Art by Melissa Mead
Self and Self
by Jacob A. Boyd
Jane woke Kim.
"You were dreaming," Jane whispered from the top bunk. "Twitching."
Kim scrunched her face as if searching the corners of her mind with a flashlight. The look of uncertainty upset Jane. Kim's face was her face, too. They were twins. Whatever Kim felt, Jane felt obliged to feel.
"Was I?" Kim asked.
"Tell me," Jane said.
"I can't. I don't remember the dream."
Jane glared at her. "You take watch now."
Kim huffed as if Jane had woken her because she couldn't keep her eyes open.
"You swore," Jane said.
Kim fingered her palm's scab and nodded.
"If I twitch," Jane said, "wake me. Don't let me dream like them."
"Pick at the scab," Jane said. "It'll keep you awake." She showed Kim her bloody palm, then climbed down and traded bunks.
She didn't know how she had expected an alien invasion to go, but this wasn't it. No spaceships, no soldiers, no violence. The enemy remained light-years away, until suddenly you dreamed their dreams for them and they dreamed yours. Then, the switch: you were in their bodies and they were in yours.
The morning alarm woke Jane. Kim peered down at her bleary-eyed, gave a weak smile. They headed downstairs.
In the kitchen, mom ran her hands over the honey-oak cabinets. Her lips parted with wonder as she opened one. The coffeepot bubbled and beeped, startling her.
"Mom?" Jane asked. Mom had always been spacey.
Still wearing her nightgown, she faced Jane and Kim with a hundred-yard stare.
"You're my daughters," she said, her words mushy.
Dreaming readied the aliens for human bodies, but tongues remained tricky for them.
Jane exchanged a concerned look with Kim. Kim switched on the radio. They packed lunches. Mom watched.
A newscast said it was patriotic to act as if nothing had changed.
"That's stupid," Jane said. "Like going down with a sinking ship."
They went to school.
Jane faked a stomachache to get out of class. The nurse only stared at her, dumbly holding eye contact. Jane reported to the principal. He was gone, too. When she returned to class Mr. Luffler had taken it upon himself to prepare his students for "the inevitable transition" by recounting his wrong-dreams. He wriggled his arms in pantomime. The alien's were squid-type creatures who could clamber about on land. They communicated telepathically. Their planet had seasons, too. Their snow was more delightful than Earth snow. The way it evaporated when touched tickled. It even "smelled" better.
Jane met Kim after school and corroborated the list of those who had switched.
"Mickey, too," Kim said, her tone solemn. She had liked Mickey.
"He's barely fourteen," Jane said.
"His parents went early," Kim said, as if that explained things.