They caught me unawares, the young one and the two old enough to have hairy faces.
My body, their pelt, their possession. They sneered. I supposed they’d never heard tell of the Tamboti tree.
I could tell the wide blue-eyed one was scared, but he readied the trembling handkerchief anyway. Coerced, no doubt.
“We’ll make a lesson of yew, boy,” was the last sentence my ordinary limited senses lapped.
They were lucky the straps and the medication rivoted me temporarily in place as the haughty side man prepared the bone-saw and hot iron cross for my leg.
The man under a dark drape held the box aloft, and I saw it flash through my eyelids even as I was transforming, screen of skin sliding in on itself.
I felt the color rising as my hide erupted in a riot of bristly hairs.
Soon my only instinct would be shunted toward a decision: do I play with these muslin bags of flesh before I shred them asunder?
First, more on the original photograph. Apparently, it is the first photo-documented use of ether, circa 1855-1860. I was so disturbed by the depiction, which I felt nefarious, that I felt compelled to write (or right, as the case may be) about it. After looking at the man on the table, my indignation sprang from what I interpreted as the “surgeon’s” smug look; admittedly, it’s difficult to see for certain, and I don’t have the “patient’s” backstory, although I seriously doubt informed consent was something practiced in those days, plus given the horrors of slavery, I’m doubtful the black man was either asked or told what they thought might happen during the operation. All that said, I could be incorrect, so please feel free to give me the backstory if you can provide data sources.
Now, as far as the discussion of the writing proper . . .
Please do check out One Starving Activist, where Andreé Robinson-Neal hosts Scribe’s Cave, especially if you’re a fan of speculative fiction (i.e., sci-fi, fantasy, or horror).
If you’re curious as to the partial inspiration/origin of this shape-shifter fantasy story, other than the awful legacy of slavery, particularly in American history, you have to look back to Greco-Roman myth and the character of Proteus.
“Aristaeus [the demi-god who invented beekeeping] wept, when he saw all his bees killed and honeycombs abandoned incomplete. His sea-blue mother [the Naiad Kyrene (Cyrene)] could scarcely console his pain, and attached these final words to her speech: ‘Stop your tears, my boy. Proteus will lighten your loss, and tell you how to regain what is gone. But so he does not baffle you by altering appearance, clamp his two hands in strong chains.’
The youth approaches the seer and binds the limp arms of the sleeping old man of the ocean. Proteus uses his art to shift and feign his looks, but soon resumes shape, mastered by chains.” — from Ovid, Fasti I, translated by Boyle (Fasti is the “Book of Days,” or, specifically, a partial poem in six books that detail the first six months of the Roman calendar)
In a different translation of Ovid from Latin (by James G. Frazer), Proteus is likened to a wizard rather than a seer.