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From Nowhere

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Author: Trismegistus Shandy

This business started on a Saturday in July, when Michelle telephoned me at home. I was pretty well pleased to hear from her; we had gone out together three times, but this was the first time she had called me rather than me calling her.

"Come over," she said, "I've got something to tell you. Something to show you."

Well, you can imagine I was even more pleased to hear that; a little curious, and very hopeful. So I drove over to her apartment; I had picked her up and dropped her off there, but had never been inside.

I parked and walked up the stairs to her door, and rang the bell. She answered within a few seconds; she must have been sitting near the door.

"I'm glad you're here," she said. "Come on in, I've got something to show you." Her voice was a little wobbly; I noticed a mostly empty bottle of Merlot on the coffee table. I wondered if she might be drunk, and suddenly I was hesitant; I didn't want to do anything that she would regret when she was sober. Her hair was damp, like she had just showered, and she was dressed in green sweat pants and a pink T-shirt.

"Come on," she said impatiently. "Take a look at these."

She pointed to a couple of white spheres setting on a mouse pad on her computer desk. I went over closer to them. Each was a little smaller than a baseball. One, slightly larger, had a thin black line around its equator; the smaller one was featureless.

"Here," she said, picking up the smaller one and handing it to me.

As I reached out for it and my fingers brushed against it, I suddenly felt disoriented. I was looking at myself, and my body felt strange. I think I realized I was drunk a moment before I realized I was a woman: Michelle, in fact.

Before I could react, the person in my body firmly took the small white sphere from my hand and tucked it into his pocket. "Sorry," he said. "I'm not actually Michelle -- and I'm sure glad to be a man again."

"What did you do to me?" I asked, panicking. My voice wasn't quite like I remembered Michelle's voice sounding, but it was definitely higher than my own. This was how her voice sounded in her own head.

"You'll figure it out when you sober up," he said, in the high tenor I couldn't stand hearing on tape recordings of my own voice. "Just lie down for a while. Don't try to follow me; there's a woman coming over soon who will help you out."

He turned and went to the door; I followed, feeling off-balance -- I wasn't sure if it was more from the wine this person had been drinking while in Michelle's body, or the different center of gravity of the female body. Groggily I thought: that ball in his pocket -- it swapped us when we were both touching it. I tried to reach into his pocket for it, but he caught my wrist behind his back without turning around. "Calm down," he said. "Everything will be fine in a couple of days, I promise." He guided me firmly to the sofa and pushed me slightly, so I fell sitting onto it. Then, as I struggled to stand up again, he quickly stepped over to an inner doorway, took the ball from his pocket, and tossed it into the next room. He quickly walked out the front door and shut it behind him.

I had managed to stand up just then, and hesitated too long whether to follow him right away or go find the sphere first. I walked unsteadily into the other room -- Michelle's bedroom. The ball was sitting on the bed. I picked it up, then went to the door and down the stairs. When I got into the parking lot, I saw my car with the body-thief in it pulling out onto the street.

I sat down on the bench outside the door for a moment in despair. Michelle didn't own a car, I knew; she took the bus to work. I thought about trying to find a taxi and follow, but a quick check revealed I not only had no money in my pockets, I had no pockets. I walked back up to the apartment and sat down on the sofa. The effects of the wine were making it hard to think clearly. That person had said a woman was coming over soon, right...?

I woke up to find someone shaking me by the shoulder. That made other parts of me wobble, parts that I shouldn't even have. I opened my eyes.

"Michelle?" I asked in disbelief.

"Who are you? Why do you look exactly like me? What are you doing in my apartment?"

"Hang on a minute," I said, "I'm confused. This guy said a woman was coming over soon to help me... did he mean you?"

"What guy? Answer my questions, or I'm calling the police."

"Questions. Right. Can you repeat them, please? I'm not very awake and I've had a bad day..."

"All right. Who are you? Why do you look exactly like me? And what are you doing in my apartment?"

"OK, I can answer that. I'm Josh. I look like you because you, or someone with your voice, called me a while ago and told me to come over to your apartment. So I came, and there you were, or someone who looked like you. And they showed me this thing --" I fumbled around and came up with the small white sphere, which had fallen on the floor while I'd been asleep on the sofa. "When I touched it, I suddenly wound up in your body; I mean this body that looks like yours. The person in my body went off and left me. They had been drinking a lot, so this body was too drunk for me to follow him."

