Sky took a step forward. Her leg stretched out toward the desolate horizon, then came down behind her. She wobbled and half-fell before she regained her balance. She closed her eyes, but it didn’t help.
She’d never been comfortable in her body, but this was ridiculous.
Oil slick-purple clouds rumbled, then dumped sheets of rain that billowed like sails. They smelled like burnt sugar and felt like feathers on her upturned face.
Sky stood, let it drench her. She glanced down at her naked body, trying not to hope and failing.
It was still wrong. Unchanged. Still her familiar, male prison. Reality itself bent and broke around her, but her body remained stubbornly unaltered.
Her tears tasted like cilantro.
Bare trees loomed to her left, and a herd of horses lumbered by, competent if not graceful on their lengthening legs.
Sky watched them, hoping to catch the trick of it.
“You’re new,” a voice said.
A woman floated toward her. Her long blond hair curled and billowed around her naked body, and her pale, bare breasts reminded Sky of how wrong her own body was.
“Yes,” she said. To her delight, her own voice sounded different. Feminine, like she’d always heard it in her head.
The woman blinked. “How strange you are.”
Sky had always been strange. She had thought no one would notice, here. “I’m sorry.” Her voice wavered, new and old within single syllables.
The woman shrugged. “Strange is not bad.”
“Oh,” Sky said. “Good.”
“What is your name?”
“I’m called Celina.” She floated around Sky, looking her up and down. “I’d like to have sex with you. Your body is very fine.”
Sky’s hated penis twitched. It stretched to the horizon, then returned to normal. “I’m sorry, but I’d rather not. I hate this body. I hoped I might change, here.”
Celina frowned. “I don’t understand. Your body is lovely and strong.”
Sky shrugged. She was tired of explaining herself.
“Well, things do change here.”
Celina shrugged. “Why would I wish to?”
Jealousy twisted Sky’s stomach. If she looked like Celina, she wouldn’t want to change either.
“Is there a secret to walking?” Sky asked.
Celina shrugged. “I’m sure there is. But I never bothered to learn it.” She floated in a fast circle around Sky, smirking as Sky’s head turned all the way around to watch. “I float instead. I can teach you.”
“You are interesting, and I am bored. And I am selfish and optimistic enough to maintain designs on sex.”
They floated after the horses. The animals frolicked across the flat, brown ground, around rocks that cracked open like eggs. Tiny horses spilled out of the rocks, awkward and shaky, but still beautiful. Sky liked looking at them. Their strange bodies gave her hope.
A herd of elephants trotted up on spindly legs, and they eyed the horses warily. They gathered around a cluster of darker rocks, and tiny elephants scrambled out and clustered around them.
Sky turned to Celina. “How can I change my body?”
“You could try bathing in the ocean. Water is mutable everywhere. It might help.”
“How do I get there?” Sky asked.
Celina shrugged. “I just float around till I hear it. Or smell it, sometimes.”
Celina’s body stayed constant, even when she moved. Her solidness was starting to look wrong. Everything else flowed and changed, but not Celina.
“Let’s try this direction,” Celina said, floating off.
They floated through huge melted clocks that felt like warm pudding against Sky’s skin, climbed trees that cast no shadows and felt like old plastic, and skated across perfectly smooth pools that smelled like fresh cut grass. They spoke to huge floating faces, but none of them knew the best path to the ocean. It moved so often. They agreed that it was the best place for Sky’s needs.
The sun hopped around instead of sailing across the sky, so Sky had no way of tracking time’s passage. They rested when she was tired–Celina never seemed to tire.
Sky found a stray tiny elephant tucked into one of the trees, and picked it up. It fit in the palm of her hand, and its tiny heart beat so fast that its whole body trembled. “What are you doing?” Celina asked. “Those things carry disease.”
“We have to find its mother.”
Celina rolled her eyes.
They met no one who could care for the elephant, found nothing that it would eat. Its heart slowed. Darkness fell, and purple fire danced across the sky.
