Copyright © 2015 Maeryn Lamonte – All Rights Reserved.
“Ibiza! Why the hell would you want to go to Ibiza?”
She gave me a look of mingled hurt and anger. You know, the one that tells you you’re only a few careless words away from spending the night on the couch. I knew the answer, of course, but I still thought it was a stupid idea.
“Because, you jackass, that’s where we went on our honeymoon.”
“Only because we couldn’t afford anything better.”
“Okay smartass, name one ‘better’ place where we’ve enjoyed ourselves more.” She didn’t actually do the finger-quotes thing, but you could hear them even so.
Again, I knew what she was getting at, and I didn’t much care for her tactics. I sought cover behind a wall of silence.
“That time we went kayaking on the Amazon, or when we visited the red centre of Australia, were either of those better? Or how about that trip to Easter Island? Hawaii? White water rafting on the Congo River? Safari in the Okavango? Hiking in Nepal? Horse trekking in Mongolia? Sailing in the South China Sea? Tell me, which one of those would you say was better?”
I held to my silence, and settled for glowering at her.
Whatever her overall opinion of me tonight, it evidently involved ass.
The thing was, she was right, and I hated to admit it, even to myself. Each of the holidays she’d mentioned had been spectacular in its own way and should have stood out in my memory, but none of them did. Somehow my only vague recollection of those times was of a brooding distraction. However stunning the scenery, however unusual and exciting the activity, there was always something in the way. Something that never left me, but weighed me down every waking moment of the day; an unwelcome burden that refused to allow me the freedom to embrace the wonders of the world.
She was right about Ibiza too. It had been the last place I remembered actually being happy. I had no intention of letting on to that though.
“It’s a hideous, overpriced tourist trap, filled with overly loud and invariably stupid people – most of them lobster red from spending too much time in the sun, and unpleasantly drunk from spending the rest of the time in the bars. The only reason we enjoyed it was because we were newlyweds, and caught up in each other. It was bad then and it’s worse now. If we went back, it’d be a disaster; we’d see the place for what it really is and wonder why we ever had fond memories of the place.”
“Which is why I’m not suggesting we actually go to the place.”
“You’re not making sense.”
“I’m thinking of that new thing that’s being advertised – Dream Breaks. It hasn’t really taken off yet, so the prices are really good.”
I stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. I actually thought she might have done.
“Of course it hasn’t really taken off yet. It’s new technology that hasn’t had a good test run, and it messes directly with your brain.”
“It’s been approved by the FDA and the EU…”
“Which just means they’ve bribed the right people. One of the things that defines cutting edge technology is that it doesn’t fucking work properly. It needs to be run in the real world for a while before they find and fix all the bugs.”
“You’re happy enough to get new tech most of the time.”
“Not when it wires directly into my brain I’m not. Do you have any idea what the risks are?”
“Do you? Besides, is it any more of a risk than the Inga Rapids?”
“Is it? How? How is risking drowning on a barely regulated ride down the steepest, fastest, highest volume rapids in the world any different from spending a week being monitored by expert doctors while connected to an extensively tested and regulated machine? Except maybe the first one is insane!”
I hated it when she used logic. Women aren’t supposed to use logic. It’s easier to win arguments when they don’t.
“The difference is in the Congo I was in control. My life was in my hands, not in someone else’s.”
“Is that right? Would you have climbed onto that raft if it hadn’t had a local guide on it?”
“It’s not the same.”
“No it’s not! That guy in Africa didn’t have to pass an extensive battery of tests from officials whose only concern was the public’s safety.”
Again she was right. But the river ride had been a way of trying to break out of my usual malaise. It had worked in as much as it’s hard to be depressed when you’re fighting to stay alive, but it hadn’t lasted. This seemed like risk for no reward.
“So what’s so great about taking a Dream Break? What makes it worth trying?”
“They take you back to a memory of happier times. They let you relive it, along with all the emotions you felt back then. You can do it differently as well. It doesn’t have to be the same experience, just similar. The memory revives your feelings, but what you do and where you go once the scenario’s started is entirely up to you.”
They had been happier times. The shadow had still been there, but it had been massively faded in the brilliance of the feelings Linda and I had shared back then. Was it really possible that I – that we – could recapture something of the passion we’d once felt?
I regretted the way our lives had gone. Honeymoon hormones didn’t last – something to be grateful for. I mean who could survive that intensity of emotion for long? That wasn’t the problem though. I’ve often thought that the intensity of feeling a couple shares is there to help each develop habits of preferring what the other wants. Then when the magic fades, there’s a level of companionship that is far more enduring. And Linda and I had invested heavily into each other. I loved her, just as I knew she loved me, and everything would have been amazing if not for the constant looming presence of…
I hated thinking about it. I’d spent so much of my life trying to suppress it, trying to keep it locked away, suffering intense guilt whenever it escaped its cage and went on a rampage, I rarely acknowledged it to myself now and certainly I never had with Linda. She knew there was something I hadn’t shared with her too. It was a wedge that was slowly driving us apart, despite neither of us wanting it to. I was just too afraid to tell her about it though. I mean a wedge is only a slow death. Revealing a secret like this one, I was convinced, would be swift, horrendously painful for both of us and final.
I make it sound dreadful. I mean it’s not that I’m a mass murderer or a kiddie fiddler or anything like that. Mine is a very private problem, and more of an embarrassment than a danger.
Except to our marriage.
“Come on Greg. We’ve so much to gain from it and so little risk of losing.”
She had mistaken my musings for a wavering, weakening of my opinion. Or maybe I had. It seemed easier to give in. But gracefully, gradually, grudgingly, not a sudden and complete collapse.
“I don’t know. At least one of the reasons for going on holiday is to get a tan.”
“The treatment units are equipped with some chemical that stimulates melanin production. Completely safe. Best all over tan you’re likely to have, and with no risk of skin cancer.”
“Photos? Souvenirs? Not that I’m sure we want anything from Ibiza.”
“They can take snapshots from any moment in the two weeks. You don’t need a camera, just your eyes. And they have their own souvenirs as well. 3D prints of the best moments. It’ll be great Greg, I mean can you imagine spending a couple of weeks being fifteen years younger? You were slimmer and more athletic then.”
“You’ll let me do the para-sailing this time?” I’d done it since on other holidays, but it was still a niggling memory that she’d not wanted me to go that first time. Some irrational fear about losing me within days of having married me.
“There a quite few things we could do differently. Make the memories better. Sex without protection and no worries of pregnancy. It’ll be amazing. What do you say?”
She’d moved in close, put her arms around my neck. The smell of her perfume, the feel of her still lithe figure underneath the softness of her dress. I wouldn’t have been able to say no even if I’d wanted to.
“Go on and book it, but if I end up being lobotomised, I’ll expect you to care for me for the rest of my miserable, drooling life.”
“Deal. Same goes for me.”
“Oh no. This is your idea. If you end up frying your brain, I’ll just put you in a home and replace you with a younger model.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
I swept her up in my arms and carried her, kicking and struggling into the bedroom.
The image in my dream was of a fat lady in a mustard coloured dress twisting her mouth out of shape as it refused to form the words she wanted it to speak.
It wasn’t surprising that my subconscious should dig this memory out from the clutter of my mind. Dream Breaks wasn’t quite like Total Recall, but it was close. Instead of having memories implanted, the ‘vacation’ I’d just agreed to take with Linda involved being hooked up to a machine for a fortnight, so it could read my memories and plug me into a fully interactive simulation based on them.
It was difficult to judge which of the two was more delicate, more dangerous, more likely to go wrong.
Total Recall had become a favourite film of mine when I’d first seen it in 1990 and, despite the dated effects and questionable acting, it remained so. The remake in 2012 had some incredible CGI and fantastically choreographed fight scenes, but somehow it lost a lot of the story, and it was the story that made the first film so good in my mind, along with the little incidental extras and the slightly sick sense of humour.
Most people remember it for the three breasted prostitute more than anything else. For me the most memorable part is a fairly bland dialogue, when Arnie’s character is being interviewed at Total Recall and is asked, “What is it that is exactly the same about every single vacation you have ever taken?”
“I give up,” Arnie replies.
“You!” comes the answer. “You’re the same. No matter where you go, there you are. It’s always the same old you. Let me suggest that you take a vacation from yourself. I know it sounds wild. It is the latest thing in travel. We call it the Ego Trip.”
To me that was one of the most inspired parts of the film, except that none of the options offered came even close to what I would have chosen under the same circumstances.
A thrill of cold adrenaline coursed through me as I considered the idea of suggesting a slight change to our plans with Dream Breaks. For a moment I allowed myself the luxury of my wildest dreams.
Only for a moment though.
The pragmatic side of me took over. The probability that what I had in mind was outside the scope of their machines was pretty high. The probability that Linda would be outraged and appalled by the idea was higher still. She’d look on it as sullying and degrading wonderful memories of a special time, and to be honest, I wouldn’t entirely blame her.
Nothing good could come of it, I told myself, and merely by suggesting it, I’d be opening a door I’d not be able to close again. I had a good thing with Linda, despite the constant, nagging presence of the other me inside. Things could be far worse in my life, and the last person in the world I’d risk hurting was my amazing wife.
No. I’d made it through fifteen years of marriage by burying that part of me. I won’t say I’d made it unscathed because that wouldn’t be entirely true. Life is a battle no matter who you are, and you’re pretty much guaranteed some battle scars. That doesn’t mean you deliberately choose to put yourself in harm’s way.
It was nice to dream, but dreams belong inside your head. Some of them anyway. The moment passed, and so did I – passed the test, I mean. Every now and again we all face temptation. It’s what we do when those times come that define our character.
I climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom.
“You look out of sorts this morning.”
Linda always managed to read my mood. To be honest, it went both ways most of the time, but when I was brooding over my darkness, I tended to see less of her feelings.
I accepted the coffee she offered me and took a long, appreciative swig before grabbing plates, bowls, knives and spoons and laying them out on the breakfast bar. Linda dropped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and waited. A response was required, and I knew better than to make something up.
“Weird dream is all.” I tried to make it sound like nothing important. There was still a part of me toying with temptation, and I didn’t want to risk sailing the conversation too close to those particular rocks.
“Tell me about it.”
“It was nothing.”
“It must have been something or it wouldn’t be staying with you like this.”
Like I say, she can read me.
“You remember that film, Total Recall?”
“For goodness sake, Greg, No-one is going to get lobotomised.”
I had to smile. There I was, so busy trying to avoid one disaster that I couldn’t see the other, more obvious one, closer to hand.
“No. It was the bit were he arrives at Mars. The image of Arnie in a dress. Kind of disturbing.”
Linda gave me an odd, thoughtful look. It lasted long enough to make me uncomfortable, and only stopped when the toast popping distracted her. She brought it over and handed me a slice.
“A holiday’s supposed to be something you look forward to, you know? If this is stressing you out so much, maybe we shouldn’t go ahead.”
“It was just a dream, love. I’m not even sure it had anything to do with what we were talking about yesterday.”
“Well, what else could it be?”
“I don’t know. It was a dream. You didn’t read anything into it when I had that one about taking a bath in custard.”
“That was just a dream about feeling stuck. If you remember, it wasn’t long after that I started dropping hints that you should maybe set up in business by yourself.”
“And the one about water skiing with sharks?”
“Early days with the new business when things started to flag. You were thinking about doing something radical to get the public’s attention. I argued against it.”
“And you were right again, but what the hell did that have to do with the dream?”
“You know that phrase ‘jump the shark’ when a TV show hits rock bottom? It’s based on an episode of Happy Days episode when the Fonz accepts a challenge to water ski and jump over a… well, a shark. It’s a desperate and ill-advised attempt to try and get attention, improve ratings. It never works – just hastens the end.”
“You really take dreams seriously?”
“Well, sometimes it really is just too much cheese too late at night, but yeah, I think our dreams are often our subconscious trying to communicate with us. It just doesn’t quite speak the same language as us, so you have to use your imagination a bit.”
I finished my toast and drained my coffee.
“Well, don’t worry yourself over this one. I have no major desires to become a secret agent or go to Mars.” I leaned in to kiss her. “I’ll see you later.”
I left her deep in thought, which worried me more than a little.
Nothing came of it. She was back to her usual cheerful self by the time I made it home that evening. The rest of the week passed without further incident, or dream, and I finally reached a stage at work where there were no crises looming and my minions could hold the fort for a couple of weeks without significant difficulty. This was important, because apparently, once the process was started at Dream Breaks, it was extremely hard to stop prematurely. I picked out a few friends in the field who I thought could be relied upon to give sound and impartial advice, should an emergency actually occur, and left strict instructions that I was to be interrupted only under the direst of circumstances.
Back home I changed out of my work clothes and collapsed onto the sofa, where Linda joined me, two glasses of wine in hand.
“You all packed?” I asked.
She smiled at the joke. This was one advantage of taking a virtual holiday apparently – no stressful pre-departure rush to fill suitcases, make sure passports and other travel documents were to hand. We’d already advised our neighbours that we’d be away for a couple of weeks, and given them instructions on who to call if the need arose. All we needed to do now was turn up at the Dream Breaks complex the following morning. They’d provide us with disposable clothing to wear during our stay, and after that, it’d be down to the machines
“We could still back out if you have any reservations?”
“Ah, I do have reservations though, but I have no intention of pulling out.”
“What reservations? Seriously Greg, if you’re worried, there’s no sense going ahead with this.”
“They’re for seven o’clock at La Casa. I figured since we’re on holiday now, we might as well start early, which means that neither of us has to cook tonight.”
“Oh, you…” She jabbed me in the ribs hard enough I nearly spilt my wine, then she snuggled into me. “I do mean it though. I want this to be a real holiday, not just some new gimmick.”
“And you want it to be different from all the ones we’ve taken recently with me and my black moods, which I can’t promise, love. You know me, a few days without work to keep me distracted…”
“I wish you’d talk to me about it.”
“If I thought it would make things better, you know I would.”
“You could give it a try. Talking about it, sharing what’s on your mind, at least you wouldn’t have to carry it alone.”
“What if it’s some deep, dark secret that would change the way you think about me?”
I couldn’t answer. I took a sip of my wine and tightened my hold about her.
“I love you Linda. Isn’t that enough?”
Now it was her turn to be silent. In the quiet, the dark shadows started to creep in on me, and I asked myself the same question, but less rhetorically.
A honking horn from out front brought an end to the brooding for both of us. I’d ordered a taxi to take us to the restaurant, since we both enjoyed enough of a drink that we really didn’t want one of us to be stuck behind the wheel.
Fortunately Luigi didn’t mind casual dressers, since we didn’t have time to do much about it. Besides which, neither of us felt much like making an effort. To be honest, I never did, but whenever Linda took a couple of hours working on her appearance, it seemed only fair that I should make an effort too. This evening was jeans and sweatshirts for both of us. Jackets, shoes, wallets, purses, keys, we were out of the house in less than a minute.
The meal was fantastic as always. Conversation was a little stilted, as often happened when Linda didn’t get her way. No that’s not fair. She was worried about me, I knew, and I’d done nothing to help alleviate those worries.
Halfway through the meal. I reached across and put my hand on her arm.
She looked up into my eyes, reluctantly it seemed.
“I can’t Linda. I know you’re upset, and I wish I could do something about it, but I can’t. Please, nothing’s changed in fifteen years. I still love you, and I’m doing the best I can.”
She smiled at that, a little ruefully.
“Yes you are, aren’t you? And it’s a good best. It’s just that… Greg, I can see how this is eating you up, and I feel so unable to do anything to help.”
“Just being there helps, Linda. You’re the part of my life I couldn’t do without. You’re what gives me the strength to face each day.”
“You say I’m so important to you, and yet here’s this thing that’s so big it colours both of our lives, and you won’t share it with me. Do you know how frustrated that makes me feel?”
I withdrew my hand.
“You have to give me time, Linda.”
“How much time do you need, Greg? Isn’t fifteen years long enough? Honestly, if you don’t do something about it soon, don’t blame me if I do.”
There was a moment of silence while we both took in what she’d just said. I took a bite of my food and chewed on it slowly, giving me time to think of a suitable response. It was depressingly disappointing.
“What do you mean?”
Her hands were in her lap and she was staring at her half-finished meal. Her hair covered much of her face, but I thought I caught the glint of a tear in her eye.
Again I reached out a hand, this time to touch her arm.
She raised her hand and brushed me away.
“Nothing, it’s… I… Nothing.”
