When a car pulled up to the Inn yesterday after dinner, I got a bit of a chill. Out stepped a young man and woman, modestly-packed. Fletcher walked over to greet them, and I was introduced.
"Alia, these are my friends... it's probably better you don't know their names, but they're here to fill in."
"Where are they going to stay? That one guy's still got the rooms booked."
"They'll be in my room," Fletcher said, "It might upend the room-by-room scheme somewhat, but I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. It'll mostly be down by our room, and the room next."
The room next to Fletcher's, of course, was Sam's, which I recalled had no identifying bag. I wondered what that means.
"If Sam's done her part, the mark will still be in his room tonight." The mark, of course, was the guy whose wife up and went to Boston. His name was Roger, in case you were wondering.
I grumbled, "So we're splitting him off from his family."
"Hey man, there was half a chance that was already gonna happen. So his kid gets a new daddy. At least he doesn't have to worry about a new body."
I tried to mentally wipe away the ethical implications of the inn's curse, and trying to meddle with it, but it kept nagging at me all night. It didn't help that I ran into Sam at the bar again -- this time, chatting up Roger. I tried to stay clear, act like I didn't know her.
I shuffled off to bed around 11 and, as I have all week, just lay there not sleeping. This time I was certain it was going to happen. I was feeling some serious skin irritation around midnight. It was maybe 2 AM when I started to feel any real changes.
Subtle stuff at first. My skin began to feel smooth, my nails were growing. My hair took on a finer texture. Excited by the sensation, I turned on the lights and headed to the mirror where I watched as I slowly passed from one gender to the next. It was like I could feel weight being evaporated off me into a cloud of nothingness, draining me away. Not particularly pleasant, but not utterly painful. For a moment the transformation seemed to stall and I was just a short, slender boyish figure with growing hair. Then the last phase kicked in and my legs gave out.
I doubled over on the bathroom floor, numb, shivering in the cold. Hair fell over my face. I gasped, "Yes, please, God, please... yes..." in a creaking voice. I propped myself up against the bathroom wall, sitting on the floor with my legs stretched out in front of me. My vision blurred and corrected itself -- in my real life, I'm slightly nearsighted and need glasses to read. My breasts slowly grew in fuller and heavier, my stomach flattened and my genitals slipped quietly into my body -- frankly it wasn't as painful as I might've thought, although I certainly wouldn't want to go for another round. I pulled my self up on spaghetti legs and saw her.
My eyes watered up. I had gotten used to seeing hard features, short dark hair, a thick neck and broad shoulders. The girl in the mirror seemed so fragile, but I lived 24 years of my life as her. I suppressed a squeal of delight. I tried to take a few steps with my new old little feet and legs, and found that muscle memory took time to return.... I was tripping all around the room, grabbing the walls for support.
I flopped back on the bed, a layer of sweat clinging to my skin. I was flustered. My mind raced. I tried to figure out my next move. Do I go check on Sam? Sit in my room and wait for pandemonium to erupt? Confer with Fletcher and his brood? I meditated in indecision...
...and proceeded to fall into the deepest sleep I've had in months, if not years.
I awoke to the sound of general chaos outside my door, several hours later. I bolted upright, suddenly realizing that, as one of the handful of people who knew what the eff was going on, I'd be called on to do some explaining.
First, I had to attend to myself. I unzipped my proper Alia-luggage and chose the most practical outfit I could, a pair of shorts and a white t-shirt. I pulled my hair back into a loose ponytail and was set to head out when I felt something amiss. I had forgotten to put on a bra.
I laughed to myself for this innocent gaffe. When something drops out of your routine, it can be hard to get back to old reflexes. After a second stab at dressing myself, I wobbled over to the door.
I slowly headed out. To one the left, a man in a loose-fitting shirt and pants was frantically pacing and theorizing about the situation while a small group of onlookers discussed the issue. I made my way the other way down the hall to Sam's room, trying to avoid attracting attention for the time being. Out of a sense of duty maybe, trying to alleviate my conscience for freaking out the day before, I wanted to make sure there was no negativity.
