1. Rewind – by PunchlinePress
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The boy, embarrassed he started listening when the man warned him not to, started walking away from the chair and table and into the stack of books to hide.

A voice spoke through the headphones.

“In the 1st century a coven of witches was infamous for the ability to change men into women and women into men.  Some people sought out this magic.  Some found it unnatural and fought for it to be purged from the world.  The coven was rounded up and hung.  Before they died, they put all of their magic into a single artifact so it would live on...”

Rewind - by PunchlinePress

(Chapter 1)

Another regular start to another regular day. Shuffling down the halls with the pressing herd of other students, making it to his locker to dump his coat and grab whatever books he needed for morning classes, dragging himself to homeroom. The commotion from getting settled into homeroom started to die down as Rob turned in his seat to look back at him. 

“Alright, so here’s the deal: I grabbed Paige’s scarf from her locker the other day, and--”

“Rob! I’ve been looking everywhere for that! My mom was really mad!” Paige chimed in from her seat beside him.

“Don’t worry! All you gotta do is make sure Kieran gets it back from the old foundry!”

“What?” Kieran asked incredulously. “Why’d you take it there?”

“Because, it’s time for your challenge, Kieran!”

He groaned loudly. The challenge. A stupid idea that the other guys in the group they hung out with had come up with. Apparently it was supposed to prove that they were “manly” enough to stay in the group after they moved on to high school next year. He’d so far been avoiding a challenge, but now that the other guys had all done their own stupid feats of daring, his ticket was due to be punched.

“Whatever, fine, where’s her scarf?” Kieran asked, folding his arms.

“Oh, nowhere too bad. It’s just up on the catwalks over the old smelting furnaces!” Rob grinned.

“Fine, I’ll get it after school today, but you’re still a jerk for taking it, Rob.”

“Oh come on it’s just a dumb scarf! Besides, the catwalks aren’t even dangerous, we hang out there all the time!”

The old foundry had been abandoned for decades but nobody had ever done anything to tear it down, so it sat abandoned and rusting, the interior filling with graffiti from past generations of disaffected youth. It was only natural that it would become a place of local legend for kids. Of course the local police tried to keep kids from going in, but they were too short staffed to maintain any real presence there. As a result, kids were always sneaking in to do stupid, dangerous crap, or just hanging out drinking and smoking illegally.

Still, for all the rumors, Kieran and his buddies hung out there a lot, so he wasn’t actually all that bothered about going in after the scarf.

At least, he hadn’t been until he had seen where the scarf was. Rob had tossed it on the catwalks alright. The third floor catwalks, where nobody went because they were rusted all to hell, which is where he found himself now, taking each step as if it were his last, clinging to the equally rusted railings as if they might save him.

“Kieran, come down!” Paige shouted from below. “It’s not worth getting hurt over a scarf!”

“I’ve almost got it!” Kieran took a few more steps along the rusted catwalk, edging closer to the scarf, and his successful completion of the test.

“Come on, Kieran! It’s just a scarf! I can get another one!” Paige was a landing below, but slowly climbing up after him.

“No, I’ve gotta do this or they’re just going to keep coming up with stupid tests!” Or worse, they’d stop hanging out with him, and he knew he didn’t have enough of a social circle to handle that kind of loss. He’d be a social outcast in high school for sure.

Kieran took a few steps farther. Almost there. Almost…

CREEEE… PING….PING…

The walkway beneath him gave out, and he shrieked in terror as he latched onto the railing to avoid falling.

“Kieran!” Paige rushed up the rest of the stairs, her shoes clanging against the rusty metal and sending further tremors through the already unstable catwalk.

He felt her hands wrap around his waist, and help pull him back onto the sturdy part of the catwalk.

“Th-thanks,” he gasped, his heart hammering in his chest.

“We’re going back down, NOW, you idiot!” Paige shouted through her adrenaline high.

“Yeah,” he nodded, carefully walking with her. 

CreEeeeeEee…

“Kieran!” Paige shoved him forward towards the stairs.

“Oof!” Kieran grunted, falling hard on the rusty old landing near the top of the stairs, just in time to watch the entire section they had been on collapse, taking Paige with it. 

The world seemed to move in slow motion as Paige fell, arms pinwheeling, her voice a shrill screech that echoed louder and louder into eternity.

Her body hit the twisted, rusty heap of scrap below, several shards of sharp metal piercing through soft flesh. All he could see was her mangled body, blood pooling around her, the look of shock and pain in her eyes.

Dying.

==========

“PAIGE!” He sat upright in bed, soaked through with sweat. 

The same nightmare as every night. Always that damn foundry with little variations here and there, but it always ended the same. Paige, falling. Dying.

He ran his hand through his sweat-slick hair, the tangled mane that it had become. He’d stopped cutting it a couple years back. He’d stopped doing everything a couple years back, after his last breakdown.

The red LED numbers on his alarm clock flashed 03:33. 

‘Perfect,’ he thought, exhaling heavily. Still 4 hours until I actually need to be up.’ He climbed out of bed and walked over to the bathroom, scratching his junk.

The light was still on in his mom’s room down the hallway, meaning she was staying up late working overtime again.

He trudged past her door, walked into the bathroom, and shut the door. At the very least, a scalding hot shower would push away the nightmare, for now.

Or so he had hoped. When he returned to his room clad in only a towel, he could still hear the scream ringing in his ears. He fished out a clean outfit for the day, opting for his usual jeans and a hoodie. Putting effort into your appearance was for people who deserved to be alive. Not people like him.

The only thing that had stopped him from taking his own life was the knowledge that she had given hers to save his. Killing himself would be a pretty shitty way to thank her.

He sank into his computer chair, powering the machine on as he grabbed the old framed photo beside the monitor.

