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A man wakes up rather different than when he went to sleep...

By James Robert French

         The pain came over him slow, replacing the numb nausea in stages. Kyle hadn't really slept, but the vodka had killed his senses enough to provide a counterfeit of sleep. Now, his nerves were coming to, and in the spinning of his hung over thoughts he imagined that the DJ in the club he'd been in... earlier... was bringing in an annoying dubstep track made of bruised muscles and bones, stuttering bass beats in his skull, replacing the cloying-pleasant trance groove that his body had been playing before. His sense of smell returned about then, and through the cigarette smoke and vomit clogging his sinuses, Kyle picked up the stench of something starting to rot. He raised his head, certain that he was going to discover he'd landed in a dumpster again. When he saw one human face, blue with bulging eyes, tongue hanging from a blood crusted mouth, his stomach lurched and he sat up to direct his puking away from the dead body beside him.

         It was no good. When he had coughed up a fair quantity of bile, he looked between his legs and saw another pair of eyes glaring back at him. This one was a woman. Her blond hair was now caked with the yellow and white sickness he'd just hacked up. Kyle struggled to find some firm spot to get himself to his feet. But everywhere he put his hands down there was another soft, cold piece of dead human. In the end he just sort of rolled off the pile of corpses beneath him onto the concrete.

         When he got himself standing with the help of the dumpster he now wished he'd collapsed in, Kyle saw that there were about ten of them. It was hard to tell, since some of them were tangled up and others were torn apart and he sure as hell wasn't going to get himself close up to them again to work out the exact numbers anyway. He was relieved that he didn't know any of the people whose faces he could see.

         Kyle looked down at his clothes. They looked wrong. Apart from being soaked in blood, they didn't look like the ones he'd put on before going out last night. Had he stopped somewhere, had something happened to his other gear? Maybe. Last night was one someone else was going to have to remember. Kyle was only sure that it was the next day because even a hangover couldn't make a dying street light look like dawn.

         A big, muscular hand grabbed his shoulder. "All right pal," said a voice that could only belong to a cop, "show some ID and tell me a real good story."

         Kyle reached into his pocket and found a wallet. It felt different than his, a little fatter, but he didn't have time to dwell on that just then. He handed the wallet to the officer, who looked annoyed at having to open it himself, but did it anyway.

         "Okay, Mr. Mitchell," the cop said. "What happened here?"

         "What did you just call me?"

         "Are you serious?" The cop pushed someone's ID card in his face. Ugly guy. Long, gray hair that had started to fall out. Skin marked up with acne scars and eyes made of pure lemonade. "You telling me you're not Gerald Mitchell? Is he your evil twin or something?"

         Kyle found he couldn't say anything. He looked around the alley for a window or something else reflective. This pig had to be messing with him. But that was fucked up even for a policeman. Guy wakes up on a pile of corpses and you try to tell him he's someone else? "Dude, that's really not cool. I don't look anything like the guy in that picture."

         "What?" The cop grabbed his wrist and pulled him over to the cruiser he had parked at the end of the alley. He pushed Kyle's face toward the vehicle's rear view mirror. "Tell me you don't look like the picture again. Because I need half a reason to..."

         Kyle saw a stranger's eyes widen with the same shock he was feeling. With his free hand, he reached up and touched his face. He still didn't believe it, not really. Even though he could feel the pressure of his fingers on his cheek at the same instant he saw an unfamiliar hand smear blood on an unknown, salt and pepper five o'clock shadow, this had to be something he'd taken last night. There had been E at some point. Maybe acid, too? No, he'd remember that. Kyle looked up at the cop and shrugged.

         "Um... this is..."

         The cop pulled both Kyle's arms behind his back and put handcuffs on his wrist. "This is a crime scene. Since you're the only here who's alive and obviously fucked up on something, you're a suspect. You have the right to remain silent..."

         Kyle decided the best thing to do was to exercise that right as far as they'd let him. He didn't say anything until he was wearing county blues in an interrogation room.

         The kid they sent in to grill him was named Williams. He couldn't have been more than a year away from patrolling a beat. Had a stick up his ass from the start, which didn't make explaining things any easier.

