The Inn has closed for the season, so I gather that my true form is somewhere in limbo. Does the Inn have some sort of magical hard drive where it stores this information, or does it slip through some sort of crack in time between one changing night and the next? I apse it doesn't matter, but, like everyone who gets changed by the Inn, I want to know where my face is right now.
Not a while lot of people will miss it; I've told my manager that I will be unavailable until May, and I don't have many people that I'm close enough to that my absence will cause great consternation. I was emancipated just before my seventeenth birthday and things have therefore been uncomfortable with my parents ever since, and is been hard to form close friendships or long-laying relationships since then. If my own parents considered me a means of income to exploit, how could I expect more from anybody else? Even my band-mates, while not exactly hired hands, answered an ad.
Still, I've been checking to see when someone would notice me missing. I don't expect I'll ever give my full name on this site - like Penny Lincoln, I hardly want it to be on even the first five pages when people Google me - but I'm sure that a sufficiently motivated reader can eventually root out which sitcom on a kids' cable channel was my home at the turn off the century. Then they'll see the rest of my professional life - cast in what should have been a successful series of movies adapted from a popular sites of young-adult books, only for distribution never coming, and the first one going direct to video; trouble transitioning to adult roles; a few parts on the stage that didn't get great notices. The critics did say I had a surprisingly good singing voice, though, which served as a major push to make music the next phase of my career. I met some folks, formed a band, and that's how we wound up at the Trading Post Inn: Four gigs in southern Maine at the end of an New England swing and a good bargain for being in a beach town as the off-season was starting.
Then, if you've been reading the blog for a while, you know what happens - thirteen guests, a curse, and awakening as someone else. In my case, there was really no easing into it - I sleep naked and Missy have thrown the covers off overnight, so when my eyes open, there is the darker skin, there are the breasts. I probably scream for a second or two before I realize that the phone ringing woke me up, and I pick it up cautiously. I say "hello" as much to myself as to whoever is on the other end, wondering what I sound like.
The person on the other end is a kid, but doesn't talk like one - in fact, she's got the same tone as I and other child actors did back in the day, understanding the grown-up world she's in better than adult outsiders. "Hey, I know this is a lot to spring on you, but here's the deal: The building you're in is cursed, it turns you into other people, and you're Elaine Preston as far as the world is concerned. You've got my real face, so come out here and have a talk before I have to get to school."
I say okay, half-convinced I'm in a dream and in dreams you just go along with things, throwing some now-pretty-loose clothing on and making my way to the door. There's a ten-year-old girl standing by a bicycle there, red hair sticking out from under a helmet and a duffle bag at her feet. She reaches out her hand and introduces herself. "Elaine Preston, though I'm stuck living as Mackenzie Mahoney until we can get things lined up right. There's a starter kit in the bag - undies, clothing, ID, the kind of shampoo your hair needs - so you can get yourself presentable. Obviously, this frame wasn't hauling all the stuff Max left behind over, but you can stop by Cary's place - he's technically my guardian - around four or so and we can sort the rest of it out, and he'll probably give you a ride to the airport so you can get to Chicago, which is where I lived before getting sucked into this craziness."
I introduce myself, a little disappointed that she doesn't recognize my name, but I guess she's a couple years older than I am and most who remember me are a couple years younger. It's just chilly enough this early at the end of September that my nipples are getting stiff, and is weird with her looking at me, so I cross my arms. She looks at her watch.
"Okay, not a lot of time before I have to get to elementary school, so you might as well ask the questions."
"The questions, like how--"
"No-one knows. Missy's got a computer model that does a pretty good job of predicting who becomes whom based on where two groups are when the change hits, but we haven't heard of anyone who has picked up anything on Geiger counters or any sort of ghost-hunter gear. I want awake when it happened to me, but those who are say they just change."
"Don't know that, either. I've been spending the last month hanging around the local library and the one in Portland, looking at old newspapers, but all I've found back to the 1960s is police-blotter stuff off guests at the Trading Post causing trouble because they're acting nuts. Haven't found anything about it opening or some angry witch putting a hex on it or anything. Maybe Missy will find something out now that she's got a share of stock in the place."
"Am I really--"
"You're a girl all the way down to your DNA - if you look on the blog, a couple of former guys even got pregnant!" She gave me a hard, grown-up stare. "Do not get pregnant."
"Oh, you say it's unlikely and gross now, but all your biology is changed, even the stuff that determines orientation. It just takes your mind a while to accept that different stuff causes sparks. Or, in my case, doesn't - and thank God it doesn't! I really need to get back to looking like that--" She pointed at me. "--before going through puberty and all those questions!" Another stare. "Do not mess that up for me!"
I must have looked really nervous, because she smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, though - you're going to read a lot of weird stories on the blog, but most folks get their old life back in about a year, when they can reschedule a trip back in reverse order. For you, it should be really easy, because you'll get the first slot, with nothing in between to screw it up. And in the meantime, you get to be me, only with whatever skills you've got, because the change doesn't mess up your knowledge and stuff, and, trust me, I'm gonna give you a letter that's easy better than the one most folks in there will find in some leftover luggage!"
About then, someone ran out the door, and Elaine-slash-Mackenzie stepped back. "So, I'm going to let you explain all this, because I got class and not everybody takes hearing this from a kid as well as you just did. See you later!" Then she hopped on her bike and rode off.
