The Tenth One


Chapter One: Business as Usual

Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Present Day.

"I told you to be careful!" a guard exclaims. "This isn't your private presidential suite, for God's sake!"

"Hey!" the second guard retorts. "It's the first time I spilled my coffee!"

"Clean it up before the shrinks see us," the first guard continues.

"Nobody's gonna come here!" replies the second. "It's a damn graveyard shift!"

"Just do it!" the first guard loses patience.

"Alright, alright," the second guard shrugs. "Be right back. Gotta find a rag. And you mind the screens, alright?"

"Jackass," mutters the first guard and proceeds to look at the monitors. "What the..?"

Two minutes later.

"Hey!" the second guard comes back with the rag. "What's going on with the screen over there?"

"I don't know," the first guard says. "But it looks awfully familiar."

"Another one?" the second one asks.

"Most likely," the first guard replies. "It's been what - a year since the last one?"

"Yeah," the second officer nods vigorously. "We'd better alert the doctor."

Eight minutes later.

"Where is the individual?" asks the doctor.

"In your office," replies the first guard. "As always. We took her there. She's in shock."

"Thank you," the doctor replies and heads to the office, leaving the two guards in the corridor.

The doctor opens the door. He sees a blond woman who keeps twirling her curls.

"Hello," the professional approaches the woman and sits on a couch, facing her. He asks in a soothing voice, "Do you know where you are?"

The woman slowly lifts up her head.

"I'm unsure," she says. "I don't understand any of this."

"I have most of the answers you will need," the doctor asserts. "You're not the first one in this situation and, alas, probably won't be the last."

"Where am I?" the woman asks.

"You're inside the Waverly Hills Sanatorium," the doctor calmly replies.

"This can't be," the woman slowly shakes her head. "Is this 2011?"

"Yes," the doctor nods. "It's June the 16th, 2011."

"Could it be?" the female eyes the professional. "Is it possible I've moved to another universe.. unscathed?"

The doctor touches his chin. The woman's comments do not seem to surprise him.

"Were you attacked by anyone prior to your arrival?" the doctor asks.

"Yes," the woman replies.

"Can you describe the attack?" the professional continues.

The woman nods slightly.

"It was dark. I heard a comment, with that redneckish accent, you know," she says.

"What did the attacker say?" the doctor asks. "And what do you mean by redneckish?"

"He called me a fine piece of ass," the woman smiles. "You know, the drawl, the y'alls.."

"Y'alls?" the doctor seems to focus on the less brutal aspect.

"Aha?" the woman replies. "You don't know the y'all expression?"

"No," the doctor shakes his head. "Been living in this country for forty five years and never heard of it."

"It's probably one of the linguistic differences between my reality, and this one," the woman concludes.

"Most likely," the professional nods vigorously as he scribbles something in his notebook.

"I think there's something you should know," the female says.

"I'm listening?" the doctor leans forward.

"Well," the woman pauses and lowers her head. "I don't know what happened, I don't know if this is even remotely real, whatever that means, or whether I'm in the middle of a psychotic episode, but... I'm cross-dresser."

The doctor's roving eyes signal lots of mental processing. He gets the pivotal part of the message.

"Go on," he replies soothingly.

"I was inside my car, preparing my wig, my heels, and a scarf to cover my mouth. I put my hood on, because the wig had those stitches on top. I took a belt and two soccer socks. A bit of powder on my face.."

"This must've been quite a feat," the doctor continues. "How did you get the heels, the wig?"

"The internet, of course," the woman replies. "How ironic, I wanted to be a woman, maybe for a day, but, but this.."

The scientist nods in acquiescence.

"The heels were definitely a pain," the woman says. "Especially blisters.. I would use a needle after putting it through the fire. The bubble would burst - literally."

"Show me how you walk," the doctor says. "Come on!"

The woman stands up and walks around the room.

"Very good!" the professional claps his hands. "I'm no expert, but it does look good!"

"I learned heel-to-toe works for me," the female says while sitting down again. "Moderate pace, keep your heels together.. and don't look down."

"This is the ultimate irony," the doctor catches breath. "The skill will definitely come in handy, given your current situation."