She picked up her knife and fork and started sawing at her own food.
“No,” she said. “Your turn to feel shut out and confused.”
She lifted her fork to her mouth and refused to say anything more.
We finished our meal in silence, paid for it and took a taxi home, silence still hanging about us like an oppressive fog.
She undressed and climbed in her side of the bed, her back stiff and turned firmly in my direction.
I followed her beneath the sheets and rested a hand on her shoulder. She stiffened, but didn’t move.
“This isn’t a great way to start a vacation,” I said softly. “If we’re hoping to recapture the magic of our honeymoon, this isn’t going to get us there.”
She rolled onto her back, trapping my arm. Staring at the ceiling, she replied, “So what do you suggest?”
“A truce, until afterwards.”
“At which point you’ll go back to work and become so immersed in it that you won’t give a thought to this issue until the next time you take a few days off.”
“Alright. I promise I’ll think about it over the next two weeks.”
“And I’ve heard that before, on more than one occasion. And on each occasion nothing happened. Nothing changed. You did your usual broody bit, then at the end of it you evaded any questions I had and went back to work.”
“It’ll be different this time.”
“Again, it’s not the first time I’ve heard that particular phrase.”
“So what do you suggest then?”
“That’s what I‘m trying to figure out. It’d be so much easier if you’d just tell me though.”
“I can’t, Linda. It’s…”
“If you knew how I felt about you, Greg, you wouldn’t be so afraid.” She rolled towards me and I took the opportunity to free my hand, which was beginning to go numb. “I love you too much for that to change. Nothing in the world could take that away from us.”
I wished I could be so sure. There was only one response that had a chance of ending this argument in a good way. It was a coward’s way out that did nothing to resolve the matter at hand, but I wasn’t so proud I wouldn’t take it.
“I love you too.”
Despite the darkness, I could see into her eyes with enough clarity to see the disappointment there. ‘Not enough to trust me, though,’ they seemed to say, but she was pragmatic enough to recognise this as a way out for both of us, and to take it.
Make up sex is amazing.
“But you can and will do it if we sign waivers? Thank you so much. We’ll see you later.”
I lumbered out of the bedroom, yawning wide enough to swallow the day, to find Linda hanging up the phone.
“Who was that?”
“Oh, no-one special.” She smiled brightly and poured me a coffee, which she passed to me, leaning in to kiss me, and wrinkling her nose slightly at my morning breath.
I gulped down enough coffee to kick start my brain, and tried on a smile for size.
“You seem a lot more cheerful this morning.”
“Yeah.” She cracked a couple of eggs into a frying pan, added a couple of sausages and some bacon. “I did some thinking after you dozed off last night, and I had an epiphany of sorts.”
“Yup.” Again the cheerful smile.
“And you’re not going to tell me.”
“Are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?” My face must have reacted for me, because she continued. “I didn’t think so. In which case, no I’m not. Sharing’s a two way street, Greg, and if the traffic’s restricted in one direction, then it’s only fair it should be restricted in both.”
A plate of cholesterol and fatty goodness appeared under my nose, successfully diverting my attention. It was an extravagance after yesterday’s meal, but the next couple of weeks we’d be fed through a tube, so we could afford the calories.
I finished first, then sat watching her eat as I sipped down the rest of my coffee. I couldn’t help being curious about her change in outlook, but I knew better than to probe. Yesterday’s wound on our relationship had scabbed over, and it wouldn’t do to pick at it. I chose what I hoped would be a neutral topic.
“So, excited about today?”
She nodded and smiled round a mouthful of sausage and egg. “You?”
“A little nervous, but yes, I actually am.”
“It’ll be fine. Better than fine, I should think. Can you imagine what it’ll be like to live through it all again?”
I smiled at my memories. Since we were to relive our honeymoon, it made sense to start the whole thing off with our wedding. I hadn’t much cared for the penguin suit, but it was what Linda had wanted, so I hadn’t argued. It was a good memory to start with, we were told, because the more intense the feelings the stronger and more complete the memory was, and the easier for their machinery to find, apparently. Simply thinking about standing at the front of the church, I could feel the stiffness of my starched collar, could smell the flowers, could see dust motes floating in the rays of light streaming through the stained glass window. The sense of nervous anticipation was just as overwhelming. You heard stories about brides backing out at the last moment, and I remember thinking I wouldn’t be able to relax until she was standing beside me.
“If my memories are anything to go by, it’ll be amazing.”
“Remember we can change what happens. What would you change about it all?”
“The first day? Absolutely nothing. It was amazing.”
“How about the next? Do you remember we were offered the option of upgrading to first class on the flight?”
“Yeah, we couldn’t afford it then.”
“It won’t be real money this time though.”
“So you think we should? We could upgrade at the hotel as well if you like.”
“Well, we were told that the closer we keep to the original experience, the better it will be, so not the hotel, but I wouldn’t mind changing the flight. Those cramped seats with that rather large, sweaty guy sitting next to me, and there was a kid sitting behind me who kept kicking my seat.”
“Fine, as long as we can still afford for me to do the para-sailing.”
“Were you really so bothered about that?”
“I really was. Sad isn’t it? It’ll be interesting to see how we respond to all the different things this time round.”
“Yes it will, won’t it?” She smiled enigmatically and sipped at her coffee.
“When are they expecting us?”
“Half ten, but they’re sending a car to fetch us, remember? It should be here in about twenty minutes.”
“Better get moving then.” I collected the plates and took them over to the sink. “Why don’t you get ready while I sort this lot out?”
She finished her coffee and brought the mug over to where I was arms deep in suds, kissed me on the cheek and nuzzled my ear.
“Do you know, sometimes there’s something deliciously feminine about you?”
I stiffened, then forced myself to relax. She couldn’t have guessed, could she? It had to be just a chance remark. I decided to act the slightest bit offended.
“What, just because I’m prepared to do my share of household drudgery? A lot of guys do that you know?”
“I know.” She nibbled my earlobe playfully. “But you do so willingly and naturally, and without being asked, which a lot of guys don’t. Besides, just because something’s masculine or feminine, doesn’t mean the other half of the population doesn’t or shouldn’t do it, or that there’s something wrong when they do. I meant it as a complement sweetheart.”
The tip of her tongue found its way into my ear, sending shivers down my back,
“Then I’ll accept it as such, and if you carry on like this, we’ll not be ready by the time our lift gets here.”
She sauntered slowly towards the bedroom with many a backward glance, leaving me with an overwhelming desire to follow her.
I gave into it.
We were almost ready when the doorbell rang.
We’d shared a slightly longer shower than usual, and dressed together, then tackled the washing up together as well. Linda was wiping the last of the plates with me cleaning down the sink when our driver arrived. I opened the door for him. Er, her.
“Good morning. Mr and Mrs Snipe?”
She was slim and attractive with curly blond hair and a bright smile, and looked quite stunning in a tailor made chauffeur’s uniform.
“Er, yes. Well I mean I’m Mr Snipe. Er Gregory Snipe.”
“My name’s Emily. I’ve been sent from Dream Breaks to collect you.”
“Sure. We’re nearly ready. Would you like to come in for a moment?”
“Thank you.” She stepped through the door, looking around her with keen interest. “You have a lovely home.”
“Er, thanks. The result largely of my income and my wife’s imagination. I led her through to the kitchen diner where Linda was drying her hands.
Linda gave me an amused look. “Should I be jealous?”
I shook myself back into some degree of self-control. “No, it’s not that. It’s just that I wasn’t expecting, er…”
“A woman in a man’s role?”
“No of course not. Well, maybe a bit. I’m sorry Emily, I have to admit I was expecting a man as a driver. It’s not a problem, it’s just your appearance is quite striking, and, well, unexpected. As I said.”
“We were also discussing gender roles earlier,” Linda added, “which may be contributing to my husband’s general state of fluster. We really don’t need to bring anything with us for this?”
“Absolutely not,” Emily smiled her stunning smile, “but some people do like to bring along an overnight bag. We’ll launder your clothes while you’re on your holiday, but if you’d prefer something different to wear afterwards, that’s entirely up to you.”
“It just feels so weird going on holiday with no luggage.”
“I believe the company is planning on making it a selling point in the next marketing campaign.”
“Well,” I said, “weird or not, let’s take advantage of it.”
Once more, in the time it took to get shod and grab keys and cash, we were out of the house.
The car was a Bentley, and between it and Emily’s livery, Linda and I had a sense of being decidedly underdressed.
“I feel like I should be wearing a cocktail dress,” Linda said.
And a tuxedo in my case, I thought, though I preferred the idea of a cocktail dress. I gritted my teeth and tried to get a grip. This was just the kind of thinking I’d been fighting all my life. Why it should choose this particular moment to resurface, I wasn’t sure, but I was determined not to let it get in the way of Linda and me revisiting our honeymoon.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Linda was looking at me with a worried expression.
I put on a brave smile and managed to get a hold of myself.
“I’m fine. Just… No, I’m fine.” I was tired of coming up with excuses.
She was tired of digging as well, it seemed. She let out a sigh and settled into the crook of my arm.
The journey took just over an hour. It was comfortable and quiet; perhaps a little too quiet with Linda and myself lost in our own private thoughts. I noticed Emily’s eyes in the rear view mirror more than once. There was a look of concern in them, but she knew better than to say anything.
We arrived at Dream Breaks at nine o’clock, almost to the second, pulling up outside the main entrance where Emily emerged from the car and held the door for us to climb out. The concern and sympathy was still evident in the way she looked at us.
“I hope this works out for you,” she said quietly. “I hope you have a great time and manage to work things out. I know I don’t know you, but I pride myself on being a good judge of character, and you two deserve to be happy.”
She held out her hand, and we both shook it and thanked her for her kind thoughts and the relaxing drive. Linda and I still had our unresolved issues, obviously, but to have someone else offering an opinion did a lot to help bring things back to a realistic perspective.
With looks and gestures instead of words, Linda and I made up yet again and headed into the overwhelmingly impressive main entrance.
“I thought we’d done with all the form filling and waiver signing,” I said, picking up this latest piece of paper and giving it a cursory glance.
“it’s a kind of last minute thing,” Linda said easing the paper out of my hand and resting it on the desk so she could sign it. “Mr Hamilton and I talked it through earlier. It’s all in order and just needs our signatures.”
I shrugged. Linda had been the one to take the lead in organising this holiday, and I trusted her to make sure everything was above board. She handed me the pen and I added my signature to the bottom of the page, next to hers.
There was a short ‘dance of the eyebrows’ unspoken conversation between Mr Hamilton and my wife, but it resolved itself quickly and apparently without the need to resort to words. Mr Hamilton shrugged and turned a warm smile to both of us.
“Well, now that all the formalities are out of the way, perhaps you’d like to follow me to the changing rooms, and we’ll get you started on your vacation. May I say how delighted we are with what you have chosen? You’re the first to do this, and we’re hoping to open a new line of products following on from it. If you’d be prepared to be interviewed at the end, and have the interview used as part of an advertising campaign, we’d be glad to offer you a free three week break to show our appreciation.”
Seriously? This was the first time a couple had chosen to relive their honeymoon? I thought the idea was more than a little prosaic. I opened my mouth to respond, but Linda beat me to it.
“Perhaps we could discuss that afterwards, Mr Hamilton. We’re kind of anxious to get started here.”
“Of course.” He stopped next to a door and indicated we should enter. “If you’d like to change into the clothing we’ve provided and leave your own clothes in the room, we’ll make sure they’re freshly cleaned and available when you return.”
“Thank you, Mr Hamilton, we remember the briefing.”
“I look forward to seeing you in two week’s time. Bon voyage, so to speak.”
We stepped through the door, leaving him to whatever else his day had to offer, and started to undress. The clothing they offered was little more than a pair of trunks for me and a one piece swimsuit for Linda. The fabric was unusual though – extremely stretchy, and difficult to feel once you were wearing it.
“So what do you think he meant? You know about this being a first time thing?”
She was silent for a moment. Long enough that I stopped folding my shirt and turned towards her.
“That last waiver we signed. It was an idea I had. Something a little different. Greg, do you trust me?”
“You know I do.”
“I certainly hope you do. I mean you don’t trust me enough to share what’s been bothering you – no please let me finish. I’m not getting at you. I’m not trying to pry, and I don’t want to start an argument – certainly not here and now. It’s just that I had an idea last night, and I sort of acted on it. It was a kind of impulse, but I thought it would help us get a better idea of each other’s perspective. Please, I don’t want to say anything more. Will you just go with it?”
A cool thrill of anticipation washed through me. It could be anything, I told myself. I so desperately wanted to ask, but she was right, this was better entered into with a degree of mystery. The less either of us talked about it, the less culpability there would be.
We exited the changing room into a larger room which contained two large tanks of some transparent fluid, and a lot of associated computers and monitoring machinery. A cheerful young girl in a lab coat stepped forward to greet us.
“Hey! You must be Mr and Mrs Snipe. Welcome. Now you’ve been briefed, haven’t you?” We nodded. “Okay, then all that’s needed is for us to finish entering in the new parameters you requested this morning, Mrs Snipe, then we can get started. This is so cool. And may I say, Mr Snipe, that you are so amazing to be doing this. You make me want to try it, but I doubt my boyfriend will be so keen.”
Before either of us could get a word in edgeways, one of the technicians over the other side of the room raised his hand and waved.
“It looks like we’re ready. If you’d like to follow me?”
It really didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what that last minute change had to be, but I still couldn’t quite believe it.
“What is it that is exactly the same about every single vacation you have ever taken?” I asked Linda quietly.
She’d seen the film with me enough times to know what I was talking about, and she ducked her head trying to hide the sudden panic and guilt that was there.
“It’s not too late to back out if this is a bad idea.”
I took her hands and turned her towards me. Waited till she raised her eyes to meet mine.
“No, let’s do this. Whatever else it ends up being, it’ll be different.”
She offered me a quick smile of nervous relief, but we didn’t have time for more. The techies were all about getting this started – probably instructions from on high to plug us in before one of us had cold feet.
I climbed the steps next to my designated tank and waited patiently while an older and far more serious individual settled an oversized helmet onto my head and attached the various tubes that would keep my body fed and hydrated while I wasn’t using it.
“So how does this work then?”
“I thought you were at the briefing. You think of your starting memory, which the helmet picks up, along with the stream of memories that follow. Our computer stores them and sends them back at a slightly amplified level. This prompts your brain to produce additional streams of memory, which we pick up, store and feed back. Keep the process going till we have enough of a reference to be able to build the whole experience for you, including modifications that you introduce as you experience it this time round. This all happens in the first five or ten minutes you’re in the tank – probably longer in your case as we’ll need a broader basis for your responses. While this is going on, you’ll have flashes of memory from the time in question. When we’re ready, we get you to blank your minds, and we send in the starting memory with enough strength that it’s like you’re experiencing it first-hand.”
“Yeah, like you said, all that was in the briefing. But what we’re doing different. How does that work?”
“Oh that’s easy.” He cracked a rare smile. “When we transmit the experience, we just cross the feeds. If you’d like to lay back in the tank, and enjoy your honeymoon, Mrs Snipe.”
“Alright, Mr Snipe.” The voice was almost in my head, but then that was hardly surprising as liquid is a much better conductor of sound. We were insulated from the outside world, so the only sounds that would reach us were those they wanted us to hear. “Just relax please, and think of that agreed moment. I believe you were going with the first strains of ‘Here Comes the Bride.’”
It seemed like the best place to start. The point when all the stress and worry was in the past and all that was to come was the good.
I recalled the moment the organist had struck those opening chords. Fifteen minutes late, with the vicar looking almost as nervous as I was. From his point of view, a late start meant less time to prepare for the next wedding. For me, the question was whether or not she’d turn up at all.
I remember Phil, my best man, giving me a nervous thumbs up, and turning to see a vision in white walking down the aisle.
Memories seemed to cascade from that. The smell of the flowers, the brightness of the sunshine, all the many friends and family who’d turned up to support us. A million little details of the service, the reception, the flight over to Ibiza, with, yes, the child kicking Linda’s seat and the big sweaty guy sitting in the aisle seat and squashing both of us against the fuselage. The budget hotel, and a couple of weeks of sunbathing, swimming and sight-seeing. So many details I thought I’d forgotten, and all the feelings that went with them. The great disappointment at not enjoying the para-sailing – plus associated memories of different para-sailing experiences I’d had since – the slight disappointment when it was all over and we packed and headed back to the airport. Arriving back into our new home to find all the unopened wedding gifts awaiting us, along with a note from Linda’s mum to say welcome back and that dinner was in the oven.
