by Terri-Jane Dow
This new body was not quite right; it had too much hair in some places and not enough in others. Some areas sagged and others were stretched too tightly. It was ill-fitting. She supposed she could change it later, but it was a strange feeling, being inside this not-quite-right body. It itched. Maybe once she’d slept it would feel better. Maybe once she’d eaten.
It was dark in London, and no one took any notice of her wanderings. The hair on the head of this body stuck up at strange angles, and she’d tried to flatten it down, tried to tidy it, to no avail. She pulled up her hood instead, covering it up. The jacket was old, too big, but it had made her feel sheltered when she’d tried it on. She thought she might take it with her when she moved into the next body, but it would depend on what she found. She might not need it. She’d not yet decided what would be next. The long railway bridge stretched out above her, the covered road beneath it dim and dank-smelling, like something had been left out to dry after a rain. She might have been wary, but she was safe inside this body. Its strangeness would protect her. It was tall and oddly shaped. The jacket added to the effect, distorting the proportions of the body further. She looked much more intimidating than she felt, and that propelled her forward.
She emerged into the bustle of the train station. There were more bodies here to choose from than she could have hoped for. She moved slowly, watching the trains pull into the platforms and then leave again. She watched the destinations boards, their announcements flickering in orange. She watched the big clock hands turn. There was no let-up in the stream of people coming and going. She watched the exits and entrances, entranced. Men in suits followed by women in tight jeans and high heels followed by one gaggle of teenagers, and then another. And then another cycle. Women in suits, men in grey blazers and black jeans, couples with and without various configurations of small children. There were so many. She did not notice the young police officer speaking to her until he tapped the body’s shoulder lightly. Do you need some help getting somewhere? He looked friendly enough. She did not need help. She wasn’t going anywhere. There’s an information desk just over there, look. He pointed. Are you waiting for someone? Yes. She did not know who, yet. The friendly smile gave way to confusion. He asked again, do you need some help?
“She was safe inside this body. Its strangeness would protect her.”
It took a little while to shake him off. He’d wanted to offer something, to feel like he had given some assistance. Maybe she would choose a body like that next time. Something authoritative. She realised that the body she had chosen had been useful when walking around back streets and poorly lit alleyways, had been well-chosen for not attracting unwanted attention in those places, but it did not cooperate in the brightly lit train station. It attracted attention from people more official. People who thought it might need moving on, or might cause trouble. It was useful to use a male body when she did not want male eyes on her, but this large, strange body was running out of its usefulness.
She pulled her hood around her face, sat on a bench just outside of a doorway, and began to focus. Getting out was more difficult than getting in, especially as she hadn’t slept or eaten in this body, so it was tired. A woman walked past, her long skirt swishing over her scuffed trainers, hair fanning out behind her. Too quick. She focused again. A man in a suit leaning against the wall, scrolling on his phone. Smart, clean shaven. That would work. She watched him, willing him to look up at her, to make eye contact with her. It didn’t take long. The suited man put his phone in his pocket and walked over to where she sat inside the itchy body. He bent down. Mate, are you alright? He rested a hand on the body’s upper arm, sat down and leant in. Everything okay? There was kindness in his voice, with a current of something else underneath it. Sympathy, maybe. Pity. She flicked the body’s greying eyes up at him, and she gave a very slight smile. Yes, this would work. She focused on the man’s irises until his compassion suddenly gave way to fear, and she felt herself being pulled in. The suited body stood up and turned away from the bench and the man sat there. She walked back into the station, leaving the jacket behind.
Terri-Jane Dow | @terrijane | @terri_jane
Terri-Jane is a writer based in London, as well as the founding editor of literary journal Severine, and associate editor of Cunning Folk magazine. You can find more of her writing at terrijanedow.com