"No doubt," the woman replies hesitantly.

"I had this psychological trick I'd use from time to time," the woman continues, as if trying to break the silence.

"What'd that be?" the doctor scans the female.

"Well," she continues. "I'd choose a cemetery, then someone'd walk past me, and I'd have a makeup kit inside my front pocket.. and I'd push it out.."

"Ah!" the doctor raises his index finger. "I get it. Were you recording their reactions?"

"Yeah," the woman nods. "How did you know?"

"I'm a psychiatrist, you know," the doctor bursts into laughter. "Oh my.."

Thirty seconds of laughter due to the situational absurdity.

"Alright," the doctor continues. "Was there a tornado warning?"

"It's possible," the female says. "Why?"

The professional looks around the room and says,

"Emotional trauma connected with severe weather phenomena and a supposedly haunted location, might open our minds and send us to other realities. It's exceedingly rare, but you do hear about people who disappear, or, indeed, appear out of the blue. In many, if not all, cases we've investigated there's been a perfect storm in place, if you'll excuse the pun. So far, we didn't detect a link between the paradigm shift and substance abuse."

"Good to know," the female smiles.

"You don't look like a binge drinker to me," the professional asserts.

"I'm not," the woman shakes her head. "But I'm not a straight edger, either."

"Are you referring to that group, which," the doctor says.

"Yes," the woman butts in. "That's the one."

"How did you end up in the sanatorium?" the doctor asks.

"I sneaked inside to test my heels in yet another supposedly haunted location," the female replies. "Normally, I'd walk around cemeteries. It's quiet there and I can record everything." "Does that mean in your, former now, reality, the sanatorium's closed?" the doctor asks.

"Yes," the woman nods. "Closed by the state because of allegations of patient abuse in the 1980s."

"Fascinating," the doctor's eyes sparkle. "Hadn't it been for my job here.. I'd've be a homeless guy, you know?"

"Then you probably are one in my, former now, reality," the woman smiles.

"Fair enough," the professional nods vigorously. "Fair enough."

"I've two questions," the female says. "One: how do I know I can trust you. And two: where do we go from here?"

The doctor nods in acknowledgement.

"I was about to get into that. You don't have to believe me, of course, but - as you probably know - there are little things that come into play. Obviously, your double isn't a problem anymore. Your gender has changed. Yes, on a genetic level, not just on a cross-dresser level, although in this reality most cross-dressers are heterosexual men. We need to find you a job, I'd say. That's our priority. I don't have to help you with that, of course, but you're gonna be stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place without all the required IDs. Also, remember the government would love to get their dirty hands on you - and others like you. Maybe they already know about you, who knows."

"Alright," the woman nods. "You convinced me - for now."

"You're the tenth one," the doctor says while kneading the forehead with his knuckles.

"There were nine before me?" the woman asks.

"Yes," the doctor says. "I have a lot of practice in the we're starting a new life department. I'm like a life coach, telling you what you're good at even if you don't know it yet! Besides, there've been nine men before you, but you're the first what our culture, and possibly yours, calls a cross-dresser. That's why I was rather.. taken aback, if you will."

"I don't understand something here," the woman continues. "I mean, you know, down there.."

"The stuff between your legs?" the doctor continues. "We don't know how. Did you look in the mirror?"

"Yes," the female replies. "My hair.."

"Your hair's gotten longish," the doctor nods. ""It's possible the residual self-image of how women should look like is so strong, well, it altered your self-image.. I really don't know, but that's a viable hypothesis. Something they talk about in the Matrix. Did you ever watch it?"

"Yes," the female replies. "It's in my reality as well."

"My friend, she's a publisher," the doctor continues. "I've a feeling you're a writer, a linguist, you work with your voice, am I right?"

"Yes," the woman nods vigorously. "I mean, I am, or was, a journalist, and also a writer, but never really got a chance to publish anything."

"You're in luck, then," the doctor grins and touches the woman's left arm. "My friend, she's gonna help you!"

"Thanks," the woman says. "But what about my double?"

