Contemporary Fiction Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Heavenly eyes watch this human's stance,

My soul meanders, seeking a chance.

In aiding his journey, I'll find my way,

To the luminous path of heaven's display.


Zack slammed shut his laptop in frustration, the backspace button worn down from hours of typing and deleting. His editor-in-chief had torn apart his recent works, leaving him in despair. To heighten his anxiety, something was clearly amiss with his radio. As if taunting his inability to write, Ramona's ballad "The Blank Page" resounded on a ceaseless loop. He switched off the radio, hoping for some peace, but was startled when he heard a hushed murmur, urging him to venture into the backstreet behind his office, a place where rats and rubbish abounded. Though he couldn't fathom why, he found himself compelled to obey the voice, as though under some sort of hypnotic trance. He rose from his desk as if on autopilot, stepped out of his office, and strode into the alley. Then, suddenly, something inexplicable occurred.

A leaflet appeared out of nowhere, twirling through the air before landing squarely on his face.

His first reaction was one of annoyance, cursing whoever had carelessly littered their rubbish on the ground. But as he peeled the paper from his face and examined it more closely, he realised that it was no ordinary sheet. Tucking the leaflet into his bag, he felt a small surge of excitement. Maybe, just maybe, this would be the key to finding himself once again.


Zack entered the conference room at Promenade Hotel, teeming with attendees of the "Reignite Your Creative Sparks" seminar. The grandiose space featured a plush floral carpet that swallowed the participants' steps, while chilly air conditioning kept everyone bundled up in their blazers.

Amidst the chatty crowd and flowing drinks, Zack was thoroughly underwhelmed by the foul coffee. Still, his excitement for the seminar remained unwavering. He hoped that Dawn Renata, the self-proclaimed expert, would live up to her bold claims. The leaflet promised that Dawn knew best, that she could help everyone "Get That Creative Juice Flowing Again."

As the meet-and-greet came to a close, the moderator, a middle-aged woman sporting fake eyelashes as thick as tarantula legs, signalled for everyone to retake their seats. Zack returned to his chair, eager for what was to come.

Moments later, a tall, lanky Olive-Oyl-like man strode onto the stage, clutching the mic. "Well, well, look who’s here" he announced, "So you’ve finally stumbled upon this seminar, have you?" He flashed a friendly smile, but Zack was slightly irritated by the man's patronising attitude.

"Look, I’m not saying you’re all dumb or anything," he continued, "but let’s be real here. You’re all in a pretty pathetic position. Stuck, with no way out." He let out a laugh, but no one joined in. Then, he proceeded to introduce Dawn Renata and wrapped up his speech by declaring, "Let's hear it for...Dawn!"

Dawn Renata sashayed her way up to the stage, her voluminous curls bouncing like floating balloons with each step. She had a warm and welcoming presence, much like a favourite aunt who always has a treat in store for everyone. "Well, hello there," she greeted the audience with a high-pitched giggle. Zack couldn't pinpoint what was so funny, but he found himself hooked on Dawn's contagious energy.


The seminar buzzed with activity, each session a flurry of hands-on exercises. Participants rotated through groups, swapping out companions with each session. But somehow, Zack and a songwriter named Samuel were consistently placed in the same group. 

Zack couldn't help but find it hilarious that everyone else in the room was just a hazy blur to him. He tried to focus on them, but their faces and voices seemed like a wacky dream, and the only tangible connection he could make was with Samuel.

As the lunch break started, Zack and Samuel shared a meal while the others in attendance seemingly vanished from their awareness.

"You've been trying for…?" Zack asked, leaning in closer to Samuel.

"Two months," Samuel responded, chuckling ruefully. "My boss keeps rejecting everything I compose, says it lacks oomph or something."

"Same here," Zack commiserated. "Been on a break for two weeks, trying to fix my op-ed."

"My boss gave me three days," Samuel groaned.

"Get out! Me too!" 

Their careers were on the line, but they tried to lighten the mood with self-deprecating humour. "Seems like we have a lot in common," Samuel mused, sipping his coffee. "Bet your editor-in-chief is threatening to demote you too?"

