drops a caplet in my hand. It is pink on one half, and white on the other. “Slip it under your tongue and imagine what you want to be.”
I can be anything. A bat, a giraffe, whatever I please. But I want to be something that moves fast. I want to carry me and my baby home. I need to get as far as I can in the two-hour window granted by the caplet.
I take the caplet under my tongue and close my eyes. The soft shell begins to disintegrate in my saliva. What can travel faster than the government’s green lorries? What can escape the train that carries men in helmets with guns under their armpits?
In my mind a creature forms. I see long legs, with knobby knees and ankles; smooth, short fur, the color of honey; and hair that dances in the wind.
My body swells. I grow and grow and grow until my parents are the size of rabbits beneath me. My hands turn to hooves, my fingernails stretching and thickening until they cover my whole palm. Each leg makes a creak as it develops the long femur and knobby knees of a mustang.
The change does not hurt, but my vision shifts when my graceful neck finishes sprouting smooth fur, and my head contorts into the powerful jaw of the horse. Her eyes do not see like mine did: they see in black and white, and not very precise. Motion attracts her attention. My parents scurrying away reminds me that I must not forget myself.
I crouch low, and dip my head to the ground so my nose inhales the dirt. First my mother, and then my father, scramble up my long face to my head, where they perch in my forelock.
My sharpened hearing detects a helicopter churning the air in the distance. It is time to go.
My legs move hard and fast beneath me, with an earth-pounding force human legs could never muster. We thunder away from the compound where they had intended to keep me, me and Isabel. They wanted to cut her away from me before she could be born. To experiment on her, I imagine. Perhaps find out the long-term effects of laughing gas on infants.
I try not to think about it.
The train chugs along in the distance, white steam billowing up from the engine as it weaves through the desert. We must climb the desert steppes to the snow-capped mountain range beyond. Disguise ourselves, and jump aboard the train, so we do not freeze in the high regions of the mountains.
Then my father will take over my job, and I will ride atop his head. He usually chooses an eagle, the only flying creature large enough to carry his family with him. My mother picks animals that are low to the ground because she is afraid of heights. She once chose a hippo to ferry us across a channel.
I let my mind drift from thoughts of experiments on infants and our constant struggle to stay free. I let myself disappear into my thundering hoofbeats. Instead I think of Alexander, Isabel’s father. He waits for us somewhere out there, somewhere beyond the mountains.
He has found safety. Now we just have to find him.