As bashful as he may have been in the consulting room, Dr Pickford turned out to be a total professional when it came to the operating room. He had informed Sophie that the process would be divided into three distinct stages, which he termed “preparation,” “augmentation” and finally “consummation” (he blushed again at the last and moved swiftly on). It would have been possible for the whole operation to be carried out in the space of one day, but he explained that he wanted her to have the chance to come to terms with the alterations to her body a little at a time rather than waking up a biped and going to sleep as a mermaid in the same twenty-four hours.
At 9:00am the next morning Sophie was collected from her room by an efficient nurse and pushed in a wheelchair to the farthest wing of the house. The nurse had specific orders from Pickford that his patient was in no way to exert the muscles of her legs before the operation began.
Dressed in a theatre gown that barely covered her most intimate parts, Sophie could not help gazing down at her legs as she was wheeled towards the first stages of an operation that would totally change their shape. She ran her fingers over the skin of her thighs and was caught off guard by the realisation that when she had slipped her underwear off before stepping into the shower, she had had no idea of the odd significance of the act. It would be a long time before she was able to slip them back on again.
Pickford greeted her as she was pushed through the doors of the theatre. His casual clothes had of course been replaced by theatre greens and his face covered by a surgical mask, which he pulled down to reveal a determined expression.
‘We’ll be starting in a few minutes, Sophie,’ he motioned to the operating table and two theatre assistants gently lifted her from the wheelchair and laid her down upon it and raised the top half to an angle where she could see her own legs and the Pickford’s face. ‘First thing is to administer the anaesthetic,’ he produced a syringe filled with a clear liquid, ‘you’ll be conscious, but unable to feel a thing for the duration. He wiped a spot at the top of her arm with cotton wool and injected the contents of the needle. ‘As soon as this take effect we can start.’
The effects of the injection were unlike any anaesthetic Sophie had experienced in the past. Rather than passing out, she felt a sudden wave of relaxation and well being. The only thing she could compare the experience to be being high, unable to move or speak, yet still aware of her surroundings with her vision blurred slightly at the edges. When Pickford removed her gown she was aware of his touch despite his reassurances that she would feel nothing, but she simply floated on the chemical high that the drug had induced. In a corner of her mind Sophie was aware that she did not know what to expect; but again she simply could not find the will to do anything about it.
Sophie felt her legs lifted and something being pulled up over them. She glanced down and saw that what amounted to a long thin bag of heavy plastic had been slipped over her lower half. The bag was transparent and she could make out her legs inside. She also noticed that the bag was gathered just above her waist so that her torso was left clear.
There was a slight churning sound and Sophie heard a male voice from the far corner of the room.
‘Solution pumping,’ another voice answered.
A pleasant tingling sensation swept over Sophie’s legs as a warm liquid began to fill the bag. Soon it had totally submerged her feet and still it kept rising to cover her knees and then her thighs until the whole bag was filled. Once full, the pumping stopped and Sophie felt her legs floating in the liquid as if she were laid on her back in a swimming pool, floating on the water. But she was sure that this was not simple water. The liquid’s warmth seemed to seep into her legs until they felt warmed to the bone and the sensation relaxed her so much that she felt she might melt from it.
Sophie could never recall just how long her legs had been floating in the liquid, she felt that she had drifted away and slept for hours. The next thing she recalled was the feeling of a touch on her thigh. Her eyes opened to see Pickford pressing a finger into the flesh just above her knee. To her surprise, when he removed his finger it had left a small depression on the flesh such as might have been left behind had he done the same to wet clay.
‘The solution’s taken effect, the flesh is pliable enough,’ he said to his assistants out of Sophie’s sight. ‘I’m about to begin.’
What followed was a bizarre mixture of massage and a strange trip for Sophie. Pickford moved to the end of the table and began to knead her toes, which offered no resistance to his fingers and soon moulded together until the ends of Sophie’s feet were devoid of digits altogether. Next he began to work on her feet themselves, smoothing the insides of both and rounding her heels in the palms of his hands. Sophie watched as her feet gave way and became one, the flesh of each melting into the other whilst Pickford’s hands pointed them downwards and pushed what had been her heels back a little so that the tip of the newly amalgamated extremity was in line with her legs on an almost horizontal plane. Returning to what had been her toes, Pickford flattened the blunt end of the flesh and smoothed the point together until there was no trace of Sophie’s feet whatsoever as he carefully removed her toenails, placed them in a waiting metal pan and quickly eradicated the small indentations they had left.
