By Cecilia Kennedy
When an inflatable Tiki-bar washed up off the coast of Tigertail Beach, Marco Island, researchers studied its sole occupant: twenty-four-year-old Margo Koffman, submitting her to a battery of psychological and physical tests to ensure her survival and to study elements of survival for future applications. She had endured a harrowing ordeal, one which she could not dislodge from her memory. A fairly recent scope of survival research—the ability to manifest, from inanimate objects associated with negative memories, hope for the future—seems poised to help people like Margo, but it has not been extensively studied. Using manifestation theories based on cultivating positive mindsets, I attempted to answer the following questions: Would a negative association with an object remain negative? Could something positive be manifested from this object instead? To answer these questions, I secured a grant and written permissions to study Margo Koffman over a period of a year to see if the inflatable Tiki float could be used to manifest a hopeful future. The manifestation that Margo realized for herself, though, had quite the opposite effect. The ability to manifest something, though grounded in positive outcomes, can take a terrifying turn, beyond anything anyone would wish for in this world.
Emaciated and badly sunburned, Margo Koffman washed up on shore in August of this year, and when she was rescued, news outlets referred to her as “The Mermaid of Tequila Waters” or simply, “The Tiki Mermaid.” She underwent extensive physical therapy and psychological treatments to help her adjust to a new life after an estimated 90 days at sea, after drifting away from a bachelorette party in the Canary Islands. Not only was she ridiculed publicly, but she was also nearly broke. Therapists worked diligently to offer coping skills to help her make sense of her losses and to move forward. These kinds of positive mindset approaches can help people manifest their goals, but Margo couldn’t seem to fully picture her future. When I met with her to propose a study, I noticed that she held tightly on to the now deflated Tiki hut in which she was found. At first, I believed that if she got rid of it, she could also break free of the past, but she refused. So I suggested that in order to move past the negative associations with this object, I’d have to ask her to actually visualize this object as something else—anything else beyond her negative associations, in order to move forward.
Re-imagining an association with an object that elicits negative responses can set the stage for developing a positive mindset that results in healthy and resilient manifestations.
--Human subject: Margo Koffman (permissions/waivers signed)
--Budget: $40,000 grant from the Human Subject Institute to house Margo in my home, feed her, and give her access to medical care and therapy
--Inflatable Tiki bar—faded, deflated, noticeable stench. (Remains with Margo at all times.)
--Meditation sessions, goal-setting, CBT
In the spare bedroom, where Margo stayed, I conducted daily sessions. Margo clutched the deflated, plastic Tiki hut and recounted every moment of her ordeal—all of the guilt, loneliness, hunger, physical pain and exhaustion—but the one thing that frightened her the most was the presence of the sharks. She said they were constant. Their fins darted in the water, shaking the sides of the raft. At one point, her vision went hazy, and she said she saw thousands of them, churning the waves. After about six or eight weeks, I tried to get her to move past the horrible flashbacks—to hold the deflated Tiki bar and envision the things she’d rather be doing with her life—to try to transfer something greater, bigger, more magnificent than an accumulation of her fears onto this object. And when I’d ask her, “What do you see now?” she’d respond, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” This pattern lasted several months, but one day, when I entered the guest bedroom, I found her balled up in a corner, still holding the inflatable Tiki float, and whispering something about what she had seen. Her lips quivered and her hand trembled. I told her that she was making good progress, and we should continue, but the look on her face showed terror rather than relief or any kind of hope. So, I asked her, “What did you see?” But she only put her face in her hands and murmured something unintelligible. Shortly after, I noticed that when I’d enter the guest bedroom, it would feel cold, though we were approaching the winter months, and the heat was turned up.
During my sessions, I’d ask her what she saw when she held the Tiki float, and once, she told me about the sharks, their long bodies like snakes, their slippery fins that thrashed and slapped the water. She said there were so many of them that they’d seem like one hideous beast—and then she looked up at me with eyes that were almost empty inside. “It lives,” she said. I tried to redirect her, to tell her to see something beyond the terror, but her eyes—her eyes told me I was losing ground. I should have given up, stopped the experiment, but I was determined to break through. I increased the amount of time she would need to focus on the deflated float, and purposefully imagine, in the dark, in the daylight, a future. Her body trembled with exhaustion from the effort she put forth.
