Trial and Error

The electrodes on their foreheads emitted a faint buzzing sensation. They lay in a sterile room, on beds with wheels, like hospital gurneys. The lights were dimmed to an orange glow. On one side was a two-way mirror—they could sense the people behind, watching them. The only sound was the erratic tick of an electric wall heater.

Hallie had begged Jonas to take part in the trial. Their reward would be a three hundred dollar voucher to spend at the shopping centre. They were living in student digs—a beanbag living room, and mattresses on the floor in the bedrooms. Since they met, Hallie had been on a mission to make their home more comfortable.

‘What are they trying to find out again?’ Jonas reached for her hand across the small gap.

‘Not really sure, hon. Maybe they’re tracking our dreams through the spiky line on a graph. Don’t really care, so long as we get paid. I’ve got my eye on a glass coffee table.’

‘Don’t we need sheets and blankets? My sleeping bag is starting to smell.’

‘Yeah, probably. We’ll go shopping next week.’

A disembodied voice blared from somewhere, and they jolted. ‘Please try and sleep now—thank you.’

Hallie snorted and whispered. ‘Oh my God, I feel like I’m in an Orwell novel.’

‘Night, night.’ Jonas blew her a kiss and turned on his side.

Hallie dreamt she was surfing the crest of a wave. She noticed her arms, the muscles defined, straining to hold her steady. She was a man, wearing the board shorts she had given Jonas for his birthday. The sun warmed her back as she guided the board on a diagonal, before hurling herself into the water as she reached the shallows. Stars of light glinted on the surface. I am Jonas, she thought, staring at his familiar hand on the board.

Hallie woke before Jonas, and gaped at the sight next to her. Her own sleeping self, stretched out on the bed, her cheek flattened against the mattress. A trail of drool leaked from her mouth.

She gasped and seized her shoulder, shaking it. ‘Wake up, wake up!’

The form that was her, but not her, stirred and opened one eye. She noticed her hair stood on end, as if she’d been electrocuted.

‘What the hell—’ Jonas jolted upright, his mouth hanging open, his eyes darting to her face and back to his feminine body. He grabbed at the electrodes, yanking them free from his head.

A fluorescent light on the wall flickered on, and a knock at the door preceded the professor, who padded in with a clipboard. His grey hair looked like fairy floss, backlit by the wall light.

Hallie lurched towards him. ‘What did you do? We’re in the wrong bodies! What’s going on?’

The man jotted something down on the clipboard, his jowly face impassive. ‘Yes, I see you are a little distressed. Just some transference—it happens in two percent of subjects. Here, take these pills and try and go back to sleep. The spirits of two young people in love, wanting to be one so much that they swap over. It’s quite romantic, don’t you think?’

Jonas folded his arms. ‘I’ll show you romantic, with a letter from my father’s solicitor.’

‘Now, now son. No need for aggression. Just take the pill. Please.’

Jonas and Hallie locked eyes, incredulous at seeing the expressions of the other in their own faces. Hallie took Jonas’s hand, and squeezed it.

‘It’s a story for the grandchildren.’

He smiled, and accepted the pink pills and plastic tumblers of water from the professor. They swallowed in tandem, maintaining eye contact as their faces swum out of focus.

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