"We'll look into that," the doctor says. "Your gender's changed, though, so I don't think it'll be a problem. And besides, imagine siamise twins.. I mean, you do know what happens when two doubles are too close to one another, right?"

"Obviously," the woman says. "I watch Fringe."

"What's Fringe?" the doctor asks.

"Or.. watched," the woman mutters to herself. "I'm also interested in the unexplained."

"The unexplained, huh?" the psychiatrist sighs. "I wish I could tell you this world embraces the idea."

"Not surprised, seeing there are psychiatrists around," the woman grins.

"Nuda veritas," the doctor grins. "But hey, if my colleagues were observing this conversation, we'd probably get be labeled as dereistic - best case scenario, and I don't even wanna entertain the notion of the worst-case scenario.."

"Awesome," the woman nods. "I really do hope this isn't my mind playing tricks here."

"I don't think so," the psychiatrist asserts. "If this ever comes out, and hopefully it doesn't, I'll put my reputation on the line to defend the notion of possible worlds being as real as this one."

Five seconds of silence.

"Oh!" the doctor exclaims as he is standing up. "Where are my manners! I'm Mark Norton."

"Well," the female stands up as well. "I was called Paul, but under the circumstances.."

"Pauline it is!" the psychiatrist throws his hands in the air. "Don't worry, everything's gonna be just fine!"

"There's one more detail I didn't mention," the woman says.

"And what's that?" Norton turns around to face the female.

"I'm actually," she pauses. "A.. Russian."

"Really!" the psychiatrist stands back in amazement. "Your American accent, your English is so smooth.. which is good for us!"

"Why's that?" inquires Pauline-to-be .

"At the risk of sounding less than sensitive," the doctor pauses. "Changing one's gender is one thing, but changing one's gender and one's nationality.. that's quite another.. quite a feat of engineering if I may say so!"

"How old are you now?" the doctor continues, trying to break the awkwardness.

"I'm twenty five," the woman replies, ignoring the awkward moment.

"Good," the doctor says. "Good. You're tall and intelligent.. very good."

"What about my education?" the female asks. "I don't have any papers with me."

"Good question," replies Norton. "We're gonna have to discuss this with my friend - the publisher. She's really good at this stuff. You know, we're gonna have to fake a document here and there. Do you have any degrees?"

"Yes," the woman nods. "BA in English."

"Great!" the doctor claps his hands. "This is all I need to know for now. Wait here, ok? I'm gonna call my friend now."

"Are you sure she's gonna wanna help me?" asks Pauline-to-be.

"Absolutely!" Mark exclaims. "Why wouldn't she? Wait here, be right back!"

Norton leaves the room in a daze of excitement.

"Guys," the doctor calls the guards. "Keep an eye on her, ok?"

"Will do, boss," one of the guards replies.

"What was that number again?" Mark scratches his head while walking down the corridor. "Ah! I remember now!"

"Hi Mark!" a female voice can be heard. "Let me guess - another delivery?"

"Yes," Norton continues. "This case is way more interesting than the previous ones. She really does have the potential."

"Alrighty!" the woman replies. "Bring her to me and we'll see what I can do!"

Norton goes back to his office and sees the woman walking around in heels.

"Practicing, are we?" he quips.

"Not really," she replies. "I just don't want to sit all the time."

"Are you ready to see my friend?" asks the mental health professional.

"Yeah," the woman nods.

The two leave the sanatorium, while the suspicious Pauline-to-be's mind conjures up grotesque scenarios involving pimping her out, and meeting the victims of his(her) masturbatory internet phantasmagorias.

"Don't worry, Paul!" the doctor exclaims. "Mutatis mutandis, it's gonna be perfect!"

"You know," Pauline-to-be struts on the sidewalk. "Is there a global financial crisis on this planet?"

"Not to my knowledge," Mark replies. "Why, is there one where you come from?"

"Yeah," Pauline-to-be replies. "And people flocking to a French village waiting for the 2012 doom.. maybe being here is a blessing-in-disguise."

"That's a good way to think about it," says Mark. "There - my car."

"Wait," the woman stops. "Can I get.. pregnant?"

"The changes are on a fundamental, that is, genetic, level," replies Norton. "The answer is yes."

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