by James Rumpel
The exceedingly elderly man sat in his hover chair, surrounded by numerous tubes and wires. The primary purpose of the gadgetry was to maintain the decrepit man’s existence, though they also provided a welcome barrier, blocking most of the shriveled, repulsive body from view.
When the man spoke, his voice was clear and powerful. Electronic enhancements converted his weak, raspy words into dulcet tones.
“My name is Thon Coring. I am from the planet, Geno-12. I am a very wealthy and powerful person, who would like to purchase a one-week vacation experience to a planet with inhabitants most similar to my race.”
“Let’s see,” replied the saleswoman. Her three, perfectly round, eyes glued to the computer screen in front of her, not wanting to risk a glimpse at the cadaverous being behind the voice. “It appears that would be Earth. You are in luck; we just established a new batch of hosts in the last few weeks.”
“Excellent. I want a young, healthy man and I can pay whatever it takes.” Thon had known that Earth would be selected. He had done extensive research and believed this planet would provide exactly what he needed. “I do have a couple of questions, however.”
“No problem. We at Interplanetary Vacation Experience are one hundred percent open about our procedures.”
“First of all, will the host know I am there?”
The saleswoman smiled and began to look up at the source of the melodic voice. She caught herself before completing the action and refocused her attention on the screen. “No. The host will simply live their normal, day-to-day, life and you will piggy-back all of their feelings and sensations. After a week, you will be returned to your own…body and they will never know you were there.” She felt a twinge of guilt over the slight pause that had crept into her reply before the word body.
The old man had not seemed to noticed, so continued, “Will I be able to influence the host’s actions in any way?”
“In a few rare cases, paras…that’s what we call our clients, have been able to take control of their host’s bodies for extremely short periods of time, maybe five minutes. It’s very draining on the para and the host’s mind instinctively fights against such actions. We don’t recommend attempting to seize control. Doing so could cause the host to reject the para and the vacation would be instantly suspended.”
“My last question is sort of personal. Please answer it truthfully.”
“You may have noticed that my body is . . . does not have much time left. What would happen if my body was to expire while I was on holiday?
The woman took her time before answering with carefully chosen words. “A host usually rejects a para after approximately ten days of placement. If your body were to pass, we would not suspend the vacation at the completion of seven days. We would let you remain with the host as long as possible. However, when the host’s mind completely rejects you, you would be, automatically, returned to your lifeless body and at that moment you would perish.”
“Thank you for your honesty. That is exactly what I wanted to hear. Please, let’s get started.”
Aaron Severs awoke from the most refreshing night’s sleep he had in quite some time. The pain in his jaw, the aftermath of last month’s long dental procedure, had finally receded. He realized too late that he should not have allowed the replacement dentist to complete his oral surgery. The substitute had struck Aaron as being odd right from the start. He should have trusted his instincts.
Other than the remaining twinge of pain in his jaw, life was good. Work was going well. His relationship with Anna was rolling along smoothly. In fact, he had so much energy that he decided to, once again, revive his morning exercise routine. A set of push-ups and sit-ups before breakfast and a shower would be an excellent way to start his Sunday.
Thon could not believe how wonderful it felt to have strength and energy. He gloried in each action that his host performed. The feel of muscles flexing beneath his skin was invigorating. It had been so long. The gentle pounding of water upon his face was pure joy. Best of all was the taste of food, real delectable sustenance. This thing called orange juice was, surely, the nectar of the gods. There was no guarantee that the desperate gambit he was embarking on would succeed. If it failed, experiencing these wonderful sensations would make it nearly worthwhile.
Aaron finished his morning rituals and prepared for his day. Anna would be arriving shortly. The two of them had planned to spend the afternoon by the bay. The mere thought of being with his beautiful love caused his heart rate to increase ever so slightly. His heart sped up even more when the doorbell rang and he greeted her with a quick, but loving, kiss.
“Good morning, sweetie pie.”
“Good morning, Aaron,” she replied, emphasizing the name and rolling her eyes in mock frustration. “You see how that’s done. I, actually, used your given name, not some pet name.” Her smile made it obvious that she was not the least bit upset.
“Ok, I’ll try, honey bunch.” They kissed again, before heading out, hand in hand.
Thon had long forgotten the feeling of another’s hand in his. He relished the magical sensation as the differences in body temperature slowly dissipated, becoming one. He had expected to share his host’s physical sensations. He had not expected to also experience Aaron’s emotions as fully as he was. He very much enjoyed this surprise.
