Danny opened his eyes with a start.
It was early morning, just after dawn. The room seemed strange and indistinct in the dim, grey light. He glanced around hesitantly, trying to orient himself in the darkness. He felt a little dazed. He'd never been an early riser, and his nights had been rather restless lately. Strange dreams: sometimes baffling, often bizarre. Not quite nightmares. He'd been having them for months now. He pushed back the covers and sat up in bed, placing his feet on the floor. His throat was dry; always was after a night on the town. He needed a drink or he'd never get back to sleep. There was as bottle of soda in the fridge, tall and sweet and ice cold. He usually kept a few bottles in the icebox for precisely this purpose. Hardly a man's drink he supposed, but as his late father had been fond of saying, Danny was hardly a man.
Yeah, right. Gotta hand it to the old man, always had a kind word for his gilded offspring, particularly when things weren't going so well. Like the time Dad had given him the choice between getting a job or Getting the Hell Out of My House. Get off your scrawny butt, you whining little fag. Yep, that was Pa all over. Kind, understanding, and patient to a fault.
Well, no sense brooding over the cruelties of the past; Dad had bought the farm more than four years ago, leaving Danny a small mountain of debts and a closet full of Hawaiian beach shirts. Life went on, world without end, glory hallelujah. Couldn't lie around in bed all day, no matter how appealing the prospect seemed. Danny stood up, stretched, stepped towards the bedroom door-
Something was wrong. This wasn't his room. There was a rug on the floor, something thick and warm and fuzzy. A pelt of some kind, maybe a sheep skin. He could feel it beneath his feet. It shouldn't be there, he didn't own anything like that. His apartment had polished wooden floorboards, this place had both carpeting and rugs. He'd felt it as he'd slid out of bed. Why hadn't he noticed it then? He stared around in astonishment. Everything was wrong. The walls, the furniture, the drapes framing the windows - none of it looked familiar. He didn't have a dressing table, he had a computer desk. And that chair - it was the wrong shape completely; and should have been over by the bookshelf. Except he didn't have as bookshelf, not any more. He had a pot plant, sitting on a large, blocky chest of drawers.
Even the door was in the wrong location. He'd been walking towards a built-in wardrobe. He turned and looked back at the bed. It was a single, not a double. A single with plump, lacy pillows and a European quilt-cover. His head began to spun in utter confusion. This wasn't his room. He'd never seen it before. What was going on?
Where was he?
"Where-" he began, then paused in mid-sentence, raising a hand to his mouth. His eyes widened with shock. The tone, the pitch, the resonance: all of it was alien, exotic, as unfamiliar as the room itself. It was impossible, it was crazy, but -
(thats not my voice)
it wasn't his voice. It was high and sweet, like the ringing of a crystal champagne glass. Breathless and rather child-like. It was ...
Danny's heart seemed to halt momentarily. He bit his lip very hard, trying to control the panic he felt rising from the pit of his belly. This couldn't be happening. The dreams, the weird, haunting visions he'd had every night for the past three month - it simply wasn't possible. This was twilight-zone material, the stuff of nightmares and Stephen King novels. Such things didn't happen. Couldn't happen.
(i'm still dreaming)
Yes, that was it. He was still dreaming.
Except he wasn't. He knew that somehow. He was awake, completely awake, the fog had lifted from his mind - and he was standing in an strange bedroom, speaking with a voice that wasn't his. This was no dream. He put a hand to his temple and drew his fingers slowly down the side of his face. His cheek was smooth. Sleek and curved and as soft as the palm of a child.
"No", Danny gasped under his breath.
What had happened last night? What had he done, where had he gone after The Blue Rose had closed and he'd stumbled alone through the black, deserted streets of the Westside? He couldn't recall the exact details, his mind had been blurred with a mixture of Johnny Walker and cold winter night-air. He sifted through the fragments of memory, trying to make sense of the irrational. Something had happened, long after midnight. He'd found a shop in a back alley. A shop with an odd name. A shop that sold -
"Wishes", Danny said in his high, sweet, breathless voice.
His mind was suddenly very clear. Memory came flooding back in irresistible waves. The bar, the drinks, the woman in the shop that sold wishes. It was true; all of it. She'd had long black hair, reaching down past her waist, eyes like midnight diamonds, and a smile that could melt ice. They'd talked for a long time, it seemed like hours, and finally come to some kind of agreement.
But what did he wish for?
(no no no no!!)
Danny cast frantically about the room, searching for a lamp, a lighter, a box of matches; anything that would illuminate his face and body. He needed to see himself, see what had taken place while he'd been asleep. His voice had been altered, and it felt as if his features had changed too, although he wouldn't be certain of that until he'd actually seen them. Dear God, this couldn't be happening. What had he brought on himself?
(what did i wish for?)
There was a lamp on the bedside table, a cheap art-deco reproduction glittering with silver and carnival glass. Sells for about ten dollars in K-Mart. A few feet from that was a mirror. The kind with hinges in the middle; what do you call it - a cheval mirror? Yes that was it. He'd seen one last night, there'd been one in the Gipsy's shop, it could have been the same one. The Gipsy had shown it to him. He'd looked into its silvery depths and seen ...
(- dream sweet dreams of me -)
He leaned over and switched on the lamp, blinking against the dazzling light. It seemed much brighter than it should have been. Narrowing his eyes, he looked down at his hands, turning the palms up and splaying the fingers. He shook his head in disbelief. They were small. Pale and delicate; smooth as a porcelain vase. They weren't his hands. They were the hands of some fragile, alabaster doll.
