A Minority Of One : 1 / 9

A Minority Of One : 1 / 9

[ Melanie Brown’s Switcher Universe ]
By Iolanthe Portmanteaux


Every new opinion, at its starting, is precisely in a minority of one. — Thomas Carlyle


I groaned as I woke up. My head hurt and my mouth was as dry as sand.

“You’re finally awake!” a woman’s voice said. “How are you feeling?”

“Like I have the world’s worst hangover,” I replied. “Like somebody hit me with a steel beam and my head rolled down a long flight of stairs. Uhhh! Where am I?” I opened my eyes a crack, but only for a microsecond: the light pieced my brain like burning poison daggers.

“Could you turn the lights down?” I asked. “Why is it so fricking bright?”

“The lights are as low as they go,” the woman gently replied. “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. You just woke up.”

My throat was so parched that it hurt to talk. My tongue was like sandpaper; it rubbed rough against my dry, chapped lips. I open my eyes for another quick moment, and caught a quick glance of the woman. She was a nurse. At least, she was dressed like a nurse.

I was lying on an exam table, with one of those ridiculous paper sheets underneath me. I was dressed in a hospital gown that came down to my knees and — thankfully — was closed in the back. I was covered by a thick, warm cotton blanket. The nurse put a cup of water in my hands. I took it like a blind person and drank it like I’d spent a month in the desert.

“You’re dehydrated,” she said. “Sorry about that. All the darts are the same strength, so you got a full adult dose. It put you out longer than the others, and it’s harder on your body.”

I drank, and liquid never felt so refreshing. It seemed to penetrate every part of me the instant I swallowed. She held my hand still and filled the cup twice more. I drained it each time. My headache dimmed a little, and the light was slightly easier to bear, but my head didn’t clear. It was cloudy inside my skull. Very cloudy. Even so, I couldn’t help but pick up on a number of things that jarred me. For one, we were in a room with no windows. I couldn’t tell whether it was day or night. I had no idea where we were. It didn’t appear to be a hospital, or even a doctor’s office. The walls were painted a bleak industrial green: the ugly non-color they use at military bases and government buildings. The color comes out of the bucket already dull and muted, and yet, after another quick look, I was ready to bet these walls were done back in the fifties.

“Do you think there’s lead in this paint?” I asked.

She looked surprised at my question, then gazed at the walls. She shrugged. “Yes, probably,”

“So, where am I?” I asked again. “And... you said darts — was I shot with a tranquilizer dart?” My memory was fuzzy, but I seemed to remember that much.

“Yes,” she replied, as if it were a perfectly normal occurrence. “Do you remember? Don’t worry if you can’t recall right now. It will all come back to you.”

“Another thing you said — you said that I got a full adult dose. Why did you say that? Am I not a full adult or something?” I chuckled mirthlessly. It wasn’t that funny, honestly.

“Speaking of that,” she said, side-stepping my question, “Can you verify your name and birthdate for me?”

“Leo Blisten,” I replied. “May 25, 1978.”

“Um, so… 42 years old.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Can you tell me what’s going on here? Like, where are we? Why was I shot with a tranquilizer dart? Who shot me? And again: WHY? Where are my friends? Were they shot as well?”

“They’re here, too. And yes, they were shot with darts as well. Somebody’s going to come and explain everything to you,” she replied. “I’m sorry, but that’s not my… um, but tell me, how much do you remember?”

“I was in my backyard,” I recalled. “Uhhh… is the tranquilizer still in my system? I feel pretty whoozy.”

“Yes, it will take several hours to completely work its way out of you. You might even feel some effects into tomorrow evening. Don’t be surprised if you feel unusually calm and serene — that’s not a bad thing, right? — and you might have trouble focusing your attention. So, no driving or operating heavy machinery.” She laughed nervously at that, for some reason. “But don’t worry. It wears off soon enough. Drinking plenty of fluids will help, and don’t over-exert yourself.” She handed me a larger cup of water, which I took in sips.

She was right. My brain was packed full of fuzz and static, and I was aware of a certain disconnect… so I asked her, “I feel like I should be upset or angry, but I’m not. Is that the drug as well?”

“Yes. Didn’t I just tell you that? You’ll have to be careful for the next day or so. We’re going to keep you here for the night, and hopefully by the time you leave tomorrow you’ll be back to normal.” Then she coughed, as if the word normal caught in her throat.

“So, yeah,” I said, picking up the thread I’d dropped, “The last thing I remember… I was in my backyard. With my friends — my next-door neighbors.”

