|Primary Characters:||Tucker, Grace, Wes|
|Description:||A strange accident causes Grace’s spirit to leave her body. The body falls down into a hole, and her spirit ends up inside Tucker. This leads to all kinds of complications.|
Tucker had missed the morning meeting, but he was hoping his excellent work on the reincarnation scam would more than make up for that, especially since he only had to finish the last few lines, and it would be ready in time for the afternoon’s deadline.
It turned out that he was wrong. He knew he was in trouble, when he saw Donald plowing a path through his employees milling about, carrying out his orders. And in Donald’s wake, Wes and Grace were striding, looking quite pleased with themselves.
With a sinking feeling, Tucker realized they’d all pulled a big one, some utterly impossible piece that would lack the kind of credibility he craved. What would it be now? Alien babies? That one about the devil possessing a Middle Eastern president? Surely not.
“Tucker. Drop everything.”
“No buts. That reincarnation story can wait until next week. I’m pulling it off the cover for now. Go with Wes and Grace. They’ll fill you in on the details. Now I have to call Manila.”
“Manila, the Philipines?”
Grace vigorously shook her head ‘don’t ask’. And he was left staring desperately after his boss, not the least bit wiser. His story was so great. Even Kristen would be impressed, and now he was expected to go chase after some garden gnome abductors or whatever this was.
“Where are we going?”
“No time, Tuck B. We’ll tell you on the way.”
“You’ll see. It’s a great story. Try to leave your preconceived ideas behind, that’s all.”
Oh, no. Not again. One of those. Tucker swallowed nervously. He did not want to face some enraged ghosts or seal a passage down to hell. Even after working for the Chronicle for as long as he had, he still only half-believed in those supernatural incidents. Surely there was an element of mass-hallucinations involved in most of those phenomenons?
He was rushed into the van and pushed into the backseat. Wes stepped on the accelerator and that was that. Grace was looking at him with those big eyes she always made when she was trying to convince him of something. He imagined he recognized that look. His mom had looked like that when she was trying to convince him that liver was such a healthy food. There was a sickening feeling of deja vu about the whole thing.
Weakly, he decided to find out, so he could prepare himself, before they were landed right in the middle of whatever it was.
“So what is this about?”
“Hold on to your seat now, Tucker. We’re taking you to a portal to another dimension.”
Grace had that intolerable voice that indicated she was talking down to him. He hated that. Just because it wasn’t as easy for him to believe in all the farfetched stuff they worked with, didn’t mean he was a moron or a child. He was about to say so, but decided he didn’t feel up to an argument. Besides, if she thought he was going to fall for that one –
“Ha ha, very funny. What is it really?”
Now Grace’s face took on an expression of near-pity. As if he really was a complete idiot, or maybe senile. Apparently, they intended to hold on to the joke for as long as possible. Here we go again, Tucker thought wearily.
“It is a portal to another dimension. Either that or some sophisticated weapon that disintegrates people.”
This was getting tedious. Tucker was wondering if maybe Wes would take pity on him and end the not so funny joke.
“Don’t look at me. She’s telling it like it is.”
Tucker stared at Wes, trying to figure out if his friend was serious or not. It was a bit difficult, since Wes had to keep his eyes on the street ahead of them. But from what he could tell, from staring into the rearview mirror, Wes kept a straight face. No way. This couldn’t be true. Why on earth had they picked today to gang up on him?
Wes slowed the car down, then parked it neatly in a tiny parking spot outside a shabby-looking building. Not quite abandoned yet, but definitely decaying at an alarming rate. Tucker knew they didn’t get to pick the locations, but this was one of the worst neighborhoods he’d seen. Ever. He was looking around for their bullet proof vests, but not seeing anything. Grace and Wes didn’t appear to be very concerned. They must have seen a lot worse during the course of their careers. Stuff Tucker didn’t even want to imagine.
“This is it?”
“Yes. Hurry up. According to our source, it opens every six hours. If we get a move on, we’ll make the second opening today.”
Wondering whatever ‘it’ was, Tucker hurried along, hoping despite everything, that this really was an elaborate joke. About the interdimensional portal thing, anyway.
Apparently, they were heading down into the basement. Wes was amazingly fast, considering the heavy load of equipment he was lugging around. Joke or not, Tucker was struck by his conscience and offered to carry part of the load. Wes’ grateful smile added to Tucker’s feelings of guilt. Maybe they had been telling the truth. After all, they weren’t responsible for whatever assignments Donald sent them on.
After running down stair after stair, they eventually ended up in a dank, shady room, filled with dripping pipes, flickering light bulbs and generally a decidedly unwholesome atmosphere. There was a smell that Tucker did his best to avoid analysing too closely, and here and there, there were cracks in the cement floor, which made it difficult to carry the equipment. All the time, Grace hurried along ahead of them, calling impatiently to them to get going.
“Wes? She was telling the truth, wasn’t she?”
“I told you so, didn’t I? Watch that. This is expensive stuff and I’m not going to explain to Donald how that got broken. So better not let it bump into that -”
Narrowly escaping this major mishap, Tucker shut up, instead focusing on getting to their destination without dropping anything.