A picture of himself, Rob, and Paige back in middle school. He’d long since sliced up Rob’s face on the photo in a fit of grief. It’d been easy to blame Rob for putting the scarf there… but if he hadn’t gone after it, Paige wouldn’t have died saving him.

He brushed his thumb over her smiling face in the photo. “Six years,” he mumbled to the portrait. “Can’t believe you’ve been gone six years… it still feels like yesterday.”

Paige didn’t reply. She never did, of course, being a photo… but he liked to imagine that one day she’d say something. Not sure what he wanted to hear. Acceptance of his apologies? A condemnation of his guilt? Maybe she’d just tell him it was OK to finally go off himself. 

He sank into his usual haunts online, browsing forums and subreddits and anything else he could find. Anything that might bring her back. He’d spent years on harebrained schemes and scams, crackpots, liars and cheats. He’d even gotten some paranormal investigation gear together to see if he could find any evidence of her haunting the foundry.

All of it inconclusive, except for a lot of wasted time and money.

A new post on one of the subs he followed caught his eye. Something about a new shop that dealt in the paranormal. These kinda things cropped up all over the internet, but they were usually just scams. Still, with 333 positive reviews, he couldn’t say no to at least giving them a shot.

Their website was simple, clean, and lacked any of the edgy images or clickbait claims that so many cheap scam sites used. The only thing to identify it was a weird logo in the top left corner above the navigation bars: A circle with three spokes; one straight down with a bar across it, one angled off the top right with an arrow, and one off to the top left with an arrow and a bar across it. In the center of the symbol was an open eye, seemingly staring at him.

No, not just seemingly, the iris actually tracked the cursor around the screen. It was an old and corny programming trick, and managed to get a laugh out of him. 

The categories on the left were everything from good luck charms, to potions, spells, hexes, curses, and life-affirming blessings. Most of this stuff seemed like it was made to rip off the LGBT community, which was nearly enough to make him click away. He didn’t understand them, other than their super relatable memes, but trolling them was a kinda shit move.

He was about to close the page when he saw the last category: Curiosities.

Well, he’d always been curious himself, so he clicked. This was a much more varied section. They were appealing to all kinds of fetishes and niche groups here. He rolled his eyes, and was yet again on his way to closing the page when he saw a pocket watch.

‘Erroneous Timepiece’, the listing called it. He clicked for more information.

‘This timepiece is capable of fixing the single greatest mistake of the operator’s life.’

There was a bunch of other text jargon, but the first line had sold him. He didn’t care that it was definitely a scam, or that it had cost him $33.30, most of which was expedited shipping.

He was going to give it a try, goddammit. 

(Chapter 2)

“Delivery for Kieran Anderson,” the slightly overweight man said, holding a small package in one grubby hand.

“That’s me,” he said as he signed the little digital pad with something that in no way resembled his signature, because digital pads are awful.

“Have a nice day,” the delivery guy mumbled half-heartedly as he waddled back down the overgrown walkway to his truck.

Kieran shut the door with more force than was strictly necessary, and bolted to his room.

Even with all the times he’d been scammed, he still got excited that this might be the one thing that worked.

He shut and locked the door behind him, grabbing the knife off his desk as he sat down.

The interior of the box was exposed with a few quick, precise cuts to the tape. An ancient looking pocket-watch lay nestled into a bed of old shredded newsprint. Not exactly the safest of shipping methods. Most people would at least make a token offering of bubble wrap to protect something fragile.

The watch wasn’t particularly large, but it was very ornate. The case was covered in beautiful engravings, but all seemed to intertwine around one - the strange symbol from the header of the website he’d bought it from. Granted, here it looked more like some weird arcane rune than a website logo. 

A small scrap of paper was included with the watch. Instructions, he assumed as he unfolded it.

With time in hand, keep in mind your greatest regret. Depress the stem, allowing the lid to open. With time laid bare, depress the stem again and hold for a ten-count.

He shrugged at the oddly worded instructions, but set the paper aside and took the watch in his left hand.

Obviously, his biggest regret was--

“Kieran, are you in there? I thought I heard you come home,” his mother said through his door.

Dammit…’ He thought. “Yeah mom, I’m home.”

“Great, can you come downstairs and help me get dinner started? I’m going to have to work late again tonight and I could use the help.”

“Sure Mom, be down in a sec,” he lied.

He took the watch in hand, and thought back to events with Paige. His single greatest regret. 

He depressed the button, and the lid popped open far more smoothly than he would have expected. The face was beautiful, with the numbers seeming to glow softly against the ebony interior. The delicate golden hands were frozen at 3:33, with the ‘seconds’ hand seeming precariously frozen just before ticking over to 3:34.

Well, it’s not even running. That’s a great sign. Another scam.’ He rolled his eyes, but did as the instructions had said, depressing the stem and holding, he began to count

One, two, three, four, five…

“Kieran? Are you coming down?” his Mom shouted from downstairs.

His mom’s shouting made him lose count in his head, and he considered releasing the stem early, but he wasn’t sure if there would be consequences, supposedly, for doing so.

A soft ‘tick’ echoed from the watch, and he realized the second hand had ticked forward, causing the minute hand to follow it. 

Weird though, the watch almost seems… bigger? he thought, looking at it and turning it over in his hand. Wait a minute… what’s up with my hands? They look so… delicate?

“Kiera, if you wanna help me with this you better get your butt down here!” Mom shouted from the bottom of the stairs again.

He looked towards his bedroom door, brushing back some of his coppery hair back over his ear. “Coming, Mom!” he shouted.

Except that wasn’t his voice.

That sounded suspiciously like a girl, actually.

He stupidly looked around for a girl in his immediate vicinity.

