Gary Couzens is a British writer whose work has been published in The Magazine of
Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, The Third
Alternative, Peeping Tom, Psychotrope and Urges, and in the anthology
Bizarre Sex and Other Crimes of Passion (Richard Kasak Books). This story previously appeared in
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All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective
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posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
by Gary Couzens
Part FourPenny arrives in Southampton. She goes into the car park, where Richard and Michelle are waiting for her by the car. She embraces, kisses them both. She's always got on with Michelle, who today is even more animated than usual. This is the first time Penny has seen her since she became pregnant; the small bump rounds out Michelle's figure nicely.
The three of them prepare dinner, eat it and wash up. Penny phones Malcolm and they talk for twenty minutes. Penny, Richard and Michelle sit in front of the TV in the small front room until ten o'clock when a bout of yawning prompts Michelle to urge Penny to go to bed.
"You've had a long day."
"Yes, you need to be fresh tomorrow," says Richard.
Penny nods, and yawns. "I think I'd better."
"You're picking up the Brummie accent," says Richard.
"Am I? I haven't noticed. I must've lived there too long."
"Anyway, we'll see Mum tomorrow."
"It's terrible. It's not so long after Dad died."
Richard shrugs; he always has been fatalistic. Michelle mutters: "It's such a terrible shame."
As Penny wanders down the hallway to her room, she realises how tired she is. She undresses slowly, having to search for places to drape her clothes; natural tidiness forbids her to drop them on the floor. The light is weak, the wardrobe crowding out much of it. The bed is harder than she's used to; she never sleeps well in strange beds. She lies in the darkness, tossing and turning, bone-weary yet unable to sleep.
And then she hears:
- Such a shame can't Marie not here oh shit...
"Who's there?" she says aloud.
- What's that? It's a male voice: not in the room but inside her head. Who are you?
She begins to tremble. She thinks: Am I going mad? It's the first sign of schizophrenia, hearing voices. Soon she'll begin to hallucinate.
- What's your name? says the voice.
"Who are you?"
- I asked first. More peevish than threatening; she begins to relax. What's your name, please?
She's poised to say it aloud, but she pauses, then thinks it:
A thought with a little extra thrust, so this other person can hear it.
- Hello, Penny. I'm Peter. Now, what are you doing here?
- What are you doing here?
- You tell me first.
- I'm staying in this room in my brother's house. We're going to see our Mum in hospital tomorrow.
- Hang on, something's just clicked. What's your brother's name? Peter asks.
- What does he do?
- He's a chartered accountant.
- Is he married?
- Yes. His wife's called Michelle. They've been married two years.
- Have they got any children?
- No, but one's on its way. Where's all this leading to?
- I've only got one more question, the voice in her head says. Just one more, Penny. When and where were you born?
- 7th July 1967, in Southampton. Why?
- So was I. It's all coming into place. I've also got a brother called Richard, a sister-in-law called Michelle, and a dying mother. You're me. You're the person I'd have been if I'd been born female.
- I've never heard such shit in my life, Penny thinks. You're just a voice in my head and I'm going mad. Now fuck off and let me sleep.
She buries her head in the pillow and resists any further attempts of the voice to communicate with her.