We’d left the unpacking for the following day, and set about enjoying our first meal together in our new home. We’d been too tired to bother with the gifts, so had gone straight to bed, and to sleep.
The scenes faded to black and the voice returned.
“That’s great Mr Snipe. Now if you can relax fully and let your mind go blank. Embrace the blackness that surrounds you, and the silence. Try not to move. This next bit may seem like a long time, but it’ll only be a minute or two, then your experience will start. Happy travels.”
Silence descended and surrounded me, making the darkness that already enveloped me all the closer. I couldn’t feel my body – no part of it, not my arms, legs, fingers or toes, anything. I was tempted to try and move something just to reassure myself I was still all there, but I heeded the voice and waited. This had to be taking longer than a minute or two surely.
Suddenly I was falling towards a point of light, and in the background, the opening chords of ‘Here Comes the Bride’ started to play.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. The organ sounded as I remembered it, but subtly different. I turned to Phil to see if he knew what the problem was, but he wasn’t there. I wasn’t even inside the church, and what the hell was I wearing? What if people saw me like this? I felt light headed and the world started to spin.
“Whoa, steady on there my girl.”
I felt strong arms holding me up. I felt weaker, lighter, different. So different.
I looked across at the elderly man supporting me, and words formed in my head. I let myself say them.
“I’m okay Dad. You can let go.”
My voice. I recognised it, but it wasn’t mine. It was Linda’s, yet different from Linda’s because I was hearing it from inside her head. I settled my feet on the ground and tried to support my weight. There wasn’t much of it, which was just as well since my knees were so wobbly, and the shoes felt so odd, keeping me almost on tiptoe. I looked down at myself. A few errant strands of hair swing in front of my eyes, but most of it was held tightly in place, pulling at my scalp in odd ways. I brushed the strands behind my ear and hoped they wouldn’t ruin the look. So many hours washing it, drying it, combing it, brushing it, twisting it into braids over and over again until it was just right.
My dress had a sheer layer over the décolletage, which displayed my cleavage without being immodest. The waist was tight. I remembered how long it had taken to lace me into it. Another part of me remembered how long it had taken – would take? – to unlace me. It was hard to breathe, my breasts rising and falling with each breath. My breasts, my dress. It was beginning to sink in. What was happening, who I was. Who I was really, that is, under all this new experience on the surface. I wondered if Linda had experienced a similar degree of disorientation.
The panic was still there. Was I doing the right thing marrying this guy? I mean I loved him – God how I loved him – but this was the step you don’t come back from. Regardless of how many people were getting divorces these days, regardless of how easy it was, I didn’t want to become one of them, and after today it was do or die, till death do us part or bust. Was he the right guy for me? How could you know when the right guy was there?
The organist had finished the piece and silence descended. We were supposed to be in the church right now. I was supposed to be standing next to my intended. The Vicar was supposed to be saying those words to kick things off.
Dad was looking at me funny. Inside the church, necks were craning to see what was happening. At the front of the church I could see Greg looking almost as panicked as I felt, and I knew. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew this was the guy for me.
I picked out the organist from the sea of faces and gave him a nod. A moment later the strains of here comes the bride, all fat and wide filled the church, and I took a step towards my future. The future I’d chosen, and which I was now certain was right for me.
“Are you okay?”
My own voice sounded strange from the outside.
I nodded and raised an eyebrow to ask the same question in reply.
He nodded and we looked forward to where a patient and increasingly nervous vicar was standing.
“Dearly beloved,” he began in his high, plummy voice, “we are gathered here today, in the sight of God and this company, to witness and celebrate one of life’s greatest moments.”
I was no longer afraid. I had needed that moment of decision, but the panic I had felt early had turned into exhilaration. I’d heard the words enough times at rehearsals. They washed over me like a cleansing balm, strengthening me and lifting me to a height of elation. Talk about radiant bride. I could feel it sheeting off me.
“Do you, Gregory Andrew Snipe, choose to marry Linda Anne Howard on this day; to speak words that will join you with her as your wife, for all the days of your life?
“I do.” I spoke the words without thinking, hearing them echoed from the man standing beside me.
I flushed with embarrassment as a smattering of laughter ran through the church.
“Your time will come soon enough, my dear,” the vicar smiled at me. Greg repeated his response, and the vicar continued. “Do you, Linda Anne Howard, choose to marry Gregory Andrew Snipe on this day; to speak the words that will join you with him as your husband, for all the days of your life?”
“I do,” I said, still blushing, now well and truly radiant in every sense of the word.
“Then, if you would, please turn to face one another and join hands as you each take your marital vows.
Greg’s hands were large, warm and comforting. I knew mine felt like ice to him. There was the hint of another memory at the back of my mind telling me so.
“If he’d asked you first, I’d have done the same,” Greg murmured to me.
There was a hunger in his eyes, and I felt myself melt a little more inside under the intensity of his gaze, the kindness in his words.
The rest of the vows went without a hitch, each of us ‘I doing’ at the correct moments, and repeating those much practised words. For real this time. From this moment on Greg and I would be one. No going back; only forward.
“Greg and Linda, inasmuch as you have consented to be joined together in the holy state of matrimony, and having pledged and sealed your vows by the giving and receiving of rings in the presence of both God and this company, it is with great pleasure that I now pronounce you husband and wife. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
“Congratulations! You may kiss the bride.”
Greg raised my veil and leaned in close.
“I’ve been looking forward to this moment, Mrs Snipe.”
Then his lips were on mine. Firm, but gentle at the same time. I hadn’t really thought about how much taller he was than me. I mean here I was in four inch heels, and he was still reaching down to kiss me.
The thoughts lasted a fleeting moment, then they were washed away but the sensation of that kiss, and all the incredible feelings it sent coursing through me.
We sat, with some discomfort on my part thanks to the dress and shoes, but then I didn’t really care. I was on cloud nine – possibly ten. Despite the slightly shaky start to things, the wedding had been everything I’d imagined it would be. And I couldn’t help smiling at Greg, who equally couldn’t keep his eyes off me.
There were readings and a short sermon, and before long we were walking out to the strains of Mendelsohn’s Wedding march. Confetti everywhere, kisses and congratulations from everyone. Photographs were to be in the gardens at the hotel where we were having our reception, so, scooping my very full skirts in close to me, I settled into the back of a vintage Jaguar, with Greg seated close beside me. We still had the driver close by, so couldn’t talk entirely freely.
“This dress is so tight,” I said looking at my new husband. “It’s a challenge just breathing.”
“Yes, but you look amazing. I have honestly never seen you looking more lovely.”
Well that was a no brainer.
“How are you getting on with your stiff collar and cravat?”
“Really not having such a great time with them. I kind of wish I hadn’t insisted.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, you look amazing too.”
“That’s the weird thing. I know I look good in this, but I don’t feel anything special. There’s no elegance to these clothes, no beauty, no colour. They don’t make me feel… anything.”
“I don’t know that they’re meant to. You’re supposed to derive your pleasure from other things.”
“Perhaps knowing that I’m all yours?”
“Oh, now that does rouse feelings.”
He leaned in to kiss me and there wasn’t much more conversation for the rest of the journey.
We had a large ballroom at the hotel, with French windows that opened out onto the garden. The photographs took the best part of forever, but they had been a part of the day, and a chance to catch up with friends and family while we waited for the man with the cameras to arrange us all into one collective pose after another.
He was good, keeping up a banter that had us in hysterics on occasions, and chivvying us along without necessarily making us feel like we were being rushed or herded.
I remember meeting a large chunk of Linda’s family on the day – most of them over the photographs, but I’d forgotten most of their names and about half of their faces. Despite this, I found myself squealing with delight as each new stranger hove into view. Somehow, my brain furnished me with names and little details about their lives, and odd as it was, I revelled in the attention I was getting. My feet were aching by the time we were done, but my heart was soaring.
Eventually the last photograph was taken, and with a cheer, we headed indoors. Greg and I found our places in the centre of the top table and, ever the gentleman, he held my chair for me to sit before joining me. Taking this as a cue, everyone else sat, and a general hubbub of conversation settled on the room until the ding of a fork being rung against a very expensive sounding crystal glass brought back the silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to call upon the father of the bride to say a few words.”
“Oh shit!” Greg whispered from beside me, fortunately not so loud that anyone else heard him.
“What is it?”
“I’ve got to give a speech in a minute. I have no idea what I’m supposed to say.”
“It’ll come to you, love. Besides, you have some crib notes in your right hand jacket pocket.”
He went fishing for them as Dad said a few tearful words. I remembered Linda’s father’s speech as being dull, unimaginative and filled with clichés, much like the man himself, the uncharitable side of my nature had thought, but this time round, when the old man broke down over his own words, as he spoke about losing his baby girl, I felt my eyes prickling with tears.
Again I felt my thoughts and feeling split two ways. On a deep level, I recalled how ridiculously false I’d felt his words and tears to be since Linda had moved away from home two years before our wedding. Over the top of this, I felt Linda’s perspective settling on me like a heavy blanket. The strength of her emotions told a different story.
I could sense the special relationship that had existed between Linda and her dad. In fact I couldn’t help but feel it, as it was overwhelming. It struck me with a new clarity how this man had cared for his daughter through the years, and had felt a continued sense of responsibility even after she’d left home. And this particular step seemed far more final than the last. My marrying Greg meant that the responsibility of primary protector was shifting from my father to my new husband.
The double perspective thing was disorienting, sort of like vertigo, but not. I found myself switching back and forth between the familiar memories I’d built as Greg over all the years of my life and the new stronger thoughts and emotions that were being broadcast to me from Linda via the machine. Most of the time I was aware of being Greg, and of the artificial nature of our circumstances, but then, whenever my emotions ran away with me, I became Linda. Gloriously Linda.
The trick seemed to be to go with the flow. To allow Linda’s thoughts and feelings to take over, and simply to tag along for the ride.
Dad sat down and Greg took his place as the master of ceremonies called for the groom to say a few words.
He’d found the notes and was shuffling through the cards with a panicky look on his face.
I grabbed his sleeve and pulled on it gently. He leaned towards me.
“Forget the speech,” I whispered in his ear. “Just say what’s in your heart.”
This wasn’t the real thing, after all. These were all just computer generated characters based on our own memories. The worst we could do was upset a few pixels and perhaps unbalance our own perception of what was going on.
Linda – and it was Linda inside my body – dropped the cards on the table and gave quite the most impassioned speech about how grateful he was for the gift of me. In the real world we’d come from, Linda was coping with the aftermath of having lost her father suddenly and without warning to a heart attack. It had happened about a year ago, and because of the abruptness of the event, she’d felt robbed of her chance to say goodbye, so this became it. She spoke of how much she appreciated the sacrifice and commitment her dad had shown over the years, and how wonderful a father he had been. It was an odd speech for a groom, but it was well received for all that. She tacked on a few extra, more appropriate, comments at the end and sat down to a round of polite applause.
Whatever drove the Linda response in me had reacted to his words as well. They were just what I would have wanted to say to my father, and I leaned over to kiss Greg and thank him for his words. Mum and Dad – by which I mean Linda’s – gave him an odd look, but nodded their appreciation.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was all enjoyment. From the idiocy of Phil’s best man speech – so much easier to enjoy from Linda’s point of view – too the meal – my dress’s tight bodice restricting how much I could eat, but not stopping me from enjoying the flavours – to the first dance – so much more wonderful when you’re being led – to the end of the evening when Greg scooped me up in his arms and carried me to the lift, and from there to the hotel’s bridal suite.
Alone at last.
Linda lowered me gently onto the bed and turned to close the door.
“Wow, this is so amazing!” she exclaimed.
I kicked off my shoes and stretched out on the bed, groaning with relief as my feet escaped their confinement.
“I had no idea our perspectives would be so different. How are you holding out? I imagine it’s all been a little overwhelming.”
I rolled off the bed and stood up before my dress gathered too many creases. With nothing but thin nylon between my feet and the carpet I was another four inches shorter than I had been, which meant I was looking up from well below his (my?) shoulders. Somehow that only heightened the experience though. Like surfing, skiing and sailing, there was an exhilaration that came from being aware of how weak you were compared to what was going on about you.
In a way, it was a partial return to childhood; a realisation of vulnerability and dependence, and in a way it was so much of a relief, acknowledging that need of other people’s help. I could understand how it might develop into fear and insecurity, but in a safe environment, with someone close by who was ready to offer the support I needed, it was liberating. I hadn’t realised, until that moment, how much of a burden trying to be strong all the time really was, especially since inside I never really had been.
Strong, I mean.
I turned my back to Linda and glanced at him over my shoulder with that wide eyed coquettish smile I knew I now had. “Help me out of this would you? I’ll probably be a little less overwhelmed when I can breathe freely.”
“Yeah, I remember it was a bit tight. Okay, how does this work?”
“Don’t you know? I mean you did wear it once. I just appeared in front of the church wearing it.”
“I know, but every time I wore it, other people laced me in. As I recall, you undid it on our wedding night, and it took you some time to figure out.”
Memories flowed through my mind, but subdued, like an undercurrent.
“Where the skirt meets the bodice, there’s a small bit that’s elasticated. The ends of the lace are under that.”
The pressure on my ribs eased as he quickly undid the laces. I held the front of the dress to me and luxuriated in my first full, deep breath in this body. Free at last, I let the bodice fall forward, stepped out of the dress, careful not to step on it, and carried it over to the wardrobe and an empty hanger.
“You know you don’t have to do that? I mean this is all virtual. You’re not going to see that dress again in the next couple of weeks, so who cares if it gets creased?”
I turned to my new husband, who was loosening his tie, and smiled. “I know, but it seems like the right thing to do. Are you alright?”
“Oh, yeah. It’s just… I never realised how beautiful I was, how beautiful you are.”
I looked down at myself. Short, lacy, silk slip, white stockings and suspenders, the blue ribboned garter I’d borrowed from my mother, which made up three of the four, the delicate necklace with the twist of gold on the end of it – a wedding gift from Greg which was my something new.
“You like?” I sauntered over to him, enjoying the effect I was having on him, and pushed him unresisting onto the bed.
“You know, we don’t have to do this,” he said in a tight voice as I began to unbutton his shirt. “I mean I kind of sprung this whole body swap thing on you last minute, and I wouldn’t want you to feel you had to do something if it made you feel uncomfortable.”
“Are you kidding?” I pushed him onto his back and leaned forward to kiss him full and passionately on the lips, exploring his mouth and teeth with my tongue. I’d undone enough buttons that I was able to slide a hand under his shirt and brush my slender fingers through the hairs on his chest. I felt myself melt inside as it struck me how amazingly handsome I had been back then.
He moved, lifting me up as though I weighed nothing, and spinning me round so I was on the bed with him looking down on me with that half smile I had always found so cute. That had to be one of Linda’s memories, in fact so much of this, the thoughts, the feelings, it was impossible to tell how much of what was going on in my head was me and how much was coming from the machine I was plugged into.
“Good,” he said, “because I’m not entirely sure I can control myself.”
I reached down to feel the enormous bulge I knew would be there. With dextrous fingers, I unfastened his belt, unzipped and unbuttoned his trousers, eased them and his boxers down his thighs, pausing only to unhook them from the obvious.
Funny I don’t remember it being that big.
He took over, sliding my own knickers off me. I’d put them on over the suspenders, just for this moment. It meant I didn’t have to get fully undressed, and neither did he.
“Take it slow,” I whispered in his ear, but he wasn’t listening.
He fumbled about trying to get it into the right position, too eager, too clumsy. I reached down with my own cool fingers and took hold of him, guiding him.
A momentary pain, and he was in.
I felt complete in a way I’d never experienced before. To say he filled a space in me would be to risk sounding altogether too literal, but in that moment, I felt complete and connected, and not so much by our physical contact. It was a fleeting instant of sublime ecstasy, but then he moved – not much, but enough.
“Oh God!” He went rigid, and I could feel him throbbing inside me. “I’m sorry.”
I couldn’t help it. I giggled.
“It’s okay. If you remember, I wasn’t much different when I was in your position.”
“Yeah, I know, but I wanted to do better.”
I could feel him deflating inside me.
“And what made you think you could? You thought I wasn’t trying?”
“I don’t know. No, I suppose not. I just didn’t realise what it would be like from this side.”
“Never mind,” I reached up to kiss him. “Give it a few minutes, and we’ll try again.”
