This story is by Katana Lemelin and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
There’s a wrongness pervading my mind and body. Nothing is quite right, kind of like a sock put on backward. Pins and needles run up and down my limbs. My mind is fuzzy as thick, rough wool sheared straight from an alpaca. I’m not in pain; there are no obvious wounds as I glance at my bare arms and legs. My legs function normally as I throw them over the edge of the bed. This is wrong.
This bed is feather soft, not like the planks provided by the hospital. The hand that pushes away bangs to check for a temperature is too bronze, alluding to hours spent in the sun. Vainly I hope I’m hallucinating. My mind warns me to not trust my legs as I stand. I’ll fall and snap my wrists like toothpicks trying to catch myself. Instead, a petite, blue-eyed, Caucasian woman stares back at me from the mirror above the dresser. She’s young, younger than me by 10 years at least, barely into her 20’s. I blink then blink again much like a cat seeing her reflection for the first time.
This has to be Scarlett’s doing, we talk, not often, but she visits. She always tries to convince me to stay, to fight, to live. But…how could she! I can’t be here, but here I am in another woman’s body. I scoff and shake my head. The face in the mirror copies me before twisting in a sneer. She’s really done it this time, an illegal body swap.
This woman, no this body…I…must have nerves of steel. My original body would be quaking with shock, unable to handle the stress. Now, I have a mild stomach ache. When did I last eat? The time is impossible to tell other than a general afternoon feeling from the dim sunlight shining through the window.
The sun’s rays are ice on my skin as I march outside. I’ve no idea where I am. Where I’m going. An elderly neighbor waves me over. He’s concerned. Questioning. I’m nearly vibrating out of my skin with energy, but my voice is cool in sharp contrast to the balmy day. I need to leave, to get away. If I can get away everything will be alright. I need to get away. Now.
He shies away from me in quick, sharp motions clearly frightened. I’m glaring, but somehow I can’t feel my eyebrows. A hand on my elbow pulls me aside, back to the house. A quiet voice placates the neighbor. I can’t take my eyes off him. The presence at my elbow makes it clear I’ve made a mistake, but I can’t focus.
Unfamiliar. Absolutely everything is unfamiliar. The shelves lined with ducks and other farm life replicas. The quaint oak, a rare commodity now, bed with matching side table and dresser. The inviting green walls mimicking the green yard outside the window, with perfectly identical houses in rows down the street. The elderly neighbor who won’t meet my eyes, he’s still on the sidewalk. He must know this body.
This person. I am…the gears in my mind stall and my heart pounds an uneven rhythm. Who am I now? Thump. Am I her? Thump. Am I me? Thump. I could live! I don’t have to waste away. Thump. But this body…this other woman would die? Thump. Where is she? Thump. Thump. Could I live a life as someone else?
I stop and breath for a while. The blood is pounding in my head, in my chest, through my ears. My anxiety has caught up with me. I count up to four, one breath for each number, and back down. Again and again, I repeat the exercise until there are no more thoughts. No feelings. I let them trickle back one by one.
I smell a lemon clean room, the kind of clean smell you get when you deep clean or when someone is very ill. There’s a hint of fresh bed sheets.
I feel the unforgiving wall behind the curve of my back as I sit hunched over, the soft polyester carpet beneath my fingers locked in a death grip.
I hear the sound of chimes gently blown in the wind of a nice summer day with the chatter of nosy neighbors and loud children playing. There’s a coffee maker brewing in the house somewhere.
I see black spots dancing in my vision from eyes shut tight for too long. The filtered afternoon sunlight warms me, brightens the tiny bedroom and reveals a woman. One I recognize this time.
I taste cottonmouth, which should be expected after a long sleep and unexpectedly, coffee. A cup has been brought to my mouth and I automatically take a sip before locking startled eyes with my sister, “Scarlett”, I gasp with a voice far too rough to be my own.
Scarlett sits across from me at the kitchen table of this unfamiliar house. Her house. I’ve never visited. She’s nearly two decades older than me and moved out before I even knew her name let alone her face. We came to know each other once I was older and could hold a conversation not involving holo-movies, but we’ve never been as close as siblings only a few years apart. Scarlett always knows best. According to her she, “Has more life experience.” As if that negates my own opinions.
My coffee is cold, but I take another sip. She wants me to stay…with her. A part of me wants to. Another is horrified to be living in another woman’s body. Yet another is jagged around the edges at the thought of Scarlett putting me in the body of another woman even to save my life. Scarlett tells me “Not to worry!” in her chipper, knowing tone. “The woman was in a coma, brain dead. Didn’t feel a thing! Not that she would.”
I have to decide tonight. Forty-Eight hours is the cutoff any longer and the consciousness can’t be transferred. This is partially why the process is illegal for unqualified individuals. There’s also the possibility of merging personality traits.
I’ve no idea how Scarlett managed this swap or where she got the body. I’m afraid to ask. If mishandled, you can lose part of yourself, part of your personality. I stare morosely into my cup of coffee…with creamer and sugar, the taste is sublime, but I like mine black with one sugar. At least I remember liking my coffee as such since high school. What other new things will I discover if I stay?
And I could stay. Build a new life! There are suddenly so many possibilities open to me. Scarlett frowned at me when I asked about my body. Her eyes were dark as she told me, “You can go back,” her lips tight as if me considering this was impossible for her to comprehend after the trouble she went through. I’m alive. To her, that is enough.
A long walk through the too perfect neighborhood doesn’t clear my mind. Taking the transporter to the furthest city available with the weak signal provided doesn’t either. I have a vague notion of where I’m headed, but I keep shying away from the thought. Nearly too much time has passed when I pause in front of a research corporation with a familiar name in blinding neon colors, ThinkTank Inc. Striving Towards Solutions Together. This is the best choice, my brain coerces me. I head inside.
A week later a sleep-deprived Scarlett is picking up the body of a stranger from ThinkTank Inc. The secretary is far too peppy and upbeat as she rattles on about the collective and what a fantastic addition her sister is. She pushes her corporate branding on how every mind drives forward solutions to impossible questions. Scarlett doesn’t look at the body. The company has a personal transporter that, with Scarlett’s permission will connect to her personal transporter at her house. This saves time, reduces the number of questions from strangers. She’s only here to sign documents and give her approval to use her personal transporter. She’ll have to decide what to do with the body later.
She looks at the secretary as she’s handed a crisp letter. Their eyes lock for a moment, and Scarlett sees pity hidden by a careful upturn of the lips meant to show compassion.
Scarlett doesn’t take the transporter home yet. Instead, she steps out into the city streets crowded with holo-signs and uncaring strangers. She walks until she can duck into a tiny alcove to read the letter.
I’m alive, in a sense. Isn’t that what you wanted? Whoever that woman was, she wasn’t me. And I’m too much of a coward to die, so instead, I’ve donated my mind to the ThinkTank’s Collective. Perhaps, losing my individuality to the collective mind will be a better adventure than death. At the very least, you won’t be able to find me again. Nothing is quite right. You were wrong.