The house was expensive, endless, and normally boring. Cheap 1990s fake-hardwood lofts, fake antique ceiling fans. But it was the time of the great competition, and every room was full with NBA stars. Shaq was downstairs, sprawled out on a sectional, but it was a discount Shaq—the Shaq from Minecraft.
The house thrummed with activity; I needed air. I went outside to the white-sand beach and sunny ocean beyond. As I walked to the shoreline, the small furry creature on my shoulder grew uneasy.
“Are we in Thailand?” I asked, gazing out at the lush columnar islets littering the waters. “I feel like I’ve seen these tiny islands in a movie—”
“No!” it said, its too-large eyes flashing neon. “This is the Sea of Transformation. You must be careful!”
I looked back at the house—something was happening on the teak porch, limbs were waving and a barking swarmed around them, but I couldn’t tell what it was, so I turned back to the sea. The outside of the house is teak, I thought, but everything inside is laminate. I waded into the sea until the water reached my chest, my lungs beginning to constrict.
“This is the point of no return,” the small furry creature said. “You must be mindful!”
I narrowed my eyes and became calm. As the waves curled toward me, every tiny edge of crust, every last water molecule, transformed. Foam became fish, the froth blossomed into anemones, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, green-blue shallows boiled up into blinding, violent light. What was once water writhed around me, its tidal movement now the groans of a vast singular organism.
“No!” I shouted. “No, no, no!”—and spontaneously found myself back on the porch, running into the house yelling “Murder! There’s been a murderrr!” But as I spoke the last word, my mouth slurred, and everything became hilarious, like it was a game. “Let’s find that dog!” I yelled. “The one that was barking!”
Kids spilled out of the rooms, ready to play. Nobody asked me about the murder, they only cared about the game, but I knew Shaq could help. He was now in the biggest living room, lounging in front of a 1990s-style laminate wood entertainment center, watching TV as he waited for the tournament to start.
Something was off about Shaq. His jersey was wrong, all steel gray, and the cold colors made him seem detached, adrift. Sensing my gaze, he laughed quietly. “You should try the front porch,” he said, his mood so somber the air around him felt weighted. He laughed again, sending a shiver zagging across my shoulders, and I hurried out to the front porch. I glanced around wildly—too wildly—and fell on my back. Looking up, I saw five glowing spheres hovering in geometric formation above me, just beneath the porch roof.
“Where’s the dog?” I asked. “And is he with Death? Or is the dog Death?”
“We are the ones transformed,” the spheres said. “But the dog—and Death—”
A vision of an enormous smile appeared in my head.
“Wait!” I begged. “I know who you were!”
But they flew away.