Short Story: Borrowed Body Highs
I wrote this the other day, after dreaming it. As often is the case with me and my fiction, I dream all or part of the "story", and then write it down, expanding it, editing it for clarity, or continuing the story that was interrupted by my waking up. The internal monologue style of this one was not my own voice at all, but a Londoner, which made me feel really confused when I woke up-- imagine hearing your own internal voice, with the wrong accent! That's why this one is written from a British perspective, at least as far as I can, being an American.
Please let me know what you think of it. I hope you enjoy it.
Borrowed Body Highs
She was bored, the usual highs weren’t doing it for her any more. She’d tried booze, pot, x, molly, coke, you name it. She didn’t like hallucinogens, because she didn’t like “all the colours”. So she called me while I was down at the shop, and asked me to meet her at this “new book store”. Weird, I thought, what’s a bookstore have to do with her finding her next fix, her next, new thing?
So, we went. We’d been friends forever—that’s what happens when you and your cousin are both only children, and your dads are best friends and brothers, I suppose--, and while I was always content with a beer or two and a bowl, she was always looking for the bigger and better. Always seeking the new and crazier way to get high. Never too dangerous, she avoided meth—thank all the gods—but something to take her mind off her weird-ass mother’s family, the religious fundamentalism she grew up with because of her mother (after my uncle and aunt got divorced), and guilt she was still running from because she left it. I was ok being her wing-man, making sure she could trip safely, and always encouraging her to continue with her therapy. I’d thought she had a breakthrough, as she hadn’t gotten stoned at all in a few months.
We walked into this little bookstore, it was a hole in the wall, full of old tomes, dust and smelled just right; I was disappointed in myself for not noticing it before. This was my kind of place.
She meandered into the back, as if she’d been there before. When I asked her as much, she said, ‘No, I just feel it calling me, back here’.
Down a couple steps, and into a smaller room. The shelves were bare wood, with cinderblock, nothing like the nice ones up front. There were odd little sigils, signs pointing here and there, without coherence, and I felt a little like I was in Wonderland. She stopped in front of a book. Just stopped like she’d hit a brick wall.
‘This is it! I know it!’ she picked up the book, shaped a lot like a child’s book, with heavy cardboard covers, but normal paper pages. The cover was black and white, abstract patterns, half checkerboard, and half harlequin diamonds. Altogether a little dizzying, but not too bad. It was called Under the Skin, and Behind the Mask.
I asked her what the hell this was all about, confused and irritated. Then she showed the full cover to me, turning it face on. The checkerboard dissolved, showing me the face of a distorted clown, half covered in blood, half harlequin makeup. I stepped back, quickly—I’ve always hated clowns. Then the face on the cover disappeared, and I was staring at the name of the book. That left me wondering if I was looking at an optical illusion, or had just tricked myself.
She took my hand, without a word, and led me out to the counter where she paid £30 for this book, slightly larger than two decks of cards—an absolutely ridiculously high amount. The clerk gave her a knowing smile, and told her to read it only at night, in a quiet place.
We went back to our apartment, spent the rest of the afternoon tidying, the usual Saturday things. We didn’t have plans to go out that night—we’d both worked Friday night and into early Saturday morning. Event planning is lovely, as a job, but sometimes your hours are bizarre and are often irregular. I had an appointment with a couple, who were planning their wedding, on Monday at 9, so I didn’t intend to do anything Sunday except for my washing. She had something, a luncheon I think, Monday about noon, and so decided that Saturday night was the perfect time to try this book—seek out this new high she heard about from who knows where.
I tried to get her to explain to me what she was doing, and how it worked, but she just said I had to watch and see. I decided she was fucking with me, and went along, “la, la, la” as if it was a normal, everyday occurrence to see your best friend (and cousin) whispering to a book with cardboard covers, done in black and white.
After supper was cleared away, she said it was time. So we went into the lounge, where she plopped down on one of our big beanbag chairs. I sat in my arm chair, with a glass of water. I wanted to be stone-cold sober if she was going to smoke this book, or something. Someone needed to be able to explain to the doctors at A&E that she probably got sick on the mould from the book binding, or something strange and shifty from the pages. Who knows what was in the ink, after all.
‘Whatever happens, just watch,’ she said, shrugging out of her sweater, and sitting in her tee-shirt. ‘I don’t think you can interfere, but just in case, I don’t want you to get hurt.’
Then she opened the book, and started reading aloud, very quickly. It was in English, but the words slurred together so much that I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I shook my head, and thought about pulling out my phone to play a game while she self-hypnotized, but then felt dizzy, as if the room was spinning. I looked up at her.
As she read, something was pouring out of her mouth, something like papier-mâché, white, globs, pouring out. She didn’t seem to notice. If you’ve ever seen photos taken in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s of ‘ectoplasm’, you’ll know exactly what I mean. IT was thick, white, opaque, and made my throat hurt, to see. I started to gag a little, in sympathy, I suppose. But it didn’t bother her at all. As if she didn’t feel it, or couldn’t see it.
