01 Dec One Mile
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"One Mile"Written by
Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
JayJay suspected herself of having a mild form of ADHD to balance out her high IQ. It was undiagnosed, if so; she had better things to spend her money on than psychoanalysis. Still, there were the occasional days like today, when her concentration was shot, and whatever was in her peripheral vision seemed more important than whatever was in front of her face.
As she stood, fiddling with her phone in the convenience store parking lot, she found herself struggling with the simplistic task of downloading and installing an app. She was distracted by the dry wind blowing dust and leaves into her hair. She was irritated by the wail of a crying child denied candy by her stoic mother. She was creeped out by the ragged homeless woman idly eyeing her from the bus stop.
The app was a relatively simple thing. It would allow her to determine the make and model of a shoe via a simple photograph, automatically locating a nearby store and a current price. It was a silly thing, but her college roommates loved it, and so she had decided to give it a try.
Somehow, it was a hassle. She was momentarily blinded by sunlight reflecting from a passing car. She was jostled by a rude store customer with a dour look on his face and burly shoulders. She was startled when someone called her name from nearby, only to soon find out it was a different Jennifer they were calling out to.
Annoyed, she jabbed her finger at the shoe icon as soon as it came up, likewise clicking through the EULA without reading it (had it actually contained the word “soul”?) and chose INSTALL, anxious to get through the minor task.
After a moment, the phone’s camera activated, and she was looking at a closeup of her own finger on the other side of the phone. She brought the phone up so she could sweep the view around and paused, momentarily puzzled. The name of the app, sharply written in black letters resembling an old typewriter style font on a greyish white background read “One Mile”. Next to and slightly below the title was a green counter, set to 5280. Had she downloaded a pedometer by mistake? If so, why the camera function?
As she swept the camera around, however, she noticed that a green rectangle was appearing around the feet of people in the camera’s field of view. She hesitated momentarily on the shiny Mary Janes of a tiny schoolgirl, then the dilapidated and untied sneakers of a guy whose gait and facial expression screamed ‘stoner’. She was irritated, however that a display with the pertinent information was not automatically appearing. Did she have to frame the shoes for longer? Did she have to actually take a photo?
She considered taking a photo of her own feet, but the rectangle framing them was red for some reason: maybe the angle was bad, or her feet too close to the camera? She raised her gaze, and there was the homeless woman at the bus stop, pouting and staring steadily. Creepy. Defiant of the rush of fear tingling at her spine, she focused on the camera and aimed at the woman’s shoes.
The (presumably) homeless woman’s shoes were of course, old, unfashionable, dirty and worn. She figured that if the app could identify these canvas-topped rubber soled ancient artifacts, it could likewise handle any shoe she would actually be interested in.
They came up green. Since the woman was just standing and staring, she herself stayed still, and sure enough, after a moment, a green button appeared with a camera icon on it. She poked the icon.
The image froze, then zoomed to show the woman’s shoes (and swollen, greasy ankles emerging from torn, soiled socks) in more detail. The words “Are You Sure?” appeared in black typeface at the top of the app, with accompanying yes and no buttons. JayJay snorted a bit in irritation; of course she was sure! The thought occurred to her that the app might try to charge her credit card or something if she said yes, but she did not recall the app requesting access to her data. So it was probably safe? Shrugging, she pressed yes.
The disorientation was instantaneous and absolute. She felt like throwing up, but instead of pitching forward, she reeled backward, very nearly into …traffic?
Somehow, she was standing at the bus stop where the homeless woman had been. An irritated driver honked and swerved a bit, while still accelerating. She wrenched herself forward, skinning her knees on the bus stop bench. Scanning, she realized that she was looking at the front of the 7-11, where she had been standing a moment ago. She was annoyed to see a gawky blonde wearing the twin of her own outfit staring back at her.
The world seemed to spin and weave. She felt drunk. She was in fact drunk; she smelled like a brewery and reeked of old sweat. Her hair felt matted and tangled, and her clothes …she was wearing tattered, dirty, threadbare layers of mismatched clothing. She was dressed like a homeless woman. An instant later, more facts fell upon her like monolithic dominoes: she was shorter, heavier. Her skin was wrinkled, older. Her fingernails were longer. She was the homeless woman!