Sophie looked on as Pickford moved up to her calves and gently pressed them together. Again she felt the very flesh of her limbs yield as they became one and Pickford carefully progressed all the way up to her knees before returning the way he had come to pull them closer together and seal up the fain line that still hinted as to the distinct limbs which they had once been.
Before he moved upwards, Pickford called to his assistants who gingerly lifted Sophie and turned her so that she lay on her belly. Now the doctor was lost from sight, but Sophie was soon aware of just what part of her was working on. She felt gentle hands make contact with her intimate parts and begin to mould them as they had done her feet and calves. What might have been deeply uncomfortable was softened by the effect of the drugs and the warm and yielding quality that the strange liquid had conferred upon her body. The sensation of movement was soon over and she was turned onto her back once more.
Only now did Pickford begin to push together and mould her thighs, first unifying her knees and then sealing the ever shrinking gap between Sophie’s legs until he reached the point where she had been waxed to remove her pubic hair before arriving at the Retreat. Here he spent a great deal of time putting an end to her crotch and levelling her flesh out so that when he was finished Sophie stared down the length of her body and took in the uninterrupted flow of soft pink flesh which started at her waist and ended at what were once her feet.
Her contemplation was cut short as the theatre assistants again lifted her and placed her on her stomach. Pickford worked quickly now, moulding and sealing the back of her legs so that they were uniform with the front until he reached Sophie’s buttocks. There he inserted something cold and hard, which brushed against her intimate parts and stayed there whilst he pressed the cheeks of her backside together and finally concluded smoothing everything together. When the object was removed the assistants turned her over once more and one held her lower half off the table whilst Pickford and the other pulled a long machine plated with polished metal from the corner of the room.
The machine was about five feet in length, three wide, maybe a foot deep and sat atop four legs mounted with castors. While Pickford opened the device like the bottom half of a coffin, the second assistant fiddled with the table until the section under Sophie’s lower limb folded away, all the time his colleague held her still. Pickford and the assistant then manoeuvred the machine beneath Sophie and guided the other man to lower her into it. She saw that the interior of the machine was shaped precisely to fit her new form and as the lid was closed she felt it press tightly around her allowing not an inch of movement.
Soon she began to feel heat building within the machine and suffusing her lower half once again. Reclined on the table she lost any sense of time and drifted into a deep and dreamless sleep.
When she awoke, Sophie found that she was alone in the dark. She groped instinctively for the bedside table and the alarm that she presumed must have woken her. As her arm waved about in the darkness she contemplated the ride to work and wondered if she should stick to the usual routine for her act, or try to throw in something a little more daring. Maybe tonight was the night to try taking the stage in a full-length toga and falling to the floor in pretend shock at the tail suddenly flapping away from between the folds.
It was about then that she realised the table was not there and there was no alarm.
Sophie recalled where she was and found the light switch on the wall by the bed.
Then she remembered what had taken place in the operating theatre.
With more than a little trepidation, Sophie pulled back the sheets to be presented with the sight of a dull grey material peeking out from under a nightshirt, which she had no memory of dressing herself in. She tugged the covers off her fully and stared at the tight stocking that covered her legs. Made of a smooth material almost without a discernable texture, the stocking was quite thick and extended right up to an inch above her waist.
The way in which the stocking held her legs together reminded Sophie of the similar garments she had worn under her costume. Perhaps, she thought, it was all a dream; just the effects of whatever they doped me up with.
At the other end her feet waved back at her as Sophie flexed them experimentally. They were quite mobile, but something did not seem right. It was as if they refused to bend all the ways that they should and Sophie simply could not make them point upwards as if she were trying to stand on the soles. A vague recollection of what she thought she had seen Pickford doing to them nagged at her, but she ignored it; lying down on her back, she began to pull the stocking down.
