Nick had always been, to put it politely, undersized for his age. He entered freshman year at about 5'6", with no muscle to speak of. His doctor had always told him he'd get stronger and taller as he got older, but even he sounded pessimistic during Nick's last check-up.
When Nick finally made it to the school bathroom, he saw that his doctor had been wrong in the most spectacular way. Looking in the mirror, he could have sworn that he'd grown two, maybe three inches. His arms, formerly pipe-cleaner thin, had smooth, strong, biceps and triceps. He couldn't see his legs beneath his jeans, but he could feel them. His thighs now felt like coiled iron, and when he flexed his calf, he could feel the gastrocnemius disc bulge out. His old clothes, moderately sized as they were, strained against his new body. He looked two years older, and everything about him looked and felt manlier.
Except his face. That did not look manlier. Quite the opposite.
And come to think of it, his hair was longer than before. And blonder. And his legs felt stronger, but he also saw that his hips were a bit thicker and wider than you saw on most men. Nick had a strange idea in his head, almost too bizarre to consider, as to what was going on.
His mind left that track entirely when something even freakier began to happen. His clothes began to change color and texture before his eyes. He had worn a light blue button-down shirt over his undershirt to school today, but starting at his chest, the color changed from blue to red and the material from thin flannel to thick, sturdy fleece. As the feeling crawled towards his neck, the thick texture got even thicker and began to split and fold, forming a hood and two drawstrings. As his sleeves became the last to go, Nick came to the impossible but obviously true conclusion that he was wearing a red hoodie that had materialized out of thin air. An LHHS hoodie, no less, he realized with amazement as the school's block letter logo began to fade into his chest.
He looked back into the mirror and saw a strange face. As he had intuited earlier, it looked more feminine: his nose was slimmer, his cheeks and chin smoother and rounder, and his eyelashes longer. However-he looked closer-it may have been feminine, but "girly" would be the wrong word. There was a fierceness to that face. A burning passion and lust for life. This girl-and he knew now that's what he was becoming-wasn't anybody's giggly arm candy. She was a warrior. Pretty, yes, but beautiful in an Amazonian way: graceful, piercing features instead of cute, juvenile ones. Well, Nick thought to himself. I've magically turned into a girl somehow, but it could be a lot worse than this.
As if to test his resolve, the magic moved back to Nick's chest. He felt his undershirt slink away from his waist and collar. Just like his shirt had changed, Nick knew, his undershirt was turning into a bra. To his relief, he didn't feel it turn lacy and frilly, but in fact it thickened up and morphed into a sturdy sports bra. He did wince a little when he felt his nipples begin to swell and grow, but that too ended as well as it could. When he examined his new breasts, he saw B-cups, at the biggest.
Below the waist, he had been mostly spared so far. His jeans had grown to fit his new hips and legs, and the cut had become tighter, but that was it. They flared out at the end, and below them his tennis shoes had become bigger and bolder, going from a dusty black and white to bright white with pink accents. The big change, however, had yet to happen. And when Nick felt a stirring in his groin, he knew that the inevitable had arrived.
"So long, fella." she said in her new voice. It was surprisingly painless. She felt it wither, pull in like a turtle's head, and leave a small slit behind. The burning, shivering feeling that had started when he left the classroom finally died down for good, and Nick knew it was done for good.
Nick had no idea what she should do next. She had no idea what had even happened to her. Would nobody at school recognize her now? Had she taken the body of some student he didn't know? Had she somehow entered some alternate universe where he always was this girl? She did realize one thing though: her mind was entirely clear. She knew that she used to be a boy, and she could recollect entirely what had just happened. Thank heaven for small favors, she thought. Losing her old body was weird enough.
Suddenly, she heard the bathroom door open. A familiar voice called out "Nick? Are you in here?" Melissa. Nick should have known. He exited the stall.
Melissa's eyebrows pumped once when she saw the new Nick. "Wow
better than I expected."
"So it was you, huh?" Nick said. Her new voice sounded like steel coated in honey. "Just
give me the short version."
Melissa held up her sketchbook. "This thing is magical." She said flatly. "If someone looks at the pages, like you did, a little part of their, well, soul, I guess, latches onto it. If I draw a picture and think of someone whose soul is in the book, they become the person in the picture. Do you follow?"
"Yes." Nick replied. It all sounded preposterous, but at least the explanation was straightforward. He asked the obvious question. "Why a girl?"
"As far as I can tell, it only works to turn people into girls. It can turn boys into girls, or girls into different girls. Don't ask me why, I don't know."
Nick felt a sinking feeling. "Does that mean I'm stuck as a girl?"
Melissa held a finger up. "Not necessarily. If I erase the drawing within the next 3 days, you turn back."
Nick breathed a sigh of relief.
"Also, from what I know, that's a one way thing. I could turn you into someone else from this body, with a different drawing. But if I put you back in your old body, you're there for good. The book won't work on you again.
"OK, so why this girl? Who is she, anyway?"
"Nicole Grady. Goes by 'Nick.'" Melissa grinned. "Yeah, I know. Aren't I nice? Senior at Lawrence Heights High, captain of the girls' soccer team, 3.7 GPA, full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin next year." She shifted a little uncomfortably. "Also, well, you're a lesbian. I kept your old orientation in place because if there's one thing I know about straight guys, its that they lose their freaking minds if they find another guy cute. So you still like girls. I wanted to cut down on the distractions. Anyway." She held up her sketchpad. "It's all here on the character sheet."
