Swap.me

by I. E. Kneverday

Location:Montreal

Marital status:Single

Occupation:Musician

Children:None

Education:High school diploma

Weight:189 pounds

Reason for swap:Need to escape a life of fame and endless touring. Time to settle down.

 

He has to admit, it sounds promising.

Sure, a bit lacking in the education department, but that’s not a deal-breaker for Janus. He can always go back to school later, he reasons. He can always keep learning.

Meanwhile, there are no night classes for becoming famous.

No University of Phoenix for rockstars.

Cozying up to his console, Janus taps the green “See if You’ll Swap” button, which triggers three tiny blue dots to begin their ritual performance. He stares with bloodshot eyes as the dots crisscross and loop around the screen, tracing soothing shapes pulled from sacred geometry. Below, the words “Making Contact” blink rhythmically in and out of existence.

Naturally, at this very moment, Janus considers abandoning the whole endeavor.

He thinks about that story he read online just a few weeks prior. About the potential side effects. The bad interactions. The shock of it all.

But before this creeping doubt can succeed in derailing Janus’s plan, the screen flashes white.

The dots disintegrate into pixel dust.

Fresh text rises up from the ashes.

 

 Welcome, Janus 0180167743. You are now connected to Janus 9438555212.

 

Janus scratches at a phantom itch on his chin as he contemplates the perfect opening words for such an existentially momentous conversation. But after a few seconds, he gives up. Allows ceremony to surrender to practicality.

He begins typing.

 

Yo

You there?

 

Two mystifying seconds tick by.

 

Yea I’m here

 

Pinpricks of electricity rain down Janus’s back. It feels like his spine is being pelted by thousands of tiny, crackling hailstones.

 

Whoa

            Did you just feel that?

 

Feel what?

 

            Nvm

            This is weird man

 

Yea, this is weird, man

Am I freaking you out, man?

Haha jk

Lemme guess…

First time on Swap.me?

 

Janus doesn’t see any point in lying.

 

            You guess correctly

 

Don’t worry, you’ll get over the weirdness

I mean, I did

So I’m assuming you will too

 

            How long have you been searching?

 

Couple months now

 

            And you still haven’t swapped?

 

These things take time my man

It’s not something you want to rush into

Better to be picky

 

            I guess that makes sense

            Sooo when did we split?

            Or where?

            I can’t figure out if this is a “when” question or a “where” question

 

It’s both actually

It’s a where-when situation

Like space-time

Come on now, I thought you were smart

I thought WE were smart

 

            Says the version who didn’t finish college

 

Ouch

That stings

And yet here you are…

           

            Yea yea yea

            Education doesn’t equal happiness

            We all know the schpeil

            Speil?

 

It’s “spiel”

 

            Whatever

            Lemme guess…

In Montreal, when the band asked, you said yes to dropping out of school

And buying the van

And driving across Canada

 

Hell yes I did!

Wait…

You said no?

 

            Of course I said no

            I had to get my degree

            Then Peyton moved back to Boston with me

And we got “real” jobs

            The rest is history

 

How dreadfully ordinary

 

            And yet here you are…

 

Yea yea yea

Sooo you married him?

Peyton

 

            I did

 

And you’re still married to him? Still in love and all that?

 

Janus thinks for a moment before concocting a response that can satisfactorily answer both questions.

 

Yep, still going strong

 

I see

So why the hell do you want to swap?

 

            Cuz you’re living the dream man

            Famous musician

            All those fans

The money

 

You’d be willing to give up Peyton for that stuff?

 

            What are you, my moral compass?

            Remember: you DID give up Peyton for that stuff

            Now I just want my shot

            I want to see what life would be like if I’d chosen that path

 

I guess that makes sense

 

            So is it still the original lineup in the band?

Mikey, Alison, Nikita…the whole crew?

 

Nah, actually we broke up a few years back

I’m flying solo now

 

            Ah ok

            But you’re still…

    Ya know, famous and all that?

            Still selling out stadiums?

 

A long, suspicious silence passes between universes.

 

            Hello?

 

Sooo to be honest…

These days I prefer playing smaller venues

Makes it more intimate, ya know?

 

            Like Club Soda?

            Divan Orange?

           Those kinds of places?

           

Yea

That’s sorta what I mean

 

            Have you played those venues before?

 

Those two specifically?

No

 

            So where have you played?

 

A bunch of places

Brutopia

The Old Dublin

Hurley’s

           

            Sooo you’re a pub musician

            In your profile you said you were famous

            And always on tour…

 

I mean in certain circles I’m really well-known

And I do have to drive to gigs

Sometimes they’re a couple hours away

 

            When’s your next gig?

 

Monday night

 

Really?

Where is it?

 

It’s in Somerville

I run an open mic night

But that still counts as a gig

 

            Somerville?