On the brink of madness, a dozen horrendous possibilities rushed at her, drowned her. Maybe she really was a homeless woman who had been enjoying a delusion of being a young pretty girl? Maybe she was simply dreaming? Maybe the application had somehow caused them to switch places, even bodies?
It didn’t matter. Dream or no dream, she needed that phone. Right now. She fixed her gaze on the gawky girl. Was that how she looked? Too skinny, hair the color of straw, showing too much skin, wearing too much makeup? It didn’t matter; it was better than what she had now. The gawky girl met her gaze and blanched. She looked quickly from side to side. Was she going to run? Crap, she was going to run.
The girl turned, stumbling and falling headlong, spilling the contents of her purse everywhere. Sitting up quickly, she started to scoop up the scattered papers and mascara and other items as if by instinct before she remembered her situation. Tearing off the high heeled shoes with something like regret, she stumbled to her feet and made for a narrow alleyway near the store.
JayJay was in no better shape. The old shoes were much better for running, but the body above them was not. She was heavier all over, especially in the hips and bust, and everything tried to go in different directions, throwing off her center of balance and making her want to vomit even more. She was grimy everywhere. Her heart was slamming like a jackhammer. She could not breathe. Her head was pounding.
She knew she looked like a monster, with her arms outstretched, lumbering forward. Her voice was moaning and unfamiliar even to her own ears, “My phoooone! That’s my phoone! Give it here!” The girl –JayJay’s real body– squealed and backpedaled, wheeled and ran. JayJay knew she looked like an utter lunatic to everyone around. But hopefully, that wouldn’t matter if she could simply get her hands on that phone.
If the app had somehow switched them, she could use it to switch back. She hoped. The only other choices were that the change was somehow permanent …in which case she would cry, and likely fling herself into traffic… or that it was a dream or otherwise temporary, in which case it didn’t matter. She needed that phone.
Into the narrow alley they plunged, the girl still awkward, but moving with an assuredness that JayJay did not feel. The alley was familiar territory to whoever was in that girl’s hed. JayJay seemed to stumble over every bit of trash scattered on the cracked pavement, while the girl’s steps were swifter and more sure. She was pulling away.
JayJay, already gasping and dizzy, pushed herself harder. This was it, she was sure; she’d have a heart attack and die in this alley, while that homeless woman walked off with her body and enjoyed an extra 20 years of young, fit life with it. It wasn’t fair! She had done nothing to deserve this! She was a good person!
It was at that moment that the girl, that JayJay’s body, died. As she had exited the alley into the street on the opposite side, she had cast a last glance back at the monster stumbling behind her. A fast, expensive white car, it’s stereo loud and it’s owner texting, plowed into her without slowing down.
The girl’s face smashed into the windshield, her own body a fulcrum, like a small wet wrecking ball. It was instantly destroyed: bits of glass drove into her eyes, her nose flattened, her lips were torn away by her own teeth as they tore loose from her mouth, scattering into the afternoon along with autumn leaves. Within her now fractured skull, her brain flattened and ruptured.
No. JayJay halted, unable to even speak. She wanted to scream, wanted to beat up the careless driver, wanted to ironically kill and re-kill her own body for both dying and being ruined. Instead, she threw up. In fact, she almost passed out, but as her consciousness descended into a grey well of denial, she shook her head (earning a spike of pain in doing so) and made herself stand.
The phone. Where was the phone?
Had it been crushed beneath the tires of the car, along with the girl’s twisted tangle of limbs? She did not see it there, just a widening pool of blood and some thick black liquid. The driver was emerging from the car, pale and texting frantically.
Could it still be with her purse?
JayJay vanished back into the alleyway just as the driver piped up with a “Did you see what happened?” and she moved to the opposite end as fast as her grimy but unbroken legs would carry her. Emerging from the alley, she looked toward the front of the store, where an employee, dustpan in hand, was procrastinating before cleaning up the scattered purse.
“Mine!” she hissed, kneeling in the spill of her belongings. The employee looked dubious, but did not protest. He seemed distracted by a growing group of people wandering toward the far corner of the building.