Monday passed quickly for Aaron. Work was generally tedious. A majority of the evening was spent visiting with Anna over the phone. They talked about everything, sharing every minute detail of the day. Aaron found himself smiling as Anna told him about the encounter she had with an elderly client. The fact that he took so much joy in hearing about such a mundane event served to emphasize the extent of his love for Anna.
Thon reveled in the splendor of youthful energy. He enjoyed every aspect of the day. Even the activities that Aaron found boring were pure pleasure for Thon. During moments when Aaron was preoccupied with some boring activity, Thon explored his host’s mind. If he was going to assume control and execute his plan, he would need to do so for lengthy periods of time. He had studied the techniques and trained his mind for weeks prior to the transfer. He had to be successful.
Thon greatly enjoyed the time spent talking with Anna. He understood that part of his emotions, which seemed to explode like fireworks in her presence, were byproducts of Aaron’s love, but not all of them.
That night, just as Aaron began to drift off into sleep, Thon made his first attempt at taking control. Doing just as he had been instructed by the trainer he had hired back on Geno-12, he imagined his mind intertwining with that of his host. Aaron’s brain instinctively fought against the intrusion, but was unable to hold off the cerebral assault. Mentally Thon attempted to grasp every part of the Earthlings brain. He sifted through memories, hopes, and plans. Eventually, Thon uncovered the part of Aaron’s mind that controlled actions. He managed to force his unconscious host to sit up. He opened Aaron’s eyes. With extreme effort he was able to direct the body to stand and move to the living room and take a seat in front of a computer. Having access to all of Aaron’s memories allowed Thon to gain access to all necessary passwords and computer procedures. He was able to conduct a short search for information before being forced to conclude his take-over due to exhaustion.
Thon had managed to master the body of his host for nearly fifteen minutes. The time consuming and expensive training had paid off, at least initially. He was pleased with the results, even though he had not acquired the desired information during his search. Unable to continue, Thon relinquished control and allowed Aaron’s body to return to its owner. The body slumped in the desk chair, sleeping.
Aaron was confused when he woke up sitting in a chair before his computer. He had never been known to sleep walk before. He was able to dismiss the odd occurrence with relative ease. After all, he was starting to get nervous about his plan to purchase an engagement ring for Anna. He was entirely confident that Anna was the woman for him, and he knew she reciprocated his love, but somehow a little bit of doubt always managed to creep its way into his thoughts. What if she didn’t want to marry him? Was he moving too quickly?
Work was fairly uneventful on Tuesday. So much so, in fact, that Aaron felt as if he had dozed off for a few short minutes while working at his desk. This was also an unusual event. He had been typing up a report shortly before two o’clock and then, suddenly, it was nearly ten minutes after two. Aaron attributed his short nap to the fact that he had not had a restful night’s sleep as indicated by his sleep walking incident.
That night Aaron went over to Anna’s apartment. They ordered a pizza and spent a few hours binge watching three or four episodes of the crime drama that had just begun streaming. It was after eleven when he finally returned home and climbed into bed. He fell asleep instantly.
Thon took control of their body with relative ease. It had been much more taxing to take command while Aaron was awake. The experiment this afternoon had been successful, though difficult. In order to complete every aspect of the plan, Thon had to be able to wrest control whenever necessary. The more he worked at it, the better he would get.
Thon was able to remain in charge of the body for nearly twenty minutes. In that time, he was able to find the contact information for someone who could obtain what he needed. As he returned to the bedroom and relinquished sovereignty over the body, Thon found himself in a state of pure joy. Part of this happiness could be attributed to the strong progress towards his goal but he also knew that part of his bliss was because he had gotten to spend time with Anna. Just being with her, even when Aaron was in control, was satisfying. It felt right. They were meant to be together.
Aaron experienced two more black-outs on Wednesday. Both happened while at work and both were relatively short in duration: no more than ten minutes. However, in his lengthy phone conversation with Anna that evening, he did not mention anything about his occasional losses of consciousness. He was certain they were caused by stress and fatigue and had no intention of worrying her. She was going on a long overdue visit to her parents that weekend. He did not want to do or say anything that would interfere with that reunion.
