I had been trying to mentally prepare myself for this for weeks. Now that I'm here, walking these halls again, I feel like my stomach has sunk down to my knees. This place carries an ominous cloud over it and if I never see so much as a photo of it after this week, I'll be happy. A lot of people come here every year, and none of them leave the same. Some never go back. And some...
I was sitting in the bar last night after dinner. It was about 9 PM and I was dragging my feet on going back to the inn. Not from fear of transforming. The place was still relatively deserted. There was one new car in the parking lot since I'd woken up that morning. It was me, the sunbathing beauty, and one other unknown, no more than five people but maybe just the one as far as I knew.
I was just stalling because I knew that once I got back to the Inn, that'd be it for the night. I'd go back to psychodrama, back to fear and guilt and nervousness. It was inevitable that I had to confront it, but I was putting it off as long as possible. So it was a slight relief when a dude took a seat next to me in the bar and struck up a conversation, albeit not one of the most intellectually stimulating discussions I've had recently.
"Dude, don't look now but that chick is checking you out."
I instinctively twisted my neck to see the woman in question, then realized myself and faced forward. Not that I wanted to seem to care, but I was curious.
The guy was dressed in a black long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans, not ideal clothing for the weather, although he was stylish. I asked, "You know her?"
"I've spoken to her a bit, but I can tell she digs you."
I turned, slowly, to see the same pretty woman I'd seen around the inn.
I turned to my companion, "We're staying at the same inn. She probably recognizes me."
He grinned when I said this. "That wouldn't be the Trading Post Inn, would it? Up the road? Quaint little place, kind of haunted-feeling?"
I got a shiver, sensing where this was going. "That's the one."
He took a swig of his drink before asking, "You've stayed here before."
I bit my cheek a bit. "Mhm."
"Your name wouldn't happen to be Rob Garcia, would it?"
I was feeling just a bit embarrassed, but it seemed pretty obvious he's read the blog. "That's me. And you are?"
"Never mind that. You can call me Fletcher. Must be nice, heading back to your old life."
"That's the plan," I said. "What about you?"
"I go where the wind takes me, my friend. I'm a traveler."
"It's a little club. There aren't many of us, but you've got to figure... over a hundred people come to the inn every year. About half of us are return cases. But not all of them are headed back to their own bodies. Some of us just like the thrill of it."
I thought back to George and Jan. I knew that there are people who come back, but those two had managed to make their frequent trips sound... altruistic, I guess, since they lost their own bodies. Fletcher seemed like he was getting a weird thrill out of it.
But he did make me a little sales pitch to explain himself. "Look," he says, "The transformations happen, no matter who's sleeping in those rooms. Not everyone gets to keep their bodies. So a few of us dedicated hobbyists show up whenever our time is up. It helps to have some experienced hands around, you know? My old life is over for me, so why commit? Who says I have to?" He said this with a mischievous gleam in his eye. I assured him I'm not here to judge, but I'm hoping I never have to see this place again.
With a flash of paranoia, and known he's read the blog, I ask, "Do you know anything about that Pygmalion guy? Or people?"
"Well if I did, I'm not sure I'd be allowed to tell you," he said, "But no. I only know what your blog people have said. Whatever their agenda is, I haven't seen it in action. I'm just in it for myself."
"What about her?" I asked.
"Don't know her story," he said. "Looks like a return case, but she doesn't have that obvious look of familiarity in her eyes. Why don't you go chat her up?"
I finished my drink. "If you know my name, you know who I really am underneath this skin."
"Yeah, I know," he smiled evilly, "But it couldn't hurt to talk to her, right?"
Somewhat embarrassed, I walk over to her table. She's wearing short shorts and a white top over her bikini. I ask if I can get her a drink, in a very smooth, uncertain tone of voice.
"I'm fine with the drink I have, but I could use some company."
"Well, if there's anything I can do to help..."
"Have a seat," she said. "That guy you were talking to, Fletcher. He's been here before, right?"
"So it seems. You?"
She nodded. "Looks like we all have that in common. He creeps me out, though, so I just want to talk to you."
"He seems harmless enough. A little sleazy, like he's got something to gain by being here, but... not dangerous to anyone. Do you read the blog?"
"There's a blog, some of us write in, talking about our experiences."
"Oh," she said. "That sounds very... therapeutic. I'm Sam."
"Well, Aaaaaa-Rob, I'm about ready for another drink. How about you?" She flagged down the waitress and we each got a beer.
"So, are you getting your own body back?" I asked her.
"Me?" She sipped. "I was the 14-year-old daughter of a millionaire. That was 5 years ago. The current owner is not interested in making a return."
"So you're 19."
"I'm 26," she said, "The whole experience has a way of aging you."
"That must have been tough."
