What if you thought you had died, only to wake up in someone else's body? When Lucy, a teen diagnosed with terminal cancer wakes up cancer-free, it should be a dream come true. But faced with a life she didn't choose and trapped in a new body, Lucy must face the biggest question of all . . . How far would you go to save the one you love?
The Girl In The Window
Someone is rubbing my hand, stroking my cheek.
“Lucy. Lucy.” Mom’s soothing voice is in my ear. It’s her soft hands I can feel.
Am I late for school? I’d better get up! As my eyes open I look around, confused. This isn’t my bedroom . . . I’m still here, in the clinic, but my heart swells with relief at the memory of Dr Leo’s words – he said the cancer is gone. He’s made me well again.
Dr Leo is at my side, studying the beeping monitors with his staff.
Mom sits in the chair next to me, smiling. “Well, that was another long nap you had, young lady.”
I’ve lost all sense of time but I think Mom is in different clothes and the darkness from the window means that it’s night-time again.
“You’re definitely looking better today, don’t you think so, Lewis?” She beckons Dad forward but he stays put. He looks well-dressed – he always looks well-dressed – but his eyes are bloodshot and he’s all on edge, like he’d rather be anywhere else than here.
I stare at him, wishing he’d come over. I want his reassurance. I don’t understand why he seems so upset. I glance down at the sheets. My shape seems bigger in the bed. Whatever drugs have been pumped into me have made my shrunken body bloat. I’ve seen it happen before; the cocktail of drugs turn my body into a balloon, inflating and deflating as they mess with it.
“Well, hello again,” Dr Leo says cheerfully. “Let’s just sit you up a little.” He instructs his staff to ease me up. Everything aches, especially my head: it feels like a constant stabbing in my skull.
“Kate, our physical therapist, has been working on you while you’ve been asleep. She reports that you’ve been responding well.”
I wince. I don’t like the idea of someone “working on” me when I’m unconscious; not knowing what they’re doing to me, not being able to say no.
“Are you in pain?” Dr Leo asks.
“Hurt,” I grunt. My hands seem to rise without much effort as I place them on my head. I gasp as my fingers explore my bald scalp. My fingertips bump over staples around the top of my skull, continuing a short way down my spine. I shudder inside.
Dr Leo must have had to open my skull. I don’t dare to imagine what it looks like.
“Why?” The sound of my voice is more human.
Mom hesitates. She looks to Dr Leo for help. He steps forward as she shrinks back.
“It was a vital part of the surgery,” he says, pouring a cup of water and placing it by my bedside. “I can hear an improvement in your voice already, but your throat needs lubricating. Lean across and take the cup.”
I need to get my voice back, make myself understood, so I do as he asks even though my body protests. He seems to be assessing me as I reach for the cup. At first I miss it and on the second attempt I knock it over, the water spilling on to the floor.
“Don’t worry,” he says, refilling it. “It’ll be easier using your right hand.”
But I’m left-handed; it’s only going to be harder using the wrong one. I concentrate and pick up the cup using my right hand. It’s definitely easier. How did he know?
He nods with satisfaction. He opens a medicine cabinet in the corner of the room and takes out two small pills. “Swallow them one by one with the water. They’re a heavy-dosage painkiller. They’ll control your headache. Brain surgery can leave the patient with an initial intense discomfort, but we can manage it with these drugs until things get back to normal.”
I hesitantly put the first pill in my mouth and take a sip of water. It feels like a pebble is stuck in my throat. I gulp down more water in a panic. I cough and splutter as the pill goes down.
“Good,” Dr Leo says. “Now, the second one. It’ll be easier, you’ll see.”
He’s right. The other pill isn’t so hard to swallow.
Mom is beaming at me. “You’re doing so well, honey.”
“I think that we need to get you moving,” Dr Leo announces. “Kate has done a great job with your physical therapy, but the longer you lie in bed, the more chance you have of developing blood clots.”
He can’t expect me to get up. I’m not ready! I look to Mom in a panic, but she’s smiling and nodding. “Come on, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I wouldn’t ask you if I didn’t think that you could do it.” Dr Leo bends down to me.
He carefully removes the IVs from my hands and unhooks me from the monitors. He pulls the sheet clear, revealing my gown-clad body. He slowly swings my legs out of the bed so that my feet dangle just above the floor.
“Okay, up you get! I’m here to hold you, but only if you need it,” he says encouragingly. The whole room holds its breath as I plant my feet on the floor. I push my hands into the mattress and make it halfway up before collapsing back down again. I feel sweat escaping every pore, like someone turned a tap on.
Dr Leo tuts playfully when he sees how frustrated I am. “Don’t give up before you’ve even started.” He takes both my hands and pulls me back on to my feet.
He waits a minute before releasing my hands, but I feel like I’m falling forward.
“Straighten up!” he says encouragingly.
He’s right. I’m hunched over like a crooked old lady. I breathe through the ache as I pull my shoulders back and look straight ahead. Wow! That’s better. It’s like my spine has clicked into place.
“Good. Now take a step towards me,” he says.
I can do this! I lurch forward but my feet don’t come with me. He reaches out to steady me.
“Tell your feet to move,” he says.
