The door chimed, and then fell silent. Heather waited at her writing desk, tapping her fingers against the wooden tabletop. She’d already received the mail for the day and she’d never received more than one delivery in a day. Yet, her feet twitched, eager to move. Something was at her door and she wanted to know what it was.

She pushed the chair back, wood legs squeaking against the wood floor, and rushed down the hallway with a rapid tap-tap-tapping following her through the house. Within what felt like a heartbeat, she reached the door, throwing an arm before her to keep from colliding with it.

The door creaked open, and her eyes darted around for a sign of life. No one. The still-falling snow was laying lightly on the grass and sidewalk, a powder dusting the steps at her front door. No footprints, though; no sign of a person approaching or departing.

She blinked, looked down, and then noticed the package sitting on the top step.

It looked plain enough. She crouched and lifted it up, the butcher paper-wrapped package almost too heavy for a single hand. There was no address, either to or from, written on it, and no identifying tag. It was simply a mystery, wrapped neatly in brown paper.

She looked around once more for signs of a sender, then shrugged and brought it inside, locking the door behind her.

The warmth of her parlor was a relief, with the crackling wood of the fireplace filling the otherwise quiet room. She circled the end table and its lamp, her slim fingers cutting through the paper covering on the package as she dropped herself onto the plush cushions of her couch.

Under the wrapping was a book, bound in a thick, board cover and decorated with gold and silver illumination on its front and spine, woven into intricate patterns. Her lungs emptied with a gasp; how could someone leave so precious a possession at a stranger’s front door without knowing whether the package would be received? It was foolish, and yet…

She turned open the cover. Inside, the front matter was just as beautifully decorated, the paper painted with illustrations of fantastic creatures: merfolk, a Pegasus, and other strange being of myth. There was no title, and no sign of an author. Shaking her head, Heather turned what would otherwise be the title page.

Inside a beautiful frame of black ink, she encountered the first text in the book. “How to use this Book of Transformation,” she read aloud, leaning over the page as she began to read.

“This book grants the user the power to transform themselves, based upon their desires as expressed in writing on the blank pages.” She scoffed, shaking her head. She’d seen books like this passed around at parties, clever and artistically made props mean to evoke the feeling of the supernatural. It was interesting, however, far more so than her composition assignment.

“To begin, simply describe the desired form of your body upon one of the blank pages. Be as thorough as wished, and be mindful that the transformation will be permanent until otherwise altered.”

She sank back into her thoughts. What was the most exotic creature she could think of? She thumbed through the library of her mind, searching, before imagining a mermaid – a beautiful siren, her legs joined into a tail, covered in shimmering scales and a broad, translucent fin. She’d always found the creatures most fascinating, and most beautiful.

“Once described, remove the page from the book and…” Here, she paused, sitting back into her seat as she continued to read, “…and consume the now-separated page containing your desired form.”

Tear out the page and eat it? It seemed extreme; she couldn’t imagine desecrating a book, even one with blank pages, so violently. She read over the line once more, confirming its reality, before continuing. “Once the paper has reached the stomach, the transformation should begin immediately.”

That was it. She turned the page, and the next several dozen after it, and found only blank paper. Curiously, nothing seemed torn out of the book; perhaps her copy was a new edition?

She closed the cover, resting her hands on top, feeling the details laid on top of the smooth, cool leather. It was a joke, surely, an elaborate joke sent by someone at the Academy. Someone swift of foot, or adept at coming and going with no trace. Audrey, perhaps, or maybe Michaella, someone with the artistic skill and the playfulness to send such a strange gift.

A grin crossed her lips, picturing the girls huddled around one of their desks at the library, chuckling about their little game as they drafted this gift. Alright, she giggled herself, hopping up onto her feet, pressing the book to her chest. She rushed from the parlor and into her office, opening the book to a blank page as she laid it down on her desk.

Very well, she thought, let’s play along. Let’s become a mermaid. Let’s have a lilac colored tail and rose pink fins. She paused, running her hands through the waves of her brown hair. Let’s make the hair purple as well, and eyes with pink irises.

Her smile grew wider as she pressed onward, handwriting looping and flourishing as it raced across the page. Give me pointed teeth, designed to rip into the flesh of fish and man alike. Give me a song that can lure anyone I desire to me, she scratched into the paper, ink sinking into the fibers. Give me the strength, too, to restrain the strongest man with ease.

She looked down after slamming her pen down on the desk; her handwriting spilled down the page, covering from margin to margin, top the bottom, the whole and the breadth of her dream of being a mermaid. Her fantasy, crystalized on paper, waiting for her. She breathed deep. All that remained was to free the paper from the book, and then to consume her wishes.

