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Something ... . It felt something. What?

Bad ... . It felt grim. But there were no words to express the feeling. Just the feeling. And the feeling was abominable.

Consciousness was increasing. The bad feeling was getting worse and as it got worse, the vague, nebulous, indistinct generalness of the feeling was diminishing and its place was being taken by sharper and more particular sensations: all of them bad.

Still no words to describe the increasingly unpleasant sensations. If it had had a vocabulary, it would have perceived that there were aches and pains in all its limbs, head and torso - and most of all in its nose, which was pressed hard against the corner of a glass surface. It also had a sense of suffocation and was trying reflexively to gasp. But it couldn't.

The body it was occupying, though transmitting messages of extreme discomfort with great efficiency, was not actually alive and had not been alive for over 100 years. It was the body of a marine iguana, suspended upside-down in a large, cylindrical jar of formaldehyde. The jar was flanked by similar jars on both sides, on the third shelf from the top, fourth from the bottom. The neighbouring shelves also accommodated rows of specimen jars. It was surrounded by dead creatures who had been collected by the same naturalist. They were all part of the exhibition in the natural history section of the museum. The other exhibits were not experiencing any discomfort. They were all properly dead.

As the physical anguish increased, so did its mental distress. Memories were beginning to creep out of corners and populate the forefront of its growing awareness. Images of dense steaming jungles, craggy cliffs, rocky beaches with crashing surf, muddy rivers, treacherous swamps. It was there - in all those places, and more. There was a city with busy roads and dirty buildings, rooms filled with furnishings and people. It recalled the buzz of conversation. He remembered words. He was a man. He had been a man. Richard. That had been his name.

It was hard to think. Words were filtering back slowly, bringing more clarity to his thinking. But the pain was extraordinary and that made it difficult to focus on any other sort of thought. He felt as though his nose were being slowly shattered by a vice. It was hard not to panic now, so he did panic. He was engulfed by a hideous, nauseating fear for what seemed quite a long time. But it didn't add much to or subtract much from his predicament. It only made it more difficult to think and filled his head with an unhelpful sort of hissing.

He tried to blot out the worst of the pain by concentrating on the sensation in his hand. It worked. He directed all his thoughts to the palm of his hand. It itched. Of course, he couldn't scratch it, but it was better than the pain in his nose. He explored his thumb. The nail-bed felt slightly strange in some indefinable way. Moving on to the fingers, they also felt peculiar. Why wouldn't they? This whole situation was peculiar. Section by section he probed his whole body mentally and found oddities in abundance. He appeared, if his senses were not deceiving him, to have a tail. As he was examining this unexpected appendage, it twitched. He had caused it to twitch. Briefly, he was overcome by excitement.

Deliberately, he refocused his mind. The phrase "mind over matter" emerged from the steadily calming jumble. That was it. The pain was diminished by controlling his thoughts. The movement was accidental, but if he could move accidentally, then he must be able to move at will. It was just a question of discovering how. Bending all his concentration and will on the tail he tried to move it again. It was no good though. He was trying too hard. He had to be completely calm. Deep breaths ... good grief! He had exhaled and inhaled automatically. These two words, 'deep breaths' just seemed to bubble up from the depths of his mind and the lungs had reacted. But what was he breathing? He could taste it. It was revolting. Don't think about that. Just relax and scratch that itchy palm .... the palm twitched. Another twitch!

Perhaps things weren't as black as they first seemed. He had no idea how he came to be in this perplexing situation - or even yet what the situation was. But from a very low start, things had only improved, so far. He had no clear sense of time, only that he continued learning to control his mind and move parts of his body for what seemed aeons. By the time he was able to achieve small movements of tail, head and all four limbs at will, he found he was also able to perceive light and dark. Eventually he was able to open his eyes - first one, which was looking towards the darkness at the back of the shelf, then the other that was looking at rows of sample jars on the other side of an aisle. This was not good!

It took enormous patience, waiting for his vision to clear, then interpreting the bizarre image that his senses received. He picked over it and sifted through it from the first vague blur, which was sometimes obscured by other blurs moving in front of it and regularly disappeared altogether as night descended. When his vision was sufficiently clear for him to be able to trust, it seemed time to panic again. All his senses rebelled. He could just about see a reflection of himself in the jar next to him when the light was at the right angle. This couldn't be. It just could not be!

The unutterable horror and oppression as snatches of memory from his life - walking, writing, laughing - clashed with this frightful new reality, twisted his mind into an agony of despair.

That panic passed too. What else could it do? If he were having a normal life in a normal human body, that level of panic might have brought on a merciful heart attack and put him out of his misery. This was very damned far from normal.

More time passed - maybe days, maybe years. The moving blurs resolved themselves into people. Sometimes in ones and twos, sometimes large parties filing past. Some paused a moment to give his jar a cursory glance. After a while, he became aware of a buzz - he was getting the power of hearing. The buzz also resolved itself into the sounds of conversation. He could sometimes make out what the visitors were saying. This is how he managed to piece together the utter hopelessness of his situation. The final horror was borne in upon him when he heard a little girl who was standing in front of his jar, reading from a booklet she was carrying. She read aloud to the little girl beside her: "The exhibits in Section C were all collected in the years 1893 to 1897 by Sir Richard Osborne, who was a very prolific contributor of specimens from many tropical regions."

He recognised the name immediately. With the name came the memories. He remembered the mistake - the crime - he was paying for. All the pain that he had filtered out by careful mental discipline flooded back. He was overwhelmed. He thrashed involuntarily in his jar and lost consciousness, at last. It was over.

The little girls told all their friends that they'd seen the lizard in the jar move. But nobody believed them.

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Infinite Improbability Drive

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