The Swap

It was an equitable transaction. I received a hundred thousand dollars, a house worth many times that, and the transfer of all my student loans and credit card debt. Mrs. Godfried received my body. One has to give something to get something.

I was 22, and you might say I still am. It's a desperate age of crushing pressures and expectations, as university ends and the rest of life is supposed to begin. Launching successfully into sustainable independence felt impossible with the burdens I had to carry. I mention this not for sympathy, but so you can understand how fortuitous it felt when I received the offer one day through the modeling agency I had a part time gig with. It was all very formal and courteous, and the CEO of my agency himself reached out to assure me he knew Mrs. Godfried and her offer was legitimate.

Mrs. Godfried, you see, was not an attractive woman -- not by any means. One could fairly call her physically repulsive. Her eyes were too far apart, which gave her nose the impression of being unnaturally small. Her mouth was slightly crooked, and when she smiled her teeth seemed too large for her mouth. One of her ears was noticeably lower than the other, and her face was pitted with acne and acne scars. Her hair was thin and scraggly despite her young age, and her rotund figure did her no favors either. There was also her abnormally strong body odor, which her expensive perfumes couldn't fully conceal.

She had no trouble marrying, her inherited fortune saw to that. She had a great deal of trouble with feeling loved. She had even more trouble with loving herself. I guess it's not easy to love yourself when every glance in the mirror makes you cringe. It could also be that she was too vain by nature, or that we all desire most what we can't have, but at any rate it was none of my business.

She had money and wanted beauty, I had beauty and wanted money. Dr. Zeit had an experimental brain transplant procedure he was dying for a chance to try on human beings after his successful animal trials. It was a perfect alignment of interests for the benefit of all.

There were affairs to arrange. This procedure wasn't exactly approved by the government, so our legal identities would have to be swapped along with our bodies. Mrs. Godfried transferred all her assets except my fee and the house into escrow, for herself to recover under my identity. Her husband divorced her and announced his engagement to me. My affairs were much simpler, I was happy for the opportunity to escape my controlling family and the only things I needed to transfer to my new identity were my cat Tuffy and my account.

No doubt all these machinations were very mysterious and suspicious to observers. When you're doing something nobody would believe if you told them outright, you don't have to be all that careful about covering your trail.

The big day arrived. It was just after Christmas, like a present from that procrastinating uncle who always mails it the day before the holiday. It was snowing gently, enough to make the world feel peaceful but not enough to make my drive to the clinic difficult.

"Welcome," Dr. Zeit greeted me with a smile and a firm handshake. He was a confident, well-groomed man in his sixties. "Today I'll be carefully extracting your brain and storing it temporarily in a proprietary life-preserving fluid while your body goes on life support. We'll make sure everything's perfect on both your end and Mrs. Godfried's end, then we'll take a break and come back to patch your brain into your new body tomorrow on a good night's rest."

"Will it hurt?" I queried, half-joking.

"Not a bit," he promised. "And you'll be right as rain and out of here tomorrow evening. Just ask my last patients!" He giggled softly and pointed to a metal cage in the corner, where a pair of macaques with shaved heads and stitches looked back at me impassively.

Doctor Zeit was true to his word. The procedure was painless outside of the brief poke of the needle for the general anesthesia, and I awoke truly a new woman.

You might imagine it'd be difficult to suddenly be ugly after being a model. You might imagine I'd regret my mistake and wish for my old body back. You'd be wrong, this isn't that kind of story. I never enjoyed my beauty. All the male attention was an exhausting annoyance, I had no interest in sex. The female envy was a problem too. I could never be sure who really cared about me and who was just there for my beauty. Now, any friends I make with this body are true friends indeed.

Coming home to my new house, a house adorned with all the taste and soul of another woman, was more jarring for me than my new body. I reminded myself that I could sell it soon. I made a quick meal for myself in the kitchen, filled Tuffy's dish and then went to bed.

