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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 Seven)

Part Eight

     Penny opens her eyes at half past six, from a half-remembered dream that fades on waking. At first she's disorientated, then she remembers. Today she will change bodies with Peter, for three hours. At half past seven. For three hours she will be a man.
     A queasy nervous sensation in the pit of her stomach. She sits on the side of the bed, dangling her feet, her toes just touching the carpet. She hugs herself through the thin fabric of her nightdress. It's cold. For a moment she wonders if she'll be sick, but she fights back the bile rising in her throat.
     Couldn't she just back out, not go through with it? But she promised, and she's prided herself on always keeping her word, if it's in her power to do so. She's sensed what this exchange means to Peter. But he has no existence in this world, she thinks - who could prove I did anything? But she has no existence in his world either; they are each equally unreal.
     She has made a list for Peter's information. She felt ridiculous writing it out - what would she have said if someone caught her doing it? The instructions range from the informative - which toiletries in the bathroom are hers - to the admonitory - don't spend anything - I'm nearly overdrawn as it is - to the very personal - I NEVER wear yellow!! (redundant, as she has no item of clothing of that colour in her suitcase).
     What has kept her awake - apart from anxiety about the whole process - is the fear that it may go wrong, she may be stuck in Peter's body forever. Then I'll know just what he feels. And he'll get his wish. She shudders.
     - I'm ready when you are, Penny. She can sense his excitement.
     - I might as well get it over with. Remember, the Quicksnack at ten-twenty sharp.
     - Understood.
     - How do you do this?
     - It's easy, just push.

     She chuckles. - Like giving birth.
     - I wouldn't know about that.
     - Neither would I.

     And with her mind she gives a push

          and blinks.

     At first nothing has happened. The same bed, the sun coming in the same window.
     But something's different. Something. The first intimation: clothes. They hang differently. Look down. The nightdress is gone; pyjamas instead.
     Stand up. A moment of dizziness; a brief lurch inside the head as Penny breaks contact.
     Everything seems different, but the room is just the same. He realises why soon enough: he's five foot eight. Six inches taller than Penny. He tests this by reaching for the top of the wardrobe. He can do this; Penny never could, and always had to stand on top of a chair.
     I've always wanted to be taller.
     And then: What do I look like?
     He opens the wardrobe and looks in the mirror. Peter's face stares back at him. Recognisably the same -- the family resemblance is there -- but the hair is shorter, the face less soft, and there's stubble that needs shaving. Also a double chin: after all, Peter is overweight. He pinches folds of flesh about his stomach. And then, he takes a deep breath and unbuttons his pyjama top, slips off the bottom half.
     He cups his penis and testicles in his hand. It is strange to hold, this limp mass of tissue attached to him. The absence of breasts and vagina is less disorientating than the presence of a penis. Penny has seen them before: limp in occasional foreign films, erect in the Lover's Guide video she and some female friends watched one giggly tipsy evening, erect and inside her for Malcolm and the four other men she's had sex with. But then it had been other to her - a focus of desire, an object of amusement, a willy, something men were preoccupied with. But not so commonplace as this, not part of her. Perhaps men felt the same way about breasts (boobs, tits, knockers ), as objects of mirth in seaside postcards and Carry On films, or objects of lust -- but to Penny simply part of her body, something she has in common with all other adult women.
     At the memory of Penny's sex life with Malcolm, he feels a tingling. His penis becomes warm to the touch and begins to stiffen. Embarrassed, he turns away and dresses hurriedly. Putting on men's clothes is not strange: with the exception of underpants, there's nothing that Penny hasn't worn at some time.
     He goes downstairs. Richard and Michelle are already sitting down; Richard has finished breakfast and is reading his newspaper. "Morning."
     "Good morning," says Michelle.
     "Got to go," says Richard, getting to his feet and folding his newspaper away in his briefcase. He extends his hand. "Well, safe journey home, Peter."
     "Thank you." He is taken aback that Richard doesn't kiss him; but then, he remembers, he's not Penny now.
     After Richard has left, Michelle leans across the table. "What time's your train?"
     "Twenty past ten. It's actually twenty-two, but - "
     "Give it plenty of time, I know." Michelle is curter now; he wonders if it's because she's in a bad mood. But then, he remembers, she simply doesn't get on with Peter as well as she does with Penny. Not so friendly. Well it's only his fault, she thinks: too shut in on himself. "I'll drop you off."
     In mid-morning, he leaves the house to get a Guardian . At first it's not so easy to walk; the weight distribution is all wrong. He wonders if everyone is staring at him. But they don't notice; they won't notice him. He, Peter, is nondescript. What he wears, how he looks, is not being judged.
     Back at home, as he is reading the newspaper, Michelle glances over his shoulder as she passes by on her way to do the dusting. "You don't usually buy a paper," she says.
     Something clenches inside him; he feels his cheeks burn. "I -- I just felt like it. Something to read on the train." Inside his head he's thinking: What? What paper does Peter read? Doesn't read any. Watches TV news.
     Michelle says nothing. She glances at her watch. "If you're ready I'll drop you off."
     They hardly speak in the car. He misses the girltalk Penny often had with Michelle. He wants to start such a conversation, but something inhibits him. He doesn't know where to start. There seems to be some barrier between them; perhaps it's in the nature of the relationship between Peter and Michelle. Some archness.
     Michelle pulls up in the station concourse, and turns to him. "Okay, then. Have a nice journey home."
     "Th-thanks for everything. For putting me up."
     "You're welcome. Any time. Hopefully next time it'll be in better circumstances."
     "It'll be nice to get back to my flat. To see Birmingham again."
     "Birmingham ?"
     "Sorry. Aldershot." He blushes. "Don't know why I said Birmingham."
     Michelle chuckles. "I think you need a good night's sleep. You look all in. Anyway, plenty of time on the train to do it."
     They don't kiss, which disappoints him. Penny and Michelle would certainly kiss. She leaves him at the station entrance with his suitcase. He buys his ticket, a single to Aldershot. There's a delayed earlier train, but he purposefully doesn't rush to catch it. He makes his way to the Quicksnack to wait for Peter to return to reclaim his body.

