i decided to go ahead and share the full first draft of my story now. If you already read part one you can skim ahead to where it picks up from there, but i did make a few changes to accommodate how the story changed as I wrote it. This story was written for a class assignment, which was to choose one prompt and write a ‘speculative fiction’ story. The prompt I chose is where the big twist came from: the exchange where a character could change his or her life – at a cost. This story
spilled out was tediously created from there. this class is already stretching my writing muscles. this story is just a rough draft but it’s my favorite fiction i’ve written so far. please feel free to comment on ways i could improve it. After I workshop and edit it in class, i’ll probably repost it so anyone interested can see how it changed.
An interesting note – coffee appears several times in this short story and features prominently in a novel i’m writing. I don’t know why I write about coffee so much, since i hardly ever drink it. I drank it today and it threw my whole brain out of whack.
The Exchange – by Lana Hobbs
I groggily walked into the kitchen. I smelled the coffee. John had started coffee for me. I smiled and took down the bag of bread and started to make toast. “ugh, JOHN!’ I yelled.
“What is it Amy?” he hurried into the kitchen.
“Look at this bread” I demanded. “the mice have tunneled straight through it! Haven’t your traps caught any of them?”
His face fell.
“you didn’t set out the traps, did you?” I asked, and sighed. “did you even remember to buy them? This mouse problem will never go away if you don’t actively take care of it!”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll fix it. I’ll do better.”
“Honey, you gotta follow through and show initiative if life is ever going to get better.” I was angry at yet another apology.
“Maybe I should go to The Exchange” he mumbled.
“no”. I was frustrated now. I didn’t want him to go to The Exchange and be changed, I just wanted him to change himself. I couldn’t deal with the self pity right now.
He wallowed deeper in, “Maybe you’d like me better if I went The Exchange and changed our lives.”
“No” I replied and kissed his nose. “I wouldn’t like that. The Exchange is dangerous. Now go to work and have a good day. I do love you.”
I sat down to write – my blog was just getting off the ground – but I had a hard time concentrating on anything but The Exchange. I shuddered at the thought. One time each year, any adult could go to the Exchange and change their life. The Exchange fed off the energy of whatever was lost from your life, much like the weeping angels, and you got your wish. But the wishes seldom worked out right. There was always a cost. The giant corporation didn’t usually care how your exchange went, as long as you did it. Once, the CEO of Save Mart showed up to work as a bagger at the local store, talking about a ‘nightmare’ in which thousands depended on him for a job and a wife and kids depended on him to stay in a job he hated, and The Exchange seemed to glow a little brighter from over the horizon.
I lost a good friend in the third grade when her mom was overwhelmed and went to The Exchange. Emily just poofed right out of existence. Few people even remembered she had existed.
I didn’t trust The Exchange.
John didn’t come home that night. I fell asleep in the chair by the door, waiting for him. I woke up the next morning in bed. In a very soft bed, with satin sheets and no sound of the fan close by in our small bedroom. I blinked awake and looked around to see a large, tastefully decorated room. The other half of the bed was rumpled.
I sat up and called out, “John?”
He popped his head through the door of what must have been the bathroom and answered “yesh?” around his electric toothbrush.
I fell back onto my pillow. He had done it. He’d gone to The Exchange. Apparently we were rich.
I felt a growing sense if fear in my stomach. What would we lose from this exchange? What was the cost.
We were still together; that was good.
We seemed to be in good health. I still had my memories, at least as far as I knew.
The mouse problem wouldn’t have followed us to a new, big house. Perhaps there was no big loss for us. But the fear didn’t leave.
John came out of the bathroom dressed in flattering clothes I didn’t recognize, and he was at least 3 pants sizes smaller, with more muscle than he’d had on his pudgy office-job frame the previous day.
“You look great” I smiled at him and struck a seductive pose in the silk nightgown I’d found myself in.
“Thanks” he said, “but I’ve got to start work, I’m behind for the day already”
He was behind at 7:00? I was puzzled.
He saw my confusion. “I’m a real go getter now and I’m working on a huge project sure to make us rich!”
I laughed and walked towards him, lifting my arms for a hug “we are rich”
“Not as rich as we will be” he replied and kissed my forehead before disappearing out the bedroom door.