As soon as the garment had moved more than a few inches, Sophie stopped dead. At first she had simply rolled the hem down without a second thought, but then she realised that she should have passed her waist a good two inches earlier. She gazed at the point where her legs should have begun and saw only pink skin disappearing under the stocking.
She had not been hallucinating.
She did not have legs, as such, anymore.
She was one step on the way to becoming a mermaid.
If this was the reality of her situation, Sophie reflected, then she was going to get to grips with the practicalities of her new form. With this in mind, she stripped the stocking off completely and pulled herself over to the edge of the bed. She swung her unified lower limb over the edge and regarded herself in the full-length mirror upon the wall. The nightshirt followed the stocking and she took in the changes that Pickford had wrought to her body.
‘Mirror, mirror on the wall; who’s the biggest pink worm of them all?’ she whispered to herself as she followed the line of her body unbroken from head to what had been her toes. What Pickford had begun with his hands, the machine into which he had placed her had certainly made a nice finish to. The seamless line of Sophie’s lower body made her certain that the machine had been some kind of press or mould to set her flesh in its new shape. She noted with interest the absence of pubic hair and toenails. She also found herself admiring the graceful line that her lower half followed, from her waist all the way down to where her feet curved under slightly as if in anticipation of what was to come.
Sophie placed a hand on her extended lap and ran her fingers over the spot in which she guessed her intimate parts had been. She was surprised to find that while there was no trace to be found on the outside, something had certainly been left behind beneath the skin.
Intrigued, she rolled onto her stomach and felt for her buttocks only to find that while they were still there, they too had changed somewhat. Rather than the rounded cheeks she was used to, Sophie found that both sides were pulled tightly together as though their muscles had been strengthened. A probing finger found that the line between them extended almost twice as far as it had before.
Determined to find out all that she could, Sophie forced her finger in-between the cheeks and quickly found that her backside was just where she left it and her private parts had become a close neighbour to it.
Before she could explore any further there was a gentle rap on the door.
Sophie was suddenly aware that she had never bothered to check the time when she awoke. A quick glance told her that she had slept right through the night.
For all the apparent strangeness of losing her legs and awaking to find that her intimate parts had gone walkabout, she was about to have to deal with a whole lot more.
Pickford seemed quite delighted when Sophie explained to him that she had fathomed the ins and outs of the changes that he had made to her body the previous day (she later concluded that this was due to the fact that it spared him the embarrassment of explaining how her plumbing now worked himself), and was keen to move on to the second stage of the operation. Within five minutes of entering the theatre, she was back on the table and ready to take the next step away from being human and towards becoming a mermaid.
Before she received another dose of the hypnotic anaesthetic, Pickford drew her attention towards two plastic tanks that sat on a table a few feet from where she lay. The first and smallest contained eight small blue shapes, much like arrowheads, but curved on two sides and faintly transparent in the strong light of the theatre. Sophie looked closer and noted that they were suspended in a gel just like as the scale Pickford had shown her in the consulting room. She glanced down at her hands and spread her fingers wide apart as she recognised the shape of the webbing that had been glued in-between her fingers as a part of her stage costume.
But it was the contents of the second and far larger tank that held her attention rapt while Pickford explained them to her with a certain amount of pride.
In this tank was suspended a magnificent tailfin. Between two and three feet in length, it flared out at the top and twisted away into two flukes that tapered to points like nothing she had seen before. Of a blue that matched and yet far surpassed the webbing intended for her fingers, the tailfin was ribbed with five lines at each side that began at the top and followed the shape of the individual flukes until they met at their tips. Under the theatre lights, the tailfin shimmered like a giant butterfly of unearthly beauty and grace.
For the first time, Sophie found herself caught up in a state of enchantment.
Not only was she to be a mermaid; but also she was to be a stunning vision unlike anything she had dared imagine.
