Saturday, July 11, 2015

Crossed Off: Locked In (Part I)

Very few people were aware of Starla Wakefield’s ability to possess the bodies of other people. She first discovered her gift at a very early age, but instinctively knew that she had to keep quiet about it. The first person to find out about it was her best friend, Alec who was also the first person with whom she switched bodies. He was a couple years older, and was always there to help her with homework and bullies. While she was freaking out about being in the body of another person, he seemed pretty happy about it. He liked to watch movies about superheroes, and saw this as a chance to live one out in real life. He insisted that she would one day grow up and become a superhero herself, and that he would be her sidekick.
Together, they learned how to use her skills both accurately and responsibly. They discovered that she was capable of switching places with anyone in the entire world. She could also possess them without allowing them access to her body; she could see through their eyes while they remained in control, so that they were completely unaware that anything was different; and she could share a body with the owner. After some research in the library, Alec decided to nickname her Avatar, based on the idea that she could cross over from her place to another. Over the years, she collected seven other confidants from around the world, mostly accidentally while testing her limits. She spent her time learning about other cultures, and going on instant vacations. Her favorite switch, however, was in the body of a retired conservationist who spent his days interacting with the feral horses of Cumberland Island, which was only a few miles away.
Soon after Alec headed off for college, Starla began to show unusual symptoms that were almost certainly the result of her ability. She started losing control of her own motor functions. At first, her limbs slouched for minutes at a time, but she was eventually able to regain control. But things were getting worse. The doctors had no clue what was happening with her. After all, how could they? They tested for a stroke, multiple sclerosis, and ALS, among a few other things. Despite showing a number of common symptoms, the neurological degeneration simply was not there. Her brain was sending signals throughout her body, but they were somehow blank messages. There was some kind of loss in translation during transit that current medical technology could not explain.
After several months, Starla found herself forced to remain in a wheelchair. For the most part, she had retained control of her upper body, but her legs didn’t move at all. Every second she was left alone she took the opportunity to take over the body of someone somewhere else who happened to be asleep at the time. That was the only time she had when she could move around freely. She felt bad that these people would wake up the next morning feeling fully unrested, but she had given in to the dark side of her personality. Her worldwide confidants offered to give her temporary control of their bodies, but she felt even worse about that since she knew them.
Starla couldn’t move all of her body but, unlike a paraplegic, she could still feel everything. Sitting in the chair all day was extremely uncomfortable. One day, when she was visiting Alec in his dorm room, his lovely roommate, Kathleen let herself be late for class so that she could lift Starla into the bed. Once she left, they were able to talk freely. “It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” he asked.
“I’m going to die.”
“Don’t say that. This doesn’t have to end like that, or even be permanent. But you have to stop what you’re doing. I have a theory that the body cannot exist too long without the mind. Switching consciousnesses is probably okay, but if you leave the brain without any purpose, then I imagine it starts to decay.”
“I don’t mean that this is going to kill me. That’s the problem. It’s probably not. I’m going to be stuck like this forever, and my only chance would be to possess some poor schmuck permanently. I know myself, Alec. Without you, I would have abused this in so many ways.”
“I do not agree.”
“Well, you would be wrong. You said it yourself, I need to stop taking over sleeping people’s bodies. I can’t help myself. It’s far too tempting. The only way out of this is to take myself out of the equation.”
“And how exactly would you do that,” Alec asked. “Sorry to be blunt, but you can barely lift a toothpick. How would you lift a gun, or a knife, or even a bottle of pills?”
Fortunately, Starla could still shrug, so she shrugged. “I could make someone else do it for me, literally.”
He nodded, pretending to see her point. “And what if you die while still in this person’s body? Hmm? What if you get stuck there? What if the only reason you can switch bodies is because this body is still a valid origin? Maybe you wouldn’t be taking yourself out of the equation; you would just be killing the one thing that keeps you in control of your ability. Without it, you could doom that person to spend the rest of their life unable to actually live it.”
“I’ll have him stab or shoot me in the chest. That will give me plenty of time to jump back before getting stranded.”
“Okay, but then you’ve just made that person a murderer. There he is, standing over the body of a young handicapped girl. Amnesia doesn’t hold up well in court. They would be put on trial. If they’re bad, they’ll probably do something stupid and get caught. If they’re good, they’ll turn themselves in because they’ll assume they were the culprit, just like everybody else will.”
“You said something about pills?”
“I said something hoping that you would give up this quest based on logic. I see now that that tactic is not going to work on you. So let’s switch to your heart, which is hopefully not as damaged as your crazy nutso cuckoo brain. What about me? I love you, and you’re just going to leave me?”
“I don’t see any other choice.”
“I just gave you a choice. Stay put,” Alec suggested. “Don’t use it at all. It might mean years, or it may only take a few weeks, but your condition may go away. You don’t have a disease. There’s nothing wrong with your tissue. There’s no reason this isn’t reversible. Perhaps you haven’t gotten better because you haven’t given yourself the chance.”
“I’m sick of arguing about this.”
“So am I.”
“Let’s talk about something light. Your new roommate seems nice.”
“Kathleen is great, yeah.”
They sat in awkward silence before Starla slumped over. Alec lifted her eyelids and checked for the signs of body switching, but found her pupils to be normal. She had just fallen asleep, so he took the opportunity to go down the hall to access the payphone. “Hello, Tristan,” he said into the mouthpiece. “No, Kathleen’s fine. Thanks for putting us together. I don’t think I could have handled another semester with the horrible guy the school paired me with.—No, I’m calling because Starla is having bad thoughts. I have a break coming up, and I was hoping to come up to Kansas City to meet you. I think seeing one of her confidants in person will be good for her, and you’re obviously the closest one.—Yes.—Yeah, that would be the plan.—Okay, I’ll figure out how I can convince her. Thanks, bye.”
Little did Alec know that Starla often accidentally slipped into his mind when she fell asleep. She had heard every word.

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