Switched! - 2. Margaret Agonistes

A Switcher Tale...

Switched!
Switched!

2. Margaret Agonistes

by Lulu Martine

I still had trouble dealing with what had happened to me. I'd been switched into the body of a teenage girl and seen my old, male, middle-aged, crippled body brutally killed. After running in panic away from the murderous monster who had done this, I'd finally regained some equilibrium.

I needed a lot of coping skills, and I seemed to be failing to find them. Taking inventory of what items my new self carried in her jacket had felt like a good idea, and maybe it did help.

Maybe not. My hands didn't stop shaking even after I made sure all my tiny treasures were safely back in my pockets. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I zipped up the front for lack of something better to do. Or maybe the heavy leather felt like armor.

The mood-boost I'd gotten earlier from combing my hair seemed to have dissipated, and the enormity of what had happened threatened me with terror and panic again. I tried some yoga breathing exercises I had learned for when the pain in my back wasn't responding to the morphine pump I wore.

Tony's back. Had worn. I tried to dodge that thought but it persisted. Tony is dead and all his health, job and personal problems are dead with him. Margaret can't possibly have as much baggage as the old man was dragging around, she's too young. I'm too young. And healthy. Okay, maybe I'm a bit crazy, and I may be a drug addict, a prostitute, or a street kid, or all of the above….

I did more yoga until I felt some calmer. My emotions were on a hair-trigger, it seemed, with panic being already locked and loaded. I needed to stay calmer, consider problems one at a time, and not let the enormity of what had happened overwhelm me. Maybe being young and female now had something to do with my emotionality.

Maybe. Otherwise, being a girl seemed like a problem I could worry about later. First, I'm filthy, I thought, I need to clean up. Wherever I went, if I needed to interact with other people, they'd notice. I knew I smelled terrible; people weren't going to want to be around me. I needed at least a public bathroom.

I sat on the Telco utility box beside the sidewalk, sobbing for several minutes. I fisted tears out of my eyes, repeatedly, but more sobs caught in my throat. I wept as silently as I could. This isn't helping, I thought. But curiously, it did. I cried for at least two minutes, maybe twice that long, then I felt enormously better. The resilience of youth, maybe?

I wiped my eyes with the heels of my palms. So, I'm a teenage girl now, apparently on the run and maybe living on the street. But I'm young; I have the use of my legs, I'm in LA where I won't freeze to death. Could be worse. "Could be raining," I said aloud to finish the quote.

Snickering—well, more of a high-pitched tittering—I surveyed the neighborhood I found myself in. I thought I had run east, through the parking lot and a screen of trees. The homes I saw would fit in that rather upscale area. I didn't know the layout personally, but there wasn't a single straight line curb in sight, all the streets here curved.

There was nothing but expensive houses, not a convenience store or fast food place visible. Where could I go to get a bath, or at least access to a sink and some paper towels? And maybe a change of underwear? Ick. In terror and panic, I'd had an accident—it was part of why I knew I smelled bad.

I didn't want to knock on doors. Someone would call the cops, and right at the moment, I was afraid of cops. One of them…. I veered away from that mental image, wrapping my arms around my new physical self.

Focus, Margaret, focus, I told myself—deliberately trying to think of myself as the teenage girl I now was. I'd learned her name from papers in her pockets. I needed an identity, and hers would be useful. But where am I? What do I do now?

The campus stretched out west of me, I felt pretty sure, but in the middle of an overcast day, I had no idea which way was west. An odd feeling that—I'd always had a pretty strong sense of direction but, I realized, I may have left that behind with my male brain.

Another odd impossible thought. It wasn't like I'd had time to pack any mental equipment I thought I might need. No-oo. It'd been like one of those old cartoons with the sheriff at the door with an eviction notice. I squeezed my lips closed on the probably hysterical giggles trying to get out. I tapped the side of my head with a knuckle. You're not a blonde, Margaret, don't be a ditz, I told myself.

Breathe in, two, three, four. Breathe out, two, three, four. Repeat.

Which direction had I been running when I went to ground under the hedge? No clue of that, either. I tried to get a glimpse of the tall buildings on campus over the roofs of houses but no luck. Everything that far away was all blurry and sometimes doubled. I did a lot of squinting, but I didn't see anything that might be big buildings. Sighing, I picked a direction at random and started walking.

Five minutes later, I spotted what I took for the UCLA Medical Center and figured out that I was heading south. The outline was distinctive despite it being seen through the persistent blurring. Why hadn't I found any glasses in my pockets? Maybe I'd been wearing contacts that I'd lost while crying in panic. But wouldn't I have had… I didn't know, and I couldn't know.

Back to the present reality, Margaret, I scolded myself. Oh, God, am I a ditz or a moron? A slightly hysterical-sounding giggle appalled me as evidence that I just might be one or the other or both. Nervously, I unzipped my jacket, zipped it back up, and then down again.

Focus, Margaret, focus, I reminded myself, and a giggle at the pun escaped. I kept calling myself Margaret as a matter of policy. Tony was dead, and it was best not to think about him.

West is that way. I pointed toward where I had seen the Medical Center roofline. Just south and west of the MC would be Westwood Village: shops, fast food, theaters, groceries, and a Target. I tried to pick turns at intersections to angle off in the direction I wanted to go. I got lost, wandered around, found the tops of the MC again, and finally emerged on streets I recognized, only two blocks from Target.

Being lost had been a scary feeling, and I had to wipe tears of relief out of my eyes when I emerged from the residential wilderness. I put my arms inside my jacket and hugged myself. It did feel weird, but it was also some sort of comfort. Tits, I thought inanely, I've got tits. Small ones, but still….

