Short Story: “My True Self”

The person who wakes up in Mike’s body isn’t Mike. He or she has swapped bodies with Mike overnight, and now they need to swap back. The trouble is, Mike’s body includes Mike’s mind, which means they have all of Mike’s thoughts and all of Mike’s memories too, and none of their own. How can you get back to your true self if you don’t know who or what that is?

Man walking german shepherd dog on a quiet country road in forest. © Luce Morin /

July 07, 2024 03:34 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: If you were to swap bodies and minds with another person, would you still be you?

I don’t say anything. I can’t say anything. Words don’t seem to… language… it’s like language is… is… is… but even if I could say something, I wouldn’t.

No. Don’t want to create alarm. I go through the motions.

Shower. Shake myself dry. Get changed. Huge breakfast. Morning kisses and hugs. I don’t think the family notices anything peculiar. Once they’re gone, I stare into the hallway mirror, searching for a glint of recognition. But no. No, this isn’t me.

This morning, ok, I’ve woken up in someone else’s body. These enormous hands with long, spindly fingers do not belong to me. Nor these heavy, achy legs. And certainly not this tired, jowly face. That wasn’t my wife. Those weren’t my children. This is not my house. This is not my body. This is not who I am.

Ok, so, clearly, just like in the movies, I need to find my true self and swap back.

The trouble is I can’t remember who that is. My true self. I can’t remember who I was. In the movies, they switch bodies but somehow hold on to their original minds. But in real life, of course, there is no separation between mind and body. I’ve not just swapped into someone else’s body, I’ve swapped into their mind too.

I am inside the mind of a data analyst called Mike Evans. I have his memories, his preferences. I have, of course, his manner of speaking and of thinking. His thoughts too. I can hear them, right now, telling me to get myself to work.

But I’m not going to listen, because I know, I know, that this isn’t who I am. I am not a data analyst called Mike Evans. I don’t need to be at the office on Bishopsgate in 45 minutes where I will have to admit to Mike’s manager, Poppy, that the report still isn’t ready.

Just the thought of Poppy, the things she’ll say, the way she slinks around the office like a cat, puts you at ease and digs her claws in when you’re least expecting… No. No. I’m not going to let Mike’s thoughts take hold of me. They’re his thoughts, they’re not mine. This is not who I am.

I am not Mike Evans.

I only know about the report, the one about customers’ preferences as regards queuing in line at the bank, the one that’s three weeks late already, the one that keeps him up at night, the one Poppy is breathing down his neck about, the one he wonders if he’ll ever be able to complete… I only know about it because it’s one of Mike’s memories. But like all of Mike’s memories, like all of Mike’s thoughts, I know them only because I have been transported into his body against my will.

So I’m not going to the bank’s head office on Bishopsgate. I’m going to find my true self. I’m going to find my way home. 

I leave the house and head for the woods. It was these woods that first made my wife want to move here. Mike’s wife. I am not Mike, I am not married to Natalia. It’s not my children who are having behavioral difficulties at school. It’s not me. None of it is me.

But whoever I am, I surely haven’t gone far.

On the main road that separates my… that separates Mike’s house from the woods, I feel an urge to launch myself into the road, traffic be damned.

I pace up and down beside the traffic lights next to a teenager eating a Peparami that smells so exquisite. A woman rides past on a bicycle, I want to chase after her, I have so much energy. I’m sweating into Mike’s suit. 

A man in high-vis is taking a discreet wee behind a lamppost. Hmmm. That looks like fun, but no. 

No. No. No. None of them. None of the others either. But I can’t have got far. And surely I’ll know me when I see me. 

Old women. Young men. Old men. Young women. None of them. None of them. None of them.

I’m in the woods and I feel… I feel as though I can finally breathe. Through these lungs that feel like they’ve not properly breathed for many years.

Enormous oak trees and fir trees and birds and squirrels. So many squirrels. And the sun inches its way through, not rushing, happy to give each leaf its share of attention.

This. Yes. This is where I belong, in the woods. Among nature. The birds, the trees, the squirrels. It all smells so beautiful.

For a moment, I forget I’m trapped in Mike Evans’s body. And the thought comes back to me like the pinch of a tight suit.

Then I see him. As I come out into the clearing, onto the unmowed grass in the middle of the woods, I see him. About forty yards ahead, there’s an old man, sitting on a tree stump, watching his German shepherd chasing butterflies. The man wears a beige flatcap and the smile of someone who has nowhere to be and nothing to do. Yes. Yes, there’s no doubt whatsoever.

As I approach him, I feel Mike’s phone vibrating in Mike’s pocket. It’s Poppy, no doubt wondering where Mike is, and where his report is. Well, Poppy, he’s right here. Let me get him for you. I press ignore.