And we did. Not just once but several times over. I can’t remember exactly how many, but certainly enough to take me to the limit of my endurance. By the time we were both spent, I felt he’d bored a hole in me big enough to hide an elephant, and I was getting seriously concerned about friction burns. That and my head was fizzing like Mentos in Coke.
I snuggled into the crook of his arm and twirled my fingers in his chest hair. There wasn’t much to say, nor any opportunity as within a few minutes, his chest started rumbling under my ear and he settled into a steady rhythmic snore.
I suppressed a giggle and disentangled myself from his arm. We’d made a bit of a mess of the bedclothes, and I was sort of unpleasant down below – no I don’t want to go into details, but it did seem to be an unnecessary level of accuracy in this experience. The suspender belt was digging into me in odd places as well, so I took the opportunity to have a shower and change out of the last of my day clothes.
A quick search of my luggage revealed a gauzy negligee with matching extras. I slipped into it, not that it offered much, either in protection from the growing chill, or in provision of modesty. It wasn’t even that comfortable, but it was something.
There wasn’t much I could do for Linda. He was too heavy for me to shift, and we’d already managed to get rid of his trousers and tie between us. I did clean the bed up as best I could without being able to remove the bedclothes he was lying on, then I covered him up with a blanket I found in one of the wardrobes and went in search of refuge from the rumble.
The room was large, but even so, the snoring was larger still. I found a kettle and a selection of drinks and made myself a camomile tea. I didn’t much care for the flavour, but it was something Linda drank sometimes when she had difficulty sleeping.
The room had a large window overlooking the hotel grounds. I could hear sounds of the party downstairs winding up, and occasionally a car would drive past as our guests headed for their own beds.
“God’s in His heaven, all’s right with the world.” I murmured as I sipped at my drink and leaned against the wall by the window. I squeezed my legs together, enjoying the absence of anything between them. I didn’t know how having something missing could add to my sense of completeness, but it did. There was also the weight of breasts on my chest, now unsupported by undergarments, and tingling gently as the more sensitive parts moved against the material of my nightclothes. There was the weight of hair down my back, tugging in places where the little that had survived of my crown braid pulled at parts of my scalp. There was the awareness of being shorter, lighter, slimmer, so much more delicate. This was the impossible dream I’d sought after all my life, the unattainable me inside. This was completeness.
I finished my tea, or as much of it as I could stomach, and headed back to the en suite, where I released the various bits of my hair from bobby pins and hair bands. A quick rummage in my suitcase revealed a hairbrush, the use of which added to the calming influence of the tea. Finally, a quick brushing of teeth to freshen up my breath, then back to bed beside the tectonic restlessness of my husband.
Husband! Just saying the word in my head brought a thrill, and again I wondered how much of this was me revelling in this ultimate of forbidden pleasures, and how much of it was Linda’s own memories of becoming the new Mrs Snipe.
I snuggled under the covers beside Linda and spooned up behind him. Linda was my name now, and I rolled it around inside my head. My name is Linda, Linda Snipe. There was a thrill in accepting the name; a sort of abandoning myself to this new role.
“Goodnight Greg,” I whispered and snuggled in closer.
I roused as the bed shifted, and opened my eyes to find myself gazing at the most handsome man in the world. Please let that be a Linda response, I thought. The last thing I needed was an attack of narcissism.
“Morning beautiful,” he rumbled and reached over to kiss me.
I wrinkled my nose. I couldn’t help it.
“Teeth,” I said. “Go brush them, please.”
“Nagging already? We haven’t been married a day yet.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“No, I’m only teasing.” He climbed out of bed and stood there resplendent in a rumpled shirt and socks, with a quite impressive morning erection. “I do know what your breath smells like first thing.”
He headed for the bathroom.
“Well hurry back before you’re little friend decides to become littler,” I called after him.
“Hey, less of the little. I didn’t hear you complaining last night.”
I followed him and planted a kiss on the back of his neck.
“Probably deafened by all snoring. Hey!”
The last was in response to his slapping my behind. It wasn’t something I’d ever done to Linda, but oddly, being on the receiving end actually felt good.
I settled onto the toilet and relieved the strain on my inadequate plumbing.
“Can you give me any tips on how I pee with this thing?” Linda – no, Greg – pointed at her – his – not so little friend.
“Well, there are a number of things you could try, but might I suggest putting it to its other use first? It’ll be easier to handle afterwards.”
I wiped and flushed as he was finishing with his toothbrush. He spun towards me and scooped me into his arms.
“You’re wish is my command, my lady.”
Whereupon he carried me back to the bed and we set about repeating the previous night’s performance.
“Could we just stay here for the whole two weeks?” He asked.
“The hotel might have something to say about it,” I said. “Besides this is all feeding off our memories. We were advised to keep as much as possible to the original events.”
“I know, but all I want to do right now is be with you.”
“So be with me, but why not do it in something slightly more presentable than yesterday’s shirt, and why not do it over breakfast?”
His stomach growled its approval of the idea, and laughing, we both climbed out of bed to get dressed and greet the day.
Comfortable jeans and sweatshirt. Skin tight, paint on jeans, but stretchy fabric, so they were comfortable as well as looking stunning. Low heels, but heels nonetheless. I didn’t want to be to vertically challenged. The sweatshirt was oversized as well, and long enough that it could have passed for a mini-dress.
I clung to his arm as we walked down the corridor to the lift. Breakfast was laid out, and we had a quiet table to ourselves beside a large French window, looking out onto a rose garden. It was spring, and a little cool, but there were a few open windows, filling the room with fresh morning air, and the scent of flowers.
I grabbed a glass of orange juice and a half slice of dry toast, while Greg piled his plate high with sausages, eggs, bacon, you name it.
“You do realise you can eat what you like?” he asked me.
“Yeah, but I’m really not hungry.”
I wasn’t. Last night’s meal still sat a little heavily inside me, so I sat and nibbled at my meagre fair, while he tucked in with the greatest of gusto.
“You know, I’ve always envied you this,” he said around mouthfuls of greasy food.
I could taste it just by looking at him, and I did feel my mouth salivating just a little. I knew that if I gave in to temptation, I’d just end up feeling more bloated though, so I contented myself with nibbling on dry toast.
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” I said, smiling.
He stopped, his fork half raised.
“You are enjoying it, aren’t you? I mean I know what you said yesterday, but…”
“I can’t begin to tell you how much. Can I ask you though, why is it that you thought to arranged this?”
“I don’t know. A hunch more than anything. When I woke up yesterday morning, the idea was sitting there waiting for me, and it felt right.”
“And you trust your feelings?”
“Always. They’ve never steered me wrong. Did you get that feeling at the church yesterday?”
“When I saw you by the altar and knew you were the man for me?”
“That’s the one. You are getting those then?”
“Yes. I imagine you’re feeling a lot of my responses too, like last night when your one eyed trouser snake took over.”
“Yeah. It’s weird. It’s like being two people at the same time. Underneath it all I can still feel the me I’ve always been, but there’s always this strong sense of you and your feelings.”
“That gets stronger when the feeling intensifies.”
“Pretty much. Doesn’t that make you feel a little violated though? I mean I know men tend to have a hang up about girly things. Don’t you feel like you’re being strong-armed into behaving and feeling all feminine, and enjoying things that are all girly and not at all manly?”
“Well, it’s like you said yesterday, isn’t it? There’s something deliciously feminine about me.”
He looked across at me with that odd expression I’d been seeing so much of recently. I wasn’t ready for the conversation to go down this route just yet. His plate was empty, and so was mine.
“If you’ve done, we probably ought to pack and check out. I’d rather get to the airport early. I mean I know we’re going to make the flight, but I’d still rather have the peace of mind of being there in good time.”
“Fine. Let’s go pack.”
“What happens with the dress?”
“Its pixels get overwritten.”
“No, what happened to it in real life?”
“Don’t you remember? We handed it over at reception when we checked out, then your mum and dad picked it up when they came by to settle the bill for last night’s party.
“Ooh, look at this?”
He’d found a ‘do not disturb sign’ hanging just inside the door.
“It would be a shame not to make use of all the hotel’s facilities, and we have time.”
I didn’t object, so he hung it on the outside knob.
We made it to the airport with time to spare before the check in desk opened. When it did, we weren’t just front of the queue, we were the queue.
“Just married?” The woman behind the counter asked as she checked our passports.
“Is it that obvious?” Linda replied.
“Well, there’s the big smiles and the way you’re clinging together like two halves of the same clam, there’s the different surnames on the passports, which I’ll admit doesn’t mean much these days, but then you still have some confetti in your hair, and you both look so happy. The last time I remember feeling like that was on my honeymoon.”
I glanced up at Linda with a ‘cat’s got the cream’ smile.
“Listen,” the clerk continued, “I’m not really supposed to do this, but how would you like to travel first class this trip?”
“We were thinking of upgrading,” Linda said, “if it’s not too expensive.”
“No, you don’t understand. This would be compliments of the airline. Our way of saying congratulations and good luck.”
“Really? That’s so kind of you,” I bubbled, and buried my head deeper into Linda’s chest.
No, I couldn’t think of it as Linda’s. There were no breasts. I had the breasts and Greg had the broad, but relatively flat chest. It would get too complicated if I kept thinking of him as Linda. I needed to go with the flow, to accept this role, at least for the next two weeks.
The lady finished checking in our luggage and handed back our passport and boarding passes.
“I’m afraid you still have a two hour wait before we start boarding, but once you’ve gone through security, your passes will give you access to the VIP lounge. There’s coffee and cake, and newspapers and comfortable chairs. Everything in there is complimentary, so help yourselves and enjoy.”
“Thank you, this is amazing.” I was all but jumping up and down with excitement.
“Just don’t let on, will you? The people who pay for first class can get funny about us giving upgrades away.”
“Of course not. Thank you so much.”
I’ve only flown first class once or twice in my life, and then quite recently. The simulation must have built its model of the first class lounge from those memories, because it looked much the same. The coffee was good, and I shared half a cake with Greg. He had another one on top, but then, since the calories were only virtual, it did no harm. I could have pigged out as well, but I found I just wasn’t that hungry.
We found a comfortable couch and settled down together to wait. Greg had one of the papers and was leafing through the stories from fifteen years ago. All I cared about was that we were here together. Just leaning against him, feeling his chest rise and fall with each breath, listening to the quiet thudump of his heart, it filled me with a scintillating delight, and all I wanted to do was drink in the sensation.
“You know I’d forgotten most of this.”
He shook the paper and pointed at some of the headlines. I glanced at them. They were vaguely familiar, but I wasn’t really interested. Yet again I snuggled deeper into his side, closed my eyes and drank in the moment.
There was a pause while he processed the name switch.
“Yes Linda?” he kissed the top of my head sending thrills down my spine.
“Thank you for this. This crazy idea of yours. Thank you for sharing this experience with me. I can’t remember being happier. Not even when I was me and we were just married.”
He folded the paper and put it to one side, slid his arms around me and kissed me on top of my head again.
“Do you know, I was thinking pretty much the same thing? I remember our wedding day, and I don’t know if it has something to do with the strength of the memories they’re projecting into us, but this seems so much more intense than I recall.”
“Maybe it’s because we’re seeing it all from such different perspectives. Maybe it’s the newness of it all.”
“Maybe, but I don’t think it’s just that.”
“I was kind of worried that you’d freak out at all the different things about being a woman. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everything seems so much better when you just go with the flow. The bits where I’ve felt stressed and… wrong, have been when I was kind of fighting the circumstances, fighting the thoughts and feelings.
“Last night it was kind of weird making love to the face I’ve seen in the mirror every day of my life, but when I let that go, when I accepted that I was you, and let your memories and feelings guide me, everything went better, felt smoother sort of thing.
“I’ll admit it’s bothered me that you, being the stubborn idiot that you are sometimes, might fight it all. I mean as a man, I don’t know, don’t you resent being so much smaller and weaker? Don’t you hate the idea of wearing a dress? Doesn’t it make you want to resist what’s happening?”
Wow! How did we get to this conversation so quick?
“I’m not a man, though. I’m you.”
“But you’re still you underneath, in the same way I’m still me. I can feel your resolve, and your strength of will. I can feel how you were holding something in check even fifteen years ago. Then there’s me inside it all. I’m not entirely you at the moment, and I can continue to be Linda, even inside your mind and body. The same is true of you, so how come you’re not fighting being me?”
“I suppose I could have. Right at the outset it felt so strange, I was dizzy with it; almost passed out. I think I figured then that the only thing to do was relax and go with it. While I do that, I feel more Linda and less Greg, and it doesn’t leave much room for me to fight. It’s been such a rush too, so I haven’t particularly wanted to.”
The silence that followed told me she still wasn’t convinced. Linda could be as tenacious as me in her battles. The question remained whether or not the mingling of our thoughts and feelings, the single-mindedness that being me might give her, would help her to make progress here. Maybe the female aspects of her thought process would make me more inclined to share. Maybe, who knew?
A liveried stewardess came over to us and invited us to board. Had it really been two hours? Time flies when you’re locked in a battle of wills with the one you love.
The flight was fantastic. Complimentary champagne, wide seats with so much leg room – not that leg room was much of an issue for me. No kid kicking me in the back, no big, fat, sweaty man pressing against me. We were only in the air for two and a half hours, but it had been an interminable and unpleasant two and a half hours in my previous memory. This was luxurious and delightful. We both arrived feeling refreshed and relaxed instead of frustrated and snippy.
It wasn’t as tacky and touristy as I remembered, but then I was probably comparing it with some of the more exotic places Linda and I had visited in previous years. It was deliciously hot as well. Before we deplaned, I stripped off my sweatshirt to reveal the light strappy top I’d put on under it. It had a built in bra, so no ugly additional straps over the shoulders, it was skin tight, and had a sort of wild rose pattern in pink and sort of grey-green over an off white background. I’d always liked the way Linda looked in it, and right now I was revelling in the number of heads it was turning in my direction.
We made it out of the airport in half an hour, thanks in part to our upgraded status, after which we were only a ten minute taxi ride from the hotel, which was pretty much as I remembered it. Seven stories of cheaply constructed and not particularly attractive concrete, but in its favour, pretty much on the beach and within easy walking distance of shops and restaurants.
We checked in, settled into our room which was a little disappointing after the previous night’s luxury. I think we both felt that we could have done better, even on our limited budget, but this wasn’t the time or place to lose the magic.
I put my arms around Greg’s neck and kissed him.
“It’ll do,” I said, not trying to hide the obvious inadequacy. I remember Linda saying much the same to me when we’d arrived fifteen years ago. “All I really need is you right now.” Again I kissed him, but cut it short. “And a bathroom.”
We changed into clothes more appropriate to the weather. For Greg that meant shorts and a polo shirt. For me, the choice was considerably broader, as Linda had spent quite a lot of time, effort and money on my honeymoon wardrobe.
I settled on a short, sleeveless, burgundy sundress. The colour worked better with my pale skin than some of the more summery things I had. Matching sandals and handbag – of course – and a couple of hair grips with flower decorations on them. It didn’t take long to get ready, and as I stepped out of the bathroom and did a twirl for Greg, an odd expression settled on him.
“Why do I feel jealous all of a sudden?”
“Because, husband of mine, you may be tall, strong, broad shouldered and ruggedly handsome, but you know in your heart of hearts that none of that compares to looking drop dead gorgeous.”
I was teasing, and very much going with the flow of being Linda, but Greg had his thoughtful expression on again. I didn’t want to give him too much time to brood, so I hooked my arm into his elbow and guided him to the door.
“Come on, sweetheart. Don’t you want to show off your stunning bride to the world? Enjoy their drooling jealousy? Savour their misfortune at there only being one of me, and that I am wholly and utterly yours?”
“You’re wearing a dress.”
“Yes. If you recall, at least half the clothes you packed were dresses, and at least half of what was left were skirts.”
“I did pack some shorts.”
“Yes, but they’re too pale. I need to bronze a bit before they’ll look right. Come on, I want to look at the beach, paddle in the sea.”
He let me drag him away from our room and his thoughts, and before long we were barefoot with him chasing me through the shallows. He was toying with me of course. So much stronger and faster than me, and me hampered by my feelings, leaving me breathless and weak at the knees.
Eventually he put us both out of our miseries as he dashed forwards and grabbed me up in his arms, both of us laughing.
Carrying me like a baby, he started wading out into deeper water.
