Hormone of winter hibernation

Dec 12, 2020
A short fantasy story from the field of pharmacology. Recorded by Sergei Bychkov

Hormone of winter hibernation

I will tell you the story on one condition: not a word to anyone. I promised Jessica I wouldn't say anything, even if they tortured me on the rack. Jess is my high school friend. First grade..., tenth grade..., university. We were sincere friends and never competed in anything. What kind of rival could she be to me? I'm tall and blonde and God gave me both face and figure. And she? Nothing special. So-so, as people say. Honestly, I felt sorry for her: a friend after all. At school nights, all the boys wanted to dance with me, but Jess stood on the sidelines all night and nobody asked her to one dance even. That's how invisible she was... Then we went to university together, she wanted to be a chemist and I wanted to be a computer lord. In our third year, we got married almost at the same time. Strangely enough, Jessica managed to break the heart of handsome Jonny from the electrical engineering department, while I, being all pretty, was content with the inconspicuous Peter, who was studying neutrinos unknown to anyone. For the first time, I envied her.
But we never got to be family friends: after graduation, Peter was offered a job with a very good prospect, but beyond the Arctic Circle. We thought about it, weighed the pros and cons, and went to live next door to the polar bears. Since then I haven't seen Jess in almost twenty years! And we are now (I shudder to say) almost forty-five years old!
After such a long absence, we finally returned home. The first thing I did after arriving was to call Jess. No, don't think I haven't called her in 20 years. Yes, I have. But less and less over the years. The conversation was simple: how's work, how's your husband, how's your daughter Irina growing up, how's her health, and that's it...
- Ninelle, hi! - Jessica got excited when she heard my voice, and before she knew it, I was staggering her with the news:
- Jess, I have a stunning surprise for you! We're back! I'm calling you from Mum's house.
- Oh, yeah? You're not kidding, are you? This is so incredible and so great, I can't believe it. Can I really see you? Okay... I'll be right there... wait.
- No, Jess, you can't: look at your watch. It's late. I'm going to bed now and Peter's had a lot to drink. I'd better come and see you in the morning.
- I have to work in the morning, - Jessica said.
- Well, after work. Would six o'clock be all right?
- That'll be fine. Are you and Peter coming?
- No. Well, him. They'll start drinking whisky with John and ruin the party.
...Around six, I stood in front of Jessica's door, trembling with anticipation. What had she become? We'd broken up when we were young, and since then we'd only seen each other in pictures, and she'd stopped sending them in the last five years. She must have aged a lot.
Her daughter Irina opened the door. She's grown up to be an exact replica of Jessica in our youth. An exact clone of her mother.
- Irina, hello! You're a bride! Or are you already married?
- Nin, - this young lady suddenly declares, - don't you recognize me at all?
I was really shocked. First of all, only Jess called me Nin, and secondly, what an insolent familiarity! What an upbringing!
- Is your mother home yet? - I asked.
A smile appeared on the young cheeky girl's face, and the fire in her eyes that always appeared in Jessica's eyes in a moment of joy. Well, an exact copy of her mother!
- Nin, it's me, - answers Irina.
- You, you! - I began to get angry, - is mum already home or not yet? She's in no hurry to meet me!
- For your information, - already without a smile this little devil answers - Irina got married a long time ago and lives in Paris.
- What a cheeky one! - I thought indignantly. - Am I out of my mind that I can't tell the difference between a forty-five-year-old woman and a twenty-year-old? While I was figuring out how to siege this goose down, she smiled again and suddenly started unbuttoning the tightness of her jeans.
- Don't you believe me, Nin? - She mumbled, pulling down her jeans and smiling guiltily, - So look. Do you remember my tattoo well?
Just before graduation, Jessica and I got tattoos. It was fashionable. Without getting permission from my parents and to avoid settling up with them and pedagogical lectures, we got tattoos in a secret place, namely on our right buttock. Jess got a dragonfly and I got a beautiful butterfly. What a bunch of idiots! No one can see it anyway! While I was thinking about it, Irina pulled down her jeans and turned her right side to me. I was speechless. There was a dragonfly blue on her marble-white skin!