"I couldn't even begin to describe it," she shook her head and got a faraway look in her eyes. "I spent two years in a hospital. Got a lot of reading done. Did some growing up. I've seen some shit, Rob."
"I can only imagine. So why come back after all this time?"
"Because," she said, "The real Sam asked if she could come back. Why now? Who knows. But I wasn't doing much with the body."
"So, what happens to you after we change?"
"No clue," she sighed, "I'm flying blind here."
"Is there anything in your room? A bag, a letter?"
"Nothing. Whoever was in there before me didn't leave me much to go on."
This comment struck me. We talked a bit more before we decided to walk back to the inn together. Fletcher had gone by this point.
"Listen," she said, "I don't know who I'll be in two days. I was wondering if you'd do me a favour."
By this point we had established some trust, so I asked what.
"Keep me company. Just for tonight."
I felt a little heavy. "That's not a good idea. With the whole inn curse, and... I mean, if you're not in your room, then things might get messed up for me."
She gave me a saddened look. "The inn isn't full, Rob. Not even close. I've got an uncertain future in front of me, I'm understandably jumpy. I just want one night of your time, okay?"
Feeling just a bit manipulated, I agreed to bring her to my room. This had a large amount of potential to get way, way out of hand, but I couldn't see my way out of it at the time.
I brought her to my room. She flopped down on the bed.
"You've got a nice room, but mine can see the ocean." I laughed a quick, embarrassed chuckle over how this issue had come to determine Cliff's and my fates.
She slipped her shorts off and let them fall to the floor. My eyes were transfixed as she slipped her tanktop off over her head. She asked, "We're going to be mature about this, aren't we?"
I tried to stammer out a response as she climbed under the covers, continuing, "I mean, you're not going to sleep in your clothes, are you?"
"I may not have a choice," I told her. But it was humid, and I had to strip down to my boxers.
We began back to back, but I couldn't get comfortable. I was on my wrong side. I had to turn over and wrap an arm around her.
"Oh, hello," she whispered.
"Don't get excited," I said, "This is just more comfortable."
"You're telling me..." she said.
I began to drift off into a comfortable sleep, but was awakened by her jostling.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said, "But I'm not going to be able to get any sleep until I do this."
Then she kissed me. She was on top of me, topless now, grinding on me through my shorts and her panties. Exhaustion and hormones blocked every instinct I might've had to push her away. I'd come this far. I'd nearly broken the barrier a few times before, every reason not to suddenly faded from view. I just went along with it.
We began to kiss deeply, with hands running all over each other's bodies. I haven't felt a pair of breasts in so long they suddenly had a novelty to them. I can't articulate the male attraction, but I understand it better now that I've felt it. This was followed by the surreptitious removal of the remaining clothing layers.
"Wait," I gasped, "Do you have anything."
She rolled over me and reached into her purse for a prophylactic. "I'm not an idiot, Rob."
After a pause to slip it on, we got back to business. It was... practical. It was sex. I tried to go according to her body, but when I started to speed up, I lost a bit of control and finished probably a fair bit sooner than I'd imagined myself. I thought maybe with a bit of self-control, I could last, but my body had other ideas.
It was awkward, stimulating, and very revealing. When I finished, it felt somehow more significant than any time I had gone by myself. The feeling of having her on top -- then under -- me, moaning, completely at my whims, just felt... indescribable. A shame it couldn't last.
I drifted off to sleep wracked with guilt and the desire to apologize profusely. On top of all the other complexes I already had, this woman was pretty much a stranger. I felt embarrassed and ashamed of how quickly it all got out of hand. My mind swam with paranoid thoughts that Sam was some kind of Pygmalion agent using sex to manipulate me. For her part, she just rolled over and fell asleep. I thought I was supposed to be the guy.
When I woke up I was alone. I ran into her at a cafe up the road, and we had a bit of breakfast, where I explained that I was technically "with someone." She got a disappointed-annoyed look on her face when she asked whether "someone" would care about what I've been up to for the last year. I began to answer in the affirmative, but I stopped.
Todd's been on my case about this practically since I got a penis. At first I thought he was just being gross, but I'm thinking there might be some psychological basis for this, like it affirms what he's done with Hal Adkisson, or with Donna. It puts us on some kind of equal level (well sort of... we'll never really be equal in this respect, at least I hope not.) Maybe it allows him to feel absolved from the situation he was in, which I don't hold against him anyway.
But with all the guilt I've got pent up about our relationship, as well as my resentment at his own transgressions, it's not easy to feel good about what happened last night. Still I think the only one who's going to be mad is me. Still, I told Sam it probably wasn't a good idea that we do it again. She said we'd see. I still intend to practice self-restraint, now that I've been there. That said, once you get a taste...
Ugh, just no.