A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "Dress Reversal"
"Look, I don't know what you want from me," you snap at the guy sitting across the table from you. "You want me to feel sorry for you? I told you I do. You want me to fix things? Believe me, I would if I knew how." Your tablemate's eyes narrow with skepticism. "'Cos I'm no happier about this than you are," you continue. "Believe me, this as much a nightmare for me as it is for you. So can you please be a little more pleasant, so we can get through this, whatever this is?"
The guy who looks like you scowls back. You return his glare come this close to grabbing your bag and stalking out. You're stopped only by the premonition that if you did, it would blow things up worse than you can imagine.
"Alright," Will finally grumbles. "So what do you want to do about this?"
"Well, for a start," you tell him, "give me your phone—my phone—the phone you should have in your pocket—so I can text my parents."
"What are you gonna tell them?" he asks as he hands it over.
"I'm going to tell them that I'm eating out with a friend. That you're eating out with a friend," you correct yourself. "Oh, fuck it," you grumble. "That way you don't have to deal with them over supper at least."
Your thumbs fly over the screen of the phone a lot faster and with a lot fewer spelling errors than usual, you notice, and when you do misspell a word, you find yourself automatically backing up to correct it. "There," you say as you hand the phone back. "Now you can hang out someplace until nine o'clock or so before going home and dealing with—"
"Now do you want to give me my phone so I can text my parents?" he sneers.
"I think I know how to—! Oh, fine!" You pull out Kelsey's phone and shove it across the table. "Knock yourself out."
"Where do you live?" he asks as he taps at the screen.
"Acheson." You give him your address. "There's my mom and dad and my kid brother, Robert. But maybe," you add, grabbing for hope anywhere you can, "something'll happen to clear all this up before we have to, you know, go back to each other's places."
He looks up, and you see it in his eyes, the same thought that just occurred to you:
If you go back to each other's places tonight, you'll be sleeping in each other's beds.
* * * * *
Neither of you want to go home to confront a strange set of parents, so it's easy enough to temporize by lingering at Panera. You've both got homework to do anyway. Together you move to a booth in the back near the restrooms. The guy who looks like you visibly shivers as you pass a table where Maria Vasquez sits alone, vacantly staring off toward the side of the restaurant where you'd been sitting. You ignore her, and ask your companion what's biting him.
"What if someone sees us together?"
"God!" you cry. "You're such a snob!"
"No! I just mean— If someone sees us and comes over to talk, how'm I supposed to act?"
"You keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking. That's what I'd do."
"You wouldn't even be sitting with me."
"There you go, being a snob again!"
You slide into a booth, exchange back packs, and take out your books. After getting settled, you shoot off a text to Amanda, telling her that something came up and you'll be going home instead of meeting her. Then you turn to the homework.
Each of you works on your own—the homework you'd be doing if it wasn't for this bizarre situation. But even then weird things happen, at least with you. You're half a paragraph into a short paper for English before you realize that you're writing it out in Kelsey's gracefully looping curls, and you have to actually look back at some of your own handwriting before you can remember how to make your own chicken scratches. You also find yourself momentarily blanking out on how to do your Calculus homework.
The dinner crowd has long since filtered in and begun to buzz at the tables near yours by the time you are finishing up your assignments. Kelsey, who is taking harder classes than you are—an AP World History class and an AP French class, for a start—is still working on her stuff as you check over your own work. When you are done, you sit back with your cell phone—your own; Kelsey has reclaimed hers for the time being, and has been answering the texts that pop up—and go on the internet. On a hunch, you do a Google search on "body swapping." It doesn't pull up anything very interesting. (Not that you were hoping for a "Eureka!" at the top of the results.) Lists of body-swapping comedies, mostly, along with links to some psychological experiments involving VR.
"What are you doing?" Will asks after you've swiped through a couple of pages. You tell him. "Find anything?"
"No." You set the phone down. "Do you think this has happened to anyone else?"
"I can't believe it happened to me."
You make a face at the top of his head as he bends to continue his homework, and sit back to let your mind drift back to those first, horrible moments after you awoke in your new situation, and the worse moments that prefaced it.
"Seth and Darren," you muse. "Obviously they had something to do with it. Jeremiah, too. Do you think we should try talking to them?"
Will doesn't answer right away, but keeps working on some French homework. "Do you really know any of them?" he asks at last. "Because I don't."
"I don't either. Except that Seth—" You shudder. "The only time I see Seth is when he's looking for someone to hassle." You notice that Will stops writing in mid-sentence, and holds his pencil position there for a few moments, before resuming his work. "Lester Pozniak's the one you need to watch out for at school tomorrow, though," you tell him.
He still says nothing, but only goes back to writing. You settle back in your side of the booth, and look around the restaurant. It looks like mostly college kids in the place, along with middle-aged married couples. But Maria is still at her table, bending over her own school work. She must be having a hell of a time of it, you spitefully think, airhead that she is!
* * * * *
It's closer to eight o'clock than to seven when Kelsey finally finishes. You kill a little more time at Panera, but she is restless and irritable, and you move to end the evening by suggesting that she follow you back into Acheson so you can show her your house. You take her BMW—though she is obviously, vastly, reluctant to turn the keys over to you—and she drives your truck. But after pausing in front of your house, you lean out of the car to gesture her to follow you, and lead her a couple of blocks over to the old elementary school.
It's a decades-old building, and even before you were born it had been repurposed into a community center for the township. Night has fallen as you lead your hapless doppelganger to the old swing set that still stands in the middle of the playground.
"I just wanted to tell you that you'll be okay, Kelsey," you tell her as you drop into one of the swings, to rock lightly back and forth in it. For now that you're at the point of no return (or so it seems), you want to offer her some reassurance. "I don't have an interesting life. I don't have a lot of friends, and I don't go out to parties or belong to any school clubs. You just need to show up at school and not make waves. That's all."
She doesn't reply, and it floors you when you realize she's fighting back tears.
"I'm just so scared," she whispers. "Not of going back to your place, or tomorrow," she adds. "But of this!"
You know what she means, of course. You don't feel the least bit scared of going back to Kelsey's house, or of school tomorrow, because you know what to expect and how to handle it. But you also feel a pit of terror in your stomach, and you guess she's got the same feeling.
You are leaving behind everything you ever had—everything you have ever been, including yourself—and moving into something completely new. It gives you the same feeling (but magnitudes worse) as when you changed schools.
And it's got to be so much worse for Kelsey, who has much less idea of what is coming, and is stepping into something a lot worse. A wave of sympathetic horror washes over you.
Kelsey continues to weep. You reach for her, but hesitate with your hand in mid-air for a moment, before settling it on her shoulder. You squeeze and massage it, but she seems to take no notice.
"I know, Kelsey," you tell her. "Oh God, believe me, if I could fix this—whatever this is—I would."
"You sure are taking it pretty well," she snuffles. "Better than me!"
"Well, you just wait until I get home," you tell her. "I'll probably break down and have a really good cry myself." You massage her shoulder harder. "And you don't have to go back to my place right away. We can stay out here as long as you want."
Next: "Alone with Her Thoughts"