Pickford explained briefly what Sophie had already concluded; that the object of today’s surgery would be to attach the parts that she saw in the tanks. These had all been grown in the same way as the scales and would function as any other part of her body in just the same way. The webbing was self-evident, but he went into more depth in the case of the tailfin. Raising the end of Sophie’s unified lower limb, he explained that the tailfin would be attached to the bottom of her former feet. Now that the shape of her feet was like that of an uneven diamond, with the longer edges being the outer sides and the shorter being the edge where her toes had once been, the tailfin would be attached to the latter edges and make use of the bones and muscles now redundant that had once worked the long gone digits.
Sophie nodded that she understood and soon the anaesthetic was administered.
Again she was cast adrift on a sublime feeling and watched in a detached wonder as Pickford went about his work, before falling into a deep sleep. She watched as each of the triangles of webbing was placed in-between her immobile fingers after a concentrated spray from a small canister, which Pickford held in his off hand, had been applied. From the way the webbing sank into the skin as each piece was pressed home, Sophie guessed that the same strange liquid was being used as had reduced her legs to the consistency of clay. She wondered what other uses the Retreat had put the same substance, or whether it was the sole preserve of Pickford himself.
Though he had been careful with the webbing, Pickford took the greatest pains by far over the tailfin. With this he ushered the assistants out of the theatre and would let no hands but his own touch the contents of the larger tank. Delicately laying the fin out before the end of Sophie’s lower limb, he made precise incisions down both sides where her toes had been with a scalpel. Though she could feel no pain, Sophie was sure she could feel Pickford’s fingers as he sought and found the bones that her toes had left behind. As he worked, slowly at first and then ever more quickly, she became aware of the tailfin as each bone and its nerve endings were married up to a rib running its length. Eventually the same canister reappeared in Pickford’s hand and as he squeezed the trigger, Sophie again felt herself succumbing to sleep.
When the alarm sounded for real this time, Sophie was awake in a second and silenced the clock she had retrieved from her bag before leaving for the operating theatre for the second time. Estimating that she operation could not have taken more than six hours, she had set the alarm to go off at midnight. This she hoped would give her a good few hours to sleep off the after-effects of the anaesthetic and still allow for more time in which to examine the sum of the changes that had been wrought upon her this time round.
The first became apparent when she reached out and flipped the lights on. Her hand felt as if she were wearing a glove of some kind, and a closer inspection revealed that she was right. Both her hands had been covered by fingerless gloves; made of the same material as the stocking she had awoken in the previous morning. Sophie wasted no time in pulling these off to reveal her newly webbed hands.
She blew on her palm and found that they were every bit as sensitive as her fingers and joined the skin as if they had always been a part of her. Each curved between her fingers and met them below the first joint, and whilst she found that she was perfectly able to hold a pen and perform a host of other minor feats of digital dexterity, she was unable to wear a ring upon her fingers any longer or intertwine her hand with that of another.
Another stocking had been pulled over her legs and she treated this in the same way, only pausing for a moment before pulling the whole thing off to reveal the tailfin. Once the stocking was gone, the tailfin unfurled upon the bed in all its glory. It was heavier than Sophie had imagined, weighing the end of her fast developing tail down and forcing her to flex her muscles to move it around. But once she began, it was evident that the tailfin was far from inanimate due to its weight. Sophie found that she was quite able to twist and turn the fin in many different directions as its two halves worked independently of each other and responded perfectly to the demands of the ribs now attached to the nerves and muscles that had once animated her toes.
Sophie lay on her stomach and arched her tail forwards so that the fin flopped down over her head. Leaning on her elbows, she ran her hands over it and explored the thing’s texture and shape, all the time as aware of her hands upon the fin as she was the fin between her fingers. She had expected it to be cold and maybe a little slimy, but she found instead that it was warm and quite dry, even noticing the tiny and delicate veins that ran through it.
Feeling more than a little excited, Sophie eased herself off the bed and crawled over to her bags where they lay in a corner of the room. Most of the clothes she had brought were casual and quite ordinary, but not all of them. Sophie rooted around until she had found the items she wanted and then climbed back onto the bed.
