Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
Sentence Swap by Tamara Wilhite
The Yadeli, that’s what my attorney had called it, sat on the opposite side of the conference table. I sat with my attorney beside me, while its attorney beside it. I wondered how such a creature could get into this conference room past all the guards but I didn’t dare ask.
My attorney had warned me in advance that I could get a long sentence, and that if I did, this client would want to meet with me. He described it as a potential swap of favors. I had to swear to secrecy on my soul and sacred honor before he’d arrange the meeting I’d never discuss it as long as I lived. Being an atheist and soon to be sentenced to decades in prison for fraud, neither of those was a problem.
“The verdict should be rendered when you return to the courtroom when one of you returns to it,” the alien’s attorney said.
“They found me guilty. The prosecutor is throwing the book at me. When they issue the sentence, they’ll haul me off in cuffs to jail, likely for the rest of my life.”
“We are here to negotiate a solution.”
“The time for plea bargaining was before they found me guilty.”
“A solution to the jail time.”
“Which would be?” I asked.
“You agree to a favor of our choosing in the afterlife. In return, my client agrees to take your place in prison for the term, while you are elsewhere.”
“What do I have to do?”
“Agree to these terms.”
“What is the favor?”
“This is an exchange of favors. We have already said what the Yadeli would do as the favor to you.”
“How do I agree to this exchange of favors?”
“We will explain if and when you agree.”
“And the alien takes my place in prison?”
“The rest of its life, your life or end of the term, whichever comes first.”
“What do I do while it is in prison?” I asked.
“We’ll take care of that. But you can tell no one of this in your life, and you cannot talk to any in your current life.”
“And what do I do to repay it for this favor?”
“An exchange of favors, after you die, repays it.”
“After I’m dead, that’s it.”
“It is the afterlife.”
Gods, Christ, Mohamed, Buddha, Shiva, L. Ron Hubbard and Gaia, they were insane. I get to live free undercover while committed to something that doesn’t matter. Is this its religion? Instead of going to a monastery, it goes to prison for people? Or do they want my body to experiment on after I’m dead? Doesn’t matter if I’m dead. “I agree,” I said.
“Confirm?” the alien’s voice whispered, layers of emotion or simply inhuman pronunciation that made me want to recoil. It was verifying, making me sign in blood, so that I couldn’t back out.
“I agree to your terms, as long as I am not in prison. Just don’t get shivved on day one.”
“I am careful,” the alien said.
“Then we have a deal.”
It held out its hand, the tentacle mass looking life a writhing column of worms. But it is following human protocols of behavior, I told myself. My attorney said to take it. I held out my hand, not quite willing to seize its appendage.
When it seized my hand, the worms seemed to dig into my flesh. And the Yadeli began to reform, shifting, turning into me. It’s a shape shifter. That is how it got in here – it came in looking like a human. The alien’s attorney transformed a hand into the same weird shape, seized my other hand and transformed me somehow. The exchange of clothes after changing bodies was disconcerting, looking at my naked body on someone else, trying not to notice my new, unfamiliar, naked body. I guess I’d have time to get used to it. I joked the prison jumpsuit looked good on it since I’d already broken it in. It said nothing to me. I could only assume it had my voice.
My attorney took the new, other me out to court to hear the sentence. The alien attorney took me out the door it had come in, out of the courthouse, to my new life.
The next 25 years passed surprisingly quickly under the assumed identity my lawyer gave me, but then again, it had alien help crafting it. They gave me enough money for light fun like modest amounts of booze, food at little joints, maybe a girl once in a while. I didn’t dare form lasting relationships, not even friendships.
I bounced around as a tourist in a dozen different exotic locales. As time passed, I was a retiree in three more. I didn’t retire to Cabo but instead small towns in Panama and Thailand, moving periodically so that no one even memorized my new face. Time was only measured in the aging of my body in a hundred little ways, like aches in the morning and needing to nap during the day. I was getting tired these days.
The place was filled with alien shapes, sounds, textures, everything. It was like Hell. It took a few moments to process the thought. I was in Hell. It was an alien Hell. A black shifting mass that radiated pain and hatred from the depths of its being approached me. It didn’t have to do anything to scare me to death; that’s when I remembered dying.
“You made a deal with a Yadeli,” it sounded out in a combination of noises that managed to form the words.
“Yes,” I uttered. It was talking to me, not eating me, so maybe I had a chance. “What is this place?”
“The Yadeli’s place.”
“Is this their home-world?”
“It is their dimension.”
“How do I get home?” I asked.
“This is your home.”
“I’m from Earth,” I retorted.
“This is your home now.” It seemed to see me and through me. Was it a demon? Or were demons the interpretation of humans when they saw such things? “You take its place.”
“Oh, God.” The words were as much a plea for divine assistance as denial of the situation. “It went to prison for me for thirty years. Am I to be stuck here that long until we change places?”
“You cannot return.”
“We had a deal, an exchange.”
