The whole thing started at a store.
It would probably be neater if I could say it was some old, dusty store with strange potions in dark glass jars and wrinkled, dried monkey's paws in old locked cases. But it wasn't.
It was just a department store. You know, the kind of place where the perfume counter is at the center of the world and you can buy everything from lawn mowers to dinnerware.
On the day it first happened, I was after a suit. Normally, I grab all my clothes off the rack. You know: large shirt, 32 waist pants. Okay, so the last couple of pairs were 34 waist. The point is, I don't try anything on. Except I had a nephew that was graduating college the next weekend, and I didn't have a suit that was fit to be worn in public. A suit you have to try on.
The dressing area was one of those high security sites. They had a guy on a desk outside. You told him how many items you wanted to try on, he handed you a tag with that number on it. God knows what happens to you if you don't produce the right number of garments on the way out. I took my suit, took my tag, and went down the narrow hall to an open door at the end of the row. Room 6. I was thankful that they at least put real doors on the room. I hate those places where all there is to stop the public show is a little curtain.
I was down to my pants and T-shirt when I noticed something odd. The wall behind me was gone. I could have sworn that when I came in the little cubicle had four walls, but now it only three. One wall with a mirror, a door, a back wall with little shelf and a hook to hang the clothes, and that was it. Where the wall opposite the mirror should have been, there was only a dark opening.
I mean dark. Dark like in midnight inside a cave without a match to your name dark.
The smart thing to do right there was try on the suit and leave. But this big dark opening, right there in the middle of a store. It was just too weird. Leaving my shirt, shoes and the unpurchased suit behind, I turned and took a step into the darkness.
It was strange inside the tunnel. It was like there was this fog in there, fog so thick that I could barely see the dressing room I had just stepped out of. I took a couple of steps. The floor was cold and slick under my socks. I took a couple of more steps. It was completely dark now. Even though I knew I couldn't be ten feet away from the well-lighted dressing room, not the barest flicker of light made it down the hall.
All right. So even if curiosity dragged you into that hall, this would be the time that anyone but the stupid would turn back. Right?
Color me stupid.
I kept going. And going, and going. I swear that corridor was as long as the whole store. Longer. Finally, when I had walked so far that even I was about to give up and turn around, I started to see a grey glow ahead. A couple more steps and it was brighter.
A couple of more, and I could see that it was another dressing room ahead. I edged forward slowly. The room looked identical. So much so that I began to wonder if I had somehow gotten turned around in the tunnel and gone back to where I had started.
But when I took another step forward, that strange fog parted. As it parted, I felt a strange, swimming sensation. It made me dizzy enough that I had to close my eyes for a second to keep from loosing my lunch. When I opened them, I could see right away that this was not my dressing room.
On the little wooden bench attached to the back wall, there was a black leather purse. From the little hook above it hung a dark blue dress with pearl buttons.
And standing in the room was a woman dressed only in a beige colored slip. She was staring right at me.
"I... I'm sorry," I stuttered. I was so shocked that my voice was no more than a squeak.
Quickly I spun around and plunged back into the darkness, running all the way until I reached my own dressing room. Once I was there, I shoved on my shoes, through on my shirt, and charged out of there. I remembered to grab the suit, but I never did try it on. I figured it was more important that I get out of there without being arrested than it was that I make it to my nephew's graduation.
It wasn't until I drove home and locked the door on my own apartment that I began to feel safe. No one was chasing me. No police were going to haul me in for sneaking into the women's dressing area.
Once I realized that, I started to think about the woman.
She had been attractive. Not burn-your-eyes-out beautiful, but, yeah, attractive enough that I would have stopped to look when she crossed the room. She had chestnut brown hair, slightly curly, and cut just a touch above the shoulders. She had good skin. Nice legs. And good arms. So sue me, I like women's arms. Smooth, rounded, but still slender. A very underrated feature. From what I could see through the slip, she had a good figure. I put her age at about thirty, the same as mine.