Zack nodded. "She said I might be shuffled off to the marketing department."

“I was… I mean… I might be sacked completely.”

They finished their lunch, shouldering their burdens with a laugh before returning to the conference room for the next session. Despite their dire situation, they tried to stay lighthearted, their camaraderie a balm to their frayed nerves.


As the seminar's final session concluded, the clock struck 9 pm, signalling the end of the day. Invigorated by Dawn's inspiring sessions, the participants buzzed with excitement.

But for Zack, the spark of creativity remained elusive. He was sure Samuel felt the same too as they exchanged gloomy glances, unable to find inspiration. The very notion of "going back to square one" left Zack feeling disoriented and frustrated.

As the other participants gathered their belongings and filed out of the room, Zack and Samuel gravitated towards each other. "Feeling the same?" Zack asked.

"Kinda," Samuel sighed. 

Just then, Dawn and her Olive Oyl look-a-like companion approached the exit, chatting and smiling as they went. Zack saw his chance and called out to Dawn.

"Miss Dawn," he exclaimed.

Dawn turned towards the two men, her expression one of concern. Olive Oyl's doppelganger was itching to tag along, but she politely shooed him away with a wave of her hand. "What's bothering you, sirs?" She queried, punctuating with habitual chuckles. "Anything I can help you with?"

"We didn't quite understand what you meant by 'going back to square one'," Zack admitted, and Samuel nodded in agreement.

Dawn took a moment to collect her thoughts before a smile spread across her face. "You know what? I think you need more than this seminar. Now, close your eyes."

Zack and Samuel exchanged a bewildered look but complied nonetheless. Suddenly, Dawn let out a high-pitched, eerie laugh that pierced through their ears and just like that, the room fell silent. The two men waited, their hearts pounding, but nothing happened. 

When they opened their eyes, they were surprised to find Dawn gone. Feeling scared and confused, they shared a wide-eyed look. 

"What the heck?" Zack cried.

Samuel merely shrugged in response. "Rooms, shall we?"

As they made their way out, Zack couldn't shake the feeling that something was amiss. Little did he know, this was only the beginning of a strange and unpredictable journey.


The following morning, Zack awoke with a peculiar sensation coursing through his body. Unable to pinpoint the source of his unease, he felt like a stranger in his own skin. The room around him seemed to have a foreign quality as well, leaving him momentarily disoriented. 

As he regained his composure, he sprang out of bed. Yet, his confusion returned when he beheld his phone and found a treble clef where once there was a different image. Dismissing it as a quirk of his sleep-deprived mind, he proceeded to the bathroom, only to discover that even his toiletries had undergone a bizarre transformation. Ignoring the strangeness once again, he splashed water on his face. But, the moment he gazed at his reflection, terror gripped him like never before, resulting in a scream that pierced the hotel's silence. If other lodgers were disturbed, they didn't show any indication.

Without wasting a second, Zack lunged for the phone that wasn't really his, his fingers moving nimbly to unlock the screen. He dialled his own number from memory, impatiently waiting for Samuel to answer the call. Finally, Samuel's groggy voice came through the line, filled with annoyance at being woken up.


Zack reeled from the sheer oddity of hearing his own voice. "Zack here. Get up and look in the mirror! Now!" he shouted, his voice urgent and frantic.


"Just do it!"

After several moments of silence, the sound of footsteps and a switch being flicked echoed through the line. Suddenly, a blood-curdling laughter erupted from the other end, so loud that Zack had to hoist the phone away from his ear and squint his eyes in pain.


Seated across from each other in Zack’s room, the two men couldn't help but stare in horror at the faces that stared back at them - their own faces, but on each other's bodies. 

"What the heck did Dawn do to us?" Zack blurted.

Samuel let out a heavy sigh but remained silent.

Zack was panicking, "What are we going to do? We have deadlines to meet!"

"Relax, we still have two days. Let's just start working on our projects. Maybe there's a reason why we've swapped bodies."