Wait, my room?’ Everything in the room seemed brighter, more cheerful. The walls were a pale blue, the curtains and bedding were all white, as was the carpet. Strands of fairy lights wrapped around the headboard of a bed with a concerning number of stuffed animals on it. Even the desktop PC sitting in front of him had changed - the desktop showing a beautiful nature scene instead of the standard black featureless desktop he had preferred.

“Kiera!” his mother snapped, “Get your little butt down here and help me with dinner young lady!”

Oh fuck…

He looked down at himself, and realized that he was, in fact, the girl he had been looking for.

Slender arms, slender everything, and the slight shelf created by breasts that felt huge looking down at them from this angle. He tentatively brought his hands up to cup them, finding them just about a proper handful for his new dainty hands.

Oh, shit, I can fucking feel them… this is really happening, isn’t it?!

He shot up out of the computer chair, hurrying to his closet and ignoring the strange bounciness to his body. Thankfully, girl-him had still mounted a mirror to the back of her closet door, like he had before he broke it and never bothered to replace it. 

The girl was fairly slim, though she had the beginnings of a decent figure. He guessed that she looked about fourteen or fifteen. which suddenly made him feel like a huge creep for checking her out in the mirror. Her cheeks colored with a blush as he came to this self-judgment.

Just then, something else caught his eye in the mirror. Hanging over the back of his computer chair was the scarf. Paige’s scarf. The same one from the foundry… why was it here? Why now? He hadn’t seen that scarf in years… but he’d never forget it. 

“Kiera!” his mother shouted, thumping on his door and pulling him from his reverie.

He let out a shrill squeak that was perfectly suited to his current body, but was nothing like the more subdued sounds of shock he was used to making.

“Get your butt down here and help make dinner or it’s not going to be ready before Paige gets here!”

Paige?! His heart soared. It had worked! Paige was alive! He let loose a bubbly giggle, grinning. Finally! Something worked! I saved her!

“Coming, mom!” he said, crossing his room to open the door.

The woman standing on the other side didn’t look nearly as haggard as the one he was used to calling mother, she seemed younger.

Though that only made sense if he was younger too…

“Took you long enough, what were you doing in there?” 

“Uh… brushing my hair?” he fumbled.

“Well, if you call that brushed, we need to have a chat,” she teased. “Come on, let’s get dinner started before Paige and her mother show up.”

Crap… they can already tell I’m being weird. No way I can pass as their daughter. he thought, following his… or, his female self’s mother down the stairs.

“Finally got her out of her room, huh?” a man said from the living room as they walked past.

Dad?! He turned, looking into the living room to see him sitting in a recliner, watching TV. 

No way! It’s really him! He stared in awe. His father had left them when he was ten, seemingly with no explanation. Kieran had only learned years later that it was drug related. 

“What’s the matter, honey? Something on my face?” he asked.

“N-no… just um… nice to see you, dad.” He smiled.

His dad quirked a brow. “Just dad today? Not ‘daddy’? I must be in trouble,” he joked.

Kieran felt warmth creep into his face again. Crap! That’s twice I’ve messed up and it hasn’t even been an hour! Her parents are going to think she’s gone crazy!

“Nope, just um, trying something new!” he said lamely. 

“Oh, okay… well I guess my little girl’s growing up after all… won’t always want to call her dear old dad ‘daddy’...” He mocked, wiping a tear from his eye.

Kieran rolled his eyes, but found himself smiling.

“There’s my girl’s smile.” He smiled back, “Now go on and git to the kitchen before your mom’s after you again.”

“Right,” he nodded, turning and walking towards the kitchen.

Dad’s here… Paige is alive… what else is different here, other than the obvious? How does saving Paige keep dad around, or for that matter, make me a girl?

“Alright Kiera, I need you to chop the veggies for me and then get them started.”

Why is mom making dinner? he wondered. “Don’t you have to get going? You’re working late tonight, right?”

She shot him a weird look. “No? I never work late. Are you feeling okay, honey?”

Crap! I guess “Kiera’s” mom doesn’t work the same schedule mine does…’

“Yeah,” he said dismissively, waving it off, “sorry, blonde moment.”

She rolled her eyes, and went back to cooking.

Kieran had never cooked with mom before. She’d never wanted him in the kitchen with her, saying that it was just faster if she did everything.

He had reasoned that it was probably because she was afraid to let him have a knife, for fear he might cut himself, as clumsy as he had been as a kid.

Strangely, taking the knife now it was like he’d done this a thousand times. His hands went through the motions of gathering up the carrots and dicing them effortlessly. 

Wow, this is so weird… but kinda fun! He found himself smiling, and even… humming?!

“You’re in a good mood,” his mom noted, chuckling as she stirred some ground beef in a skillet.

“Um, yeah, just excited to see Paige!” His girlish voice conveyed enthusiasm so much more easily than his masculine voice had.

His mother laughed and rolled her eyes. “If you saw her any more often you’d be attached at the hip… you girls, I swear.”

He smiled warmly, glad that not only was Paige alive, they were still close! Part of him had worried that maybe Paige didn’t like him as much as a girl.

Kieran worked happily through everything his mom asked him to do, pushing down the awkwardness of this new body, of the long hair (which his mother pulled back after complaining it was going to get in the food), of the pain of catching his hips on the counter as he moved around it.

Paige was alive.

Nothing else mattered.

The doorbell rang around five-thirty, and he chimed up with a quick “I’ll get it!”

He bounded down the hall, ignoring the slight jiggle to certain parts of his body. He grabbed the door knob and pulled it open, excited to see the girl he’d not seen alive in six years.

(Chapter 3)

“Kiera!” Paige shouted as she flung herself through the doorway, catching him in a hug.

He felt a giggle bubble up as he stumbled back, hugging her. “Paige!”