She looked incredulous. "This thing?" she said, and reached for it.

Suddenly I was standing up, and my head was clear. The Michelle sitting up on the sofa blinked sleepily. "This can't be happening," she said. "I don't have a twin sister."

"There's another ball similar to this one, over there on the desk. I'm not sure what it does."

"You said you're Josh? Josh Byram?"

"That's me. Or it was, anyway. I guess I don't look much like a Josh at the moment. -- So you don't know anything about these spheres?"

"I've never seen them," she said, glancing from the one in my hand to the other on the desk. "Please, give me some evidence you're actually Josh Byram?"

"Well," I said, thinking a moment, "We started working at PayTex about a week apart, three months ago, in the last hiring phase..."

"Public knowledge," she said.

"On our first date, two weeks ago, we ate at Udipi, over on Scott Boulevard, and we talked about how to make sure our manager, Arvind, doesn't find out we're dating."

"OK, that's good enough. -- Can you make me some coffee, please, Josh?"

"Sure," I said, feeling guilty about her being in the sleepy, hung-over body, even though I wasn't the one who had gotten it drunk. "Just tell me where the fixings are."

"Rightmost cabinet above the stove," she said, and laid down on the sofa.

For the first couple of minutes I was busy finding the coffee and filters, filling the pot and so on. Once the coffee was brewing I had time to really think about the situation -- and really feel the body I was in. I walked back in the living room and saw that Michelle had dozed off on the sofa. I sat in a chair in her kitchen and thought for a few minutes. Maybe the other sphere could make duplicates of people -- it had somehow turned the person who stole my body into a duplicate of Michelle? I thought about going to pick it up and see what I could do with it, but decided to wait for Michelle to wake up, first.

She didn't sleep long.

"Am I still dreaming?" she asked when she came into the kitchen.

"No, I'm Josh in a duplicate of your body, I think; and I'm not sure how this happened, but if it's a dream it's the longest, most consistent one I've ever had. -- I think the coffee is ready, if you want some."

"In just a minute," she said, and left the kitchen. I heard a door close somewhere nearby, and heard her peeing, then the toilet flushing... I wondered how long it would be before I would need to do that, and what it would feel like.

"Coffee," she said as she returned. I had poured her a mug full while she was gone, and another for myself, though I didn't feel sleepy.

"Can you explain again what happened to you?" she asked me, and I did so.

"So the smaller sphere makes people switch bodies, and the other one...?"

"I have no idea what it does. Do you want to try to find out?"

"I think we'd better. But maybe we should go over to your apartment with the small sphere and let you try to get your body back?"

"The person who took it will be on his guard, I expect."

"Well, first let's take a look at the bigger sphere and see what it does."

I went and got it from the desk. When we looked at it closer, I saw that the black line around its middle was actually a narrow aperture where two hemispheres almost met. Also, one half of it was a slightly different shade of white than the other -- a very pale grey.

"Shall we try both touching it at once and see if it works the same way as the other?"

"Sure," she said, and reached out to touch it. Nothing happened.

"I wonder if the two halves can move independently?" I twisted it in my hands, and --

Suddenly Michelle wasn't there. It was dark; the lights turned off and no significant amount of light was coming from the living room window. Then I realized the clock on the microwave, which had been showing 3:39, now showed 2:03. 2:03 in the morning?

I turned on the kitchen light. There was no sign of the coffee cups we had just been drinking out of; the sink was nearly empty, except for two soup bowls -- it had been a lot more full of miscellaneous dishes just before, I thought.

I walked into the living room -- and was met almost at once by someone emerging from Michelle's bedroom.

Me. Or someone in my body, anyway.

"You!" I exclaimed. "Give me my body back!" I looked around frantically for the smaller sphere; it wasn't where I had last seen it, on the end table by the sofa where I had put it after I swapped with Michelle.

"Shh," he said, raising a finger to his lips. "Relax. You'll wake Michelle."

"What do you mean?"

"She's asleep in yonder. Sit down and I'll explain some things."

Reluctantly I sat in the easy chair; he sat on the sofa.