Quickly she stripped her nightshirt off and cupped her breasts in a black strapless bra. The next piece of clothing took a bit more forward thinking as she attacked the toe of a pair of black tights with nail scissors and then balled them up ready to be pulled on. Sophie teased the ends of her tailfin into the leg of the tights that she had cut and then eased them through the holes she had made for them until they emerged from either side. She then pulled the leg of the tights up over her bare tail and to her middle and tucked the empty leg into the waistband. The outfit was finished off with a little black dress that fitted her like a dream. The ended well before her knees (or once had) and had never failed to impress.
Fully dressed, Sophie picked up the phone by the bed and dialled reception.
‘Reception,’ she recognised Gillian’s accented English, ‘how can I help?’
‘This is Ms Higgson in room twenty-seven. I missed the evening meal, please could you send me up something to eat?’
‘Certainly,’ Gillian replied, ‘what would you favour?’
‘Send me some seafood,’ Sophie stifled a laugh, ‘anything will do, as long as its seafood.’
‘Very well, someone will be with you within the next half an hour.’
‘You won’t be bringing it yourself?’
‘No, I’m afraid that would be quite impossible.’
‘Ok,’ Sophie resigned herself to the fact that she was not going to be able to shock Gillian after all.
She spent the next thirty minutes practicing and pouting in the mirror until she heard a knock at the door. One hand resting on her tail and the other cradling her head as she reclined on the bed she decided that she was ready.
‘Come in and put it down by the bed; you’re safe to come right in, I’m dressed.’
The door was opened by a young man not more than twenty and wearing the uniform of a male nurse. At first he seemed taken aback at the sight of Sophie as she moved her hand up to her breast and gave him a seductive smile. Then his eyes trailed down to the sight of her tail, naked of scales, but clearly visible for what it was beneath the black tights. Sophie flapped her tailfin as he stared open-mouthed and pointed at the platter he was carrying.
‘I’d bet you a pound to a penny that whatever you’ve got under there, it isn’t the catch of the day right now, is it?’ It was a line so predictable that it made her cringe, but it had the desired effect.
The nurse’s Adams apple bobbed for a second before he dropped the platter on the floor and fled the room.
Once she was alone, it took Sophie so long to stop laughing that the contents of the platter had gone cold.
The last day in the operating theatre began as the other two had with Sophie being wheeled through the doors and delivered onto the table in the centre of the room where Pickford greeted her. But this was the third day, when the final stage of the process would take place and for all intents and purposes she would say goodbye to the human being known as Sophie and become a creature conjured out of myth and fantasy. The same face would stare back at her from the mirror, but everything else would change from this day onwards.
Pickford would today engage in the delicate task of attaching the individually grown scales to Sophie’s tail, thus rendering the transformation complete and providing the world at large with its first genuine mermaid.
The end of her tail was soon strapped to a complex harness and hoisted off the table until only Sophie’s torso remained upon the table. The doctor explained that for this part of the operation he would be unable to turn her as he worked and instead needed to have the whole of her tail at his disposal.
‘I think that I’ll have outdone Barnum by the time the day is over,’ he joked.
Sophie laughed out of simple politeness, but Pickford’s casual joke sent her mind racing back over the events of the past two days once more. She realised that the intense changes wrought to her body and the speed with which they had taken place had left her somewhat stunned; despite all the care taken to stagger the operation over a number of days she had still been overwhelmed by the massive reality of her new physical appearance.
Only now as the anaesthetic took effect for the final time did she begin to contemplate the vast implications of what she had allowed Pickford to do to her. There was a part of her that still refused to believe his claim that her transformation would not be permanent, that she was being initiated into a strange kind of human zoo where she would have all the rights of an animal. Sophie recalled a time when she had visited an aquatic park on the continent, but now rather than tanks populated with dolphins and other cetaceans, she pictured herself on show and made to perform for the applause of the tourists. She worried that with the changes to her body would follow changes to her mind. Deprived of legs and forced to deal with the reality that a tail had replaced them, would she be able to think like a human being for long? Sophie had been sure changes had begun to creep over Kiera after she had returned from the Retreat, as if her usual playful nature had been absorbed into the provocative nature of the creature she portrayed on the stage, the creature that had replaced her former self.
