I Never Meta-Morph I Didn't Like

"We had been blown to an island just above the mouth of the Nile. Pharos it is called by the peoples nearby. For twenty days we were stranded there by the following becalm. So long, that we had eaten most of our stores and were desperate to find food.

"I was walking alone along the shore with fishing hook and line, perhaps I could tie a few flies and catch some rock perch for our suppers, when a large rainbow coloured fish leapt through the waters toward me. However, it wasn't a fish, but the physical manifestation of a deity. Phe rose up from the sea in the form of an unearthly female covered in iridescent scales.

"'What a sorry sight you are,' said the deity. 'How can you be daydreaming, fishing the time away on this island, when your people are surely starving?'

"You tell me, bright one, why I am kept here. We have not had the wind to carry us to where we may reprovision," I replied.

"Phe had strange silvery eyes with two sets of eyelids, a transparent inner set and a more opaque outer set. I found it difficult to tell if this deity was looking at me, through me, or simply staring in contemplation, particularly with the moist flutter of inner and outer eyelids. She raised a webbed hand and told me, 'I am the child of Proteus who serves Poseidon. Proteus frequently abides in this place. If you were to catch Proteus by surprise and hold per, then my parent would agree to tell you how to traverse the cold fish-breeding sea to your home, plus any other information you may wish for phe has a full access account to Metanet and the Known-World Wide Web.'

"'I am to trap a divine being,' I asked incredulously, 'With my two mortal hands?'

"'Of course you can't capture a sapient system of abstractions, but you can capture a physical manifestation of the divine,' phe said. 'The Ancient of the Sea likes to swim to the west side of the island into the sea caves there. Phe shares these places with the seals and selkies. Proteus likes to count them all, caring for the safety of each, then lays down amongst them to sleep. At this time you must gather all of your strength and all the courage within your heart and leap upon per, holding per tight. I warn you Proteus will put up a fight. Phe can morph into any beast, water or fire. It won't be fun. When The Ancient finally breaks the silence, phe will be in pers original form and you will be able to release per. Proteus will tell you what you want to know.

"'Bring three of your people with you here tomorrow at the first blush of Dawn and I shall lead you to where you may do all as I have said.' So, spoke the nymph who then disappeared into the waves as if transformed into a wave perself.

"Well, the next morning myself and three strong lads went to meet the mischievous nereid who was willing to play a trick on per parent. Phe brought us to a particular cave where phe had dug four holes in the sand. We lay down in these holes, then had four seal skins thrown over us. Oh and the pong! The skins must have been freshly removed to carry such a stench.

"All morning long we lay there, hearts pounding loudly in our ears, as glistening sea creatures swam out of the ripppling waves and floppped across the sands into our caves. At noon The Ancient rose from the waters and began counting each seal, each selkie (four of whom must have been giggling naked somewhere). We were amongst the first to be numbered, then waited some more as all in that jostling herd had their turn.

"Finally Proteus was satisfied. Phe curled up in the midst of pers dear creatures. Now was our chance. We threw off our putrid robes, not a moment too soon, and grabbed the deity with all our strength.

"Let me tell you, The Ancient is a tricksie one. At first phe turned into a roaring lion, then a slippery snake, then a drenching fountain, then a gigantic venus flytrap, and finally a horn-nosed Koosbainian. We nearly lost per in that last morph, but phe returned to pers original form and called out, 'Son of Atreus, who put you up to this and why?'

"I wasn't about to snitch on pers child when phe had been such a help to us. 'Proteus, you already know the answer to your own questions. So why do you ask? We have been stranded on this island until we are weak and heartsick. Tell me why have we been kept here and how can we make our way home?'"

The Big Picture.

Copyright © 1998 Katherine Phelps