Finally, Grace stopped, rather abruptly, causing Wes to bump into her from behind.
“Oops. Sorry about that, baby girl.”
“Never mind. Look. It’s opening already. Get the gear ready. Tucker, open your eyes.”
Since his eyes were open, as wide as ever, Tucker took this to mean another slight against his alleged narrowmindedness. Ignoring her dig for the moment, he stared with interest at the spot Grace was indicating.
They were standing in an open space, where it looked as if once the heater might have been. Now, there was nothing, except a sort of hollow in the middle of the floor. Quite a deep hole in fact, so big and deep that it was hard to see the bottom. And to make observation harder, there was also some kind of fog covering the hole, and that fog was beginning to glow.
Tucker was beginning to find an alternative explanation inside his mind – toxic waste dumping was what suggested itself immediately – but to his astonishment, the fog began to expand and he jumped back to avoid it.
Grace didn’t jump quite as fast and was caught inside the stuff. At first, it didn’t seem to have an effect. She didn’t make a sound, or tried to move. Then suddenly, she fell backwards, almost on top of Tucker. He repressed an impulse to withdraw, and held out his arms to catch her.
She felt strangely lifeless. Cold to the touch. Her eyes were unfocused and Tucker began to fear the worst. Also, she was suddenly much heavier than just a minute before. So heavy that Tucker couldn’t hold on to her.
She began to slide into that hole, and though he called out to Wes to stop what he was doing to help, she vanished into the hole. Now the fog disappeared as well, revealing a surprisingy deep cavity in the floor. There had to be some kind of subterranean caves below the building, that was all Tucker could deduce.
“Where is she?”
Wes sounded distraught to say the least. Tucker suddenly realized that his two colleagues had great affection for each other, much more than he’d previously assumed.
“Down there. Look.”
“Don’t just stand there. We have to get her out of there.”
“Wes – I don’t think -”
How was he going to explain to his friend that he had a bad feeling about the whole thing? She’d been so cold and her eyes had looked so – vacant.
But Wes wasn’t listening anyway. He was making a frantic search of the room, then pulling out his cell phone. Was he calling for the fire department? The police?
“Vera. Put me through to Donald right away. Grace – What? No. He has to get over here right now. Something terrible has happened.”
When he switched the phone off, there was a forlorn look on Wes’ face that touched Tucker. Why had he never understood how much Wes cared about Grace?
“Donald’s flown out to the Philippines. Some kind of witchcraft trial. He’s incommunicado for the duration.”
“What? Well, call the fire department or something.”
Wes didn’t reply, and Tucker had a hunch his friend was turning his back on him so the tears in his eyes wouldn’t show. Too late though. He’d seen them glittering for the split second or so that it took Wes to move. Now he was kneeling in front of the hole in the floor, trying to reach down.
“Hey. Don’t. It’s way too deep. You’ll only fall in -”
But it turned out Wes wasn’t trying to reach down at all. He was merely confirming some observation that had escaped Tucker for the time being.
“Here. Feel that.”
Tucker had a feeling that there was something extremely odd about this whole incident. Not just an accident. His hand hit something solid. Or almost solid. The invisible barrier yielded just a little, but didn’t give way. It was like a thin plastic coating, except it was much more durable. Touching it didn’t produce any nasty side effects such as electric shocks. It also didn’t leave any slimy residue. Maybe it was a sort of force field.
“See? We’ll need Donald for this.”
“Or Pig Boy, since Donald’s not available right now.”
“Alright. But I have a feeling we don’t have much time. Come on. Or – Do you think we should leave her? Maybe you should go and I’ll stick around and watch over her.”
“Wes – I think maybe -”
How did he say this, without being too harsh? Considering how cold Grace had felt, Tucker suspected that whatever they did, it might be too late to do anything but find out what had gone wrong.
“I think it might be too late already. When I touched her – she was awfully cold.”
“Let’s go. I have a few suggestions for Pig Boy.”
Apparently, Grace being dead was one of the possibilities Wes wouldn’t even consider. It hurt Tucker to see the look of grim hope on Wes’ face as he drove – recklessly – back to the Chronicle. Without stopping at their desks, even to drop off the cameras, they proceeded down to the Archive.
Pig Boy looked up, apparently not much concerned. Doing research was a common everyday thing after all. However, as he caught sight of Wes’ face, and noting Grace’s absence, a trace of doubt crept across Pig Boy’s face.
“She’s in trouble. We need your help.”
And if Tucker ever had had any doubts about Pig Boy’s sharp intellect or his devotion to Grace they were now put to shame. With a fervor that did him credit, the half-man set to searching the archives.
Towards evening, even Wes’ hopes were beginning to fade. Pig Boy had failed to come up with anything useful. The few descriptions that partially matched, only made their concerns grow. Either way, it seemed impossible to get Grace back.
Pig Boy didn’t seem hopeful, but Wes appeared prepared to jump at any hint of a hope.
“This ritual puts you in touch with her – spirit.”
“Doesn’t she have to be dead for us to do that?”
Tucker was guessing Pig Boy was trying to shield Wes from further worries, while also diminishing his own concerns.