I knocked on the door and waited. For a moment it seemed like anyone could be on the other side of that door. An old man, an infant, a college girl. The wait was interminable, until finally the knob turned and the door crept open.
"Hello?" a little voice whispered.
I said softly, "Sam? Is that you?"
The door opened a little wider. A little girl of Asian descent, maybe 10 or 11 years old, stood there in a men's white t-shirt that went down to her knees. Black hair matted down her face in a messy tangle. Her eyes seemed to burn as she looked up with me.
"No," she said in a deflated whimper. "My name is Roger. Roger Templesmith."
Speechless, I gawked a moment before asking, "Do you know where Sam is? The woman you were talking to-- why are you in her room?"
Walking in slow, measured paces, she went back to the bed and sat on it -- her feet not touching the floor. She talked in a hushed tone as she said, "She said... she asked if we could trade rooms, because she said she didn't like the guy in the next room over, and... was worried he might do something. I tried, I mean... I tried to be a good guy. I wanted to help."
She looked up at me with saddened eyes. This poor guy got into something big, and maybe he was legitimately trying to impress Sam, although how he might've accomplished anything from a different room I don't know.
"So," I reasoned, "Sam was in your room last night?"
She turned away, nodded and sniffled, then looked back at me. "Who are you? What happened last night?"
I said, probably with some feeling of burden in my voice, "I'm someone who knows what's going on. I'll be back."
I headed back toward Roger's original room and knocked on the door.
A guy answered, a young man in his early 20's. He took a look at me and guessed, "Rob? Or Fletcher."
"Rob. Well, Alia, actually."
"So this is the real you? You didn't mention you were a woman."
"Would that have mattered?"
"Well, you sure didn't feel like a woman," he snickered. "I guess the joke's on me now." I went into his room and, on the brink of another outburst or moral judgment, asked what was the deal with Roger switching into her room.
"Well," he explained as he unpacked his new life, "We were talking at the bar last night, he and I. And I mentioned I was a little nervous about Fletcher and his little crew. Nothing desperate, but I was venting. I was drunk, and that's what happen when I drink, I fabricate."
"Uh huh. So what, you tricked him into the room-switch by pretending Fletcher was a threat?"
"Not exactly. I wasn't really thinking about the switch. And I wasn't afraid of Fletcher, I just wanted someone to make me feel safe, and he was happy to oblige by accompanying me to my room. And then..."
"Then he got fresh. Some men, they're only faithful until they have an opportunity. He wanted to stay the night, to keep me safe. I told him it might be wiser if we just switch rooms, in case Fletcher came by, which was my subtle way of reminding him of his marital vows. He was embarrassed, so he agreed. And that was that."
"But why?" I asked, "Why pin it all on Fletcher? Why do anything?"
"If you were a girl--" he said, stopping himself, "I mean, if you were a girl when you met him, you'd have noticed the way he leers, like he's got something dirty on his mind all the time." I must have missed that, and I wonder whether that was due to my maleness. It's not like he didn't come across as creepy at all. Sam continued, "So yeah, I was just a tad nervous around him. But you're right, it wasn't about him. It was about the room. It gave me a bad vibe, Rob--"
"Whatever. The lack of luggage didn't sit well with me. I needed a sure thing. So I got in here, took a gander at this luggage, and thought, Yeah, this'll do."
My face began to get hot. "Was that why you slept with me? To see if you could get my room?"
He stared off into space, taking a long time to formulate his answer.
"To begin with, yeah." Before I could say anything, he interjected, "But when I found out you were trying to get your body back, I gave up. I wanted somebody it wouldn't make a difference to."
"To whom it wouldn't make a difference," I snapped, proving even in anger I'm a stickler for the language.
"So I found someone else."
"And this wasn't about me?"
"Well, it definitely benefited you, didn't it? You got your body back."
"Yeah, well--" I sighed. "What about the sex? What was that about?"
"What about it?" he shrugged. "We both wanted it. It just made sense."
I shook my head and made for the door. As I left, I said, "You might want to check on your friend Roger."
