(Note to the reader: This is one of my experimental short stories which did not make it for publishing over on Literally Stories. I will be re-drafting something new for them soon but have decided to share this one here with you anyway. I’m not sure if this counts as flash fiction or short fiction.)
“I Am David… I Think”
Yes, I’m starting it like this. I’m old enough not to care about whether it makes me a ‘sissy’.
So! Dear bloody diary, I have no idea what to think any more. We’re back from the hospital finally and Sarah has left me alone. I’d be suspicious if it weren’t for my relief. What do I even see in that woman? She’s the one who dragged me to that idiot hypnotist’s show and, I swear, she was grinning like a psycho when she shoved me up to the stage.
Doctor Mumbo-Jumbo wanted somebody to put under. Get them to tell the most obscene joke they knew. It had to be an introvert apparently, somebody who doesn’t like to be the centre of attention, a person who’d rather fade into the background. Of course Sarah hops up and waves her arms around, shrieking that she has the perfect volunteer.
I didn’t know what to do. All the lights were on me, every pair of hands clapping, Sarah ushering me, that horrible perfume of hers pushing me on. I couldn’t escape.
That’s how I wound up on stage listening to whatever-his-name-was prattling to the audience about how they might find what I had to say shocking. When he turned to me I told him I’d be shocked if anything happened at all. He let out his performer’s laugh and then began to instruct me: breathe deeply, listen to my voice, count back with me…
I woke up in the ambulance. A paramedic loomed over me and Sarah was up against the wall, her body shaking with the vehicle’s movement. She wasn’t looking at me. When I asked what was going on, the paramedic said I’d had some sort of seizure. It hadn’t been ‘regular’. I didn’t know what that meant so I closed my eyes… and remembered.
The hypnotist commanded I take myself back to the sickest joke I’d heard and my mind instead decided to take me further. Diary, I used to write to you like a friend before they told me only girls do that. Please, listen to me again? I’m pretty sure—no, I’m certain this is real. And so you can’t let anybody know what I’m about to tell you…
I couldn’t have been more than a few months old. I was comfortable with where I was—I guess a nursery—and at the time I wouldn’t have been able to tell what made sense and what didn’t. Looking back with mature eyes… I can’t find the words. The sensation of being at once a baby in the past and an adult viewing this in the present is dizzying. It’s not simple to write this in a way which makes sense. I have to get this down though, I have to.
Underneath my body was a fabric softer than silk. It held me like expensive memory foam. Above, high up towards the stone ceiling, dozens of free-floating orbs bobbed around in an elegant waltz. These orbs gave off not just light but warmth. Seeing them filled me with joy. Even remembering them now causes me smile. I must look like an idiot.
My infant self turned to the side and grasped the bars of my crib. I’m willing to bet every last penny I have that the crib was made of pure gold. But that’s not the shocking part. The chubby baby arm was blue! Not a sickly blue, not patchy, but a fantastic indigo. Little me giggled and squirmed as one of the orbs dipped down as if to say hello. Everything was as it should be.
“Well, aren’t you precious, my child.”
I know the words that voice of honey spoke. They weren’t in English and I’m sure I was too young to understand, but I know them. A face came into view and my little heart beat happily. It was my mother. Except, no, how could it have been? This woman’s skin was the same shade of impossible blue and her eyes were pure white, no pupil or iris, a pair of diamonds. A few locks of red hair fell from the sides of the tiara she wore and her lips parted in amusement as my tiny hands grabbed out to her.
“Come on now, that’s no way to behave,” my mother—this strange woman—chuckled as she scooped me up. Nothing mattered to my young self at that point, nothing but the closeness of her and her scent. Flower, some kind of flower… I don’t know. I can’t compare it to anything I’ve encountered before.
I was being carried along corridors and the blue-skinned woman spoke constantly, as if to busy her mind. I missed much of this because I’d become fascinated by the twisting pendant she wore. There came a point at which I yanked a bit too hard on the silver fascination and was scolded for it, “Oh, this is an important day, stop trying to break mother’s chain!”
Her steps were slowed and she fell silent. My head shifted to the front. Two grand doors stood open and a shimmering light lay between them. Every colour I can imagine—more, in fact—twisting and turning and twining. Mild confusion entered my infant mind at the time and as I reminisce as an adult, I’m overcome with wonder.
I was broken from the spell when a drop of liquid splashed on my cheek. I saw tears in the diamond eyes when I glanced upwards. The tears were as clear as any other and they made her eyes shine even brighter.
“Traditions must be upheld, sweetling,” the woman’s voice quivered, just slightly, “And this way our dynasty grows strong.”
I’ve studied people in my quiet way, whether they realise it or not, and I can tell this was a regal creature calling on her dignity. It wasn’t what she wanted. But the baby’s mind could only tell that Mother had a different expression from usual, so didn’t think much of it.
Not allowing herself to hesitate further, the woman passed through the portal and into a room I can vaguely remember even without hypnosis. It was my actual nursery, the room which became my bedroom during my school years. Toy soldier designs stood to attention along the walls and an ordinary wooden crib was stationed in the centre. A mobile of miniature fighter planes turned above it in a lazy jiggle. A whole shelf of teddies was fastened near the window and the one grizzly I never did like stared at us. Familiar though the room is to me now, past-me began to murmur and would have began to cry if… if my mother hadn’t lifted me to her chest. Can this be real?
“No, no, no. Weep not, little one,” her voice, soothing, hiding pain, “You will be safe and this is where you will grow.”
She stepped over to the crib and lay me next to a plump dusky thing. It was another baby. It was me, it was David Griffin! Except it wasn’t, that wasn’t me. It’s in my bones, this certainty. I fight with this unbelievable truth.
My mother once again leaned over me, this time glancing with distaste at the frame of the cot before looking into my face. It was as though she meant burn its image into her mind. Her gaze remained fixed on my own as she picked up that other baby, picked up the David who isn’t me! My young self was overcome with a jolt of fear and those blue lips trembled. As she held the other youngster in a careless crook of one arm, my mother placed a finger on my nose. Relaxing waves rolled through my body.
“Listen to me: we were not able to find the right body for you.”
I was aware of my skin changing colour to that darker tone. I wasn’t distressed, however, Mother was speaking and I was drifting towards sleep, “Of course, we made sure the switch would be as gorgeous as is befitting royalty. It is merely a mistake that this is a boy and you are a girl.”
Before I lost consciousness a breath whispered in my ear, “You are the Princess Analla. You will remember when the time comes. And I will hold you once more.”
Dear diary, I’m a pretty little princess named Analla. Okay, no, this is complete bollocks. It can’t be real.
But I can’t shake her out of my head. I want to cry, a grown man feeling like he’s going to crumble over some freakish hallucination. I miss her. Maybe it was a near-death experience. They did say I stopped breathing for a while. It’s possible, surely? It’s not every day you get hypnotised by a quack and fly into a fit.
Wait, I hear Sarah coming up the stairs. Ah, Christ, I can’t deal with her right now. If I keep writing, she’ll go away. The stupid bimbo. Married for the sake of marriage. What an idiot. Me, not her… both. Don’t come in. Sod it. Oh come on, get out of the room.
Wait, am I spacing out again? Is this another seizure? What’s wrong with her eyes?