"First, the larger sphere, the one you're holding, is a time machine. You jumped five and a half days into your future when you gave it a full twist counterclockwise. You can jump back to about the same time you left by twisting it the same amount clockwise, but don't do it just yet."

"So that's why there's no light from the window -- it's night..."

"You catch on fast," he said. "I really am you -- between your now and my now you got your body back; I can tell you that, though not how or exactly when. And I can also tell you that you'll need this, though it may seem redundant --"

He pulled from his pocket the other, smaller sphere, and tossed it to me.

"Don't try to swap with me now," he said, as I caught it and stood up to approach him. "I've already lived through this from the other end, and I know you won't. Just jump back to Saturday afternoon and tell Michelle what I told you. I know you'll come up with a way to use those machines to get your body back."

"But why is this body a duplicate of Michelle's?"

"Can't tell you," he said. He looked at his watch. "Time for you to go back now."

"Where did these things come from?"

He hesitated. "I'm not sure," he said, "but just jump back to when you came from, and in five and a half days objective, or a bit more than that subjective, you'll know as much as I do. Now go."

Puzzled, I put the smaller sphere in my left pants pocket and looked at the larger one again. The lighter face had been face-up when I twisted it counterclockwise, like a jar lid; I held it the same way and twisted it clockwise, about a full turn.

There was afternoon light coming through the living room window again, and the other me had vanished from the sofa. I walked toward the kitchen, and was met by Michelle -- or someone in Michelle's body, anyway.

"Where did you go?" she asked. "I was worried -- !" Behind her, I saw the microwave clock reading 4:05.

I told her what had happened to me, and what the person in my body claiming to be my future self had told me.

"So there's a way to use this time machine to get your body back, and we need to figure out what it is," she mused. "This is too crazy, but I reckon a time machine isn't any crazier than a body-swap machine, and assuming either one is possible, they have to eventually be miniaturized to handheld size..."

"Maybe we can go over to my apartment, and spy on the guy who took my body. When he comes in and out, we can note the exact time, and then later on we can use the time machine to jump to that time when he is about to be there, and catch him by surprise, use the swap machine on him, and then jump away again..."

"It sounds like it would be hard to use it with that precision," Michelle objected. "There aren't any markings around the edges, are there?"

"No," I replied.

"And if a full turn is five and a half days -- if we want to jump just a few minutes or hours we'd have to turn it a very small amount, and being sure we jump an exact number of minutes or hours would be almost impossible."

We were silent, thinking, for a few moments; then she suggested:

"When your body was stolen, you walked out of my apartment and saw the person in your body already driving off. But if we go and jump back to this morning, we can hire a taxi and be waiting for the person in your body to leave, have the taxi driver follow them, and then you can take your body back whenever we catch up with the person who took it."

"That's a good idea," I said.

"Let me shower and change, first," she said, "I'm not in any condition to go out right now." Her hair and clothes were a mess from when I, then she, had slept on the sofa.

"I, uh, I think I'll need to use the bathroom before you get in the shower."

She looked at me. "No, you don't," she said. She took the small sphere from the end table and touched it to my hand -- then, in the body I'd just been in, the one that needed to go, she went. When she came out of the bathroom I asked, "So does that mean I get to be the one to take the shower?"

"Not that either," she said, touching the sphere I still held, and swapping places with me again. "I'm the only one doing anything intimate to either of these bodies, do you hear me? So keep your hands off me, or yourself, or whatever, while I'm in the shower."

But she smiled when she said it.

While Michelle was in the shower, I looked around her apartment at her books and CDs, and I thought about what was going on. It didn't make any sense. Why would this time traveller want to steal first Michelle's body, and then mine? Where did the extra copy of Michelle's body come from? The obvious answer was that the time traveller had met Michelle sometime in the future, and stolen her body, then jumped further back in time and stole mine... but why? Why did he leave us the time machine and body-swap machine? And why did my future self think I would need an extra body-swap machine? In a way I was glad to have so many mind-boggling questions to think about, to keep my mind off other questions -- questions about this body and what it would be like to...

Michelle came out fully dressed. "Are you ready?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, a little nervous. "How are we going to do this, exactly?"

"I figure we can go down to the laundry room and jump back a few hours from there. Then go out and set our watches from the bank clock, down the street; figure out how much time we have until you come over here. What time was that, exactly?"