“Honestly,” Paige’s mother rolled her eyes, “you girls act like you haven’t seen each other in years. It hasn’t even been a day!”

Kieran smiled, taking a step back to let Mrs. Harris step inside. “Sorry, Mrs. H!”

She simply shook her head, smiling. “I’m used to it. Now, where’s your mom at? I brought her something.”

“In the kitchen,” he piped up.

“Thanks dear,” she smiled and hurried off to the kitchen, leaving the two of them alone.

I can’t believe it’s really her… she’s alive, and fine, and just like she was before! his thoughts whirled as he stood there, basking in her presence, in just how alive she was.

“Hey, you said you wanted to show me something you got?” Paige said cheerfully. 

“Huh?”

“Didn’t you say your thing you ordered came?”

What could I-- uh, she(?) have ordered? Did she order something from that weird website too?

“Oh, right! Uh, follow me!” Kieran turned, hurrying back to his room.

“Girls! Don’t run in the house, and don’t thunder up the stairs!” his dad chastised as they ran past. 

“Sorry dad,” Kieran called back, continuing up the stairs.

Wait, did I just reply to ‘girls’? The thought caused his pace to slow as he neared his room. Her room. This girl version of him.

He opened the door and flipped the lightswitch, looking for whatever it was she might have gotten that she’d want to show Paige.

“Oh, my scarf! I wondered where I left that. Must have forgotten it yesterday when I was over!” Paige grabbed it off the back of my computer chair and folded it up to take with her.

I guess that explains why it was here. She was in my room yesterday, apparently,’ he thought, returning to trying to find whatever the heck it was that he was supposed to be showing her. Surely it wasn’t her scarf, right? He definitely wouldn’t have called her over to show her a surprise just for it to be her scarf that she forgot.

There, just barely sticking out from under the bed was a shipping box! He moved over to it and pulled it out, revealing a plain brown shipping box with the label info all markered out. It wasn’t much larger than a shoe box. 

“Ooo~” Paige cooed, leaning in.

He carefully opened the flaps of the box to reveal a familiar pocket-watch.

What the hell is that thing doing here?! He picked it up, inspecting it to make sure it was, in fact, the same watch.

Every detail on it was the same, except for one. This one was running. The one he had used hadn’t started running until after he used it. So had his female self used it too? 

What mistake had she wanted to correct?

Did it have anything to do with why he was her now?

“Cool watch, I guess… but why were you so excited to show me?” Paige asked, tilting her head. 

Think quick… she’s into history, make something up! He fumbled for a moment before blurting out: “It’s magic!!” Oh good job, really smooth, well we’ve established you aren’t any better at lying as a girl! he mentally berated himself.

Paige was straight faced for a minute, then broke out into giggles. “Seriously? You have to stop falling for scams, Kiera.”

“Hey, I mean, it could be magic! You never know…” he shot back half-heartedly. He had no clue why he was even defending this stupid story.

“Uh-huh,” Paige laughed, grabbing one of the Paranormal DVDs off my bedside table. “You’re about as likely to find real magic on the internet as you are to find good writing in season 12 of this mess.”

“Hey, season 12 was still okay! It wasn’t until they closed the gates of mega-hell that things went to shit!” he said, his staunch defensive statement sounding more like a whiny protest. This new voice was a trip.

“Oh please, we all know you were only watching for Jason Palawacki.”

His face heated with a blush, and he was forced to wonder why exactly he was blushing thinking about the tall, muscular, handsome… Wait, what?! He shook his head. “Do not!” another sharp squeak.

Paige broke into a fresh peal of giggles. “Super convincing, Kiera!”

She finally let the topic drop, and moved on to questioning Kieran about the upcoming school week, homework, and general life.

He managed to fumble his way through with noncommittal answers.

“Girls,” his mom shouted, “dinner!”

==========

Dinner was a heck of a trip with dad here to tell his weird dad jokes, and Paige there to groan at them with Kieran. 

When Paige and her mom were finally on their way for the night, they parted with another hug. Back when he was a guy, they hadn’t hugged since they were kids. Once puberty hit, it was just kind of awkward for both of them.

Now, he was getting casual friend hugs as much as he could possibly want. It was definitely weird to feel his breasts mash against hers though.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and had been doing so for a while now.

He fished it out and checked. Eleven new notifications. All of them texts from “Robbie <3”

There’s no way it’s that Rob, right? he thought, looking at the backlog of texts.

[Hey girl!]
[Hey!]
[Kiki?]
[Kiera?]
[r u mad @ me?]
[w/e i did im sry]
[can i call pls]
[pls?]
[or txt]
[bby pls]
[im sry]

‘Yikes,’ he thought, ‘he’s desperate… or seriously fucked up and knows it.

Climbing the stairs to his room, he decided to send a text back.

[u no wat u did]

[no! I was just trying 2 txt u & u wouldn’t reply!]
[I thought I messed up!]
[pls tell me wat I did I’m so sry]

Maybe he really didn’t do anything… but he’s still super desperate sounding, he thought, deciding to reply again and see where it went.

[j/k fooled u ;)]

[...]
[omg]
[fuck]
[not funny omg]
[i was shitting]
[u scared me bby]
[lol]
[so hru?]

Dude, seriously with the text spam… he rolled his eyes.

[dinner w/ bff, u?]

[dinner w/ bf?!]
[wait bff lol]
[nvm]
[hung out with the guys]

 

If this is the Rob I knew, I can’t believe girl-me is dating him! He seems totally desperate and way too jealous!

[sounds fun]
[getting rdy 4 bed. G2g]

[???]
[ur not gonna talk 2 me b4 bed?]
[r u rly mad @ me?]