The elephant slept curled against Sky’s throat. When Sky woke, its body burst into a thousand tiny hummingbirds that scattered in a thousand directions.
There was no food. Sky dreamed of hamburgers and warm slices of chocolate cake. She woke feeling full, but the feeling faded quickly.
“I’m starving,” Sky said.
Celina nodded. “You will have to go home, soon. Or you’ll die.”
Sky’s stomach fell. She looked down, hoping to see it hanging at her knees, but her body remained unchanged. She wondered if she was spending too much time with Celina–if her constant-ness was contagious. “Everything else here changes. Why don’t you?”
“I just don’t.”
“Are you human? Will you starve, too?”
“Tell me why you want to change your body, and I will answer your questions.”
“I want who I am on the outside to match who I am on the inside.”
Celina bobbed up and down. “At least you know who you are on the inside.”
Celina shrugged. “I’m not sure I have an inside.”
Sky’s stomach rumbled. “I need to go home.”
“Perhaps the ocean will help.”
“Do you hear it? Or smell it?” Sky asked.
“Soon,” Celina said.
Sky wasn’t sure if she believed her.
Sky’s feet dragged. Hunger made her dizzy. “What happens if I can’t get home?” She refused to think about her failure–about returning home with her still-wrong body. Right now, she just didn’t want to starve.
Celina pointed to the horizon. “Look.”
Water’s shimmery reflection danced ahead of them, and distance-tiny white-capped waves crashed against the shore. Sky ran. Her legs tangled together like strands of overcooked spaghetti, but she didn’t stop. She barreled forward until she fell into the waves.
The water burned. She yelped and stumbled back.
The ocean branded golden stripes on her flesh. The foam clung to her and soothed the blistering pain. The smell of cotton candy overpowered her.
A cloud of butterflies drifted out of the waves and settled on her face. Their feet pricked with tiny, painful shocks.
Sky waved the butterflies away. “It’s hot!”
Celina rolled her eyes. “Of course it’s hot.”
Sky took a deep, bracing breath and stepped back toward the water.
Celina grabbed her hand. “Wait. Before you go in, please, have sex with me.”
Sky’s hated penis responded, like it always did. “Why?”
“Maybe it will help with the emptiness I feel.”
Sky had tried to fill emptiness with sex, and it hadn’t worked. But things were different here. “Okay.”
Celina grinned and pounced like a tiger. Her breasts stuck to Sky’s chest and stretched like taffy when she pulled back. She straddled Sky, and pleasure more intense than any Sky had ever known spiked through her. Celina covered her face with kisses, then raked long nails down her back, and her skin parted with a hiss. Celina thrust and rocked and arched back.
She collapsed on top of Sky, winded and giggling.
“Thank you,” she whispered. She lifted herself away, and Sky felt a strange pulling. There was an instant of pain, then a strange, giddy relief.
Sky looked down, and there was nothing between her legs. Breasts rose from her chest, mirror images of Celina’s. “Did you know this would happen?”
Celina shook her head. “But I do feel better. Thanks.”
Sky ran her hands over her changed body. She touched her face–her smooth cheeks, her smaller nose. It felt like the face she’d always dreamed of seeing in the mirror.
Celina pulled Sky to my feet and kissed her. She tasted like smoky chocolate.
Sky jumped into the water. It burned, and her skin turned gold. She swam deeper, into deep purple water that was cooler against her skin. Fluorescent butterflies swirled in the waves. Tiny bubbles fizzed all around her body, and then she could feel them inside her.
Sky laughed, and the air bubbles emerged as bright golden fish.
She swam until the water was black, then burst to the surface of her own bed. Tiny flecks of gold flaked off of her skin, and a single bright purple butterfly fluttered out the open window. Her skin smelled like spun sugar. “It actually worked,” she said, relief and joy washing through her. Even just sprawled across the bed, she felt more at home in her body than she ever had before. Her stomach grumbled.
She scrambled to her feet and ran to the mirror. She examined every inch of her new body, laughing her new laugh and missing Celina and the golden fish.
Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and cat. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death… She’s a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.