Danny turned slowly towards the mirror. His heart was literally pounding against his chest now. His body felt different, the weights and balances seemed completely off centre. He wanted to run his hands over his body, discover the extent of the transformation, but he didn't dare. What would he find? What would be missing? Despite his mounting dread, he found himself drawn irresistibly to the mirror. Something had happened to him last night, some metamorphosis that defied all logic. He'd made a bargain with a woman who sold wishes. What had he surrendered as the price of a dream? What had he paid for? He had to see, had to know. He had no other choice.
'Dear God', he whispered, feeling the strength drain out of his legs. The room began to lurch as the truth struck him with paralyzing force. A gentle, mellow heat spread through his torso by perceptible degrees. The moment spiraled out to eternity as his knees gave way. There was a woman staring out of the mirror.
She lay on the bed drifting between the tides of consciousness, staring listlessly around the room. Her pulse was a dull throb in her ears. The seconds tapped away as she tried to understand what she'd seen. An illusion, some trick of shadow and light? An hallucination? Maybe she was mad. Yes, that was it: there was no other explanation. Last night she'd been someone else. A man. She'd gone out drinking at the Blue Rose, lost her way home, found her way into an antique shop on the west side of Chamberlain. Then she'd gone crazy.
Yes, that was it. She was insane. And a woman.
(i'm a woman)
Some minutes later, she found the courage to risk another glance. The room had gradually brightened as the sun began to rise. She sat up and ran her hands through her long, thick hair. Sumptuous blond locks flowed through her fingers. Last night it had been short, brown and rather greasy. What else had changed? The mirror had revealed only a glimpse before she'd collapsed over the bed.
She got up and walked hesitantly over to the cheval.
Bending in closer, she studied her face in detail. There'd been no mistake. She was female.
A woman. No. Not a woman. A girl. A teenager, no more than sixteen years old. A young sixteen, not a mature one. Her eyes were huge and innocent; the eyes of a child who still kept a Barbie under her bed. She was surprisingly pretty. Her small, serious mouth was offset by full, sensuous lips. They were folded into a permanent crimson pout, the kind that had grown men weeping with desire.
She was wearing a frilly, pink baby-doll; a sheer, translucent nightie which barely reached down to her waist. A pair of nylon panties were clearly visible below her belly button; shiny full briefs with floral insets and lacy trimmings. She felt suddenly embarrassed, like a little girl who discovers that her party dress is way too short. She fought an impulse to pull down the hemline and hide herself from the world.
It was a rather odd thought given the circumstances. Her world had gone haywire in the space of a few hours, she'd lost her body, her world, her life. So what if her underwear was on display? She had far more important things to consider for the time being.
Still, the image in the mirror was utterly captivating. Danni found she couldn't look away, even for an instant. Her figure was petite but curvaceous; her legs lean and tapering. She could have been a ballerina or a gymnast, maybe even a catwalk model. Her breasts seemed large and supple, from what she could see of them. The nightie was extremely low cut, revealing a breathtaking amount of cleavage.
Danni looked away, her cheeks flaring with shame. What had she been thinking?! She wasn't a woman, this wasn't her body. She ... HE was a MAN for Christ's sake, not some mincing sissy-boy playing dress-up in his sister's bedroom. No man wants to be beautiful. A man should be strong, powerful, respected; but never beautiful. Yet here she was, posing before the mirror in her lacy, pink lingerie, admiring her figure like a giggling prom queen.
She was trembling. A rash of cold gooseflesh buzzed across her naked shoulders. She had never felt so alone, so isolated in her life. The full horror of her situation came crashing down like the sword of Damocles. She was a sixteen year-old girl with no past, no family, and not a cent to her name. She owned nothing but the clothes she was wearing (a short, pink babydoll and a pair of lace panties; what more could a girl need?). Danny Milner had been a worthless, pointless excuse for a man, but at least he'd managed to survive after a fashion. Now, she had nothing: no friends, no money, no life.
(what am i going to do?)
She sat down on the bed, hiding her face in her hands like a child afraid of the dark. The room seemed to lurch and bend in undulating grey waves, like a set in some incomprehensible German expressionist film. Stars flickered momentarily across her vision as she wavered on the verge of consciousness. It wasn't the alcohol, she had no trace of a hangover. Not even the slightest hint. Why should she? She hadn't been drinking last night. Danny had.
Danny Milner, undiscovered artist, part-time philosopher and full-time social failure. Danny Milner, who couldn't hold a job (or a girlfriend) more than two weeks at a stretch. Danny Milner, who made up for his innumerable shortcomings by touring the dives of the Westside. Danny Milner, that pathetic, self-pitying waste of a human being, who'd drunk himself into oblivion and left then her, half-naked and penniless, in the body of a sixteen year-old girl.
(what am i going to do?)
She looked hesitantly around the room once more, hoping to make sense of this nightmare. Where was she? How had she gotten here? Where was her money, her clothing, her former life? There was absolutely no sign of Danny Milner to be seen anywhere; no jeans dropped carelessly to the floor, no shirt slung over the back of the chair, no cheap vinyl wallet lying empty on the writing desk. Elvis has left the building folks. Permanently.
What am I going to do? she asked herself for the third time, her eyes stinging with approaching tears. She covered her face again, her long golden hair spilling down either side of her shoulders. She wept, quietly as a child weeps, her body shivering with cold and fear. The room was silent, apart from the lonely sobbing of a frightened teenaged girl.
(what am i going to do?)
The answer would be a long time coming.
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