- Let me hug you! I've not seen you so long! - The wearer of the tattoo said as she zipped up her jeans.
Jessica? Irina? Jessica?
No doubt it was her dragonfly, but how was it possible that it was Jessica's ass? Just like a twenty-year-old girl's! Look at me. I may not look like a wreck and men still turn their necks at me, but no one, not even my sycophant Peter, would tell me my ass was twenty years old.
Jessica - Irina (?) hugged me and mouthed: - I bought a cake. It's flaky, by the way, your favourite.
We went into the kitchen, and Jessica-Irina (?) started to rummage around the table, and I sat on the edge of a chair.
- Could it be Jessica? - I was thinking. - How? And then it dawned on me stupidly: - she just had plastic surgery! Of course she did! There are cosmetic clinics on every corner these days. But the worm of doubt continued to gnaw me like a dog eats a bone - and, maybe it's Irina, while her mother was away, decided to play a joke on me?
- How was the family? - Jessica, meanwhile, chirped merrily, - How's the son, how's the husband?
Eureka! I've found a way to test her.
- Hey, girlfriend, - I couldn't call her Jess, - you remember Steve Smith from our class? Well, it turns out his best friend is dead. Did you know that?
I purposely left out the name of Bobby Stewart, who died in a car accident. If it really is Jessica, she's bound to know who Steve's best friend was. And she couldn't forget his name because Bobby was her first love in high school. And there's not a soul in the world who knows that, except for her and me. Now we'll see what she has to say.
- Yes, of course I've heard about it, - she said with her hands down. - It's a pity about Bobby. He was a good lad.
- Yes, yes, - I affirmed, astonished at her answer. - Heavens! It really is Jessica! It's her!
- It's a pity, - I repeated again, and then thought to myself, - No, it's not plastic surgery: her ass was as firm as a girl's ass. It was some kind of Chinese diet or some kind of super-herbalife. Yeah, herbalife.
I was relieved and reassured by such a simple clue; I finally believed it was my Jessica. I relaxed and we chirped like old times.
- Where's your Johnny? - I realized. - He should be home by now. Or does he work at night?
Jessica wrinkled her nose.
- We got divorced two years ago.
- Is he sick or something? - I blurted. - How could he walk away from a hottie like that? Or you fell in love and kicked him out by yourself?
- No, - Jessica wrinkled her face again, - I'm not in love again. He's the one who's been affair with the young girl.
- What an idiot! - I couldn't stand it. - You're the old woman?
- It's not that simple, Ninel, - Jess said sadly. - Let me show you the pictures and then we'll talk.
She galloped like a young goat from the kitchen to the bedroom and fetched an old photo album. Sitting down beside me, she opened the first page.
- This is me and Joni in Hawaii, - she began to explain. - Here's us swimming, here's us outside our hotel, and here’s me calling my daughter...
All of the pictures showed Jessica, much older than she had been since our friendship and now.
- The Chinese diet, - I thought, - and to hide my amazement I said, - John is so old I do not recognize him.
- Time is ticking away; - Jessica summed up and seemed sympathetic to my wrinkles and my appearance.
- Ginseng? - Burning with impatience, I asked directly.
- No, Nin, - she smiled, guessing at once what I meant.
- Tibetan medicine? - I kept up.
- John, the parasite, - Jess said.
- Yes, a parasite, - I confirmed without understanding her.
- You know, Ninny, I noticed right away that he had another woman, - Jessica said, - he started shaving twice a day.
- Shave?
- Yes. In the morning, as usual, and in the evening, when he was supposedly out with friends. Never shaved twice a day before! Before, if I didn't iron his shirt, he'd put it on without ironing, but now he's ironing his own shirts all of a sudden. Can you imagine?
- Yeah... Yeah, - I said indefinitely. - What's next?