         "Do you think that just because I'm new to this that I'm stupid?" Williams asked.

         "No, but..."

         "If you're trying for an insanity plea, you need to know those don't really work. Even when they do, you can end up with even more time in a mental hospital than you would if you just took a plea deal."

         Kyle put Gerald's head in his hands. "I don't think you're stupid, but I'm not going to plead guilty when I didn't do anything wrong. I'm just not who you think I am."

         "Okay," said Williams. He tapped his pen on the table. "Who are you then."

         "My name is Kyle Jacobs. I live at..."

         "6236 Grant St." Williams shook his head. "You either really are insane or you have balls like Jupiter. Mr. Mitchell, Kyle Jacobs was one of the bodies you woke up on top of in that alley."

         Kyle felt as though the room had grown smaller. He was numb again, but not the nice, drunk kind of numb. This was a cold, hard numbness that was painful at the same time. He looked up at the dying florescent light on the ceiling and screamed, "What the fuck is going on?"

         Williams tapped his pen again. The sound was like an ice pick against Kyle's forehead. "I don't think I'm qualified to say. We're getting you a psych-eval. Then me, the DA's office, and a public defender are going to talk. Unless you have your own lawyer."

         "The dead guy I thought I was had a lawyer," said Kyle. "My... his cousin. No, my cousin. But I can't call him because I'm inside the prime suspect in my own murder."

         "Right," said Williams. "Well, I hope we can help you. I really do."

         Kyle let himself be led into a cell. He got his own, which was a lucky break. They probably thought he was too dangerous to be in the big dorm. That was one advantage of having them think he was crazy; if there was a private cell open, he got it. Once he was in, the weight of everything fell on him and he started to wail. Some other prisoners started catcalling from inside their own pens, and this made him want to stop. Even worse, when he started screaming he noticed for the first time how wrong his voice sounded in his own head. It was someone else's. This Gerald Mitchell creep.

         There was nothing to kill himself with. Sure, he could strip off his jumpsuit and try to hang himself. But there was a camera staring right into his cell. They'd be all over him before he even got started.

         Kyle decided, fuck these other assholes. He'd scream in this stranger's voice until he killed the bastard's vocal chords if he wanted to. The same word came over and over: "Why?"

         "Because you asked for this, dumbass," said a voice that was both familiar and strange.

         Kyle turned and saw Gerald Mitchell sitting next to him on the hard bed that was screwed into the wall of the cell. He didn't look as bad as Kyle had thought he did. Just old, with the signs of having lived hard for a long time carved into his face.


         "Think back to last night," said Gerald.

         "I don't want to think back to last night," said Kyle. "I want to strangle you right now."

         He reached out to grab Gerald's neck, but of course only ended up putting his own hands together as if he was praying. He brought the double fist down on his own thigh. Then he started laughing. High, wild, mad laughter.

         When the hysteria passed he said, "Okay, last night. I can't remember a goddamn thing."

         Gerald shrugged. "That happens. The transfer is never perfect."

         "So you've done this before?"

         "No, but I've seen it done. Plenty of times."

         "Bullshit," said Kyle. "You're not real. None of this is happening. I'm still in that alley, tripping my nads off."

         "Whatever. You asked why, so I'm telling you that you wanted this."

         Kyle shook his head. "No. Whatever I said, I'm pretty sure that being in someone else's body wasn't what I had in mind."

         "You should be careful about saying things like 'I'm tired of my life, can I trade with someone else?' then."

         Kyle let his mouth fall open. "You don't say shit like that and expect anything to come of it."

         "Well, sometimes the wrong people hear you, anyway."

         "Who's that? Who are the wrong people?"

         "Can't say more," said Gerald. "They told me I was doing you a favor. Said it would look great on my record."


         But Gerald was gone. And Kyle was left inside his body, feeling more confused than ever. He had to wonder who this Gerald Mitchell really was. What else had he done? Was he the sort of person who got locked up all the time? Did he have money? A family? Friends?