I look at him, puzzled.
“In your head you must instruct your feet to step forward.” He lets go of me and I straighten up again, taking my time. Beads of salty sweat are running into my eyes. I feel damp patches bloom under my armpits.
I . . . can . . . do . . . this. I visualize each foot moving as I command my body. Right foot – step forward. I watch in excitement as it moves. Left foot – step forward. It obeys. Now, feet – you’re going to walk!
I start to move. I’m wobbling and lurching like I’m on the deck of a tiny boat in a violent storm. My arms instinctively stretch out in front of me in case I fall, but my legs remain stiff as iron rods.
Dr Leo is holding out his hands inches away from me, like a father encouraging his baby’s first steps. “Soften your knees. Let them bend. Tell them what to do. Take control.”
Take control! Take control! I tell my legs to relax, my knees to soften. My feet stop shuffling and start lifting off the floor, but I’m still wobbling.
I bump into Mom and she maneuvers me back on track, like I’m a go-kart. With every step my tight, aching muscles are easing; even my headache feels less intense. I’m growing more confident, getting giddy with excitement as I circle the room. If I can make improvements this quickly, imagine how I’ll be after more physical therapy, more exercise.
The thought of it makes laughter bubble up in my tight chest. A noise explodes from my throat, sounding like a goose honking. Mom responds with peals of laughter and tears start to roll down her face.
“Lewis! Lewis! Look at her. It’s incredible, isn’t it?” Mom says to Dad, but he looks so serious, so tense that I can’t stand it.
He needs a hug. He needs to know that I’m okay. He won’t have to stress about me any more. I was upset that he’s been working all the time, but he did it for me. He did it so we could afford to have this . . . this miracle surgery.
I stumble towards him and fall into his arms.
“Thank you, Dad,” I croak, wrapping my arms around him.
I feel his body stiffen. He isn’t returning my hug. “It’s okay,” I tell him. I look up and see his whole face crumple. God, what’s wrong? He looks like he’s going to cry.
“No, Lewis!” Mom shouts as he eases my arms from around him and steps away. I’m unbalanced. I grab the windowsill for support and suddenly I see a girl, standing outside in the darkness, looking through the glass. She startles me. She’s a ghostly figure, barely there. She’s wearing a white gown. Her head is shaved. Her eyes are sky blue, like mine, but she has hooded lids and thick lashes. She’s taller than me, with long limbs and a heart-shaped face. Her mouth is petite with full lips and the poor girl looks like she’s had a beating. Her face is discolored and bruised. She looks puzzled, confused. I wonder what she’s doing here.
I wave at her and she waves back . . . no, not back, she waved at the same time . . . didn’t she? I wave again. She did . . . it was . . . it was exactly the same time. How’s she doing that? I touch the glass and she does it simultaneously. I run my hands down my face, and watch through my fingers. She’s mirroring my every move. This isn’t funny, it’s freaking me out.
“Stop it!” I shout, and see her mouth shape the words at the same time. God, she’s creepy. How is she doing this?
I know how to stop her copying me. I pick up the medical file that’s lying on the windowsill. I close my eyes and hold it in front of me. She can’t copy something that she hasn’t got. I open my eyes, ready to declare myself the winner, but she’s there, holding up the same medical file, the one with my name written on the cover, only now it’s backwards.
Our hands fly to cover our mouths as we gasp. I turn to Mom and Dad, trembling.
“Do you see her?”
They don’t answer. Dad is looking at me pityingly. Mom’s face is ashen, her mouth pinched shut.
I say a silent prayer to ward off the girl. I turn back, but she’s still there. She looks terrified.
But then I realize what’s going on and the girl and I laugh, our shoulders shaking in relief. She’s nothing but a hallucination. I must be as high as a kite with all the drugs the doctor has given me. This is tame. I could be seeing a pink elephant flying around the room.
We stick out our tongues at each other. We flick a finger at each other. I can’t stop laughing although it hurts.
Dr Leo places his hands on my shoulders. He leads me away from the window and sits me on the bed. “No more drugs. Messing with my head,” I splutter. He doesn’t smile. He crouches down in front of me and holds my hands.
“I’m going to explain something to you and it’s extremely important that you stay as calm as possible. Do you understand?”
The tone of his voice puts a stop to my manic laughter. Dread starts to creep over me.
He produces a mirror from his pocket and holds it to my face. The girl who’s stolen my eyes is back again, but this time her image is sharp and in technicolor. The stapled ridge around her bald skull looks hot and angry. Her lips are pulsating red, her eyes shine and her heart-shaped face is covered in fading bruises. She has an old scar just above one eye that leaves a track through her thick, dark eyebrows.
“Not real,” I tell him. “In my head."
“No. You’re not hallucinating. She is real. She is you.”
The girl in the mirror looks furious. Her lips twist, her eyes narrow.
Mom is at my side. “Lucy, listen to me. I know this is unbelievably hard for you, but be brave. Everything is okay. You mustn’t be afraid. Dr Radnor isn’t lying. The girl you can see is you.”
I stare into the mirror. The girl’s eyes are frozen with shock, her mouth a perfect circle of horror. Her face contorts as a strangled scream fills the room.