It was there! JayJay picked up the phone, holding her breath in the eternity between hitting the power button and the screen brightening into life. She swiped her finger in a familiar pattern to unlock the phone (she inwardly sighed; a part of her had been worried she had been delusional. Now she was just horrified). The app was still there, and opening it showed a simple blank screen with a counter currently at 5008.
She was puzzled, but she had no time to ponder. Soon, people would think that a homeless woman was stealing the belongings of a tragically killed girl, and she did not want to be here when that happened. She quickly located her wallet, her keys, and with that and the phone, she left. Somehow, her cosmetics did not seem so important now.
As she strode quickly and purposefully away from the convenience store, her mind continued to swim with a dozen warring implications. How had the app done this, if it had? What was the counter for? How many people had this app? How would she explain that some older woman was now living in JayJay’s apartment? What about her friends and family?
Back at her apartment, JayJay collapsed into a chair. Her phone pulsed, then started up in her mother’s familiar ringtone. She almost answered instinctively, but then she caught herself and ignored it; her mother would not recognize the voice on the other end. She let it go to voicemail, as tears streamed from unfamiliar eyes. Her mother would be so heartbroken when she found out…
JayJay looked at the app again, desperate for answers. Obviously, this was not the app her friends had been using, although the icons were similar. The counter had changed again, to 1237. That felt …ominous. She waited, holding her breath, for nearly two minutes. The counter did not change. Puzzled, she went to her refrigerator, grabbed an iced coffee, returned to the chair.
The counter was at 1231.
“What the fuck!?” With effort, she resisted hurling the phone at the wall. Calming herself with deep ragged breaths (that smelled sickeningly of onions and beer), she began to take off her shoes, desperate for a shower, although she was petrified of what she would find beneath the dirty ragged cloth and grime.
Her phone sounded a short, sharp alarm. The app, clearly visible on the glowing screen, read “Are you sure you want to quit?” With big red yes and no buttons. She grabbed the phone, eager to escape the nightmare.
But she stopped. If she quit, what then? Would she go back to her old body? Her destroyed, wrecked, ruined body? Her eyes glued to the screen, she clicked NO. The bland typewriter font returned: “Error: replace shoe.” With deliberate, slow movements, she ran a finger between the shoe and her foot, pulling it snug against her heel once more. The app returned to the green counter, back at 1231.
One mile. She was going to walk one mile in this woman’s shoes, literally. And then…
Her mind skipped across several scenarios: quit her job, become a hermit, work from home via her computer to somehow never walk a full mile for the rest of her life? What about her friends and family that could drop by at any time? What about when she was reported dead or missing and some strange woman was found in her apartment? What effect would using a car or a wheelchair have? If she took it back to the error screen and left it there, could she live out her life? Could she live forever?
Her heart stopped as a knock sounded through her door. It returned several times as she crept slowly up to the peephole and peered. It was no one she knew; a slightly plump young woman wearing conservative clothes. In one hand was clutched some brightly colored paper.
JayJay, feeling a reptillian cold creep down her spine, opened the door, refusing to allow herself to think; only to act. She forced herself to smile; something that probably looked ghoulish in her new hard, lined face with likely horrible teeth. She opened the door.
The young visitor kept her expression open and cheerful, although she hesitated for a telling moment upon first sight of the disheveled woman inside the apartment. “Might I have a moment of your time?”
“Jehovah’s Witness,” JayJay guessed in an unfamiliar voice.
The woman nodded. Cheerful and resigned, but hopeful. In white stockings. With black, polished Mary Janes.
JayJay opened the door wide and swept her hand in a magnanimous gesture. “Come on in! I’ll get us some tea.”
The woman hesitated, no doubt reciting a silent prayer, then stepped across the threshold. JayJay ushered her to an empty seat, taking her phone from the armrest as she did so. “This is going to sound weird,” she said. “But your shoes are darling! Do you mind if I take a picture of them?”
A few hours later, a young woman exited the apartment. She was dressed differently than when she had entered, except for her white stockings and black shoes. She was wearing a stuffed backpack and towing an equally overfilled wheeled luggage case, her large purse heavy on one arm. She had a phone in her hand, and a distracted yet determined expression on her face…