Alright, buddy…

[im gonna b if u keep asking]

[???]
[sry]
[I'll stop]
[nite]

Kieran didn’t bother texting him back to say goodnight, he just tossed the phone on the bedside table and flopped into his bed.

Damn, now I’m legitimately annoyed. Why is he blowing up my phone like that? There’s gotta be something going on there. Maybe I’ll try talking to him at school and see what girl-me’s Rob is like.

That actually gave him an idea. He snatched up the phone again and hunted to find her photo reel.

Holy shit she takes a lot of pictures of random stuff.’ he thought, did she want to be a photographer or something?

The further he flipped back, the weirder it got. People appeared as if they were posing with someone, but there was nobody there.

Why were there so many pictures that were completely or partially missing the subject?

Was this person the mistake she corrected? What happened to them? What happened to her?

“Kiera, are you getting your shower now? Don’t wait too long, it’s a school night!” his mom shouted from downstairs.

“Uh, yeah mom!” he shouted back, turning to face the dresser and closet with a growing feeling of dread.

On one hand, I really don’t want to see this girl naked if I’m going to be giving her body back, but on the other hand, I have no idea how to give her body back.

He opened the drawers, trying to find whatever ‘Kiera’ had for sleepwear. He felt perverted opening her underwear drawer, and tried not to think too hard about the fact that he was most certainly wearing a pair of women’s underwear right now.

He remembered hearing something in health class or on TV or something about how women should sleep with loose fitting bottoms or nothing down below. Thankfully, that excused needing to find a new pair of underwear in the drawer. He grabbed a pair of loose-looking shorts and a t-shirt and headed for the bathroom.

Showering in a new body was a hell of a time; between adjusting for the temperature of the water, the showerhead being set to some kind of crazy high intensity that made it feel like a sandpaper spray, shredding skin. Then came figuring out what hair stuff to use (conditioner first or second?) and which bar of soap to use. There was a razor and shaving cream in the shower, but he wasn’t bothering with that nonsense.

As it turned out, drying long hair was just as annoying as washing it. By the time he had it to a point where he was sure he could actually put a shirt on without soaking it through immediately, he was actually tired enough for bed, despite it being nowhere near his usual pass-out time of 2am.

He hoped that his female self liked the same toothbrush color and kept it in the same spot as his, and that he wasn’t using his mom or dad’s, and finished up his pre-bed routine.

That thought actually gave him pause. Routine. He hadn’t had a routine in… years. 

He hadn’t taken care of himself in years.

Hell, he only showered every couple days. Something about being here, being this girl version of himself, had inspired him to actually take care of himself for a change.

That thought stuck with him until he made it to bed, where it finally let him be as he crawled under the covers.

Is this really my future? Am I going to be this girl for the rest of my life? I mean, I’ve obviously wondered what it would be like to be a girl, but I never thought I’d actually be one. I guess it’s worth it though, if I do have to spend the rest of my life like this… at least Paige is still alive. Dad’s still here, too. I still don’t get how me being a girl fixed those issues…’

His mind reeled over and over trying to work out the solution to how being a girl equals Paige alive and dad not absent from his life. By the time sleep claimed him, he was still no closer to figuring it out.

(Chapter 4)

“Kiera! Get your butt out of bed! You’re going to be late for school!” a loud series of thumps at his bedroom door jolted him back into consciousness.

‘School?’ he groaned and turned over, pulling the covers over his head. Must be a bad dream. He hadn’t had school in a few years.

“Kiera!” a much more insistent voice shouted, and suddenly he was cold.

His eyes shot open and whirled around the room, trying to find the sudden cause for alarm and cold.

His mom was standing over his bed holding his comforter.

Except it wasn’t his bed or his comforter. It was Kiera’s. He groaned inwardly and sat up.

“I’m awake, I’m awake,” He complained groggily.

“You’re awake and running late! It’s not like you to forget your alarm or sleep through it, Kiera. You’ve been acting strange since yesterday. Are you getting sick or something?”

“What? No,” he grumbled, dragging himself out of bed.

“You’d better hurry and get your uniform on, you’ll have to fix your hair on the way to school. Doubletime, young lady.” His mom snapped, hurrying out of his room.

Great… school. I did so well the first time… not. He opened the closet and checked the hangers for the school uniform that he had spent years seeing on the other girls.

Er, on the girls. He wasn’t a girl, at the time.

Technically, he wasn’t now, was he? He was a guy trapped in a girl’s body. Did that make him a trans guy?

He mulled that over while getting the uniform out of the closet and laying it out on his bed. Getting dressed as a girl was certainly a new adventure. The underwear were basically no different than guys’ briefs, but fit more snugly. The bra was another story. He’d thought he would never get it fastened. It was a massive triumph when he felt the hooks connect with the little eyes and hold fast.

Putting the rest of the uniform on after that was so easy, he didn’t even care that he was putting on a skirt for the first-ish time in his life.

Well, there had been that year he went trick-or-treating as a witch with Paige when they were kids… that didn’t count though, right?

He pulled up the socks and grabbed the school uniform flats on his way downstairs. At least he wouldn’t have to learn to walk in heels. Bonus!

“Here,” his mom said, thrusting a pink and cream colored messenger bag at him. His backpack, he assumed. 

“Remember, I’m working late tonight, so you’ll have to start dinner when you get home. I left the recipe on the counter,” she pointed to said recipe, “and the stuff is in the fridge. Try not to burn the place down?” she teased.

“Uh, sure.” Mom had never asked him to make his own dinner as a guy. Did Kiera have a closer relationship with mom? Was she trusted to cook her own meals because she was a girl? Did she just never have faith in him to cook?

“Okay, let’s roll girlfriend,” his mom said, snapping her fingers as she picked up her keys, purse, and briefcase and got moving. 

