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Identity Crisis, A short story in the spirit of Philip K. Dick, adapted for UN:books.
The sound of my door being unlocked from the other side woke me up. The fat, pig-like nurse that I had mentally christened Dicke Bertha when first laying eyes upon entered. I subsequently found out she actually was called Soeur Angelique. I guess some people get to use up a lot of euphemism in their lives. She was one of those.
She wished me a good morning in that raspy, low growl that results from years of smoking the bad stuff and punctuated the uttering with one of those wet, explosive coughs that are bound to bring up a mouth-full of tar-flavoured phlegm. "And how are we feeling today, patient Palsenbarg?" she asked, trying her best to sound enthusiastic and cheerful, but not succeeding entirely.
Now mine isn't exactly a sweet disposition, as you may already have grokked. And being an involuntary inmate of a nut farm - pardon my French, I mean rest home - doesn't help much to alleviate that precondition. So usually, when awoken at a rude hour by a person who could easily be mistaken for the Missing Linkette, I tend to respond a bit grumpy.
But not today.
"Considering the circumstances," I replied, "we feel remarkably well. And, may I hasten to add, you yourself look astonishingly vibrant for someone who looks as if she has been been dead for the past three months." Wasted breath. She grinned her ugly brownish tombstone grin and ignored the quip. Instead, adding insult to injury, she asked what I'd like with breakfast: "coffee, tea or me?" Yeah, Right.
During breakfast and the following unavoidable stroll in the garden of Maison Soulrest I pondered my plans for the day. This afternoon I was going to lay these old liver spot-riddled hands of mine on the beautiful and desirable young body of my psychiatrist, the highly palatable doctor Isadora Hüppel-Kutt.
I had gone through a considerable amount of trouble to convince her that I am having delusions about being the reincarnation of a great scientist (I actually am, in a way) and this afternoon I'd get her to participate in one of my so-called experiments.
You must understand that I am not really crazy (although I am certified). A little eccentric, perhaps, but not completely out-of-the-world, two-hundred-proof whacko.
"So what's the guy doing in the loony bin?" I can hear you wonder. Good question. Good answer, too: I just play along. It's an easy life, quite comfortable if you have money (I do) and I must admit, it comes quite naturally to me. The moment the court declares you legally insane and the ole' money sparkle kindles in the eyes of your beloved spawn, all your worries are over.
They whisk you away to a usually very pleasant home for the mentally ill, somewhere in the mountains, lots of fresh air, far away from the big bad world, and your only remaining responsibility is to keep the shrink happy.
But what keeps me happy at this particular nut farm, at this particular time, is the exquisite body of my personal psychiatrist. She would be mine within mere hours.
For that, I had waited - nay planned and schemed five long years.
First I ended up in the wrong rest home on account of an unexpected dip in the market. The kids had me deported to Oak and Pine in Nebraska (a lot cheaper than the south of France). It took me years of litigation to be declared 'sane' once again because the head honcho over there was a real bastard who gave a whole new meaning to the phrase playing it safe. In the end, he died unnecessarily in a tragic way (I have an alibi).
Then I had to make myself a whole new fortune, sadly relapse to my old strange ways, get wheeled away to Maison Soulrest here at the foothills of the Pyrénées and then there was the little matter of getting the right psychiatrist assigned to my case. That proved to be the hardest part. No one ever listens to the patient, right? I had to throw fits and tantrums and finally it dawned on them that only doctor Hüppel-Kutt was able to establish some sort of report with the unmanageable patient Palsenbarg.
And when finally the previous director exchanged the temporary with the eternal by means of an extremely well-timed massive coronary breakdown, guess who was in line to replace him? Just so as that you don't get the wrong impression: I would never had undertaken such a dramatic course of action had not my time been running out. After all, this old mans body is currently at the wrong side of seventy and the health levels are not what they used to be.
After lunch I retired to my room for a nap, but could not sleep. After all these years, it still makes me nervous. This was it. Today was D-Day.
At the stroke of three I made my appearance at dr. Hüppel-Kutt's office. After exchanging some inane pleasantries and other small-talk, I feigned to lapse into a brooding mood of concentrated thought. Her professional reflexes took over and, switching on the recorder, she asked me if there was something I'd like to talk about.
"Well," I started, picking the words thoughtfully, "I've been mulling over a theory for some years now, but I'm afraid it is a bit unorthodox. That is why I am hesitant to publish it or even speak about it...But on the other hand it might have a considerable impact on the studies of the mind-body interaction..." I broke off and stared at nothing in particular.
I got exactly the reaction I was hoping for. Confirming my previously noted megalomania with a nod of her pretty head, she encouraged me to continue.