“There have been cases where family members have been able to reach loved ones in a coma. Or – here, a case where a mother was able to contact her abducted daughter. And – this girl was in a mental institution. Her sister could get in touch with her anyway. So wherever she is, you should be able to reach her.”
“Alright. What do we do?”
Pig Boy printed out the instructions. Tucker couldn’t help thinking they involved a lot of nonsense. But all of it appeared to be perfectly doable, so they returned to the site, hoping, at least Wes did, that it would work.
Down in the basement, Wes began to lay out the paraphernalia for the ridiculous ritual, then began to mumble the instructions. Tucker held back, watching with a mix of affection and disbelief.
“Aren’t you going to help out?”
“Of course. Are we ready to begin?”
“Yes. Come on.”
For heaven’s sake. Wes appeared to believe in this stupid ritual completely. But out of respect for his friend’s feelings, and – the remote hope that they might actually reach Grace’s spirit wherever she was – Tucker joined in the proceedings.
He felt like a fool, but knowing Wes counted on him, he did his best to do each silly move and say each word exactly according to Pig Boy’s instructions. Nothing. After about half an hour of silence, even Wes had to face the facts.
Reluctantly, Tucker put a hand on Wes’ shoulder and squeezed. He didn’t want to intrude on his friend’s grief, but he felt they wouldn’t do any good in this place anymore. In fact, quite the opposite. Since the fog was now gone, they could still see Grace’s body lying down there, frozen, unchanged.
“Come on. Let’s go. We can’t do anything.”
“Donald could. As soon as he gets back -”
“Yes. Alright. But until he gets here, we should get out of here. What if that fog returns?”
“What? Yeah, yeah.”
But Wes seemed strangely reluctant to go. He kneeled on the ground, staring down into the hole, a wistful expression on his face.
Tucker withdrew to give Wes another moment to come to terms with his loss. This gave Tucker a chance to ponder his relationship with Grace. Of course, despite their bickering and teasing, he’d been fond of her. Exasperating and impossible as she might have been. Funny too. And loyal. Tucker was beginning to feel rather nostalgic, as he remembered Grace’s eyes and smile.
Suddenly, he began to feel dizzy, and staggered backwards to rest against the wall. He slid down to the floor and put his face in his hands. A feeling of desorientation took hold of him, and he pressed his eyes firmly closed, trying to stop the room from spinning around him.
Wes kneeled in front of his friend, a concerned look on his face. When he’d finally torn himself away from staring down at Grace’s body, he’d found his friend, apparently unconscious.
“Hey. Wake up.”
After what seemed like an eternity, Tucker did look up at Wes, but his eyes didn’t appear to focus properly. Wes was wondering if that hole in the floor would cost him his only remaining friend, when Tucker’s eyes returned to normal. Within seconds, Tucker was on his feet, steadying himself by grabbing Wes’ shoulder.
“Hey. For a while there, you had me scared.”
“Wes – I never realized how you felt -”
“Oh. Well, what would have been the point? She was always dating other guys so -”
“But that’s because I didn’t know you cared about me. Like that.”
If Wes was struck by anything odd about their conversation, he didn’t give any outward sign. Instead, he was fondly dwelling on every positive memory of Grace that he could recall. How they’d –
“Shut up, Tucker. I’m going to do it. Forget it. You think I’m going to miss this kind of chance?”
By now, Wes was wondering what was going on. How come his friend was suddenly talking to himself? Had the whole incident struck him harder than he’d thought?
“Are you alright, buddy?”
“Wes – why didn’t you ever tell me how you felt?”
“I thought I told you – Come on. We need to get you home. Tomorrow Donald will be back and we can get started -”
“Wes. Didn’t you ever think that I might feel that way about you too?”
What? This wasn’t happening. How on earth could Tucker pick this moment to – continue the long standing joke about them – or – no way – declare his feelings for him? But Tucker was dating Kristen, so how could he be into guys? This was a mess.
“What are you talking about? Did you hit your head or something? We should get going -”
“Wes, I love you too.”
And before Wes had time to react, Tucker leaned closer, a weird, intense look on his face.
“I mean it, Tucker. Butt out. I’m going to do it. Just think about something else. I’m not missing this chance.”
The weird monologue was having a disconcerting effect on Wes. Apparently, the hole hadn’t been content to take Grace away, it had also robbed his friend of his faculties as well. Sad story. Donald would know what to do about it, but in the meantime, he’d just try to calm Tucker down.
“Take it easy now, Tuck B. Let’s get you home. Obviously this was a worse shock to you than I thought. Nice and easy. Yeah, that’s my man. Come here.”
But Tucker didn’t appear to listen, instead he leaned down and placed a rather chaste kiss on Wes’ lips. Before Wes had time to react, the kiss deepened and he found himself the recipient of his first ever male/male kiss. At least Tucker had shaved that morning.
“Hey, man, you’re freaking me out. Don’t do this. Not now. We need to be thinking about getting Grace back.”
“Don’t look at me. I didn’t do it. I swear. It was her. I’m not Tucker. It’s Grace. I mean, yes, Tucker, I’ll tell him, it’s me and him. We’re both in here.”
“I don’t believe you. Is this some kind of sick joke? Man, I’d never do anything like that to you.”