     When I opened my eyes I knew something was different. The air was clearer, and I could feel the morning cold on my skin. I looked down at myself.
     I was a woman.
     I shook my head to feel the ends of my hair tickling my shoulderblades.
     I stood up, and at first almost toppled over. I was shorter now, five foot two at the most, and my weight was differently distributed. I could feel the weight of my breasts. I pulled my nightdress off over my head and looked at myself in the wardrobe mirror, running my hands over my breasts. The tangled triangle of hair at my groin; I touched my clitoris and vagina, inserting a finger.
     The tingling sensation felt good. I lay back on the bed and masturbated, slowly at first, then faster and more vigorously as I approached orgasm. It was a different climax, not a simple spurt, felt only in the penis, but whole-body, and in waves. I bucked and moaned, my back arched; I gasped out loud as I came.
     Penny had left some clothes out for me. I ran my hands through them: they were disappointingly ordinary. A light blue long-sleeved top and black leggings. For my one day -- one morning, few hours -- as a woman, I wanted to wear something a little more striking. I rummaged in the suitcase and took out a black miniskirt and a white blouse. I put on her pair of low-heeled shoes. I applied lipstick and eye-shadow.
     I went downstairs. I had to be careful walking: not only was I unused to heeled shoes, which caused an ache in the small of my back, but I had to get used to being five foot two instead of five foot eight. It was as if the whole world had shifted upward by six inches.
     Richard, dressed for work, was reading his newspaper. He glanced up at me as I came in the room. His eyebrows lifted momentarily, then he said: "Hi, Penny."
     "Hello," I said, and smiled. I sat down, and crossed my legs. Perhaps I had overdone it: did I look too made-up, too tarty? More to the point, too much unlike Penny?
     Michelle was sitting opposite me; I hadn't noticed her until now. She smiled at me. "All ready to go, then?"
     I nodded.
     "It's a long journey," she said.
     "About three hours," I said, guessing. "I've got things to read ...."
     "You must be glad to get back to Birmingham," she said. "Not that we haven't been glad to have you here. You must come down again sometime, under better circumstances. Once I've had the baby. You must bring Malcolm."
     Malcolm? I asked myself. Then I remembered: Penny's boyfriend. "I'd love to," I said.
     Richard sat bolt upright, and folded his newpaper into two, slipping it into his briefcase. "I'd better be going." He stood up. "Goodbye, Penny." He stood, expectant -- of what, I didn't know at first. Then I realised: I stood up, and we kissed. He hugged me, patting me on the shoulderblades.
     It was strangely pleasurable, to be kissed by my own brother. As a woman, by a man. Apart from my mother in hospital, I'd never kissed anyone in a long time. The last time was by that other man, as prelude to his fucking me (to be crude about it -- it was a crude occasion).
     After breakfast, I helped Michelle wash up.
     "I'll run you down to the station, if you like," she said.
     "That'll be very nice," I said. I paused. "I'd like to go down to the shops for a bit, though."
     "A few things for the journey?"
     I nodded.
     "You look very nice this morning."
     "Thank you," I said.
     "I wish I had your legs. I couldn't get into a skirt like that."
     I wanted to go outside for other reasons. I wanted to put myself on public view. I'd convinced Richard and Michelle. Now I wanted to convince strangers. One fantasy I had was to appear in public in full drag, spend a day or more as a woman, without my biological sex being discovered. I'd never had the courage to try. Now of course, I couldn't be detected. I was in a woman's body, the right body, for the first time. And the only time: even a sex change wouldn't make me as complete a woman.