“It took your place for the rest of one of your lives or set period of time. If it died in that place, the Yadeli would have put you back in its place.”
“In prison? I guess. But if it served twenty years for me, it would be easier to cope with ten more in prison than this.”
“If the time is done, you are both free as long as you live.”
“Sure, and I’ve had a great life until now. What? Is its prison term up? But that doesn’t explain how I’m here.”
“And now you are dead.”
The chill that swept through me turned into ice in my gut. “You’re going to kill me. Please don’t kill me.”
“You are already dead.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“You are dead,” it repeated, radiating emotions that weighed me down, pulled me down, though it didn’t seem I could feel lower. Was it a telepath?
“You’re tormenting me.”
“This is what I do in this place.”
“God, this place will be Hell.”
“I’m not dead. I can’t be. I’m alive.”
The form floated so close it was as if it was putting its face in my face, though it didn’t have a solid face, merely bright eye things floating in the morass of nameless form.
I tried to pull back, but its eyes kept me frozen there. A small tendril of solid ether floated out of it and touched the forehead chakra location before literally sinking into my head. I started to scream in horror, and then the memory of my death came back to me.
They say dying in your sleep is a peaceful way to go. When you look back on it, sleep apnea as your body struggles to breathe each gasping breath as it suffocates a little at a time, time after time, is horrifying. It made me feel everything consciously I suffered unconsciously last night. I felt the life slipping out of my body, my dreams of drowning replaced by dreamless darkness punctuated by seizure like reflexes to only a fall into darkness as my brain died for lack of oxygen.
The creature let me see, as if like a ghost, my lifeless body in the mid-grade hotel room and observe the house cleaner come in to work. She glanced at me with annoyance and picked up my dirty laundry before leaving the room again. She assumed I was drunk again. I wondered how long it would take before someone would notice my body and if anyone would care.
My physical body was still that form, the shape the Yadeli had given it. And I was dead, body and soul. When someone found the body, they’d have papers but no family to take it. Would I get a pauper’s grave or be claimed by a Yadeli? My real family hadn’t heard from me in years, on purpose, and they would never know what happened. The grief of that was almost as great that of my life …
The demon withdrew the tentacle, seemingly satisfied. Its eyes glowed brighter for a moment, as if my emotional pain fed it, pleased it. Yes, that was a definition of evil.
“Where is that thing? Where’s the alien?”
“In that body, in that world, free after 25 years as of this morning.”
This morning? I died this morning. Last night. Whatever. “I died the moment it was free?”
“The deal was to exchange places, once it in your place, once you to its place.”
“How do I get back?”
“The body they provided expired. Your soul cannot go back to it.”
“But the deal? It’s for 25 years?”
“The Yadeli met its half of the bargain with you. It lived in prison those years, and you were free. You are dead, and you are here to fulfill your half.”
“You killed me as soon as it was free! That’s murder.”
“Did the contract say that you would live longer than the prison sentence?”
“No, but it talked about me taking the place if it died in prison.”
“If that had happened, you would have served the last years in prison, and then you would have come here.”
“What is it going to do with my body on Earth?”
“Whatever it wants, as long as that body lasts. All mistakes it may make in memory or action will be assumed to be from time away from your life.”
“What happens when that body doesn’t last?”
“I do not know, but it will not be able to return here, for you are here in its place.”
“Was it condemned to this place?”
“This is their native place.”
“How long will I be here?”
“This place is eternal.”
“Yes,” the demon said. In the dark deep hole of a face, I thought I saw a smile.
“I don’t believe in an afterlife,” I told it.
“It does not matter what you believe. You are here.”
“I don’t want to be here.”
“The Yadeli do not, either, but they have found a way to balance the equation, putting others here in their place.”
“But I shouldn’t be here! I didn’t do anything to be here!”
“You committed acts your people consider wrong, and then you evaded the punishment. While different ethical systems have different rules, that is two grave offenses and worthy of being here.”
“I’m an atheist.”
“Go talk to some of the other humans here. Some have said similar things, while others have other beliefs.”
“Is the devil here?”
“This dimension does not have that being, but you can use that word for others. It does not matter.”
“What would have happened if I died in my world, without this deal?”
“I don’t know, but if you are correct that there is no afterlife, the Yadeli dies there after some time and does not return here. None of them do. And you would have died there and gone to nothing. If those religions are right, perhaps you’d come to a place like this or a place of light. I don’t know that dimension except for the Yadeli leaving here and the messages they send about it for others.”
“Tell the one who took my life to –“
“They only talk to each other. And I do not care to talk to you anymore.”
I desperately scanned the crowd for a human face, but I couldn’t find one. I started to be poked, prodded and screamed at in many alien languages. I wondered what would happen next, and if I could die a second time in this afterlife. Facing nothing but nothingness if I died in my world would have been better than this. Or even dying in human hell, where I’d know exactly what to expect and see at least a few familiar faces.
© 2017 Tamara Wilhite