I left him and went to check on our other mutual acquaintance. When I knocked on Fletcher's door, a topless middle-aged Asian woman answered.
"Alia, I presume."
I nodded. "Fletcher? That's an... interesting look."
"Just exploring the terrain. Come on in."
I entered, she closed the door. I stayed next to the door frame because I felt like I might need to make a quick escape. Gathered on the floor was an Asian man and a Caucasian woman who looked older than me.
Fletcher explained, "The three of us are trying to understand it. There are three pieces of luggage in here, one for myself, Mrs. Beatrice Tran, my new husband--" the man waved to identify himself -- you know, in case I couldn't gather -- "And our daughter Lily. But instead, we have this one."
"I think I may have run into your daughter earlier. She's in the next room."
Fletcher's face brightened, "Sam's room? Well that's a relief! I'm glad it's someone I don't have to explain things to."
"Well not so fast," I said, "It's Sam's room, but Sam wasn't there last night. She switched out with Roger."
Fletcher looked slightly irritated. "Well that's a kick. Oh well, we'll make do. Meanwhile, this woman needs to find out what her name was. See how many of the noobs you can round up and we'll get some kind of explanation underway."
I rolled my eyes. "You were a 17-year-old boy in a previous life, weren't you?"
"No........." she said, trailing off. "Just go, okay? We need to make a press conference here."
I went, no longer wishing to be exposed to her nipples.
Most of the patrons were gathered in the common area already. When I appeared, having slightly more certainty in my step than others, I drew attention. Someone immediately surmised I must know what had happened. All eyes were on me.
I started off stammering, "Well... uh, the um, bad news is, this inn has a, uh, well, what people have been calling a curse, um, the inn has a curse."
"As you have noticed, um, we're all in the bodies of the people who stayed in the rooms before you. You should have luggage in your room somewhere, you may have noticed it when you checked in, uh, belonging to the person you've uh... become."
Fletcher appeared beside me, now properly dressed. I turned to her for some reassurance, but she just pushed me on.
I continued, "Uh, the news doesn't get much better. The next people who stay here -- their reservations are mostly already made, I think -- are going to be turned into you. You have to live the lives of... well, live as the people you now look like."
I paused to let this sink in. One woman's voice called out, "I want my fucking cock back!"
I went on to explain, you know, how it's possible to get your body back, although when I revealed that I was a successful example of this, people started to suspect me. It shouldn't be surprising for me to say that people don't like getting the news that they have to uproot their entire existence for a year. I didn't have much hope to offer them other than that, so I tried to emphasize it, but I mostly lost it.
I was feeling embarrassed, and I was about to run and hide in my room forever, when Sam poked his head out of his door. I turned back to the grumbling mob and announced, "Hey! Listen, I know it all seems crazy. I know it's hard to absorb. Believe me, when it happened to me-- yeah. But it's not that bad. Most people lead normal lives. You get used to it. Some of you might even learn to enjoy the experience of seeing the inside of another person's life. As shitty as this all sounds, you're getting an experience you never thought possible, and it's just... it's not all bad. So learn to live with it, okay? I'm done."
I went back to my room. There was a knock at the door and Sam poked his head in.
"That was an interesting speech..."
"Well, I got a little frazzled when that one person yelled about her cock. You know? Well, I can understand. Guys get attached to those things."
He blushed. "You'd know all about that, eh?"
"You get used to it. You know how it is."
"I guess so. Hey, I just found out who I am. My name's Max McGill, from Fredericton, New Brunswick. I'm Canadian like you!"
I smiled. "Glad to see you're so excited."
"Could be worse, you know? I used to live in Detroit. New Brunswick might be a nice change of pace."
An African-American man looked into the room holding a Blackberry. "A woman claiming to be my wife just called this phone. What should I say?"
I advised, "Tell her you got delayed on your way out of Maine, and you'll be home soon as you can. There might be some kind of letter with your luggage... I advise you to write one about you life."
"Thanks," he said. "It's going to be okay, isn't it?"
I nodded. "It'll get better."
And that was all before Breakfast.
More to come...