I decided to get dressed and explore the house, but first I had to explore my closet. John had new clothes, perhaps I did, too.
I did indeed, a dozen beautiful dresses, a dozen stylish shirts with flowing sleeves, designer jeans, cute shoes. A rack just for headbands and another for my jewelry. Everything I had ever coveted but couldn’t afford. I chose a cute knee length dress and boots, then went into my new bathroom. I took a bath in the huge Jacuzzi tub and wondered if for once the exchange would work out happily.
I dressed and for the first time left our bedroom. I headed down a magnificent staircase and decided to go explore the kitchen. While I rambled I passed an office in which John was working. He worked from home now; my dream come true! I imagined us working happily side by side, sharing breaks for meals and helping each other when we got stuck, if there was ever anything I could help John with, he was such a genius. I wondered what his new job was.
I smelled coffee and followed the smell to find the kitchen. The coffee pot was empty. John had made coffee and not saved me any. That was odd. I made my own pot of coffee and found some cinnamon raisin bread.
After breakfast, I meandered back towards John’s office. “Whatcha working on?” I asked. He had about a dozen Google tabs open.
He minimized the browser windows. “Confidential work for The Exchange”
My face fell.
“Don’t worry, honey. Just some private stuff. Look at all we got in return!”
The exchange had bought his brains and his loyalty with a big house and paycheck.
And John had changed. I noticed it in the weeks to follow. He was driven, almost a workaholic. Focused, goal oriented. I was happy he didn’t seem so aimless, but he wasn’t my laid back teddy bear any more.
In November, I reminded him of my upcoming birthday over dinner. “it’s just a week away” I said.
“I know, I already have your present.” He said proudly
“Really? I was thinking maybe instead of a present, you could take me to the new bookstore in town? We could have a coffee and just talk.”
“You’re going to love your present” he kissed me on the forehead again.
“Quit patronizing me” I demanded.
“I’m not, dear. Now I gotta go get back to work. I’m not a lazy oaf any more, remember?” he sneered a little at the memory.
For my birthday, I got a new car and a gift card to the bookstore. I had coffee by myself and missed my lazy oaf.
He worked long hours, refused to talk about it, and got ruder and more distant as time went on. At our Christmas party, he only stayed out long enough to help me greet visitors, then disappeared into his office again.
I had to figure out what he was up to. Whenever he left the house to go to The Exchange, I snuck into to his office and poked around on his computer and in his notes.
It took me months of sneaking around to figure it out, but I finally did, in March. He was helping The Exchange, I already knew that. I did some research and learned that currently, the Exchange was dependant on the willingness of humans to change their lives. John was working on formulas to help them find a way to circumvent the choice factor. They could change lives whenever they wanted, reaping the benefits of the losses and reveling in the chaos of a constantly fluctuating world.
John had been friskier than usual lately. I’d chalked it up to springtime returning, but based on his emails, it looked like he was happy because he was closer to a solution.
I couldn’t let him do it. I couldn’t let him help to wreck lives.
I snuck into the office when John was sleeping and cleared web histories, deleted files, and finally smashed the computer. I burned notes. It would at least set him back.
I accidentally set off the smoke detector. I fumbled around trying to turn it off, but not soon enough. John came running down the stairs. He ran first to check his office. He came out enraged. “What have you done?”
“What have you become?” I shot back. “A selfish, greedy, lying jerk, and I can’t let you ruin lives, I can’t live off of that!”
He stepped closer, until he was looking straight down into my face. His eyes frightened me. “you ruined everything”
“I hope so!” I said and he snapped. He lifted his arm and punched me in the face. I ran and locked myself in one of the spare bedrooms, but he didn’t chase me.
I thought I heard sobbing but was too frightened to open the door. I had made him madder than I had ever seen him, and he was large enough to kill me if he wanted. Old John would have rather died than hurt me. I cried myself to sleep.
I woke the next morning to the feeling of something dry and crumbly on my face. Drywall. I looked up. The ceiling was cracking. The walls were cracking. I had to get out of the house. I found a bag and filled it with some food and cash. I dressed in jeans and a shirt, and grabbed my jacket. The whole house was beginning to crumble away and John was nowhere in sight. He must have gone to The Exchange again. And one cost was our new home.