"I'm not sure what time you -- the person who sounded like you -- called," I answered; "or exactly what time I got here, but I glanced at my watch when I was at the stop light at the North Druid Hills Road exit, and it was 11:45."

"So you got here sometime around noon, then. And what time did the person who stole your body leave?"

"Not more than five minutes later, I'm pretty sure."

"So we find a taxi and we lie in wait from about 11:30 onward, and then follow the person in your body and car wherever he's going."


"All right, let's go."

I was a little nervous as we were walking down to the laundry room -- it was the first time anybody besides Michelle had seen me in her body, and I kept feeling nervous, as though I would look as odd and out of place as I felt. We didn't meet many people, though, and the few we met -- mostly older women -- didn't stare at me, so I was feeling a little better when we got there. A drier was running, but there was nobody present.

"A full turn is about five and a half days, right?" Michelle asked. "We need to jump back at least six hours, to be sure we can get a taxi before the thief leaves. That's about a twentieth of a turn; hard to measure exactly..."

"Let's suppose we have no better precision than about three or four hours," I said; "so to be sure we arrive no later than we want, we need to try to turn it more than a twentieth of a turn but less than a tenth: roughly nine hours, plus or minus three hours."

"Yes, and that gives us a better chance of arriving when the laundry room is empty, early in the morning. -- Let's go," she said, as we heard footsteps in the hall outside. She hooked my arm into hers, and twisted the time machine. There was no obvious effect, except that the sound of footsteps suddenly ceased, as did the noise of the drier.

"Let's go see when we are," she said, releasing my arm.

We walked out into the hall and down to the parking lot entrance. The light was that of early morning. I was suddenly a lot more nervous.

"Come on," Michelle said, leading the way outside. "I just thought of something. I can't call you Josh when people might hear us, can I?"

"It might sound odd. Are you going to tell your neighbors your twin sister is visiting you?"

"If I have to. That's an idea. I'll call you Margaret."

"What? Why?"

"I'm named for my younger aunt; if my Mom had had twin daughters she probably would have named the other one for my other aunt, Margaret."

"I don't like it."

"Have you got something against my aunt?"

I didn't try to answer that. We had crossed the parking lot to the street by now, and could see the clock display outside the bank down the street: 5:57 AM.

"We've got a lot of time to kill," I realized.

Michelle was setting her watch. I hadn't been wearing one when I first jumped into Michelle's body, the one she was in now; she had scrounged up an older one from somewhere. I set my watch, the one she'd been wearing when she came home and found me asleep on her sofa.

"There's a Waffle House down this way," she said. "We can wait there for a while, until some other places open."

We walked to the Waffle House and ordered coffee. There were a couple of men already there, eating, and I flinched as I saw them look toward us: speculatively, appreciatively? I didn't want to know.

As we sat down, Michelle said, "I've been thinking about this some more. You jumped forward and found yourself in my apartment, Thursday night -- early Friday morning. I don't know whether that can be changed or not -- but let's get one thing straight: I'm not going to be trapped by some immutable fate into sleeping with you Thursday night, after you've got your body back. I reserve the right to lend you my apartment and go sleep in a motel or something, so you can meet your past self and give yourself the extra swapping machine."

"He -- I -- said you were asleep in the bedroom," I said, diffidently.

"You can lie about it," she said. "I don't mind."

That suggested something else.

"What if he was lying about something else? What if he wasn't really my future self, but the same guy who stole my body?"

"Why would he lie about that?"

"I don't know. But I should have asked him something to prove he was really me..." This was getting really confusing.

"I've thought about something else, too," she continued, after another sip of coffee. "About where this extra instance of my body came from. I think the time traveller who stole your body must have stolen mine sometime in the future. I need to watch out for him. There's no way to tell how soon it's going to be, but it can't be more than a few months or a year from now, since you don't look any older than me."

"You mean, you don't look any older than me? I'm in the body that you had when you came home and found me... oh, this is too crazy."

"That's right. This body I'm in must be the older one, though, as I said, apparently not by much."

"Why would he do that?" I wondered. "I guess maybe he needed my body to do something in particular while impersonating me. And maybe he needed yours for the same reason. Was he trying to alter history by changing something we would otherwise do in the next few days? I can't see us being important enough to alter history in any particular way."