“Greg, no!” I said. “This is a new dress. You’ll ruin it. Greg don’t. No, Greg, No!”
The last transformed into an outraged scream as he threw me as high as he could manage. For a brief moment I was weightless, my arms and legs flailing, then with a much larger splash that I would have thought possible from my delicate frame, I landed in the sea.
Despite the heat, or perhaps because of it, the water was shockingly cold. It took me a moment to get my feet under me and get clear enough of the surface to breathe. I clawed clammy strands of hair out of my eyes and glared at him. Somehow I still had my sandals in my hand. I thought for a moment about throwing them at him, but that would have been a waste, as well as too much of an escalation. I began to move towards him with malevolent purpose.
The grin disappeared from his face and he turned to run. He was waist deep in water though, so couldn’t move as fast as me swimming towards him. Perhaps he was deliberately slowing down so I could catch him. I didn’t care. I stopped close behind him, put my feet on the bottom and launched myself up onto his back, twisting him and pulling him down into the water with me.
“Ha! Fuck, it’s cold.”
“You owe me a new dress,” I said through a self-satisfied smirk, ”and a new pair of sandals.”
He took them out of my hand and tossed them to one side, drawing me into an embrace.
There weren’t many people about this far out from the shore. I melted into him and reached down to slide his shorts and trunks off him. He similarly relieved me of my bikini bottoms.
The cold water hadn’t done much to dampen his ardour. I lifted my feet off the sea floor and wrapped them around his waist.
Like I think I said earlier, make up sex is amazing.
We lost two pairs of shoes and half a swimsuit to the ocean currents. In fact the only reason Greg didn’t lose his trunks and shorts was because they didn’t make it past his ankles. This was just as well, as he had the room key in his shorts pocket.
Fortunately my dress was long enough that, with a little bit of rearrangement and holding things in place, I was able to emerge from the sea with modesty more or less intact. The material was opaque enough, even when wet, to hide my wardrobe deficiency.
We walked barefoot along the beach until the sun had dried us both enough that we felt safe returning to the hotel.
Back in our room, we shared a shower to clean off the salt and sand, then changed for a wander into town. For me that meant another dress, and another odd look from Greg.
Our main reason for the wander was to scope out likely eateries for the week, and to buy in some basic provisions. Our budget hotel didn’t cater, but it did provide basic amenities like a fridge, microwave, kettle, bowls, plates, etc – enough for us to be able to sort out breakfasts and snack lunches for ourselves. The restaurants would have to do for our evening meals, but since there was no shortage of them, and at prices to suit even our limited resources, we didn’t expect this to be much of a hardship.
Replacing our lost footwear proved to be easy since pretty much every other shop seemed to sell flip flops, and quite a few had jelly sandals, which I preferred. Even the grocery shopping was quicker and simpler than expected. We found a supermarket which catered for British tastes – or perhaps lack of them – and when the manager discovered we were newly-weds, he insisted on having our purchases delivered to the hotel for us.
This left us with tons of time, and since I wanted to replace my losses from earlier in the day, I found a clothes shop and dragged Greg in with me.
It was a large place, but unfortunately not one with quality to match the quantity. I’d hoped to mete out some revenge on Greg for ruining a perfectly good dress by trying out everything in the shop, but most of it was as tacky as it was cheap, and I soon lost interest.
I did find one dress I liked, and Greg picked out a few which merited consideration. I was just emerging from the cubicle to ask his opinion on one of them when I caught him standing in front of a mirror, holding a dress in front of him. The shop was all but empty, the attendants all sitting in one corner, chatting away in Spanish, so he’d evidently felt safe enough to risk it.
I snuck up behind him and peered around his shoulder.
“You’d look rather nice in that,” I said, teasing.
He jumped like a startled hare and dropped the dress, opened his mouth to make an excuse, thought better of it. Overall he looked a lot like a goldfish, but without the gills and fins.
“If you miss the clothes, we could always get a few things for you,” I said, stooping to pick up the object of his recent attention. “I mean just because you’re wearing my body doesn’t mean you’re any less of a woman.”
“I doubt they’d have anything in my size,” he said, a blush spreading across his face. He waved at the dress in my hand. “This was for you to try on anyway.”
I took it and tried it. I wish I could say I liked it. I mean it was okay, but like so much of what I’d tried on, it was nothing special, and not very well made.
The dress I ended up buying was one of the first ones I’d tried on. I’d been pretty sold on it at the time, but just because you’ve found a winner, doesn’t mean you stop trying does it? I wore it out of the shop, enjoying the lift the new clothes gave to my spirits. I mean this was all new to me, but the part of Linda that was being projected into my brain responded differently to the new outfit.
We decided on an early dinner at what turned out to be a disappointing fish restaurant. The food was okay, but not the greatest of flavours, however, a couple of bottles of Albariño helped to mitigate this.
We made our way back to the hotel, via a route that unintentionally made use of both sides of the road, collected our groceries from the front desk, and staggered into our room. A quick change had me in the negligee that Greg hadn’t had the opportunity to appreciate fully the previous night. I also found a tee shirt nightdress that looked like it might have sufficient stretch in it. Greg’s mood had seemed a little subdued since the clothes shop, and I had an idea why.
I sauntered back into the bedroom, holding the other nighty behind my back. Greg’s expression brightened at the sight of me, but I could see from his eyes that his heart wasn’t all the way in it.
I walked right up to him and reached all the way up on tiptoes to kiss him on the mouth. His chin was rough from a day’s growth of stubble, which I found turned me on immensely. I dropped the nighty on the bed behind him and reached down to undo his belt.
I kept his back to the bed until he was completely out of his clothes.
“Close your eyes,” I told him.
“Just do it.”
He did. I reached behind him and retrieved the nightdress. It was long on me, coming down to the middle of my shins, which meant that on Greg it should come down to his knees or thereabouts, assuming it would fit over his head. The neck was wide though, so I had my hopes. I gathered it up ready to put over him.
“What is this?”
“No peaking. Put your arms out.”
He did as he was told and I slipped them through the sleeves of the nightdress, put it over his head and helped it to fall into place. It just about reached his knees.
“What the hell!”
I didn’t give him a chance to respond. I pushed him back onto the bed and landed on top of him, kissing him, and fondling him in all the places I knew would work on his body. I could feel the nightdress tenting underneath me, and paused long enough to slide my knickers off. It had hardly seemed worthwhile putting them on in the first place.
I slid his nighty up until he was revealed in all his glory, and gently stroked him in a place that risked bringing things to a very swift and messy conclusion, but he held it together. I took it slowly, not giving him a chance to take over, making him the receiver in every respect. Eventually, when we were both fully aroused, I arranged myself on top of him and settled down until he was deep inside of me.
He tried to move, but I wouldn’t let him. I kept us in that position for as long as I dared. When I felt him soften a little, I started to move. Slowly, intermittently, just enough to keep him there on the edge, and me creeping very slowly closer towards it. It took a while, but we both got there, more or less at the same time.
We lay side by side staring at the gently rotating ceiling fan for a while.
“Wow,” Greg said.
“Yeah,” I giggled.
“Why the nightdress?”
“Call it a hunch.”
“I don’t understand why I felt so much more aroused.”
“Hang on to that thought,” I said sliding off the bed. “I need to clean up a bit.”
A few short moments in the bathroom, a quick retrieval of my underwear from the bed, and I was back beside him.
“So any thoughts?”
“I was hoping you might have some.”
I swallowed. I wasn’t quite ready to talk about it. Maybe give her some clues so she could work it out for herself, but not talk about it directly.
“Maybe we should sleep on it.”
“Sure. My turn to clean up though, and get out of this thing.”
“Would you mind keeping it on? I kind of like it.”
“I look like a tool.”
“How do you know? I’m not laughing, am I?”
“You’re about the only person who wouldn’t.”
“I’m about the only person here, other than you.”
He shrugged and made his own way to the toilet.
I’m not sure what it was about having Greg in a nightdress that appealed. Perhaps the lingering smell of my perfume, perhaps that lingering part of Greg in me that wanted it, perhaps the feeling that There was enough Greg inside of Linda that I knew he’d appreciate it. Either way, we lay in each other’s arms, enjoying the evening breeze, until we dropped off.
“Good evening Mr and Mrs Snipe. Please don’t be alarmed. This is Ian Hamilton from Dream Breaks. We try not to contact our clients in the middle of an experience, but when the circumstances require it, we find that the easiest way is to induce a lucid dream and to connect with it. Our, er, link is solely auditory I’m afraid, so anything you see will be entirely from your subconscious.”
Why did he have to say that? I’d had a dream since childhood of being a beautiful princess in a magnificent castle, guarded by an enormous, terrifying dragon, until my knight in shining armour came along. The blackness around me began to flow and coalesce into the castle’s stone walls and the brilliant red scales of the dragon standing in front of me.
I managed to hold in a scream, and looked across sheepishly at Linda, still wearing my body underneath a suit of full armour with shield and sword.
What I was wearing was long and silky, in shades of white and burgundy. I could see any of my hair since it was tied up in some sort of arrangement, but I could feel the weight of the conical hat perched on my head.
Greg gave me an odd look – yes I suppose I did still see him as Greg – so I shrugged my shoulders The Dragon continued to speak in Mr Hamilton’s voice.
“I’m sorry to say that we’ve experienced a few anomalies with your experience – enough of them, and severe enough that we thought it prudent to contact you.”
“What sort of anomalies,” Greg asked. It would normally have been me who posed such questions, but it felt right to let Greg take the lead.
“Well, it’s a little complicated to explain. We usually expect these experiences to change the patterns in your brains to some extent, and usually it’s most obvious on the first day. Essentially any new experience you have lays down new paths in your memory, and changes the overall structure of the pattern stored in your brain. As I say this is normal, even when the experience involves reliving old memories. In your case, we expected the change to be larger since you were experiencing each other’s memories, and this was the case. When it happened as expected, we didn’t think much of it.
“When it continued today though, we became a little concerned. We investigated and discovered that one of our technicians had increased the intensity of the induced memories to that maximum safe level for both of you. We have taken disciplinary action, and she won’t be working on your experience any more.
“Unfortunately, the extent of the changes this has brought about in both of you has been significant enough, that we are unsure it would be wise to continue with your experience in its present form.”
“What do you mean by the extent of the changes? Exactly what changes?”
The dragon reared back and coughed nervously, emitting a small cloud of sulphurous smoke. Unable to help myself, I let out a nervous meep, which the dragon seemed not to notice
“Er, it’s hard to say exactly, but it is the expert opinion of our chief scientists and technicians that we should discontinue this trial.”
“No.” Again I couldn’t quite help the outburst. Whatever my reservations might have been about starting this venture, I most certainly wasn’t ready to stop.”
“I’m sorry Mrs Snipe, but this is in everyone’s best interest. It would be reckless to continue. We would, quite justifiably, be open to accusations of unethical and unprofessional practice, and there would almost certainly be unforeseen consequences for both you and your husband.”
“What sort of consequences?”
“I’m sorry, I would rather not speculate on that.”
“What if we don’t want to stop?”
“What!?” Greg turned incredulous eyes in my direction. “You can’t be serious. You were the one who was concerned about the potential harm from communicating directly with the brain, and now that these people have noticed something that worries them, and they want to be safe about it. I’m sorry love, there’s no question; they have to pull us out.”
“Actually, that might not be necessary, or even the best course of action,” the Mr Hamilton dragon continued. “We believe it would be best to switch the feeds back so continue to relive your honeymoon as you originally intended, with each of you experiencing it within your own bodies. We think that projecting your own memories and past reaction onto you would help balance out the changes that have been made so far.”
“How long do we have to decide?”
“I’m sorry, you misunderstand. The decision has been made. As per the agreements and waivers you signed, in matters relating to your health, such as this one, we have the right to decide on your behalf. The purpose of this communication is to inform you of the situation, and to let you know what we intend. We wouldn’t want you to wake up tomorrow morning and discover that you had switched bodies without warning.
“I really am very sorry that this hasn’t worked out as you hoped, but we did warn you there was a small chance of something unforeseen happening. Now, if you’ll relax, I’ll withdraw from your dream and allow you to return to your slumber.”
I was not ready for this. My subconscious rebelled and the dream turned nasty. The dragon reared up in front of us, drawing in an almighty breath.
“Greg!” I yelled.
He stepped in front of me, covering me with his armoured frame.
The dragon breathed, but no flaming, searing, agonising death came our way. Instead we were enveloped in a black cloud that robbed us of our senses.
I was me again, I could feel it in everything. From the different texture of the nightclothes I was wearing, to the reduced urgency of my early morning ablutionary needs. Most of all though, was the difference inside my head. No more of Linda’s thoughts and emotions crowding my mind.
I stared at the ceiling and the slowly rotating fan, dimly visible in the pre-dawn light. I felt empty and weighed down at the same time, as though a giant stone were pressing down on my chest, making it difficult to breathe. I felt a profound sense of loss; which didn’t seem quite right because I was back to being me..
Perhaps it was as well we’d been forced to change back so soon. If it was this hard to deal with after just two days, I hated to think what it would have been like after a whole two weeks.
It was light enough, and I felt restless. I rolled out of bed and made my way to the bathroom. Somehow, given the way I was dressed, it seemed appropriate to take care of business sitting down, so I settled on to the seat and did what needed doing.
I must have phased out, because the next I knew, Linda was standing in the doorway looking at me with a worried expression.
I stood and flushed, surrendering the throne to the needy next in line. Having washed my hands, and fully aware of how bad my breath could be in the morning, I made good use of my toothbrush. Mine Greg’s, I reminded myself, not mine Linda’s.
“You know, you look kind of cute in that.”
It didn’t look bad. Minty green with pink kittens on the front. Not entirely manly, but somehow me.
I carried on brushing.
“You know it’s probably as well we changed back now…”
I spat out a gob of foam. “I already thought of that,” I interrupted her. I wasn’t in a mood for platitudes. I washed out my mouth and made for the bathroom door.
“I’m sorry love.”
I shrugged and continued towards the kitchen area. Caffeine wouldn’t solve this, but it might help, and it couldn’t hurt.
Linda joined me about the time the water boiled. The coffee was instant, which wasn’t a massive plus in its favour, but it was fully leaded which kicked my brain into gear, even if it dead nothing about the lead weight hanging on my spirit.
“This is it, isn’t it? The thing that messes you up every time we get a bit of free time together, this is the thing that drags you down. Yesterday in the clothes shop, I thought it was me missing the dresses, missing being me, but then there was that odd sense of guilt when you caught me holding that dress up, and that amazing feeling when we made love last night with you wearing that.”
I hung my head and nodded.
“And you didn’t think you could tell me about it?”
“Hello Linda, I’m your husband, and I like to wear women’s clothes. Hardly the sort of conversation starter that going to lead to a happy conclusion, is it?”
“It’s not just that though, is it? I’ve been you, remember. It’s more like you want to be a woman, not just dress up like one, though God alone knows why you would. I already miss the extra height and strength, and clarity of thought, not to mention being able to stand up to pee. You guys really don’t know how good you’ve got it.”
I poured out a bowl of cereal, added milk, grabbed a spoon and started shovelling. I really didn’t feel like talking right now.
“You should keep that on,” she said pointing at the nightie. “I meant what I said earlier, you look adorable in it.”
“It’s kind of tight.”
“Well why don’t we get you something like it in your size? That clothes shop had plus sizes that would do. We can get you that dress you caught me looking at while we’re at it; it was definitely your colour.”
“You want to enable this?” I pointed at myself in all my feline, minty cuteness.
“I want to bring you back from that dark place you go to whenever you’re not distracting yourself with work. I don’t care about the clothes. I’ll accept that a couple of days ago I probably wouldn’t have understood, but I get it now, or at least I do a bit. If it’ll help for you to spend the rest of these two weeks wearing a frock, then let’s do it.”
“Like you said yesterday, I look like a tool. Everyone would laugh at me.”
“Everyone here’s a computer simulation. Why would it matter?”
“It would matter because when you put on a dress, you do so in order to look good, to be appreciated, to feel good about yourself; not to be ridiculed. It’s like you said, it’s not just the clothes; it’s the way people respond to you when you’re wearing them.
“Besides, we’ve already been told, the more we depart from the original memories, the more the simulation will begin to break down.”
“I don’t know. Last night was quite a departure.”
“But it was just the two of us. Me wandering round virtual Ibiza in a frock would be significantly different from the way things went on our honeymoon.”