     Penny had been right. My experiences today would only tantalise me for the rest of my life. In an hour or two, Penny would reclaim this body, and I'd return to Peter's.
     Unless, I thought as I walked down the road to the shops, unless I didn't. If I could avoid Penny at the station, there was nothing to stop me staying inside this body. Granted, there were things I'd have to get used to. Penny's job, Penny's home, Penny's circle of friends. Not to mention Penny's body. But that would be the easy part.
     I walked down Portswood Road. The wind was chilly on my legs: it had been a mistake to wear such a short skirt and thin tights. Lack of experience showing. Some men stared at my legs as I passed. The wind was cold on my face, too. It was as if I were a skin thinner: sensations were sharper and I felt the weather more. The crowd noise was a degree louder than I'd have expected it to be.
     I did my shopping quickly. I wondered if people thought I was ill. I had a permanent low-level headache muzziness and I must have seemed distracted. It was also strange to be addressed as "love" by the middle-aged shopkeeper.
     I got home and busied myself packing. I had achieved my fantasy: to be seen in public as a woman. I would have wished it to be better: but we can never live up to our imaginations. It would improve with practice: I hadn't had a lifetime's training in femininity. And what was femininity anyway? Penny wasn't necessarily how I saw myself.
     Michelle drove me to the station. I was quiet, and she remarked on it.
     "I'm always like this before long journeys," I said.
     She nodded. But I wasn't being truthful. It was more disappointment: I would be leaving this body soon, before I could get used to it. I would be returning to Peter's body, and the torment of a mind-and-body mismatch. Penny had been right: all I'd achieved was a lifetime of frustration. Unless.
     Michelle pulled up in the concourse, and walked with me to the ticket office. She stood behind me as I bought a single to Birmingham New Street.
     I heard a distant announcement: "...train now standing...delayed Inter-City..." I didn't hear the rest.
     "Penny!" Michelle tugged at my sleeve.
     I turned.
     "Penny, that train's going to Basingstoke."
     "It's not due for twenty minutes."
     "It's the previous one. It's been delayed. If you're quick you might just catch it!"
     We kissed and embraced hurriedly.
     "Give us a ring when you get back," she said. "Let us know you got back safely."
     I nodded, then hurried away. My suitcase was heavy, and it was difficult to run in heels. But I went as fast as I possibly could, willing my body forward to catch the train. Over the station bridge, my heels clicking on the tiles. The guard blew his whistle and for a moment I thought I'd missed it. But there was a shout in my ear -- "Hurry up, love!" -- and I jumped the last few feet, and scrambled through the door. A man sitting opposite me smiled as I slumped into my seat, panting heavily. The train pulled out of the station.
     It took me a few minutes to recover my breath. The train had picked up speed before I realised what I'd done.
     At first I felt bad about it -- I'd gone back on my word to Penny, after all. But there was nothing she could do about it. I didn't exist in her universe. No body, no crime. And nothing she could do about it, short of coming to Birmingham after me. But there were ways of avoiding her: I could move to another flat. Move in with Malcolm, even.
     As the train sped through the Hampshire countryside, I sat back and smiled. Of course I had a lot to learn. I had to accustom myself to a new life. But I knew I could do it. I was looking forward to meeting Malcolm, too. I only hoped he wouldn't find me changed by my stay in Southampton. If it all worked out, perhaps one day we'd get married, have children...
     I was looking forward to my new existence.
     It was ironic, I thought; we had returned, after a fashion, to our original states: a woman, and another woman trapped inside a man's body ....

Go On To Part Nine