"Speak for yourself," she said, "I am historically important enough for both of us."

"Granted," I said, with a weak smile. I was sitting with my back to the window and face to the door, and whenever another male customer came in I could see him looking us over; it was hard to have a discussion about time travel with that kind of distraction, much less the other, constantly present distraction of my -- Michelle's -- body. "But then why leave me the time machine and the body-swapping machine when he had taken my body? That part I can't figure out."

"Maybe he just needed your body to impersonate you for a certain time," she hypothesized, "and after that didn't mind if you catch up with him and get your body back; he could let you have your body in exchange for the time machine... But that doesn't quite make sense either. Something doesn't add up."

We stretched our coffees out a while, and ordered more, and made those last even longer, with a couple of trips to the restroom -- Michelle again insisted on always being the one to take care of whichever body's necessities, and we swapped twice more.

"I'm a little worried about this," I said after she returned from ther restroom the second time. "Swapping so often, I mean. How do we know it won't have adverse effects?"

"We don't," she said, "but why suppose that it does? After the first time we haven't felt even a moment of disorientation."

About 8:30 we left; Michelle withdrew some cash from an ATM on the corner, and we walked to another coffee house to kill a few more hours. A few minutes before 10, a MARTA bus rolled by outside, and Michelle said, "I'm on that bus. My earlier self, running errands this morning... now... agh."

"And in a little over an hour the thief is going to call me at home... maybe she's already in your apartment now. She must have gotten there soon after you went out to the bus stop. Maybe we can just go up to your apartment and confront her? Get some answers?"

"And then what? Use the swapping machine to swap with her? And get another identical body just a few hours younger? Or tie her up in a closet and swap with yourself when you get there? That wouldn't really make you any better off."

"I guess not."

"Besides, we don't know if changing the past is possible. My guess is that it isn't. Maybe if we try to go over and interfere with the meeting between you and the thief some accident would interfere... we'd get hit by a car crossing the street, or something."

That was worrying enough. "But if we follow the thief from your apartment, and catch up with him before four or five o'clock, that might be changing the past too... Just us being here at all might change things."

"It might, but there's no evidence of it. Neither we nor anybody we know was here or at the Waffle House earlier today -- now -- to see that there weren't two Michelle-twins here. And we don't yet know anything about where the thief went after he left my apartment, or what he did or what happened to him -- it could be that us chasing him, and catching him, and you getting your body back already happened, as of our jump this afternoon at five. And then I would have asked him, in the other instance of my body, when and why he took it from my future self..."

"So you could avoid it? I thought the past couldn't be changed."

"But that's still the future..."

"It's his, or her past -- since she's already taken your body, obviously."

I was pleased to see Michelle getting as confused as I was.

A little after 11, I suggested to Michelle that we go ahead and find a taxi. She checked her watch. "I was using my cellphone about this time this morning," she said, "on the bus. I'd better wait a few minutes before I call for a taxi." She waited until 11:15, then called a taxi company and asked for a taxi to meet us in the parking lot of the apartment complex in a few minutes.

We paid our waitress and walked back to her apartment building; the taxi arrived not long after we did.

"Just wait here in a corner of the lot," I instructed the driver. "There's a guy coming here in a few minutes; he probably won't stay long, and we want to follow him when he leaves."

"Amateur detectives, hm?" But we wouldn't comment on our plans. He amused himself looking at us in the rearview mirror, while we kept our eyes on the street entrance, looking for my car, a blue 2003 Honda Civic.

My earlier self arrived at 12:01. He parked, and went into Michelle's building, without noticing the taxi with two Michelles in it -- of course, I hadn't noticed it earlier. "That's him," I said to the cabbie. "Be ready to move when he leaves."

At 12:07, the thief came out of the building, walking really fast -- jogging, really -- got into my car again, and drove off. The taxi driver followed. At first it seemed like he was going toward my apartment, but once he got on I-85 north, he just kept going past my exit, past I-285, past Georgia 316, and on toward South Carolina.

"What's he doing?" I wondered. "Where could he be going?"

"I'd think you could guess that better than me," Michelle said tensely. "Do you know anybody who lives up here?"