=====

Rolling up to his high school for the first time in years was not a welcome experience. His memories of his time here were unpleasant, at best.

After Paige died, all kinds of awful rumors had started. Most involved him being responsible (directly) for her death. Pushing her, or some other variation. Some were even worse than that. It had completely alienated him from everyone, and earned him more than a few bullies.

He groaned and climbed out of the car, immediately hating the cold December air swirling around his legs and stomach beneath the skirt. 

“Girl are you crazy?” Paige asked as she jogged over to meet her.

“Huh?”

“Your legs. No tights or leggings? You’re going to freeze.”

Why didn’t mom tell me I was allowed to wear leggings or tights?! Thanks, mom… he thought, making a note to look for them when he got home. 

“Uh, I didn’t think about it. I was running late. Can we get inside?” The cold was already becoming unbearable.

“Yeah, but we need to make a pitstop on the way to homeroom, your hair is a mess. You really were in a rush!”

“Yeah… I uh, forgot to set my alarm,” he lied lamely.

“You’re a dork,” she laughed. “Come on.”

Paige led him to the nearest girls’ bathroom, which he nearly hesitated before entering, until he realized that would look really strange to Paige.

Once inside, he noticed that other than the lack of urinals and the presence of a feminine hygiene product dispenser, it wasn’t that different from the guys’ bathroom.

She set to fixing up his hair, causing several painful tugs when she hit snarls.

“Did you like, not brush this at all? It’s a mess!”

“No, I was really in a rush this morning.”

“Yeah but like, this is like, next level tangled!” Paige rolled her eyes, working on the harder knots.

“Ow! That hurts!”

“Sorry! These knots are just really stubborn… Hold on.” She pulled out a small bottle from her bag and started spritzing his hair, then started to work the brush through it again.

“That’s better, detangler is a girl’s best friend sometimes,” Paige grinned. “Who’s your bestie?”

“You are. Thanks, Paige,” He smiled, and was surprised to find genuine gratitude for her help with something so pointlessly girly as having his hair look nice after her hard work.

“Alright girl, let’s go,” she said as the first bell rang, signalling them to head to homeroom.

Trying to survive his first day at school as a girl was… decidedly more boring than he would have assumed. Other than the inconvenience of wearing a skirt, and having to get used to catching the odd look from guys, it really wasn’t any different than school as a guy.

Except he had Paige with him now, and they shared most of their classes. That was infinitely better than being alone.

Apparently, he even had other casual acquaintances that said hello to him in the hallway!

He had a table of people that he was expected to sit with at lunch, even!

It was easier as the day went on to let himself slip into the moment-to-moment life of Kiera. He carried on, laughing and giggling, having little conversations about nothing with other girls, chatting with Paige, browsing his phone and checking social media during study hall.

It might not be his social media, but if he was going to be Kiera, he figured some research couldn’t hurt.

“Hey,” Rob said as he dropped into the seat beside Kieran.

Oh, shit, he thought, stunned by the arrival of his former-friend-now-apparently-boyfriend.

“How’s my girl doing?” he asked, leaning closer.

Well, that confirms that text boyfriend Rob is in fact the Rob I know! Crap! Kieran thought. “Uh, I’m okay,” He leaned back a bit to avoid Rob’s encroachment on his personal space.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, picking up on the obvious hint that Kieran wasn’t interested in a kiss just then.

“Huh? N-nothing,” Kieran lied. “Just trying to catch up on socials,” he said, showing his phone briefly to indicate the scroll of Facebook and Instagram that he had been doing.

“Oh, so you’re too busy on insta to kiss your boyfriend?” Rob demanded.

What the fuck? Kieran thought, starting to get annoyed now.

“Just because you’re my boyfriend doesn’t mean we have to kiss any time we run into each other,” Kieran shot back.

Ugh it feels weird to call him my boyfriend…

“What’s going on, Kiera? You’ve been weird since the other day. I’m sorry that I pressured you, but I’m okay waiting for… you know, honest!”

Wait, was that what he’d tried to do that he knew I-- Kiera’d be upset about? He pressured her for sex?!

“I don’t wanna talk about it.” Finally, something true. The last thing he wanted to talk about was the idea of screwing his former friend.

“Okay, so you’re still mad, I get it, I’ll just let you get back to your instagram, then.” he stood up, quickly and snatched his bag up, angrily shouldering it and storming off.

‘What’s his problem? If anyone has a right to be angry, it’s me! Well… Kiera, technically.’

The rest of study hall passed mercifully quietly, and he was free to continue his scroll through the social media history of Kiera. There were an uncomfortable number of pictures of Rob posing with nobody, and selfies with him just off to the side of center-frame.

As the final bell rang, he packed everything up for the bus ride home, hoping that this hadn’t been some crazy fluke, that tomorrow would be good, and maybe even better, if he didn’t sleep in.

God, it’s been so long since I’ve been happy. This is almost weird, I could probably get used to living like this.

The thought gave him pause as he walked towards the bus pickup area.

Is… is my life actually better like this? Am I better off just staying as Kiera? As a girl? I mean, that has to be the reason why the watch did all this, right? It wouldn’t correct a mistake and make it worse, but what happened to the Kiera here that used the watch under her bed?

Just then, he felt a tap on his shoulder and looked around to see who it was.

A relatively fit guy with close shaved brown hair and a preppy look that screamed ‘trying too hard’ was standing almost uncomfortably close. “Hello, Kieran.”

“Hey,” he smiled back awkwardly.

Then he realized what the boy had said, and how he’d responded.

‘Shit.’

(Chapter 5)

“Wait, what did you say?” Kieran asked as loudly as he dared with other people around.

“Not here, follow me.” He turned and walked off towards the football field.