"What's the point? Our minds are still our own. Dawn is a moron."

Samuel shrugged, "Who knows? But let's focus on our work. I'll start on my song, and you can work on your article."

Without delay, they both dove into their work - Samuel donning headphones to open Notion 6 and continue his audio work, while Zack retrieved his notebooks and began crafting his latest article in Microsoft Word.

But then, something strange began to happen. Zack found himself struggling to string together even the simplest words into cohesive sentences, as though his mastery of language had been stripped away instantaneously. And noticing Samuel's visage, Zack could tell they were both confronting the same obstacle.

In the moments that followed their silence, an idea seemingly materialised in Samuel's consciousness, his eyes brimming with eager anticipation as he gazed at Zack. "What if we switch laptops?" he proposed, exuding immense confidence

Without hesitation, Zack agreed, and in a moment of desperate hope, they traded devices. To Zack’s surprise, as soon as they started working on each other's laptops, a newfound clarity washed over him. His fingers flew across the keyboard with an agility he never knew he possessed, effortlessly manoeuvring the Notion 6 software with a newfound mastery. And as he listened to the melody Samuel had created, inspiration struck like lightning - he knew exactly which sound effects to use, which instruments and beats would elevate the song to its full potential.

And given Samuel’s exuberant look, Zack was sure that Samuel too had now started to possess his prowess in constructing evocative lines that imprint themselves in the minds and souls of readers.

"Wow, can you believe it? We've swapped bodies and our talents too!" Zack exclaimed as he tinkered with Sam's song.

"You got it, buddy!" Samuel replied, engrossed in writing Zack's op-ed. 

"I don't know where this is headed, but I'm digging what we've accomplished already!" 

As they worked, they couldn't help but notice each other's unique qualities. Zack marvelled at the way Samuel approached music with an innate sense of instinct and flow, while Samuel marvelled at Zack's ability to craft words with a precision and power that left him in awe. But in this strange new partnership, they also began to uncover and discuss each other's areas of vulnerability and shortcomings. .

For Zack, he discovered that in his single-minded quest to emulate the sounds of other hit songs, Samuel had lost sight of what made him truly unique. As he delved into Samuel's previous masterpieces, one of which sounded oddly familiar, Zack began to recognize the distinctive identity and approach to melody that set him apart from the pack.

For Samuel, it became clear that Zack had grown too set in his ways. Unlike his earlier works, his most recent pieces were burdened by a preachy tone and a stubborn refusal to consider alternative viewpoints. It was as though his mind had grown calcified, unable to adapt to new ideas or experiences.

Zack owned his weaknesses, hearing them from his own lips and seeing them on his own face. It struck a more intimate and profound chord within him.

Hours passed like moments as the two men worked tirelessly on each other's projects, fueled by a newfound sense of creative energy and mutual understanding. It wasn't until the fading light of day filtered through the window that they finally came up for air, blinking in surprise at the encroaching darkness.

With a deep sense of satisfaction, they gazed upon each other - or rather, upon their own faces - and nodded in unspoken agreement. It was time to call it a day, to rest and recharge before submitting their projects to their superiors. 


"My boss loved it!" Samuel joyfully proclaimed as he tapped the ground-floor button in the elevator.

Zack's face lit up with excitement. "My editor-in-chief hasn't responded yet, but I'm sure she'll like it!"

The two men high-fived each other, basking in the glow of their recent successes. But there was something else that had them over the moon - they had both woken up that morning back in their own bodies.

"We have to thank Dawn for this," Zack suggested as the elevator doors slid open.

"Absolutely," Samuel agreed.

They made their way to the reception desk but Zack’s hope was dashed when the receptionist gave him a puzzled look. "I'm sorry, but we don't have anyone by that name on record. And there was no seminar called 'Reignite Your Creative Sparks' either," she said apologetically.

Zack couldn't believe his ears, and in a desperate attempt to prove his point, he rummaged through his bag and retrieved the leaflet. Surprisingly, it was nothing but a soulless void of white.