“Wes, it is me. Remember that time at the hotel at Niagara Falls and we accidentally ended up in the honeymooner’s suite?”
“I can’t believe she’d tell you that.”
“Wes, it’s me. Believe it. How else would I know about – sorry to reveal it to Tucker, but you have to admit this is kind of an emergency – your tattoo? You think I’d tell Tucker about that? And how I accidentally happened to find out about it?”
“I don’t have a clue. Just let her tell this her own way. I’m getting a headache trying to argue with her. Thank you, Tucker. Now shut up. Wes – I never knew – or at least never knew for sure – how you felt about me. I was hoping but -”
Wes stared at Tucker. Could it really be – He’d known stranger things to happen, but still, it took a great deal of trust to overcome his doubts. Granted, Grace would never have told Tucker something like that. So how could he know? Unless –
“Yes, Wes, it’s me. Didn’t you ever guess how I felt about you?”
“Oh, well, you know how it is, baby girl. I – never thought you’d feel the same way.”
“But I do. Wes, why did we wait until it was too late to tell each other this?”
“I don’t know. If we’d been a little braver – Never mind. Let’s get you home so we can straighten out this mess. It’s kind of hard to think of you as Grace, when you’re looking like that.”
“Tell me about it. I want you to know that that kiss was all her doing. I had strong objections. She just wouldn’t listen. No, Grace, I’m talking to Wes now. Wait your turn. Uh – No. Fine.”
Tucker retreated into a sullen silence, that Wes was beginning to recognize as Grace’s. Whoa. Major conflict of interest.
“Ok. Apology noted.”
The less said about that kiss the better. If only it had really been Grace. Looking like herself. But if they moved fast that might still happen.
They decided to go to Tucker’s and Wes’ place, despite protests from Grace. After all, both guys argued, there would be no shaving gear at her place. And it wasn’t as if she was going to need her makeup kit either.
Tucker promised himself he wouldn’t tell Wes what Grace said about them after that. In fact, he wanted to forget the word completely. He’d had no idea what a vocabulary she possessed.
On the way back, Tucker did his best to tell Grace that they’d do their best to get her body back, and though Wes still looked as if he was moonstruck, he joined in too, from time to time. Grace was more interested in yelling at Tucker. Though how all this could be his fault, he failed to see.
When they were finally safely inside Wes’ place, and Grace had been taken for a tour of the facilities, Tucker had to brace himself for the next outburst. By now, when Wes was used to the odd spectacle of his friend talking to himself, he was even a bit amused, even though the predominant emotion was still concern over Grace’s situation.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. This place is a mess. I can’t believe you guys want to live like this.”
Tucker felt hurt. He’d been inside Grace’s small apartment, and he couldn’t for the life of him see much difference. Her place was a bit of a mess as well. Besides, their system worked. He and Wes knew where everything was.
“But Grace -”
He never managed to get more than one or at the most two words out before she took over. It was a very disconcerting experience.
“You’re expecting me to live here? Get real. We’re going back to my place. You can sleep on the sofa, Wes.”
“But baby girl – I think it will be better here. My man, Tuck B here, needs his shaving gear and -”
“Don’t give me that. Excuse me, Grace, but can I get a word in edgewise? I need to – you know – What? Oh, no. Do you ever stop to consider what will happen when you drink all that coffee and – orange juice and -”
“What? Can someone -”
Tucker felt his face blush a deep, brick red. This was incredibly humiliating. Not only could Grace see into his mind, and read every little secret he had. Now he’d have to take her into the bathroom with him and – The sooner Donald got back so they could reverse this condition, the better.
“I just need to go -”
He gestured desperately towards the bathroom.
Wes tried hard to cover his amused grin, but he wasn’t quite sure he’d succeeded.
Inside the bathroom, the degradation continued.
“Grace – let me – No, I’m not touching that. Explain to me how I’m going to be able to – uh – I don’t care. Well, what are you suggesting? That I – uh – do it in my pants? Oh, no. No you don’t. Wes is not going to help me. Listen, why don’t we say that the right hand is mine – Alright. The left hand is mine and the right one is yours? See. Now I’ll use my hand to – Please, Grace, be reasonable. I don’t want to have to – Grace, I’m going to do it anyway. Pretend you’re somewhere else.”
And finally, he felt Grace retreat into an even more offended silence. Good. It was the first time since the unpleasant phenomenon had made itself known that he could hear himself think. While he was washing his hands, he couldn’t help hoping that Grace would stay pissed off, so he could get some peace.
That was too good to be true, he soon learned.
“I hope you’re satisfied with yourself now. This is sexual harassment and I’m going to – Grace, you can’t sue for sexual harassment. I just needed to -”
He caught sight of his watch and realized that he should have called Kristen three hours ago, at the latest. By now, she’d be asleep, most likely just as pissed off as Grace. Women.
“Speak for yourself. See. Another example of your contempt for the opposite sex. This proves my point. Grace, please – No, listen to me, Grace. Grace – This isn’t easy for me. Can’t we just agree to make the best of things, until Donald gets back?”
