The Exchange

The Exchange

Chapter 1 – Wandering Aimlessly

            There was something unusual in the air that day as Johnny walked down the country road.  It wasn’t the usual manure smell Johnny knew all too well.  The smell of cow leftovers or, to be more accurate, cow “finishedwiths” lingered in his nostrils most days, but he had trained his nose to ignore most of the customary scents.  The clouds in the sky drifted past like the huge balloons Johnny would watch sailing over the open fields next to his family’s farm.  The clouds formed large pirate ships sailing over the Great Wall of China while the smaller clouds were rabbits giving a cracker to a tiger.  Some images didn’t make sense.  They just were what they were.
            As the clouds began to look more like clouds and less like images in the sky, he went back to reading.  Most people stopped walking and read books in a comfortable chair.  Johnny was not most people.  He had the unnatural ability to read and walk at the same time.  In High School, the other students called him the read walker.  As a 1/64th blood relative of a Native American, he thought of it as his Indian name.  As nicknames went, it wasn’t the worst.  He especially enjoyed reading tales of distant worlds.  They were mysterious, lavish, and diverse lands.
The town of Pulltuck, where he lived, was the opposite of what he read about in books.  The name of the town was unbefitting of a town so motionless.  Pulltuck implied some kind of action.  In reality, it had long been inactively dull with a tendency toward boring.  The only people in the town who were doing any kind of pulling or tucking were the old maids who had to pull and tuck at their size 10 dresses to get them over their size 20 bodies.  Every Saturday on market night, they would go to town with enormous amounts of makeup on their faces.  In their minds, they were “gorgeous” and packing on the makeup was better then not having packed at all.
            It had always been Johnny’s contention that the old maids were waiting for someone from the city to come and whisk them away to the destinations of their dreams.  This was the only justification he could come up with for their behavior.  In reality, if anyone came to take them away, they would probably be back to Pulltuck the next day because most of them were afraid of the world outside Pulltuck.
            “Ouch!”  Johnny screamed.  He had run his foot into a tree stump.  When he was young, he often wondered why anyone would opt for a tree stump rather than the whole tree.  Now that he was older, he understood why only the top half of the tree was taken away, but he still disagreed with the practice.  Some of his favorite spots around Pulltuck, though few in number, were under large trees using the roots as a chair or couch.
            He looked around to see where he was and saw a yellow house with a white picket fence, somewhat messy yard, and grass mowed to varying amounts.  He realized where he had stumbled into with great horror.  As he tried to walk away, he could hear that it was too late.
            “Johnny, come here!” she shouted.  Johnny felt as helpless as a fish before a shark pulls off its legs and uses them as toothpicks.  Johnny knew that fish didn’t have legs, but that hardly mattered when the shark had you in his mouth.  Her voice shrieked out over the sea of grass and stopped him in his tracks.
            Her name was Sandra Parker but the name “park,” like the name of the town, did not fit.  She was in Johnny’s same grade, even though she was several years younger than him.  Today, she wore a blue and white dress.  When she was young, she rarely wore dresses and was known as the town tomboy.  Recently, she was spotted wearing dresses and acting almost womanly.  Johnny thought perhaps she was trying to find someone from the outer city to take her away like the ladies in the market.  She certainly had a better chance then the old maids, but Johnny knew better.  She seemed too happy in Pulltuck to want to leave.
            Sandra jumped off the porch where she had cast her paralyzing gaze of fear.  She ran over to the picket fence and leaped over it, landing right in front of Johnny’s feet.  Sandra was quite athletic.  The name Sandra Parker was printed on every girl’s trophy in Pulltuck and even several of the boy’s trophies.  She had out run, out swum, and out jumped every girl in Pulltuck and beaten up every boy who insulted her.  She was definitely not someone to cross or have cross with you.
            “Hello, Sandra,” Johnny uttered.  “Long time no see.”  After a short pause, he smiled and said, “Well, it’s been nice talking with you . . . Goodbye.”
            “Wait a minute.”  She stepped in front of him.  “I just want to ask you something.  Can I just ask you one question, please?”
            Johnny was stunned.  Sandra never requested permission to ask a question or make a comment before.  When she felt like speaking, she spoke.  It was hardly a question of asking her to speak or wanting her to speak.  She just spoke.  Why was she requesting the right to speak now?  Why had she not asked him this question a long time ago?  He could have just said “No” and never had to listen to her again.