Nick took the sheet. The girl she was now stared back at her. Melissa's artistic wizardry made the drawing seem almost more real than she was. She had the same fierce and passionate look in her eyes. Staring at her new date of birth (May 13, 1995) made her wonder. "So, where is Nick now? The old Nick. And where did I
where did this body come from?"
Melissa sighed. "I've never figured that out. What I do know is this: there's no one walking around in your body right now. You're just not here. Whatever magic this book has, I'm pretty sure it works on the minds of anyone who gets transformed. They remember who you "Nick Grady" is, but the magic creates mental blocks in their mind as to why you're not around at the moment."
"I don't understand. It sounds weird."
"That's because it is weird. Did you ever see Inception? Well, the book incepts an idea into the mind of everyone who knows you. It's like this. You're not in your 7th-hour class right now. The teacher will spend the entire period thinking you're getting a drink at the water fountain, and they won't even realize what they're thinking. Your band director could spend the whole rehearsal thinking you're out of the room because you're rehearsing with a private tutor that doesn't exist. That sort of thing."
Nick was officially creeped out at that point. "What about, like
my parents? My little sister?"
Melissa shrugged. "It's different for each person, but it's the same basic idea. They'd "know" you. They'd think you're Nick's cousin or something, in town for a few days. As for the real Nick, maybe they'd think he's on a symphonic band tour that isn't actually happening. They'd call you on the phone every night to ask how it's going, only there would be no one on the other end. They'd be talking to a person who doesn't currently exist about a tour that isn't happening, and their minds would convince them it makes sense without them realizing it."
Nick was silent. She couldn't comprehend it fully. It was like a story to some dystopian sci-fi story, the kind where some travel paradox ended up trapping someone in a void of non-existence.
Melissa had a very serious look. "And it gets weirder. If I erase your drawing and you go back to being the real Nick, you snap back into the old reality, but you don't remember anything that happened when you were Nicole. Everybody else does, but you don't. And if you go past the 72 hour limit
at that point, there never was a Nick Grady. There was always Nicole. You're not your parents' niece anymore, you're their daughter. You've got a room full of soccer trophies instead of band awards. The only one who remembers you is you, and that doesn't last forever. At some point, the fact that you were a boy once feels like some weird dream you once had."
Nick paused, then breathed out, more meekly than before "Why are you telling me all this? It's terrifying."
"This is powerful magic. I've been using this book for a while and even I haven't figured out all the ins and outs. I guess my point is that since I basically did this to you without permission, the least I can do is let you know what the dangers are. And it's also fair
" she took back the sketchbook and perched her big pink eraser above the page. "to tell you that if you want, I can turn you back right now. If you don't want to go through with it, you'll be Nick again and none of this will have ever happened. "
Nick thought for a moment. It might be safer for her, but
"No. Not yet at least. I want to see this out."
Melissa smiled. "You're a brave guy, Nick. I promise I'll help you as much as I can."
I have more questions."
"That's why I'm here."
"Why me? And why now?"
"Honestly? It's one big coincidence. I've been playing around with the idea for years now, using the book to create a girl that could defeat Dan. But it was never more than an idea. I'd have to find someone willing to look at the drawings and go through with the plan. And the thing is, I wasn't willing to trick or force someone into looking at the book. And I guarded it very carefully-I didn't let anyone see it, almost. You don't fuck around with magic like this-it's not ethical, and it's not safe. So I was basically stuck waiting for the opportunity to appear out of nowhere."
"And that's what happened today," Nick said. Finally, she was seeing how all the pieces were falling into place.
"Yep. Once I saw that you'd looked into the book, I knew it was too late to turn back. And once I talked to you and you said how much you hate Dan, well, Jesus, how could I possibly let this one pass me by?"
She continued. "The person you are now is just me getting on paper the idea I've had for a while. I knew it would take a specific type of girl to beat Dan. One as tough and strong as a boy. Someone full of self-confidence and power, who wouldn't take his crap. I've been waiting to bring that person into the world for a long time. Now you're here."
Nick giggled. "I'm like Jesus or something." She put a finger to her chin. "Alright, Melissa, you've got a deal. Let's talk strategy. You talked about 'defeating' Dan. What do you mean? Like, go on a date with him?"
"What? No! God, no. Shit, just how cruel would I be if I did that? No, I'm talking much more basic here." She made a fist. "You walk up to him and you kick his ass."
"Wait, what?! Melissa, I mean, I'm in better shape than I was before, but Dan is still, well, Dan. And I'm still-"
"A girl? Yes you are. But you know, I don't think you're at a disadvantage. You're 6'1", he's 6'3". You're faster and more agile than he is. You're better at using your legs than him. You're smarter than him. I made damn sure of that. He does have weight and upper body strength on you, but that's about it. But most importantly
" She got closer to him. "You're you. You were born to do this. I knew that when I created you. It's not in your nature to lose. You're a born winner. You'll win. I know you will."
Nick wanted to call her crazy and tell her she sounded like some crazy motivational speaker, but she knew it was true. Nick felt the fire burning in her heart. Her body was born to move and fight. She felt it coursing through every muscle and vein. She felt that if she couldn't get outside and move right now, she'd die. And who better, of all the people in school, who better to take that energy out on than Dan Weiss?