A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Chens and Chelseabots"
You get your food to go and race down to Acheson as fast as you can without busting any speed zones. At the elementary school, you throw yourself into the job of carving a new brain band while wolfing down your meal. It's past supper time before you are through, and you are pretty sure that he will be on his way to Chelsea's for that cookout when you text him. But to your surprise, the reply comes quick. B thr n ten, Will Prescott promises you.
* * * * *
If he was really me, you tell yourself as you pace outside the door of the school basement, there's no way he'd come out here. But if he was really me, he couldn't have passed the tryouts to get onto the basketball team.
The thought leaves you cold. You are quite certain that you can take anyone of Will Prescott's slender build. But this will be a Prescott powered by Gordon Black's brain. Chances are that Black always got along on muscle and meanness, and that he doesn't really know how to grapple or punch, not the way a scrappy, undersized punk like Gary Chen has had to. But there's always the chance of a surprise. That's why you changed your mind at the last moment, and decided to meet him as Chen instead of under your original face, which might have given you the element of surprise.
The white truck you used to drive appears around the corner, and you vibrate in place as it turns and pulls up beside your Jeep. A kid in a sloppy white hat sits behind the wheel, glaring at you suspiciously for a moment before hopping out. He's dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and pants, and he's shaved. You can't be sure, but it looks like he's had a haircut since the last time you looked at his face in a mirror.
"Hey, thanks for coming out," you tell him. Thought you'd be too chickenshit, you want to add, but don't.
"Yeah, what do you want?" he asks. He shuts the truck door, but keeps his hand on the handle.
Just jump him, man, just jump him. You can talk to him later, you tell yourself. But you instead yield to the temptation to talk to him, to find out what your doppelganger has been up to, and how he's been doing.
"Heard about you trying out for the team, heard you made it. Wanted to say, Congratulations."
He only grunts.
"Heard you're having a party tonight. Out at Chelsea Cooper's. You and the whole team."
"So you takin' any refreshments? Any party favors? Anything to, uh—?"
"The fuck do you want?" He flushes.
"Hey, I don't want nothin'," you assure him. "Not a fucking thing. Not a fucking dime. Thought maybe you might want somethin', though." From your shirt pocket you extract a joint.
The move is sheer improvisation, and your heart thumps hard inside your rib cage.
His flush deepens. "Fuck you, man," he snorts as he yanks open his truck door.
"Hey, man, don't go to the party mad!" You leap for him. "I told you, it's gratis! Free! My little present to you for—"
You lay a hand on his shoulder, and he surprises you by wheeling and socking you in the jaw. The world reels and you taste blood as you fall sideways, but you catch your balance. A hard wave of anger pulses through you, but you master it.
"You'll want it, man, you'll need it," you taunt him. "You'll need something to make you mellow when you see Javits with his arm around your girlfriend."
Okay, that little improvisation shocks you, and you panic when you see that it's caught Prescott's attention too. He freezes in place with his butt hanging halfway out of the truck as he turns a surprised glare at you..
So ... Fuck it. You'll play the card you accidentally dealt.
"Yeah!" You grin. "Seein' Javits glomming all over Chelsea, all over your girl. It's gonna be rough, man. You're gonna wanna get mellow. Mellow like that cocksucker you see walkin' around with your face, gettin' fat and high and laid wi'chyer face, man. Wi'chyer face and cock, Black." You grin harder at him. "That's right, man. I know who you are. Know who you used to be, at any rate. So you got yourself back on the squad, huh? Good for fucking you. But that ain't gonna get you back into Chelsea's cunny. And it's gonna eat your fuckin' heart out, Black, goin' to her house and seein' her with him, and knowing that it's his cock up her cunny, same as it's some other mofo who's got your cock now an' is out gettin' laid wit'—"
You can't believe he's let you rattle on this long, but maybe he's just in shock, for all the blood has drained from his face, leaving it as pale as a corpse's. He falls back out of the truck to stare at you with an expression of stark horror. His hands clench. But when he speaks, it's in a small, quavering voice.