Within a couple minutes, there was a shell, half of a person in front of her—as if you’d taken the impression of the front half of a statue, or person, and just laid it on the floor. I noticed that I could see colours, clothing perhaps, on the sides of the arms and body, where they curved from the flood.
‘It worked!’ She shrieked with excitement.
‘What worked?’ I said, incredulous, and not a little frightened.
‘Watch!’ She quickly dropped the book, knelt next to the body-shell, and laid herself on to it, as if she was the person casted from it. She settled herself into it, snuggling down as if it was the most comfortable thing she’d ever laid on. Sighing with contentment, she shouted ‘Now! Take us there!’
Her voice was muffled, laying against the (I presume) closed lips of the mask and the floor, but I heard her as loudly as if she was shouting into a bullhorn.
Then everything around me dissolved, and I wasn’t in my lounge any more.
I rubbed my eyes, blinking rapidly. All around me was a part of downtown, I was outside, in the late afternoon, drizzle around us. The person in front of me, my cousin, wasn’t quite my cousin. Her face was different, wrong hair, the colours of her clothes weren’t right—then I realized that I was staring at my cousin’s eyes, through the body of that papier-mâché person on the floor. She smiled, and I knew it was Courtney.
‘Watch, this will be amazing!’ She grinned straightening her shirt, dusting off her jeans. As she touched her shoulders to smooth the sweater, I noticed that the seams, which were coming apart, knitted back together. Her clothes went from torn and dirty, rubbish, really, to nice, clean, new and quite smart. When she was done patting herself, smoothing her clothes and hair, she clapped her hands together like an excited child.
‘Where are we?’ I looked at her, the rain was dampening her top, a long-sleeved, tight, cardigan, but I was still dry, still wearing my tee-shirt and in my bare feet. I wasn’t chilly, but I could see she was getting cold.
‘London, about 3 weeks ago, if I did it right. Remember the accident?’
I thought furiously. Accident, London, three weeks ago.
‘Yes, it was all over the news. Fifteen people were killed. The lorry’s brakes went out, and took out the pedestrians coming out of the bank, and, what was it, the insurance firm?’
‘Yep, that’s the one! Come on, we’ll be late,’ she jogged off toward the corner.
I followed, feeling the stones under my feet, but vaguely—I could feel the carpet from my lounge, too.
‘Whatever spores were in that book, I must have been exposed, too. Maybe it’s something in the damned bookstore?’ I thought to myself.
We got to the corner where the wreck took place, and I watched her as she stood near the bus stop. She told me I wouldn’t be in danger, but I surely felt it, standing here in the middle of the rain, with my cousin, who I was sure exposed us to something awful. My stomach, which had been in knots before, began to swirl; I felt like I could be sick at any moment.
She grinned like a mad woman, ‘Don’t worry Leda. You’re still in your arm chair. You’re just watching, like on the television.’
‘Yeah, sure, but what about you?’ I swallowed the nausea, trying to understand what she was on about—trying to understand what I was seeing, and what, exactly was going on.
‘I’m here. The best high, they say that you can get, is the adrenaline rush before or at death!’
‘Wait, what?!’ I wanted to run the 3 metres to her, but my legs wouldn’t work. I was glued to the ground, almost like I was in concrete to my thighs.
‘Oh, I won’t really die. I’ll just feel someone else’s death. I’m borrowing her, for a few minutes. Here it comes!’ She danced a little jig, and took her place with the group of pedestrians about to cross with the light.
I tried to scream at her, that you can’t borrow a human’s body. That we weren’t like umbrellas, but my voice died in my throat, and no sound came out of my mouth.
She looked up at the crowd coming from the buildings, and watched the lights turn, so they could all cross the street. I watched in helpless terror as the lorry driver realized his breaks were out. He pounded on his horn, screaming in impotent horror, flashing his lights, trying to make his emergency brake stop him.
Courtney and I could see the sparks flying from the back tyres, the e-break trying and failing to slow down the truck. By the time the crowd realized they were in danger, most of them were in the middle of the crossing. Courtney glanced over her shoulder and smiled at me, eyes flashing with the thrill she was undoubtedly feeling, then turned to the lorry, to wait for the impact.
People tried to scatter, many failing. The lorry careened into several cars, pushing them into the crowd first. Screams filled the air; the sound of tearing metal ripped through my ears, gouging my lungs with the strength of their vibrations. The sounds blended into a concerto of pain and anguish, chaos and destruction, the likes I had never heard before—but will never forget.
I watched as Courtney’s mind, in that borrowed body, crumpled under the tyre, squished almost flat by the weight. ‘I had no idea the human body could do that…’ was all I could think, over and over in my head like a mantra.
I wanted it to end, to stop, for me to wake up! I couldn’t even rub my eyes any more. All of my body was paralyzed, I think my eyes were too, because I couldn’t blink, or close off the devastation before me. My stomach roiled, and the world started to grey, as if I was fainting, or blacking out.
Just as I thought I would choke on my own vomit, and die here with Courtney’s borrowed body, I was in our lounge, on the floor in front of my armchair. Curled into the foetal position, emptying my stomach into the bin Courtney held for me, I looked up at her.
She was radiant! I’d never seen her so happy.
‘I can’t wait to do that again!’