zef art/

This post was originally published through Patreon on February 5, 2019.

The street was dark and empty, and aside from the tidal hum of distant cars, I was alone. I’ve always been open about my fear of crowds, but what only a few close friends know is that I find the opposite extreme equally unsettling. You never know who or what might be standing beside you, unseen.

I looked up and down the street, waiting, and soon enough I heard her coming.

It wasn’t just the chunka-chunka of her broken down engine, but the way the wind stopped to hold its breath, as if the night had been startled by her presence. Laura’s rusty ’58 Buick came into view a moment later, rounding the corner in a flash of headlights and a chorus of crunching gravel.

The lime green vehicle pulled up to the curb beside me. The engine sputtered and the lights died. The passenger side window rolled down, and a voice I’d been both waiting and dreading to hear sounded from the darkness within.

“Hello,” said Laura.

I peered through the window, hoping for a glimpse of the interior or the woman inside. But, of course, I was disappointed on both counts. The inside of the Buick was shrouded in darkness even though the streetlights should have set it ablaze.

“How are you, Laura?”

“I’ve been better.”

“Should I get in?”


I clutched a door handle that felt like it had spent a month in someone’s freezer and pulled. The Buick was a tank, and the door, solid metal, squealed when I opened it, revealing an inkblot of darkness. I reached in, trying not to think about how my hand seemed to disappear beyond the threshold, and felt for the seat. I took a deep, steadying breath and sat down.

The moment I did, the world outside disappeared.

“Are you comfortable?” Laura asked.

“Yes,” I said, even though the oppressive darkness clung to every inch of my body like tar; even though I had to fight the instinct to leap out and run far, far away. This was business, so I swallowed my fear and resigned myself to the void.

“The terms are, uh, fairly standard. The body is yours for 24 hours provided you do nothing illegal or defaming. Cash upfront. No extensions or refunds.”

“Cash upfront. Nothing illegal or embarrassing. I can do that.”

Something slid into my lap, and even though I couldn’t see, I knew what it was.

“Twenty thousand, just like we agreed.”

I didn’t need to count it. Her sort were a lot of things, but they weren’t liars.

“You’ll carry it into the house for me after the exchange?”

“Of course.”

Suspended in the void, I sat, terrified of what came next. It wasn’t something you ever got used to. Each time was like the first, a heart-stopping drop from the precipice of the infinite and down into the endless sea of oblivion. Still, Laura deserved a respite from her long exile, and let’s face it, twenty thousand dollars was a lot of money.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m ready.”

With my consent, the soul inside me came unmoored, and like a boat across a night-darkened sea, I began to drift. I felt the world outside, already invisible, recede further until at last, I could feel Laura, passing beside me in the opposite direction.

In the instant our paths crossed, I beheld the entirety of her being: the otherworldly resplendence of her former self along with a body that was now lost forever; a keen and cunning intelligence weathered by eons in this awful, soul-crushing prison; and, most heartbreaking of all, the crippling despair that had turned her into the dark and faceless creature she was today.

Then the swap was complete, and, trapped in the driver’s seat, I was doomed (albeit temporarily) to suffer exile in her place.

With the phantom sense of a man who’s lost an arm or a leg, I felt Laura flex my fingers.

“This is wonderful.”

“Yes,” I said, already mourning the loss of my body and counting the hours to its return. “It feels good.”

Laura slid from the car and slammed the door behind her.

I didn’t want to think about how many rentals I could endure before the darkness worked its awful madness into my soul just as it had with Laura. Instead, I focused on those parts of myself that remained apart from the void, and when I regained my composure, I pulled back onto the road and drove away.

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