- Nothing. One morning I couldn't take it anymore and asked:
- Are you seeing someone?
- Ha! That's how he told you!
- Imagine that, he didn't wag his tail and confessed but in the evening he packed up and left.
- I'm sorry, - he said before he left, - you're getting old and you don't inspire me anymore.
- Bastard! - I interjected.
- He may be a bastard, - said Jess, taking a sip of her tea, - but he's right about something. You know, Nin, men are different, they love with their eyes. Look at the pictures; is it possible to love such an old woman?
- You what? Are you crazy, Jess? You're a woman and you know that love is not based on age or appearance, - I said in indignation.
-Yes, I'm a woman, - Jessica sighed, - and men are different, they want inspiration.
- Don't you mean my Peter doesn't love me anymore either? - I hissed. - I'll rip his head off, I'll... I'll... he'll grow horns so big it's won't fit through doors!
- He does love, he does, - Jessica laughed, - calm down, Nin. But I'll bet you anything that he shoots his eyes out at young women.
- He does, - I agreed with a frown, - I noticed. But, as they say, let him work up an appetite, and he'll still have to eat at home.
- My ex, on the other hand, wanted to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with someone else.
She got up, took an ashtray from the windowsill and put it on the table.
- Shall we smoke?
- Do you smoke? - I wondered.
- I dabble. I started when we got divorced. They told me it calms the nerves. Bullshit.
Jessica went back to her seat, lit a cigarette and started talking:
- A year passed like a dream. My daughter got married, went to her husband in Paris, and I got depressed. Then one day, I got my hands on a book. Science fiction. In it, a scientist had isolated a hormone called hibernation hormone. Bears hibernate in winter. So the scientist started looking for the hormone and eventually he found it.
- What for? - I wondered.
- What for, Nin? - Jessica was surprised at my incomprehension, - so that a person could sleep for months or even years. Take star space. The flights from star to star would take so long that we would grow old and die ten times while flying. And there's no problem with the sleep hormone: you get a shot and sleep for a hundred years. You fell asleep when you was twenty years old and woke up a hundred years later almost as young, because the physical processes in sleep are drastically slowed down.
- It's crazy, - I snorted, - and so bears are like bedbugs? These bloodsuckers can lie dried up for 300 years, and when they smell blood, they wake up and bite, bite, bite while you sleep. Brrr!
- That's right, - Jessica affirmed, - and that's what I mean. You see, Nin, if nature invented these things, then, believe me, they exist. These hormones just have to be found!
- Why hasn't anybody found them yet?
- It's not easy. We are in the twenty-first century, and only recently they discovered a virus that causes stomach ulcers.
Jessica was silent, and then said: - a Snake.
- Is who? John?
- No. Snakes can shed their old skin. They can't survive without it. The skin ages and loses its elasticity. Snakes crawl slower and can be heard from a distance. If they don't change their skin, they're dead.
- Good riddance to them, - I agreed.
- And I thought," Jessica continued, - if you can isolate the hormone of hibernation, why can't you isolate the skin changing hormone? I'm a chemist, Nin, and I've worked all my life with snake venom for our pharmacies.
- Did you, - I guessed excitedly, - find this hormone?
- I found it, Nin, - Jessica laughed, - and the result, as you can see, is in my face.
- So you've changed your old, wrinkled skin into new? You're a genius! You'll get a Nobel Prize for sure! My best friend is a Nobel Prize winner. Now all my acquaintances will die of envy! I'll call everyone I know tomorrow!
The joy slowly wore off, and I felt so hurt that I wanted to cry. What does that mean? Jessica got her youth and the Nobel Prize in her pocket. And I am living with a wrinkled ass, and I'll die with a wrinkled ass. And I'm her best friend, by the way.
- You wouldn't happen to have a drop of that hormone left, would you?
Jessica was smart, and she knew what I was asking.
- I've got plenty, - she said, and she gave me a sly look.