            She did have some good qualities.  She could make a boring day extremely thrilling.  Sometimes, too thrilling.  Her ability to recreate the numerous sporting events in which she had participated was unequaled.  She played soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, hockey, and football, although, she had to quit football because of excessive roughness.  She made the events sound as if they were battles, including plenty of bloodshed and gore.  There were no poetic undertones or flowery words that the other girls used.  It was nice to hear a girl talk this way.
            Johnny wasn’t ready for her sports talk right now.  “I’m sorry, Sandra, but I’m busy right now.”  He finally managed to get past her and continued to walk and read.
            “Wait one minute!” she yelled.  Johnny stopped.  He knew from past experience that an angry female was not to be ignored.  An angry Sandra Parker was twice as hazardous.  “I have one short question to ask you and, when I’m finished, you can go!”
            A short question?  Was it possible for Sandra Parker to ask a short question?  In all the years he had known her, she had never come close to asking a short question.  Johnny thought it must be a bluff.  Somehow she would find a way to sneak in a detailed account of her day or tell him about one of the many moments she had scored the goal that won the game in soccer.  Regardless of the risk, Johnny was becoming interested in what she had to say.  He had to hear her question, whatever the consequence.
            “OK, what?”
            “I want to ask you something, but you can’t answer until I’m finished.”  She clenched her fist and waved it at Johnny.  “If you interrupt me or walk away again, I’ll pound your head in!”
            Johnny smiled and listened intently.  “What can I do for you today, Sandra, my friend?”
            Her voice seemed to quiver as she began to ask her question.  It was the first time Johnny had seen her nervous.  Once, she acted nervous while accepting the Greatest Athlete Award in the sixth grade, but Johnny had always suspected that it was an act to please the crowd.  She was constantly trying to please people.
            She looked at the ground and asked in a silent, almost inaudible tone, “What do you think of me?”  The first thing that popped into his mind was an image of a shark eating the flesh from a small defenseless guppy (with legs).  Before he could speak, Sandra looked up into his eyes.  “I mean, what do you think of me as . . . as a woman?”  This statement said, she turned away from him and waited for his response.
            Now Johnny was completely confused – not to mention scared.  He would expect her to ask him what he thought of her as an athlete or a student, but as a woman?  She was much calmer and more conservatively dressed these days.  She knew increasingly more about when and what could be discussed in public.  Her demeanor was becoming more feminine every day.  She had changed a great deal in the past year, but, as for her now being a woman?  The thought still caused a chill to climb up his spine.
            Why did she care what he thought of her?  What was she up to?  She had always tried to please everyone but him.  The only time she gave any effort toward pleasing him was when she needed a soccer partner (a.k.a. target) or a conversational punching bag.
            Females in general were confounding creatures in Johnny’s mind.  He never understood why they had to behave so erratically.  They would say one thing one day and say a completely different thing another day.  If an academy award had ever gone to a performer in everyday life, a woman would be receiving it.
            After thinking about what she had said some more, he realized that he had not answered her question so he said the first thing that came to his mind.  This was his downfall.  “Well, Sandra.  I’ve never really thought about you being a woman before.”
            This statement did not sit well or long with Sandra.  “What did you think of me as?”  She stared at him with anger in her eyes and fire in her words.  “One of the guys?”
            As she began to dance around in disgust, he smiled with as much of a grin as he could produce.  When she finally settled down slightly, he decided to stick his foot further down his mouth.
            “What I meant was . . . you see what I meant to say was . . . that when I think of a woman, I think of my . . . my mom or my grandmother or somebody like that.  When I think of you, I think of a young . . . a young spirited . . .” he searched in the thesaurus in his mind for just the right word to take him out of this situation, “. . . girl.”  As it turned out, he had a very small thesaurus in his mind when he was put on the spot.  Luckily, he had forced his foot far enough down his throat to shut him up.
            “Johnny, I don’t know what you’re talking about but . . . but I’m a woman and if you can’t see that then . . . then you can just never come around here again!”
            Sandra turned around and began to walk away so Johnny spoke up, “Wait a minute!  I didn’t mean anything by that.  You asked me a question and I didn’t really have a chance to think about it.  Give me another chance to explain my answer.”  Once again, he spoke without thinking.  He could have just let her walk away.  She might have calmed down on her own.  
            She stood, silently for a few seconds.  All he could think about was the life he could have had were he to have said the right thing or left it at having said only one wrong thing.  Finally, she turned around and walked back to him.  All the time, he was mentally kicking himself.  He was so close to freedom, yet so far.
            “All right, Johnny.  Go ahead and explain yourself.”  She stood in front of him to visually persecute himself further.
