I was sitting up in bed last night, as usual growing impatient with the length of time it's taken for this routine to kick in, when I started to feel... something. This discomforting scratchy feeling under my skin, like I was being rubbed by the rough side of velcro. I went to the mirror... I still looked like myself, but maybe my facial structure had changed, where it looked like a bit of a warped picture of myself, er rather the face I had been wearing for a year. I had thought about trying to stay awake for the process - in fact I thought it would be impossible to fall asleep knowing it was happening - but I guess all those days of marching around the beach in direct sunlight had caught up to me and as soon as I went to lie back down on the bed, I was out like a light.
Not that I got a lot of sleep. It was probably 4 AM when I woke up to the screaming, and judging from the voices, it was the German tourists who found out about the situation first. Without thinking, I slid out of bed and rushed to the door to find three statuesque women screaming bloody murder in the halls, in German. Two of them were going back and forth in a panic, and the third stood by the door quietly sniffling. I surmised this was the son, who had been a boy of maybe twelve or thirteen.
I stared slack-jawed for a second as it dawned on me, of course... I knew all the people I had seen would be transforming into new personages, but the disparity between the little kid and the grown woman I was seeing with her blankets wrapped around her, unable to conceive of what had happened in the night, struck me as how awful this place is to people sometimes. For me, it was practically a joyride, but this was heavy.
Finally the father - who was the only one to my knowledge who spoke English - noticed me and asked what was happening. I stammered for a second. At this point I had no idea what I even looked like. Only that I had lost a lot of mass in the night - I had to grip my bottoms to keep them from slipping down to my ankles. But I had grown taller... I was eyes-to-chin with a woman who was nearly as tall as the doorway, whereas as Sophie I was about 5'4 standing up straight.
Her voice had a creak of anger and fear. I couldn't honestly tell her I didn't know. Finally I blurted "suitcase." Her eyebrow flinched. I gathered my wits and elaborated: "There was a suitcase in my room, I think we've become the people who owned them. Our bodies have been changed. Was there one in yours?"
Her face went bug-eyed for a second. She grunted something in German, then frustratedly tried to express herself in English, stumbling over her words. "P-police, department of, erm, lost objects. Lost property. We took, thinking they would be searched for there."
I exhaled deeply. Not that this was an unreasonable thing to have done, from Dieter's perspective, but here we are.
I told him to explain the situation to his wife and son as best as he could, and that I would go with him to the police, because being a native English speaker probably helps in this situation. "Danke," he said.
I drove, with Dieter pointing out the way to the police station. He glanced at his face in the side-view mirror for a second, seemingly amazed by the transformation's completeness, and then turned away and adjusted the seatbelt across his breasts with a grumble of annoyance and probably a German curseword.
I was trying to focus too strongly on Dieter's problems to examine my own reflection in the rearview - I saw a woman with long brown frizzy hair, but when I buckled my own belt I felt no such struggle in the strap to find its place - it sat neatly across my chest, flatly.
We must have looked like quite the sight - a 6' woman in men's clothes and skinny woman clutching clothes that were falling right off her. I went to the desk and asked if someone had dropped off some luggage at the department of lost property. As we waited, getting the runaround for roughly an hour, I examined my reflection in a glass window.
It didn't help that Dieter didn't immediately remember any of the names
he saw on the luggage tags, but he provided a detailed-enough description of the bags that they searched through them until they found one that contained a Quebec Drivers License ID belonging to one Francine Laroux. They made us go back for the other two, however. They also weren't pleased by the fact that even though "Francine" could remember the colors and sizes of the bags, but not which one was "hers."
By the time we returned, it was utter chaos, with aggravated people interrogating each other behind closed doors or openly in the halls to no avail. I kept my head down and returned to my room and flopped back down on my bed for a moment before disrobing from my sweaty, billowy Sophie clothes.
Looking down, I saw a tall-ish, thin woman. Bony, even. In Sophie's body, I had large DD-cup breasts blocking the view of my soft belly. Now I possess only the smallest hint of breasts, and I can see my ribs. I feel light, like a little slip of nothing, a flimsy paper doll who might blow away in the breeze.
I know I shouldn't bother complaining, but it's hard not to feel disappointed, especially when I spent a year overcoming a lot of my own preconceptions about what women are supposed to look like. I feel exasperated at being swung so hard in the other direction.
Before I was done dressing (in sweats and a tank top) I got a knock at the door. I opened it to find a t-shirt-and-jeans-clad African American man looking down at me expectantly. He did a double take when he saw me.
"Oh, uh!" he said, "Sorry, I don't know what I was expecting, Soph..."
"James?" I said.
"Jim Cantrell. Can you believe it? I got my old name back. How awesome is that?"
"That'll make things... easy, I suppose," I sighed. "Sorry, I'm still unpacking." Literally and metaphorically. "How is everyone else?"
"They'll figure it out," he shrugged, "We did, right?"
"I guess... but we had someone to explain it to us. Remember? Mike and Lila?"
"Dude," he groaned, "I don't wanna..."
"We have to," I said, but admitted I had already kind of lied a little to Dieter and pretended I was just piecing it together. James liked that, and insisted I take the lead.
Of course, when I got out there and prepared to gather everyone around, someone was already doing it. I overheard a guy saying "That's my theory, anyway. Someone left these bags for us."
"Who, what?" I said, then asked "What, what's going on? What do you think happened?"
He looked at me - a handsome, muscular, square-jawed young man dressed in a towel and a tattered purple cami, "Oh my God, Sophie, right? I saw you coming out of her room... can you believe this?"
I took a moment to process. "Jane?"
"Yeah," he said. "Fucked up, right?"
"It's like a magic curse or something," I blurted. "There was a handwritten note in my luggage saying so. Apparently nobody will believe we aren't who we look like."
"That's insane," he/she said, "What if I went right up to my mom and told her something only I would know? In Mandarin?"
"I don't know," I said, "You can try, but... Jane, I think these lives were left for us. Somebody's gotta... somebody's gotta live them."
He looked deflated before groaning, "I knew there was something fucked up about this place."
Obviously the day got more hectic after that, becoming a blur of checking in on this and that person. When I finally had a moment to myself, I checked my bags for ID and found a passport with an unflattering, frizzy-haired portrait: Bianca DiStefano, 36, native of Chicago, IL.
I looked in the mirror and saw a few creases and lines under my eyes and around my lips. I aged more a decade overnight, after aging 5 years last year. Sure, 36 isn't old, but it's older than, well, than I know how to be.
At this rate, who knows where I'll end up if I come back again next year?