- CHAPTER ONE -
My name is not Meredith. That should have been the first clue.
"Meredith, time to get up," my mother repeats. I imagine a hand firmly placed on her hip, her blue eyes staring me down. I moan. "I don't have time for this!" She exclaims.
Without bothering to offer a warning, my mother (whose voice, I realize, is different), pulls back a curtain to let in a rush of light. The light is sharp, with a stinging quality. It's impossible to keep my eyes closed.
So they open.
And my immediate thought is: This is not my room.
And this woman is not my mother.
Apparently, though, the woman doesn't find my confused expression funny. She pulls off the blankets, believing it is Meredith that's grabbing for the warmth of her covers.
My name is Hana, I want to say. Not Meredith.
My throat is paralyzed though. I try to piece together the events of last night—the rain, the lights, the screams—it all fills me with an overwhelming sense of panic and confusion. I spot an adjoining bathroom, and I rush towards it without a word, making sure to close the door behind me.
"Meredith, are you okay?" I hear the woman call. I would have corrected her this time. I would have demanded she stop calling me 'Meredith', except the image before me leaves me breathless. I am no longer looking at a tall, slender 16-year-old, with blue eyes, and straight blond hair. That girl had confidence. That girl knew who she was and where she was headed. The girl before me is heavier, with frizzy brown hair and light brown eyes. Her skin is slightly tanned, with freckles splattered across the cheeks. Meredith.
For a few moments, I don't believe what I'm seeing. I'm crazy, I'm crazy, this is crazy. But then I remind myself that this bathroom is unfamiliar, and the woman's voice is unfamiliar. I have no idea when or how I got here, which scares me. I can't help myself. I feel a pressure rise in my chest, and proceed to let my legs drop by the toilet. Without thought, vomit comes up and I hear the hurling noises fill the room.
"Meredith, honey, are you sick?"
"I—I'm fine" I breathe the lie. "Just a stomach bug."
This is more than a simple stomach bug.
I can feel, and see, my body tremble. Everything feels so real. I can't quite shake off the influx of thoughts that threaten to shatter me, but I tell myself perhaps this is a dream. I'll wake up and find it all terribly funny. Just a dream. My breathing slows at the thought. Dreams had a tendency to feel real. They also had a tendency to be a bit on the weird side. This has to be a dream. Pretty soon, I'll wake up, image having to live the rest of my life in a different body, and laugh.
Only now I don't feel like laughing. I feel a collection of tears brim and blur my vision. At least, this way, I can't see my reflection properly and I can image it was just a fluke, a momentary lapse in sanity where my brain saw something that wasn't true, something that wasn't there. I then lift up a strand of hair and bring it in front of my face for inspection. It's curly. And brown.
"Mother" knocks on the door again. "Maybe you should stay home then. Get some rest?" That's not a bad idea, I think.
And then it hits me: where is my body?
"I think I'll need to stay home today." I say it with more conviction.
There's a pause, a void that I fill by listening to my breath. In and Out. Then "mother" hesitantly responds. "Alright, then. I'll try and schedule an appointment with the doctor this afternoon."
"NO!" I yell. "I mean, I—I don't think it'll be necessary." The last thing I need is to be scrutinized by a know-it-all physician. How was I to explain that my name is not Meredith, that this isn't my body? I would probably be considered insane and carted off the to the nearest asylum for evaluation. And if there was one thing I knew, it was that I was quite sane (thank you very much).
Another pause, and honestly, I'm glad for the silence. When "mother" says "okay", and I her footsteps fade, I relish in the moment to recollect my thoughts.
One: I am not in my body.
Two: This is not my home.
Three: I need to find out what happened last night, what happened to my body.
My stomach gives little twisty jolts. It's crazy, I know. A part of me refuses to accept the first two facts, but how can I not when the evidence surrounds me? Something isn't right. I need answers. I need to know what happened, and I need to know more about the life I so recently inhabited. I let out a breath and turn on the water. The sound of it running is soothing, before I gather the liquid in my cupped hands and splash it on my face. The water keeps running. I look up at the mirror once more, hoping to be mistaken, but the same brown-haired girl is looking back. No illusion. It feels strange, trapped in a body that isn't mine.
I feel my stomach twist, as if I'm rejecting this new life, this new body, I'm suddenly inhabiting. For a few seconds I hover, waiting for more bile to come. Nothing does. So I take an empty glass by the sink, fill it with water, and rinse out my mouth. I gargle, spit, and repeat.
Then I turn off the faucet and leave the room. I can still taste the vomit in my mouth. Maybe some juice will help.
As I make my way out of the room, I take note of the plain white walls, the family portraits in the hallways, and the utter simplicity of the room I left behind—a desk, a bed, a bookshelf, and a few stuff animals. No posters hanging on the wall, no huge stereo, and no personal TV (a luxury I am not sure I'll be able live without). I'm on the second floor of the home, I realize, when the hallway leads me to a set of stairs. I head down, led by the sound of the TV blasting. The stairs lead to the living room where a man, who I presume to be my –no, Meredith's—father is sitting in the armchair, watching news. He looks up at me and furrows his brow. "You mother said you were sick…"
"You should probably get some rest, then."