Kind of rude, but I could see where she was coming from. It was a tough situation, not helped by the fact that my having at least met someone outside the building and received this information made me suspicious. Still, this is kind of a situation where there's no not accepting it, because no amount of denial is going to make your face appear in the mirror.
So, what to do? My band-mates and I actually considered playing the last gig, although if anybody was coming based on me being "that guy from that show", they might be less amused than just canceling, which is what we did via email, also telling or manager that we'd had a blow-out fight and broken up, which is a plausible enough outcome with relatively new bands. We did talk about "getting back together" when this was reversed in May, because we would certainly have some killer inspirations for songs; even if they hadn't changed sex or ethnicity like I did, living the life of a couple that had been at the Inn for their honeymoon would certainly give them new perspectives!
As for me, I eventually got back to my room and opened the bag the real Elaine had given me. Pretty much what she'd said. I don't know if it was just wearing my clothes from the day before, a more sensitive nose, or if maybe the change made you sweat the excess mass out or something, but I smelled kind of funky, so a shower was in order. Very weird experience, from slapping up my new breasts to the tickle as water made its way down my body and between my legs, a warning that material can get in there.
I dried off, stepped into the panties is been given, and held up the bra. "No big deal. Remember the episode where they needed to spy on the girls at the concert? You've done this before!" That was when I was fourteen, and while it's not quite the same to actually get your breasts into the cups as you put a bra on as it is to stuff one with socks after it's on, I suspect I did better than other guys-turned-gals. I suspected Max put a little weight on this rear end toward the end of his time as Elaine, because it took a bit of effort to get into the pants I was given, but a couple weeks later I think that's just ladies' jeans.
One tank-top and sweater later, I was looking in the mirror, trying to find my character. "Elaine Preston... Smart, dry sense of humor. Maybe a personal assistant, used to looking after others, has a secret crush on her boss, but hasn't figured out how to act on it without being unprofessional. Always calls or texts back, whether at work or on her own time. Likes looking nice, but doesn't necessarily flaunt it." I did a couple half-twists, looking at myself from different angles. I tried looking surprised, with a wide grin. "'Miranda, hey! It's been forever since I saw you, girl!'" I mimed kissing cheeks.
I did a bit more of that, before venturing out for some breakfast and then coming back to look at this blog, specifically anything tagged "Elaine". Okay, pretty wrong on some stuff, although after reading some of what Cary wrote, I got back in front of the mirror and started trying to do "take-charge".
That kept up until around four, when I took an Uber to Cary's place, where Elaine was looking disgustedly at homework, telling me that it probably takes her as long to get it done as actual kids because she got bored and annoyed. I asked if that was something she felt a lot even before visiting the Inn, and she said "only for stupid shit". I nodded and made a note in one of those little 4-inch-square notebooks that I bought at CVS earlier, and she gave me a weird look. "Dude, you've got enough to remember just in terms of facts and skills and stuff, you don't need to worry about 'this would annoy her' too. This guy--" She pointed at Cary, an older, kind of hippie-looking guy. "--had Christmas Dinner with my parents and nobody said boo."
"Maybe; I was just always taught that it's the way you say something that convinces people more than the actual thing. Anyway, you mentioned your parents - would you say you've got a good relationship with them?"
"Well, I don't know, since the guy between Cary and you kind of had me drop out of sight as far as they're concerned!" She took a breath. "Sorry. You're new, you don't get how hard this can be. Yeah, we do. They want me to be nicer to my sister, but that's because they really have no idea what sort of a fuck-up she is and never will. But they always encouraged me, didn't fuss when I moved to Chicago, show interest in my boyfriends but don't make me feel pressured to get married. I appreciate them."
I kept writing stuff down, and she kept bristling over it, saying she didn't like being reduced to notes, that she put Cary through training so that he could play her, but so that he could answer questions and do things without having to ask, especially since she didn't think it would be this long. I told her I want Cary, and I want going to have her on-hand, so the process would have to be a little different.
By the end of the evening, Elaine had printed off a lot of what she'd written up for Cary about managing software developers and used a flash-card app to give me a means to study and quiz myself on the people she knows back home. I stayed the night at the Inn - we could have gotten lucky with another swap, but there weren't enough people - and then met them in the morning, with just enough time to say goodbye before Elaine was dropped off at school, telling me she didn't want to come home to a mess next year.
I though it might be a quiet drive to the airport, but Cary actually had a lot to say about what was surprisingly easy or hard. He asked if I'd taken a birth-control pill those mornings, and said it was okay to pick up where Max Chang had left off, since they'd figured out between them (and others) that the change didn't mess up a woman's cycle, just paused it while the form was in limbo. I squirmed a bit hearing that, but he didn't seem to enjoy it particularly. He did make sure that I was in for a lot more in the way of headaches for being female and black than I thought. Elaine didn't really warn me because it was all shed ever known, but I was going to face a lot of people treating me as suspicious or dishonest the first time we met, and it could be tough not to either get angry all the time or over-compensate.
So far, I must admit, I haven't really tested that out; I've been clearing the cobwebs out of an apartment not used for the months, studying what Elaine gave me, and practicing "lady stuff", as Cary put it. Fortunately, I've got my first job interview on Tuesday, and while Elaine punched Cary when he told me to break a leg during one of our regular Skype calls, I must admit that I appreciated it.