49 Strange Reflections

I was practicing my chords and getting very frustrated, when my phone rang. The ring tone told me that it was from a number with caller ID blocked, and since none of my friends or family did that, it meant that a stranger was interrupting me. As a result, I was possibly a bit abrupt when I answered.

“Marsha Steen?” said a male voice in what was almost a whisper.

“Yes, this… this is she,” I replied, trying not to let the frustration show in my voice.

“Do you see a stranger when you look in the mirror?”

“Do I what?! Who–?” I caught myself as I realized the implications of the question. He had to be one of the people who had gone to the paper! “Yes, yes I do,” I said eagerly. “Who is this?”

“I have a question for you, Marsha,” the caller continued, ignoring my question. “Do you remember the opening performance of the welcome back concert at the beginning of the school year?”

What an odd thing to ask. But I certainly did remember; I had been the opening performance. “Yes,” I responded. “I– I mean, I remember a guy playing the guitar. Why?”

At that, the caller’s voice became actually friendly. “What dorm are you in?”

“Laramie Hall.”

“Fine,” he said. “Meet us outside in about five minutes.”

I scrambled. I pulled on a sweater, checked my hair and makeup in the mirror, and ran out the door. When I got downstairs, I realized that my sweater wasn’t really adequate for the blustery November weather, and dithered a bit about whether I really had time to go back up to get something heavier. I finally decided that I didn’t want to take the chance on missing my caller, and simply sat outside, my arms wrapped about myself and shivering.

As I waited, I thought enviously of the body I had worn just a month ago, which would have shrugged off this cold easily; I just wasn’t yet used to having to dress more warmly.

My phone rang again.


It was the same caller as before. “Look to your left.”

I did, and saw two guys waving at me, standing between the two entrances to the dorm. I waved back, and they walked over to me.

One of them put out his hand to for me to shake. “I’m Ian Carter,” he said, and this is Luke Granger.” He indicated the other guy with a nod of his head.

“I’m Marsh Steen,” I said.

“Yes, we know,” Luke said, shaking my hand as well. “Let’s don’t talk here. You never know…”

“Never know what?” I asked.

“Somebody could overhear.” And he looked around, cautiously.

Terrific. I finally find the people who might have the link to my reality, and they’re paranoid nuts.

“So where are we going to talk?” I demanded.

“Shh.” Ian warned me. “Follow us. Be careful.”

So I followed. I followed them as they ducked around Danby hall, dodged in one door and out the next, and – to my intense discomfort – crawled alongside a low wall. As I stood and brushed leaves off my dress, I saw them preparing to wade a stream.

“Hold on!” I said. “I’m not going through that!”

“We have to make sure nobody’s following us,” Luke insisted, fingers to his lips.

“That water is at least two feet deep,” I pointed out, “and my dress comes down almost to my ankles, and I’m not hiking it all the way up to cross. There’s a bridge right over it. Why can’t we go that way?”

“We might be seen,” explained Ian. “Shh” And then suddenly, he picked me up and waded across with me in his arms. I don’t know if it was the shock or just my fear of being dropped, or of having them decide to have nothing to do with me if I struggled or yelled, but I didn’t manage to say anything until we got to the other side.

“Are you out of your minds?!” I hissed when he put me back on my feet. “What is this, some kind of spy thriller? We are college students, not… not… I don’t know!”

Luke spread his hands as if to calm me. “It’s OK. We’re here.”

“Here” was the back of another dorm, which I recognized as we walked around to the front.

“This is about two minutes from my dorm!” I snapped at them. “Why did we have to run that obstacle course?!”

“We just wanted to make sure nobody saw us,” Luke said quietly.

I withheld the scathing remark than came into my head next, since it was scornful of the entire male gender; I must have been about to repeat something I’d heard from one of my friends – it certainly wasn’t my thought.

“Why does it really matter…” I started, but Ian held up his hand as well. “Wait until we get inside.”

So I waited. The two were apparently roommates, and they dropped all of the stealthy mannerisms once we got to their room.

“Sorry about all that, Marsha,” Ian said, “But we have to be careful.”

“Why?!” What exactly are you afraid of?”

“Well, you spoke with Cracraft. Did he tell you about what the college is doing?”

“Only that they were trying to shut the whole thing up.”

“Yup. They’re trying to make this whole thing go away. To pretend it never happened. I mean, they actually threatened the reporter over this. We just don’t know how far they might go, and we don’t want to take any chances.”

“Well, what do the guys who did the experiment have to say?”

The two of them looked at each other. “You haven’t tried to contact them, I take it?” Luke asked me.

“I’ve been looking, but I haven’t found them.”

“And you’re not going to. They’re gone. The administration disappeared them.”

“Oh come on! What do you think this is? Russia? Why would they do that?”

He looked at me sympathetically. “Because they don’t care about us. Because they have interfered with our bodily integrity and they don’t want us going to the authorities. They’re waiting for us to make one false move…”

“I don’t believe this,” I said, standing and getting ready to leave. These people were just nuts, and I didn’t see how I was going to get anything useful out of them. “I don’t believe any of this.”

“You don’t?” Luke continued. “You’ve looked in the mirror, haven’t you?”

“Of course.”