“Fine, but we’re going to get you some girl clothes and whenever we’re alone together, I’m going to expect you to wear them.”
“Why? What’s the point?”
“The point is, even if it only makes a tiny bit of an improvement, it’ll still be better than the way you are now.”
I shrugged and drained my coffee – now gone cold. I didn’t think it would work, but I didn’t have the heart to fight.
I was a little nervous when Linda started holding up skirts and dresses against me to see how they’d look, but after a few curious glances, we were dismissed as another couple of mad English tourists, and the shop attendants went back to their gossiping.
“I really didn’t expect you to be okay with this,” I commented as yet another floral print summer dress was offered up and then replaced on the rack.
“I’m a little surprise myself,” Linda replied, “but having walked a mile or two in your shoes, I have a clearer perspective, so yes I suppose I am.”
We made our way to the changing area – there was only one, shared by both men and women – Linda with the pile of things she’d picked out and me with a couple of tee shirts and a pair of shorts. The cubicles were empty, so we picked the largest and went into it together.
Linda helped me out of my clothes and into one outfit after another. Linda’s eye for what worked was amazing. Size-wise pretty much everything fit comfortably, and even style-wise I actually looked about as good as I think it’s possible for a man to look in women’s clothes. Under different circumstances I might have started enjoying myself, but I had too recently been the real thing, and this was a decidedly poor second by comparison.
We discarded a few of the outfits, including the tee shirts and shorts I’d brought as my pretext for being there, and went to pay. There were a few arched eyebrows and knowing smirks when Linda handed over a stack of clothes which were obviously too big for her. I couldn’t do anything to prevent the reddening of my face, and we left the shop pursued by a few less than subtle giggles and snickers.
“I’m not so sure about this,” I said once we were clear of the shop.
“Well, the damage is done now, so you’d best make the most of it.”
We headed back to the hotel where Linda instructed me to change while she put some lunch together.
I chose a pretty cream summer dress with a green and yellow floral print to it. It was sleeveless, low cut and just above knee length, so I had to spend about half an hour with a razor before I felt ready to try it on. I’d never shaved anything more than my face before now, and it surprised me how much cooler I felt with all the hair gone.
I emerged from the bathroom to find both Linda and lunch waiting.
“Finally! I thought you’d disappeared down the plughole.”
“I’d have thought you of all people would appreciate how much time and effort goes into looking beautiful.”
“Are you insinuating that it takes me as long to get ready?”
“Why don’t we just say it probably seems longer when you’re the one doing the waiting?”
“I guess so. Come out here into the light so I can look at you.”
“And everyone else with a view of our room, you mean? I’m sorry, I’m not going anywhere near that window.”
Despite my protest she pulled me out into full sunlight, and made me twirl.
“Very nice. Worth the wait, definitely. Come on, let’s eat.”
So we did. Small, careful bites to make sure I didn’t drip anything on myself. Smaller portion than usual too, largely because I felt too nervous to eat. I kept looking across at Linda to see if I could glean anything more from her expression than the little I could see on the surface, but she remained inscrutable.
Not that I have any particular skill in scruting.
The clothes definitely helped. I could feel my earlier sense of loss lifting a little. It wasn’t as good as actually wearing Linda’s skin, but it was still better than I’d ever felt just being me.
When we were done, Linda grabbed the dirties and set them in the sink.
“We can wash up later,” she said. “I fancy going for a walk.”
“Fine. I’ll get changed.”
“You look good as you are.”
“Linda, we talked about this.”
“Which is how I knew you’d object, and why I locked all your male clothes in my suitcase.”
“Yup, that’s me,” She gave me a self-satisfied smile, “and I’m going out. So you can either stay here and mope, or you can come with me. Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?”
“You noticed the girls in the shop when we were paying for this stuff.”
“I did. So they had a giggle. So what?”
“Linda, please don’t do this. I’m not ready to go out in public wearing a dress.”
“Yeah, don’t I know it? It took you fifteen years of not being ready before I found out you even wanted to wear one, and then only because I had a chance to see what it was like being you, and what you were like being me.
“So you’re scared of how the world will react. So maybe it’s going to be a bit crap for a while, but what are the alternatives? Either you spend all your life being someone you’re not, denying an aspect of who you are and suffering because of it – not to mention allowing your black moods to affect the ones who care about you – or you go out there and face the world. And what better time to have a go at facing the world than when it’s not even real?”
“Why are you pushing so hard for me to do this, Linda?”
“Because I’m sick and tired of being married to someone who either hides in his work, or leaks his depression everywhere. Because I’ve seen something of what you’re like from the inside, and this looks like a solution to me. Because I brought us here for answers Greg, one way or the other. Because I love you, and it’s killing me to see you so unhappy.”
I hate it when women use logic.
It was too late to turn back now. We were outside the locked door to our room, and the key was in Linda’s handbag.
She’d done something to my hair with a brush and some hairspray, she’d added a touch of colour to my face, and she’d lent me a handbag. I still didn’t think I looked at all convincing, but she seemed to think I’d pass.
She gave me a bright smile and took hold of my hand, pulling me away down the corridor towards the lift, the hotel entrance, the outside world.
It’s difficult to describe my feelings stepping through that doorway into the sunshine. On one level I was terrified and had to fight myself every step of the way. The hotel reception was empty, except for the desk clerk, whose eyebrows went up at the sight of us, or rather me, but other than that gave no reaction. This gave me the courage to follow Linda through the door, and the sense of elation that accompanied being outside as I was, almost rivalled the way I’d felt being Linda for the previous two days.
The cool breeze around my legs, the swirl of my skirts, flashing colours in the bright sun, the overwhelming sense of rightness I felt deep inside, they all contributed. Linda’s face mirrored some of the delight I must have been showing, and she tugged on my arm, leading me towards the beach.
It was all so short lived. As soon as we reached the seafront and the crowd of people that filled it, all eyes swivelled in our direction. I felt like a mouse newly arrived at the owl parliament, and my new-found courage withdrew like the fronds of an anemone.
Not one face in a hundred showed any degree of friendliness. Most of the children were laughing and pointing. Pretty much all of the men showed some degree of anger in their faces, while the women, for the most part, showed a mixture of shock and amusement themselves.
I swallowed hard and stopped, pulling Linda to a stop beside me.
“Still think it’s such a great idea?” I murmured at her.
She looked around at the collective overreaction and steered me round back towards the hotel.
A group of youths had appeared from somewhere and were blocking off our retreat. Without much choice, we headed down the promenade behind the beach. By a small margin, there were fewer people there, and they were moving, so we wouldn’t be constantly walking around sunbathers.
A glance behind showed that the youngsters had decided on us being the afternoon’s entertainment. They had fanned out and were following swiftly enough that the distance between us was closing rapidly.
Linda indicated a road that headed back inland towards the centre of town. Anything else had to be better than the hostile attention we were attracting, so I followed her lead, picking up the pace as I went.
Our escort altered course to follow us, also walking faster, which in turn caused us to accelerate, until both of us were on the verge of running.
Terror levels rose, and I felt oddly dizzy and disconnected. It was like I was following my own panicked body, then walking beside it, then back in it. I stumbled, Linda stooping beside me to help me recover, but it was too late. We were surrounded.
One of them – the leader, judging by his size and his body language – stepped forward, grabbed Linda and pulled her out of the circle. They glared at me as they advanced.
There weren’t many other people about other than my captors. I heard Linda calling for help, but she seemed so far away. All I could see were the ugly sneers on the faces around me, the anger and intensity in the eyes.
“Please. Don’t.” I heard the words. They seemed to be me saying them, except that it sounded like me from the outside, like the way I’d heard Linda speak when she was in my body. Things were confused, spinning, fading towards darkness.
I gave in. The last thing I remember was the rough, hard pavement rising to meet me as I fell, and the incongruous thought that I was going to get my dress dirty.
My first impression, upon returning to consciousness, was of voices – dozens of them, all speaking at high volume in a mixture of languages that were predominantly English and Spanish.
My next was of an ache in my head, arms and ribs.
I opened my eyes, somewhat painfully and ineffectually, and peered around at a large room, filled with desks and people. More than half wore uniforms of navy blue trousers and white shirts, the rest wore as diverse a range of clothing as you might expect to find anywhere, and even left me feeling as though I weren’t entirely out of place. They were the ones making most of the noise.
Linda must have noticed me moving. She appear beside me and looked into my eyes. She’d been crying.
“I’m sorry Greg, I never expected anything like this. I mean this is supposed to be a simulated holiday. Why would they make it possible for you to be attacked like this?”
“That’s not how it works, love. The simulation projects our memories back into our minds and our brains interpret them as being reality. When we respond differently within the simulation, it adapts by patching in other memories we may have, and failing that, it refers to our subconscious for direction. That’s when things become unpredictable, and that’s why they recommended that we try and stay reasonably close to the actual memories.”
“But when we were each other, we were about as different from what actually happened as it’s possible to be.”
“Not really. The events were still pretty close, apart from getting to the airport early and enjoying the upgrade. The memories were close enough that the simulator could use them for the most part. The only difference was whose brain they were projected into, which didn’t massively affect which memories were available to use.
“Today we went so far away from anything that either of us have experienced in real life, that the simulation had no choice but to dig into our subconscious minds for clues as to what would happen next, and I’ve had years of imagining worst possible scenarios.”
“How do you know so much about it?”
“I read all the blurb they sent us. You don’t think I would have let them mess with our minds without assuring myself that it was safe?”
“I guess not.”
“I take it from the aches and the bruising, that they kicked me about a bit after I collapsed, and from the surroundings, that you managed to find a policeman who scared them off and brought us here?”
“Pretty much. We’re waiting for a policeman who speaks English. Most of them do, but then a lot of the people who end up here are English tourists, so we wait our turn.
“Greg, if I’d had any idea this would happen…”
“I know. Linda, it’s not your fault. You’re not the one with the nightmare ideas on how people might react to someone like me.”
“I didn’t react that way.”
“No you didn’t. But then one good experience doesn’t go a long way to balancing decades of horror-filled imaginings. What’s the betting the policeman who speaks to us isn’t in any way sympathetic?”
“Greg, you were mugged.”
“Will you let me have my clothes back if I’m right?”
“You can have your clothes back anyway. Greg, I never wanted any of this…”
“I know. Linda, it’s okay. This is unfortunate, but it’s not your fault, and I know you didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”
“Señor y Señora Snipe?”
Our policeman had arrived.
He led us to a small room and invited us to sit. There was a carafe of water on the table and two less than perfectly clean glasses. I didn’t care much. I poured myself a glass and downed it. Poured another and held it against my swollen eye.
He had a typical Mediterranean complexion which contrasted strongly with the bright white of his uniform shirt. His face was grim as he leafed through the report.
“So, what would you wish for me to do in this matter, Señor, er, Snipe?”
It was intended as an insult. There was the hint of a sneer on his mouth, and he hadn’t paused over our surname a moment ago. He’d intended for the title to sound like the feminine form.
“I was attacked by a group of Ibizan youngsters. What do you usually do under those circumstances?”
“If you insist on dressing as you do, Señor, er, Snipe, I think you have to accept some of the blame for the way people react to you.”
“So you’re going to do nothing?”
He shrugged. “There are many young people on this island, and many more who come from the mainland. It would be hard to identify them.”
“I got a good look at the ringleader. I could identify him.”
“And he would say he wasn’t here today, and his friends would back him up.”
“Come on Linda, this is a waste of time.” I stood and turned to the door.
“Yes, a waste of my time too, Señor. Perhaps you would oblige us all by not indulging in your, er, English pastimes while you are staying here?”
I didn’t stop. I didn’t so much as pause. I felt like yelling at him, but given the way my subconscious was going, I could well end up spending the night in a prison cell with a bunch of individuals who didn’t mind which hole they stuck their dick in, as long as it went somewhere.
Linda caught up with me at the entrance to the police station. We were some distance from the hotel, so she hailed us a cab. The driver wasn’t too happy when he saw what half of his fare was wearing, but since his English was almost as bad as my Spanish, he gave up trying after a short while, and settled for charging us at a higher rate than normal.
Needless to say, he didn’t get a tip.
Back in our room, Linda slumped onto the bed and hung her head.
“I don’t understand,” she said. “I thought if there was a place in the world that would accept someone like you it would be Ibiza.”
“Except that this is Ibiza from fifteen years ago, and it’s an Ibiza that comes largely from my subconscious.” I settled on the bed beside her. “You may be right about the place, it may be that in real life I could do this sort of thing without fear, but my head is full of all sorts of hang-ups about how people behave towards people like me, so it’s hardly surprising that here and now we’re facing such strong prejudice.”
“I’m going to run you a bath,” she declared, standing up. “Then we are going to go out and find somewhere wonderful to eat.”
“Can I wear trousers?”
“Of course you can. After today, I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to.”
The girl clothes stayed in the wardrobe for the next few days. The aches and bruises were gone by the next day – one advantage of this all being imaginary I suppose – but the dirty looks still continued to follow us as people recognised me outside of a dress.
We soaked up sun, we did all the things we remembered enjoying on honeymoon, but somehow the intensity of the remembered emotion did little to affect the intensity of our response to that one disastrous outing. It wasn’t just me fighting the dark mood this time; Linda was also affected by it. Whether it was her memories of what it was like to be me, or whether it was guilt at getting me beaten up, and who knows how near I came to being arrested.
It was ruining not only what should have been an astounding holiday, but also one of the best memories of our lives together.
“We can always go home early,” Linda said to me as we wandered along the beach, her arm hooked in mine.
The way the simulation ran, the Dream Breaks technicians had no access to our experiences. They monitored our health during the experience, and, as we’d already found out, if they were concerned they could contact us through our dreams. If we wanted to contact them, there was a phone number we could call, which would connect us directly to the monitoring team. We could ask to be pulled out of the simulation early, and they could make it happen easily enough, although we’d been warned there might be a short delay.
“This isn’t turning out the way we wanted, is it?”
“No. Mind you, we could always ask them to switch back our experiences; put you back into me and me into you.”
“They wouldn’t. Even if we agreed to do it at our own risk, they’d be liable to all sorts of legal action. Letting us try something new is adventurous, letting us continue with the experiment after they’ve identified disturbing and potentially harmful effects is negligent.”
“You’re right I suppose. Shame though.”
“So you really think we should withdraw?”
“How do you see the rest of this break working out? The way we feel underneath is undermining the happy memories we already have. I reckon we’ll be better off if we back out now.”
“There’s a phone back at the hotel. We can call from there.”
“I’m sorry your experience hasn’t turned out to be what you expected.”
Mr Hamilton’s voice sounded tinny down the phone, but then I was holding the receiver so both Linda and I could hear and speak into it.
“I’m also genuinely sorry that we couldn’t complete things the way you wanted. I hope this hasn’t been too great a contributing factor to your decision to withdraw. Obviously we will arrange to have you pulled out as soon as possible. I’m told that this will take about a day, and may be a little bit more jarring than our intended close.”
“A day!” Linda exclaimed. “I thought an hour or two…”
“No, I’m afraid it’s a little more involved than most people think. You’ve probably heard it’s not a good idea to wake someone from a nightmare unless they’re in danger of causing harm. This is a little the same, but considerably more severe. An abrupt end to a simulation would create a sudden break in memory, which can lead to disorientation and often distress and depression. We have to bring the simulation to a natural end so that your memories blend into the here and now when you wake up, which means arranging an appropriate exit. We’ll be able to program it in so that it happens some time tomorrow, most likely during the day.
“If you change your mind at any time within the next twenty-four hours, please feel free to call back on this number and we’ll suspend the exit.”
“What do you mean that it’ll be a little more jarring?”
“In the originally planned simulation, Mr Snipe, you and your wife would travel home, spend a relaxing final evening together, then go to bed. You would then wake up here at Dream Breaks. Because the story of your holiday would have reached a conclusion, waking up back in the present day would seem more natural. In order to bring you out early, we’re going to have to induce a situation that will bring the story to an early close. Since it’ll happen part way through your honeymoon, it’ll depart from your existing memories and will most likely need to involve some abrupt event. Hopefully not one which is too unpleasant, but nevertheless, one that will end the story, and will unfortunately be at odds with your current recollection. It’ll be a little unsettling – I’m afraid there’s no way to avoid that – but it will allow you to move on from this point without feeling that something is missing from your memories.
“Do you have any more questions?”
“Er, no, I don’t think so. Sweetheart?”
“No, me neither.”