While she swam in an ocean of her own thoughts, buoyed up by the effects of the drugs in her veins, Pickford had wasted no time in starting on the job at hand. On a shallow tray by the operating table lay row upon row of scales, each nearly identical to the original Sophie had seen in the consulting room. With a fine pair of tweezers in one hand and the spray he had employed the previous day in the other, Pickford moistened a spot on Sophie’s tail and gently attached one scale at a time. He began at the very point where the tailfin met the pink skin and laid the first layer half over the former and half over the latter as to disguise the transition from one to the other. When he had laid a complete band around the base of the tail, he then began another above it taking care to overlap the second layer over the first. In this way he proceeded, each new band growing wider as the width of the tail increased and each overlapping with the last so that no gap at all was visible. Sophie watched his progress as the effects of the anaesthetic clouded her thoughts and silenced the trepidation that had taken hold of her. All the anxiety and fear was reduced to the simple act of watching, and she counted each scale as a step on the road away from her former self.
As the scales reached her knees and then inched up over her thighs and finally reached up to encircle her waist, Sophie felt herself swallowed up by a feeling of deep calm. The completion of the tail seemed somehow to silence her doubts and resign her to the fact that this was now as much a part of her as the colour of her eyes, the curve of her breasts or the sound of her voice. As Pickford dotted the scales up her stomach and over her back to graduate the change from fish to flesh and finally released Sophie’s tail from the harness, she watched the whole thing move like an iridescent shirt of chainmail above the elegant shape of the tailfin. This was no costume that she could pull off at the end of the day; as she had predicted, her costume had become her skin.
It was a good month later when Sophie and Pickford met again. They sat in the same chairs, in the same room and drank coffee from the same cups. Only Sophie, out of all the pieces that made up the picture, had changed.
She sat proudly, with her tail gathered up beneath her so that the flukes of her tailfin fell over the arm of the chair. She wore a loose fitting dress that made no effort to conceal the shape of her tail and fell away to reveal the silver and blue of the scales as they caught the sunlight streaming in through the window. Her hair was gathered beneath a scarf wrapped around her head and also caught the light where Sophie had taken to entwining small beads and charms into the locks as her rehabilitation had progressed.
For his own part, Pickford was visibly impressed. Sophie tried to puzzle out whether his admiration was for his own handiwork or simply for the sight of a flesh and blood mermaid sitting not more than a few feet away. In the end she settled upon a mixture of the two.
Both knew that the past month had been a revelation for the patient. The sudden reality that she was now at the end of the tunnel had washed away all trace of the trepidation that had dogged Sophie through the days of the operation. And Pickford had been right, her previous experience had crystallised in her mind and overcome the shock of her new form. At times Sophie caught herself thinking that she had forgotten to undress at the end of the day, but all that had soon passed as the undulating motions of her tail and its hypnotic scales became far more than could ever be termed second nature. As she learned to move and cope with the freedoms and the limitations that were afforded by the tail, Sophie found a new confidence born out of the very changes that she had once feared.
‘I’m pleased to say that you have a clean bill of health and the physiotherapist reports that you’ve taken to the using of your tail like…well like a fish to water. So I’ll have no problem in seeing you off back to London as soon as all the details are finalised. I hear your employer has made all the necessary arrangements for you in advance?’ he glanced up from her file to ask the question.
Sophie nodded. Doug had been in contact and rattled on over the phone about the apartment he had laid on for her return. The place was apparently tailored to allow her every freedom despite the limitations that faced a mermaid stranded upon dry land. He explained that the backers of the club had been generous in advancing capital to ensure that the new attraction was maintained in the appropriate manner. The money was even enough to secure a small indoor pool as a further sweetener to the deal. She had enjoyed mastering the art of swimming with her tail in the Retreat’s own pool, and Sophie was particularly looking forward to the thought of a private pool of her own.
‘So the car will be here to pick you up some time this afternoon and I’ll be seeing you, hopefully, in five years time…which should give me plenty of time to grow you some new toenails to replace the ones that I did away with!’
Sophie leaned forward and gave him a conspiratorial whisper in the ear.
‘Who says I’ll want those; I may ask you for gills when five years are up…’