“Can you tell me your friends’ names?”

I hesitated. “Can I see my friends first?”

“You can see them in a little bit. As soon as you’re able.”

“Am I under arrest?”

“No, no, of course not. Not at all.”

“Where am I?’

“Okay,” she said. “Okay, okay… You have to — uh — I’m not here for… to… um.” She sighed heavily. “Just, um, just hang on. I’m going to call… someone… the person… who will explain everything to you.”

“Why can’t you explain?”

At that, she lost her patience. “Because it’s not my job!” she told me, in a voice full of frustration and irritation. She turned her back to me, picked up a phone, and in a low tone, as if she didn’t want me to hear, said, “Can you send someone to do the briefing? I’m getting peppered with questions here. Yes. Yes. Didn’t I just say? YES! Are you listening to me? Send… the person… right away!” She listened for a moment, then: “When I say ‘right away’ I mean RIGHT NOW, do you understand? ASAP! I don’t know how many ways I have to say it!” Then she abruptly hung up the phone, while the other person was still speaking.

When she turned to look at me again, her face was a little flushed. She was obviously trying to shake off her irritation. “How do you feel now?” she asked.

“I feel light,” I said. “Weirdly light.”

“Like you’re high?”

“No, like…” I laughed. “Ooh. My voice sounds light too. It’s like I just lost a hundred pounds or something. Isn’t that funny?” She smiled and laughed with me, polite laughter.

A moment later there came a knock at the door. The nurse opened it, and a thin, nasty looking man entered the room. He was dressed in khaki pants and a short-sleeved white dress shirt. He carried a tablet, which he was reading as he entered. He didn’t say a single word of greeting. He didn’t even nod hello. He simply glanced at me, at the tablet, then back and forth again. His eyebrows danced in what I took to be surprise.

Still, without acknowledging my presence, he turned his back to me and spoke with the nurse. I couldn’t hear his voice, but I heard the nurse say that she’d gotten “identity confirmation.” She also told him that I was still recovering from the tranqullizer dart, but didn’t need any other medical attention. He nodded, then gestured at the door with his head, and she left. It was all a bit rude. I was 80% sure that I didn’t like this guy.

He sat in a chair and pulled it close to the exam table I was lying on. “Hello there,” he said. “I’m a Special Agent with the FBI, and I’m here to explain things to you. You’re not under arrest; you’re not under suspicion. You haven't broken any law. So why are you here? I’ll tell you: The reason you’re here is because you were, unfortunately, caught up in a very complicated international case that’s extremely inconvenient for everyone concerned. That includes you. We’re going to clear up your part in this as quickly as possible so we can let you go. We’ll have to keep you overnight, but I promise that you’ll be out of here tomorrow, as early in the day as possible.”

I blinked and squinted.

“Does the light hurt your eyes?” he asked.

“A little, still,” I replied. “It’s passing.”

“Good.” He paused and looked at his tablet. “So… Leo, right?” He said it with this smirk, as if it were somehow funny. Now I was 90% sure I didn’t like him.

“Yeah,” I replied. “My name is Leo. Is that some kind of problem?”

He raised his eyebrows and made a face like he was biting his tongue.

“Look,” I said, “Can you please cut to the chase and tell me what the hell is going on here? I feel like I’m in some kind of guessing game.”

“Right,” he agreed. “You’re right. I will do exactly that, but first, can you tell me how much you remember? Then I’ll fill in the parts that you don’t know. It’ll be quicker that way.”

“Okay. So… I was in my backyard. I was… grilling some steaks. I was on my feet. I had a glass of wine in my hand. My wife was there, and another couple. They were sitting down, also drinking wine, eating appetizers…”

Again he glanced at his tablet. “Can you tell me your friends’ names? And your wife’s name?”

“Why?” I was getting suspicious.

“Just to confirm your memory.”

“The other couple was my friends Max and Meredith Shearpen. They live right next door. My wife’s name is Theresa Bliston.”

Again he smirked. I wanted to slap him, but I resisted the urge. It was more important to find out what was going on.

The agent asked, “And then what happened?”