“Then perhaps I could ask one of my own. We detected another anomaly a couple of days ago. It was short lived and seemed to resolve itself, so we didn’t think it appropriate to contact you about it, but since we’re talking now, I wonder if you could shed some light on it?”
“Er,” I looked at Linda who shrugged and waved for me to continue. “We tried something different that was a significant departure from our existing memories. There were some unforeseen consequences that were… not pleasant. We kind of switched back to doing things normally afterwards.”
“Ah, that explains things, thank you. Very well. As I said, if you do change your mind at all, please give us a call and we’ll continue the experience to its conclusion, otherwise, I’ll speak to you tomorrow after you’re back with us.”
We hung up and headed for our room. It was early afternoon and neither of us had much of an idea what to do with the rest of the day.
“So,” I asked, “what do we do now?”
“No idea. I thought we’d only have an hour or two to wait.”
“Well, given that we have a little longer, we might as well make the most of it.”
“Do you have any thoughts?”
“I still haven’t been para-sailing yet. I thought I might fit that in tomorrow morning, assuming you’re still okay with it.”
“It’s up to you, but if you’re going to do it, I imagine you’ll have to book it this afternoon.”
“Which we can do on the way to whatever you’d like to do.”
“But I don’t have a clue what I’d like to do.”
“Wasn’t there anything we didn’t get round to when we were here fifteen years ago? I seem to remember you wanted to see some art exhibition while we were here.”
“Yes, but since neither of us have been, either before or since, how will the simulation be able to fill in the gaps?”
“True. Okay, how about this? Of all the things we did in our second week here, which was your favourite?”
“It has to be pony trekking in the hills.”
“Then let’s do that this afternoon.”
“If I remember, they were full the first week.”
“In which case we’ll do it this evening. Didn’t they offer private tours?”
“Yeah, but they were expensive.”
“And what does that matter? We have all of next week’s budget to spend today, and it’s not real money anyway.”
“True. In which case, why don’t we pay for the full works and have them feed us as well.”
“Done. What about this afternoon? The aquarium was a bit of alright as I recall.”
“Oh yes! Perfect choice.”
“Right. I’ll go down to reception and get that lot arranged.”
“The para-sailing has to be booked in person.”
“Yes, I remember. I’ll book the other two by phone, and we can stop at the para-sailing place on our way to the aquarium.”
It all seems quite prosaic, but just making those decisions and organising the events went a long way to shaking off the malaise that each of us had been feeling. By the time I came back from sorting things at reception, both of us were smiling.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I want to end this early after all.”
“We have time. Why don’t we discuss it this evening?”
“Sounds like a plan. When do we need to leave for the aquarium?”
“About forty minutes. Time enough to get some lunch first.”
That afternoon we rediscovered more than a hint of the magic we’d known fifteen years ago. The aquarium was the same enchanting place we remembered, with so many windows into the undersea world, and so many examples of beauty, in shape, in colour, in elegance of motion. There were dolphins dancing and demonstrating their aerobatic skills, all manners of the deep’s mystery revealed in cool dark rooms. We had nothing but time and the wonders around us, and we needed nothing more.
With the afternoon growing old, we made our way back to the hotel. I’d booked my slot with the para-sailing for late the following morning, the memory of my excitement and desire leading me on, despite my older self flagging up a few concerns I hadn’t noticed before.
A car was waiting for us when we returned, and continued to wait as we changed into clothing more suitable for horse riding. I looked wistfully at the dresses Linda had bought me just the other day. I wouldn’t have much opportunity to wear them now. I liked the idea of horse riding in a skirt, perhaps even side saddle, but it really wasn’t a great idea for that afternoon. If my subconscious’s capacity to sabotage any public displays of femininity I might choose to make were not enough, my memory of the large thorns was. We both picked out thick canvas trousers and long sleeved shirts.
The pony trek was vastly better than my memories of our honeymoon excursion. For one thing, it was just the two of us and a guide. So much more intimate, so delightful not having to listen to the inane chatter of all the other tourists on our trip. So much more pleasant in the cool evening air rather than the mid-afternoon heat. The eventual destination of a picnic area overlooking much of the island. Sipping sangria while our guide cooked up a paella on one of the barbeque pits. Watching the sun slide gracefully towards the distant horizon, the gentle descent in the growing gloom, to find the last leg of the journey marked out by candles on either side of the path.
Expensive, yes, but quite worth it.
At the end of it all, we were driven back to our hotel. We passed the time in silence and each other’s arms, gazing out the window at the myriad stars spreading across the sky above us.
Back in our room, we each made our own preparations for bed, Linda interrupting mine just long enough to insist I wear the nightdress she’d bought for me on our last shopping trip. In bed at last, we made slow, sweet, passionate love long into the night. It wasn’t a night for marathons. It was a night for gentleness and giving.
Afterwards, we lay quietly together, Linda resting her head on my shoulder. The distant hubbub of traffic and late night partying sounded through the window, but it couldn’t penetrate the bubble of tranquillity we had formed.
“This is a good place to end,” Linda said so quietly I almost didn’t catch it.
“Mmm,” I agreed.
“I mean there’s no point in staying now is there? We’ve done the best, we’ve all but blown our available funds…”
“Sounds like you’re having a hard time convincing yourself.”
“No. I mean, no. Today was magical, and probably the only reason was because we knew it was our last. I just wish…”
“Wish what?” I kissed the top of her head.
“Nothing. It’s silly.”
“Weren’t you the one who had problems about us keeping secrets from each other?”
“Well, if you must know, I kind of miss being you. I wish we could do that again.”
“Maybe when they get the bugs knocked out of their system we can offer to test it.”
She snuggled in closer; not that there was much closer we could get.
I gave the question the consideration it merited.
“Not really. I got to be you for a couple of days. You found out about what’s been bugging me, and in a way that means you’re not so freaked out about it. I’m even going to get a go at para-sailing tomorrow.”
“Yeah, we’re going to have to do something about your wardrobe when we get home; are you sure you want to do the para-sailing thing? They don’t exactly strike me as a bunch of consummate professionals.”
“How many times have you seen para-sailing tourists over the last couple of days? How many of them crashed and died? What are the chances it’ll go wrong tomorrow? And even if it does, it’s just a simulation. What’s the worst that could go wrong?”
“Says the man who managed to get himself beaten senseless by a bunch of simulated locals for wearing a dress in Ibiza.”
“It’ll be alright. What are we going to have to do about my wardrobe?”
“Either empty it or make it bigger. I don’t think it’s big enough for all the clothes you have in it as well as the stuff I’m going to get for you when we get home.”
“No Gregory, I’ve made up my mind on this, and once you don’t get to be all stoic and self-sacrificing. I kind of like you in a dress, and after the last couple of days I understand why you feel the need to wear one, so we’re going to get you some.
“And some nightdresses too. I kind of like the ease of access they give me.”
With that she reached under the hem of my nightie and conversation ceased for a while.
We slept late and started the day with a large brunch, using up the best of what we had left, which admittedly wasn’t that amazing.
Linda was unusually quiet.
“You’re not still worried about the para-sailing, are you?”
“What?” She came back from whichever million mile away place she been visiting. It took a moment for her to replay what I’d just said. “No, I was just thinking though. You know Hamilton mentioned another anomaly a few days ago when you were being attacked?”
“Well, I don’t know, it may be nothing, but did you feel anything weird then? I mean I know you fainted, but before then, was there anything?”
I shrugged. “I was scared out of my wits. I don’t know if that’s what you mean.”
“I was more angry than scared, but it was intense, and then for a moment it was as though I was…”
“Kind of drifting, yeah. Light headed, dizzy. You too?”
“Do you think it might mean anything? I mean do you think we should report it?”
“We’ll be out of here in a few hours. Why don’t we tell him about it then?”
Maybe there was something to it, but I really didn’t want to miss the para-sailing. In all my holidays in the past, this was one thing that always managed to lift me out of my mood, if only for a few hours. There’s no adrenaline rush quite like hanging hundreds of feet above the water with only a harness and a piece of canvas keeping you there. I think part of the appeal for me is the sense of helplessness and utter dependence that comes with it too. For a few short minutes my life is totally in someone else’s hands. All that’s expected of me is to sit back and enjoy the ride. Just thinking about it is enough to leave me breathless.
Linda noticed my expression and smiled.
“I wonder what you’re thinking about.”
“You know, you could come too. We have the boat booked. There’s no real difference between hooking up a single harness or a double.”
“Oh no. This is your thing, not mine. I like to keep my feet on Terra Firma.”
“You were all up for trying new experiences at the beginning of this adventure.”
“I’ll think about it. We have a couple of hours before we need to be there; we could take one last walk down the beach.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Feels weird not packing.”
“You realise, if we’d gone the full two weeks, we’d have done the packing and lived through a long, tiring trip home?”
“I suppose there has to be some positive side to all this.” She smiled. “Come on, let’s get you looking acceptable to the locals and go soak up a few last rays.”
“Come on, it’ll be fun.”
“Thanks, but I’m quite happy having fun with my feet on the ground.”
“But you said…”
“I said I’d think about it, and I did. I’ll be quite happy here. The sun’s shining, and I have a book if I get bored of watching a tiny, little dot chase about the sky.”
“So come with me. I can guarantee you, you won’t be bored.”
“Thanks, but I’d rather be bored than trust my life to that contraption.”
“Would you rather I didn’t go?”
“I think you know the answer to that, but I agreed to let you, so there’s an end to it.”
It was probably as well. Most tandem flights I’d seen were boat launches, and since I had only booked a solo, they set me up for a beach launch.
What’s more, it was a bit of a blustery day, so the ride wasn’t likely to be all that tranquil.
One of the guys tried to mime to me what I was likely to experience. Not smooth, but bumpy. I’d been up on days like this before though. I knew what to expect, so I nodded away and dismissed his comments. The wind wasn’t exceptional. There would be a few bumps and drops, but nothing too worrying.
With the parachute deployed behind me like a kite, I waved to the driver and he set off out to sea. I ran a few short steps and I was up and climbing rapidly. They let cable out quickly and in next to no time I was hundreds of feet up in the air, with the island of Ibiza stretched out beneath me.
This was something I wished I could persuade Linda to share. It wasn’t just the fantastic view or the intense rush of looking down and seeing such a vast expanse of nothing beneath my feet, it was the sense of detachment, of aloneness. I could hear the boat’s engine whining far below like some distant demented insect, but apart from that it was just the wind and me.
Up here I was far from the judgemental looks of others, far from their expectations, far from every influence that tried to shape me. Up here I was as near to free as it was possible to be.
A gust of wind caught the parachute and jerked me upwards. Nothing serious I thought. I glanced up to check everything was okay. The canopy was full and symmetrical, the suspension lines taught and straight. Then I saw something that dried up all the saliva in my mouth.
One of the straps connecting my harness to the suspension lines was twisted; something I would have noticed and corrected had I not been distracted by the guy telling me about the wind. It was straining against the stitching, and that little bump had pulled some of them away.
I hit an air pocket and dropped about fifty feet before coming to an abrupt and jarring halt. Was it my imagination, or had the strap loosened another stitch?
I waved both my hands at the boat beneath me, over and over for a couple of minutes, but its occupants had their backs to me. We hit another couple of bumps in quick succession. No, definitely not my imagination. I waved more frantically with no result, tried hitting the tow line, but it was out of reach.
Time wasn’t on my side. Another bump. The stitching was definitely giving way.
I hauled on the side with the good strap, hoping to ease the tension on the damaged one. It should also have put me into a side slip that would lose me altitude and drift me off to one side. At the very least it would get the attention of the boat crew. It was a round canopy though. It didn’t take kindly to my attentions, and started to collapse. I let go of the harness and the parachute billowed out, yanking harder than ever on the damaged strap.
It got the attention of the second crew member in the boat though. I waved at him frantically. Too handed, back and forth across my head – the universal sign for distress. Unfortunately the dickhead came from some other universe. He waved back, and I could even see the flash of his smile before he turned back to facing forward.
We were passing close to the beach where I had launched, and I could see Linda on her feet looking up at me. From this distance it was impossible to make out details, but she wasn’t waving, so I had to assume she had seen the partial collapse of the canopy above me.
I had to do something. The strap was definitely showing signs of weakening. With the turbulence I was going through, I’d be lucky if it lasted another five minutes. The damaged part was out of my reach by a couple of inches though. The harness was specifically designed to stop idiot tourists from undoing it in the air, so there was no way I could free myself enough to climb.
I felt completely helpless. That sensation of being utterly in someone else’s hands that I had cherished so much a few minutes ago, now became a source of terror, and I began to fade from consciousness.
At least I wouldn’t feel it when I fell.
I wondered if this was one of those things where if you die in the dream, you die in real life.
Linda’s hands were up over her mouth, I could see that much, then she seemed to stumble a little. I had that odd sensation of being outside my body again, then for a moment it was as though I were on the beach looking up at myself, or at least part of me was. I was in both places at the same time, feeling a double dose of adrenaline soaked fear.
One last jerk on the straps. Something gave and I was falling. I could see the parachute collapse and my body fall out of the sky. I could feel the sense of weightlessness as the ocean rushed up towards me.
Everything went black.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
Somewhere, as though in the distance, I could hear a rhythmic beeping, and I could dimly feel the roughness of starched cotton sheets against my skin.
My mind was sluggish. The last thing I remembered was watching Greg fall out of the sky, his parachute streaming behind him.
But that was wrong wasn’t it? I was Greg. And yes, I also remembered seeing the water rushing up towards me.
I tried sitting up, but I was too weak to move. The next instant, a nurse was beside me, holding my hand, pressing me back into the bed..
“It’s alright. You’re going to be alright, but you need to lie still. Don’t try to move, don’t try to talk. The doctor will be here soon, and he can answer any of your questions. For now though, know that you’re safe and that everything’s going to be alright.”
I managed a slight nod, feeling the weight of too much hair, and settled back to wait.
The doctor took his time in appearing. When he did, Mr Hamilton was at his elbow. He took his time examining me, but since this involved taking my pulse and listening to my chest through his stethoscope, it still only lasted a minute or two. Finally satisfied, he gave Mr Hamilton a nod, who in turn indicated for an orderly to bring in a wheelchair.
With the nurse and orderly helping me, I moved from the bed into the lchair.
Mounds of jelly wobbling on my chest, hair falling in my eyes, a sense of smallness and vulnerability. This was just like being Linda in the simulation, except that at least part of my mind continued to insist that I had been Linda all my life.
“Please follow me,” Mr Hamilton said, and walked out the room.
I doubt I would have had the strength to wheel myself, but fortunately I didn’t have to. The orderly who had brought the chair took hold of the handles and pushed me after Mr Hamilton.
We were at Dream Breaks. If I hadn’t recognised the overall colour scheme in the corridors, the logo on the wall would have given it away. I’m not sure why that came as such a revelation – expecting a normal hospital I suppose – but it also gave me a sense of some relief. If anyone understood what was happening inside my head it would be the doctors and scientists who worked here.
The weather outside was pleasant. One of those days with blue skies dotted with cotton wool clouds. From the way the trees were moving, it looked like there was quite a bit of wind about, but it was a cheerful day, and filled with colour.
“Are you going to get round to offering an explanation of what happened?” I asked. “The last thing I remember is, er… rather confused.”
“All will be explained in due course, Mrs Snipe. If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to wait till we get to my office, then we can talk in private.”
He continued in silence, and in just a few minutes more, we turned a corner into a familiar part of the building. Moments later I was being wheeled passed Mr Hamilton’s secretary and through a familiar wooden door.
Where Greg sat waiting.
It was a shock to see my real body from the outside. I mean in the simulation was one thing, but out here in the real world… How could this be possible?
Again, I should have expected it. I was, after all, inside my wife’s body at present, except that it all felt more than a little confusing, because somehow it was my body too, and always had been.
I let the orderly help me across to the sofa beside myself – my husband? – and accepted first a kiss from him, then a drink from Mr Hamilton.
The orderly left and it was just the three of us. Mr Hamilton settled into a chair opposite us gently swirling a drink of his own.
Something was wrong. Something was very wrong.
I could hear a heart monitor beeping nearby, and I felt the weight of sheets and blankets on top of me.
I couldn’t think straight. The last thing I remembered was the sight of the ocean rushing up to greet me.
But that wasn’t right. I was Linda, wasn’t I? I’d been on the shore, looking up at him when his parachute folded in on him. I remembered seeing that too.