- Do you have a syringe? Why don't you give me a shot with this drop of the hormone Jess, huh? Please!
- Right now?
- There's no time to waste. Imagine how surprised Peter will be when I come home in my new skin.
- You can't get it fast, Nin, - Jessica grinned, - Here I was, deciding to treat myself to new skin before the New Year's Eve. I took a shot and waited, like a fool, every day. New Year's Eve went by, March went by, April came by, and I was still an old nag.
- Wrong dose? - I guessed.
- No, I just didn't consider one thing, - Jessica answered and asked, - when do snakes shed their skin?
- I don't know, I'm not a snake, - I wondered.
- Usually in the spring, - explained Jessica, - though sometimes snake can change two or three skins in a year, it all depends on nutrition. That's why the hormone didn't work. And I had a lot on my mind. And suddenly, in the spring, in April, when all hope was lost, the process began! At first, though, I thought I had caught scabies. All day I was itching like a leper. And then, after a day, all my wrinkles, along with my skin, came out in huge flaps. I didn't go to work for a week, I was afraid to look in the mirror. I lost my skin from top to toe. I went to the store, and everyone turned away from me like I was a leper.
-You're my mother! - I exclaimed, for some reason imagining not a shabby Jessica, but myself. - God have mercy on me! And John is a complete idiot. He not only lost you, he lost a lot of money.
- What kind of money are you talking about? - The future Nobel Prize winner didn't understand.
- Do not you understand what you have invented? - Now all the herbalife, plastic surgery, Chinese-Tibetan medicine, and health promotion courses are dead. Billions at your feet! Take me as your assistant, and we'll open a company that would make Elon Musk look like a pauper compared to us. A sea of money and nothing to do at all. Yes, women will do anything for that new skin! They'll stay naked, but they'll come running to us. Take me in the company, will you, Jess? I'd give anything for it, even my favorite mink coat. Then I remembered my mink coat and quickly found an alternative. I'll give for it Peter's Rolex. He can do without his Rolex. Oh, Jess, what do you think of my idea? How about we start a company? And no hormones for the men. Let them live like old monkeys. They deserve it. Maybe we'll give it to Peter, if he doesn't look at other women. But let's change my skin first.
- It's not as easy as you think, Nin, - Jessica sighed and smiled strangely, - Look in my mouth.
She moved toward me and opened her mouth.
My blood ran in my veins: two sharp, thin teeth gleamed in the middle of my palate. After admiring my reaction, Jessica suddenly opened her mouth wide. The teeth straightened predatorily, and I thought they were about to bite into my face. I jumped back with a squeal, and Jessica said sadly:
- You see, Nin! So now you're sure you want to change your skin and get some poisonous teeth on top of it?
I was stunned into silence, and Jessica added:
-Come on, Nin, I'll give you chameleon hormone; you'll shine all the colors of the rainbow. You want some?
-Are you kidding? - I let it out.
- Not even a little.
Jessica grinned, and suddenly her face took on the color of the cornflower curtain hanging in her kitchen window, and a few seconds later fused with the green of the aquarium's algae.
Then everything swam before my eyes, her face changing color like a kaleidoscope. Here it became purple, blue, green...

- You've been sitting in front of the mirror a long time lately, - Peter once remarked, - counting wrinkles, are you? Don't pay any attention to them, dear, I love you even with wrinkles, and I will love you at any age.
- My darling! Wait till April. What will you say then?

P.S. The American government gave a grant to search for "Hormone of winter hibernation". Maybe they got Jessica's story from somewhere. At least I didn't tell it to anyone, only you...
Dec 12, 2020
Hibernation is a state of minimal activity and metabolic depression undergone by some animal species. Hibernation is a seasonal heterothermy characterized by low body-temperature, slow breathing and heart-rate, and low metabolic rate. It most commonly occurs during winter months.
I completely agree with you. But the question that was raised in the story is different: - Is it possible to isolate the hibernation hormone (as well as the skin-change hormone) and apply it to humans?