“I was talking…” I said. As I spoke, the memory came drifting back, like a mist blowing in and taking shape. The picture grew clearer. I could almost feel and see it, as if it was happening now. “I was talking, and—” in my recollection, I could see her: the girl, crouching— “I realized there was this girl... on the other side of the gate. It was strange… like she was listening… like she was spying on us. It bugged me. It really rankled me. I set my glass down and took a step toward the gate. I remember… I wondered how long she’d been there, how much she’d heard, when she abruptly stood up… straightened up. Like she wasn’t concerned about being caught. In fact, she opened the gate and walked right in.” I sniffed in disdain. The emotions were coming back along with the memory. "That really bugged me. So arrogant, like there was no problem with her eavesdropping or walking in uninvited." I shrugged. "She just walked in, like she owned the place."

“What did she look like?” the FBI man asked me, and his face was dancing, as if this was somehow funny. Again, I wanted to slap him, but — for the sake of getting this stupid interview over with, I went on with my story. Each detail pulled another.

“She was a kid, like thirteen or so. I remember thinking how skinny her legs were. She was wearing jeans, and her legs where like toothpicks. Her sneakers were this ugly orange color…" Now I could see her, in my mind's eye. "She was a skinny kid with black hair. I don’t know. I can’t remember much else.” For some reason, my heart started racing. The memory somehow seemed dangerous… or wrong, somehow. “I walked over to her. I was about to grab her by the arm, but she smiled and said she was looking for her dog…”

“She was looking for her dog?” he repeated.

“She said she was looking for her dog, but it sounded like a lie. And then what? Well anyway, there was no dog, anywhere. So it was total BS.” I paused, like I was watching a movie that I didn’t understand. My lips suddenly felt dry, so I licked them, and frowned, trying to remember. I took a sip of water and went on with my story. “So I grabbed her arm, and at that same moment, it was like somebody socked me in the gut. Like, really hard. It wasn't the girl, though; she didn’t hit me. I didn’t see who or what it was, but I doubled over, like a steel fist out of nowhere got me right in the stomach.” I took a deep breath. What was happening to me? Why did this memory seem so disturbing? “After that, boom! There were people everywhere. People with guns, people yelling, people popping out of every corner. And all the guns were pointed directly at us... Ah! That’s when I was shot with a dart! Was that you guys?”

“Yes, and on behalf of our team, I apologize. That was us. But in a moment you’ll understand why.” He leaned back in his chair. “Okay, thanks for your story. There isn’t any more, correct? Good. What you’ve told me tallies with everything your friends have already said. Now I’m going to explain what’s behind all the things you experienced, and what you missed while you were unconscious. I know that at first you’re not going to believe what I tell you, but unfortunately, it’s a fact. We’ll go over this again a couple of times, and eventually you will accept it as such.”

I frowned at that. He gave me a smile that was meant to be reassuring, but I didn’t find it reassuring at all..

“To put it briefly, there is a man named Ron Simon. He’s a thief, a murderer... probably a psychopath… from the UK. His story is long and complicated, but for the moment I’m going to give you the briefest summary, so we can get you processed and out of here. I'll tell you all you really need to know, in any case. So! In a nutshell, Simon got access to a discovery that allows him to switch identities with anyone he touches. That girl you met… she was actually Simon. A grown man in a young girl’s body.”

I was about to protest, but he put up his hand. “Just listen. Soon you’ll have more proof than you’ll ever need. Maybe more proof than you'll every want. So just listen. Let me finish. Simon has been jumping from body to body across Europe and now the US. He’s left a trail of chaos, confusion, and crime, and he’s nearly impossible to stop. In several countries, various police agencies are hunting him, trying to catch him, but he can jump from one person to another faster than thought. Just imagine, the policeman who’s about to arrest him is suddenly Simon. Who would know? The trusted bank employee who just held up the bank — Simon again. That’s why we tranquilized all of you immediately. We had no way of knowing who was Simon and who was an innocent bystander.”

I mulled this over. “And what happens to the people he switched with? Do you use the, uh, discovery or invention or whatever it is, to switch them back?”

“No, Simon destroyed every trace of that technology, and killed the scientist who discovered it.”

“Huh,” I said, taking it in. “So how do they switch back? The people who got switched? Do you bring them together and poof! they’re back to who they were? Like a Freaky Friday kind of thing? Or does the switch wear off after an hour or a day or something?”

“No. It never wears off. Nobody switches back. Ever. It’s a one-way ticket. Everyone who got switched is stuck. They’re stuck being whoever Simon was when he touched them. Forever.”

I struggled with the idea. “But… so… who is… Listen, let’s say you were Simon, and you switch with me. Then who are you?”

“I’d be you,” he said. “And you’d be Simon.”

“But then I could switch back and we’d be like before.”

