By Vanessa Lewis
I was exhausted. Completely drained.
My flight had been long and arduous, even by human standards. Violent turbulence, disruptive passengers whose loud arguments had kept me from sleeping the entire 14 hours, and losing my suitcase containing my Macbook Air were just some of the highlights.
When I finally reached my hotel in Niagara, I’d wanted nothing more than to decompress and relax. I’d had good experiences at Sheraton hotels around the globe – they were good at being discreet. As one of the most famous influencers in the world, I take my privacy seriously.
With my navy hoodie up and large sunglasses concealing the bags under my eyes, I knew I didn’t look much like myself at all. But that was the point. I did not want to be recognized, not before I could go to my room and decompress. I was starting to get antsy now – I’d never gone more than a day in the public eye without having a single private moment to myself.
The receptionist at the front desk was clicking away at her desktop when I approached, not looking at me. I cleared my throat pointedly.
She looked up, startled. “Oh, my apologies, miss. How can I help you?”
I silently slid my ID across the counter, making sure that the other people in the lobby wouldn’t be able to see it. As always, I was being overcautious, but after being recognized and swarmed in the lobby of my hotel in Berlin a month ago, I was determined not to let that happen again.
“I called in ahead a few days ago to reserve a room.”
The receptionist took my ID and peered at it for a second before her face lit up in recognition. She wasn’t old, perhaps in her forties, but it had long stopped surprising me that even though my most ardent supporters are youth, I am known by people of all ages and backgrounds.
“Of course, Miss …” She paused, trailing off as I shot her a pointed look. After all my efforts, I was not going to let some random receptionist blow my cover.
“… sorry. Your room is C-37. Here are your keys,” she said in a quiet voice, putting them and my ID on the desk.
I thanked her and made my way over to the elevators on the other side of the lobby, keeping my head down. I quietly pulled my phone out as I waited, not daring to look up and risk making eye contact with anyone.
I heard a shuffling noise behind me, then voices speaking in difference tones. I silently hoped that the elevator wouldn’t be crowded – if something went wrong, it would be easier if there were less people to dispose of.
But then, I heard someone say something that made my blood run cold.
“….is that Hannah Royelle?”
I didn’t think twice. I bolted towards the stairwell next to the elevator, dragging my suitcase behind me.
I’d gone up half a flight of stairs when I realized my mistake. I was already so incredibly exhausted, and now I’d hastily chosen to drag my heavy suitcase up 3 stories to my room.
I knew Aaliyah would’ve laughed at me if she’d been here right now. She didn’t have the same self-control that I did – she probably would’ve given up and transformed right then and there, or perhaps waited until getting into the elevator. I’d chosen to save their lives, knowing that if I transformed, I would have been forced to consume them.
I sighed. I’d done the right thing. Now, I simply had to get up to my room, and all would be well.
I gritted my teeth as I lugged the suitcase up the next two flights. My body was thin, lacking in muscles and bone density. Why this was the beauty standard for women was beyond me, but I’d chosen this form long ago and was forced to stick with it now, especially since there were cameras in the stairwells.
At long last, I made it to the third floor. Normally, I would’ve chosen a room on the highest floor, but I’d wanted a room near the falls. Before my horrendous flight, I’d planned to wake up early the next morning and take some selfies with the view to share with my followers. Now … I couldn’t think as far as tomorrow morning. It was taking nearly all my strength and years of self-discipline to refrain from shifting before reaching my room.
What felt like years later, but was really only a few minutes’ difference, I made it to room C-37. I clumsily turned the key in the lock and stumbled inside.
My head was pounding so much it felt like it was about to burst. My skin was clammy, yet burning hot. I can’t do this much longer, I thought, and in that second, I transformed.
My tentacles, 6 feet long and thick, sprouted out and hit the ground with a quiet thud. I was mildly aware that I’d fallen back on the soft bed, to my relief. It was much more comfortable to do this lying on a surface.
My bulbous head and round tail swelled up to their normal size, and my dozens of eyes took form in a crown at the top. I finally relaxed, closing my eyes as I basked in this feeling of utter decompression. My human form was usually manageable, but I needed to decompress at least once a day to stay sane. That was my time to myself, some self-care for my mental health.
Back when Aaliyah and I lived on our home planet, neither of us had been able to hold our shifts for very long, much to our mother’s disapproval. Those of us who weren’t skilled enough shifters were not allowed to join the academy and were essentially deemed unworthy by society. Most of us ended up on the streets, begging for scraps, but some brave few left the planet itself in search of a new home. I wouldn’t have had the courage to do so if it weren’t for Aaliyah. She brought us to Earth in the year 2013, and we’d spent the years since learning about humans and their ways. We’d wanted to travel, but after being so heavily shunned by our own people, we’d wanted to do something that would allow us to be adored. That was why we became travel influencers.
I let these fond memories of my time with my sister lull me to sleep. I was out like a light, deeply unconscious –
“Hannah?” a voice asked hesitantly.