Incredible. Nothing. Was she actually listening to his suggestion? He didn’t dare to hope that she agreed, but – Holding his breath, he hoped anyway.
“Fine. I guess there’s nothing to be done about it for now. But listen, Tucker, I want to go to bed now. No mushy phone calls to Kirsten – yes, I know what you’re thinking, I’m in here remember – and no peeing. Just sleep. Ok? Ok.”
Outside, Wes was waiting, anxiously, but also – Tucker imagined – amused. And that look – oh, please – had to be for Grace.
“All set for tonight?”
“Yes. I think we have come to a mutually acceptable agreement. All set for tonight? It’s alright for you, Wes. You don’t have to sleep with him.”
“Uh – you’re right, Grace. Is there anything you need? Any food or -”
“No. He’s not eating anything while I’m in here. Things are bad enough as it is. When will Donald be back?”
That whiny tone had to be Grace’s, though Wes could imagine that Tucker was looking forward to their boss’ return, just as enthusiastically.
“Oh, soon, I hope, baby girl. And I’ll call and ask again first thing in the morning. You’ll see. We’ll get your body back, safe and sound.”
“Wes, I love you, but don’t patronise me. I’m going to bed now.”
“Good night, Grace. And good night, Tucker.”
“Thanks for not forgetting about me entirely. I’m in here, too, you know.”
“Of course he’s in here. There’s no getting away from him.”
“Good night, Grace.”
“But – Ok. Good night, Wes.”
The following morning, Wes woke up first, or at least he thought so. He decided to make a good impression on Grace, by making her breakfast, ignoring her no food policy. She would be hungry. Tucker would be hungry. Naturally, they’d both need food. Orange juice. Grace’s favorite breakfast. Actually, as far as Wes could remember, it was Tucker’s favorite too. Toast – ok, so that was Wes’ own favorite – and – what else? Not too much, considering Grace’s new aversion to eating.
A good night’s sleep did appear to have made Grace feel a lot more cheerful, though she had strongly vetoed Tucker’s suggestion of having a shower.
“No way, mister. We’re not taking a shower together and that’s final. But – No, buts, Tucker. You’ll shower when I’m back in my own body. Fine. How about brushing my – our – teeth? Oh, sure. Go ahead.”
In the kitchen, they were greeted by the appetizing smell of toast. Instantly forgetting her earlier vow to keep Tucker fasting until their condition had been reversed, Grace smiled affectionately at Wes.
“Oh, Wes. You’re so sweet. Come here. No. No. Don’t do it. She’s going to – Shut up, Tucker.”
And before either man had time to react, Grace had done it again. Using Tucker’s face, she’d kissed Wes.
“Uh – you’re welcome. But please, Grace – while you’re still inside Tucker -”
She was staring at him so innocently from inside Tucker’s face, Wes found it hard to go on. It wouldn’t be long now, he was fervently hoping. Donald would make things right again.
“Nothing. Let’s eat.”
But Grace had no intention of letting herself be distracted. She’d waited so long to hear Wes say those three little words and she wasn’t going to waste one single day. Tucker could just show a little consideration. He had Kristen. Why shouldn’t she have Wes, even if for the moment she was not looking her best?
So again, she leaned over and pulled Wes into a hard embrace. Mm. Being this strong had its advantages. But Wes didn’t fight her much.
Thinking about Kristen might have been a bad idea. Just as Grace was successfully fighting down Tucker’s influence, while holding on to Wes, the door swung silently open behind her. The first warning they had of Kristen’s arrival was the shocked and angry outburst.
“Tucker. How – how dare you go behind my back like this? And with – Wes. I can’t believe I was so stupid. You living together like this – I should have known there was something behind it.”
Tucker whirled around, torn between begging Kristen’s forgiveness and telling Grace off. But realizing that any attempt at communicating with Grace would only make things worse, he settled on rushing to Kristen’s side to grovel, beg, kneel – do anything it took to get her forgiveness.
“Kristen. I know how this looks, but I can explain.”
The smile on Kristen’s face could be described as decidedly frosty.
“Oh, really? Ok. Go ahead. This should be interesting. But don’t you dare insult my intelligence. Whatever you have to say better be good.”
“It wasn’t me. It was Grace.”
Before he had time to go on, Kristen interrupted him.
“That’s your explanation? It was Grace? Where is she anyway? Are you all involved in this?”
The look on her face expressed sheer loathing at the thought of such an eventuality.
“She’s inside me.”
Kristen shook her head, as if giving up. She was turning to leave, and Tucker thought he saw his future disappear with her.
“Kristen, wait. Let me explain. It’s true. She – her mind – her consciousness – is inside me.”
“You’re out of your mind. If you think I’ll fall for this -”
Eager to offer his assistance, since technically, he was involved in this disaster, Wes decided to do his part.
“It’s true. Tucker and I aren’t -”
“Oh, really? And what I just saw – what was that? Just an expression of your warm friendship?”
“No. Grace is inside him.”
“You’re as bad as he is. If you’re actually making up some kind of sick fantasy about having Grace there with you, you’re a lot sicker than I thought.”
Her way of pronouncing Grace’s name, spelled trouble, Tucker knew it. He hardly needed to feel the gathering of Grace’s angry energy. Knowing it was no use trying to hold her back, he braced himself for the outburst.