After hanging up the phone. Aaron logged onto his computer and checked on the balance of a special savings account he had started over a year ago. He smiled to himself. He had set aside nearly ten thousand dollars. With that money he was going to purchase the most dazzling engagement ring possible. It would not come close to matching the beauty of its recipient, but he was going to do whatever he could to display the love he held for Anna.
Once Aaron finally drifted off to sleep, Thon, regained control. Even though his skill at manipulating the body was improving, the task was becoming more difficult. Aaron’s mind was beginning to battle to discharge the unnatural intruder. The two possessions during the day had been for relatively short periods of time but had proven terribly difficult. Thon had made the most of those two opportunities. Using two different phones at Aaron’s workplace he had contacted and negotiated with a party who could provide what was needed.
With Aaron asleep, control was a little easier to maintain. Thon was able to get ahold of the supplier once again and concluded the negotiations. He felt a twinge of regret about having to use the money in the engagement ring account to reach an acceptable payment. Anna deserved a glorious ring. If all went as planned, Thon would make it up to her.
After agreeing on a time and place for the exchange, Thon gladly returned to the bedroom and released control. It was becoming more and more difficult to hold off Aaron’s resistance. There was reason for concern. Would Thon be able to maintain mastery long enough to reach the rendezvous point and carry out the exchange? If not, the plan was doomed to failure. Thon would lose this body. He would lose his life. Worst of all, he would lose his chance to be with Anna.
Thursday was uneventful for Aaron. He did not experience any loss of consciousness. Maybe he was correct in assuming that the blackouts were just a minor symptom of his tension. He was in a very good mood when he met up with Anna for a walk in the early evening.
Hand in hand, they walked to a park close to her apartment. They talked about their days. Anna was looking forward to seeing her parents. It had been months since she had been able to find the time to make the six hour drive to her childhood home. Aaron watched her eyes light up as she spoke about the upcoming visit. He wished he could accompany her, but the project he was working on was due early the next week and he would likely need to spend some time working on it over the weekend.
If Aaron had the ring in his possession, he would have asked Anna to marry him right then and there. Instead, he had to wait. Very soon he would go ring shopping.
As Aaron and Anna walked home from the park, Thon had to fight the urge to attempt to wrest control from Aaron. He would express his love so much more completely than Aaron. Anna should be swept off her feet. She deserved to have constant praise and adoration. He was so much better for her than Aaron was. Hopefully, it would only be a matter of time.
Once they returned to Aaron’s home, Thon took control. He could have waited until Aaron was asleep but he needed to know that he could maintain supremacy long enough to complete the transaction. Thon had come up with a plan that might make reaching the exchange point easier. It was a long shot, but it just might work. Using the computer, he made a quick internet search for restaurants and made a reservation. He then went to Aaron’s daily planner and began writing.
When Aaron woke on Friday morning, he realized he had no memory of going to bed the night before. He remembered returning from his wonderful evening with Anna but nothing after. He had blacked out once again.
Even more troubling was the fact that he discovered an entry in his daily planner: a reservation for noon at some restaurant he had never heard of. The message was unmistakably written in his own handwriting. A check of his email revealed a confirmation notice from the same establishment. What was going on? Why had he done this? Was his subconscious trying to tell him something? For the first time since the initial blackout, Aaron was worried.
It was that evening when Aaron broke down and admitted to Anna that he had experienced blackouts.
“You have to get checked out. I can cancel the trip to my parents. I don’t need to see them tomorrow. We can get you to a doctor in the morning.” The concern and care were visible in her face and resounded in her voice.
“I’m fine. I think it’s kind of a cool mystery. Tomorrow, I’m going to check out the restaurant. Just to see it. I must have made the reservation while sleepwalking, there has to be a reason. I promise I won’t go inside.”
“Let me come with you. I can help you.”
“I don’t need any help, snookums. Trust me. You haven’t seen your parents since April. I’ll call you when I’m across the street from the restaurant. If something weird is going on, you’ll be able to talk me through it. I think it’s nothing, just sleep walking.”
“OK, I love you. I’m proud of you for sharing with me. You call me right when you get there and talk me through everything you see or do.”
“Of course, dearest. I love you, too.”
Relief filled Thon’s concealed portion of the shared mind. He had no way of controlling Aaron long enough to make the trek to the rendezvous point. Now, he wouldn’t have to. He would simply wrestle control from his host outside the restaurant and complete the scheduled transaction. Since he could not risk Aaron finding the item, he would create a self-addressed envelope that night. He could mail it to himself before going back to the restaurant and yielding control.
