PENNY COULDN'T TELL ANYONE about her abduction because she knew how it sounded. It wasn’t like she remembered being taken. Her phone was lying on her chest as she jerked awake to QVC. Only one day had passed and it all seemed false for a second.
But she saw the tiny brown egg in a puddle next to her pillow and remembered. The more she tried to deny it the less murky her memories became, only the beginning still a blur.
Her t-shirt was on backwards, she corrected it quick and without taking it off. Her underwear were inside out and she left them. In a full length mirror she examined her body. It looked long as the room and there was still enough skin to pinch her stomach and thighs.
Underneath her shirt was the same oblong torso that she always saw. There were no abrasions on her surface. She felt clean, even. No medicinal head fog. No pain, just a presence that riled her until she realized it was her own. Being back and unscathed felt wrong.
Then her thoughts returned to the egg. The slime. The puddle surrounding it was smaller now and she panicked. Not wanting to touch it with her hands in case it could damage like scales, she used her lips to gently place it in her mouth.
There was a clear, cylindrical vase that used to house a solid blue betta that she had flushed just days before being taken. She dumped the water that still had a fishy ripeness and cleaned it as she always had, the soft egg safe in her cheek, but kept it shallow when she re-filled and conditioned. Just enough to submerge half of its figure.
Would the new home do, she wondered. With clarity she remembered seeing seven eggs next to her face in a gooey substance, knowing they were hers. It was the odd number that urged her to take one. After what seemed like hours of figuring the appropriate vessel, she slipped one into her mouth exactly as she had done on her pillow.
The lack of taste is what gave her the urge to gag, and the unusual temperature that was tingly-warm. Cringing for no reason can be painful. Warm and wet, she repeated in her thoughts with her jaw delicately clenched until slipping into dark and waking in her bed.
It wouldn’t be unusual that she didn’t show for work, not just one day. Her colleagues already suspected she sometimes feigned illness the day before a deadline. It had been going around that she got preferential treatment. The defensive way her boss reprimanded the jest probably made it worse.
“You feeling good today?” Lisa, her boss, asked after knocking on the door frame and inviting herself inside.
“Better, I think” Penny said and placed her hands on her desk.
Lisa stared at her hands a while. Penny caught her doing this before and couldn’t help but make her hands visible.
“I would like it if you called next time, okay?” Lisa looked at her hands once more in a victimized manner and left the office.
“Will do,” Penny said too late and too quiet for Lisa to hear.
The less people asked the better and that meant the egg had to be alone for a bit. She considered disguising it as kitsch décor for her office, but knew it was better kept hidden. And the table next to her bed was hit by just enough daylight to provide warmth.
Wherever they had taken her was at first bright enough to cause a long lasting blotch over her vision. It had lapsed by the time she woke to see her eggs. The place was dim then, enough that she could never familiarize with anything that wasn’t close to her. It was fear she felt, but without adrenaline. Calmness took her over like a drug and she still hadn’t come down from it.
Back at her place she noticed the egg had grown some. If needed, she wouldn’t be able to comfortably hide him in her mouth now. They might come back for him. It looked like a him anyway.
She presently hadn’t questioned things. The only answer lay in her old fish bowl. Seeing it there made her worry of what would become it. Of her—she wasn’t entirely certain the beings were not human, besides, just that there were multiple hands that lifted and unfolded her limp body. But all that passed and she forgot herself again.
It wasn’t necessary to remember, saving the egg was more prevalent. She dreamed it grew too large for the vase, but woke to find him relatively the same. Next she thought the egg was missing, but again, saw it undisturbed when she looked in a sweaty panic. Tomorrow she would stay home.
It was impossible to sleep late with the racket coming from the apartment above her, so she checked the egg that might well have been a little bigger. With a ruler she discovered he had grown to be an inch, and kicked herself for just thinking to measure.
The promise she made to Lisa, to call, came to mind and she figured it best to follow through even though it rang to voicemail. Right then she could have used the boost Lisa always provided.
But she was seeing Paul later and perhaps he would fill in. She had been intimate with the maintenance man of her apartment building who was a couple years younger. Their first encounter was worse than those bad porn jobs, though, because he was fixing her toilet. Shitand cigarette remains flushed by other tenants had come up and spilled on her new rug. Paul fixed the clog but never cleaned anything.
His occupation was a sloppy one, but his after work style was not parallel. The clothes he wore were minimalist dapper. His teeth were denture perfect. Wondering what he would be wearing is what made Penny vaguely excited when someone knocked.
The pants he wore were spotless black. His shirt was a slight V that exposed tips of sparse chest hair. Both gave the perfect outline of his lean physique. His hair was just as messy as his handiwork, though, and it somehow seemed suitable even though Penny was never into that sort of thing.
Their fling was every Wednesday, but occasionally he’d stop by after doing an odd job, not without first calling. She figured she wasn’t the only one who cared to hook up with him and that thought never bothered her. Penny felt extra in the mood, but remained calm and squeezed lemon over her tea. He always came to her.
“Would you like some?” she asked and stirred slowly.
When he smiled she wondered, for the first time, if his teeth really were fake. It made his features look wrong for a second. It wasn’t tea that he wanted.
Soon he had her hand and was heading for the bedroom, but she thought about the egg, and pulled him to the couch. He had an unspoken thing about her mimicking him as he undressed and she obliged. Once they stripped he would always look her over a moment, with glistening eyes, before doing it. Sometimes the gazing lasted too long for her, but this time was brief.
Afterward, peacefully sunken in the couch, she thought of the magnetic-like for preventing her to move from the stiff surface she was lying on during the procedure. The urge to tell him about the abduction was loud.
Instead she asked, “Have you heard of anything unusual happening in this building?”
He wedged his lean leg between both of hers. “What kind of unusual,” he said putting playful emphasis on unusual.
It wasn’t a joke. She imagined her expression was severe, a painful mix of fear and being lost, because Paul stiffened and rose to face her. He had the same glisten he got when scanning her naked, but his mouth had become small and closed in.
“I guess you found out about Shelley,” Paul said. It took time for her to realize Shelley was the woman who lived above her. She wasn’t surprised, well, just that it was Shelley, who was at least a decade older than her and chubby. But Penny had to admit it was in a firm, almost pinup way.
Her silence saturated the room and she felt Paul squirm.
“I, need to show you something,” she said standing without looking directly at him.
She sensed he felt eerie about her behavior, so she paused and tried to smile normal.
“I don’t mind about Shelley.”
Paul looked suspicious but must have been curious enough because he gestured that he was ready to see.
The water in the vase had dirtied, she noticed from far away and shrieked.
“What’s wrong?” Paul asked uneasy. The egg had a tiny crack and within a few seconds another much larger formed. Timed perfectly, she thought, and quivered. It didn’t take long for similar fractures to cover its entire surface. A light brown hue surrounded it.
And even when the pieces had separated into crumbs that sank to the bottom, and nothing had been revealed, Penny sat watching still.
“It’ll only be another minute or two,” she said to Paul, but he had already left.
Heather Noland - daytime accountant, nighttime scribe. Co-Editor of Tinderbox Magazine that publishes experimental writing and art. Fiction Editor of Jelly Bucket operated by the Bluegrass Writers Studio where she is also an MFA candidate. Lover of character over plot, all aspects of the absurd, and earned twists.