Kieran nodded, following after him.

Who is this guy and how does he know my real name?

“So, let me begin by introducing myself,” preppy-boy said as they came to a stop between the sports building and the main school. “My name is Milo, and I’m here to see if you are happy with your product.”

“My… product?”

“Yes, with your purchase? The ‘Erroneous Stopwatch’?” The boy smiled, a beaming customer service smile that looked natural, instead of forced as most looks usually do.

“Oh… H-how do you know about that?”

“Not important,” he waved a hand dismissively. “What is important is your satisfaction.”

“Uh… well, I guess I’m… uh…” ‘Satisfied? I guess? he thought, Paige is alive,my dad is around,I have friends.The only downside is that I’m a girl, but is that really a downside? I’ve kinda been enjoying myself today...

No sooner had he thought that than Milo spoke up. “Yes, about that… if you’re unhappy as Kiera, we can certainly offer you a free phial of True Self - a potion made to reveal the real you. All you have to do is drink it, and your true self will be revealed.” 

He took the vial of swirling technicolor liquid and carefully put it into his skirt pocket.

“All you have to do is drink that before its effects become inert at 3:32 A.M., and you’ll get your ideal body.”

“Uh, thanks?” he said, feeling the weight sitting in his pocket like it was as dense as a collapsing star. His true form…

“Now then… I’m afraid I have other customers to speak to so I must be going. Before I do, is there anything else I can do for you?”

“N-- wait, yeah, one thing, uh, what did Kiera—the real Kiera—use the stopwatch for? How did I end up as her?”

Milo grinned. “You are the only ‘Kiera’, Kieran. This life is the life you would have lived if you had been born biologically female. The only reason you have no memory of events before the switch is because you haven’t accepted the situation yet. Perhaps that vial of true self will help with that.”

Accepted the situation? He turned the idea over and over in his head.

“Well then, if that’s all... ?”

“Oh yeah. Uh, will I see you or anyone from that website or whatever again?”

“Only if you’re still dissatisfied after using that potion. Good day, Kieran!”

Milo turned and walked around the corner. The sound of him walking faded immediately, as if he had simply disappeared.

Kieran jogged over to look and see where he had gone, only to confirm the suspicion that he had in fact disappeared.

“Kiera?” Paige asked.

“Oh, hey…”

“You okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” he said, forcing a smile.

“You don’t seem fine. I saw you walk off. We’re gonna miss our bus, girl.”

“Sorry, just needed a minute. Uh…” 

Come on girl think of an excuse, he thought, fumbling. His brain latched onto the annoying texts from the night before. 

“Rob was just being really annoying and it kinda triggered me when I opened my phone earlier.”

“Rob? Seriously? I thought you were going to break up with him after what he did.”

Was I? Er, was Kiera? Wait, if I’m the only Kiera... then yeah, ‘I’ was going to break up with him, I guess. Good!’

“You know, you’re right. I was going to.” He pulled out his phone and opened Rob’s texts from last night.

[Thought about it 2day. We’re done.]

He waited to see, with some small amount of twisted pleasure, if Rob would text back with a sobbing, ugly ‘please don’t leave me’ sort of text.

[... fine w/e I still got Tara & shes way hotter than u & not a dumb virgin bitch]

Oh my fucking god, he’s such an asshole, AND he was cheating on me!Okay, not technically on me, exactly… but sort of on me?’ He glared at the phone and deleted the contact info for Rob.

“Done.”

“You go girl,” Paige laughed, rolling her eyes. “Now come on before we miss our bus.”

Girl…’ He mused over that. Could he really stay a girl? Could he just, be Kiera?

The vial in his skirt pocket smacked against his thigh as he walked, reminding him of the looming decision to be made.

=====

“Hey, so my mom’s going to be working late, and I need to cook dinner.”

“And you want me to help,” Paige finished his sentence for him.

“Well I mean, I was gonna ask if you wanted to come over..”

“Aaand help you make dinner.”

“Alright yes I need help making dinner, okay?” he pouted.

Paige grinned. “Don’t worry girl, I got you.”

Paige had always been a good cook, or, at least as well as Kieran had known before… the accident.

It seemed that was still the case in this reality.

Together they made it through prepping everything they needed for a savory homemade beef stew. Paige even managed to spice things up and add some awesome flavor.

They were washing up the prep dishes when he reached over, his hand brushing hers. They both blushed.

“Sorry,” they both said in unison.

“It’s fine,” they said in unison again… then broke down into nervous giggles.

“You uh… wanna hang out and stay for dinner?” he offered.

“Sure, we can knock out our homework while this finishes cooking.”

“Sounds good,” he smiled.

He had more trouble with the homework than he wanted to admit, but with Paige’s help he made it through. 

“This is really good, girls!” his mother gushed as she tried it later that evening.

“Thanks, Ms. Anderson,” Paige said, nudging Kieran.

“Sure is,” his dad agreed.

“Thanks, dad,” Kieran beamed, folding his hands behind his back and rocking on the balls of his feet slightly.

He and Paige had already eaten, but it was nice to get compliments from his parents.

“I gotta get home. See you at school tomorrow, Kiera!” Paige smiled and gave him a hug, which he quickly returned.

“See ya, Paige!” He walked her out, waving as she turned and walked down the street towards her place on the next block.

He was really looking forward to tomorrow, and the day after that, and after that. 

=====

Kieran found himself sitting on the floor beside his bed, leaning back against it. He’d shut off the lights hours ago, hoping that the dark and the quiet would help him think. The watch that had started this all sat between his feet, ticking away.

The shifting colors of the vial in his delicate fingers cast some illumination to the darkness around it as he twisted it back and forth.