*

I felt conspicuous as hell as I made my way to and inside the discount department store. But no one paid me the slightest bit of attention — just another skinny girl, presumably a student. Skinny and short, I noted. Even with the platform heels, I didn't make it up to what seemed to be average height for the women I saw.

Five-foot-nothing, probably, I mused. Before my spine collapsed, I had topped six feet by an inch or two. Big change—I'd reached five feet back in middle school, I thought but wasn't sure. No wonder I'm wearing high heels. It seemed astonishing that I had no trouble walking in them, but maybe body memory could account for that.

I knew enough about brains to know that movement, especially practiced movements that have become almost automatic, are handled in the cerebellum. And whatever had happened to me had likely not touched that part of my brain, or I wouldn't be able to move at all, probably.

But I didn't waste time wondering about just how consciousness of myself had been displaced into another body. I didn't know, I couldn't know, and according to the monster who had done this to me, somebody was willing to carve me up to try to find out. I clamped my jaw on a surge of fear, then had to clamp unfamiliar internal muscles on a fierce need to piss.

Just that little bit of thinking had scared me so bad that I sort of shuffle-ran, looking for the signs for the restrooms. I barely made it, remembering at the last moment to go into the women's room. It was empty, so I picked a stall, got inside, pulled up my skirt and down with some grotty underwear before remembering to turn around and sit.

After finding some relief, I dabbed around the dampness down there before kicking off the filthy panties I'd been wearing. Mildly freaking out, I left the stall and barely glanced at the mirrors before taking some paper towels, several of them dampened under the faucet, back with me into the same stall. I really wanted to get cleaned up.

First thing, I cleaned up my jacket, trying not to think about what some of the bloody mess might be. I took it off and hung it on a hook. Underneath, I wore a simple pink tank-top with some words on it that I didn't pause to figure out. No bra, but I hardly needed one.

Looking inside my shirt, I decided I wasn't much more than an A-cup. Real breasts though, not the cookie-and-gumdrop confections of a girl barely into puberty. I didn't have time to be fascinated or repulsed. They looked weird being on my chest, skinny, bony, and narrow though that chest was.

Did I have an ounce of extra flesh on me anywhere? Well, my ass seemed plump enough for two girls my size. How embarrassing to realize that I probably got more looks walking away than I did from in front.

After the jacket, I cleaned my face, hands, and arms, then my skirt, including inside it, using up paper towels at a crazy rate. Like the jacket, the skirt was a well-made item, real leather, very black, lined with soft, candy-striped cloth. It was super tight across my bottom and fit closely at the waist with a bit of a flare where it covered the top few inches of my skinny legs. Stylish? I had no fucking clue.

I even undid my buckles, took off my shoes, and washed my feet. Cute shoes, too. Cute? Yeah, cute was the right word. It was obvious from my clothing that I was not a street kid. I had a home somewhere, well, Margaret did, and people who cared enough about me/her to buy good quality clothes. Unless I had bought them myself.

Me, myself. I was deliberately thinking of this girl as being me. Well, I'd always been the practical sort. I'm stuck being Margaret, and the sooner I adjust to the impossible fact of my own existence, the better I can see what needs doing.

Like what to do about the part of me covered by my skirt--I was naked under there now, having discarded my soiled panties. I didn't even want to wash them out in the sink. The fabric had been stiffening up between my legs and feeling really gross, if teenagers still use that word. But what if I had to do more running, and my skirt rode up to my waist again?

I blushed to think of that. But it wasn't likely to happen unless I ran off in panic again. Still, messing around with the intimate parts of a young girl just didn't feel right. "I'm only fifteen," I said out loud in my new tiny voice. Forty-three years of living gone in an instant, but the attitudes and inhibitions created remained.

There were things I didn't want to think about regarding Margaret's situation. I pressed the tongue stud I'd discovered earlier against the roof of my mouth. "I'm jailbait," I muttered, and someone somewhere probably should go to jail. But that would mean dealing with the cops, and right now, I didn't want to do that. Even good results would likely end with me locked up in juvenile detention.

I had to clean up down there, though. I got clean paper towels again, including dampened ones. It was every bit as weird and embarrassing as I had imagined. I seemed to have all the requisite feminine parts and none of the masculine ones. I hadn't had much use out of those for years, so why did I feel their loss so particularly agonizing?

I started sniffling again. "Oh, grow up, Margaret," I told myself. Trying to wrap my head around my new identity was painful in an entirely different way, and I used it more or less as a distraction.

I finished up, discarding most of the paper towels and the soiled undies in the trash receptacles in two different stalls. Not the toilet bowl a real fifteen-year-old might have thoughtlessly used.

I did feel much better. Being grimy and nasty had been hard on my psyche. I paused now in front of the mirrors and dug out my comb and brush — time to deal with my hair more thoroughly when I could see what I was doing.

Before beginning, though, I stuck out my tongue and looked at the silver ball sitting there. Thankfully, I hadn't discovered any other body piercings, and no tattoos, thank god. How does a teenager get such a thing done? Weren't such piercings for children illegal without parental consent? There were probably ways to do things if you were a rebellious teen.

And…worry about that later.

I sighed and went to work on my hair. It was gorgeous stuff, actually, and the rich brown seemed to be its natural shade. Long, thick, healthy, shining--I could do shampoo commercials. I wondered, this being LA, if Margaret had done such work. Too bad, I couldn't ask her.

I stopped suddenly. Panic loomed again. Where was the real Margaret? Her mind? Because it seemed probable that the monster who had stolen my body and then that of the policeman had taken hers first. Where was she? And who was she now?



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