"What do you—? How do you know about—?"
All the time you've been talking, you've also been feverishly figuring out how to turn this unexpected turn of the talk to your advantage, and you think you see a way.
You flick a finger at the bed of his/your truck. "Let's make ourselves comfortable back there," you suggest."I'll tell you about it, tell how it was done. I can put you back the way you were, man."
His eyes harden and he shifts from foot to foot as you loft yourself into the truck bed. But, after a long moment, he lofts joins you.
"Sit down," you invite him as you squat on your haunches. "Kick your shoes off. Take your pants off, too. Nah, I'm not lookin' to give you a hand job," you chortle when he blanches. "I'm gonna prove I'm on the level. Gonna turn you back into you, Gordon."
You hold his eye with what you hope is a friendly smile (though Chen is probably congenitally incapable of looking friendly) and wait for him to move. If this works, it will make things a lot easier. You were going to have gamble, otherwise, on jamming a brain band onto him, even though he is wearing a mask, and you have no idea what would happen in that case. But if you can talk him into taking his clothes off—or at least his shoes and pants—so he won't bust them at the seams like the Incredible Hulk, and can get the mask off, then you'll have all the time you need to get the rockbot paste into the mask and get it back onto him.
Yes, you're practically sucking yourself off as you reflect on how smart your intuition was, to tell him that you know who he really is, and to offer him the chance to take his old life (and girlfriend) back.
Then he floors you by saying, "What if I want to stay this way?"
* * * * *
You snort to yourself as you drop the wisps of hair—the last of the batch you cut off your own head this morning—into the black and tarry interior of the mask, and put your lighter to it. It flares and burns with a brief, acrid stench, and the interior of the mask turns an ashy white. The name GORDON GERALD BLACK floats over its inner surface. You turn to study the face of said Gordon Black—his real, brutal face, with the thick lips and the Neanderthal brow—then with another snort you smush the mask onto him. Another face replaces it, the thin, rabbity face of Will Prescott. He glares at you warily.
"Your name is William Martin Prescott," you tell him, and put a finger to his face.
"If you say so," he says. His face is very white, and the whites show in his staring eyes. "But it's bullshit. I don't know fuck about—"
"You don't gotta know fuck about Prescott. Nothing to fucking know," you tell him. A small part of you cringes, but more of you gloats. "Anyone catching on that you're not him?" you ask as Will returns you a sullen stare. He shrugs. "You got his face, you got his clothes, you got his truck, you got his classes. You're doin' better'n him, too, you got ont'a the basketball squad. Fuck." You spit over the side of the truck.
"But forget Chelsea," you tell him, "she's not for you. Go find you another girl. If you can score on the basketball court, you can score on—."
You grab him by the chin, and he grabs your wrist, but he drops his hand when you tell him to let go.
"Yeah," you drawl, and again cringe internally. "You're better looking than I think. But you pro'lly already know that."
You give him a few more instructions as he puts his pants and shoes back on, mostly of the "Never admit you remember being Gordon Black" variety, to close off any chance that he'll find someone else to share body-swapping stories with, the way Chen and Dane and Martin Gardinhire did. Then you release him to go to Chelsea's party.
You need to get to work yourself, but you linger long enough for a smoke.
Gordon didn't want to change back to his old life, and truculently insisted on sticking with his new one. He liked it better, he told you, and the more you accused him of lying, the harder he stuck to it. Finally, you talked him into letting you get at his face only by promising that you could give him Prescott's memories, so he could inhabit his new identity more comfortably. He was still wary, and demanded to know who you were. I'm the guy who's gonna fix your life, you told him. Now get those shoes off.
But it's food for thought. Forget selling fembots. Are there people in the world who want to be someone else? It didn't occur to you before that there might be.
Like, you could probably sell teenage bodies to old millionaires for all the money they have in the world.
You wonder why you didn't see that angle before.
Next: "The World, Your Cafeteria"