Swim camps

My flash fiction story ‘Swim camps’ was published in Antipodean SF, archived here.

Yoni shuffled to the grocery store, wincing with every step. His shoes were too small and his toes always swelled up when the temperature was over 35 degrees. Every fucking day was over 35 degrees here in Mildura. He should just wear thongs or sandals like all the Aussies did, but then people would notice his webbed toes. He could picture himself in the grocery line, making small talk with someone, and then they would look down at his feet and freeze mid-sentence. “Well well,” they’d say, “You’re a dark horse, Yoni. Kept that one quiet, didn’t ya?” This someone, who was probably a man now he thought about it, a member of the local football team, would grab Yoni by the shoulders. The police would arrive so fast — it would feel like only seconds. Yoni would still be standing there, rigid with shock, while they checked his hands too, spreading the fingers apart. No webbing, but the toes would be enough. They’d take him away and lock him up. 

He would spend the first night in the local cop station on the cold concrete floor, and then they’d transfer him to a special facility for other foreign freaks, probably in Canberra. They’d wake him at 4am by spraying water on his face and then make him exercise in the yard. They’d feed him a high protein diet. They’d want to keep him healthy and strong and desperate. 

One morning he’d wake to find something slung over the bars of his cell. Swimming togs in his size. Ugly green with yellow stars, the Southern Cross aligning with his right butt cheek. Next to the togs he’d find swimming goggles and one of those rubber caps, plus a razor and cream to shave his legs. Anything to give him an advantage, as if his webbed toes weren’t enough. They would need to make sure of the victory. They had to win every race at every Olympics. It was in the Constitution — that’s what they’d say as they led him along a tiled hallway to the pool. ‘Do it for your country! We’ll all be watching!’ Then he would step out into the roaring crowd, people waving flags for all the different nations. He’d smell the chlorine and know that once he was in the water, he wouldn’t be able to resist. He’d swim fast. He’d swim for freedom. He’d win. And then they’d lock him up for another four years, their secret weapon hidden from prying eyes, so they could keep winning gold, gold, gold.

That was why he needed to wear shoes all the time, even on this short walk to the grocery store in the blazing summer sun. He had to hide what he really was, the secrets hidden in his DNA. He moved a hand to his large belly, wishing he lived in a climate where he could walk around in long overcoats. He needed something to cover his sleek porpoise curves. That was a giveaway too. One day, someone would spot his potential, the incredible streamlined shape of his blubbery body, the webbing between his elongated toes, but for now he was still free.

First published in AntipodeanSF.