“No. Apparently Simon can only switch once with a person. It’s like being vaccinated. You can’t get it again. Don’t ask me why.”

“So, if you were me, and I was Simon… and I switch with someone else… like the nurse… then she would Simon, I would be the nurse, and you would be me.”

“Right.” He nodded.

“Forever,” I said.


“Wow,” I said. “That would really suck.” I considered the implications. It would certainly suck, in a very big way.

There were still some pieces that didn’t fit yet. I frowned, trying to work it out. Then I asked, “So… the girl. She was Simon, right? Who is that girl now?”

The FBI man smiled. Not a nice smile. This was the moment he’d been waiting for. The punchline, the payload. He paused a moment for dramatic effect. Then he told me. “That would be you, Leo.”

My mouth fell open. At first I was speechless. Then I sputtered. I lifted my arms and legs to protest, and saw them for the first time. I was wearing a hospital gown, and covered by a sheet, but I could see how skinny my arms and legs were, how short I was, and how pale my skin had become. I actually had lost at least a hundred pounds. No wonder I felt lighter. “I’m the — she’s the — what!? No!” I exclaimed, fumbling my phrases. “NO! NO! NO!”

The asshole clearly enjoyed my confusion and surprise. He didn’t make any effort to hide his glee. He sat there like a bastard and smirked while I flipped out. My eyes, my hands, frantically explored my new body. Yes, skinny was the operative word. Somehow, I was now a skinny teenage kid. My hair was mercifully short, but unnaturally black.

“Switch me back!” I shouted. “Switch me the hell back!”

He shook his head and waited for me to quiet down. Then he consulted his tablet and told me, “I had to make a diagram to keep track of who’s who.” He was clearly loving this. By now, I was well over 1000% sure that I didn’t like him at all.

He turned his tablet toward me. He actually had a slideshow that illustrated every move Simon made. "The circles are the people. The arrows are the switches. At the start, the girl was Simon. She switched with you. So now the girl — you — is Leo. Then Simon jumped to Theresa, so Theresa is now in Leo’s body. Then, switch, switch, Meredith is in Theresa’s body, and Max is in Meredith’s body.”

“And Simon?”

“Simon is in Max’s body.”

I frowned. I couldn’t follow the new who’s who. As soon as he told me the changes, I forgot them all.

I asked, “Did you catch that asshole? I would love to kick his ass.”

At that, the agent burst out laughing. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but that’s just too rich. With that tiny little foot of yours? He wouldn’t even feel it.”

I fumed, and balled up my fists, but I knew that losing my temper wasn’t going to help anything. I opened my fists and sat on my hands. Swallowing my bile, I asked, “But you tranquilized everyone, you said. Everyone includes Max, so you must have caught him.”

“No,” the agent said. “Max — or Simon now — jumped your back fence before our agents swarmed your yard. We didn’t know he was there, so we didn’t know he was missing. In fact, we had no idea that he’d gone until he was well away. We figured that one of you was Simon, and that we’d finally caught him. We didn’t give chase because we didn’t know anyone was running.”

I sat there in silence, marinating in all this new information. In retrospect, I can see that the tranquilizer dart helped me keep my cool. Otherwise, I would have been screaming, raving, punching and kicking. The agent gave me a few moments to take it in.

“Do you have any questions?” he asked with a smirk.

“Yes,” I said. “Did anyone think to turn off my grill?”

“Your grill?” he repeated, not understanding.

“Yeah, the grill in my backyard.”

We looked each other in the eye for a few seconds, until he got it. As an expression of hostility it was pretty weak, but it was the best I could do at the moment.

“Oh, yeah, your grill. Uh, probably, yeah,” he nodded. “In any case, I’m sure the steaks are done by now. I’m sure they’re WELL done by now.”

He laughed, but I didn’t.



The agent called the nurse back. She arrived carrying some nondescript clothes. The agent stepped into the hall while I dressed. The clothes were kind of big on me, but the pants stayed up, which was the main thing. The agent escorted me to a different room, where a tired-looking lawyer was waiting for me.

He shifted some papers on his desk and asked, “Bliston, Leo?” I nodded. “This session is being recorded. Please respond verbally yes or no.”


“Born May 25, 1978?”


“Right. Now, you may have been told that the woman who was your wife, Theresa, now inhabits your old body, and that her body is now inhabited by—” He consulted his tablet— “Meredith Shearpen. Also, your friend Max Shearpen is now in Meredith’s former body. It’s a real mess.”

