Editor's Note




Submission Guidelines

Archived Issues

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 Substance #4.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@indiana.edu.

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

(Go back to Part Six)

Part Seven

     Penny has gone to the newsagent to buy a paper; when she lets herself back in, Michelle tells her that her mother has died during the night.
     "Oh shit," Penny mutters.
     "Look, sit down," says Michelle. "I'll make you something."
     Penny puts her face into her hands and bursts into tears. Michelle brings over a box of tissues and dabs at Penny's eyes. Blindly, Penny reaches out and embraces her.
     Half an hour later, Penny goes up to her room to read her newspaper. She can't concentrate. It all seems so trivial. Why am I worrying about things -- Mum was dying all this time, she thinks. In her sleep -- I'm glad she didn't have any more pain. All I'm worrying about is so unimportant compared to that.
     - You speak for yourself,
Peter says inside her head.
     - What are you doing? Can't you leave me alone?
     - It's my grief too. You are me, after all.
     - No I'm not. We're different people. We lead different lives. Don't you try to make out we're the same. I'm not a --

     A pause.
     - Not a what? says Peter.
     - Nothing. Forget it.
     - Not a mixed-up pervert, you mean?
     - Don't put words into my mouth. I wouldn't say things like that.
     - You are so fucking smug, Penny! Do you think I want to be a transsexual? You think yourself lucky for once!
     - Look, I'm sorry, Peter.
     - So you should be. You owe me.

     And he breaks contact.

     It was a few days later, the evening of the day of the funeral, that I asked Penny the question. After the last outburst, we had stayed on friendly terms, holding mental conversations as we walked down the High Street, or around the Ocean Village shopping centre.
     I'd wanted to ask her, but I didn't know how she'd react.
     After the funeral, Richard and Michelle had hosted the reception. I'd assisted. Later, when everyone had gone home and I was helping clear up, I knew I had to ask it. I was going back to Aldershot the next day - presumably Penny was taking the train back to Birmingham - and I'd never have another chance. We might never come in contact again, after that. Here, Richard's house, was the most likely place - if we were ever here simultaneously again.
     I had to ask her. And that night, as I was lying in bed, I did.
     - Penny...?
     - Hmmm?
     - Tomorrow - I know this sounds silly, but I don't know how to put it - tomorrow, can we swap bodies?
     - Can we what?
     - Swap bodies. I be you, you be me. Only for half a day.
     - You're mad.
     - Please. I'd be very grateful.
     - If you think I'm going to let you run rampant inside my body, you're very much mistaken.
     - Don't you want to know what it's like - to see the world through a man's eyes? Know what it's like to be male?
     - Frankly, no.
     - But it'd mean a lot to me, Penny.
     - Why? It'd only make things worse for you. It'd only show you something you could never have. Even if you had a sex-change, it wouldn't be the same.
     - But just to say I was a woman, a genuine, real, functioning woman, even for a few hours... Isn't it better to have had something and lost it, then never to have had it at all?
     - That's a matter of opinion.
     - You'd be doing me a great favour.
     - I'm aware of that. I'm not sure. Let me think about it. Don't go away.

     She broke contact. I lay there, tossing and turning in the dark. I wanted to know where she was -- somewhere in the room - but I didn't know. I wanted to know what she was thinking.
     - How do you know it'll work? she said.
     - It worked before.
     - That was just for a short while, and I was still about. I didn't go into your body. What'll happen if we break contact with our bodies? How do we know it won't kill us?
     - I'm prepared to take that risk.
     - That's big of you. What about me?
     - I left my body and went back, that time. It didn't kill me.
     - Let me think about it again.

     She broke contact a second, shorter time.
     - Okay, she said. I'll do it. But I'll make the conditions.
     - Fine.
     - My train goes at half-past ten. You can catch it too - I change at Basingstoke, you change at Woking. I want you at the station at twenty past sharp. We'll meet at the Quicksnack. We'll swap back then.
     - No problem.
     - Do you promise?
     - I promise.
     - Fine. I'll do it, then. Just this once. Just for you. For three hours only. I don't know what I'm letting myself in for, but somehow I trust you. You're right, I would be curious to know what it's like to be in your body.
     - I'm very very grateful, Penny.
     - Don't get all mushy. I can't bear it. Now, before we go to sleep, let's us both write a few things that we'll each need to know. Like, where everything is. See you tomorrow.

     She broke contact again, for the final time.
     I hardly slept that night, for the excitement.

Go On To Part Eight