He had done everything he could. Now he simply had to hope for two things. First, his actual body had to pass away before midnight Sunday. If it did not, he would be returned, the vacation over. He would, once again, be a prisoner of his useless, dying body. Second, his scheme had to actually be successful.
Aaron stood across the street from a dilapidated Thai restaurant. The place looked as if it had been condemned multiple times. He would never allow himself to eat in such a place, sleepwalking or not. He took out his phone and dialed Anna’s number.
“Hi, beautiful. I’m at the place now and definitely not going in there. I can’t believe I called this place, even in my sleep. Don’t worry, I’m leaving now.”
After a few more seconds of conversation, Aaron hung up the phone and turned to walk back to the lot where his car was parked.
With significant effort, Thon grabbed control. He would not have long. Aaron’s mind was becoming more and more difficult to hold back. He raced to a street corner located a block away. There, standing nervously on the corner was a middle-aged man wearing a blue and gold jacket over hospital scrubs. That was the man he needed to see.
“Quickly, give me the drug.”
“Only if you give me the transfer code for the money.”
“OK, here.” He handed the man a slip of paper with all the necessary passwords and information to access the account. “Trust me, all the money is there.”
“I have no choice but to trust you,” said the man. “I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but I need that money. I’m desperate.” He withdrew a vial from his jacket pocket.
“So am I,” said Thon. “So… am… I.”
Thon snatched the vial from the man’s hand and placed the vial within the envelope he had hidden in the deep recesses of Aaron’s wallet. He sprinted back to the car. He still marveled at having the ability to run, but he didn’t have time to enjoy the sensation. He slowed, for only a second, to drop the letter into a mailbox. Aaron’s vehicle was just coming into view when he was forced to relinquish control.
“How did I get back here?” thought Aaron. Beads of sweat rolled down his cheek. What had he been doing? It was then that he decided he would make an appointment to see a physician on Monday.
Sunday, midnight, came and passed. Having not been recalled by the vacation company, Thon knew that his body had expired. It was a bizarre feeling. He was, in actuality, dead. He could remain in his host for only another day or two. The push by Aaron’s mind to reject him was becoming considerably more noticeable. He had to hold on until the package arrived. If he could not, he would cease to exist.
On Monday, Aaron stayed home from work. The earliest available appointment at the local clinic was at two o’clock in the afternoon. He almost didn’t make the call, having not experienced memory loss, of any degree, on Sunday. He felt fine, but he had promised Anna. As he was preparing to leave, Aaron heard the clatter of the mailman lifting the box lid and dropping his mail within. He stepped out into the hall to check if there was anything interesting. He paged through the assorted flyers and junk mail as he returned to his apartment. The last letter in the pile caught his eye. The wrinkled, heavily creased, envelope contained some sort of small object.
Thon battled for control. Hopefully, this would be the final time. Ripping the paper, he removed the vial. If all had gone correctly, the contents of the small container would be a drug, a poison, that would induce a coma. It should completely shut down the mind of the recipient without harming the body.
Hands shaking, partially out of fear and partly because of the substantial resistance Aaron’s mind offered, Thon cracked open the vial and ingested its contents. Everything went black.
Anna sat in the hospital waiting room, tears welling in her eyes. It was her fault. She should have made Aaron go to the doctor as soon as he mentioned the memory loss. When she found his body lying on the apartment floor her entire world had stopped. The call to 911 and the wait for the ambulance had seemed to take forever, but that was nothing compared to the eternity she had spent in this waiting room.
“Miss Iverson,” called a rather young doctor as he entered the lounge. “We can let you see him now. He’s in an emergency recovery room down the hall.”
Anna was racing through the hallway before the doctor finished his sentence. Pulled by hope, fear, and love she forced the door open, not knowing what she expected to find.
What she found was Aaron sitting up in the bed, a single intravenous tube running into his arm.
“Oh Anna, I’m so happy to finally be with you.”
About the Author
James Rumpel is a recently retired high school math teacher who, after 34 years of teaching, has greatly enjoyed using some of his additional free time to rekindle his love for science fiction and the written word. He currently resides in Wisconsin with his wonderful wife, Mary. They enjoy camping and proudly following the exploits of their three adult children.