“If you don’t believe Tucker then you’re a lot more stupid than I thought. Tucker wouldn’t kiss Wes. That was me. Listen to them, Kristen. They’re telling the truth.”
Kristen suddenly looked tired and confused.
“Who? Tucker – I don’t get this – Why do you want to make fun of me like this? Wouldn’t it be more dignified to just come out of the closet and be done with it. I had a friend from college – he felt a lot better once he’d told his family and his friends.”
“But I’m not gay.”
“I’m not gay either. Grace is there. Inside Tucker. Honestly. If we show you where it happened – will you believe us then?”
“Why should I? You can probably show me some weird place but how do I know that whatever it was that is supposed to have happened really happened there?”
“True. But will you let us tell the whole thing from the start, without interrupting?”
Kristen sighed. She knew she needed to have her head examined, but somehow, since becoming involved with Tucker, she’d seen things she knew couldn’t happen, but they had happened anyway.
Maybe – Well, after all that she and Tucker had been through, maybe she owed it to him to listen to what he had to say. Or rather what Wes had to say, since Tucker appeared to be too overcome with embarrassment or something else that he had a hard time getting a full sentence out.
“Alright. Go ahead. But I’m warning you, this is your last chance. If you don’t convince me now, you can go right ahead and come out. I’m sure your colleagues at the Chronicle won’t be at all surprised.”
Wes looked as if he might have something to say about that, but changed his mind. The window of opportunity was shrinking fast. If he wanted to save his and Tucker’s hide, he had to act now. So he told the whole story, from the beginning.
If he said so himself, he thought it was clear and concise. Surely Kristen would be convinced? But she stopped him, asked further questions, had him back up and repeat certain passages, and even then, she looked far from convinced. Still, at least she was giving them the benefit of the doubt.
“Ok. I’ve heard Wes’ version. Now I’d like to hear yours, Grace.”
She felt like an idiot, addressing a woman who wasn’t even present, or rather visible, if their ridiculous story was true.
“What would you like to know? It’s like Wes says.”
Though she knew a lot depended on her ability to convince Kristen of her credibility, Grace couldn’t help smiling affectionately at Wes. Knowing as she did so that it could hardly help their cause.
“Is that all?”
“Ok. When that fog reached out for me, I felt cold, and it was as if my mind was drawn out of my body. I don’t know where I was for a while. Just floating around. Sort of like an out of body experience. Then – I could see my body falling. But I wasn’t in it anymore. I kept floating for a time, then I felt myself being pulled down to earth again. I could move again, but it was clear that I wasn’t inside my own body anymore. Tucker’s thoughts kept interfering.”
At that point, the voice took on a decidedly chilly tone.
Despite herself, Kristen was impressed. How could Tucker – if this really was her Tucker making a fool of her and himself – make himself sound so totally disgusted with himself? Somehow, the insane story began to seem a lot more credible by the minute.
“Oh. I guess – Alright. I believe you.”
Tucker felt weak with relief. He held out his arms to Kristen, intending to at least hug her, but he realized that Grace had strong objections. Her objections made it difficult for him to move, even an inch.
“Yes, Tucker. I’ll let you talk to her. But no hugging.”
Kristen’s face underwent a startling change. Hugging? No.
“You’re right, Grace. No hugging. We’ll just wait until you are both yourselves.”
Whenever that would be. Kristen decided to go home, have some ice cream, and wait things out in front of the tv. So much for her idea of surprising Tucker at home.
Wes kept calling the Chronicle, until the switchboard operator – Vera had the weekend off – told him she’d let him know when Donald returned. After that, everyone sat down to watch a movie, rather than risking any other embarrassing moments.
They eventually settled on a comedy, rather than the horror movie Grace wanted to watch. Both Tucker and Wes knew how scared Wes usually got when he watched those, and neither guy wanted to find Grace moving closer to hold Wes, not the way things were.
The movie was followed by a very light lunch, then they agreed to watch another movie, since no one felt in the mood to work on their story. Come to think of it, they were far from sure what kind of story – if any – this was.
All evening, they kept hoping Donald would call, but the phone was eerily quiet. This weekend – out of all possible weekends – was the one in which he was incommunicado on the other side of the world.
In the end, all that was left was spending another miserable, uncomfortable night, worrying that every hour Grace spent away from her body might mean the change was irreversible.
Wes was dreaming he was getting married to Grace, Tucker and Kristen, and wasn’t sure if this wasn’t a nightmare, when he was woken up by the sound of his phone ringing.
“Hello. I heard you ran into some trouble. Is the story finished yet?”
“No, Donald, it’s not. Grace’s body was pulled down into that hole in the floor by some kind of evil fog, and her spirit is trapped inside of Tucker’s body.”
An ominous pause on the other end of the line, had Wes’ heart beating as if it wanted to burst out of his chest.
“I’ll be right there. We have no time to lose. I’ll bring the equipment, then I’ll do some necessary tests. After that, you’ll have to be prepared to move fast. We’ll need to perform the ceremony back at the initial severing. Did you get that? Have them dressed and ready to go when I get there. That will be in – exactly 17 minutes.”