            Something in his head must have said, “Please say something so she can yell at you again,” because that is exactly what he did.  Johnny cleared his throat more to buy him time than to clear any phlegm.  “I like you more than I like my sister.  You’re a really good friend.”  She still was not happy, but he pressed on.  “You’re probably my best friend.  I don’t tell my other friends, ‘Hey, looking good, George.’”
            Sandra swung her fist at Johnny.  “I am going to hurt you, Johnny Peter Anderson.”  She took another swing at Johnny.  She definitely was not trying to hit Johnny because, if she did try, he would be on the ground by now.
            Johnny could not remember what he had said to get out of the conversation with Sandra.  It lasted a great deal of time and was an enormous strain on his body.  He decided to walk straight home in order to avoid any other confrontations that day.
            The conversation loomed in his mind as he walked.  He knew it was a good idea to remain on Sandra’s good side.  To be her enemy was not a picnic and, if it was, it was a picnic attended by people-eating ants.
            As he walked, he heard footsteps behind him that seemed to be imitating his own.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see that someone was following him.  It was a man wearing some kind of a green coat that covered his body.
            Who was this person?  Why was he following Johnny?  Why was the back of Johnny’s leg starting to itch right now?  He was just a farm boy from Pulltuck.  He had nothing to offer this man but the clothes off his back and the book he was reading.  Perhaps the man had nothing on under the coat.  All he wanted were some new clothes.  When he got the clothes, he would go on his way.  These thoughts made Johnny uneasy.  After all, they were the only clothes Johnny had at present.  His feet picked up their pace.  He was trotting now.  He preferred his clothes on his body and was not fond of walking through the forest naked.
            Finally, he walked over to an extraordinarily large tree in the middle of the forest.  Making a circle around the tree, he knew that the man was definitely following him.  Something had to be done before the man decided to act.
            Coming back to the spot where he had originally strolled by the tree, he made a quick turn with his body while kicking the air with his feet.  The man stopped in front of him jumping back with his hands covering his face.  The man was ready to defend himself, though, he hardly needed it against Johnny’s failed swing.
            “I know karate,” Johnny said, hearing the quiver in his own voice, knowing that if push came to shove he would have to shove his foot into his own mouth for the second time that day because he knew nothing about karate except how to spell it.
            “Do you know any other foreign words?” an accented and surprisingly sensual voice called out.  Johnny had mixed feelings about men who spoke in such a manner.  As the voice spoke, he pulled back the hood on his coat to expose the fact that he was not a he but a she.  Johnny sighed with relief, but still kept his guard.  She swung the coat off of herself and exposed her body.  What an exposition it was.  Her hair came darting out like birds set free from a long capture in a cage.  Each hair came to settle down perfectly in front of her face.  His eyes traveled down to her eyes.  They were bright purple.  Johnny had to blink twice to actually focus in on them, but they were definitely a violet shade.  He thought they must be contacts.  Traveling downward with his eyes, he realized that she was the kind of woman he had seen in his sneak-a-peak looks at his older sister’s female magazines.
            There were no women around the area who looked like this woman.  She could not have been from Pulltuck.
            As he came out of his thoughtful state, he noticed that he was starring at the women and she, in turn, was starring back.  He said to her, apologetically, “I didn’t mean to stare.  I just . . .”
            In turn, the woman also came out of a blank stare. “That’s perfectly fine, sir.  I was probably staring just as much as you.  I . . . I’ve never seen anyone as . . . like you before, either.”
            “Oh, well, I’ve never seen a woman as . . . well . . . as beautiful as you before.”  She smiled.  Johnny began to smile as he thought about her statement.  “What do you mean you’ve never seen anyone as . . . like me before?”
            She spoke with a slight smile.  “I don’t get out much.”
            Where was she from?  What did she want?  Especially, what did she want with him?  He was no pig face, but he was also no muscle bound hero.  Nothing like the kind of man this woman could get.  When he looked her over once again, he knew he was crazy for even thinking such thoughts.  The thought that she wanted him for anything but directions to the nearest city was a sign that Sandra had affected more than just his nerves.
            She walked closer to him, holding out her hand.  “Listen, I need you.”
            Was he wrong?  Did she really want his body?
            “I need you for something very special.  I want you to do something for me.”
            Was she serious?  Johnny’s heart was racing.
            “It’s a very personal thing for me to ask of you, but I want your body.”
            He was right!  She wanted his heart, his soul, his . . .  His brow began to sweat excessively.