“Hello,” I say to the old man, “What a glorious morning.”

He nods. “Aye, yer not wrong.”

“Beautiful,” I say, “beautiful,” and I pat the dog’s head as it dances around me.

“He’s a lively fella,” says the man.

“Look,” I say, “Might sound a bit odd. But did you notice anything strange this morning?”

He looks at me and nods. “A bit warm for this time of year, aye.”

“No, no. Yes but… Look.” I point to the suit I’m wearing, to the polished shoes caked in mud. I feel my saggy chin and the bags around my eyes. “This isn’t who I am, you see. This isn’t my body. This isn’t my mind. It’s like in the films where two people swap places but, in this case, it’s the whole hog. Body and mind.”

“Aye,” says the old man, putting the German Shepherd back on his lead. “We can all feel like tha sometimes.”

“No, but it’s not…” I try and smile, but I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do. “There’s a reason,” I say, “there’s a reason I’m saying this to you. I’ve been wandering around, looking for… and the minute I came through the clearing just now, it was obvious to me that I had found myself. My true self. I’m not this…I’m not… we’ve switched, you see.”

The man smiles. He doesn’t look remotely surprised by anything I’ve said. “I’ve had two divorces. An hip replacement. A pacemaker. Can barely afford to heat me bungalow. No kids. No friends to speak of, other than Pickles here. Trust me, son, if you and me have swapped places, you should keep stum. I know I would.” He stands up from the tree stump, touches me on the arm, gives me a wink and says he’ll be on his way.

“No, no,” I say, and I’m laughing now. “No, sorry, I should’ve been… It’s not you and me who have swapped places. It’s me and Pickles.” And as I say his name, the dog yelps in recognition and jumps up at me. “That’s who I am. That’s my true self. I am Pickles the German shepherd. And right now, inside that dog, there’s a married-with-kids data analyst who’s late for work and overdue on his report.”

“Come on, boy,” says the old man. But Pickles, or should I say Mike Evans, the real Mike Evans, he doesn’t want to leave. He won’t take his eyes from me. He knows, he knows he’s looking at his true self. And I know it too. No wonder these thoughts, these worded thoughts, no wonder they felt so alien to me. It wasn’t just that they were in a different voice, they were in a language of which I had no comprehension until I woke up with Mike Evans’s mind this morning. I’m not Mike. I’m not even human.

I grab hold of the dog’s collar. My collar.

“Ere, what do you think yer doing?” says the old man.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But we need to swap back. It’ll make no difference to you, but the world of difference to the two of us.”

“For god’s sake man, I dunno what yer playing, at but you’re not me dog.” At these words, the true Mike Evans, dressed in the suit of a German shepherd, barks and barks and barks.

“You see. You see. He understands. He knows it too. We are in the wrong place he and I, we’ve swapped, and we need to swap back.”

“Let him go now.”

“I can’t. I’m sorry but I can’t.”

Mike barks and barks.

“If yer Pickles, what did we do yesterday eh? Where do we live? How far is it from here?”

“No, no, you see. I can’t answer any of that. I’ve got Mike’s memories and he’s got mine. We swapped everything, that’s what makes this so difficult.”

“Listen lad, yer not me dog. And ye durnt wanna hold him like that.”

“Come on, Mike, if we close our eyes, if we focus, we can do this.”

“I’m warning yer.”

‘Come on Mike. Think of Natalia, you remember Natalia, don’t you? Your beautiful wife. And Antoni and Angelica, your kids. Come on. Do it for them. You’re not a dog, are you? You’re not a dog, you’re a data analyst.”

I hold tight to the collar as the man tries to pull my doggy body away. I close Mike’s eyes and I think Mike closes mine and I try, I try to go beyond Mike’s thoughts, beyond language, I listen to the barking and try and become…

Ow, ow, owwww! Oh my god.

“I did warn yer.”

He’s bitten me. Mike Evans, trapped in my body, has bitten his own right hand. Oh god, it hurts.

“Ey,” says the old man, “Ye brought that on yerself. I did warn ye.” The pair of them walk away, into the cover of the trees.

“No, please, you don’t understand. I’m trapped here, I need to…” But the pain in my hand… even if it isn’t my hand, I need to get it looked at.

Mike Evans, the bastard. I could see the recognition in my eyes. He knew it as surely as I did but he… he didn’t want to swap back. He came face to face with his true self and he preferred to remain as a dog.

Well, of course he did.

The phone is vibrating in my pocket. It’s Poppy. I answer it.

She purrs down the phone. “Hello, Mike. Am I right to assume we won’t be getting the report this morning? What’s the excuse this time? Let me guess. Did a dog eat your homework?”

I feel the sting on my right hand where his teeth breached the skin. “No,” I say, “he’s done a lot more than that.”

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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