“Isn’t it obvious why we call ourselves, ‘Strangers in the Mirror’? How can you possibly say that you don’t believe it? You’re living it, aren’t you?”

“I mean, all the paranoia. So many of my friends don’t believe this even happened…”

“Which is what they want, Marsha,” Ian explained. “They want us doubting ourselves. They’re hiding all the evidence, so that we won’t be able to do anything to them.”

“Do anything? What are we supposed to be able to do?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. But that’s not good enough. They were asking Cracraft about us. They want to know who we are.”

“And what would they do if they found us? This all makes no sense!”

“We don’t know; that’s the point. They could be sending spies to try to follow us, to try to infiltrate us. That’s why we have to be careful. Why we have to be sure.”

“OK,” I said impatiently, “and why did you trust me? How do you know I’m not a spy?”

“Because you remembered the guy playing the guitar. That’s something we figured out pretty quickly. Everybody we’ve found remembers him. Everybody we’ve asked who wasn’t in the experiment remembers the first performance being a girls’ trio. So that’s our test.’

“Oh,” I said, sitting down. “Oh. That makes sense.” Obviously, in this timeline I hadn’t performed, so they had to have used somebody else. I remembered the trio, too, as they had come on right after me.

“So,” I asked. “What do you do, you know, when people find you?”

“We mostly just talk and support each other. Try to find ways to prove things. There’s got to be something we can do, something the administration is afraid of.”

“Hmm,” I agreed. Then something else occurred to me. “What… kind of changes happened to people?” I was particularly curious about how many people had changed sex, and how they were handling things.

“Well, I guess you read the article, right?”

I nodded.

“The ones mentioned there – Ben loosing height and Kim losing bustline – were the most drastic. For most of the rest of us, it was mostly a question of identity. I look about as much like my old self as my brother does, for example, and that seems to be the rule, pretty much.”

“So your lives are otherwise pretty much unchanged?”

“You mean aside from not recognizing myself when I look in the mirror? That’s pretty major, Marsha. What about you?”

“Oh… I more or less look like… like I could be my own sister.”

Both of them nodded. “Pretty upsetting, isn’t it?” Ian suggested.

“Oh, yeah.” So either I was the only one somehow, which seemed really odd, or the others were just being close-mouthed, as I was.

“Do you by any chance have a list of people in the group?” I asked, as though it didn’t really matter to me.

They were instantly suspicious. “Why do you need that, Marsha?”

“I… “ I had to think about how much I could tell them. If sex changes weren’t common, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to give my secret out to a couple of strangers. But at the same time, I really did want them to help me. I took a deep breath. “The thing is, my change actually did change my life a bunch. I have different roommates, and different clothes, and even a different name… and I was really hoping that I could find somebody who remembered the old me.”

They looked at each other again. “I don’t like it,” Luke said, sounding a bit suspicious. “She remembered the guitarist, but maybe the administration found out about that?”

“How?” argued Ian. “The only ones who know that he’s at all significant are the people in the group. And if one of them tells on us, we’re done.”

“But we can’t give out the list. It puts everybody in the group in danger,” Luke insisted.

“What if we let her have a quick look? If she really knows somebody, she’ll be able to spot their name right away, but she won’t be able to memorize the whole list.”

“Unless she has a camera.”

“I don’t have a camera!” I yelled. “Come on, guys, if I were a spy, I already know your names and where you live, right? Look, do you need to search me or something?” I wasn’t exactly crazy about letting a guy touch my body, but I really wanted those names.

“We’re not going to search you, Marsha,” Ian said firmly. “Are we?”

Luke shook his head, reluctantly. “We’ll let you see the list for just a few seconds. It’s not that long, so you ought to be able to recognize any friends on it. Is that enough for you?”

“I hope so,” I agreed, but my hopes were already flagging. “If there’s not that many names, my chances aren’t all that great, but I really want to see if I can find somebody.”

Luke left us and went into another room, presumably his bedroom. When he came back, he was holding a folder, which he placed, closed, on a table. “Now come over here and get ready. I’m going to give you a slow five count then open it for another five seconds. Are you ready?”

The whole thing was feeling really overly dramatic, but I nodded.

“OK. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.”

He opened the folder and I looked at the revealed list as quickly as I could. There were about two dozen names there, most of which I didn’t know at all. Ben’s name was there of course, as were a few people I knew by reputation, but not personally. But one name jumped right off the page at me. The third name from the bottom of the list. Somebody I knew very well.

My old girlfriend. Vicky Gordon.


  1. von says:

    Another great chapter. I like some of the revisions.

  2. von says:

    >>of being dropped, or of having them decide to have nothing to do with my if I struggled or yelled, but didn’t manage to say anything until we go to the other side.

    Two grammar errors in this rewrite:

    ‘me’ not ‘my’


    ‘but *I* didn’t manage to say anything’

  3. von says:

    >>until we go to the other side

    until we *got* to the other side

  4. Harri says:



    I loved this chapter because we got somewhere with it.

  5. April says:

    “And you’re not going to. They’re gone. The administration disappeared them.” <– this may be intentionally ungrammatical, I dunno

    “Isn’t it obvious why call ourselves, ‘Strangers in the Mirror’? How can you possibly say that you don’t believe it? You’re living it, aren’t you?” <– maybe "why we call ourselves"?

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