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Art by Melissa Mead

Self and Self

Fiction by Jacob A. Boyd can be found online in the archives of Daily Science Fiction and ChiZine, and is forthcoming in hard copy in the Malicious Deviance and Liminality anthologies. Follow him on Twitter @MisterCanard. He lives in Eugene, Oregon with his wife and two Dobermans, where he helps run a non-profit theater company, No Shame Eugene.

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."
"I won't."
"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."
Kim shrugged.
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.
They rode the bus home. Mom had moved from the kitchen to the pantry.
During Jane's night watch, mom entered their bedroom with a steaming pot of oatmeal, corn, raisins, and noodles.
"You have to eat," mom said.
"It's three a.m.," Jane said.
Mom looked confused, then left.
"There goes the pantry," Kim said.
Jane nodded pensively. "We'll get by."
Mom had left the house by the time Jane led Kim downstairs in the morning. The pantry was ransacked. School had been cancelled. Too many bus drivers had switched overnight.
Jane made coffee. She didn't like it, didn't understand why adults liked it, but drank it anyway.
"Think the neighbors have eggs?" Kim asked.
Jane pressed their buzzer. No one answered, but the door was unlocked.
"We have to think about the future," Jane said, packing groceries into Kim's backpack.
Kim slouched under the increasing weight.
Donuts staled. Dishes piled up. Batteries died. Jane learned to drive. The aliens walked everywhere. Jane drove Kim to their new home near a grocery.
During her night watches, Jane scratched her palm until it wept puss. She consulted diagnosis charts and swiped antibiotics from a pharmacy. The pills knocked her out. When she woke, Kim lay beside her, sleeping, twitching. Jane woke her.
"I'm sorry," Kim said, turning her palm up. It had healed. "I was afraid of infection."
"Did you dream?"
"Yes," Kim said.
"Tell me."
"The snow tickled." Kim's face scrunched with apology.
Jane searched Kim's face, waiting to feel something.
She left a week of food for Kim, how long it usually took. A week later, Jane pulled her car alongside Kim on the sidewalk. Kim goggled at her. "You're my sister."
Jane left town.
In the nearest big city, Jane found people like herself, mostly her age, no adults. She organized them into reconnoitering troupes and night watches. The aliens organized, too, and resumed the roles their bodies had held. Jane's troupes hid in plain sight, taking jobs amongst the aliens at coffee shops, movie theaters, and loading docks for grocery money, rent, cigarettes. The aliens all but unsaw them.
At night, Jane teamed with a boy named Rod during the watches. She kissed him to stay awake.
A girl from her troupe became pregnant and went to the aliens for care.
A boy broke his ankle.
The aliens lured others away, one by one, by acting like they had before the switch.
"Only we are real," Jane said, holding Rod's hand.
He kissed her and left for work. When he didn't come home, Jane searched for him. She found him walking down the sidewalk with Kim, holding hands, mooning at her.
She went numb and slept and dreamed of alien snow. The dreams grew vivid, ticklish, then she awoke in an alien sea with two squid-type creatures staring at her.
"You're lost and scared," mom said. The words reverberated inside Jane like her brain was strung with piano wires. "We've been here longer. Let us help you."
"Go away," Jane said.
"Come here," Kim said. The Kim-squid glided toward her, its tentacles extended.
"I don't need you anymore!" Jane screamed.
"We're family," mom said.
Jane closed her eyes, leaned into the tentacled hugs, and learned how to cry.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, March 17th, 2011
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