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Unlike your average jaunt to Hawaiíi or London, this vacation has rules:
1. You cannot (CANNOT) tell anyone about your Mindswap Vacation. The whole point of the vacation is to live out someone elseís life. If their friends, girlfriend, parents, boss, etc. know, then it takes you out of the experience. Plus, Mindswap is not public knowledge. Itís reserved for kings and queens and presidents and rich douchebags with more money than brains (before and after the swap). Every once in a while someone like me slips through. Me? Iím a reporter that found out about this when interviewing my local congressman. He was drunk and loose-lipped and chose to pay the cash to send me on vacation rather than risk me reporting the barrage of absolute fuckedupedness he verbally vomited into my tape recorder.
2. You cannot (CANNOT) do anything to
drastically alter the life of your vacation bodyís owner. Minor
infractions result in a fine. Major infractions (murder, incest, rape,
etc., etc.) result in a permanent swap. The fellows at Mindswap
corporate are of the opinion that if you go on vacation, you shouldnít
come home to prison bars or a Best Western hotel with a suitcase full of
whatíis left of your life. I guess this is easier than explaining to the
world your mad scientist shenanigans. I mean, if everyone knew about
this, they could simply arrest you once youíre back in your original
As I said, Iím a reporter. My name doesnít matter much because it isnít even my name. Iím borrowing one permanently while my former self sits locked away for unspeakable crimes against humanity. The Naturewood crimes. Iím sure you heard about them. When you learn about the grisly things that can be done to a human body using a coffee table leg, you tend to remember.
I remember. I canít forget. The women and children were my family from my former life. But now Iíve got a new wife. Sure, Valentina is beautiful and smart and the kind of free-thinking artist that only exists in romantic comedies and books written by heartbroken hipsters, but sheís more or less like a stranger to me. At least to the part of me that is actually still me.
When they prepare you for the swap, they push what is you into a corner of your mind so that the other vacationer can access what you know and get around without looking like a tourist. After the swap, I suddenly knew how to play guitar, paint and do yoga. But the most disconcerting thing about all of this is the echoes of the other personís memories. When I smell a certain perfume, Iím reminded of places Iíve never been. I also feel a love for Valentina that isnít my own. Itís like a craving for something that doesnít exist. You can imagine what you want, but you can never have it. She also feels like home. It could be worst. My mind could be jumbled with sociopathic tendencies.
The former inhabitant of my vacation body was also a reporter (I wonder what dirt that poor soul dug up to land himself a vacation?). Brilliant, huh? Mindswap screens vacationers so that their lives match on at least a superficial level. It makes it easier to keep up the illusion.
Today, I woke up like every other day. Shook off the heaviness. Brushed my hair. Brushed my teeth. Got dressed. Kissed Valentina goodbye. Walked to work because my car broke down (this happens more often than it should). Sat down at my desk in the middle of the bullpen. Bullpen? Imagine your office with no cube walls and more mess. No. Even more mess.
The jumbled, static voice of the police scanner alerted the room that someone was about to be sent off to cover a disaster or murder or mugging or fire or god-only-knows-what. Some days you pray that it happens on the west side of town. That is someone elseís beat to cover. If it happens on the other side of 5th street, you can spend your day in the safety of the office, re-writing press releases from corporations pretending to be involved in your community and chugging coffee all day. Iíve ruined enough shoes climbing through the burned-out remains of buildings still dripping from the spray from a firemanís hose. I donít look forward to these assignments.
In the middle of rewriting sanctimonious
drivel about some oil company donating Neolithic-era laptops to poor
school kids, I missed the address screeched out of the scanner. My
editorís firm hand on my shoulder told me this was my story on my side
of town. ďMurder!Ē he exclaimed, like a kid opening a Christmas present.
Jeeezus how I hate these assignments. You coldly try to ask family
members questions about the deceased while they wail and moan and the
beat cops give you the evil eye Ďcause they know youíre going to taint
some future, mythical jury pool with your hastily written article. That
is, provided they catch the guy/gal that killed the poor schlub you get
paid to write about. Itís a cynical business.
Joe drives down 4th street as I think absentmindedly about how this is the road I drive to work every day (when my jalopy of a car is actually running). Then he turns down P Street. Too close to home. I wonder if Valentina might be one of the gawkers out on the street trying to get a glimpse of a dead body like sheís a kid from a Steven King novel.
As we turn into the parking garage at my shitty apartment, I start to sweat. How can I look my neighbors in the eye tomorrow after grilling them with uncomfortable questions today? Most mornings, my arms feel like lead. Right now, my chest feels that way, too.
We climb the steps that lead to my floor, my leaden feet feeling as if theyíre going to crash straight through.
When I see a familiar face (and body) on the ground in front of my apartment, surrounded by pissed-off-looking officers, my heart sinks. It would be like looking in a mirror, if only it were a couple years earlier. He sees me and sneers in a contorted way that I could never have managed when I wore that skin. You have to be a sociopath, a sicko and a murderer (a murderer!) to be able to pull off that look.
I look closer and see blood on his handcuffed hands and clothes. The world spins like a top and I vomit what seems like everything Iíve eaten in the last two years.
When you work a beat as a reporter, you end up knowing and occasionally befriending every last cop, judge, county clerk, bailiff, bail bondsman, etc., etc., on your beat. When the world stops spinning for a moment, I spot Officer Jeff Hensley before he sees me. Heís pale white and shaking in a way that tells me that I donít want to go into my apartment ever again.
I reach for my apartment door when Officer Hensley spots me. He takes off his hat and absentmindedly runs his fingers through his hair. ďIím sorry,Ē he says, ďI canít let you go in there.Ē I mumble something that my mind doesnít quite register. Jeff answers, ďFreedom of the press or not, you donít want to see this.Ē
He tells me about a prison break and asks me if I know this man. Heís trying to put the puzzle pieces together because nothing about this makes sense. But I barely hear what heís saying. Everything seems muted. The colors. The sounds. Theyíre dulled like Iím watching TV underwater in a cave.
The investigating officers move through my peripheral vision like waves crashing. In a break in the waves I spot Valentina. She is lifeless and face down in a pool of crimson. I let out an unholy bark of a laugh for a second as I think about the irony (red is/was her favorite color).
The world starts spinning again as I see them haul off my former body. I think about my parents, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, etc. from my former life and I feel homesick. I think for a moment that Iíve decided that this vacation is over and tomorrow Iíll pack my bags and go home. To my real home. But I know that I wonít. Because I canít.
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