            “I don’t mean to ask a strange question,” he gulped, “but why me?”
            She turned away from him.  “I need someone young from your people.  Someone who doesn’t have all the ties of your older generation.  I assume you go to school?”
            Where was she going with this line of questioning?
            “Will you help me?” she said as innocently as if she were a child asking for a piece of candy.
            Considering, he said, “I don’t know.”  If he was going to get anywhere with this woman, he couldn’t seem too eager.
            “You seem awfully calm about this whole thing.  Most of the other people I asked about this looked terrified and ran away, screaming.”
            Most of the “other” people?  Running away, screaming in terror?
            “I think because you’re so calm about this, I’ll just get right to it.  No messing around.”
            This was almost going too far.  Wiping the sweat away from his forehead, he squeaked, as if going through the entire stages of puberty in the last twelve seconds, “What . . . what are you talking about?”
            “It’s not that intricate a process so I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it.  You just have to stand there.”
            Was she going to explain the birds and bees to him now?  He felt almost insulted.  Of course, she did say “standing.”  How did that work?
            “I come from a place of great . . . magic.  I guess that’s what you would call it.  It’s not really magic.  It’s actually a number of chemicals mixed to form what most people from your land would term magic because they wouldn’t understand it.  It’s really just a matter of using chemicals to your advantage.  Admittedly, you don’t have most of the required chemicals in your land.”
            Johnny raised an eyebrow as he asked, “Are you a prostitute?”
            She looked at him, cocking her head to the side.  “What?”
            He couldn’t tell if she was insulted by the question or ignorant of its meaning.
            “What I want to do is to transfer my essence into your body and to transfer your essence into my body.  It’s very simple, all you have to do is . . .”
            Johnny had enough.  “Wait a minute!  This is just a little too much for me.  I don’t consider myself a naive person, but your just too . . . too strange.  I don’t really have any idea what you’re talking about.  I’m not as innocent as you might think.  I know about the birds and bees.”
            She looked at him, frowning.  “You mean the flying creatures you have here in your land?”
            Johnny was becoming exceedingly frustrated.  “No, I don’t mean the flying creatures we have here!  I mean . . . I mean I don’t know who you are, but I know you’re not being honest with me.  I pride myself on being an honest and intelligent person.  You’re playing me for a fool and I’m no fool, no siree!”  He felt like he just told his mother to go sit in the hen house.  He could also hear Jiminy Cricket in his head whistling.
            “You know, you’re right.  I have been playing you for a fool.  I thought you were just another country boy, but, it seems, you’re not.  I do apologize.”  She put out her hand for him to shake.
He paused a moment to wipe the sweat from his palm, then shook her hand.
“I’m actually from another world called Lingser.  I transferred here so that I could find someone like you to help me.  As I said, I want to exchange my body for yours.  Then I can live freely among your people without them noticing me as an outsider.  To do the job I need to do, I need to be inconspicuous.  The only reason I tell you this is that, at this point, you have a right to know.  When I’m done with my job, I will transfer you right back to your land.”
He finally understood the woman.  She was crazy!  When she was finished with her story, she turned to him asking, “Do you understand what I mean?”
            Johnny said with a serious look on his face, “Yes.”
            “Good, then you’ll help me?”
            “Only if you tell me one thing.”
            “Fine.  What is it?”
            He leaned over to her, whispering, “Do they have bars on the windows where you’re from?  Do the other Lingser’s usually wear white coats that let you hug yourself?”
            “No, it is a very nice place.  If you cooperate, you’ll just stay there a couple of days.  There are bars on the walls were you’ll be staying.  You won’t remember a thing.”
            “Oh, really.  Is that so?  It sounds quite nice.”  This woman was beautiful, attractive, and extremely insane.  It was no wonder everyone else ran away in terror from her when she spoke to them.
            “Am I to take it that you don’t believe me?”  She seemed angry now.  Reaching into her pocket, she declared, “Well, I didn’t want to do this, but . . .”
            Johnny stopped laughing.  This sounded serious.  Before he could stop her, she pulled out some sand from her pocket.  It glowed like fireflies.  He was almost more fascinated by it then by what she was going to do to him in her outburst of fury.  She threw the sand in his face.  A smile seemed to be forced on his face as he fell to the ground, feeling instantly fatigued.  The women stood watching him while she cleaned off her hands of the remaining sand.  Surprisingly, Johnny could open his eyes but, still, felt sleepy.  He began to feel numb and, finally, nothing.

Advertisements