After every session though, the entire atmosphere of the house began to change. I heard rattling in the walls. At first, I thought the house was just settling, followed by loud pops and cracks in the wooden floors outside my bedroom. I always sleep with the door slightly open, so that the cat can come in at night, and when it opens wide, I know that the cat is coming to visit. But one time, when the door opened, nothing appeared to step through. This happened several more times over the next few days. In the morning, I’d find Margo in worse condition than the day before. She was getting paler, thinner, and for some reason, her torso seemed to be elongating, and her skin cracked and crumbled. Her lips were dry. I offered her food, but she refused to eat. Out of guilt, I called in doctors who looked at me with accusatory eyes. They told me to just let her go, to stop the experiment, but if I let her go in her condition, I wasn’t sure if she’d survive. At least with me, she had access to some care, so I convinced the doctors that she would be better off here, with me. After a while, I stopped inviting the doctors over. What could they do? I’d have to keep trying to help her myself, even though I knew something was terribly wrong, especially when I saw the blood pouring from her mouth, seeping out from between her teeth which were now, remarkably sharp and pointed. Her body was covered in some kind of scaly nodules that poked through the skin, like thorns. They covered her back, her feet, her sides—there was even a section of her scalp covered in them, and she furiously itched that spot each day.
I recorded her changes every day in my notebooks and looked for answers in the research. Could these manifestations be physical—painful even? If so, could they still be manipulated into something beneficial? At night, I couldn’t help but become more disturbed by the sounds that increased with intensity inside my house. They sounded like thrashing—like something smacking the sides of the walls. And even more curious: near the foot of my bed one night, I heard what sounded like licking sounds. Something licked and smacked its lips over and over again, and it wasn’t the cat. The door hadn’t opened that night. Something else was inside my bedroom with me.
When I gained the nerve to pull back the bed covers, I saw an enormous, dark shape looming over the foot of my bed, its eyes glowing in a shade of scarlet, its teeth silver and gleaming in the lone light from a streetlamp outside. I held fast to the bed covers, clutching them in my hands, my palms dripping, my heart pounding. As my eyes adjusted to the dark and light of the room, I took in the form more clearly. It vaguely resembled Margo: the torso stretched thin with ribs protruding, but the face had lengthened, marked with scars along the sides. From the back of the head rose a fin-like protrusion and that mouth—that hideous mouth opened and closed, seeping with a dark liquid that ran thick onto the bed. I could smell the sickening sweet iron-like scent of blood. There was so much of it. The creature before me did not scream. It didn’t move, even when I got the courage to leave my bed. It just looked at me with intense hatred, watching me with a powerful gaze that set me on edge, driving me screaming from my bedroom—only to find the guest room empty, Margo’s inflatable float torn to shreds scattered into millions of tiny pieces all over the room.
I don’t like to admit who or what I’ve become as a result of this experiment—as a result of my determination to prove my hypothesis. But this is the part where I must elaborate on the applications and implications of my research. Here, I must try, in some way, to redeem myself. Every house has its secrets—the hidden rooms—the closets—the things that accumulate that we don’t want to see. My house, on 81 State Street, has such a place for secrets. I’d built this hideaway long before Margo was my human subject—just in case. It’s guarded by a heavy, locked steel door. The walls inside are cold, concrete blocks, reinforced with steel as well. The floor is solid concrete, and there’s no light—nothing to look at—nothing to see or hope for at all—just darkness all around. There, I locked the creature inside—that thing that Margo had become—that thing that was still Margo. Margo was unable to wish for anything else for herself. She became what she saw and, judging by the nodules that have begun to poke through my own skin, my back, my scalp—I fear that these kinds of manifestations, ultimately, are contagious.
K&K. (1954). Navy subjects: A report on physical survival during war. Journal of Manpower, 25(2), 45-50.
R&R. (1984). Psychological studies for survival: Implications and applications. Journal of Self-Regulated Studies, 25(2), 98-100.
S., S., & S. (2015). Where do we go from here? Castaway Society Journal, 25(2), 45-50.
Also see Smith (1972), Baker (1989), Stephenson (1995), Jessa (2013;2014).
“Manifestation” is part of the popular vernacular of the day, as seen on talk shows, morning programs, and news articles that abound on the web. The book Manifest Your Own Dreams, written by the Hopes & Dreams Society of America, founded by Dr. Rae Starlight in 1995, is one such example.
Talk show comedian Babsy Bluster referred to Margo Koffman recently as a “washed up bar-maid who might have had a future as a mermaid at one point, but now that ship has sailed.” Daily News Sensations ran the following headlines just this past week: “Drunk Mermaid Finally Lands,” “Tequila Waters Mermaid Not Feeling So Hot,” “Gilligan’s Island Reject.”
Yes. Manifestations of the psychological/paranormal kind can be painful. One example that comes to mind is the phenomenon of the Mothman. M&P, in research dating from 1965-2008 document the destructive forces of manifestations or projections, where a person produces or creates an existence that’s powerful and terrifying.
This part of M&P’s research is not clear, since the manifestations or projections are a completely different entity. What happens if the new entity and the person who created it are the same?
Cecilia Kennedy taught English composition and Spanish courses in Ohio before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published stories in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, and others. The Places We Haunt (2020) is her first short story collection. Additionally, she’s a columnist for The Daily Drunk, an editor for Flash Fiction Magazine and Running Wild Press, and humor blogger: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks. She can also be found on Twitter.