"Some people in Athens, but he would have taken 316 if he were going there. The rest of north Georgia and South Carolia, no."

Michelle was watching the meter carefully. When it got over a hundred dollars, she asked the driver, "How much would it cost to get back to -- say, the Doraville MARTA station from here?"

"About eighty dollars, ma'am."

She hesitated just a moment before saying "If he hasn't stopped by the time the meter gets to $110, we'll have to give up. Take us back to Atlanta and drop us off at the Doraville MARTA station."

"Michelle, no! We can't lose him!"

"Margaret," she explained patiently, "I've only got $200 in cash. If we keep following him until the money runs out and he keeps going until the highway runs out, how are we going to get back from whatever town in the Carolinas we end up in?

I gave in, with bad grace. A few miles later we pulled off at the next exit, watching my car continue northeast, and got back on I-85 going south.

On the way back we had to stop -- at another Waffle House -- for a restroom break. Again Michelle quietly insisted on using the swapping machine.

When we got to the Doraville MARTA station, the meter read $204.50. Michelle gave the driver all the bills she'd gotten from the ATM that morning, and scrounged up the rest in change, plus a little more -- it was a pretty short tip for such a long trip, and I felt kind of bad about it, but not as bad as I felt about losing my body again.

When the taxi driver drove off, probably grumbling about us, we realized that Michelle had just given the cabbie all her change; she had a monthly MARTA card, but I didn't. (We just had one instance of her purse; apparently the body thief coming back in her future self's body hadn't brought her future self's purse.) Since nobody else was around, she entered and then passed the card across the stile to me so I could get in.

It was late when we finally got back to Michelle's apartment. We were both exhausted; both bodies, we figured out, had been awake about twenty hours, except for a slight nap Michelle had gotten in the MARTA train.

"You can sleep on the sofa," she said. "I'll go change clothes, then we'll swap and I'll change clothes again."

"Are you going to keep doing this every time?" I asked. "The first plan didn't work; we have no idea how long it's going to take for me to get my body back, if I can do it at all..."

"No more than five and a half days, your future self said."

"If he really is my future self, and if he wasn't lying to me just because he remembered being lied to when he was me..." I was eyeing the sofa, which, though its cushions were reasonably comfortable, wasn't quite long enough for our body. "Could I sleep with you? I mean," I said hastily, blushing, "just sleep in the same bed? It's not like we're..."

"I've shared beds when I needed to with my sister, with my cousins, once or twice with girl friends in college," she said, "but this is different. If you don't want to sleep on the sofa, I will."

"No, that's fine, then. It's your house and your body."

She brought out some extra blankets and pillows for the sofa. Again, I looked over some of her bookshelves while she changed for bed; she came back in a T-shirt and sweat pants. "Here you go," she said, touching my hand with the swapping sphere, and then setting it down next to the time machine and the other swapping sphere, on the desk. "Good night." She went back into her bedroom and didn't come out. I lay down and, in spite of every thought and feeling that tried to distract me, fell asleep almost immediately.

Somehow in spite of the long day this body had had, -- up presumably no later than nine or 9:30, if she caught the bus at ten, and then awake until five in the afternoon, then jumping back to six in the morning and awake until nearly midnight the second time through -- somehow I woke up in the early morning, after just three or four hours of sleep. I lay there on the sofa a while and couldn't get back to sleep.

I got up and cracked the door of Michelle's bedroom slightly; she was sound asleep, of course. I took down an anthology from a shelf, turned on the desk light, and tried to read; but the spheres sat there insisting on my attention. Finally a fleeting idea I'd had earlier cam back to me; after a few minutes of thinking about it, I picked up the time machine and one of the body-swapping machines, and jumped back, again, to early Saturday morning.

I was going to wait for the body-thief to show up, and ask her some questions.

So I was in Michelle's living room about seven AM. I wasn't sure when Michelle would get up and go out on her errands; I decided to go ahead and hide until after she left. I hid in the closet off the living room, which seemed to contain mostly rarely-used things like board games and winter clothes. I kept hiding, soon deadly bored, as I heard Michelle getting up, fixing breakfast, eating, showering... Soon she would be gone and I could empty my bladder for the first time as a woman; something I was looking forward to intensely by that time.