The more I thought about the woman, the more I remembered something strange. She had seemed familiar. I couldn't tell you where I had seen her before, but I definitely knew this woman.
I telecommute. Sure, it's the wave of the future and all that, but it sure cuts into the social circle. Fact was, I didn't have ten friends in the whole city, and this woman wasn't one of them. But I couldn't shake the idea that I knew her from somewhere.
I also couldn't shake the idea that she had said something to me.
When I had stammered out my squeaky apology, she had said something in return. I saw her lips move. (Did I mention she had great lips?) The problem was, I had no idea what it was she said.
For the next two days, I obsessed about this woman. Every time I went for gas, I checked to see if she was the one inside the little booth. In the grocery store I was checking out the other shoppers. I even did a pass through the department store, hoping it might be one of her regular stops.
I'm not sure what I intended to do if I found her. I wasn't going to run up and say "Hi, I'm the guy that came into your dressing room." Still, I had to see her.
Finally I latched on the strangest plan possible. Three days after I had first stumbled off into the darkness, I was back getting a tag from the guy at the dressing area entrance.
Fortunately, Room 6 was open. I went inside, hung up the two pairs of pants that I had no intention of trying on, and edged into the darkness.
I had my shoes on this time, but it didn't make any difference in the tunnel. I couldn't hear any sound it all. Not even my breathing.
Finally that grayness appeared at the end of the tunnel. I strained to see ahead, but I saw no sign of the woman in the dressing room. As far as I could tell, the room was empty. I took another step anyway, and again I felt that overwhelming dizziness.
When it cleared, she was there.
Like me she was dressed this time, wearing jeans and a teal sweater crossed by a stripe of not quite white. She looked at me with an expression that was somewhere between surprise and embarrassment.
"Hi," I said. Then I cleared my throat. "Hi," I tried again. Both times my voice was ridiculously high. I put out my hands, trying to show her that I meant no harm. "Look I'm not sure why I'm here. I just..." My inane voice trailed away. The woman was mocking me. She was mimicking my every move, moving her lips to my words.
Something tickled at my cheek. I raised my hand to clear it, and a number of things became clear all at once.
The thing tickling my cheek was hair. The woman in the dressing room was not mimicking me. There was no woman in the dressing room. Wait, scratch that. There was no _other_ woman in the dressing room. What there was in the dressing room was a mirror.
I was the woman.
I stumbled forward a step, pressing my hands up against the glass. The face that I had been obsessing about for the last three days was right there in the mirror. I had plenty of chance to study it now at close range. And from the inside.
Slowly I pushed myself away from the glass. Then I raised my hand and traced the curve of my face with one extended finger. The woman in the mirror did the same, her slender finger moving along the smooth skin. The look on her face was pure astonishment.
"It's me," I said. The voice was still high, but I expected it this time. I licked my lips. Seeing that small pink tongue extend and brush against the red lips was almost shocking. This was no mask. I was this woman inside and out.
For a moment I wondered if the strangeness was limited to the mirror. But when I looked down, I knew the truth. What I saw was a teal sweater. It was pushed out too far by my breasts to see any further.
I had breasts. No little green apples, either. Large breasts. Not big enough to earn me a headlining role at a strip club, but big. I cupped the right breast in my hand and felt the weight of it.
"This can't be real," I said. I heard the words come back to me in that soft, throaty voice. A woman's voice.
I wanted to run. I wanted to turn around and run screaming down that black tunnel to my own room. But for a moment I was frozen.
What if the tunnel was gone? What if I got back to the other dressing room, but I was still like this. Still a woman.
A faint scent came to my nose. Perfume. A perfume whose name I didn't know, but whose smell I liked. I was going crazy and it smelled like perfume.
I reached up and put my hands in the brown hair. It was soft. My ears were decorated with tiny pearl earrings.
.... There is more of this story ...