“Tell me about it,” I said.

“Yes, and I have to tell you, that — from my experience — each person is likely to feel that they’ve drawn the short end of the stick. Your friends were given the option of assuming new identities, but as a group, they’ve decided to keep the identity of the body they now inhabit. After some discussion, they came to the conclusion that it was the easiest thing, albeit somewhat mind-bending and uncomfortable.”

“They’re going to have to make some serious adjustments,” the FBI agent commented with a smirk. The lawyer and I ignored him.

“I asked several times, in various ways, whether any of them would be willing to take you into their care,” the lawyer continued.

“Why would you ask that?” I interrupted. “I can take care of myself.”

The agent scoffed. The lawyer shot him a look.

“No, you can’t,” the lawyer contradicted. “I’m not surprised that you haven’t considered some of the more immediate consequences of your change, but the fact is, you are now a minor. That’s an important, determinant fact. Physiologically, you are thirteen years old, no matter how much life experience you’ve accumulated. When you leave this facility, no one will vouch for your previous age or identity. You will be a new person, and as that new person you have to consider your options.”

“None of my friends wanted me?” I asked, both offended and surprised. “None of them?”

The agent laughed. “No, not one of them! They didn’t even need to think about it. Especially your wife! She sounded good and glad to be rid of you, although she was more than a little miffed to find out that she’s you now.”

“We are helping them with some small adjustments and counseling…” the lawyer began, but the agent interrupted again.

“I don’t know whether you know how much your so-called friends dislike you,” he continued. “The way they tell it, you’ve screwed up each of their lives to a significant degree. Did you know that your wife has been planning to file for divorce? She’s been working on it for months. Did you know that?”

Actually, I didn’t know that. Still, it was none of his business. “Hey!” I shot back. “You don’t get to talk to me like that!”

“Why? Are you going to cry, little girl? What are you going to do about it? File a complaint? Who’re you going to file it with? You going to write a letter to the newspapers, or tell the world on Twitter? Nobody’s going to believe you. Think about it: this place doesn’t exist. The lawyer, the nurse, me — none of us exist. You don’t even know our names. But you know what? We’ve seen dozens of people just like you. Dozens! We clean them up, put them on their feet, and send them out of here. That’s all we do. That’s all we can do. You’ll be out of here tomorrow, and once you leave, you'll never come back, and none of this have ever happened. Do you understand?

“Besides, I think your friends would be happy to know I’m telling you all this. They were pretty tired of putting up with your shit.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” the lawyer said. “I have to get out of here, too, you know.” He shuffled some papers for emphasis, and the agent gestured that he was done talking. The lawyer continued.

“As I said, you’re a minor. Right now, you have two possibilities. The first is that you go into the system, become a ward of the state. Some family could foster you, hopefully a nice family with a nice home. You might even get adopted. That’s door number one.

“Door number two, on the other hand, is that you live this girl’s life, the way your friends are living each other’s lives. You pick up where she left off. You take her name, her identity, become a part of her family. The girl’s parents are coming. They want to talk to you. They’ll be here tomorrow. They’ll meet you, talk with you, maybe offer to take you in.”

I scoffed. I couldn’t help it.

“If I were you,” the lawyer said, “I’d make a serious effort to make nice with the girl’s parents. You’re better off in a settled, stable situation. With them, you’d have the added advantage of their knowing who you really are. If you go into the system, you’ll be just another teenage orphan. If you start telling people that you’re really 42, they’ll think you’re nuts. This family, on the other hand, will understand… as far as they’re able.

“You’ve got tonight to think it over. The parents will be here after breakfast.” He straightened his papers into a single pile and put them in his briefcase, along with his tablet. Then he looked me in the eye.

“From what your friends said, you don’t sound like the nicest person. In fact, you sound like a con man. A shyster. Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t try to con this couple. Be sincere and truthful, even if it’s difficult. You don’t want to bullshit them, because I think they’re on their last—” He stopped himself, and considered for a moment.

He shook his head before continuing. “I shouldn’t be telling you their story. You’ll find out when you meet them. It’s as much their decision as it is yours. I suggest that you listen to them. If you’re smart you’ll make up your mind to go home with them. If they take you, they will literally be giving you a second chance at life. If you want to stick to your old ways, if you want to be a cheat and a con and an asshole, then tell me that you want to go into the system. Roll the dice. On the other hand, if you want to start clean and new and make something worthwhile out of your life, go with the girl’s parents.”

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