“Ok. I hear you.”
Excitedly, but also quite a bit worried, Wes jumped out of bed, got dressed and ran into Tucker’s room.
“Hey, you guys, wake up. That was Donald.”
As if Tucker – and Grace – had heard a sound. Apparently, their internal quarrelling had kept them awake for hours after Wes had dozed off.
“What? Did you say Donald? Does he have a job for us now? In the middle of the night?”
“He’s going to change you guys back. Hurry. Get dressed. Oh.”
For some reason, Tucker was already dressed. Apparently, Grace hadn’t wanted to let him undress, even for a moment.
“Well, get ready. He’s on his way.”
Instantly, Tucker and Grace were wide awake. Finally. Their ordeal would be over. At least they hoped so. Grace refused to consider the possibility that after all this, she would be told that it was too late. That she was stuck inside this body forever. That couldn’t be. She’d go crazy. She’d kill someone. She’d kill Tucker – and herself.
Before Donald arrived, they were standing around eagerly waiting for him. He didn’t bother knocking – not unlike Kristen the morning before – and immediately began to aim some strange little gadget at Tucker’s body.
Wes couldn’t help feeling curious, despite the grave circumstances.
“No time to go into that now. Just let me get on with my work.”
And he continued using the gadget, then put it away, to set up a larger machine of some kind, and again began to run some tests on Tucker – and presumably Grace.
“Ok. I’m done. It looks as if maybe there’s still time.”
Maybe? Uh oh. Not good. No one had said anything about it maybe being too late.
“No. No time. Let’s go. Now. Every second counts.”
The urgency in his voice was contagious. Within less than a minute, they were all inside Donald’s car – all except for Wes, who wisely brought his own car, just in case – driving towards the same building where the whole affair had started.
Once inside the building, Donald had Wes help set up some other strange looking machines he’d been keeping in the back of his car. None of them looked familiar to Wes, who had been working for the Chronicle for several years. Odd. But there was no time to wonder about that.
“Ok. Now I want you both to approach that hole. It should be ok, since it’s not time for it to open yet. But be prepared to jump back in a hurry. If both you of should fall prey to it -”
That didn’t sound good, but Tucker and Grace decided they had no choice but to obey.
To Donald’s surprise – if anything surprised that man – Wes suddenly began to hug Tucker as if they were never going to see each other again.
“Are we done?”
Better let Donald get on with what he had to do. Nothing could be allowed to go wrong. Tuck B was a great guy, but there was no way Wes could love a Grace looking like him.
Now Donald began to aim another gadget looking a whole lot like a gun of some kind, towards the hole. He looked tense, as if this was a lot more difficult than he’d told them.
“Move a little closer now. You too, Wes. I’ll try to hold it back while you pick up her body. Use this.”
He was pointing at a coil of rope, lying at his feet.
Wes didn’t need to be told twice, while trying not to worry about Donald’s choice of words. Hold it back? No. It was best to just do as he was told and let Donald worry about the rest, Wes had learned that a long time ago.
Getting Grace’s body out of that hole was a lot more difficult than he’d imagined, but there was no way he was going to leave her down there, so Wes put all his strength into the effort, and finally, he knew he had the rope securely tied around her. Slowly, he began to pull her out. She did look awfully pale, and so cold that her skin had actually taken on a blue tinge. Wes shuddered inwardly. But as soon as her spirit was back inside, he’d make sure she was warmed up.
“Lay her out on her back. Like that. On a north-south axis. Good. Now step back. Not you, Tucker. Lie down next to her. Yes, exactly like that. Good.”
Now Donald began to sprinkle some weird-smelling stuff over both bodies. All the while, he had a strained look on his face, and Wes wondered how sure his boss really was of the eventual success of this exercise. But in the past he had seen Donald perform what looked like miracles, so he decided to trust him one more time.
“There. It’s done. You can get up now. Both of you.”
Donald and Wes were staring intently at Grace’s unmoving form. Nothing. Tucker scrambled to his feet, a look of wonder on his face.
“It worked. She’s gone. I’m me again.”
No one replied. Wes kneeled at Grace’s head, reaching out to touch her hair, her face, her hands.
“Come on, baby girl. It’s time to wake up. Grace?”
He repressed an impulse to shake her. Already, he felt tears stinging his eyes, but he tried hard not to let them fall. Donald had never let them down before. This had to work. It just had to. He couldn’t lose Grace now that he’d finally told her how he felt. Not now when she had turned out to feel the same way.
“Grace. Don’t do this to me. Come back. I love you, girl. You know it.”
“Could you say that again, Wes? I don’t think I heard you.”
“What? You know it?”
“Oh. Alright. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“Say that again.”
“I love you too. Is that enough?”
“More than I ever hoped for. Welcome back, baby girl.”
“Ugh. What’s that awful smell? Donald?”
“It will wash out. After a while. Nothing to worry about. Just to make the creature let your soul go. Speaking of which. Step back while I seal that hole.”
Wes helped Grace to her feet, then pulled her into his arms. At a safe distance, behind Donald, they waited while he blasted the floor around the hole. A sort of membrane was forming above it. At first it was transparent, then it began to solidify, turning a uniform slate grey.