I struggled up onto my elbows, which only succeeded in really freaking me out. Where were my boobs? And what was with all the hair. I collapsed back onto my pillow just as a nurse appeared in the doorway, breathing hard from running.
“Please don’t move,” she said coming alongside my bed. “You’re going to be fine. The doctor will be here soon, and he’ll explain everything, but for now there’s nothing to worry about.”
I didn’t believe her. Either I was hallucinating or something really weird had happened. Either way I was a long way from fine.
I’d been on the verge of climbing out of bed when Mr Hamilton arrived, a doctor in tow.
“About time,” I muttered as the doctor stepped forward, stethoscope warming between his hands.
He checked me over quickly enough, then offered me a sort of lopsided grin.
“Fighting fit. I could wish I had your body.”
Mr Hamilton waved an orderly with wheelchair into the room, not that I needed. With the doctor’s okay, I’d raised myself into a sitting position and was preparing to stand up.
I felt a bit wobbly about the knees, but I wasn’t about to let them tip me into the invalid carriage without a fight.
“I’m fine.” I waved off the nurse and orderly and leaned against the bed until my head stopped spinning.
“I really would rather you sat in the chair, Mr Snipe. You may feel up to it, but you’ve been through quite an ordeal, and there’s no telling how you might react in a couple of minutes’ time.”
“I said I’m fine.”
“I’m sure you are, and I’m sure you’ll continue to insist on the fact after you fall flat on your face in the corridor and a couple of my nurses will have to risk putting their back’s out helping you upright again.
“Mr Snipe, I’d prefer not to have to insist.”
With some ill grace, I dropped into the seat and let the orderly push me through to Mr Hamilton’s office.
I was permitted to transfer to a comfortable looking sofa in the corner of the room and offered a drink. My host rather infuriatingly chatted about all sorts of inconsequentialities for ten minutes before his intercom buzzed and he excused himself.
I sat back and sipped at my drink, wondering if I was ever going to get any explanations. A further ten minutes passed before the door opened again.
I turned to see Mr Hamilton hold the door while an orderly wheeled Linda into the room.
I’d been expecting it, but it was still unsettling to see Greg turn up in my body; oddly more so than waking up in his. It didn’t help that there was a part of me that insisted I’d always been Greg, because while I kind of knew that to be true, I also knew it wasn’t.
My thoughts shied away from concepts that were too alien. I leaned over to kiss her as she settled on to the sofa beside me. That same other part of me insisting it was the right thing to do, even if it felt kind of the wrong way round at the same time.
Mr Hamilton handed Linda a drink, and I went back to mine. It was too little whiskey in too much water, but I suppose I should have been grateful to have any alcohol at all.
The door closed and I turned towards Hamilton. Hopefully we’d get some overdue answers.
Mr Hamilton clicked the intercom on his desk. “No calls, no interruptions please Leslie.”
He clicked it off and turned towards us. “Firstly, may I say how sorry I am that this experience didn’t turn out the way you wanted? We do strive at Dream Breaks to make all our customers’ experiences as enjoyable and remarkable as possible.”
“Thank you,” we replied, oddly in unison.
“Your, er, special additional request,” Mr Hamilton continued, “was outside the scope of what we usually provide, and I believe, Mrs Snipe, that I explained this, and that we might have to discontinue that particular part of your experience.”
“Yes,” we replied. I gave Greg an odd look. Why had he replied to that? He was looking at me just as oddly.
Mr Hamilton was looking a little unnerved too. He took a sip of his drink and continued.
“Secondly, you asked to be extracted from your experience a little early. We explained that this extraction might be a little rough since we’d have to break into the sequence of normal events, a little like waking a sleepwalker. It’s not in any way dangerous, but it can be traumatic. From the final readings during your experience, I can see that it was. I wonder if you’d mind telling me what your final memories are.”
“What do you mean?” again we answered together. “Weren’t you monitoring us?”
Mr Hamilton glanced between us.
“Oh dear,” he said and reached for his intercom.
We were back in a treatment room filled with complex machinery and labcoated individuals. We each had a couple of technicians fussing over us, connecting electrodes to our heads and asking us to lie still. Eventually a couple of screens lit up on one wall, each of them showing a complex multiple trace.
“EEG; electroencephalograph,” Mr Hamilton said, as though it needed an explanation. “It measures activity at the surface of your brains.”
“I know what an EEG is, Mr Hamilton.” Again we spoke in unison. The graphs danced, showing patterns that were almost identical.
“It’s not the most effective way of measuring brain activity,” he went on, “but as you can see, it is adequate for this demonstration.”
“Perhaps you’d…” Again we started together, stopping abruptly and staring at one another. Greg was usually the one who spoke for us in such matters. Despite the fact that I was Greg, or at least thought I was, I was wearing Linda’s body, so it seemed right for me to wave a hand indicating that he should continue.
“Perhaps you’d explain what the demonstration is supposed to show,” Greg said, his words and inflections uncannily close to ones that I would have chosen, “and what this all means.”
“If you’ll permit me that’s precisely what I intend.
“I’m sure you recall something of your initial briefing on our process, but just to recap swiftly, it works on amplified induction of these signals. We place you inside vats of liquid which act as nutrient baths, but primarily shield you and our instruments from the outside world. We ask you to recall the beginning of the memory you wish to relive. Our system picks it up, amplifies it and plays it back to you, stimulating your brains to continue down the chain of memory. We continue with this until we have the whole memory pattern recorded, then we ask you to blank your minds, and when you’re settled, we play back the events with a higher amplification. This results in your re-entering your memories in a lucid manner as though you were reliving them.
“Of course things are considerably more complex than this, as your decisions within the induced state influence the outcomes so things can change, and our computer systems adapt to the variations by altering your experience.
“One thing we have found through many successful operations, is that the intensity of the experience is related directly to the intensity of the induced signal, and many of our technicians are in the habit of increasing the gain whenever the readings indicate that the experience is particularly pleasant.”
I glanced at Greg, who chose that moment to look at me. From the expression in his eyes, I’d guess he was getting as annoyed as I was at Hamilton’s overuse of the word experience. Was it some kind of office buzzword?
“In your case, you asked to experience each other’s memories. Our doctors were concerned about the plasticity of the human mind…”
“Plasticity?” we asked together.
“Plasticity means an inclination to permanent change. Since we were overlaying your memories on each other’s brains, we were concerned about the extent of change this would produce, so we made sure all the technicians monitoring your experience knew not to do this, and to alert us if anything unusual appeared on your readings.
“Unfortunately, one of our technicians chose to ignore this instruction. When she became aware of how much you were enjoying your experience, she turned the induction gain to what would normally be its safe maximum.
“At the end of the first day, our monitoring technicians noticed a larger than normal change in your brain patterns, but considering your unusual circumstances, they thought it worthy of closer monitoring, but not investigation. As such, it wasn’t until the end of the second day that we investigated the cause of the change, and discovered the technician ignoring her instructions.
“We dismissed her on the spot and brought the gain down to the levels we had prescribed, but by then both your brain patterns had undergone considerable change, and we believed it would be harmful to continue with the experience as you’d asked.
“Our brain specialists believed that we could reverse he effect by overlaying your own feelings and experiences at high gain, which was what we did. I contacted you in your dream and explained our intentions, then we monitored the situation afterwards.
“We didn’t anticipate such a large change in your responses to the experience; especially you, Mr Snipe. Pleasant and frightening memories seem to be the ones that establish themselves most strongly, and since you seemed not to be enjoying yourselves, we tried to make things a little more scary.”
“So it was you that induced the local youths to attack us?” I asked. “And you knew all about it when you talked to us on the phone.”
“Not exactly. We monitor your responses to the experience, not the actual events themselves. Also, while we can stimulate certain parts of your brains so that your fears come to the fore within the simulation, we cannot direct precisely what form they will take. We were expecting you to have unpleasant experiences, but we had no way of knowing what they would be. We could, perhaps, have used the snapshot facility to produce images, but this would have violated our agreement with you for privacy. I do apologise for what we put you through, but our experts insisted that intense memories were necessary to reduce the long term effects of the changes that occurred during your first two days.
“Then you contacted us requesting to bring things to an early close. Again, our experts would have preferred for the experience to run its full two weeks to give us ample time to undo the changes, but you were within your rights to request early withdrawal, and we hoped that by inducing one last trauma, we’d be able to bring you out without any noticeable change.
“We didn’t know what to expect when you woke up. I usually debrief customers at the end of an experience, so your being brought to my office was nothing unusual. When you started responding with identical phrases and mannerisms, though, we knew we had a, er, a situation, let’s say. Something which would require deeper investigation on our part, and a fuller explanation for you.”
“So what exactly has happened to us?” I asked.
“These preliminary tests are far from conclusive, but our best guess is that in projecting your experiences onto one another’s brains with such intensity, we’ve managed to overlay your personalities. In effect, you are both, to some extent, both of you.”
“Will this be permanent?” Greg asked.
“There will most likely be some permanent affect, after all the purpose of this experience is to leave you with some new memories, which I know is not much of an answer to your question. Please let me elaborate.
“Our best guess is that things will settle in time. There’s already evidence that you’re beginning to diverge. You’re no longer saying the same things at the same time, and I can see from your expressions, that your thought processes are becoming more individual. Eventually in each of you a unique personality will emerge.”
“But who? Who will we be? Will we go back to being ourselves?”
It was a good question, and one I wished I’d thought of. Greg could be quite bright at times.
“That’s not an easy question to answer. You could ask the same of everyone. Are any of us the person we were yesterday? Our experiences change us. To live is to be reborn by slow degrees. In your case, circumstances have provided a short speed boost.
“It goes back to the old question of nature or nurture. Are you who you are because of the genetic material you inherit, or because of the choices you make? Our research suggest a bit of both. Like a painting consists of both the brushstrokes of the artist and the texture of the canvas, or a sculpture partly the patterns within the stone or wood, and partly the shapes the sculptor carves into it.
“Of course, all analogies break down. You are neither paintings nor sculptures, but something far more complex and wonderful. You are also, if you’ll excuse me stretching the analogy just a little further, painting or carving yourselves. Your decisions from today – which memories you choose to hold onto as yours and which you let go, how you choose to behave – everything will decide which parts of the blend you currently are will come to the fore. If I were to guess, these will be mainly the personalities that feel most comfortable in your current bodies, which should be the ones that have always been there.
“In time, I would expect each of you to return more or less to being the person you were before you came here. There may be something of an uncomfortable transition, but as per our agreement, our facilities are at your disposal to ensure that this goes as smoothly as possible.”
“Can’t you just put us back in the machine?”
“No, I’m afraid not. The machine needs your memories and personalities to give it a starting point. The information it picked up from you at the beginning of this adventure wouldn’t blend well with the people you have become so it’s unlikely we’d be able to re-establish your experience as it was, and if we were to start again with who you are now, the result would be quite unpredictable.”
“So where do we go from here?” I thought it was about time I contributed.
“You’re welcome to stay with us as long as you like. We have grounds, beds, a cafeteria. It’s not Ibiza, but there are doctors and psychiatrists at your disposal. Alternatively, you may return to your home and continue with your lives, pick them up from where you left them, adapt to them. Give us a call if there is any circumstance you feel we can help to resolve.”
Greg looked at me with a question in his eyes. I liked being asked, and smiled back at him.
“Home sounds good right now.”
“Home then,” he repeated, more to Mr Hamilton than anyone else.
“As you wish. I’ll call for a driver.”
He did so, then led us back to his office. I slid my arm around Greg’s waist and leaned into him. He put his own arm around my shoulder. It felt so good. Both old and familiar and new and exciting at the same time. It was like falling in love all over again, but with someone I’d loved all my life. There was a new feeling of safety and comfort in his proximity, which was still oddly familiar. I liked the newness better, and focused on that.
Our clothes were waiting on Mr Hamilton’s desk. He let us have the privacy of the room so we could change then joined us in the comfortable seats; Greg and I settled back onto the sofa, while he sat opposite as before.
“So you never did tell me about how your experience ended,” Mr Hamilton prompted.
We glanced at one another and Greg started off.
“Greg was always disappointed that he never had a chance to go para-sailing on our honeymoon,” he said.
“Linda was scared that something might go wrong,” I added. “She was terrified of becoming a widow on her honeymoon.”
“This time round we agreed that he should have his chance.”
“And today was the last opportunity.”
“So we booked a slot and went there late this morning.”
“It was a bit blustery and the guy was so busy telling me what to expect when I was up there, that neither of us checked that the straps had be put on right.”
Mr Hamilton raised his eyebrows very slightly.
“Greg offered me the chance to come on a tandem flight,” Greg said, “but I’ve always liked to keep my feet on Terra Firma.”
“The flight was fine,” I said, “until after one bump, I checked the harness and saw it was twisted, and the stitching was coming away. I did what I could, but I couldn’t ease the strain, or get the boat’s attention, or anything. Eventually it gave.”
“They were coming past the beach at the time. I saw the canopy collapse. I think I fainted before he hit the water.”
“Me too. I remember seeing the water coming towards me very fast, but I blacked out before I hit.”
“I’m dreadfully sorry, that must have been terribly traumatic. I imagine that was the last trauma we induced to re-establish your personalities in your own bodies. The machine must have picked up on Linda’s fears.”
“Well, no harm,” I said. “We lived through it, and without a scratch.”
“Which brings us to a rather delicate topic,” Mr Hamilton said, standing and beginning to pace.
“Whether or not we try to sue you?” Greg asked, his cute, lopsided grin on his face.
“Er, hah, yes.”
“I’m not sure it would be easy to make a case,” Greg said. “Between the wording in those agreements you had us sign, and the difficulty in proving that anything actually happened, and the further difficulty of proving that it caused us any harm, I rather think that it would be a waste of time and resources. Personally I’d rather not help to make any solicitors any richer than they already are.”
Mr Hamilton let out a long sigh. “You have no idea how much of a relief it is for me to hear you say that. Given the evidence, you could have shown negligence or misconduct, at which point we would have had to accuse the technician. Three way battles tend to become long and complicated with large legal expenses for all involved, with, in this case, the most likely outcome being the court ruling in your favour against the technician, who would not have been able to pay you damages in excess of your court costs. As you say, the only winners from such a performance would be those representing us.
“As a sign of good faith, would you be prepared to sign declarations of intent not to pursue legal action against us?”
Greg looked at me. I shrugged and nodded.
“As long as it doesn’t affect your duty of care towards us,” he said. “We don’t know what long term effects there may be to our condition.”
“I could have our psychiatrists explain what we expect in as much detail as you like. In short, I would expect there to be a period of loss, involving the whole process of denial, bargaining, depression, anger and acceptance that generaly accompanies such an experience. We will offer counselling and support throughout, and no, your signature will not affect this in any way.”
Mr Hamilton went to his desk and picked up a couple of sheets of paper and a pen, which he handed to us.
“I apologise,” he said. “This must seem a little like an ambush, me having the papers all typed up and ready. We do have a solicitor on staff whose job it is to protect the company’s interests though. Please take your time to read through them and return them to me at your convenience.”
Greg read through his then held a hand out for the pen. I’ve never been very fluent in legalese, so I trusted his judgement and signed mine too.
“Thank you,” Mr Hamilton said. Then he picked up a much smaller piece of paper from the desk. “I was authorised to offer you compensation in return for your co-operation. I see no reason why you shouldn’t receive it. After all, this did happen to you while you were in our care.”
Greg took the cheque, glanced at it, passed it to me. The number had six digits to it. We must both have shown our confusion.
“Goodwill is a far more effective currency than money alone, I’ve always felt.” He smiled. “I believe your car is here.”
It was the same driver as the one who had brought us. She smiled as we approached and held the door open.
“I wasn’t expecting you for another week at least,” she said.
“Things didn’t work out quite as expected,” Greg replied.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Don’t be. It may have been shorter than planned, but we got what we came for.” He smiled at me.
We settled into the back of the car and I snuggled up against him.
“Linda?” I murmured.
“Mm. I think you’d better get used to calling me Greg. I mean it’s like he said, I’m a bit of both of us, which is amazing, but yes the stronger part of me was Linda.”
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
“I don’t have much of a choice do I? Overall, I’d say I am though. I think I’m going to like being you, as long as you’re okay with being me.”
A warm feeling washed over me like a tropical wave rushing up a beach.
I wasn’t exactly who I had been. I remembered being Greg and I remembered what it felt like being Greg, but I also had memories of being a little girl, of growing up, of falling in love. I knew I had once been Greg, but now I was Linda.