         Kyle tried to calm down. There had to be a way to look into Gerald's memories. It was his brain inside this head, after all. Kyle had just somehow taken over. Like a parasite. Or a demon possessing a victim.

         The thought made him shiver. He might not be the best person in the world, but he wasn't a demon or a black magician or anything like that. Then again, something about his life had made someone decide that it made sense for him to wind up inside the body of a man who was probably a mass murderer. Kyle decided he must have fucked up big time somewhere.

         Unless he hadn't. That was worse. The idea that something this surreal and random could just happen to someone. It took the idea of a random but amoral universe to the point where it went beyond chaotic to outright cruel and evil. Was he living in a world that was actually, at its core, evil?

         Kyle didn't sleep at all that night. He wasn't tired the next day, but he wasn't awake and alert, either. The body he was in felt wrong, like when you move into a new house and it takes a few weeks to adjust to it and be comfortable. Kyle didn't expect to get comfortable in this body, though. Mitchell was a good three inches shorter than Kyle. He was looking out at a world from almost a head lower than usual. It was similar to a funhouse effect. Things were too tall or too far away. Mitchell also had less than perfect vision. He walked with a limp from a bad knee. It didn't matter that much, since he was a "dangerous prisoner" and wasn't allowed to just walk around. But even pacing around his cell, everything felt off.

         His lunch was brought to him by a short, fat man who looked like he was carved out of bricks. In a voice that betrayed a decade spanning habit of chain smoking, the guy with his lunch said, "Hey, Mitch. What's up with screaming like a bitch got her tits on fire last night? It ain't like you never been in county before."

         Kyle took his lunch tray through the slot in his cell door. He said, "Do I know you?"

         The brick man widened his eyes and pulled his mouth into a snarl. "Do you know me? Fuck you, Mitch. No, you don't know me. When they wreck this crazy act you're trying, you're gonna find out how many other people you don't know. There's a whole world of strangers waiting for you, Mitch. From here to San Quentin. Enjoy your lunch, bitch."

         Kyle felt a little more of his universe shrink and get darker. So, Mitchell had been in jail before. A lot. And now, Kyle had alienated an entire network of people who might have protected him if he'd been smart. The State of California wouldn't get a chance to kill him. Some thug on the yard would cut him with a razor or pound his face in long before his number came up for execution.

         He decided, then and there, that the best thing to do was say and do nothing unless someone with a gun and a club was telling him too. Yes, no, and I don't know. Those were the only things anyone would ever hear him say, until the moment he left this body.

         Then he wondered why he was strategizing to stay alive. Wouldn't it be better to get this body killed? It was strange to realize how much you can cling to life, even if you're living someone else's. Even if that someone else was an even worse person than you.

         By now, it wasn't hard to convince the psychiatrist that he was insane. He more or less was. His experience of life faded back into numbness. The cold, relentless, painful kind. Kyle wasn't there anymore. The world no longer meant anything to him. It was a series of phenomena that he stood apart from, waiting to wake up again.

         There was a brief moment of full awareness, right before the judge sentenced him to indefinite psychiatric detention. His mother -Kyle's not Mitchells, if there was a difference between the two men anymore- was testifying. She wept through it, and for a moment, Kyle realized how badly this all hurt her. He wanted to say a thousand things to her, but he couldn't.

She looked at him from the witness stand, addressing her testimony to him. "This monster says he's my son. I know my son. Even if he were trapped in another body, I'd see him inside. A mother doesn't forget her child, ever. That thing is not my boy."

Kyle wanted to hug her, to tell her he was sorry. But there was nothing he could say that would make her forget that it was coming from the mouth of someone she had every reason to hate. At that moment, Kyle ceased to be either himself or Gerald Mitchell. He was nothing. A fading concentration of awareness that moved through the same time and space as everyone else, but no longer really touched it, certainly never became embedded in it.

Eventually, they locked the entity he'd become in a padded room. It sat down on the floor, and stayed where it was, looking at the walls. There, it cycled through numbness of every flavor, and through pain. And eventually, it faded out completely, no awareness of anything left.


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