I sat on the couch at ready, waiting for John to return. Maybe his personality would have changed back. Maybe we could be happy together again. I waited all day and all night. He never returned. Perhaps, in the exchange, he had even forgotten about me. They wouldn’t have been happy to lose their brainy employee, and likely wouldn’t have treated him kindly when he changed again.
The house continued to crumble. It wasn’t safe inside anymore. I took my bag and my jacket and set off.
Somewhere, John was living or wandering the world, and I was going to find him, The Exchange be damned.
I went to our old house first. Another couple was living there, with a baby boy. I wondered with a flicker of wistfulness if we had ever had a child and forgot him. I left my cell phone number with the family in case John went there.
I wasn’t sure what my next step should be. Even in a steady world, finding one person could be difficult, but in a world in constant flux from The Exchange, with a person who might not even know who he was except in memories he thinks are dreams…. Finding him could take forever.
I decided to go to The Exchange. Maybe they had records. Maybe, somehow, I could get them to tell me where John was. I didn’t like the thought, but I had no other ideas. I hitched a ride east.
The driver who gave me a ride dropped me off at the end of the road leading to The Exchange. He was too scared to drive to the door. I slowly walked the long way there, forcing my legs to continue stepping towards the eerie, manufactured light coming from the building.
I took a deep breath and pushed open the large doors. Inside, there were many tall figures in dark hooded cloaks. You couldn’t see anyone’s face.
I stood bewildered and finally announced in my bravest voice “I am Amy Pearce, I want to see whoever is in charge”. A cloaked figured gestured for me to follow. I walked down a long hallway and into a big office with a large desk, behind which sat a normal looking man, with balding hair and glasses. I sat down on the opposite side.
“Hello, Amy” said the man. “I am Jerry. I negotiate for The Exchange. What can I do for you?”
“I’m hear to find my husband, John Pearce. I think he came to The Exchange yesterday, and he never came back home. Then our home fell apart.”
“Yes, he was here. You really messed up some plans for us, you know.”
“Well, where is he?” I ignored the accusation.
“I don’t know. And why would I tell you, after you messed up our plans?”
“Look, I love him, he needs me, and I need him. Please help me find him.” I said, almost angrily
“And what will you do for us” Jerry smirked.
“If you DON’T help me find John, I will tell everyone you’re planning to control Exchanges without their permission”
“About that. The Exchange is failing, you see. We need the energy and people like you who fear Change stop it for us. But we could do something for you. We could Change your life.” He suggested
“Never” I said. “I don’t trust you. I want to expose you and get you off this planet and far away from me and everyone I love!” So much for diplomacy.
Jerry grinned. “We don’t have the energy to leave the planet. Exchanges feed our energy. But you…. You could feed us plenty. You have so much hope, so much love of life, so much to lose.”
I stood up and ran out of the building.
As I stood there, a little boy stood waiting.
“are your parents in there” I asked him.
He nodded, but as he nodded, he faded away.
The Exchange was too dangerous. But maybe the Exchange was wrong, maybe I didn’t have so much to lose any more. No John. No home. A world where the desperate could lose their lives in hope. Here was my chance, the chance to rid the planet of the Exchange and get John back, all in one blow.
I didn’t know what I’d lose, but I would sacrifice it.
I marched back into the building, through the office.
“you’re back” smiled Jerry.
“Here’s the deal,” I said, “You promise me I will get John back and you will all leave the planet forever, and I will let you Change my life.”
He produced a large contract, a quill pen, and a knife.
“A contract like this has to be signed in blood” he said.
I cut my left hand and dipped the quill in it, and signed my name.
And then I woke up.
That’s all the dream I remember.
“That’s some dream,” said John, as he shaved. “can you imagine the chaos in the world if the Exchange were real? … Hey, can you pass me my after shave?”
“sure” I said, reaching out to grab it, but I winced when the bottle touched my hand.
“What is it?” Asked John.
“Nothing,” I replied, “I have a cut on my hand. I must have done it last night and not noticed.”
“better clean it out” he said. “well, I better get to work. I have some coffee for you in the kitchen. Love you!”
“I love you too” I said and went to the kitchen to get my coffee.