And I bolted upright to see a young woman looking at me in horror. As my bleary eyes adjusted to the darkness, I heard the click of an iPhone camera as a blinding flash of light brought me to my senses.
“What did you do to Hannah?” the girl demanded, voice shaking. She took a small step forward, her expression scared but defiant.
It took me a full second to process everything that had just happened.
In the blink of an eye, I transformed back into my human form – golden blonde, tan, with curves everywhere. I sat up straight on the bed and shot her a smile.
“It’s a long story, but I actually am Hannah. I’m guessing you’re a fan?”
The girl nodded. “Yeah. Big time. I saw you in the lobby waiting for the elevator, then I saw you run up the stairs. I figured you didn’t want to talk to anyone. But my room’s just down the hall, and I knew this was your room, so when I came up and saw that your door was open …”
I silently cursed myself. Of course, after all the precautions I’d taken, I would be foolish enough to leave the door open while I transformed.
“Right. That makes sense. I’ll tell you everything, but you have to promise not to tell anyone. Can I trust you?”
To my surprise, the girl nodded. She had a small face with wide brown eyes that seemed both fearful and defiant, yet transfixed. A superfan who’d just found out a world-shattering truth about someone she idolized.
This would be easy to take care of. I’d been in a situation like this once before, and that had been much trickier to deal with. Luckily, Aaliyah had been there and had taken charge before it had gotten out of hand.
I smiled at the girl.
“Great. What’s your name, by the way?”
“Nice to meet you, Mackenzie. Would you mind shutting the door?”
I waited to see what she would do. I don’t like to harm humans, but sometimes it’s necessary, in order to protect the life I’ve created for myself.
To my relief, Mackenzie silently walked over and closed the door, then came back. Her wide-eyed expression hadn’t changed.
I quickly ran through all my options.
“So, do you want a picture? Or an autograph?”
Mackenzie shook her head.
“No. I want to know how you changed from that … octopus thing … to, well, you,” she said firmly.
I sighed inwardly. So she was going to make this harder. Well then, I knew what I had to do.
“I’m a shapeshifter. And I’m from another planet. It’s a long story, but the short version is that I had to leave, and so I came here to Earth, shifted and became Hannah. I’d give you more details, but to be honest, I just had a really bad flight and I’m very exhausted. That’s why I shifted back into that ‘octopus-thing’ – it’s my real form, and I have to shift back into it at least once a day.”
Mackenzie’s eyes were saucers. “That’s crazy,” she whispered. “You’re joking, right?”
“Nope. It’s the truth. So, about that photo you just took …”
Mackenzie sighed. “You want me to delete it.”
“Yeah. If that got out, I wouldn’t be able to live as Hannah anymore. But I’ll tell you what, we can take a selfie together instead.” Mackenzie instantly perked up at that.
She whipped out her phone and quickly set up the camera. I smiled widely, putting my arm around the girl as she took the picture.
I peered forward to look at it. Yup, that was all I needed.
“Great. Now, before you go,” I said, and Mackenzie turned towards me.
In the flash of a second, I shifted back into my natural state, bared my teeth and pounced, devouring the girl completely. She was gone, and I was safe again.
I then shifted into Mackenzie’s form and picked up her phone, unlocking it with her thumbprint. I scrolled through her phone for ten minutes, looking through her texts and photos, trying to figure out what I needed to do to cover my tracks. From what I could tell, she’d come to Niagara with a few of her friends for a girls’ trip, so I sent the selfie we’d taken to their groupchat with a heart-eyed emoji below it. Now they would know that she’d met me before disappearing.
I left the hotel while still in Mackenzie’s form, making sure to walk in the areas with cameras. I walked for awhile before finding a quiet street where I was able to shift back into Hannah’s form with no nosy onlookers.
I dialed Aaliyah’s number and she picked up on the first ring. “Let me guess. You slipped,” she laughed.
“I did not slip,” I retorted. “I just … almost got caught.”
“That’s what slipping is, dumbass. You ready to join me in retirement yet?”
I seriously considered it, right then and there. Giving it all up. Becoming an ordinary person and leaving the public eye for good.
But then I remembered everything I loved about my job. All the places I got to visit. The people I got to meet. The parties, the luxuries, the privileges.
“Not yet. I’ll join you one day, but not today.” I ended the call.
I made my way down to the falls, walking towards the crowds that marveled at the natural wonder, the ordinary humans who’d travelled here with their loved ones just for a glimpse of it. I admired their freedom. They were able to be themselves in a way I never would.
But I was okay with that. I was happy with my life, and I was glad that I’d fought to keep it.
As I came ever closer to the crowds, I heard the shouts of my fans who’d noticed my presence. They began to rush towards me.
Vanessa Lewis is a queer Canadian writer and an undergraduate student at Carleton University. Hailing from Pickering, Ontario, she grew up exploring the forest by her house and now spends most of her time reading, travelling, and daydreaming. Vanessa is excited to debut her work in The Temz Review.