So I can't go out of my room? Even to get a drink? No way am I going to stay cooped up in the room. The father doesn't seem to be paying much attention to me, though, as his eyes remained fixed on the TV screen. I head to the kitchen, hoping to get some juice. There are no empty glasses in the sink, so I open the nearest cabinet. Just plates. I open another one. No glasses either.
"Meredith, what are you doing?"
The voice startles me and I turn to face "mother".
"I was just looking for a glass. I—I'm thirsty."
She looks at me, as if she can't believe what I'm saying, and then shrugs before going to another cabinet and bringing out a glass. She heads to refrigerator and fills the glass with water. "Here."
I don't take the cup, and just look at the woman with a raised brow. I don't really want water. In fact, I rarely drink water. "Is there a problem?" Mother asks.
"It's just—It's just I was wanting juice. Not water."
Mother gives me a look, part-shocked, part-confused. I guess Meredith only drank water—it would explain the strange expression. Mother doesn't dwell on this oddity for too long, though, and goes into the refrigerator to get some orange juice. She offers the filled glass with some hesitation.
"Thanks." I give a sheepish smile, wondering if she suspects something is more wrong with her daughter than a little stomach virus. At least I have the pathetic sick excuse that will buy me time to fix whatever happened.
Or buy me time to wake up from the nightmare.
I take a sip from my glass. I hear the TV blast the name "Hana Leslie" and nearly choke on my drink. "Mother" gives me another funny look, and offers a quiet "Are you alright?"
I'm not alright.
My name is Hana Leslie.
I'm not sure what to expect from a news report announcing my name, but I head to the living room and stand by the TV. "Didn't Hana go to your school?" Father asks. I don't answer.
"Apparently, the police suspect alcohol was involved in the accident," the woman reports. "The other two passengers are in critical condition and are currently being cared for at Williamson Medical Center. So far, Hana Leslie is the only victim."
Again, I recall the lights, the rain, and the screams.
I, Hana Leslie, am dead—in theory, at least.
The room is too loud. I tear through the crown of teens, hollering, whooping, and having a jolly time. I'd be one of them, expect I'm in a rather sour mood. Or maybe I'm just drunk. I've had four beers—not my choice of alcohol—already, and I could feel the effects coursing through my veins. Something doesn't feel right, though, when I feel someone pull my shoulder. I jerk my head around, ready to throw a punch. "WH—"
It's Nate, and I let my mouth hang open for a moment. "Hey," I tell him.
"Hey yourself. Been looking for you."
My arm, along with my rage, deflates. I swallow the lump in my throat and force a smile, but he's unconvinced by my façade. "Everything okay?"
I muster up some enthusiasm. "Yes, of course. Why wouldn't I be okay? It's the party of the year!"
And it was. This was what I worked towards—the guy, the friends, the popularity. It wasn't easy to obtain, and harder still to maintain. I silently scoff. Friends. I suddenly recall that I'm mad at someone important, a friend, but for the life of me I can't remember. Blame the alcohol—that's what everyone does. I drank to forget, but perhaps what I needed most was to remember and hold on to the rage that planted its seed inside me. The desire to have "fun", though, outweighs all rational thought. I am forgetting, willingly, and I succumb to Nate's natural calming effect. I take in his crooked smile, his shaggy brown hair, and the dimple more prominent in his left cheek. I want to tell him everything, expect I don't know all the facts. Instead, I take a disinterested look at the crowd.
"Can we get out of here?" I ask. "It's getting stuffy. Too hot."
"Good," he says, his voice low and raspy. "That's exactly what I had in mind."
Nate reaches out and puts a strand a hair behind my ear, so tenderly, and this time, I don't have to fake a smile. I'm genuinely glad he's here. When he leans in to kiss me, it's as if everything fades away—the music, the people, and the heat. It's just me, him, and his hands all over my body.
I let him lead me out of the room, into the hallway, into an empty room…
When I said 'can we get out of here', I wanted to leave the party, not just the room, but I suppose I'll settle for either if he's with me.
Then there's a lapse in my memory.
Before leaving, I remember claiming myself to be practically sober. Why couldn't I drive? So I take control of the wheel. It's raining. Hard. The windshield makes an awful sweeping noise and goes so fast, and serves only to make matters worse. My fingers are wrapped tight around the wheel, trying to stay in the lane. Perhaps I was too focused on staying on track, that I didn't see the red light. I just kept going.
I hear someone yell my name, and I see a bright flash of light from my left. The last thing I remember is the blast of a horn—
"Are you okay, Meredith? You're pale."
I barely register the words, as my eyes are still glued to the TV. I'm dead. My parents, and my friends think, I'm dead. Nate thinks I'm dead. I feel as if I'm going to vomit up my entire stomach, even though there's nothing to vomit up now. The blurry images from the night before, they had been real. This body, it's real, and I can't understand why or how. It's insane. I can't possibly manage to comprehend it all.
I make the 'sick' excuse again, and silently head to my room. I hear my "parents" call out to me, but their voices are muffled. I only listen to a soft hum and the sound of my breath going in and out. Dizziness manages to take over, so I hold on to the wall for support. Soon enough, things go white, and everything begins to turn sideways.
Now there's nothing but black.