            Wait…

            Did you move back to Boston?

 

Oh right, I meant to mention that

 

            Your profile says you’re in Montreal

 

Does it?

Ah crap I need to update that

But yea I had to move back

There was a bit of a housing crisis

 

            Like a city-wide housing crisis?

            Or a personal housing crisis?

 

I mean, if I had to pick between those two…

The second sounds more accurate

 

            So where are you staying now?

            Do you at least have your own place?

 

Of course I do

It’s a comfy little spot

 

            Tell me the truth…

            Are you living in Mom and Dad’s basement?

 

Look

The living situation is temporary

The important thing is I’m following my dream

OUR dream

Here you get to play music for a living, just like you always wanted

 

            I question your use of the phrase “for a living”

 

Har har

What, you think because you have your own house or apartment or whatever

that you’re better than me?

 

            No

            But I do think you’re a lying sack of shit

 

Correction, my friend

WE are a lying sack of shit

So why don’t we just put these details behind us and move forward with the

swap, yea?

           

            Not gonna happen, bucko

 

Fine

Well can you at least do me one little favor?

 

            What?

 

Tell Peyton I say hi

And that I’m sorry

 

            You know that’s not how it works

 

I know

But it’d still make me feel better

 

Janus taps the red “End Connection” button.

A final line of text populates the conversation window:

 

Janus 0180167743 has ended the connection.

 

Disheartened but not defeated, Janus continues his search. With the swipe of a finger, he scrolls through Swap.me’s seemingly endless sea of profiles, pondering the formulas of the multiverse that had yielded such perplexingly different outcomes.

 

Location:Scottsdale (85254)

Occupation:Bouncer

Education:BA

Marital status:Divorced

Children:2

Weight:243 pounds

Reason for swap:Looking for a new job/lifestyle (and a body with fewer tattoos).

 

Location:Portland (04019)

Occupation:Driftwood artist

Education:BA

Marital status:Divorced

Children:None

Weight:211 pounds

Reason for swap:Loneliness.

 

Location:Gloucester (01930)

Occupation:Fisherman

Education:High school diploma

Marital status:Divorced

Children:4

Weight:207 pounds

Reason for swap:Running out of bluefin in my universe.

 

Location:Chicago (60629)

Occupation:Marketer

Education:MBA

Marital status:Married

Children:None

Weight:193 pounds

Reason for swap:Office job is killing me. Working 80-hour weeks. Peyton will leave me soon, I know it. But there might still be a chance. Any takers?

 

Location:Quincy (02169)

Occupation:Barback

Education:High school diploma

Marital status:Divorced

Children:2

Weight:219 pounds

Reason for swap:Need a change of scenery.

 

Location:Red City (99999)

Occupation:Graphic designer

Education:MFA

Marital status:Single

Children:None

Weight:193 pounds.

Reason for swap:Looking for my muse; a new vehicle for bringing my artistic vision to life.

 

This last profile catches Janus’s eye.

True, the location is a tad befuddling, but he assumes it must be somewhere out West. Utah. Arizona. One of those places. Otherwise, he considers it a flawless profile.

While there’s no allure of fame, there is a comfortable blanket of education, and by extension, job security, to get wrapped up in, assuming this version hadn’t mucked it all up somehow.

The marital status is also a plus.

Closing his eyes for a moment, Janus imagines himself as a dashing bachelor, clad in a three-piece suit, attending exhibition openings at art galleries and the like, rubbing elbows with all sorts of rich and beautiful (and occasionally interesting) people. It’s a hypothetical he finds exponentially more pleasurable than his own reality.

Hope welling up anew inside him, Janus taps the green “See if You’ll Swap” button.

Once again, the blue dots are sent into a mathematically controlled frenzy.

A few seconds later, they disappear.

 

Welcome, Janus 0180167743. You are now connected to Janus 3343388501.

 

This time, Janus decides to eschew all pleasantries and get right to the point. With billions of potential versions available to swap with, he figures it’s better to be efficient than cordial. Assumes the other versions out there must feel the same way.

 

Yo

So is this designer gig of yours steady or what?

 

Super steady

 

            Really?

 

Oooh yea

I’m not going anywhere for a long time

 

            Awesome

            And it pays well?

 

Ridiculously well

Granted, there aren’t many places where I can spend it

 

While Janus doesn’t perfectly understand the implications of this last statement, he hypothesizes, based on experiences he’s had in his own universe, that it has something to do with being habitually intoxicated and getting banned from certain establishments. Not an ideal scenario. But in Janus’s book, not a deal-breaker either.

 

            Would it matter that I don’t know shit about design?

 

I’d leave you some playbooks of mine

Some templates you could follow

But you’d be coasting to retirement anyway

Just a few more years

 

            Seriously?