True form, huh? If I drink this… what’ll happen? Will I return to being the old me? Grungy, disgusting, miserable? Will I just turn into a boy version of Kiera at the same age?’

Being a guy again… for some reason made him uneasy. Something in the pit of his stomach told him that it was wrong, that if he went back to being a guy… it would be the same as it had been before. 

Still, it wasn’t like he was a real girl or anything. He just looked like one, right? He was definitely still a guy. 

Though he hadn’t felt like one for most of the day.

Thinking back he realized that at some point he’d kind of… forgotten… that he wasn’t his male self. 

He’d just been hanging out with other girls, as one of them. He was pretty sure that at least once he’d even thought of himself as a girl.

That doesn’t make sense though… I’m not trans, right? I mean, I’ve never had that feeling of ‘I’m a girl!’ or anything like those stories on Reddit

He turned the vial over in his fingers again, glancing at the clock. The LED numbers flashed 3:30

Two minutes until his mysterious potion would be ‘inert’. 

He felt his heart clench, and reached to unstopper it.

‘I have to drink this, I need to be my true self.

He popped out the wax-sealed stopper with some effort, and brought the vial to his lips, smelling the strong, shifting fragrance. From flowers to fruits to richer, deeper smells, like campfire smoke or aftershave.

He squinted his eyes closed and poured the flask into his mouth.

The moment he did, he felt an immediate surge of panic.

What if he really did turn back?

Oh god, I don’t want to turn back!

He spat out the contents before he could swallow it, spraying sparkling liquid into the darkness of his room. He coughed and gagged and spat, trying not to swallow any of it.

The clock on his headboard read 3:33.

The potion had been inert when he drank it anyway.

He let his head fall back as he dissolved into a fit of giggles.

Oh my god… that was so stupid… I could have thrown away everything… when I couldn’t even see that this is my true form!

He wrapped his arms around himself in a hug. This is me.

He noticed one of the pictures on his bedside table was suddenly filling in… no longer just a nice picture of Paige standing by a waterfall, but a picture of Paige and Kiera by the falls, posing together as best friends.

The person missing in the pictures was Kiera! The missing person was her.

She giggled and watched herself appear in a few more pictures on her phone.

“Kiera!” her mom hissed through the closed door, “it is after three A.M., go to bed young lady!”

She bit back another giggle. “Sorry, Mom!”

She stood up to climb into her bed, only to realize that the watch had completely vanished in the commotion. She smiled, hoping that it did as much good for its next owner as it had for her.

‘Best money ever spent,’ she thought as she curled up under her covers.

(Chapter 6/Epilogue)

“Kiera, come on,” Paige urged.

“I’m coming! Hold your horses,” she laughed. They’d been planning this night at the carnival for days, and she could tell Paige was definitely excited.

It’d been over a year since she first woke up as Kiera… and she hadn’t once regretted not drinking the vial.

She stepped up to the admissions booth, pulling her wallet out of her purse. “Two please.”

“Here you are, ladies,” the carnival worker said, taking her money and handing her back her change and two wristbands. 

She fastened one on Paige’s wrist, and let Paige do the same for hers.

“Ready for an evening of fairground fun?” Paige asked happily.

“Absolutely,” Kiera nodded.

Paige drug her around the carnival, having her play through various games of chance, ride rides, and eat horrible-for-you-but-so-delicious carnival food.

She didn’t regret a second of it.

Well, maybe the fried Oreo.

She was just taking a step back from one of the concession stands when she collided with a familiar figure.

“Rob?” she asked.

“Oh, hey Kiera,” he smiled weakly. “How’s it going?”

“Uh, can’t complain,” she smiled back. “Just here with Paige.”

“Cool. My date ran off to the bathroom so I’m just kinda hanging out.”

“Oh, another girl huh? How many do you have on the side?” She meant it to be a joke, but it came out more barbed than anticipated.

“Er, none. I gave up sleeping around after what happened with you. Sorry about that, again…”

Rob had come to apologize a few weeks after that incident, but it had taken a lot longer than a few weeks to forgive him… even if it wasn’t really ‘her’ he had cheated on.

“Glad to hear it,” Kieran said.

“Yeah-- oh, there she is. I better get going.”

“Alright, have fun.”

“You too, later!” he turned and walked off towards his new girlfriend, glancing back with a wave goodbye.

“Later,” she gave a quick wave, then looked back at her BFF. “Ready?”

Paige nodded. “Always. Let’s go on the ferris wheel next!”

“Alright,” she grinned, taking her hand and walking with her towards the ride.

As their bucket seat climbed towards the top and slowed to a crawl, Paige leaned in close to take a selfie.

Kiera found herself smiling for it, then taking one of her own. The city stretched out behind them beautifully, making for a great picture, and a memory that was sure to last.

Life was good, and the future was brighter than she ever could have hoped for, all thanks to that Reddit post about a weird shop on the internet.

=====

“Looks like we’ve got a new acquisition, Mr. Owens,” she said, picking up the fancy pocket-watch with a warded cloth glove. It had unceremoniously appeared on the counter in the shop, quietly as can be. If not for the ticking, she wouldn’t even have noticed.

It wasn’t original to their shop - just another acquisition from another source somewhere out there in the multiverse... but this one had seen some serious use, judging by the looks of it.

“Thank you, Cailyn. I’ll take a look at it and sort it accordingly. Has Christian come in yet this evening?”

“No sir, not yet.”

“Alright. Let him know I’d like to speak to him, when he does. I have a few deliveries that need to be made.”

“You got it, boss.”

“Thank you, Cailyn.”

“Just another night at the Underground,” she sighed, going back to scrolling through Reddit on her phone.


PunchlinePress a.k.a Mikaela Mann is the author of several other stories that can be found on ScribbleHub, TGStoryTime, and DeviantArt

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