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Monday, October 11, 2021

Microstory 1731: The Cygness

We don’t know where it came from, but the disturbing rumor is that someone in our town once lay with a swan. They’re calling it the cygness as a pun. It starts out with a white skin rash. According to reports, scratching it will cause it to grow worse, so family members have bound the arms of their loved ones, hoping to stop the process, but they always fail. It can be slowed, but it can’t be stopped. All succumb to the transformation sooner or later. Once the victim’s skin is completely white, bumps will begin to rise. Out of that, chutes will appear, like seedlings bursting from the ground. These chutes will spread out, and form something that the researchers call powder down. Over time, as this down fills in, the feathers will mature, and eventually become just as beautiful and full as a swan’s real feathers. The victim will not grow wings, nor a beak, nor flat feet, but their shoulders will lock their elbows behind them, limiting movement, their face will blacken, and their toes will become webbed. Lastly, and we still don’t understand how this works—well, we don’t understand any of it, but especially not this—the patient will lose their ability to produce vocal sound. Something about their vocal cords will change, preventing them from not only creating speech, but other sounds as well, like hums or whistles. They’ll still be able to breathe and cough, but that’s just about it. From start to finish, the transformation takes weeks. At times it’s painful, at times it’s uncomfortable. Once it’s complete, however, patients report feeling better than they ever have in their entire lives. Some wish it to never end, but it does. The last stage is death, and it follows the patient’s returned voice. If someone with the cygness begins to talk again, you know that their life is nearly over. I have been fairly lucky thus far, but the condition has recently fallen upon me, so I know that I need to make arrangements.

I experience the same symptoms as anyone else, in the same order, and according to the same timeframe. They place me with all the others who are in the same stage as me, I suppose so we can all die together. As our conditions worsen, I notice something strange about the others. They’re flapping their lips, and moving their laryngeal prominences up and down. It takes a moment for me to realize that they are all trying to speak. Evidently, even though they know that they have become physiologically mute, they cannot help themselves. They don’t even just forget their limitation every once in a while. They appear to be constantly attempting to communicate with each other, hoping that with enough hard work, it will suddenly start working again. I know better. I know that that is not how it works. I sit quietly, and mind my own business. No one else seems to notice that I’m unlike then. I guess I’ve had more practice being quiet, since I wasn’t one to talk much when I was a regular human. One by one, they fall. They make one last call to our people, and then their eyes shut for good. Finally, I’m the only one left. I stay in isolation for a few more weeks, knowing that people are watching me, trying to figure out what makes me different. I can feel that I have my voice back, but I dare not use it, for I remember what happens next. The researchers come in, and demand that I use my voice. They need more data, so they can come up with a treatment, and they don’t care if it kills me. I refuse, but they threaten the lives of my family, so I give in. I speak. Then I sing. And then I survive. I am the human swan.

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