Then suddenly I heard the closet door start to open. I almost wet my sweat pants; but I'd had the time machine in my hand in case of something like this, and I jumped forward just the slightest bit. I waited a few minutes; the apartment was quiet. I slipped out of the closed and glanced at the clock; 10:15. Michelle was gone now.

Indescribable differences aside, the feeling of urgently needing to piss, and finally being able to after a long wait, was what I noticed most the first time, and it was exactly the same.

Instead of pulling my pants up again, I undressed the rest of the way and looked at myself. I felt obscurely ashamed; I knew Michelle didn't want me to see this, at least not yet, but I couldn't help it -- if this meeting with the body thief soon to arrive didn't go as I planned, I might be stuck with this body for several days, even if I could trust my alleged future self, or indefinitely, if I couldn't trust him -- and we couldn't keep swapping bodies every time one of them needed a shower or something. That reminded me: I had no idea when the thief would be arriving, but it would probably be soon, and I didn't want her to find me inspecting myself in the bathroom mirror. I got dressed quickly and went to hide in the closet again, with the door cracked a little so I could see the clock in the living room.

I waited, and waited. Nobody came through the front door, nobody appeared out of nowhere... 11:05. I wasn't sure what time the thief had called me, but it couldn't have been much later than this, surely?

Suddenly a thought occurred to me. I counted the number of times Michelle and I had swapped and figured out which body I was in; now everything made sense. I walked boldly out of the closet and went to the phone in the kitchen.

"Hey, Josh," I said, hunting through the drawers for a corkscrew, "it's Michelle. Come over; I've got something to tell you. Something to show you."

I still wasn't sure why I took I-85 north almost to the South Carolina border once I left Michelle's apartment, in my own body again. I had to stay ahead of the obvious pursuit from Michelle and my past self, and doing what I remembered the guy in my body doing was the easy, obvious thing to do; I pushed aside questions of free will and whether I could have done anything else, and enjoyed the drive, occasionally noticing the taxi in the rear-view mirror but not worrying about it any.

One exit past the one where we had given up the pursuit, I saw a sign for a state park I had never heard of, and got off there. It was not long until dark, but I paid the $2 admission fee, parked and walked around to stretch my legs until the park closed at dark.

On the way home, I stopped at a liquor store, not long before closing time, and bought a bottle of Merlot a little better than the one I had taken from Michelle's wine rack. I wrote out a check for $207.75, as well. I thought about calling Michelle to tell her the good news, but it was too early; she and my younger self wouldn't be home for half an hour yet. Then I realized that I hadn't heard the phone ring when I was at Michelle's apartment later tonight, or early in the morning when I'd been awake there. I had to wait until Sunday morning to call her.

"Good news," I told her, "I got my body back. Can I take you out to lunch and tell you about it?"

"You may indeed," she said.

When I picked her up, she said she had been worried when she woke up and found me-in-her-body not there, and the time machine and one of the swapping machines missing.

"I thought about calling you earlier," I said, "so you wouldn't have time to worry, but I finally decided you needed the sleep more."

I told her what had happened, over lunch (at Udipi again) -- glossing over the part where I inspected her body in the mirror, and the other things I did between 11:05 and 12:01 besides telephoning myself and getting slightly drunk on a bottle of her Merlot; I hoped she wouldn't remember that my hair had been wet when she first came home and found me in her body... When I got to that point of the story, I took out the bottle I'd bought last night and gave it to her.

"You are not supposed to bring in drinks from outside," our waiter scolded us.

"I'm sorry," I said, "we won't open it here. It's a gift for later."

We spent most of the remainder of the meal trying to figure out where the hell the time machine came from, not to mention the swapping machine; but couldn't make sense of it -- at least, Michelle couldn't make any sense of it that made sense to me.

"So where does this leave us?" I asked as I pulled into her apartment's parking lot. "Vis-a-vis next Thursday night, Friday morning?"

She paused, then pulled the other swapping machine out of her purse.

"Since you have to give this to your past self then, it seems a waste not to get any use out of it between now and then," she said, handing it to me -- and then, in my voice, "Oh. My."

"Would you like to come up to my apartment for a drink?" I asked.

"Thank you, ma'am, I would," he said.

(c) 2007 Trismegistus Shandy.

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