Almost as soon as my head hit the pillow, I found myself back in my old bed in my old studio apartment. I got up, flipped on the light and went to the mirror -- where I saw my old face. My head was shaved and there were stitches from the surgery, but there was a wig on the counter and I put it on.

It's only natural, I thought. A vivid dream of my old body on my first night in my new body. Now it's a lucid dream too.

I don't get a lot of lucid dreams, but when I have one I like to have some fun with it and act out fantasies. So I put on some clothes and walked down the street to my bank -- hey, my fantasies needn't be the same as yours. The teller greeted me with my old body's name and gave me that annoying little leer men always give women who they wish they were making love to. I had him transfer the entire three million dollars in my account over to Mrs. Godfried's account. It was a satisfying way to declare that I no longer cared for my former body, my former identity. It was the woman everyone would be calling Mrs. Godfried -- well, Ms. Godfried now that the divorce is final -- she's the one whose interests I needed to look out for, not that discarded husk I used to wear.

Transaction complete, I exited the bank and started walking home. I did kind of miss that little studio, no matter how much better my new house was, but that's perfectly natural on the first night.

I was almost there when a car drove slowly past with a drunk young man leaning half his torso out the passenger window toward me. He whistled. At me. That distinctive two-note glissando, I'd heard it too many times before. I kept my back to him, but I was fuming so deeply that smoke must've been coming out of my ears. This would be the last time I'd have to endure that humiliation. This body, this magnet for unwanted attention, was no longer mine.

Why wait for the dream to end? Why not destroy this unwanted beauty here and now? It'd be symbolic, a chance to cast it off while awake in a dream instead of while asleep in the hospital. I read on the internet how a mixture of bleach and the drain-unclogging crystals under my bathroom sink could cause permanent disfigurement. In my dream I mixed up a bowl, held it over my head in front of the mirror, and with quiet satisfaction turned the bowl over to end that beautiful face forever.

The searing, burning pain was more sharp and vivid and real than anything in any dream I'd ever had. I found myself suddenly sitting bolt upright in bed -- in Mrs. Godfried's bed, now my bed -- in a cold sweat. The pain was gone, but the fresh memory of it was horrific.

Could something so real have been a dream? My reason told me of course it was, but something deep and primal within me couldn't accept that and demanded I make sure. I reached for my phone and quickly logged in to my bank, Mrs. Godfried's account. And there it was: the three million I'd sent myself had just cleared.

How could such a thing happen?

Perhaps consciousness isn't entirely in the brain? Could a small part of my consciousness have remained in my original body, or could there have been a sort of imprint or echo left behind? Perhaps while Mrs. Godfried's brain slept, her quiescent brain activity gave that latent part of myself an opportunity to assert as the dominant mind again.

Something wasn't quite right, and it was gnawing at the back of my brain. Light, I realized. There was a bit of light coming under the bedroom door. I opened the door cautiously and saw the light was coming from the kitchen.

I have a spatially organized mind, no matter which body it's in. I remember where things are and I notice when they move or change. When I stepped into the kitchen, I sensed at once that something was wrong. A few seconds later I identified how. The bread box had been opened and the cover was fastened in the opposite direction from how I'd left it that evening. The toaster had been moved a few inches. A knife had been removed from its scabbard.

Quietly drawing another knife, I paused to listen intently for any sound that might betray an intruder's continuing presence. There was no such sound. I soon confirmed that no valuables were missing, and located the missing knife in the dishwasher. The evidence suggested, however absurdly, that an intruder had broken in to make a sandwich and then left.

It struck me all at once. How could I not have guessed before? While I'd slept, my new body's latent personality had asserted itself in the same way I'd emerged in my old body while she slept. Mrs. Godfried, dullard that she was, had woken up in what was now rightfully my body and had used her time to make a midnight snack.

It's been forty hours since this realization. That's forty hours of coffee, energy drinks and a couple of caffeine pills. I dare not sleep, for when I sleep Mrs. Godfried will take her revenge.