“That should do it. Alright. Are we ready to leave this place? Good. I for one, have better things to do with my spare time.”
“So do we, don’t we, Grace?”
Donald stared suspiciously at his employees. Was that ridiculous tone of voice going to mean trouble? He decided that it wouldn’t. His reporters and his best photographer were far too professional to let any personal affairs get in the way of work. On his way out, he reminded them that they had a story to finish.
A look of dismay spread across Grace’s features, and was mirrored on Tucker’s face.
“What story? About what? That wasn’t a portal to another dimension, was it?”
“Yes it was. Just not a dimension you would like to know anything about. And that creature – let’s just say you were damned lucky it didn’t do any more damage.”
After that, no one felt up to arguing anymore.
“So I can expect a new story Monday morning?”
“Well, before the end of the week then.”
“About what? Donald, please. This nearly cost me my relationship with Kristen and -”
The look on Donald’s face seemed to be saying: And this is a bad thing because…? His voice sounded as if he was going out of his way to be patient.
“You write about the experience of course. About being a woman inside a man’s body, while his personality was still there. About the conflicts and so on. The readers love that kind of thing. I don’t need to do the work for you, I hope? Good. Then I’ll expect that story on Thursday afternoon, at the latest.”
“Which one of us do you want to write it?”
Tucker was, if possible, even more irritated by Donald’s unreasonable demand.
“Both of you. Write one each, so the readers can get both perspectives. Maybe – if I have understood you correctly Wes, you’re now involved with Grace?”
Wes hesitated. Was it a good thing to let Donald know about their own private personal feelings? But it seemed to be too late to worry about privacy.
“I guess -”
Grace took pity on him, and smiling affectionately, she replied to Donald’s rude question.
“Yes. We’re in love.”
“Excellent. Then you need to write a piece as well, Wes. Can you do that for me?”
Wes stared warily at Donald. This wasn’t going the way he’d hoped it would. By now, he wanted to be on his way back home to finally have Grace to himself.
“About what it feels like to be in love with someone who’s not inside her own body.”
“No. I can’t do that.”
Donald fixed him with a calculating stare, then appeared to relent.
“Alright. I suppose I’ll have to let you stick to your photography. But you guys will add a little human interest to your stories by going into the problems involved?”
Grace and Tucker made some noises that Donald could interpret any way he liked, which seemed to satisfy him. He packed his gear into his car and left them, still feeling dazed and confused.
Eventually, Wes became aware of Grace shivering with cold. He was filled with concern on her behalf.
“Come on. Let’s get you back home.”
Tucker was hoping they’d go to Grace’s place, but no such luck. Soon he found himself the target of a number of decidedly chilly stares, making it perfectly clear that he wasn’t welcome anymore. Of course, considering what he guessed the two of them would get up to, he didn’t want to, after all.
“Oh, alright. I’d better get over to Kristen to sweet talk her.”
His decision was greeted with Wes’ and Grace’s full approval, at least that was the impression he got from their relieved smiles, the split second or two it took for them to get back to holding each other and – No. Tucker had had quite enough of their kissing. He’d better quit while he was ahead. Ending up in between them again didn’t bear thinking about.
Outside Kristen’s door, he considered his options. Maybe it would be best to ring the door bell, rather than using his key. Come to think of it, he was lucky she hadn’t confiscated that when they last saw each other.
She took so long answering the door, he was afraid she’d gone away, or had decided not to let him in. But eventually, she opened the door.
“Kristen, darling -”
“Hold it right there. This had better be just Tucker or -”
“It is. Darling, it is. She’s gone. I mean, she’s back in her own body. Can I come in?”
“I suppose so.”
“Kristen, I want you to know how much I appreciate you believing me. You’re one in a million.”
“Don’t you forget that. Hey. What are you doing?”
To Tucker’s distress, she pushed him away, before he’d had time to even kiss her once.
“Why not? I’ve missed you. Remember last weekend?”
She did. Then suddenly a horrible feeling struck her. How long had that Grace person been inside Tucker?
“When did this happen?”
“When did she end up inside you?”
“Uh – two days ago.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. Believe me, that kind of thing is hard to miss.”
“Ok. I believe you.”
Again, Tucker tried to pull her into his arms, but again, he was shoved away.
“What’s wrong now?”
“Nothing. I just think that since she was inside you for two days, we need to put you in quarantine.”
“What? No. That’s not fair. After all I’ve been through.”
“Exactly. What have you and Grace been up to?”
“Nothing. What did you think? She was inside my body. There was nothing I could have done even if I’d wanted to. Which I didn’t.”
“Alright. But you sleep on the couch.”
“Kristen. Please -”
“No. I’ve made up my mind. Since she was in there for two days, isn’t it fair that you keep your distance for about the same amount of time?”
Tucker’s face fell, but he knew better than to try and argue with Kristen. At least it was over. This entire schizophrenic incident was over. All the same, he couldn’t help feeling unfairly treated. If he knew Wes and Grace, and he thought he did, they wouldn’t be far away from each other. Oh, well, at least his friends had found each other. He was happy for them. If only –