One finger laid near the top of the page, close to the spine, while the other held the edge gingerly, pinching the sheet between thumb and forefinger. Her heart pounded in her chest – she worked in a library, for God’s sake! To tear paper out of a book was a sin on par with adultery. Not only vile in its moral character, but a blemish that could never removed from matter of the soul. And yet. And yet. She had to know.

The page ripped like a thunderbolt, a jagged line racing down the page as she pulled, leaving a stub of paper still bound into the book. It was free, a loose piece of paper filled with ink, fluttering in her hand.

Her heart raced. Her feet raced upstairs. Her eyes moved over and over again over her own words, repeating them out loud in an accelerating voice. If this was real, if what was supposed to happen was actually going to happen…

It wasn’t going to happen. She shook her own head. Don’t be so childish.

But it could. Her imagination whirled with the possibilities as she pushed open the bathroom door. She could leave her humanity behind. She could become something else, something other. Her throat tightened, a heavy feeling weighing in her gut in anticipation.

She opened the faucet, letting warm water pour into the bath. Just in case, she reminded herself, just in case. If nothing else, she would relax as she dreamed about the body she could have. Water sloshed around the walls of the tub, swirling about before beginning to rise.

Then, back to the sink, to the paper she’d laid on the counter. With a deep breath, she folded it, reducing it down to a small, thick square held between her fingers. All she had to do was swallow it. Just like a pill. She winced as she contemplated its size. A very large pill.

She poured a glass of water, then looked back to the paper. Well, it wasn’t going to eat itself.

Staring at herself in the mirror above the sink, she opened her mouth, placed the paper on her tongue, then closed her teeth before it.

Saliva soaked into the square, unraveling fibers atop her taste buds. Ink, tasting metallic and wet, bled out of the disintegrating pages. Was it poisonous? She wasn’t sure but, too swept up in the moment to care, assured herself that the worst that could happen was simply vomiting up a morsel that shouldn’t be in her gut to begin with. She mashed the thick wad against her cheeks, trying to drench it thoroughly. It was when the paper finally felt soft enough that it seemed that its corners had melted away that she tipped her head back and swallowed.

It surprised her to feel the paper, thick and wet and much larger than any normal bite of food, push stubbornly down her throat. She brought her fingers to her neck, feeling for its mass, frightened for a split second that it would catch inside of her, stick, and suffocate her. Death by swallowed page seemed a strangely fitting death for a librarian.

Finally, however, the bit of pulp and ink cleared her neck and descended down into her chest. She stepped back from the mirror, staring at herself, watching her skin for the arrival of anything alien to her human body. It was just a joke, the voice in the back of her head repeated. It was just a silly joke that you are taking all too seriously.

She gasped, though, when the burning started in her legs.

Hurrying to strip out of her clothes, she tore the back of her gown as it was pulled up over her head. Her legs looked like they were melting, the skin becoming more liquid, her undergarments stretching and then breaking where they covered her intimates. She threw her arm back behind her, hand catching the edge of the tub, her gasp becoming a long, drawn-out howl of pain as her legs turned, fused, and grew a thick, scaly covering.

Her heart hammered in her chest. The tub was nearly full with water, and she reached out for the opposite side, pulling herself in still dressed in a brassier and the remains of her underwear. Her feet had retreated to small nubs at the end of her tail, which was starting to sprout the beginnings of a fin. Her eyes darted to her hands, still clutching the sides of the tub, the skin between her fingers sticky and wet to the touch. She turned one over, and found translucent webbing growing between her digits.

She sank back into the water as a shot of pain tore through her neck; flaps opened on either side of her throat, drawing in water, bringing a rush of oxygen pulled from out of the liquid she laid in. Eyes and hair burned; her vision blurred, her long locks of hair turning purple before her eyes. Her teeth ground together, becoming sharpened daggers in her jaw.

The pain ebbed, started to subside. Her hands clasped tightly to the sides of the tub, the iron bath groaning and denting inward slightly at her touch. With a heft, she raised herself up on her arms, staring at the dressing mirror in the corner of the room. A long, violet tail covered in scales draped downward from her hips. Hair the color of lilacs spilled down from her head, over her back and shoulders, covering the curve of breasts still held tight in the now-soaked material of her bra.

Laughing, she set herself back down, tail shifting about, feeling out new muscles and new bones. Her breathing subsided, her heart calming. The book had worked, and worked beyond anything she could have imagined. She was exactly as she’d written down.

There was just one problem, she thought as she reclined in her tub. How was she going to explain herself when her partner got home?

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