 

Yea dude

You can cap off my career

They’ll call it my Shitty Phase

           

            Har har

 

Sooo it says here you’re married…

To Peyton?

 

            Yep

 

Janus recalls the line he had used in the previous conversation. Decides to use it again here.

 

            Still going strong

 

You serious?

 

            Yea man

 

So why the hell do you want to swap then?

 

Janus racks his brain. Formulates the response he thinks this version wants to hear.

 

            I want what you have

            A life of artistic expression

            And independence

            It’s not that I want to leave Peyton

            But being able to experience something new, something for ME, while knowing another version of me will be taking care of him…

            I’m willing to do it

 

Damn

I am like your complete opposite

All I’ve been able to think about is Peyton

For the past two years, that’s it

Getting back to him

 

            Well here’s your chance my man

 

I guess you’re right

 

            Hey, just need to ask this before we go any further…

            You have your own house

            Or condo

            Or apartment

            Right?

 

Yea man

 

            Ok good

            The last version I talked to was still in Mom and Dad’s basement

 

Nah don’t worry dude you’ll love it here

My living quarters are state of the art

They were designed by some famous architect

 

Living quarters?

 

Yeah man, inside the Teslarium

It’s pretty cool

Has a Flintstones vibe

Everything’s concrete, made from Martian soil

 

            Wtf?

 

Dude…

Didn’t you see Red City in my profile?

And the zip code?

I’m on Mars

 

            We haven’t gone to Mars yet in my universe, asshole

           

You haven’t?

 

Shut up

 

There’s no Red City?

 

I thought Red City was out in Arizona or something

 

Alaska would’ve been a better guess

 

            Wait…

            So how the hell did YOU get up there?

 

I was invited up to be the artist in residence

To make illustrations of all the landscapes and the habitats and all that

Got three years left on a five-year residency

You up for it?

 

Janus reflects on the past twenty-four hours, on how he had become increasingly comfortable with the notion of swapping universes. But swapping planets? For some unknown reason, it seems more unnatural to Janus. More dangerous.

 

            Is it dangerous?

 

Being a graphic designer?

 

            Living on mars

 

Well it’s no walk in the park

With the pressurization and everything

It can really mess with you

 

            Anything happen to you so far?

 

Three seconds tick past before Janus 3343388501 provides a less than satisfying response.

 

I was in one accident, yea

But nothing lethal

 

            Yea no shit nothing lethal

            What happened to you?

 

It’s a long story

 

            Tell me the short version

 

Fine

So when I first got here, I wanted to take a closer look at my new environment

I wanted to SEE those red swirling sands with my own eye

And I did…for a brief moment

Standing there in the airlock

I kept my right eye shut tight, kept my left eye open

And then whoosh!

Left eye got sucked right out of my skull

I consider it my Van Gogh moment

 

Janus 0180167743 has ended the connection.

           

It had sounded so promising, Janus laments. But with so many other versions out there to consider, all those different permutations, he’d been unable to settle for the life of the One-Eyed Martian Janus.

With a sigh, he returns to scanning profiles, where he discovers the usual culprits. A smattering of starving musicians and paycheck-to-paycheck laborers. Hordes of freelance writers and graphic designers, with the occasional white-collar marketing professional thrown in—always divorced.

And then he sees it.

Is drawn to it.

Like Odysseus to the Sirens.

Reading over the profile, he feels as though the panpsychic forces connecting the multiverse had aligned just for him, that every subatomic particle in existence had participated in seeking out and finding him the unequivocally most perfect version of himself to swap with.

If he were a religious man, Janus might have said his prayers had just been answered.

 

Location:Sligo (F91 CF54)

Occupation:Poet

Education:BA

Marital status:Single

Children:None

Weight:196 pounds

Reason for swap:Winning the lottery ruined my life.

 

“Ruined your life my ass,” Janus says aloud to no one, as he contemplates the tens of millions (hundreds of millions?) this version must have stashed away. He imagines piles of cash casually strewn around the luxuriously appointed rooms of a 19th-century mansion (renovated, of course) that’s nestled in the Irish countryside.

A ruined life, he theorizes, can easily be mended with money. New friends can be acquired. New acquaintances made. An entirely new social web can be constructed from fresh strands of silk.

He taps the button.

Is mesmerized by the dancing blue dots.

The connection is made.

 

Welcome, Janus 0180167743. You are now connected to Janus 6363656166.

 

            Yo

            How much do you have left?

 

Say what?

 

            The lottery winnings

            How much do you have left?

 

Nearly all of it

About $120 million

 

            Holy shit

            Why haven’t you spent it?

            And follow-up question:

            Why the hell do you want to swap?

 

Haha

You’re not the first version who’s asked me that

Look, it boils down to this:

In winning all that money, I lost everyone

My friends

My family

Peyton

You married him in your universe?