"You see, I have this all-embracing theory of mind and body. It is inspired by the work done in modern theoretical physics. Are you familiar with quantumchromodynamics? High energy physics?"
She feigned fascination. Or perhaps it was real, genuine interest. I am a cynic. An old one, at that.
"Okay, to be concise, a physicist can look at an elementary particle and see a wave instead. A standing probability distribution to be exact. The duality principle and all that. Now, what really got me into deep thought was that the probability distribution of the particle allows it to actually tunnel through a potential barrier that is placed in it's path. Although the particles energy is lower than the threshold needed to pass the barrier, some particles do. This is called the tunneling effect. The analogue in real life is that the particles do not go over but somehow through the barrier. Which is impossible, because they simply lack the energy. And yet they do."
I looked at her. This explanation was clearly drawing a blank, though she maintained her professional pose. I decided to tone things down a bit.
"Let me explain in more simple terms. What would you say if I told you that this lighter" - I picked up the Zippo she had inherited from her predecessor - "could spontaneously get out of this ashtray" - I placed the Zippo in to the ashtray which was another another relic, as she did not smoke. That is one of the reasons I picked her - "all of it's own accord?"
After some thought, she decided to play along and declared it impossible.
"Right." I said "But when you put the same problem to a physicist the answer would be highly improbably after which he'd bore you to death with a lecture on Schrödinger equations, potential barriers and non-linear space".
"What I'm trying to convey, is that in physics it is not impossible for a particle to go where plain common sense tells us it cannot go. This ability is extended to any piece of matter on account of the associated probability distribution."
I looked at her. Such a pretty face. Lovely eyes. Straight, high forehead. Perfect cheeckbones. That nose, those ears... But not an inkling what I was talking about. I could only hope that she was ready for applied science. She sure had flunked the theoretical stuff.
"Well, then, that concludes the hard science part," I continued. "Now for the empirical stuff. Suppose the tunneling effect ensuing from the particle-wave duality in physics could also be present in the body-mind duality? After all, a mind is in may ways like a wave, and a particle is in many ways like a body. Not a perfect analogy, but still, worth exploring. It could be used to explain a number of things that have been baffling psychologists for the last twenty years."
I paused and eyed her expectantly. I was getting through to that part of her brain that had last been active whilst she earned her academic title. "You mean it would be possible for a person to do your lighter-and-ashtray trick?" she asked. "That people could walk through walls or wish themselves to some place they'd never been?"
I chuckled. "You are catching the drift of things, dear doctor, but you are a bit too far ahead of what I had in mind. Actually, I was pondering a little experiment but it would take your willing cooperation to make it a success."
She just shrugged and wanted to know more.
"I want to try and make two bodies exchange places by way of sheer mental force," I continued. "It should be easier than wishing oneself to the other side of the wall, as there would be twice the mental power put into the equation. Two minds pushing and pulling simultaneously."
She nodded as if this was perfectly logical (don't you love the ones who just don't understand the first beginnings of physics. So pretty, and so blonde. Well, that was about to be changed drastically) and agreed to give it a try. No doubt she was very interested in seeing my reaction to the failure she was anticipating.
"All right," I said standing up. "Then would you please come and stand facing me over here." I held her gently at arms length. What a bod! Mine! All mine! "And now all you have to do is look me in the eyes and wish you were in my shoes, or slippers actually." I laughed at my own joke and stared into her pupils with all my might. I was feeling quite certain that it would work.
The actual exchange is a piece of cake. The hard part is finding a suitable subject and manipulating it into the right frame of mind, plus other circumstances.
I looked one more time through these rheumy old eyes that belonged to the old man, and after some heartbeats they were looking straight back at me. I think I saw a glint of shock, or maybe horror.
She went stark raving mad immediately. Or he, I should formally say. He tried to scream, but produced only some kind of whimpering.
I picked up the phone and paged
Dicke Bertha, pardonnez-moi Soeur Angelique. A few moments later she entered the - no, my - office.
"Patient Palsenbarg is suffering another relapse," I said with my new voice, and, gesturing with my new hand: "Give him ten milligrams of Prozac, he should be okay after half an hour or so. If not, call me. I'll be in the library." I dismissed both of them with a hand wave.
She gripped the old body firmly in the cursed nurses' deadlock and marched him out the door. He was getting used to his new - or should I say old - body, rolling the eyes wildly and screaming in an increasing volume as they went down the hall.
I went to the ladies (last time I'd visited one of those legit was during prohibition) and admired my new self in the full-length mirror. It felt good being a woman again, after all these years. And such a pretty one.