Just then, a woman with thick, artificial eyelashes appeared behind the reception desk, clutching a bundle of freshly laundered towels.

"She was there!" Zack exclaimed, his finger pointing in her direction.

Eyelashes queried what was happening, and the receptionist relayed the situation in detail. With rapt attention, she listened, occasionally glancing at Zack as she tried to piece together the situation.

In an instant, her countenance transformed from one of mild curiosity to one of intense seriousness. "You know what?" she said, leaning in. "Two days back, you were sleep-talking like crazy in your room about reigniting your creativity or some such thing. I was cleaning your room the whole time. I’ve got proof. I recorded it all."

As Eyelashes expounded on what she had overheard, Zack was stunned to learn that much of what she claimed he had said was verbatim from the very words he believed he had heard emanating from Dawn’s lips.

The woman carried on with her account. "At times, you sounded very calm. But other times, you were very anxious, calling yourself pathetic for being stuck and whatnot," she explained.

Zack realised those were precisely the same words he had believed had come from the mouth of the Olive-Oyl guy.

He swivelled his head in Samuel's direction, but to his surprise, Samuel was nowhere to be found. His confusion mounting, he blurted out, "Where’s Samuel?"

Receptionist and Eyelashes gave him a quizzical look. "Who's Samuel?" Eyelashes asked.

"The songwriter. Samuel Robert."

The two women exchanged a look of terror, leaving him feeling increasingly unsettled. Receptionist spoke slowly and carefully, as if explaining something to a child. "Sir, Samuel Robert passed away. He died two weeks ago."


“You didn’t hear?” Eyelashes asked, her voice hushed. “He killed himself at this very hotel. He left a suicide note saying he felt like a failure. His songs never topped the charts and his boss sacked him,” she said, her expression pained. 

Zack's disbelief clawed at his chest, threatening to steal his breath away. There had been no Dawn, no Olive-Oyl man, and no Samuel. As if under some unknown spell, he had found himself drawn to this hotel. For two days straight, he battled the inner voices that vied for control within him - the self-assured Dawn and the self-mocking Olive-Oyl guy. But what about Samuel? Zack couldn't fathom the role Samuel's presence played in this matter. The question suddenly struck him, and he turned to the two women. "Any famous songs by Samuel?"

Eyelashes scoffed, "Seriously? You didn’t know he wrote 'The Blank Page?'"

Zack's eyes widened. "You mean, Ramona’s song?"

"Yes," Receptionist and Eyelashes said in unison.

Feeling overwhelmed and at a loss for words, Zack excused himself from the reception counter and walked away, still trying to process all the information he had just received. It suddenly dawned on him that Samuel was the one who caused the endless melody at his office the other day.

As he delved deeper into his thoughts, a memory surfaced from the depths of his mind. The lyrics of "The Blank Page" echoed in his ears, and a particular line stood out: "Go back to square one, start anew...With a blank page to rediscover you…."

Suddenly, everything became clear to him. Samuel had been trying to convey a message all along, and he had been too blind to realise. The song, the leaflet, the phoney seminar, the body swap, it had all been a ploy to get him to rediscover himself.

As the realisation hit him, he looked up at the vast expanse of sky above and tearfully smiled. He was unsure why Samuel chose to assist him, but he was filled with gratitude. "Thank you," he whispered to the heavens, a sense of purpose coursing through his veins.

He wasn't bothered by the realisation that the article by Samuel was a figment of his imagination. Going back to square one didn't intimidate him, as he knew it was precisely what he needed.

As he beheld the spotless expanse of the porte-cochère, in stark contrast to the litter-strewn backstreet behind his office, he drew in a deep breath and declared, “I’m ready!” 


Mission complete, I sight the glow,

Farewell, world, I must go.

April 18, 2023 14:04

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Mary Bendickson
21:08 Apr 19, 2023

You are at it again. Writing more stories in the same week! I am liking them more. I think I see growth. Way to go.


Ian James
02:19 Apr 20, 2023

Thank you so much! :-D


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