 

            Yep

Still going strong

 

Damn

And you’re willing to leave him?

 

            It’s really more about me than about him

            And believe me, I know how selfish that sounds

 

Janus suddenly feels as if he’s typing out the words to a script.

 

The bottom line is that I want what you have

            A life of artistic expression

            And independence

            It’s not that I want to leave Peyton

            But being able to experience something new, something for ME, while knowing another version of me will be taking care of him…

            I’m willing to do it

 

I guess that makes sense

And it says in your profile you don’t have any kids yet?

 

Janus swallows audibly, his Adam’s apple sticking in this throat, almost choking him.

 

Nah not yet

We’ve talked about it

But career-wise it just hasn’t made sense

 

Got it

And for your job it says “content marketing”

Is that steady work?

 

Yep

It’s solid

Been at this company for a few years now

            Pay is decent

            Got some stock options piling up

            Some decent benefits

 

And you get to go into an office?

 

            Yep

 

And you eat lunch with coworkers and stuff?

 

            Yea, most of the time

            Sometimes I eat at my desk

 

Got it

Cool

 

            Wait…

            Have you never had an office job before?

 

Nope

 

A second ticks by before Janus 6363656166 elaborates.

 

I won the lottery right after college

Then bought this house in Ireland and decided to focus on poetry

It’s beautiful here, probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen

But since Peyton left it’s been pretty lonely

And the house is so big…

I just want something simpler

I want a life that’s simpler

You know, that whole settle down with a family spiel

 

Welp…

            If waking up next to the same person everyday and trudging to the same

office everyday sounds simple enough to you…

            I’m down to swap

 

You serious?

 

            Hell yea man

            Just tell me…for the money

Will you have the bank info and account numbers and everything written

out for me?

 

Ten steps ahead of you

There’s a binder waiting on my desk right here that explains everything

All my investments

Plus debit cards, credit cards, checkbooks

I’ve had everything ready for a while

 

            Amazing

 

And for your job?

 

            Oh, right

            I’ve got a cheat sheet ready for you

            Who you report to, a writing style guide, my upcoming deadlines

            You’ll get the hang of it no problem

 

Awesome

Sooo I guess we’re doing this?

           

            Wait…

            Just one last question:

 

Yea?

 

You’re not missing an eye are you?

            Or a limb or anything?

 

Apart from being circumcised, I am completely intact

Wait…

Are you?

 

            Circumcised?

 

No…

The eye and limb thing

Not gonna lie, I’m a tad concerned you brought it up

 

            No, no, it’s not me

            It’s just this last version I talked to

            He was on Mars and had this terrible accident…or at least, it was sort of

an accident

            Anyway, he lost an eye

            But didn’t really seem keen on mentioning it until I prodded him

 

Ahh I see

Yea you really gotta watch out for the Martian versions

Bunch of hooligans

 

            Haha got it

            Wish I had known that sooner

            Alright, so you ready to swap?

 

Let’s do it

I’m tapping the button now

 

A string of text pops up on the screen:

 

Janus 6363656166 wants to swap. Do you want to swap with Janus 6363656166?

 

Janus taps the green “Yes, I want to swap” button.

Reads the instructions.

E-signs the non-liability agreement.

 

So we just need to attach the thingies now, right?

 

Yea you gotta stick em on your temples

 

Alright

 

I’ve got mine on, you?

 

Yep, good to go

           

Ok

 

            So how you wanna do this?

           

I’m gonna count down from five

Then we both tap the “Confirm” button

Cool?

           

            Cool

 

Janus takes a deep breath,

Five

looks around the bedroom one last time,

Four

the bedroom he and Peyton shared for all those years,

Three

before Peyton took their two kids and left,

Two

before he told Janus that he never really loved him,

One

before he said those heart-eviscerating words: “In no version of this would I ever actually love you.”

For a split-second, Janus feels a tinge of guilt for having lied to such a witless version of himself. But he quickly stamps this little fire out.

And taps “Confirm.”

*

When he regains consciousness, the change in atmosphere is immediately palpable.

It’s danker.

And darker.

The windows, which are set high up on the walls, abutting a pipework-infested ceiling, are drafty (but it must be noted that they do a satisfactory job of keeping the sunlight out).

The smell, however, is what gives it away. It’s a pervasive, pungent, and yet simultaneously comforting smell. And unfortunately for Janus, it isn’t the smell of peat fires burning in the Irish countryside. No, it’s that familiar combination of dirty laundry, moldy pull-out couch, and decades-old Halloween decorations.

It’s the smell of Mom and Dad’s basement.

 

I. E. Kneverday is a writer of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. His first book, The Woburn Chronicles: A Trio of Supernatural Tales Set in New England’s Most Mysterious City, is available now. Learn more at Kneverday.com and say ‘hi’ on twitterand facebook.